Regarding the Economic Free-Fall

I almost never write about economics: Not my own finances, not anyone else’s, not the economy. I leave that stuff to J.D. But economics is fascinating in many ways, and never more so than these days, given the economic free-fall that many of the world’s economies are undergoing.

A couple of years ago I started getting suspicious about all the subprime lending going on. My own finances are in pretty good shape – I play things very conservatively, mostly out of laziness – but I’m not very comfortable getting an ARM due to the uncertainty it introduces, so it seemed to me that people in riskier financial shape than me were taking out mortgages a lot riskier than ARMs, and that once they reset, they were probably going to default on them. I suspected that once that happened the housing market would take a plunge.

I’m not the only one, as you can see in this YouTube video which is a series of clips from 2006 and 2007 in which Euro Pacific Capital president Peter Schiff repeatedly warns of the oncoming economic crisis, and is scoffed at – sometimes outright laughed at – by other talking heads in the shows. It’s like he was the only person on the shows who was even paying attention. (via BoingBoing.) Joe Nocera has further comments in response to the video here.

(These clips also show what an ass Ben Stein is, but we already knew that.)

If I a little smart for seeing the problems two years ago, honestly I figured that there would be 2 or 3 years of defaults and a housing slump – rather like what happened during the Dot Com Bust – and then things would be back to normal. But it looks like the recession is going to go on much longer and deeper than I’d have imagined. If I was so right, why was I also so wrong?

Because I didn’t really understand the depths of what was going on. But some people had an inkling. Take a look at Michael Lewis’ article at, “The End” (of Wall Street as we know it). Lewis is a fantastic writer, and he’s in top form in this article, which follows a small group of analysts figuring out how royally screwed up things have become on Wall Street in the last 25 years. Every page is fascinating.

Lewis concludes his article by laying much of the blame for the mess at the feet of a system which has divorced the people financing the risk-taking from the people actually taking the risks. In other words, the people taking the risks aren’t risking their money.

What’s plastered all over Lewis’ article, but not really addressed head-on, is how Wall Street for over two decades has continually come up with new ways to package and repackage and sell their ‘products’, phantasmal constructs which represent real wealth and money, but which are so separated from them that a canny (or even clueness) manager can position them to mean something very different from what they really represent. For example, the class BBB loans in Lewis’ article that gets repackaged as tranches in which a fraction of the loans become rated class AAA. It’s like this famous Sydney Harris cartoon:

Then a Miracle Occurs by Sydney Harris

It’s the miracle of high finance.

While all very clever, not only does it seem at best a delaying tactic – sooner or later you have to come down from the tree and then the tigers are going to eat you – it got to the point where no one really understands how the delaying tactics work. People started to tweak the edges, but had no idea of the ramifications of what they were doing, and worse, they didn’t even know that they didn’t know what they were doing! (I suspect this goes on a lot more than people think in industries with complicated business practices; I wonder how many people who work in managed care in the health industry really understand how it’s supposed to work, never mind how it actually does work?)

I’m generally in favor of regulation of big business, but in this case I wonder whether regulation could even have helped, short of simply prohibiting many of these practices because they were incomprehensible to the regulators. Or maybe if there were regulatory oversight that forced businesses to really understand what they were doing, that might have helped forestall the crisis.

It’s not that I don’t mind companies taking risks, but I think they should understand what the risks they’re taking mean, and the risk-takers should bear the burdens of those risks if they go poorly. Unfortunately I think our society has been set up to minimize the risks to the people who reap most of the rewards of those risks. And that’s a recipe for disaster no matter how you slice it.

(Coming soon: The credit card debacle.)


I went in for my annual eye exam this morning. Things haven’t changed: I’m still blind as a bat. 🙂 But fortunately they make lenses for that.

I’m slowly coming around to thinking about getting laser eye surgery. Mainly I think it would be handy to simplify things as I become farsighted, so I don’t need bifocals as soon (if at all). My eye doctor said that laser surgery would mean I’d need reading glasses sooner than otherwise, but I think she just meant that I’d have trouble seeing close up as my ability to change my eyes’ focus degrades with age, which is the same problem that people who aren’t nearsighted have anyway. But since my left eye is significantly more nearsighted than my right, this would probably still be a win for me (the disparity means I almost never read without lenses anyway).

