Friday, November 14, 2008


I got an email recently mentioning that my latest utilities bill is available online, desperate for attention like a small dog for petting or a pretzel for butter (the analogy is not perfect). "We are happy to inform you..." it begins. I'm sure you are.

I find this kind of thing very amusing (its quality as sarcasm fodder is unsurpassed). I mentioned previously my fondness for the incongruous and this is an excellent example. The rest of the missive is every bit as genially vague, dancing around its true purpose like a landmine. Not once does it use the word 'bill' in the body of the email, preferring instead to speak of 'account information' and 'view the balance'; 'payment' hides at the bottom.

Still, it's that opening line that really gets me. What, exactly, is the rationale here? that I will open the email and the thought-process will be something like this: "Oh...a bill...but wait, they're happy to tell me about it. That takes the sting out. I guess I'm happy too, and will pay this in good cheer and with great haste"? No. No one would think this. No one would think that any one would think this. Bills are not a happy experience. I am not happy. They who tell me about the bill are not, in fact, happy. The computer that actually generated this email and sent it to me is not happy. The threat of legal action would be much more effective at motivating me to pay up on anything in danger of coming due. To act as though this anonymous auto-generated reminder of an ugly duty is something deserving of an attempt at a sunny smile is, frankly, absurd, if not outright insulting.

It is also tragically predictable - we Americans love our euphemisms, as I think I mentioned previously, and this is just a more bizarre example of our unending quest to make displeasing things more palatable. I find euphemisms fascinating (this is true of many things), even when they're insulting my intelligence, in large part because I have never quite understood their function, or at least their efficacy. A euphemism is nothing more than a lousy disguise - if the disguise is too good, meaning is obscured and communication fails, which is problematic. Sure, there are cases where this can be manipulated to a legitimate end (talking over someone's head springs to mind). But there are many examples where everyone sees through the disguise, and yet desires its retention; why?

How about that profanity? The excellent science-fiction show Battlestar Galactica is a good example - pretty much every curse word in the book makes the occasional appearance and is not censored, with the glaring exception of the F-bomb, which is replaced by 'Frak.' Boy, that makes it all better. 'Frak' gets used a lot, and in every context that its real-world counterpart might be found, and I have to point out: it's obvious what word is intended. They're using all these other profanities that we know and, er, know, and then they drop in this slightly-altered version of the King of Kurse, the Sultan of Swear, and somehow this is supposed to make it more acceptable for broadcast. But why? If we're all thinking the real word when they speak its substitute, how is anyone 'helped' or societal standards preserved? What is so dangerously powerful about the sound of the word such that it's okay to plant it in everyone's mind but not okay to apply it to everyone's ears? I don't question that there is a difference, yet I do not understand it. Meanwhile the coherence and believability of the BSG world is actually weakened because the lingo is otherwise the same, and when the exception makes its appearance, it jars.

Making up words is always a hazardous business, especially if you go only halfway and especially if you just make up profanity. It's really hard to do this without the result sounding silly and contrived (several otherwise-decent Star Wars novels have fallen prey to this phenomenon). If you're going to go this route it might as well be with tweaked versions of the usual suspects, these being the safest bet...but do they really accomplish the intended purpose? Frankly this desire to hide something in plain sight, hardly limited to the realms of offensive language and monetary transactions, strikes me as a mild but universal hypocrisy. But what are we even kidding ourselves about?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The weight of St. John's alone...

Among the books I read on assignment in high school was Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I hated it. I read the book again just recently out of a sense of both decency and morbid curiosity, and while I did not love it - it is not a tale that admits of being loved - I did, and do, respect it. Hatred of any book, especially a work of fiction, is for me a very rare thing, and as I look back now through the haze of too much time passed I am pretty sure I must chalk it up to 'not getting' the book. I think I better understand it now. Introductions that explain what the book is about are very helpful in this regard; sort of like putting who Pip's benefactor is on the dust jacket of Great Expectations. Honestly, does not the very idea of an 'Introduction' suggest supplying the preliminaries, with the intention of allowing intimacy to take its natural course? But I digress. I would've appreciated the book better even had I not reminded myself of all pertinent plot points, and the way to understand them, before turning to page one. I always knew that other people might have to reread books later in their life in order to derive more meaning from their contents, but I never quite believed it must apply to me as well until this moment. It seems unlikely that there is one age after which one may with justice say "Oho, all the mysteries of the universe are now open to me and my understanding is complete." The logical consequence is that, with any work that pretends to be more than a popular taste of the times, one must pay it due attention in each stage of life, if the true value is to be grasped.

Well, that's a relief. And here I was worried because I'd already read all books the first time. Especially after I finished all the videogames.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The tide grows ever more relentless

I have a bone to pick with the release of new videogames of quality, and that is that I'm always too busy playing the old stuff to tackle the new. The classic game of catch-up; of course I play this with all other forms of entertainment too, but those cases don't really bother me. I got into the videogame scene back in the days when the Super Nintendo was already well established; not very long afterward I became attuned to the gaming scene - and to a lesser extent history - and it all went downhill from there.

The reasons have always been two, the first economical - until recently I got videogame systems only several years into their life cycle, when the prices had dropped enough that I (or, more typically, someone else) could buy them without breaking the bank. To be an early adopter is to spend lavishly, often enough with little reward other than the pride of early adoption, on which I place little worth. On the software side of the issue, new games are also costly - fifty bucks is a lot to spend on one piece of entertainment when one is on a budget, especially when that experience may only last six or eight hours. As with my first foray into videogames (albiet less of a timing issue), the hardware starts the job and the software finishes it.

When I made the first exception to my standard behavior and picked up a Nintendo Wii on launch day, there still remained the other downside inherent to keeping abreast of the videogame curve, namely that there wasn't much worth playing. Another benefit of waiting until there is an established shelf life is that when one takes the plunge, there is a lot of quality material to choose from and enjoy, rarely if ever the case on Day One. Of course, on Day One of the Wii's launch there was something well worth playing (and promising to last a while), namely the latest Legend of Zelda title, of which I did buy a copy. There I was with a brand spankin' new Nintendo system, one of the first in the country, and a hot new iteration of one of my favorite franchises, and because I have poor planning and cannot in good conscience play more than one game at a time, I proceeded to leave Zelda in its shrink-wrap for the next couple months while I finished up Okami. Admittedly, it was Okami. This brings me to reason two.

Reason Two: I am one of those unfortunates who wants to play as many great games as he can. As I like many genres and there have been a surprising number of excellent titles over twenty-plus years, this presents a significant challenge. I don't like to move on from one system to its successor until I have exhausted the worthwhile experiences on the outdated model, and the truth is that even if the current were to stop flowing and I had all the time in the rest of my life to play the goods from the past, it still might not be enough. Meanwhile the hits do keep coming. This is why I'm still playing the Playstation 2 and have no plans to upgrade any time soon. A couple of years ago, as the launch of the PS3 solidified, I made the mistake of going out to Best Buy and Wal-Mart with the intention of purchasing all of the Greatest Hits / Player's Choice (budget-priced classic) titles in which I had an interest. The rationale was that the Playstation 2 and Gamecube had seen virtually all their best games, and I'd better snap up the ones I hadn't played yet before they vanished from stores. Whoops. I amassed quite a hefty stack, and the results were predictable - as I worked through the stack its sheer girth paralyzed me psychologically from getting or playing anything else (more recent titles, for instance), and meanwhile additional great game after game continued to be released, such that now, having conquered the stack (or The Stack, as I like to call it) and supposedly thrown off such foolish impulses, I could easily go out and build another of equal or even greater dimensions. It's probably best that I don't have the money for this.

Admittedly it is better to suffer from a deluge of entertainment than a dearth, and yet it does make me slightly sad at times - it is nice to feel current and up-to-date once in a while, having the same experiences everyone else is, and with the very rare exception of games I absolutely cannot wait to play, the only times I've experienced anything New lately has been because that particular title has a cooperative mode that I can share with friends who don't share my constraints and have indulged. When something comes out that I'd really like to experience, something I've looked forward to for a long time, but can't justify splurging on while it's fresh, it's a bit discouraging. Those who are not in the know might argue that I should just give up my hopeless venture, forgo the retro, and wholeheartedly embrace what's current; it is true that this is probably the only way I could ever stay above the tide instead of being swamped by it (this season just makes things worse), and yet to argue this is to miss the point. It is not that I play all these for the sake of satisfying some kind of poorly-thought-out completest urge, although I have those in abundance. Rather I believe that each and every great game has something unique and invigorating to offer, something heartfelt and sincere which is worthy of being experienced, in exactly the same way that a good book or movie or TV show or piece of music does. Life is experience, and in my opinion it is worthwhile to try and have as many of the good ones as possible. This is as legitimate in the virtual realm (a medium as powerful and full of potential as any other) as it is in the 'real world.' I take stories where I can get 'em.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I mean, I got so caught up talking about F-Zero that I forgot to mention the one single aspect of it that most prompted me to get angry in writing! I'll fix that. This is the diabolical track of the 'Lightning' subset known as 'Half Pipe.' In a game full of spectacular-looking levels this is one of the most striking (the environment is called 'Lightning' for a reason) and for those who are truly prepared it can actually be adrenaline-soaked fun. For those who are not, it's like sadism in a box. It's called 'Half Pipe' for a reason, too. Imagine a tunnel with abundant (and tight) twists and turns, then shear off the top. Physics are in play, ladies and gentlemen. The vehicles make use of hovering units so it's possible to drive along the walls of the half-pipe and this can help navigate those nasty turns, but it also makes it that much easier to slide just a bit too far and pop right off the edge. If you really know your course you can take shortcuts this way, blasting off the lip and over the abyss to land in a section of the pipe later on, and this happened to me once by accident. I would not risk it on purpose. This track is the destroyer of the weak. There's another course in the next cup that looks more dangerous, being nothing but mostly-parallel lines of very thin platform the entire time with no rails except for about two seconds, but that one is at least mostly flat and straight. 'Half Pipe' devours souls. Definitely the track to break out for those who've never played the game before.

