June 29, 2011

Darnell Dockett Tweets Down The Man


June 28, 2011

Farewell to the middle class

Tuition costs vs. income

The Talk

I knew the day was coming, but, like most fathers, I had no idea what I would say when it actually came. It was one of those innocent questions parents dread.

“Dad,” my old older son asked, “what is Bennie and the Jets about?”

He’s not ready yet, I thought. But you can’t say that to the kid’s face. I mumbled a bit, equivocated and dissembled, and ultimately sidestepped the question. “Um, I’m not sure, I guess it’s about a guy named Benny, and some jets or something…it’s an old song, but they do play it on the radio a lot.”

“Yeah,” he said, and moved on to other topics, as little boys will.

But he’ll ask again, and what will I say? That it is typical of the gimmicky stuff that otherwise credible British musicians were manufacturing for the U.S. market at that time? That it’s a commentary on the “weird and wonderful” glam rock bands of the 70s by the most commercially successful songwriters of the era? That it could be read as a closeted gay man’s celebration of camp culture, putting one over on a middlebrow audience that was mostly oblivious to the meaning of his flamboyance? That it succinctly summarizes the performer’s simultaneous need for attention and contempt for those who have paid money to provide it?

Should I try to place it in the context of Liberace and the B-52s?

And, as always with this body of work, whose voice are we hearing...Elton John's or Bernie Taupin's? Taupin says the song is meant to send up the music industry of the 70s:

Hey kids, shake it loose together
The spotlight's hitting something
That's been known to change the weather
We'll kill the fatted calf tonight
So stick around
You're gonna hear electric music
Solid walls of sound

Tough to say where to even start in this hall of mirrors.

I suppose I should point out that this is one of those times when the founding text is by no means a complete or honest representation of the original work. The first recording, the original hit record, is a fraud marred by an attempt at damage control. The musical performance (apart from John's lucid piano) lacks conviction - guitarist Davey Johnstone explains why: "Bennie and the Jets was one of the oddest songs we ever recorded. We just sat back and said, 'This is really odd.'" John, sure that it would fail, didn't want it released as a single. "I still to this day can't see it being a commercial hit," he said in 2005 (1:06 here). The engineering team then decided to fix it by reverbing it up and adding a tape loop of applause and cheering.

I propose as a starting text a slightly more honest version, this solo performance on Soul Train, sung live over a backing tape (with John pantomining the piano part). The vocals highlight his remarkable range and illustrate the immense interpretative force that he had already become. The fact that John seems to be enjoying himself strikes me as significant - he liked the song once, and not without reason. He seems to be genuinely comfortable with this simple, atonal, "really odd" tune. Yes it's weird and it's wonderful, and it's selling like hotcakes in America.

He was a very good sport about all this, as this hard-hitting interview with the Muppets demonstrates.

Kermit: "That song is tasteless...that song has no melody...isn't that the worst song you've ever heard Elton?"

Elton: "I didn't think so when I wrote it."

It has, of course, been a staple of his repertoire since that time, despite the diminishment of his vocal range. The wear and tear in his voice is already showing in the famous 1980 Central Park performance, which is otherwise wonderful in every way. No piano pantomine this time - he plays two fine solos. One is a relatively straightforward chorus (2:29), while the other (5:21) is an otherworldly excursion into boogie-woogie march dynamics that somehow finds its way home, just before curfew.

In all his performances, he gives special attention to the chorus, especially the vocal characterizations of the fans talking back and forth:

Say, Candy and Ronnie, have you seen them yet
But they're so spaced out, B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets
Oh but they're weird and they're wonderful
Oh Bennie she's really keen
She's got electric boots a mohair suit
You know I read it in a magazine
B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets

He still plays the song, with conviction and skill. As with many older performers we lose some of the sense of possibility - the idea that this guy might do anything, and of course after surgery his voice can no longer manage the falsetto part. Still, I like it better than the Central Park performance - maybe I'm getting old, too.

If it's spontaneity you're after, Biz Markie is your man. I'm not talking about the version he did with the Beastie Boys, in which they team up to assassinate the original, corrupt recording. Probably a worthwhile objective, but, you know, why bother.

