Month: June 2012

Muffin Man

1977; not sure where.

Great improv song; simple two-bar phrase with Zappa riffing like, well, a Mother.

Doctor Who: The Inappropriately-Named Resurrection of the Daleks

Another old Who review. This one just got a Special Edition rerelease; the review is of the Not-Special Edition. And as before, it contains spoilers of some 28-year-old Doctor Who serials.

Originally posted on Brontoforumus, 2008-11-25.

Just watched the inappropriately-named Resurrection of the Daleks. Not bad, but a whole lot like Earthshock: a Davison serial with one of the Big Two enemy races, a lot of running around on a spaceship (and Rula Lenska's character is pretty much identical to the Captain in Earthshock), and ending with someone sacrificing himself to destroy the ship and a companion leaving. Of course, that last similarity actually works pretty well -- while Adric isn't mentioned, it's easy to assume Stien's death reminds Teagan too much of his and that's part of why she's so shaken up at the end.

The premise -- that the Daleks are totally helpless by themselves and forced to reluctantly rescue Davros in order to get out of a jam -- is almost as thin here as it was in Destiny of the Daleks, but at least the "we need a genetic engineer" explanation fits better than the rather nonsensical "we are slaves to logic and don't know how to improvise in a war" explanation used in the latter. Plus, Davros as much as says these Daleks aren't very advanced models and he's going to work on making them better; of course that's the bastard about time travel stories. In the Dalek timeline, this has to take place well before their first few appearances.

The climax is the Doctor's confrontation with Davros, which echoes the Fourth Doctor's "Have I the right?" scene in Genesis of the Daleks, and which still makes for decent drama here even though you just want him to pull the effing trigger already. It's not the ethical dilemma it was in Genesis (is it okay to kill the first batch of Daleks before they do any harm?) or, years later, The Parting of the Ways (is it worth taking out the entire Earth to kill the Daleks?); it's just the Doctor and Davros, with no innocent lives in the balance. And the Doctor's already killed several Daleks by this point.

This is the first I've seen of Turlough, and I can immediately understand why people like him: the companions are a pretty fucking bland and indistinguishable bunch, and he stands out by being more complex than most of them. He's intelligent but also arrogant and self-serving; that's a lot more compelling than just the girlfriend du jour.

Of all the DVD's I've watched, this one had the most noticeable issues with the transfer. There are a couple of places where the picture ripples noticeably. It's not a big deal but distracting enough to make note of; seems like they could have put more effort into fixing that.

Anyway. Not a bad Dalek serial; better than the previous one but not as good as Genesis. (Of course, Genesis is probably the best one, so that's sort of a meaningless comparison.) Decent; I'd put this one in the "rent, don't buy" pile.

Like Pigs from a Gun

I Am the Walrus, with the incomparable Ike Willis on vocals. Warning: The video ends pretty abruptly. (The other vids I've found end just as abruptly and look worse; let me know if you find a better one and I'll post it up.)

Not My Constitution

To briefly summarize my opinion of the recently-upheld Affordable Care Act: I'm a liberal. I want real universal healthcare, not something run by private industry with a profit motive.

The Affordable Care Act isn't what I had in mind -- for fuck's sake, it was designed by the Heritage Foundation -- but it's Better than Nothing. I've got my reservations about the government mandating that consumers support a specific private industry (again, Heritage Foundation), but it's an improvement and it's already saved lives.

What's baffling to me is hearing people rail, following yesterday's ruling, that it's unconstitutional. Well, it's not.

Rand Paul actually said "Just because a couple people on the Supreme Court declare something to be 'constitutional' does not make it so." Well, I guess that depends on your definition of "a couple", Rand, but if by "a couple" you mean "five", then yes, actually that's exactly what it means. By definition. Deciding what is and isn't constitutional is the Supreme Court's entire job description. (Now, if you want to argue about Marbury v Madison we can go down that rabbit hole, but are you really prepared to challenge the last 209 years of case law?)

That doesn't mean you have to agree with their rulings! I think, for example, that Citizens United was a terrible ruling! But it was, by definition, constitutional.

