Thursday, March 30, 2006

Photo Phun

The Intel iMac I got at a bargain price included a built-in iSight camera and Apple's PhotoBooth application; it's addictively fun, as the Peter Max-ish images to the right demonstrate. Sure, you can take regular ol' pictures, but the fun comes in using the various special settings to see what you can come up with. There's no discernible purpose to it, of course, other than pure amusement... but it's good for plenty of that!

Failing to Make the Grade

Watched the first episode of Teachers this evening. It's an NBC sitcom ostensibly about... well, the title says it all.

Only thing is, it's not about teachers at all. It's about dysfunctional people, largely filled with loathing for their jobs and for themselves, who are primarily ruled by their genitalia and their thirst for alcohol.

An execrable show, and an absolute waste of scheduling time and bandwidth. There's still a great sitcom that could be made about teachers, a modern sitcom that captures the verisimilitude of Room 222 (which was pretty savvy for its time) while conveying the "us against the world" sense of cameraderie that keeps most teachers going in the face of seemingly-insurmountable odds. It would take a teacher to write that show, though, and not a jaded sitcom hack who thinks that teachers sharing a beer in the classroom is somehow funny.

Taking Superman for Grant-ed

Without a doubt, All Star Superman is the most remarkable comic that DC has published in at least a decade.

If someone had told me, when DC announced their All Star line, that I would end up loving the Grant Morrison-Frank Quitely Superman title and abhoring the Frank Miller-Jim Lee Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder title, I would have dismissed them as insane.

It turns out that's exactly what's happened, though. Miller totally missed the point of creating an All Star line, while Morrison got it spot on. These books should be quintessential books, incorporating all the elements of these characters that have become part of the popular culture consciousness; this is not a book that should destroy all that has been done before in order to try to imprint an iconoclastic creative vision onto an established character who has become an indelible part of our cultural psyche.

Morrison has captured the vitality and enthusiasm of the Silver Age, the exuberance of an unlimited-budget superhero film, while giving the whole project a contemporary air. And Quitely's art conveys a modern visual sensibility while paying homage to the traditional Superman that has become well known to all. There's nothing here that violates the visual that people have when you say "Superman," but somehow it's even bigger and more energetic when Quitely puts it on paper.

One customer told me, "I rarely buy DCs and I never buy a Superman book, but this cover just makes you want to read the book to see what's going on!" Julius Schwartz, Mort Weisinger, and all those Silver Age editors would be proud...

And Charles called me today to say that it was without a doubt the best Superman book he had read in a long, long time. Charles wasn't just pleased--he was enthusiastically happy about the book. It's the sort of book you want to force into the hands of people who say, "I don't read Superman."

(I hope someone forces Frank Miller and editor Bob Schreck to sit down, read the first three issues of this series over and over for several hours, and then make them figure out what Miller could be doing to capture the same sense of wonder in the pages of All Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder. From any other writer, the book would just be bad; from Frank Miller, it's an embarrassment because we all know what he's capable of...)

Free Press Stops at the Borders

Apparently Borders and WaldenBooks are just as succeptible to barbaric threats and intimidation as most of Europe. Today the the chain(s) have announced their refusal to carry the latest issue of Free Inquiry because it includes the tempest-in-a-teapot cartoons of Mohammed.

Remember when Satanic Verses came out and most of the bookstores made a point of refusing to give in to threats, supporting the idea of a free exchange of ideas?

I have one $50 gift certificate from Borders that I'll use, since they already have the money; after that, they've gone out of business as a bookstore as far as I'm concerned.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

And add a V-for-Vanilla Milkshake, Too...

Sure, V for Vendetta sounds like a dark, disturbing sort of film... but there's no film that can't be improved with a little bit of targeted product placement, right?

And if Alan Moore wasn't aggravated enough about the film already, this is probably enough to push him over the edge...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Say U.N.C.L.E.!

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned that one of the shows I really wanted to see on DVD was The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? Well, if an interview in the Seattle Times is to be believed, then it's about to happen (for those keeping track, early episodes of the series were released on DVD in the UK, but they'll only work here if you have a multi-standard DVD player). Here's what Robert Vaughn, star of the series, had to say.
    Q: In the name of Mr. Waverly, why isn't "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." on DVD?

    A: I believe it is coming out this year. The first year was shot in black-and-white. It was one of the reasons it didn't sell quickly as a DVD item.

    Q: Will you be doing interviews and commentary?

    A: Yes, absolutely!...

Open Channel D!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Tom Club

I read a lot of blogs, and I recommend very few of them, but I have to recommend Tom Kater's blog. Tom works with me at Dr. No's, and before that I knew him as a customer, and before that I knew him as a student at North Cobb High School many years ago. Tom has always been a gifted writer, and he continues to display an amazing skill at wordcraft. Check out his fascinating look at this season's final episode of The Shield, or read about his love-hate relationship with carbonated beverages... doesn't matter what he's writing about, he makes it worth reading.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Where Is the Outrage?

