23 January, 2011

To be a Steve Ditko character or not to be a Steve Ditko character. That is the Question.

Global warming gave us a snow day, so I appreciate that. Weirdest thing, I've turned into a baby about the cold. At first I thought it was because my body was acclimated to where I spent the summer, but over Christmas I spent hours working outside in Nebraska, with only a t-shirt and jacket. No hesitation, no problem. But now that things are back to normal, I might add a hat and sweatshirt when going outside, if I don't already have them on. [not the hat]

Over half of the first draft has been edited. It's time-consuming, but going through line-by-line is working as a slow, steady process. It also takes more mental effort, I think, than most of the original writing. Except on the worst days, it was a lot less depressing to think about adding another three paragraphs than I currently feel when I look at how many remain unedited just on the page I'm looking at now. But most of the expected roadbumps weren't there. I haven't found any places where major surgery was required, and I've almost reached the only real problem, a chapter I had mentally sketched out but wasn't able to complete.

I'm tinkering with the cover design and the overall package, thinking about the technical expertise I'll require to get them precise. I don't know if I'm going to hit my target date for having a finished product.

It's kind of enjoyable not going on endlessly about politics. One of my favorite scenes in Peter Bagge's Hate is when Buddy meets Valerie's parents. Sounds like a sitcom description, and Hate is about the closest thing comics has ever had to an original sitcom. Basically think of The Simpsons when it was at its best, and remove everything that a child could understand other than the cartoony drawing. Anyway, Valerie's father brings Buddy out to have a beer, and saying he likes Buddy more than other guys Val's brought home because one wrong word would set them off and they'd start ranting about politics and he couldn't stand people like that.

As you might guess, it's only a few panels later before he's screaming 'talk about human rights violations, do you know what the interest rates were when Carter left office?' and it's very funny. Bagge, a noted libertarian, is currently doing strips for Reason magazine online [ http://reason.com/people/peter-bagge/articles ] and the collection "Everybody Is Stupid Except For Me" is quite good.

Anyway, I check the news and see if anything's blown up, but don't quite have the urge to bitch about politics for the time being. I've been compulsively re-reading Garth Ennis' The Boys, the superhero series that out-Preacher's Preacher for extreme sex, violence and swearing.

The series is about two-thirds of the way done, and I'm amazed at how much of the background information is still unknown. After The Seven [analogues of the JLA] failed on 9/11 - because having immense superpower doesn't make you automatically better at complicated tasks like terrorists, hostage negotiation or understanding atmospheric pressure and how a plane flies through the air - they encountered The Boys, goverment operatives meant to keep the supes in line. There was a fight at the still-smoldering Brooklyn Bridge - they didn't know how to land either - and current issues are describing what happened.

In his spin-off miniseries also coming out now, it's clear the old guy Wee Hughie is talking to is none other than Colonel Mallory, the mysterious founder of The Boys, who will reveal secrets about Butcher, The Boys' current leader. Hughie is the likeable doofus/reader stand-in and Butcher is, well, a butcher. Ennis' usual themes of violence and male cameraderie show up. I think the secret is that Hughie and Butcher are related. Hughie's an orphan, and I suspect Butcher's problem with the Homelander ["Superman"] a lot further than he was letting on.

It's established that his hatred for the Homelander is personal. He tells a convincing story, but I think it's a cover. I think his origin goes back to infancy, probably as part of the same brainwashing program the government gave the Homelander when they're trying to convince a walking atom bomb to be a likeable pro-American superhero. This will no doubt tie back into the Vought-American superhero-industrial complex that wants superheroes used for national defense so they can clean up.

Issue 50 should be out any time, and we've never gotten a hint of anything about the Man from Vought, even his name. He's just a guy in a business suit who represents the company to The Seven and tells them what to do. They play along because it's easier to live decadent superlives than to run the world, but the Homelander is slowly breaking free of his programming. He has a Pavolovian reflex towards obedience to the Man from Vought, seen at Herogasm, but he's managed to kill more people and get away with it since, and he's had a secret meeting with other superheroes where he presumably said what he'd been unable to before, again at Herogasm.

The Man from Vought has hired Plucky Girl for an assistant, and she's already influencing him, pointing out that some things can't work no matter how much money is thrown at them. Black Noir ["Batman"] has had a subplot all along about learning to fly his Noirplane - he was supposed to fly the plane to safety on 9/11, but whoever was carrying him through the air dropped him early on - and the problems they're currently having are building to a storyline in the near future. Ennis said that one of The Seven would have a major problem, and I think that's what it is.

We also don't know what Noir's problem is in the first place. He violated Hughie in one of the earlier storylines. Queen Maeve ["Wonder Woman"] was the one to bug their own headquarters, which is a surprise. She spends every waking moment drinking and staring out the window to where the Bridge used to be, and it doesn't seem to have stemmed from 9/11 as I'd assumed, because she planted the bugs before then.

A-Train, Jack From Jupiter and The Deep ["Flash", "Martian Manhunter" and "Aquaman"] don't seem to have changed at all or be in the middle of on-going plotlines. A-Train is the major character in these three, and his relationship with Starlight will probably be a part. I swear, this series is chock full of Watchmen-level attention to detail. Ennis must have had it all planned well in advance, and with a much larger canvas to boot.

Except for Starlight. According to a recent interview, Ennis said she'd surprised him. She's the point-of-identification for the reader in the superhero aspect, and gets her goody two-shoes principles hopelessly ravaged right from the start. He'd intended her to be an eventual joke until he found himself writing her second meeting with Hughie and realizing that they were such sweethearts that they could have fun for a while. I mean, leaving aside the romance hook itself, how could such a master of using cliches correctly ignore the whole secret identity part of it?

