October 2005


 I stuck my Rosa Parks thing up on my blog and got a great letter from a friend of mine about how I should have tagged or “screenshot” the page I referred to, so as to capture the moment and so that he could hit the link. At first I thought this was a netiquette thing – not that I have a problem with that, since I firmly believe they are excavating new levels of hell for spammers and ALL CAPS screamers – but, he brought me up to speed on the power of blogs to track Orwellian revisionism and how more imbedded links can sometimes equal more veracity. Oh hell, I’m just going to quote him;

  >> KM to me: “I believe you. It’s just that, having been tipped, I wanted to see what you were talking about, and one of the strengths of web-based reporting is that you, the reporter, can link to what you’re talking about so we can see for ourselves. Could be because we want more detail; could be because we don’t trust reporters’ ability to summarize what they’re told by people working on things the reporters have no background in (which is most things).

  Once you start spending time on blogs, you develop a habit of clicking through to see whatever it is the blogger is talking about, instead of just taking their summary. And once you’ve developed that habit, you start to wonder why you CAN’T do it on NYT and CNN stories.

  Especially stories about controversies triggered by blogs and community sites (DKos, Free Republic, Democratic Underground, etc.). Why don’t they have links in their online stories and URLs in their paper editions? When they’re reporting on documents and speeches, why are links to scans of the documents and transcripts of the speeches so rare? I think it’s just being slow to get with the times, but a cynic might wonder if it has anything to do with how often such scans /transcripts are the basis of debunking (Rather-Gate, canonically).

  Donald Rumsfeld (and Paul Wolfowitz, when he was at the Pentagon) makes his own recordings when he’s interviewed by the press, and the Pentagon posts the transcripts. Why don’t the reporters do the same?”
  So writes KM. Back to me again.

  Now, to some of you this is all very old news, but it REALLY got me to thinking. I don’t plan to use my blog as a reportage/investigative tool, but rather, as an archive. But his point about imbedding links as footnotes, or points of potential verification, and their use (or, lack of same) got me excited about the [forgive me] blogosphere, in a way that I really hadn’t been.

  I know others see most of this as backyard washerwoman gossiping, and sometimes I’m in that camp myself, but if one of my smartest friends is going to give this new information environment this kind of thought and then I really have to at least consider its potential value.

  The “follow-up” on the Parks thing was that just after I wrote that piece yesterday, Ms. Parks got bumped down from the national news [above the fold] section of the GOOGLE news page to the “people” section. Nothing sinister there, that’s just the news cycle, doing what it does. But the USA Today link took me to a photo gallery of 12 shots. The fingerprint shot, mug shot,

http://www.thesmokinggun.com/mugshots/rparksmug1.html

  I’m using this link only because the USA Today photo gallery section is not copy/pastable.

  and the ubiquitous “riding the bus” shot, but also, 9 color photos of her looking older – and happier.

  So, no particular apparent malice on the part of USA Today unless they assigned some sort of value algorithm to the gallery shots. For all I know, GOOGLE tracked me checking some other “perp-walk” link and said to its AM-like self, “Give Barney mug shots. He likes mug-shots.” Brrr.

 This also raises questions about just who and what these algorithms are pointed at. Are they pointed out at the viewer and what he or she is requesting? Are they pointed at the main acquisition page – GOOGLE’s home page in this instance? Or is it a very complicated dynamic give and take over all of these searches and questions? Who is watching the watchers, indeed.

  And if none of this process is fascinating to you, I’m sorry, but the idea of algorithms tracking and possibly altering our shared realities or personal realities sure is interesting to me.

  – Barney

 

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  I could not help but notice that USA Today, with 50+ years of Rosa Parks file photos to choose from, opted to go with her 1956 mugshot for their Rosa Parks is dead memorium article. Let’s not give the woman a little dignity a day after her death. Hell no.

 I do realize the historical signifigance of the photo. I’m simply saying that I’d use that if I were doing an article with perhaps 3 photos. Not just the one. Using that alone, and having that be the Google “go to” photo, says to me that things haven’t changed as much as we would sometimes like to think.

 Certainly that feeling was reinforced last night when I was in my local drinking establishment for some much needed live music and got to listen to some of my “liberal” friends hold forth on their feelings about Ms. Parks after one too many beers. Scratch the surface around here and it becomes “Pennsyltucky” mighty quick. Sad.