Through the magic of Wikipedia, I learned today that there is in fact a farsightedness condition which is the opposite of nearsightedness. I think most people (including myself) think of farsightedness as “what happens to everyone’s vision as they get older”, but in fact this is yet another condition. I don’t think I’ve ever (to my knowledge) met someone who has true farsightedness, whereas nearsightedness and presbyopia are both quite common.

Anyway. Good to know my eyes are in the same shape they’ve been in for years. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

Signs of the Season

People are putting Christmas lights up on their houses, Christmas tree farms are in business, and heck, we even went out and bought an artificial Christmas tree yesterday. It must be the holiday season.

You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find an artificial Christmas tree that doesn’t have its own lights built-in, and that doesn’t have little artificial pine cones, or berries, or snow-tipped branches. I.e., things the cats could chew off and eat. As for the lights, we don’t need them because we already have plenty of our own. But we found one after hitting several stores, at Lowe’s, which actually had the best selection of anywhere we went. We decided to get an artificial tree because the price of real trees has been going through the roof the last few years. I don’t mind paying $20 or even $30 for a tree, but $40 and up is getting ridiculous for something we’re only going to have up for 3 or 4 weeks. So we’ll give this a try.

The holiday season of course starts with Thanksgiving. (Well, it does unless you’re a retailer who’s had Christmas decorations up since before Halloween, but if you did, then there’s something wrong with you.) We had a low-key Thanksgiving in which we cooked a turkey and all the sides. Debbi actually did most of the cooking, for which I was thankful. 🙂 But she was very pleased that she managed to time everything to come out at nearly the same time. I took a walk down to the supermarket in the middle of it all to pick up a few things we’d forgotten, and it was a gorgeous day.

Unfortunately, another sign of the season is the sight of stores closing due to the poor economy. The chain Mervyn’s (which competes in the clothing and housewares markets with Sears and Kohl’s) is going out of business after several years of struggling. The nearby Circuit City is closing, too, as part of the electronics retailer’s efforts to stay afloat. (This particular site used to be a Good Guys! store; I wonder what’ll follow it?) So we went around to see if there was anything we wanted to pick up. And we got a bunch of other shopping in, too.

We’re also looking for some stuff for home improvement projects. Well, one project isn’t ‘improvement’ so much as ‘replacement’, since the light on the upstairs porch went AWOL when we got our complex painted. I liked the old light – it gave off a lot of light, which is nice for sitting up there during warm summer evenings – and would like to get a similar one.

But we’d also like to replace the light fixtures downstairs. All three of them use halogen bulbs, which are low-profile, but the three bulbs total something like 700 watts (or more), so I’d like to get lights that we can use compact fluorescent bulbs in, which will cut our energy use by hundreds of watts. Which would be good because we sometimes manage to overload the circuit and trip the breaker downstairs. I’m hoping that replacing light fixtures will be pretty easy, but first we have to find some we like. The typical home improvement stores tend to stock only “traditional” style fixtures, and I want something more modern, so we’ll probably have to hit the lighting stores to find what we want.

So that’s been our weekend. Well, that and Debbi went to the Harvest Festival on Friday with her friends. Today we’re just going to stay home and watch football, I think.

Which ain’t a bad idea because another sign of the season is that it’s starting to get chilly outside.

This Week’s Haul

  • Justice Society of America: Kingdom Come Special: The Kingdom #1, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Fernando Pasarin, Mick Gray, Jack Purcell & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #48, by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul & Livesay (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #6, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #7, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Hulk #8, by Jeph Loeb, Arthur Adams & Frank Cho (Marvel)
  • Nova #19, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • The End League #6, by Rick Remender & Eric Canete (Dark Horse)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
Justice Society of America: Kingdom Come Special: The Kingdom #1 Make no mistake, this week’s JSA special, The Kingdom has no more relationship to Kingdom Come or its sequel The Kingdom than does anything else going on in JSA lately. Indeed, it’s really just an extra-large issue of JSA, with a nicer-than-usual Alex Ross cover. (I do wish he’d do more covers which actually illustrate what happens in the story, though.) Fernando Pasarin, the regular jSA artist, even illustrates it.

