RIP: Frank Frazetta

We  lost a singular talent yesterday.  Best known for his fantasy sword and sorcery artwork, Frank Frazetta is in my opinion responsible for the resurgence of that genre in the popular culture of the 1970’s.

Molly Hatchet's 1978 self-titled album feachered Frazetta's "The Death Dealer"

His artwork has appeared everywhere:  Conan the Barbarian book covers, rock and roll album covers, movie posters and yes, pulp fiction magazines.

Regardless of how you feel about the imagery he used, it is hard to argue that his work has not been influential.  Many of today’s genre artists cite Frazetta as their major influence.

One of the most inspiring things about him was that when he suffered a stroke that destroyed the dexterity of his primary right hand, Frazetta taught himself to paint with his left.

I think I am going to spend some time today browsing his artwork online, and listening to Molly Hatchet.

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RIP: George H. Scithers

Sad news.   SF, Fantasy and Horror editor George H. Scithers has died.

Way back in 1978, George sent me my very first short story rejection.  It was a rubric style form letter with the story’s problems checked off.  It had his personal signature.  I was thrilled.  I had saved that letter, but can no longer find it.  I received a few more rejections from him until I gave up writing because a bad teacher convinced me I couldn’t write.

I wish I had not given up.  Not only did I miss any chance of being published by him at Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, but also missed sending stories to him during his tenure at Weird Tales.  I still have some notes for stories that a bright-eyed and unirascible Deven wrote those thirty plus years ago.  I think I am going to thumb through them and find something that perhaps George would have liked.

My opinion is that Asimov’s SF would not now enjoy its status as one of the “big three” SF/Fantasy genre magazines if it had not been for George’s editorship during its first years.  It still remains my favorite short story venue.

Thank-you, George, for years and years of reading enjoyment.

Wellness…

I am on record stating that the recent Health Care Insurance reform law, while not perfect, is an absolute good.

I have told many nay-sayers to just give it some time and to please keep an open mind because good things are going to happen.

Goodness has already started.  As reported in the NY Times and Columbus Dispatch, one large health care provider has jumped the mandated timetable in the new health care law and will soon be providing wellness care to a segment of its policy holders.

And instead of costing more money, the insurance company is saying that it will be saving $3.50 to $4.00  for every dollar they spend on the program.  The savings will come from not having to pay for doctor visits and medicines.  At least one large insurance group has discovered that keeping people healthy is a more profitable business model than doing nothing except making payouts when policy holders become  ill.

For those friendly nay-sayers, here is one early example of the good the recent law will do.  Wellness care is such a good idea that this insurance provider decided not to wait until wellness programs became mandatory.  And this is happening in Ohio, our state, our backyard.

No raise in taxes for anyone.  Good.

More profit for the insurance company.  Good.

Healthier people.  Even better!

Broadcast news ignoring this story.  Bad, very bad–but not surprising.

Road Trip: Late December Gray Skies

Several days back, I fetched the youngest from Pittsburgh.  At some point, this trip will surely become mundane, but not this one.  The entire trip over was in a bone chilling downpour.  I know, I had to fix a windsheild wiper while standing in it.  My body hates cold and my arthiritis has been acting up ever since.

I have talked here about the signs of the time, the actuallity of the depression that has hit small towns along my route.  But last Friday, really, really made the bad straights we are in ubundantly clear.  In Zanesville, at the Salvation Army center, they were handing out clothing, food and a few toys.  Despite the nearly freezing rain, people were lined up down the block, most of them without umbrellas.

But what really hit me emotionally was the young family heading down the street with a stroller full of necessities.  They were smiling and crying.

They were happy to be getting hand me down clothing and canned food.  How bad must their normal lives be if this marginal charity was something that they were so happy to get that they were crying?

Our nation is handing out billions of dollars to people that squandered what they had in the name of greed.  As yet, very little if anything has been done to help those working class people that have lost their jobs or have been turned out of their homes.

So much good can be done with just a little bit of those billions.

More than the rain put a damper on my mood this road trip.

