Friday, December 6, 2013

And every now and then...

And every now and then, a day when death would, honestly, be a blessing.  Y'know, like today.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Kennedy, 50 Years After

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  In 1963 I was ten years old, and in the Fifth Grade class at Washington School in Raritan, New Jersey.  When the first news reports of shots being fired at the President in Dallas made it onto the transistor radio in the school office, I think everybody was caught completely flat-footed and off-guard.  Remember that this was in a time before the many mass shootings we all have to live through now -- nothing like this had happened before.  It was before King, before Bobby Kennedy, before any of the other notable assassinations of the 1960's.  There had been nothing like this in people's memories since the attack on Pearl Harbor some 22 years earlier.  There are occasions where the journalists inevitably ask us where we were and what we were doing.  These were not common occasions in 1963.  I guess they still aren't; the Pearl Harbor remembrances are mostly over as most of those living then have passed.  Today we talk about when the Twin Towers fell and maybe a couple of other things.  Kennedy's assassination was the first time anything like this had happened to a society that I was a part of, or to anybody I knew.

Dallas in in Central Time; we lived in Eastern Standard Time.  So the first reports that so paralyzed our school staff came in just after 11:30 in the morning.  It was around 12:40 PM, during lunch at the school, that Walter Cronkite announced that the President was dead.

The school staff had no idea what to do.  There were no counselors, no grief experts or PTSD consultants, not in 1963 small-town New Jersey.  So they sent us home.

My kid sister and I walked to school, probably about a mile, a distance that would be considered unsafe or unconscionable now, not for five- and six-year-old children.  So we got home a little after 1:00 PM.  My father was at work, of course, and my stay-at-home mom was doing household chores.  She was not expecting us for at least another couple of hours, and, sadly for us, she was not listening to the radio or watching our tiny-screen black-and-white television.  She asked us, with some alarm, what in Hell were we doing home so early?  We told her the school had sent all the kids home because the President had been shot.  I received the beating of my life for "telling such an awful, awful lie."

No kidding.

Finally, when through our tears we kept sticking to our "story," my mother turned on the radio.  It was a tube radio and it took a few minutes to warm up.  I remember she kept looking at us like, "This better not be true, because if it isn't, the beating you just got is nothing compared to what you're going to get" coupled with a confusing measured leavening of "You'd better not be lying."

And when the radio warmed up, WOR 710 out of New York City, the station my family had on that morning for "Rambling with Gambling" and Bob and Ray, reported that the President was dead.  At this point my mother didn't know what to do either, I guess.  So she sent us to our rooms.

Over the next few days we watched the news reports, the funeral cortege proceeding to the cemetery, the horse-drawn coffin, little John-John's salute, all of it.  We were watching live TV when Lee Harvey Oswald was being transferred to a different holding facility and Jack Ruby shot him in the stomach.  It was the first time I had ever seen anybody actually killed.  And on live television.  I wouldn't see anything like that again until the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center live in 2001while I was watching.  I would go on to see a lot of people die on live television that day, as the towers collapsed one by one.  We all saw it on the news that night, and in the days to follow, ad nauseam, but there was something awful and traumatic for me when I saw it happen on live television.  I don't think I've ever gotten over it, and I still have nightmares of the towers falling intertwined with Oswald being shot.

My daughter was in the fourth grade when the towers fell.  Her school staff did not tell the kids much.  They did not send them home early.  I was waiting for her bus at the usual time and we walked home together during those first eerily silent hours when nothing man-made flew in the skies.  She was nine.  We talked a little about what had happened, and how a lot of people had been hurt and worse, and things were going to be a little strange for a while.  We were careful about what we watched on the news when she was around.

The only good that I can see to have come out of all this tragedy is that I learned from mine how not to handle my daughter's.  As we seem fated to ride this same merry-go-round over and over through history, I have no doubt that someday my daughter may have to deal with her own "where were you?" tragedy.  At least she has a decent example of how to cope.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


This past weekend I took my wife to New York City for an early birthday gift: we had orchestra seats on the aisle for a a performance of Beckett's Waiting for Godot starring Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart.  Yup. Vladimir and Estragon were played by Gandalf and Picard.  Or, if you prefer, by Magneto and Professor X.

It was a revelation.  The play has a terrible reputation for being bleak and depressing, but Beckett himself described it as a comedy.  And that's how these two brilliant actors played it.  It was like a two hour Monty Python sketch.  Moving, heartbreaking, and hysterically, hilariously funny.  The two supporting actors, Billy Crudup as Lucky and Shuler Hensley as Pozzo, might have been forgiven for not quite measuring up to the two leads...but no forgiveness was necessary; they were both brilliant.  Hensley's Pozzo in particular was a revelation, giving it as he did a deep Southern American accent, and Billy Crudup as Lucky had to perform not only a difficult physical role but probably the single most demanding soliloquy in the theatre.  Lucky only has one line in the entire show, but it goes on at length when he is ordered to "Think!"  More than the two leads, it's Lucky's speech for me that shows Beckett's mastery of the language.

Godot is being performed in alternating repertory with Harold Pinter's No Man's Land, and I only wish we had been able to stay in the city long enough to catch both shows.  The show we saw was technically a preview, since the official opening isn't until later this month, but it had the smooth, expertly executed feel of a play that's been running for a while.  Which is no surprise since both Stewart and McKellen performed the play together in London in 2007.

Tickets are going fast, but there are always a few cheap (and excellent!) seats to be had on the day of the performance if you can be at the box office of the Cort Theatre when it opens at 10:00 AM.  Or you can hope to get lucky, as we did, when we picked up two superb seats within seconds of a cancellation for an otherwise sold-out performance.  If you have the means, do whatever it takes, but see this show.  You will never look at Godot, Beckett, or either of these two actors in quite the same way, ever again.

[Didi and Gogo, waiting.]

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Long Overdue!

Sorry to be gone for a month.  Things have been happening, thick and fast, and there simply hasn't been time even to process my thoughts, much less blog about them.

On the home front, we've been struggling with some unexpected now-that-she's-out-of-the-nest issues with my daughter.  I won't go into any details; she would be mortified and horrified if I did.  Suffice it to say that I have taken serious issue with some choices she recently made, and a rift I never expected to experience has developed between us.  I hope it can be healed -- no bridges have been burned on either side, and hope springs eternal.

On the health front, my Crohn's Disease has been really awful lately.  At first I thought it might be the usual fall allergies -- fall and spring hold horror for every sufferer of autoimmune disease, but things usually settle down once the pollens go away.  This year for me, they did not, and my Crohn's has seriously affected my quality of life in a very, very short period of time.  I have, quite literally, been spending at least 75% of my waking time in or near the bathroom since early September.  My doctor's initial response was not unexpected:  up the dose of the immunosuppressant I take and add Prednisone, a corticosteroid, to "put out the fire."  What was unexpected was the depth of feeling in my refusal to do either.  The immunosuppressant is already at the level that a heart transplant patient would have to take -- much more has its own set of toxic side effects, at least for me.  And Prednisone, quite simply, makes me nuts.  Yes, short-term it puts out the inflammation and takes me back to normal, but the side effects are unbelievable and they kick in faster every time I have to use the drug.  The side effects for me include but are not limited to vastly increased appetite, weight gain, change in the shape of my face (Prednisone can give long-term users a "moon" face) and worst of all, personality changes.  Including rage and depression.