Let's see if I have this right... in supposedly forward-thinking Afghanistan, a relatively enlightened Muslim country, Abdul Rahman may be executed for the crime of converting to Christianity?

I'm disappointed that the press hasn't covered the riots of Muslims outraged at the violence being perpetrated in the name of the Muslim faith. Where is the footage of crowds in the streets, protesting this scurrilous attack on religious freedom? Where is the coverage of the Committee for American-Islamic Relations condemning in the strongest terms any religious fanatics who would pervert Islam in such an intolerant manner? Where are the articles about the fatwahs against those who would demean Islam by leading the world to view it as an intolerant, destructive faith?

Or is it possible that none of the above has been reported because the majority of the Muslim world sees this as acceptable behavior? After all, shouldn't religious freedom and tolerance allow the execution of those who wish to practice religious freedom?

I'm eager to see Muslims around the globe stepping up to the plate in defense of Abdul Rahman and in defense of religious choice. It doesn't seem to be happening, though, does it?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Man of Steal

Had a confrontation with a shoplifter today. The shoplifting didn't occur today, mind you--the incident occurred about six weeks ago, when a freakishly pot-bellied fellow came in with two teenage accomplices and attempted to steal a Superman symbol/sign from the store. The sign, made out of steel, was a display item given to us by a welder customer. Several had asked about buying it, including the shoplifter, but it's not for sale.

So, on a busy day when Whitney and Amy were working, he came in with the aforementioned teens and waited until both employees were busy, then he moved the sign into a staging area, whereupon the video shows him pointing it out to one of the kids who's wearing a bulky sweatshirt. The kid seizes an opportunity and puts the sign under his sweatshirt--at which point its bulkiness catches Whitney's attention. As she and Amy moved into position to confront the sweatshirt-wearing member of the theft team, the other two moved in a separate direction to momentarily distract Amy and Whitney, while the sweatshirt-clad thief dumped the sign at the end of a display rack and then put on a show of mock innocence in pulling his sweatshirt up to prove he had nothing. What none of the three knew, though, was that all of this was recorded on video.

We showed the video to one of our customers who's also a Cobb County policeman, and to another who's an attorney; both said that the moment the item was concealed, a crime had occurred. So when the potbellied ringleader ambled back into the store today (without the kids), we confronted him, told him of the video, and told him he was to leave the store permanently. We had his picture, we knew what he looked like, and any further visits to the store would qualify as trespassing.

"I guess it's time for me to be heading on," the weeble-like individual said, and headed straight for the door.

Then I followed him and his current travelling companion, a stout fellow who looked like Tor Johnson with a goatee, to the Dodge Ram truck in which they were travelling (Tor was driving). Realizing I was trying to get his license plate, the driver changed the direction of his exit from the parking place, turning the rear of the vehicle away from me (Georgia only has plates on the back of the car, none on the front). Problem was, there was really no way to exit by doing so--all he could do was circle around past me and then go up the next lane, which would put the rear of his vehicle in a clear line of sight. So he tried to do a complex twist-and-turn maneuver to back up through a variety of open parking places. Since he was driving a truck half the size of Rhode Island, though, he couldn't accomplish his goal, and he ended up in a position where I could get his license plate quite clearly.

At that point, Tor jumped from the truck.

"What are you doing? You can't get my license plate."'

"Sure I can," I said. "It's ________, in case you need it for reference."

"It's illegal for you to copy down my license plate," Tor said.

"So call the police. I'll wait for 'em to show up!"

"I'm in law enforcement," Tor said--although my guess the closest he's ever come is being a resident of a law enforcement facility for a time.

"Then you should know that they put license plates in public view for a reason," I told him.

At that point, Tor did a mock phone call maneuver that involved punching numbers on his phone. A variety of numbers. I reminded him that 911 would work just fine. He then threatened to do me physical harm; I reminded him that I had already noted his license plate and had his pictures on our security system, then went back into the store and e-mailed the data to my G-Mail account for reference. Tor and his stout comrade drove off in a huff--well, okay, it was still a Dodge Ram--and we heard nothing further.

One thing's for sure--if you deal with the public, you never know what to expect!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Ten Friendships Sidetracked

I've done a lot of list-making on this blog, so it's time for another one, albeit a bit more personal. I think if any of us looks back, we'll see friendships that somehow got sidetracked; in most cases, we probably don't even remember why. Here are ten people I wish I still had regular contact with:

(1) Gary Steele - my closest friend from junior high and high school, and someone I remained close to until about 1979, when something happened. Don't know what, but from that time on, we went our separate ways, and as of now I have no idea how to even get in touch with Gary, since he moved a year or so ago and left no forwarding address or number.

(2) Sven Ahlstrom - I have a contact e-mail for Sven, but we only exchange perfunctory e-mails. However, there was that time in 1970-72 when Sven, Susan, and I were together almost constantly.

(3) Stven Carlberg - Our friendship was sometimes stormy, sometimes smooth, but I think that Stven and I had far more in common than either of us fully realized. Oddly enough, Stven's now in Atlanta and sees Ward semi-regularly, but I never hear nor see from him at all.