And we can also argue that something is "not what the Founding Fathers intended" (provided that we keep in mind, you know, that neither was freeing the slaves nor giving women the vote). For example, I think that modern interpretations of the Second Amendment that essentially completely ignore the "well-regulated militia" clause are at odds with the original intent of the Bill of Rights. But again -- if the Supreme Court says something is constitutional, it's constitutional, whether you personally agree with it or not.

And now we get to the title of the post. Because something occurred to me: this is pretty much the political version of Not My Batman.

See, in comics, you've got fanboys who only acknowledge one interpretation of Batman and declare all other interpretations to be somehow wrong, no matter what the actual owners of Batman at DC Comics have to say about it. And in politics, you've got fanboys who only acknowledge one interpretation of the Constitution and declare all other interpretations to be somehow wrong, no matter what the actual arbiters of constitutionality at the Supreme Court have to say about it. It's the same instinct, the same sense of entitlement.

It's okay to say you don't like something. There are plenty of Batman stories and Supreme Court rulings that I can point to and say that they stink and should never have happened. I can even say they're inconsistent with how I think Batman's history/the Constitution should be read.

But they're still valid, whether I like it or not.

The main difference is that DC overturns precedent a hell of a lot more frequently than the Supreme Court.

Related: Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be, The Onion, November 14, 2009.

Peaches en Regalia: The Music Video

Zappa was not a fan of MTV. He hated the way it deemphasized music in favor of superficiality. In that Spin interview I linked (the thing that started off this whole Zappa-a-day thing I've been doing), here's what he had to say:

Guccione: Do you think much music came out of the '80s that was valid, as music or as social criticism?

Zappa: Well, I kept doing it. I'm sure there were a few people in America who did it, but you never heard it, because the bulk of what you heard is what you saw. The beginning of the '80s gave us MTV, and music changed and switched from an audio to a video medium.

Guccione: For better or worse?

Zappa: For worse, because I believe that the way music is to be consumed is through your ears, and it shouldn't be too important whether the person performing it looks like a model. The record companies thought it was the greatest thing that ever happened to them because it was a way for them to get cheap commercials. And so the tail started wagging the dog. The record companies stopped signing groups that could play in favor of groups that looked good in pictures because they figured we could always get a producer to sing their songs and do their stuff for them, and that happened plenty of times. So you get a bunch of models to make the video and forget about the music. So that part of that worked. A young audience who never experienced any music to speak of started watching MTV the same way they watched Saturday morning cartoons. And it caught on. There was no competition. Before MTV if you wanted to have a hit record, there were probably 10,000 stations in America where you could break something regionally and have it spread. Now there is one MTV with a short playlist, and because of that the record companies put their own balls into the bear trap and sprung it on themselves, now they can't make a move without calling MTV and getting permission, they call up in advance to say we are getting ready to make a video, we are going to have such and such pictures in it, what do you think, and MTV is a total censorship organization and it has all the major record companies at its mercy. I started getting really weary of MTV when they started inventing rock n' wrestling, where we're seeing videos of Hulk Hogan urging kids to take their vitamins, urging kids to grow up big and strong like him, and be an American. It really was on the level of a Saturday morning cartoon.

But of course music videos are distinct from MTV. (That is, of course, quite a lot more obvious 20 years later, now that MTV doesn't actually show music videos anymore, and the vapid superficiality of the American music industry has moved on to American Idol and its myriad imitators.) Music videos themselves? The idea of fitting a visual to a song? Yeah, Zappa got how that could be pretty cool.

I am sure it is not coincidental that this looks absolutely nothing like anything you'd see on MTV. (Also, it made me dizzy.)

Not a Luddite, But...

Until recently, I used to tell people that, for a computer scientist, I'm something of a Luddite. I don't use Facebook or Twitter, I don't have a smartphone -- I don't even text.

More recently, it's occurred to me that it's not that I'm a Luddite, I'm just a guy with a different set of priorities. And actually my tech savvy is probably responsible for some of that.

I don't have a Facebook account because I want control of my privacy settings. It's not like I'm anonymous or anything; if you're reading this, then profoundly embarrassing things with my real name attached to them are just a couple of clicks away. A couple of clicks max.

