Wednesday, January 30, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: The End

Photobucket...Egad. Well, I made it, 30 Days of Bloggery indeed. And it only took me half the month to remember January has 31 days, but heck, I said 30 when I started. It hasn't been half-hard, although certainly on busy weekends or long 10-hr work days it's been a bit tricky to come up with material. However, forcing myself to blog more often for a whole month has helped excite me again about trying to throw my random words up here a little more often in the days ahead, so that's groovy indeed. Nevertheless, for the nonce, I just might take a few days off now... Phew!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Summertime

Despite my last post being a wee negative, I must admit, New Zealand in January is still a mighty fine place to be. Been at the beach more times this month than I probably ever have in the span of a month. Ah, summertime.

Monday, January 28, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Bloody January

PhotobucketSince I work in the media, I get the constant onslaught of news. And by any standard, 2008 has gotten off to a pretty rotten start in New Zealand. The headlines have come fast and furious: Scottish tourist murdered. Shopkeeper stabbed to death by teen. Teen stabbed by man. Another teen stabs another man. Teen idiots randomly bash people in north Auckland. Some jerk beats up a tourist. It's been a constant litany of bodies found, idiots arrested and more this month, and it's making me quite sad for my adopted country. And we don't even allow guns!

A lot of Americans I talk to kind of have this image of new Zealand as a merry Hobbiton where nothing bad ever happens, and of course, like all romantic images, it just ain't entirely true. New Zealand is a wonderful place, of course, full of natural wonders and mostly great people from all over the world, but there's also a violent undercurrent and increasingly, all the problems of anywhere else. We aren't America and that's great, but sometimes, I look around and see the worst aspects of American culture being absorbed - the gangs, the materialism, the bling-bling and bang-bang. There are much better things we could take from America, I think.

Too much of this violence is being done by or against mere kids under 25 or so, making you wonder just what exactly the hell is wrong with people these days. Everyone's eager to point blame -- is it the video games, the government, the television, or what? New Zealand's always had murders, of course, but the sheer viciousness of this latest round, the sense that this didn't have to happen to any of these folks, is pretty clear. Why is life so cheap to these morons?

I don't know. But I do know by any standard, 10 murders in 28 days (in the short time since this story was written, there was one more) is a pretty rotten statistic, and I hope it's one New Zealand can sort out pretty soon. I wish I had answers, but right now all I've got is anger.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: A books meme I found on the Internets

1. One book that changed your life?
"1984" by George Orwell, one of the first "adult" books I read (coincidentally in 1984 or so). The sheer ferocious, razor-sharp intensity of Orwell's prose captivated me (and still does), and its vision of a world where human freedom is repeatedly stomped upon created the first stirrings of a kind of political principle in me, and a sometimes-healthy, sometimes-counterproductive dislike for being told what to do that's lasted my entire life. It was also a glimpse into the adult world at age 13 or so when I read it, dazzling in its detail and grim reality, and from there it was off to the races and reading was my life. (Well, part of it.)

2. One book you have read more than once?
Many, many, but one I've read a good 3-4 times is Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita," which is dense enough to be like a half-dozen ordinary books, and another one of them tomes that's a little different every time.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?
A tricky question, but one series I find myself returning to every 5 years or so for a re-read is John Updike's marvelous "Rabbit" series, which reveals different layers to me every time I read it. The chronicle of one man's fumbling life from 20s to 50s, it has new messages for you depending on what age you're at, with Updike's lush, dangerously erudite prose like a warm bath you leap into.

4. One book that made you laugh?
Mostly recently? The surprisingly funny "I Love You, Beth Cooper" by Larry Doyle, a teen satire that read like the long-lost great John Hughes 1980s movie. Books that TRY to be funny rarely work for me but Doyle, a former Simpsons writer, has a knack for wry witticisms and laugh-out-loud over-the-top hijinks.

5. One book that made you cry?
Hmm. I am not a big crier, but I'll admit that one book that choked me up is (perhaps curiously in a list full of Updikes and Nabokovs so far) Stephen King's "IT," which is 1,000 pages or so about the death of childhood and while it's full of the usual King gore and grim, it also has a hauntingly sad message at the end about what we lose as we grow older. Each time I read it after going through so much with these characters I get a little taut inside at how we all forget what childhood is really like.

6. One book you wish had been written?
Well, more than a few by me, I guess, although I do have that nifty collection of my newspaper columns 1994-2004 that I'm very proud of as a kind of summation of things so far.

7. One book you wish had never had been written?
Well, the whole genre of right-wing Let Me Tell You Why Liberals Suck books by O'Reilly, Coulter, Limbaugh, et al I guess. I find them bankrupt as literature and usually preaching to the converted anyway.

8. One book you are currently reading?
As seen in my sidebar, "Brother Ray," the highly entertaining autobiography of Ray Charles, unapologetic, ribald and refreshingly candid so far.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?
Sadly I have what started as a stack and has since ended up as a bookshelf full of unread books next to my bed. Last count it was up to 25+ books which means I really need to not buy any more new books for a while. But one of these days, I am going to give James Joyce's "Ulysses" another go - tried it in college - I swear!

10. Now tag five people.
Hmm, if anyone wants to give it a go --
Will P.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: It's hot, take a dip in the poll

...Man, it's hot. And it's still weird to me that it's January. And blogging nearly every day this month is hard work. And everyone's talkin' about politics. So here's a nifty poll widget to make your vote on:

Friday, January 25, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Friday Night Music Video

Yes he can!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Questions Answered, Part II

So Question Man Lefty asked, and I answer:

1. If you could go back and change a sci-fi or fantasy film's soundtrack to use only Bowie songs, what film would it be and what songs would be included?

