Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Increadable Shrinking Paper

Ah Sunday. Time to retrieve the great big newspaper from the doorstep.

And it seems to be shrinking. It total, it's about the same, it's just the bits I like the best that keep getting pared down. Two weeks ago it was the Current that shrank and reverted to being called Opinion. The name doesn't matter, but the content reduction does.

I guess it's not an exciting section to some, but it is the section that sits down and thinks about the news rather than just reacting that there was news. If it bleeds, it rarely leads this section no matter how many front pages it covers. Still, it is a very important part and for me a central part of being a newspaper.

My parents didn't get the LA Times, but they always got the local. The section to attract my attention after the comics were those last two pages in the first section. They had silly commentary and serious commentary. They had world commentary and local commentary. Whatever they had, it was thinking people trying to express what they thought and why they thought it. So in high school when I discovered the grand spread that was the comics pages of the LA Times (Wasn't that section D? Why's it C now?), the most natural thing was to pick up the front section and turn it to the back few pages too.

So watching the Sunday section shrink is, for me, a death toll to the paper. Others will be happy so long as they have the sport page. They are welcome to mine. I just don't ever want to lose the pages and section of commentary.

Climbing the walls

For junk you absolutely don't need but sure do want, there seems to be no better place than ThinkGeek. Today I totally want some acrobots. Oh, the things I could make them do while gathering dust!

Not so thrilled with the sonic screwdriver, though. Sure, we don't expect it to be quite the universal screwdriver that it's been since the second Doctor pulled it from his pocket saying, "I think I'll use this." But how about a "nub" that turns a Phillips, at least? I'm fairly certain the "real" thing has never written a secret message in UV ink. Oh well, it probably isn't built strong enough to go twisting off case screws.

linearly speaking

Apparently the form of a western story is a line while the form of an eastern story is a spiral. Perhaps this is what played into Tokyopop's (silly) decision to reorder the stories in Kino no Tabi, Kino's Journey. Originally they didn't start at the beginning as defined by the order of happening. The anime, which did not exist first but was in English first, keeps a non-linear order though has some reordering in the name of rendering the book stories into episodes.

In the original and in the anime, we jump right in and meet the characters as they are and as they will be in most stories. There is Kino and there is Hermes and they are traveling through a world not much unlike our own. This is what is most important for us to know in the setup of the stories so this is what we learn first. Later we find out who the traveler is and how she got there. The requirements of English to place a noun in each sentence does tend to make one part of that less of a surprise while the anime could get away with it.

Someday I'll have to write about how absolutely brilliant Kino no Tabi is, but now my goal is actually the shape of story telling.

Once in English class we were told to write a story in class. It was to be set in the school and when we were done, each story would be handed around the class for our classmates to write comments. Being who I am, absurd and cat crazed, I wrote about a cat abandoned on the north field learning to fend for herself. But that wasn't the important part of the story. The important part was that my character was confused and lost and needing to learn quickly or die so that's what I started with. Around the third paragraph I mentioned she was a cat.

It was a very conscious decision to describe the character's confusion before her species. I wanted my poor captive readers to know what the character was feeling before deciding that, well, actually, they're dog people and just can't relate to a cat or whatever else might hinder just knowing the character.

The class was pretty evenly divided about the story. Half of them hated it. They had no idea what was happening, many of them had missed the sentence starting the third paragraph "To a cat like Marcy...". They didn't know the character was a cat. Some even expressed anger at the way I had chosen to tell my story. The other half thought it was grand and creative and a nice break from the rest of the stories. Though some of those mentioned that I should tell my reader that the character is a cat right at the start.

But that was the whole point. Firmly throw the reader into the shoes, or rather paws, of someone entirely different from themselves. Later I would let them know it, but first just feel it. It may not be linear, but it is what was required. This was the one thing I would not change about the story even though it was the one thing others most thought needed changed.

The linear progression does not always serve the story. The chronological ordering of facts may not reveal them in good story order. Story elements should be ordered in a way that serves the story, not in a way that serves the time line. Tokyopop should not have gone and reordered the stories in Kino no Tabi either. That reordering does not serve the story.

