Archive for May, 2008

Dunt Esk

This is the problem with blogs: You start blogging in an idle moment, and one thing leads to another and you wake up one day to find that you have readers. And readers, no matter how coolly disinterested they are nor how they are getting the deal free gratis for nothing, eventually become something like customers: they begin to have expectations. They expect frequent deliveries of new material. For the blogger–excepting, I guess, the fanatically driven or the logorrheic–the situation is like being a columnist, like one of our heroes at the great gray New York Bugle, with all the problems and responsibilities inherent, only you’re not being paid. You’re still bagging groceries to pay the rent, and that profession like all others has its seasons and its crises.
Maybe the association of ideas is why today we’re featuring the work of the great Milt Gross, who knew from daily deadlines in his decades of newspaper employment. These are from his (criminally) out-of-print Nize Baby (1926), a work in prose and drawings that is one of the funniest books ever, and is especially recommended to children of immigrants, even if your home language wasn’t Yiddish. But to reduce its matter merely to the comedy of ESL is to do it an injustice–imagine it as an episode of E. C. Segar’s Thimble Theater with Finnegans Wake performed by the Marx Brothers. Even Smokey Stover fans will have to give it up to Milt, who as far as I’m aware actually coined the immortal password “banana oil.”
So anyway, postings have become scarcer around here, and they may well become scarcer still, as our unpaid author contends with a mountain of past-due obligations, each of them with a promissory note attached to its curly little tail.

Ben H & Daily Bedpost

Welcome friends of the Daily Bedpost. Thanks for coming to visit. And thanks to Em & Lo for the interview. Here's a quickie for Bedpost-ers. Enjoy!

* * * * *

Ben H.
I was 17 and it tasted like orange juice. But other than that it was pretty cool.

a rotorvane craze

When all else fails, there's always cooking: orzo with mustard greens and lemon zest, a warm chickpea salad with enough olive oil to power a lamp for three weeks, a kind of accidental bok choy kimchee, kale with some slivers of spring onions, tempeh and tofu broiled with a slightly spicy glaze, roasted spring turnips, spinach fettucine with nettles and garlic. Even at ostensibly stressful moments, it's nice to fall back on turning stuff from the PSU farmer's market into tasty things for my family and houseguests. Yet another new blog (I think this makes six for me): Final Crisis Annotations. If you don't know what Final Crisis is, or know but don't care, I can guarantee that there will be nothing of interest to you over there--strictly übergeek stuff. "Crickets" is taking a little time off, because Shouting Fire is currently down; when it's back up, I'll be back there too. In the meantime, why not go over to Ida's new site and check out some of the MP3s they've got over there? Or perhaps the Bea Arthur and Stevie Wonder videos at Mincing Up the Morning?

“Solaris” de Stanislaw Lem

cod_gabriel has added a photo to the pool:

"Solaris" de Stanislaw Lem

Editie 1974

“Ţara norilor purpurii” de Arkadi şi Boris Strugaţki

cod_gabriel has added a photo to the pool:

"Ţara norilor purpurii" de Arkadi şi Boris Strugaţki

Editie 1961


With everything spread out on Donal and Mike's vast rosewood dining table, our team of four collated, trimmed, stapled, re-trimmed, banded, and photo-inserted right up until 7:19 before racing over to Tiga with our story cargo. The books came out beautifully and the crowd turnout made my heart grow a size. Thank you all my dear friends who showed up to hear us read and who bought 7" stories and hung out.

June will hopefully bring the next edition, and then July another set. I have some fantastic authors lined up. Maybe I can keep doing them remotely from Oberlin next year as well--as if I needed another excuse to visit Portland as often as possible. I am doing my best to avoid pre-missing. I am already all too susceptible to pre-nostalgia.

The next day T & I went to the coast to stay with friends who are renting a sweet little sea-shack at Cape Meares.

Emmett originally came from Tillamook County, perhaps the coast, who knows? He was the happiest I've ever seen him. Galloping down the beach, nose perpetually atwitch, investigating beach mortuary (is this particular cove where all sea birds go to die?), sunbathing flat-out on the deck.

We wandered the beach and the wetlands, read, lounged, ate, drank wine and coffee, lay in a hammock, drew, made silly video clips, etc.

Time went more slowly, in the best possible way. Probably at least partly due to freedom from internet. I think there is no wi-fi in paradise. I need to get there.

I’m speaking at Where 2.0

image from Where 2.0 conference website

Just a heads up that I'm attending (and speaking at) the Where 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. If you're attending, say "Hi!"



cod_gabriel has added a photo to the pool:

"Nebuloasa din Andromeda" de Ivan Efremov - editie 1960
"Andromeda Nebula" by Ivan Yefremov - 1960 edition

Loose Ends

Here’s stuff I’ve been meaning to tell you about but haven’t made the time.

Our good friend Propaganda is at it again. He’s made some deep posts here and on the forums - thought you’d be interested in what he actually does on his own time.

I’m speaking at the Personal Democracy Forum at the end of June in NYC. This should be an interesting conference - but it costs. With any luck there will be a simulcast of some kind. I will push for that. Mark Pesce will be in town, so let’s try to force him to go out with us.

A rare - and maybe my last voluntary synagogue talk - for the Sutton Place Synagogue on the evening of June 8. An old friend used to officiate there, so I relented. Every brush with organized Judaism pushes me further towards the Brights, so enter at your own risk.

I met a very cool guy, Alan Gershenfeld, who is doing some bottom-up, decentralized business experimentation, including Filmaid International, which shows giant-screen movies to refugee camps in Africa, and a company that lets inner-city kids create T-shirt businesses for way way cheaper than Cafe Press. I’ll be writing about him in my next book.

Which I better get back to.

Dictionary piece in the Boston Globe yesterday

Yesterday a piece I wrote about Johnny Carrera’s Pictorial Webster’s ran in the Boston Globe … check it out, if beautiful art books inspired by dictionaries are topics of interest.

Psychic Trigonometry

For me, 30-mile weeks only normally happen in the first third or last third of a marathon training programme.


But I'm not training for a marathon and yet I still managed to clock mileage in the 30s last week.

Oprah Bus

The distance between the mental peaks and troughs is bigger than it ever has been at the moment.

Flowers & Graffiti

My mood is a sine wave with a huge amplitude (delirious excitement, crushing worry) and a tiny wavelength (hourly shifts).

River Mattress

All the energy carried along in this wave needs somewhere to go and running feels like the natural outlet.

Woman, Ape, Dog

DC Universe 0

Any corrections or observations I've missed are more than welcome; please add them to the comments! A shorter version of these notes originally appeared over at The Savage Critic(s).

Front cover: As with apparently all FC-related covers, the design here involves three vertical columns.

Title: It's worth unpacking this a little. DC is, of course, the publisher of this comic and the corporate owner of its intellectual property; DC stands for DETECTIVE COMICS, one of the first series it published, beginning in 1937. The "DC Universe"--DCU for short--is the shared setting for most of the superhero comics DC publishes, a setting that extends beyond Earth to the entirety of existence. (In fact, the DC Universe is a "multiverse," a set of parallel universes--52 of them at the moment.) And "zero" implies that this story happens "before the beginning" of the forthcoming FINAL CRISIS story. "Zero" also has two other connotations in the context of the DCU. One is that this issue was originally more or less intended to be the final issue of COUNTDOWN, a.k.a. COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS, a weekly series that began with issue 51 and counted down to issue 1--instead of its original plan of ending with issue 0. (Despite its title, COUNTDOWN actually appears to have had few direct ties to FINAL CRISIS; where they're relevant, they'll be described here.) The other is an allusion to ZERO HOUR, a 1994 five-issue miniseries about the destruction and re-creation of the DCU; the month after it ended, all DCU titles published issues numbered 0.

The character in the foreground is Superman. If you need these notes to explain that to you, they may not be much help in general.

Left column, top to bottom (-ish): Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Zatanna, the Spectre (Crispus Allen), Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Black Canary, Green Lantern (John Stewart), Green Arrow, Batman, the Flash (unclear which one).

Middle column: the Legion of Super-Heroes--specifically, the updated version of the first Legion seen in "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes," ACTION COMICS #858-863. (I'll get to an explanation of the three Legions eventually.) In the background, we see the "Superman/Legion" version of the Legion's clubhouse/HQ. Top to bottom: Dawnstar, Wildfire, Colossal Boy, Chameleon Girl, Lightning Lass, Night Girl, Invisible Kid II, Lightning Lad, Polar Boy, Shadow Lass, Timber Wolf, Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl, Sun Boy, Ultra Boy, Cosmic Boy, Shrinking Violet, Brainiac 5, Bloc (obscured by the word "Begins").

Right column: bad guys. Top to bottom, more or less: Weather Wizard, a bunch of Shadow Demons, Killer Frost, Superman Prime, Heat Wave, Giganta, Black Hand, Mirror Master, Dr. Light, Libra, Killer Croc, the Joker (in his "classic" design), Captain Cold, the Human Flame, Zoom, and (obscured by the UPC box) Professor Ivo and Dr. Poison.