I also forgot to mention in the posting to which this is an addendum that I'm going to try restricting the time I allow myself to write these posts. This will force me either to be concise or to end in mid


I am deeply dissatisfied with that last posting (my 'comeback,' if you will), and was so as I was writing it; this much in the same way that I was dissatisfied with many of my previous postings and for much the same reason, which is that they got out of hand.

What tends to happen is this: I sit down with a distinct idea in my head of what I wish to write and - to a less distinct extent - how I want to write it. I also usually entertain some silly ideas about how long it's going to take me to transfer this idea from inside my brain onto the digital page. The moment I begin writing, that little control is lost and the process takes on a life - and a set of rules - of its own. I blame this on a lack of planning and a passion for rhetoric; I get caught up in the flow of semi-free writing and overweighted eloquence, and can only watch helplessly as the lines fill up and the clock ticks down. The longer I write, determined to conclude the thought but unable to bring that end about, the more frustrated I become and the more cohesion and style break down, until at last I'm left with a disappointing treatise and a lot of anger at time and effort wasted. This is not the way it should be.

Look, it's even happening now - the few thoughts I had led naturally to other thoughts and of course I had to fill in the blanks and smooth the transitions. But what I'm writing here is a blog, not a column, and I have neither the desire nor the time for substantial editing. I'll try to cut the flow off at the source.

It's not easy, that's for sure. It feels like there is a broken connection between mind and fingers, such that what is concise and pithy in potentia becomes bloated and overly verbose in actu (yes, no posting is complete without superfluous Aristotle references) I'm beginning to think that I made the mistake of surfing the wave of praise my tutors bestowed on my writing in college, resting on my laurels instead of pushing myself to become even better - this may explain why I never won any actual laurels, as opposed to others whose native writing talent may have been less (or not; how should I know?) but who no doubt were more invested in arcane concepts such as 'revision' and 'rewriting' (and probably 'research,' but that's another matter). Still, it's brevity more than quality with which I am primarily concerned, at least right now.

Writing more than asked for has always been something I do, and how - I remember a short story assignment in high school where the page count was maybe six or seven and my story was fourteen, and this is par for the course. I used to sneer off the very concept of a page limit, asserting (mentally at least) that a good writer wrote until he was done, and that was the right length. I realize now how arrogant this was, and also naive. Page count requirements always seemed to me more to be targeted towards under-performing students who would rather write less, but the truth is it works both ways. The ability to condense writing into a certain length is every bit as important as the ability to fill out what would otherwise be too short; indeed it is probably of even more value, requiring one to hone and trim excess poundage rather than add what might well be unnecessary fat.

Truth be told, my writing needs a personal trainer - someone to whip it into a lean, mean fighting machine that can take on all comers, rather than the merely decent contender it is now. Eloquence and vocabulary I have in spades; syntax and grammar are at my beck and call like good little peons; perhaps there is even a smattering of style, absorbed from the overflow of the truly skilled writers I have been privileged enough to read and then rip off. Brevity remains to be mastered (although not alone). If I can learn to be concise and simultaneously worth reading I'll really feel like I've gotten somewhere. Two things are certain: it won't be with this posting (long in composition once again), and the only way to bring it about is, as with writing generally and everything else, to practice.

I guess I'd better get cracking.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I'm back, baby!

Tuesday's events made me happy (all things considered, it was a pretty great day), but I hope when January 20th rolls around I'll be in personal circumstances more conducive to celebration; it seems like champagne, jazz music and good company should be involved.

I have an interesting relationship with that elite class of videogames that includes titles such as the original Pokemon Pinball, Devil May Cry 3 and (most pertinently) F-Zero GX. On the one hand, I respect their general excellence, and superb delivery of their respective gameplay styles. On the other, they make me angry enough to punch a goat. If, that is, I could just get mine back. It's not just that they are all extremely difficult games...actually, it is just that they are all extremely difficult games, but if they weren't so fun otherwise I probably wouldn't resubmit myself to their punishment.

Pokemon Pinball at least is only infuriatingly brutal if you want it to be - the process of catching 'em all may not appeal to all comers, who would likely find the game an entertaining pinball experience with a superb integration of the Pokemon theme. Just wait until you're going for that second evolution and trying desperately to shoot the ball up one specific lane where the final item remains to be collected, only to watch a) the time run out, b) the ball vanish down the gutter, or c) the time run out and the ball vanish down the gutter. This may not sound all that frustrating, but if you understood the work involved to get even to that point, it might be clearer why the temptation is very great to knock a hole in the wall using the Game Boy. Fortunately the GBA sequel is a lot more forgiving. Devil May Cry 3 needs less discussion, bringing its hammer down only during the ridiculously challenging boss battles.

F-Zero GX is in a class by itself, offering the highest concentration of fury-to-playtime of pretty much any game I have EVER played. It's amazing - as though the title finds a way to tap directly into the primal rage centers of my brain, and then provides incessant stimulus. If it weren't stellar arcade racing, I'd toss it out the window, then drop an anvil on it, and perhaps an elephant if the zoo would go along (if they needed convincing I'd just make them play the game). How does this work, you ask. The thing about F-Zero GX is that it offers no mercy. Ever. Nothing in this game comes easily and - with very few exceptions - nothing in the game comes even with significant effort. It takes absolutely herculean effort to triumph over the basics, and then you make the mistake of trying the same thing on harder difficulties. This is my current dilemma, which I blame on my brother. Motivated by his obnoxiously-heroic example, I have recently gone back to the game with the intention of unlocking various things I never got around to (i.e. lost patience with/doubted ability concerning) back when it came out. This involves defeating monstrous challenges, but also the joy of remastering the challenges I beat before because I've gotten rusty.

This is actually a practical necessity - what makes F-Zero GX so difficult is that, at least in the beginning you are racing against the track as much as the other racers (all 29 of them). F-Zero GX is a very, very fast racing game, which is part of what makes it so exhilarating but also what makes it so exasperating, the tracks being designed to maximize the consequent danger. The futuristic motif makes for lots of interesting and visually-arresting track designs, most of which are a blast to play, but they're also as unforgiving as it gets. Not only is it easy to fail to place, but one must also avoid falling off the course AND depleting the vehicle's energy bar. In Mario Kart there's a Lakitu 'enemy' that will save you and place you back on the track should you fall off, with only time lost. There is no such luxury in F-Zero (except in multiplayer as an option), and when you fall off the track or explode, that's it. You get lives with which to restart that particular track, but a very limited number. Imagine tackling a Grand Prix cup and defeating three (or even four) of the five tracks, only to plunge over a tricky edge on the next...and then to do it again...and again...and again, until all lives are used up and you have to start the whole cup over again. Then you get to the same point again and repeat the experience. Failure over and over and over again, hours lost with no progress - it's very demoralizing. Thank goodness there is a practice mode. This is part of the reason why it's necessary to start with the 'easy' difficulty: that way you receive crushing defeat at the metaphorical hands of the tracks until you master them and can cruise to victory, and THEN receive crushing defeat at the hands of the other racers on the harder difficulties until you best them. Heaven help you if you tried to learn the tracks while battling the brutal expert CPUs. Of course, racing against the harder CPUs it's necessary to learn new strategies and often to remaster the tracks; ditto if you try a new vehicle with significantly different handling. It's hard to win. Really. And that's just the Grand Prix mode.

The Story Mode is what really brings the pain. This is a series of the most sadistic individual challenges the designers could imagine, and they're brutally difficult even on the Easy difficulty I was stubborn enough to finally defeat back in the day; now I'm facing down Hard. There's Very Hard, too. It's the rule rather than the exception for me to spend a whole hour trying one challenge and not beat it, or even feel like I made any progress towards beating it. If that doesn't sound like a lot, consider that these are often sixty-second challenges, with restarts occurring on average every thirty seconds. Do the math. Then I try another hour the next day and don't win. Then I try an hour the next day and still don't win. Then I consider the benefits of a monastic life, but have another half-hour go at the mission instead and, STILL, don't win. How many tries at this point? It's in the multiple-hundreds, for Pete's sake. I'm looking at you, 'Challenge of the' frigging 'Bloody Chain.' It gets to the point where it's not even fun anymore. But I really hate to lose, and so I persist. In this small world where I hold some dominance, there is no way I'm going to accept defeat at the hands of any impertinent game design. People who don't play games probably can't understand this, but I'm sure everyone knows how it feels when something in which one has invested oneself goes sour. The urge to demonstrate control and superiority is overpowering. Victory will be mine, and then maybe I'll go play a Barbie game or something. Meanwhile I'm glad no one is here to see me blacken the air with vocalized anger. There's one rule of thumb when tackling such a challenge as this: you better hope that in this race, no one can hear you scream. At least if you still want that person's respect.

I long for the quiet tranquility of an RPG, where all the happens is the world ending. Speaking of which...

Monday, October 20, 2008

The block is back

I've got little to say this go-round. Honest. I will point out that I'm really tickled pink by my latest comic; do check that out if you have not already done so. I think it turned out very well, especially the head (you know what I mean), and if some other cartoonist made this comic I would laugh for a very long time and promote the strip. Tell the world! Localized hilarity!

As is certainly well illustrated therein, I am absolutely fascinated by the incongruous. Certainly this is fundamental to my sense of humor, but is hardly restricted to the realm of comedy. I watched the movie version of the musical Guys and Dolls recently and was greatly compelled by a refusal on the part of all the New York City gamblers to make use of contractions. Hence a strong impression, watching Marlon Brando deliver lines in the vein of "I do not understand why you should feel this way," that he was preparing even that early on for his role as The Godfather down the line. (Actually the general eloquence of these otherwise-small-time characters, seeming somehow in character despite stated deficiencies in education, was in stark, refreshing contrast to the kind of lingo you would expect out of society's detritus in today's films. But I digress.)