Hmmm. Intriguing. I have to admit I'd be very curious to hear what Bowie's own starring movie (and best film), "The Man Who Fell To Earth", would be like with the soundtrack he had originally planned to create for it (fragments of which reportedly ended up the album Station To Station). As for a non-Bowie movie, I'd say maybe a flick by Terry Gilliam would be interesting with Bowie's sound -- "Time Bandits," "Brazil" perhaps? I don't think a "traditional" sci-fi movie would benefit particularly from a Bowie soundtrack.

2. What's the worst CD you've bought last year?

I don't tend to buy stuff that I know will be drek, i.e. Celine Dion and the like. But not so much "worst," but underwhelming, I was pretty disappointed by The Fratellis, "Costello Music", which I'd seen recommended in several places and picked up on a whim; one great song, lots of similar-sounding ska-rock filler that reminded me too much of Chumbawumba. And that's the last time I'll mention Chumbawumba on this blog.

3. What do you miss most about the States?

Well, family/friends are #1 obviously, but after that I'd have to say simply the sense of "scale" -- New Zealand is a very small, isolated country, and I have to admit the sheer volume of space and choice in America -- even if you never take advantage of it -- is something I miss. I like the idea I could just hop in a car and drive to Minnesota, even if I never did that. That quasi-romantic sense of American potential is what I miss I think. Australia has a bit of that too, except you tend to die if you drive across there on rambling treks.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Heath Ledger 1979-2008

PhotobucketWow. Some celebrity deaths you expect -- Britney, anyone? -- some you don't. I was an admirer of Heath Ledger the actor, and his sudden death at only 28 is a real stunner. While his early teen movies didn't do a lot for me, with "Brokeback Mountain" and his astounding, Academy-Award nominated turn I saw a human chameleon with a ton of talent. Still hard to watch the final scene of that movie, and I felt like he took a role that could've been a punchline - a gay cowboy? - and turned it into something hauntingly real.

Two of his final performances I had been really looking forward to - his turn as an aspect of Bob Dylan in "I'm Not There" (which disgracefully has yet to open down here), and of course, his Joker in "The Dark Knight" next summer. PhotobucketCasting Ledger as the Joker surely raised a few eyebrows, but his highly creepy performance in the trailer chased away all doubts. It's terrible to think now this will be his obituary rather than the next chapter in a promising career. What a waste of talent.

I just finished reading the sordidly entertaining "Please Kill Me," a history of punk rock, which had the sad subtext of an extraordinary list of drug casualties, screwed-up and spoiled lives. Having immersed myself in druggy demises, seeing yet another likely one just feels crueler than it ought to. I feel for his family, and his fans, and wish whatever happened that led to his sad end in a New York room didn't go down like that.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: The greatest New Zealander

PhotobucketMore than a week of mass national mourning ended today as Sir Edmund Hillary was laid to rest, and for an hour or two this morning, much of the country just kind of stopped to watch one of New Zealand's biggest funerals, and paid tribute to the man who's been dubbed "the greatest New Zealander."

Was he? Well, time will truly tell, but there has been remarkably little argument about it down here for now, it feels like. Imagine that in other countries – is there one man that comes to mind as "the greatest American," or "greatest Brit", with little argument? Hillary was a remarkable soul, and while there's been the typical amount of hyperbole one gets when someone this famed dies – let's rename mountains after him! let's declare a national holiday! (all ideas he would've hated from most accounts) – there's also been a fair amount of soul-searching as to what being a Kiwi means.

What's struck me the most in all the reams of Hillary tributes and essays is that his true measure came not so much from climbing Mount Everest, but perhaps even more from what he did after it – continued explorations, but more importantly, he devoted the rest of his life to improving the remote Sherpa communities of Nepal that he so grew to love. Even after his first wife and daughter were killed in a plane crash there in the 1970s, "Sir Ed" didn't give up on Nepal -- he simply, quietly, worked to build hospitals, create schools, and improve lives in a generally non-imperialist, refreshingly humble kind of way. As they say down here, "good on yer mate." It's hard to imagine another figure who "cashed in" on his fame in such a generous way.

Monday, January 21, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: One More Years

Photobucket...So it's just about a year now till George W. Bush leaves office, a notion which fills an awful lot of folks worldwide with a calm, pleasing vibe. I'm no fan of the man, didn't vote for him twice, and yet even I'm astonished at what a bungle his presidency has become, to the point where Republican candidates are actively running away from his blessing. I pictured him being a kind of amiable dunce when he grabbed away the White House, figuring he'd do little harm, be a "uniter not a divider" as he laughably claimed in 2000.

Instead, of course, he's been a dangerous failure. Somehow the terrible events of 9/11 changed him utterly, turning him into a man disdainful of anything save his own unalterable moral compass, surrounded by yes men and sycophants and immune to the way his reaction to 9/11 inflamed a very flammable world even more. Bush seems to lack strategy -- while I disagreed with presidents like Nixon or Reagan, they seemed still to see the big picture sometimes, in dealings with China or the USSR, in a way Bush hasn't.