Pg. 1:

It's somehow fitting that, on the first page of a multi-title arc that will apparently draw on Jack Kirby's "Fourth World" multi-title arc very heavily, we get a tribute to one of his signature artistic techniques, the extreme long shot. This page seems to have been a last-second rewrite: in the version included in the 2008 New York Comic-Con program, the caption was "I am... everything." Note also that the captions start with a black background, and that the red creeps in from the right as the story progresses.

The idea of an entity that can be everything (and articulate it!) relates to the concept Morrison has mentioned a few times of trying to make the DC universe sentient. "This is me" may refer to "everything"; it may, on the other hand, refer to the tiny little yellow lightning bolt we see between the captions, for reasons that will be clearer later. The implication of this issue is that the narrator is the second Flash, Barry Allen, who first appeared in SHOWCASE #4 in 1956. He died in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS #8 in 1986.

Pg. 2:

Panel 1: Clockwise from upper left: Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Aquaman, the Flash (from context, apparently Barry Allen), Batman, Martian Manhunter. This was the first lineup of the Justice League of America to appear in a published story, THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #28, in 1960 (currently in print in Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1). They appear to be coming out of their original headquarters, a cave in Happy Harbor, RI, which also first appeared in that issue.

Panel 2: L-R: Hawkgirl, Hawkman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, the Elongated Man, Zatanna. These are all characters who later joined the Justice League of America.

Pg. 3:

In the DCU, not just the sun but the entire multiverse system revolves around the Earth. It's nice to feel important. "The barriers between parallel universes bleed": This may be a reference to "The Bleed," a transitional space outside reality often seen in WildStorm Universe comics like THE AUTHORITY--the WildStorm Universe is one of the parallel universes that are part of the DCU (specifically number 50 of 52).

"The skies drip red": this is probably a good place to mention the red-and-black symbolism that comes up a lot in this issue. Red, Morrison has occasionally suggested, represents life, specifically animal life (Animal Man is connected to the elemental force "the red," as Swamp Thing is connected to "the green"); black here appears to symbolize not quite death, as such, but "Anti-Life": total submission, futility and loss of the self.

The Anti-Life Equation was the McGuffin of Jack Kirby's "Fourth World" comics in the early '70s, the thing that the free will-despising villain Darkseid sought on Earth. We'll be coming back to this idea. "Red skies" were one of the effects of the events of the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS miniseries; other comics that crossed over with COIE often had red skies visible in their backgrounds (and sometimes very little other connection to COIE).

Pg. 4:

Panel 1 is a George Pérez image from CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, in the course of which the then-infinite parallel universes were telescoped into one. The big background figure is the Anti-Monitor. Small figures, clockwise from top left: the Elongated Man, Superman (of Earth-Two), Kole, Black Condor, Dr. Light II, Pariah, Captain Marvel, Aquaman, Tempest (I think), Captain Atom, Harbinger, Power Girl, Mary Marvel, Hawkman.

Panel 2 is a Phil Jimenez image from INFINITE CRISIS. Pictured: Superman Prime.

Panel 3 depicts Darkseid. We'll be seeing a lot of him, I understand.

Pg. 5:

This scene happens a thousand years in the future, the setting for most stories about the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Panel 2: The guy with the cape is, of course, Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; he first appeared in ACTION COMICS #1 in 1938, and is indeed "the last son of the planet Krypton." The guy with scarlet skin is Tyr, created by Cary Bates and the late Dave Cockrum; he first appeared in SUPERBOY #197. Tyr's name is the first direct reference to a god this issue, specifically Týr, the god of fistfights and single combat, a concept with which superhero comics of the era now ending are too familiar.

Panel 3: Superman is also Clark Kent. In recent years' comics, members of the Justice League have often referred to each other by their civilian identities' first names. At the time of Barry Allen's death, that wasn't yet the custom; hence, perhaps, the narrator's confusion ("didn't he?").

Panel 5: It wouldn't be a Geoff Johns comic without dismemberment, but at least this character's meant to be one-handed--and "hands" are going to be a running theme in this comic, so take note.

Panel 7: Followed by "we could use a hand out here." Superman is wearing a Legion flight ring on his middle finger--the custom of members of the Legion of Super-Heroes in the recent "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" story. The Legion first appeared in ADVENTURE COMICS #247 as a group of super-powered teenagers from 1000 years in the future who traveled back in time to befriend Superboy (later Superman) as a teenager; their traditions of costumed heroism were inspired by Superman and his associates.

Panel 8: Brainiac 5 of the Legion of Super-Heroes, created by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney, who first appeared in ACTION COMICS #276.

Panel 9: The woman holding Brainiac 5's hand is the White Witch, another Legion member, created by E. Nelson Bridwell and Curt Swan, who first appeared in ADVENTURE COMICS #350. Not sure who the other woman in this scene is. There's a séance going on; the crystal ball on a pyramidal base recalls JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #21 (from 1963), "Crisis on Earth-One"--the first "crisis on multiple Earths" story (reprinted in Crisis On Multiple Earths, Vol. 1). Merlin gave the crystal ball in question to the League in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #2; note that in Grant Morrison's SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY, a Merlin is an "imperishable treasure" made of living language that's given to mankind.

Pp. 6-7:

The shadow demons the Legionnaires are fighting first appeared in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. The scene is Superman's home city of Metropolis, a thousand years from now; the building halfway down the right side of pg. 6 is the 31st century HQ of the Daily Planet, the newspaper Clark Kent works for in the 21st century. (The holographic text circling the globe is "Daily Planet" in the future "Interlac" alphabet.) And people say newspapers are doomed! Good guys, clockwise from top left: Blok, Superman, Wildfire, Shadow Lass, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, Night Girl, Sun Boy, Colossal Boy, Chameleon Girl, Polar Boy, Timber Wolf, Lightning Lass, Dawnstar.

Pg. 8:

Again with the obvious: we're seeing Batman, who was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and first appeared in DETECTIVE COMICS #27, and the Joker, who was created by Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger and Bob Kane, and first appeared in BATMAN #1. The Joker is criminally insane, and in this scene he's institutionalized in Arkham Asylum.

Geoff Johns implied in a Newsarama interview that the scenes of this issue are happening in reverse chronological order; hence, the Batman/Joker scene may be set a little while in the future. [ETA: In any case, it happens before BATMAN #677.]

This scene is a callback to the opening scene of Batman: The Killing Joke, in which Batman goes to visit (a false) Joker in Arkham Asylum. And here we go with red and black again... the version of the Joker visually resembles the scarier version introduced in Morrison's BATMAN, rather than the one we've been seeing in SALVATION RUN (and on this issue's cover).

[ETA: Simon Hacking notes that "Red and black. Life and death," etc., quotes something the Joker said in BATMAN #663.]

Panel 6: The ace of clubs may refer to the Club of Heroes, recently seen in Morrison's BATMAN, and/or its counterpart the Club of Villains; it traditionally represents desire for knowledge. The eight of diamonds traditionally represents material power; as Bruce Wayne, Batman is rich and powerful.

Pg. 9:

In THE KILLING JOKE, the fake Joker of the opening scene seemed to be playing some solitaire variation of Klondike; here, the real one is just dealing cards. (In panel 4, he's doing a fancy shuffle--for a second I thought he was building a house of cards.) The Black Glove has been making mostly-offstage appearances in BATMAN recently.

Panel 6: The eight of hearts traditionally represents the decentering force of love. It's been suggested that the "Batman R.I.P." storyline this scene teases will involve Bruce Wayne giving up his Batman identity because of love. (Love, after all, does not arrive politely.) [ETA: BATMAN #677 indicates that the 8, ace, 8, ace pattern is also an alphabetical substitution cipher: H.A.H.A.]

Pg. 10:

The harlequin pattern of the joker card is echoed not just by the floor but by the layout and color scheme of the page. The sixteen-panel grid and flurry of close-ups recall the look and pace of Batman: The Dark Knight Returnsthe alternating-color panels recall Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' non-DCU series WATCHMEN, as does the spatter of blood on the card.

Panel 1: The "dead man's hand" is two aces, two eights and something else (here, cleverly, the wild card), supposedly the hand Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was shot. (The aces and eights are usually all black, but this fits the symbolic scheme of the scene and the issue better.) The term also recalls the Hand of Glory from the non-DCU Grant Morrison-written series THE INVISIBLES.

Panel 2: The ace of spades is traditionally known as the death card, and also represents an initiation into mysteries: "let there be light," as that link puts it. (See pg. 24.) "Hurt you so bad you'll never recover": arguably Batman's entire career proceeds from the childhood trauma of seeing his parents murdered.

Panel 5: The hand missing a finger echoes the assailant from BATMAN #675, and also suggests the name of Batman mastermind Bill Finger!

Pg. 11:

Wonder Woman, created by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter, first appeared in ALL STAR COMICS #8 in 1941; here she's fighting a minotaur, this variation of which I believe was created by George Pérez and Len Wein and first appeared in WONDER WOMAN #13 in 1988.

Pg. 12:

All three dust samples are being collected from genocide sites. Wonder Woman herself was brought to life from a clay statue; perhaps something similar but more sinister is planned for this soil.

Panel 3: Professor Ivo, created by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky, first appeared in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #30. He's the creator of the android Amazo; the android standing behind him here, though, appears to be Red Volcano, who has never appeared before but has a name analogous to Red Tornado, a Justice League member who's an android created by T.O. Morrow. (In the series 52, the existence of Red Inferno was mentioned; no water-related android has yet been mentioned.)

