Monday, December 24, 2007

I (the Opposite of Heart) Huckabee

Ah Mike Huckabee. Politics' nicest douche bag. Huck's risen to the top in Iowa recently, almost entirely based on his performance in the YouTube debate, when people thought to themselves, "Wow, he's the least retarded guy on stage!"

Only three problems. One: He's a hard-line social conservative. Two: Somehow, he's a former Christian pastor, yet he's proud of carrying out the death penalty.

And three, the one that I really can't believe, the one that's the craziest of all: He supports the Fair Tax.

Actually, I'm never calling it the "Fair Tax" again. "Fair Tax" is one of those word games politicians like to play to sell ideas that are actually really good for their rich and/or corporate overlords to dumb schmucks who don't follow politics. It sounds a lot better to call something the "Fair Tax" than the "23% Sales Tax." But 23% Sales Tax doesn't really roll off the tongue, so I'm going to call it, "The Schmuck Tax."

The Schmuck Tax, as you know if you followed that link, is a crackpot plan to eliminate the IRS and income tax as we know it, and replace it with an exorbitant sales tax, that would probably actually need to be higher than the 23% figure Huckabee is tossing around. This idea is absolutely insane.

On the surface, it has its selling points - no more IRS, no need to call the accountant, and hey poor people, want a prebate? Huh? Huh? Tasty prebate for the poor person! C'mere, boy! ThasagoodDestitudeAmerica, you're a good Destitute America, yes you are.

But those "benefits" are all shams. The schmuck tax would create enough problems that you'd need a brand-spankin'-new IRS-type body to deal with them. You wouldn't need an accountant at tax time, but you'd have to be much more rigorous in budgeting your money. The prebate is a shameful deception, designed to make uniformed poor people believe the schmuck tax would help them, when really, it would destroy them.

The schmuck tax is in fact nothing short of a boldfaced attempt to soak the poor. Think back to High School Economics for a second (yes, I was awake for some of it), and you'll remember that poor people spend a higher percentage of their income than rich people. In fact, the percentage you save is directly proportional to how much you make. So, the poorer you are, the more of your income the schmuck tax is going to take from you.

This gets even crazier when you realize that right now, 27.6% of federal tax revenue comes from the richest 1% of the populace. With one fell swoop, the schmuck tax would not only make their rate the same as the poor's, but ensure they had to pay it on less of their income. This would be, make no mistake, the biggest tax cut in US history for the rich. That 27.6% of tax revenue meanwhile would shrink drastically, meaning either less wealthy people would pick up the slack, or the government would go bankrupt.

But wait, we're not even to the craziest part yet! The Huckster says the following to support this crackpot scheme:
"What we would do with the fair tax is to eliminate all the taxes on productivity, which means you could earn anything you want," Huckabee said. "You wouldn't be penalized for saving, earning, for having a capital gain, making an investment."
First of all, I have always hated this bullshit line of conservative reasoning, that we need to keep taxes low to give people the incentive to make money. As though there are vast swaths of people going, "Oh, why bother making money, I'll have to pay taxes on it." People have plenty of incentive to make money! You know what the incentive is? Money!

But what Huckabee's not saying, but is completely obvious, is what you are penalizing people for doing: Spending.

The schmuck tax, by its nature discourages spending. Economics time again: Spending makes up 2/3 of the fucking economy! When people spend money they are helping the economy. The people they give the money to then go out and spend it themselves. Again, simple high school economics. Spent money keeps on getting spent and helping the economy. Saved money sits there and does nothing. Housing won't send us into recession unless it makes people spend less.

So we want to pass a tax that makes it so that normal Americans have to carefully weigh each purchase, because only when they buy something do they have to pay the government? Really?

This would be an unmitigated economic disaster. It would bring our country to its knees. It would benefit the rich only until the bottom went out of the economy, which would happen pretty quick.

Why is the Huckster getting away with this insanity? Please, dear god, tell me that the American people aren't so stupid that they'll fall for something this crazy just because you call it the "Fair Tax" and make some halfway decent quips about the IRS.

What?

Really?

Fuck.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fun With Head Scarves, also Smokers, and Missed Opportunities

Starting with the quick news, then moving to the rant. Ready? Good:

> Okay, here's my problem with stories like this. Is there anyone who said, "WHAT?! Diabetes? That's it, I'm quiting." What you think after shrugging off, lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and yellow-stained teeth, Type 2 Diabetes is going to be the straw that breaks the smoker's back? Really?

> When I saw this story, all I could think was, "Man! Why didn't we do more things like this when we were minors?" From over here, being pre-18 seems sort of like a license to dumbass doesn't it? Oh sure, we all dumbassed some, but who among us had the balls to prank call the President. Via the Secret Service, I might add. You really need an anti-guidance counselor when you're a kid, to sit you down and say, "Listen, you only have three years until they wipe your criminal record."

I think my favorite part might be when he says it wasn't too hard getting through Secret Service phone screening because he had Wikipedia open. That killed me.

>When the gang rape victim was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison, I almost posted. I was a bit late to the show, and what I had to say was pretty politically incorrect. Now, there is this.

This story has not gotten major play outside of Canada yet. I'd like to think that's because the it's based mostly on conjecture, but probably it just hasn't been noticed. Murders happen every day, donchaknow.

Before we go any further, I should say that yes, this is somewhat irresponsible journalism, and everything that has sprung up around it is irresponsible journalism. Mostly, people are reporting gossip as news here. We can't be sure why this guy killed his daughter, or even if he killed his daughter, although when a guy calls 911 and says that he just killed his daughter, you do get a certain smoke/fire correlation.

But here's why I'm writing about this: In some ways, it doesn't matter whether Muhammad Parvez strangled his daughter Aqsa because she wouldn't wear a head scarf, or because she wanted to listen to rap music, or whatever other reason. I mean, absolutely the motherfucker should be in jail for the rest of his life if he did it, regardless of why. But what I think is most interesting about this story, and the gang rape victim story, is that they are somehow working their way into a news narrative.

News is, for the most part, a pretty arbitrary beast. What comes to the fore is what is sensational and interesting. Most murders aren't news. Stacy Peterson's disappearance is a national story garnering months of articles and coverage. Soldiers who die in Iraq are lucky to get a line or two in that day's Iraq roundup.

But every so often, a bunch of stories start to coalesce, and soon you have something more than a story. You have a topic. When that happens, the hungry media searches out anything and everything, important or not, interesting or not, that serves the larger narrative, which inevitably turns into an issue. Global warming, immigration, you get the idea. Both those problems had been around forever, but suddenly they're news.

You see where I'm going with this. For a very long time, the West has sat and shrugged about the way the Muslim world treats women. In Iran, they recently had police perform a dress code "crackdown," rounding up and arresting women who they felt were dressed too immodestly (among other things). Adultery is punishable by death. Brothers, husbands and fathers often take matters into their own hands, like this charming Canadian gentleman might have done, and that rape victim's brother tried to do.

Now, the cynical part of me says there's not a lot we here in the West can do. I mean, we're not going to start a war, or GASP endanger our precious oil supply with real economic actions against Muslim countries. And anyway, Muslim countries are only a symptom here. The disease is Orthodox Islam's view of women. It may not be PC to criticize a religion but I'm going to. If a grown woman wants to wear a beekeeper suit for religious reasons, fine. Good for her. But saying a woman must, that she can't drive, or vote or what have you - that's no different from apartheid, no matter how you're justifying it. You have a right to your beliefs up until your beliefs require that you oppress others. After that, fuck you and fuck your beliefs.

(Of course, there's a goodly number of people who would literally want to kill me for saying that. But hey, at least I never named a teddy bear Muhammad. It is apparently acceptable to name a person Muhammad even if he later kills his daughter with his bare hands, but not a teddy bear, which might make the prophet look bad. But I digress.)

Anyway, there may not be a lot we can do politically about this. But part of me wondered what would happen if this became one of those topics. What if the global media was snapping up stories about Muslim abuse of women the same way it was snapping up stories on climate change? Wouldn't major religious leaders sort of start to feel embarassed? Wouldn't they have to keep making statements like, "We do NOT condone violence against women"? Might this not eventually start working its way into sermons and the like?

I know that most Muslims are like everyone else not particularly inclined to violence or nastiness or hatred, and it's only the religion's most extreme wing that does this stuff. Look at the way the British Muslim community dealt with Teddy Bear Gate for example. But it is still a problem, and it's a problem that will and can change, just the way apartheid ended, just the way women got the vote here, and everything else.

That is, with the help of the news.

Monday, December 10, 2007

While the newsroom has a hernia, I might as well update ye olde blog thing.

> Libby Drops Appeal! I gave this a red headline, and frankly I'm not sure why. Whoo hoo! Libby is officially a convict! That's totally going to hurt him when he applies to work at Blockbuster. You know, at least until Bush pardons him at the end of his term.

My favorite part is the lawyer's ridiculous attempts to make a victim out of Libby. Oh dear! Did you know this trial was too great a burden for his poor wife and kids? I mean, I know how they feel. When my dad kept fighting his conviction even though he'd already been let off the hook by the President, I know I was heavily burdened. I'd wake up at night screaming, "Why god, why?!" For a while, I could barely keep down solid food.