The story is basically yet-more reaction by the JSAers to the efforts of Gog’s seven-day plan to bring paradise to Earth. The best part is Stargirl’s efforts to drill some sense into Damage, for which she recruits Atom Smasher to help out (Damage is the son of the golden age Atom, while Atom Smasher – nee Nuklon – is his godson). It goes badly, of course. Meanwhile, Sand starts to worry that Gog’s goals aren’t so altruistic, leading to the cliffhanger ending of the issue.

Thy Kingdom Come – the ongoing story in JSA dealing with the arrival of the Kingdom Come Superman on Earth-DC and his attempts to forestall the tragedy that befell his world – has spun out in a wide variety of story threads, but none of them have been fully satisfying. I’m not sure the resolution of the Gog story is going to make or break it, but it’s got to have a better resolution than the rather limp conclusion to the Power Girl/Earth-2 story or it’s going to be a big disappointment.

Anyway, far from being “special”, if you’re not reading JSA then this isn’t likely to have any meaning for you.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1 The Umbrella Academy starts its second series by catching up with the survivors of the first series, who mostly haven’t fared too well in the interim. The first issue ends with a big “uh-oh” cliffhanger following a wacky action scene. Like the first issue of the first series, it all seems perfectly promising. But the first series meandered all over the place and ended up not going much of anywhere, just weirdness for the sake of weirdness. I’m hoping the second series is better, by which I mean, more coherent and meaningful. I do like Gabriel Bá’s artwork quite a bit, still evoking that of Mike Mignola but with its own stylings.

This Week’s Haul

Running almost a week late, as happens from time to time.

  • The Brave and the Bold #19, by David Hine, Doug Braithwaite & Bill Reinhold (DC)
  • Ex Machina #39, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fables: War and Pieces vol 11 TPB, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha & Niko Henrichon (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice Society of America: Kingdom Come Special: Magog #1, by Peter Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin & Mick Gray, and Geoff Johns & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #9 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Carlos Magno & Andi Tong, and Ron Marz, Julio Ferreira & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Terra #2 of 4, by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Avengers/Invaders #6 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Steve Sadowski & Patrick Berkenkotter (Marvel)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Iron Man vol 107 HC, collecting Iron Man vol 1 #2-13, by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska & Johnny Craig (Marvel)
  • Castle Waiting #13, by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)
  • Invincible #55, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #4 of 5, by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Joshua Ross & Jonathan Ross (Red 5)
Terra #2 Don MacPherson covers the uncomfortable opening pages of Terra in which the heroine – having been lying naked on a table while Dr. Mid-Nite examined her after she was brought in unconscious following a battle – gets dressed while arguing with him and Power Girl about her privacy being invaded. It’s a little weird that the previous thing I read by Conner – the Power Girl story in JSA Classified a few years back – also featured a sequence in which the heroine was getting dressed. It’s not clear to me why Terra was nude in the first place – it’s not like her costume covers her up very much – so it just seems gratuitous. Not that I don’t appreciate Conner’s drawings – she does draw very attractive women – but still, it feels gratuitous. (There’s another scene toward the end of the issue in which the presumptive villain is having a talk with his girlfriend while she’s showering, and it’s almost as awkward.)

Okay, that aside, Terra is taking an unusual storytelling tack: The heroine is fighting one threat after another (here we have the Silver Banshee, a random Sumerian monster, and a horde of zombies) but none of them seem related to one another. Rather, they’re a foil to explore Terra’s personality and – presumably – eventually get to her background and her seemingly self-imposed mission. It appears that she’s a clone of the original Terra, inhabited by a spirit (or something) which is using her earth-manipulation powers for good. I’m interested to see how this plays out, but overall the art is outstripping the story so far.