Hughie knows what she did to join The Seven - exactly what you think - but she still doesn't know anything about what he does. She thinks he's an insurance investigator. But that argument is waiting to happen, because she still wants to know how he saw her "audition". It might even be Maeve who reveals it. In an Ennis book, I'd suspect Annie will lose it and hit Hughie. She's a superhero, but hasn't shown any signs of superstrength. Unbeknownst to her, Hughie was dosed with Compound V, the source of all superpowers designed by Vought-American, when he joined The Boys. Whether or not he hits her back, that will probably propel their relationship arc towards the conclusion.

Of course they're both extremely likeable, and naturally we want them to have a happy ending, with or without each other. Or at least a satisfying conclusion. I'd hate for them to turn out like Featherstone and Hoover - one of the few 'mehs' in the conclusion to "Preacher".

The other members of The Boys haven't gotten much screen time. I think Mother's Milk keeps his mother's decaying corpse locked up, and gets a little more each time he fills up his flask. Butcher's the obvious suspect to have taken the flask - hoping to uncork MM's non-commissioned officer rage - but we don't know that for sure. Frenchie remains the funny foreigner, and looks out for The Female, who fills the psychotic killer role in this team of psychotic killers, (but they're protecting us from the superheroes). These three have their story arcs, but don't receive anywhere near the attention Butcher and Hughie get.

Their government connections are changing, as Monkey is replacing whatsername. I haven't been that interested in those characters, but Monkey's sexual obsession with women in wheelchairs appears to be gaining prominence with advance art showing such a woman who just won a javelin championship (?) and will meet the President of the United States soon.

That's the other major plotline building. Vought-American played all their influence and bought the Vice-Presidency for Vic the Veep (they would have gotten one of the Bush family, but their fortunate son took his head off with a chainsaw). Every other defense contractor who would go out of business if superheroes start being used for national defense managed to get their boy in as President. The President ordered the planes shot down on 9/11, but something happened before the last plane could be destroyed.

It's not clear if Vic the Veep is still the GWB cliche, but either way he's not to be underestimated. When he was told that Dakota Bob would die soon and he would fill out the term before running for election, he responded way too quickly. It's also not clear if he actually did knock the President out and stand down the order to fire on that last plane so that the superheroes could strut their stuff the way they do in the comic books. The Man from Vought stresses that Vic the Veep is not as stupid as he appears. I think we're going to find out what happens when an actual supervillain shows up, who makes no pretenses about heroism or brotherhood, who will reveal himself as Doctor Doom the instant he gets the chance.

All these storylines naturally flow into each other, for the most part. The Boys have worked their way through various analogues of other superteams. Payback [the Avengers], the G-Men [X-titles], Malchemical and Super Duper [Legion of Superheroes, sort of, they're not from the 30th century or anything]. There's been riffs on standard cliches for short interludes. Tek-Knight [the ordinary man who wears an electronic suit], his sidekick ["Batman and Robin"] and the murder of a gay kid by a gay superhero.

There are references to "Red River", which sounds like a rival corporation infiltrating the Secret Service, but we have no details. Intimations of SHIELD vs. HYDRA no doubt. We also don't have any clue why the Russia storyline existed, other than to introduce the comedy relief. He's Russian, 300 lbs and his supername translates to "Love Sausage". No information about the war in Pakistan either. All these characters and all these on-going plotlines, and there's a whole big bad world outside.

This is one of the things that has made comics such a wonderful medium, and a shining example of what they can do in longform. It takes dedication and professionalism in addition to creativity to make this happen, but a reliable series that comes out over many years and utterly rewards the attention. Trying to read the series in order when I got back last fall kinda bored me, but I've been obsessively going through the books at random, and even have most of the issues out that haven't yet been collected. God willing, Ennis, Darrick Robertson and the other artists will have us a work which will be known as 'the longer version of Watchmen'. There are fewer meditations on quantum physics, but more people getting their face ripped off and amazingly the effect is the same. It just takes more pages to explain why the face ripping-off was important.

The Boys is the best-selling regular independent that doesn't star zombies, and even there we have the three superheroes who have been resurrected so far. Nubia ["Storm"] whom we saw in the G-Men storyline. The Lamplighter ["Green Lantern"] who died in the fight with The Boys after 9/11, the one being detailed in current issues, remember? And Blarney Cock, the one Hughie killed on his first case, from the Teen Titans analogue. The corpse gets another shot of Compound V, which can reanimate muscle but not dead brain, the "resurrected" hero does a few press conferences and is never seen again. The Seven didn't bother to do this with Mister Marathon ["Flash", died on 9/11], they just brought in A-Train. They realized that the Lamplighter wouldn't be back, so they brought in Starlight. But there's going to be a lot of people dead before this series is over, and Compound V is expensive. Wheels within narrative wheels.

Ennis says the series will go to roughly issue 72, plus a Butcher miniseries coming up shortly. I don't know if it's a monthly, but that would mean only a few years left to go.

When it's over, The Boys will surely stand among the greatest comic book stories ever told, and it'll almost be a shame to never again be able to read it without knowing how it ends.

Also credit to Darrick Robertson, John McCrea and the rest is due. I don't know or particularly care about the missing deadlines behind the scenes problems there have been. Everyone involved says the timely release of the book is the priority, so they'll all be big boys about how that gets accomplished.

Robinson's art varies in quality - I'm assuming most of it is his but I haven't looked closely. Sometimes it's incredibly gorgeous and sometimes it just looks wrong. The other artists are good, but not all that great. But with very few exceptions, they are doing the most important part of their job well, they are maintaining the consistency of the characters, which is sorely neglected.