So I said, "no, thanks."

My doctor agreed with my reasons and admitted that there simply aren't too many bullets left in the proverbial gun to try.  The most successful drug for Crohn's Disease, Remicade, is the gold standard for treatment, with something like a 30% remission rate.  It also destroyed my nervous system.  In some folks there are neurological side effects from the drug; I was one.  Biopsies of my nerves show a degradation similar to ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) in my nerves, but so far, thank the Universe, only in my sensory nerves.  I still have most of my motor functions, but my arms and legs and face feel things that aren't real, including heat, cold, pain, electricity, wet gravel, insects, etc., etc.  It's a crap shoot; every day is different and nothing lasts long enough to get used to it.  It may not have turned me into a Stephen Hawking, at least not yet, but it has most certainly affected my quality of life.

So Remicade and its cousin Humira are out.  However (and I had never known this, in spite of my pride of knowledge about Crohn's and its treatments) these drugs are harvested from genetically engineered mouse tissues.  There is another version of the drug which does not come from mice, called Cimzia, which is created in the laboratory using recombinant DNA technology.  Cimzia is self-administered injections, two per month given simultaneously.  The drug is viscous and the administration of it is quite painful.  It is also not covered by our insurance, which is even more painful. I am trying to get myself enrolled in a program administered by the manufacturer which would cover $3000 for the first injection, $2500 for the second, and $2000 for the third.  (Each set of injections costs just shy of $5000.)  And my doctor may be able to cover the first injection with a sample.  If the drug works, I have some fast dancing to do financially, but if it life will change dramatically.

So that's what's been going on, and where my brain has been for the past month.  Fun stuff, no?

[Two of these in the belly every month.  I can't wait.]

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Road Work

Last April, around Tax Day, we got a letter from our township supervisors informing us that an upgrade needed to be made to the sewers on our street.  Work was expected to begin on April 29th and end on or about June 7th.  Obviously we would need to be aware of some inconveniences about accessing our properties sometimes during this process.

OK.  A hassle, but part of the headache of home ownership.

Except that the work is still going on, here in mid-September.

There has been no information, zero, zilch, nothing from any of the powers-that-be.  Everything we've learned about the project has been picked up via hearsay from the workers themselves, who are usually even more in the dark than we residents are.  What I have gleaned from them so far:  the work encountered more and harder bedrock than anticipated; the equipment they had brought in to do the job proved to be inadequate and getting the right equipment in was harder and took longer than they thought it would be; the final paving will now not happen until the Spring of 2014, etc., etc., etc.

The way the local authorities have handled this situation has been nothing short of appalling.  We have not been informed of any of the difficulties, in spite of numerous phone calls, letters, e-mails and neighborhood petitions.  (Guess who's going to be looking for a new job after the next election?)  There has been no rhyme or reason to the pattern of work, and several times we have awakened to find ourselves trapped in our home while excavations took out the driveway.  I mean, would it have been so BLOODY DIFFICULT to stick a measly postcard in the mailbox saying, "Hey, we're going to be working in front of your driveway tomorrow so if you need to get out, move your car to a side street tonight, okay?"  Granted, with minimal eye-rolling, the guys would do their best to let you get out if it was at all possible, but a little information would have gone a long, long way to making everybody's life easier -- both the workers and the affected residents.

It looks like the work is winding up, at least for the season.  The road is now a Frankenstein's Monster network of patches and seams.  One of the workers told me that the final paving of a top coat will now not happen until next Spring, so as to allow the work to "settle."  He also told me that this is almost certainly a complete load of horseshit.  Nothing they've done needs to "settle," according to the foreman, and it's just going to be a huge, expensive hassle to close the street again in the Spring so that it can be paved.  Which should last only a couple of days.


When I was a kid in New Jersey, we had a joke:  "You know why it says New Jersey is 'The Garden State' on our license plates?  Because 'The Toxic Waste Dump State' won't fit!"  I feel like for Pennsylvania the punchline should be "The 'You-Can't-Get-There-From-Here' State."

Friday, September 6, 2013

Mike Seeger

Great PBS special on tonight about the history of the banjo, narrated by Steve Martin, who sneaks in a performance with the Steep Canyon Rangers at the end.  Steve and the Rangers, as you might remember, perform one of my absolute favorite modern bluegrass tunes, "Atheists Don't Have No Songs."

In addition to some really wonderful old footage and songs, from banjo players that predate the great Earl Scruggs by decades, the filmmaker interviewed Pete Seeger's brother, Mike Seeger, pretty extensively.  Mike Seeger came to the University of Virginia back in 1972 to do a folk music workshop.  It was, sadly, rather poorly attended...but I was there.  I was very, very into making jug band music at the time.  

Mike Seeger is one of the gentlest souls I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  He taught me how to correctly play the jaw harp (the instrument known in less politically correct nomenclature as the Jew's Harp) and turned me on to the blacksmith in Williamsburg, VA, who makes the finest harps in the known world.  I still have mine, and I still play it.  Mike also taught us a few old, old Appalachian songs and gave me a great tip, which I share with you now:  if you're going to play the washboard as a rhythm instrument, don't waste your time with a modern one made of zinc or tin.  Take the time to hunt down a vintage washboard that was made out of pressed glass.  You'll be amazed at how much richer the sound is with a glass washboard than you get with a tin board.  Sadly mine was lost in one of our interstate moves -- a  whole box of stuff, including the washboard, a couple of tambourines, and an 18th Century fife -- vanished into the limbo where odd socks and moving boxes go.  One of these days I'll get around to hunting down a new washboard.

It was really great to see Mike in this special.  He is still sharing his knowledge and his music, only now, instead of hunting down old mentors to learn their music, Mike has become himself an old mentor.  Bless you, Mike, and thank you for the gifts you gave me.

(Mike Seeger as I met him in the early 1970's--)

(--and Mike Seeger today.)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Fake" Geek Girls and Cosplay Madness

Recently, the SyFy Channel (and I cannot tell you how much it pains me to type "SyFy" and not "SciFi") began airing a program called Heroes of CosPlay. It is your basic reality-show programming, but aimed at the "geek" target audience. When I first heard about the program, I thought it might be pretty cool. It looked more like a showcase of costuming talent than the typical competition show, as it follows a select group of cosplayers through the comic-convention circuit as they compete for recognition and prize money. Fair enough.