But I'm not talking about that performance.

I'm talking about this one:

As a Youtube commenter says:

What Biz Markie gets, and what Cher (don't click, it's unbearable) and that girl from American Idol don't, is that this song is not for singing pretty. Musically it has some of the same torch song march characteristics of The Beatles' Fixing a Hole, but there is a huge difference. Bennie and the Jets is a song that explicitly promises ("we'll kill the fatted calf tonight"), then delivers almost immediately, a Dionysian fit of ecstasy (in the hedonistic sense, not the cthonic). And it does so fully aware that the chips will fall where they may:
Hey kids, plug into the faithless
Maybe they're blinded
But Bennie makes them ageless
We shall survive, let us take ourselves along
Where we fight our parents out in the streets
To find who's right and who's wrong

I played that Soul Train performance at home tonight, and my son had another question:

"Dad, was he mentally ill?"

I told him I'd have to get back to him on that one, too.

June 25, 2011

The Sight of a Pretty Woman Can Make Men Crave War

It's one study, sure.


Rebar for Tootsie Rolls: The Tantalizing Excerpt

...I felt in my suit pocket for the titanium nose the cops found at the bottom of the pool, my fingers wrapping around the cold nasal metal. Hmm. Lumpy. Disgusting. But I needed her to identify it, and why interrupt her pose like that, I mean like THAT, just when things were going so likeably?

"A little to the left, Angelpillows," said Ernie, accidentally wiping a pat of crimson on his forehead. A slight look of pique passed over the blonde's flawless brow, and she rolled her hips to the left.  25 seconds later I remembered about my lungs and gasped. 

"Mack, say hi to the pretty lady. Pretty Lady, this walking shambles of a man is Mack Brain," said Ernie, holding a thin brush steadily above the small canvas.

"Miss Appleshanks," I said, tipping my hat.

"How do you do, Mack?" she said. "Ha-ha! Your name is actually Mack, Mack!" And she giggled. I'd rather face a machete-wielding platoon of Armenian bill collectors- again - than endure the mockery of that cruel, delightful giggle. I felt like I was a chewed sock discovered behind the couch.  But then, what was it she was doing? Winking without winking. Wiggling without moving.

"Sierra, be gentle with Mack, he acts like a sack of barbed wire but he's got a heart made of candy whistles," said Ernie.  Then she flashed a rosy-lipped smile and my heart went "phweeeeeeeeeee."

June 24, 2011


I was too young to appreciate it at the time, but now I understand how good this is.

Or this, never breaking character.

Holy Redeemer? That's not bad...

Just saving this here for future use

June 23, 2011

About a girl

When I was a child, and the house was more-or-less empty, my Dad would sometimes wander off to the piano and play a few tunes from his old fakebook. He'd always start out a bit tentatively, playing half-remembered chords and melodies, then, gradually gaining confidence and comfort, pick up steam, and get into jazz age standards like "Ain't She Sweet", and "Personality". It was a lot of fun, and the song I most enjoyed was "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?" Here is a 1925 performance by Art Landry, in full band mode, and a ukelele version from Arthur Fields a year later.

The lyrics are terrific. Like "Heart Full of Soul" two generations later, "Has Anybody Seen My Gal" is a dramatic monologue in which the narrator reflects on a missing lover. But the earlier song is cheerier and more optimistic. Although the facts as presented suggest otherwise, the speaker is confident that when he finds her, she'll still be his. If he's right, he's a lucky man - the brief lyrics evoke a woman as real as any conjured by Shakespeare, and a hot one at that:

Five foot two, eyes of blue,
oh, what those five feet could do:
has anybody seen my gal?

Turned-up nose, turned-down hose
Flapper? Yes sir, one of those
Has anybody seen my gal?

Well, if you run into a five-foot-two
covered with furs,
Diamond rings, all those things,
Bet your life it isn't her

But could she love, could she coo!
Cootchie-cootchie-cootchie coo!
Has anybody seen my gal?

The song survived the Depression and even World War II. Bing Crosby gave it a Dixieland treatment. Guy Lombardo turned it into a state funeral. Dean Martin, as was his wont, made it swing effortlessly.