 The bizarre bookend to the Rosa Parks mugshot was Tom Delay’s mugshot plastered all over the media. I couldn’t help but think of Warren Ellis’ THE SMILER from TRANSMETROPOLITAN. That book gets more prescient by the week. If only I could get a bowel disruptor gun, life synching with art would be so much more worthwhile.

http://harlanellison.com/heboard/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1297

 – Barney Dannelke  10/26/05 

This article recently appeared in the Summer issue of GAYDAR magazine.

http://www.gaydarmagazine.com./current_issue.html
 

http://www.mrbiggs.com/illustration/illustration07.html

Flame On! art by Brian Biggs

[the above link is to the art that appeared with thisFlame On! illustration by Brian Biggs
piece by the fantastic Brian Biggs]

FLAME ON!

Gay Culture, Straight Culture and Geek Culture or, Just how did so much chocolate get in my peanut butter?

The FANTASTIC FOUR! Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic, a man so malleable he can stretch his body into nearly any shape imaginable! Oh my! Ben Grimm, the super strong, rock hard (literally) Thing – whose favorite expression is, “It’s clobberin’ time!? Oh, do go on. Sue Storm, aka The Invisible Woman. Every gay man’s fantasy! And last, but never least, the red hot Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, a young, blonde, single – dare I say – hottie, who actually says “Flame on!? before self immolating and flying away like a Calvin Klein Jean model shot out of a cannon. Now I don’t know what you think of as gay, but…

Ok, stop. I’ve had my fun and there’s more where that came from, but I think we need step back a second.

There is no easy way to explain what this piece is without explaining in brief how it was solicited. I was sitting in my coffee shop, minding my own business, when the editor said to me, “Why don’t you write something for us?? At first I thought he was joking, but before I could follow-up with, “What do I have to say to the readers of Gaydar?,? he said, “C’mon, I know how your mind works!?

Bent. Twisted. Somewhat askew, is what I think he was implying. I said I would think about it.

Thirty minutes later I wandered back to his table and said “Ok, of the four men at this table, how many read super-hero comics when we were kids?? We all had. “How many read Fantastic Four?? We all had. Now, bonus round question, and keep in mind this was asked in early February, months before the big media push, “How many of us had seen the trailer for the Fantastic Four movie coming out? Did he say “coming out?? Yes, and he said “big push? also, now shut up. And we all had. At the time, this meant we were probably downloading the preview from the Internet. There are worse things to do with a broadband connection.

So, the question in my mind was, is this a straight thing? A gay thing? A comic geek thing? Who is borrowing what from whom? Who is inspiring what? Is there gay intent or is it all innuendo after the fact? Where does all this come from? Does anybody care? Well, oddly enough I found I did care, and the more I looked at it the more I found there was to look at.

What’s he on about? Goddamnit, get back to talking about shooting models out of a cannon! The point is, it doesn’t matter what part of the rainbow of human sexuality this magazine tries to represent, if you are reading this, you were probably raised in the same culture as I was. American Pop culture. And there the damage and mutation begins.

You see Culture doesn’t start out as “straight? culture or “gay? culture. It’s just culture, and you’re soaking in it Marge. We’re like those leather beasts, the Borg on Star Trek – we want to assimilate whatever is around and make it useful to our needs. A friend reminded me of an anthropology phrase – the low hanging fruit metaphor – whereby we take what is easiest for us to grasp and use it to suit our own needs. I said “it’s all about fruits with you, isn’t it?? Nevertheless, if you’re a kid and you were brought up in America, after television, toys and the movies, comic books and super-heroes was one of those things claiming your attention.

Before we ever had to think about sex or sexual orientation we had already been exposed to these characters. And just what sort of characters are we really talking about here? Are these the role models of future generations of Ozzy and Harriet? I think not.

Outsiders? Oh, we have a boatload. Superman, Batman and Spider-Man are all orphans, for starters. Know anybody who’s gay and from a broken home? Why the hell not identify with a “strange visitor from another planet?? Hell, yes.

Spider-Man? Sure he’s with Mary Jane Watson now, but for ten years he lived with his Aunt May and he was as likely to get shoved into a locker by local jock Flash Thompson as battle a super-villain. Any suppressed childhood memories? Sorry, but these stories work for a reason and the reason isn’t always Doctor Octopus. Never mind your fantasies about men with four extra arms.