Now I assume this style of speech back then was common and thus less of an affectation than it would be today were someone to abolish the abbreviating apostrophe. Watching the movie in today's context, however, it feels delightfully period and out-of-place. As, I suppose, does bursting into unprompted song and synchronized dance in order to deliver important plot points. Perhaps some would question whether this latter was ever not incongruous; all I can say is that I sure wish I'd lived in that time...

Truth be told, because that style of speech does make sense in its context it is not as pure an example of incongruity than that provided here. In fact I will go so far as to admit it was just a flimsy pretext for discussing something else interesting in order to fill up some space. I am proud to say it is a mission accomplished. Check back next time for more of this fine work and quality writing.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Never mix your passions

I realized something the other day, which was previously apparent but hadn't really registered: I'm a cartoonist and a purveyor of outdated slang! That's pretty neat. The deciding factor was the notion that all that separates the amateur from the professional is payment, rather than degree of skill. Consequently anyone who produces a cartoon, however crude and humor-deficient, is by definition at least an amateur cartoonist - that is, a cartoonist. Just so for blacksmithing (blacksmithery?), cooking, philosophizing, antelope-elephant-hybrid-breeding and so on.

Of course the most obvious and resource-rich realm (really) from which to draw for comics these days is the same one as for any other type of humor, that of the political scene. That said, it takes a certain talent and know-how, or perhaps just lack of shame, to enter the overpopulated arena of political cartooning. I prefer to keep my own efforts well within a specific domain of personal expertise, and my relatively-new awareness of what's going on politically is not enough to justify the expansion of borders.

Still, if I were to illustrate exactly why I'm not a political cartoonist, it would probably look something like this (click it for a larger copy):

Actually I think that's pretty hilarious, but I claim artist's prerogative.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


All right, it's very late and I've had a very tiring day and I still have a debate about some important election or something to listen to, so for all these reasons and others I will try very hard to keep this brief, and even to write more directly without trying to make it a polished essay. We'll see how well that works. Anyway, speaking of the election I am both disturbed and deeply disappointed by the negativity of the latest political campaigns, and political campaigns in general as this is hardly a phenomenon unique to the latest batch. Here are a few thoughts on the matter.

As far I'm concerned the main offenders are of two types. There are the political ads that are 100% negative content, and there are the subtler but no less offensive machinations of the speeches. I will explain. First the ads.

What's with the ads? I hate to think that valuable money is being poured into these when it could be better used on almost anything. I hate to think that anyone considers this an effective campaign strategy. I hate to think that one might be right. That the political race is a competition, and that it makes sense to point out the reasons for which the other candidate decided to run in the first place, I will grant. I do not grant any justification for what we're actually seeing. When an ad comes on the air and, accompanied by absolutely chilling music no less, attacks the very character of a candidate, suggesting that, to pick a random example, he or she is downright sinister and may well be working to undermine the country, this is offensive to the candidate, to the position for which he or she is running, and to me as a voter. If it were true, certainly that would be important information for me to know, but that sort of claim will never be grounded in anything factual if it's presented in such a format as that of a political ad. It's a metaphorical kick to the groin, the down and dirty cheap tactic of the campaign war when all that's left is mud-slinging, and it shouldn't happen. How much worse when I consider that the ad is nothing but this bit of slander. If you're going to claim your opponent is Satan, at least also explain why you are...well, 'God' is probably a bad way to go, but offer the contrast. What is truly important, what I want and in fact deserve to know, is why to vote for a certain candidate, not why I shouldn't vote for the other. I care about contruction, not destruction. Is this so hard to understand? Politics is traditionally a dirty game, and the sad truth is that those underhanded strategies, while reprehensible, can be effectual because in the end we are easy victims of suggestion and repetition. But it doesn't have to be this way.

There is such a thing as an honest negative ad, which must necessarily be less nasty. Advertisements that rely on statistics, such as approval ratings and effectiveness rankings (however that's measured) have some foundation. Still, I would rather not be presented with this information exclusively. Tell me only what's bad about your opponent and I am left to assume that you are merely the lesser of two evils, and hence no one to get excited about.

The other phenomenon, which really gets my goat and my neighbor's goat and should enrage everybody and his grandma, is one that has its own share in political ads but tends to frequent political speeches and, dare I say it, debates, most often. Does this sound familiar: "My opponent voted against [fill in your worthy cause of choice]." Heavens! What will we do; it seems that candidate must eat babies and, er, well I can't think of anything on the same level as baby-eating but suffice to say it's a bad, bad scene. You want some news? I got your news right here: with, perhaps, the occasional exception, politicians are not evil. Sometimes small-minded? Probably. Greedy? No doubt there are examples. Selfish? Who isn't. But evil? I don't think so. I feel confident in asserting that no one of influence in Congress, and certainly no serious contender for any important political leadership position, actually wishes, say, to take away funding for the education of our children or to deny our troops the equipment they need to survive or to cause all health care as we know it to self-destruct and take everything with it. I don't think any of these characters, whatever their respective levels of personal virtue, actually votes against things that are unequivocally 'good.' So what's happening? It's the great American (and indeed human) tradition of taking things out of context! Yes, let's hear it for manipulating the facts for the sake of demagogy. The most obnoxious part is that everyone knows the trick that's being pulled - the press knows it, the people certainly ought to know it, the candidates definitely know it, and yet they do it anyway and it's effective! Frankly I find it an insult to my intelligence and capability for making decisions. I mean, what's their motivation? If, for example, a candidate decides to claim that her opponent voted against an educational reform bill - the truth is that no bill is about just one thing and that that educational bill was bundled with a lot of other policies, against which the aforementioned candidate was really voting. But the first candidate doesn't tell us this in her speech - she distorts the truth by making it appear that the opposition is against making education better. Which is a ridiculous claim that no one should take seriously because who is ACTUALLY going to be against improving education? Oh no! this candidate must have voted against the reform so he could take the money to line his own pockets and buy a new yacht. No, it's just a lie, and one that the opposition calls her on and that the press debunks and yet politicians on both sides continue to use this tactic. What's going through their minds? Do they think we're not smart enough to vote if we're presented with the truth and so we need to be manipulated? Because we are being manipulated by these maneuvers. Or do they think they can't win if they actually tell the truth about their opposition's policies and their own? Or are they so desperate to win that they take whatever shot they can, however low? I don't like any of these options, and I don't like being treated with condescension, manipulation and disrespect. Shape up!

I guess it's hopelessly naive to imagine a campaign where the candidates treat everyone with the utmost respect, where they explain their own platform and why they believe it to be preferable to that of the their opponents using information such as expert analysis and differing views, where they don't say things like "I respect and have always been a close friend of [opposing figure x]" followed immediately by a slam, where there really is straight talk and the candidates answer even the toughest questions directly without vague hyperbole and rehearsed prattle, where the debates are not extended sessions of one candidate making derogatory claims about the other while that other denies them but is ignored. But why should it be naive? What does that say about us? Nothing good. When did politics go from a legitimate science and example of our humanity to a circus with performing tigers and magicians, and how do we get it back to where it once belonged? I am cheered to hear that I am not the only one being soured on the political scene by the predominance of negativity - in fact there seems to be a general discontent. This gives me hope not only that those underhanded strategies are not working as well as their authors hope, but also that there could be reform. How that reform would come about is not as clear to me. I mean, what are we going to do in protest? Not vote? Put a bill into law saying "Don't be a jerk anymore?" There must be a way, and I trust more brilliant minds than mine will find it. It certainly deserves finding. It's true that we get a lot of cultural mileage out of pointing out and mocking the deficiencies of others. But there are limits.

Oh well, so much for that foolishly-optimistic brevity.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Ladies and gentlemen, meet Sigmund. He's a rough 'em, tough 'em, big-fisted non-altruistic altercationist, a bruiser of a brawler who never catches a break but always breaks for a catch. With his broken-chiseled features, fiery head-garnish and a temper to match that's just as short, it's no wonder he leads such a hard-riding, hard-drinking, hard-luck, womanizing lifestyle, the flamboyance of which is really just an attempt to make up for the fact that he's not all that smart.

"Smarter than you."

...You must be joking. I have a Liberal Arts degree from SJC!

"Exactly my point."

Listen you little punk, I have thought thoughts and dreamed dreams you could not even begin to contemplate! I've wrestled with the great thinkers of the West while you wrestled with the bouncers! I am a philosopher and a scholar and a VERY USEFUL MEMBER OF SOCIETY and if I am currently wandering aimlessly it is because I CHOOSE to!

"Sure it is. Hey, here's a thought for you: stop trying to justify your time-wasting and get on with the story! I'm just floating in limbo, here."

Keep flapping that trap and I'll teach you things about perdition you couldn't imagine. Oaf.


Sigmund, or Sig as I disaffectionately like to demean him, is also a mutant, and an especially freaky one if I do say so my--

"Save the commentary, if you please. You're a terrible storyteller!"

Stuff it. As I was saying. Sig is a mutant, but he didn't get any of those neat-o superpowers of the traditional sort. Oh no. Sigmund was 'blessed' - and I do indeed make those annoying quotation marks with my fingers, for sarcastic emphasis - with a power hitherto unseen, and, if the world is lucky, never to be seen again. As may already have become apparent--

"Who talks like that?"

Now who's blocking progression? Sig can talk to his Narrator. And his Narrator, unfortunately for Him, can and must talk back.

"And you DO talk back. Eheh."

Oh, very clever. Anyway, when As You Like It's Jacques gave his famous speech concerning the consonance of the world and a stage, men and women being merely players, seven acts therein to be performed--

"Now you're just being annoying."

Will you please shut up. Please. You will note that I named you Sigmund, not Thor.

"Oh, very good. An obscure movie reference that no one will get and everyone will be confused by. That's definitely the road to best-seller status."

