“X-Men” was probably the only reason I kept reading comic books past age 12. I lucked into the seminal run of writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne in the early 1980′s. The crucial story of their relatively short partnership was “Dark Phoenix,” which has since become a major comics touchstone. Without getting into laborious specifics, the story involved a major character being overwhelmed by her own power and becoming (for lack of a better word) a villain.
The just-released movie, “X-Men: The Last Stand” is a toned-down riff on the Dark Phoenix story. And despite all manner of problems during the movie’s production, it is probably the best comic book movie that I’ve ever seen (and trust me, I’ve seen most of them). I won’t go into specifics here because (a) I don’t want to spoil the movie, and (b) I’d sound very silly if I tried, but it’s an outstanding piece of entertainment, and I say that as somebody who walked into the theater with decidedly low expectations. The three “X-Men” movies are, despite all reasonable expectations, the only films I can think of that all improved from the original, to the sequel, to the sequel’s sequel. I know hardly anybody is going to believe this about a summer comic book popcorn movie, but “X3″ boasts a remarkably nuanced script where almost every character has a logical motivation far beyond, “He’s evil because he’s the villain,” or, “He’s good because he’s the hero.”
If I were to pare down my personal reaction to “X3,” it would go something like this: “I wouldn’t have done it the way they did it. But what they did is still one hell of a good movie.” Would I have preferred to see what Claremont wrote and Byrne drew, some 25 years ago? You bet. But that doesn’t mean that what the creators of “The Last Stand” actually did produce isn’t well worth your $8-$10. Heckuva flick. Check it out.
Tony Barnhart, by far the best college football writer in the country, has a blog.
For those who don’t know who aren’t familiar with Barnhart, I’m reminded of what the gate guard at Edinburgh Castle says to tourists after he points out the statues of William Wallace and Robert The Bruce: “If ye don’t know who they are, I’m nae goin’ to tell ye!”
ESPN and ABC just announced their announcer/analyst lineups for the 2006 college football season, and as befits a couple of Disney companies, it’s definitely a Mickey Mouse plan.
Ron Franklin, the best play-by-play man in the business today, has been demoted to ESPN2 to make room for moved-over-from-NFL-coverage Mike Patrick on the main network’s Saturday prime time games. I’ll allow that Todd Blackledge will certainly be an improvement over last year’s ESPN primetime color boob, former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie. Davie has all the on-air personality of a shoebox, and starts repeating his cliches before the first quarter is over.
Unfortunately, ESPN has also decided to retain the odious Lou Holtz for studio commentary, and has even made the unfathomable decision to put Holtz in the box for weeknight game color commentary. Holtz’s spluttering lisp is barely understandable when he’s in a climate-controlled studio. He’ll be completely unitelligible in a gameday environment.
Why Holtz still has a job at all is an open question. He’s easily the worst of ESPN’s studio analysts–and that’s saying something, considering Lee Corso is still on Gameday. Given Holtz’s sordid track record as a coach, maybe Disney is afraid that they’ll get put on probation not long after he’s let go.
We’re a long, long way from 2008, but I’m ready to make a prediction. All by itself, this statement will prevent Hillary Clinton from winning a single “red” state:
In a surprise move yesterday, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton called for “most of the country” to return to a speed limit of 55 mph in an effort to slash fuel consumption.
“The 55-mile speed limit really does lower gas usage. And wherever it can be required, and the people will accept it, we ought to do it,” Clinton said at the National Press Club.
Real, real dumb, Hillary. That’ll go over like a lead baloon everywhere outside of your east coast metro base. Spoken like somebody who hasn’t driven a car for herself in a decade and a half.
UPDATE: Hillary’s most recent Capitol Hill press conference on re-mandating the 55 mph speed limit was interrupted by a concerned citizen. We have an exclusive photo:
UPDATE UPDATE: Roger L. Simon has something of a differing view.
I’ve got no point here, other than noting the victory of marketing over Communism. I just love Dracula movies:
More than 60 years after it was seized by communists, the Romanian government is to hand back one of the country’s most popular tourist sites, the fabled Dracula Castle, to its former owner, the culture minister said Tuesday.