Marvel Masterworks vol 103: Iron Man The fifth volume of Marvel’s Iron Man Masterworks shipped this week, and I think that’ll be it for me. Iron Man wasn’t really among Marvel’s A-list material until David Michelinie and Bob Layton took over the book in the mid-70s: It started off illustrated by Steve Ditko, followed by Don Heck, Gene Colan, and in this volume George Tuska. Colan’s run is something of a revelation, perhaps the best work I’ve ever seen by him, but Ditko seemed to be phoning it in, neither Heck nor Tuska have been among my favorites. And the stories were never that exciting, either. This volume is written by Archie Goodwin (Stan Lee wrote most of the earlier tales), who was a very good writer, but it looks like it’s another series of undistinguished adventure yarns. So I think I’ve run out of gas on this one.

At this point I’m still buying the Avengers and Spider-Man Masterworks, and I’d buy another Nick Fury one if they print it (which they really should, to get the Steranko stuff in hardcover). But I’m just about out of gas on all the others I’m buying, and a couple have basically collected all the issues I want. But after over 100 volumes, I think Marvel has just about mined their silver age catalogue for the stuff worth collecting.

Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #4 It took a little while, but with this latest issue I think Atomic Robo is really coming together. And it’s mostly because of the interplay between rivals/reluctant allies Robo and the British agent The Sparrow, which not only makes the chase and fight scenes more fun, but the humor works much better with two characters invested in the action. She’s basically the first real supporting character in the series, and the series is much the better for it.

This issue just about wraps up Robo’s mission to destroy the Nazi armored battle suits in 1943, with some collateral carnage along the way. I guess next issue with be a denouement. The short back-up stories are also entertaining, although very lightweight. This series has been an improvement on the first series so far, but I’m hoping it will get weightier in future series.

Q&A: How Did You Get Into Software?

(Ganked from Nadyne.)

I think I was first exposed to computers by a neighbor of mine when I was about 8 or 9 (so, 1977 or 78) who had somehow piqued my interest with some stories of his programming mainframes. He loaned me a book he had on programming in FORTRAN, which I thumbed through but didn’t really understand. I’m not sure it was a very good book, to be honest, although at that point I had no idea what distinguished a good book on programming from a bad book. (It’s not clear to me that most people who write programming books know this either.)

Also around this time I got into video games courtesy of the Atari 2600, which was the most popular (at least in my neck of the woods) game console of its day. There was even a “programming in BASIC” cartridge for the system which I bought with images of programming my own games, but it was a waste of time since its capabilities were, uh, extremely limited. But also around this time a friend of mine, Ben, got a TRS-80 Model I, which actually did have a full BASIC programming language. I borrowed his books on BASIC programming and wrote out – in long-hand on lined paper! – lengthy programs which represented little games. I’d go over to his house and type them in and see if they worked, debug them, etc. It was all totally ad-hoc, but those days I spent lots of time writing and drawing random stuff on paper, so it was right up my alley.

My parents bought me my very own TRS-80 Model III, which must have been when I was 11 or 12 given that it was released in 1980. So I was able to create all my own little games, and I’d also create little animation programs with the rather primitive graphics system. It had a tape drive and 4K of RAM, and I wrote a text adventure game which filled up the whole of memory, and I had to cut corners to get it to fit in. Later it got upgraded to 48K of RAM with a floppy drive. This was the day of computer magazines which printed whole programs in source code, and I subscribed to one: Softside. I especially enjoyed the text adventure games, in which they encoded all of the text strings using a simple algorithm so you wouldn’t have the game spoiled for you while you typed it in. On the other hand, you ended up with some interesting typos in the strings when you ran the program.

(I sometimes wonder if typing in all this stuff from paper helped make me such a fast typist, especially since I’m a two-fingered typist.)

In late 1981 my friend Rob – who at this point qualifies as my oldest friend with whom I’m still in contact – moved in across the street. They had an Apple II+, and we spent many hours on that thing playing Ultima II and watching MTV. This was a big step forward since it had better graphics and color, which my TRS-80 didn’t have. A couple of years later my Mom bought an Apple IIe, which pretty much put my TRS-80 into mothballs.