Shakespeare didn't know the half of it. The truth is that not only is all the world a stage, but there's an audience, and yes, someone to provide context and descriptive narration of the most fascinating kind. We are the Narrati. Actually everyone's life is an individual play, which is why there must be more than one of us. Most have the blessing of an infinite gulf between them and their subjects, across which one can only observe, not influence. This can also be a curse if, God help you, you should actually care about your protagonist. As for me, I've always been dealt a bad hand and consequently--

"Do you need some more grapes for that whine? No, seriously, keep the presses running because I am just not choked up enough yet."

Oho, so you wanna be choked up, huh? I'll get you choked up, alright. The you versus three big guys in an alley kind of choked up. How ya like them grapes?

"Aww, did I make you angry? Where's your precious prose now? What happened to your beloved alliteration, your impeccable syntax, your river of poetic prolixity? What's that? I'm doing it better than you? Shocking!"

It's a trying relationship.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A haiku

Sometimes life's a cheat
What is so, yet is not so
Whom should I beat up?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A poem

Through cracks in the wall a cold wind blows
With essence of Winter and power to freeze;
I put on my slippers to cover my toes
But cannot suppress the strong impulse to sneeze.

With Winter comes drear, and sickness to weaken;
The signals are strong, heralds to begin it;
Yes, it's that time of year, one longs for a beacon
Of hope before long (snow's great, 'less you're in it).

The blizzard un-windowed spreads death o'er the earth,
A blanket the coldest would rather turn down;
Small enough consolation that next comes rebirth
To that which now dies for the sake of the crown.

And now as I gaze on the birds and the sun
(For Fall's still in hand; some snow's in the mind)
I can't help but wonder if I should just run,
Out-distance the world, leave Trouble behind.

Still I can't pretend I'm in shape for this race
(Though no one's that fit, if truth must be told);
I guess I must fend for myself, in my space;
By the fire I'll sit, and war on the Cold.


Here's a cool listen (if listen may be so noun-ified, by me of all people).

Japanese hip-hop, people. Admittedly I've only heard a few examples, including this one, but if those are at all indicative of the general trend then they have a good thing going. And indeed, this is how it should be - nicely chilled, laid-back, low-key, free of vulgarity (I'm pretty sure about this), and concerning samurai. Yes. If anyone knows any hip-hop in English with this kind of feel, they should let me know. I will admit, the samurai part is negotiable.

Monday, October 6, 2008

money (in) laundering

One of the nice things about college is having access to an on-campus laundromat of sorts. Admittedly one still has to pay (at least at MY college) and a pretty penny at that, the machines are usually broken (sometimes making a high-pitched screaming noise for the duration of the cycle), and there really are not enough of them during rush hour, or even moderately-paced hour, but the point is that they are there, in plurality. Those who have patience, foresight and a carefully-structured schedule can launch a sneak attack at a quiet moment and secure the use of all the machines at once, dicing the time required to take care of this onerous duty into halves or even quarters. This is not a big concern for the majority of the stuff-everything-into-one-mega-load-happy populace, some of whom think washing is more of a suggestion than a requirement. For those who separate the whites from the colors, the permanent press from the cottons, and like to use correct grammar, such an opportunity is no small boon, which becomes all the more apparent when college has become alma mater and laundromat is replaced by ONE machine while two-hour completion time is replaced by four. That's a large percentage of the day, people, too much time that could be used for creation to be wasted on washing.

In light of this I have decided to invent self-cleaning clothing. I'm somewhat divided on how to do this. One the one hand we have the now-traditional nano-bot approach - billions of tiny robots smaller than a molecule all crawling around inside the clothing, cleaning every microbe of grime, skin flecks, perspiration, etc., while simultaneously providing a pleasant tickling sensation. This would be too easy and predictable, though. Consequently I have devoted the full brunt of my mighty mental powers towards developing a way to perpetually reconstruct the clothing as it is worn. The principle is so simple an idiot could have devised it - much like a frame of animation, each occasion of the clothing is in existence for only an instant. Everyone knows an instant, like a point, has no breadth or duration, so there's no time for the clothing to get dirty. The next instant the old cloth is gone and the new cloth is born, to be replaced by another the next instant, and so on. The science is sound, but so far I've had little luck convincing the companies that own laundry products to reinvest their money in my little project. Also I overclocked my particle accelerator and have to make a trip to Wal-Mart to pick up another. These things happen. Anyway, there should be a financial breakthrough any day now, and when it comes you'll be the first to know. If, in the meantime, you wish to invest in a much more promising fund than anything Wall Street's going to be offering any time soon, I'll be only too happy to take your money. I'm generous like that.

Friday, October 3, 2008

build some character

I've heard it said that there are only so many faces in the world. The ramifications, carried to their logical extreme, are unsettling to say the least: given sufficient time and travel - and a healthy dose of luck, good or bad - one might encounter not only duplicates of one's acquaintances but even of oneself. The idea of visiting some out of the way flea market in Egypt and bumping into myself is terrifying (a case of the bizarre in the bazaar, you might say), as much for its potential for crushing disappointment as for the fact that one of my face is more than enough for this beleaguered world. I mean that if I ran into myself I'd probably be inclined to chalk it up to at least one of the following causes: a dimensional crossover; a rip in the space-time continuum; the advent of homunculi; sophisticated disguise technology by a sinister organization; a magic mirror that shows the inner darkness and makes me battle it before I can cast off my Dark Knight trappings and don the holy garb of a Paladin; a strange dream world where anything can happen (and probably will). All of these explanations necessitate the immediate acquisition of weapons and armor that may or may not be of a medieval nature, a miraculous discovery of hitherto-unsuspected magical abilities, the gathering together of a 'party' of quirky - but lovable - and distinctive fellow travelers who all have complicated back stories that must be unraveled over time, the repetitive slaying of deadly monsters for the Level Up, and the general engaging in nifty adventures all over this world and probably others.

This being the case, it's going to be a bit of letdown when I find out it's just statistics at work.

Fortunately the odds are pretty low I'll ever meet my double, and even lower that he'd match me in every way rather than just facially. Still, the more places I go and the more people I meet, the more I believe the truth of the claim. Not that I've ever seen someone who looks identical to another acquaintance, but strong similarities that cannot help but conjure up associations are in abundance. It makes sense - there are, after all, only so many configurations that have structural integrity, so to speak. Of course there are a lot of configurations, but the number is finite, and gets smaller the more fundamentally one looks at structure, which is why there are those ever-perplexing similarities.

What really gets me is that the same thing applies to personalities, or character. This is annoying because, when you see a familiar-looking actor and can't remember what else you saw him in, you can look it up, and there's no such luxury with character no matter who the person in question is. But it's especially provocative because of what it says about the self, or at least the self that other people see. Certainly it lends highly-unscientific credence to the idea of everything being physically-based, because there are only so many ways the brain can be shaped, and if that's what determines who people are and how they behave, then of course no one is going to act entirely uniquely.

Still, when I meet someone who seems like the same person whom I knew elsewhere, just in another body (as happened recently), it's strange. Are they really that similar? Am I picking up on foundational traits and extrapolating (or perhaps generalizing) to make a claim about the whole that isn't justified? Do certain behavioral traits necessitate others such that, if two people act similarly with regard to one trait, they will grow to act the same in most or all others as well? Should I be disturbed that I can sit down with a new group of people and quickly label them all with names of other people I've known? The differences are perceptible, and yet the similarities are so compelling. And what about the people who feel like hybrids of two or more others? It makes me think either that there is a lot more to people's characters than we usually suspect (which, if gotten at, would prevent any such matching-up in the future) or that no one is as unique as we'd like to think. Neither of these is particularly satisfying.

Of course there's another possibility, which is that it's an entirely psychological phenomenon, a bit of self-deception intended to fill a void. I mean that when away from those we know and care about, perhaps we wish unconsciously to fill the spaces left by their absence, and so we fix on the tiniest similarities of those around us and use those similarities to transform those people into temporary (or not...) replacements for our familiar circle. Creepy AND sad. But perhaps necessary, and certainly only human.

I'm not sure it's any better, but I find what little I know about the theories of a physical basis for our behavior and nature to be very compelling, and as such I'd be inclined towards assuming there is simply a limited number of personalities. And I don't mean the generalized personalities, such as 'moody,' 'artistic,' 'insular,' etc., but rather the whole shebang. I don't find this philosophically or theologically satisfying, but perhaps this means that there is a finite number of what we would call 'souls' as well. That would certainly fit in with a theory of reincarnation, and might even blend well with Plato's ideas about the afterlife and the process of what for lack of a better term I deem 'recycling' the souls, at least the good ones. Not that I'm all that well qualified to lecture on the topic, thanks more to decidedly-UNphotographic memory than to insufficient education.

That's what I've got on today's challenging philosophical quandary. On an unrelated note, any time I worry that I'm not really supposed to be a writer, even a bad one, I have only to look at how the simplest attempt to write a few words on an interesting topic inevitably balloons like a Macy's Day float...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Most people like to buy things, especially when on sale, and I have no doubt just as many are sufficiently budget-conscious that they wish to avoid overindulgence. Often these are the same people. This raises an interesting question, one which is near and dear to my heart. How does one successfully walk the line between taking advantage of great deals and keeping spending within reasonable limits? After all, the great hat trick of successful advertising (and the reason behind those deals) is to convince people to spend more money than they would otherwise, and then to walk away self-satisfied on account of the money they've saved. If, for example, I were to go the grocery store with no intention of buying strawberries, and then I discovered they were on sale for two dollars a box - well, c'mon, just look at those luscious, juicy strawberries they're practically giving away; how can I resist? I end up with a box of strawberries and an eventual smile in my stomach, metaphorically speaking, but I've still spent two dollars I hadn't planned on. Plus tax. For a more extreme example, say there were a certain website that every day offered a different, full-length album of music for digital download at a ridiculously-low price. Hypothetically speaking. A reluctance to spend twenty dollars on one indulgent purchase, say a music album, is easily overcome by the sneakiness of ten music albums at two dollars each. I still end up spending twenty dollars. But I got TEN ALBUMS!