Now while I doubt anybody reading a blog site called Citizen of Oa needs to be told this, just in case, cosplay is the hobby of dressing up as a favorite character from fiction or comic books or films or videogames, preferably as accurately as possible, and attending a comic convention such as the famous San Diego Comic-Con to show off your character creation skills. I have a lot of friends who cosplay.  I myself have been known to cosplay as Hagrid from the Harry Potter books and as Uncle Fester from The Addams Family, and not just at Halloween. I've received grief from friends on FaceBook who reprimanded me for "liking" some of my friends' costumes because, quite frankly, some of my friends are attractive younger women who do some very skimpy, very sexy costumes. They are also amazingly creative people, who are funny, sweet, passionate about their hobby and wicked talented at sewing and fabricating the most insanely detailed props and costume pieces you can imagine. It takes a tremendous amount of talent to make a realistic real-life interpretation of a cartoon drawing come alive, and it takes serious acting chops to then become that character for a day on the convention floor. I'm proud to know 'em and even prouder that they consider me a friend.

And none of that good stuff appears in Heroes of CosPlay.

Instead, the show makes many of the cosplayers out to be naive, bitchy, obsessives who do nothing but snark at each other behind their respective backs.  I hate it. Right now there are shaping up to be two competing camps or philosophies among cosplayers.  The camp I'm in says that if you love a character and want to dress up as that character, go for it.  If you want to be a 300-lb Superman, you should. There are always going be people who will make fun of you, but frankly, if you're a 300-lb Superman fan, you are probably pretty used to that already. I developed a very thick skin a long, long time ago. The other camp, as espoused by the so-called "Ambassador of Cosplay" on the show, a woman named Yaya Han, says that you should be as accurate as possible.  Meaning you should only cosplay as characters you can physically pull off.  I guess that means that according to the Ambassador, people of color shouldn't try to be Batman, tall people shouldn't try to be Tyrion Lannister, and ugly and fat people in general should just stay home and leave the dress-up to the beautiful people.  Ms. Han is a talented costumiere and fabricator, but the show makes her out to be a pretty nasty human being. Another featured cosplayer, Victoria, is an acquaintance of mine through the Replica Prop Forum, a website devoted to costume fabricators, propmakers, and collectors. She is not the loony bitch that the show is making her out to be -- it seems that the only footage they have of Victoria is her whining or bitching or threatening her husband/fabricating partner -- and I know for a fact that she is nothing like that.  In typical reality show fashion, they have selected the worst moments of an individual's camera time in order to make the show "interesting." I hope they've done the same with Yaya Han and that she's a lot nicer than she appears to be.

One cosplayer who is not on the show is a young woman named Jessica Nigri. I also know Jessica through the Replica Prop Forum. She's brilliant. She has taken her costuming skills and is in the process of making a successful career out of them. She got her big break by re-creating the costume of the lead character in a videogame called Lollipop Chainsaw -- a quirky Japanese game about a zombie-fighting cheerleader -- and doing such a great job of it that the videogame company hired her as the game's spokesmodel. She has since done the same by creating female versions of characters in other games ranging from Pokemon to Assassin's Creed. Jessica's thing, though, is that her costumes are always pretty sexy. A lot of time was spent on Jessica this week on Heroes as Yaya Han went on and on over how Jessica had taken an unfortunate path, how that wasn't really cosplay, yadda yadda yadda, as part of Yaya's attempt to win back one of her proteges from the Dark Side of Sexy Cosplay.

It's all crap. One newcomer to the hobby was appalled on the show when she expressed the opinion that I shared above, namely that anybody should be able to celebrate whatever characters they love, and was universally shot down by the rest of the group for that opinion.  Which brings me to the "fake" geek girls portion of the program.

More and more women are being confronted and actually abused at comic conventions because they are deemed to be too attractive to be genuine geeks. Total strangers will confront an attractive cosplayer and grill them on the minutiae of their character in the hope of somehow revealing them as, I don't know, an infiltrator of some kind from the Cool Kids camp. I hate it. We geeks should know better and we should behave better towards one another. Especially now that geeks ARE the cool kids!!! We should be celebrating having found one another, and the fact that we all are so passionate about the things that we love that for years caused others to mock us for being, well, geeks.

So be warned. The next time I'm at a con, and I see someone trying to corner and bully some girl about whether or not she is a "true geek" (whatever the hell that is,) or be rude to her because she chose a sexy costume, or try to abuse somebody of any gender who is dressing as a character for whom they do not have, shall we say, the ideal body type, I'm going to step in. Because I may be dressed as Uncle Fester, but I am "6 foot 5 and I eat punks like you for breakfast" as John Cleese once said.  We geeks spent too much time being bullied to turn into bullies ourselves, and we should never allow it to happen in our presence.  Ever.  Especially at what is supposed to be a celebration of all that we hold dear.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Boys & Their Toys

For about twenty years, now, I've been collecting toys. I have mostly concentrated on toys related to the comics superhero Green Lantern and the other heroes at DC Comics. I've always been a Batman/Superman guy more than a Spider-Man/X-Men guy.  But there has been other stuff along the way that caught my eye (and my wallet.) Actually, now that I think about it, it was a Marvel toy that got me into the hobby, not a DC toy. I was shopping for my newborn daughter and on a whim took a turn down the action figure aisle. I spotted a Green Goblin toy (he's one of Spider-Man's arch-enemies) that was a perfect rendering in 3-D of how Gil Kane drew the character in the late 1960's. Gil Kane was also the definitive artist on Green Lantern and is far and away my favorite comics artist. So I picked it up. Later on I learned that it was a bit of a rare find. Knowing nothing about the hobby, as I did then, I had no idea that villain figures and female figures are few and far between -- the thinking is that moms want to buy their kids the hero, and that boys don't buy female figures at all. So finding an actual bad guy on the shelf was second only to finding Spidey's girlfriend. I took the Goblin home, opened it up, and played around with it. (I've always been an opener of my toys, not one of the guys who keeps everything mint in its original packaging. The only unopened toys I have are the ones that I have no place to display yet!)

The hobby of collecting action figures has changed tremendously over the intervening years, though, and not, I think, for the better. Back then the Internet was a younger place and message boards for toy collectors were primarily used to stay informed about what was out there. It was the era of the "toy run" -- going out to make the rounds of Target, Hill's, K-Mart, Toys 'r' Us, etc., and seeing what was new on the shelves. There were few internet merchants selling toys, and there was a bit of an addiction to the thrill of the hunt -- hoping that today was the day I'd find the rare one-per-case villain or villainess figure.  I belonged to a couple of message boards linking like-minded collectors and we often helped each other out, trading figures and sharing info on who had what. It was tremendous fun. Toys were cheap -- the little 4" and 5" figures were around $5 and the larger 6" figures with more articulation and accessories were $9-$10.

Enter eBay. The scalpers who had already made a mess of collecting Hot Wheels tipped to the fact that there was money to maybe be made off of action figures.  They started lining up outside the toy departments the moment the store opened, bribed clerks to hide stuff for them or bring new unopened cases of toys out of the back, and pretty soon any hope dried up completely of the average collector walking into a store on his lunch hour and finding a hot toy. I have tried to never buy anything off of eBay, but I'm in the minority and to this day, the toy scalpers flourish there.  And in the stores, toys have increased tremendously in price. Those $5 Star Wars figures are now $10-$14. The 6" figures -- when anyone even bothers to manufacture them -- run $21-$27. Larger special toys run even more; DC last year made a $50 Mr. Freeze and a Darkseid figure that cost $90.