There are quite a few Spider-books where I can't tell which one is Peter Parker just by glimpsing at it. If Mary Jane didn't have distinctive hair, she'd be out of luck. Grant Morrison's Batman had a whole subplot with Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, and I couldn't tell them apart. [Or what they were doing in the first place.] There's a reason Archie is such a staple of kid's comics, because you can tell who the characters are. Or you could, now that they're moving away from a Dan DeCarlo style art, which makes no sense. The point is, whoever's drawing a given page of The Boys, there's no mistaking who's who. The art is the most time-consuming part of the job, and that has to be taken into account on a long-term project like this.

This has implications for creator's rights as well. Ennis can write every page of the series more easily than Robertson can draw them. As co-creators, I don't think anything except a 50-50 split is fair. And if other artists are brought in and get a share, that should come out of Robertson's side.

There are alternatives, but as the baseline division, an equal split between the creators of the property is the only fair way to go. Ennis and Robertson could decide that however much a share McCrea or the others get of the complete property, the rest is 50-50 between them. McCrea could get a large percentage of a book he's drawn, or a percentage based on how many pages he's drawn in the overall story.

Now if I think the writer should get half of the property and the artist loses what comes out of his share, I think the artist deserves virtually every penny that comes in immediately. If the writer is paid at all up-front, it's a fraction of what the artist gets. You wrote a comic book page, it's not like you had to stare at it for a day or two. The artist should get the lion's share of the money of the collected edition. Not all of it though. Not that I don't think the artist doesn't deserve it, considering how little money most collections will bring in, but that it wouldn't be fair to the writer. If it's successful enough to warrant a second printing of any kind, it's disrespectful to the writer to not let him get something. If the initial page ratio was 1/100 writer/artist, the first reprinting of the work in any format should be at least 1/10. After that, I think the writer's share should be bumped in future printings until the dollar value each side has received has been equalized, at which point it's a straight 50-50 split, minus the shares that go to contributing artists.

If the writing and the art aren't separate jobs, then it's going to have to be a case-by-case basis, until policies emerge through precedent. If the writer draws out the page and the artist copies the layout, if the artist contributes dialogue and scenes, if the artist has an inker/finisher and is considered an equal partner, if someone else contributes to the writing or it's a collective work from a group, then it becomes an exponentially-increasing problem. In Hollywood, the writer and director guilds have specific percentages for how their jobs are apportioned. The writer on a given movie or tv show may only have contributed 80% of what's shows up on the screen for their job. I don't know the actual percentage, I just made the figure up, but this sort of division could be applied to the writer/artist dichotomy.

The problem is there aren't many precedents, and even fewer successful ones. The majority of collaborations took place in work-for-hire mainstream comics, so these things never came up. Ennis and Robertson took their property away from DC after it had published the first six issues, didn't have to give up anything, and it's been published by Dynamite ever since. Free movement of a property is not unprecedented, but given the blatant rip-offs of DC property, they didn't even say "boo".

Reliable workhorses are where the comics field has made its greatest impact, whether or not there was creative freedom. The Will Eisner sweatshop, EC, the Marvel Bullpen, newspaper strips. The longer-running and more productive writers and artists past and present had more of an impact than those who took years to produce what others could do in months.

The daunting task of trying to fill several years of one's creative abilities is enough to keep anyone from starting, but the few who can make it will be the trailblazers everybody's waiting for. It's not something to give up your day job for.

Well, that was fun. I've also had similar thoughts regarding rock stars. With my ongoing fascination with Guns'n'Roses, I've realized that Axl has lost the game. 13 million dollars, 14 years and only one album to really show for it. There may be two or three more albums worth of material recorded, but if it had any commercial value the record company would have released it by now. Axl must be so far in breach of contract that very few people will talk to him. He refused to promote the album, and a couple of months later, said in an internet chat that there would be a video along "soon", as soon as the drummer from Metallica [?] signed off on a clip because it's going to be in the video.

It's been a couple years now, since he said that. Meanwhile, Slash has recorded an album with a dozen or more high-profile people, and toured it, and gotten them to make a couple videos. [I'm having problems loading "Beautiful Dangerous" with Fergie or I'd link to it, but I like the opening] More touring, and he's getting ready to start the next Velvet Revolver album, probably with a new lead singer. And he's released extra tracks from the solo album (which I, for one, would like to find on amazon or someplace).

Whatever else Axl (or anyone else) might say about Slash, the guy works. Sure, Axl is touring, with a setlist still weighed towards Appetite For Destruction. Half of it is played at every show, with only one from CD with that representation. 4 songs from Use Your Illusions are also played every time. Another three each from Appetite, CD, plus "Patience" are played the majority of the time. Nothing else from the Illusions is played except "Dont Cry" which has made rare appearances recently, especially if Axl can coax Izzy to show up. A couple of songs from Lies are played rarely. One more from Appetite a quarter of the time, one from CD played half, another a third. Filling out the setlists are covers and the remaining CD songs, which are probably few and far between to the Guns fan in the audience.

If there was any more money to be made from Chinese Democracy - like an immediate follow-up such as Axl said he was planning for all these years - it would have come out by now. No record company executive is going to stake their career on the guy who's wasted 13 million dollars and 14 years. And no one's going to let Axl into a recording studio again unless it's coming out of his pocket.

Axl's probably touring because royalties alone won't keep him the lifestyle to which he's accustomed. But unless he can do something - hey, how about recording demos on the road with the band you play with every week - that's just a treadmill towards his eventual burn-out. There's no sign of him being a functioning adult, much less capable of performing like that the rest of his life.