Of course, so far this isn't the real issue - it's too easily dismissed by the simple and entirely-unAmerican process of realizing that one has only to decide what one actually needs, and then set a budget for the cost of those things and not exceed that budget. Well, that's no fun.

But what about this? What if there's something that I know that I would like to own, have intended for some time to purchase, and then suddenly there it is at a steal of a price (to use an oxymoron of sorts) but it's not an ideal time to drop the dough. What do I do? If I don't buy it now, it might not be so cheap ever again and I'll have missed out on a chance to save the big bucks. This has happened to me on several occasions. On the other hand, I might give in to that very fear and snatch it up, only to discover I really ought to and could have waited 'til a better time (this, too, is familiar territory). The former situation has caused me enough frustration that I have frequently vowed never to pass up on a great deal, but when the moment comes there's always some compelling reason to 'look before I leap,' like that's an admirable plan of action.

If this sounds ignoble, if I should be chastised for being concerned about the volume of digital music that I buy - or even the planned-out purchases that are still for entertainment or even the ones that aren't - when there are more important things in life to worry over, like bailing out the economy to pick a random example, well...that's true.

I realize this is a highly capitalistic posting. I'm comfortable with that. This is America, baby! Now I'm going to go listen to some of that insidiously-priced music, a specific album that is food for my soul and helps me relax, making my day better and my spirits higher. In a very noble way. That justifies the things I do. Ooh, subtle and convincing!

Monday, September 29, 2008


I woke to bird song and the misty remnants of dissipated dreams. No doubt the sun in my eyes did its best, but that's why I wear sunglasses. It's easier than moving the bed. A cool breeze wafted through the open window as was its habit, and I breathed in deeply, blinked my eyes, felt rather groggy, and pondered the fleeting memories of last night - jazz even smokier than the air, a sea of trench coats and fedoras, a barman named Joe, and some sweet thing whispering sweet nothings into my ear. Someone else's memories, that was for sure. Briefly I wondered where mine had got to, and if this was anything like waking up in someone else's clothes, but it was too early for extensive mental action.

Really, it was too early even for getting up, what with the heaviness of my lids, I mean, and the temperature differential between in bed and out of it. I yawned and retested the latter with my arm, with the same results. Scientific method, check. I snuggled down in my little cave, closed my eyes once again, and of course this is when the fiddle music had to start on the street below. I think there must be a sign on the casement outside my room that tells those self-styled 'players' when they can achieve maximum damage. Still, this is old hat. I chucked a handy brick out the window, and after an inexplicable but brief increase in the noise, blissful silence returned. Thank goodness, because I'm running low on bricks. Well, I mean, I tell a friend of mine on a regular basis that she's a brick, but I don't plan on throwing her out the window.

Anyway, the air was still fresh, and the birds that had been scared off by the fiddlers returned and began singing once more, and I was warm and comfortable as I sank back into the pillow with a sigh and closed my eyes and began to mediate on serenity and its role in promoting man's artistic and scientific achievements. Everything was right, there was not a care in the world, sleep was impending, the fiddlers were unconscious, and with such a setup how could it possibly last?

It did last, for all of forty-five seconds, and then my alarm clock went off. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, this was a serious matter. It used to be you could just slam the snooze button and then toss the clock out the window without even emerging from the depths. If you lacked a brick, but were sufficiently disciplined to hold out for a bit, you could take care of two bothers with one throw. Not any more, though. Oh, no. Unless this was all just another woozy dream brought on by insufficient quantities of the fruit of the abyss and possibly the vine, but in any case when the clock changed I was conscious of my plane of repose shifting as my beloved bed went vertical and dumped me on the floor.

Well, that was OK. I'd slept often enough on floors not to resent the idea now. But the accursed bed had other plans, and as I tried to settle down and catch those Zs that kept eluding my grasp, the bed extended a foot and booted me in the behind. Well, that got me pretty riled, especially as it was actually wearing a boot, heaven knows where it had found it. I was no slouch at the fisticuffs and was certainly not about to take any lip from anybody, especially a body that has no lip. I leaped to my feet and put up my fists, it produced some fists from somewhere (boxing glove-attired, no less) and another foot and put them up, except not the foot of course, and we began circling one another warily.

"C'mon, ya pug!" I said. "I'll pop you one right in the pate, pally. I'll pummel you in the pillow! I'll paint you purple, you pontificating pugnacious poseur! You ready for some pugilism, punk?" Well, I was pretty pleased with that bit of patois, and wasn't paying attention, and the bed purloined a passing moment to punch me a powerhouse. I went down, and the bed pulled a piledriver and pinned me to the plywood.

It must be Monday.

Friday, September 26, 2008


I probably should make a more in-depth study of psychology and anthropology than I have previously, because I find the question of why we do what we do absolutely fascinating. This is especially true of certain phenomena; I've already expressed some of my sentiments about music, but if there's one thing I'm even more invested in, it's humor. Humor is so complex, dare I say ridiculously so, that it doesn't even have to obey the cultural trends that have such a sway on our thinking otherwise. This isn't to say that it doesn't often do so, but people can be very similar in many ways, having been brought up in like or even identical circumstances, and yet get their yuks at entirely different things. Probably. I'm just a guy typing at his computer; what do I know?

On a related note, many brilliant minds of all ages so far have tackle this very question and, as they're all more qualified to answer it than I am, I won't attempt to explain anything. One needs to understand something before trying to explain it, or at least that's how it ought to work. However, because I also like to talk and occasionally think, here are a couple of tidbits I 'acquired' through various shady but entirely untraceable means.

In college I read a fascinating article on the subject of humor's basis, one by an author from whom I would not have expected such a treatise. Aristophanes, perhaps? OK, I don't remember the name, but I do remember the primary assertion, which is that the urge to laugh at the ridiculous or bizarre is rooted in relief that it is not we who are in the unfortunate position. Sort of the same attitude as that found in one passage of the stoic Epictetus (maybe) where a man looks out his window and is relieved that it is not he who is currently drowning in the ocean in the midst of a storm, only less tragic and topical (but equally tropical).

This would certainly explain why slapstick is such a, er, hit. Ever since the first banana peel on the floor, or perhaps it was a bit of mammoth fur, it has been a heroic struggle - with questionable and varied success - against the impulse to laugh at the poor sap who went heels over head. Really the advent of acting and certainly the technological innovation of the screen (somewhat later than the mammoths) must have been a tremendous relief because all of a sudden we were free to laugh without guilt at others' pain.

But this unchristian selfishness does not explain all humor. Telling a joke and linguistic humor, for example, put nobody at risk and, with the exception of some lower-rung puns, require no suffering on anyone's part. Much of today's humor is rooted more in expert timing for humorous effect than in a particular kind of writing. There are other examples. What's the deal? Why am I asking me?

Still, I can at least attempt to analyze my own experiences, and having done so in a highly unprofessional and unscientific manner, I have found that I'm especially tickled by the incongruous. By this I mean people saying and doing things I would not expect of them (not an example: writing an essay on the basis of humor), and things happening that seem out of place or uncharacteristic. Out of place is probably the best descriptor. It doesn't work for everything, obviously - I would be surprised if someone I knew started talking in immaculate Hungarian, but not amused - which just goes to show I need a more specific set of criteria and perhaps an explanation for why I find such things funny (that is is incongruous is not in itself an explanation). I am not prepared to give either of these, so here instead are a couple examples that I do find funny.

There's a moment near the beginning of the first episode of the medical sitcom Scrubs where lead character J.D. and his friend Turk are in class and J.D. leans over and whispers "Hey, Turk, you know how I'm down with the rap music?" I really like lines like that. Perhaps most people would not crack a smile at this point, saving their energy for Turk's response, but I'm grinning already. Here's why: I would expect him to say "you know how I'm down with rap?" or maybe even "you know how I'm down with rap music?" By putting that extra 'the' in there, the sentence becomes strangely - and amusingly - complex and even formal in its construction. Sort of like a prominent political figure talking about 'the Google.' That latter case is different because it's funny that he's not 'savvy' enough to know that Google is an Entity that you don't put 'the' in front of, and thus it becomes an instance of the explanation given by the mysterious author above, but probably at base it's the same principle.

For a more general example, I turn to A Prairie Home Companion, on which a recent rebroadcast of an old show featured folk singers Robin and Linda Williams (not that Robin Williams) performing a medley of various tunes, including 'Jenny from the Block' by contemporary pop singer (and seductive sensation) Jennifer Lopez. But they didn't sing it the same way she does - they're folk singers after all - instead recasting its aggressive sensibilities into their own folk duet mold, with hilarious results. It's not exactly satire and it's certainly not an homage. But it is incongruous, and very funny. More, please.

That's what I've got. I admit that I have more than an academic interest in the matter; anyone who wants to write in a certain style needs to know its mechanisms if he wants even the slightest success. Happily, it isn't necessary to know everything, which is why I can write these blogs and produce this. Whether they are funny or not I leave for others to decide.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

By the dock of the bay

Maybe it's because I've moved around so much, or perhaps it's in my personality, or perhaps some of both; in any case I have never felt much of an attachment to a specific place. Some grow up and live a significant portion of their life - if not the entirety - in one location, either loving or hating it (I think one of those must be inevitable under the circumstances); others move around but are drawn to specific environs that impassion them. Neither of these has been my experience. However much I wish to be in the neighborhood of certain elements that my current home lacks, when I actually get them I take them in stride. It's rather depressing, actually - sort of an inability to feel the spirit of the land, or care.

Still, living near the water sure has its benefits. When I go down to the marina and sit on the dock and watch the wind on the waves, the many tiny ripples of raindrops hitting the water, the elegant, synchronized flight of geese just over the surface only a few yards from the bench on which I'm perched, I find tranquility I have not attained elsewhere. It's a kind of silence that is in the world rather than divorced from it - the sounds of the cars on the road back on shore, the hum of boats in their parking spaces, the cries of seagulls as they wheel over the water all give me peace without alienation. It may not be a windswept mountain peak, but it is in refreshingly stark contrast to the isolation that may be found in the other kind of privacy.

