Monday, September 29, 2008

After Midnight

Got out a little after midnight tonight to make a circuit in search of gas, and it paid off right away: the QT at Scufflegrit and Sandy Plains (about four miles from my house) had just gotten in a delivery of regular gas. I was able to fill up the Genesis, come back home, switch it out for Susan's Murano, and fill it up as well--and all in about 30 minutes time! I called Brett and Buck to spread the good news (tried to call Ed, but got his machine), and I know that Brett was able to fill up both his car and his truck... although he noticed, as did I, that there were far fewer functioning pumps by the time he got back with the second vehicle than there were initially.

I borrowed the phrase "gas vampires" to refer to those of us who get out after most everyone else has gone to bed, hoping that we can find gas before everyone gets up to go to work the next day. I've found gas vampirism to be very rewarding, thank you very much...

One thing I've noticed during my late-night walks is how very quiet it is; traffic is greatly reduced, both in the neighborhood and on normally-busy Sandy Plains Road and Shallowford Road, both of which normally produce a constant, muted buzz of traffic noises all through the night. Not now, though--it's reminiscent of Christmas Eve night, when most everyone is where they want to be and no one is driving. Occasionally I hear the sound of a single car passing in one direction or the other, but that's it. It makes for a very peaceful night... although when I consider why it's so peacefully quiet, I'd gladly accept the noise just for a return to fuel normalcy.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Primo Explanation for Subprime Mess

Here's the best, most concise explanation I've found for how we got into this financial mess:

I think you can figure out what should be done to remedy it; unfortunately, a lot of politicians seem to think that driving a whole further down this dead-end road is the best course of action.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Top Billing

Today I got to talk to Bill Shatner.

I can call him Bill--he told me I could!

I interviewed Shatner for an article I'm doing on Bluewater Productions' William Shatner Presents comic book line; the interview was worked in around the shooting schedule for Boston Legal.

It's always a little awkward to talk to someone whose work you have enjoyed for many years; there's a constant struggle between the tendency to fall into fan mentality and the need to focus on the task at hand. But talking to Bill was comfortable and casual, largely because he made it so.

He was honest and down-to-earth for the duration of the interview; at no point did he try to give me pompous speeches about his comic book line. He was honest about his level of involvement, he seemed genuinely enthused about what was being done with his concepts, and he seemed quite happy that readers would be interested in these books.

He also spoke a little bit about how it never would have occurred to him when he took the Star Trek job more than four decades ago that it would make science fiction a permanent part of his life--one that he found himself enjoying even more now than he did then.

All through the conversation, I had to remind myself that I was talking to a 77 year old man. His energy, his exuberance, his gregarious nature all seemed more indicative of a personality at least thirty years younger. Would that we could all be so vital in our seventies!

It's No Gas Gas Gas

Today is day five of Atlanta's gas crisis.

Approximately 10% of the gas stations in Atlanta have any gas at all, and those few that do have such long lines that the average driver burns gallons gas waiting to buy more gas. Business is off throughout the metro area because drivers can't risk the extra gas for any unnecessary travel. We already have customers who not only can't come to the store, they can't get to work because they can't find gas.

And we have a governor who took days to do anything, who refuses to address the issue head-on, who says that the crisis is psychological, and whose stock solution to the gas crisis is to talk about possibly closing schools for a day or two.

What we need is a governor who'll order rationing statewide until the supplies level out, who'll take action to force suppliers to divert more supplies to Atlanta, and who'll see to it that the supplies we do have are evenly distributed across the metro area.

What we get is a governor who still thinks millions of dollars spent to promote fishing is a good idea; a governor who doesn't see a problem because he can still go wherever he needs to; and a governor who fails to recognize that the metro area is the heart of Georgia's economy.

Next month, when Georgia posts the worst sales tax collections of any month in recent history, our governor will moan and groan about how devastating it is to the state budget... but at no point will he admit openly, "and this happened because I was too inept to do anything to solve the fuel problem."

Talked to the folks at El Rodeo, where we eat every Wednesday night; their business was off 40% yesterday and 50% today, because no one is coming in. I'm hearing the same thing almost everywhere in this area.

In the meantime, most other parts of the ocuntry are seeing declining gasoline prices and ample supply. But for us--empty pumps, lost business, and a lackadaisical governor...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Thinking back on decades of comics reading, I realize how fondly I remember the efforts of a number of companies that were unable to find enough appreciative readers like me.

