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» 2009 » January

Monthly ArchiveJanuary 2009

Commentary 30 Jan 2009 10:26 pm

Collect ‘em all


Here is my print column from Jan. 29, 2009, as published in The Alliance Review.

I haven’t done any research to back this up, but I’ll bet President Barack Obama is the first U.S. leader to be the subject of Topps trading cards.

There he was in my local Wal-Mart, his images wrapped in foil, displayed next to sports heroes and cartoon celebrities. Step aside Kobe and LeBron, move back SpongeBob SquarePants, because the leader of the free world is appearing on 90 collectible cards and 18 stickers, and kids and adults will want to own them all.

Trading cards are only the tip of the Barack merchandising iceberg. You can find his image on T-shirts, slippers and kitschy red, white and blue pennants; in comic books, ice cream flavors (Yes Pecan — get it? Yes We Can!), and tattoo parlors. It’s a veritable feeding frenzy of all things Obama.
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Commentary 29 Jan 2009 07:26 pm

Remember the USPS?

Another sign of the (depressing economic) times: The U.S. Postal Service is considering cutting back to five days per week of delivery.

As I noted in earlier posts, the world is changing, especially the way information is disseminated and delivered. Newspapers are cutting back to three days of delivery per week, and some are following an online model exclusively. Magazines are combining editions to become bi-monthly or quarterly. It only follows that the USPS, which delivers so many of the magazines (or no longer delivers so many) would cut back, too.

It’s not only print media that is forcing the Post Office’s hand. When is the last time you wrote a letter?
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Movies 28 Jan 2009 04:43 pm

Staying warm with ‘Reign of Fire’


On a cold day like today, you either pick a similarly cold movie (the Stephen King mini-series Storm of the Century is good) or a hot one. This time, I went with the latter.

Reign of Fire is a B-movie with A-movie aspirations, a big testosterone-fueled adventure story that you can’t stop to think about too much without the plot falling apart. The basic premise is a bunch of big dragons destroy civilization as we know it — or will know it, because it takes place in the future — and a hardy band of survivors must fight off rival tribes and scramble to stay hidden from the creatures. For some strange reason, the dragons eat ash, and after destroying most of the world, they’ve run out of it. Ash. It’s like the aliens in Signs being allergic to water, but harder to swallow. (The plot point, not the water or the ash.)
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Commentary & Media 28 Jan 2009 08:50 am

Talk is cheap, and inefficient

I was listening to the lengthy list of closings and cancellations on the radio this morning and thinking what a dinosaur this method of delivery has become.

Some school districts, like the one where I work, have invested in automatic phone systems that can dial umpty-jillion numbers per minute, letting students and staff know when classes have been canceled or delayed. Television and the Internet have mostly eaten radio’s lunch when it comes to quick information about weather-related delays. Scrolling bars at the bottom of the screen or automatically updating Web sites probably reach 99 percent of the people who need to know, faster and more efficiently than that poor on-air radio personality, stumbling her way through all the “Saint This” and “Saint That” in a five-county region.

Of course, if digital TV and the various stumbling blocks associated with the changeover from analog signals leave a large percentage of the population without reception, the radio announcer and her paper list may not go the way of the dodo quite yet.

Comic books & Commentary & Media 27 Jan 2009 07:59 pm

What, him plenty worried?


This probably says more about me than I intend it to, but nothing drives home the depths of this recession and the quickly changing role of the print media than the recent announcement that MAD Magazine is decreasing from a monthly to a quarterly. Detroit papers going to three-day-a-week delivery? OK. The Christian Science Monitor becoming an online only? Makes sense. Japanese bestsellers being composed and delivered by cell phones? It’s a new world, baby.

But MAD Magazine — four times a year? Travesty!
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Movies 27 Jan 2009 06:54 am

Nominations are in …


I’m a little late with this, but what the hey: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Oscar nominations last week. Cumulatively, the selections for best picture were an anemic lot at the box office, not that big ticket sales and commercial success necessarily equate with good movies. (In the case of Titanic, neither big box office nor multiple Oscar wins made it a good film).

