Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005 - The Year in Books

At the beginning of this year I decided to keep track of the books I read over the course of the year. I am not sure what I was thinking when I started this list. I had done this in 1999 to find out how many books I read throughout the year and find out how many pages a day I read that year. I wish I could find the spreadsheet I tracked that year of reading on, so I could compare the two years, however I can’t, so 2005 will have to stand on its own two feet. This year:
  • I read 29 books
  • I read, on average, 31.7 pages a day
These numbers do not take in to account all of the comic books, graphic novels, and magazines I read over the course of the year. Over all, not a bad year.

Gates of Fire
Steven Pressfield
440 pages

This book recounts the battle of Thermopylae in which 300 Spartans led an allied force of Greeks against the Persian army of over 2 million soldiers led by Xerxes. However, as with Pressfield’s other novels, this book delves much deeper into the nature of man, specifically courage. One of the best books I read this year.

Barrel Fever
David Sedaris
196 pages

Last year while I was out doing some Christmas shopping (or maybe while I was going to the comic book store for my weekly fix) I caught Sedaris’ “SantaLand Diaries.” This piece had me laughing so hard I had to sit in my car for a few moments and collect myself before I was able to go in to the store. This served as a gateway drug for the rest of Sedaris’ work, which I planned on reading this year. Sadly I only finished one other collection of essays from Sedaris. This is particularly sad since both this collection and Naked were both fairly fast reads and both very enjoyable, although I have to admit, some of his essays made me a bit uncomfortable. I highly recommend you check this out.

The Last Kingdom
Bernard Cornwell
333 pages

I love historical fiction, as you can probably tell since five of the books on this list fall into that category. I find that I particularly love a very well-written and well researched historical fiction as it is the best of both worlds. They will entertain me while teaching me a little something about the past. Cornwell succeeds in both categories with this novel, which deals with the struggle between the Anglo-Saxon English, who are seeking to protect their four kingdoms, and the Danes. Eventually Alfred the Great emerges from this struggle to unite the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the kingdom of England, however all of that has to wait for the next book in the series (The Pale Horseman which is being released on January 17th.) Another book I would recommend, however in this case I would only recommend it to people who have either a taste for historical fiction or have an interest in the time period.

Lionel Sotheby’s Great War
Donald C. Richter, editor
142 pages

This is not something I would have picked up on my own, but I am very grateful that Tami and Steven saw fit to give it to me as a Christmas present in 2004. This book is a collection of letters and diaries from Lionel Sotheby, who served in the British army during World War I. What separates this book from the other war diaries and memoirs is that Lionel died during the war and thus did not have the opportunity to edit his papers for later publication. The words you are reading, when you read this book, are the words he wrote to his family and friends almost a century ago. It offers a rare glimpse into the life of a soldier on the front line. A very enjoyable, if somewhat tragic read.

David Sedaris
291 pages

The second, and last, offering from Sedaris to appear on this list, Naked is, coincidentally, his second collection. This was another book that was a quick, though enjoyable and somewhat disturbing read.

The Maltese Falcon
Dashiell Hammett
217 pages

The standard classic of noir fiction and I finally got around to picking it up. I have not seen the movie, so I cannot offer you a comparison of the two, but I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed this offering from Hammett and felt that it read more like a modern thriller than a novel that is seventy-five years old. Now I have to go watch the film (the 1941 version.)

Garden of Beasts
Jeffery Deaver
536 pages

I picked this book up in Murder by the Book, Houston’s homegrown mystery bookstore, on the recommendation of one of the staff members and on the power of the fact that it won the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award from the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain. It appeared to have all the elements that should make a good thriller. A morally compromised anti-hero as the protagonist, Olympic athletes, an exotic setting (Berlin, 1936), and Nazis. How could this go wrong? Well, it isn’t so much that things went wrong as things just didn’t go right. At the end of the novel I found I just did not care for the main character anymore, even though he redeems himself.

Black Out
John Lawton
392 pages

Another book that I picked up in a trip to Murder by the Book, this thriller, set in WWII just prior to the D-Day landings ended up being a disappointing read. While the action was good and the mystery intriguing, there just seemed to be too many coincidences for the story to be believable. This is too bad, because I really enjoy Lawton’s prose and may give some of his other books a spin.

Startide Rising
David Brin
458 pages

I cannot remember what drew me to this novel, but I think it was the concept of races ‘uplifting’ other races that they deem worthy of being sentient. I am also fascinated by dolphins, so the chance to read some as protagonists, regardless of whether their genetic code has been fiddled with. I enjoyed the book, and it is full of fascinating concepts, however I was not entranced by it and will probably not pick up the rest of the series.

Lone Star Nation
H. W. Brands
526 pages

I am very proud of being Texan and I really enjoy reading the history of how Texas came to be. Couple that with the accessibility of Brands’ book and you almost ensure that I am going to like it. This book was a home run for me. Brands did not gloss over the ugly pasts of some of the founding fathers of the Lone Star state, and rather than seeking to encompass all of the history of Texas, he focuses on the time beginning with organized American settlement through Texas’ acceptance into the Union, which is the most fascinating time in Texas’ history. I highly recommend this book for anyone seeking to read up on Texas history.

Writers on Comic Scriptwriting 2
Tom Root & Andrew Kardon
248 pages

This is one of those books that has a rather narrow audience and I picked it up because, as a writer, I believe it helps me to read interviews with other writers where they discuss their craft. If you are interested in either writing or comics this book is for you, if not, don't bother.

