Showing posts with label rage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rage. Show all posts

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Virtual University and the Future of Education

I worked in the eLearning space for most of my post-collegiate career (and depending on your definition, for a year before I graduated). Due to my career path, for years, I've seen articles cross my monitor that look more or less like this one from this weekend's Washington Post.

First: read the article, or much of the following rant will not make sense
Second: In the spirit of full disclosure, my paycheck today comes from a consortium of 18 universities (and growing), and my office is located in the basement at the library of one of these major universities. Its a great job, and I'm biased toward believing my employment will continue. I have also been employed by major universities from 1997 - 2002, 2002 - 2006 and 2008 - present.

1) I'll start with an obvious problem.

The real force for change is the market: Online classes are just cheaper to produce.

This is, I assure you, not true. What is cheaper? An instructor who walks into a classroom, fires up the projector, and begins talking? Or that same instructor, the instructional designer who helps them adapt their course for online distribution, the developers managing the content management system, the servers which must be maintained (admittedly, this is moving to the cloud), the hardware required to push the data out to the world, the money spent by the school for an IT infrastructure, the money spent on the people to manage that infrastructure, the licensing of software for off-campus use, etc...?

There are a multitude of hidden costs completely ignored in this seemingly straightforward statement.

This doesn't begin to approach the various models employed. I've been involved with asynchronous video distribution of courses, which was a very expensive model, but also provides a guarantee to both student and faculty that you've reduced the separation between on-campus and online students. That requires, at minimum, several thousand dollars sunk into production-quality equipment to capture the instructor alone. To capture the entire "studio classroom", the price increases exponentially.

Asynchronous, non-video models tend to see significant attrition. They are cheaper to produce, and are what one sees at places like Univ. of Phoenix Online. Make no mistake, this is significant work for both faculty and student to prepare and manage discussion, with artificial, time-consuming expectations placed on the students to ensure participation.

Whether instructors have a few online students or they have thousands, part of a college class is homework. Which requires a fairly complex document management process from the distance learning organization. While most Course Management Systems offer standard form-based quizzes, hopefully higher education is requiring a bit more than a multiple choice quiz. And that all costs money, including staff to grade.

And none of this takes proctoring exams into account.

Let us not also forget that universities are not a defensive driving class. The sciences and engineering require sophisticated labs for even their undergraduates as standard operation for the course. You do not ship an oil derrick to a petroleum engineering student's home, nor a nuclear reactor to a nuclear engineering student's home. You don't inject rabbits with ebola over your sink to see what happens (I mean you could, but that's a totally different experiment).

There's a sort of Henry Ford model inherent in the idea of printing courses and being done with it. But Ford also didn't sit on his laurels and stop dead in his tracks after the Model T. Scholarship is a funny thing in that there always seems to be something to add, some changes to be made, suggesting that after you've done all of this once, even a Roman History course will need to be refreshed on a fairly frequent basis.

Author Zephyr Teachout may be shocked to find out that most universities do not have the endowments and budget that Harvard is able to play with, and cannot afford all of the technology that is required (and that may even include a Blackboard Course management System) to run an eLearning course. It may be cheaper to employ adjunct faculty and turn on the lights rather than reproduce its entire curriculum online every semester.

Assuming cost remains constant or drops is, on its face, wrong.

2) Higher education is not a product one purchases like a car.

Universities are not looking for customers, they are looking for select bodies of students to help them maintain their profile.

Teachout says:

A student can already access videotaped lectures, full courses and openly available syllabuses online. And in five or 10 years, the curious 18- (or 54-) year-old will be able to find dozens of quality online classes, complete with take-it-yourself tests, a bulletin board populated by other "students," and links to free academic literature.

Some schools like MIT are currently happy to share their content online from classes that are hitting the internet, but because universities actually value their own intellectual property, no university at my last check was offering MIT's content as their own. Nor is even the most motivated of people eager enough to (a) sit through a 45 hour semester course with no pay-off 9and certainly not do homework and lab work), (b) multiply that by enough courses that would have earned them a degree.

What Teachout describes exists, but the intention and believed use was for people who might use snippets here and there, not kill the time they could have used earning a degree watching courses and NOT earning a degree.

As universities are not businesses, and operate on a model which values scholarship above all else, I can see how it might be difficult for a business-minded person to understand that universities are not likely to begin looking to cut costs by turning to corporate pre-packaged materials.

The essence of scholarship is the generation and dissemination of ideas, something that I would believe Teachout somehow missed as a visiting faculty at Harvard. I am guessing, in fact, that Teachout most likely sampled the Blackboard course management system, realized the possible applications, and leaped ahead in her assessment without considering either the lengthy history of distance education, or the value of scholarship as created in the university campus and disseminated in the classroom.

The efforts most universities are engaged with today are the polar opposite of the McDonald's style of homogenized scholarship Teachout foresees. And, in fact, most universities are working to produce resources for their faculty to extend their scholarly communication out to anyone who can Google it. They are challenging faculty to not live in an ivory tower, but use the tools of communication to reach out to one another and better promote their work.

3) The Nintendo Generation

In 1999, an IT person came to my office to meet with my team and announced "We are looking at the Nintendo generation. We need tos tart figuring out how to turn our courses into video games or we're going to lose these kids".

Nobody turned their course into a videogame in the entire college where I worked, and yet, semester after semester, students continue to turn up.

And the young students of tomorrow will be growing up in an on-demand, personalized world, in which the notion of a set-term, offline, prepackaged education will seem anachronistic.

A few things Teachout is missing: the idea of turning a course into something that millions of students will take will, by default, mean that the course will no longer be agile or more easily updated. It will, in fact, mean that the courses will be the pre-packaged courses she suggests won't happen.

In fact, if one wishes to partially use her metaphor, its far more likely that students would jump from course to course offering, depending upon the befits of which course were maximum and still earned them course credit. This can only happen, of course, if there are little start-up courses available AND ACCREDITED (which presents a whole new problem).

When radio and television were introduced, it was believed a primary function would be educational. Satellite, cable and videotape have made the possibility for the classroom seating virtual thousands to exist well before the internet. And that's ignoring the packet-based "correspondence classes" recognized by most universities when I was an undergrad. During this time, semi-affordable video conferencing equipment was the rage, and joint courses began being held between campuses.

My first full-time gig positioned me as manager of a studio classroom, which went from video-conference suite and tape distribution center to online broadcasting within about a year. Integrated with a CMS, we'd pretty much achieved several of the goals Teachout suggests.

Later, I'd work with something called "NTU", which was a clearinghouse which allowed for students to take courses from a potluck of offerings from all sorts of universities. Walden continues to exist with NTU as a subsidiary. I think it's a great idea, but its been in the market for a long while without finding a ranking for engineering schools. So do with that what you will.

4) CostCo Law School

I'm a tremendous fan of the dystopian comedy "Idiocracy". In the movie, as the timelost protagonist and his newfound companion wander through a future-CostCo (which stretches beyond the horizon), the contemprary character off-handedly comments that he got his law degree at CostCo.