But that's my call. That's not "third-party site suddenly changes its privacy policy without warning" territory. And whatever I may put on this site, it certainly doesn't constitute permission for advertisers to sell it to each other.

I understand the appeal of Facebook. I did the MySpace thing, back when that was a thing people were doing. It was cool to get back in touch with people I hadn't seen since high school. But ultmately it was a new place for them to send me all those damn chain E-Mails and personality tests I had asked them all to stop sending me; it was a time sink of the sort I'm not much interested in anymore, and if they really want to get in touch with me they can Google my name. I'm not hard to find.

As for Twitter -- well shit, if you read this blog you already know that even my off-the-cuff single-sentence posts won't fit in 140 characters. I am not at my best in short bursts; I am at my best telling long, rambling stories that set up an atmosphere. (Kazz once compared me to Garrison Keillor. I'm pretty sure that was after he kicked that beer can into the back of my head.)

On texting, well, my initial opinion of it is pretty much what Samuel L Jackson had to say about it on Boondocks (NSFW):

But that's because I have a simple, 12-button flip phone. I understand that texting's a lot quicker if you've got a touchscreen or a keyboard, and I understand its value for quick, asynchronous, precise communication. It's not a replacement for a phone call, it's a replacement for voicemail. And voicemail sucks.

As for why I don't have a smartphone: Well, to start with, I've always been a horsepower guy. I sit at a computer all day at work and then I go sit at another one at home. As such I've never really felt much need for a laptop (I got my first one for free maybe a year and a half ago and barely use it), let alone a smartphone.

On the other hand, I do like toys. And I can really see the appeal of a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that fits in my pocket. Not to mention, you know, I am a computer scientist, and this is the future of computing.

So yeah, I've kinda hit a point where I want a smartphone.

But then you hit the predatory pricing.

I'm with Sprint. They've been good to me. But I will be goddamned if I'm going to enter into a two-year, $60-a-month-minimum contract with them.

I'm a temp. I don't know if I'll be employed come December. If I get hired, I'll probably buy a smartphone (just in time for all the Christmas sales!). But I'll also probably jump ship to Virgin or Cricket or one of the pay-as-you-go carriers.

Meantime, I've got this little Samsung flip phone I've had for some 5 years, that is serviceable as a phone and alarm clock and little else. For example, I discovered the other day that it doesn't even have a way to transfer the photos you take with it to a computer. Which I guess is okay, because I never use that camera anyway and it's scratched to fuck as it is.

(I discovered this after getting my picture with Phil LaMarr at Phoenix Comicon last month. That's not a very long story but it is a story for another day, I think.)

Bright Side of Life

You know, I spend a lot of time complaining about stupid users. So let me take a moment to thank the smart ones.

If you have ever packed something appropriately, so that it's properly cushioned and doesn't bounce around, thank you.

If you have gotten it in the mail as soon as it was ready to go so that I didn't have to call and remind you, thank you.

If you made sure that all your stuff was properly backed up so that I didn't have to dig your computer out of a stack weeks later, thank you!

If you haven't shipped a horrific, toxic-looking keyboard back for me to dispose of for you, seriously, thank you so much.

And if you've actually thought to wipe down your equipment before shipping it back, I could kiss you.

Really. I got an old computer back today that somebody actually took a minute to clean first and it legitimately made my day.



So, um. I just started watching Eureka last season, I correct in understanding that they built up Carter and Allison for three years, made the audience really want them to be a couple, finally hooked them up in season four, made the audience really like them as a couple, and then...made her an absolutely terrible person in the final season?

Tiny Is as Tiny Do

City of Tiny Lights. More Bozzio and Belew.

At a glance I'm pretty sure it's from Baby Snakes. One of these days I'll sit down, watch the whole three-hour movie, and talk about it some more.

Jack Cole

Originally posted on Brontoforumus, 2010-03-24 and 28; presented here with some edits.

A few months back, I was in my local independent bookseller, and I ran across Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits. I didn't even notice Spiegelman's name on the cover, I just flipped through the book and thought hey, this is pretty neat. And then my girlfriend got it for me for Christmas.