Some of the most interesting post-War performances were by less-famous artists. Merrill Moore, a critical link between western swing and rockabilly, recorded a beautifully balanced boogie-woogie rendition, and did a nice job on the vocals as well.

(I'd recommend that anyone go listen to some Merrill Moore tunes - there are much worse ways to spend 15 minutes. Jerry Lee Lewis said he'd never heard of Moore...well, judge for yourself.)

[Update: found one from the 60s! link]

But the song sits most comfortably in the 1920's, and in the musical vernacular of that time:
The tune still elicits images of those days, of the flirty girl no one could keep up with, flitting from club to club and sipping champagne with a Slovenian prince before getting bored and going to a dancehall with a gang of friends.

My favorite version is Aunt Vi's:

June 22, 2011

Very Common FAQs

Eisengeiste's eFAQ:
Extremely Frequently Asked Questions
1. How are you?
Fine, thanks.
2. More coffee?
3. Where is the bathroom?
Back over there.
4. Spare Change?
5. Where are my keys?
Where did you leave them last?
6. How did it go?
7. Do you need anything?
              No, I'm good.
8. Is this yours?
              Oh, thanks!
9. Is there more?
              Sorry, last one.
10. Who left this here?
It wasn't me.
11. What do you think you're doing?
12. Why would someone do such a thing?
I don't know.
13. What's going on?

             Not much.

14. How's Things?

           Going alright.

15. Doing O.K.?

            Another one, please.

16. Where are you?
             Over here!

17. Can I help you?
            Just looking, thanks.

18. Can someone help me?

            Just a minute.

19. Why?

            Why not?

 20. Who is this?
            It's me!
If have a question that is not on our eFAQ page, you can search message boards, phone customer service during business hours, or send an email.  Answers can often be found on Wikipedia. 



June 20, 2011

B-17s in color

Various photos here, here, and here.

(Open in new windows to embiggen...)

Gratuitous, but LOL

June 19, 2011

Das Angst-Jökens of Summer

1. The Happy Magic Well Troll. A marketing executive falls into a deep dark well, and struggles to climb back out. But he fails, splashing around in the cold and wet and dark. Suddenly, the water drains out as if by magic, and he finds himself sitting upright on a wet stone floor. He looks around, and the light from above casts a circle down. He is shocked to a tiny little troll-like man, no more than 2 feet tall, wearing a blue top hat and a long red pointed beard, with a crooked nose, rosy cheeks, and holding a small leather bag containing something weighty, his small blue eyes twinkling and mouth upturned in a warm smile as he begins to pull something out of the bag. "Hold on," says the dripping executive, taking out his iPhone, "I'm getting a text from someone."

2. Delayed. A woman has called for a taxi  and has been waiting over an hour when she hears hears the door bell finally ring. Stepping out, she is surprised to find an incredibly tiny yellow cab at the curb, with flashing lights and spiral-colored wheels, and it is completely packed nose-to-nose with all kinds of clowns.  The driver is dressed like a clown in sad-face with a  foot wide soft cab driver's hat. "I'm so sorry I'm late," he says. "I got delayed renewing my tabs at DMV."

3. Unicorn. Two kittens are playing with a soft toy unicorn with sparkles, dangling from a spring and swaying wildly. One kitten turns to the other and goes "When I catch him, I will crush his throat with my teeth and feel his tendons snap while he squirts blood and his pointless life leaves his pathetic eyes." The other kitten says "Cross me and you will share his fate."

MORE ANGST JOKENS AT http://angst-joken.blogspot.com


June 18, 2011

B-17 Crew Photos


I think I've heard this somewhere before...

My Critique of Capitalism in a Nutshell

In the awesome KEY LARGO (1948), Humphrey Bogart’s broken war hero, Frank McCloud,  taunts Edward G. Robinson’s charismatic and brutal gangster, Johnny Rocco.