In viewing education as lowest-common-denominator product that should be simplified and put online, so the maximum number of learners can gain the same knowledge for the lowest cost possible might be where public education is headed in Texas, its antithetical to the ideals of actual scholarship. There's value in creating communities of competitive ideas, where students have options and can work outside of their comfort zone.

Universities strive to offer programs in diverse knowledge areas with faculty in cutting-edge research not just to build up their portfolio of NSF grants, but to offer that learning experience to students.

5) The Newspaper Analogy

I get where Teachout was going with the newspaper analogy, but its a tough one to swallow. If we honestly believe that the same sort of data that's generated in our research universities will be found without those research centers, but just, you know... out there on a blog or something... we might as well start just packing it now as a culture.

I've no doubt that it would benefit community colleges to synchronize on some of their courses that take up teaching load and are basic requirements. Its certainly a possibility. But those are also a small, small portion of the courses one takes in college. And, at a major university, those are the classes that employ associate and junior faculty.

I understand the belief that courses will be aggregated, but I see it far more likely that you'll see cross-listed courses at "partner" universities (see: Western Governor's University), as researchers and various universities find ways to collaborate in the classroom as well as the lab.

That's a good thing, and its more like picking up articles from a wire service, not like saying good-bye to the local paper.

6) Keggers and Football

The university experience is, of course, as much about what happens outside of the classroom as within.

I'm not really sure I need to elaborate here. We've all seen Animal House, correct?

7) So in Conclusion

I am a strong proponent of eLearning. I believe in it. I've worked in it a heck of a lot more and longer than most folks who teach a semester in the modern university.

I would suggest the following again:

Universities are not a business hunting and pecking for student money. Unlike anything else that costs as much as a university education, it is not a consumer driven model. It is far more akin to earning a job and succeeding in that job.

It is therefore not necessarily the role of the university to turn its courses into video games or lose their students. Its the role of the student to rise to the set of challenges created by or issued by their university, not for the university to quiver in fear of their students' demands for immediate gratification, 24 hour communication with their faculty, or a specific letter grade.

In my experience, technology enters the picture not when students demand it (if they attended public school, they usually don't expect much out of a classroom), but because the university found it was more productive for their faculty to have access to the technology.

While a strata of education will see change, Teachout's belief that only elite (read: Ivy League) schools will go untouched by her model, the model of the university is not going to crumble in the 10 - 20 years Teachout predicts.

At some point education may become the consumer commodity Teachout suggests, but we're a long way from the CostCo model today. Students are still asking to get in and hoping to get accepted. Perhaps this model will change in my lifetime, but the students aren't anywhere close to dictating what happens on their campuses today.

Now wealthy alumni...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Things That Bug Me

-Yahoo, etc... knowing I am a male, and so my computer seems half-filled with ads for off-brand dating sites with video loops of 19 year old girls "flirting" with the camera. I'm good, thanks.

-Seeing 17 year old kids walking down the street, heading away from the high school at 9:45 in the morning, who obviously just ducked out of going to school.

-When the cat pees on me when I take him to the vet

-When the government has to bail out financial institutions who behaved obviously recklessly for years to even a nimrod like myself, putting us even further into crippling debt, in order to keep us from having some sort of 1929-style financial collapse.

-The lack of a proper Hawkman title from DC

-Dolls that can swim. And the inferred message to impressionable kids that maybe babies can swim.

-When your trusted robot goes crazy and tries to kill you.

-Daytime TV ads reminding me I'd probably have a full-time job if I DID just sign up for a trade and technical school...

(edit) - I am also deeply irritated that whenever I turn on my cable TV, it tunes to channel 1, which runs nothing but an ad for the three services (cable, internet, phone) provided by Time Warner Cable. Which I already have. Time Warner, please quit selling me (badly and constantly) that which I already have.

Of course, the only way you can actually see the ad is if you already have digital cable, thus eliminating at least one of the three items they're hard selling.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Press arrests at Convention

My old college pal Robb was one of the protesters arrested in New York at the 2004 Republican Convention. For those of us who assume that we're living in a country of a fairly solid system, and where the cops are there as servants of the community (as well as lawyers, etc...) Robb's story is a reminder how quickly that can turn on a dime. But, it's also one of how little dissent is tolerated.

Robb was never injured, by the way, or anything like that. But he did get the good cop/ bad cop interrogation room treatment. And for those of you who know Robb, in some ways, I feel almost sorry for the cops in trying to get him to play along (or even get what they were up to.).

This morning on PBS's "Now", they had a story on Amy Goodman, a reporter for "Democracy Now". It didn't get too much play during the Republican Convention, but St. Paul saw some significant protests last week.

Now, I don't want for readers to assume I agree with the protesters, or think that smashing windows is, in any way, a good idea. I know those protesters have no idea how badly their message plays when they take things that direction, and don't really get "it".

But I don't care what your slant is as a reporter. The story surrounding Goodman's arrest and the arrest of her crew should be shocking to everyone.

Unfortunately, "Democracy Now!" is not a mainstream news organization. That doesn't indicate they are an illegitimate organization, or that the political leanings of their organization were even known or the press status of the crew was acknowledged by the police. They could have been working for "The Christian Science Monitor" for all the cops noticed.

Goodman was texted from her post on the floor of the Convention that her team had been arrested while covering a protest. The footage is her rushing out to the police line to see what's going on.

Here's the producer getting arrested. Note, she is wearing press credentials and shouting "Press" repeatedly.

Apparently after this the cops, dissatisfied with her prone position, put a knee in her back and dragged her across the asphalt, getting her face cut up.

Curiously, the St. Paul police are "investigating" the incident, not to see if the police in question acted out of turn, but whether or not they should drop the charges against the "Democracy Now!" team.

All of this was preceded, I should note, by the iWitness video team being arrested BEFORE the convention even started. iWitness video is a watchdog organization that records police action in potentially volatile situations (such as the RNC 2004). They were raided before the convention for, essentially, the potential trouble the St. Paul/ Minneapolis police felt they could create. The charge? The cops claim that there was a reported "hostage" situation they were investigating...

I know some Leaguers will believe that Goodman and the iWitness folks aren't any different from any other hippie protesters. And, of course, protesters get what they deserve. But, keep in mind, "Democracy Now!" was a credentialed, accredited, badge-wearing crew. Goodman also states that a Secret Service agent came by AFTER she was in cuffs and took her credentials off her neck without her permission.

I'm not pointing at the RNC for culpability, instead I would point toward recent trends in how protesters are being handled, and how the St. Paul police is being instructed to handle protesters by the FBI, Secret Service, etc... And how that's spread now, indiscriminately, to the press.

Leaguers, this is seriously, seriously messed up. I don't really know why NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox, etc... aren't covering the "Democracy Now!" story, but I would guess they're far more focused right now on the actual candidates and enjoying the comforts those candidates extend to the press corps.

