Latest Blog Posts

by Mike Schiller

24 Apr 2008

What we have before us today is the official video for Korn’s “Haze”, which was apparently inspired by the upcoming Ubisoft/Free Radical first-person shooter.  This is what it looks like:

Alright, now, who’s benefiting here?  I know that the point is that both parties benefit, as Haze gets, oh, “hardcore cred” or something, and Korn gets gamer cred.  The thing is, the people out there who (still) like Korn happen to be pretty much the same audience that will be buying up Haze when it comes out.  This isn’t to speak of the quality of either piece of the equation; rather, I just don’t see the point of marrying the two, especially in what seems like an especially forced way.

Occasionally there’s a merger of game and licensed music that just seems as though it was meant to be.  Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames”, a two-year-old song, has taken on new life on the radio thanks to the infamy it has taken on as the most difficult track on Guitar Hero 3.  And I’ll never forget the rush of “Jerry was a Race Car Driver” showing up in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (though I realize I may be alone in that particular way). 

But Korn?  Haze?  If the above Korn vid makes you more excited for Haze, please leave a comment, because I want to know why.

by Nikki Tranter

24 Apr 2008

Cannibalsby Jimmy Lee ShreeveJohn Blake PublishingApril 2008, 288 pages

by Jimmy Lee Shreeve
John Blake Publishing
April 2008, 288 pages

... because it’s just about the greatest PR headline I’ve ever seen.

The skinny? UK-based true crime author Jimmy Lee Shreeve is writing a poker-related blog, which can be accessed via his website. Shreeve is the author of four books detailing some of the gruesomest rituals in modern history, including child sacrifice and cannibalism. His newest book is Cannibals, out in hardcover this month from John Blake Publishing. According to Shreeve’s press release, his poker blog “covers his personal experiences ... and highlights the often wild individuals who have been associated with the game since its beginnings on the Mississippi riverboats in the early 19th century”.

Enticing as that sounds, I don’t think even the most creative of press releases could rightly describe the joys of Shreeve’s blog. It is truly a journey into weirdness: eccentric, funny, and ridiculously compelling. If you need some poker tips, Jimmy’s got some. But the fun here is learning about Jimmy’s dad, who taught Jimmy to play poker as a kid. Jimmy’s dad learned the ropes from “U.S. airmen and members of the Mafia during stints in Italy and North Africa in World War II”. Right? Jimmy writes, too, about his first high stakes games, about comparing method acting to poker playing, and comments on the techniques of Phil Hellmuth.

Here’s just a sample from Shreeve’s latest entry, titled “Too many aces can land you in a hole”:

Although most of us would agree that aces in the hole are a good thing to have, too many of them—metaphorically-speaking, at least—can literally land you in a hole. One time, when I was playing poker regularly in Bristol, in the west of England, I ran into what was as near to a Wild West shoot out as you’re ever going to get in the U.K. (short of getting involved in armed robbery and gangsterism).

It involved me, Frank Coburn and Sam Johnson. Both were singer/guitar players, who I used to back up with lead guitar in the pubs and clubs in the region. This was during the mid-1980s.

We’d been playing poker with some rasta guys in St. Pauls, which is the Bristol equivalent of the London district of Brixton. As usual, we’d been playing in the Gaol, the historic cellar owned by Frank. The rastas became disgruntled, saying that we’d had too many “aces in the hole” for it to be a fair game. We weren’t cheating (being honourable, none of us would). Luck had simply been on our side. The game ended, and the rastas left, muttering vengeance.

We thought nothing of it. But the following evening we were on our way for a drink at the Beaufort pub in the arty Montpelier area of Bristol. I was wearing my long coat and Western hat (which I still wear), and was completely unaware that the rastas were waiting for us up ahead, standing like gunfighters in the shadows.and wielding knives.

Head on over to see how it ends…


by Rob Horning

24 Apr 2008

In a recent editorial for the Guardian, CEPR economist Dean Baker makes a point I was struggling to make in this column. Baker does a good job of explaining how irrational, economically speaking, it was for people to jump into the housing market over the past decade.

only an ideologue would view homeownership as an end in itself. One of the reasons that millions of families face foreclosure and/or the loss of their life savings is that the ideologues of homeownership continued to promote homeownership even when it was clear that buying a home would be financially detrimental.
Recognising the risks of homeownership in a bubble wasn’t a matter of rocket science - it was simple arithmetic. The ratio of house sale prices to annual rent soared past 20 to 1 in the bubble markets, approaching 30 to 1 in the most inflated markets.
If a homeowner takes out a 7% mortgage (very low for a subprime buyer), pays 1% of the value in property tax each year, and another 1% for insurance and maintenance, then ownership costs are equal to 9% of the sale price. If the house sells for 20 times its annual rent, then this family is paying 80% more in housing costs as homeowners each year than they would pay as renters. If the house were selling for 25 times the annual rent, then the family would be paying 125% more as homeowners as they would as renters.