It's insane.

I think the passion, the collector's fire feels like it’s been burning lower and lower. I just don’t have it for the hobby like I did, and as the prices are getting higher and higher, I find myself getting closer and closer to the Fixed Income Portion of My Life. (And yet, the Super Alloy Green Lantern figure, $270.00 or not, still lights a spark, so who knows?)

Too much stuff was in the basement, and I recently took steps to do something about it. All my Star Wars stuff that remained in its packaging — not because I keep it that way, but simply because I never got around to opening the toys and never had the space to display them; as I mentioned, I AM an opener — all of my unopened SW stuff, about 300 pieces, is going to the 501st Legion this week. They are a charity group that dresses up in screen-accurate Star Wars costumes and visit children in the hospital. Let my stuff go out with them and be in the hands of a kid somewhere. The other stuff that was never opened is going to either Toys for Tots or a local charity auction, and again, if something can give somebody some pleasure and do some good, well, that’s way better than having it in my basement.

I’ll probably hang on to my Shrine of Oa -- all my Green Lantern toys -- for a while yet. I recently capped it off with the latest DC Collectibles green Power Battery as a centerpiece, and I want to keep my GL stuff for a while yet. I’m also hanging on to my Justice League Unlimited collection — pretty much complete except for Holiday Hal Jordan (a rare Green Lantern figure, although I have a pretty good copy of him in The Shrine) because my daughter wants it, and it was a favorite to collect.  All the prominent DC characters were made in cartoon style, and they are awesome.  I will also keep some favorite DC characters from the Mattel "DC Universe" line — usually GL-related but not always; Hawkman and Hawkgirl are fine, fine figures — so those toys will probably stick around for a while too. But I think I’m getting to the point where I’m feeling like I might be done.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Puzzle Protest (or maybe "Distraction Dissatisfaction?")

I really look forward to the Sunday morning puzzle on NPR's Weekend Edition, or at least, I used to. The puzzles are all created by the puzzle editor of the New York Times, Will Shortz, and they're usually pretty creative and always interesting. But one thing has been getting worse and worse and worse lately, and that is a seeming horror of any empty or "dead" air whatsoever. I promise you, NPR (and Will) it's absolutely OK with us listeners if you give the winner (and us!) JUST A MOMENT TO THINK ABOUT THE BLOODY ANSWER BEFORE WILL SHORTZ  FEEDS IT TO THEM!!!

Almost nobody can process the puzzle question so quickly that they are able to immediately spit out the answer, and THAT'S OK! Today's name-anagram puzzle was a perfect example, and it was a fairly complicated concept to bend one's mind around: Will would give two names, a first name and a last name. The last name associated with the first was also an anagram of the first name associated with the last. Got it?  For example, if Will said, "Yogi (a fictional character)" and "McIntyre", the answer would be "Yogi BEAR and REBA McIntyre." Another example: "Bob and Carter, both performers," the answer would be "Bob DYLAN and LYNDA Carter." Not easy, right? But then the Sunday puzzle shouldn't be; lord knows the crossword in the Sunday paper isn't!

Well, today, before the player had quite processed the rules, Will was feeding him the answer on the proverbial silver platter, and it happened all through the game. At the end when the host complimented the player on his puzzle skills, he was, well, puzzled by her enthusiasm, because apart from two instances when he genuinely solved the puzzle on his own, he was handed the answer. ("He's a very famous folksinger, and the other, Carter, she played Wonder Woman, yes, Lynda with a 'Y'." For crying out loud! Give me just a second, can't ya!?!)

And this wasn't just an issue for today's edition. It has been getting worse over the past weeks and months, to the point where now there is scarcely any pause at all between the asking of the question and the force-feeding of the answer. It sucks all the fun right out of the whole concept of a Sunday puzzle.

So, to you, NPR: If the puzzle needs to be shorter in order to give a moment or two for the player to actually solve it, so be it. But as it stands now, more and more the puzzle segment is a showcase for Will Shortz to be the smartest guy in the room, and NOT the equivalent of the Sunday crossword it was originally intended to be. For today's entry, Will might just as well have come on the air and said, "Did you know that the letters of Jay LENO's last name are the same as NOEL Coward's first name?"

It was about that interesting, and about as much fun to play.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Tuesday Guilty Pleasure -- So You Think You Can Dance

Yeah, I admit it.  Every Tuesday night you will find me watching the local Fox affiliate because that's when So You Think You Can Dance airs.  Now, understand that I am not a dance junkie, per se.  I love the performing arts, but I have little or no use for most reality shows or talent competitions.  Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood were pleasant surprises in the music scene, but I didn't follow their respective rises on American Idol.  And I certainly didn't vote for them.

As for the tripe that is Dancing With The Stars, the less said the better.  I don't care whether or not Buzz Aldrin can cha-cha.  But I sure care whether or not Malece and Alan can pull off this week's salsa.  Or if Aaron and Jasmine's quick-step routine will be good enough to keep them out of danger for another week.

I love SYTYCD.  I love the talent that would otherwise never get a showcase.  I love that it exposes me to different genres and styles of dance.  I love the education it gives me every week, and that it exposes me to dance I would never otherwise see.  They do Bollywood, for crying out loud!  I also love that it gives work to some insanely talented choreographers each week -- people like Sonia Tayeh and Tyce D'Orio and Travis Wall.  Before SYTYCD if I wanted to see Tyce D'Orio's work, I would have to go to NYC and catch a Broadway musical.

Another factor is that my wife also loves the show.  She is more knowledgeable about dance than I am, and often sees some nuances in the performances that I miss.  I love that I'm learning from her.

The competitive aspect of the show is its weakest link, at least for me.  The two regular judges are reliably well-versed in dance, but the third rotating "celebrity" judge can be hit or miss.  Sometimes they're surprisingly brilliant in their critiques, but sometimes they can be a waste of everybody's time.  I understand that the premise of the show is that it is first and foremost a competition, but I wouldn't care if it just showcased the choreography every week.

But it IS a competition, and one well worth your time.  So next Tuesday, join me.

Oh, and vote for Malece.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

O Me Of Little Faith*: Ten Quotes On Atheism

This is something I've been wanting to do for a while now.  Here is the first list of favorite atheist quotes.  I hope there will be several of them to come!

Woody Allen:  "To you, I'm an atheist.  To God, I'm the loyal opposition."

Voltaire:  "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."

Napoleon Bonaparte:  "Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.  Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."

Mark Twain:  "The Bible has noble poetry in it ... and some good morals and a wealth of obscenity, and upwards of a thousand lies."