I'm a student of presidential history, and leaving my personal politics aside, it's hard not to imagine Bush landing in the lower tier of presidents with such luminaries as Harding, Grant and Buchanan. What unites all these men is that they faced a critical moment in history -- reconstruction, say, for Grant, or the Civil War blooming for Buchanan -- and they blew it. Whereas the "greats" -- Lincoln, Kennedy, FDR -- faced those moments are seen as triumphing. It's not entirely unlikely Bush could move up in opinion 20, 30 years from now -- look at how Reagan's stock rose since he left office -- but that means history is going to have to move in an entirely different direction than it's been trending. It's hard to imagine how the invasion of Iraq could be seen as having a "good side." But hey, that's just my view. In the meantime I along with many others are counting down till 2009, when President Clinton II/McCain/Obama or whomever takes office.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: More Big Day Out

...Still coasting along on my Auckland Big Day Out euphoria, and thanks to the goodness of YouTube, you can see a bit of what I saw. Not the finest video in the world, but the Bjork one shows her quite cool entrance and the Arcade Fire captures about 20% of what a dazzling show they put on. Cheers and thanks to the videoers!

Arcade Fire, "Black Mirror," Big Day Out 2008

Bjork, "Earth Intruders" Big Day Out 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Big Day Out 2008

PhotobucketWhoa. To quote my wife, Big Day Out 2008 was "awesome." My first time at New Zealand's biggest concert of the year and Avril's first time in a decade, and we had an absolute blast. With more than 70 bands playing all day long in Auckland, you couldn't see everything, but we got to see the five acts we're quite big fans of, and despite (ahem) pushing 40 we didn't feel utterly ancient.

It's actually kind of fun to look at all the goofy young folks with their mohawks and tri-hawks and tattoos and such and not feel like you have anything to prove yourself anymore about your own coolness. The day seemed divided between fans of the other 69 bands and Rage Against The Machine punters (mostly young, male and shirtless). We skipped that act which we aren't big fans of because LCD Soundsystem was playing at the same time, but no worries, mate -- it was a fantastic show.

I haven't been to a ton of other big festival shows but everything combined here to make this work - hot but not scorching weather with nice breezes, crowds that were gigantic but rarely unruly and still had a bit of space; plenty of bizarre people-watching to be done. Oh, and of course, the music reviews:

Liam Finn
The son of Crowded House's Neil Finn has been winning praise for his debut solo album, and while we only caught about half his set, it was pretty great stuff -- fuzzy pschedelic pop that felt like a cross between Dad's music and the Beatles, with a hint of My Bloody Valentine. Definitely going to pick up his disc soon.
Grade: B+
Best song: "I'll Be Lightning"

I love this Austin, Texas pop-rock act and their midafternoon slot meant we had a great view. Frontman Britt Daniel has an excellent voice that goes between gravelly and silky, and the band's whip-smart pop anthems make for terrific stadium listening. Set was marred by a few technical snafus but otherwise grand.
Grade: B+
Best song: "The Way We Get By"

Billy Bragg
You gotta love Billy Bragg -- who else would tell the audience to "pay attention to the metaphors" in his next song? Fighting the fascists, modern folkie Bragg does half-lecture, half-singing, and is a hell of a lot of fun. His tone skirts the edge of being strident, but his lovely foghorn of a voice and utter lack of irony when he sings about the working man make him that rarity, a totally sincere voice. I'd love to see him do a solo show sometime.
Grade: A-
Best song: A rousing "New England" singalong with the entire crowd.

PhotobucketArcade Fire
Quite simply, the best show of the day and one of the most amazing concerts I've witnessed. This Canadian band's two albums of orchestral rock are dense, passionate listening, transformed live into a circus – all TEN band members taking the stage with instruments like accordions, violins, guitars, french horns and an entire bloody pipe organ, and proceeded to utterly blow us away for an hour with full-energy takes on their songs. It felt like everyone around us had the lyrics memorized, and there's nothing quite like being surrounded by 20,000 people singing "Wake Up." It almost felt like a religious experience, and the band's joyful energy resonated for hours afterwards. Extra points for the guy who climbed up into the stage rigging while still playing his drums. If Arcade Fire comes to your town, don't miss it.
Grade: A+
Best Song: Geez, the whole damn set?

PhotobucketI love Bjork, but yet, her show was the closest to a mild disappointment. Her voice is fantastic, of course, but somehow it didn't feel quite right for her to be playing a stadium at the end of a long hot day right between NZ alt-metal Shihad and the mosh-pitting Rage Against The Machine. Her show had a dazzling visual look, with back-up dancer/singers looking like giant Tibetan prayer flags. But her song choice had too many slow, crooning numbers that just seemed out of place, and too many songs had a really distorted fuzzed-out bass drone that was overpowering. In some ways her show would've been better in a more intimate theater setting where could really see the details. But still, nothing quite like her unearthly Icelandic wail of a voice.
Grade: B
Best Song: A very cool fuzzed-out reworking of "Army Of Me"

LCD Soundsystem
Oh yeah. I knew the man who put out my favorite album of 2008 was going to be fun to see. A perfect way to to end the day, crammed into a humid circus tent and dancing to James Murphy's dance-punk ultra-hip groove. Terrific semi-ironic showmanship, with Murphy backed by a full band (including one of the Arcade Fire) and looking a bit like a big teddy bear howling away on stage. Fantastic propulsive takes on all his hits, backed up by giant video monitors and -- oh yes! -- a hint of the cowbell. As excellent to see live as I'd hoped; the band does a terrific job translating Murphy's studio creations into thrashing live music. I do wish I'd worn my earplugs for the last part of the set, though, because the buzzing still hasn't quite stopped.
Grade: A (minus just a fraction of a point from Arcade Fire because, well, no pipe organ. However, they did have cowbell.)
Best Song: Tie between a stomping "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" and a 10-minute screaming take on dance anthem "Yeah" that practically sent me into another state of reality.