And the dropping prices and HELOCs assure that no equity was amassed either.

That all makes for good support for the point I was getting at in the column, which is that the pleasures of ownership are noneconomic, they are ideological and they cost extra, above and beyond what shelter you get out of the deal.

by Jason Gross

24 Apr 2008

As much as I love the bard of Hibbing, I did sympathize a bit with Jon Friedman’s Marketwatch column about Dylan’s Pulitzer Prize.  He’s a Dylan fan too (hell, it sounds like he almost has as many bootlegs as I do) but he insists that anointing Bobby is just a play for the Prize people to look hip.  I wonder about that myself and you can’t honestly think that such a sentiment didn’t cross the minds of the Prize committee.  It’s only in the last decade that the committee decided that jazz was worthy of the honor and even then, they’ve only chosen a small handful of recipients then. 

Dylan represents the first time that a rock performer has gotten any kind of recognition from them (it was a special citation after all). But much like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you wonder why other performers haven’t gotten a similar nod. Dylan was noted for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”  It’s nice that they recognize that he’s a great songwriter and that if they are going to start to recognize someone in rock for these kind of skills, you might as well start with him.  Dylan is an easy choice for them also because much of his work has a literary tinge to it so it falls in line pretty well with other artists that they’ve honored.  Also, his recent Chronicles book is one of the best rock bios you’ll ever read- no doubt that helped him too.  But is this just going to be a blip or an ongoing concern with the committee?  Which rockers, if anyone, will they recognize in the coming years?

by John G. Nettles

24 Apr 2008

Pictures ‘n’ Words: This one is about comic books. Do a search on Amazon for recent releases by the novelist Jodi Picoult and you’ll find her new novel Change of Heart is a hardcover bestseller, her last book Nineteen Minutes a paperback bestseller, and Wonder Woman: Love & Murder doing decently in the graphic-novel category. Picoult, an author of emotionally charged character studies, is the last person one might expect to be a comics fan, and yet there she is among a current crop of mainstream authors taking a detour into the world of funnybooks. Bestselling legal-thriller author Brad Meltzer writes Justice League of America for DC, African-American cult novelist Eric Jerome Dickey and crime novelist Charlie Huston write for Marvel. Filmmakers Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon, and Reginald Hudlin ... actors Seth Green and Rosario Dawson ... all people who have better things to do, are coming out as uncloseted comics fans.

I don’t say this in some kind of attempt to legitimize comic books—with rare exceptions, they’re still the same disposable mental cotton-candy they always were—but rather to suggest that even bad superhero comics won’t necessarily turn kids into maladjusted, basement-dwelling mouth-breathers or worse, columnists for hippie socialist alternative newspapers. It’s actually possible to read comics and still make something of oneself.

This was not, however, the prevailing opinion in the 1950s. In the years between the fall of Hitler and the rise of Elvis, America was briefly gripped by a national hysteria over the effects of comic books on the hearts and minds of the country’s youth. David Hajdu, author of the excellent book about Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Positively 4th Street (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2001), essays this period of nationwide madness in The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2008).

In the first half of the ’50s, comics were a major industry, with some 800 titles cramming the racks at drugstores and soda shoppes at its zenith. From a comics reader’s perspective it was a Golden Age, with journeyman artists producing some of the best and most influential work in the medium’s history. From anyone else’s perspective, however, the comics were a cavalcade of depravity, tasteless, gory, and catering to the worst parts of the adolescent psyche.

Enter psychologist Fredric Wertham, author of a shoddy but sensationalistic book on the link between comics and juvenile delinquency, and Senator Estes Kefauver, eager to grease his presidential aspirations with televised crusading against society’s ills, and suddenly funnybooks were as much a menace to our children as the godless Commies. Public burnings of comics became a daily occurrence, publishers circled the wagons to create a self-censoring body, and the Golden Age of Comics came to a crashing end, along with the careers of literally hundreds of writers and artists as comics companies folded or were driven out of business.

