Saturday, February 26, 2011

Duck Comics: "Night of the Saracen"

Friday, February 25, 2011

Semi-coherent raving

(the above being a genuine, undoctored screenshot)

This whole anti-union business fills me with such rage I just want to punch someone in the face, hard, but it's really a whole system, and there's no one person whom I could punch that would hurt the whole system--though I guess that evil fuckstick Scott Walker would be a decent enough substitute (I mean fucking christ-- at some point, you probably thought that the overseers in Upton Sinclair novels have to be exaggerations, or at least that their real-life versions probably weren't quite so gleefully aware of how evil they were--I HATE the fact that I am constantly being revealed to have been laughably naïve). I don't even fucking understand how it's possible to say to people "oh, sorry, you're not allowed to band together in order to demand better working conditions or higher wages." What the fucklety? Look, I know goddamn well that the "conservative" ideal is a state of fucking anarchy where the billionaires live in their palaces of gold and the rest of us eat each other, but the very idea that they can actually mandate by law that we're required to do this--fucking unbelievable. Thousands of workers fought and died (were murdered, frequently, and don't think there aren't plenty of people who'd like a repeat of that--most of them just aren't dumb enough to say it in so many words) frequently to live slightly less shitty lives, and for what? It's like it's fucking 1917 all over again. These conscience-less motherfuckers want to repeal the entire twentieth century, and...they're doing a pretty good job of it! And we're pretty much cool with that. Long as it doesn't involve taking away our Shiny Objects, not being trampled upon by robber barons isn't really a priority.

On a semi-related note, here is a fucking unbelievable quote by Mark Murphy, CEO of the Green Bay Packers, which I always thought was supposed to be the non-evil team:

You know, right now our current players if they’re vested, and you vest if you play three or more seasons, you get health insurance coverage for five years, which is great. But I look at it, too, and the transition for players from playing in the NFL to finding another career and establishing themselves is very difficult, and I really wonder, sometimes, if we do too much for the players. They’ve got severance pay and a 401(k) plan. I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes it’s not all bad, and going back and talking to some of the players who played for Lombardi in the ‘60s — you know, they worked in the off-seasons, and they made a very smooth transition into their second careers because they had to. And so I’m a little worried that if we do too much for players in terms of compensation after their career’s end, and health insurance — it’s not all bad to have an incentive to get a job. And, so those are just some of the things we’re thinking through and talking through.

Or, to put it another way, "if we take some responsibility for destroying their bodies, they just won't have the incentive to go out and get jobs. The lazy slackers--they're all like 'oh, I'm too crippled and brain-damaged to find a magic job that provides the health insurance I need! I'm a girl, and I like playing with dolls!' Whine whine whine--suck it up, ya buncha pussies!"

Yeah, I know, former player, former union rep--but here and now, he is making the argument of a psychopath. At some point, something in his brain clearly just broke. While I don't think Murphy deserves anything like sympathy, he may deserve something like pity: people like him hold money as the highest good, and why the heck wouldn't they, since that's our constant drumbeat--not "enough money to live a decent life," but "more more more" in a totally asymptotic way: there will never be enough. And having internalized that, it suddenly becomes totally reasonable to construct arguments in support of that--arguments that, to non-insane people, inspire only horrified revulsion. And the thing of it is, Murphy is probably arguing completely in good faith here--he probably believes that "I really wonder, sometimes, if we do too much for the players" is a reasonable thing to say, never realizing that the only reason he thinks as much is that his brain has been infected. Perhaps you think it is patronizing of me to analyze him thus, but what's the alternative? That he's just a plain ol' bad person by his very fundamental nature? To me, that sounds worse, and besides, it doesn't jive with his history.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Guess what?

Even in some fanciful alternate world in which gay marriage did pose some sorta huge threat to straight marriage and the fabric of society and blahdy blah--I would still support it, because it still would be unethical to deprive a large swath of citizens their equal rights. I feel like there's this implicit concession out there that "oh, well, if gay marriage did do all these things..." Nope! Right is right. Ending slavery was economically painful for a large number of southerners. Would anyone in the world try to represent that as a cogent pro-slavery argument?

