Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I'll be in Vegas for a few days. And one of the things I'm most looking forward too is the chance to see Mac King's comedy & magic show again. The last time I was there, someone was outside of Harrah's giving away free tickets, so Kathy and I just had to pay for a pair of pricey drinks to enjoy the show. But even with the relatively meager cover chage, Mac's show is a steal. If you get a chance, by all means go.



I’ve been reading a lot about Johnny Carson these last few days. Maybe a lot of us are, or maybe most people of my generation and younger have read maybe one or two tributes and moved on. He left television in 1992, when I was 22. I was certainly old enough to stay up to see his show, and old enough to enjoy and appreciate it. But I may be one of the last generations that did, I guess. And I’ve been realizing how much I’ve missed him for these last 10 years or so.

I just read Bob Dylan’s biography. (Okay, I listened to the abridged audio version read by Sean Penn, but cut me some slack, it was read by Sean Penn, okay?) And Dylan wrote (poorly paraphrased by memory): “There are some people who seem to slowly fade away, but then, when they die, it’s like they never faded at all. They’re still there, clear as day.” I think Johnny’s like that. Seeing his end-of-monologue golf swing once, twice, a dozen times – you could probably forget it. But hundreds? A thousand, for some people? That stays sharp, even when everything else blurs.

One thing my mom said to me on Sunday: “Your father and I probably watched him on every night of our marriage.” Now, that’s not factual, I know. I like to think they took a night off to give birth to me, for instance, although I may just be flattering myself. But I know that Johnny went off the air in 1992, and Mom and Dad kept broadcasting together for long after that. So the facts don’t bear her out, but I think it’s true just the same.

Which brings me to what’s driving this post. While I’ve read some great stories about Johnny and the Tonight Show – check here and here to find some – none of them have really touched on the Johnny Carson experience the way I remember it. Until I read this piece by Kim Ode in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The site is a little finicky with subscriptions and I’m not sure my link will work, so here are the key paragraphs if it doesn’t:

For those 15 minutes, I sat with my mom and dad and heard Johnny's take
on the day. I heard what made them laugh, and what made them groan with comic pain. If I made myself invisible enough to stay up a bit longer, I could witness their shocked delight when Johnny, as Carnac, said something a little sexy, a little naughty. I learned more about their politics listening to them listen to
Johnny than I ever did at the supper table.

Over the course of those odd weeknights, my parents grew to seem less like mom and dad and more like actual people. They had a sense of humor far more sophisticated than I'd imagined -- I hated having to ask them to explain a joke -- and far keener interest than I'd realized in a world that didn't include me. They had a life, long before I could have huffily urged them to get one.

So when the tributes began pouring in about Johnny this week, I realized how much I also was in his debt. He gave my folks a way to unwind, even when the headlines were awful, even when the sky brought no rain, even when I'd rolled my eyes at the supper table. And as they laughed, I saw their true selves, and slept the better for it.

Yeah, that’s it.


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Word to your preznit.

On his blog the other day, Eric Alterman introduced me to the word "kakistocracy":

From Barry R, a word that gets more useful with each day: Kakistocracy (from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000)

SYLLABICATION: kak·is·toc·ra·cy
PRONUNCIATION: kak'i-stok're-se, käki-
NOUN: Inflected forms: pl. kak·is·toc·ra·cies
Government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens.
Greek kakistos, worst, superlative of kakos, bad; see caco- + -cracy.
Oldest use: 1829.

"Is ours a government of the people, by the people, for the people, or a kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?" - 1876 OED

The only thing I have to add is just a cheap chot-- not a particularly good one, either, but one I find I'm unable to resist: The president certainly puts the ka-ka in kakistocracy.


Pretty hot..

A gent named Powell Pugh posted this in the comments section of Peter David's blog, and while reposting it here certainly doesn't qualify as wider exposure, I think y'all will get a kick out of it:

I never heard of Ann Coulter until recently in the Fahrenheit 9/11 "debunking" called Fahren-HYPE 9/11 (clever, huh?). Then I saw her on the cover of her book at a discount store. I think she's pretty hot for a trannie, don't you?

Made me laugh so hard I had to drink a glass of milk just so I could snort it out my nose in tribute.


Sunday, January 23, 2005

Fair-Weather Fan

Okay, I’ll admit it – I’m jumping on the bandwagon. I’m not an Eagles fan in general. I mean, they’re my favorite football team, but that’s like saying rhinoplasty is my favorite surgery. Football doesn’t matter enough to me for my favorites to mean anything.

