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something the other day, which was previously apparent but hadn't really registered: I'm a cartoonist and a purveyor of outdated slang!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!