Dara O' Briain:  "Science knows it doesn't know everything; otherwise, it'd stop.  But just because science doesn't know everything doesn't mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you."

John Fante:  "Almighty God, I am sorry I am now an atheist, but have You read Nietzsche??"

Bertrand Russell:  "It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age, but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion."

Philip Appleman:  "Heaven:  The big Apartheid in the sky."

Christopher Hitchens:  "There are, after all, atheists who say they wish the fable were true but are unable to suspend the requisite disbelief, or who have relinquished belief only with regret.  To this I reply:  Who wishes that there was a permanent, unalterable celestial despotism that subjected us to continual surveillance and could convict us of thought-drime, and who regarded us as its private property even after we died?  How happy we ought to be, at the reflection that there exists not a shred of respectable evidence to support such a horrible hypothesis."

and finally, my personal favorite from this list:

Peter O'Toole:  "One day when I was praying, it suddenly occurred to me that I was talking to myself."

[*This entry's title made with apologies to Lewis Black, whose O Me Of Little Faith is one of the funniest books you will ever read.]

Saturday, July 20, 2013

SDCC 2013

Bucket List - 1; Me - 0.  This week is SDCC 2013, the San Diego Comic Con.  It has been something I've wanted to attend since long before it became the multi-media juggernaut it is currently.  What started some years ago as a pretty standard convention of comic book fans -- much like the convention that Baltimore still hosts every year in late summer -- is now barely about comic books at all.  It is a showcase for Hollywood films and television programs, some of which only barely qualify as comic-nerd fodder.  Comic books are really an afterthought at SDCC at this point, with a lower priority than movies, TV, videogames, toys, etc.  And yet I still want to go.  And I probably never will.

Which is too bad, because this year would have been a great year to go.  The 20th anniversary of "The X-Files."  The 50th anniversary of "Doctor Who."  The new seasons of "Sherlock" and "The Walking Dead."  Upcoming movies about Thor and The Avengers (Marvel Comics, not Steed and Mrs. Peel.)  Not to mention every comic book creator alive today who's worth mentioning, including the apparently immortal Stan Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the Avengers and the X-Men, among others.  Going would have been one heck of a way to celebrate my 60th birthday.  But there's no way. 

Why not?  Because, as many others have already written, Comic-Con has simply gotten too big.  Too big for its venue, too big for its host city, too big for its proverbial britches.  The con squeezes over 130,000 people into the San Diego Convention Center.  There is inadequate parking.  Hotels are far away and do not have sufficient rooms.  Tickets sold out in under two hours last February, despite the overworked, inadequate and supremely glitchy Comic-Con website.  And if you were lucky enough to score a ticket, and a room that you can afford, and a way to get to the center, it can still take hours just to get in.  Running the human gauntlet at the entry gate is apparently quite daunting.  And if you are handicapped, or otherwise have special needs -- I personally have issues relating to Crohn's Disease which make bathroom access an absolute necessity -- you are in big trouble.  The Center does not have adequate facilities for the crowd it hosts, and trying to navigate a wheelchair through the press of people attending can be trying at best and impossible at worst.

But say I did it.  Say I somehow managed to get my Crohn's and my arthritis under sufficient control to allow me to make the trip, that I scored a ticket in the lottery that is the SDCC ticket sale, got a room at a hotel with a shuttle, etc., etc.  There's still no guarantee that I'd get to see one bloody thing I'd hoped to see.

The largest hall, the one that hosts the most popular panels like those for the Avengers movie or for the Twilight films, only seats about 6,000.  That sounds like a lot, until you realize that almost all of the 130,000+ attendees want in.  The lines are, quite literally, over a mile long and take hours and hours of your day.  With no guarantee that you even will get in, because the folks that are already in the hall, for the presentation ahead of yours, are not required to leave.  So of course many attendees have adopted the strategy of getting in however they can, be it hours or days in advance, and simply staying there in their seats until the program that they really came for finally comes up on the schedule.  It's ridiculous.

The convention needs bigger and better everything if it is to continue.  It needs a bigger venue, better ticket policies, better policing of the panels, better handicapped and special-needs concessions, etc., etc., etc.

When I tally up the actual physical inconveniences of attending versus the geek dream idea of actually going to the con, sadly, the inconveniences win.  To waste an entire day standing in line to meet (insert geek star here) only to be turned away at the door, or losing my place in line because I had to go to the bathroom and did not have the foresight to catheterize myself (and yes, some do exactly that) would break my heart.  So, Bucket List or not, I just, sadly, cannot see it ever happening, short of my creating something that landed me on the SDCC VIP guest list.

At least with YouTube and the rest of the Internet, I will get to see the things I couldn't attend in person.  That's something, I guess.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Seventh Decade

Today is the last day I can claim to be "in my fifties."  Tomorrow I will have to start saying that I'm "starting my seventh decade."  Yeah, I turn 60 tomorrow.

I've never been one of those folks who take milestone birthdays seriously.  I have a lot friends -- most of them younger than I am! -- who found turning 30, or 50, to be traumatic life events.  I've always thought that my birthdays were just another day, and that I am in no way remarkable for the simple virtue of managing to stay alive for a certain period of time.

In the past, this was not true for most humans.  It was remarkable to manage to stay alive for a certain period of time.  Surviving into adulthood was a big deal.  Making it to middle age was a huge deal.  Four hundred years ago, making it to age 60 would have guaranteed my position as a Village Elder, even if previously I had merely been the Village Idiot.

So.   My wife and daughter are taking me out to dinner with some of my closest friends.  My brother and sisters and father will not be in attendance -- even if they remember my birthday, which is iffy, they will have other, better things to do.  Which surprisingly, despite the years of abuse at my father's hands, hurts more than I thought it would.  But that's the way my family has been "surprising" me for most of my life.

And truly, I've never been one for parties.  I only ever had one birthday party as a kid, and it was a disaster.  (Almost nobody came -- I was not a popular child -- and I think those that did either came grudgingly or merely hoping for cake.)  The next birthday party I had was when I turned 30.  I had just found the love of my life and she threw me a surprise party, inviting all my friends from the Unitarian Church of Charlottesville, VA.  We all got very drunk and partied to the wee hours.  I remember particularly singing along with Spike Jones' "Der Fuhrer's Face" with a couple of East German graduate students who were working in my wife's lab.  They were the opposite of offended, a fact which continues to amaze me thirty years later.  It was a fun time, but not anything I need to do on an annual basis.

I've never really wanted a party to commemorate my birthday.  Apart from what I said up above, I don't really have a good reason for not wanting to party.  Just not my thing, I guess.  My wife is the opposite.  She loves parties.  We gave her a big one when she turned 50, and she wants another one this November when it's her turn to celebrate her 60th.  And she shall have it.

I don't plan to spend tomorrow thinking about mortality, or the future, or even much of the past, really.  I want to try to be in the moment and enjoy what I have, right now, right this second.  And I'll do it in the company of the people I love best in this world.