(4) Janice Gelb - One of the most remarkable women I've ever known, a person of incredible principle and dedication. Life led her on a divergent path, and I miss her.

(5) Wade Gilbreath - A dear friend throughout the 70s and early 80s, Wade and I shared a passion for music, for literature, and for art. The difference was, Wade was artistically talented and I was only modestly so, if at all. Wade remains in the Birmingham area, happily married and the father of a remarkable son. Wade and I renewed contact up until the time that my mother died; I felt that I overburdened him with my anguish at that time, though, and felt too guilty about it to ever renew the contact.

(6) Judy Walker - We taught together at North Cobb, but I all but lost contact with her after I left teaching. Judy's still there, and I hear about her from time to time from Robin Fletcher and others, but that's not the same as actually talking to her.

(7) Deb Hammer-Johnson - I got to know Deb when she owned the Book Rack in Rome, GA, and we became intense, sometimes fractious friends. It was a volatile, remarkable friendship, and it inspired some of the most vivid memories of my life. (I still remember the time I had her semi-convinced that we didn't exist...) Deb and I have exchanged a few e-mails, and I've enjoyed re-establishing a level of contact with her.

(8) Cecil Hutto - In the 1970s, we shared a close friendship, engaged in many philosophical discussions, and had a great deal of influence on one another. We drifted apart after a while, but every now and then we briefly renew contact; alas, I haven't heard anything from Ceese in about six years.

(9) Iris Brown - Iris was another dear friend from the mid and late 1970s and early 1980s; we stayed in contact sporadically through the latter part of that decade, but that contact all but faded away after she moved to Texas. We spoke briefly at the end of last year, and it was great to hear from her; I need to follow up on that and see how she's doing now, and if there's any chance she might be moving back home where she belongs...

(10) Sandra Jackson - Sandra was my mentor when I began teaching; the years I worked with her at East Rome High continually inspired me throughout my teaching career. I spoke with Sandra a couple of years ago, and she sounded quite happy with her life--and she deserves to be. I'm certain I'm not the only person who was inspired by Sandra...

Of course, there are other friends with whom I wish I could share more time, people who are dear to me--but at least I retain some level of contact with them, unlike these ten remarkable people whose friendships I still miss and blame only myself for lettting those friendships wither...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

All Those Years Ago

Today marks the 29th anniversary of the day that Susan and I moved from Cedartown to Marietta. (Actually, I should say "yesterday" as I post this; I wrote it on the 18th, but continuing problems with forced me to save it as a draft, so it's not being posted until after midnight on the 19th.) Hard to believe that I've been a resident of Marietta for significantly more than half my life; I still think of myself as a Roman, even though I only lived in Rome for the first 17.9 years of my life, then in Cedartown for the next 5.75 years before we moved here.

March 18, 1977 was a warm day, even by Georgia March standards--we reached 84 that day, as I remember all too well because I was helping to load and unload a truck that day. Susan had actually come to Atlanta on March 13th to stay with a friend so that she could begin her new job at Management Science America on March 14th. So by the time I supervised the movers, loaded up the stuff that was going into my car, and made my way to Marietta, Susan had been living in the metro area for five days. But March 18th was our first day in our first apartment (prior to that time, we had lived in two different rental houses).

Our first apartment was a first-floor place in Savannah Oaks, a complex on then-trendy Franklin Road. Today, Franklin Road is one of the most crime-ridden areas in Cobb County; back then, though, it was the most desirable area in Cobb, filled with upwardly-mobiles twenty-somethings. I was impressed with the apartment's proximity to everything; there were restaurants galore, a grocery, a drugstore, and a movie theater in the shopping center next to us, and US 41 and I-75 were just a few minutes away. At the time, 41 was the main drag in Marietta, with development clustered within a few miles of the Big Chicken and again in the Smyrna area from Treasure Island and Richway down to Cumberland Mall. There was a large Oz Records just four miles from the apartment, and I had shopped there on several occasions before we chose Savannah Oaks as our new home.

The apartment was our first air-conditioned home. We ran the air conditioning the first night we moved in, and it was quite a relief after a full day of schlepping boxes and furniture. The apartment had green shag carpeting--ugly, but that was all too common back then.

It also had a horrible noise problem, we discovered almost immediately. Our upstairs neighbors had an eighty-pound German Shepherd that ran from one end of the apartment to the other incessantly, and there was no soundproofing at all between the two floors of the apartment. We tried to work with them, explaining the problem, but they were absolutely disinterested in doing anything. After a few months of it, at which time the apartment complex actually cut into our ceiling and verified that there was no insulation or anything else to cut down on the noise, they moved us into a townhouse apartment so that we would have no upstairs neighbors. From that point on, life on Franklin Road was very pleasant.