The Romanov Prophecy
Steve Berry
384 pages

I had seen this book in the store a couple of times and was intrigued by the storyline. A lost descendant of the Tsar Nicholas II? A Russia seeking to restore the monarchy and people attempting to stop them? I was intrigued, so when a friend lent me the book, I was excited. My excitement did not last long and quickly turned into joy as I realized I had not spent my money on this book. I can’t remember why I did not like the book (I read it at the beginning of the summer) but suffice to say I will not be reading anything else by Steve Berry.

The Historian
Elizabeth Kostova
642 pages

I really enjoyed this book, but if you have been reading the Opiate from the beginning, you already know that. If not, you can read my long review of this book here.

Killing Rain
Barry Eisler
331 pages

The John Rain series are the books responsible for getting me back into the thriller/spy genre. Again, this is another book I have reviewed here, in my first book review I ever wrote.

Shake Hands with the Devil
Romeo Dallaire
548 pages

This book was very readable, almost compulsively so, and very illuminating, even if it illuminated parts of humanity that I would rather not consider. My long review is here, however this is another book I can recommend without any reservations.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
J. K. Rowling
652 pages

Ah, Harry Potter, you addictive little twerp. I resisted reading the Harry Potter novels until the eve of the release of the first movie. I was intrigued by them, however there are times where I cling tenaciously to my aura of coolness (yes, I was able to type that without laughing) and resist the new craze that is sweeping the nation (this is also why it took me so long to read The Da Vinci Code.) The Harry Potter craze came with the built in excuse that they were for kid’s and thus beneath my notice. Again, I have no leg to stand on as one of my favorite novels of all time is The Samurai’s Tale, which is aimed at the same age group as Harry Potter. I enjoyed this book, despite the continuing downward spiral into darkness that Rowling feels the need to take her readers on.

The Rule of Four
Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason
450 pages

You can read my previous review of the book here, but to sum up, I enjoyed it and look forward to more books from Messrs. Caldwell and Thomason.

The Professor and the Madman
Simon Winchester
242 pages

In a weird bit of synchronicity, my father was reading Krakatoa by Simon Winchester while I was reading this book. My review this book can be found here however the quick hit on this book is to go read it. Seriously, I recommend this for anyone and everyone.

How I Paid for College
Marc Acito
278 pages

My almost embarrassingly fanboyish review of this book can be read here. To say I liked this book would be a bit of an understatement. Reading this book was one of those few experiences where you really feel like the author is sharing something very special and close to their heart with you. I have both purchased this book as a gift for a couple of people this year as well as encouraged all of my friends to pick it up. Hands down this was my favorite book that I read this year.

Tides of War
Steven Pressfield
416 pages

I received this for Christmas in 2004 (my Christmas lists tend to consist of books, movies, and Lego sets) and finally got around to reading it sometime over the summer. Much like Gates of Fire, this book deals with both the facts of the matter, in this case the Peloponnesian War and Alcibades involvement in that conflict, while illuminating other facets of the conflict. In this case, through the various rises and falls of Alicbades, he explores the ugly side of unfettered democracy. Another book I would highly recommend.

A Gentleman’s Game
Greg Rucka
481 pages

You can read my review here, however the short form is that I enjoyed the book and went ahead and picked up the follow-up, Private Wars, when it was released. If you are a fan of the comic or a fan of spy thrillers, definitely give this book a read.

The Constant Gardener
John Le Carre
556 pages

You can read my thoughts on the novel and the movie here. I enjoyed both and feel that I need to read more of Le Carre’s work to see if some of the issues I had with the book were unique to this book or are a function of Le Carre’s writing style.

To the Last Man
Jeff Shaara
636 pages

Now, I really like me some Jeff Shaara, particularly his treatment of the American Revolution (Rise to Rebellion and The Glorious Cause) and the Mexican-American War ( Gone for Soldiers,) so I was anxiously awaiting the paperback release of his treatment of World War I. Much like his father he is able to take historical figures and breathe life into their stories. His one failing is that sometimes he attempts to tell too much of the story in one novel, or rather, he tries to tell too many stories in one novel. I feel like this was the downfall of Gods and Generals (particularly the movie version) and so goes this book as well. In the first part of the book he tells the story of Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron, and Raoul Lufbery and the Lafayette Escadrille, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Once their story is finished he moves on to telling the story of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) through the eyes of General John ‘Black Jack’ Pershing and Pvt. Roscoe Temple. Like his other novels this was an illuminating and exciting read, however the disconnect between the two sections of the novel was a bit disconcerting. Nonetheless, I recommend this book for fans of historical fiction or military history and I am looking forward to his next novel.

Silent Bob Speaks
Kevin Smith
325 pages

To say I am a fan of Kevin Smith’s is putting it a little lightly. I am a slavish Kevin Smith fanboy, so when I say I really enjoyed this book, you need to take that under consideration. Having said that, this book combines two of my guilty pleasures, Kevin Smith (already discussed) and well written slice-of-life essays (which is why I enjoy Sedaris’ essays so much.) Smith’s prose flows very easily, much like his dialogue, which made this book a very fast read (I finished it in an afternoon) without being a waste of time. If you like Kevin Smith and his sort of humor you will enjoy this book, I certainly did.