While known and marketed as “Dracula’s Castle,” it never belonged to Prince Vlad the Impaler, who inspired Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula character. But the prince is thought to have visited the medieval fortress.
The Gothic fortress, perched on a rock, has appeared in numerous Dracula movies.
This would be funnier if it wasn’t so pathetic.
A congressman under investigation for bribery was caught on videotape accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from an FBI informant whose conversations with the lawmaker also were recorded, according to a court document released Sunday. Agents later found the cash hidden in his freezer.
At one audiotaped meeting, Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., chuckles about writing in code to keep secret what the government contends was his corrupt role in getting his children a cut of a communications company’s deal for work in Africa.
As for the $100,000, the government says Jefferson got the money in a leather briefcase last July 30 at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington. The plan was for the lawmaker to use the cash to bribe a high-ranking Nigerian official–the name is blacked out in the court documen–to ensure the success of a business deal in that country, the affidavit said.
In case you didn’t remember, Jefferson is the congressman who commandeered a National Guard squad and their truck in the immediate aftermath of Katrina so that he could recover, er, documents from his New Orleans home.
As it happens, the VodkaPundit investigative bureau has recently come into posession of faxed documents which we believe were at the heart of this matter. The crucial document reads as follows:
“Dear Congressman Jefferson,
“I am Mr John Eze, a native of Kano in Nigeria and I
am an Executive Accountant with the Nigeria ministry of mineral
resources and energy.
“I have decided to seek a confidential co-operation with you in the
execution of a deal described here under for the benefit of all
parties and I hope you we keep it as a top secret because of the
nature of this transaction…”
I’ve had choices, since the day that I was born
There were voices, that told me right from wrong
If I had listened, I wouldnt be here today
Living and dying, with the choices I made.
–Billy Yates and Mike Curtis*
As noted elsewhere, Ray Nagin was improbably re-elected mayor of New Orleans yesterday. Glenn is unimpressed, but I think he and others are missing part of the mark on this one. He’s quite right when he says, “Louisiana’s political class isn’t just greedy — it’s greedy and stupid,” but Ray Nagin is not a part of Louisiana’s political class. That distinction belonged to his opponent, Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, the brother of US Senator Mary Landrieu and son of the last white mayor of New Orleans, Moon Landrieu. This was only Nagin’s second election, and he campaigned the first time as a political neophyte running against the old corrupt machine of former mayor Marc Morial (the extra-legal machinations of which were, not coincidentally, the only reason Mary Landrieu was ever elected to the Senate).
I’m not here to defend Ray Nagin. I think he acted stupidly in the run-up to Katrina, his buffoonery in the aftermath speaks for itself, and I have low expectations for his second term. Frankly, after being in the city a couple of weeks ago, I was not expecting Nagin to win. Like a lot of bad choices Louisianans have had to make in the past, this election came down to incompetence (Nagin) vs. corruption (Landrieu and the old Democratic machine).
After seeing the state of the city and snails-pace of the recovery, I figured the scattered electorate would be happy to settle for a corrupt but quicker rebuilding process in the hands of the old guard. Add to that Nagin’s recent pandering to Al Sharpton racialism (he was originally elected with a strong majority of the white vote), I fully expected Landrieu to pull in almost all the white vote and enough of the black vote courtesy of the Democratic machine to win easily.
Instead, Nagin was re-elected. Whether the vote reflected a genuine disgust with old Louisiana politics or was more a case of choosing sides racially, I don’t know, and in the end it doesn’t matter. The scattered tribes of NOLA have made their choice, and they’ll have to live with the good and the bad.
Now for the hard part.
I’d mentioned something an oyster shucker said to me last week, “If the military had gotten here when they should have,” referring to the much-discussed ‘late response’ of the federal government after Katrina. His unstated follow-on was, I feel safe in assuming, ‘… a lot of bad things wouldn’t have happened.’
He was almost certainly right, but when you consider what that statement really means, it says a lot more about the state of New Orleans on August 29, 2005 than it does about the Feds. I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes in my life, but I’d never seen anything like the complete societal breakdown that occurred after Katrina.
