Saturday, March 29, 2008

An Afternoon of Pulp

Went to Pulp Adventurecon #8 in Bordentown, the second time I visited the show. It's a small convention for devotees of pulp fiction and early science fiction. Of course I was like a kid in a candy store, buzzing around the colorful reproductions of The Shadow, Doc Savage and Phantom Detective novels. They also sold reprints of Spicy Detective Stories, Jungle Stories, G-8 and his Battle Aces and other marvelous rare finds. When I first went to Pulp Adventurecon in 2006, most of the attendees were older, in their 50s and 60s. This year the ages were mixed between old and young, so more young people are getting into pulp literature. I chatted with writer C.J. Henderson and bought a few of his hard-boiled private eye and occult detective books. Henderson is really friendly and a genuinely nice fellow, who'll sign his books and talk to fans. I also met some people from the Malibu group in attendance and talked about publishing and writing.
I found two key Doc Savage reprints I wanted, plus a reprint of The Spider. I also picked up an issue of Space and Time Magazine, a cool literary publication featuring science fiction, horror and fantasy stories. Plus, I scored a free Indiana Jones promo poster for the new movie coming out Memorial Day! Woo-hoo!

Friday, March 28, 2008

War Nation

This month, the U.S. marked the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, or Operation Iraqi Freedom depending on who you talk to. Regardless of your political leanings, the war has affected this country in many diverse ways: foreign relations, national security and with thousands of grieving families, very personally.
The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 because, according to President Bush, then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had biological weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to the Middle East. The United States and her allies invaded Iraq to disarm Saddam.
What followed was a blurry, bloody and nightmarish clash between Sunni and Shiite, warring factions and the crumbling of Saddam's dictatorship and the rise of a fledgling democracy that played more like a kangaroo court. The American troops, after entering Baghdad, failed to stop the rioting and looting as Iraqis demolished their own city. Eerie reminders of the 1992 L.A. riots filled our TV screens as we watched museums, government buildings and stores pillaged and looted. What none of the news networks bothered to report was the armories were also looted, and these weapons would be used by pissed off Iraqi insurgents to kill U.S. troops.
Five years later, the surreal war, filled with its rocket-propelled grenades, roadside bombs, imbedded reporters, life in the Green Zone, suicide bombers and ethnic clashes, seems less and less real for us civilians back home. For those troops fighting, the war is every day. They live, sleep, eat and drink war. They're training prepared them to do their jobs with honor despite the stress and bullshit. I don't buy the line spewed from the mouths of politicians that our troops are fighting for our freedoms in this case. They're fighting to stay alive. They're fighting because if they don't, the soldier fighting next to them might die.
The men and women in uniform are doing what they've been programmed and trained to do: they're following orders. They're marching into the most violent place on Earth. They don't do it for mom or apple pie; they do it because they were told to by a corrupt administration.
I suppose the war has become ingrained into our collective consciousness. It is part of America. After 9/11, when the World Trade Center was a pile of twisted metal and ash rained down on lower Manhattan, we knew al-Qaeda was responsible. We did what Americans do when our nation is attacked - we rally around the flag, paint the worlds "Let's Roll" on military fighter planes and bomb the fuckers back to the Stone Age.
Except in this case, we took our eyes off the ball, or more appropriately, someone making our strategic and intelligence decisions took their eye off the ball. We kicked the Taliban out of Afghanistan and set our sights on Osama bin Laden. Yet there was one small problem: instead of concentrating on smoking Osama out of his cave, we diverted our attention to Iraq.
There began a war based on faulty intelligence and miscalculations. According to Vice President Cheney, our troops would be greeted as liberators when they entered Baghdad. After Saddam's statue fell, the Iraqis wanted us to get the fuck out of their country. But, like the annoying house guests we were, we overstayed our welcome.
So do we have war fatigue? Are we tired? The Democrats are calling for an immediate pull out of our troops, while the Republicans say we should stay in and get the "job" done, whatever the "job" is. Some claim our national security is at stake if we withdraw our troops. Sen. John McCain said we could be in Iraq for 100 years. I'm sorry, but if your military has to be entrenched anywhere for 100 years, you probably shouldn't go to war in the first place.
The war is part of America. We have become a war nation. As perverse as it sounds, the longer the war stretches on, the better it can be for our economy. All of our manufacturing jobs are drying up and relocating to foreign countries. When you call tech support, you're connected with someone from Bangladesh. The products we buy are all made overseas. America's production isn't really thriving, except in the military industrial complex.
Yes, the bane of conspiracy theorists and peacenik hippies will eventually save us. The good ol' military industrial complex is where the manufacturing jobs are. From the airplanes and helicopters to the missiles and armaments used to blow the shit out of Third World villages, Uncle Sam has a wargasm for the military industrial complex. The safest bet for investors is to put all your money in the defense industry, because as paranoid and batshit crazy our political leaders are now, they'll be really rabid for war after McCain is elected. Some of the companies you should invest in if you want to ride the wave of prosperity for the 21st Century include: Lockheed Martin, General Electric, Northrop Grumman Corp., General Dynamics Corp., Raytheon Co., Boeing, United Technologies, Science Applications International Corp., and L-3 Communications.
As the war lingers on, the defense industry will create new military technologies and vehicles and that means big profits. America produces soldiers and weapons it sends around the world to police other countries. The biggest distortion is when people claim America is not the world's policeman. Bullshit! We are the world's policeman! Who do you think will save us from the falafel-munching religious bomb-wearing zealots? The Norwegians? The Belgians?
Nope, it's good old American know-how and innovation, shipping soldiers halfway around the world to bomb the crap out of some mosque or rat-infested building to take out "insurgents" or "extremists" or whoever we're shooting at that day.
But here's the thing: No matter where you stand on the war, the military or national security, numbers don't lie. This week it was reported 4,000 Americans were killed in this war since it began in 2003. That's more than the people killed in 9/11, which comes to about 3,000. A 2006 Lancet survey estimated 654,965 Iraqi casualties from March 2003 until June of 2006. According to the U.S. government, total costs of the war as of March 2008 was $501 billion. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the war would cost taxpayers $1.9 trillion.
So consult your financial advisors today and get a portfolio in the defense industry. The world may be headed to hell, but that doesn't mean you can't cash in on slaughter and mayhem!