But now the Eagles are in the Super Bowl. And I’m happy about it – I even watched the end of the game (from about halfway through the third quarter) of my own volition. When I turned on the TV to watch, my wife looked at me like I had three heads. She did not marry a football fan, and think she suspected I was the Rob from an alternate universe or something. But it was the Eagles, in a playoff game, which made me curious. And when I saw they were winning, I just stayed put.

I know a lot of “real” fans look down on fair-weather fans like me. We’re not in it for the long hall – we jump on the bandwagon in the final stretch. But I know I’m not taking the Super Bowl ticket out of a “true” fans’ hand. I’m just watching them on TV, instead of doing something else. Hurting no one.

And the reason I watch is pretty simple. Philly’s needed a championship of something for a long while, and I’m happy to see it so close. I watch, and I think about how it’s making my brothers and their friends happy. I think how much my dad would have liked the game. And that makes me happy. The only way I enjoy watching football is vicariously – even if it’s on right in front of me. But that’s better – much better – than not enjoying it at all.

Go Eagles. Bring it on home.


Foul-Weather Friends

Well, we’ve had what will hopefully be called the Blizzard of 2005 around these parts. (I say hopefully, because the only way it won’t is if it gets a name like “The First Blizzard of 2005” or “The Blizzard We Thought Was Really Bad Until The Roof-Crushing Genuine Monster Blizzard of 2005.”) Kathy and I began our day at my mom’s house south of Philly, and had to drive back up to Edison to get home. We’d made plans to stop at our friends Sharon & Andrew’s house to play D&D, but the game was soon called off on account of snow.

We stopped by anyway.

All the way up through the snow, my windshield wipers were icing up, causing us to stop the car, climb out, and de-ice them by hand. The first time we did this was right after we crossed the Walt Whitman bridge. By the time we got to Exit 8 on the turnpike, we’d done it nearly a dozen times – each one a bit less effective than the last.

There were stretches of the turnpike that were absolutely deserted. We didn’t see anyone on the road from Exit 3 to nearly exit 5 – even though we stopped several times to clear the windshield. No one passed us. It was eerie, being alone in all that white and cold. Once we got to Exit 7 or so, the crazies started coming onto the road, whizzing past us on the right and left, far too fast for the conditions.

We thought about stopping at a hotel, but pressed on to our friends’ place. Sharon, Andrew, Emily and Audrey graciously took us in, and we had a great time, eating a great dinner and breakfast, playing games and just hanging out. Eventually we helped them shovel out their driveway, but by FAR we got the better end of this deal.

To top it off, when we finally got to our house this afternoon (for more shoveling!), we discovered that Kathy had left her purse (and her car keys) at their house. Andrew drove up to bring it to us, and stuck around for a few minutes to watch the Eagles win.

It was a crazy weekend – but it wound up being a lot of fun instead of a disaster. Depending on the kindness of strangers is fine, but you’re a lot better off depending on the kindness of friends.


Friday, January 14, 2005

Just Linkin'

Andrew has a really good catch-all post about Iraq, and while I have my own stuff to say about it, I don't have time to write it now. The one thing I've gotta ask is: What's the source for that Tommy Franks quote? I've gotta see that in black & white!


Thursday, January 13, 2005

Have you tried looking high and low? How about just low?

Heidi MacDonald alerts us to a British midget shortage in her awesome blog, The Beat. Seems with Harry Potter and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory both filming, Doctor Who can't get no tiny love.


24: Can Someone Call Ma Bell?

Okay, I'm three quarters of the way through the four-hour, two-day premiere of 24, and -- as much as I like the adrenaline rush this show gives me, there are parts that are simply hit-the-pause-button-and pick-your-jaw-off-the-floor stupid. Case in point: In hour three, the head of CTU says "It'll take days to review [the secretary of defense's son Richard's] phone records"... and tacitly authorizes an agent to torture him to get the information.

Okay, toss aside the political ramifications of torturing the defense secretary's son. Forget that.

Doesn't CTU have at least ONE skilled interrogator, so they don't have to go to code red on everyone with the sense to keep his mouth shut? An agent said that what was probably keeping him mum was pride, rather than complicity in the crime. That shouldn't be TOO hard to break, to anyone with decent training. Anyone -- and I mean ANYONE, even Beau -- on Homicide could have gotten this kid to mention who he’s spoken to about his dad’s visit. But he wouldn’t talk to the folks at CTU, who are actively trying to help him? I’m sorry, I so don’t buy that. I used to say Vic Mackey could retitle 24 to One and a Half. But Frank Pembleton or Kay Howard could make it Point Five, giving us enough time for some wacky escapades at the bar.

But the best part was: "It'll take days to review his phone records." Izzat so? The personnel at CTU can’t call up Verizon and get his records, cross-referenced with the names of the people on the other line, in less then five minutes? These people who reroute satellites? “Oh, that’ll take days. Just torture him.”

