Transformers after three decades

A few weeks ago, the always observant xkcd introduced the instantly familiar concept of the “Timeghost.” These things have been haunting me for years, now, long before I had a name for them. I think the most consistently strange one year in and year out, so far, must however be Transformers: The Movie.

Get back to me in several more years, when Hill Valley of 2015 has also slid into the past, and it may have taken over. But at this point, the 20-years-from-now “two thousand fiiiiive” of my childhood has been behind me for most of a decade. As I probably watch this movie about once per year, I saw this weird reality creeping up even before that… and yet, viewing the movie again last night, I was still surprised by this most familiar Timeghost showing off a whole new trick. I’ve got to guestimate his age in TFTM, but it occurs to me that at this point, the Autobots’ boy sidekick Daniel Witwicky may very well be old enough to drink. Yeeesh. Pass that bottle over here Danny.

Meanwhile, this got me thinking yet again about how and why it is that at 36 years old, I’m still a fan of Transformers.

Section of Transformers toy catalog from 1985

I’ve go that guy in the upper-left, yes.

There are bigger fans out there, certainly. I haven’t bought a Transformer since the last century. But, I’ve been tempted, and I still have three or four of the things around here. I’ve got more than 100 Transformers comics, and those I occasionally still buy. I’ve got a Transformer web site bookmarked, and I still watch the flipping movie (which I must have seen two dozen times by now) once per year at least. At age 36. Can I account for this?

In one sense it isn’t difficult. The quick answer is “shameless, trashy nostalgia for happy associations with childhood” and that’s by no means wrong. If anyone has read this far but wants to bail out now, you won’t be missing any key points. That said, I feel like there has to be a bit more going on, if only to explain “why Transformers and why not other fascinations of my early life?”

Read More →

Toledo’s water crisis & climate change

Recently The Plain Dealer* published a letter that I sent them. It’s online, here; I’m not sure whether it was in the print edition or not. Meanwhile, in continuing the long-term project of making this site my personal archive, I’m posting the text of the letter below:

This past weekend delivered a valuable climate change lesson, for anyone willing to notice it.

Aside from being fed by climate change, the infection of Toledo’s water offers a microcosm of the entire problem. Our waters are treated like a sewer; so is our atmosphere. It’s nonetheless easy to ignore the problem for a long time; sure, that algae bloom looks nasty on satellite imagery but nothing suddenly appeared different the day that people started getting sick. Meanwhile, the sky still looks the same as we vent ever more heat-trapping gasses into it, and the option of listening to “skeptics” seems entirely valid.

Yet as we’ve just had a reminder, a day can arrive when the rubber meets the road, and even Kevin O’Brien** (probably) would have turned down the Kool-Aid if it were made with Toledo water. Now we have Senator Portman, e.g., suddenly declaring “I think this is a wake-up call.” Perhaps it would be better to pay attention to environmental safety ahead of time, though, rather than always sleeping in until the alarms are going off?

Footnotes, not included in the original letter:

* Or, or Northeast Ohio Media Group, or whatever they’re calling themselves today.

** AKA “Hell no I’m not going to subscribe, not even if it were a year for a penny; are you crazy?”

Review: “Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde”

Note: From time to time, this site potentially constituting my personal record for ever after, I may corral a stray item from years past that merits some kind of lasting endorsement. The following book review suggests a good place to start; it may be one of the most popular things I’ve ever written. Goodreads (its second home) reports only six, as of this writing, but it seems like I get an e-mail notice that someone likes the review every other week… At all events, I do feel this was a good review of an excellent book, which I’m happy to recommend for a third time.

Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde
by Jeff Guinn

An absolutely fantastic work, rich in absorbing detail.

I’m far from being an expert on Bonnie & Clyde, so I can’t evaluate this against any other works on the pair. But it certainly seems like Guinn did a lot of research, and used it to very good effect. Unsurprisingly, there’s no Hollywood glamour in the story; yet for a tale of two largely inept, ineffective small-time criminals, it’s a remarkably dramatic and even moving story.

Front cover of 'Go Down Together'The element of inevitable doom in Bonnie & Clyde’s tale probably contributes a lot to this, and while Guinn makes it a very real presence, he hardly had to invent it; throughout much of their brief criminal careers, B&C knew there was only one possible ending to their story, and were often completely frank and casual about it.

Perhaps the most effective and surprising ramification of this, though, is how Guinn convincingly calls into question just how much Barrow and Parker ever really had a better alternative. The story of their dead-end world in Dust-Bowl Texas, and particularly of the Barrows’ utterly dispiriting poverty, comes across as just unremittingly bleak. Unless the prospects for a young person in Depression-era Dallas slums were significantly brighter than Guinn’s account suggests, one has difficulty seeing any reason Bonnie & Clyde would have particularly preferred lives of impoverished drudgery to brief careers as famous criminals, even allowing for the deglamorized reality of the latter.

In all honesty, though written as a biography of two celebrated bandits, Go Down Together is one of the most effective works of social criticism I’ve read in a long while.

A political recap of the 21st century

I chanced upon a particularly interesting item, recently, by one Thomas E. Ricks, published at Politico. Entitled “Why Am I Moving Left?”, the author muses on how it should be that he finds himself “moving steadily leftward” in successful middle age.

It struck a chord with me because his eight-point summary of, one might say, “How I Learned to Start Worrying and Turn Leftist,” reads very much like a recap of my own political reevaluations since adolescence.