But anyway, I was pondering other rock stars of his ilk and wondering how they rate on the productivity scale, roughly since the 80's, give or take. Let's see if we can do this without Wikipedia.

Paul McCartney, about a half dozen albums of original material since 1990, some of them self-performed, plus a few albums worth of classical, avant-garde or rockabilly covers. Tours for most of these too.

U2, album every few years for as long as I can remember.

Aerosmith, dysfunctional and possibly terminal. They've toured, but no album in years and no album of original material in even longer. Steven Tyler's in his 60s, WTF is he trying to go solo for now??? Joe Perry's released a few solo albums to cover the gap, so he's reasonably productive.

Pete Townshend, kept up a pace of albums every couple of years through the 80s, then only one Who album since around 1993.

Elton John, he keeps announcing he's done his last album and then a couple years later brings out another one. Tours occassionally with Billy Joel, who retired from making pop music in 1993, and only has one album of classical music since.

Sting, I think he regularly releases albums. Nobody cares, but he's still there.

Robert Plant, took a long break but released new work regularly both before and since. Won't go back to Led Zeppelin and (shades of Aerosmith's problem) they can't work without the lead singer.

Van Halen, nothing in over a decade. Sammy Hagar is the workhorse he's always been, pretty much doubling his recorded output since VH got rid of him, while they only have a few new songs with him and Roth, plus the album sung by Gary Cherone to show for it. Eddie Van Halen claims to have dozens of albums worth of material, but we've heard that before. Supposedly the reunion album with Roth will be out this year. Wouldn't surprise me if it happens. With Michael Jackson dead, there are so few entertaining train wrecks left in the rock pantheon.

Paul Simon, releases something once in a while. I think Bruce Springsteen has regular releases. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are prolific. Metallica's albums are about four or five years apart (remember, I'm not checking for sure, just an estimate) which isn't bad compared to the competition.

Pink Floyd, despite an almost-complete absence from the music world, seem to only have increased in public estimation. Songs they did with Syd Barret are popular among teenage kids, not to mention Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. Roger Waters is now flogging the latter on a worldwide tour, having spent years flogging the former. He's even begged David Gilmour to show up at a special performance at some future point. Waters has a few solo albums, Gilmour has one, the band has three albums and a two-disc Best Of to show for everything since 1980.

Anything else? Just one last note about G'n'R. A random check of Amazon's rankings revealed that Chinese Democracy is second to lowest when compared to the rest of the catalogue, Slash's album and Velvet Revolver's two. Even The Spaghetti Incident ranks higher than CD, only Contraband was lower.

Axl's fanboys complain that there was no promotion of the album, but notice they're not saying Axl should have, I dunno, gone on tv or something, even once. 14 years and 13 million dollars. Unbelievable.

I was going to look for a Youtube clip, but never mind. Don't stay up too late now.

14 January, 2011

An optimist would say I'm half-sober (and half-dressed)

For most people, the proper response to mass murder is not to hurl false accusations against someone they don't like. Clinging to and redoubling one's false accusations day after day is also not considered remotely-sane behavior by most.

It's been a week since Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was nearly killed by a pychopath who murdered and wounded several other people. Fortunately for the left, he didn't shout "Allahu Ackbar" before opening fire, so they could finally start jumping to conclusions and making false accusations against large numbers of people. Finally, a criminal who looked like one of *THEM*.

We saw this when the Times Square bomber failed and the Mayor of New York City (among others) raced to be first to blame people who opposed health care reform and/or supported the tea party. We saw this when whatsisname flew his plane into an IRS building. We saw this when a census worker was found hanging from a tree. False accusations of right-wing "hate" and no sense of self-awareness at all when they're proven wrong. Contrast that with their reaction to Faisal Shazad, Abdulmutallab and Major Hassan. When those criminals attempted mass murder, all we heard was that everybody should be wary of jumping to conclusions, it was wrong to condemn large groups of people without the facts.

Sarah Palin used register marks - it's a printing term; comic book fans should know it from original artwork - to designate Democratic seats up for grabs in last fall's election. Somehow, without any evidence whatsoever that the psychopath even knew Sarah Palin existed, this map became the major piece of evidence that she was responsible for the murders.

That's what surprised me, that the attacks have so directly aimed at Palin and specifically because of the electoral map. Yeah, the usual suspects - Rush, Beck, GWB, Fox News - are blamed, but only as an afterthought. That's really the only thing that's caught me off-guard about the media reaction. Browsing a leftist website this afternoon, I read a discussion of "stochastic terrorism", by which Palin et al don't even need to know who the "terrorists" are or who their target will be to have full responsibility for the crimes. They have programmed the mass media to set these lone wolves in action, even from across the globe. (cf Laden, Osama bin)

I can't blame them. Look at how much effort the Beatles had to put into getting Charles Manson to start killing people. JD Salinger had to wait decades before someone was so inspired by "Catcher in the Rye" that he'd shoot somebody over it. If Jodie Foster hadn't been cast in Taxi Driver, John Hinkley Jr. wouldn't have had any direction. Tupac, Biggie and the other gangstas had to write songs about each other to get any gunplay going. But Sarah Palin's managed to get somebody to commit murder on her behalf without any evidence that he even knew she existed.

To put it another way, I bet there's more evidence on his iPod of heavy metal music warping his mind than anything Palin has ever said or done. Besides existing, I mean, because that along is enough for some people to falsely accuse her of murder. From the "Washington Wives" holding congressional hearings about explicit music lyrics to Dr. Frederic "there are pictures within pictures for those who know how to look" Wertham, the rhetoric of 'This is responsible for That' is interchangeable. Even the Wikipedia page on the PRMC has quotes from psychiatrists that heavy metal is mean-spirited and contains the central element of hatred, fitting in exactly with what the left is saying today.