Road trip: Bob’s random crap

Whilst on a road trip yesterday to return the youngest to Pittsburgh, I stumbled across a radio station that had me laughing at its concept. Most radio stations these days belong to, or run programming by, companies that run syndicated radio shows. Just about anywhere you are in the USA, you can find a station called “The Mix”, “The River”, “The Classic Rock Station”, etc. and it is mostly pablum with no originality. After all, there had to be a reason why Tom Petty wrote the song “The Last DJ”, right?

I listen to these syndicated stations because I have very little choice. I do tune in Columbus Ohio’s QM96 when I am in range. At least in the morning it seems to have original programming.

The station I had started to listen to while leaving Pittsburgh started to fade out, so I hit the scan button to find some more suitable music for my lonely drive home. I left it on a station that was playing “1985” by Bowling For Soup, because it has a catchy tune and I like the sentimentality of the lyrics. I listen to “1985” when I get the chance because I have had this idea of writing my own lyrics about being sentimental about 1979. I figured it was a station that catered to popular rock hits from recent years and was prepared to hit the scan button as soon as “1985” was over.

My jaw dropped because the next song was “Take a Chance” by Abba. That’s right! Abba!

Next was “Shock the Monkey” by Peter Gabriel, followed by “Don’t Do Me Like That” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. And just when I started thinking that it was just another classic rock station, they drop in a song from the mid 90’s. I think the god of coincidence also wanted to get a jab in, you know, because I was still thinking about writing 1979 based lyrics for the song “1985”.

“1979” by The Smashing Pumpkins was next. How weird is that?

During the breaks between songs, I learned that the station was called “Bob”. I also learned that they played whatever they wanted to, and that one listener wanted them to “keep playing that random crap.” Needless to say, I had to start keeping track of the songs that they played. Some of the songs were unfamiliar enough that I didn’t know the artist or the title, so I just wrote down lyric snippits. It has been fun looking them up. It seems I have a void in my brain when it comes to early and mid 1980’s alternative music. I was a tad busy with family and work and college. I couldn’t soak in everything. The songs that followed as I drove from Pennsylvania into West Virginia were (in order):

“I Got You” by The Split Enz; “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” by Bob Seger; “Vida La Vida” by Coldplay; “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order; “Living For The City” by Stevie Wonder; “Crazy On You” by Heart; “What I Got” by Sublime; “Somebody’s Baby” by Jackson Browne; “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney; “Lay Your Hands On Me” by The Thompson Twins; (a song that I could not figure out a title nor artist for) and “Bent” by Matchbox 20, at which point the station faded out, just west of Wheeling.

Now I am fairly sure that “Bob FM” is a syndicated station, and if it is, then it is the most original idea for syndication that I have yet encountered. The idea seems simple. Put every top 100 rock song since 1970 into a player and hit shuffle.  All but one song was familiar to me, and even if I didn’t know the artist or the song title, I was able to figure them out.  For the one song I could not figure out I had written down the lyric snippet “this is how we begin”.

I must say that anticipating what kind of song was going to be played next kept the boredom away for that part of the trip.  I plan on listening to more of Bob’s random crap during the next road trip to Pittsburgh.

Bad Paper

{The Political Lamp is Lit}

Of all the sound bite terminology being used by the talking head television newsies theses days, the one that sets my teeth on edge is “bad paper”.

What is bad paper? According to what we are being told, it is some of the investment securities that were created by mortgage companies and banks. Bad paper are the part of these investment securities that have “failed”.

Hmmm. Not very clear, eh? Let’s do more than scratch the surface, shall we?

Okay, first we need to understand a bit about just what these investment securities are. Risky loans for properties with inflated prices were floated by banks and mortgage companies, and they tainted the bottom line of these lenders. Even the least risky of these loans were a problem. The majority of insurance companies would not insure them for their full value. This means that if a mortgage failed, the company would lose some money because the insurance would not cover the defaulted loan. So they took all of these risky loans, divided them up into three categories and called them securities, or “paper”. The least risky loans were AAA, the very risky loans were BBB and the highly risky loans were CCC. This is a neat trick. AAA securities are suppose to be the most stable, trustworthy kind of paper. Solid as granite. The trick is that ALL of this paper was built out of risky loans. Yet because they were labeled AAA, insurance companies and others insured them and bought them. However, when the housing market dropped, foreclosure sales stopped making up the difference because the loans had been higher than the houses had really been worth. Crash. Now the insurance companies had to pay out more than they could; the banks and mortgages companies had to sell the houses for less than the original loans and the companies that had bought these securities now had “bad paper”. It was a great sucking downward spiral.