When I was a kid, I loved Tower Comics. THUNDER AGENTS, No-Man, Dynamo--these were books that rivalled (and often surpassed) anything that Marvel and DC were doing at the time, and the art was some of the industry's best. Alas, they survived only a few years, leaving behind a small but stunning body of work.

In the early days of the great independent publishing boom, First Comics enlisted talents like Howard Chaykin, Mike Grell, Jim Starlin, John Ostrander, and Tim Truman to produce some of the field's most innovative and intriguing comics. Their star shone brightly for a relatively short period of time, though, before the company fell apart.

The early 1990s saw the debut of Valiant Comics, a company whose name still elicits praise from readers who were around during their heyday. Bob Layton and Jim Shooter were the men responsible for this remarkable superhero line built around a few core concepts licensed from Gold Key. There have been few books as clever as Archer & Armstrong or Quantum & Woody. Alas, things went wrong on the business side and the personal side (dissension in the ranks led to polarization and the eventual loss of several integral creators), and the company was gone far too soon.

The early part of this decade saw the short-lived Crossgen. The company had a controversial business model, but they made it work--their books were some of the best on the stands at the time, and they produced a number of distinctive series that brought new readers to comics and established an incredibly loyal fan base. Publisher Mark Alessi's snipe-hunt pursuit of mainstream market success for his line eventually did him in, though, and the company died (even worse, no one latched on to the good things that Crossgen was doing, leaving those readers with nothing similar to move on to, so many of them eventually left comics once again).

There are a number of good publishers whose stars are shining brightly now--and I suspect that some of them will follow the same nova-like path as all these others. It's part of the cycle of publishing, I guess--being good and being successful remain two wholly different things.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fringe Fan

While I don't think that Fringe is a great show, I can't help but like it. That's not a surprise--the blend of science fiction, fantasy, pseudo-science, and conspiracy theory is almost certain to click with me.

The story of an agent who gradually becomes aware of a world of complex conspiracies and contradictions is a good one--but the weekly episodic elements aren't always as "on target." I like J.J. Abrams' approach to storytelling, so I can almost forgive such pseudo-scientific babble as the second episode's ridiculous assertion that the final things a dead person saw can be viewed through careful study of his eyes (I thought that idea had been abandoned in the Victorian era, but apparently Abrams and crew saw no reason not to toss it in as if it were viable science.)

I also hate the affectation of alerting readers to locale changes by having the name of the location inserted into the establishing shot as if it were a tangible object. While Will Eisner made it look pretty cool in the pages of his Spirit tales, it looks incredibly hokey on the television screen. Unfortunately, Abrams and crew embrace it so fervently that they even have the intrusive words reflected in puddles, leaving all of us to wonder why bystanders aren't standing around wondering why there are huge letters floating in the air near them.

The first episode had a bit of an X-Files vibe; the second episode continued in that direction, but the bad science regarding dead people's eyeballs was so absurd that it made the entire story seem weak and contrived. (then again, X-Files wasn't immune to that, was it?...)

As I told someone after I watched it, it's a good thing that Abrams wants to do a 21st Century X-Files, since Chris Carter apparently hasn't the slightest idea how to accomplish that goal. Now, if Abrams can avoid his Alias problem of getting lost in his own overarcing storylines, he might be able to develop Fringe into a real must-see.

The Brothers Not At All Grim

What a wonderful day for e-mail!

As one of those people with a very fond memory of my high school years, I'm a regular reader of the West Rome High School newsletter. Recently, the newsletter included a note from Martin Rollinson, who had become a friend of mine during my high school years because he was the brother of one of my best friends, Lon Rollinson. I had briefly corresponded with Lon a decade or so ago, but a computer failure had wiped out those records (yes, there was a time when I wasn't wise enough to back up my files), so we lost contact again.

I immediately sent Martin an e-mail to find out how life had been treating him, and got an almost immediate reply. We caught up a little bit on old times, and it was apparent that Martin has done every bit as well as I knew he would.

The Rollinsons were an amazing family. I knew Lon well, Martin relatively well (he was only a year behind us), and Matt to a lesser degree. Selby and Jim I knew only peripherally because they were part of Lon's family. But anyone who knew Lon, Martin, or Matt knew that these were men destined to do well for themselves, and they have.