Batman is really too easy a target. People have been cracking wise about Robin, the Boy Wonder since the 1940’s and there is no end, ahem, in sight. Just a few months back when the knee-jerk homophobes went after Sponge Bob Square Pants and Patrick as being a same sex couple – and time out right there – if you’re worried about same sex, consider for a moment that they’re different species and phylum with some fairly alien methods of reproduction, and then the gender problems kind of fall by the wayside. Nevertheless, The New Yorker had a cartoon for Valentine’s Day with Sponge Bob holding up a envelope and saying, “it’s from Batman and Robin, they always send such nice cards.? Apparently even folks at that aging madame of periodicals knew when to wink and get into the act. Batman’s always been a target for this kind of humor. Living alone with his butler, he brings it on himself. Hell, his other inspiration, besides the bat, was Zorro. Good old Don Diego. He has a secret hideout in a cave, acts out as a fop by day, and masked avenger by night. Could we possibly be more closeted?

And speaking of closeted, I have a friend, Rodrigo, who has a theory about the Uncanny X-Men. He thinks the X-Men and Professor Xavier’s college for mutants learning to “control? their powers are the closeted mutants, and Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants trying to run the world represent all the “outed? militant homosexuals. Understand, I don’t think that’s what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had in mind when they came up with these characters in the early 1960’s, but who am I to ruin his fun. He also thinks all the female villains in Marvel comics after 1980 or so look like drag queens who aren’t trying hard enough, but that’s somebody else’s treatise.

Then you have Wonder Woman, who was kicked off her own island by her fellow Amazonians and is given ropes and bracelets to cope with the outside world. Show me forty years of Wonder Woman comics and I’ll show you four decades of Amazonians tied to chairs and strapped to tables. They might as well have sold ball gags and handcuffs on the same page as the Sea Monkeys while they were at it.

Bruce Banner, aka The Incredible Hulk, is a total dweeb. Puny Banner! This guy was wailed on by his father and now has world-class anger management issues. Does this remind us of anybody we know?

The Punisher. Puh-lease. Big guns, leather and Kevlar, and he wears a big skull on his chest. I mean if The Village People had a Pete Best, this guy would be it. Compensate much?

These are just the comics. When I mentioned the Sponge Bob fiasco to a friend he came back with, “what about Jonny Quest and Hadji?? This admittedly gave me pause as I had not thought about these two jet-setting Hardy Boys in this way and I finally fired back with “As for Jonny and Hadji, well, Dr. Quest’s son might have let Hadji help him rub one out behind the hydro-foil in exchange for saving him from nazis, frogmen and Komodo Dragons, but I think the Quest’s were more about preventing manumission in the case of Hadji than encouraging homo-erotic miscegenation and nocturnal emissions. That’s my theory anyway.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s all spin and I’m delusional. But I don’t believe it. A busload of Americans went to see Spider-Man 2 last year. And some mysterious percentage of that demographic saw Spider-Man standing in an elevator, being given a full head-to-toe “What’s-he-got-in-those-leotards?? by some guy. Then we said, “Hey! That’s Hal Sparks, who plays Michael the comic shop owner from Queer As Folk!? There are no accidents, my friends.

So this summer, we’ll all go see Christian Bale in the new Batman franchise and we’ll see Julian MacMahon, that Australian beefcake from Nip/Tuck, as Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four. Maybe we’ll identify with Ben Grimm, The Thing, the outcast who is afraid he is unfit to be loved, or even be seen out of doors, for that matter. Or maybe we’ll just wish we could get it on with someone wearing spandex with a team logo made out of unstable molecules. I couldn’t make that little detail up. Still, we’ll all be hoping, in between all the CGI “gosh-wow? special effects, to be shown someone with whom we can identify. Two hours of flaws, costumes, mutation and masks, for sure. But beyond all that, we’ll be looking for a little bit of ourselves.

– Barney Dannelke [March 01, 2005]

There is a moment in the hyperactive and wickedly smart comic book series TRANSMETROPOLITAN where Spider Jerusalem, the futuristic political journalist and militant gonzo activist, having just suffered a crippling stroke of some sort, is informed by his Doctor that he has contracted something called I-Pollen Degenerative Disorder, and that in the coming few months as this vicious brain cancer deus ex machina progresses he is going to lose all motor and cognitive skills. As the Doctor reels off the horrible consequences of this, Spider starts grinning, and by the time he’s done Spider looks about as happy as a shark about to eat a baby penguin. When the Doctor asks him why the hell he’s grinning, Spider responds in the royal we of editors and people with tapeworms, “So we’ve got a deadline. We can do deadlines.?

Hallelujah. Indeed. Writers can do deadlines.

I’d like to tell you about a little adventure I had this past weekend. At least for me it was an adventure and a bit of a revelation. I think for others it was probably as fun as learning what flop sweat is like after they thought they had a part nailed in a play or coming face to face with a blood sport Hemingway liked to call “boxing Turgenev.?