When we first moved there, I-75 wasn't even completed. When I drove back to Rome, GA, to teach at East Rome High School, I had to get off the interstate at Barrett Parkway, which had no development at all. I would then travel the rest of the way north on US41. A year or so later, they opened the interstate all the way, but at that time, 41 was the road for travellers heading from Florida to the Northeast.

It seemed like a wonderful life back then; we were surrounded by opportunity, and after almost six years of relative poverty in Cedartown, we felt almost wealthy. After all, we had two incomes for the first time (previously, Susan had worked full time while I was in college, and then I worked full time while Susan went to Coosa Valley Tech), and we actually had money to spare after paying all of our bills. By the end of 1977, we were able to splurge on our first VHS VCR, putting us at the technological cutting edge.

It was a golden time, and our entire future seemed clear. As it turned out, much of what we foresaw for ourselves was nothing like what the future actually brought us... but that's part of the mystery of it all, isn't it?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

There Is a Season

Yep, there is a time for every purpose... Almost eight months ago, Brett left Dr. No's to try his hand in the graphics field. Two things that I had thought might happen did indeed occur. First, he was good at his newly chosen field--I figured that would be the case, since he had been doing graphics stuff for many years and had an aptitude for it. And second, after a while he missed some of the people and things that make comics retailing fun.

Thankfully, we got to talking about those two things, and talking led to negotiations and the like, and now Brett is returning to Dr. No's in an ownership capacity. He'll be gradually increasing his ownership stake in the store, which seems like a good thing for Brett and for Dr. No's.

I'm glad to have him working with me again. I like the chemistry of the team that we've put together at the store, and I think that Brett's going to enjoy working with Jared, Whitney, Tom, Brian, and Amy, all of whom came on board after his departure.

Brett's first day back is April 3rd, but we're already talking about store stuff, making plans for what we're going to do, and looking at new ways to increase Dr. No's business. And I'm already enjoying it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Out of Practice

I realized recently that I have quit waking up at 5:24 every morning. Not sure when I began sleeping straight through, but it took me at least five years to unlearn that habit, because as recently as last summer, I was still waking up briefly, looking at the clock and then going back to sleep.

Why 5:24? Because for the quarter-century that I taught school, that's when I would get up. After a few years, I no longer awakened to the sound of the alarm clock; instead, I awakened before the alarm clock and would switch it off at 5:23, getting up a few seconds later. And for five years after I quit teaching, I still woke up at 5:24.

It strikes me as odd that it took my internal clock five years to accept my new schedule...

Wind of Memories

"...For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime,
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns
And the round ocean and the living air
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man..."

What Wordsworth wrote centuries ago resonates with me tonight. It's crystalline outside, and while the temperature reminds us that winter is reluctant to let go, the evening fragrances hint of spring's first blooms. And with every step, I remember other nights, evenings of childhood when each night seemed a hundred days long; midnights of my teenage years, filled with doubts of what the sunrise might bring; nights that resolutely link me to the world of darkness all around.

There are times when being alone at night helps my thoughts to coalesce; I sometimes feel almost on the cusp of profundity as I walk. Unfortunately, the profundity seems to be vanquished by the lights of the house, by the glow of the computer screen, and I'm left with mundane observations once again... but I know that the profundity is out there, waiting on me...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Double Your Pleasure

The prior post's talk of Beatles songs in stereo got me thinking about this whole "stereo versus mono" thing and remembering that there are a couple of other albums out there in mono that should be available in stereo but aren't--namely, The Rolling Stones' Hot Rocks and the Donovan album A Gift From a Flower to a Garden. Both have been released in stereo, but the current versions are the mono versions. In the case of the Stones album, the difference is phenomenal; some of the songs demonstrate an amazing complexity an intricacy in stereo that is totally flattened in mono. The Donovan album also loses a lot of subtleties when it's flattened into mono. Since the stereo tracks do exist and have been released on CD before, I have no idea why they've been buried now. It's a shame, though; those who haven't heard these in stereo have no idea what they're missing...

It Was Forty-One Years Ago Today

Okay, it's not as musical as the famous "twenty years ago today" line from Sgt. Pepper's, but it's fairly accurate. It was 41 years ago that The Early Beatles, Beatles VI, Help, and Rubber Soul were released on Capitol Records here in America--and it appears that we're going to get a chance to enjoy those four in their American editions again this April. Reports indicate that there's an imminent CD release of The Beatles: The Capitol Albums Volume Two, which will offer both stereo and mono versions of all four of those albums, duplicating the American editions that have been unavailable for about twenty years now.

That's good news for those of us who grew up with these Dave Dexter-remixed versions of the originalBeatles albums; the addition of extra echo and a rebalance to accomodate American AM radio (then the predominant form of music radio) adds an ambience that, for better or worse, became the Beatles sound here in America. Sure, the song order is also wrong--but that's the way we heard them, darn it!