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Today one year ago Rabbi David Honigsberg died. I met him on a couple of occasions and he was really a creative and talented person. I guess thinking about David makes me think about death and just how fleeting life is.
The thing is, people remember David and people miss him. He actually mattered and touched several lives. Lately, I've been feeling pissed off and alone. I think, is my life significant? Who will be there at my graveside when I depart? What good have I done in this life?
Today I listened to David's CD "The Pattern", a collection of songs he wrote and performed. The title track sums up an essential feeling: that everything we do has some great significance, that nothing is really chance, that in the long run (cosmically speaking) our lives have a rationale to them.

"It's hard to imaging that as I walk through life
I'm weaving some great pattern way on high
But on those nights I remember to look up at the stars
I know there's more to living, than just getting by"
- The Pattern
David Honigsberg

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Blame the Messenger

I'm so tired of the recent attacks upon our newspaper from various sources who think we have some kind of hidden agenda. I know it's become chic and trendy to speculate all media, including newspapers are controlled by liberal Zionists whose agenda for a one-world government is destroying the sanctity of marriage and family values that have held this steadfast republic together for over two centuries.
The fact is, all journalists are not part of an insidious cabal designed to push Democratic National Committee propaganda. Many of us simply do what we do because we want to inform the public about the business of city council or community news they can't get from the metropolitan dailies or cable news networks. Working for a weekly newspaper isn't really strenuous. It is, however, demanding when you're dealing with writing eight or nine stories a week and covering two municipalities and dealing with many issues and subjects.
I've been a professional journalist for most of my working career, going on 14 years now. I've got a plethora of interesting stories; I met several people, some famous, others infamous. I've been insulted, threatened with bodily harm and mocked publicly. Praise in this job is extremely rare. I keep some letters I've collected over the years from various people thanking me for a story or article I wrote. One of my favorite letters is from 2000 from a former tax collector in Wildwood who empathized with me. He wrote "I am writing you this letter because both of us seldom get a good word for doing our jobs. I truly meant what I said about your integrity and honesty when dealing with me over the past few years. I could always count on you reporting any story accurately without the slightest deviation of the content we spoke of. You always made sure that you had all the facts before any article went into publication."
I keep the letter in a box with a bunch of other letters, back when I received letters before e-mail. All these old postmarked envelopes from my youth with letters from friends, mentors and strangers. There's something comforting in that old box, a nostalgia you can't get from the inbox on your e-mail program.
The best letters we get are the ones we don't expect. Last year, after winning a second-place journalism award, I received a card from one of our readers. I didn't know this man, but he sent a card congratulating me on my win and telling me to "keep up the good work."
Lately, I received a few notes from people telling me such-and-such an article was good. I guess as a Virgo, I ignore the positive and focus on the negative. I'm driven to self-improvement by obsessing on criticism. I second-guess myself when I read criticism.
I think: are they critical because they're persnickety and love squabbling or do they actually have valid points?
Recently, a writer from a competing newspaper questioned an article I wrote. She did it in a kind of Ann Coulteresque, uppity, snide way I didn't really appreciate. I realize I'm not free from criticism - the whole First Amendment and all that - but if you're going to criticize someone, don't be such a condescending bitch about it. In fact, when she belittled me, she wrote that I didn't truly understand the issue. However, she failed to read deeper in my story where I made the same point she accused me of omitting.
Back in college, none of my journalism professors taught me this job would be an occasional pain in the ass. We didn't learn there are people with agendas who'll criticize you for shining the light on subjects they want lingering in darkness. We weren't told about shrugging off criticism and learning from mistakes, or listening to people who accuse local newspapers of "always getting it wrong" like the director of one local hospital said within earshot. In journalism school, they don't teach you how to cringe uncomfortably when someone reads from your article in a public meeting, or when people say "Watch what you say around him; he's a reporter."
For the record, I really don't give a flying monkey fuck about your daily bullshit conversations. If it doesn't interest me, it won't interest my readers. I try to do the best job I can with the resources I'm given. This isn't The New York Times. I don't have access to reports coming over the wire from UPI or The Associated Press. I share office space with the ad department. We're all in one gigantic room. It gets noisy often and I get irritated.