Johnny Rocco: There’s only one Johnny Rocco.
Frank McCloud: He knows what he wants. Don’t you, Rocco?
Johnny Rocco: Sure.
James Temple: What’s that?
Frank McCloud: Tell him, Rocco.
Johnny Rocco: Well, I want uh …
Frank McCloud: He wants more, don’t you, Rocco?
Johnny Rocco: Yeah. That’s it. More. That’s right! I want more!
Frank McCloud: Will you ever get enough?
Johnny Rocco: Well, I never have. No, I guess I won’t.

June 17, 2011

Pleeze to Hugs Blobfish?

Labels: ,

June 16, 2011

Let's go to the text

News item: A Minnesota Twins security guard has been reprimanded for allegedly scolding a lesbian couple for kissing.

“Here in the stadium, we adhere to the 10 Commandments,” he reportedly said.

Since many of our readers did not benefit from an education at seminary, let's recapitulate The Ten Commandments. Actually there are about twelve, as this article explains, due to differing counting methods among traditions. Let's run through them:
  • I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
  • You shall have no other gods before me.
  • You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
  • You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
  • Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
  • Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
  • You shall not murder.
  • You shall not commit adultery.
  • You shall not steal.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

After reviewing these in numerous translations, I conclude that, in point of fact, The Ten Commandments are silent on the matter of lesbian kissing.

These are delicate judgments, but the Eisengeiste recommendation is: kiss it up girls. If that's the guiding document, you're good.

Today's Urgent Headlines Today For June 16, 2011/ Digital Subscriptions Edition

Asia Hit Song "Sweet Home Kyrgyzstan" Celebrates Pride of Southern Honor Killings

Scientists Report First Alarming Observation of Global Jellification

View of Stunning Redhead Blocked By Surprisingly Large Head of Angry German Boyfriend

Adorable Kittens Report Red Dot Moving Everywhere, Impermeable to The Most Savage Attacks

Steve Jobs Elected iPope

Acne Missile To Make Enemy Awkward, Self-Conscious

Visiting Beijing, Mark Zuckerberg Considered Yankee Asshole

California Legislature Finally Agrees to Tax a Mr. Justin Fecksward, of Carmel, $27.4 Billion Dollars

Coal Industry Rebuts Claims of Jellification in Greenland; "Lime-Flavored Wiggling Glaciers Part of Natural Cycle"

Alaska Reality Show "The Chill Zone" Focuses on Terrible Zoning Plans


Exxon CEO Tweets....

Suspicions Mount as Enthusiastic Alamo Re-Enactors...

Study: Male Nose Has Evolved To...

Enhanced content punchlines are available for only 99 cents each with PayPal. 

Upon receipt of payment, the hilarious punchline will be emailed to you, for literally several seconds of building absurdity of juxtapostions of incompatible but confluent concepts, producing a grin or even a rapid Ha-Ha exhalation. Please be sure to include your email address.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: The Concept of Pay for Punchline Services is Copyright 2011. Permission for use of this concept may be obtained for a payment of .05 USD per joke. 

June 15, 2011

Robots don't count

The two senior administration lawyers contended that American forces have not been in “hostilities” at least since April 7, when NATO took over leadership in maintaining a no-flight zone in Libya, and the United States took up what is mainly a supporting role — providing surveillance and refueling for allied warplanes — although unmanned drones operated by the United States periodically fire missiles as well.

Wonder if they're developing robotic human shields, too

Interesting question, never really answered so far as I can tell:

What happens to the human role in war as we arm ever more intelligent, more capable, and increasingly more autonomous robots?

June 14, 2011

Today's Tomorrow's Less-Funny-Than-FSL's Headlines

  • Dalai Lama Struggles to Explain Butt-Tweet
  • Boehner: End Medicare or I'll Force Dale Arden to Marry Me
  • Royal Family "Embarrassed" by Pippa Middleton Performance in Anal Intruders #12
  • Solipsist Wonders How He Will Be Remembered
  • Comcast Rolls Out Free Ha Ha Just Kidding
  • Australian Student Finds Missing Piece of Universe While on Vacation (no, really)
  • I...refuse...to...believe...

    I admit it. I'm the Bad Lieutenant. How Boston got here, I have no idea. But I am pulling out the stops and betting on the choke that is sure to come, the ultimate wipeout that will crush the hearts of their loyal fans. Because that is what the Bruins do.