I started it today,

Here's the thing: I've never actually read a Plastic Man comic before. I'm aware of him, I'm aware of Cole's work, but...I had no idea what I was missing out on.

It's just absolutely phenomenal stuff. The double-meaning in the book's title is apt: Plastic Man is like nothing I've ever seen before. It doesn't so much defy rules as live in a world where they haven't been invented yet. It freewheels between absurd whimsy and slapstick and completely shocking violence -- in one story, the villain, trying to escape, trips and lands with his head in a bear trap and dies. (It's page 12 in the link above.) There is absolutely nothing to foreshadow this; there is just a fucking bear trap all of a sudden. It's a real straight-up anything-can-happen book -- the closest analog I can think of is Tex Avery. (Spiegelman says it's like "Tex Avery on cocaine".)

Of course, Spiegelman's name is on the cover because a good big chunk of the book is a biography he's written -- and Cole is a fascinating character, right from the start. Early on, there's a story of how, at the age of 17, he biked from Pennsylvania to LA -- and there's a photocopy of his first published work, a piece he wrote about the journey that was published in Boys' Life.

I've read some very good comics histories over the past couple years, but none that used the artist's actual work so extensively. The Ten-Cent Plague, in particular, is a great book whose greatest weakness is its need to describe covers because it can't just print them (not sure whether that was due to rights issues or cost of printing, but at any rate there are many cases where it tells when it should show). Not only does Spiegelman use extensive excerpts of Cole's work, he discusses them with an artist's eye -- Cole's talent for layouts, the way Plastic Man draws your eye to create a sense of motion -- there are even diagrams.

And speaking of layouts, there's a reason Chip Kidd's name is on the cover too. He's the graphic designer who put it all together, Spiegelman's words and Cole's pictures. The whole thing is composed like a giant magazine article -- which it actually is, as it began life in The New Yorker. (Those of you familiar with Spiegelman will know that he is a major contributor to the magazine, and is married to Francoise Mouly, the art editor and a supreme talent herself.) The book is absolutely flooded with incidental Cole work, sometimes just a few panels on a page and sometimes a complete, uncut story. (Interestingly -- well, if you're interested in things like paper stock, which you actually most likely are not --, the pages that reprint stories in longform are newsprint, while the rest of the book is glossy. Those of you familiar with reprints of old comics have most likely observed that the old 4-color printing process looks much better on the newsprint it's intended for than on glossy paper. Scott McCloud discusses this a good bit in Understanding Comics.)

I've never seen a book quite like this, and I've never read a comic quite like Plastic Man. It's a deft combination -- Spiegelman makes for a great biographer and a great art teacher, and is equally masterful at knowing when to step the hell back and let the man's work speak for itself. And Kidd puts the whole thing together, creating an eye-catching presentation that's easy to read, or, if you prefer, just glance at. (I prefer to read everything, even the incidental stuff -- and even on the thumbnails, the text is big enough to read.)

The book also reprints Cole's infamous Murder, Morphine and Me in its entirety. I'd never read the story before (though I'd seen the infamous "woman about to get a syringe in the eye" panel that made it Exhibit A in the 1950's Senate hearings on comics), and it's an important piece of history, as well as a very neat contrast to the whimsy of the Plastic Man stories. It's got an afterschool-special quality to its message, and a predictable twist ending, but it's also got sympathetic characters, a breakneck pace, expressive art, and content that's graphic not just for violence's sake but to truly move the audience. It represents everything that thrilled young audiences of the time, and scared the old guard. It's just as powerful a representation of the no-rules nature of groundbreaking Golden Age comics as Plastic Man, with the same artist but an entirely different tone and genre.

This book makes me want to go out and buy a bunch of Jack Cole stuff. In the span of an hour he has become one of my favorite artists, and I don't know how I managed to miss out all these years.

And this book is the best casual introduction I can see, as sadly there is no set of cheap Chronicles paperbacks for Plas -- just $50 hardback Archives. I'm seriously considering saving up, though -- I want to see more.

Fortunately, there are also a lot of old Plastic Man comics available at Digital Comic Museum, which collects public domain comics. You can find Plastic Man in both his self-titled book and in Police Comics.