...though come to think of it, this "alternate world" would have to be so fundamentally different from our own in every respect that arguments as to what one would do there are probably kind of meaningless.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Duck Comics: "Donald and the Wheel"

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Thousand Words

As you can imagine, I find this open war against the middle and working classes--as exemplified by these doings in Wisconsin--to be pretty much the most appalling thing I've ever been appalled by. There's a sense in which you have to just marvel at the way Our Republican Overlords have somehow managed to convince vast swathes of non-billionaires that a marginal tax rate of thirty-eight percent on our noble hedge fund managers is the most onerous, cruel oppression EVER; whereas teachers are worthless parasites who pretty much deserve to live under bridge abutments. I understand tribalism and all, but we've reached the point where that doesn't provide a tenable explanation if you don't factor in mass abnormal psychology. But regardless of whatever rationalizations you can come up with, there is no getting around it: I hate hate hate these motherfuckers, and I hate the fact that we live in a society where hatred is unavoidable. Read this if you want to see them in action. It is not a pretty sight--though to be fair, some of the people quoted are more in the "I got mine, fuck you" camp, which makes them less idiots than assholes. I thought this guy summed it up pretty perfectly:

The mind performs a lively reel accompanied by fiddle and hammered dulcimer.

On a very mildly hopeful note, while it may well be too little too late, it looks like at least a few people are waking the hell up. See this in comments to the Runnin' Scared piece:

When I left the military, I considered the "Troops to Teachers Program". Even with my retired military pay, I simply could not afford to teach. I was shocked by how poorly teachers are paid. It is beginning to look like the Republican party, a party that I have supported all of my life, has lined up solidly against the working class. They were quick to pass tax breaks for the bankers and hedge fund managers while eliminating the Making Work Pay Tax Credit. That will cost most of us between $400 and $800 this year.

No snide remarks to the effect of "you're just now figuring that out?" please. Everyone takes his or her own time (alas).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Annals of Epically Terrible Ideas

As you know (or not), I'm a big fan of Mad Men. And I stumbled upon this article. It's not like it's some kind of super-fascinating article; it's just January Jones assuring everyone that, in spite of there having thus far been no formal announcement, the show is indeed returning for a fifth season. Huzzah! No, the reason I link to this is because of some of the comments--now, as always, and especially on the internet, it's impossible to tell for certain whether our chains are just being yanked here, but some of the comments appear to have been made by religiously insane people. First, this, from "Chiquita Banana:"

You’re right, there probably wasn’t much in the way of adherence to religious values on Madison Avenue in the 50s/60s, which is precisely why I would be happy to see the show come to an end. The show depicts a time and place that can best be described as the Devil’s playground. It certainly has no place in my home and I would encourage others to make the same decision for their families.

Note here the same sort of culture wars dynamic that you see all over the place: it's not enough that *I* don't watch the show (though how she can judge its depravity without having seen it, I'm not sure); no, it would be better that nobody be allowed to watch it. But the real fun comes from some sort of creature called "bubba," who has some truly hair-raising suggestions for "improving" the show:

I couldn’t disagree with you more Chiquita. If Jesus has taught us anything is to love the sinner but hate the sin. Mad Men is a woderful [sic] show that tries to capture most of the societal issues and high points that I had the pleasure to live through, and thankfully got stronger for having witnessed thanks to my faith and my heavenly relationships. I understand that our views may not dominate Prime Time TV, but if the producers could somehow blend Mad Men with Touched by An Angel, I think our prayers will be truly answered.

And if that weren't ghastly enough, bubba then proceeds to kick it up a notch:

Lisa I agree with you that not every show needs to be family friendly but I was just airing how to add to the realism of a family coping with anguish and turmoil, more time should be spent on the spirtual [sic] turmoil as well. Maybe if they could get Kurt Cameron on board this heavenly dream could become a marketable reality. Don Draper meets Mike Seaver. That show would write itself.

I'm not sure whether laughter or screaming is the more appropriate response, but whichever it is, you can be damn sure it's going to be hysterical.