> Speaking of utterly ridiculous things, time for your Chavez update! We've all seen our share of crazy things done by foreign leaders. But it's tough to get crazier than making your own time zone.

You read that right. Hugo Chavez has ordered every clock in Venezuela turned back 30 min. Apparently, this is a jab at the United States. I think when Hugo Chavez orders his coffee in the morning, he believes he is insulting the United States. "Yes, I want two creams - two creams, I say! And no sugar! HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT MR. BUSH?!"

> While we're in our seemingly daily "crazy shit done by dodgy foreign leaders" segment, I feel obligated to bring this Pakistan story to your attention. Not because it's anything earth-shaking or anything, but because it contains the following amazing quote:
Musharraf also defended his recent actions, and scolded those outside Pakistan who he said do not grasp the enormity of the country's problems. "They appear to be thinking that in the developing countries there is no law and there is all dictatorship," he said.
Man, do I feel dumb for appearing to be thinking that. Where in the world would I have gotten a crazy idea like that?

> Scary thing? I was planning to include this very technology in a comic book soon, believing I'd conceived a pretty nifty piece of imaginary-yet-plausible tech. Now, it's a real world terrifying piece of privacy invasion poised to drive us all insane.

Don't you love science?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Elderly, White People, and Other Stories

My regular readers probably know that I'm not a big fan of organized religion. Mostly because my "regular readers" also double as my "friends" or "relatives."

So I was sort of surprised when I got so ridiculously enraged by this story about the Episcopal church.

Quick recap: The Episcopal Church raised waves when it - horror of horrors! - consecrated an openly gay bishop. That pissed people off so much that the Anglican Church (which the Episcopal Church is apparently part of or something) threatened to schism from them (but didn't.)

So now, an entire diocese in California of all places has broken off. I guess I'm surprised at that, but it's not what made me mad. What made me mad was a section that has since been removed apparently from the Reuters article I wrote my summary based on. From my memory the quote was something like this:
The vote was taken with clergy standing on opposite sides of a gymnasium. Then the lay-person delegates got up from the bleachers and walked to the side they were voting with. The delegates were overwhelmingly white and elderly.
I swear to god, I'm not making up that last sentence. The whole section is gone now, but it was there, I promise you.

There was just something ghoulishly infuriating about these old white men standing up and being counted, believing that their church was going the wrong way because it didn't hate gay people enough. This image just made me want to throw my laptop against the walls. I imagined their weird thought process, their simple belief (I imagined) that Church was going the wrong direction with all this treating the gays like equals business. Sure, love them like Jesus said, but for Christ's sake, they're avowed sinners!

But amateur mind-reading and rage aside, it made me realize something: Gay rights are going to win. Because old people die.

I know, not the most politically correct thing I've ever written. But hear me out. It's certainly true that old people are as different from one another as everybody else. I am positive there are many old people who are just fine with gay rights.

But I'm also pretty sure that those people are in the minority. Don't believe me? I found this in 2 seconds on Google. Don't click it though, or you'll give Fox News a pageview. Here's the upshot:

Two political scientists who analyzed two decades worth of Field Polls on the subject found that age was the strongest factor influencing whether someone opposed gay unions, with people born in the 1970s and '80s more than twice as likely to support them as those born before 1940.

See?

My thinking is, the older you get the more change you've had to watch in your life. You grew up in a different time with different value structures, and they've just been pushed too far. If you were born in the 1940s, black people still had to use the colored fountains. Now, we have something called the "internet" and men want to marry men. Probably, this is harder for you to accept than it is for me to accept, I get that.

But that changes. Our parents grew up in a world that was for black people much like this world is for gay people. There was a move to give them rights, but some people opposed it. Younger people, who had less prejudice, eventually won out, and taught (most) of their kids that black people were just as good as white people. Now those same people, our parents, are having a wee bit of trouble with the whole gay thing.

Most of us don't.

And they're going to die before we do.


> Hey remember that post I did about Chavez's crazy election non-fix? Whoops...

Seriously, how badly do you have to be losing to say, "You know what, I was going to fix this, but damn..."

> And now your crazy story of the week - Man fakes his own death, then gets sick of being dead and turns up pretending to have amnesia.

That link is just to the latest story - there've been loads of them, and frankly, you can sort through them yourself. My favorite part is that he faked his death in a canoe, then moved to Panama to set up a canoe resort. As his 80-year-old aunt said, "You couldn't make this up."

Here's my crazy thought though:

This guy got away with this for five years, and only gave up because he retardedly turned himself in.

What if there are, unbeknownst to us, people who this has worked for? We'd never know right? If this guy doesn't turn himself in, he's still dead to the world, right?

There could be hundreds of them. Out there. Somewhere.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Elections and Quasi-Dictators Edition

Voters went to the polls in two countries yesterday, and one of them shocked the hell out of me.

Let's start with the one that didn't surprise. That would be Russia. When they threw Gary Kasparov in jail for four days, you really learned all you needed to know about Putin's view on an open society.

When word broke that Putin had won yesterday's election, I began the countdown to election tampering allegations. If you had "under 24 hours later" in your office pool, congratulations.

These elections were basically a joke from the start. Even if government officials didn't rig the vote (and they probably did), the main opposition party was "disqualified" by the election commission, and the media, which is all either brazenly state owned or quietly state influenced, hadn't exactly been giving equal coverage to all sides.

That story originally contained a quote from Kasparov - who by the way, has to be the coolest dude in international politics - saying that Putin was "raping the democratic system." Maybe that's a little sensationalist, but it's also true. Putin is putting on a democratic dog and pony show that masks a defacto dictatorship. Elections are little more than a cheap ploy to add a veneer of respectability in the international community.

Probably Putin does have some popular support in Russia, but as Kasparov said when he came on Bill Maher's show, "How would you know?"

> So that's business as usual for these things. And it's the usual business I was expecting in Venezuela too. Didn't work out that way.

To recap: Chavez was holding a referendum vote that would have legitimized a constitutional amendment abolishing his term limit and basically making him a real, live communist dictator instead of a sort-of communist dictator. I expected him to win by the exact 10 points he was predicting, and I wasn't planning on believing a word of it. I'd have taken under 12 hours in the pool for complaints of tampering.

Instead, Chavez lost by one point... and took it calmly. This frankly astonishes me. Maybe Chavez isn't such a bad guy?

Of course Chavez is a pretty bad guy, prone to, say, shutting down media outlets that dislike him and making weaselly statements like "Whoever votes 'Yes' is voting for Chavez and whoever votes 'No' is voting for George W. Bush." Which is a statement so brazenly misleading, I'm surprised an American politician didn't say it. But at least he doesn't rig his elections. Or if he does, he sucks at it. These are good things to know.

Monday, November 19, 2007

For American Ears Only, also Music Awards

As ever, no apology for the delay. But if it happens again, you get your money back. Anyway...

> Something I feel's been getting lost in the Pakistan stories. Musharraf has been very adamant about saying that yes, yes, he'll definitely allow elections to go ahead in January, don't you doubt it, no delay, nosir.

Have you noticed that these pronouncements have done exactly zero to quell unrest in Pakistan? Here's why. He's not making those declarations for the good people of Pakistan. He's making them for us.

To be sure, Musharraf will hold elections on schedule. I don't doubt it for a second. Here's the thing. We Americans hear that and think, "Oh, I guess all will be well. The Pakistani people will be able to vote again, they can get Mushie outta there if they don't like him. That sounds good. You better hold those elections, Mr. Musharraf!"

This logic would work fine, if the Pakistani government worked like ours, or even like, say, Britain's parliament. But it doesn't.

In Pakistan the people don't elect the president. He takes over via military coup. Just kidding! Really, he gets elected by the parliament, who are in turn elected by the people. Just kidding! Really he takes over by military coup. But theoretically, totally that other thing.

The thing is, that sneaky Musharraf had parliament vote to give him a new five-year term over a month ago, before the people had a chance to elect new MPs (Members of Parliament).

In short, Musharraf pulled a mandate out of his ass from politicians about to leave office. Then when the Supreme Court was about to smack that down he, just kidding, took over via military coup.

(That's an oversimplification of course, because really the court was ruling on the legitimacy of electing as president the acting army head, something that is totally illegal, assuming the president didn't take over via military coup.)

The point is, Musharraf's election rhetoric is aimed squarely at the West, Musharraf's only allies. Why are we such good pals with Mushie? Well remember how in the cold war, all an enterprising tin-pot dictator had to do was say they hated the commies and presto, they were a staunch US ally? Musharraf realized that post-9-11, Musharraf dug up that old script, replaced "commie" with "terrorists" and voila - instant alliance. Hey, that's never worked out poorly for us in the past, has it?

Now, until a few weeks ago, Musharraf didn't look near so bad as those guys we propped up during the Cold War. Now? Um... yeah, about that.