    The last time they won the Stanley Cup, Ben Affleck hadn't been born yet.

    This will be their first Stanley Cup Finals game 7 ever.

    There is no hope.

    Optimism is stupid.

    Give up.

    South Park creators essay subtle, thoughtful critique of literalist religious belief, nuanced appraisal of the value of spiritual insight

    No, really.

    Triumph of the Humanities Departments

    I am not a big fan of Prof. Fish (actually I think he confuses legalistic professional practices for academic rigor) but this essay is a good introduction to the seriousness of new fields of research integrating sciences and arts and humanities - not as a warm fuzzy idea, but as working research operations. The humanities are viewed here essentially as interpretive sciences, necessary to understand complex social and biological phenomena. 
    Of particular interest here is the difficulty and necessity of representing time in the broad field of geography, and allowing, if you will permit me an ancient metaphor, the tree of knowledge to branch freely but coherently.

    June 13, 2011

    Goes to 11 at 0:47


    Move along citizen, nothing to see here


    June 12, 2011

    Gossip from the Palin Emails

    Cheap hathotic thrills. A furious attack of insomnia send me through some of the Liar's emails. It was a pretty good yawn fest until I stumbled upon some familiar names.

    From the New York Times:
    In April 2008, Governor Palin's staff was working to stamp out rumors that Bristol Palin was pregnant. Governor Palin wrote to her spokesman, Sharon Leighow, that she believed the rumors were being spread by Portia Babcock, a staffer of state Senator Lyda Green, a Palin critic. “A former leg staffer heard the discussion at a rest. in Wasilla,” Governor Palin wrote on April 6, “evidently sitting near Lyda’s people…. She passed it on again today to folks at my sister’s church … it’s pretty pathetic.” “Bristol does want it squashed - we just don’t know how to do so without making it a bigger issue.” Later that day, she sent another e-mail to her assistant Ivy Frye. “Flippin’ unbelievable. Wouldn't you think they'd be afraid of being proved wrong when they rumor around the building like that?” More than two weeks later, the rumor persisted – and had gotten worse. Now, some were speculating that Governor Palin’s son Trig actually was Bristol’s baby, that the governor had fabricated her own pregnancy as a cover-up. “Hate to pick at this one again,” Governor Palin wrote to Ms. Leighow, “but have heard three different times today the rumor again the Bristol is pregnant or had this baby. Even at Trig's doc appt this morning his doc said that's out there (hopefully NOT in their medical community-world, but it's out there). Bristol called again this afternoon asking if there's anything we can do to stop this, as she received two girlfriend-type calls today asking if it were true.” Bristol gave birth to her son on Dec. 28, 2008.

    The fun starts on page 14.

    I'm afraid this will rekindle the Laird's torpid crush. I might even grow one myself.

    Labels: , , , ,

    June 08, 2011

    Correia: If Only Glenn Beck Were A Cyborg

    Prof. David Correia at the Univ. of New Mexico is a too rhetorical, however, he delineates here the quasi-religious obsession among some technophiles with "The Singularity, " sees strong links with the ideology of eugenics, and rips apart the assumption that so-called "Transhumanism" is democratic. 
    I should add, I would grealy value an essay that made a better case. This relies too heavily on somewhat generic progressive objections - the corporate/ military industrial complex thing, while real, is too much of a stand-in. It needs much more specificity. 
    It is however a reasonable introduction in linking Singularity ideologies and eugenics, and to strongly question the assumption that transhumanism is the kind of egalitarian/ individualist thinking it represents itself to be. 
    I get the feeling that the Singularity ideology is an essentially fascistic ideology- with somewhat unconscious but real genocidal overtones, in the sense of  presuming that the present physical form of human beings is an unacceptable condition, which must and will inevitably be transcended.  Making the old forms, what? Tolerable? Superfluous? Sub-perfect? Sub-transhuman? At what point: disposable? At what point: intolerable? 