Truly, a fantastic day and one of the best overall concert experiences I've ever had.

* Photos taken from the New Zealand Herald website, all rights them mate.

Friday, January 18, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: I wanna rock

Sorry, busy rocking out today. Full report tomorrow.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Questions Answered

Well, Roger gave me a few questions to answer the other day, so here we go:

Where do you get your news about the the US? Do you find yourself interested, at arm's length, what?

99% of it from online or from local coverage (which is mostly picked up from British papers like The Independent, which has an amusing slant to their coverage of the current administration. I'm still very interested in what goes on "at home" and still spend a lot of time reading US websites like The New York Times, Washington Post and SF Gate, as well as papers I used to work for. I am totally up to date on the Britney Spears beat.

Where do you get your NZ news?
From work, really - I work with APN Media which owns much of the biggest papers in the country, and am a regional chief editor for the Napier paper and work with several others. So I'm pretty plugged in to "the system" so to speak.

What is the nature of NZ news anyway? Is it as good as most countries in covering the world (something the US does poorly unless it affects us directly)?

This is kind of a tricky one to answer as I work in the industry here and don't want to "bite the hand" I feed so to speak. I find that from my perspective, often the papers are far bolder (or biased) than I'm used to seeing in their political views, and NZ's small size often means teacup-sized issues get blown up into armageddons. (For instance when David Beckham came to Wellington for a one-day visit last year, from the hysterical press coverage you would've thought the Pope came to town and sang the theme from "Cats" naked. In the US it's like, eh, Beckham, OK, what's Paris doing?) Generally it's a little higher on hyperbole than US papers but not quite as tabloidy as British papers, somewhere in between. I think any American journalist would be surprised by how small an industry it is here.

As for world coverage, I do think we have a nice variety of global coverage -- the US still takes a big chunk of it, but we have a lot more coverage of Indonesia, such as events in Burma recently, or Australian politics. Much of it is picked up from British papers but there's still a decent amount of foreign correspondents. In fact I'd say as a whole NZ papers show a "wider view" of the world than too many American papers do, where you have to struggle to find more than the latest bombings.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: What I'm Listening To

Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis - Y'know, I've never really noticed Carl Perkins, the great Sun Records star who unfortunately had the bad luck to be overshadowed by labelmates Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. But I saw a CD of his hits for a mere $3 the other day and decided to pick it up. It's pure rockabilly fun, by the man who wrote legendary tunes like "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby" and "Matchbox" (which then went on to be far more successful in cover versions by Elvis and some band called the Beatles). Very enjoyable roots-of-rock 'n' roll stuff.

I also picked up an equally-cheap Jerry Lee Lewis collection and have been digging the heck out of that one too. The man plays the piano like it was an electric guitar, assaulting the keys pretty danged hard, but it works. Says something about me the older I get the further back my musical tastes are moving. By 40 I'll be listening to medieval madrigals.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: The Easy Way Out

Right. Halfway through the month and I've posted every day, but today I'll take the easy way out for 50 points. Ask me a question or three in the comments, about life, music, comics, New Zealand, monkeys, whatever, and I'll come back and answer 'em in a day or two. Cheers mates!

Monday, January 14, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Monday mosh pit

Shortie today. Although we're on the far side of the world Auckland is still a pretty cool place to see live music, since we're on the Australia-USA circuit and everyone likes to stop here. Friday is Auckland's massive Big Day Out which we have tickets for, an all-day Lollapalooza of music including Bjork, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Spoon, Billy Bragg and many more. My wife and I expect to feel very old at the end of the day but are psyched for the festival action. Watch out, though, Bjork might just punch you and rip your shirt. I coulda told that photographer, don't mess with Icelandic women.

Topped to that, we're going to see Sonic Youth doing Daydream Nation live next month, and in March I've already got tickets to check out folk-art act Iron & Wine and, coolest of all, one of my favorite bands Wilco is coming to town March 23 and I got fantastic seats for the action today. A little bird tells me that their current tour is top-notch listening and I can't wait to check 'em out.

After three shows and one giant festival in two months, this impoverished old man just might take a break for a while.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Comics Year In Review

I realized the other day I've been collecting comic books for more than 25 years now, since a spinner rack at Lucky's supermarket sparked a monthly addiction to the old Marvel Star Wars comics. Ups and downs of the industry aside, I still love nothin' better than kickin' back with a pile of comics and jumping into the four-color world.

One thing that's a drag in New Zealand is it's really hard to get "alternative" comics or they're hugely expensive when you find them, so I've had to miss out on a lot of the alt-stuff lately, having to special-order what I really do want from the U.S. (High comic prices in NZ also discourage the impulse purchase). But hey, I still found joy in my little superhero corner of comics, with these my picks for the year's best and worst of the comics I buy:

PhotobucketBEST ONGOING SERIES: A tricky call this year, so I'm making it a tie -- both by the man I'd also pick as my favorite writer of the year, Ed Brubaker. Daredevil and Criminal are different in their approach - one a beloved superhero, one a R-rated Tarantino-esque crime comic - but really, they're flip sides of the same noir coin. I'm loving Ed's grim take on Daredevil, as he's trying to push a bit beyond the Miller/Bendis era and reintroduce some superhero elements into a comic that's of the streets, full of gritty foes and a hero who'll never give up. Criminal, on the other hand, is a lot like David Lapham's fine Stray Bullets, a series of interconnected tales of dead-end losers and their grand criminal plans. Both comics together offer road maps to the dark side of men's souls, wrapped together with some smashing action and made for fine reading (and I'm not even including Brubaker's other monthly blast, The Immortal Iron Fist, because I'm only reading that one in trade paperbacks, but it's another one well worth checking out. Kung fu action!).