My thinking? We need to distance ourselves from Mushie STAT. Otherwise, when he gets toppled, as he is oh so likely to get toppled, we're going to have an Iran situation on our hands all over again. Most likely, a Muslim religious faction will take the government, and will say, "Hey, remember what a bastard that Musharraf guy was? Totally a US puppet. Those US guys are bastards."

And if that happens? Then you have a nuclear-armed hostile nation that happens to harbor al Qaeda and the Taliban and border a major military theatre (Afghanistan). In short, if that happens we are fucked. Hard. The war on terror is essentially lost. Terrorists will have a cozier home base than before all of our idiotic post-9-11 knee-jerking kicked in.

But hey, things will be fine. He's holding an election and everything.


> While we are on things said for US ears, Ehud Olmert's latest political posturing sounds great over here in the US. "Let's be straight," Olmert said. "We committed ourselves in the road map not to build new settlements and we will not build any."

Yeah, let's be straight, Olmert ol' buddy. You haven't actually built a new settlement in 10 years. You just keep expanding current settlements, something that, ohbytheway, you also promised not to do in your meaningless "road map."

(Sidebar: Is anyone else disturbed that such an idiotic marketing label has crept up to the level of political terminology? You aren't mapping any
fucking roads. You are making inane and toothless timeline declarations that you will swiftly ignore.)

Olmert's statement wasn't just disingenuous - to the Palestinians it was ostensibly aimed at it was straight up nonsense. Don't take my word for it:

"What Olmert announced today is nonsense," said senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. "Olmert has to understand he either declares a full settlement freeze in all occupied areas including East Jerusalem, or it's nothing."
See, told you!

Olmert wasn't angling to actually appeal to Palestine. He's angling to get a round of wire headlines saying "Olmert tries to bolster relations with Palestinians!" That way, if things go ass-over-teakettle in Annapolis, he can throw up his hands and go, "Hey, I tried!" without actually conceding anything, and providing ammunition for political opponents who call him "weak" at about the same rate Hillary calls Obama "inexperienced."


> Okay, is it wrong that after all of that shit, and all the shit I cover every day, nothing made my blood curdle more than this.

Now, like many of you, I'm ever so tempted to cover my eyes, open Pandora and turn a blind ear to the neverending misbegotten sonic shitfest that is modern popular music. Mostly I do. Mostly, this makes me happy.

But here's what I hate most about this. They determine the nominees for this award by album sales. They determine the winner by internet vote.

It's like a stunning admission that yes, this is all crap, we have NO IDEA how to critically review and pick a winner from this pile of pig shit, so we will let the rampant consumerism of teenagers dictate the champions of "American Music."

Wouldn't it be lovely if the award could in some way be based on merit? Couldn't that bring sunlight to quality stuff the way the Academy Awards do?

I know, I know, the Grammys do it that way, and the Grammys are to the AMAs as the Oscars are to the Golden Globes.

Two problems:

1). Can you imagine even the Golden Globes saying "Fuck it, you pick"?

2). Christina Aguilera won a Grammy last year.

Sigh, never mind. I give up. Let American Idol burn the last vestiges of self respect from the rotting husk of American pop, I don't care. Obviously, our generation ceded its right to taste-making to the teeny boppers a long time ago, preferring to root out obscure bands than to crown one king.

But once, just once, I'd like someone or thing in the music pantheon to stand up, and call a spade a spade, to call shit shit, to call Justin Timberlake Justin motherfucking Timberlake. Just once I would like a shining beacon of taste to burst forth and say, "This! Pay attention to this you stupid motherfuckers!" I would like the next Radiohead to go on American Idol, I would like the AMAs to find me the next Beatles. I would settle for some sign, any sign, that the music industry can someday shake off the nightmare parody it's become.

For now, we're going to vote on it. For now, the teenyboppers get the exact empty reality contestant stars they deserve.

And they couldn't be happier.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Paul Bird Spins More Than Baseballs

> Sometimes, I really love my job. Here's what I wrote today about the breaking Paul Byrd scandal:
Paul Byrd, the pitcher who's been critical in the Cleveland Indians' successful playoff run this season, bought almost $25,000 worth of human growth hormone between 2002 and 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle learned today. Byrd admitted taking HGH, but told Fox Sports he was using it legally with a prescription. The Chronicle report, however, says two of Byrd’s prescriptions came from a dentist whose license was suspended in 2003 for fraud.
Now, obviously this is interesting to sports fans in general, and Red Sox fans in particular. But it's also interesting to anyone interested in how the news cycle works. See that last sentence there? The one where I blow a nice little hole in his story? That didn't make it into a single story I read that was published after the Fox Sports piece.

In other words, Byrd successfully executed a perfect spin. Ninety percent of the time, the media is in the business of saying who said what. As soon as Byrd said everything was on the up-and-up, everyone went with that new "nut." It didn't take a genius to look through the Chronicle article and notice the dentist factoid, or to notice that Byrd bought the drugs from a network that's been busted for selling illegal PEDs with doctored prescriptions (all of which is in the second half of my write up.) But no one mentioned these things in the same breath, because they were from the "old" story, the one titled "Byrd Took HGH." Byrd didn't like that old story, so he manufactured a new one.

This is the exact same technique politicians use all the time. Byrd fed the beast. Once the media catches the scent of a story, it's desperate for any angle it can get. Toss it new information to chew on, and it'll fall all over itself doing so. So when an unflattering news story like "Byrd Took HGH" crops up, all an enterprising bull-shitter has to do is say something contrary, and suddenly the media launches into an insane he-said, she-said ping-pong match.

If someone, right now, were to post a "new" report saying "Byrd Prescription from Fraudulent Dentist!" a whole new wave of "updates" would be published by every site out there. And Byrd knows that. That's why he declined to comment for the Chronicle, where the headline would remain "Byrd Took HGH." Instead he patiently waited a couple hours, then called Ken Rosenthal, producing a new headline: "Byrd Says He Took HGH Legally." Much better. Throws a nice layer of "Who the hell knows?" on the whole thing. Did you know, by the way, that Global Warming is a hoax? Someone said so.

Look, I can't say for sure that Paul Byrd knowingly used HGH to improve his performance. I can't say for sure that he's lying through his teeth. But I can say for sure that if he was lying through his teeth, he picked the savviest possible way of doing it. I can say for sure that Mr. Byrd would be a great politician. He's even got the religious part down.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Future of Media, also Brownback

Short, feel-good day of news:

> The Daily Show's new site isn't just a good idea. It's the future of TV online.

Companies have been pulling their hair out over how to fight YouTube pirating all their shows. Comedy Central is showing us it's easy: You just offer a better product.

Short Version: The new Daily Show site has every minute of every episode the show has ever aired, archived, tagged, and searchable by date and topic. That's dramatically better than the YouTube hodgepodge. Better yet, Viacom has all the masters, so they can make their content look better to boot.

Basically, Viacom is moving with the phenomenon instead of against it. It realizes there's a demand for the clips, so it seeks to be the best place to get them, and monetize with advertising. You know, like television has done since always.

How long can it possibly be before all TV, hell almost all media, is handled this way? You can't stop people from getting your content for free online. You just can't. But you can be the best, easiest place to get your own content online, then monetize the resulting traffic. The content providers have the resources to offer dramatically better options than the pirates, as long as they can figure out how to make money on it without seeming evil or cumbersome.

Television has always been a free medium. It's shocking that it's taking this long for them to figure out the web.

> Hey, while we're on the topic, check this out. Every relevant document in world history, in one ultimately credible, free searchable database. How do you say badass in seven languages?

Note the Google funding. This seems exactly in line with Google's larger plan to index and organize all the world's information. The books are the main hurdle to that goal, and don't think Google's not working on that.

And as ever, I feel compelled to point out, if you index, organize and essentially control all the world's information... isn't that sort of a plan for world domination? There's something kind of weirdly nefarious in Google's awesome mission statement. They may be supervillains at Google, that's all I'm saying.

> And finally, as my editor said when she assigned it, "One fewer candidate who doesn't believe in evolution..."

And okay, yeah, so Brownback only had 1.4% of the vote. That was still too close for my liking.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Flying Saucers! Also, French Justice, and Bad Trips

Let's get right to this, shall we?

> Flying fucking saucer! Okay, so yesterday we had the car that turns into a plane. That was cool. This is maybe even cooler - hell, it's so terrifying-cool that it makes me giddy. To recap: A group has already designed, built and tested a robot flying saucer. These babies rise vertically into the air, and can hover or motor around. They're safer, cheaper and more maneuverable than a helicopter. These already exist and work.

So of course, the Pentagon is interested. They think they might want to use them for, say, urban warfare. Very, very soon my friends, we could be living in a world in which the US army uses flying saucers. In cities. They can land and takeoff from virtually anywhere, so we're not talking about distant UAV drone planes. Contemplate that image for a second. Imagine you're on the streets of Baghdad and there are fucking UFOs in the air, some bringing supplies or soldiers, but others just cruising by... watching.

In practical terms, they will not mean much. Just a better helicopter. But if the image of a UFO-wielding army doesn't fill you with glee and dread and apocalypse... I dunno what to tell you. We are the aliens. Someday we will descend on other planets in our flying saucers with our strange weapons. We will want to know who is in charge.