Private Wars
Greg Rucka
412 pages

I have already written about the Queen & Country comic on which this novel is based and A Gentleman’s Game, Rucka’s prequel novel, both of which I enjoy thoroughly. This novel lives up to the promise of A Gentleman’s Game and I am some what disheartened to find out that Rucka is returning the Queen & Country franchise to comics after this book.

The Truth (with Jokes)
Al Franken
336 pages

The only reason I picked up this book is to have Al Franken autograph it at the recent fundraiser for the Houston chapter of the ACLU. I have always admired Al Franken but felt that he was just a liberal demagogue, but then I caught a little of his talk at the gala. At that point I became interested in what he had to say and so that weekend I began to read the book. While it was not an epiphany for me, I found it to be very well thought out and a humorous read. Like most books of this stripe it will not convert the faithful, but that notwithstanding it was an enjoyable read.

Bringing Down the House
Ben Mezrich
257 pages

This book recounts one man’s experience as a card counter on one of the blackjack teams from M.I.T. I had caught a bit of a documentary about these kids, or rather pieces of a documentary, and the bits I saw didn’t delve into how in to the gambling life-style the kids on these teams, or at least this particular team, got. The documentary also did not delve into why the teams eventually broke apart. All of this is covered in the book which reads like a well-crafted thriller rather than a chronicle of a twenty-something Amer-asian kid from M.I.T.

Christopher Paolini
503 pages

I have wanted to pick up this book since it was published. I was intrigued. I wanted to see what an author could do with a manuscript he began in when he was fifteen years old. But then again I am a cheapskate, so I waited until the book was available in paperback, and quite honestly I am glad that I did. It is not that the book was bad so much as it felt like so many of the other fantasy novels out there. There were a couple of interesting concepts, but really nothing that made the book stand out. While this book was not a waste of time, and I will probably read the sequel, Eldest, when it is available in paperback, there is really nothing to recommend this book beyond the novelty of the author’s age and the fact that it has dragons.

The Virtues of War
Steven Pressfield
344 pages

I read this book in the week between Christmas and New Year’s in an attempt to read all of Pressfield’s historical fiction. I failed (I still have to complete his Last of the Amazons). In this book we have Alexander the Great instructing one of his young squires in, as the title suggests, the virtues of war through examples from his life. While this book hits the high points, it glosses over much, particularly Alexander’s campaigns in Afghanistan (which might be of particular interest considering current events.) I found this, like all of Pressfield’s other work, to be a very enjoyable read, although Gates of Fire remains my favorite, and would recommend it to anyone.

On the night table:

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin
Flowers of Chivalry by Nigel Tranter
A Little History of the World by E. H. Gombrich
The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman
Last of the Amazons by Steve Pressfield
Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
Baudolino by Umberto Eco
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins
Pretty Birds by Scott Simon

Friday, December 30, 2005

Obligatory End-of-Year List 2005

For many years now I have mocked the need for media outlets to produce omnibus end-of-year lists of the best songs/books/moments/whatever of the year. These lists are generally a top 10 or 15, although some TV stations feel the need to do a top 100 moments, and radio stations feel the need to use their frequency as the defining value of their best of list which means, for example, this weekend I was alternating between KRBE’s top 104 songs of 2005 and The Buzz’s top 94 songs of 2005. There is never a clear accounting of why these songs/books/moments are selected for the “Best of” list. Are they the 104 most requested songs for the year? If so this seems to give a song released in January a better chance of getting on the list as it can be requested for close to 12 times longer than one released in December. Are they the 94 songs that the DJs like the most? Are they being weighed on some artistic level? This is never clear and is really the source of my dislike for these sorts of lists. There is never the, “and this is how we selected these whatevers for our list,” reveal.

This is not quite the case online, where most of the “Best of” lists I have read are just people throwing out what they thought the best of whatever was for the year. Many of them make it clear that this is based on their own personal tastes and feelings and therefore I am more likely to trust these lists. Now, having said that, and with no sense of irony whatsoever I would like to present my obligatory end-of-year list.

I have decided, in keeping with the spirit of humorous/righteous wrath which I try to infuse into this blog, to compile a list of the 9 newsmakers from the year 2005 whom are most deserving of a cock-punch (which is a punch in the genitalia, for the uninitiated.) Apparently The Onion did this as a top ten list some years ago, and Jared, the Subway guy, was listed as number 1. Now, I am not going to rank these people, but rather just offer this up as a list of people who I think deserve the slap to the nuts. Enjoy.

Tom Cruise.
Jumping on a couch? Freaking Oprah out? Hooking up with Katie Holmes? Knowing more about psychology than the average man? How could he not end up on this list? Seriously though, I, much like Pacey, have forgiven Tom for stealing Katie away from me, but really, no one likes a Scientologist except for other members of that faux-religious group of brownshirt nut jobs.

Tom Delay.
We will, for the moment, set aside the facts that he is currently under indictment for somewhat specious behavior, has been the center of a couple of ethics questions, and was the driving factor behind the 2003 congressional redistricting which is now going to reviewed by SCOTUS and get down to brass tacks. In 1988 he and his family chose to not initiate extraordinary measures to prolong the life (read: life support) of his father after a debilitating accident which eventually led to his father’s death. In 2005 he was one of the esteemed gentlemen leading the charge to have the federal government interfere in the Terri Schiavo affair, specifically passing laws to force additional judicial review of the attempt by Terri’s parents to prevent her husband from having her feeding tube removed. Good thing it was spring, so the smell of the newly blossomed crocuses covered up the stench of his hypocrisy.