But if reporters now have to worry about not just getting arrested (and getting roughed up despite no signs of resisting arrest), is that something we're comfortable with...?

Washington Post

Seattle Post Intelligencer

USA Today

iWitness video

For how not to stage a protest (you dingbats) read here

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Buy your media at Amazon (and not Target)

So, today I went to Target to return two items. I'm not a guy who returns things a lot, but as I mentioned yesterday, my copy of the Batman: Gotham Knight movie was a bit jacked up. I also bought a stereo sort of thing at Target a few months ago, and now, of the options (radio, CD, tape, record player) the radio doesn't work.

So, anyway, I took both back to Target. The Target lady basically told me: your radio was bought too long ago, so I'll only give you $35 for this item. So I figured 3 out of 4 functions ain't bad and gave up on that. After all, that's a pretty sound policy, and I didn't have my receipt.

The Batman movie, however, was another story. I bought it literally yesterday, and already they were sold out at the store. And every location within 10.3 miles. I know this, because the girl at Customer Service printed out a list of where they DID have a copy.

"That's, like, $6.00 on gas on a $19.00 movie. I just want my money."
So she called her manager.
"Sir, this is a copyright issue. We can't just refund your money."
"I worked in a record store and I know how computers work. I understand piracy. And I want my money back."
"They have it at Capitol Plaza."
"I have no reason to GO to Capitol Plaza. I'll just take my money."
So she called her super manager.
"Sir, it's a copyright issue."
"I know. But its your copy of the movie that's messed up. I brought it back within 24 hours. Its not my fault you guys understocked."
"We can hold it and maybe call you when we get more copies in."
"When will that be?"
"I don't know."
"And will you actually call me?"
"No. This is your broken movie. Just give me my money."
"I can't do that, it's a copyright issue."
"You're saying you don't stand by your own product? I can show you on any DVD player how the disc is messed up."
"It's a copyright issue."
"I didn't copy it. I want the same movie and you're out of stock. How is that my problem?"
"We can only exchange opened items for the same item."
"Which you don't have."
"You know, Amazon would help me out."
"You're giving me absolutely no reason to shop here anymore."
"You can call our Customer Service Line."
"Which will do what?"
"They'll hear you out and make a decision."
And I could just imagine the person I'd be talking to in India or Minneapolis, working from a script, telling me they'd put me in a system, and in 6-8 months they'd call me back to tell me I was stuck with a broken movie.
"No. This is ridiculous. I'm not calling some service line."
But that's the magic of customer service today, I guess. You get sent to make some phone call you know you will be buried.
"Here, let me get you a card for our customer service-"
"I don't want it. I'll just come back some other time and get a new copy."
"Let me get you a copy of the card for our-"
"I'm not going to call and disappear into some phone limbo. Absolutely not. This is terrible service."
"Sir, its not our policy, its copyright..." Blah blah blah
It IS the store's policy, by the way. The DVD companies aren't cutting a major retailer like Target out of the chain. Its just easier to NOT help one customer. We had the same concerns when i worked at a record store in 1997, but we didn't consider it the customer's problem if we didn't have something stocked. We gave them store credit for our inability to have, say, more than one copy of "The very best of Connie Francis".
So I DID take the DVD home. I have no idea when or if they'll get in more copies. And what sort of ridiculous policy I can look forward to from the service desk at that point.

Anyhow, this is the future of shopping.

Three lessons:

1) My ability to outright own a copy of digital media, a la iTunes, for my TV can't come quickly enough.
2) Amazon. I had always pre-ordered my copies of movies through Amazon, but decided that it was a waste of packaging, etc.. as I always wind up seeing the movie at the store for sale for roughly the same price. But from now on, Amazon. They've never once given me lip about returning ANYTHING.
3) Target reps could have cared. They actively chose not to help in any way other than trying to get me to go 10.4 miles away.

The store, by the way, was Austin Southpark SuperTarget. The manager's name was "Stan".

And don't get me started on the idiots at Circuit City. But here's a hint to Circuit City management: If they can't find the movie called "V for Vendetta" in the alphabetically filed DVD's in under 15 minutes, its time to take a serious look at your hiring policies.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Final Crisis - Morrison speaks

In a Newsarama interview posted on Monday, Grant Morrison informs readers, basically, that they were better off ignoring "Countdown" and "Death of the New Gods".

For those of you keeping score, the conclusion of "Death of the New Gods" and "Countdown" not jiving with each other at all should have given you a serious moment of pause. Throw into the mix the beginning of "Final Crisis", and you have a potentially cataclysmic problem at DC Editorial.

It should come as no small surprise that Didio's pet writing team on Countdown fell down on the job. The insult, then, being the 52 issues of a series some of us picked up, and which wound up as a colossal disappointment. This is to say nothing of the embarassing outing that was "Death of the New Gods" (in which Jim Starlin proved that he had almost no ability to channel Kirby's vision for the New Gods, and/ or was just cashing a check). And, it should be mentioned, Salvation Run will now also be largely pointless and forgotten.

The long and the short of it seems to read something like this:

Unless a DC book is written by Morrison, Johns, Rucka and possibly Gail Simone, its best to just consider it ancillary and out of continuity. And that, Leaguers, is kind of messed up. Even if its sort of the sneaking suspicion DC fans should have come to by the end of 52 and the OYL year-long implosion.

In general, I think I give DC a lot of leeway. Some of that is in reaction to the Marvel Fan game of trying to blow every minor mistake DC makes into some sort of catastrophe and point to conflated issues as evidence that DC is a fraud. Much of the time, those mistakes are either inconsequential or, occasionally, not a mistake at all.

But how DC can push a series like Final Crisis, with all the hype and supporting series attached by big name writers and make the error of not including someone like Morrison in the planning process for the "countdown" to his story is, frankly, unforgiveable from an editorial standpoint.

Its sad that DC saw the fervor caused by the discrepancies between "Final Crisis", "Countdown" and "Death of the New Gods" and had to ask Morrison to answer for DC's editorial incompetence in order to try to find a way to salvage "Final Crisis" before the fire got much bigger.

I believe in continuity, but there's a lot of work that has to go into making these events work. And something as big as "the final battle between Dakseid and Orion" seems big enough (in the DCU, anyway), that it seems imperative that a company wide decree on how this was going to work should have been issued. Let alone, asking Morrison what events were going to work or NOT work with Final Crisis, if Final Crisis was intended to be the last word in big event comics from DC for a while.

I was concerned that Morrison's comments would somehow distort my vigorous defense of Final Crisis #1from last week, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I'm not so sure I can be as kind to my "accessibility and comics" rant.

Incongruent continuity, flatly, makes comics hard to follow. It makes the stories around them tough to read, and conflicting portrayals of events are a show stopper for both long-time fans and, especially, for those new to the concepts. When you've seen the same character die 3 times in three weeks in three different ways, it leads to some serious cognitive dissonance that is going to pull you out of the story.