    Turrell: Light and Spirituality

    James Turrell is a American artist who works with huge projections of light, color, and astronomical spaces - at the scale of entire craters. At a lecture, I heard him describe himself as a painter - and I was convinced. Mis-catergorized I think as a conceptualist or minimalist, he is intensely interested in light, space, and color, and their intersection with spirituality.
    I am dying to see Roden Crater, but that's a bit difficult to arrange. Turrell reminds me: go big, or go home.

    Who wins when Americans lose?

    Paul Krugman knows.

    June 07, 2011

    You know that X-Files episode where all the evidence disappears at the end?

    Australia’s UFO files mysteriously disappear (link)

    Oh well, it's not like there was anything important in Australia to investigate. Except for the single most disturbing UFO event ever. And that weird event that made NASA stop broadcasting shuttle film. And Westall.

    But I'm sure everything's ok.

    Deep Throat
    : Mister Mulder, why are those like yourself, who believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life on this Earth, not dissuaded by all the evidence to the contrary?
    Mulder: Because, all the evidence to the contrary is not entirely dissuasive.
    Deep Throat: Precisely.
    Mulder: They're here, aren't they?
    Deep Throat: Mister Mulder, they've been here for a long, long time.

    June 06, 2011

    Nine Kinds of Awesome

    Batman x 9

    Preliminary thoughts on Angel Summoner and the BMX Bandit

    Can't get it out of my head. It's so right, how could it go so wrong? What do I find so compelling about the Mitchell and Webb sketch, Angel Summoner and the BMX Bandit (link)?

    First of all, I love that catchy theme song. But it's not just that, there's (much) more. The whole sketch really gets at something...I wonder if TVTropes has noticed...oh yes, they have. To save you time, key tropes involved are listed in an Appendix at the end of this post.

    My initial reaction to the duo was that they were a one-trick pony: BMX Bandit tells Angel Summoner what's going on, then Angel Summoner summons the freaking angels. But, on reflection, that's more of an artistic problem than a tactical one. Other characters have survived it.

    It's a good trick

    Tactical Shortcomings
    Viewed from a tactical perspective, the team-up looks superficially impressive, but in fact can be easily defeated with good tactics. The main issue: Angel Summoner doesn't look very survivable. In the sketch it is clear that he is a somewhat out-of-shape older man, with few if any physical superpowers beyond his angel summoning (does he get that from the staff?). He clearly doesn't have superior sensory capabilities, because BMX Bandit has to explain each situation to him.

    Angel Summoner is like a Nashorn: if you are in his crosshairs, you lose. BUT, he is slow, unarmored, non-agile, and extremely visible in his blinding white costume. The secret to defeating him, then, is to neutralize him before he can summon the freaking angels. Pre-emptively deploy a stealthy squad of Mutant Alliance Snipers on the rooftops to cover your bank heist, and the threat to your evil plans is greatly diminished.

    So, despite Mitchell and Webb's humorous take, Angel summoner really needs the BMX Bandit. The BMXer's speed, maneuverability, stealth and scouting skills all compensate for Angel Summoner's weaknesses.

    That said, the team really isn't viable as constructed. BMX Bandit can't cover all of Angel Summoner's weak points on his own. It's like sending a Nashorn out with one motorcycle guy as an escort. If he's scouting, Angel Summoner is alone, out of communication (I know it's out-of-costume guys, but these really would help), and vulnerable to an ambush. If BMX Bandit stays close to protect Angel Summoner, the team loses the deep situational awareness the scouting could provide.

    From the sketch is appears they address this by having BMX Bandit scout out alone first, then meet up with Angel Summoner at some prearranged point to plan out a surprise attack. It's a decent workaround, but only if Angel Summoner can get to the waypoint in stealth mode (perhaps in a Santa outfit?).

    "They're in that warehouse..."

      If we're logical about it, Angel Summoner would be considerably more effective if there were a team of BMXers accompanying him. Angel Summoner and the BMX Bandits sounds better. But that would introduce new problems, notably the inevitable loss of stealth. Crap, it's the BMX Bandits - let's get out of here before Angel Summoner shows up!

      And even in combat, this unit would still be quite vulnerable. BMXers are fine mobile skirmishers, but they can't take a punch or bullet any better than Angel Summoner can. They can avoid one due to superior agility, but if they duck, then they aren't protecting Angel Summoner anymore, are they? It's like using light cavalry to defend a cannon. (Robin plays this role for Batman sometimes, but they're both mobile units, so it makes a lot more sense.)