That’s bunk. I hate it when they make the rest of CTU look like morons just to make Jack look good, and with him out of the organization altogether, it looks like that’s the new protocol.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005


You know, most of the time I go to Captain Comics' message boards, I read and post about comics. It's the friendliest place I've found on the web to do so, bar none.

But every now and then the conversations take odd little turns, and I wind up directed to sites like these...

Clowny recently let me know that a wonderful site I had seen before -- The 10 Worst Album Covers of All Time -- has a sequel. Here it is...

And the illustrious Dr. Manbot revealed that there's a web quiz where you have to decide whether a given name is that of a My Little Pony or a porn star.

I got 4 out of 12.

Maybe the parents among us will do better.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Quote of the week

Bill Murray, on parenting (he has six sons, ages 3 to 22):

"It's my favorite gig, but it's a little early to say how I've done. You know, John Hinckley's folks thought they were doing an okay job at one point too."

Got that one from last week's Time magazine, which has a really nice article on Murray.


Sunday, January 09, 2005

Ex-Xmas Xperience

Another Christmas has come and gone. We throw a big birthday party for the guy, but does he help with the cleanup?

Yep, today it was time to take down the tree. So tonight -- after putting it off for a while with other chores and a game of Puerto Rico -- we built a fire and got around to it. Most of the ornaments originate with Kathy, so I had no idea which poxeds to put a lot of them into.

My favorite part of taking down a Christmas tree is to light the lights one last time and wind them around the hand-held light rack while they're still aglow. I feel like I'm holding brass knuckes from the set of Star Trek.

On its way out the door, our tree dropped more needles than you'd find in Keith Richards' dressing room. Luckily, the hardwood floors make them easy to sweep up.

Anything else to report this weekend? Just that I'm having a blast using Kathy's Christmas gift to me, a MuVo, a little digital audio player that'll let me carry the music of a few albums with me and still a significant hunk of whatever book I'm listening to. After istening to most of Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake (Think Mary Shelly's Frankenstein with poetry instead of science) in fits and starts on CD, I listened to the last two hours or so of it in practically an afternoon (of stripping paint, naturally). Now I'm onto Bob Dylan's autobiography, read by Sean Penn. Cool stuff, in a handy, lightweight package.


Friday, January 07, 2005


This blog's hit counter broke a thousand today. Granted, I know it's generally the same dozen of you coming back day after day, but I have to say, it makes me feel good. So in honor of the thousand hits, I'm going to post a thousand times today...

Heh. Screw that. I'm gonna play some D&D instead. And drink deep of this heady wine of the merest scintilla of scant signifigance. Here's to the next thousand!

Honestly, though, it was a relief. I thought the blog counter might roll over, and airplanes would fall from the sky and banks would lose all their data, that sort of thing. But looking around after this momentous and perilous milestone, nothing has changed.

I remain,


Sorry to see him go

Dave Barry is retiring from his least for a little while.

It's been a while since I'd read one of his columns. It looks like the Herald has a decent archive if you sign up.


Too Cool

In my book, this is the best comic-book movie news since the Sin City trailer looked so cool: Natalie Portman will be playing Evey in the V for Vendetta movie this fall. This is an amazing Alan Moore story that got completely overshadowed by Swamp Thing and Watchmen. There's a teaser image here.


Will Eisner's Last Book

The last book Will Eisner completed promises to be an interesting one. It's called The Plot, and it will be out in May, I think. It's a rebuttal in graphic novel form to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a book writen by Russian anti-semites as a hoax, purporting it to be details of the secret Jewish plot to rule the world.

Eisner was very concerned about antisemitism, and discovered that this debunked book was being peddled to people in Muslim nations as the truth. After writing and drawing The Plot, Eisner was arranging to have it translated into Arabic.

It's on my list, believe me.


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Will Eisner, Rest in Peace

Let me start by saying: I’m a dunce. If someone means a lot to you, whether you know them or not, you should tell them. And even if you think you have a good reason to, don’t wait. They won’t always be around to hear it.

Will Eisner didn’t invent comics. He just made them better, in almost every conceivable way.

Eisner began working in comics in 1936, and soon formed the Eisner-Iger studios with his partner, Jerry Iger. They produced tons of comic strips, hiring such talents as Jack Kirby and Bob Kane. But he became best known after he left the studio to publish a comics supplement for newspapers, featuring a new creation, The Spirit.

The Spirit isn’t as famous as Superman or Batman, or even that longjohnny-come-lately, Spider-Man. But he had a superpower none of the others had. He had Will Eisner.