In related news, my comic sure is great. Nine out of ten cartoonists would recommend it if they knew about it!

Monday, September 22, 2008


I hope it's localized to a few NPR unfortunates, but lately I've noticed 'woman' being used instead of 'female' with alarming frequency. Some examples include 'woman senator,' 'woman governor,' and the unavoidable - albeit hypothetical - 'woman president.' This is unacceptable. 'Woman' is a noun, not an adjective! That 'female' is primarily an adjective but may also be used as a noun is all the more reason why it makes no sense to replace it - people with flawed word choice, do you not understand the American principle of 'more is better'?

Even if the word 'female' did not offer a certain linguistic suppleness, a seductive flexibility denied its more activism-inclined variation (to say nothing of the clumsy but jovial oafishness of its opposite), what benefit could there possibly be to choosing 'woman' over 'female'? The former is no more divorced from its masculine root than the latter, as was at least attempted in a humor piece I recently read where 'woman' was replaced by 'womyn,' thus looking intentionally ridiculous (and, in its similarity to the fire-breathing 'wyrm,' conjuring up a very different stereotype, no doubt accidentally). I must conclude that political correctness is not the motivation behind the switch, which is good because the concern these days over stepping on toes is absolutely overblown. Step on those toes! The worst they can do is punch you in the face, and perhaps instigate a knock-down drag-out old-fashioned bar fight if you happen to be in a bar at the time and John Wayne is nearby. 'They' not referring to the toes, of course.

I fear that this is simply the next step in the exponential degradation of language; where before there was at least some semblance of reason behind the changes, now we are free to replace at will. Soon there will no longer be even the compulsion to use synonyms, and brag a fleece conjoined, ingots according why surface.

This to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophets, who foretold the End of Phrase.

Friday, September 19, 2008


There's nothing quite like the sensation of getting what you wanted but weren't expecting. Thank God. It's the most unsettling feeling.

It happens simply enough, and to everyone. Whether it's a relationship, job opportunity, chance for adventure, or some other sort of development, the process is the same: you express interest in something, not really expecting any results, and go your merry way. Later, like a reverse mugger IT leaps out from behind a bush or the next corner and demands action of you, to put up or shut up, and all you can think is "Uh-oh. What do I do now?" This is assuming you weren't really prepared to handle things, which for some of us is most of the time.

Making split-second decisions with serious ramifications can be hard and scary (surprise), as can be actually living dreams. You start questioning what it is you really want, and are naturally compelled toward rejecting the path of stress, hard work and the unknown (your potentially-former desire) in favor of the path of comfortable insignificance (your current circumstances). The true measure of strength and courage is how capable you are of piercing the vision-clouding mist of the immediate fear and the seemingly-compelling arguments it presents, seeing beyond to the true daylight of the reasons you wanted this in the first place.

And also, no less important, the capability to balance with honest weights the advantages and disadvantages such that a bad situation may be avoided. Because the temptation to seize an adventure just because it is an adventure can be every bit as powerful as the temptation to flee because it is new and scary.


I sure do hate using 'you' like that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I've never considered myself an artist, at least the visual kind, but I used to love trying. Even as I ridiculed, but was secretly proud of, my own efforts in mid-school art class, I enjoyed the experience and the outrageous, generally non-art-related tall tales of the teacher, who was one of my favorites as much because he encouraged my artistic pursuits as on account of those stories. I still try a painting or some such every once in a while, and I can do a solid perspective drawing (solely on account of the aforementioned class), but for the most part I'm lucky to make stick figures do my bidding. Peonic pretzel sticks.

Those who hold the rights are in the process of releasing the complete collection of Charles Schulz's Peanuts comic strip. It's an epic work-in-progress, and necessarily so, because near fifty years of work encapsulating nearly eighteen thousand strips does not get wrapped up into a tiny package, and consequently the collection is being released in something like twenty-four volumes, at a rate of two a year(!). They're really nice books, featuring fantastic cover art and lots of introductions and interviews by and with people who have been influenced by Schulz's work (these are not hard to find). Promoting this enterprise is not really the point of this posting, however.

The first volume has an extensive interview with the man himself, who says many memorable things, the most pertinent of which is that he was always surprised at how few people could draw well. What with my efforts lately to produce a comic, this got me thinking once again about talent, and its culmination in genius. That some things can be learned and some cannot is obvious enough, which obviousness does not in the slightest dull its capacity to infuriate. But even skills attainable through rote find their true expression in people who can intuit what others must memorize. What's the deal with this? Why do some leap the hurdles of calculus like an Olympic champion while others trip, repeatedly, over the concepts of algebra? Why are some scientifically-minded while others pursue linguistics in an altogether unholy manner? Arcane! And why, why oh why, can some people put pencil to paper and replicate the world as if the pencil were an illusion crafted for the rest of us because the sight of the direct transference from eye to paper that's actually going on would blow our minds? While I, mind you, see a picture in my mind, but in attempting to send it through my fingers experience the same frustration as when I try to play some real piano?

I believe there must be a biological explanation for talent and even for genius, just as there is for so much else that once seemed entirely rooted in the spiritual, metaphysical realm. One day the cause will be discovered, at which point it will be possible to endow people with whatever abilities they desire. Quite possibly. This is a topic science fiction has gotten plenty of mileage out of, and for good reason. It's one thing to chastise someone for wanting to circumvent a lot of hard work (download knowledge of Kung-Fu directly into my brain, thus mastering in two minutes what in reality takes many years? Yes, please.). It's another no longer to be limited by what capabilities one was born with, to be able to transcend what is often described as "Fate dealing a bad hand."

There's a downside, of course. There's always a downside. When everyone's capable of anything, no one's special anymore. That in itself would be just a 'moral' concern to be sneered at, perhaps with justice. But it's quite probable that such a development would elminate the possibility of genius. If everyone becomes an Einstein, that might not be a problem, but at the same time I wonder if it isn't necessary to allow for people who can think differently than everyone else, in order for evolutionary developments to happen.

Arguably for any further understanding of the world to be gained, there must be a brain that operates in a unique way and can see 'outside the box,' at least when connected to eyes. Perhaps it is one that makes use of previously-untapped paths or resources. If everything we are can be explained physically, then as science proceeds and we find those explanations, what happens? When we understand everything about ourselves and can control our capabilities, do we achieve complete understanding of everything? Or do we screw up, and lock ourselves into believing that we get it all, when in fact we have misinterpreted something, and because of our 'mastery' we've eliminated the possibility that someone will come along and correct our mistake? Rather scary, in an amateur-science kind of way.

How did I get onto this topic by wishing I could draw better? It is likely there will be a lower concentration of metaphysics in the next posting. But I promise nothing.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Not adjusted for inflation

I must dedicate some writing time to Nickel Creek, even if the masses that ought to know about them aren’t going to learn from this blog. Because they’re not reading it, I mean. Nickel Creek was a contemporary bluegrass band, but those who are turned off by the ‘bluegrass’ label shouldn’t be. Don’t fear the fiddle. Actually ‘contemplative’ bluegrass might be a better descriptor: on their self-titled debut album there may be found plenty of ‘hot licks,’ yet it is the moody, reflective, breathtakingly gorgeous songs that steal the show. Also ‘The Fox,’ which is absolutely infectious. The group, now on hiatus and possibly defunct, appeared on ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ several times back in the middle of the decade; I stumbled across them only thanks to the generosity of Amazon’s MP3 Daily Deal and the brilliant Facebook Amazon MP3 fan who made the suggestion. The music is ethereal, beautifully melancholy, soothing, and entirely spellbinding, except when it’s unstoppably, toe-tappingly vivacious.

I understand that their two successive albums took things in a different direction, which is a shame because the musical style on Nickel Creek is exactly what I need, pretty much all the time but especially when skies are grey. The album is no longer at the discounted price, but is well worth the full cost, which for the MP3 album is still a steal. I am seriously in danger of overplaying this one; I am also confident that, when the luster of freshness is gone – an inevitability in any case – the music will remain compelling.

Standout tracks: The Lighthouse’s Tale, The Hand Song, Sweet Afton, The Fox, When You Come Back Down, Reasons Why. This list may also be titled ‘Tracks with words.'

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hee hee!

One of my favorite video games ever is, as of recently, available for download on the Nintendo Wii's online service Virtual Console. It's Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars! Yes.

This Super Nintendo game happened when Nintendo went to the industry's quintessential force in Role Playing Game design, Japanese company Squaresoft, and offered the use of the Mario franchise. The result was a crossover of epic proportions. Square brought its amazing RPG pedigree to bear and successfully mixed the traditional elements of its own projects, such as the Final Fantasy series and Chrono Trigger, with the 'hop and bop' gameplay style for which Mario was known, back before he got into every other conceivable gameplay style on the planet (or is that in the galaxies?).

The finished game offered an isometric-perspective adventure through many diverse and exciting area where Mario jumped on blocks and plumbed the depths of pipes just like before, except everything was sort of in 3-D, and whenever Mario jumped on enemies the game switched over to a Final Fantasy-style, turn-based battle system with commands entered via menu. Just like previous Square games, except when Mario and the various characters who joined up along the way started acting out those commands, the player could increase their efficiency with well-timed button-presses. Press a button just when Mario lands on a foe for extra damage; press it when an enemy attacks for increased defense. Variations on this theme were in abundance. Action elements within a turn-based context within an action context.

This being a Squaresoft production, all the things I just mentioned were accompanied by amazing music, graphics that took full advantage of the Super Nintendo's power, a solid and humorous story that featured a new villain and actually had regular villain Bowser join the party for the course of the game (and bring some great moves to bear), fantastic writing, and imaginative characters to meet, items to collect and minigames to play. Also cameos by Nintendo franchise leaders Link and Samus Aran; good luck finding 'em without help, though. This game had EVERYTHING.