Lisa have you even watched the show? I mean Growing Pains not Mad Men. Thought provoking, entertaining, yet with a powerful moral compass. If Mike Seaver has taught us anything, it’s that faith can only enhance our lives rather than diminish it. Ridicule all you want, but Draper is headed to a 12 step program somewhere and he will have to accept a higher power. More importantly, Kirk Cameron or any of the Cameron clan only improve the projects that they deign with their presence. Maybe it’s time that Draper wasn’t the only office eye candy. There should be a new sheriff in town. Stirling, Cooper, Draper, Price and Seaver. Think about it.

As I said, I'm just assuming that this guy isn't fucking with us, which is maybe an assumption I shouldn't make, but, you know, Kirk Cameron does appear in movies (on occasion), and some people do like these movies (or so they claim), and this voice sounds very much like the sort of thing you hear from your Fuck-Us-on-the-Family-type forays into pop culture--so it doesn't seem particularly implausible to me that this is in earnest.

The greater irony, of course, is that the show as it stands shouldn't be alienating to any Christian with the capacity for critical thought: it is, to a large extent, about spiritual emptiness, which the characters are constantly and unsuccessfully trying to fill, with things--sex, booze, an idealized white-picket-fence life, whatever--I mean, it's about advertising agents, fercrissake; you don't exactly have to dig very deeply to see the resonance here. This is a message that should be easy for any Christian to embrace (though granted, the resolutely non-dickish way that the show addresses gayness and abortion might still be a turn-off). But nooooo, that's not good enough (or, more likely, it flies over certain people's heads)...what the show really needs is Kirk Fucking Cameron teaching Don Draper to Accept Jesus.™ That's the ticket. Note also that this person envisions Cameron--the guy who's meant to be the moral compass in this nightmarish scenario--as a partner, apparently entirely oblivious to the fact that this work and the entire culture and lifestyle that goes with it is the entire problem. I have a feeling that the only thing people like this really object to about the show is the promiscuity, and that these objections have absolutely nothing to do with the context and implications of said promiscuity. It's all very simple-minded, and given this, I suppose it's no wonder that "jam marginal evangelical cranks into the show" would seem like the best "solution."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ultravox, "All Stood Still" (1981)

Here is the song (I would embed it, but as we've recently seen, when I embed videos they jut off into the sidebar and just look ugly). Here are the lyrics:

The lights went out (the last fuse blew)
The clocks all stopped (it can't be true)
The program's wrong (what can we do?)
The printout's blocked (it relied on you)

The turbine cracked up
The buildings froze up
The system choked up
What can we do?

Please remember to mention me
In tapes you leave behind

We stood still
We all stood still
Still stood still
We're standing still

The Screen Shut Down (there's no reply)
The lifts all fall (a siren cries)
And the radar fades (a pilot sighs)
As the countdowns stall (the readout lies)

The back box failed (the codes got crossed)
And the jails decayed (the keys got lost)
Everyone kissed (we breathe exhaust)
In the new arcade (of the holocaust)

This is the best end-of-the-world song I know. Am I saying it's a better song qua song than "London Calling?" Well, no--but I'm saying its vision is scarier, more plausible, and generally more effective. In "London Calling," there's a certain sense of exhilaration and defiance--A nuclear error, but I have no fear. Things may be sort of be winding down, what with the way the engines stop running and the wheat grows thin, but it's still definitely a song where things happen. Whereas "All Stood Still" is about, well, stillness. Entropic decay. "The system choked up" and just sort of shudders to a halt. No more energy is being poured into the system; consequently, nothing is happening. This is the kind of thing that Fredric Jameson writes about in "Utopianism after the End of Utopia." Granted, the "everyone kissed" line lends what I would call an unwarranted air of romanticism to the proceedings, but outside of that, it's just great. Maybe my partiality to it partially stems from the fact that it slots so neatly into postmodern theory, but I think anyone should be able to appreciate it. Makes me want to go back and replay Small Worlds, with which it has quite a lot in common, thematically.

Just a reminder...