> Elsewhere...

NOOOOOOOOOOO!

Let's see, she was already mentally ill, drunk, and too young to legally buy the things in the first place... Yeah, this seems like a logical response to her death.

The part that boggles my mind is this figure: Out of half a million doses sold a year, Amsterdam police have had 148 mushroom incidents in the past three years.

Can we get some figures comparing that to the number of alcohol incidents? Please?

> The law works very differently in France.

It's a big complicated story, kind of a true crime thing, but the upshot is, this guy just got convicted of a 30-year-old murder of a casino princess in the French Riviera.

Okay, first off, let me say that I'm sure the guy is probably guilty or, if not guilty, at least a scumbag. Probably, the world is going to be peachy fine with him being in jail.

But doesn't this kind of explode your American sense of Justice? Some points:

- They've never found a body, and don't even pretend to know where, when, how or even if a murder took place

- Which by the way, it might not have. The girl attempted suicide twice in the weeks before she disappeared. She wasn't on good terms with her family. There's no reasonable doubt here?

- They've now tried this guy three times for the same crime

- The second trial acquitted him for insufficient proof.

I didn't realize how attached I was to the American conception of justice until I read this article. It genuinely pissed me off. I mean - you can't try someone again - that's double jeopardy! You can't convict someone when you have absolutely no physical evidence or damning first-hand testimony - there's such a thing as reasonable doubt!

I don't know shit about France's justice system, so I can't say for sure what principles it espouses. But clearly, they aren't the same as those in ye olde American Constitution or legal system.

Which got me thinking. A full half of the bill of rights specifically addresses the rights of the accused. Obviously, this shit is deep in America's genetics, despite concerted attacks from Bush and Co. to dislodge some of it. But is our way best?

That French guy is a scumbag. For sure. He had his mistress lie to give him an alibi, which gives you a certain smoke-fire situation. Is the world worse off because French courts hounded this guy and retried him until they got a conviction. Maybe there was no evidence. But come on, they knew. If OJ had been French, he'd be in jail right now. (Well, actually he is in jail right now, but you get my point.) Is this a bad thing?

And you know what? Yeah. It is. Maybe it's not so bad to be able to re-try someone if the evidence changes, like it did here. Maybe. But I can't see myself ever being comfortable with a government being able to punish someone unless it's totally sure he did something wrong. Look at that poor German bastard the CIA tortured. They were pretty sure he was a terrorist, right?

If you're like me, you don't trust people in power, and you really don't trust people who have a mad on to punish other people. And that's why, yeah, I'm sticking with my reasonable doubt standard, thank you very much.

Call me ethnocentric.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I'm Back! Also, Genocide, Flying Cars

You know, virtually every insignificant blog on the internet's first post is, "Gee, sorry it's been a while between posts." Then, they usually tell you about their dog/mother/girlfriend's kidney transplant/engagement/coke binge and promise it'll never happen again. And that post is usually like a year old. So, I'm going to skip that part okay?


>First up! Never, never, NEVER underestimate the stupidity or sleaziness of legislators. How did this meeting get off the ground? Hey guys, I've got a great idea, why don't we pass a resolution that has absolutely no point except to piss off a major ally in an ongoing war!

Of course, you only need to read the AP version to figure it out. "The committee's vote was a triumph for well-organized Armenian-American interest groups who have lobbied Congress for decades to pass a resolution." Translation: Some Armenians paid someone in congress lots of money to put out this stupid resolution. They also probably bought some votes. But most of the votes probably came because people didn't want to be on record as denying a genocide. And for the same reason, it'll probably pass in the House.

But that won't really matter right? NATO's second-biggest army, which happens to be our main staging point for the Iraq war and safest Mid-East ally wouldn't really forsake us over something that happened 90+ years ago, right?

Take it away again, AP: "
After France voted last year to make it a crime to deny the killings were genocide, the Turkish government ended its military ties with that country."

Lovely.

Maybe some of you are thinking, "Wait a second Kev, wasn't what happened in 1915 actually a genocide? Aren't maybe legislators just following their consciences? Haven't 20 countries already passed legislation like this?"

And yeah, all that is true. And yeah, I admit, I'm kind of prone to idealism too. But think about it like this: Imagine another country's legislators sat down and spent actual time, on their actual public salary and voted to officially recognize America's slaughter of the entire indigenous population of the continental United States as a genocide. How do you think our leaders would react?

You, me, we might shake our head and say, "Well, this nation did participate in maybe the most breathtaking act of genocide on record. Probably it was worse than the Holocaust. Can't deny it." But something tells me mainstream America isn't quite ready for that.

Look, it was 90 years ago. No one who did it is still alive. Why in god's name would you piss off a major ally over something that happened in World War ONE?

Oh right. Because some Armenian paid you to.

Moving on.

> And now for something completely awesome.

Really I have nothing to say about it. Just oggle the cool picture and dream about the future okay?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Welcome to the Citizen-Monitored Police State. Also, Korean Nukes and Women Drivers

Okay, long Newser shift to digest, but here are the highlights:

-> Hey, who do you trust more, the US and Israel or Syria and North Korea? Is it bad that I had to think about this for couple minutes? Note to Syria, I'd have an easier time believing your angry denial via state-run newspaper, except that I suddenly remembered you have a state-run newspaper. Moving on...

-> If you don't think you care about women's rights in the Middle East, try reading up on their latest quest for the right to drive. The part where my head explodes is:

"Conservatives argue that if women were allowed to drive, they would be able to mix freely with men."

It's reading something like that that makes you go, "Hold on, what's wrong with that? Wait a second... you people really have some crazy belief that women are not equal to men, don't you? We are absolutely never going to understand each other, are we?"

-> Did you know Iraqis really hate private mercenaries running loose over their country with no legal standing? I didn't know that. I wasn't sure how to feel about this story, until I found that last link in the "Related Links" section. Blackwater, apparently is Bush's secret, unregulated mercenary Christian army. I don't know how accurate that assessment is. But I think I'm going to hate them, just in case.

-> And finally, I didn't cover it, but have you seen this video from a recent John Kerry event in Florida? The student got up, and asked some admittedly sort of paranoid questions, like "If there was so much voter fraud in 2004, how come you didn't protest it," and "Isn't it true that you were in the same secret society as President Bush in college?" And then look what fucking happened!



Like I said, the questions were a little paranoid, but nothing you or I wouldn't talk about in private. Reading the AP report, you'd think he brought it on himself. But watch the video! As soon as his time is up, the kid waves his hand in resignation, he looks about ready to sit down and the cops pounce on him.

Watch the whole thing. See if your blood doesn't curdle. You can hear him tell the cops, "I'll walk out of here." You can hear him beg them not to tazer him. But they do anyway, even though he's clearly on the ground and not a threat anyway.

And they want to charge the poor bastard with a felony! For what? As he asks, loudly, the entire time, "What did I do? What are you arresting me for?" Watching this video, it's sort of hard to believe what's happening in front of your eyes.

Here's the part I find fascinating though. As the cops go to arrest him, the incredulous student asks, "Is anybody watching this?" And the answer is, yes. A lot of people were. Swing over to YouTube, and you can find umpteen angles of this confrontation. This is the society we live in. Whenever something interesting looks like it's happening 100 cell phone cameras come out. I've seen a lot of people on the internet complaining that everyone just sat around, but come on, what would you have done, started a riot? In the 21st century, what concerned observers do is bear witness. We record, and we broadcast, so that shit like the AP story with it's official version of events aren't all we have.

We live in a police state, except the citizenry has the police under constant surveillance. Think about that for a minute.

Friday, September 14, 2007

One. Fucking. Million.

Maybe you're wondering to yourself, "Self, just how bad is this war in Iraq anyway?"

I've got a number for an answer. The number is 1,000,000.

Seriously? This bummed me out to a degree I can't even explain.

This war, which anyone should have known was stupid, which I knew was stupid when I was fucking eighteen, has been responsible for the deaths of one million people. I don't care how bad things were under Sadam. One. Million. People.

Already we knew that more Americans have died in Iraq than on 9-11. But this... this is staggering.

And when you match this up against a military that plays such utter games with the death tolls, it's sickening. Did you know people shot in the front of the head aren't victims of sectarian violence? Same thing for car bombs.

The whole thing sickens me. And it's going to get no coverage.

Sorry for being such a downer. I'll do something funny soon, really.

Understanding Our Enemies is Bad

This drives me up. the. fucking. wall.

I didn't cover this story, for the record. But damn am I pissed off about it.

Summary: The Pentagon is releasing tapes from the trial of the alleged 9-11 mastermind, but they're censored. The part they cut out? The part where he explains why he hates America.

"Why do they hate us?" Remember when that was the big question, after 9-11? Why do those wascally terrorists hate us so damn much?

Well, they're happy to tell us. In the AFP's words, in the suspect's explanation, "he sounds calm and collected, arguing with the panel on points of evidence in a soft, clear voice." So, nothing we could learn anything from, in other words.