Robert Woodward.
From presidential foe and respected journalist to presidential lap-dog and crap weasel; this was a slow transformation that continues to surprise me every time I am forced to consider it. Part of me wants to beg Bob Woodward to return to form. Unleash the pen that brought down the Nixon White House back in the 1970s. We need that now more than ever Bob! But I cannot really criticize him for his change in politics (as I am undergoing something similar in my own life) however I can criticize him for his behavior in the Valerie Plame investigation (you can read my rant about the situation here.) Now not only did he call the special prosecutor “a junkyard dog prosecutor,” but he did it while withholding information from the prosecutor in the hope to avoid being served with a subpoena. In this case I believe we should allow Judith Miller (who at least had the gumption to go to jail to protect her source) to deliver the punch.

Terrell Owens.
I have already said my piece on the particular funk on the NFL this season that is T.O. here, however to sum it up: T.O. is everything that is wrong with the modern athlete. Every single thing.

Dick Cheney.
I will make this one short and sweet. Dick deserves the slappin’ for controlling the G-Dub All Stars through the office intercom. It was funny in Real Genius, Dick, but this is real life. Oh yeah, and he wants to torture people in clear violation of longstanding treaty commitments. Way to go, Dick.

Warren Chisum & Todd Staples.
This dynamic duo are the two legislative lemurs responsible for authoring (Chisum) and sponsoring (Staples) HJR 6 in the Texas legislature. For those of you unfamiliar with HJR 6, it is the recent amendment to the Texas constitution which bans gay marriage. Yes, these two gentlemen are responsible for introducing the legislation that ensured my home state remains a less tolerant state than, oh, South Africa, for example.

Russell Crowe.
Now this was perhaps, the moist difficult name for me to put on this list. I happen to really like Russell Crowe and his acting (he was totally robbed of the Oscar for The Insider, in my humble opinion) however I was forced to include him. Not only did this guy steal my moves, but he took them from being an act of chivalry to the act of a whiney little celebutant in less time than it usually takes to place a collect phone call.

Pat Robertson.
I am not certain if I have stated it here on the Opiate before or not, however I want it to be clear that I do not trust fundamentalists of any stripe. This means that Pat Robertson’s faux pas are likely to stand out in my mind more and they will seem more important than perhaps they are. Having said that, I do not think I am out of line for calling for the cock-punching of a self-professed man of God and influential leader of a lot of Christians when he says:

There was a popular coup that overthrew him [Chavez]. And what did the United States State Department do about it? Virtually nothing. And as a result, within about 48 hours that coup was broken; Chavez was back in power, but we had a chance to move in. He has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he's going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United ... This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.

Now we will go ahead and skip the whole argument about the coup and whether it was actually a popular coup or a covert attempt by the U.S. to replace Hugo Chavez. I would rather concentrate on the fact that this self-professed man of God and the leader of probably hundreds of thousands Christians across the country called for the assassination of a person.

For those of you unclear on what an assassination is, defines it as, “to murder (a prominent person) by surprise attack, for political reasons.” Some of you may recall this little statement from the Bible where is says “Do not commit murder.” You may also remember that this innocuous sentence, or rather let us call it a moral guideline, is grouped with nine other guidelines that we all know as the Ten Commandments. Those pesky rules that many Christians consider the central tenets of the faith. Can you say awkward? Clearly Pat Robertson could because a few days later he says:

Wait a minute, I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should, quote, "take him out," and "take him out" can be a number of things including kidnapping. There are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted by the AP, but that happens all the time.

He then admitted he spoke out of frustration, but I think his first statement is closer to how he truly feels in his heart. After all, Pat Robertson was in business with the morally upright Charles Taylor for a couple of years, as well.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Cant Quite Get There

I know this will come to a surprise to some of you, but I am not a very good person. For example when I first heard of GMail, I chuckled. Why? Well, fair reader, let me share this aside that took place in my head.

GMail, is it?
As in mail for G’s?
You know, for gansta’s just like me.

Then I thought:

I would like to get me one of these GMail accounts so I too could be a GMail OG.

Yes I know. I need help, but this line of thought got me thinking. And thinking. And thinking. Then I did some more thinking.

I have had a GMail account for a year or so this adds up to a lot of thinking.

Then it came to me. One of those moments where the clouds part and the brilliant light of wit shines down upon me and it clicks.

Well, almost.

In order to combat the clear modern hip-hop sensibilities of GMail someone needs to come up with either a Biz Markie-Mail or Eazy-EMail.

The problem is that I cannot decide which one works better. I have tried them both out on people and so far only one person has gotten the joke.

So here is my question to you: Which works better?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

One Panel is Worth a Thousand Words

I am sure most of you have a CD or two in your collection that you bought for that one song. How else am I to explain the fact that I own CDs like Scandalous by Scandal featuring Patty Smyth or The Best of Toni Basil: Mickey and Other Love Songs (happiness is knowing that, should my nation need me, I stand ready to drive some crappy central american dictator out of hiding by looping Mickey in both English and Spanish.) Well my freinds, I have discovered a new low to this type of purchasing. As much as it pains me to admit it, a couple of weeks ago I purchased a comic because of a single panel in the issue. Not even a whole page, but a single panel, roughly one-ninth of a page.

This panel comes from page 5 of the GLX-Mas Special which features the Great Lakes Avengers (or here) in several holiday-themed tales written by Dan Slott.

Damn you, Dan Slott and damn you Tom Brevoort.