The setting was Foolscap VII up in Bellevue Washington. The programming had a nice little break from the usual panel fiascos such as Circular Quest Fantasies: Threat or Menace? and Do Wookies have G-spots? Instead, off to one side, minding it’s own business on Saturday at 3PM was Show Me A Story: A Workshop moderated by Harlan Ellison with Manny Frishberg, Sandra Odell and Amy Thompson. When I saw this on the programming schedule I foolishly assumed we would bring in some finished material that would be tossed around for some tough love and suggestions for a final polish.

Ha. Ha ha ha. When I’m wrong, boys and girls I go right off the rails. You’ll see.

Friday morning I approached the Con chair and was told that the workshop was booked in advance and the event could only accommodate sixteen. Damn. Still, it was reasonable. Even sixteen story critiques in an hour and a half would be pushing it. Still, I clutched my Twain pages and my little horror story to my chest and said, “Well, if anybody drops out or there’s a seat on the wall, let me know. I’ll be quiet and keep a low profile.?

First we lie – then we write.

The panel rolls around and they had three or four dropouts. Like a questionable character in the third reel of a heist film, suddenly, I’m in. And here’s how it went down. Rainier is a conference room that’s just about ALL table. The ambitious dozen take their places and suddenly all I can think of is 12 Angry Men. Looking back on that moment I’m not sure that being verbally abused by Lee J. Cobb would have been so bad in comparison, but that feeling quickly passed. Aside from the four already mentioned, there was Kristin Ruhle on my right and Doug Lane and Amy Kosten-Jenkins from Webderland on my left. Also present was Kathleen Retz who ran the Foolscap art show. If Doug or anybody else wants to cough up the names I’m missing I’d appreciate it. I’m moving on with apologies to those whose names I’ve misplaced.

At this point Harlan laid out the ground rules. Ms. Retz had a folder and in it she had color reproductions of art she had pulled off the Internet. I’m told that much of the art was pulled from Elfwood.com

Ok. I have just been to this site and there are over 600 galleries, each with dozens of pieces so I’m not going to even try to cite the individual works. As I write this I have a query out to Ms. Retz and may know more later. I’m sure Doug and Kristen and Amy remember their pieces. In fact, I suspect we all have our art burned into our brains for good or ill. Adrenalin does wonders for memory.

Back to the “rules.? Harlan said that we were each to pick a piece of art, and then we were going to sit down and WRITE A STORY in approximately the next half hour. These we would then read aloud, and a brief round-robin critique of the story would take place. As Doug likes to say, “Holy Jeebus!? Now you, sitting in front of your monitor at home may square your shoulders and say to yourself “yeah, sure, big deal, I could do that?, but I’m telling you I’m real glad I had the medicine man bless my bulletproof tunic and make me invisible for good measure before we started. This may not have been for keeps but it sure felt like it.

So after a lot of sighing and tooth gnashing and hair pulling and crying and drooling and knuckle chewing [the proceeding 14 words brought to you by Street and Smith and worth 7 cents if appearing in TRAPPED in 1957] we all picked our art. Harlan picked LAST from the four or so remaining pieces. And we began.

Now a note to the cynics among you on how Uncle Harlan is a big stinky cheater. Let me TRY and head you off at the pass. Could Harlan have seen all the art in advance? Could he have then sat down and cobbled up rough story ideas for 16 pieces of art so that he had something to expand on no matter what was handed to him? Could he have worked the room like some sort of double-brained Kresken, hypnotizing and pushing and cajoling us into taking the other pieces and leaving a pre-chosen piece for him? Yeah, sure, I suppose. But I was there and Amy was there and Kristin was there and Doug was there and that’s not what happened. We all picked our poison and Harlan chose last. Moreover he picked a piece, that while extremely well executed, I pegged as about the last thing he would want, as it featured, well, you’ll see.

Thus armed with inspiration, or the poison of our own choosing, we began. Most of us used pen and paper and committed our sins in long hand. Good enough for Shakespeare and Neal R. Stephenson, we figured it was good enough for us. One person had a PDA-keyboard configuration that I thought was keen looking, but a bit too small to work on with out going blind. Harlan pulled out an old manual typewriter provided by the convention and we were off to the races.

