Saturday, May 31, 2008

2 things

Hey Leaguers,

Apropos of nothing

Austin Books is a heck of a store. And they had a darn good Free Comic Book Day. I salute them.

Hi, Brad!

Summer Movies

Austin's Paramount Theater has already started the 2008 Summer Film Series. And there's a lot of great stuff coming up.

In June, they're showing
-The Exorcist
-Mary Poppins (and I LOVE Mary Poppins. Shut up.)
-Harold and Maude - never seen it
-Laura (this movie is really good. No lie.)
-The Birds (Oskar Sala!)

-Frankenstein & Revenge of Frankenstein (why they didn't grab Bride of Frankenstein, I have no idea)
-The Haunting
-Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
-The Last Picture Show - never seen it
-Hud - never seen it
-Three Days of the Condor - never seen it
-Village of the Damned - only seen the re-make
-The Time Machine
-Planet of the Apes
-The French Connection

-Destry Rides Again
-Blazing Saddles
-Gone With the Wind

-Bridge on the River Kwai
-Rear Window
-(and your endurance test) Lawrence of Arabia

Not bad. If anyone is interested in any of these movies (or something I didn't mention), let me know, and we'll make an appointment.

Friday, May 30, 2008

So long, Harvey

Harvey Korman, 1927 - 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ten-Cents to Fifty Dollars - Won't someone think of the children

For my birthday, M.I.L. gave me a copy of David Hadju's recent book "The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America". It's a brisk read at under 400 pages, and Hadju's pacing is to be commended. Much more than that, however, is Hadju's ability to seemingly depart the freeway to explore the nearby neighborhoods, only to make you realize that without an understanding of the neighborhoods you've passed through, the destination wouldn't make much sense at all.

The book does not center entirely on Dr. Fredric Wertham and his book "Seduction of the Innocent", but its importance to the story is undeniable. As are the why's-and-wherefore's of the early comic industry. In fact, first reading "Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book" is highly recommended before plummeting headfirst into Hadju's account.

From their inception, comics were considered unfit for reading for impressionable minds, from children to the lower class immigrants of New York who read Barney Google and Little Nemo. Culture was not to be considered democratic, but controlled and appreciated entirely by the moneyed and those of breeding and taste.

Comics were... something else altogether.

This is nothing new. Prior to the comic books, penny-dreadfuls and pockets books were considered a danger to children at and before the turn of the century (read up on Varney the Vampire and its ilk sometime). Then pulps. Then gangster pictures. Later, Rock'n'Roll, television, and leading up to today's questions whether watching The Matrix then playing five hours of Halo will lead to a psychic meltdown which ends in murder.

"The Ten-Cent Plague" tracks the development of comics in parallel with the post WWII and Cold War paranoia and topic-of-the-moment, Juvenile Delinquency. Comics, being something kids consumed as readily as, say, Grand Theft Auto or Halo in today's market, were a mass media for the children of the mid-20th century. In part due to the rise of public concern over "Juvenile Delinquency" (see: Rebel Without a Cause), Wertham (and many others) saw a direct causal link between the consumption of comics and Juvenile Delinquency drawn seemingly from the fact that his patients would verify that they had read comics.

To clarify, comics of the era were not all superhero comics, but covered many areas from Romance, to Westerns, to GI combat, and especially crime, with no small amount of horror thrown in by EC and others. The modern equivalent might be to ask that all video games be taken off the shelf because a psychologist found his criminally psychotic patients had played X-Box.

Wertham (and many others) took up the crusade against comics, and found politicians happy to play along. Whether politicians were sincere or cynically vote-grubbing is unknown as they beat the drum to save the hearts and minds of the nation's children by putting comics out of business.

The book has a certain tragic, march to doom feel about the proceedings, especially when you're aware of how things will pan out for the industry.

I honestly thought Hadju could have done a little less to villify the antagonists. Sometimes it seems Hadju simply cannot withhold his contempt, and his criticisms seem a bit on the nitpicky side, even when he's correct.

What Hadju does do well is remind the reader that it was only 60 years ago that the outrage was such over comics (including Superman, Batman, and others...) that children were incited to collect comics and burn them in public displays. In addition, these same organizations would pressure shopkeeps to quit carrying comics or face a boycott in small towns where the children (and their parents) kept the stores afloat. Ironically, even as foes of comics decried the content within and held burnings, they denounced censorship as a tool of commies and fascists. And I might point out, this book burning was going on just five years or so after the conclusion of WWII and America's horror at the book burnings of Hitler's Germany.

The metatext of the story, really, is that the issue is as current today as it was when EC Comics folded. Politicians looking for an easy, bullet proof cause by targeting a non-issue which supposedly effects "families". Pop psychology playing into a national fervor about a largely imaginary concern played up by the media. The adults convinced that children must live in a state of eden-like innocence until they're 18 and ready to put on a military uniform, and that any naughty words will warp their fragile little minds. Inane rhetoric questioning "who is patriotic?".