It still does. Some games don't age, and this is one example. At its going rate of eight dollars for download, it's an essential purchase for anyone who has access to a Wii, especially those who have never played the game before. Sven, I'm talking to you. The once-radical gameplay style has seen spiritual sequels throughout the years, including the Paper Mario and Mario and Luigi series, but as good as they are I don't think they've ever matched the greatness of the one time Square and Nintendo got together and made a baby.

I guess it's telling that my three favorite RPGs are all Super Nintendo ones. That they were all designed by Square is not so surprising. Regardless, in my opinion only Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI are better than Super Mario RPG, and we're not likely to see either of those other two on the Virtual Console anytime soon (CT on the DS is sure something, though). Added incentive isn't actually necessary, but maybe if people show enough love for Super Mario RPG Nintendo will come to their senses and release Earthbound...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

the dreaded block

Well, I'm strapped for ideas today. I got nothing, is what I'm saying. I'm trying to communicate that I forgot to resupply on topics last time I went shopping. I wonder how much of this posting I can fill up with phrasing variations on this theme? Never mind.

I really enjoy a cappella music. I mention this because it's what's playing in my personal musicverse right now and I am suddenly inspired. I brought up my love for a cappella last posting but it's a topic worth elaborating on. The point at which I first became aware of a cappella music as a major force (literally, if not commercially these days) was probably when I first watched the film version of The Music Man, which features absolutely classic barbershop quartet The Buffalo Bills filling minor roles; of course these 'minor roles' allow them to sing several wonderful numbers during the course of the movie. This was many years ago, and I still love that stuff and would cheerfully sing the old-time barbershop music given any opportunity, but I have since grown to like, and perhaps to prefer, contemporary a cappella as well. This latter style, practiced primarily by college kids on campuses but also by various professional groups, takes established popular music as well as original compositions and renders the tunes in an all-voice harmonic format. The results, at least when well done, are stunning.

It's hard for me to explain what makes a cappella music so compelling, at least for me. In my opinion the real magic of a cappella is its ability to negate the significance of genre and preformed assumptions and tastes - by this I mean that specific songs and types of songs that normally wouldn't appeal to Joe Consumer become endearing when given the a cappella touch. I had the fortune to stumble across an excellent college a cappella group called Freshman Fifteen; they had released an album online and I gobbled it up. Later I played it for some friends and one remarked that she really liked their cover of a pop tune that, in its original form, she didn't care for at all. Of course one reason was because the FF singer had a much better voice than the lead of the rock band (I listened to the original later and can attest to the truth of this). Just so, I've already written about my love for contemporary Christian a cappella group Rescue; normally I have no interest in Christian music, but their stuff is so fantastically compelling that it transcends the descriptor 'Christian music' and becomes 'great music' that just happens to praise the Christian god (sort of a bonus).

Ultimately I think the real reason is that I never cease to be awed at the magic the human voice is capable of. Music itself is one of the few things humanity has created that I think is truly magnificent, but the amazing music that can be crafted without any sort of instrument except the pipes we all were born with is nothing short of miraculous. In addition, anyone who can sing can make music right away without all the extensive training and practice (or genius) that would be required to produce it on a 'traditional' instrument, and a cappella has proven that with enough voices and talent, there is no limit to what can be replicated sans strings and stops.

Just a note: 'a cappella' is the most widely-accepted spelling, but 'a capella' is also correct. The first is Italian, the second Latin.

A cappella groups that I like (aka have been sufficiently exposed to):

Rescue (professional Christian/gospel)
Rockapella (professional pop)
Tonic Sol-Fa (professional pop)
Duwende (, alternative. I don't know how to describe it. Free album at their website.)
Freshman Fifteen (college pop [but most of the time you wouldn't guess they were amateurs])
Best of College A Cappella, or BOCA (college pop; not a group but rather an annual compilation)

'Just a note'...heh heh...

Monday, September 8, 2008


Those who are not familiar with radio show "A Prairie Home Companion" should get familiar, asap, although I admit it may not be to all tastes. If you don't like fun, for example, you should stay well away. If humor is not your thing, give this a miss. If you can't stand music, you probably won't find much to like.

Actually if you are down with the rap music, but nothing else, this also could be an obstacle.

Anyway, for those few who are left, PHC is a true boon for getting the weekend relaxin' on. Produced by American Public Media and appearing on many public radio stations, it's a variety show that, as might have come across above, combines humor and music to form a two-hour smorgasbord of yum. Is 'yum' implied in 'smorgasbord'? Host Garrison Keillor, with his distinctive voice and impeccable delivery and timing, segues effortlessly between humorous skits of various natures (regulars include 'The Lives of the Cowboys' and 'Guy Noir: Private Eye'), musical performances by the talented show band and many special guests, and his own narrations; these latter are also of a humorous persuasion and include his famous 'News from Lake Wobegon' segments. It's funny, funny stuff.

Though PHC makes its home in St. Paul, Minnesota, the show travels all around the country and often draws on local musical talent. This allows for many groups to get exposure they wouldn't find otherwise, and for listeners is a great source for learning where the skills are hiding. For example, I love a cappella; imagine my delight when last Saturday's show featured the previously-unfamiliar-to-me group Tonic Sol-Fa. Of course now I want to go buy their six albums, so I guess it cuts both ways.

Although A Prairie Home Companion dabbles in the edgy it is nevertheless an old-timey show at heart, which is pretty obvious just from the fact that it's a variety show, so it really won't appeal to everyone. For those who have one foot in the, er, 'good ol' days,' it's golden.

Friday, September 5, 2008


A lot of strikes going on, lately. Maybe this frequency is typical and the phenomenon is just receiving more media attention because the economy is in such bad shape generally, or maybe the frequency is atypical - and consequently is receiving more media attention - because the economy is in such bad shape generally. Although I've been listening to the news quite often of late, I have never felt particularly 'plugged in' to the world or even national scene; still, I suppose everyone remembers the writers' strike within the last year; Boeing's currently facing big economic losses if they can't, er, work out their issues with their workers (never mind that big goverment contract controversy).

Much more locally, teachers in the Bellevue, WA school district have put their collective foot down, and refused to lift it up again for such purposes as walking into their classrooms to do some teaching. That strike's been going since, well, when the first day of school would have been, and there's no sign of resolution yet. Of course, these people can work but don't wish to until they find better conditions; some of us wish to work but can't until we find a job. It's a little harder to be sympathetic when the unemployment rate's topped 6%.

I do wonder what will be the cost to the students.  The aforementioned writers' strike meant in many if not all cases a severely-reduced TV season in terms of episode count, and in some cases entire plot arcs or even the conclusion to long-running series had to be changed from their original vision, which is infuriating if you're a fan of the show and probably even more so if you're the creative staff behind the show. Strikes like the Boeing one mean the company might lose lots of money, which hurts the 'fat cats' but matters little to the average Joe, unless he happens to be a stockholder. But what do you do when the first week, or two weeks, or even month of the school year, are lost to a strike? It's not as simple as just adding the time onto the end of the year, nor is it practical to hold classes on weekends on any kind of regular basis. Do you abbreviate the curriculum, as the TV seasons were abbreviated? Decide that maybe the long-division section of the mathematics class is not as important as focusing on getting multiplication down? It's already pretty well-acknowledged by everybody except those who actually pay the salaries that teachers should be payed better; seems to me their strikes should be treated more seriously than those by other types of workers, for the same reason. And probably for the same reason that they are not paid better, their strikes will not be so treated.

There's one class of people who profits from the situation, at least in the short term. If I were a child of a certain age group living in that area, I'd be very happy right now...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

acting and reacting

I'm not an actor, but I play one on the stage.

*percussion indicating punchline**Some might say "Badum-chhh!" but not I*

This may seem merely a clever and ironic reworking of an advertising tactic that has become something of a cliche, but it's so much more. Specifically it is a brilliantly clever and devastatingly ironic reworking of an advertising tactic that has become something of a cliche. Also a reflection of true sentiment on my part, but that's almost beside the point.

Actually it is the point. I'll explain, and try from now on to refrain from the obvious jokes. Instead I will employ, never mind. In my experience there are three types of actors, separated by level of skill. The talent trio, if you will. And you will.

The first is the person who thinks theatre would be a neat thing to do, but for whatever reason isn't passionate about it. Maybe this character is too self-conscious to get into it or maybe the talent is just lacking. Regardless, the result is the same - an unconvincing 'performance' that never comes across as anything more than a person who's just speaking a memorized speech. There's no energy and no real acting. This is the sort of 'actor,' directors settle for when there's nobody else. I have no objection to those who do care about theatre getting involved in some capacity whatever their levels of talent, but there's just no excuse for anyone giving what should be an emotion-laden line in a weak monotone. Suspension of disbelief doesn't cease to become a factor just because you're embarrassed to commit to a role, people. Take a hit for the team.

The second acting type is probably the most common - those individuals who have sufficient skill to play their roles convincingly and give a real, perhaps even exemplary, performance...but they cannot achieve the true transformation that distinguishes the best actors. I mean that, however good they are, they cannot let go their own personality completely and give themselves to the role. Why not? No doubt for a variety of reasons - self-consciousness is as frequent an offender against this type as it is against the first, for example (heaven forbid they get cast against character). But I believe that other skills essential to the best actors are the sort that one must be born with. It's an unfortunate reality that in acting, as elsewhere, determination alone is not enough to reach the top. Luck is a factor as well, and genius can no more be bought here than elsewhere. Lest anyone think I am getting caught up in excessive elitism and watching my head inflate, I place myself squarely in this second, non-genius category, and not near the top of its personal spectrum, either.