Panel 4:

Dr. Poison first appeared in SENSATION COMICS #2, although the one we're dealing with is most likely her grandchild, who first appeared in WONDER WOMAN #151.

Pg. 13:

This would appear to be Zeus and Apollo; Wonder Woman is indeed Hippolyta's daughter and Athena's champion.

Pg. 14:

Barry Allen and Hal Jordan were friends. We're seeing two Green Lanterns here: John Stewart (created by Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams; first appeared in GREEN LANTERN #87 in 1971) and Hal Jordan (created by John Broome and Gil Kane; first appeared in SHOWCASE #22 in 1959). The "Federal penitentiary" may or may not be the prison planet in SALVATION RUN; Hector Hammond, the Shark, Evil Star and Black Hand are all characters the Green Lanterns have fought. Black Hand (also created by Broome and Kane; first appeared in GREEN LANTERN #29 in 1964) lost his right hand when Hal Jordan, as the Spectre, burned it off; he's able to reconstruct it by draining people's life force. And I don't think it can be an accident that Black Hand and the Black Glove are both referred to inside of five pages.

Pp. 15-16:

The idea that there are a rainbow's worth of Lantern Corps was established in GREEN LANTERN #25 in 2007; that issue also included a preview of a 2009 storyline called "The Blackest Night," which (as we see in the following ad) involves someone wearing a ring whose design is the same as Black Hand's chest logo. Each corps is, more or less, the reification of an abstract emotion. The Red Lanterns represent rage; the one shown here is called Atrocitus, and first appeared in GREEN LANTERN #28 in 2008. [ETA: That issue also mentioned, for apparently the first time, "the massacre of Sector 666," which caused the Guardians to try to deactivate the Manhunters. And if we see Manhunters again in this series, I'll attempt to explain them, which will take a while. Otherwise, move along, nothin' to see here...]

The Orange Lanterns represent greed; this one is called Agent Orange. The Yellow Lanterns represent fear; this seems to be Mongul, who was created by Len Wein and Jim Starlin and first appeared in DC COMICS PRESENTS #27 in 1980. The Green Lanterns represent will; here we have Hal and John again. The Blue Lanterns represent hope; we're seeing Ganthet and Sayd, two renegade members of the Guardians of the Universe, who started the Green Lantern Corps. The Indigo Lanterns represent compassion; no data yet on who this is. The Violet Lanterns represent love; the characters in the violet panel are Zamarons, for which I have no recourse but to bump you over to their Wikipedia entry or we'll be here all night. The last panel would appear to be a black lantern power battery, which per GREEN LANTERN #25 contains the body of the Anti-Monitor. (What's an Anti-Monitor, you ask? We'll get to that one of these days.)

Pp. 17-18:

This is a flashback to a scene from CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS #10, in which the Anti-Monitor is fighting the Spectre. Specifically, this is the Jim Corrigan version of the Spectre (created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Bailey; first appeared in MORE FUN COMICS #52 in 1940). Corrigan was replaced as the Spectre first by Hal Jordan and then by Crispus Allen.

Pg. 19:

This, in fact, is the Crispus Allen version of the Spectre (created by Greg Rucka and Shawn Martinbrough; first appeared in DETECTIVE COMICS #742 in 2000; became the Spectre in INFINITE CRISIS #4). Depictions of the Spectre over the last 40 years tend to seesaw between the kind of ultra-cosmic struggle we've seen on the previous two pages and the kind of punishment-fits-the-crime grossouts we're seeing on this page. Carr D'Angelo is named after the real-world person who owns the store Earth 2 Comics.

Pg. 20:

It's unclear who's falling here--could be the Flash, could be Darkseid, could be Orion. [ETA: Geoff Johns says it's Darkseid; I suspect it's not that simple, especially since Darkseid was killed on Earth in COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS #2.] But the image of falling through two-dimensional planes (like comic book panels) that have been rotated through three-dimensional space recalls similar images in Morrison's SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY project, especially the MISTER MIRACLE miniseries. The reddish and blackish planets in the first panel might be Apokolips and New Genesis, the warring planets in Kirby's "Fourth World" comics, although it looks like there's more of a nature/tech dichotomy than a good/evil dichotomy going on there.

Pg. 21:

Panel 1: "A runner poised on the line": another suggestion that our narrator is some version of the Flash.

Panel 2: Left to right, we're seeing:

*Dr. Light (I): created by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky, first appeared in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #12 in 1962
*Killer Frost (II): this version created by Gerry Conway and Raphael Kayanan, first appeared in THE FURY OF FIRESTORM #21 in 1984 (an earlier version had appeared in FIRESTORM #3 in 1978)
*Captain Cold: created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, first appeared in SHOWCASE #8 in 1957
*Heat Wave: created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, first appeared in THE FLASH #140 in 1963
*Giganta: created by William Moulton Marston, first appeared in WONDER WOMAN #9 in 1944
*Killer Croc: created by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan, first appeared in DETECTIVE COMICS #523 in 1983
*Mirror Master (II): original version created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, first appeared in THE FLASH #105 in 1959; this version created by Grant Morrison and Chas Truog, first appeared in ANIMAL MAN #8 in 1989
*Shadow Thief: created by Gardner Fox and Joe Kubert, first appeared in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #36 in 1961
*The Human Flame: created by Jack Miller and Joe Certa, first appeared in DETECTIVE COMICS #274 in 1959
*Weather Wizard: created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, first appeared in THE FLASH #110 in 1959
*Zoom: created by Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins, first appeared in THE FLASH: SECRET FILES & ORIGINS #3 in 2001 (based on Professor Zoom, created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, who first appeared in THE FLASH #139 in 1963)

On the table is the Crime Bible, the sacred book of a religion of crime that appears to have links to Darkseid; it first appeared in 52 in 2006.

"The heart of Flash territory": they're apparently somewhere in Central City, the fictional city in which Barry Allen was based. And what's the presence Zoom is feeling?

Panel 3: The speaker appears to be Libra, created by Len Wein and Dick Dillin, who first appeared in 1974's JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #111, in which he stole half of the Justice League's powers; at the end of that story, he attempted to become "one with the galaxy" and dissipated into nonexistence. It's not clear from that issue (reprinted in DC UNIVERSE SPECIAL: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 recently) what color Libra's eyes are--there's only one panel in which his eyes are visible, and they're colorless--but here they're definitely blue. (This is a suggestion that this Libra is Barry Allen, whose eyes were blue.)

It's particularly odd that the Shadow Thief is part of Libra's group, since Libra double-crossed him (and knocked him out) in Wein's story! He also betrayed Mirror Master, but that was apparently the earlier version of the character.

As for what this location signifies: Geoff Johns hinted (in the Newsarama interview linked from pg. 8) that it's something specific. The skyline behind the club on pg. 24 is drawn more or less the way Carmine Infantino used to draw it in old FLASH comics--but in those days it wouldn't have been a strip club. My best guess is that it's the former location of the Central City Community Center that was a nexus between Earth-One and Earth-Two way back in THE FLASH #123 and #137. (Judging from pp. 21-23, it's been redecorated, and now has very peculiar hexagonal skylights. Curiously, the plot of THE FLASH #137 has to do with peculiar "sky-lights," i.e. lights in the sky.)

Pg. 22:

"A new god": the characters in the "Fourth World" stories are the "New Gods."

Pg. 23:

"Believe in him, that's all he asks!" Libra seems to be talking about Darkseid here, but "believe in him" explicitly echoes the "believe in her" refrain chanted by the followers of Lady Styx (seen in 52 and MYSTERY IN SPACE), a goddess whose legions kill planets' entire populations and transform them into zombies--a process rather like the Anti-Life Equation.

The hand clutching something and crackling with energy alludes to a recurring image in DCU cosmology: a shape like a gigantic human hand, holding a cluster of stars, at the beginning of time. It first appeared in GREEN LANTERN #40 in 1965 (currently in print in Crisis on Multiple Earths: The Team-Ups - Volume 1 (Crisis on Multiple Earths)), and is generally the closest thing DC has to a creation-story icon.

It's rare, these days, for the Secret Society of Super-Villains to be referred to by its full name, rather than simply as the "Secret Society."

"And this is me": Barry is again implied to be Libra here.

Pg. 24:

If you look above that Infantino-style skyline, lightning plus red sky plus enormously oversized moon equals Flash costume. The scene suggests that Barry Allen has returned--or that, in any case, some version of the Flash has returned.

Here's where things get metaphysical: rather than death as such, what supposedly happened to Barry Allen is that he transcended time and was absorbed into the "speed force," eventually traveling back in time to become the lightning bolt whose strike gave him his powers. (This page is a guide to his post-life activities; the same site has this useful chronology of Barry's final days.) So it's not clear how he'd have become one with the universe in the same way as Libra, or would have returned from the great beyond as Libra.

The other possibility would be Bart Allen, Barry's grandson, who wasn't the Flash very long before he was apparently killed by Captain Cold, Heat Wave and Weather Wizard. The storyline in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA and JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA that's now been collected as Justice League of America Vol. 2: The Lightning Saga coincided with that storyline; at the climax of it, it appears that members of the "Legion of Three Worlds" Legion of Super-Heroes have managed to capture Bart's spirit immediately before his death.