In short, parents were told to fear comics by the press, government and someone trying to sell a book. And it led to the hamstringing of an entire medium in the US, garnering it a reputation for children and the dull-witted, which continues to this day.

Fundamentally, I agree with Hadju's point-of-view. I find any attempt at censorship to be highly suspect, so I'm sort of the choir to whom he's preaching. And I find the sorts of "won't anyone think of the children?" pleas unconvincing when the goal is so broad and undefined.

But I don't have children, and most likely never will. I will never stop to wonder whether the video games, movies and internet content that Clark, Diana or Little Bruce were viewing would melt their brain and turn them into little sociopaths capable of MURDER.

However, I think at this point we don't NEED research to know that people, society, etc... are far more complicated than to believe that Cause A will have Effect B (and that is more or less what Wertham claimed during official hearings). But somehow the opposite is generally "common wisdom". And once the press smells a story and fans the flames of a "controversy", it can begin to border on an hysteria.

Perhaps because there's always a new generation of parents who never gave the matter of media and childhood development much thought until faced with the challange of parenting... Or perhaps because they found their kids either watching some god-awful movie which will warp their fragile little mind, or they look for someone/ something to explain why junior was caught selling bags of the dope... blaming the ills of society on purveyors of entertainment is a never-ending issue in the press.

And, yes, there's always somebody whose got a screw loose and decides to re-enact Taxi Driver, and (with all due respect to the tragic deaths in question) that tends to cast a disproportionate level of concern versus the millions of other consumers who did not go Travis Bickle.

It seems the difference between the era in which Wertham and the modern era is the litigiousness of the modern era versus the public shaming by committee of the HUAC-era. As such, lawsuits are filed all the time these days against, well, mostly Rockstar Entertainment. The suits blame the game maker for deaths "inspired" by Grand Theft Auto. Just as Wertham and Co. pinned violence among children to comics, as well as a host of other crimes, so too, do today's attorneys and the parents that retain those attorneys.

Its worth noting that at the same time that the above linked lawsuit was going into place against Rockstar, congress passed a bill keeping citizens from suing the actual gun manufacturers, effectively stating that a gun manufacturer is in no way culpable, but pixels on a screen are still up for debate. The next year, a Tennessee congressman put a bill into consideration (in the State Senate) banning the sale or rental of violent video games to anyone. And if you want to feel your brain begin to melt, Google something like "bill to ban video game".

And so it goes on and on. But don't think comic shops are off the radar. Read up on Gordon Lee. Despite the age of comic readership having a mean of something like 23, many folks still believe comics are created for and aimed at small children. And that leaves today's comic creators in a precarious position when it comes to community standards, etc...

Like penny dreadfuls, comic strips, comic books, Jazz, Rock'n'Roll, horror movies, and whatever else that came before... Video Games will enjoy the slings and arrows of the generation which did not spawn it. But I do understand that video games are not passive entertainment. The user CHOOSES to partake in the action of the story, and increasingly so in games as complex as GTA. But the rules seem largely the same.

To be clear, I DO believe in ratings systems, and that stores would do well to self-monitor ratings for both comics and games. After all, parents should have some sort of guide to assist them in making an informed decision. They can't possibly pre-consume every game, book, movie, etc... that their children will wish to view. Without these kinds of tools, we run the risk of living in the world which has to be sanitized entirely for the youngest audiences, or government dictates for censorship and the can of worms that opens up.

Our Monkey/Robot Masters...?

I suppose at some point I was going to pass some line on a curve and become the Jack Van Impe of predicting doom by robots and/ or monkeys.

But what if the monkeys and robots joined forces...? I know you haven't thought too much about this. Fortunately for you, I have.

So, yes, I volunteer the pages of LoM for alerting people to the impending robot/ monkey apocalypse.

Erstwhile Leaguers Randy and JAL sent along this story, knowing that I would be rightfully concerned, and I would, in turn raise this concern with YOU, my Loyal Leaguers, who also see the spectre of the robot/ monkey menace for what it is...

Please click here for the first signs of the endtimes.

And, of course, here.

Just remember, it always starts small. The Romans thought the Barbarians were adorable little tykes at one point, too.

We may have literally dozens of chances to prevent this unlawful marriage of cybernetics and simian before its too late, but what will YOU do to speak out against them before they're forcing you into a banana labor farm or keeping you around to polish their shiny feet and posteriors?

Obligatory Vacation Pics

A brief travelogue

Thursday we arrived in Costa Rica about 12:00. We rented a large Toyota SUVish thing and hit the road for the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Arenal is a large volcano in the North Central portion of the country.

Arenal: Terrifying, fire-spewing mountain dominates landscape

I got us lost almost immediately, so it took us about 4.5 hours to get to the place, when it should have taken 3 - 3.5. Sorry about that. Also, the road was wet, windy, and had me on my last nerve. We later learned, this was nowhere near the worst Costa Rica had to offer. But the sheer drop offs to 150 feet of lush, canopy covered doom kept me on my toes.