[This also applies to images of the prophet Muhammed, but the left is completely willing to respect religious beliefs at the expense of free speech when it comes to Islam. You'd have to ask them why, but so far they haven't given a reason and I doubt they'll change any time soon.]

Again, they are displaying no self-awareness as they hurl false accusations. No hesitation that they might be wrong, or might be behaving inappropriately, that they may be making themselves look insane. Or that they might be enacting The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and when Sarah Palin actually does come for the sheep, no one will believe them.

For now, everybody not genetically-predisposed to hurl false accusations against someone they don't like at the first opportunity has gotten the latest good look in a long line of good looks at the people are so predisposed. The mask is gone and everybody sees them for what they are: hysterical Nazis.

Hyperbole? I think not. There was a desperate rear-guard attempt at defense when she used the term "blood libel", which is literally accurate and is not exclusively a Jewish term. It has been most often used when Jews were accused of murdering children or poisoning the water and environment - you've seen it in Israel for the last 60 years; hell, you've seen it in previous accusations against Palin - but false accusations are indeed libel, and considering how many people died or came close to it because of the murderer's act, the blood is already there.

First they falsely accused Sarah Palin of murder, and I did not speak up...

"You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" -- Joseph N. Welch

And the sad thing is, no, they really don't. If they did, they would have stopped a long time ago. Sooner or later, entropy will set in as it does with every other form of energy. God only knows when that will happen, or what form the results will take.

I signed back in from leave today. This leave was well-timed, as there's a federal holiday on Monday.

Grabbing the first Youtube clip that comes to mind, here's something purporting to be a history of product placement in movies. Other than a few clips from Fatty Arbuckle and the Marx Brothers, it's mostly modern movies and not really historical at all. They include ET and a great scene from Wayne's World.

And here's one of the hilarious cartoons released by a South Korean studio. I'm really not clear who makes these or why - read: too lazy to check - but this one explains feminism.

09 January, 2011

Would you say I have a plethora of pinatas?

I'm still vegetating, although my leave is nearly over. I might try to get a picture of myself before I get a shave and a haircut.

Among other things, I've spent this time off driving back and forth between Fort Campbell and Nebraska and edited a third of the book. Clearly posting on the blog hasn't been a high priority.

There was some hubbub recently as Republicans opened the new Congress by reading the Constitution. I genuinely can't see why any Democrat in their right mind would have said anything bad about this. It sounds like a good way to start every Congress, and it would probably be a good idea if the President does it as well after he's sworn in. One of the Democratic complaints - again, where's the sense in this? There's no way to object without looking like a vampire taking a mid-day outdoor shower of holy water where, um, the faucet is shaped like a crucifix - mentioned the 14th amendment, so I read that.

It was quite interesting, as the amendment covers citizenship, apportioning representatives to Congress among the states after disenfranchisement of rebels or felons, and an insistence that the debt of the US government "shall not be questioned." That's a lot to set into a few short paragraphs, but it was done.

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Much of this was clearly a reaction to the Civil War, as this amendment was one of the several passed during Reconstruction, and quite a bit of the wording is clearly intended to set down some ground rules. The first section, about citizenship, was clearly directed at giving blacks equal treatment under the law, but given the boom in immigration after the war, I'd suspect the writers wanted to set a few more guidelines down while they had the chance. It must have worked, because seven years after the amendment was passed (in 1868) the Supreme Court ruled that immigration was a federal responsibility. Section 1 also makes that clear, that no state can pass a law abridging federal preeminence in all matters of citizenship. It's a clear show of strength after the Civil War, that the states can't go their own ways, although specifically directed at the treatment of former slaves.

Section 2 covers the number of Representatives per state, discounting males over 21 who have lost the right to vote through "participation in rebellion, or other crime." One assumes the 19th and 26th amendments modified the part about men over 21, but it's interesting that the 14th amendment still reads as written.

Section 3 was definitely aimed at people who fought on the losing side of the war. Especially the last line, about Congress being able to vote to remove the listed restrictions as it sees fit. According to Wikipedia, that source of all truth, Congress restored Robert E. Lee's citizenship in 1975, and Jefferson Davis' three years later.

I can see giving Lee's citizenship back (although the point of any gesture like this is wasted after a hundred years; don't get me started on retroactively promoting George Washington so that he would still outrank General Pershing). Lee was a soldier, arguably just doing his job and happened to be more loyal to his home state than the overall nation. But Jefferson Davis, I don't see any reason why he wasn't executed immediately. Just because he led the attempt to separate from the US, on general principles if nothing else. He was imprisoned and indicted for treason, but bail was posted and he led a quiet life for twenty years before dying. That's civilized, and to America's credit, but you can't tell me the same thing would have happened to any one else at any other point in history.

Section 4 was another one with roots clearly in the war, in refuting claims made by both people in the south whose lives and lands had been ruined, and foreigners that had given financial assistance to them. The south failed to get other nations to join the war on their side, but they tried, and individuals and companies did give aid. And again, the United States government made it clear in no uncertain terms that it decided the terms, including how much money it owed, and no one was going to say otherwise.

Yeah, let's just have a bitter chuckle about that nowadays, shall we?

The first section has also been the source of further problems regarding the issue of citizenship. The list of Wikipedia Supreme Court cases developing the question is interesting. In 1884, they ruled that an Indian who voluntarily quit his tribe did not automatically gain US citizenship. Which makes sense, since as section 2 demonstrates, the Indians were very much on the mind of those who wrote the 14th amendment. Further Supreme Court cases on the matter related to people who were born in the US to foreign nationals of varying types (including Chinese) and how one could go about losing US citizenship.