And don't patronize me or lie to me. I've trained my senses when it comes to bullshit. I have a built-in, automatic bullshit detector from years of exposure to politicians from the local to the federal level. I'm lied to on a regular basis, so I know bullshit when I hear it, so don't try it with me.
Oh, and I don't have an ego. I know this is a local, small town newspaper. Call it fish wrapping, call it a rag, call it whatever you want. It doesn't demean me. It's a job, and one I do very well. I have no illusions about superstardom writing for a major metropolitan daily. If I can keep the local officials from bullshitting to the public and give readers objective, straight news coverage, then I've done my job.
In a world where a few corporations control the news content for millions of consumers, smaller news outlets are the last bastion of American journalism. There's no mindless groupthink or mass markets to control. That's what I like about it; this paper belongs to the people, they have a stake in this town and we're giving them the news that matters to them.
The more I see the media's credibility plummeting, the more hostility I see against journalists, I wonder what did we do to bring this on ourselves? Is it the unethical behaviors of Jayson Blair and his ilk, or the bashing on the Fourth Estate by the punditsphere, an amorphous collective of opinion slingers with their own agenda - discredit the news machine and maybe the people will listen to flat-out propaganda.
So blame the messenger all you want - it won't do a damn thing.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

Happy Easter from Zoidberg Jesus!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Yoda I am

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

"A venerated sage with vast power and knowledge, you gently guide forces around you while serving as a champion of the light.

Judge me by my size, do you? And well you should not - for my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us, and binds us. Luminescent beings are we, not this crude matter! You must feel the Force around you, everywhere."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spitzer or Swallower?

When my editor asked me today if I heard New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's possible involvement in a prostitution ring, I wasn't shocked. I was really numb to it all. After Sen. Larry Craig's escapades in a men's airport bathroom, Pastor Ted Haggard soliciting gay men for sex and Congressman Mark Foley preying on young pages like a Catholic priest, nothing really shocks me.
Politicians and sex. They seem to go together, don't they?
From former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey's admission he juggled another man's balls in his mouth before giving him a high-paying security position, to former President Bill Clinton's admitting he used a White House intern's vagina as a humidor, sex and politics are as American as Astroglide. Allegations that former Congressmen Newt Gingrich and Henry Hyde and former President George H.W. Bush all had mistresses are nothing new.
I guess I'm not shocked whenever they find dirt on politicians these days. They all have skeletons in their closet. I'm especially skeptical of those who get up and sound the clarion call of virtue and morality and months later it's discovered they're members of NAMBLA who had more underage ass than a weekend at Michael Jackson's house.
This whole Spitzer thing is commonplace; a politician who has everything, including the money and power to ship a prostitute from New York to Washington. I mean, what's the likelihood a hooker from New York would recognize the governor of her own state? If you're on business in Washington, sample the local whores! Give that town a little economic jolt!
Politicians are dirty. They are. You know it. I know it. Nobody who gets in that racket is as innocent as a choir boy. They're more like the choir director running a numbers game in the rectory basement.
Politicians are obsessed with the status quo and maintaining that status quo. They vote themselves raises and lie their asses of to the people they represent. So why does it shock anyone that they do things like Spitzer or McGreevey or Gingrich? "Do as I say, not as I do" is complete bullshit and the public knows it. After televangelist Jim Bakker hosted the PTL Club and told everybody sinners would go to Hell, then later has an affair or preacher Jimmy Swaggart ranted fire and brimstone upon those who defied the Bible, yet in the seclusion of a motel he took photos of a prostitute, I'm not amazed at the behavior of anyone we're supposed to revere.
This whole thing leads to one conclusion: what shit are they going to dig up on Barack Obama? That he's a necrophile who rapes dead corpses? Or Hillary Clinton? That she had drunken lesbian orgies and fisted Madeleine Albright? Or John McCain? That he blew Ho Chi Minh? After Bill Clinton and everybody else, this Spitzer thing is not scandalous; it's business as usual.
The least he could do is resign and appoint a eunuch as governor. At least then when he fails to decide on something momentous, the critics will chide him: "What's the matter? Don't you have any balls? Oh, wait. Never mind... You don't."