Even if one bears no love of comic books, Hajdu’s book, drawn from countless interviews and painstaking research, is worth reading for its fascinating glimpse of a peculiar period in our nation’s cultural and political history. We have an obligation to take notice whenever creative expression, even in forms as lowbrow as Tales from the Crypt, comes under fire from people who presume to save us from it. The Ten-Cent Plague is a well-crafted and poignant wake-up call.

Due Recognition: At the same time that David Hajdu reminds us of the villains of comic-book history, comics writer and historian Mark Evanier gives long-overdue props to one of the medium’s true heroes, artist Jack Kirby, in Kirby: King of Comics (Harry N. Abrams, 2008). From the 1940s, when he and partner Joe Simon created Captain America, until his death in 1994, Kirby was the preeminent comics artist of the 20th century.

Evanier, one of Kirby’s assistants during his most fertile period in the ’60s, traces the life and career of the man widely known as “The King of Comics” from his humble beginnings as Jacob Kurtzberg, a tailor’s son from a Brooklyn slum who realized a talent for drawing and spent the rest of his life producing and peddling his art to keep his family fed. Throughout the ’40s and ’50s, Kirby worked in every genre known to comicdom until coming to work as the house artist for Atlas Comics, where he was paired with Stan Lee, who had once been his office boy but was now the editor. Atlas became Marvel Comics, and the Lee-Kirby team created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men and dozens of other heroes that went on to make the company millions.

None of those millions made their way to Kirby, however. As good an artist as he was, he was never a businessman. The more flamboyant Lee got the credit for the work while Kirby continued to eke out a barely adequate living through a per-page rate of pay, and was even forced by Marvel’s lawyers to disavow any claim to creative input. The situation improved a bit when Kirby moved on to Marvel’s competition and created his Fourth World saga for DC, a sweeping and bizarre epic of cosmic gods, interstellar hippies, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen—at least Kirby’s name was used to sell the comics, even if Kirby himself continued to receive sweatshop pay for his vision.

But while Jack Kirby may not have gotten the respect he deserved from his employers, his fans knew better, and Evanier’s book is one for the fans. It’s a coffee-table-sized book, and while the $40 price tag may seem a bit steep, the book’s format is ideal for showcasing the master’s work, including original pencils, a gatefolded poster, and a lot of work never before seen by the reading public. Best of all is Evanier’s prose, which is affectionate but never obsequious, and gives us a vivid picture of Kirby’s passions and prescience, his fierce determination to keep working even as his health and eyesight began to fail him, and his sheer boundless decency. It comes highly recommended to anyone interested in watching the art of comics evolving in the hands of one of its greatest practitioners.

New in Novels
: If anyone reading this is a true geek, then I can describe S. M. Peters’ debut novel Whitechapel Gods (Penguin USA, 2008) as evoking an exciting and horrific mix of Alan Moore and early Clive Barker with shades of Grant Morrison and Terry Gilliam and you’ll immediately bum a ride from Mom to go buy it. For those less receptive to name-checking, Peters’ novel is an impressive entry in the recent subgenre of science fiction known as steampunk. Though no less techno-fetishistic than its older cousin cyberpunk, this sort of story concerns itself with imaginative technology of the Victorian era, all gears and levers and shiny brass rivets. Peters’ novel, however, takes all of that and plunges it deep into hell.

At the close of this novel’s 19th century, London’s notorious Whitechapel slum (in our world, home of Jack the Ripper) has been enclosed in an impassive wall and taken over by a pair of all-powerful entities: Mama Engine, whose colossal furnace belches ash into the sky, and Grandfather Clock, a gear-driven Big Brother. A small contingent of humans have formed a resistance movement, but how can mere flesh-and-blood hope to rise against an enemy that lives in every inch of the city and the very air itself?

For a first novel, Peters’ book is beyond impressive. From the first page we’re drawn into incessant nightmare, a psychotic fever-dream of horror and violation that makes us grasp at the faintest glimmers of hope as eagerly as any of the protagonists do. There are definitely shudder-inducing and often nauseating elements here, but as in any good horror tale, you’ll gladly take them as part of the ride.

This article first appeared here at Flagpole.

//Mixed media

Double Take: 'The French Connection' (1971)

// Short Ends and Leader

"You pick your feet in Poughkeepsie, and we pick The French Connection for Double Take #18.

READ the article