Archive for the 'Ink-Stained Wretches' Category


Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus, Rob Warmowski’s Unfinished Reading Surplus

Techno-sociologist Clay Shirky, a favorite around these parts, has a new book.  Cognitive Surplus: Creativity And Generosity In A Connected Age is out on Penguin, and appears loaded with more of Shirky’s characteristic long-view contextualization of contemporary digital delights (and drek) against the backdrop of human history.  If you want to know what the way people used the printing press in its earliest days has to do with the way people use the internet in its infancy, get thee to Clay Shirky.  Sometimes he’s wrong, but I can’t take his arguments apart easily, and always love to read each new one.  And I will: as soon as I’m done with the ridiculously tall dead tree reading pile facing me today:

Bill Veeck’s Veeck As In Wreck, Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, Brian Clifton’s Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, William Goldman’s screenplay All The President’s Men,  Robin Hahnel’s The ABC’s Of Political Economy Andrea Schlesinger’s The Death Of Why and the endlessly amusing/nauseating The Complex: How The Military Invades Our Everyday Lives by Nick Turse.

And Joe Haldeman’s Camouflage, Karl Schroeder’s Lady Of Mazes, and Clifford Odets’ Waiting For Lefty And Other Plays.

Clearly, the guy who assigned all of this is a dissipated idiot in favor of cognitive surplus.


The Best American Comics Criticism: Out March 3

Wow.  See, this is why you do stuff.  When you do stuff, sometimes you get to do awesome stuff, sometimes with people who are awesome.

My pal Ben Schwartz has been compiling and editing the new Fantagraphics book The Best American Comics Criticism all year long (release date: Mar 3 2010). That in itself is awesome enough.  But then I come to find that one of his blessings was to work with the incomparable illustrator Drew Friedman on the cover of said tome.

Word is Ben asked Drew – one of the most gifted conceptual realist illustrators the world has ever seen – what he thought American comics critics looked like.   And this is what he – and we – got.

Perfect.  Just perfect.

Not just objectively perfect, either.  For me, this is a rare crossing of two favorites: Drew Freidman has been blowing my mind since I first saw his stuff in the pages of Heavy Metal and National Lampoon way back in high school.  Ben Schwartz has been cracking me up since I first read him at back in the days of dialup Internet.

Suffice it to say, I approve of this collaboration so much, I don’t have enough thumbs to raise.  Can’t wait to read it.

And that’s an important blogger telling you this.


Reckless, Sanctimonious Douchebag Waggles Finger At Parents Over Safety

Kurt Greenbaum: The tag's so he doesn't forget.

Many people who follow the social themes of the Intertubes have heard the name of Kurt Greenbaum.  Columnist/blogger for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Greenbaum is known for space-filling, logrolling work that redefines the word “inessential”. His moronic typing pollutes the already deathly ill newspaper with a triteness and imbecility that surely has fellow Missourian Mark Twain not only rolling, but achieving escape velocity in his own grave.  Beyond being a terrible writer, Greenbaum is a social media social menace, having used the comments feature on his own column months ago to end the career of a St. Louis schoolteacher for the high crime of making a joke Greenbaum didn’t like. In the pantheon of unjust and pernicious media figures, Greenbaum ranks ethically somewhere between Rupert Murdoch and Julis Streicher,

Which is why he is depending that the short attention span of the public will forget about his role in the above atrocity against fair play and free speech and that he may return to business as usual:  providing the St. Louis area with puddle-deep analysis and finger-pointing.

Kurt Greenbaum: Joining pork steaks and Budwesier in the list of top reasons to move out of St. Louis.


Hail To The Chief(‘s Biographer)

Millard Fillmore poses for the dust jacket of Millard!

Millard Fillmore poses for the dust jacket of "Millard!"

In today’s Dispatch at the Atlantic, we find Los Angelino writer, humorist and Cub fan (the last is redundant to the second) Ben Schwartz plotting on the sidelines of the red-hot marketplace for Presidential biography.  As it turns out, the genre has all the formalism of the sitcom, but with fewer laughs and a mistier eye toward history than those of the crybabies at the McCain concession speech.

Fans of the sports blog Can’t Stop The Bleeding will no doubt recognize Mr. Schwartz by his amusing bon mots, his  NY Times-sports editor-agitating probes into cheap leaks over alleged steroid usage, his poor taste in baseball teams and his ritual abuse of yours truly in those very pale blue pages.   Yet, hold none of this against him, for he lives in Los Angeles.   Think about it.  You’d lash out too.