My next step in actual programming came through playing play by mail games, which inspired me to construct my own turn-based computer games, which my friends would play. I wrote an elaborate system in BASIC to track everyone’s moves and the state of the game, and emit board state to the screen from each player’s perspective (one of the things I thought was neat about these games was that you could only see a limited amount of the board, quite different from real-time board games). Unfortunately I had no idea how to write printer code, so I had to copy all the boards onto paper to hand them out. Did I mention that I had a lot of free time back in the day? (Did I mention that my grades weren’t so great early in high school?)

By senior year of high school I was seriously interested in computer programming, and I signed up for two programming courses at once, a full-time class in Pascal, and a part-time class in BASIC (the instructor insisted I take the latter class in order to take the former). These were my first exposure to structured programming principles. I also worked part-time in the computer lab and had to restructure a program they were using in the office. This was my first experience working with someone else’s code, and it was more than I could handle at the time – it was very slow going. I just shake my head when I reminisce about it, since these days I wade into thousands of lines of code I’ve never seen before on a semi-regular basis.

The other thing to mention here is that Rob’s mother bought one of the very first Macintosh computers, which must have been right in 1984. It had MacPaint and MacWrite, plus of course an ImageWriter. The screen size, graphics, and color were a bit of a letdown compared to the Apple II, but the interface and software made up for that. I still have a paper print-out of a drawing I did in MacPaint on that very machine. I don’t really remember Rob and I using that machine for much more than novelty fiddling around – the Apple II was still the game system – but in senior year – by which time Rob had gone off to college – my new friend Matt also had a Mac, and we spent many, many hours after school at his house playing Dungeon of Doom on it.

In 1987 I headed off to college at Tulane, and although I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, I did want to keep up with programming. Tulane was a little draconian about its computer science courses: I wasn’t able to test out of classes with material I’d already taken, so I spent my freshman year being re-taught stuff I’d learned the year before. Sophomore year, though, we moved on to C more advanced information about how computers work. By the end of the year I’d decided to declare my major in CS, since the competing majors (English and art) were things I thought I could work on on my own without formal collegiate training. (Naturally, I’ve done fairly little creative writing or drawing ever since. Oh well!)

So that’s when I committed to a career in software When I finished college I felt somewhat deficient in my programming skills – in particular, use of pointers in C still baffled me from time to time – so I went off to graduate school at Wisconsin. Although I didn’t get a Ph.D. there, I did have the opportunity to work with an outstanding programmer on a research project and I learned a tremendous amount from studying his code and talking with him about how he designed software.

I was never a Macintosh programmer in the classic days. Whenever I tried to learn Mac programming I was either daunted by the high price of the developer tools (“Hmm, developer tools or four months of comic books…?”) or I would read about what was involved (the APIs and the lack of protected memory) and it just didn’t seem worth it, especially once I had experienced doing programming on UNIX systems. So my first experience with graphics programming was with X Windows. On the bright side, once Apple moved to a UNIX OS with the advent of Mac OS X, that made it an ideal system for my programming background.

When I look back on it, I often feel like I backed into being a programmer. I wasn’t a hacker or prolific programmer like many of my peers at the time, and sometimes I’d wonder if I wasn’t a fraud because programming didn’t consume my hobby time like it did so many other peoples’. But I’ve always tended to spread my time and attention across a variety of hobbies and interests – as even a casual reading of my journal should prove. Despite this I’ve ended up as a solid software engineer (well, I think so, anyway) in my career. Programming isn’t the be-all and end-all of my life, but I still enjoy building things and seeing them work, and all things considered I don’t regret the choices I made to end up where I am.

MVP Notes

We’re in the thick of baseball awards season, and it’s made for some interesting reading.