I assume "Twisters" is where the Society's meeting; Morrison has mentioned that this is where FINAL CRISIS proper begins, an instant after this scene. (Is the club's name a hint at something involving the Red Tornado? Or Barry Allen's children, the Tornado Twins?)

"Let There Be Lightning": the obvious allusion is to God at the beginning of Genesis, but see also the link to the ace of spades, above (pg. 10): "let there be light" as an initiation into mysteries.

Schedule and contest

A few notes on what exactly I'm doing here:

I'll be annotating FINAL CRISIS and all its direct tie-ins as they're released or as pages are made public. I will update entries in this blog as new information becomes available, or to correct the errors I will surely be making. If you have additional information or corrections not covered here, please leave a message in the comments or email me at finalcrisis [at-sign-goes-here] douglaswolk period com.

For the sake of history, here are the originally solicited shipping dates (and announced-but-not-yet-solicited release dates) for all directly FINAL CRISIS-related titles:

April 30: DC UNIVERSE 0 (Grant Morrison/Geoff Johns/cast of thousands)--released 4/30

May 14: FINAL CRISIS SKETCHBOOK--released 5/14
May 21: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #21 (Dwayne McDuffie/Carlos Pacheco tie-in involving Libra and the Human Flame)--released 5/21
May 28: FINAL CRISIS #1 (Morrison/J.G. Jones)--released 5/28

June 25: FINAL CRISIS #2 (Morrison/Jones)--released 6/25

July 9: FC: REQUIEM (Peter Tomasi/Doug Mahnke/Christian Alamy one-shot)--released 7/9
July 16: FC: ROGUES' REVENGE #1 (Geoff Johns/Scott Kolins; not originally intended to be part of FC, but this interview explains how it got gerrymandered in)--released 7/16
July 30: FC #3 (Morrison/Jones)--bumped to 8/6 as of July 9; released 8/6

August 6: FC #1: DIRECTOR'S CUT SPECIAL--announced May 17; released 8/6
August 13: FC: REVELATIONS #1 (Greg Rucka/Philip Tan/Jeff de los Santos/Jonathan Glapion)--released 8/13
August 20: FC: LEGION OF THREE WORLDS #1 (Johns/George Pérez/Scott Koblish)--released 8/20
August 20: FC: ROGUES' REVENGE #2 (Johns/Kolins)--bumped to 8/27 as of July 30; released 8/27
August 27: DC UNIVERSE: LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT (Brad Meltzer/Andy Kubert/John Dell)--announced May 8; released 8/27
August 27: FC: SUPERMAN BEYOND #1 (3-D special; originally announced as a one-shot by Grant Morrison/Aaron Lopresti, expanded to a 2-issue project by Morrison, Mahnke and Christian Alamy as of May 17)--released 8/27

September 10: FC: REVELATIONS #2 (Rucka/Tan/de los Santos/Glapion)--released 9/10
September 17: FC #4 (Morrison/Jones/Carlos Pacheco)--bumped to 10/1 as of Aug. 19; bumped again to 10/15 as of Sep. 3; bumped yet again to 10/22 as of Sep. 19; released 10/22
September 17: FC: LEGION OF THREE WORLDS #2 (Johns/Pérez/Koblish)--bumped to 10/1 as of Aug. 19; bumped again to 10/15 as of Sep. 3; released 10/15
September 17: FC: ROGUES' REVENGE #3 (Johns/Kolins)--bumped to 10/15 as of Aug. 19; released 10/15

October 1: FC: SUBMIT (Morrison/Matthew Clark/Norm Rapmund one-shot)--bumped to 10/8 as of Sep. 6; bumped again to 10/15 as of Sep. 15; bumped yet again to 10/22 as of Sep. 19; released 10/22
October 8: FC: REVELATIONS #3 (Rucka/Tan/de los Santos/Glapion)--released 10/8
October 15: FC: RAGE OF THE RED LANTERNS (Johns/Shane Davis/Sandra Hope one-shot)--bumped to 10/29 as of Oct. 8; released 10/29
October 22: FC: LEGION OF THREE WORLDS #3 (Johns/Pérez/Koblish)--bumped to 12/3 as of Sep. 6; bumped again to 1/14 as of Oct. 29
October 22: FC: RESIST (Greg Rucka/Eric Trautmann/Ryan Sook one-shot)--bumped to 10/29 as of Sep. 6; bumped again to 11/5 as of Oct. 15; released 11/5
October 29: FC #5 (Morrison/Jones/Pacheco)--bumped to 11/26 as of Sep. 19; bumped again to 12/3 as of Nov. 7

November 12: FC: REVELATIONS #4 (Rucka/Tan/Glapion)--bumped to 11/26 as of Oct. 22; bumped again to 12/10 as of Oct. 29
November 12: BATMAN #682 (Morrison/Garbett)--a FC tie-in--bumped to 11/19 as of Oct. 8; bumped again to 12/3 as of Oct. 22
November 26: FC #6 (Morrison/Jones/Pacheco/Merino)--bumped to 12/31 as of Sep. 19
November 26: BATMAN #683 (Morrison/Garbett)--a FC tie-in--bumped to 12/3 as of Oct. 8; bumped again to 12/17 as of Oct. 22

December 24: FC: SECRET FILES #1 (Morrison/Tomasi/Frank Quitely et al.)--announced Sep. 13
December 24: FC: LEGION OF THREE WORLDS #4 (Johns/Pérez/Koblish)--bumped to 2/25 as of Nov. 7
December 31: FC: REVELATIONS #5 (Rucka/Tan/Glapion)

January 14: FC: SUPERMAN BEYOND #2 (Morrison/Mahnke/Alamy)--announced May 17
January 28: FC #7 (Morrison/Mahnke/Alamy)

Still unscheduled:

The remaining schedule, as it currently stands:

December 3: FC #5
December 3: BATMAN #682
December 10: FC: REVELATIONS #4
December 17: BATMAN #683
December 24: FC: SECRET FILES #1
December 31: FC: REVELATIONS #5
December 31: FC #6

January 14: FC: SUPERMAN BEYOND #2
January 28: FC #7



As of April 30, there were 7 issues of FINAL CRISIS and 23 additional tie-in comics on the schedule. Here's my three-part contest:

1) How many issues of additional FINAL CRISIS tie-ins will be announced after April 30 but before the end of the series?
2) Which will be the first issue of FINAL CRISIS or its associated titles to be released later than its scheduled ship week?
3) When will the final issue of FINAL CRISIS be released?

Leave your guesses in the comments. I'll accept guesses for each of these until, let's say, June 25, since I am fairly sure that FC #2 is finished. Closest guess on each gets a special prize. [This contest is now closed.]

[As of May 17, DC UNIVERSE: LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT, FC #1: DIRECTOR'S CUT SPECIAL and FC: SUPERMAN BEYOND #2 had all been added to the schedule. On Sep. 13, FC: SECRET FILES #1 was added.]

24 Hours in Liverpool

The New York Times has a nice article on traveling to Liverpool. Anybody out there made the pilgrimage? Worth it?

Emergency Party Button

photo of the party button

Brian Gaut lives in an average nondescript apartment. The only thing out of the ordinary is the object sitting in the middle of the coffee table -- a metal box adorned with a huge red button... the Emergency Party Button (EPB for short). Slam that button in a moment of extremity and the whole room changes personality. The lights go down, the curtains close, black lights, fog machines and lasers fire up, the stereo starts cranking out "What Is Love" by Haddaway and -- just like that -- your nondescript apartment is transformed into a totally happenin' disco.

The world would be a better place if every room had an emergency party button. You can check out a video of the room in action on Gaut's website. There's also complete instructions in case you want to roll your own EPB.

(Thanks LifeHacker)


Vintage Oilzum Ad c.1950s

1vintage1 has added a photo to the pool:

Vintage Oilzum Ad c.1950s

Amoenitates Belgicae

Early yesterday a friend across the Atlantic emailed me: "Tonight in Parliament the fuse was lit for the implosion of Belgium in sixty days." I've heard much doomsaying of this kind over the years, but this was a trifle more specific. The crux seems to be that the Flemish will claim a certain number of the ring towns around Brussels and make them Flemish by fiat, which means that residents (who may, depending on the town, be largely or even overwhelmingly francophone) will get electoral ballots naming only Flemish candidates, have access only to Flemish schools, face public officials who will refuse to speak or reply to French, etc. This in a roundabout way addresses the issue that has prevented Belgium from splitting into two parts thus far: that Brussels is both overwhelmingly francophone and at same same time the capital of Flanders. The Flemish militants appear to be on their way to making Brussels a Flemish city whether it likes it or not, a task which may also involve the purging of the--largely francophone--immigrant populations.

If Belgium splits into two, Flanders will vie with Norway for the top of the European Union food chain, while Wallonia will scramble with Portugal for the bottom. How is all this possible, you ask, in a stable, prosperous First World nation? The matter may or may not go back to the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302, as Flemish mythology would claim. It definitely goes back to the nineteenth century, when the country's post-independence ruling class spoke French and marginalized the Flemish, who could, for example, be arrested, tried, and sentenced without understanding the charges against them. My worker and peasant ancestors didn't speak French, either, and were marginalized themselves, but as Walloon speakers they could at least catch the rudiments of another Romance language.