It's always good to reconnect with old friends... and it's even better to learn that they they have found the success and happiness that they so richly deserved.

Tooth is Beauty, and Beauty Tooth

It's hard to imagine I'd ever say this, but it's true--I really like my dentist.

Dr. Sturn is the first dentist I've truly trusted since the days when I relied on Dr. Cromartie for all my dental work. Dr. Cromartie retired more than a decade ago, and I've gone through numerous dentists, some of whom were only mediocre and some of whom were truly abominable.

I lucked into Dr. Sturn, and was surprised to discover that he was someone I knew through Dr. No's, where he had been a regular customer for a year before he became my dentist. He's a great guy--no trendy procedures du jour, no push for ultra-expensive treatments, just highly professional dental work. I like that; I never trust a dentist who tries to turn a routine cleaning and checkup into a push for $3000 of cosmetic dentistry.

I have bad teeth (a family trait I would gladly have done without, but nature offered me no choice), so having a dentist I trust is pretty important to me. Dr. Sturn fills the bill perfectly. So when he told me after my most recent checkup that I was having some problems with decay at the base of a couple of decades-old crowns that have loosened over time, I believe him. While I'm not looking forward to having to have all that work redone, I'm glad that Dr. Sturn is the man who's doing it.

(And he also has a spiffy-keen new office with televisions in every room, which is a great selling point for me!)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


That book over there? It's a book you'll never be able to read, thanks to J.K. Rowling. It's a Harry Potter Lexicon, a print version of information available for a long time on a fan website--a website that was praised by J.K. Rowling before she decided that revenue was more important than anything else. And this week, a judge decided that fair use didn't support non-fiction works of literary annotation, explanation, or criticism, apparently, since he ruled in favor of Rowling and basically banned the book's publication.

My response? Well, I won't be doing anything to give Rowling any more of my money, nor will I be carrying any further Rowling material in my store. I would have thought an author would be pleased to see a guidebook designed to make her work more accessible and enjoyable to large numbers of readers, but Rowling didn't see beyond the dollar signs. And that makes me want to deny her a few of the dollars she values above all else... including literary freedom and fair use.

And let's hope that the author is able to find an attorney to appeal U.S. District Judge Robert P. Patterson's verdict that subverts justice; I would hope an appeal would reverse this freedom-of-the-press-stifling ruling.

In the meantime, I invite you to join me in seeing to it that no more of your money flows into Ms. Rowling's accounts... apparently money is all she understands, so it's the only way to make a point to her.

Journey Through the Past

This morning I discovered that the Rome News Tribune has provided online access to much of its archived material, and that includes a large number of Dad's pieces that he wrote for them over the years. It's not a complete selection, but the newspaper is continuing to add content. However, a search this morning brought up almost 350 pieces written by Dad during his decades at the newspaper; while many of them are routine sports articles, I'm finding a number of his columns there as well. I'm leaving to pick up books fairly soon, so I don't have as much time to scan through all of these pieces as I'd like, but it's wonderful to discover the availability of all of this material--and it's particularly nice to find the columns from the late 1970s and the early 1980s, since I didn't live in Cedartown or Rome at that time and thus had limited access to this material. That means I'm reading a lot of Dad's words for the first time.

Anyone who's interested can click here for a list of available articles. And thanks to Burgett Mooney and the Rome News Tribune staff for offering this treasure trove of archived articles!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Funny and Not Funny

Yesterday I got a bulk e-mailing from a minor and largely unknown comics writer/artist containing a lot of bogus photos purportedly featuring vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family--if you want to see what they look like, just do a search online for "bogus photos" and "photoshopped Sarah Palin" and you'll find the whole gamut of them. I let the sender know I found this sort of thing to be demeaning and offensive--but oddly enough, in response, he defended the disproven photos as real, and then ventured into some strange argument about how none of this should matter anyway, as long as there were teenagers contracting AIDS.

I always remain surprised that people use this sort of irrelevant non sequitur as defense for anything they might do. Did the writer/artist consciously think to himself, "Well, this might be wrong--but heck, there are teenagers with AIDS, so I'll do it anyway"? The world is filled with wrongs--but if we point to one of them every time we make a conscious decision to add another wrong to the list, then all we're doing is making the world one wrong worse than it was before.

That's the new standard of public discourse, though. What a shame...

The photo above, by the way, is the REAL version of one of the photoshopped pictures he sent to a large number of people, claiming his version was real...