In the National League, Albert Pujols won the MVP in both the Internet Baseball Awards (by a very wide margin) and the official voting (by a narrower margin). This seems only natural since Pujols was far-and-away the best hitter in baseball – and it wasn’t particularly close. While you could argue that Hanley Ramirez or Chase Utley might be more valuable because of their position, they had to make up a good amount of ground compared to Pujols’ advantage with the bat, and while Pujols does play the easiest defensive position on the diamond, he’s a plus defender there, too. He came up as a third baseman, and has also played both outfield corners; he’s only at first base due to his bum elbow which his team naturally wants to protect as much as possible.

Despite this, folks like Thomas Boswell thinks Ryan Howard should have been the league’s MVP. I like Boswell’s writing, his book The Heart of the Order is among my favorites, but his whole argument is just ridiculously wrong. That he’s bringing up RBI and the position the player’s team finished as anything other than a tiebreaker is just plain silly, and, well Joe Posnanski writes a nifty refutation of Boswell’s position which says all that and more.

I think people still underestimate just how valuable it is for a hitter to not make an out. Pujols is the complete package as a hitter in a way that no other active player is. He’s really that good, and it’s amazing that people seriously question whether he should have been the MVP.

Over in the American League, I was mildly surprised when Red Sock Dustin Pedroia won the IBA, and even more so when he won the real deal.

This was a tougher award to pick. Pedroia was third in the AL in VORP, behind Alex Rodriguez and Grady Sizemore. Pedroia logged significantly more plate appearances than most of his competition (only Sizemore logged more, and Josh Hamilton was a little behind). And most of the competition also played difficult defensive positions (Pedroia plays second base). There were also some good pitchers in the mix, as either Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay would have been a credible MVP.

I think you could build a reasonable argument for any number of these players being the MVP. I think the reason Pedroia won the actual award is that he plays for a high-profile playoff team, and he put up what was probably his career year. Voters like those sorts of things.

Rob Neyer picks Twins catcher Joe Mauer as his guy, and I think he’s a credible choice, too, although I don’t think he’s clearly better than Pedroia. Mauer did get overlooked by voters in each pool, although I think he was swimming uphill given the tendencies of the voters. I think Neyer’s right that he just never had the buzz, and with so many credible candidates he needed something to make him stand out in their minds. Additionally, I think there’s a perception that Mauer’s been a little disappointing since he hasn’t developed big-time power. Of course, he’s only 25, so he still has time.

(Boswell suggests that Francisco Rodriguez and his newly-minted saves record should have been the MVP, which is just absurd, as K-Rod wasn’t even the best reliever in his league, or particularly close to being so, and his record was due to the peculiar circumstances of his being on a good team in a poor division. His comparison to Dennis Eckersley‘s 1992 season doesn’t hold water either, since Eck was considerably more dominant than K-Rod was. Even then there were many better candidates among both the hitters and the pitchers.)

I think the awards are partly to honor players who reached the pinnacle of their profession in a given year, and partly to give us fans something to argue about. There’s plenty of red meat to chew on for the AL award, but I’m sure Pedroia and his fans are just happy to have made it this far. (Two years ago a lot of people wondered if he’d ever hit enough to be a solid Major League regular.)

But on the NL side I think we should just sit back and appreciate Albert Pujols as the greatest active hitter (and he’d be the greatest hitter of his era if he hadn’t spent the first few years of his career competing with one of the two greatest hitters of any era). At this point it looks like the only thing that can stop him is his own elbow.

Did I Mention The Lovely Weather This Past Weekend?

Well it was amazing: Highs in the 80s in the valley, so Sunday morning we drove over to Half Moon Bay for breakfast and to walk around along the coast. We were delayed getting there due to an accident on Route 92 (a sedan smashed up with a minivan – both cars looked totaled, but I didn’t see any injured people), but we got there about half an hour later than expected.

After breakfast at the Main Street Grill we went to Poplar Beach and walked along the bluffs to the south of the parking lot. Here are a couple of pics from our walk:

Debbi by a wind-blown cypress tree in Half Moon Bay
(click for larger image)

Half Moon Bay beaches & coastline

It was cooler and breezy by the ocean, but still just about a perfect day. I think 4 out of every 5 people we saw were out walking their dogs. Can’t blame them, as this might be our last nice summer day for the year – summer days in November! Now I remember why I live here!