DC, get your mess together.

Didio not only owes his customers an apology, he owes us a solemn promise that he has seen his editorial goof for the colossal mistake that it was and that such a mistake will NOT happen again lest he will fall on his own sword. Not ask Grant Morrison to go smooth things over for him.

But, honestly, if I were Levitz, I'd be calling him on the carpet.

For the first time in a long time, I feel screwed by DC as a reader. This wasn't a case of me disagreeing with the direction of a comic. This was about a serious mistake in editorial. A clerical error that should have been spotted. And mostly it looks like Didio and whomever is closest to him is whispering to him their ideas for how they can ride on Morrison's coattails and make everyone a WINNAH!. But, by not working with the goose, their trampling all over the golden eggs on the way to the market.

For all of that, they asked readers to pu their faith in a comic that was going to supposedly effect the entire DCU (it didn't), and lead into a highly anticipated event (it didn't).

So what was "Countdown"? A cynical cash grab? A failed follow up to "52" once the success of the series became obvious? An honest attempt to build a "spine" to the DCU? An experiment that went up like the Hindenburg?

What were all those awful Countdown spin-offs?
The promise of storylines that never really happened (Why did Jimmy Olsen have to die again? And what did that have to do with the Joker?)
Countdown Arena?
the go-nowhere plot with the Monarch?
Was that really the plan with Ray Palmer from the beginning?
What was the point of Salvation Run?
Likewise, Death of the New Gods?

So, so many questions...

I'm tired of being an apologist for Didio and his cadre of incompetent creative teams. There's too much else going on at DC that works.

Robin is even okay with Dixon back
All Star Superman
Green Lantern
GL Corps
Legion (now that Shooter's taken over. Go figure.)
Blue Beetle
Justice Society America is rock solid
Justice League America is okay when they aren't desperately tying into events
Booster Gold

All really good, solid titles. Even Simone's Wonder Woman is showing promise. Heck, even Supergirl has been on a major upswing.

I'm still highly recommending Final Crisis. I don't think its that complicated (and if you have a question, feel free to ask, and maybe I can help). But I am seriously questioning how many more DC titles I would add in the future as Morrison, Johns, Rucka, etc... leave. My days of giving titles the benefit of the doubt is coming to an end. Especially for books not written and drawn by teams I already trust.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Final Crisis #1

DC Comics' mega-event of 2008 is the Grant Morrison penned "Final Crisis". The first issue hit the stands Thursday, and I picked up the issue Friday.

From what I read, I would never recommend that the issue be taken as an entry-level comic to the DCU. The story is mired in DCU characters and continuity, and asks that readers have been paying attention to recent output from DC, but also picking up key collections as they've been released of late.

None of that is intended as a criticism. At some point, you're either allowed to tell stories for people who have been following along (see: Lost, BSG), or you're stuck in the perpetual cycle of episodic storytelling, where the reader can pop in and it doesn't matter if they're familiar with the concepts and characters before tuning in (see: Law & Order, most police procedurals).

The story actually seems to make events such as the abysmal "Countdown" make some sense, as well as the uncompleted, unnecessary "Salvation Run". It embraces characters from Kirby's 70's run on New Gods, Anthro and Kamandi, while seamlessly embracing recent events in the DCU, such as Johns' introduction of the Alpha Lanterns in Green Lantern. Morrison also plays with some of the toys he created during his mega-series "Seven Soldiers of Victory", and its probably worth returning to your issues or collections of that series to get an idea where he might be headed.

But what I've always enjoyed about Morrison's stories is that, despite the need for our heroes to win, his set-ups don't tell me how the story will unfold in a neat pattern I can consume with the predictability of a McDonald's meal.

Unlike Marvel's competing event "Secret Invasion", "Final Crisis" isn't telegraphing the ending before the story has started. I am picking up both series, and, honestly, compared to last year's "Civil War", I've been a bit let down with Secret Invasion since sometime last fall when Elektra was revealed as a Skrull in "New Avengers".*

I've already read considerable negative noise in the blogosphere on "Final Crisis", and much of it is a reminder of the grim state of the monthly comic. A lot of it seems to bemoan that the reader isn't able to jump into the story with page 1, which seems a bit unfair. Morrison does what he can to provide exposition without recounting 40 years of DCU history.

As I mentioned, I don't think this would be a great first comic to hand to someone, but I also don't think that asking readers to pick up on contextual clues or have the slightest bit of knowledge of the DCU as a comic reader is that tough of a request.

But to address some particular resurfacing internet complaints:

(a) If you have to ask who Dan Turpin is, well, bone up on your Kirby and New Gods reading, or just check Wikipedia. (b) Maybe if the reader continues to follow the series, s/he will be rewarded with knowledge of who characters are and what is going on.

(League special nerdy snark: If some are confused by "new characters"/ obscure characters (gasp!), you might want to note that DC is telegraphing to readers what MIGHT be important in upcoming storylines by what its including in its re-release of older material.)

The art of the issue, by JG Jones, is phenomenal. He seems to have a tremendous ability to meld the mundane and the fantastic, and portray them side by side without either seeming silly (and did you see his Metron?). The coloring is excellent, the rendering and composition top drawer. I've mostly known Jones as a cover artist, but I'll need to do some research and see what titles he's previously handled. It's not the same hyper-realistic style we'd see out of Ross's watercolors, but there's always room at the table for terribly talented artist.

This issue included a lot of what I've found exciting about the DCU. The New Gods, The Question, Green Lanterns... and a history that extends back to the cavemen with Anthro and Vandal Savage, all the way to the 31st Century and beyond. This issue only plants the seeds of what could be a great series, but the pieces are in place. Fallen Gods, Red Skies... Color me intrigued.

I guess the watchword I'd share on Final Crisis is: Patience. Comic nerds can be such an impatient lot, insisting on instant gratification, plotting and pacing be damned. Just get to the fights, and don't ask the reader to work.

It seems the same lack of patience which has marred many reader's experience during the current, phenomenal run on Morrison's Batman (which is taking the better part of two years to come to a head) may also rain on the parade for Final Crisis.

What readers seem to forget is that super-hero comics are often plagued by writers and story lines that start promisingly, but end with a whimper. Look at virtually any 90's era DC cross-over, from "Final Night" to "The Death of Superman", and you'll see potential squandered as the big ideas come out of the gate first, and its all about the writer trying to scramble once they've got the reader's attention. And, honestly, I kind of felt that way about issues 3-6 of Marvel's Civil War (for this reader, the outcome that seemed most logical won out).

So give Final Crisis some time. Give Morrison's Batman some time. And, for God's sake, give All Star Superman its due. We're getting great comics from the guy, and it feels like we're headed to a point where DC has trimmed the excesses of the post-Infinite Crisis DCU and is finding out what really works.