Nothing could be better than that.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Marvel Movies vs. The DC Movies


Recently I was in a discussion about Man of Steel at my local comics shop.  It's no secret that I was very much looking forward to this movie, and no secret that I was utterly disappointed in it.  Now I've always been The DC Comics Guy at my store.  Most of the folks there are more into Marvel's stuff:  Avengers, X-Men, Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four, to name but a few.  I prefer the old school stuff from DC:  Green Lantern, Superman, Batman, the Flash, the Justice League of America.  And in the course of the discussion about why I was so distressed by the Superman movie, I realized what the overall problem is.

The two companies have switched places, at least in their movies.

In the comics, DC was the bright primary-colors world of hope and promise.  Marvel had the universe where the heroes were plagued with personal problems.  Think about it.  Superman had, if anything, too much power to be interesting.  Batman was a billionaire.  Gotham City was scary, but protected by the Batman.  Metropolis was the City of Tomorrow.  All the cities in the DC Universe were made up places:  Green Arrow had Star City, the Flash had Central City, Green Lantern protected Coast City, Hawkman was in Midway City, and so forth.  Sure, if you squinted hard enough, you could see that they were supposed to be LA or NYC or Chicago.  But they were pretend places, and you could go there in your imagination and make believe that maybe you could be chosen for an alien power ring. Or at least look up in the sky and see Superman on patrol.  It was a nice, warm four-color feeling.

The Marvel Universe was different.  Spider-Man was always plagued by money troubles, girl problems, and the imminent death of his last surviving relative, Aunt May.  Captain America was a man out of his own time, lost in the 1960's after being frozen alive during WWII.  The Fantastic Four come closest to the DC ideal, but their strongman, the Thing, was stuck in his deformed, rock-like body.  The other members looked human or could at least turn their powers on or off at will, but poor Ben Grimm was stuck as "some kind of THING" for the rest of forever.  And all the Marvel superheroes -- Iron Man, the Avengers, Thor, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four -- worked out of New York City.  Every single one.  Daredevil protected Hell's Kitchen, Doctor Strange covered the Village, and the FF had midtown, but they were all practically tripping over one another.  The only one not there was the Hulk, because that poor, tortured monster was in self-exile out in some desert in the southwest.  The heroes all had problems, and the appeal was that it made them "more like us."

But the movies have very subtly turned things on their respective ears.  The Marvel Universe is a positive place.  I want to go to there.  Iron Man's Los Angeles looks great.  There's always some new flashy Stark Industries expo where a fan can spot Tony Stark on the red carpet.  Spider-Man's New York City is a place where you might look up and see Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man swinging by, instead of Superman.  In the Marvel Universe, the good guys win, not without cost, but by the good-guy rulebook, and whether it's Iron Man, the Avengers, Captain America or Spider-Man, you want to cheer when they come out on top.  Not so much in the DC movies.  Nobody in their right mind would ever want to live in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Gotham City.  It's a bleak, horrible, hopeless place.  The Batman is essentially a driven whiner who is just as likely to give up and allow things to go to hell as he is to try to do something positive.  Superman stands by and allows his Earth foster father to commit suicide by tornado.  Then he kills the bad guy with his bare hands.  Nobody I know wants to live in a world where Superman is a dark, tortured, yet indestructible alien.  And although I love the character of Green Lantern, the movie GL was kind of a self-absorbed twit.  His LA was no place I'd want to hang out, not like I wanted to hang out in Coast City when I was a kid.  Although I believe the Green Lantern movie had more merit than most critics gave it, I never believed that the movie version of the hero was flying around on patrol because it was the right thing to do.  The cool thing to do, maybe, but not the right thing.

So that's my theory.  The Marvel movies always end on an upbeat note.  The DC movies not so much.

It makes me shudder to think what's going to happen with Wonder Woman, or, Zod help us, the Justice League movie....

Friday, June 28, 2013

Turtle Power!

The Supreme Court of the United States had us all on a real roller coaster ride this week.  First they massively disappointed most of us normal people when they gutted the Voting Rights Act.  They cited as their reasons the fact that times had changed, and that racism in this country is not what it was back in the 1960's.  The Court turfed rewriting the law back to Congress, the same Congress with a House so deadlocked that it cannot accomplish the simplest and most basic of their regular duties.  You know, things like the Farm Bill.  The idea that this Congress could do anything that would not leave the Voting Rights Act gutted for the foreseeable future is astonishingly naive.  Or astonishingly cynical, depending on your point of view.  As for the "changes" in society they mentioned, well, remember that we all live in a country where just this year there was a huge hue and cry from some sources because Cheerios, the beloved breakfast cereal, dared to show an ad featuring a multiracial family.  Shocking, I know.  Not the multiracial family, the idea that some people can still find a multiracial family offensive. In an atmosphere of that kind of bigotry, there is no doubt that we still need voting rights protected.

On the other hand, the Court really came through for the next civil rights battle our society faces, the battle for equality for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.  They tossed out the Defense of Marriage Act (although they did so using the weakest possible language, but still, they did it) AND they kicked Prop 8 back to the lower courts in California, effectively restoring same sex marriage rights to our most populous state.  Good job, ladies and gents.  Except for you, Clarence Thomas.  You ought to hang your head in shame and resign your commission over the way you voted on both those issues.

Of course the overturning of DOMA caused bigoted uproars from the usual upstarts.  Michele Bachmann, that loon, was immediately on her podium ranting about how her God informs her choices, not the Courts.  And when a gay member of the PA House of Representatives, Brian Sims, attempted to address that body on the decision, he was shouted down by another member, Daryl Metcalfe, who said that it was "against God's Law" to speak about DOMA.

In other words, an idiot.

The groups disparaging this decision seem not to understand that the decision in no way affects their rights to make a decision about whom they might marry.  If their faith prohibits same sex marriage, they are more than welcome to remain in their faith and not marry within their own gender.  Their faith is not shut down.  The rest of us, who don't share their beliefs, are free to live according to ours just as they are free to live according to theirs.  Why they refuse to extend this freedom to the rest of us is a mystery I can't begin to try to understand.

And then of course, my favorite thing happened:  various conservative voices began harping yet again on how this opens the door for marriage with animals.  I don't know why they keep picking on the poor turtle, but that was one of the things I heard:  "What's next?  Will society allow marriage to a turtle next?"  Why these supposedly Godly people immediately turn to bestiality as their primary fear and objection is another thing I just can't fathom.

As John Oliver pointed out on the Daily Show, they don't raise the Animal Objection on any other issue.  Nobody is saying about Obamacare, for example, "What's next?  Are we going to offer free health care to TURTLES??"  Nobody is saying that they're afraid that we're going to start giving driver's licenses to turtles.  So what's with the bestiality in marriage crap?

If that's the best they can come up with, they really should think about getting some help.  (I understand that under Obamacare it'll be a lot easier.)

Oh, and they should probably stay away from turtles.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

"Man of Steel" Review -- SPOILERS!

SPOILER WARNING:  If you don't want to know some major plot points in the new Superman movie, "Man of Steel," then stop reading this right now.  If you proceed, it's all on you -- you have been warned.