I've forgotten now what my partner/rival in crime did with his story. After I declared I would write mine about a cat he said his would be a dog. It was probably a demon dog romping through our open hallways. This is someone who had tapes of all the songs of some local band whose biggest song was something gruesome about puppies that played very well on Doctor Demento. He also felt road rage shootings should be legal, an assertion that was undaunted by the fact that he'd be one of the first victims. No, he wasn't suicidal, just enjoying high school. High school really was a lot of fun.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pick me! Pick me!

The Eisner nominations are up. There's some good stuff in there, especially The Preposterous Adventures of Ironhide Tom. Apparently it's "relatively unknown". Must have been someone not carrying everything on Free Comic Book Day last year. It certainly topped my list for "must grab", followed by Jean, and didn't take long to get read and foisted under a number of other noses. Still, when confronted with what to recommend based on liking Ironhide Tom, the comics guys were somewhat at a loss.

Poor Tom is up against the Batman/Spirit issue, though. Oh dear, oh dear. I'm still cheering for Tom!

Also up is Moomin, which I still haven't got around to checking out. My poor comics budget is running so low.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Costs of equality

The other thing the LA Times brought to my door last Sunday (April 8th Current, The ERA: still a bad idea) was an old but often repeated argument against the Equal Rights Amendment that I have been vaguely aware of but never actually sat down and read. Apparently one of the problems with the ERA is that in giving greater rights it also gives greater responsibility. Certain unequal protections given to women would be lost in gaining equal opportunity.

Specific examples of these protections were given:

The amendment would require women to be drafted into military combat any time men were conscripted, abolish the presumption that the husband should support his wife and take away Social Security benefits for wives and widows. It would also give federal courts and the federal government enormous new powers to reinterpret every law that makes a distinction based on gender, such as those related to marriage, divorce and alimony.
Oddly this doesn't bother me in the way it is intended to.

Take the draft. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't actually want to be drafted, but neither would my hypothetical brother. The thing is, I am unclear on why I should be protected from it while this brother is not. Either it is okay to draft both or neither. This drafting men only is just sitting on the fence trying not to decide.

I'm not sure where the presumption that a husband should support his wife gets women. Does this hold in a court of law? Can a woman married to a layabout sue him for not supporting the family? If she did, what would that get her in a land of communal property?

On to Social Security benefits for wives and widows. This is where I get bothered. A number of men out there are choosing to forgo career for family by being the ones to stay at home and keep house and kids tidy. Should the breadwinner in these families die, will the same benefits be available to the homemaker left to continue caring for the kids that would be available had that homemaker been female? If not, this seems like a rather drastic fault in the law. Sexual equality shouldn't always mean women getting what the men have. Sometimes the men should get what the women have.

Oh well, maybe the last bit will convince me. It does need some explaining. I can't help with the divorce and alimony part because as far as I know it's been a long time since alimony was automatically paid by the man to the woman. But the marriage part might just throw open the floodgates to gay marriage. Well, wider, anyway. I never figured out why that was worrying.

Of course, the new ERA with the same text and a new name should not be passed on the expired state votes of the old one, especially not on the rescinded votes. Amending the Constitution is a process that must not even have the appearance of impropriety.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Last weekend's LA Times brought news of more states refusing federal funding of sex-ed since it has too many strings attached. This brings a smile to my lips since it is a rejection of the willful ignorance that seems to be running amok. The problem is, you see, that they are not allowed to teach anything but abstinence should they accept these funds. Though the article is now archive only, it can be read here.

I found one quote particularly interesting:

"There are kids who don't want to know how to put on a condom, because they don't want to have sex," said Leslee J. Unruh, founder and president of the South Dakota-based Abstinence Clearinghouse, the nation's largest network of abstinence educators. "So why can't kids who want to abstain have equal time, funding and education in the classroom as kids who are having sex?"

Is this really the shape of the thinking? It's hard to think otherwise, but it seems so muddled.

Now, kids are very good at figuring out they need to know certain things. It is incredibly useful to know how water flows and they'll put hours into the experiments to figure it out. They aren't so good at knowing they need math. Plenty of them will claim they don't. Should we stop teaching them algebra because they don't want to know it? No one has been hurt by knowing algebra and not using it, plenty are hurt by not knowing it and needing it. No one has been hurt by simply knowing how to put on a condom, but should they need the knowledge and not have it the potential for hurt can be far more immediate than lack of algebra.