      No...as-presented, Angel Summoner needs an industrial strength heavy hero, like Iron Man, Thor, or even Captain America (shield) to get between him and Big Bad's heavier weaponry. He's really an ensemble guy - he'd be a perfect secret weapon for the Avengers.

      Angel Summoner Upgrades
      If we want to keep the duo as-presented, we will need to think about upgrades, and, ironically, Angel Summoner is the one who most needs them. He is too fat a target - he needs either better protection, or stealth/evasive capabilities. Some ideas:
      • Protective force field, a la Sue Storm (can absorb finite damage before collapsing)
      • Invisibility ring (limited time)
      • Some protective garment, maybe a blink cape or something
      • That Obi-Wan Kenobi thing - "I'm not the Angel Summoner you're looking for."
      • Master of disguise
      I love that last one. Crap, that's not Santa - it's Angel Summoner!

      These would need to be carefully balanced to keep the character from utterly dominating - after all, he can summon a horde of freaking angels. As with Superman, the story's only interesting until he gets loose and his powers are unleashed. So, Angel Summoner needs enough protection to survive, but not enough to prevent opponents from (at least temporarily) impeding his ability to summon a horde of freaking angels.

      Don't Disrespect the BMX Bandit
      Although he is mercilessly mocked in the sketch, the BMX Bandit evidences considerable skill. But he is fixated on the wrong things. He is aware of his weaknesses (no major offensive weapon, not bulletproof), but still unrealistic about his usefulness as an offensive force. In short, he's doing it wrong.

      Dynamic motivational speaker Marcus Buckingham has made a career of encouraging us to ignore our weaknesses and develop our strengths. What are the strengths of the BMX Bandit? I call them the Four S's of BMX Banditry:
      • Speed. Modern BMXes are very impressive, particularly in urban environments , and in some cases (a large underground parking garage, for instance) they may literally be the fastest units from Point A to Point B.
      • Scouting. His observation capabilities are really impressive. He is obviously a patient and capable stakeout guy. But again, this works better with these.
      • Stealth. The ability to develop so much information about entrenched thugs and terrorists suggests he may even have special stealth superpowers. He's not exactly inconspicuous with that hair.
      • Stunts. He apparently has one or two minor feats that make him reasonably competent in hand-to-hand combat with normal human opponents.
      Although underpowered at his current level, I would say BMX Bandit probably does have the chops to handle a few goons. He could probably work Spiderman's beat from the early years. But as he levels up and gets a few upgrades, I would think he could be a very capable, if not outright terrifying force.

      What if (in ascending order of power)...
      • He was a high-level power-thief with special BMX skills? Couple this with Dodge and some other agility-based feats, and perhaps allow him to use the bike as a melee weapon, and he could be Bruce Lee on wheels.
      • Or, he could go the technology route, a la Batman (hell, Bruce Wayne could equip him). Then he could have a radio in his helmet, bulletproof leotard, BMX-arang, and maybe a JATO assist on the bike (no angelic help needed).
      • Just blue sky thinking here, but who says Silver Surfer is the only Herald of Galactus? Why not a Silver BMXer...gone rogue? I'm just throwing that out there.

      Alignment mismatch
      Another potential issue with this team is the question of whether these guys are the same alignment. It scarcely seems possible. Angel Summoner is not Lawful Good, he must be Lawful Good^, whereas the BMX Bandit must have some "street" to be even modestly believable as a character.

      If there is an alignment mismatch, the main risk would have to be friendly fire. It's not clear how much control Angel Summoner exerts over the angelic hordes after he calls them in. From the examples in the sketch, I would guess not a lot. So what happens to BMX Bandit if he's, say, chaotic/neutral and in a melee with the baddies? That bike helmet is not going to be much use against a wayward +5 Righteous Sword.