PhotobucketBEST MINISERIES: Hey, World War Hulk wasn't perfect, but far better than most event crossovers with their convoluted plots and letdowns. The plot is simple -- Hulk returns to earth to get revenge on everyone -- and man, this series delivered the smashing and bashing, especially thanks to the utterly epic art of John Romita Jr. Old-school heroics and finally a miniseries that felt worthy of being an event. While it had the usual ton of tie-ins, the 5-issue series also stood up nicely on its own.

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL: Sure, it's almost dizzingly erudite and perhaps too much text and too little comics for its own good, but I have to admire the sheer scope of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier. PhotobucketIt takes on a vast array of pulp fiction and while it's less story than exposition, and has a disappointingly fanciful ending, it's still far more sweeping and rewarding for re-reading than most books. I particularly love the way Moore incorporates figures like Orwell's Big Brother, Virginia Woolf's Orlando and P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster into his topsy-turvy tapestry of tales. It just begs for annotation of all its nooks and crannies of fictional realms, which is why it's so nice we have the likes of Jess Nevins to provide them.

PhotobucketBEST NEW SERIES: Mark Waid and George Perez's The Brave And The Bold revival for DC is one of the only comics I buy from that publisher, which has taken a needlessly gory and cynical bent with most of its heroes lately. But this one is a fan-geek's dream of old-fashioned team-ups and Perez's always-amazing detailed art. Batman and Green Lantern? Check. Metal Men? Check. Flash and Doom Patrol? Check. Lobo and Supergirl? Check. It's like Waid's private playground away from the charnel house of the DC universe these days, and while it ain't very deep, it's just a heck of a lot of fun to read. I'm very sad Perez is leaving the art chores soon but hopefully Jerry Ordway will be a decent replacement.

PhotobucketBEST REPRINT: It's a sure sign that the age we live in I look more forward to reprints than I do the vast majority of monthly comix. What a plethora of material is out there, from cheap black-and-white phone books to elaborate color fetish objects. I got a ton of stuff this year I dug - the E.C Segar Popeye V. 1 and 2, the ongoing Complete Peanuts series, the wonderfully quirky I Shall Destroy All Planets, to name a few. But I have to admit my heart right now lies with DC's Showcase Presents line, and its huge, cheap reprints of reams of material from Batman and The Flash to obscurities like The War That Time Forgot and Enemy Ace. I particularly loved the classic Joe Kubert and Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson art in Showcase Presents The Atom and Hawkman Vol. 1-- two of my favorite second-tier DC characters, whose classic adventures have always been out of my reach financially. Sure, these tales are from a simpler time, but often they deliver more enjoyment than many of today's labored, stretched-out retreads.

PhotobucketWORST DISAPPOINTMENT: Um, case in point. Why oh why can't Marvel do right by Spider-Man? The character's adventures have been up and down in comics the past few years, with some intriguing developments (Aunt May finally learns the secret, the unmasking) handled without any real imagination. But worst yet was "One More Day," a rock-bottom awful storyline that was four issues of pointless rambling wrapped up with a bankrupt "Bobby Ewing in the shower" ending that basically wrote out 20 years' worth of Spider-Man comics because editor-in-chief Joe Quesada wanted to. (And as most of the blogosphere has pointed out already, Spider-Man does this by making a deal with the devil???) It spits in the face of the notion a character might actually grow over 40-something years of publication, and decrees that Peter Parker needs to stay a neo-teen loser for his entire life. It shows painful signs of editorial edict over solid writing. I'm still such a fan of the character that I'll keep reading the comics in 2008, but boy, this is about as clumsy a refit as I've ever seen for something that didn't need fixing (and that will surely be undone within five years anyway). I'm hopeful the "Brand New Day" this all set up is worth the garbage we had to wade through to get to it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Oh well whatever nevermind

Hell day. Very tired. Gah. Here picture of two-gun Peter.

Friday, January 11, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Sir Edmund Hillary 1919-2008

"It is not the mountains that we conquer, but ourselves." - Sir Edmund Hillary

PhotobucketNew Zealand's biggest mountain crumbled today. Sir Edmund Hillary was the most famous New Zealander in the world, the first man to climb Mount Everest, a world-class explorer and gentleman and as almost any kiwi will tell you, "a first-class bloke." He was 88 years old, but still, it kind of seemed like he'd live forever. Besides climbing Everest with Tenzing Norgay, Hillary also traveled to the North and South Poles. His last trip to Antarctica was last year - at 87 years old.

While the world mourns him, in New Zealand, Hillary was an absolute icon. Hillary's place in NZ society is pretty unique -- when his death was announced today, a spontaneous gasp erupted among the hardened, cynical newsroom. He was above politics, a national hero of a kind I'm hard-pressed to compare to in America. He's on the five-dollar bill, for crying out loud. A state funeral is pending, of course.

The thing about Hillary is his essential kiwi nature - self-effacing yet not insecure, proud yet not too boastful. In him, we all -- native New Zealanders and newcomers alike -- we saw what we wanted to be. He was that rare fellow few people could say anything bad about -- more than 50 pages of memorials to him from all over the world to him right now on the NZ Herald web site.