With the Spirit comics (7- or 8-page stories that ran from 1939 to 1952), Eisner didn’t exactly break all the rules of comics to that point. Instead, he wrote the rules. Eisner’s sense of staging, of pacing, of subject matter, of darn near everything set examples for everyone who followed. Since the Spirit was a newspaper supplement instead of a comics magazine, Eisner knew that his work was being read by adults as much or possibly more than by children. So he wrote and drew for adults, with sophistication rarely seen in contemporary comics, all the while telling action-packed, or funny, or spooky tales that any kid would enjoy.

Years later, after leaving The Spirit to produce commercial comics for groups such as the Army, RCA Records, and the Baltimore Colts, he came back to the mainstream comics world. But instead of working on the 22-page magazines, he wrote and drew a book called A Contract With God. (It’s been called “the first graphic novel,” and while it may not be a novel – it’s four short stories – it was certainly one of the first in the format.) Since then, he’s continued to produce great works in the field, including two instructional works (Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling) and a host of wonderful generational sagas. He never retired; a new book, The Plot, will be published by W.W. Norton this year. He’s a master. He’s THE master.

And now he’s gone. He died on Monday night at age 87, from complications stemming from his heart surgery late last year. And I never told him how impressed I am with his achievements, and how grateful I am for all he’s done. Comics would be a dreary place without Will Eisner. In so many ways, he led the way.

Which is why, when I wrote my book on Lewis and Clark a couple of years ago, the dedication read: “This book is dedicated to Will Eisner, a pioneer of the imagination.” He blazed a trail that has fascinated me since before I even knew who he was.

But me, I procrastinate. I let things slide. I held off on sending it to him for all sorts of reasons. I figured I would hand the book to him at a convention. I wanted to tell him personally. But I didn’t, in person or in a letter. And now he’s gone.

Or rather, he’s dead. Dead but not gone. His work lives on. The works of those he inspired continues. And other work will begin, of those will inspire tomorrow.

Thank you, Will.


Monday, January 03, 2005

Weekend of Weddings

As we do every year, Kathy and I had a great time at Sharon and Andrew’s New Year’s Eve party; I don’t have much more to say, except thanks, of course, to our gracious hosts, and Happy New Year to all who weren’t there. Especially if you couldn’t be there because you were sick or in prison… I mean, Indiana. Pistola Grande!

Since then, though, it’s been a weekend of weddings—on film, anyway. Kathy and I wound down our New Year’s Day by watching About Schmidt on DVD. It’s a quietly funny sad movie about a lonely guy (Jack Nicholson) who retires, soon becomes a widower, and decides to road-trip to Denver in his Winnebago to stop his daughter from marrying a guy who he’s certain in no good for her. I don’t really know what to say about it. There are some great scenes – Kathy Bates is particularly funny as the free-spirit mother of the groom – but the movie as a whole is more affecting than entertaining. It made me think about where I want to be when I retire, and what I want to have accomplished. That’s probably better than simple entertainment, and definitely appropriate for the first of the year.

Today, continuing our Alexander Payne mini film festival, Kathy and I went to see a matinee of Sideways. It’s a terrific movie. Paul Giamatti plays Miles, a frustrated novelist taking a bachelor’s-last-week trip to California’s wine country with his soon-to-be-married college roommate Jack, played by Thomas Hayden Church. Miles is a depressed wine lover, and Jack is an unrepentant horndog who want to get them both laid before he’s married. It’s the plot of a TON of movies, but Giamatti, Church and costars Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh bring such humanity to their roles that you can’t help but love it. It’s a terrific movie, buoyed by a terrific jazz soundtrack.

Once we got home, we watched an episode of Teen Titans on the tube – one in which Starfire is called back to her home planet to be married to an alien creature resembling a cross between an green elephant and a gob of mucus, all to prevent an interplanetary war. Not one of the best eps, but it kept the theme rolling.

Using the show to start a new theme, Kathy and I played a game of The Awful Green Things from Outer Space, in which she soundly kicked my ass. And when I say that, I mean it was a freakin’ rout. But it’s a fun two-player game, and worth seeking out.

And that’s this month’s “Reviews of Stuff I Did Today, Roughly.” I hope your new year’s had as pleasant a start.

UPDATED: Kathy wanted me to add the she kicked everyone's butt in what might be the longest game of Deadwood ever the day before. Trounced us, really. This is looking like her year, gamewise. (Maybe she should come to Vegas with me this month after all!)


Sunday, January 02, 2005

No Matter Where You Go...

...there you are. And here it is: after 20 years, a sequel (in comic book form) to Buckaroo Banzai, written by Buckaroo's creator, Earl Mac Rauch.

I know some of ye gotta be happy about this.