Eloise in 1975 and Opal in 1995 both wrecked, shut down and isolated my hometown of Enterprise in south Alabama. They and other storms did even worse damage to a lot of other towns in the area. Nearby Geneva and Elba have both been flooded as badly as New Orleans was, and on multiple occasions. All of those towns have substantial black populations, and much of Geneva and Elba are as poor as poor gets. None of them ever needed the National Guard to step in and end a “Mad Max” reign of chaos.
(Just an aside here.)
(We’ve all read and heard innumerable complaints about how long it took the Guard to get in and start cleaning up. Let’s set aside the physical realities of mobilizing troops or traveling on shattered highways, and just assume for the moment, that oh, say 24 hours before Katrina had hit, George W. Bush had issued the following statement:)
(“My fellow Americans, a category-five hurricane is bearing down on New Orleans. Because of the high likelyhood of looting and violence, and because the local authorities are not competent enough to conduct an evacuation or to adequately shelter those who cannot evacuate, I am sending in the National Guard immediately to preserve order and public safety.”)
(Can you even imagine what the reaction to that statement would have been? But I digress.)
This isn’t fun to say, but it still has to be said. The worst destruction of Katrina was man-made. We can fix broken levees. We can rebuild flooded houses. We can’t, however, fix a broken society as easily.
Louisianans in general and New Orleanians in particular made too many bad choices for too long. They acquiesced to governmental corruption and incompetence with a shrug and the inevitable, “that’s just Louisiana.” They allowed an unfettered criminal class to fester and thrive, until it literally took over the city. They put too much trust in luck and “the great elsewhere,” as local author Chris Rose puts it, to bail them out when things were at their worst.
And so they lived and died with those choices.
Now it’s time for them to choose again. I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but what the heck, I’ll speak for myself and we’ll see who agrees.
Here’s the deal, Louisiana. We’re going to help you. We really are. You are our neighbors and our countrymen and our friends, and we love you today as much as we ever did, in spite of and in no small part thanks to all the weirdness and flaws down your way. It’s hard to see it from where you are, but we’re helping you now, in our slow and ponderous way. We’re not going to let it end like this.
But like every deal, this one has two parts, and I’m going to state yours very bluntly: You people are going to have to get your act together. You’re going to have to end a lot of the old ways of doing things. You’re going to have to get serious about corruption. You’re going to have to get serious about crime. You’re going to have to get serious about joining the 21st century economy. You’re going to have to pick up the trash and take care of your yard, and nag your neighbor to take care of his. Yes, all that is going to change you, and we know you don’t like to change, but you can’t go back now.
One thing I can promise you is, you cannot go back to the way things were Before. You have been down that road, and you know exactly where it ends.
In the late summer of 1993, I got a temp job doing phone support for Apple Computer in their Austin support center. I’d just finished graduate school, and wasn’t looking for anything more than rent and beer money. My strategy was simply to stay in town for the fall round of on-campus interviews (none of which, as it turned out, resulted in an actual job).
I stayed until mid-December, then moved on. It wasn’t the worst job I’ve ever had, but it wasn’t the best, either. There’s only so long a person can stand to be yelled at on the phone by (mostly) stupid people for the majority of an eight-hour day. Based on this long and very funny piece, things haven’t changed much at Apple Support since then.
Down around Biloxi
Pretty girls are swimming in the sea
They all look like sisters in the ocean
The boy will fill his pail with salty water
And the storms will blow from off toward New Orleans.
When we made our plans this year, I vividly remember telling my wife, “This will be the best year to go to Jazz Fest. Hardly anybody went to Mardi Gras last month, it’ll be the smallest crowd we’ll ever see there.”
Our first stop on Saturday was at the Cajun-themed Fais Do Do stage, for the Driskill Mountain Boys, a traditional country and Bluegrass band named after the highest “mountain” in Louisiana (elevation 550 feet). Modern “country” music rarely strikes me as anything more than vapid pop with a fiddle part, but the real thing can still strike a deep chord. These old boys play the real thing, and then some.
Off to the side of the stage came a reminder that like most celebrations in these parts, Jazz Fest is often as much about family as it is about putting on a good show for the tourists; certainly that was more true this year than is usual:
Then came my personal highlight of the weekend, the Lil Rascals Brass Band at the Heritage Stage.