The third type is of course the true actors, those who are capable of abandoning themselves and transforming into a completely different person whenever they step on stage. These are the people who study their role for weeks or months before rehearsals even begin, trying to get into the head of their respective characters, each figuring out how he or she would think, feel and react to any given situation. Then after they've figured that out they make it happen in front of the audience or camera, changing everything from the way they speak (obvious) to the way they walk (not so obvious) to their manner of facial expression (hardcore). Sometimes it's hard when watching a play or movie to forget that you're watching actors, but not with these superhumans.

Everyone knows it's difficult to act strong emotions for the millionth time, to pretend surprise or fear or rage and ignorance of what the next line is, but you know what's harder? To keep up the facade when the spotlight's not on you. It's so tempting, so very tempting, when watching instead of facilitating a dramatic confrontation, to drop the persona and wink at the audience, letting them in on the big acting joke. Of course you can't do that. There's probably nothing more damaging to the illusion than someone changing their costume, however metaphorical, while everybody's watching. So you've got to keep in character and simulate sometimes the same reactions that you'd give naturally during a regular conversation, and it's incredibly difficult to do convincingly. It should be obvious that class three brings it off with aplomb, which is why they're the real actors, because truth be told acting is more about the seemingly insignificant details and small moments than it is about the dramatic confrontations.

On a related note, Google's come out with a new web browser, called Chrome. Their argument seems to be that all of the other browsers were designed for an Internet that was text-based and focused on static pages, instead of the image-, video-, audio-, and instant-communication-heavy mutant hybrid that we know and feed with our souls (this might not be verbatim), and that a new browser is required for new times. It has nothing to do with money, they $wear. I'm trying it out; it's too early to tell how much of an edge it offers in terms of multimedia, and there are lots of features I haven't touched yet. One that sounds promising is sort of a "one engine per tab" claim, meaning that if one tab gets overloaded trying to do too much and freezes up, any other tabs will still function normally, as opposed to the epic crash sensation that is my otherwise-beloved Firefox under the same circumstances. We'll see if they deliver. One thing that they have already delivered on is the promised speed - Chrome loads pages quickly and, more importantly, opens very quickly from the desktop, which is one up over its competitors already. Since it's only in beta we can probably count on even more speed to come. Its interface is neat and clean to the point of spartan, and there's a nice and easy option for importing all the settings and bookmarks and such from your browser of choice, Firefox for example. Let's see where they go with this.

Wait...that wasn't related at all...

Monday, September 1, 2008


Part Eleven

Wind whipped over Hero's face. For a moment he thought he was still falling and reached again for his knife, turning his head in the process and looking right into the depths of an eye the size of his body. Hero put his hand down carefully and had just enough time to process three things: he was rising, he was atop something solid, and that something was scaly. Then the eye narrowed, there was a roar that hurt his ears, and the world spun out of control. Abruptly Hero was falling again, but only briefly before he hit the ground, sending out a shock wave of dust.

Compared with the many impacts Hero had already suffered in his travels this was a pretty minor one, and it was not long before he could shake off the usual confusion and pay some attention to his surroundings. Everything had gone quiet. Hero was not the sort to pick up on subtleties but if he were he would have felt the silence to be a tad ominous.

He got to his feet and looked around. He was some yards away from the cleft into which he had plunged just before that strange portal had opened. At least, he assumed it was the same cleft; there were no other landmarks to serve as points of reference, and he didn't quite feel up just yet to peering down into the abyss to see if the portal was still there. His memories of the portal itself were hazy, and he could not recall what had transpired after he fell in, or how he had escaped, if escaped he had. But there were strange thoughts in his mind, and a strange tugging in his awareness, almost like another consciousness was trying to make itself felt. It was a most perplexing sensation. Hero, being Hero, decided not to worry about it. Indeed, he didn't feel much like worrying about anything, really; rather the opposite. He was filled with a remarkable sense of confidence, peace and, above all, pure undiluted capability. Hero suddenly felt as though he could take on and withstand anything. Even trollish poetry. He smiled, adjusted his sunglasses, and walked towards the cleft three paces, at which point he tripped over his feet. Some things don't change.

It occurred to Hero to wonder what had happened to that eye, as well as whatever it was attached to. There was nowhere to hide, not even a cloud in the sky. Gargantuan eyes don't just disappear, after all, unless they have an invisibility power. Hero decided it was more likely the eye had taken up residency within the cleft. He approached it and peered in. There was no sign of the portal; clinging to the rock face there was, however, a dragon.

The dragon burst from the void with a velocity so great that Hero was lifted two feet into the air by the slipstream. When he fell back down and landed on his behind he didn't even bother to get up but just gazed on the creature with awe. Justly so, for it was sufficiently awesome to make people remember the original meaning of the word. Imagine the most magnificent dragon you've ever seen. This one may or may not have exceeded its magnificence. These things are all relative, anyway.

The dragon, which had been hovering in the air above the chasm and causing minor gales with each beat of its wings, suddenly opened its mouth and expanded its chest and Hero decided that getting up now was an excellent idea, worth acting upon immediately, which he did and thanks to his dwarf-honed reflexes narrowly escaped the river of fire that raged out of the dragon's maw.

Somewhere epic music began playing. Hero quickly scanned for local orchestras but somebody had already done that joke and there was no musical source to be found. He could devote no further energy to pondering the question because at this moment the dragon, which was not pleased that its morning toast was still raw, let out another roar that was the sonic equivalent of the flame, and began chasing the poor Hero.

The next ten minutes, or maybe it was ten seconds or ten hours, hard to tell, were for Hero a blur of running and dodging and panicked thinking, which latter was much more tiring. He was fairly certain that he could not hope to get close enough with the katana, and anyway he was not certain the blade could do any damage. His other weapons seemed woefully inadequate to the purpose at hand, and there was nowhere to escape to - not even time to dig a dwarfhole and bunker down. He needed...he needed...

For some totally inexplicable reason Hero's thoughts drifted to the haze of the portal. The word "aspire" rang in his mind.

Another burst of flame just missed his leg. He had the feeling the dragon was just toying with him, but was more concerned with survival than pride and so didn't mind, under the circumstances., that wasn't right,, that was right...Hero recalled the spear, with that curious mispelling d-r-a-g-o-o-n on the side...

Well, counterfeit or not he didn't have any other options. Hero pulled the spear out of his garments, into which too-small space he had stashed it using secret dwinjitsu techniques, and, with the intention of leaping onto the impending dragon's body, he got a foot up on a large boulder and jumped backwards.

Well. That was unexpected.

It really was the most curious sensation. At the moment of pushing off Hero felt his legs suddenly full of a strange energy, and before he knew it he was soaring high into the sky, above the dragon, above the clouds if there had been any clouds; in fact Hero wondered momentarily if he was never going to stop rising and might just fly to the stars, which really wouldn't be too bad an adventure.

Eventually, though, he felt his momentum decrease and gravity's angry tug reassert itself. As Hero came to the top of his leap, he executed an elegant back flip of which his dwarf tutors would have been very proud, and then plummeted back to earth where he landed right next to the troll, who was sleeping peacefully in the sun, at least until Hero landed on his fingers.

You have to remember that Hero had jumped not straight up but backwards, knowing that the dragon was right behind him. Consequently he had described an arc, and with his strange new jumping prowess had in one leap traveled all the way back to the edge of the desolation, where he was currently staring into the bulging eyes of a very angry troll. Hero quickly decided that he didn't really feel inclined to test his feelings of invincibility from earlier, and so before the troll could open its mouth, and perhaps quote some poetry, Hero had leaped back towards the befuddled dragon.

The dragon had seen a great number and variety of desperate escape attempts by its prey over the millennia, including suicidal dives into the chasm (this didn't work) and efforts to turn invisible by sheer willpower (neither did this). It had never seen its food actually disappear, and into the sky no less. The dragon was not used to confusion and also had not eaten for five hundred years, and consequently had got rather cranky by the time it heard a strange whooshing sound, which was getting louder.

The dragon was unquestioned master of the skies. Always it hunted its prey on the ground or occasionally a bit above it, but never had anything "gotten the jump on it," at least not from its own realm. But it followed a strange instinct and did something it had never done before, and looked up. What it saw filled it with rage besides which the earlier anger had been a mild distemper, but also a secret feeling that maybe this day wouldn't be such a waste after all. With a roar it sent out a great torrent of fire, which was especially impressive, being straight up. Normally the dragonian physique does not allow this kind of maneuver - the body needs to be aligned with the head for maximum flameage. A bad mood does a lot, though.

Hero, who was plummeting towards the dragon spear-point first, was a little worried about the river of fire racing towards him, but not much. Wrapped in a cone of rapidly-displacing air, falling in a very self-assured and heroic manner, Hero knew he was much too cool not to beat the heat. Sure enough, after a moment the head of the spear gave off a strange glow, and as the fire hit Hero it parted all around him and streamed harmlessly off into the atmosphere, where over time it would warm the local atmosphere just enough to facilitate the growth of a new kind of plant, which would quickly spread over the wasteland and turn it into an ocean of green. That was later. This was now.

And now Hero dropped right through the dragon's attack unscathed, and the spear struck.

There was a great flash.

When the light had dissipated, there was no trace of the dragon, or the spear. And Hero looked on the scene and knew finally what his quest was, and that it was done. After all, in this strange world, once the wyrm has been slain, the story must end, as it can no longer...drag on.


The End



BAHAHAHAHAHAHA! the manipulated words of the Monty Python's Flying Circus DVD menu, "I apologize for that. But I think you'll find this a bit more entertaining!"

That's really it, folks. Before you judge me too harshly, bear in mind that very little planning went into the ending or pretty much anything else. I promise you, if I had planned this story and written it like a traditional project, the pun would be much, much better. Anyway, I hope that anyone who got suckered into reading this epic tale enjoyed it, especially as I do think I got some good jokes in there. There may be future serialized writing experiments in the future but for the moment I'm taking a break and moving things in a new, but not necessarily better, direction on Wednesday.

It's only maybe not better because I've already attained perfection. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!