Predictably the Pentagon's justification for censoring this testimony is that "could be used by our enemies in a way that could recruit terrorists." Bull. Shit.

The terrorists are not exactly having problems recruiting guys. The US handed them all the tools they need to do so when they invaded Iraq.

No, this was censored because the people in charge don't want us to, you know, understand our enemies. Bush would rather just tell us that they hate our freedoms. But they sure want us to fear our enemies, so the rest of the tape, that's fine.

It all speaks to a profound condescension to and mistrust of an American people that Bush and Co. have always felt are the real threat. In a free society, the public is supposed to be as informed as possible, but apparently, Americans just can't handle hearing this stuff, or they might go crazy and become terrorists. Or, you know, question the government or something, which is the same thing, right?

When Ron Paul suggested in the Republican debates that maybe, just maybe, we should look at the reasons the terrorists might have attacked us on 9-11, he was decried as crazy. Guiliani told him to take it back, and was lauded as a hero. This is the world we live in.

I guess it's too unreasonable and crazy to talk honestly about America's image in the Middle East. I guess it's too unreasonable and crazy for the public to discuss this stuff. Maybe they'd stop supporting the war in Iraq or something.

And that would definitely give comfort to our enemies.

Right?

I Defend a Polygamist Son of a Bitch

So, first post of the blog's new direction.

The topic today? This charming piece about the trial of son of a bitch Warren Jeffs.

To summarize: Son of a bitch Warren Jeffs is a son of a bitch. He is the so-called "prophet" of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He likes to do things like tell 14-year old girls to marry their 19-year old cousins, and then submit to them "body mind and soul." Also his church glorifies and promotes polygamy, which is a felony in some places. The government sort of frowns on behavior, so now he is on trial for rape as an accessory. Oops.

So how am I defending this guy? Well, let me start out by re-iterating that Warren Jeffs is a son of a bitch. The bitch in this case being his father, the previous prophet of the church. Apparently, it's a hereditary thing, that kind of stern moral leadership.

But you know what? He's not doing a damn thing that's illegal, and he's not doing a damn thing that should be illegal.

First there's the polygamy business. For some reason people in this country can't deal with polygamy. Even people who support gay marriage can't put their arms around it. And this baffles the hell out of me.

If you're not a person who's okay with polygamy, imagine if one of your friends was into it. I'm serious. I think this gets skewed a little because it's something practiced by those weirdo people in Utah, and also maybe Sultans and Blackbeard. But if you had a friend who said, "Yeah, I'm polyamorous, and I think I want to marry two people, and they're both into that," what would you say to them? You'd say "Uh, good for you." That's what you'd say. I know that's what I'd say, because I've had polyamorous friends.

And yeah, that argument ain't gonna fly for the religious people who aren't down with gay marriage but... honestly, fuck them. If you can't deal with the fact that morally speaking we live in a post-religious culture, and that that's how it's supposed to be in a nation with freedom of religion, then you're not a serious person. Honestly, if you think your religious beliefs are grounds for law in a country with freedom of religion, you are an asshat, and we will never agree on anything.

As far as I can see, polygamy, if it is between consenting adults, should be perfectly moral. The only possible argument against it would be tax related, which is a massive cop out. Just fix the tax code for crying out loud.

But Kev, I hear you saying, what about the non-consensual part of all this? What about telling a -GASP! - 14-year old to get married to some guy she doesn't want to get married to?

Look, telling a confused 14-year old to get married is a pretty reprehensible thing to do. There's just one problem...

...The legal marriage age in Utah is 14.

Yup.

Legal.

So, all you can pin this guy on is telling someone to get married. You know, giving them advice.

And I'm sorry, but that's not rape. Advice ≠ Rape.

What Jeffs told this girl to do was creepy. It was wrong. It was probably evil. But guess what? People say creepy, wrong and probably evil stuff all the time. They say it to kids all the time. And we have to let them do it, because otherwise, we have not even the thinnest pretense of freedom in this country.

I know what you're thinking. You're saying, "Come on, Kev. We, as a society, can agree that this guy is a dirtbag. Can't we just lock him up and worry about the pretext later?"

And the answer is no, we can't. Not if the rule of law means anything. Because who exactly speaks for "we as a society"? You? Me? The government? The religious asshats? The prophets who are like as gods?

To a lesser extent, every 14-year old in the nation has had some adult tell them some fucked up thing. Questioning authority is a survival skill, and everyone has to learn it.

And we have to learn it, in the case of the State of Utah vs. The Son of a Bitch, Warren Jeffs.

The Spak Report Gets a Point!

Okay, the prophesied day has come! Sort of!

I've always said I intended to eventually spin this blog off into a blog or blogs that has a point.

Well, I've come up with one. See, recently it became my job to write condense and rewrite news stories for Newser.com. You should go check it out, because it's a pretty nifty site, and also because every hit puts off the day when it goes under and I become unemployed.

Anyway, it occurred to me that I am now a lot more informed than I used to be on a whole lot of stories, many of which I wouldn't have followed or even known to follow if I wasn't being paid to. The thing about the internet era of news is that you very often don't pay attention to anything you don't already know about.

So my theory is that researching, understanding and writing three news stories a day might just transform me into someone with something interesting to say about the news. That's where The Spak Report comes in. Every day, I cover stories for Newser. Some interesting, some not. But my guess is that most days, I'll have something interesting to share, comment on, or vent about.

So that's what The Spak Report will be from now on - my news related blog, with something like daily posts (yeah right) about stories I've covered for Newser.

But wait! There's more!

I'll also be starting a comic book blog called Five Comic Draw. It will be for all things comic book, and maybe the occasional movie or book review every so often.

Those'll be it for now. The other main topics this blog has covered are Poetry and Baseball. Poetry is pretty fun to write about, but subjects are sort of intermittent and I don't want to run the risk of pissing people off every week. Baseball, as it turns out, is something that I love reading about, but don't actually have all that much to say about.

I will miss random whatever-the-hell-I-want Spak Report. I may still do some random posts like that. But tonight, I feel like doing something crazy, and it might as well be fucking with my blog.

Yes.

That's my idea of crazy.

Time to question the ol' lifestyle again...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Not-So-Weekly Comic Reviews!

Okay, so last week I took the week off, but I gave you a monster breakdown of basically every monthly I read. That's a fair trade off, especially because not much came out last week.

Well, much came out this week. Much. All in all, a totally awesome stack of books, and I'm not even through it yet.

But before we get to the reviews, I need a rating system. So I was hemming and hawing and I decided to take the questionable step of ranking each book based on poker hands.

Astonishing X-Men #22 - You know, I think this issue deserves its own spoilerific post. For now, suffice it to say, it's a pretty shocking issue. But apart from the sure to be talked about ending, the issue seemed a bit off. The pacing was weird, the X-Men re-unite off panel, and Cassiday's art seemed a little flatter than usual in places (particularly the panels with Danger). Emma's confrontation with Danger was good, but its resolution was rather unclear. Of course, when you're done, you won't even remember what happened in the first 18 pages or so, and five years from now, this will just be one chapter in the Whedon epic.
Bottom Line: Odd final score of Shocking, Solid, Off. I'll say it's Three of a Kind.

Black Summer #2 - Damn. This issue cranks up the everything. The action drives the moral questions, the moral questions drive the character development, and all of it drives the plot. It's very, very rare that you see that balance working this well. At the same time, there's a manic pace to everything, which ratchets up the tension on a "What's our next move?" scene that another writer might botch (cough, Bendis, cough). Really quality stuff, Ellis at the top of his powers. Of course the art is typical Juan Jose Ryp, taking over-rendering to the point of stylization, but the biggest problem with this issue is that it's very clearly been written for the trade. It begins, and you feel like you missed a page, and the ending is absurdly random. It's like Ellis wrote the thing in one big chunk and then wrote "To Be Continued" every 22 pages.
Bottom Line: Gripes aside, this is a badass book. Full House.

Batman #667 - In my review of last issue I was a bit dismissive about the "nice bits of craft." Well, I went back and re-read that issue, and let me tell you, that sells it way short. Every page has something very cool and innovative going on with the page layouts, even when it's very subtle. This issue is much of the same. Tense script, killer artwork and layout and design that refuse to be boring. I don't know how much of this stuff Morrison is putting in the script and how much Williams is doing himself - let's give Williams the lion's share of the credit - but the design work is singlehandedly raising this arc from run-of-the-mill slasher mystery into something that's fascinating to look at and read. Bottom Line: It's by the numbers, but with Williams drawing, who cares? Straight.

Thunderbolts #116 - I don't think I've ever read a superhero title as disturbing as Thunderbolts. In what could very easily teeter into hit you over the head allegory, Thunderbolts instead just feel creepily familiar. You see how fucked up the Marvel Universe is, and it rings terribly true with how fucked up our own universe is. It manages to be totally compelling, without investing us in a protagonist or even rooting interest. This issue starts a new storyline and gives some much-needed screen time to Penance, who it finally looks like Ellis has a plan for beyond editorial shoving him on the team. It's kind of unclear if this takes place after the Desperate Measures one-shot or not, but whatever.
Bottom Line: Solid issue in this vivid nightmare of a book. Straight.