"We knocked the bastard off."
- Sir Edmund Hillary, 1953.

That he did. That he did.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: The Morning After

...The whiplash continues. Boy, I'm kinda glad I don't get to watch CNN/FOX/MSNBC et al any more. Good thoughts from Glenn Greenwald:

"The endless attempts to predict the future and thus determine the outcome of the elections -- to the exclusion of anything meaningful -- is a completely inappropriate role for journalists to play, independent of the fact that they are chronically wrong, ill-informed, and humiliated when they do it."

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Now we have a race

Whoo, this blogging every day thing is a bit tricky! I don't know how folks like Roger and Mike do it.

PhotobucketAnyway, looks like we have a fight going on now in the U.S. election. Anyone who thinks Clinton winning New Hampshire means she's out of the woods has another think coming. I still think Barack Obama has a pretty good chance to take the nomination, but it's going to be a brawl over the next month or so.

The downfall of Hillary Clinton and rise of Obamamania in just a handful of days has happened with whiplash speed, but it's all been brewing a while, I think. The thing about electing a president, in the age of television, it means you're electing the person you're going to see constantly for the next four to eight years -- someone you're going to want to hang out with, in other words. That indefinable factor is what got people like Bush elected over Gore and Reagan over Carter, and I think it's what's going to be the nail in the coffin for Hillary. It ain't smart, but it's human nature.

I'm quite sorry for Hillary, actually, as she's been pretty consistently raked over the coals by a very vocal minority for nearly 20 years now -- and she doesn't deserve all of it. But the fact is a lot of people just plain don't like her, and that simmering dislike is always about ten seconds from boiling over. (The media talking heads really don't like her, as you saw post-Iowa.) When you get down to it, a lot of folks are probably thinking, do I really want to see Hillary running the country? A shame because she is eminently qualified, but the baggage she carries is far too heavy to overcome I suspect. Even if she gets the nomination, if she's facing McCain, she's toast.

I really get the sense a kind of movement has formed behind Obama, one with more push than Dean-mania or Perot-lunacy. If only he can get those damned youth voters out (Clinton handily won the over 50 vote in N.H.), he might well win it. Obama will get plenty of dirt thrown against him -- I actually got the "Obama is a secret Muslim overlord" email forwarded to me today -- but I think and hope in the end he might win a victory of hope over more of the same old business. We'll see. Mailing my own ballot off to the California primaries tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Happy Birthday Bowie!

...Ground control to Major Tom, the man himself is 61 years old today! Ye gods. Bowie is a senior citizen. I hope he releases an album this year, his last, Reality, was nearly 5 years ago now and I think he's still got a little spark in him yet.

In honor, here's a handful of classic Bowie videos.

Bowie, "Heroes," 1977

Bowie, "Queen Bitch," live on the BBC

Bowie and the Foo Fighters, 1997, "Hallo Spaceboy," absolutely thrashing version of this tune.

Long live the Ziggy!

Monday, January 7, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: The Top 10 on the iPod

...So I've had my lovely iPod a little over 2 years now, crammed to the gills with around 6000 tunes (frequently changing). iPod shuffle is one of my best friends as it's like a jukebox that never stops, a mix tape you don't have to spend time mixing. It isn't always spot on to my tastes (the shuffle had such an inordinate fondness for Coldplay that I rapidly got sick of them), but hey, it's random. I was curious as to what the shuffle and/or I have played the most often in the last two years, and it was indeed an odd mix, so here's --

The 10 Most Frequently Played Tunes
1. "Bohemian Like You," The Dandy Warhols - Odd that this should be #1, but I went through a phase where I played this very catchy tune at least once a day.
2. "King Of Carrot Flowers Part 1," Neutral Milk Hotel - Not the most audience-friendly tune, haunting and kind of screechy but oddly beautiful.
3. "Breaking Glass," David Bowie. From Low, one of those grand and strange otherworldy instrumentals by Eno/Bowie.
4. "Communist Daughter," Neutral Milk Hotel - I have no idea why this is #4, as I can't remember what it sounds like.
5. "The Bleeding Heart Show," The New Pornographers - Perfect pop tune from their 2005 masterpiece Twin Cinema.
6. "Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois," Sufjan Stephens - I love the album this is from, Illinois, although this fragile little tune isn't quite my favorite on the album, but that's the shuffle for you.
7. "Sugarcoated," Aimee Mann. Courtesy of the shuffle again, bittersweet pop.
8. "Thank You," Alanis Morrisette. Geez, this list makes me look ultra sensitive and girly indeed. Where's the Iggy, the Nirvana, the Gang of Four, the Velvet Underground? ...I do like this song, I admit.
9. "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," Bob Dylan. Ahh, one of my all-time favorites.
10. "Rose Parade," Elliott Smith. Another achingly sad lullaby by one of Oregon's lost sons.

Curious indeed what the shuffle will turn up. Some of these I'd not list in my top 100 songs of all time, some are indeed fine stuff. What's most played on your mp3 player? Tag, you're it - Lefty, Jay and Ash!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Rudy's House

Rudy ... enough with the 9/11 already:
(NEW YORK DAILY NEWS) -- He flatlined in Iowa and he's struggling in New Hampshire, but Rudy Giuliani shook off the early-state blues Thursday as only he can.

"None of this worries me - Sept. 11, there were times I was worried," Giuliani said.

Geez, what do you think life is like in Rudy's house?