The next day we hiked in the jungle, observed wildlife and plantlife, and swam a bit in the pool. I also read a bit.

Jason at Waterfall. He did go swimming in the waters.

The Arenal Observatory Lodge was great. We were quite pleased.

Jason takes in some sun. Behind him is Lake Arenal, a warm lake, heated by MAGMA (I think). Anyway, its warm.

We drove out Saturday morning in nice sunshine. Costa Rica is relatively small, so we cut halfway across the country in a few hours.

The road out was scenic and much easier to drive

We encountered some minor obstacles

We arrived at Playa Samara around 1:00, and checked into the Hotel Las Brisas Del Pacifico. It's a really nice resort, and as we were there in the off-season, it seems we were two of only about twelve people at any time. That means we had a nice beach and pool mostly to ourselves.

The town of Samara sits on the beach and is full of friendly folks. We were on the beach for maybe half an hour when Jason said to me "I wonder if any of these people know how good they have it?"
As if on cue, within five minutes a gentleman rode up to us on a horse and introduced himself. He was a recent retiree from the Venezuelan petroleum concern. He had been educated at the University of Florida, worked as hard as he could, and had no found his piece of paradise. His life's duty was to now ride the beach and tell folks to live a good life.
So, yeah, some folks knew exactly how good they had it.

We also went into Samara for some meals and to look around.

Jason stands in the main road of Samara. Not very busy on 12:00 on Sunday.

Monday I read, and Jason swam in the ocean. We then drove into San Jose, which is a lovely city with absolutely no signage to tell you where you are. But after some major navigation issues (again, my fault), we found The Hotel Don Carlos.

A main walkway within the Hotel Don Carlos

The hotel was a former president's mansion in an historic and lovely part of San Jose. If you want to see it, I recommend taking a cab from the airport, lest you get as lost as I got us.

We ate at a nice place up the street and settled in for the night.

We returned, taking an all-day journey from San Jose, to the airport, through Houston, US Customs (which is a separate post for another day), and into Austin.

The hardest part of the trip, by far, was being away from Jamie for so long, and unable to speak with her for several days by phone or e-mail. I knew it would be difficult, but you don't really know until you're ankle deep in the jungle listening to howler monkeys.

Anyhoo, it was a great trip, and one day I'd love to return, with all the knowledge at my fingertips that I've picked up on this go-round.

Jason was a great travel companion, so no doubt I will enlist his aid once again someday.

For pics from Jason's POV, please click here

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The League Returns (from Costa Rica)

hey Leaguers. I'm back.

Well, it was a great trip. We had a great time, and saw a lot of the lovely island nation of Costa Rica, and saw a lot of ice and bears. Really, the whole place is just sort of a rock in some sort of icy waters. You can see the whole place from end to end, and there's, like, five buildings and a lot of rusty ships.

Honestly, I was surprised by the large numbers of penguins, and how much work they had me doing gutting fish in the hull of a ship for the first two or so days. But, you know, there's no sunlight down there, so after the first 36 hours, the best 20 or so just fly by.

Jason spent most of the week playing cards, dominoes and high stakes Russian Roulette with a bunch of sort of shady looking guys who kept thinking up little chores for me to do, like cleaning out the penguin pate masher and whatnot.

Interesting trip, but weird how those guys didn't want Jason to do work, but everytime I tried to get a little sleep they were barking at me in Inuit and shooting rounds off over my head...

More later. Hope everyone is well...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The League Returns

Sounds like an awesome movie, doesn't it?

The League and Steanso are scheduled to make their return flight this evening, landing around 8:30. Let's hope they are not detained in Houston trying to smuggle monkeys in their pants. I look forward to their many stories and hope they took lots of pictures.

Cassidy currently has Lucy in a neck hold, so I think it's time for doggie day camp to come to an end.

Thanks for putting up with my ramblings, everyone - I hereby hand the LOM back over to its rightful owner. Bye!

This post written by jamie while The League was out

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Too many puppies

It's the end of day four of my stint as dog pack leader. I haven't gotten a good night's sleep since Ryan left. This is not solely Cassidy's doing, I just think Lucy and Cassidy bring out the Space Madness in each other. Adding Jeff the Cat to the mix doesn't help. Cassidy loves Jeff and spends 90% of her time here trying to get to him. I've placed a barricade in front of the stairs to give him a safe haven, but Jeff just can't help himself. He tries to come downstairs when he knows she's around, so he's kind of asking for it.

On the whole though, the dogs have been pretty well behaved (although I reserve final judgement until Tuesday night, when the Steans Bros. return). Three dogs and a cat is just a handful.

I have to give thanks to Nicole, though, who watched the dogs yesterday while I was out, and the In-Laws, who took Mel and Lucy on a nice long walk this evening while I took Cassidy for a hop up and down the street.

And on a completely unrelated note:

This post written by jamie while The League was out