The Rascals were filling in for another Second Line band that had to cancel at the last minute, and their own lineup had to be filled out with trumpeter Derek Shezbie and Vincent Broussard on sax from the Rebirth Brass Band. They were stuck with, in the band’s vocal estimation, “the worst sound man in the world.”
And damn if they weren’t the best act we saw the whole weekend.
I’ve had a soft spot for Second Line since I first saw the raw, real deal in the French Quarter growing up: bands of teenagers playing what were obviously school band instruments on the street for tips. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if some of the kids I watched some 20 years ago were on that stage Saturday. Then and now, I could only goggle at the startling musicianship coupled with an irresistable get-down beat. And like we’d seen just a few minutes earlier at the Cajun stage, family ties took front and center:
As band leader and trombonist Corey Henry put it, “That’s my daddy and my daughter,” and you don’t get any more family than that. Towards the end of their set, the Rascals were joined on stage by several Mardi Gras Indians:
Now, I’m not even going to try to explain New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians–not least because their origins aren’t exactly a matter of public record. But they’re really cool. If you haven’t been there to see them, you’re just going to have to take my word for it.
New Orleans – the other planet
With other life upon it
It doesn’t matter if we turn to dust
Turn and turn and turn we must
I guess I’ll see you dancing in the ruins tonight.
Our hotel was in Metairie, and we drove down Veterans Boulevard looking for breakfast on Friday morning. That was a poor choice; there wasn’t much there beyond fast food even before Katrina. These days there isn’t much of anything. When we crossed over the canal, we pretty much lost our appetites altogether.
This was on the edge of the residential parts of
Metairie Lakeview just beyond Veterans. It got much, much worse a block later. We didn’t take any more pictures there, but just to give you a sense of what we saw, take a look at this shot from Thursday, taken on the very edge of the Lower 9th Ward, just off Claiborne Avenue:
Okay, some damage there, you’re thinking. Spray paint markings from the survey teams, but hey, there’s scaffolding up, so at least repairs must be going on, right?
Then you drive around the block, and see the back of the same house…
… and you look around, and it hits you that it’s like this everywhere for miles and miles and miles.
I’ve linked a couple of times in the past to Irate Savant, and once to Spectral City. As many have speculated (and almost as many argued this couldn’t be the case), both blogs were works of fiction. They were created by Lein Shory, who is an old friend of mine.
Irate Savant, Lein’s first attempt at a novel in blog form, was a smashing success. It built a steady readership, and more than a few people were convinced that the unhinged title character and narrator was in fact a real person. I hope one of these days Lein will post or publish some of the emails he got from the latter group. One set of correspondance between the Savant and a clueless Huffington Post editor is fall-on-the-floor hysterical.
A few months back, the Savant apruptly stopped posting. Some speculated that he’d met with foul play, others assumed he’d just gotten bored, and a few figured it out–he’d gone away because that was the end of his story.
Lein updated both sites today, revealing their true nature and quite a bit more:
I planned the return of the Irate Savant. I put together a post bringing him back. It was classic Savant, and I was eager to get back into it, to rant and bloviate with that insane, arrogant freedom that his fictional voice allowed. Since the comments were a great part of the fun of the blog, I was going to experiment with open threads, and possibly more guests. Maybe even turn a buck or two (unlikely, I know). I was going to try to take the Savant to the next level–whatever that would be.
I loaded the post into Blogger the night of Tuesday, the 25th, and saved it as a draft. The morning of Wednesday, the 26th, I came very close to hitting the publish button.
Then that afternoon, my second son, Logan, was born. Within seconds of his birth, we realized something was very wrong–what we later that day learned was a serious heart defect.
In addition to several other heart complications, he has what’s known as Transposition of the Great Vessels. His aorta is where his pulmonary artery should be, and vice versa.
The doctors managed to stabilize him, and on Monday, the 1st, he had surgery on his heart–a temporary measure designed to get his blood flowing the right way long enough for him to grow and strengthen for yet another surgery several months from now. And another one may follow in several years.
He’s a tough little guy. It’s hard to look at such a tiny baby and realize he’s gone through so much in just a week of life. At the moment, he seems to be doing well. But we all have a very long way to go.
So I’m ending Irate Savant and Spectral City.