The matter heated up after World War I, when the fact that Flemish militants had sided with the Germans occasioned public rancor. A similar set of issues caused unrest after the second World War, but it wasn't until the 1960s that the subject came to dominate the daily life of the nation. The heavy industries of Wallonia--steel, textiles, coal, glass--were dead or moribund, and Flanders, once largely rural and backward, had taken the economic lead. The Flemish separatists achieved a new credibility by stressing their unwillingness to carry the ailing South financially. I happened to be in Belgium in 1969, when the formerly state-mandated and universal bilingualism ended under pressure, with the other language being painted out on road signs, disappearing from menus and train schedules, the University of Louvain/Leuven splitting into two parts, and so on. Ever since, it has been a slow motion dissolve.

You can compare the situation to that of the former Yugoslavia: minor differences between neighboring populations with much interbreeding are exacerbated after the formerly overrun, colonized, and exploited area--as the future Belgium was for centuries before 1830--recovers its autonomy. Even so, I don't expect the situation to make much sense to outsiders. It hardly makes much sense to me, but then even though I carry a Belgian passport I've spent most of my life abroad. Belgium is a sick country. Flanders--in which I have quite a few friends--is disturbingly under the sway of far-right elements, while Wallonia--home to whatever remains of my family--is a swamp of corruption and institutionalized incompetence. I still carry a Belgian passport because, ironically enough, I have no belief in nations and no sense of any kind of national identity. (I am, ethnically, nearly one hundred percent Walloon, for whatever that's worth.) Will my ancestral home plunge to Second World status? Will it be propped up like a corpse in a chair by the European Union? Will it be adopted by France if it wags its tail hard enough? Will anyone not immediately affected even notice?


Tonight is the launch of the brand-new series of Seven-Inch Story Singles.

You know how in music, before you put out a record, you can put out a single? Or how if you like a band or are curious, you can get the single and try it out?

That's the idea, but with STORIES. One story, a little book the size of a 7" record single. This is something I have been hatching for some time, and finally the egg has cracked. I am pausing from the printing, scoring, folding, and assembling process right now to write this. Which I should have done sooner, like everything in my life.

So for this first edition, the stories are by Donal Mosher and me, Chelsey J. My story involves homoerotic high school wrestling and worksheets; Donal's has drag queens and funny sordid tales and, for this special first-night printing only, inserts of real photo triptychs that are totally beautiful, wall-worthy.

Master book crafter Iris Porter made letterpress covers and I designed the pages with the Golden Ratio, a.ka. the Divine Proportion. (Donal's is perfectly golden; my story, I'll confess, is so long I had to tarnish it some.)

Because readings are always better in good lighting with a cocktail in hand, we are holding it at TIGA at NE 14th and Prescott. (Cozy, clear-aired, with delicious food and drinks, and the awesome proprietress bartender Maryam.)

It's tonight Saturday, May 10 at 7:30 pm.

Followed by Tiny Vinyl, a DJ pair who plays only 45s!

A night of seven-inch glory!

If you are in Portland, come hear us read and if you want you can even procure your own limited edition story to take home and read in bed. We're only making a couple score of each.

We promise to read with gusto. We abhor the monotone.

I had better finish making these things now.

Green porno

Isabella Rossellini in Green Porno

For the last few months The Sundance Channel has been showing a odd and wonderful series of short films called "Green Porno". The shorts star actress Isabella Rossellini portraying a wide variety of invertebrates in the act of reproduction. The films have this great low-budget feel to them, with no special effects other than Rossellini's school play looking costumes. And the mating habits of these creatures are truly bizarre and eye-opening. So if you're interested in invertibrate behavior, or watching Isabella Rossellini mate, or both, Green Porno is worth checking out.


owl barf

You might enjoy this story, explained by my friend Anil, about how a silly online contest and a casual comment about pubic hair turned into a Vermont school project owl pellet wish list fulfillment. And yes, I had something to do with it. I’d write more but I’ve got to go out and rake now that the iceberg is gone before the leaves start to fall. The window is so tiny.

Follow-up: everyone gets thanked on Donors Choose. Here was my thank you.

Dear Jessamyn,

I cannot even begin to express the thanks that I have, as well as my students, in hearing that our project was funded. Although we are surrounded by some of the most beautiful woodlands, it is not so easy to find food chains and food webs in action at this time of the year. Your funding will keep the love of science alive in both the girls and the boys and hopefully will continue to grow the awareness that is needed to keep our Green Mountains healthy, as well as our many other biomes on this Earth. Thank you for your donations!

Design Sausage Factory #3: Done Got Hitched

As you may know now if you're invited, we finished our Save The Date about a week ago. We're both really happy with it: as you can see from the above, I went back to the original look for the back side, and let the art on the front side speak for itself. The art is actually done by my mom. After weeks of scouring hundreds of images from the San Francisco library (kind of a crappy library for such a big city, if you ask me), wiki images, and bookstores, I finally appealed to my mom to create what I was looking for, and it's perfect. To suddenly be on the otherside of the equation - trying to art direct an illustrator about the vision in my head - was an enlightening experience. In any event, she did a great job, and these things look amazing. Thanks to my dad, too, for the printing. Sometimes it pays to have a graphic family, you know?

Looking at the other posts about this, I think the thing I take away again is that I sometimes have a tendency to get too tricky: too many cues, influences, and signifiers of the feeling I'm trying to impart. As a long time illustrator but less experienced designer, I just need to trust my audience more, and not let my illustrative instincts get in the way. The reason the first version didn't work, and this version does, is because the single theme is uncluttered by competing, subtly different messages. It really is true what they say: keep it simple, stupid.


Exciting news on the platypus, one of my favorite creatures on earth! That is not an ironic exclamation point. ("Henry James said you get eight to use in your lifetime," growled my late great teacher Frank Conroy, and yes, I'm using one of them now.) Scientists have unraveled the platypus's genetic code, and it is an evolutionary treasure, bearing avian, reptilian, and mammalian features.

The platypus is intensely private and secretive. From their first discovery by British scientists in the late 1700s, they have proven maddeningly elusive. Few people ever see them in the wild, they are difficult to catch, and they seldom give birth in captivity (only twice since 1944.) They have poisonous spurs on their feet. They are much more intelligent than their fellow monotreme the echidna (i.e. the only other egg-laying mammal.) And they have voracious appetites--a platypus can catch and eat half its own weight in one feeding--and a sixth sense, an electrosensory ability to detect even minute changes in the electrical field generated by their prey.

In her delightful book Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World, Ann Moyal describes how in 1943, Winston Churchill himself initiated the plans for the first platypus to be brought alive to Europe. After months of covert planning--for some reason, it was treated as a top-secret operation--Winston set sail in his platypusary-equipped ship. Alas:

Almost through the Atlantic, a thriving and healthy Winston was feeding ravenously. Wihtin four days' sail of England, disaster struck. The ship's sonar detected the presence of a submarine. The rapid discharge of depth charges into the surrounding waters saved the ship and its men. But the jarring detonations instantly killed the platypus. His highly sensitive, nerve-pocked bill, designed as a complex sense organ to detect the smallest insect at the bottom of the river and to respond to the slightest vibrations of the natural world, was unable to deal with the violent explosions of men.

In same book, you can read all about how the platypus (once it was determined to be a real creature, not a jackalope-type hoax) was caught up in a 90-year debate about taxonomy, creation, and evolution, with massive infighting involving Sir Richard Owen and Charles Darwin himself. Plus it contains beautiful color plates of old platypus drawings.

On that note, here is an assortment of pictures from the folder called PLATYPUS on my computer. I don't know where they all came from, apologies to the original photographers and posters of them, whomever you may be. Behold, enjoy, marvel.

P.S. Also, platypuses do not have nipples--they secrete milk through their skin!

japanese matchbox label

maraid has added a photo to the pool:

japanese matchbox label

Can Obama Overcome his Big Pink Problem?

Barack Obama can’t even do an interview anymore without having to address one of his least-favorite subjects: the suspicion that beneath his calm demeanor and business-suited exterior, he is a fanatical Pink Floyd fan. The long-simmering suspicions boiled over last week at California’s Coachella Music Festival. Former Floyd leader Roger Waters arranged an unauthorized airdrop of Obama leaflets that missed its target, creating an unwelcome source of precipitation for golfing retirees. Then, during a performance of “Sheep,” from Pink Floyd’s Orwellian-themed Animals, Waters’ inflatable pig prop flew away, festooned with left-wing slogans (“Don’t be led to the slaughter”; “Impeach Bush”) and OBAMA written on the underside. The rabble-rousing Obama pig sailed over the Coachella Valley and crashed, winding up in a condition that its finder described as resembling “pulled pork.”

Hillary Clinton noted that “there is no clear evidence that Barack Obama is an America-hating Pink Floyd fanatic. As far as I know.” “But let me tell you,” she continued, “during my administration, we’ll have no time for laser light shows, ponderous guitar solos, vague anti-capitalist lyrics, and 23-minute songs about albatrosses. From day one, we’ll be rolling up our sleeves for the working people of America, pausing only for some Carly Simon, James Taylor and maybe a few aromatherapy candles.” Blushing as she adjusted her gun holster, she quickly added, “excuse me, I meant Toby Keith, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and a few rounds of target practice.”