This bad paper is what everyone is saying has caused or nearly caused the failure of many banks and mortgage companies, and has caused the failure or near failure of insurance companies that insured the securities.

It was not the bad paper. It was the greed that lead to the creation of risky securities based on risky loans made on overpriced houses. If these securities had not been created we would not be in this mess. If the risky loans had not been made we would not be in this mess. If the housing market had not had inflated prices we would not be in this mess.

But still. What is bad paper?

Bad paper is crushed families. At the very bottom of this pile of financial shenanigans are people, families with children and medical bills and hopes and dreams. Yes, some of the loans were to speculators and I have very little sympathy for them. But the majority of the loans that are the basis for this bad paper were let to people with hope for the American dream. Now they are in worse shape than they would have been in if they had never aspired for home ownership. Some pundits blame these home buyers for defaulting on their mortgages. I blame the lenders for greedily making loans that they knew would be defaulted on as soon as the adjustable rates moved upwards. Not every home buyer can be expected to fully understand the financial aspects of this process. I am a smart guy and I didn’t.

So far the bailout has been for the people that created the problem. I would like to see some equity here (no pun intended.)

Banks and mortgage companies that receive bailout money should be required to renegotiate all their loans, well maybe not for a buyer’s second home, starting with adjustable rate mortgages. They should all be moved to a flat rate specified by Congress. This way those those homeowners have a chance of not defaulting. It will turn a lot of future “bad paper” into good paper. Good for the home owner, good for the mortgage company, good for the taxpayer.

Every time I hear “bad paper” on the news, I can not help but think of those families whose lives were destroyed by unconscionable greed.   “Bad paper” is every foreclosure sign, every bank auction, every abandoned property.  “Bad paper” works at McDonald’s and WalMart.  “Bad Paper” stands in lines at the food pantries.  “Bad paper” used to be your neighbor.  “Bad paper” could be your coworker, a fellow church member, the kid at the playground.

And you know what?  It isn’t over.  Soon the same crash will happen with the credit card securities market.  The new “bad paper” will be the people who had to pay the doctor on credit or buy groceries on credit, because they kept paying the mortgage and sacrificed everything else to hold on the the American Dream.  The sick part is these people will likely lose their homes to bankruptcy.

Rant over.

I promise to have some non-depressing topics posted here in the near future.

The Gerrymander still lives…

{The Political Lamp is Lit}

It was with great hope that I entered this election season anticipating that for the first time I would have a elected official in the US House of Representatives that represented me, my neighbors, and my county.

It was not to be.

The Gerrymander still lives and won the day. Again.

It angers me that a few high population Cincinnati suburban neighborhoods control the political representation of the small towns and farmers sixty miles away from their doorsteps. I was hoping that perhaps with the increase in voter registration here in southern Ohio, that perhaps there would be enough votes to oust the seemingly permanent stranglehold those Cincinnati suburbs have over the rest of us. The vote was probably closer than the incumbent would feel comfortable with.

I am left with only one strategy for the next two years. I will write my congresswoman about every important issue. And when she votes in ways that hurt farmers and small towns, I will write letters to the editor of my local newspaper. Perhaps she will surprise me and vote for what is best for her entire constituency, instead of voting the way her party bosses want her to vote. I am not holding my breath.

Understand that the real evil here is not the person who will be representing me in the US Congress. The real evil is the two-party political machine that has a strangle-hold on true representation. A strangle-hold that chokes out fair representation; a strangle-hold that chokes out any effort for a meaningful third political party. We need to kill the Gerrymander that enables the two-party political machine to continue unopposed control over the political landscape.

Oh, BTW. I am so very pleased that Barack Obama is our President-elect. Perhaps now our nation can focus on our better values like kindness, and on doing what is right because it is the right thing to do–not because a profit can be made. I am sure I will have more on this in the months ahead.