Other advantages--we get the orchestral interludes on Help, as well as the James Bondish introduction. We also get a lot of songs in stereo that have previously been avialable only in mono on CD, due to a rushed remix and some bad lapses in judgment on EMI's part when they initially released the Beatles catalog on CD. They tried to deceive the world into believing that those first four British CD's were released in mono because that was the way they were recorded, and the stereo mixes were simply enhanced mono attempts at imitating a stereo sound. That's not true--the songs are in stereo. Later on, they modified the story and said that the stereo mixes were simple instruments-on-left, voices-on-right mixes done to isolate the vocal tracks. That's not true either; listen to the mixes on such songs as "I Saw Her Standing There" and you hear across-the-soundfield stereo.

Either way, it doesn't at all explain how badly they messed up Help in particular. By the time this album was released, the Beatles were working in more complex multitrack stereo--but EMI was so under the gun to get those CD's out on deadline in 1986 that they rushed the mono versions of the first four albums out there, and they've been trying to explain away their mistakes ever since then.

Now they don't have to. We got the first four American albums in stereo last year; in April, we'll have the next four in stereo. One more American Capitol Box set should complete the run; from Sgt. Pepper's on, both the British and the American albums were the same, more or less. (Well, not exactly--I just remembered that there are vast differences on Magical Mystery Tour, and there's the American Hey Jude album that never existed in England at all...)

There's one problem album, though: A Hard Day's Night. Due to contractual obligations, that album appeared not on Capitol but on United Artists. That means that the album as released here in America will very likely never see release in its soundtrack edition, complete with instrumental interludes. That's a shame; while I have it on bootleg, I'd love to have an authentic American version of the CD. (Most of the Beatles songs from that film are included on Something New, which was in the first Capitol Box.)

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Fiction's Top Ten

Last Wednesday, Charles and Brett and Whitney and Jared and Allyson and I were discussing the list I had posted regarding my ten favorite television characters. Well, actually Charles and I were discussing that list, but Brett misheard and thought we were discussing ten favorite fictional characters, so the conversation sidetracked. That got me thinking, though: if I expanded the list to fictional characters, who'd make the cut?

And now, subject to change as I remember faves I forgot, I present my list:

(1) James Bond. The Ian Fleming version, of course--and on screen, Sean Connery remains the only Bond to capture the nuances of Fleming's character.

(2) Doc Savage. The hero epitomized.

(3) Ellery Queen. My favorite fictional detective, a master of deduction and a quick wit.

(4) Batman. Superman may be stronger, but in a pinch I know which one I'd rather have by my side.

(5) Hector from the Iliad. The doomed hero who did everything right for all the right reasons, but was defeated by forces beyond his control.

(6) Hamlet from... well, you know. "Maybe I think too much," Paul Simon wrote in a song--and he must have had the brooding, analytical Hamlet in mind.

(7) Philip Marlowe. The noir hero epitomized, with the moral code and the ethos that defined a genre.

(8) Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby. Gatsby has much in common with the noir hero; he's a self-made man with a rigid moral code who puts loyalty to those close to him above all else. And I never believed Meyer Wolfsheim's implications that there was something corrupt behind that facade...

(9) Sherlock Holmes. Sure, he's got his quirks, but he is the embodiment of applied intellect.

(10) Alonso Quijana, aka Don Quixote. The world sees him as mad, but he's a man who has a vision of what the world should be and refuses to let cynicism dissuade him. I also remind myself, however, that he ultimately failed in his mission--but that's less important than the fact that he made the quixotic attempt.

Subject to change, as I said...

Obscuring Incompetence

Just saw a brief feature on television regarding a new book from ex-President Jimmy Carter. Every time I see this failed leader on television, I'm reminded of how implicit the medium was in moving him into a position of incompetence to begin with.

Jimmy Carter was the governor of Georgia from 1971 to 1975. He was an exceptionally bad governor, a leader incapable of fiscal management who squandered money and accomplished very little. The state largely floundered under his leadership, sinking into such a fiscal miasma that it took rather draconian cuts by the next governor, George Busbee, to return the state to financial well-being.

I was a college student from 1971 to 1975, so I knew remarkably little--and cared even less--about state finances. I became aware of the extent of Carter's mismanagement for the first time when it actually touched me financially: after taking office, Busbee had to rescind raises for state employees--including teachers, whose ranks I would join in August of 1975--because there was no money. That inspired me to do more research and discover just how bad a governor Carter had been. He has a down-home charisma, but few leadership skills and little management sense.

So I was quite surprised when, in 1975, the mass media began touting Carter as a viable candidate for President. Certainly, I thought, someone is going to point out the abominable job he did as governor. They never did. There were no in-depth reports regarding the harm he did Georgia, no analyses of his governmental fiscal miscues. Instead, he was treated as a rural savant who could turn the country around.

Somehow, the illusion continued into 1976, when Carter actually managed to get elected (he was helped by the Republicans, who nominated the rather lackluster Gerald Ford--who had become President after Nixon's resignation--to run again). And for four years, we were subjected to one of the worst Presidencies in American history. The economy plummeted, interest rates soared, the "misery index" climbed to record levels, unemployment peaked, our intelligence organizations were gutted. Iranian terrorists were allowed to take American hostages with impunity; America dealt with them from continued positions of weakness. And through this all, Carter did nothing other than to deliver homilies and poor leadership.