Exercising citizenship of another country was traditionally considered to be a sign one had voluntarily relinquished US citizenship, and that's a fair way to go. I have no intrinsic problem with American citizens voting and whatnot in foreign nations, but I don't think foreign citizens should vote and whatnot in America. That's a double-standard, yes, so the fair way to decide matters is that you can't be a citizen of any country other than the one you vote and whatnot in. ["voting and whatnot" returns 92,100 results on a Google search. It's probably from one of the Federalist Papers or something.] Being typically contrary, it occurred to me that every Jew on Earth is a citizen of Israel.

So of course the next Supreme Court decision listed in the article on the 14th amendment was Afroyim vs. Rusk, 1967. I didn't even need to f*cking click the link to know what the issue was there. I mean, 1967!!! The year Israel's opponents are always trying to turn things back to? On the off-chance I was slightly wrong, I clicked the link, and sure enough, a naturalized US citizen had moved to Israel after it was established, voted there, and by all the standards of the time, in so doing had given up his US citizenship when he decided later in life to move back to the States. The Court ruled (5-4) that Congress did not have the authority to remove citizenship, no doubt proving that the Zionists rule for all inclined Judenhass paranoiacs.

Gotta admit, I doubt they'd have ruled the same way for, say, a naturalized citizen from East Germany who exercised any rights in West Germany (where, so I understand, they considered East Germans citizens in a similar sense that Israel considered Jews). And I can't see that they'd have been wrong in this case. I like to give Israel as much leeway as possible, but there's still the valid point that one can't be a citizen of multiple countries at the same time. Even if that is the point about serving two masters that Jews have been confronted with for thousands of years.

There's also a built-in way to increase complexities to a mind-boggling degree in section 1, where it says the state shall not deprive any person in its jurisdiction of life, liberty, property or equal protection. I hear you ask "How so?" You shouldn't talk to your computer screen like that. It's creepy.

When two or more persons incorporate as a "corpus", a "body of people", the corporation is legally recognized as a person, with its own rights/duties separate from the individuals who make it up. That's why when you spill scalding hot coffee in your lap, you sue McDonalds and not the kid behind the counter who actually gave you the coffee. That's why when you give British Petroleum an award for safety and the rig you praise blows up a week later, you go on tv and demand they set aside twenty billion dollars to use on whatever you decide, and there's nothing they can do about because... Wait, that wouldn't be constitutional, would it? Never mind.

Anyway, between the amendment's insistence on due process and the sheer volume of legal processes multiplying like agents of HYDRA ("cut off one limb, and two more shall take its place!"), the stage is set for a huge explosion of people on all sides of the legal profession. Couple that with the government's insistance that if they say they don't owe something, there's not much that can change their mind, and we see one of the more hidden results of the Civil War.

Of course an agrarian slave-based society could never conceive of such complicated ideas, much less practice them to great effect over the next hundred and fifty years, so it's not all bad.

This has been a productive leave. As mentioned, I'm a third of the way through the second draft of the book. It took me ten days to get the first 50 pages written, but 27 days to get them edited. This is not encouraging. Yesterday I did chapters 9 and 10 (of 30), but combined they were shorter than any average chapter, so that's not as great an achievement as it sounds. Haven't done anything except finish cleaning my room today - the one I'm not staying in because I'm on leave and not sleeping in the barracks.

I have finally found some copies of Rolling Stones outtakes I've wanted to hear for a long time. They've only made four albums in the last 21 years - but they've done six tours, each of which made hundreds of millions of dollars and was the biggest money-making tour ever up to that point - and I went to see them back in 1994/5, on the Voodoo Lounge tour.

I don't think the Rolling Stones are like the Simpsons or Mad Magazine, that their best era is subjective and based on whenever you first encountered them. Rock music doesn't work that way, because the stuff that lasts is fresher to most people than whatever's contemporary. I've spent my time in Army schools singing classic rock, and songs a lot older than I am are known to people a lot younger. Unless you're a Stones fan, you probably can't name more than a handful of their albums at all, and those will be the expected ones, their early 70's run and their biggest commercial hit in the late 70's. Notice I'm not naming the records. Even if you're a Stones fan, you'd have a hard time naming more than a few songs from any of these albums.

The Stones just don't make good albums. They never have. Their earliest albums were covers of blues songs and Jagger/Richards forcing themselves to be pop tunesmiths. Then the fame and drugs took over, band members came and went, and their career can largely be charted by music trends without much difference in the songs. Glam rock, disco, punk, 80's synthesizers, they did it all and it all had basically the same rock beat, guitar crunch and shouted vocals.

In-between reworking the same old riffs, they put together albums that were a few hit singles - or attempts at same - and filler that they could tour behind. The recording sessions had always been based on whoever showed up, as the liner notes to every album demonstrate. If they need a piano or a bass and the regular player isn't there, someone else fills in. The song-writing has always been prolific, as near as I can tell. I have no real evidence for this, but it seems that they go through dozens of riffs and jams (with lyrics) before they find the ones to keep for the record. And they do have a genius for the catchy riff. They can record a dozen songs, barely distinguishable from each other, and one of them will become a classic. Have you ever noticed how similar the riffs to "Honky Tonk Woman", "Brown Sugar", Tumbling Dice" and "Start Me Up" are?