And I think Final Crisis, given time, will define what that will mean for DC Comics for the next few years.

*Really, the story of Secret Invasion, to anyone who'se ever watched TV, should play out as a big superhero slugfest which will involve super-heroes realizing their teams have been infiltated by spies, go through unease that comrades have been aliens/ bodysnatchers/ commies/ what-have-you, and it will all end in a big fight where the heroes team up and push the enemy out into space. It's all very "They Live". With superheroes instead of Rowdy Roddy Piper.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Countdown and Death of the New Gods: A fanboy rant

Well, so that's over.

I want to be be clear here as this post begins: Will this post come off as fanboish, and all that fanboyishness implies? Yes.

For readers who are not following the DCU, two years ago DC Comics launched a series entitled "52", a weekly series, each issue encapsulating a week in the life of the DC Universe. While interesting, its not clear that 52 managed to fulfill its goal of giving the reader an eagle's eye view of the DCU and the new status quo following Infinite Crisis.

Selling almost 100,000 copies every week seemed like a pretty significant success for DC, and so they followed with "Countdown".

I have a number of issues with the current administration at DC Comics, but many of them can be boiled down to two points:

1) DC has seemed far more interested in "stories" cooked up as editorial, status-quo-changing ideas rather than as organic tales with a natural arc from point A to point Z. It seems as if Didio and Co. are much more interested in where the characters will end up, rather than how they managed to get there. Which, correct me if I'm wrong, is sort of the point of telling a story.

Instead, DC has determined finishing points for their characters and don't really seem to care whether or not plot points B-Y make any sense, or occur in any particular order. Or, whether its a satisfying read with an engaging narrative arc.

Countdown has not been the only offender.

2) Unable to convince the DC A-list writers and artists to get on-board with this cockamamie scheme, Didio rounded-up a team of writers that never met an idea of Didio's they didn't like. It's my guess that Dini may have plotted the original Countdown story, but it was this team of writers that put words in the character's mouths and came up with the execution of the action. Unfortunately, these were mostly DC's B and C-listers. The guys who seem willing to take on 2nd and 3rd tier books and who are asked not to mess up the character too much until someone else takes over the title in order to boost sales.

In my opinion, the issues you'll see in the rant below trickle out of the above two issues.

The concept behind Countdown was that it would act as the "spine" to the DC Universe, and idea I've always felt was a pretty good idea. A central book which would reflect and define the events of the DC Universe. I now see that idea was not one of my better ones.

The troubles started with the absolutely abysmal cross-over "Amazons Attack!", which was supposed to be a major event, I guess. Unfortunately, it was terribly executed, made no sense, and reflected how little thought had really gone into Wonder Woman by the DC powers that be with the Infinite Crisis re-launch.

Add in the side-events, such as the death of Bart Allen, and Countdown was a colossal trainwreck this year for the DCU. The idea of tying the books together didn't really work. And shouldn't work over the course of a year. At best, that's a one month event editor's should try every year or two. If not less frequently.

Marvel's Civil War may have succeeded far better for one single reason (aside from the writing, and there being a point): Something explicit was happening in the Marvel Universe, so each character had an opportunity to react to it. Countdown chose to be a story of covert happenings and occurrences on other-dimensional versions of the DCU Earth. From the first issue, there was never anything for the characters in the other books to actually react to. Certainly there was no sense that anything was "Counting Down".

One of the funnier things, to me, about the whole Countdown debacle started when I was writing for Comic Fodder. Contributor Jason C. had proposed we write a series of alternating articles, ostensibly about Countdown, but to never actually discuss Countdown in the articles. "Because", he explained, "Countdown isn't about anything." I think I understood at the time, but Jason C. has a PhD, and I do not, and so it was that every few weeks upon closing an issue of Countdown, Jason's words would come back to haunt me.

For a sampling, go here and here of what was to be a year-long meta-joke, that only ran 6 installments.

Structurally, Countdown broke down almost every issue to show you what was going on with some aspect of the "Countdown" story. There was a storyline featuring a rogue Captain Atom as "Monarch", forming a trans-dimensional army to do... something. With a character called Forerunner, who was... supposed to do something...

The "Challengers" were supposedly hopping from Earth-to-Earth across the DC Multiverse in order to find Ray Palmer. There was a mysterious tattoo we were supposed to learn more about, that looked like the symbol of The Atom. The Challengers were made up of Donna Troy (DC's answer to the lifeless student council president), Kyle Rayner (the fifth wheel of the GL Corps), Jason Todd (who should have stayed dead), and a Monitor.

The Monitors were supposed to care about people jumping from world-to-world, but why they cared was never made clear.

Darkseid was up to... something.

For some reason Karate Kid and part o Triplicate Girl from the Levitz/ Giffen era Legion was there. And had Space Herpes.

Jimmy Olsen (one of my favorite characters of the Silver Age) was involved, probably to revitalize Jimmy as a character. Unfortunately, the writers seemed to hate writing Jimmy, and never bothered to give us a reason to like Jimmy or care.

Harley Quinn and Holly Robinson, two characters who've never been that popular in the DCU, were death marched through a nonsensical plot that I'm embarrassed to even describe, and came off as equally grating and useless to the entire Countdown story.

Speaking of useless, Flash villains Trickster and Piper shared a storyline that was supposed to give off the same spark as the movie "The Defiant Ones", but came off more like "Fled".

And, of course, the character self-immolation DC felt was necessary for Mary Marvel, the only non-whiny female teen in the DCU (well, I guess we have Misfit now over in BoP).

A few things:

-It seems that none of these storylines would have been approved by DC as a 6-issue mini-series, so why they were part of DC's YEAR LONG, 52 issue event is a mystery.

-It seems that having a writer who was passionate about any of the stories might have been to the overall story's benefit. Instead, rotating through writers every week... didn't work. I can't shake the feeling the lack of enthusiasm stemmed from the D-list level of characters, and, of course, the fact that the story made no sense.

-Somehow the series lasted 52 episodes, and yet we learned nothing about the characters. How does that even happen? The one character who actually HAD a character story-arc was Mary Marvel, and her awakening was literally magically infused.

-The characters carry a person with a deadly virus all over the place instead of just quarantining them. Plus, if you're familiar with how diseases spread, kids... pretty much the whole JLA/ JSA and the DCU should have been infected as Karate Kid should have been contagious before showing any symptoms. Plus, when, where and how did he get infected?

-The plot was not just all over the map, it was across 52 maps. Not a single storyline had a satisfying conclusion. In no way did the events of the final seven issues or so really tie into the first 40+ issues. Instead, our protagonists just stood around watching events unfold on Apokolips, on Earth-1, on Earth-52 and sort of through the whole series, really. Aside from mindless brawls here and there, did anybody actually DO anything in this series?

-The whole Morticoccus thing was just awful. As was Brother Eye/ OMAC. What was I supposed to get out of that? Where in continuity Kirby's ideas came from? From frikkin' Karate Kid?