And now, twenty-five years after a Presidency as inept as his governorship, Carter is revered as an elder statesman. The same man who actively works against American interests overseas is allowed to continue with no one pointing out his ineptitude, his lack of judgment, and his total failure to lead.

Of course, I remember one thing I learned very early about the media:

Were you ever involved in some group or event or activity that got media coverage? Perhaps you were part of a club or a team that earned a newspaper article; perhaps you were involved in a news event in some way. Remember how, when the story came out, you saw all sorts of details that were just wrong? Quotes that were inaccurate, facts that were garbled, complexities that were oversimplified to inanity? Well, just remember: every story you see, local or national or international, is just as fouled up as that story was... and in all likelihood, even moreso since it's a more complex story.

Friday, March 10, 2006

A Week for All Seasons

This has been one of those transitional weeks that marks the beginning of meteorological spring here in Georgia. Just Monday morning, it was 28° when I got up to go out for a pre-breakfast walk. Today, it'll be about 81° (it's already in the mid-70's, and it's just a little after noon). Last night, we had thunderstorms and heavy winds more common in summer than in late winter. And the winds knocked so many just-forming leaves and Bradford-pear-petals from the trees that it looked like the beginning of autumn this morning.

Now that we've perfected the art of condensing four seasons into one week, perhaps we can work on condensing entire decades into a single month, so that we could move on to the next fad even more quickly. Then we could have a retro resurgence in May or June for whatever was big in March, and we wouldn't have to re-buy all that stuff, because none of us would have gotten around to getting rid of any of it yet...

Eating My Words...

Not me, mind you. Something in the e-void is eating my words. Twice in the past three weeks, I've posted an entry only to log on the next day and discover that it's no longer there. The last time it happened, I still had the window open in which I had created the posting, so I was able to copy and paste and recreate. This time, no such luck.

Maybe it's some form of internet criticism that I'm not savvy to...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Greatness Never Fades

Each week, after I finish reading the comics sections of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (which I receive daily) and the Rome News-Tribune (which I receive by mail a few days late), I set them aside and take them to my friend Charles Rutledge. I began doing this when Mark Schultz & Gary Gianni took over Prince Valiant, because the RNT is the only paper in this area that carries that strip, as far as I know.

Charles recently told me how much he was enjoying the chance to rediscover some of Charles Schulz's best Peanuts strips, which are being reprinted in syndication. This strip in particular, which you can read in larger form here, was one that particularly impressed him. As Charles remarked, it's easy to forget how very good Peanuts was in its prime; these reprints help to remind us all what a brilliant creator Schulz was.

If your only experience with Peanuts is through the final years' worth of strips, which were produced by a much more sanguine and introspective Shulz, these early strips are bold, confident, and unpredictable. That's what made Peanuts cutting-edge for its time, and that's what makes it a classic today. If you've forgotten how good this strip was, check out the first four Fantagraphics volumes of The Complete Peanuts, each of which reprints two years' worth of the strip (Sundays and dailies) in chronological order. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, March 06, 2006


2... 2... 2 hours of 24! What a night!

Last week, I was afraid that 24 was losing its edge. There was major shock to the ending of the show, the story seemed to slow down a little bit, and I was afraid we were back to "treading water," the bane of the second and third seasons of this series.

Wrong I was. Very wrong.

Tonight was filled with so much suspense that I found myself talking to the television set a time or three. Yes, the very thing I condemn people for doing in the theater, I was doing (of course, it was in the comfort of my own family room, with only Susan, three cats, and a 62" Samsung to hear my outcries).

If you're not watching this series, it's not too late. Oh, you've missed some incredibly good televsion, but you can catch up. There's so much happening here, so many twists and turns, that you'll get hooked in an episode or two.

Or, if you're one of those purists who insists on watching the entire series in order, add 24 Season Five to your Christmas list now. It'll be out in early December, and you won't find a much better way to spend your teevee-viewing time.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Homegoing Ruminations

Yesterday, we went to Rome for a belated Kimberly's-birthday-celebration. With Kim's schedule at Randstadt, it seems like weekends are the only time that everyone can get together--and even then, it can take some planning to coordinate everything! Kim's a process manager for the company, and her corporate clients are scattered from Cumming to Alpharetta to Canton to Cartersville to Lithia Springs to Rome, so her time at home is much more limited than it was when she was an account manager focused on a single Rome company.

We ended up going to Gondolier for dinner; Gondolier in Rome has consistently good food, which may come as a surprise to those familiar with the Woodstock or Marietta Gondolier locations. Around here, Gondolier is the home of the super-skimpy pizza and the light-on-sauce pasta dish. In Rome, however, the ingredient balance is much better and the food is very flavorful. When we had our farmhouse in Rome from '92 to '99, we would eat at Gondolier quite frequently; now, we probably eat there twice a year max, but it's always a pleasant experience.