While Obama’s suspected Pink Floyd past has dogged him for months, many supporters hoped he had put the subject to rest two months ago with a rousing speech in Philadelphia that some historians hailed as one of the most important speeches ever on the role of psychedelic rock in Anglo-American life. Obama’s speech criticized Waters’ occasional “Us and Them” mentality, as well as his apparent belief that “we don’t need no education” because it might lead to some sort of “thought control.” Yet Obama refused to entirely disavow Waters, saying nothing to quell the rumors that Pink Floyd songs were played at Obama’s wedding, or that at least one of his children was conceived while “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” played on his stereo. “I could no more ‘disown’ Roger Waters,” he said in Philadelphia, “than I could disown my stoner aunt in Hawaii who liked to have a little herb with her Bob Marley albums.”

Roger Waters’ “Obama pig” takes flight

Following his Philadelphia speech, Obama hoped that Roger Waters would either fade in the background, or distance himself from his porcine outlook on American authority. But Coachella was a clear sign that Waters simply could not stay away from the trough. The timing could not have been worse for Obama, who had just rebounded with a series of smooth moves, including his stand against political pandering on the federal gas tax, and his total mastery of the brush-off move from Jay-Z’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” This week, Obama announced that he had made his “final cut” with Roger Waters, and that his last Pink Floyd poster had been sold on Ebay.

What remains to be seen is whether Obama’s statements rejecting Waters’ wacky ways have come in time to salvage his campaign. Pundits have noted that due to a combination of circumstances this year—including a thriving American economy, peace in the Middle East, growing respect for the United States abroad, and record levels of confidence in American government—the November Presidential election can logically be expected to turn on hair-splitting distinctions about cultural symbols. The nuances of Obama’s handling of the Waters affair may prove decisive. While Hillary Clinton has admitted to experiencing some isolated Pink Floyd-themed moments far back in her past, she insists they haven’t happened since a long-ago party in the Arkansas governor’s mansion in which a tongue-in-cheek Bill had jokingly fired up (but not inhaled from) a bong and demonstrated how the sounds in Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cue up all the key moments in “The Wizard of Oz.”

A key test of Obama’s resilience will come in the all-important June 1 primary in Puerto Rico. Asked for comment while shaking her bon-bon at a campaign rally, Hillary said, “I think my esteemed colleague from Illinois needs to recognize, as my compadres do, that there’s a time for ‘la vida loca’ and a time for hard work.” “If there’s one value that Americans cherish before all others, it’s authenticity,” she said, before putting on an enormous sombrero, grabbing the microphone, and belting out a William Hung-style rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs.”

For the most part, John McCain has sat out the crossfire between Obama and Clinton on the Waters controversy. But after Coachella, he could hold his fire no longer. He observed that “music was different back in the days when we had sock-hop dances at the ROTC and held hands as Barry Sadler sang ‘The Ballad of the Green Berets’ and the Beach Boys sang the Regents’ ‘Bomb’, I mean ‘Barbara Ann’.” McCain noted that while he disagreed with his friend Reverend John Hagee that declining morality compelled God to bring on natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, “I’d have to say that enough is enough. Young American degenerates like Roger Waters are destroying all that makes America great.” When reminded that Waters is a 64-year old Englishman whose favorite drug today is probably Metamucil, McCain responded, “see, that just shows his basic lack of fiber.” “And by the way,” he added. “Which one’s Pink?”

The Obama “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” Mix (Music: Jay-Z)

Big Man Japan Trailer

I'm not exactly sure what the best part of this trailer is: the scratchy, extremely well done 'archival' footage at the beginning, the flagpole-aided underwear applique, or the weird mole-flower creature. Long story short, exhibit #394,039,107 that


Last night I slipped into Dr. Who's Tardis machine - hypothetically speaking of course - and lost myself completely to the vortex of the online universe. I could see the clock ticking away on the bottom right side of my screen...11:30...12.30...2.30...but I wouldn't, couldn't be stopped...what's another few minutes. Rl begone...this was frame dragging, gravitomagnetism, and I wobbled...and righted.

Maker Faire 2008

images from the Maker Faire. Left image by Chris Spurgeon/ Right image by cookieevans5/ Both images available via Creative Commons license

Maker Faire was this weekend, and it was a truly amazing experience. Hundreds of exhibitors, thousands and thousands of people. My head is still reeling from the whole thing, but a few items stand out in my memory:

Adam Savage
from Mythbusters gave a great talk, simultaneously hilarious and inspiring. Savage ran through his pre-Mythbusters career (which included art, sculpture, theater design, and extensive film special effects work). And he talked at length about the combination of enthusiasm and obsession that drives him to make insanely accurate recreations of movie props.

Speaking of obsession, the folks from ARTOO-DETOO.NET were there in force, with their custom-built R2 droids chirping and scooting around the halls.

I was also blown away by Tim Robinson's recreation of Charles Babbage's Difference Engine. The product of hundreds of hours of building and adjusting. I've always been fascinated by the idea of capturing mathematics in mechanisms, and the Difference Engine was the epitome of that. Here's a video of it in action.

But that's just a few of dozens and dozens of things that were amazing and wonderful. Ya gotta go!

Joshua Lindenbaum, 11 years old

We were in a patch of trees and plants in the middle of a field, it was like an island on land. I think we were playing truth or dare or spin the bottle -- one of those games. And me and Michelle kissed.

My first kiss... We both at first pretended like we didn't want to in fear of rejection of one another, but we did anyway. I was eleven years old and I felt like the man.
It was awkward, scary, but at the end it was nice. I'll never forget it.


Eight Belles running, Eight Belles down. From the NY Times.

I didn't actually mean to watch the Kentucky Derby. I was making chocolate cupcakes, and I happened to step into the living room with sticky spatula in hand about a minute into the race. So I saw Big Brown surge way ahead, and Eight Belles gamely holding on behind him, the only one who could even close to keep up, and the victory, and the absurdly privileged son being obscured by his mother's giant flapping Derby hat as she hugged him. I felt both revolted and intrigued by the commentators' reiterations of how amazing it was that this was li'l Jacob's first Derby he'd ever attended and his braggart dad's horse won the race. In my head this instantly became the genesis of a novel that would inevitably tangle into a patrilineal mess of resentment, inadequacy, and failed entitlement.

Then the camera cut to a distant shot of Eight Belles, an ominous silhouette, lying on her side. A dog or cat sprawled on his side looks the like the ultimate relaxed. But a horse on her side looks terribly wrong, a mountain tipped, a ship blown over.
“She went out in glory,” [her trainer] said, his voice breaking. “She went out a champion to us.”
Broken-legged, lying in the dirt, with no comprehension of what had happened to her, no understanding of sacrifice, and no cause to have died for, by a needle injection at that, in front of an audience of drunk people in foolish hats--that's glory? And for some reason it only makes it sadder, to me at least, that it was the filly who broke her legs. The only girl in the game. Only 38 have entered the Derby before her, and only three have ever won.

Her story's like that of Ruffian, an all-time great. Ruffian also died at age three of a broken leg, following a match race (which they no longer do, as a result) with a colt called Foolish Pleasure. Her injury was particularly horrific; by the time they managed to halt her, her leg was so broken her foot was flopping like a half-on shoe. They did splint her and attempt to save her, but when she awoke from the anesthesia she thrashed so violently in her padded stall that she smashed her elbow, dislodged her cast, and sabotaged all the efforts of the surgery meant to save her. Down she went.

I used to be a total horse girl, one of those, with like sixty Breyer model horses that I bought with my babysitting money, each with its own name, kept in immaculate condition. I built makeshift stables out of scrap wood in the garage using a bandsaw, hammer, and nails, and I sewed little horse blankets that snapped around their chests. I had a pair of red cowboy boots I wore everywhere. My mom unearthed a list of life goals I made when I was eleven; one of them, a hybrid of my peaking horse-fanaticism and nascent feminism, was to raise the first Triple Crown-winning filly. (With many underlines and exclamation points.)

But then on a family trip to Winnipeg I actually saw my first real horse race at Assiniboia Downs. It was not at all what I thought. This was no Black Stallion or Seabiscuit romance. This was not down in the barn with the sweet smell of hay and horse sweat, the grooms currying hides to a sheen and prying dirt clods out of hooves, holding out a carrot to feel the huff of warm breath and velvet lips searching my open palm. It was concrete bleachers and betting windows and feverish-eyed, leisurewear-ed people milling around studying the fine print in booklets and chugging alcohol. It dawned on me that this business was not about the horses.