Oh, DC. Do you ever write these things down, sleep on it, and look at it in the morning to see if they make sense before you start writing the script? Because it sort of feels like the whole story was the result of cramming for finals on too much coffee and No-Doze.

I'm inclined to believe something pretty major happened at the DC offices somewhere around week 15 when they realized readers were staying away in droves. It can't have helped that writers on other books were having a bear of a time trying to tie back into Countdown in some way, when the story wasn't really much of a story.

Unfortunately, DC was more about saving face with keeping the weekly machine going, rather than actually fixing the problems of Countdown. Or someone grabbing the editor and asking him if he actually asked what the story was before the damn series got started.

To add insult to injury, DC launched several companion series, many of which I began reading, and stuck only with "Death of the New Gods" through to the end. I am sad to say I was not enjoying Steve Gerber's work on Doctor Fate prior to Gerber's death, but after the very straightforward and interesting idea of Kent and Inza Nelson plus helmet was tossed to the side, I'm afraid yet another adaptation of the Fate idea just wasn't working for me. At all. Nor did "Countdown to Adventure", that Lord Havok series, or whatever else they were throwing my way.

In truth, "Death of the New Gods" reminded me why I'm not much of a Jim Starlin fan. Starlin has a reputation for the cosmic, but when simultaneously reading Kirby's original work, side-by-side with this series, Starlin comes up far, far short in understanding the characters, dialog, and energy that Kirby put into the original work.

Like Countdown, Death of the New Gods seemed largely plotless, and the reveal of the murderer wasn't just disappointing, but a smear on the work of Kirby and the many writers who have come after in an attempt to keep Kirby's flame alive.

Countdown could have been easily read and enjoyed without Death of the New Gods, but would have left An early issue or two of Countdown, and Issue 2 of Countdown feeling a bit out of place. Not that the conclusion to Death of the New Gods and the events of Conclusion match up in any satisfying way...

In truth, Countdown and Death of the News Gods each turned out to be enormous disappointments. And the worst part is, because I took a risk, week after week, believing DC had a plan in mind, I was going to get something out of all of this when the story wrapped up. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Which means I'm out a lot of money for collecting both series.

So what to do now?

DC Universe Zero comes out Wednesday. Is a single issue, and written by Johns and Morrison. And is 50 cents. So I'll pick that up. I'll pick up Final Crisis, mostly because I trust Morrison.

As per DC's next weekly series... I'm picking up the first four issues. I trust writer Kurt Busiek to an extent, but I'd be foolish after this debacle to keep going back to a weekly series and expect that DC had a master plan in mind if its looking like they really don't.

I might swing a bit to the left, but I believe capitalism works. When i used to write at Comic Fodder, i would always encourage readers to "vote with their dollars". In a way, I did vote with my dollar. I voted that I had confidence that DC had a plan, and I wanted to be on board to see what that plan was. So I took an expensive gamble and I lost.

Do I feel like a sucker: I didn't. Not until that page where the new team of The Atom, Donna Troy, Jimmy's insectoid ladyfriend and someone else decided to front with the Monitors, which I totally didn't buy. At that point, I was left wondering where the hell they came to the conclusion that the people who stood by and watched two worlds die were going to (a) hold anyone responsible for stuff that, really, had nothing to do with the Monitors, and (b) how they were going to do something now, when they hadn't done anything before. At that point, I felt like a sucker, because I realized DC had spent the entire Challengers storyline setting me up for a series that sounds very much not up my alley, and I'd give 12 issues before cancellation.

What DC can do for me:

52 left a lot of hanging threads. The Island of Mad Scientists. Lady Styx. Steel. Do wright by these. (And Infinity Inc. is not, by definition, doing anyone any favors).

If you want to do a weekly comic, think about a new format. It doesn't need to be a year-long. Think anthology. Think classic Showcase formatting. I'd read a weekly book featuring c-list characters, especially if I knew storylines were going to wrap up and not last for 52 issues.

Pay attention to what made The Sinestro Corps War story work in Green Lantern and GLC. Note how it didn't have a multitude of mini-series tied in. Note how the story built out of characters and character motivations, and not just "let's make Mary Marvel Evil".

DC does have an aging audience of older readers who have seen it all. The references to older events in Countdown were interesting, but you can't base a storyline around nostalgia for work that is significantly better than what you're putting on the page. Don't remind me you're nowhere near as talented as Jack Kirby by trying to use his ideas, or that you're not even as much fun as the old Superman's Pal comics by referencing Jimmy's many transformations.

Signs indicate that DC has learned many lessons from Countdown. Heck, the latest DC Nation column read something like an apology for Countdown (not yet online).

So I don't count DC down for the count yet.

If you take a look at the line, the Batbooks are the best they've been since I started reading Alan Grant/ Norm Breyfogle and was wowed by Jim Aparo's Dak Knight. The Superman books are in good hands and seem to be headed in a clear direction, with a new continuity that ties in the best of all the eras of Superman. Green Lantern is amazing. Gail Simone is pulling Wonder Woman out of the gutter, and simultaneously talking to previous authors of Wonder Woman about what made the character work for them. Justice Society is a great read every month. And Justice League ain't half-bad, either. Even the formerly luke-warm Legion series is a page-turner. And I really dug the latest Suicide Squad run.

Count me in for Morrison's work on Final Crisis.

It's too bad the "spine" idea didn't work out, but I understand why it couldn't. I just wish it hadn't set me back so much dough.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Political Apathy

I don't care about the Presidential Primaries, nor, really, about the Presidential election.

I suppose that makes me a bad American. Whatever.

Maybe its the news cycle and the same coverage of the same candidates you see over and over. (The first headline I've seen about candidate Bill Richardson was today when he dropped out of the race. Just sayin'.) The coverage of the elections on CNN and other outlets is full of breathless anticipation, but they don't ever seem to actually care as much about the candidates' records. They do care about how Candidate Y isn't doing as well as expected and what tricky maneuver they can pull or what volume of money they can drop on TV advertising in order to change opinions.

And here's the thing: the tricky maneuvers and the TV advertising seem to work well enough to sway those undecided voters.

I particularly don't care about the Primaries as I have a hard time believing that the Primaries in Iowa or New Hampshire are indicative of much but what people who bother to vote in Primaries, who happen to live in Iowa and New Hampshire, think.

Mostly, I'm just not sure that the best candidates ever get enough attention from the press to give them a fighting chance once the press decides which candidates make the best stories.

I guess I'm now old enough that years go by faster, and it just doesn't seem that long ago that we were enjoying stories about Swift Boats and falsified reports of the President's military service. I know its going to get a lot uglier before it gets better, and that there are a lot of people out there who are part of political campaigns (or who are not but who can afford airtime) who want to win so badly, minor issues like the truth aren't really something to worry about if they get in the way of winning.

I know democratic politics have never been clean. I'm not going to dwell under an illusion of some halcyon days of the American political process, believing the best man won, or, that, heck... the best person would even be willing to run for the job.