The GOP is not pro-"life" in any way, shape, or form. There are still an alarming number of people, I think, who imagine that, disagree with them or not, anti-abortion people are actually sincere, as opposed to what they actually are, which is depraved, lying motherfuckers who don't actually give a shit about "life." There may be a few exceptions, but certainly none who have any kind of public voice or political clout.

Duck Comics: "The Course in Confusion"

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The problem with Little Lulu: insufficiently EXTREME.

In my idle moments, I've fantasized about having artistic talent, and using that talent to draw the characters from Little Lulu as teenagers. seems I was beaten to the punch. Rest assured, however, MY imaginary pictures would have looked nothing like THIS, as drawn by insane Brazilians:

Just in case you need a refresher course, here's how these same characters originally looked:

I'm not such a purist that I'd deny that you could potentially do something interesting with teenage versions of these characters (though I am a bit skeptical, given that "you" are no John Stanley) but really now: the forced effort as "hipness" here is just gruesome, and seriously: would you even be able to tell these were meant to be the same characters if not for the photograph that "Lulu" is holding up? Fat chance. I mean kee-rickey, for both Lulu and Annie, hair is the defining physical characteristic. Out of all the things that you might screw up in a project like this--and they are legion--I would not have imagined that that would be one of them. And the less said about the body politics that required Tubby to be slimmed down (the ultimate self-abnegation) to be socially acceptable, the better.

Here's a somewhat more credible version I found:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Duck Comics: "Three Little Cupids"

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I agree with Lulu.

Given the stereotypical female frog-revulsion, I find this extremely refreshing. Did John Stanley have a special soft spot for amphibians?

Galt is great, Galt is good, let us thank him for our greed

Here's a broad, parodic condemnation of capitalist excess. It doesn't say, but I assume it was funded by the Communist Party USA or somesuch:

The video includes dialogue like this; note that the second character is the Captain-of-Industry "hero" of the movie.

"They say you're intractable, you're ruthless, your only goal is to make money.  
"My only goal IS to make money."  
"Yeah, but you shouldn't say it."  

Really, guys--could you possibly have been any more hamfisted? I dislike capitalism as much as anyone, but when you caricature free-market types to such an extreme degree, it's not even funny anymore--it's just too broad to be effective. Next time, you really ought to rethink what you're…

…what's that?

Really? Well I'll be…wait, really really?

…never mind, then.

Seriously, this fucking blows my mind. The Rand cultists are really that far up their own asses? I mean, I know that having a sense of perspective is bad, as that involves thinking about other people and not being one hundred percent solipsistic at all times, but it's still kind of stunning to see this laid out so nakedly. I have to doubt that this is gonna play well amongst the general public, outside of the cultists' own little enclave--false consciousness notwithstanding, I really question the notion that Americans want to think of themselves in this fashion, even if we tacitly accept such a system in our day-to-day lives. This is what happens when you put ideology over everything else--you alienate people. Or so I devoutly hope. Optimistically, I can imagine that having this inhumanity rubbed in their faces could even shock a few people awake. And fuck me, this is supposed to be a trilogy? I can imagine nothing more hellish than paying for the privilege of having asshole libertarians (but I repeat myself) shrieking "GREED IS GOOD!" in my face for six-odd hours.

Given the difficulty the Narnia movies (which, at any rate, actually have higher production values than Left Behind) are having with getting made, I have serious doubts that something as awful as this is going to be seen out. I hope not, anyway. But hey, what do I know; maybe it'll turn out we really, really do like bowing and scraping before our corporate overlords! In which case, just turn out the lights when you leave, okay?

Monday, February 07, 2011

Duck Comics: "From Egg to Duck"

Sunday, February 06, 2011

William Gaddis, J R (1975)

Is it a good idea to pick up a dense, seven-hundred-twenty-six-page novel with absolutely NO section breaks of any description when you also have a lot of academic stuff that you have to do? The evidence suggests that the answer is no. I mean, I was able to get through Omensetter's Luck, Warlock, and Neveryóna, all of which are at least moderately dense books, without a great deal of difficulty, but, well--I just recently finished J R, which I started, embarrassingly enough, eight months ago. That's full disclosure for you. I would understand were you to disregard my thoughts on the book, and I'm pretty sure that if I wanted to write something really perceptive on the subject, I'd want to reread it, this time in a more disciplined, concentrated fashion. But the idea of doing that any time soon kinda makes me break out in a cold sweat, so for now, this is all you get.