No matter how marvelous the animals or how seductive the faux aristocracy around it, there's ultimately no love, majesty, gallantry, or heroism in horse racing. Inbred, shot up with painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and steroids that keep them going at any cost, they're just bred and flogged toward the money.

resisting the upgrade

why I am a fan of interfaith prayer

I’ve been staying away from this blog for a few reasons, all of them surmountable. First, I haven’t upgraded to the new WordPress and I know I’m supposed to and every time I see my classically lovely custom CSS here I know it’s not long for this world and I despair. Second, I’m in Canada, Regina SK to be exact, for another few hours. I love Canada. Canadian people are so nice as a general rule, or perhaps it’s just the Canadian library faction, but man I’m happy every time I come here, looking forward to talking to people. Last night, after my talk, we sat around the bar and discussed who had learned to drive on a tractor [answer: almost everyone, including me]. Third, I’ve been spending a more-than-usual amount of time with a local-to-New-England-but-not-Vermont guy who takes up a lot of my available typing time and sends me off daydreaming when I could be working. Details will emerge eventually. Fourth, it’s Spring. This relates to several of the previous reasons, but it means I’ve been messing with the yard, staring in wonder at all the new-budding joy that is Vermont in May, and sleeping differently, getting used to new sheets and new allergies.

Anyhow, I should note that when I’m too busy to write in paragraphs, sometimes I put things up on Twitter. You are welcome to never pay attention to that, or this, or the Internet in general really, but if you’re Twitter-curious, I’m there under my usual name. Here’s the last few days of little things I’ve said there. Yes, a lot of it is pithy nonsense. I’m not advocating, I’m just saying…

jessamyn: Wondering if sleeping in comfy car in extended parking lot beats braving Albany nonsense late at night after much travel. If there’s wifi… 12 minutes ago

jessamyn: Moved to a top floor corner room because the octagenarian birthday party was threatening to go all night. Talk went great, Albany tomorrow. about 12 hours ago

jessamyn: Talking about the Weakerthans “I Hate Winnipeg” (One Great City!) song with Winnipeg public librarian. She likes it. about 21 hours ago

jessamyn: “Can you please send a band-aid to room 835? Yes, the same room you sent the sewing kit to 30 min ago….” about 23 hours ago from web

jessamyn: Tim Hortons will take US $ and turn it into Canadian $ and donuts. Now I have cab fare. F! T! W! @ezrakilty: will not need fedexed pelts, tx 08:38 PM May 02, 2008

jessamyn: Why, when I type “circulation interface” opac into google images am I greeted by my own face? 07:20 PM May 02, 2008

jessamyn: My ATM card expired Wednesday? And I am a country away from its replacement? I need to pay more attention to time. 06:22 PM May 02, 2008

jessamyn: I <3 prayer! [note: link to the photo above, actually] 03:39 PM May 02, 2008

jessamyn: Oh Vermont, I keep thinking I could not love you more, but you have free wifi at rest stops? Saskatchewan-bound, I am! 12:55 PM May 02, 2008

jessamyn: 88 year old student learning to point… then to click… email is a distant horizon but the eventual goal. 05:48 PM May 01, 2008

jessamyn: Pervert Morris Team for May Day 12:54 PM May 01, 2008

jessamyn: I’m trying the write words first, find slides pictures later approach. Seems to be working well. Oh Regina, we will have fun. 12:15 PM May 01, 2008

jessamyn: Old man in post office: “would you like some candy little girl?” Then he hands me a tootsie roll and we both laugh like hell. 11:24 AM May 01, 2008

jessamyn: Stuffing birch bark into envelopes & putting it in the mail. 10:28 AM May 01, 2008

Oh no..dishpan hands!!

marcoa84 has added a photo to the pool:

Oh no..dishpan hands!!

How will she ever meet the man of your dreams?

Riding Out the Credit Collapse

Arthur Magazine, June 2008

There’s two kinds of people asking me about the economy lately: people with money wanting to know how to keep it “safe,” and people without money, wanting to know how to keep safe, themselves.

Maybe it’s the difference between those two concerns that best explains the underlying nature of today’s fiscal crisis.

Is what’s going on in the economy right now really worse than anything that’s happened in the past few decades? Are we heading towards a bank collapse like what happened in 1929? Or something even worse?

On a certain level, none of these questions really matter. Not as they’re being phrased, anyway. What we think of as “the economy” today isn’t real, it’s virtual. It’s a speculative marketplace that has very little to do with getting real things to the people who need them, and much more to do with providing ways for passive investors to grow their capital.

This economy of markets was created to give the rising merchant class in the late middle ages a way to invest their winnings. Instead of actually working, or even injecting capital into new enterprises, they learned to “make markets” in things that were scarce. Or, rather, in things that could be made scarce, like land.

That’s how speculation was born. Speculation in land, gold, coal, food…pretty much anything. Because the wealthy had such so much excess capital to invest, they made markets in stuff that the rest of us actually used. The problem is that when coal or corn isn’t just fuel or food but also an asset class, the laws of supply and demand cease to be the principle forces determining their price. When there’s a lot of money and few places to invest it, anything considered a speculative asset becomes overpriced. And then real people can’t afford the stuff they need.

The speculative economy is related to the real economy, but more as a parasite than a positive force. It is detached from the real needs of people, and even detached from the real commerce that goes on between humans. It is a form of meta-commerce, like a Las Vegas casino betting on the outcome of a political election. Only the bets, in this case, change the real costs of the things being bet on.

That’s what happened in the housing market and the credit market—which, these days, are actually the same thing. Here’s the story, in the simplest terms:

Bush’s tax cuts and other measures favoring the rich led to the biggest redistribution of wealth from poor to rich in American history. The result was that the wealthy—the investment class—had more money to invest, or lend, than there were people and businesses looking to borrow.

The easiest way to bring more borrowers into the system—and to create more of a market for money—was to promote homeownership in America. This is precisely what the Bush administration did, touting home ownership as an American right. Of course, they weren’t talking about home ownership at all, but rather pushing people to borrow money tied to the value of a house. If people could be persuaded to take mortgages on homes, real estate values would go up for those already invested (like land trusts and real estate funds) and banks would have a market for the excess money they had accumulated.

In short, there was a surplus of credit in the system. Americans were encouraged to borrow in the form of mortgages, which created demand for the credit banks wanted to sell. In many cases the credit itself wasn’t even real, but leveraged off some other inflated commodity that the bank or investor may have owned.

Banks and mortgage companies invented some really shady and difficult-to-understand mortgage contracts, designed to get people to borrow more money than they could . Banks didn’t care so much about lending money to people who wouldn’t be able to pay it back, because that’s not how they were going to earn their money, anyway. They provided the money for mortgage companies to lend, and in return won the rights to underwrite the loans when they were packaged and sold to other people and institutions.

So a bank might provide the cash for a bunch of loans, but then get it back, plus a huge commission, when those loans were packaged and sold to someone else.

Lots of people take out mortgages, and housing prices rise. This is used as evidence to convince more people that real estate is a great investment, and more people buy into the housing bubble. Lots of these people put little or no money down, and buy mortgages whose interests rates are going to change for the worse. But they believe the price of their home is inevitably going to go up, and pin their futures on the idea that they can refinance their mortgage before their rate changes. Since the house will be worth more, the mortgage for what they owe should be easier to get; it will represent a smaller percentage of the new total cost of the house.

Of course, this was dumb. Banks didn’t really care (because they weren’t holding the bad paper) but the people investing in those “mortgage-backed securities” were slowly getting wise to the fact that many of the borrowers were in over their heads. What to do? The credit industry went ahead and lobbied Washington to change the bankruptcy laws. While corporations could claim bankruptcy and stop paying for their retirees’ health coverage, individuals would no longer be able to claim bankruptcy, and even if they did, they would still owe their creditors the money they borrowed, forever. The credit industry spent over $100 million lobbying lawmakers for the new provisions.

Then, just like the credit industry predicted, loans start going bad. (The industry labels these loans “sub prime” because they want to make it look like the borrowers were somehow less-than-respectable people. But the term really just refers to a less-than-respectable loan.) As homeowners default on their mortgages, housing prices start to go down. This, in turn, makes it impossible for people to refinance their mortgages when they thought they would; in fact, now many homeowners actually owe more on their home than the home is worth. How can you refinance a million-dollar loan on a house that is only worth half that? You can’t, so instead you have to hold onto the variable-rate loan that you foolishly bought from the predatory lender. The rate rises higher and faster than you can pay it.

Lenders go ahead and start foreclosing on properties, kicking out the mortgage holders who can’t pay. But this creates another problem: what to do with the house? It’s not even worth the outstanding portion of the loan, in many cases. And even if they can sell it, how to distribute the money? No one even really knows whose mortgages belong to whom, as they’ve been sold as parts of packages, again and again, to different lenders, pension funds, money markets…you name it.

This leads to what became known as the “credit crunch” or “liquidity crisis.” No one feels good about lending money anymore because so much of it was tied in one way or another to these bad mortgages. The creditors don’t want to take possession of all these foreclosed homes, and they turn to the government for help.

Under the guise of helping homeowners “stay in their homes,” the government starts bandying about various “relief packages.” The Treasury department and the Fed are actually taking a two-pronged strategy towards fixing the problem. One prong is cynical PR, and the other is just plain stupid.

First, they want to create the illusion that something is being done, so they talk about “superfunds” to bail out homeowners, freezes on rate hikes, checks mailed to every taxpayer, and other useless gestures. They do all this to appease angry consumers and consumer advocates because they won’t want real lending industry regulation (like what Barney Frank and other progressives are pushing for) to gain any traction.