I think these days I'm much more interested in local politics and/ or state politics. I live in Texas, and I'm pretty darn sure that I know who is getting my electoral vote, and I'm fairly certain there will be an (R) next to their name on the ballot. It's not a secret I've not been a huge fan of the current administration, nor of the President when he was merely the Governor of Texas. So perhaps the fact that I've voted against Bush multiple times and never seen him lose sort of begins to make one wonder what the point is...

Locally, there's a lot less that seems like an inevitability. Bonds can be passed or turned down. Measures and ideas can be brought to ballot that I can feel effect me.

Unlike national politics, in local politics there's no pondering of things like "Why does the fact that the citizens in Sugarland keep electing Tom Delay mean that he has influence over the rest of the state, let alone the country?" Certainly that's a side-effect of the system, but it still seems kind of silly to me.

I'm not saying I don't want to live in an elected representative government. It beats an authoritarian dictatorship any day. But I'm not comfortable with the smirk people like to throw on when you grumble a bit about these things and say "What, you mean you don't like politicians and politics getting poltical?"

I guess my answer is: No. I really don't. The trust I'm being asked to place in the yahoos I'm sending to office is undermined by the fact that I don't believe half of what they're saying, and I have to be suspicious of the other half because I have to wonder if they're making claims just to get elected. If I suspected that someone I was interviewing for a job was lying to me just to get the job, I wouldn't hire them. And I certainly wouldn't want to trust them with my money, so why on earth would I think that's a good way to choose someone to be responsible for a nuclear arsenal capable of atomizing the planet?

The fact that there are folks who are willing to jump on a candidate's campaign is odd to me, too. I guess maybe I've just never been enthralled enough with the political process enough to want to wear a funny hat and cheer for some yahoo. I guess if someone came along who I didn't find at least a little sketchy, I might think about joining up. But I sorta think that by definition, anyone who thinks they know enough to make decisions for that many people, you kind of have to wonder. There are many ways to serve the public, so what's the drive that gets people to decide to hold office?

I know I'm being cynical and cranky. But if you see a lack of political coverage here, I thought I'd let you know why.

Here's the thing: I do believe in democracy, and I certainly believe in every citizen getting a say with their vote, and an opportunity to run for office if they meet minimum qualifications (and I don't find being 35 and born in the US to be too tough a standard for the guy who keeps their finger on the button). I just think we could probably expect a bit more out of our candidates, and, more importantly, our press. It's not a gameshow, but since that's how Wolf Blitzer seems to want to treat it, the candidates have all figured out their strategy for not getting voted off the island.

Anyhow, I'm tired and I'm going to bed.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Never Been to Los Angeles (and now I never will)

It's becoming increasingly likely that if I ever return to the State of California or ever actually make it to Los Angeles, that I will be arrested.

I think as far back as October, I received a notice of a parking citation with the City of Los Angeles. An oddity as I have never actually been to Los Angeles, and certainly not in my own car. I once went to Anaheim, but there I took cabs and never left the Disneyland Resort area.

It seems that when I traded in the Forester, the car made its way out to Los Angeles either as part of a fleet deal, or as a rental. I'm not sure. At any rate, at some point in September, someone driving my former ride received a parking violation. And as the City of LA doesn't maintain updated State of Texas tax records or whatever, they've sent me the violation.

Not wanting to pay someone else's $70 ticket, I sent the City of LA a letter saying "I didn't own this car at this time. Thanks for playing." This, of course, did nothing. And so Jamie sent in a copy of the trade agreement. Here's where things get wacky and where bureaucracy falls apart.

About two weeks ago I called to follow up after receiving a letter that essentially said "Oh yes, you do too own that car." I talked to a person named Lupe on the phone who said "Oh, yes. We do have the right documentation. Call back n 3 to 5 days and we'll get this straightened out."

I called back in seven working days to give them time (hey, I'm busy... they're busy...). Apparently the state of California looks for some document called a "Transfer of Liability" which we don't have in Texas. Because I didn't submit this document, the city of LA doesn't seem to know what to do. In addition, because the transfer of title wasn't from California, Lupe (who I happened upon again) said she couldn't read the document, but from what she described, she was looking at the right document. At the time, I agreed to send in a copy of some other documentation, but upon returning home figured out that I HAD sent in the right documents.

I called back today to check on things and tell them what I had sent them, and today Jessica said "Sir, you said you'd send in the documentation..."
"Yeah, that was before I realized you had my paperwork. You have all the paperwork I have. That's all we have in Texas."
"But you said-"
"I know what I said. Now I'm telling you, you HAVE the paperwork you asked for before. I was calling from work and wasn't sure."
"You said you'd send a FAX-" (I actually never said that)
"It doesn't MATTER what I said before. You have my documentation."
"All I have from you is a letter and two pieces of blank paper".
"Why would I send in two pieces of blank paper?"
"Sir, I don't know."
"I can't help it if your scanner doesn't work, but you guys had this documentation before."
"I don't see it, sir."
So I am kind of wondering what the @#$% is going on at the City of Los Angeles Parking Violations Bureau.
I do know its run by nitwits, and that in order to speak to a supervisor, I will have to wait 72 hours. 72 HOURS.
But here's the kicker. I could hear people discussing my situation in the background during the call. I kept hearing "Austin" and "Texas". Pretty clearly whatever system they have going isn't working. And has already passed some deadline which means I will have, at best, an arrest warrant out for my name in LA. At worst, they could put this against my credit score.

What I am trying not to do is spend a huge amount of time on this problem, but I am increasingly frustrated with my inability to prove I did not own a car the City of LA's least impressive public servants claim I owned.

If an attorneys want to start sending letters on letterhead, I can send you the address.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Everyone is Stupid (but me)

I woke up in an absolutely awful mood today. I kind of think I know why, and it's totally irrational, but that's the way it is.

Anyhow, its just been downhill since I rolled out of bed. I had to clean up cat barf, and then it was raining outside and its supposed to be 85 degrees today and tomorrow, and something like 89% humidity. Which makes me irritated with all the "global warming is a hippie fraud" people. And even more irritated with people who live up north who try to extol the virtues of global warming.

Anyhow, I'm having an ego-filled day, feeling as if everyone else is stupid but me. Including cats, dogs, radio DJs, journalists (does she really not see what an unpleasant and self-absorbed person this article makes her out to be? Yikes), other drivers, the people who made the Monster Cable I use to attach my iPod to my car, and, lastly, parking lots that slope.

Today I am in a bad mood.

And, oddly, what's driven me there is food. I don't want to discuss the conversation, because were I in a better mood, I would not care. But here's the deal:

I don't care if people are gourmands, but I do not understand when a particular taste in food is used as a moral judgment on those who don't share their income, lifestyle or palette. If you call yourself a "foodie", super. Seriously. I can understand the love of food as art form and sensory experience. But what bugs the heck out of me is when one assumes that others who do not share their passion for foods are somehow intellectually inferior or unable to embrace the true nectar of life in the way only the gourmand can.