As recently as 15 years ago, I still considered myself more or less a conservative Republican. Today, I’m a self-employed professional and at least modestly successful. Yet I would have to say that I am very liberal by typical American standards, and about as likely to vote Republican as I am to get my eyeballs replaced with cherry tomatoes; how does this add up? Mostly, the things on Mr. Ricks’s list. More than a dozen years of basically constant spying, torture and murder by the military-surveillance complex, with little substantive dissent from elected officials of either major party, has been a disturbing but persuasive argument for its dismantling. Likewise the concentration of more and more money in fewer hands, and the growing corruption and arrogance of elites in business and politics alike.

All in all his list offers a close and eloquent summary of my own. I can’t say that gun violence would make my own personal list of warning signs; I absolutely support gun-control measures, but as a danger I think that being shot by an armed nut is (rather like that of terrorism) much exaggerated by emotional reactions relative to its real statistical threat. (I’m also skeptical of how much can be accomplished in a vast nation with about a zillion guns already in circulation and a large number of people fanatically devoted to keeping them.)

I would probably add one or two further reasons, meanwhile, in a list of my own.* Read More →

Lost and Found Files of Sherlock Holmes

I have been accumulating comic books for nigh on a quarter-century, at this point. Strangely, though, it occurs to me today that while I generally think of “my comic book collection,” it may be that I’ve never really approached its assembly as collecting, per se. I’ve rarely emphasized completion for its own sake, and I’ve also felt very little instinct to show off my holdings… It was this latter point that really got me thinking about what makes a collection vs not, because I’ve realized that by contrast I do like the idea of showing off my nascent Sherlock Holmes collection a bit.

Sherlock Holmes book and two video games

Items 39-41

I think this could well be a semi-regular topic for this blog, in fact. We’ll see. For now, my three most recent acquisitions.

Read More →

New hat! New hat!

Same hat! Same hat! No, wait, it really is a new hat:

Me in Panama hat.

Yes, this is me. Hi.

I received this lovely new Panama hat for my upcoming birthday. Just the thing for summertime and a balding man who feels some small desire to raise the bar sartorially, at least personally, above logo shirts and ballcaps. (At least, on those rare occasions when I go outside.)

Same old me, though.

Bad Politics Depends on Bad Voting

I can't recall where I found this, but tl:dr answer is "get out a pencil and draw another option."

I can’t recall where I found this, but tl:dr answer is “get out a pencil and draw another option.”

Yesterday, a friend asked me this question about voting:

So, if you reject the ‘lesser of 2 bought and paid for evils,’ what do you do?”

I admit this seems somehow fake, at least to me; even with the context that led to it, the innocence of this question took me by surprise. But I assure you that this is a direct quote. I suppose that even in this day and age, not everyone keeps his or her mask of cynicism up all the time, and occasionally someone will still ask an honest philosophical question that isn’t accompanied by sneering or part of a set-up etc.

This was my answer(1):

First of all, per the old saying “I wouldn’t start from here,” I advise not beginning at the general election ballot. We have a sort-of-kind-of run-off system in America, via primaries, though this system is to a proper run-off system kind of what the ACA is to single-payer.(2) But it’s what we have, and more people should take part in it rather than just waiting until November to consider who “they” chose for you.(3)

Second, if (and often when) primaries result in both major parties running bought-and-paid-for pod people anyway, look down-ballot. There is often at least some alternative.(4) If there isn’t… or if all of them appear genuinely as bad or worse than tweedle-D and tweedle-R… well, go fish. Many times life is, indeed, a menu of only bad options… but it still isn’t as narrow a menu, as frequently, as most people take for granted.

Elaborating on a few points… Read More →


A few months ago I made popcorn all by myself, and I’m still proud of what I accomplished.

Yes, I’m nearly 36 years old. And yes, I have made popcorn before. But I think that up until this year I really have, indeed, always had “help” of some kind or other.

Through my entire adult life I’m pretty certain that I’ve never made popcorn that didn’t come from a prepackaged envelope heated in a microwave. I think microwave popcorn probably goes back pretty far into my childhood, too. I vaguely remember the microwave oven first arriving in our home, and I know that we employed a couple of other gadgets before just giving into the convenience of Act II et al. We had an air-popper for a while, I’m sure. We also had a low-tech popcorn popper for a number of years; it was something like this except the crank was on top. This simple device got quite a bit of use, though I can’t recall how many times I put it to work by myself. As noted, despite its elegance it eventually went into a cabinet and stayed there as microwave popcorn took over.

Still, I think the memory was nonetheless useful, all these years later. While certainly a gadget, and a “unitasker” at that, making popcorn with ye old popcorn popper didn’t really involve anything that couldn’t be approximated using ordinary household objects. You put popcorn kernels into a covered pan and place over heat, keeping the kernels moving around a bit; a crank-and-blade system can accomplish the latter but you could just move the pan around. I knew that this basic formula worked, not only theoretically but in practice. I had seen it happen once upon a time.

That, I think, helped give me the courage to try it myself without any kind of specialty tools whatsoever.

Which I did a few months ago. I’m not sure precisely what inspired me. I haven’t gone through any kind of DIY revolution. I suppose that maybe in recent years one could see a bit of a gradual and very modest trend… In any event, I was out of popcorn and for whatever reason thought “why don’t I just buy some popcorn? How hard can this be? Dammit, I am going to find out!”

So I did. Perhaps amusingly I ended up buying Jiffy Time, but it’s just popcorn kernels in a plastic bag with their logo. When I finally got around to trying this wacky experiment, it couldn’t have been much more basic. Read More →