Going home (and Rome will always be home, although I haven't actually lived there as my primary residence in 35 years, and we gave up our weekend place there 6 1/2 years ago) is always a pleasant experience. Rome has changed immensely during my lifetime, and many of the businesses that I remember fondly from my childhood are gone. Also gone are many of the neighbors I grew up with. The Terhunes moved from the neighborhood long ago; the Masons are gone (Mr. Mason died and Mrs. Mason sold the house a while back); Mr. & Mrs. Adkins both died and their home was sold; the Atkins (the only neighbors whom I actively disliked) both died a while back... The Boyds are still there, across the street, and Mrs. Gresham is still next door, but other than that, the neighborhood is no longer what it once was. Dad's house, the Boyds' house, and Mrs. Gresham's house are the only ones on the small street that still look well-maintained after forty-plus years; the other homes have the stark, somewhat sparse and modestly maintained look of rental homes, which I suspect they are.

But there's still a vitality to Rome that I enjoy. It feels like home to me, and always will, regardless of the changes. I still remember the houses to which I delivered newspapers on my Atlanta Constitution bicycle route in my childhood. I can still remember the winding, overgrown path through the nearby woods to the winding creek where we would play four hours (although the woods succumbed to residential development years ago). I feel comfortable travelling the back roads that we would follow on my way to school all those years ago, and I know the names of the many friends whose families lived in the houses we would pass. And now there are new families in some of those homes, while in others the children have grown up to raise families of their own in the homes where they were raised. The downtown area is still lined with the same century-plus-old buildings I remember, although the stores that occupy those buildings have changed. It's the same town, although the ebb and flow of life has wrought the same inevitable changes there as everywhere else.

Kim still lives in Rome, although she talks from time to time about moving closer to Atlanta in the next few years. It would be a sensible decision if her job continues to demand such travel; to be located in a place more central to all her accounts would minimize her road time. I envy her Rome location, though, because she's only a few minutes away from Mom and Dad's house, where Dad still maintains the home in the same loving state that we all knew from the years when both he and Mom imbued the house with such warmth. I speak to Dad every day, and see him as frequently as possible, but I envy that opportunity she has to stop by on a whim, or to have Dad stop in for a cup of coffee and a few minutes of conversation. Marietta is too far from Rome for such spontaneity, and Dad no longer enjoys making the drive from there to here.

The seven years we had a second home in Rome were a wonderful gift that we did not at the time fully appreciate. We had no way of knowing that those would be Mom's final years of good health and the beginning of a horribly painful period ending with her passing in 2002. I never knew how wistfully I would recall the days when I could make a spontaneous, unplanned trip to their house just to say "hi" or drop something off or see how everyone was doing. I was able to enjoy the small-town life where I would shop in furniture stores where the staff knew me by name and would run a piece of furniture out to our house "just to try" for a day or two before we decided if we wanted to buy it; where restaurant owners would know remember our preferences; where neighbors would come by just to help hay the pasture when it was time for haying, or offer the loan of their tractor if I needed it.

For a variety of reasons, we eventually leave our home towns, but our home towns never leave us...

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Top Cat

Our "baby" cat, Mischa, is turning into the largest cat we've ever owned! (That's her in front in the photo to the left; Anna, her older "sister," is behind her; Anna's actually her aunt, but we keep it a secret from them.... *shhhh!*)

When we got Mischa a year ago, she was a tiny 4 1/2 pound six-month-old relatively short-haired girl. The photo over there doesn't do her justice in her current glory; she's now turned into a 12 pound girl, long and muscular with a phenomenally thick coat, a virtual mane of hair around her neck, and enormous feet. Anna, meanwhile, has held her size at about 8 1/2 to 9 pounds, so Mischa has shot past her in size. Thankfully, Mischa doesn't seem to realize that Anna is actually only 3/4 her size; Anna, being the older of the two, still maintains some order and decorum.

Of course, the true elder in our cat family is Tisha, not pictured; she turns 17 next month, and while she's a bit grayer than she used to be and a little less active, she's still doing quite well for herself. After resolving the gall bladder problems that threatened her life last fall, we've been able to entice her to eat heartily, and she's back up to her normal 7 1/2 to 8 pound weight. She sleeps more than she used to, but she's also a good bit older than the other girls (and she is, in fact, the oldest cat we've ever had--and we've had her since she was barely seven weeks old, so we've seen her flourish and thrive for many wonderful years). While Anna and Mischa will try from time to time to play with Tisha, they generally give her the respect that is her due.

Surprisingly, we go through no more canned cat food with the three of them than we did with Asia and Tisha when Asia was still with us; the difference, though, is that both Anna and Mischa eat a lot more dry food. I would love to see Anna eat even more and put on a bit more weight, but I don't think it's going to happen; I think her body size and shape has pretty much been established by now (today's her second birthday), so it looks like she'll remain the long, lean, lanky sort.