So Voodoo Lounge was the first Stones album I ever bought, about the time I decided I wanted to go see them perform. I'd been listening to their greatest hits albums (no songs from later than 1969) so there'd be plenty of stuff I'd recognize. In fact, as I remember, they played all but two songs from the album they were nominally promoting, even though they knew damned well we'd be happy with "Paint It Black", a song I know they did not play, but has been my ringtone for the last couple of years. Just throwing that out there. I have no idea if they played "Sympathy for the Devil" or anything, I wouldn't have recognized it if they did.

Anyway, Voodoo Lounge must have been a challenge for the band. In the 70's, Jagger had become a jet-setter and Richards had become an addict. Once they were rich enough and lived far apart enough that it took a lot of effort to get everybody in a room together, the Rolling Stones as an organization became much bigger than anything else. By the 80's, a cleaned-up Richards was re-asserting control, and Jagger was looking to get out.

As the guy who held the show together up front and ran it behind-the-scenes all these years, Mick Jagger saw no reason to be chained to these crusty fogies. The mid-80's had an impressive array of singers from enormous British rock bands who went solo, and usually to great success. [Phil Collins, Sting, George Michael, Robert Plant, Freddie Mercury; the Americans only had Michael Jackson, Don Henley and David Lee Roth] Ever the trend-follower, Mick made his first solo album, full of flash, and went on a solo tour. He even sang at Live Aid, when the Stones didn't even answer the invitation. Stupidly enough, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood then pulled together to back Bob Dylan for the show, and reportedly were drunk and embarassed everybody with their performance. Point to Mick.

However, although some of his albums have been hits, some haven't, and they've all fallen into the mists of time. Jagger wanted to be an actor and has had about as much luck in that arena, he's been unable to sustain any presence whatsoever outside of the Stones. Lord knows he's tried. Even on his solo tours, he's still singing "Satisfaction" as a pensioner, when he used to say he didn't want to sing it at 30. Still can't get none, can you?

Frankly, I doubt he's suffered much anxiety about saying things like he hoped he wouldn't keep singing the old songs and wiggling his bum. It's what he does for a living, and - again, ever the trend-follower - he was probably just getting mileage out of the 'hope I die before I get old' sentiment we all probably share. It's changed how he has to market his work, and to whom, but Mick Jagger's probably had to survive at least as much soul-sucking oppression with his lifestyle as Richards.

For his part, Keef' is every bit the power-hungry thug (I understand he still threatens people with knives), but much more of a team-player. The guitarist, the bandleader, and probably humbled by his drug experiences, it made a nice contrast to Mick. Keith only went solo to goad his partner. Jagger hadn't had to share power in years, and both partners were sick of each other.

It got to the point where - according to the book I choose to believe - they were ready to announce the Stones' break-up at their induction into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. It was the second year the Hall was open (probably deliberately, so they could be one year after the Beatles). 25 years was a long time. But then, rock'n'roll was never about aging gracefully.

So the various fourth or fifth-hand anecdotes go, Jagger and Richards set up a meeting in Barbados to make a final decision on the matter. They went into a room together and started screaming at each other. Within an hour they were splitting a joint and laughing about everything. Simply administering the enormous Rolling Stones empire meant that they would have to associate with each other for the rest of their lives whether or not the band broke up, so they could either do it through layers of expensive lawyers and intermediaries, or keep up the partnership as they'd already done for three decades.

So they called the rest of the Stones to come on down, scheduled a tour, threw together an album and called it a comeback. This album was the last one that had a major hit single in the US, "Mixed Emotions". Then they took a break for three or four years, the longest the band had ever been dormant.

Rock changed in those years. Guns'n'Roses had been the hot new act in '89, opening for the Stones when they played LA. If G'n'R didn't outplay the Stones, they got the publicity when Axl stopped singing at the first of three shows and threatened to quit the band if they didn't stop using heroin. So this was back when rock was in its final phase of coolness (also known as "when I started listening to it", heh). By the time the Stones released the follow up, Voodoo Lounge, G'n'R were bloated by Axl's ego, and the airwaves were ruled by Nirvana, Pearljam and the Chili Peppers. Hip-hop was building up a storm that would shortly break into gangsta rap.

Like most bands of their era, the Stones never expected to have a history. Although hyper-aware of their musical predecessors and their pedigree, they had to be savvy enough to present themselves in that context to a mass audience that has no idea of that history. They had just lost founding member Bill Wyman and replaced him with a hired bass player. This time, they spent a lot of time rehearsing and working on songs before they actually recorded the album, so they knew what effects they wanted.

It's a boring cliche that every new album they release is "the best Stones album since Exile on Main Street". [The first album other than Voodoo Lounge that I've named, but can you name any songs that are on it?] But therein lies the problem, Exile isn't any good either. The songs are riffs and jams, unintellible lyrics performed by whoever showed up that day and produced in a muddy, jarring mix. They recently rereleased the album with seven or eight unreleased songs which are the same bloody thing. If you like that sort of thing, fine.

Really, the Rolling Stones were the first band that had being famous as a legitimate part of their reason for existing. At every point in their history, they've been the sort of people that you'd pay just to see them be, you know, the Rolling Stones, even if they're just getting drunk and watching television [perhaps especially if they're...] The Beatles had quirky characteristics you could identify with, the Stones were more glamorous and decadent, "the beautiful people". You could tell because they were singing blues songs. This is what young Londoners did the generation after the war.

This image carries over into the music. They aren't original by any stretch of the imagination - Keith has said the way he writes a song is to play twenty songs by Buddy Holly and then one of his own will fall out afterward - and they haven't been since their days of pop tunesmiths competing against Lennon/McCartney. As a rock band, they have a distinctive sound, and are very good at what they do, but it's never been very flexible. They know the recording studio inside and out and are by this point as consummately professional as they'll ever get.