"Rudy, can you take out the trash?"

"Trash? I took out the trash on Sept. 11, you've never seen trash like that."

"Rudy, can you run down to the grocery store and get some milk?"

"Milk? On Sept. 11 I was drinking the milk of human suffering and loving it!"

Saturday, January 5, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Best Movies I Saw In 2007

I'd love to play the year-in-review top 10 game with the movies, but I have to admit I've only been to the theater a half-dozen times or so in 2007, and a ton of the critical favorites I'm dying to see like No Country For Old Men and I'm Not There have yet to make it here. So listing my best of 2007 when I've probably barely seen 10 flicks of 2007 seems premature.

But what the heck -- we do watch a fair amount of deeveedees, so instead I'm going to list my 10 favorite movies I saw in 2007 -- no matter what year they first came out in! That's right, I'm a rebel. (Well, it turns out half my list is 2007 movies anyway.)

In alphabetical order:

PhotobucketAce In The Hole (1951) - A long-lost golden oldie getting its first release on DVD this year, from the all-time legend Billy Wilder. Kirk Douglas embodies rampant cycnism at its best in a story of a man trapped in a well that becomes a media circus. Pitch-black satire that's fresh and relevant today.

Children of Men (2006) - It's the countless small details of this grittily real science-fiction drama that stuck with me, as it painted a picture of life in 2027. Clive Owen is smoulderingly good and it's all filled with a battered kind of hope as mankind faces its self-created extinction.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007) - Why, I just saw this! Wes Anderson, train trips, humor that trips the edge of sorrow, another gem from my favorite movie director.

PhotobucketThe Departed (2006) - I know, I know, late to the party, but I finally watched this on DVD and it's taut and dazzling Scorsese, with some fantastic performances by DiCaprio and Damon. And wasn't it nice for Marty to finally get an Oscar for it?

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005) - This documentary looks at the damaged life of Daniel Johnston, a kind of idiot savant crafting so-stupid-it's genius music down in Texas and battling mental illness. Moving and funny, a great portrait of a creative life held back -- and fed -- by the demons in his head. Best documentary of its sort since "Crumb."

PhotobucketHelvetica (2007) - A documentary about a typeface that actually delves deep into how we perceive the world around us. Saw this at the Auckland International Film Festival and haven't stopped thinking about it all year. You'll never look at street signs quite the same way again.

Hot Fuzz (2007)
- The creators of "Shaun Of The Dead" return with another bizarrely over-the-top action comedy, this time combining a look at quiet English country life with cop drama. The lurches in tone in this may catch you off guard but on a second and third viewing it's a marvelously goofy piece of work. And any movie that references "Point Break" as a motivational plot point is OK with me.

PhotobucketKnocked Up (2007) - Judd Apatow continues to put out the smartest dumb comedy in the business, with a movie about growing up when you're eternally immature. Not quite as great as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," but only just short.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006) - Everyone and their brother loved this one from last year; it's a potent combination of mythology and murder, examining the thin line between fantasy and reality... that, and utterly killer design and creatures by the amazing Guillermo del Toro. Haunting and immensely sad.

Sunshine (2007) - Perhaps the plot was a bit rote, but the gorgeous images and philosophical lean of this crew-alone-in-outer-space tale really stuck with me long after viewing. If you view the final act as an allegory, it works even better.

Friday, January 4, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Friday

So you may recall that I usually work 6am-4 pm, four days a week. I've gotten used to the whole waking up at 5 a.m. thing but now that we've moved a lot closer to my work, in the interest of being a buff and fit fellow I'm trying to walk the 3k (about 1.9 miles) most days. Which wouldn't be a hassle except that it can be tough to wake up throw on clothes wash face head out door for a half-hour walk right at crack o'dawn, I'm finding. I usually wake up about halfway through the walk if my iPod plays something jazzy.

On shuffle 5.25 this a.m.: "19th Nervous Breakdown," Rolling Stones. Oh yeah.

Beautiful sunrises, too.

• Congratulations to my father-in-law, painter Peter Siddell who earlier this week was named a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit -- it's one of the annual New Year's Honours and a huge accomplishment, basically the equivalent of what a knighthood once was. To put it in perspective, he was one of only five people in the entire country to get the gong this go-round, courtesy of the Queen of England herself!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: I, Handyman

PhotobucketLet me present a shelf. Not much of a shelf, a mere garage shelf to hold a few tools and things, but here is evidence in my ongoing quest to actually become a rather handy man in our fine new house. We didn't buy a "fixer-upper," exactly, but there are a handful of small improvements both cosmetic and functional that we're making, as I attempt to overcome my utter lack of manly skills. (Both my father and father-in-law are immensely good blokes who can build just about anything, while I have trouble assembling a sandwich.)

So far I've refitted cabinet knobs, put up shelves, painted doors and installed coat hooks, reglued weak cabinets and the like. It's all a bit hard (I have a rather frustrating habit of doing something then realizing about halfway through I'm doing it wrong and starting over) but I felt a surge of manly pride yesterday when I decided I'd put up a storage shelf or two in our semi-finished garage and actually did it without anything breaking or much cussing on my part. Now on to somewhat larger projects like cleaning and refitting the gutters, finishing the half-sheetrocked garage and installing a brick patio. Estimated completion time: 2011.