Amazing Spider-Man #543 - So. Here we have the conclusion of the much-hyped Back-in-Black arc. I know it's the conclusion, because it says Back in Black Part 5 of 5 on it. Only one problem: there isn't anything even vaguely conclusive about it. The plot centers around a bizarre caper wherein Peter and MJ illegally transfer Aunt May to another hospital. Which sounds like 10 times more fun than this story actually is, as Peter spends the whole time recriminating about all the laws he's breaking. And at the end, I really don't even know what the point of the whole thing was - the coppers'll never find her at this other hospital! It's all just stupid. This is what Pete's having a major moral crisis about? Come fucking on.
Bottom Line: Is JMS' run over yet? It's not? Sigh. Junk.

The Order #2 - The problem I'm having with this book is that I can barely keep straight all the new characters, much less care about them. But it's starting to get better - it seems each issue is set to focus on one team member, while keeping them all involved and there, kind of similar to what Lost did in its first season. This issue's character is Becky, a child actor and teen star, and that story is very cool. We also get nifty character moments from the armored-lookin' one and the fast ones.
Bottom Line: It's good, but I'm not yet blown away. I was hoping to be blown away, Mr. Fraction! Two Pair.

Iron Fist #8 - This issue makes last arc make a lot more sense. So that's good. It's setting up the big mystical martial arts tournament for this arc and frankly, which should be awesome. Nothing much actually happens in this issue, but it's not boring or slow, it's necessary set up, bringing in a host of very cool foes for Mr. Rand, setting the stakes and giving his origin an interesting extra layer.
Bottom Line: A good jumping-on point (if people still do that) for a good book. Three of a Kind.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

My Pull List

So, there are 100 things I should be doing right now.

And this ridiculous blog post is not among them.

But it's what I'm doing anyway. Topic: Comic Books.

So, one of the problems in reviewing comics is that they should be reviewed more by a run of issues than by the single installment. That used to be easier to do, back before the emergence of the six-issue arc as the predominant storytelling form. Now, monthly buyers basically need to wait half a year to figure out if a series is any good.

So, here's my little corner of fixing that. What I'm going to do is rate my pull list, the books I'm reading every month, from top to bottom, with notes. I'll update it every, say, two months. That should give a really good track on those titles. If other blogs do likewise? The world will be a better place. This doesn't include books I'm reading by trade - those apologies at the end.

Okay, so my pull list, as of today:

Cream of the Crop
1. Casanova - Holy shit. Here is a book that does not know how to mail it in. Every month is a fucking incredible smorgasbord of over-the-top insane sci-fi action, dense as all get-out, yet so light on its feet you never feel bogged down. This title moves at a breakneck pace and trusts you to be smart enough to keep up. Sometimes that means rereading issues, but hell, that's why you bought them right? Kickass art, kickass story, and hey, look, it's even a dollar cheaper than everything else on the rack.

2. The Spirit - I'll admit, I didn't really see the point of putting out a monthly Spirit book in 2007. The greatness and charm of the Spirit stories always lay mostly in Eisner's craft, not the mostly generic lead. That is until Darwyn Cooke decided to showed up and did a book so bursting with charm and craft, Eisner must be pulling it in heaven. Cooke is on writing and art chores here and he's not mailing either in. He's taken the Spirit, recognizes everything that made it great and modernizes it. Remember those great splashes? Well why not make them two page spreads! Eisner used his full 8 pages to craft one tight story - why not use all 22 of the modern book? And did I mention the oh-so-necessary re-invention of Ebony? It's the complete package, a smart, smile-inducing, gorgeous book that demands to be read and reread.

3. All-Star Superman - It is very rare that you find a talent quite as unique as Grant Morrison. We might never see quite this mix of brilliance and insanity again. Everything you love about Morrison is here: the masterful grip on metaphor, powerful vision, virtuoso writing style and most of all, a sense of flat-out fun. Morrison delivers on everything that makes Superman great - the whimsy, the supporting cast, the bigger-than-life adventures - and packs it so full of new ideas that it's a joy to read. And you know, that Quietly guy can draw, too.

4. Captain America - This has been Marvel's best offering for a while now, but I always forget about it until a new issue comes out. Then I sit and bask in it and for a week, I remember just how good it is. Brubaker's story is masterful, working in everything you loved about Captain America into one giant epic with distinct, satisfying arcs that all play in together. It's good. The art is even better. Epting - with a major assist from colorist Frank D'Armata - is drawing his ass off here, and every issue looks gorgeous.

5. Astonishing X-Men - Speaking of pretty art, I will buy almost anything John Cassiday draws. Couple that with a quipy, action-packed and cinematic script from Joss Whedon that nails all the characters and puts them in an extremely fun space epic, all without using a single standard-issue X-Villain? You've got one damn good funny book, my friend.

6. World War Hulk - Yeah, it's an event book. Yeah, the tie-ins are crap. But if the Hulk fighting the entire Marvel Universe for five issues doesn't sound like a good time to you, maybe you're not a real comics fan. This series is delivering that in spades, with every issue bringing the savagery in a story whose end I can't predict right now.

Good Stuff

7. She-Hulk - Jumping Hulks, if you haven't been reading Dan Slott's awesome She-Hulk run... well it's basically too late to start now, it ends next issue. But it's worth buying the trades. This is the funniest funny book out there, kemosabe.

8. The Immortal Iron Fist - Despite one or two semi-confusing issues, this Kung-Fu book remains a thing of beauty - gorgeous artwork highlights a balls-out martial arts story dripping with grit and almost retro-cool.

9. Thunderbolts - Six issues in, Thunderbolts has managed to live up to the hype. This book stands out because it's not so much fun as disturbing. You're not rooting for the Thunderbolts. You're watching in horror as they run roughshod over any concept of decency. Toss in Deodato's dark, realistic art, and the book really comes together.

10. Buffy: Season Eight - Speaking of living up to the hype, if you were a Buffy fan, you should be buying this comic, period. So far, almost everything you loved about the show is in there. I say almost because, let's face it, drawn hot women just aren't as fun to look at as real ones.

11. Hero Squared - The other quality humor book on the market. Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis do their JLI schtick, and it works really well. Good characters, surprisingly great sitcom/soap opera/super-hero storyline. Now if only the art was a little more crisp.

Solid Reads

12. Detective Comics - It's tough to argue with Paul Dini doing his Batman: The Animated Series thing every month. So I won't. Great one-and-done stories here, although the recent Zatanna two-parter was underwhelming and there have been far too many fill-in issues.

13. Fell - Ben Templesmith is a daring choice to draw a sixteen-page book, but it works. Ellis is always looking to experiment too, which is fun. The only thing keeping it in this section is that sometimes a sixteen page mystery works out exactly as well as you imagine it would.

14. Invincible - If you like old-school superheroics, back when heroes were more into punching things than being metaphors and crap like that, then you should read Invincible. It's a great book that's almost always worth your $3. My only reservation here is that some storylines took a long time to go nowhere (Reanimen, Anton Levy, Mauler Twins), but things have been really picking up lately.

15. Avengers: The Initiative - Every issue of this Civil War spinoff has brought the noise; it even managed to almost make its World War Hulk tie-in work. It would be higher if I cared about the characters more.

16. The Irredeemable Ant-Man - What a fun book. If you haven't been reading - and not enough of you have, because next issue is the last - S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Eric O'Grady is the worst guy in the world, and he's just stolen a new Ant-Man suit. Hilarity ensues. Eric's not a villain, he's just a dirtbag, sinking to new lows each issue. I'd rank it higher, but the terrible World War Hulk tie-in is still bugging me. No pun intended.

17. Punisher War Journal - If I'm buying a monthly Punisher book, you know it must be good. The last storyline went on just one issue too long, otherwise it would be higher.

18. Transformers - I'm actually loving IDW's take on Transformers. It's obviously all been really well thought out. Now if only they actually inked the thing, we might have something here. Seriously, these books mostly just look lousy. Sorry guys, they do. Also, every issue costs $4.

19. Runaways - Whedon's dialog and characterization is spot on as usual, but his run has been a little perplexing. Why are the kids in New York again? Why would they be so stupid as to seek out the Kingpin? And why do the tired old Victorian time-travel thing?

Treading Water

20. New Avengers - Leinel Yu's art is great. The team line-up is great. Some issues I love this book. Others, I start thinking about other ways you can spend $3.

21. Amazing Spider-Man - Here's the thing about Strazinsky's Amazing - it's usually one of the first things I read the week it comes out. Important stuff happens. It's even exciting. The only problem is, it's not really any fun. Is it too much to ask that my Spider-Man book be fun? I don't think it's too much to ask.

22. Ex-Machina - Extremely smart series, but it's often late and doesn't really read well as a monthly. Might switch to trades on this (again).