Land The Tech Job You Love

Hey! I know that guy!

Hey! I know that guy!

Programmers! Project managers! Are you in the career doldrums?  Did you take your last job (or last three jobs) for the wrong reasons?  Have you not exactly taken advantage of the seller’s market in technology employment?  Do you have trouble discerning between brown-nosing and getting raises and promotions? Have you ever used an orange diskette?

If you need a better tech job, you may need to free your mind so your ass can follow. You don’t need recruiters.  You don’t need to move to San Jose. What you need is my pal Andy Lester’s new book Land The Tech Job You Love.*  Out today from Pragmatic Bookshelf.

The great thing is, in his illustrious twenty years writing software and being a leading light in the Perl language and open-source community, Andy’s made plenty of mistakes. Not software errors, but worse: career errors.  And just as with every error that crosses his path, he figured out exactly what went wrong, when and why.  Which means that when he writes a book about career management in technology,  he can probably save you some grief. Outside of leveling a crooked Christmas tree stand, what more could you ask of a book?

To hear Andy get all up into this, check out the Pragmatic podcast for the book.

* And balls. You’ll need balls.  Balls not included.


Terrible Writing Habits, Napping, And Michael Moore’s Bush Family Patron

Cover of "Roger & Me [Region 2]"

While spelunking last night in the forums at (tremendous open-source screenwriting software) I stumbled across a link to the golden podcast cache of Creative Screenwriting Magazine’s Editor Jeff Goldsmith.  In this trove, Jeff’s microphone is summarily shoved under the noses of writers and directors of some quality work, including Joel and Ethan Cohen, David Chase, creator of the Sopranos,  Michael Moore and dozens of others I haven’t cracked open yet.

From David Chase, we learn of the role less-than-Calvinist work habits have played in his output.  From Joel and Ethan Cohen, we are illuminated as to the reliance upon naps in their working arrangement.

Michael Moore’s stories are particularly hilarious and eye-opening.  Especially his revelation in 1989 that the principal benefactor for Moore’s first film Roger And Me was documentary filmmaker Kevin Rafferty (Atomic Cafe).  Moore and Rafferty met when Rafferty came through Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan shooting a documentary about the rise of neo-nazi groups in the wake of economic devastsation.  Moore, recently fired as editor of the San Francisco “church of the left” organ Mother Jones (for the dire offense of placing a grubby United Auto Worker on its cover) learned all his first filmmaking chops from Rafferty, who generously supported Moore with film reels, supplies, editing support and tutoring.

As Moore tells it, while finishing editing of the film in Washington DC, January ’89,  he decided to attend the inauguration of George H.W. Bush, only to find seated on the stage, behind the President-elect, one Kevin Rafferty.  Afterward, Moore contacted the documentarian for the story explaining his onstage seat and found out that that Kevin was none other than the nephew by marriage of the President.  Michael Moore had gotten his start thanks to the generosity of a filmmaking Bush scion.

Which says that philanthropy and artistic patronage, in a country as rich as ours, ensures that there will always be true stories of the largesse of the few finding its way into the hands of those who are most vocal in decrying the uneven distribution of that largesse.  That Rafferty had already made Atomic Cafe means the institutions and aristocracy of any country as inundated with wealth as ours must  inevitably fuel some of its own indictments.  And that Rafferty was generous with Moore reminds us that those institutions will even spark careers of its high-profile populists.  Let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen.  And let’s also not pretend that it shouldn’t.

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I Have No Residuals, And I Must Scream

city talking ornaIn 1967, the year Bob Dylan might say I was busy being born, the irascible, well-liked-round-these-parts television and novel writer Harlan Ellison handed in the script for the monumental Star Trek episode City On The Edge Of Forever.  That bit of time-travel procedural work went on to become one of the most celebrated stories in all of episodic TV, winning Ellison copious awards and royalties while generating millions in revenues for Paramount, the series producer.

Yet a lawsuit filed by Ellison in March of this year claims that not all of what’s coming to him got there.  The plucky scribe, never shy with a court filing, sued Paramount after he went shopping for paperbacks and tchotchkies and found some interesting items on the shelves.

Ellison discovered for sale a paperback book trilogy based on his City script, published by Simon & Schuster (Paramount’s sister corporation).  He also found a City talking Christmas ornament (pictured).  He discovered these, as it reads in the lawsuit “as a mere consumer” meaning nobody told him his characters, situations, words and premises were out there earning new dollars – and that his rightful share of those dollars was being withheld.