I haven't purchased a Christmas special in years! In fact, unlike Chris of the incomperable Invincible Super Blog, I have a special loathing for holiday issues and all of the schmaltz they bring.

Although a squirrel to the face of some freaky super-villain from the '60s is always a good way to start the holidays.

This Quote's for You RF


While reading the article/interview with Jack Black in the January issue of GQ I came across the following exchange:

BLACK: You can't overestimate the importance of a good bowel movement. It's one of the big ones.
HEATH: Most people don't like to see any pleasure in it.
BLACK: Those people are like some fucking puritanical religious fucks. Nothing feels quite as great as an awesome movement. I mean, it's right up there with a great orgasm.
HEATH: I don't think many women would agree with that.
BLACK: I think maybe it's a guy thing. Maybe the women don't care about taking shits as much. I don't know whether this is true, but I remember hearing something about how... [he suddenly stops] I don't want to talk about this anymore. I don't like where we're going.
HEATH: I don't think I brought it up.
BLACK: [deciding to continue] Well, you know, some women like anal sex. Is that true? I've never met one. But supposedly some women love having anal sex. And I want to know, do they love it because the guy's loving it, or do they love it because they like the feeling of a penis in their asshole?
HEATH: Well, lots of guys like it, too.
BLACK: Yeah. But maybe there are more pleasure sensors in a guy's asshole. Because it's very close to the prostate. Whereas the woman, there's no prostate, there's no reason why the anal penetration would translate to sexual pleasure...
HEATH: But when you're feeling sexy, there's many parts of your body that start transmitting pleasure...
BLACK: [nods] So, like, I suppose the ultimate in pleasure would be eating a delicious sandwich while shitting and having sex.

When I read the first few lines of this I knew I had to share it with RF. By the time I got to the botom of the exchange, I thought this might serve as a warning to Diana.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Finger

Some dopey ho gave me the finger while I was driving in to the office this morning. Now I am not particularly offended by the finger. In the interest in full disclosure I use the finger. I might use the finger more often than the average person, but generally I constrain myself to calling people no talent ass clowns or f@%&tards. I believe there are certain rules of the road for using the finger and since this pick-up driving trollop managed to violate the prime rule of the finger, I thought I would try to codify my philosophy of the finger, as it were.

The first and most important rule of flicking people off when you are driving, besides not doing it to a cop which is just common sense and therefore doesn’t really rate a bullet point in this list, is DON”T FLICK PEOPLE OFF WHEN YOU ARE THE PERSON DRIVING LIKE A COMPLETE ASS. For example, if you are tear-assing along the Hardy Toll Road in excess of 80 mile per hour (I believe the speed limit is 65), cutting across lanes of traffic like a spinning stock car, and you end up behind someone who feels the need to take the swooping exit to 610 East at slightly less than 800 miles per hour, you don’t have the moral right to give them the bird. In fact, if you were to do that said driver might slow down to trap your ass between a pick-up full of carpet and a Harris County Sheriff. Suck it you stupid blonde cow.

Second, if you feel the need to escalate to the finger, then you had better be ready to deal with the consequences. These can range from a ticket from the local gendarmes to a butt whuppin’ of heroic proportions to, these days, getting shot. When I drop the finger I do it when the person either does not have a clear shot at me or looks to be the type of person that is not carrying weapons on the road, or at least is not ready to use them.

Third, after you have dropped the finger it is time to move on. People that can’t let go of crap (he types with no sense of irony) are the reason road rage escalates to beatings and killings. For example, if you happen to be driving and get cut-off it is perfectly acceptable to go around the person who cut you off and give them the finger. Perhaps multiple fingers if you can rally the troops. After that it is time for you to carry on with your business, particularly if you have your wife and kids in the car. What you should not do is continue to harass the two guys in the car that are driving to their hockey game. You really shouldn’t do this if one of the characters involved is my friend Steve. The reason you don’t do this with Steve in the car is that I stand 6’3” tall and I am, as I like to say, a big boy who is soft in the middle but can bring the thunder when necessary (particularly when there is a pay phone involved.) Steve is easily an inch taller than me and while he has a slightly thinner build than I do, he is by no means skinny. At the time he was playing an awful lot of hockey and so he was in pretty good shape. You certainly do not want to continue the harassment for several miles. If you follow this course and then decide, at one red light, the best way to deal with the situation is to get out of your car, it is time to put up the dukes. Certainly don’t do all this just to go scurrying back into your car like some pathetic turtle when Steve steps out of the Volkswagon. At this point it is time to throw down and for you to take the butt whuppin you so richly deserve. With you wife and kids watching. Pansy.

So there it is. My philosophy of the finger. Three simple rules of the road for using the finger that I think we can all agree on. Except Nikki who HATES it when I drop the finger on people. She’s probably right, but as I have made perfectly clear on here, I am not mature enough to give it up.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Odd Bathroom Behavior

In a fit of poor planning I went by the Coke machine on my way to the bathroom rather than on my way back from the bathroom and therefore I had my Pibb Xtra in hand as I entered. I was a little self-conscious about this, however since it was a tinkle break I thought I might be able to make it quick. As I was washing my hands this gentleman emerged from one of the stalls and went to the other bank of sinks to wash his hands. I noticed there was something in his hand, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. He finished his ablution before I did (I tend to scrub my hands after handling my business as I have no idea where it has been) and as we walked out I noticed that the object he had carried into the stall with him was a can of compressed air. Huh. Now, UCS was LOUSY with cans of compressed air however this is not something I have seen since starting my new job. I am sure that the IT kids have a ton of them, and quite frankly this guy had the stench of old-school UNIX geek about him, but I just can’t think of a reason for him to be on our floor. In the bathroom. With a can of compressed air.