Second, they want to make more money available to the creditors (banks), so they can keep lending money—because this is their business. So the Fed lowers interest rates again and again. Banks get more money, and guess what? We’re back where we started: with tons of money and nowhere to invest it! By lowering the “prime lending rate,” they simply add to the surplus cash that created the problem in the first place.

Of course, both measures serve to stave off panic selling, because it seems as though something real is being done. Homeowners may get a slight delay in the paralyzing rate increases on their mortgages, giving banks and creditors the chance to make a more orderly exit. They will bail from these mortgages while selling the artificially secured credit to the likes of you and me through money market accounts and other retail products. They just need time to make sure the real losses trickle down to someone else.

And remember: this whole mortgage fiasco is just a little preview of what happens next year when the credit card industry faces the very same self-imposed “crunch.” In the case of mortgage lenders, at least the terms of the loans were disclosed. Credit card companies—which are some of the very same banks that are in the mortgage mess today—are busy rewriting their policies, increasing rates, and adding fees to the policies of people already in debt to them.

You know those little ‘inserts’ in your credit card bill? Read them, and you’ll find out, like I did, that some credit card companies have begun charging interest on your purchases from the moment you make the purchase. You pay finance charges even if you pay your whole bill every month. Most people carry big balances, so they won’t notice the additional charges, or at least that’s what the credit card companies are—quite literally—banking on.

* * *

After a certain point, consumers just won’t be able to pay their bills. Even though they’ve paid the cost of their purchases several times over, they’re simply buried in interest and interest on the interest, sometimes compounding at a rate of 30 or 40 percent per year. The creditors know this, which is why they’ve sold a lot of this debt to other banks, pension plans, money market funds…you get the picture: the kinds of places where we invest our retirement money. The banks invested in us; we were the assets. Now that we’re about to go broke, they’re busy selling us to other financial institutions in a game of musical chairs that will cost the last debtholder a lot of money. Of course, unless we can convince some foreign sheiks to buy some lousy US assets with their oil money, that last debt holder will end up being you and me.

Over the past few months I’ve spoken to top strategists at some of the biggest banks in the world, and they share my perception of the scenario. Most of them are “holding cash” as their main investment strategy, spread out over a few of the major currencies. Those making money are doing so by short-selling shares of other companies in the same finance industry that they supposedly work for.

The bigger picture, of course, is that speculation just worked too well for too long. The disparity between the market values and real values (rich people and poor people) got too large. Every asset class, even money itself, got too expensive. We became more valuable for our borrowing power than our labor—which also meant there was no way to work off our debt. Meanwhile, the people using reality as an investment vehicle have overwhelmed the real economy on which their “structured investments” are based.

Sure, this has happened before. It’s just that, traditionally, when wealth disparity got too great and there wasn’t enough money in the right places, the wealthiest bankers temporarily suspended their greed to bail out the system. Or progressive tax policies opened corporate coffers, permitting a “New Deal” that employed people while rebuilding the infrastructure required to make real things and provide real services to citizens.

Today, however, such temporary restraints on greed are systematically untenable and philosophically unthinkable. Conservatives are still so angry about New Deal reforms of the 1930s that that they have infused politics and banking with an economic ideology that sees any regulation of worker exploitation or predatory investment as anti-capitalist, anti-American, and even anti-God.

So instead we are the beneficiaries of “wink” reform: stuff that’s supposed to make us feel good while reassuring the speculators that their interests will remain paramount. A few hundred dollars mailed to every American family creates the illusion that government is lending a helping hand, but this money is not redistributing anything. It’s being taken from the same people who are receiving it, in the hope that they’ll just pump it back into the system at Wal-Mart or the Exxon station.

Whether the coming economic crisis will be deep or shallow is left to be seen. We may be at the start of the kind of depression our grandparents lived through in the ’30s, or we may simply experience what our parents lived through back in the ’70s. Foreign investment trusts may come in and buy our biggest banks and turn us into global citizens through the very World Bank policies we were hoping would turn all of them into US vassals.

Whatever the case, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your interests is to make friends. The more we are willing to do for each other on our own terms and for compensation that doesn’t necessarily involve the until-recently-almighty dollar, the less vulnerable we are to the movements of markets that, quite frankly, have nothing to do with us.

If you’re sourcing your garlic from your neighbor over the hill instead of the Big Ag conglomerate over the ocean, then shifts in the exchange rate won’t matter much. If you’re using a local currency to pay your mechanic to adjust your brakes, or your chiropractor to adjust your back, then a global liquidity crisis won’t affect your ability to pay for either. If you move to a place because you’re looking for smart people instead of a smart real estate investment, you’re less likely to be suckered by high costs of a “hot” city or neighborhood, and more likely to find the kinds of people willing to serve as a social network, if for no other reason than they’re less busy servicing their mortgages.

The more connected you are to the real world, and the more consciously you reject the lure of the speculative ladder, the less of a willing dupe you’ll be in the pyramid scheme that’s in the process of collapsing all around us at this moment.

Think small. Buy local. Make friends. Print money. Grow food. Teach children. Learn nutrition. And if you do have money to invest, put it into whatever lets you and your friends do those things.

free and cheap comics

I reviewed almost all of this year's Free Comic Book Day comics over at Salon (gotta watch an ad if you're not a subscriber). And if you shell out another 50 cents, you can probably pick up DC Universe 0, which I annotated over at The Savage Critic(s).

The end of phone tree hell?

fonolo logo

We've all spent endless hours in phone tree hell... Press "1" for customer service, press "2" for tech support... If only there was a better way.

A company called Fonolo thinks they've come up with it. Their automatic systems have dialed hundreds of phone menus, meticulously working through every option, recording it all along the way. As a result, Fonolo has become a kind of Google for automated phone menus, letting you search for the specific number to call and the exact sequence of buttons to push to get to the information you need.

Better yet, the Fonolo system will make the call for you, and connect you in after it's slogged through the phone tree on your behalf.

Right now Fonolo is in limited beta. You can sign up to receive notice when they're ready for more users (sometime this fall). In the meantime you can check out this video of Fonolo CEO Shai Berger explaining his product.

What Burns Sometimes Returns

After a year spent posting each day, a week feels like a decade. The break has de-cobwebbed my brain and done it a lot of good. I've noticed that, without the Modus whip lashing at my back, I process the world differently. I'm less active in my thoughts and observations; I change from critic into reader. And, when I run, I don't look up or around and I don't stop. I think it's making me quicker and fitter. This is no bad thing because I'll soon be seeing JP in Seattle for brisk trails and hills. He's fast, he's light and he has the lungs of a machine. I'll need something in the bank to keep up (even if he his carrying an injury at the moment).

Molecule Men

My New Favorite Awesome

Sometimes, I feel pretty good about myself. You know, what I've done, the plans in my mind.

Then I see something like this, and I'm all the way back at the bottom again.

(Via Drawn!)

Heavy Rotation: Thao Nguyen, “Bag of Hammers,” “Geography,” “Beat”

Because spring is all about dancing through contradictory strains of melancholy and joy, it’s a perfect time to listen to the tangled, effervescent music of Virginia native Thao Nguyen, showcased on the almost surreally catchy “Bag of Hammers” and most of her soulful sophomore album, We Brave Bee Stings and All. Thao draws plenty of comparisons to Cat Power’s Chan Marshall, and while I can see the similarity when she covers Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin, I suspect that this is simply shorthand for describing a strong-willed female singer who is hard to figure out. I hear flashes of a few other singers; at times, she resembles a more forthright Jolie Holland, a less deadpan version of her former tour partner Laura Veirs, or even a young Rickie Lee Jones channeling the whimsical, world-wise mood of the Velvets’ Mo Tucker (I’d love to hear Thao try “Afterhours” or “Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking”).

But most of the time, she really just sounds like the Thao of now, pouring water and gasoline on my ever-changing moods of 2008. Musically, “Bag of Hammers” is like getting an extra couple of months of summer vacation, with transportation courtesy of the supple rhythm section in Thao’s brilliantly named backing band, the Get Down Stay Down. Pay only casual attention to the classic pop hook and the kid-friendly claymation video, and faster than you can say “Leslie Feist,” you might swear you are listening to the new Apple theme song.

But if you think Thao can be written off as this year’s poster girl for quirky charm, listen carefully and you’re going to get dunked in the swimming pool. She’s a real writer (and former critic for No Depression) who has a knack for distilling her song’s essence in a pithy phrase (“as sharp as I sting, as sharp as I sing, it still soothes you, doesn’t it, like a lick of ice cream?”; “geography’s gonna make a mess of me”; “we splash our eyes full of chemicals/ just so there’s none left for little girls”). She’s a real musician who can play killer guitar riffs with a toothbrush. She’s capable of rocking out, as she did live in a great recent set opening for Xiu-Xiu, and does in spades on the new wavy “Beat.” She can be moving, hilarious, or both at the same time. She has the good taste to list the Funk Brothers and Orchestra Baobab among her favorite bands. And let’s face it, do you know any other alums from the William and Mary women’s studies department who are able—or willing—to simultaneously beatbox and hum Gary Glitter’s sports arena anthem, “Rock and Roll, Part Two”? (See the clip of “Geography” below.)

Thao, “Bag of Hammers”

Thao, “Geography”

Thao, “Beat”

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