They approached Voodoo Lounge as professionals. This time they had lots of practice, so there were plenty of off-the-wall jams and improvisations which were caught on tape. Producer Don Was was trying to urge them in a more basic sound, like Exile, and won a Grammy for another project during the recording so he was much harder to argue against. Mick has always been more concerned with giving the work a modern sound, and the result was nice, muted collection of rocking tunes and ballads. There's a few up-tempo rocking songs, a few nice-if-simple melodic tunes ("New Faces"), a few with lavish radio-friendly production ("Out of Tears", "Love Is Strong"), a few diversions into country jangle ("Sweethearts Together") or island rythms ("Moon Is Up"), and a few songs with naughty words. No dance music, thankfully. No hit single, although they released four of them and they all got radio airplay. Even the ones with naughty words, which surprised the hell out of me. [Unlike G'n'R's "Ain't It Fun" which was released at the same time, the 't' was not muted when I heard "I Go Wild" on the radio.]

There were also hours upon hours of outtakes, and these lacked the (then) modern production values. This is just the Stones playing, early versions of songs that ended up on the album, or songs that never came close. These found their way into the bootleg market a year or so after Voodoo Lounge was over, in the form of multiple boxed sets. This is what I've been downloading tonight and writing my way towards for the last hour.

As near as I can tell, there's the four-disc "Voodoo Stew" - which is what I'm listening to now - and a four-disc "Voodoo Brew", which I have not found a copy of yet. There's also two discs of "Voodoo Residue" I listened to this morning, and there's another disc that's the best of stuff from these other complilations along with a few other unreleased numbers. There's early takes or mixes of the songs that wound up on the album, some of them with Keith singing and others with Mick laying down a barely-audible guide vocal in the background so it's effectively the instrumental track. There's quite a few songs that extend into jams which never made the cut, and quite a few more that are brand new to me. But they're great amounts of fun (mostly), as well as some interesting experiments one wouldn't expect from the Stones.

After Voodoo Lounge, the band didn't take a long hiatus. According to Jagger, his intentions were to start another solo album (why???) but somehow the Stones started work again. The result led to some tense moments between the Glimmer Twins. Mick took control of the songs he had written and Keith took control of his. The tour was the usual extravagent affair, but nothing about it even sounded like they were trying for anything different this time. Jagger finally got around to releasing his solo album - his last to date, except for a "best of" compilation - and it disappeared without a trace. Unless you count Jann Wenner's review in Rolling Stone Magazine how it was the very best thing Mick Jagger has ever done in every single way imaginable.

They added a few unremarkable songs to their 40th anniversary greatest hits compilation, and there was another tour. It wasn't until 2005 that they recorded their next album, and last to date. That one was a major change for the band, in that they dropped most of the extraneous personnel. Most of the songs were the same Stones stuff you either like or don't, but except for the lavish radio-friendly "Streets of Love", virtually all of them were performed with the core Stones members and nobody else. Mick, Keith and Charlie, the remaining founding members and Ronnie, the guitarist who spent twenty years on salary before he became an equal partner in the band are virtually the only players on the album. The hired bassist is on a few, as is the long-time keyboard player and a few of the other familiar names, on a few songs. Most songs are the main four, and a few are the founding three, which is kind of awesome when you think about it.

This tour was filmed by Martin Scorcese for his documentary Shine a Light (named for one of the songs on Exile, but you already knew that, right?). Since then, there's been hints that they're getting ready to go back to work, but it's been five years - I bought the album on the first day we were released towards the end of Basic Training - so you'd expect there to be hints and rumors. They could do more tours, I guess, but it would be harder and harder to find an insurance company, and it's not like they need the money.

If that's the case, I suppose there won't be any more albums of new material since they wouldn't have hit singles anyway. Sure, they've got tons of outtakes that could be used. "Start Me Up" came from just such an album of outtakes, when they were going on tour and needed an album but didn't have time to record one. The fans will be happy, even if they haven't been born yet, but there are probably not any forgotten masterpieces left in the tape vaults.

What is there are hours of "the greatest fucking rock band in the world" (to quote one of the guys in the seats behind us, who showed up drunk and stoned and yelling that for hours) playing. I'm almost done with disc 3 of "Voodoo Stew", listening to the second take of a song called "Honest Man", which is almost as good as the first take. Not a song that appeared on the album, it's hard to see why not, since it's easily as good as some that did. Mick does a vocal needs very little polish, the lyrics are as good as any others he's sang - not that that's any great compliment - the guitars are tight and edgy, and it could easily have replaced "Baby Break It Down" or "Suck on the Jugular" on the album.

[I would also replace "You Got Me Rocking", but the Stones seem to like that one. I don't know why, but it was a single and they've consistently played it live ever since, which is bizarre. Do you think Paul McCartney still fits "The World Tonight" into his setlist? That song was actually a hit, but he's not going to use it to replace a Beatles or Wings number. Ok, that's unfair, Paul has actually released four or five albums since Voodoo Lounge came out, compared to the Stones' two. Paul has also released a few albums of "classical" music and "avant-garde" music in his spare time. And he has more money than Mick and Keith put together.]

There's been other songs that were also enjoyable, and I haven't even tracked down the other 4-disc set of outtakes yet. In some ways, this is a fascinating look at the album as a work-in-progress, a glimpse behind the curtain of creativity that has rarely been equalled in rock history. It's never been confirmed who provided these takes, but given the quantity and quality it must have been someone close to the band. Or someone inside. But thanks to that anonymous leaker.

For the Voodoo Lounge tour, they publicized the live album with an interesting cover song. Glad they finally got to it.