But let's go on. Why can't kids who want to abstain have equal time? There is nothing "equal time" about teaching abstinence only. It just isn't logically possible.

The article later points to a study by Columbia University and the Guttmacher Institute that finds that teen pregnancy rates dropped 24% of which 14% is attributed to teens waiting longer to have sex while the rest is contraception. Perhaps there is some bias in not pointing out that that means 10% (a smaller amount) is attributable to contraception. There is not half so much bias as if someone took this to mean that abstinence only works. Clearly a complete program teaching both works better.

It is right and good to teach kids that abstinence is the only 100% safe way to handle sex. It is right and good to point out that there is nothing wrong with them to take this route. It is right and good to mention that their elders are expecting them to abstain. It is not right and good to suppose that they'll all just take your word for it. It is certainly bad to try to lie to them to try to trick them into doing as their elders desire.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

V for Vendetta

Some have suggested I don't like Moore's Watchmen because I have no appreciation for the subject matter of the satire. The reasoning is sound, they could very well be right. This earlier work has no such baggage.

Alan Moore and David Lloyd's V for Vendetta takes on politics, which should interest everyone because it affects every aspect of life especially the quality of that life.

The nuclear bombs have fallen around the world but have left at least one island of humanity to try to continue. The reasoning for leaving England may be silly (and the creators are quite willing to admit naivete), but it is only the fact that England was spared that is important to the backdrop of the story, why is just window dressing and neither is part of the story itself. In response to the pressures of trying to survive in a world laid waste, a powerful police state has grown up with no checks on itself.

As the story opens, this situation has been allowed to fester for years. We meet a criminal and the police but quickly find out who the real criminals are and that there is no police. And then we meet Guy Fawkes. For the Americans who aren't certain why we should "Remember, remember, the 5th of November," it will be explained. This image of a classic criminal is V out to do what he can to save England from itself. And blow up Parliament.

Thus it starts. As V continues with his vendetta, England's oppressive government will try to cope with this new menace it can't see even though it thinks it can see everything. We find out more about how it got to be the way it is as the saved girl tells her history. This sharply contrasts with only ever finding out the snippets of V's life that others can discover.

Musings on the basic nature of freedom, change, government, and more. It's all covered in here wrapped smartly in an interesting story. Altogether, an amazing read.

Apparently there's a movie too.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


I have made my way through the episodes of the first season of the BBC's Torchwood. The first impression was muddled a bit by the thought that the con man spouting off about the importance of the rules basically for their own sake just doesn't wash. The last was wondering why that particular hand could be valued so highly. Divorced of any knowledge of the new Doctor Who series it spins off from, its an okay series if highly silly. Fun to watch, but nothing to crave.

In between I mostly wondered why "adult" has to mean full of sex (or violence). Why does "mature" mean running about with hormones blazing? Do we grow up to become controlled by the sloshing chemicals? Does the evolutionary urge to procreate become such an all encompassing bit of our lives? I prefer it when "adult" and "mature" mean something more along the lines of "complicated", "sophisticated", maybe even with a little "comment on society".

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Crippling Depression

We try not to think too hard about what it says about an institution that the best comic drawn by members of the student body is called Crippling Depression. That PHD guy doesn't count, he was already doing that before he got here.

Now that the web site is back, we can relive every strip. Many of the jokes can be understood by anyone at a tech school with a Ratio. A few more can be understood by those at the right tech school, and a little more if under the right reign. To get almost all the jokes you probably had to be a in their circle of friends going to Caltech under Baltimore's reign. Ultimately the audience was just the three guys doing it, but the rest could get something out of it too.

Now they are graduated and after rotating out one guy, they've gone from working for Arby's coupons to working for free with a new comic called Pass Fail Studios. They've also changed their content to increase their audience. Now instead of making fun of particular professors, classes, TAs, and "traditions" they are making fun of "mainstream" superheros. According to their interview with the California Tech (pg. 5), this means the audience now includes "the three guys working at Comics Factory". That may be so, but the rest will probably get something out of it too.