As usual, I’ve seen some nominees and missed others. I was glad to see Philip Seymour Hoffman get a best supporting actor nomination for Doubt, a very good film my wife and I saw with a small but appreciative crowd over the holidays. I don’t know if Hoffman has a chance of winning, as he’s up against popular favorite Heath Ledger as the Joker from Dark
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Books & Comic books 26 Jan 2009 06:57 am

Another day, another dollar


A follow-up to last year’s Another Day collection, Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor: Another Dollar contains more observations about life filtered through his unique lens.

The title suggests that money — getting it, keeping it, missing it — is at the heart of many of the volume’s vignettes, but this isn’t really the case. Sure, one piece chronicles the author’s attempts to get the bumper of his ‘93 Geo Prism fixed on the cheap, and another shows his anxiety while his wife does the family taxes. But most pieces don’t revolve around finances. Instead, we follow Pekar as he refills prescriptions, worries over critical reception to his work, battles to control clutter around the house, and deals with the fallout from a tumble down the front steps.
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Commentary & Media 23 Jan 2009 06:53 am

Dear Shabby


Here is my print column from Jan. 22, 2009, as published in The Alliance Review. While the column has been well received, it’s the photo (above) by The Review’s Kevin Graff that has garnered the most comment. 

 DEAR SHABBY: My wife put me on a budget. She’s started using an envelope system for bills: a few dollars of each pay in an envelope marked “water,” a few in an envelope marked “electric,” and so on. At the tail end of this manila nightmare is an envelope with my name. Every two weeks, I receive $40 to cover my lunch and anything else I need.

Isn’t it ridiculous for a grown man to receive an allowance? And shouldn’t I get more than $20 a week? Help! — BROKE AND BROKEN IN BELOIT

DEAR BROKEN: Somebody smart once said that a recession is a financial problem in your neighbor’s house, and a depression is a financial problem in your house. Welcome to a depression.

Your wife is to be commended for thrift in a cold economic climate. The envelope method is a time-proven way to keep the wolves at bay.

But I feel your pain, brother, about spousal stipends. You probably had more discretionary income as a 16-year-old, working part-time as a grocery bagger, when your only financial obligations were a car payment, insurance and gas money.
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Books & Movies 22 Jan 2009 06:47 am

The perfect murder (movie)?


Double Indemnity is the film version of the novel by James M. Cain. I first encountered Cain’s work a few years back when I happened upon a hardback edition of his two best-known novels, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. They are short works, novellas really; together, they barely break 200 pages in the collected volume.

What impresses me about Cain is how quickly he sets a scene and how minimalist his writing is. Even for pulp fiction, where the goal is to get in and get out fast, the guy’s a speed demon. While I liked Postman, I enjoyed Indemnity more; the ending is so dark, so bleak, the reader practically has to be put on suicide watch by the time it wraps.
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Books 21 Jan 2009 06:40 am

The Night We Buried Road Dog


The February issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction features a reprint of “The Night We Buried Road Dog,” by Jack Cady.

I had never heard of Cady before, but “Road Dog” was a good introduction. Part ghost story, part tale of protracted adolescence, part paean to classic cars, the novella has a distinctive voice, well-drawn characters, and a memorable plot. Just when you think you see the end coming, Cady takes a sharp U-turn and sends it off in a different direction.

The mark of a good writer is to make the reader fascinated by a subject that he or she ordinarily couldn’t care less about. For this reader, that subject is the glorification of the American automobile and the love of street racing. To me, a car is important only in getting me from Point A to Point B economically and reliably. For the characters in “Road Dog,” cruising the long, dark roads of Montana has an almost religious significance. I don’t share that mindset.

Nevertheless, Cady makes the whole subject fascinating. To say more would ruin the surprise that comes from finding an unexpected, totally original voice in fiction. Cady died in 2004, and his work is not readily available, but if all of it is of the same quality as “Road Dog,” it’s worth the search.

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