In broad terms, the book is a satire in which an eleven-year-old boy--the title character--manages to parlay various free offers and the like into a big ol' financial empire. There are of course dozens of other characters, the most important being Gaddis's hero, Edward Bast, composer and former music teacher who is reluctantly dragged along in J R's schemes; and Jack Gibbs (I can't stop wanting to say Robert Gibbs, a quite inapropos connection), physics teacher, writer manqué, and general cynic. They and other characters do their best to make their way in a world that seems designed to thwart any kind of transcendent ambition or desire.

Thematically, the novel is very similar to The Recognitions--almost identical, really, except with more finance: everything of real value is being pushed aside, marginalized, and destroyed by a relentlessly superficial, status-mad society that can't even begin to distinguish between the true and the false. This is made explicit by a scene late in the novel in which Bast and J R are walking home as a rainstorm approaches, the latter's financial empire crumbing around him; Bast--having, after being more or less hapless for most of the novel, finally snapped--forces J R to listen to a Bach cantata on a cheap tape player and tell him what he hears; this, naturally, is completely baffling to the latter: what am I supposed to be hearing? Just tell me what you want (a feeling all-too-familiar to teachers everywhere), prompting an angry rant from Bast to the effect that he can't understand beauty and that his entire enterprise represents a concentrated effort to destroy everything good in the world. It's certainly blunt--too blunt, some might suggest--but as a crystallization of the book's themes, it worked for me.

A brief word on J R himself: he isn't actually that prominent as a character in the narrative; like a lot of books I seem to be reading lately, what he represents and his effect on other characters is of greatest importance. But he's well-drawn, and actually quite believable: his business dealings quickly become corrupt without much resistance on his part, but he isn't trying to be evil or anything (and in the early parts of the novel, his relentless enthusiasm is actually kind of endearing); he just does what the system lets him do, and who could possibly blame him, given that the unfettered capitalistic instinct is infecting every aspect of life? This is what we want our children to be, whether we're consciously aware of it or not. A frightful thought.

So yeah, about the narrative style: as you probably know if you know anything at all about the novel, it consists primarily of unattributed dialogue, with the odd bit of impressionistic stage direction. This pretty clearly represents the unrelenting onrush of late capitalism and American life in general. It's actually not all that hard to follow, if you're paying attention, though the reader is quite clearly never meant to fully understand all the ins and outs of the financial wheelings and dealings constantly in progress and presented in fragmentary form, often as one side of a telephone call.

Does this work? Well, yes, on its own terms, I think it works pretty much exactly as Gaddis wanted it to. Which is not an unmitigated good thing, from the perspective of the poor beleaguered reader. In spite of the continuous narrative, there are still individual scenes, and occasionally you'll come across one of these that is, well, pretty astonishingly good: the J R's class on a field trip to the New York stock exchange; a romantic interlude between Gibbs and Amy Joubert, another teacher; the initial scene in an apartment crammed with all the junk J R's been ordering with Bast and the underage lover of a writer who's recently committed suicide (actually, any scene with Rhoda, really--a great character). It's shit like this that makes the book feel like it's worth reading.

However--I'm not gonna lie to you, people--there are also endless scenes of financial back-and-forth involving an endless array of interchangeable business types, and yeah it illustrates capitalism's depredations, the transmogrification of education into a business, the collusion of business with government corruption, the commodification of art, all this stuff, yes, and I agree that this is all very bad, and capitalism indeed sucks, but holy shit is this ever boring in places. I mean, not quite To the Lighthouse boring, but definitely getting up there. Literature doesn't have to be constantly, balls-to-the-wall entertaining to have value, but J R really puts that belief to the test sometimes.