Writing this reminded me of another odd occurrence that took place in the bathroom here about a week ago. I walked in to take care of some business before heading home for the day and one of the attorneys who shall remain nameless because he has the skills to sue the pants off of me and is young enough to be hip to this new fangled internet thingy was brushing his teeth. I didn’t think anything of this as I had seen him doing this before. What threw me off was that once he was done brushing his teeth, he went into one of the stalls. All I could think of is, “Jeeze, I don’t know what you’re planning on doing, but I usually wash off AFTER not before.”

I am such a twelve year old.

Opiate of the Masses - The After School Special

According to the NIMH (who are not quite as secretive as I was led to believe as a child) mental disorders are fairly common in the United States, with approximately 1 in 5 adults suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder. Some of you reading this will be thinking to yourselves, “Hell, I have seen James’ desk. Mental disorder is the least of his worries.” As a general rule you would be right, however over the last several years I have noticed that starting around my birthday and running through sometime in February, I have a tendency to be a little more down than usual. I used to attribute this to the fact that my life has turned out VASTLY different than I had planned and, quite frankly, has not lived up to the expectations that my eighteen-year-old self had. As I am an introspective lad this sort of thing will be on my mind when important anniversary’s come up, you know, like birthdays and the end of the year.

I just assumed this was a natural thing that everyone went through. I just happened to be extra lucky because as soon as I was coming out of my birthday funk I would get into the most stressful part of the year. In addition to the usual holiday stresses and demands on my time, this was the time, in my former job, when we were prepping and performing our big end-of-year inventory. I would get so stressed and sleep-deprived during this time that I would generally spend the first week of the New Year sick as a dog. All of these factors added up to an annual bout of depression for me, and that’s just the way it was meant to be. Or so I thought.

About a year ago I started to hear about this thing called Seasonal Affective Disorder from a buddy of mine who suffers through the same thing (although he HATES Christmas with a passion) and attributed it to pretty much the same things I did. He is much more motivated than I am when it comes to researching these things (I think this has something to do with his dedication to BSing people) and thus he filled me in on the ins and outs of SAD.

Basically SAD is due to increased levels of melatonin being produced by the pineal gland (sneaky little bugger) due to a decrease in the amount of sunlight we are exposed to during the winter months. In past years this was particularly bad for me since I spent my days in a windowless cell praying every day for release…..I’m sorry, I mean to say that my workspace did not have any windows in it and therefore my exposure to sunlight was minimal, at best.

There are two reasons why I am bringing this up now.

First. I just wanted to join the millions of Americans who are dodging personal responsibility by blaming their crappy behavior on their mental disorder or the fact that their mommy didn’t love them enough. I now have a NIMH approved monkey on my back! The government has given me an excuse to be a bitter git. Suck it.

Second. This past weekend I was gut-punched by my SAD. I am lazy. I have embraced my lazy and I am on comfortable terms with my lazy, however when I go to bed at 1 in the morning on Sunday and do not drag myself out of bed until sometime Monday night. Well, that ain’t my lazy. My buddy Brandon described it best when he was discussing how working in Rentsys felt. It goes something like this:
You could be having the best day of your life. You just hooked up with Miss October. Carmen Electra called to say she had a great night last night. You got CRAZY drunk and there was no hangover. It’s a beautiful day outside. Birds are singing. People are falling in love. Even the squirrels are happy (squirrels are notoriously unhappy little beasties). The minute you walk into Rentsys then BAM. It all goes away. It’s like there’s this little green gremlin standing right by the door who punches you in the nuts. There’s no recovering. It just sucks the happy right out of you.
That’s what this weekend was like for me, admittedly without the crazy drinking or the hooking up with ridiculously airbrushed women whom everyone and their dog has seen naked at least once. I had a good time at the Christmas party Saturday night and then when it came time to get out of bed on Sunday I just couldn’t muster the energy. There was no point. I had stuff to do and people to see. I didn’t frackin’ care.

On the plus side I don’t think I am operating on a sleep deficit anymore AND I got all caught up with the comic reading.

Here are a couple of links for additional reading:

WTF Files - GQ

Yes. I read GQ. I don’t get why people are surprised when I cop to this particular habit of mine. From time to time they have really good articles, but most of the time I read it for the Mixology and Guy Food columns (or whatever they may be called now) and then leave it sitting on the back of the toilet for later consumption. It was during one of these later consumption episodes when I was brought to a screeching halt by one of the men named to GQ’s men of the year. I will run down the entire list so you can get an idea of who all is involved.

I understand why everyone on this list, including Kanye West (who I think is a no-talent ass clown grenade-thrower of the first order), is on this list with one exception. Can you guess who it is? I will give you a couple of hints.

  1. He got his ex-girlfriend to pay for a plane ticket so he could go and hook up with his now-wife. His ex-girlfriend was pregnant with their second child at the time.
  2. Recently a track from his in-production rap album was leaked. From this track we learned he doesn’t know the difference between the paparazzi and Pavarotti. (Just to clear this up: the paparazzi are the people responsible for documenting your sub-human behavior and keeping you in the public eye, you craptastic piece of mustelid filth. Pavarotti is a world-renown tenor. This means he sings, usually classical music, and I don’t mean covers of Van Halen’s Jump or anything by Bon Jovi.)