I’m not going to stop blogging, though. I’m going to start a new, non-fiction one entitled Ad Hoc Existence, chronicling how I, Logan, and my family deal with this crisis. In part, it’s for my sanity; after waking up several mornings to a crushing wave of depression and misery, I realized I am going to need some outlet for coping. Another reason is the hope that others might find the information useful, and that eventually I might be able to turn the effort into at least a small source of revenue, possibly as a book. If you read those last words and think that I’m being crass and opportunistic with my son’s condition, think again. I’m faced with a new reality of financial requirements, and basically the only damn skill I have is writing; perhaps I can at least put that skill to some true productive use.
I’ve known how good a writer Lein is since we first met in Elly Welt’s writing class at Auburn, nearly 20 years ago. As anybody reading his stuff can see, he’s got the chops, and then some. So if you enjoyed either Irate Savant or Spectral City, or even if you didn’t catch either during their runs, by all means head over to Ad Hoc Existence. Especially if you’re a book editor or literary agent, capice?
Somewhere in the city there’s insanity around
That’s what you get when you bury above ground
The water that flows on past Magnolia Mound
Is what keeps us lost, and we’re never to be found.
We flew into Louis Armstrong International Airport on Thursday morning, the day before the second weekend of the 2006 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
From the air, New Orleans looks like anywhere else that’s had an encounter with a powerful hurricane in the recent past: blue tarps on roofs, swaths of downed trees, the occasional mass of twisted sheet metal where a warehouse or business has collapsed. I’ve lived in hurricane country for most of my life, and to the eye, approaching from the north, NOLA reminded me of similar damage I’d seen in Orlando, Fort Walton Beach, Panama City.
The drive in on I-10 revealed more destruction, more crumpled buildings, more bent signs, but at interstate speeds (we hadn’t yet experienced one of New Orleans’ now-infamous post-Katrina rush hours), a lot of the sights were still oddly familiar. I’d been through 1995′s Erin and Opal from a waterfront apartment in Fort Walton, and Veterans Boulevard in Metairie today looks a lot like FWB did that fall.
And then, of course, we followed I-10′s eastward curve towards downtown and the French Quarter, and suddenly there it was, the city’s enduring symbol of grandeur, folly, hope and horror.
Up close, you can see recovery work on the Dome is underway.
You try to think about what it was like before the storm. You try to recall how it looked for a bowl game or a concert or a Mardi Gras ball.
You try not to think about what happened inside, the last time it was filled to capacity.
We just got home. Much more to follow.
I wish I could say I was surprised by today’s verdict, but after all these years of rampant buffoonery in American criminal courts, I really wasn’t. If it would have been possible, I wouldn’t have been all that surprised if Moussaoui’s defense had assembled a jury of cretins blinkered enough to acquit him.
The one and only good thing to come out of this fiasco is that it reveals once again the pointlessness of treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue. It’s not about crime. It’s about war. This waste of oxygen never should have set foot in a civilian court. He is an agent of a hostile foreign power, (albeit not a nation-state, but that’s hardly exculpatory) caught red-handed in the act of planning violent attacks on American civilian, military, and government targets. There is no doubt of his guilt; he himself proclaims it with a pathetic sneer.
Like the Nazi sabateours captured during World War II, Moussaoui should have been turned over to the military, tried by a tribunal, and executed. Look at it this way: if we had captured Japanese forward observers just before Pearl Harbor, would they have deserved full constitutional protections and access to the civilian courts?
Of course not. They, like Moussaoui, would have been the very definition of enemy combatants. As a non-uniformed agent, acting without even the orders of a nation-state, Moussaoui didn’t even qualify for Geneva Convention protections, much less the full constitutional rights of an American citizen.
All that said, I have no doubt the next floor-flushing scumbag we catch in this country will get the same exact treatment. And he’ll probably get off lightly, too.
UPDATE: Several commentors have opined that a life imprisonment sentence is not “getting off lightly,” and/or that since Moussaoui stated he wanted to become a martyr, executing him wouldn’t have been appropriate in any case.
Two points. One, for a guy who wants to become a martyr, Moussaoui fought awfully hard to avoid a death sentence; at one of his early court appearances, he stated explicitly that he would fight against receiving the death penalty with (if I recall correctly), ‘all his strength.’