I would have liked to have been in the aisle with him, perhaps at Barnes and Noble, able to hear what it sounds like to have a stream of innovative profanity drown out a talking Christmas ornament.

Paramount is a licensing juggernaut, raking in billions worldwide on such Star Trek products, which is why it takes the clout of a labor union to ensure the creators of these properties are paid when the Paramount is paid for the right to make these things.

But something is amiss.  That labor union, the Writers Guild of America is also being sued by Ellison (if only to the tune of one dollar in damages).  Ellison’s suit claims the WGA failed to stand up for his right to be compensated for these and any other products that derive from his 1967 script.  More than this, he claims the Guild actively avoided his grievance and acted not in the interest of the writer, but on behalf of the studio, ultimately quashing his attempts to get an accounting and payment.

Ellison has his suspicions as to why.  Referring in the lawsuit (text available here) to the 2007 WGA writers’ strike and the writer’s criticism of that strike’s settlement, Ellison says he “publicly noted the sea-change occurring in the nature of the entertainment industry, and suggested that the WGA Members would not be  well-served by the outcome of the negotiations that led to the current collective bargaining agreement…those  charged with responding to his demand for arbitration on the City matter, were or became hostile to Ellison and this unwarranted hostility and/or discrimination was one of the unlawful reasons the WGA failed to pursue relief…”

Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy that a writer who criticizes his union during a strike negotiation will come to be badly served by its alleged inaction later?  Or is this development one more drop in a sea of evidence that institutional bias is on the rise in nearly every area of endeavor and corporate interests are are displacing everyone else’s?


Welshman Amused, Recordist Recorded

Terry Jones

Cardinal Biggles

On Sunday Maureen and I went with some friends to Improv Olympic Theater to see Monty Python’s Terry Jones give a talk on comedy writing.  But the comedy began even before the main event.

On taking my seat, I noticed that the guy seated in front of me was none other than Aadam Jacobs. Aadam, a well-known fixture at Chicago rock shows throughout the 1980s-90s whose persistence with microphones and tape decks has produced an enormous private archive of rare live music, was having a chat with another fellow in the row.  Naturally, my instinct was to do for Aadam what he had done so often for the bands — record the proceedings.  So out came my Palm Treo 700P. I fired up the CallRec software, hit the Record button and and hovered the smartphone just out of Aadam’s peripheral vision, capturing the chatter.  Eventually he noticed and we had a chuckle.  Of course, he requested a copy of the recording.  We’ll see what we can work out in trade, Aadam.

Then came Monty Python’s Terry Jones onstage to begin a great session concerning the craft of comedy writing, a subject near to my heart by a speaker whose work I have effectively memorized over the years.

What did I learn?  About the Python history and working method, not a lot — they went into an office every day, wrote a lot in pairs (Jones/Palin and Cleese/Chapman), rejected a lot of their own stuff, made it up as they went along, faced stupidity from BBC executives, argued with their director, were clueless on how to write for women, and were supremely blessed with talent and favorable circumstance throughout their career together.

Throughout the talk, video clips of Terry and Michael Palin’s work were shown.  Great classic pieces — Lumberjack, The Spanish Inquisition, Mr. Creosote, The Funniest Joke In The World.   I love all of these, and because of that, I carry them around, complete and correct, in my head.  So they weren’t what I watched.  Instead, I took the rare opportunity instead to watch Terry Jones as he watched these clips.

I had a morbid curiosity: would he display the slightest fatigue at watching, for the hundred thousandth time, his best work?  From my seat, I stalked him to find out.

The answer was a beautiful no.  I saw in his face not a trace of impatience, only delight, a perpetual openness to the humor and honest reaction to it.  He was truly a natural reflection of his work, and it was awesome to see.

Sometimes I wonder about the objective value of things created.  Sometimes I wonder who else wonders about the same thing.  Sometimes I wonder too much about things that don’t matter, and sometimes I guess incorrectly about what people might do.  Such is the plight of the perpetual skeptic who forgets it’s better to enjoy what you have done unreservedly when a world is inclined – by sheer numbers if nothing else – to reservation.

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rob [at] warmowski [dot] com

@warmowski on twitter

Rob’s Bands

Rob Warmowski entry at Chicago Punk Database
1984-89: Defoliants
1991-94: Buzzmuscle
2001-05: San Andreas Fault
2008- : Sirs
2008- : Allende

Rob at Huffington Post

July 2020