In the evening we cooked chicken-fried steak with homemade fries and frozen green beans for dinner. Mmmm…

What a Day!

It’s the middle of November and it’s pushing 80 degrees outside here in the Bay Area. Sunny, a little hazy, just about perfect. I’m wearing shorts and sandals today. Couldn’t ask for much better.

This is something of a change from Wednesday night when we were out playing frisbee and in the space of 20 minutes, the field we were on went from this:

The fog rolling in

…to this:

The fog has arrived

Not to mention what the other fields looked like:

The other fields in the fog

Thank goodness those Bad Old Days are behind us.

Until, you know, next week or something.

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #14, by Rick Remender, Pat Olliffe & Jerry Ordway (DC)
  • Fables #78, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice Society of America: Kingdom Come Special: Superman #1, by Alex Ross (DC)
  • Fire & Brimstone #3 of 5, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • B.P.R.D.: The Warning #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
Fables #78 Wow, after a couple issues of adjustment, Fables is hitting the ground running in its post-Adversary storyline. A couple of treasure-hunters in the homelands free what looks like a Really Bad Man aims to cause big trouble for our heroes. Geppetto is still holier-than-thou, and he maybe has some justification. And something really bad happens to a good guy, while something really good happens to a bad girl (and that ain’t good for the good guys). Things could get out of hand quickly for our heroes, and I think that’s the point: They’re heading into uncharted waters against opponents they don’t know much about, one of whom they don’t even know exists.

Willingham’s usual modus operandi as a writer involves characters making careful plans and then navigating the difficulties in executing them. It looks like he’s preparing for a sequence of sheer carnage and mayhem, and I’m very interested in seeing how it plays out. And, frankly, a little nervous, because I foresee things going very, very badly for some of our heroes – and that this makes me nervous is a sign of good writing.

Justice Society of America: Kingdom Come Special: Superman #1 Alex Ross flies solo on this Justice Society tie-in, focusing on the Superman from Kingdom Come. The issue is mainly an exploration of Superman’s feelings and regrets in the wake of the death of his wife and friends on his own world, and it’s quite well-done. Arguably it doesn’t really provide a lot more information than we received in Kingdom Come, but it does provide some depth and nuance, and humanizes the Man of Steel from the parallel world some. The most touching moments are when he tells this world’s Lois Lane what happened on his world, and how it changed him.

The important detail regarding the ongoing JSA story is the revelation that Superman was sent to this Earth when the bomb was dropped on the warring superheroes. This occurs near the end of Kingdom Come, but it’s still before the end. That suggests that Superman’s presence here is part of his redemption at the end of that story, and it also explains his anger in JSA since he hasn’t gone through the crucial experiences in the final pages of that story.

Well, either that, or Ross and Geoff Johns are just messin’ with us. (That would suck.)

The book has an afterword in which Ross describes his process of illustrating the book, which is not painted like his usual work. It’s fairly interesting, although somehow seeing how extensively he uses photographic models takes some of the magic out of his otherwise wonderful artwork.

I’ve given Ross a rough time in my reviews of many of his recent projects, but this one is solid. I wish all his work was this good. Heck, I wish JSA was this good, as character bits like this have been almost entirely absent from that series (a problem I’ve had with it ever since the previous volume was launched back in 1999).

B.P.R.D.: The Warning #5 The latest B.P.R.D. mini-series comes to an end, and although some of the pieces have moved around (there’s a new villain – who might be a hero, but his methods are questionable; Liz Sherman has disappeared; monsters are allying with each other and have decimated Munich), I’m still wondering where it’s all going. It’s been years and it doesn’t feel like we’re getting anywhere.

I know, I’m sung this song before, and anyone who’s been reading me long enough is probably wondering why I keep reading the series. I wonder that myself; every time I decide to give up I figure if I just read one more mini-series, then the answers and resolutions will start coming. Sometimes I read one more series and it’s just good enough to make me curious what happens next. But ultimately I keep being disappointed: I honestly can’t tell whether the plot has really progressed over the last couple of years.

Maybe it is time for me to quit.