Also, there is borderline (or possibly more than borderline) misogyny. This does not come as a surprise, as a questionable attitude towards women also marred The Recognitions in places.

The other thing about the all-dialogue format: on the one hand, yeah, it's impressively done, although you should definitely laugh in the face of anyone who tells you that it has a greater level of verisimilitude than realist writing: it's no less stylized than any Victorian novel. Just as people don't talk consistently in fluid, well-crafted sentences, they don't talk consistently in choppy, disconnected fragments, either. Not that that's a problem. I'm just sayin'. No, the problem, if problem it be, is that this method of writing means that you sure as hell won't find any passages like this description of New York in The Recognitions:

It is a naked city. Faith is not pampered, nor hope encouraged; there is no place to lay one's exhaustion: but instead pinnacles skewer it undisguised against vacancy. At this hour it was delivered over to those who inherit it between the spasms of its life, those who live underground and come out, the ones who do not come out and the ones who do not carry keys, the ones who look with interest at small objects on the ground, the ones who look without interest, the ones who do not know the hour for the darkness, the ones who look for illuminated clocks with apprehension, the ones who look at passing shoe-tops with dread, the ones who look at passing faces from waist level, the ones who look in separate directions, the ones who look from whitened eyeballs, the ones who wear one eyeglass blacked, the ones who are tattooed, the ones who walk like windmills, the ones who spread disease, the ones who receive extreme unction with salted peanuts on their breath.

It's hard not to feel a twinge of disappointment when faced with a writer who can write like that but chooses not to.

If you read it, the introduction by some dude whose name I forget and my copy of the book is way over there is definitely perceptive and worth checking out. Its only real flaw is that it does the same thing that William H Gass does in his introduction to The Recognitions; that is, it mentions that the book has received a lot of criticism, and then immediately dismisses all criticism as either ignorant or self-interested. Dudes: I don't doubt that there has been some unfair criticism of Gaddis, but let's not be jackasses about it. Nobody is beyond critique (not even Carl Barks).

I recommend this book to somewhat masochistic anti-capitalists everywhere. It has some great characters and some great scenes and I am very much in sympathy with the book's "message," even if it felt in parts like it was repeatedly punching me in the face.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Duck Comics: "Forget Me Not" (also, WDC715!)

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Duck Cartoons Revue!

If you're interested (or even if you're totally indifferent or actively antagonistic!), I've started a side project to Duck Comics Revue in which I watch every episode of Ducktales and other duck-related TV shows. So far, it's been pretty fun!

Perhaps the most moronic advertising campaign ever?

Look, obviously there are more important things to be concerned about, but I just can't help but be filled with rage whenever I see one of these Dead Space 2 ads that appear, among other places, before Onion videos these days. The idea is that they got people who are the mothers of other people in a focus group. They all--or at least the ones shown in the ads--hated the game, I'm guessing because it's an incredibly vile game. No gameplay or any hint as to what the game is like is shown. Seriously, that's all there is to it: your mother would disapprove of this game; therefore, buy it. I just can't stop fantasizing about Sabin using his "pummel" ability on whatever smug, self-satisfied advertising-executive fuckasses thought was a good idea for a campaign. How insulting is it that these grade-A douchebags sat in a room somewhere and thought dur if kids think their mom hates it they know they'll LOVE it! We are SO CLEVER! Now let's break for hookers and cocaine!? Insulting on a truly epic scale, is how insulting.

One wonders about the legal ramifications of marketing an M-rated game specifically to twelve-year-olds. One might also wonder about the ethical implications, but phtt, "ethics," what to the ev, man.

But hey, maybe they really aren't underestimating their target audience--maybe they really are that dumb, and the ad will help the game to sell six zillion copies! In which case, hey, the market (the only thing that matters, of course) has spoken, and it has said that smug, self-satisfied advertising-executive fuckassery is the wayttabe! Yay capitalism!

But honestly, I wish the jackasses responsible for these ads would comment on this blog post, so I could call them vile names personally. Seriously, assholes. You're making the world a worse place. This always what you wanted to do when you grew up, is it?