On the Edge

23. Batman - Reading this, you kind of want to lean over to Morrison and go, "Hey, man, are you sure you're okay to drive?" His Batman is sometimes playful, sometimes confusing, but mostly it's just totally aimless. The thing is, this could STILL wind up looping back around and looking completely fucking brilliant a year from now. Or we could all be scratching our heads going, "What the fuck was up with that Joker issue? Did that happen?"

24. Checkmate - I think I enjoy Checkmate. Really, I do. I think, after over a year, I finally know who everyone is and can follow the really pretty interesting superhuman international politics plot. But it's something of an effort to read, and the recent Outsiders crossover was a big turn-off.

25. Mighty Avengers - It aspires to be old-school. It often succeeds. It's had at least one jaw droppingly excellent fight scene. But Bendis's writing seems a little off, particularly in the non-cliffhangers. It's just not coming together for me yet.

26. Powers - Usually the bright spot in the Bendis oeuvre, Powers pissed me off enough last month to drop this low. Maybe if it actually came out sometimes, I'd have a more balanced view to judge it on. Also, the letter columns, previously the best part of the book, are now a shell of their former selves. Sigh.

27. Action - This book just pisses me off. Stop with the fill-ins. Finish your fucking story line before you start a new one. If the Donner-Johns story wasn't so damn good when it came out, I'd've dropped this, and frankly, there's still time.

Up soon: recently dropped, thinking of picking up, stuff I get in trades

Friday, August 10, 2007

Weekly Comic Reviews!

I've been meaning to do one of these ever since I started the blog. So why not? This review covers only those comics I actually bought this week, so, if you were thinking of buying comics other than those... good luck I guess? Anyway without further ado:

Casanova #8 - If you buy only one comic this week, make it this one. As usual, it's a filled to bursting with off-the-wall, sexed-up sci-fi madness. As usual, at 16 pages and $2, it feels like more story than most $3 comics. This issue's the start of a new arc, and not only is it a good jumping on point, it's more coherent than issue #1 ever was. But don't worry, still crazy. It also brings in new artist Fabio Moon, which I was worried about, until I realized he kicks untold quantities of ass. Seriously, his art - and the book's new single color, blue - look fucking unbelievable. Bottom line - This is my favorite book on the shelves these days. Buy it.

Powers #25 - Basically the opposite of Casanova is Powers #25. Apparently there are 40 pages to this book, which makes it worth a dollar more. Okay, so a whopping eight of those pages are taken up by the letter column, in which Bendis doesn't actually answer any letters. That's okay. Really, we all love re-reading your Newsarama interviews and press releases Brian. The 32 pages of story we did get felt like 20 if that. It's filled with giant splashes and drawn out action scenes that almost make you feel like you're watching the story in slow motion. And honestly, did we need a two page, seventy-panel(!) spread of Walker having sex? Don't answer that. Bottom Line - The story might be going somewhere. It's not doing it quickly.

New Avengers #33 - While we're on Bendis, I've been enjoying New Avengers, almost entirely thanks to the work of Leinil Yu. I may be in the minority, but I think Yu's art makes perfect sense for this book. That said, this issue feels a lot like filler. The Avengers spend the issue sulking. Brian Vaughan's Hood is reintroduced, but not in a way that's really fun or makes sense. Note to Bendis: not only have I read enough crimelord-asserts-himself-by-killing-other-crimelord scenes to last a lifetime, but you wrote half of them. There are two pages here that really work - a marital scene between Luke and Jessica that just nails it. Bottom Line - Yes, the Avengers sure don't trust each other. Now can they do something?

Batman #667 - Grant Morrison veers off from his previous story - the unresolved and nigh-impenetrable three-Batman storyline - for a new romping mystery in a locked castle. This issue is tight, and it's fun, but it's all a little by wrote compared to Morrison's usual boundless creativity. Still, touches of strong craftsmanship, and kickin' art by J.H. Williams make this a solid buy. Bottom Line - It's good to have fun Batman books in our lives.

Punisher War Journal #10 - The Hate Monger story blows up real good, finally. It's appropriately climactic, but it's undermined by a poorly choreographed final fight scene. Olivetti's art has its strengths, but action isn't one of 'em. Some character development happens, but it's not very interesting. My guess is that Punisher will keep killing people. Bottom Line - This storyline wasn't bad, but I wouldn't recommend the trade.

Black Adam # 1 - Black Adam, if you missed the memo, is kind of a badass. Tomasi gives us a Teth Adam who's at once an appalling and compelling. The whole Justice Society plot did nothing for me, though. Bottom Line - If you liked the idea of depowered Black Adam, this ish won't disappoint.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Our Democratic Congress at Work

Note to our Democratic-majority legislature, voted into power not so very long ago.

If you were elected for anything, it was to protect us from shit like this:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/06/washington/06nsa.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

My favorite part is the way that the White House is taking the high-road here, and justifying the law with good old fashioned xenophobia:

“It’s foreign, that’s the point,” Mr. Fratto said. “What you want to make sure is that you are getting the foreign target.”

But honestly, I'm not even that mad at Bush. I'm mad at those spineless fuckwits elected in November. Listen guys, I know you can't get us out of Iraq. But you CAN not pass a fucking ridiculous law that gives the Executive Branch unconstitutional surveillance powers and continues our long descent into an Orwellian nightmare. Is that too much to ask?

The Senior Circuit

ESPN.com's latest baseball power rankings contain the phrase:

"The NL's best 1-2 punch: Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly."

Hey, who knew?! Congratulations Ted Lilly - you're officially part of the Bronson Arroyo All Stars!

Just for fun, Ted Lilly's stats with the AL's Blue Jays:

Record ERA K/BB HR
2004 12-10 4.06 1.89 26
2005 10-11 5.56 1.66 23
2006 15-13 4.31 1.93 28

Aaaand, vs. the NL:

Record ERA K/BB HR
2007 12-5 3.53 3.31 18

Ah, the Senior Circuit. Helping mediocre pitchers look good since the Clinton Administration.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

His Name is Win

So. The Red Sox have acquired Eric Gagne, the most appropriately named guy in sports history.*

You have to like this deal if you're a Sox fan. Our bullpen just went from extremely good to embarrassingly good, and we didn't give up all that much to do it.

But before Theo and co. go patting themselves on the back too hard, let's remember the following things:

1. They could have signed Gagne in the offseason. Instead, they signed Joel Pineiro - a failed starter with an ERA over 6 - for $8 million. In case you missed it, we shipped Pineiro to St. Louis this morning for a bucket of balls and a pitching machine. And we had to throw cash into the deal.

2. His name may still mean win, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking this is 2004 Gagne. Take a gander at his stats. His strikeouts per nine, strikeouts to walks and WHIP this year have been highly mortal compared to his prime. Opponent's average has held steady, but opponent's OBP is at its highest since '01. Granted, his prime was ungodly. But let's just hope no one has any illusions of him taking over for Papelbon. I'm even uncomfortable with talk of him taking the main setup/sometime closer role from Okajima.

Man, that sounded pretty negative. Let's get back to the fun part: You do this deal in a heartbeat. This is the kind of deal you really appreciate in October, when you're looking anxiously towards the bullpen for arms. Right now? That's going to be a stress free glance. We have three freaking guys who deserve to be closers in that pen.

The price for all this was Gabbard (at the absolute peak of his value) and two prospects, David Murphy and Engel Beltre. Murphy was ranked 16th by Sox Prospects. Beltre didn't make the top twenty. You're not going to get this deal done any cheaper. Losing Gabbard isn't such a big deal with Lester looking good, Schilling coming back, and Tavarez still in the organization. Let's not fool ourselves into thinking we ripped Texas off - this was fair value and made sense for both sides. But we didn't pay a dime over fair value, something you can't often say when you get the best player in a deal.

Which is what we surely did get. We got the man named win. How awesome is that?

*Because sadly, Enos Slaughter never killed anybody.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Problem With World War Hulk

Just got through reading Incredible Hulk #108. If you haven't read it yet? Just don't. Wow. No kidding. Miek is just like Rick Jones, huh? Fascinating. Can I have my $3 back?

I figured going into this "crossover" that the main action would mostly be confined to the miniseries and Incredible Hulk. I was wrong. It's just the miniseries.

Whatever you thought about Civil War, you have to admit that it was the rarest of things: A crossover that actually worked. This was a story so god damn big that you actually wanted to read all the tie-ins. Every character was affected by the event, and the tie-ins seemed to provide critical info. Recently I went through trying to pick out the "must read" stuff from the event for Melissa, and I realized that the tie-ins were all important only if you cared about the characters in those books - and if you did they were absolutely vital.

So after that bunch of relevant crossover books, World War Hulk is like cold water to the face. Remember back in the days of, for example, Secret War II, when the Beyonder would just show up in every issue so it could be a Secret War II tie-in? World War Hulk reminds me of that. (Okay, so I bought a bunch of random back issues when I was a kid. We've all done things we're not proud of.)

The point is, you can't have a crossover that's only about one character or one threat. It doesn't work. World War Hulk is a sad reminder of crossovers gone by, back when you'd cringe when one of your monthly pulls had a (sigh) crossover issue. You'd know that for one month, nothing important was going to happen in that book.