      The alignment issue could also crop up if Angel Summoner's power comes primarily from that staff. If it's a powerful artifact, it's not going to react well if someone of less-than-pure-spirit is standing close by. Say BMX Bandit is there, a little bored, and starts innocently fantasizing about rubbing cocoa butter on Toni Braxton. Oops, now he's covered in boils. On the positive side, the artifact might exert a positive effect on the BMX Bandit's alignment, bringing him closer to Angel Summoner, but mightn't this negatively effect the BMXer's thief-related stealth capabilities? Some of this stuff is just imponderable.

      Plot Points
      But what really got me excited about Angel Summoner and the BMX Bandit was all the plot potential. You can do so much with a team like this. Just hitting the very highest points:
      • It is so easy to underestimate the BMX Bandit, supervillains are likely to leave him out of their calculations altogether. Like that time Thanos the Death Titan captures all the Avengers, but Spiderman gets through the defenses and wrecks the place, and then summons the freaking angels. Everyone loves an underdog. So, imagine Big Bad, having captures Angel Summoner and takes him to his secret lair in his underground parking garage...! And only BMW Bandit can...I get chills.
      • With Angel Summoner, you just have to get to staff away from him, and you have an episode right there. A kid could find it, or Big Bad could mount it above his fireplace in his underground parking garage and...
      • Or, you could have BMX Bandit get caught up in some personal "street" stuff and Angel Summoner has to go undercover to try and find him. And then he learns that it's all been a trap, and that 0Big Bad kidnapped has BMX Bandit to lure Angel Summoner to certain doom in his secret underground parking garage...

      It is too good. We cannot leave this field fallow.

      Appendix - Relevant Tropes

      What did we learn today?

      I like to ask my sons that question. We're a learning animal, designed by our Creator for brainpower and smartness. And so it pains me to admit that most days we don't come up with much.

      "I learned not to drive a car until its automatic transmission seizes up on a hill in San Francisco," I might say. Or my son might say "I learned not to get caught hitting Bobby Wilkins." Or my other son might say "I learned my teacher doesn't understand why I care about Shakespeare."

      This little rhetorical exercise has made me realize, more clearly than ever, how few of my actions can be attributed to rational analysis, and how many can be attributed (charitably) to personality type or (less charitably) to personality disorder. It is hard to shake the sense that despite half a century in this simulation, I'm the same dopey monkey I was to begin with.

      But today, I do think I have learned something, a clear principle for living that I can explain to my children and share with generations down through the ages:

      June 03, 2011

      I like that flag better than the one you're waving

      Great moments in southern conservative hypocrisy, finalist...

      Don't tell the Yeti

      According to Publisher's Marketplace, Discount Armageddon is about "a family of crypto-zoologists who protect endangered mythological species, the organization of monster hunters sworn to destroy them, and the forbidden romances on both sides."

      June 01, 2011

      The Glorious Faith From Surrendering the Ultimate Reward

      Some Australian aborigines hold that this, this world here and now, is Heaven.

      Consider it a moment: Heaven is not perfect, but what has been, what is real, and what is possible. That suffering is here in Heaven but often within our power to alleviate, and that Heaven is not for us eternal and unchanging. 

      What flows from this concept is powerful- active, optimistic and responsible beliefs: how precious are living souls, how immeasurably beautiful is the life of Earth in its messy impurity, how urgent our work, and our accretion of knowledge.  How much there is to do, and help, in whatever small measure of power becomes available.  How the attention to the specifics of our reality, and caring for them, is the direct regard of the ultimate creation.  How cultivation of kindness, and the marking, and in real ways making, of our world with our conscious experience of it, is a goal of living: the ceaseless maintenance of Heaven.

      And this is exactly what is done in the songlines, the great treks across the Outback over ancient trails, making the world that is Heaven alive in the act of walking, being in it, singing it. 

      What I find especially beautiful in this, is that there is no need of metaphysics; only that it is kind and useful to act as if Heaven is damn fine metaphor for how to regard Earth, and those who wish to take this as far as faith, have no need to demand it of others, as all of our actions would tend to complement each others'. 

      What we surrender for this is a fantasy of eternal ecstatic pleasure after death.  That was always pretty ridiculous anyway, and as Twain noted, not possible even in our fondest concepts of Heaven.