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Big Dungeon in the Sky

Gary Gygax died today. Don't feel bad if you don't know who he is. Most Americans have never heard of him. For a select few known as gamers, Gygax was a legend. His life's work helped many nerds and geeks find friendship over a game involving polyhedral dice, small painted metal figures and a world of imagination.
In 1974, Gygax and Dave Arneson published a game called Dungeons & Dragons, a fantasy role-playing game (RPG) where players assume the roles of wizards, rangers, knights, clerics or other archetypes from high fantasy. Inspired largely by mythology and fantasy, D&D caught on in 1977 when Gygax's company, TSR, published a box set. That was followed in 1978 by Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The game went through a few more rule changes but its popularity is still strong today.
The game is the bane of several fundamental religious groups who claim role-playing games are Satanic. Some of the early artwork and demon stats in the earlier books enforce this, but, contrary to Jack Chick, players don't embark on quests only to kill themselves in the municipal sewer system. That's bullshit.
I remember joining the Dungeons & Dragons Club at my junior high school in 1983. Video arcades captured my interest as a kid, but it was this paper and pencil game that really grabbed me. I liked how the Dungeon Master created adventures for his players using story telling and imagination, two things missing from my video-addled, television-infused youth.
I bought the main rulebooks, the Monster Manual, Deities and Demigods and a few modules. Yes, adventures back then were called modules. I bought a bunch of the metal figures which were probably made from lead. Those early D&D books are among my most prized possessions. Where else can you see an illustration of bare-chested succubus or nymph? As a teenager too young to buy a skin mag, this was the next best thing. I even had the early blue box set and a stack of Dragon Magazines from the early 1980s, which my mother threw away a few years ago, not knowing what they were.
Several years passed and I hadn't cracked open any of my D&D books. I abandoned RPGs for the brain-numbing fun of computer games. In high school I started playing a game called Torg. I liked it, but wasn't interested in continuing with RPGs then. After all, they're for socially awkward geeks, right?
When I was in my 20s, I found a game store in Cape May County, New Jersey. The owner got me interested in a game called Deadlands, a Western game set in an alternative past. A few years later, I wrote to the owner of Pinnacle Entertainment, Shane Hensley, the designer and creator of Deadlands. I contributed an article to his short-lived magazine, The Deadlands Epitaph. I'm in my 30s and designing my own RPG called The Ravaged Earth Society that will be compatible with Pinnacle's Savage Worlds system.
So everything came full-circle. I'd like to think Gary Gygax inspired me when I was 14, with that first roll of the polyhedral dice, when my character Champion Ator crawled through the dungeon of Zaporon's mountain fortress, avoiding orcs and discovering treasure.
Thanks for your creation, Mr. Gygax. You're more than the father of RPGs - you're the father of countless dreams and worlds.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Viva Caligula!

Discovered a Flash game on the Adult Swim website recently. For those who don't know, Adult Swim is on Cartoon Network and features some pretty bizarre (and often funny) experimental animation. In keeping with my penchant for strangeness and grotesque humor, I played Viva Caligula, a game where you represent ancient Rome's tyrannical madman.
The object of the game is to discover 26 different weapons (corresponding to each letter key on the numeric keypad) and kill everyone you see.

The title screen. Oh, there will be blood.

Hail Caesar! Or else!

Whoever made the lion a weapon you use in the game is a genius.

"Little Boots" killing the shit out of some plebs.

After a long day of senseless carnage, what better way to unwind than an orgy?