Give up? His name is nestled right there between Jeremy Piven, who I have liked since PCU although upon review I must have known about him for much longer than that, and Vince Vaughn, who has been my boy since his Swingers days, baby. That’s right, in their infinite wisdom GQ decided to name Kevin Federline, or K-Fed as me and the boyz call him, as one of the men of the year.

Are you fucking kidding me, GQ? Seriously, see what you made me do? I had to cuss. On the internet. Where my mom can read it. Are you proud of yourselves? The only way Kevin Federline could be less of a man is if in some tragic accident his man-parts were removed by a knife-wielding Shar Jackson. Never mind, that would be the WORST thing that could happen since, if he followed in John’s footsteps, he would then make porn. Call me old fashioned, but you don’t go trying to score some tail while your girlfriend is home with a bun in the oven. You especially do not get her to pay for your ticket out there.

I really have nothing more to say about this except that I would advise everyone else on the list to ask GQ to print a retraction. I would not want my name to be on a list that included the K-Fed unless it happen to be a list of guys who have slipped ole Willy the One-Eyed Wonder Weasel to Britney and got a Ferrari for their troubles. (Although I think I would hold out for the Lamborghini Diablo. Yellow. With a black interior. Mmmmm….Diablo.)

Scene from a Wal-Mart

So last night I felt the need to combat the crowds at Wal-Mart so I could cook dinner, purchase martini glasses, and impulse-buy “The Brothers Grimm.” (Terry Gilliam rocks!) Foolish, foolish James. Did I not realize twas a few nights before Christmas and all through the land these damn yuppies and rednecks would be shopping again? Apparently not. I am also beginning to suspect that during my short tenure as a Wal-Martian, I was programmed so I cannot resist the twin siren songs of naked commercialism and oppression of the worker when there is most assuredly going to be a huge freakin’ crowd of idiots shopping.

At this point I had gathered all of the makings of dinner, martini glasses, and the obligatory impulse buy (Matt Damon rocks!) and was standing in the wine aisle hoping against hope that they had a not-crappy wine to go with the pasta and goo I was going to prepare for dinner. To be honest I was really hoping they carried Messina Hof wines. They don’t. They had some interesting choices, but nothing really called to me. While I was contemplating the wine bottle with penguins on the label (some Australian wine) or one of the Yellow Tail wines (another Australian wine with a bouquet like an aborigine’s armpit) a young lady came on the PA system with the following announcement:

Mister Brad Johnson would you please pick up your wife in layaway? Mister Brad Johnson your wife is ready in layaway.

Immediately I started laughing. Fairly hard and out loud. I thought you usually got your wife right at the beginning of the deal and then pay for it rather than pay for it and then pick her up. I think my laugher scared the little old lady who was considering her Pringles options on the back side of the wine aisle.

This moment made the next thirty minutes spent questing for small candy canes worth it. Who knew Wal-Mart put the Christmas candy in the Garden Center? (I bet Heath Ledger knows cause he rocks.) It may have even made up for having to wait in line while the oh-so-gag-me-with-a-spoon-cute couple behind me discussed the Christmas baskets that Mitzy the wonder wife was putting together for all of Biff’s co-workers.

Names have been changed for comedic emphasis.

(Did I mention that Monica Belluci rocks and is smack-me-and-call-me-Sally hot?)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Things I Learned Last Week

First, apparently I drink at work. A lot. The other day I was going to meet a friend of mine for lunch. Now to get to the appointed meeting place I had to go out of my office, meander down the hall, turn twice, and then board the elevator. On this particular day I follow the aforementioned path to glory, as it were, however at the very end of my quest I took a wrong turn…and ended up in the bathroom. Doubtless this Freudian slip will provide hours of fodder/entertainment for my therapist, however I cannot help but notice that this is the second time I have confused the elevator and the bathroom since I started working at my current job. Of course I never really used the elevator at my former place of employment (though I did accidentally use the ladies restroom once) so the connection between places of employment is specious, however for humor’s sake I am going to stick with it. Well that, and I think I know what is happening. I suspect that the fine gentleman with whom I share an office (previously mentioned here and here) is lacing my water with some sort of drug which then leaves me confused and open to suggestion. I cannot be certain why he would do this, however I think it is to undermine my eventual overthrow of his Committee for Safety. Vive la libertie!

Second I wish I was descended from a marsupial rather than a primate. I was kickin’ it in my USBDT hoodie when I came to this realization. Opposable thumbs are a waste, I mean look at Godzilla. He has opposable thumbs and is all kinds of angry. Some have posited that this is because he cannot reach his business for a couple of rounds of self-pleasure, but I suspect it is because some goofy bastards woke him from a nice little nap with an atomic bomb. Or perhaps he also desires a pouch because a pouch is the evolutionary gift that keeps on giving.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Random Updates

Once again I have been on a mission to increase my blogroll because, lets face it, besides going into the elevator at semi-inappropriate times and planning the anti-safety revolution, I haven’t got much going on in my life. Here are the recent additions, in no particular order:

  • Comics Worth Reading. Another entry in the comics blogosphere where Johanna shares her thoughts on the world of comics and some insightful reviews as well. If comics are your thing I highly recommend this blog, if not, don’t bother.
  • Focused Totality. More comics blogging.
  • Highway 62. This is Matt Maxwell’s blog. Some of you may remember him from my review of his upcoming comic Strangeways, which is now supposed to ship sometime in January (the 4th, I believe). His blog is fairly comic-centric, but I feel he has some very interesting things to say about the current state of the industry. Definitely worth reading (and go order Strangeways from your local comic shop to help a brother out.)
  • ReefAddict. A friend of mine maintains this blog where he primarily shares some of his amazing photography. Definitely worth a look.
  • Something Fishy. While some of you may think this title refers to my end of week diet during Lent, it actually has nothing to do with fish. Or Lent. Rather it is maintained by an acquaintance of mine who recently let on that she was reading my blog and finally fessed up and shared hers. There is some funny stuff here and unlike me, she manages to keep up with her insert-something-here of the day, which in this case is a song of the day.
  • Time to Wake Up. I have a friend named Shannen. She used to ask me when I was moving back to Houston. Every single time I saw her. Then I moved back to Houston. She makes me feel loved. This is her blog.
  • U.N. Spacy. Thanks to Beaucoup Kevin this Robotech-themed celebrity news/snark blog is my new source for celebrity news (I no longer have time to watch the G-Spot on Fox News.) Hosted by the immortal Jack McKinney (not really), this blog is the perfect combination of geeky and funny.
In addition to these new members of the blogroll, Dave Campbell posted something the other day that I thought was eminently quoteable. While discussing his abiding love for the Classics Illustrated comics he states, “…they served as gateway drugs into the world of hardcore classic fiction for a whole generation of kids…”

Gold, Jerry. Gold!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Euphemistically Speaking

If you know me even a little bit, it should come as no surprise to you guys that I love language. I love how beautifully imprecise it is. I love how you can take a word and create a new meaning for it. I love how you can play with words and the sounds of words. While Freud opined that puns are the lowest form of wit, I consider them one of the funniest. (And lets be honest, who would you rather be like? Some old cigar-smoking prat with daddy issues or me?) For instance I unleashed this little gem on my friend the other night:

So yesterday the check engine light in my car came on. It really pissed me off. [BEAT]
I thought my car was made in America.

Say it out loud. That’s funny, funny stuff. However my penchant for punning is not actually the purpose of this post. Today I would like to share a euphemism I have been using for some time to see if I can get it a little more exposure.

Faulkner, v.
To expel intestinal gas through the anus; break wind; fart.

Man, dinner last night had me Faulknering all day in the office.
Clear out, I have to Faulkner something fierce.

This usage comes from the title of William Faulkner's fourth novel The Sound and the Fury, which, when you think about it, are the two major components of a fart. There is the sound and then there is the smell, or fury. By using Faulkner in this way, you can then go on to provide a little weather advisory on the level of sound versus the level of fury. For example if you cut loose with a really loud one that had no smell, you could advise people that it was all sound and no fury. Generally this is the usage since if there is no sound and all fury you should really either punch and run or crop dust.

I find it only slightly ironic that in the process of researching this abysmally mature post (I think this comes dangerously close to posting the cat) I learned that the title for The Sound and the Fury came from a Shakespeare line. Specifically from Act V, scene v of Macbeth where the title character states:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard from no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing…

Now tell me, who else can start with flatulence and end with Shakespeare? No one.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Well kids, my poetry reading this weekend went really, REALLY well. For once I was not so freakin’ nervous that I could barely hold the paper I was reading from. I was able to talk to the crowd a little and share something about the genesis of the two poems I read. Once again Sam tried to stick me reading after Alex Garza, who is an excellent poet and reader, but fortunately for me he didn’t show up, something about finals and studying. One of the two poems that appear in the latest issue is “Dusk,” which I submitted to the Brazos Writers annual poetry contest. It didn’t win anything (the top three winners are featured in the latest issue of Brazos Gumbo) but here it is, for your reading pleasure:


Enthusiastic day-sounds,
The machine noise of life,
Fade with Sun’s final brilliance.

And the world holds its breath.

Sweet honeysuckle suffuses the air,
Heralding Night’s soft foot-step,
Poised on the precipice.

We plunge headlong into her velvet black embrace.

Thanks to everyone who came out and supported me. It was really good to see Sam, Jer, Shawn, Alyssa, and Margaret again and I really appreciate you guys being there. As for the rest of you, you can purchase copies of this issue (or any issue) through the Brazos Gumbo website. My work appears in issues 1, 3, 4, and 5 and they all make great Christmas gifts. No, really, they do.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Windows at Kenilworth

I took this picture during my first trip to the UK. It was a business trip, but fortunately we were able to spend a couple of days doing tourist-y things. The first Saturday we went to Warwick Castle (where I took the previously posted Avon Bridge photograph), traditional seat of the Earls of Warwick and a fully restored castle now being run by the Tussauds Group, in the morning and then after a lunch of fish and chips (I love me some fish and chips and if someone would open a good ship shop in Houston I would probably eat there once a week) we went to Kenilworth Castle. In contrast to the corporate environment of Warwick Castle, Kenilworth is a ruin managed by the English Heritage.

It was an absolutely perfect fall day with a pretty clear sky and as the day wore on towards evening the light started to take on this ethereal feeling that only enhanced the majesty of the red sandstone ruins. It is a beautiful place that I would like to spend more time photographing and getting to know.

This picture was taken on 800 ISO Kodak film stock with my Vivitar 220SL camera with a 135mm 1:2.8 lens also from Vivitar.