This is all pretty sad because World War Hulk is actually a pretty cool story. The main book has been kickass - its first issue had one of the best Hulk fights ever, and there's been a long history of awesome Hulk fights. It's just not a story you can tell across multiple titles. We all know nothing significant will happen to the Hulk in a tie-in. We know nothing important is going to happen to any of the characters fighting him in these tie-ins. So what's the point. So far, all of WWH has taken span in the space of maybe three hours, and all in one location, so the books are practically tripping over each other. This should have been done like Planet Hulk. Planet Hulk got the trade dress and was hyped like an event, but was all just contained in Incredible Hulk.

What worries me is this: There's every chance that this story had to be a crossover just to get people to pay attention to it. That we're back in an era where people think you can't change the status quo of a comics universe without a crossover. You can also argue that a lot more people are reading this series because it's a crossover.

I'd counter by saying that I was really excited about this event before it started. But after reading just a handful of the terrible tie-ins, all I can say is, "Is it over yet?"

Thursday, July 26, 2007

YouTube debate, part 2

Just realized my last post about the YouTube debate didn't talk at all about the format, which was after all supposed to be the "historic" part of all this. (If you're interested you can watch the debate here.)

Those of you who watched the Mass. Gubernational debates (Yes, I love the word "Gubernational" as much as you do), will remember the debate where they played video questions from "average citizens" like Shonda Schilling and Jasper White. Very down to earth.

Well, this YouTube debate was not like that. These were most definitely real questions from real morons with webcams. And oh were there some morons. Like the guy who introduced the debate by challenging the candidates not to dodge questions, or worse yet, the guy who wanted to know, "How will you be different... without the usual platitudes and stuff we're used to hearing." Holy crap! You mean the candidates will stop spouting platitudes if we tell them too? No fucking way! Man, why didn't we think of this before?

Thing is? For all the nutjobs, for all the crazy shit and the stupid shit, the YouTube questions actually did make for some goddam entertaining moments. If you're going to go to the trouble of making and posting a video question, you probably have an axe to grind. And boy did people.
Basically every question had some kind of combative tone. My favorite? This awesome John Edwards slam.

Here's the thing. CNN could have given us all sensible questions. They could have gone the Shonda Schilling and Jasper White route. For all the talk about this being open, it wasn't a live chat, they could exercise editorial judgment. And, as they showed us at the beginning, they did. They weeded out dumb shit like kids asking the questions, for example. But no seriously posed question was out of bounds. That means we got stuff like the guy who asked if African Americans would ever get reparations. We got a soldier who wanted to know how Hilary Clinton could be taken seriously in an Arab world where women are second class citizens. We got an atheist kid asking why we shouldn't be afraid by all the god talk. We got a country music video about a guy who hates taxes.

Okay, so maybe we could have done without that last one. But the funny thing is, somehow, improbably, impossibly, this felt like real Americans being heard. This cacophony of opinions, disharmony screamed real life. This was shit that would not be asked in a standard format debate. Mostly the candidates squirmed out from under the questions, but sometimes its fun to watch people do that. Take this nutjob. Richardson sort of squirms and tries to make him happy because that's what politicians do: try to make people happy. Then Biden says what we're all thinking: "If that's your baby, you've got a problem."

In the end, I think it told us at least as much as any normal debate. And the thing is, I came away immensely psyched to see the Republican version. I mean holy crap. If the public has this much rancor to loose on the Dems, think how much worse it'll be for the Republicans. How cool will it be to see all the crap pissed off Daily Show viewers hurl at those guys?

Of course, the Republicans sense this too, so they're trying to pull out, citing the dems refusal to appear on Fox News. Of course, this is downright cowardly. CNN didn't weed out tough questions for the Democrats or anything. There were plenty of oppositional questions. If the Republican party really wants to perpetrate the charade that CNN is on par with Fox in terms of credibility, let's hope their credibility takes a similar hit.

I find myself thinking about what my friends would send to these candidates, or at least people like my friends, or people at poetry night. In other words, actual people. Somehow this stupid gimmick of a format has me believing that the Republican candidates will actually have to face the American people.

Even if most of those people are still just morons with webcams.

How George W. Bush Gave Me Hope

The year was 2000, a Presidential election was going on. And I didn't think it mattered who won.

I followed it, sure. I made big lists of reasons to support each candidate, even though I couldn't vote. I was well informed on the general positions of each candidate. In the end, I decided Gore was the better pick, if only because George W. Bush was so utterly and flagrantly stupid. I lamented, and still lament, the death of the McCain campaign.

But in the end, I didn't really think it would matter. I didn't think either president would enact substantial change. Having had the same president for all of my adolescences, I didn't get how much the President mattered.

So all I can say is, George W. Bush, thank you. You have proven that one man CAN make a difference in the highest political office in this country. That by shear force of will, you CAN change things, even when your approval ratings are the lowest in history. You showed me the president has power.

And oh sure, you used this power entirely to fuck up the country. Granted. But without you to show us all just how much damage one man can do, these little presidential elections wouldn't have nearly the urgency.

Some other political thoughts while we're here:

Watched the CNN YouTube debates on CNN's website. Some observations:

- If nothing else, this debate narrowed the field for me nicely. This really is a three man race between Clinton, Obama and... Joe Biden. Edwards killed himself for me. This guy always feels like a used car salesman. I don't want a used car salesman to be president. There was not ONE question that he answered head on in that debate. Not one. It was always, "I think what you're really asking" and "I think this brings us to a larger point." Gag.

- Biden meanwhile managed to be engaging and straightforward in all cases. He was realistic about Iraq, and said what we were all thinking about that gun video - namely that the guy in the video was a nutjob. I'm not a fan of his "Where America can, America must!" talk, and I don't think that'll play well after 8 years of Bush, but if you must vote for a white male in this election, this is the guy!

- There wasn't nearly enough screentime for Gravel. And boy did he let us know it. It's not that I think he could be President, or that I think he has anything interesting to say, or really that I think he adds anything at all to the debate. But man is he fun to watch. There is a man who can rile himself up. Can we make him press secretary or something? Then we could see him on the Daily Show every night. We need more Mike Gravel in our lives.

- According to Dennis Kucinich, we can get out of Iraq by sending text messages. What a let down. After an impressive showing on Maher, I thought this guy could be cool - but he looked like such an idiot last night. He gave me that "I'm embarrassed for you" feeling whenever he was onscreen.

- Goddamit, but I'm starting to like Hilary Clinton. She's just so fucking competent. She's the smartest person in either race. Almost all of her answers on substantive matters last night were honest and well thought out. Very little soundbite speak. Plus, how awesome would Bill Clinton: First Man be? Unfortunately, she'll probably get creamed in a general election.

- If I had to lay odds on it, the next president of the United States is going to be a black man. When did you ever think you'd hear yourself thinking that?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

...Or maybe they're not

Hey, maybe Kenny Williams reads this blog!

The post below was written based on a report that came out this morning that contract negotiations had broken down and Buehrle was likely to be traded.

Now word just came out that they're signing him after all, and giving him the no trade clause he was originally asking for.

The power of the blogosphere strikes again!



(Yes, that was a joke)

The White Sox Are Dumb

Kenny Williams is a very good general manager, if you can say that about a guy whose team is about as competitive as Kate Moss at a hot dog eating competition. So when he turns down a no-brainer deal from one of the best young pitchers in the game, you have to figure he has a good reason.

I'm not going to bother telling you that four years, $56 million with an automatic option if traded is a no-brainer deal for Mark Buehrle. You know that. (Or you don't follow baseball and are reading this post anyway. Either way.) So if Williams won't close the deal, it means that either:

1). He thinks his team is going to suck for the next three years or so, and would rather trade for prospects and put up a "Wait until 2012" sign on the lawn, or:

2). He know something about Buehrle that we don't.

Given that Buehrle pitched 8 scoreless yesterday, I don't think we're talking about 2. I think we're talking about 1. I think he sees a potential here for a Mark Mulder-for-Danny-Haren type of trade. Or even a Josh Becket and Mike Lowell for Hanley Ramirez and Annibal Sanchez kind of deal (with Jermain Dye as Lowell). Which, you might argue, are pretty good scenarios that might appease the White Sox faithful, who ought to be outraged by this non-signing.

Only one problem: Williams isn't going to get anything like that. Buehrle's trade value has to have plummeted as a result of these contract discussions. Right now, Buehrle's just a half-season rental. For a team to trade major assets for him, they'd have to be either confidant to the point of hubris that he would deliver them a title, or they'd have to believe that he'd sign a long term deal with them. But thanks to these talks, we know Buehrle doesn't want to leave, so the odds of him embracing a new city with a home town discount seem remote.

Just as importantly, by striking down this deal, Williams has indicated that he is desperate to make a trade. You know what happens when one guy is desperate to make a trade, and the other guy is just kind of interested? The desperate guy gets a colonoscopy, that's what.

Of course, now that I've said all that, the Red Sox will probably trade Jacoby Ellsbury for him or something, in the universe's never ending quest to make me look stupid, and teach everyone not to overestimate the intelligence of sports execs.

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