Second, and far more important, is the message this verdict sends to Moussaoui’s fellow Islamofascists. It tells them that America is weak. It tells them Americans don’t have the stomach to do what must be done to achieve victory. It tells them our civilian culture doesn’t have the fibre to deal seriously with terrorism (and they will, by now, ignore the contradictory lesson of United flight 93). It tells them they can be captured on our soil in the act of committing barbarism, and they will receive not just mercy, but actual succor from a considerable swath of our legal establishment.
It is a bad verdict, and those are very, very bad messages.
In the UK, T-Mobile is doing an end-run around British Telcom by offering dirt-cheap wireless voice and broadband service:
T-Mobile’s plans involve using HSDPA to ramp up the data transfer rates of its 3G service from the current 384kbps to 1.8Mbps in 2006, and then onto 20Mbps by 2010. Better still, the service is completely open, and is offered at a flat rate of just
I grew up in a small town in south Alabama. Until I was a sophomore in college, there weren’t any rock radio stations within daytime listening range. The choices were Top 40, country, “easy listening” (aka the stuff my dad played at his dentist office), NPR, and a few religious stations. The only real rock radio in the region came out of Atlanta (96 Rock) or Pensacola, which was home to the then-legendary WTKX-FM, better known as TK-101.
TK was one of the last independently-programmed stations in the country, surviving until 2000, when it was bought out and artistically gutted by the ClearChannel conglomerate (96 Rock in Atlanta suffered the same fate). In the early 80′s, it was the first place I ever heard Rush on the radio, or R.E.M., or U2, or Van Halen (pre-”Jump”, natch), or Metallica, or any of scores of bands that didn’t, at that time, fit in to anybody’s format. The first time I ever heard “Sympathy For The Devil,” or the Faces’ “Stay With Me,” I was listening to TK.
But that wasn’t what was really great about the station. TK had a personality, and it was unpredictable. The station was programmed by the in-house jocks, and you really never knew what you were going to hear next, particularly in the first half of the ’80′s. TK picked up on new acts in a hurry, and even played stuff like Cyndi Lauper and Duran Duran long before they were unavoidable on Top 40 stations (and like them or hate them, at that time they were still new and very different from the automated pop of the day). It was a station that could effortlessly go from Judas Priest to Bruce Cockburn to an old Journey tune, and then roll into an obscure live U2 track one of the jocks found on the back of a vinyl EP.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve had an XM receiver for over a year, and I wouldn’t voluntarily give it up (unless I decide I like Sirius better one of these days). Their programming is light-years better than anything on terrestrial radio; Bluesville is a particularly fantastic channel. But at its heart, even XM is nearly as segregated as any ClearChannel-choked radio dial.
Deep Tracks is the closest thing on XM to an old-style rock radio station, but it’s still limited to a fairly slim slice of mid-tempo 70′s and 80′s tunes (and it’s gotten entirely too hippie-oriented for my tastes lately). Anything more muscular is relegated to the ridiculous hair-band ghetto of Boneyard, and that’s asinine. There’s a lot of heavy music out there that doesn’t suck, so why lump the aforementioned Van Halen in with outright crap like Poison or Warrant? Where are the progressive rock acts? Or for that matter, the singer-songwriters? Where are the new, genuinely alternative bands from college radio?
Well, of course, they’re on their own XM channels (whoops, except for progressive rock, which just got bumped to internet-only). But out of all of XM’s bandwidth, why isn’t there at least one place that plays some of everything?
XM brags about being an alternative to commercial radio, and on some occasions and stations they live up to that boast, but with hundreds of channels available, why isn’t there a genuine free-form channel? Why all the harsh segregation? Why are they just repeating ClearChannel’s playlist on Top Tracks and Big Tracks? You can hear all those same songs every day on any commercial “classic rock” station, so why does XM even bother?
In other words, XM, you’re getting my $13 a month. Now how about you deliver me just one station with… personality? Here’s a suggestion: look up a guy who went by the handle “Strummer.” He was as close as TK-101 had to a programming director during the station’s glory days. You could do a hell of a lot worse than hiring him and turning him loose.
UPDATE: Adrian Rush of the Motley Fool agrees (sort of).