Have I ever told you all what a complete and perfect dick Harlan can be? Really? Well, he starts pounding away at this thing and all I can think is word word word word word, now he’s FIVE ahead, word word word word word word SLAM! carriage return, now he’s ELEVEN ahead, word word word clack clack clack… pause, scratch forearm, fold arms over chest, glare a bit, pause hand over keys, then whack whack whack spacebar spacebar spacebar WORD WORD WORD and he’s off again. After a minute or so of this I think we all tuned it out. In fact, in a weird way, very quickly I found it, if not restful, at least sort of focusing. I work at a PC and WORD and MS Office are my friend, but that thwacking ratchety sound IS the sound of creation to me, the way a loud KA-CHING is the proper sound of a cash register drawer opening. So I stared at my painting, chewed my knuckle and started plotting my little story.

I’m cutting a few paragraphs here. Suffice to say I ended up writing a vignette. Approximately 290 words in 25 minutes that told the story of that moment in the painting:

http://www.donatoart.com/gallery/farseekers.html

and gave some back-story and set up some conflicts for scenes to come. At best, it is a crippled fragment that will never see the light of day. First draft, under the stopwatch is NOT my friend. At least Barry Malzberg had bourbon to see him through this in the 1970’s. Who works like this?

Later I was talking to Harlan about the value of this kind of kiln-style writing and we agreed that it was unnatural BUT it does do two things. First, it forces you to finish something. The world is full of project starters who never get around to finishing anything. I know because I’m one of them. The other is that after the pain is over, it can be – and should be – a tremendous confidence booster. It illustrates what Harlan has said for years, that Art or art isn’t really created in ivory towers on crystal mountaintops; it’s usually hammered out by people in basements and attics or sheds behind the house (John Gardner) or even an upright plywood coffin standing like an airless isolation chamber in an otherwise normal living room (Lester Del Rey). The lesson is like the ubiquitous Nike slogan. Just do it.

Back to Harlan being a dick. So, we’re all of us writing to the best of our abilities – and some of those abilities ended up being pretty remarkable. I’m recalling Mr. Frishberg and Mr. Lane and the one by the woman to Mr. Frishberg’s right whose name I don’t recall, when Harlan slams his carriage return for the last time after typing “they were all run over by a bus. The End.? or some such shite, and gets up and steps away from the table like a guy with a winning hand who has called “all in and good night and good luck and your twenty is on the dresser, see you later kiddo, I got a train to catch.?

Seventeen minutes. Last to pick. First to type. First to finish. What do you call that?

So Harlan gives us another 10 minutes. Then he gets a drink and tells us when we hit the five-minute mark. Then time compresses to auto-accident Ballard time and we’re done.

We each read our pieces and offer up some critiques but I don’t think our hearts were into the criticism. I won’t savage you and you don’t savage me was rule of the day and worked out fine. For a LONG and accurate description of workshop dynamics there are essays in the Clarion anthologies that go into exquisite detail on how this can play out and go south quickly when people don’t play well with others.

Besides, we all knew what we were waiting for. Harlan had written a story. A NEW story. Right there, in less than twenty minutes. So, we sat back and said well, let’s see what the oldest enfant terrible has got. He read his story.

Let me be clear. Harlan said this to me after the workshop and I completely agree – “There were NO failures in that workshop. Everybody produced something and everybody learned and everybody took something away that they could use.? That almost never happens in a workshop or any teaching situation for that matter. Moreover, a couple of pieces could probably be published virtually as is, or given a polish and then sent on their way. Two out of twelve would have been a very good day in workshop land.

But it wasn’t two out of twelve because Harlan read his story and showed us how it’s done. Mohammed Ali said, “it ain’t no brag if you can do it.? Boy was he right. And I didn’t even have to get punched in the head by a heavyweight to learn that lesson. Or maybe I did and I’m still taking a standing eight count and wondering just where my corner is.

Either way, I could tell you about it, but it’s 350 words and you’ll read them before too long. It’s called WEARINESS and will almost certainly feature the art of one Hubert J. Daniels who I am told is a young student at the University of Warsaw and I suspect is about to become a “made? man if that’s what he wants.

I asked Harlan how this compared to Clarion, where the writing assignments were overnight affairs and he told me they’re analogous but in a compressed sort of way. “It’s sort of like comparing a good piece of buttered bread to the finest French toast you’ve ever had. Both worthy in their own way.?

So there you have it. Cost of traveling 3,000 miles to see some friends and stay at the Bellevue Sheraton for four days and attend a small science fiction convention? About $850.00 Having your ass and ego handed to you by a paunchy old man with a battered manual typewriter with nothing to gain and no need to prove anything to anyone?

Priceless.

– Barney Dannelke [12:09AM]

Composed in 2 hours 11 minutes / 2,160 words.