Okay, I'm assuming we're alone, and that anybody who is still reading wants to be here. Lucky you.

Man of Steel is an attempt to bring Superman into the 21st Century and make him grim, gritty, relevant and full of angst. On those levels, it is a success. To echo what comics writer Mark Waid said in his review, though, I wish they had called it Ultraman or Wonderman or anything else -- that it had been an original story about another fictional hero. Because it sure as hell isn't about Superman.

This is a terrible movie, in my opinion. And here's why:

First of all, the citizens of Smallville are dicks, the Kents included. The Superman I grew up with learned his values from his adopted Earth parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent. They instill in Clark Kent the small-town American values of helping one's neighbors; that it is, in fact, one's duty to others to help them if it is within one's powers to do so.  In this movie, the Kents want young Clark to keep his powers a secret, ostensibly to keep him from becoming a prisoner of the army or of scientists who would want to dissect him. (Like that would even be possible with Clark's power set.) But the people of Smallville are partly responsible for this attitude; when Clark saves a busload of children from certain death, their reaction is not gratitude, but suspicion and even anger -- like the guy who saved their kids is some kind of a witch. The townspeople do everything but break out the torches and pitchforks.

Second of all, in order to prove to his adopted father that he has learned his lessons about helping people only in secret (if at all) Clark Kent allows Pa Kent to be killed. Yes, he does.

Thirdly, there is absolutely no chemistry between Superman and Lois Lane in this movie. No fun banter, no joy, just him rescuing her, repeatedly, despite the fact that she is supposed to be a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who should know better about personal safety.

Fourth, this Superman appears to have absolutely no concern for other people.  Yeah, he's willing to sacrifice himself to the evil Kryptonian general in order to save Humanity, but along the way the movie shows scene after scene after scene of what I can only describe as Disaster Porn.  MILLIONS of people DIE in this movie, as cities are ravaged and buildings collapse.  Sure, Superman rescues a few token people here and there, but the level of destruction and carnage is almost nauseating.

And finally, and this is the deal-breaker, the straw that breaks the camel's proverbial back for me, to end the final conflict with the General, Superman kills him. Snaps his neck. Bang. Dead.

Now let me say this in no uncertain terms, in short and simple words that everybody excepting those in Hollywood can understand:  SUPERMAN NEVER KILLS. That's not who he is. Superman is better than us. He ALWAYS FINDS A WAY.  And Superman NEVER stands idly by while someone dies. Not his adoptive father, not a stranger, not a frigging kitten in a tree.

I don't care about the Hero's Journey; I don't care about the attempt to make Superman relevant by presenting him with impossible choices and having him tearfully do something terrible. The joy of Superman is that he is always able to find an alternative. He makes a choice none of us mere mortals would have thought of, or have been able to pull off, and he does The Right Thing in spite of all the forbidding circumstances against him. THAT'S WHAT MAKES HIM SUPERMAN.

If they had made this movie about some character made up specially for it, instead of an American icon, I would have thought a bit more highly of it, although I did find the long sequences of horrible destruction nauseating.  Maybe it's because I saw 9/11, but buildings collapsing while ostensibly full of human beings is hugely upsetting to me.  But it's NOT about some other made-up character, it's about Superman.

Just not my Superman.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

My Entertainment Weekly Near-Miss

Two weeks ago I fired off a letter to Entertainment Weekly in response to an article they published entitled, "The 25 Greatest Superheroes Ever."  Sadly, my favorite hero, Green Lantern, did not make their cut, so I wrote to them and begged to differ with their choices.  Last week they made contact with me about permission to publish my letter this week, which I enthusiastically granted.

Sadly, my moment of fame was not to be.  They went with a letter giving some love to the Wonder Twins instead.

Seriously.  The freaking Wonder Twins.  One could shapeshift into any animal, and the other one could turn into...water.

So, herewith, my unpublished (and far superior!) letter in support of GL:

"Dear EW -- 

"I love your magazine, and have been a subscriber practically since Day One.  I wish, however, that you had shown Green Lantern a little love in the 25 Greatest Superheroes Ever article in issue #1261/1262.  Sure, the movie with Ryan Reynolds was a little disappointing -- although not as dreadful as most critics would have us believe -- but the character is just, well, the Greatest Ever.  Think about it.  To be a Green Lantern, you don't have to be an orphaned billionaire, or be a powerful alien from another world, or be bitten by a radioactive wolverine -- you just have to be The Right Guy.  If you're honest, and capable of overcoming your fear, you can wield the greatest weapon in the universe for the Forces Of Good, and you're limited only by your imagination.  And the original costume as designed by Gil Kane in the 1960's is pretty groovy. (Those white gloves!  Those green go-go boots!)

"I don't know who should be bumped from the list -- I have to admit that your choices are all pretty great.  Any list that includes Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman, the Incredibles and Buffy is aces by me.  I just wish poor Hal Jordan, who for me will always be the greatest hero ever, could have made it in there somehow.

"Sincerely, Harrisburg, PA

"PS -- The 5 Worst list is also pretty spot on.  I have undying love for any magazine that knows who Matter-Eater Lad is, much less puts him in at Number 1 Worst."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I Don't Even Have The Words

Sometimes I use this space to talk about pop culture. Sometimes I use it to vent on social issues.  Sometimes I talk about parenting, or my marriage. And sometimes I talk about my chronic illnesses. This is one of those times.

It's been, to say the least, a rough spring. Spring and fall are both tough times for people with autoimmune diseases. There's something about the pollen and the changeable weather that kicks everything into high gear. Just ask anybody with rheumatoid arthritis, or Crohn's Disease, or Lupus, and they will tell you that if their medications are ever less effective, or their symptoms ever more problematic, it's in the spring and in the fall. This spring has been no different, although it has been remarkable for the severity of the symptoms it seems to have induced.

Quite frankly, while I am not currently actively seeking to end my life, if I saw the proverbial truck bearing down on me, I couldn't promise to dodge out of the way.

I've been horribly depressed. Today my father turned 84. I myself turn 60 in another month, and I find myself absolutely horrified by the prospect of living as long as he has. The idea of living another 24 years brings me to tears. Yes, most days I want to see my daughter marry and meet her children. But I can't imagine why they would ever, ever want to meet me. I try to keep busy and keep a sense of humor about things.  I try to live in acceptance of my circumstances, which I continually remind myself are nowhere near as bad as those circumstances of others. Of people like Stephen Hawking, for example, who I admire more than I can say for sticking with life when all he has is what is in his head. In no way has my body betrayed me the way his has betrayed him.

And yet. And yet. I was first diagnosed with the first of my illnesses, Crohn's, when I was 13. That was 46 years ago. In all that time I have never eaten a single meal without subsequent pain. Never. Not once. Not in college, not while in love, not on my honeymoon. I have only the vaguest memories of childhood days that were pain-free, because even before I was sick, I was growing up in a physically abusive home. Since my initial diagnosis, several things, from major things like rheumatoid arthritis to minor things like hallux rigidus have been added to the mix, and the end result of it all is that I have not had a day without pain since 1967. To put it into perspective, that's two years before Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon.