Friday, March 03, 2006

More Memories

T.D. Hanshew, a friend whom I see regularly at Dr. No's, read an earlier post about "Precious Memories" and the country/gospel/bluegrass music that was a part of my youth, so he dropped off a gift: a copy of Dust on the Bible, a collection of earnest folk/bluegrass/country versions of various gospel songs performed by the Bad Livers. With one exception, I had heard every song many times in my younger years, and even knew the lyrics to some of them well enough to sing along. The recordings are simple and plain, unrefined and honest. I like it a lot, and I thank T.D. for thinking of me with this. If you ever grew up with or learned to appreciate this sort of unadorned country/gospel, then you'll like this recording a lot. (One person who heard it commented that it sounded like an outtake from the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and I can see her point; it does have that stark intensity of purpose and sound.)

I'm growing to appreciate bluegrass more and more. There are probably 250-300 bluegrass songs among the 13,600 that occupy my iPod currently, and the number is gradually growing.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Happy Birthday, Kim

Today is my sister's birthday; since she tends to operate on the same schedule as normal people, she's not awake right now, so she doesn't realize that she's now one year older.

To the left is the picture of Kim and Mom and Me from many, many years ago--I think the picture dates back to 1965, in fact. For years now, I have joked that Kim was my "older sister," and I have actually managed to convince some people of that fact (it's amazing what people will believe if you keep saying it frequently and loudly...). There you have it: proof positive that Kim is actually my little sister. Cherish it, Kimberly--I'm going to stick to the other story, and this may be your only corroborating evidence!

When Kim was born, way back in 1961, we lived at 123 Plymouth Road in Garden Lakes, a subdivision just outside of the Rome, GA, city limits. It was our second home on Plymouth Road--we had moved from 119 to 123, jumping the house next door like we were playing some strange checkers game, because it was a slightly larger house. Alas, not large enough--it was a two-bedroom home, so Kim's arrival into my world meant that I had to share a room with her until April, 1963, when my parents built the family home on Marchmont Drive in Rome. I doubt that Kim even remembers the Garden Lakes home, since she would have been just a month over two when we moved.

Kim was a loud baby; she didn't seem particularly pleased with anything, and she let us know. While I remember her frequent protestations about this and that, I somehow managed to sleep through the cacaphony nevertheless (it's amazing how children can sleep through pretty much anything, isn't it?). Even so, I remember being Less Than Pleased at having to share my room with this new invader, so I was quite happy when we moved to a three bedroom home in 1963 and Kim got her own room.

As we grew up, Kim was a frequent invader... errr, visitor to my room--usually choosing to pay those visits while I was out. The purpose of most of those visits, I believe, was to raid my record collection; Kim would frequently take my albums to her room, playing them on her crude record player. It skipped a lot, and Kim learned early that she could stack quarters on the tone arm to make it gouge right through the skips. When that didn't work, she would use her thumb instead. The result? A lot of my records have random percussive outbursts that weren't a part of the original recording...

In spite of her role as a musical vandal, I don't recall any animosity 'twixt the two of us beyond the normal childhood bickering. Kim was only ten when I got married, so I wasn't living at my parents' home when Kim went through her turbulent teen years. I would pay frequent visits, so we would see evidence of her latest misadventures--a broken sliding glass door where she pushed the chair backwards into it by mistake, a collapsed hallway ceiling where she tried to sneak out through the attic for some reason and discovered that sheetrock is not designed to hold the weight of a human body (even a young one)...

Even though I wasn't with her sufficiently to serve as the usual ideal role model that I have always been for this wayward child, she turned out quite well, I'm proud to say. Must be in the genes...

Happy birthday, Kimberly!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Wrong Number, Bad Connection

Somewhere in Cell's 350+ pages, a character refers to the Cuban Missile Crisis having occurred in October of 1963. I'm not a historian per se, but I immediately knew that something was wrong here--the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in 1962, and Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Sure, Stephen King can argue that the error was made by the character, not by him... but the simple fact is, that minor sloppy detail is indicative to me of the relative lack of care that went into this tedious novel.

I had great hopes for this book; the premise sounded almost as apocalyptic as The Stand, but on a smaller, more technological level. A computer virus/worm spreads via cell phones, infecting all who are using the devices as the virus unleashes itself; the end result is a country filled with homicidal zombie-like lunatics, stripped of all self-control and incapable of higher thought.

So what goes wrong? Nothing, if your idea of complex, thought-provoking storytelling is Night of the Living Dead. Unfortunately, the book never manages to move beyond that level; it's a "run from the zombies" tale from beginning to end, with little set-up, minimal character development, and a skeletal plot.

One other complaint: for some reason, King seems fascinated with fonts in this book. He finds it essential to set some words in different fonts at different sizes, as if this somehow adds an impact or verisimilitude to the story. The end result is that sort of "ransom note" look that student papers had once the author discovered he had a plethora of fonts and sizes at his command. It does nothing to enhance the impact of the story, and just becomes darn aggravating after a while.

I had hopes that Cell would be the Next Great Stephen King Novel. Instead, it's the "Let's Hope the Next One Is Great" Stephen King Novel...