I know I think about food in much the same way as any other sense-based activity. Can you appreciate music if you are unable to afford a trip to the opera or symphony? Or if you prefer the music of Hank Williams to Puccini? Or if the art on your wall is a framed poster of Starry Night versus owning your own Magritte? Is a grilled fajita taco really inferior to Authentic Interior Mexican? Is such a distinction elitist, if not bordering on some sort of insinuated perception of Mexican Americans as second class versus people who happen to live further south?

Moreover, food is ephemeral. Paying $30 - 100 for a single meal is not something which scales terribly well across the average person's budget once paying the bills enters the picture. When you need to put a coat on your kid, or you need to get them a pair of soccer shoes, delicately buttered asparagus, sprinkled with goat cheese may not be where you get to spend your money. Paying for a singular sensory experience may not be where the family budget needs to go.

I have a particular issue with those so spoiled on the food around them that they've turned a blind eye to the opportunities. Places like Austin are not known for their food in the same manner as New Orleans, San Francisco or New York. But neither is Austin without fairly decent places if one is willing to look outside their neighborhood and can spend a dollar.

Historically, the idea of one's status as a gourmand was something only the Rich Uncle Pennybags' of the world could even think of aspiring to, while the rest of the population was boiling potatoes and cabbage, with meat considered a luxury. The food that people could get their hands on was grown locally and seasonally, and generally took a hell of a lot of effort. It's only been within the lifetime of Gen X'ers that one could expect to eat cherries year round in any grocery in America, or head down to the grocer's for oranges, shipped in off-season from Australia. Only in this generation could the upper-middle class even consider experiencing the wealth of opportunity available to them as new waves of immigrants brought new kinds of food to the US and eating at restaurants was no longer mostly a luxury.

With the Frugal Gourmet and Julia Child entering into our living rooms, and an influx of upscale cuisine from around the world (with both a market for the food, and those who would actually know how to make it present), it's an opportunity to move beyond the food our parents and their parents had available, let alone were aware of. In many ways, is looking down upon those who do not share your obsession a form of chronological snobbery, or just plain old class or regional snobbery?

This is not to suggest I think food as art is any less important, nor should one NOT have discriminating taste or enjoy as many types of food as the world can cook up. Or that I believe all food to be equal. As subjective as taste is, and as subjective as each diner's experience, I'd certainly never make that argument. But I do take exception to the idea that those who cannot afford fine or exotic dining, or who do not have a wide variety of options open to them are fools for enjoying the foods available to them and are, by insinuation, some sort of culinary second class citizen.

It is one thing to appreciate the subtleties of new and exciting foods, or to cook them yourself. Just, you know... keep it in perspective for the love of Mike.

I happened upon this quote, and I wonder if it applies:

"It is better to be a good ordinary bourgeois than a bad ordinary bohemian." [Aldous Huxley, 1930]

Speed Racer

Because you guys were so excited about the link to the Speed Racer photos I posted earlier, here's a link to a trailer for Speed Racer.

Looks like silly summertime entertainment to me. But it also seems to be the second movie (Beowulf being the first) that is a blend of animation and live actors that's the legacy of the latest slate of Star Wars movies. Movies certainly are no longer constrained by sets, lights and in-camera effects. It was just a matter of time before filmmakers started using/ abusing the palette of CGI to create environments which reflected outlandish worlds into which to drop their stories.

(edit: I have ignored the rich legacy of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings adaptations. Please forgive.)

I want to be clear: This doesn't look terrifically intellectually stimulating, but it does look like a bizarre literal translation of the 6 frames per second animation we all grew up with. A great idea? I dunno. I confess to being a bit curious to see the thing just to see how it works.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Dr. Atkins ruined my breakfast

So today Jamie woke me up and said, "The toaster is broken."
This news did not come as a complete surprise. The toaster oven had, reportedly, burst into flames the other day during an english muffin incident.
"Let's go get breakfast," she declared after I'd rolled around in bed for a few more minutes, even trying to get Mel to join my cause of remaining in the comfy, warm bed.
"We have cereal," I said.
"Nah, I want to go out. We can even go get bagels."
I love bagels. Like all the best foods, bagels are round. They have a convenient hole in the middle for better gripping. You cover them in delicious cream cheese. And in Phoenix, we had three good bagel shops within a few minutes of the house, so I ate a lot of bagels.
Not so in Austin.
I am told, the "no carbs" movement led by Dr. Atkins has meant that the suburbanites which once filled bagel shops have given up on the notion of a bagel shop. Somehow this has not stopped them from filling Starbucks to overflowing and eating sugar drenched and fat-injected pastries while chigging down venti mochas (which obviously have no calories in them).
Thus, bagel shops aren't anywhere near as popular or numerous as they once were. In fact, there really aren't any in my part of town.
But, Jamie promised me a bagel.
We headed to Central Market, which, oddly didn't appear to have bagels in their cafe. Lots of other stuff that's crappy for you, but no bagels. Then we headed to Kerbey Lane, knowing bagels were on the menu, even though they were not the most exciting bagels in the world. But, Kerbey Lane being Kerbery Lane, we waited around for fifteen minutes (on a weekday morning), had a table which was then swiped from us, and I made my twice annual "I shall never wat at Kerbey Lane again!" declaration as we got irritated and left.
I never got a bagel. I made some eggs at home.

I've done a Google-search. I can't find any bagel shops anywhere near the 78745. We have Mexican restaurants which serve breakfast coming out our ears, including Casa G's and a Maudie's not too far away. The closest bagel shop, however, is an Einstein Bros. on 12th and Lamar, and one does not go willy-nilly into the Lamar Shopping Zone of Doom without damn good cause. But I love frikkin' Einstein Bros., so maybe on Saturday.

I suppose I could buy bagels at HEB, but the Lender's type bagels you can buy in a bag are doughy and weird and don't even taste like regular bagels. And, they don't come in any varieties other than cinnamon, whole wheat and plain at my grocery.
I haven't tried to pick up their "fresh" bagels at HEB, but rarely are grocery store bagels out of the grocery store bakery all that exciting.

I'm just a man who wants a good bagel, and I don't want to drive to 12th and Lamar to get it. I resent the abandonment of the bagel so that people could move on to the next fad. We had a good thing going with the bagel. People could agree on the bagel. It could be served toasted or cold. It could be plain, or salted, or oniony or with raisins embedded. It could even be pumpernickel.

And, you usually got to drink a hell of a lot of coffee while enjoying your bagel.

I am not even particularly bothered by the knowledge that there is not a bagel shop in the '45 (or the '04). But what bugs me is that the selection at the grocery store is returning to the slim, pre-bagel craze offerings which once shamed the good name of bagels.

Damn you, Dr. Atkins. Damn you straight to hell.