So I guess that by now you've deduced that today has been an extra-bad day. I'm not going to go upstairs and take my entire bottle of pain medication, but I'm also not going to say that the thought never crossed my mind. The wind or the weather or whatever it is that's making today more of a nightmare than usual will change, and things will settle down, and I will soldier on. The folks in line at the grocery store will, as usual, have no idea what's going on with me, and strangers will ask me to reach things off the top shelf for them because of my 6-foot-plus frame with no idea of how much it hurts me. And I will come home and gimp in with my bags one at a time, and I will soldier on. Somehow.

I will soldier on. But it's nice to have a place, this place, where I can spill my secrets because hardly anybody reads them, and those that do won't embarrass me with sympathy or virtual hugs. Sometimes I just need to bitch at the sky, even though there's Nobody really there to hear. It keeps me somewhat sane, and, I think, keeps me a little human. And it'll get me to tomorrow.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

June Movies

Lots of genre movies opening this month!  Some sci-fi, some only tangentially connected to sci-fi and pop culture -- but here's a rundown of the ones I'm looking forward to!

June 7th:  Joss Whedon, the writer/director of The Avengers, is releasing his version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.  It stars a lot of Joss's favorite actors from his past projects, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse.  I'm looking forward to this version almost as much as the British version starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

(Sadly, this was a stage version from May 2011.  It was filmed, but no release date has ever been set.)

Then on June 12th, we have the end of the world comedy This is the End, starring Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, and a cast of dozens.  I want to see this if only to see Emma Watson threaten James Franco with an axe for his stash of bottled water.

And on June 14th, director Zack Snyder's Superman reboot, Man of Steel.  Enough said!

Finally, on June 21st, World War Z opens.  If you're a fan of the book by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks, by the way) you may be surprised that this movie is even happening.  The book is an oral history of the entire "zombie war" whereas the movie appears to be based on only one of the many narratives.  Still, the images of the incredibly fast zombies piling up like army ants to get over the barricades for those few remaining delicious human brains are compelling.  I hope it's good, but I confess to having my doubts.  Needless to say, I love the book.

So -- lots going on at the theaters this month.  Enjoy!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Man of Steel -- What's YOUR House?

This is fun.  If you're any kind of comic book fan, like I am, then you're probably at least interested in how director Zack Snyder will be approaching his reboot of Superman's origin mythology in a few weeks when Man of Steel opens on June 13th.

In the meantime, while you're waiting for the movie, you can answer a few personality-profile questions and determine to which Kryptonian "House" you would have belonged.  You can go to the Man of Steel "glyph app" here and give it a spin:  Man of Steel Glyph Creator App

You will remember, of course, that Superman's birth name is Kal-El.  He is the son of Jor-El of the House of El, and Lara Lor-Van.  (On Krypton, women take their father's full name as their last name.  Only DC Comics knows why.)  Other Houses, both great and infamous, include the Houses of Ur, Em, Van and Zod.

I have to be honest; I did mine twice.  The first time I was sorted into the House of Ak.  Although it had a much cooler shield than does the House of Zar, it was, well, Ak.  It sounds like a hairball.  "Thomas-Ak" just did not have the Kryptonian ring that Tom-Zar does.  And, to be fair, I was a lot more honest about answering the questions the second time around.  So there's that.

["Thomas-Ak" -- see what I mean?  Nice shield, but...Ak.]

Monday, May 20, 2013


Last evening, CBS News aired two stories that really ticked me off.  The first story was about the survivors of the recent swarm of tornados in Texas.  One family survived in their bathroom, huddling under a mattress in the bathtub.  When the storm passed, the only portion of the house left standing was the bathroom where they sheltered.  They were pretty lucky.

When interviewed, the Dad said something along the lines of, "We were in the arms of God; we could feel His arms wrapped around us."  Well, fine.  I don't share your religious beliefs -- I don't share any religious beliefs at all.  But in addition to thanking your Invisible Friend, it might have been nice to save a shout out for THE GUY WHO DID SUCH A GREAT JOB BUILDING YOUR HOUSE!

If you've ever lived in tornado country, you know that you are advised to find shelter in a basement, an interior windowless room, or the bathroom, because, thanks to masonry, load-bearing walls, pipes, wiring and plumbing, the bathroom is the most sturdy and reinforced room within the structure.  Never mind the Arms Of God; the family was lucky that their builder didn't stint on construction and built them the room that saved their lives.

Later in the same newscast, as a sidebar to the $590 million PowerBall Jackpot story, CBS ran a feature on a family that had run into financial difficulties and was about to lose their home when they discovered that they had purchased a winning lottery ticket some months before that had been sitting, forgotten, in a jar on their kitchen counter.  Unfortunately for this family, their teenage daughter had recently died after suffering seizures.  It made their winning bittersweet, to say the least, but they were able to keep their home thanks to the winnings and were thus able to preserve their daughter's room as it was before she died, instead of having to move out and keep her things in a box.

Which was all interesting and heart-warming and thought-provoking until Dad said something like, "I just know that as soon as she passed, my daughter went to Heaven and kept nagging God that He needed to do something for us.  Now whenever we get that check in the month of the anniversary of her death, we'll know that she's up in Heaven still pushing for this family."

Yeah, that's the way it works, I'm sure.  Nice of God to drop you that big check after taking your little girl, though.

I hope it was just a fluke, or maybe a new editor for the news, because I really don't want my news stories, human interest or otherwise, filtered through God-colored glasses.  I'm sorry that the family won the lottery too late to do anything for their daughter.  I'm glad that the other family survived a horrific storm with their lives, albeit at the cost of everything they owned.  But that's life on planet Earth, folks.  There are good things and bad things and they happen every day to all of us.

Let's just keep God out of it, OK?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Well, the video game may suck, but Star Trek: Into Darkness does everything the opposite of that.  New to Star Trek?  You will love it.  An old school fan of Star Trek II?  You will love it.

This is the movie that all summer franchise movies wish they could be.  Everything about it is great, from the casting to the special effects to the story.  Lots of Easter Eggs for long time Trekkies like me (and yeah, I don't hold with that "Trekker" nonsense, I am and always have been a Trekkie) and more than enough to hold the interest of even those of you saying, "Star what now??"

Benedict Cumberbatch is a revelation.  This is the guy who held his own with Gary Oldman in the recent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  He is riveting as John Harrison.  Sherlock fans better hope he likes the role enough to stick around for a while, because television is too small a medium for Cumberbatch's talent.  His are the most nuanced performances I've seen since, well, Gary Oldman's.

The rest of the cast, all returning from 2009's Star Trek reboot, do a bang-up job as well.  The scenes between Chris Pine's Kirk and Zachary Quinto's Spock are priceless.

So go.  Go now.  You won't be sorry.