Behold -- a shelf! Many years from now when the next people buy our house and move in they will just see a shelf, but little will they know it's actually a testament to my mad fixing skillz.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Rocking the Vote

It's weird indeed to watch the 2008 presidential elections unfold from overseas. I'm still registered to vote in California, and will be making my opinion count, but I'm kind of out of the fray. The Iowa caucuses have always struck me as a bizarre and outmoded tradition that get far more ink than it should - a few thousand people in an odd ritual getting a mighty big say in choosing presidential nominees. If I were in charge I'd rotate the caucuses and primaries every four years so a true cross-section of America gets its vote, but America is mighty attached to its traditions so that won't happen anytime soon.

Anyway, I've been following this rather wide-open 2008 race and mulling over the candidates. I'm pretty much left of center, and when it comes to the issues, in every presidential election I've voted in since 1992 I've gone for the Dems. But picking a president, silly as it may be, is as much about personality as it is about platforms. Here's my totally unscientific, gut-feeling and admittedly idiosyncratic take on the major players.

PhotobucketMike Huckabee scares the bejeezus out of me (pun intended), frankly. He's a media-savvy version of Pat Robertson, basically, and the kind of zombie-eyed faith-propelled conservative I've always felt would be a disaster as president. He's managed to play his cuddly side up for the cameras but I find Huckabee dangerously ignorant and unqualified. It looks like he's already hitting a backlash with his bizarre "I'm pulling this ad because I have honor but I'm going to show it to all you media folks in a press conference" move. I imagine he's just a flavor-of-the-month, and he's likely to flame out hard and fast even if he does well in Iowa.

PhotobucketThe only candidate worse than Huckabee would be Rudy Giuliani, who's been riding 9/11 so hard he makes George W. Bush look like a patchouli-smelling hippie. (I absolutely love Joe Biden's comment about him: "there's only three things he mentions in a sentence: A noun and a verb and 9/11.") His hard-ass style may impress the yokels, but it worries me deeply that we might elect a man who's even less flexible than Bush about the realities of the world, and I find it vaguely repulsive he's running so hard on the good deeds of 9/11. He's more socially liberal than some Republicans, true, but there's something kinda dangerous about the man I can't put my finger on. I don't trust him.

Mitt Romney is a man with nice hair in a suit to me, and I hear he's a Mormon. That's about all I know about him. Yet if pressed I'd say he might well be the nominee for the Republicans. Just a feeling I've got.

PhotobucketIf I voted for a Republican, it'd probably be John McCain, who I admire greatly on a personal level for surviving being a POW for five years, and for a willingness to admit his mind changes. He's got firm principles even if I don't agree with a lot of them, and I admit his reputation as a bit of a maverick is appealing to me. I'd be "happy" if he were the nominee but think the fringe conservatives will never let it happen.

If the Republicans tend to be balding white guys in suits, I find there's a lot of talent in the Dems race that hasn't even gotten a chance to shine - Joe Biden, for instance - but it's really down to Clinton, Edwards and Obama. I think it's actually a very good field of candidates even if they're all a bit flawed.

PhotobucketI like John Edwards quite a lot and think he could be an effective president. I admire his populist tactics even if it's just a campaign strategy (few people are even talking about poverty in the U.S.). Perhaps this former lawyer can come off a bit slick, but I admired his 2004 campaign and feel he could be a very good president. If Obama and Clinton slaughter each other, he could well be a consensus nominee.

PhotobucketAs for Hillary Clinton – well, I'm OK if she's elected president, but quite frankly, I have intangible reservations about her. I haven't really got a sense as to WHY she wants to be president, and while I was a big fan of Bill, I don't think name recognition alone is enough to choose her. I'm wary of the presidency becoming a dynasty of Bushes and Clintons, too. If she's the nominee, I'll vote for her I imagine, and I will be pleased America finally joins places like New Zealand in having elected a female leader. I think she'd make a fine president but I worry her tendency to play the middle-of-the-road means we'd just get someone afraid to make major changes.

PhotobucketWhich leaves me with Barack Obama, who's the horse I'm most likely to back in 2008. Sure, he's young and relatively inexperienced, but I have to say some of our best presidents have been ones who've come on board with less experience (Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Kennedy, Clinton) than the lifetime Washingtonians. I really enjoyed his autobiography "Dreams From My Father" and thought I saw a man in those pages of solid principle yet a flexible nature, which is kind of what I like in a president. Someone who's willing to admit he doesn't know everything and yet possesses a kind of confident power. I admit it's not the most scientific way to pick a president, but I'm a reading kind of fellow, and at the moment when I ship my ballot back to California I'm likely to tick off Obama and hope for the best.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: It's 2008 (here anyway)

...It's 2008, a bold new year, and while I'm not a big New Year's resolution man I thought I'd try something out anyway for the month of January to perk up my blogging skills a bit after a rather slow couple of months. That's right, it's 30 Days of Bloggery, in which I will attempt to post something on here every single day to astound and amuse you constant readers! Can I do it? Will I run out of things to say? Will anyone care? Stay tuned!

PhotobucketSo in our dazzling way, we welcomed in 2008 last night with a "Doctor Who" marathon watching the final 3 episodes of Series 2, which we've been catching up on. (We watched and got addicted to the third series when it aired here last year, but missed Series 1 and 2 when they aired.) Terrific stuff as usual from what has to be the best show on television right now. The free-for-all Dalek/Cyberman battle of Canary Wharf and the fate of Rose added up to make it a real nailbiter. Can't believe I missed watching this when it aired, but in a way it's been more fun to pick it up en masse on DVD. But now we're just about out of new "Doctor Who" to watch until Series 4 airs sometime this year. Boo!

Mood: Sunburned. Damn it.