Yesterday was an interesting time on the comics page, making today a big day on a comics-interested blog.

First, let’s check in on yesterday’s Born Loser. You probably know by now how I feel about the Born Loser, but occasionally there IS something weird enough in that strip to be worth a second look. Yesterday, Brutus was eating at a diner, and setting up the requisite weekly joke about “FOOD SO BAD EVEN THE EMPLOYEES DON’T LIKE IT!” But in order to change things up, Art & Chip placed him at a table, instead of at the counter where he usually is, and instead of ordering from the cook, he’s ordering from a waitress . . . who . . . looks . . . like his wife?

Is is a joke? Is it a biting social commentary, revealing the alienation of Gladys as domestic servant to Brutus? Is it simply proof that these guys can only draw 5 different characters, or is it the first glimpse of a new, more critical direction for the Born Loser? I suppose time will tell.

Oh, wait. Today’s Born Loser gag is another joke about getting a wrong phone number. Oh well.

Now, that having been explored, the meat of the issue: yesterday’s Beetle Bailey:

On the surface we see a simple gag: Beetle is signing up for another year in the service (his 57th year, for the record), his reasoning is his “desire to live another year,” when he says this, Sargeant Snorkel is revealed and the implication is that Sarge will, yes, kill Beetle if he fails to enlist again (protest THAT, POG!)

But look beneath the surface. What if Beetle DID decide not to enlist? What would happen? His entire universe, as constructed by the boundaries of the strip, is Camp Swampy. Occasionally the characters “hit the town” on the weekend — otherwise, there is nothing beyond Camp Swampy. If Beetle decided to throw in the towel, one can envision a large-scale crumbling of his world: perhaps he couldn’t escape if he tried.

On one hand, yes, the strip is about Beetle (ostensibly, given the title), but in fact the strip is about the entire camp, the ridiculous bureaucracy and the power relations within the structure of the military unit. (OF COURSE I realize that it’s generally a boring, silly, largely uncritical look at these things, but bare with me). The fact that it all ties into Beetle is important only on the surface; if Beetle left the army, I would venture to guess that the strip would soldier on (bad pun intended) without him, or, more likely, it would just end — that whole universe would collapse. I can’t foresee Beetle’s life outside the military being fodder for the strip — that’s just not what it’s about.

All that having been said, I heartily endorse the idea of Beetle finally just packing up and running away with Miss Buxley, even if it means the collapse of their universe. I think it would be worth it for both of them.


Check it: February 8 is next week, and February 8 is when two folks from the Chiapas Media Project will be speaking here at Pitt. 6:00 PM, Alumni Hall Auditorium. Worth checking out for sure. Glad to be of service.

paging harper lee

January 29, 2007

This morning, I woke up on time without trouble (not a normal occurence, and a pleasant change), and could have made the early bus to get into work especially early, but realized that I wasn’t sure what I’d do if I did that, so I took my time and read the comics and ate a muffin before heading out for the regular bus, and of course missed it by seconds, and was pretty unhappy.

Then I decided, despite the 12-degree weather, that I’d just hoof it in rather than stand around and wait for the next (more crowded) bus (which would get me to work late anyway). Crankily I embarked, trudging down sidewalks and slipping across intersections, until my morning’s epiphanic moment: the sight, as I rounded a corner, of a mockingbird in a bush a foot or two from me!

As it wasn’t me who she was mocking — at least to my knowledge it wasn’t — this was exciting to me (I kind of felt ripe for mocking at this point, after my morning foibles, but I generally know when I’m being mocked, I think). Birdwatching1 opportunities are somewhat less common in the city than where I used to live, but still present — it’s perhaps more exciting to see a relatively uncommon bird when you’re in the city and aren’t used to it. But there are certain birds that I’ve only seen in the city, since moving back. The mockingbird is one, the nighthawk is another.

Besides the turkeys that hang out outside the business school (I kid you not; I saw one puffing himself up in front of a mirrorlike pane of glass the other day, vain creature), these are about the only variations on the normal concrete-and-glass-and-sparrow-and-pigeon landscape we have. This spring/summer I vow to get out to some more wooded places and do some real birdwatching. In the meantime, I’ll let the occasional appearance of a mockingbird make my day.

1. The term “birdwatching” has, I fear, fallen out of vogue in favor of the presumably less passive “birding.” “Birding,” however, strikes me as a verb that ought to be transitive; I think of appropriate usage as being along the lines of, say, “Those cats were crampin’ our style, so we totally birded them and split!” Thus, when talking about actually looking for and identifying birds, I tend to stick with “birdwatching.”

As many of you know, some of the flowingest prose of our day comes in the form of letters to the editor. I was riveted by this celebration of the Steel City Roller Derby Demon Lady Punks, published in the P-G’s Weekend Feedback section (usually the source of the best letter-to-the-editor writing):

Oh, how they roll

Kudos to Bob Batz Jr. for his terrific (albeit tongue-in-cheek — slightly chauvinistic) piece “Hot Wheels” (Steel City Derby Demons put their bodies on the line for the thrill of the game, Jan. 18).

Having a professional roller derby league in town would considerably lessen the trauma if someday the Steelers are seen permanently jogging out of town with a Pirate under one arm and a Penguin under the other.

It’s time the distaff side of sports is given the publicity and fan support it deserves.

These female juggernauts are tougher than Shiite police officers who walk the night beat in a Sunni neighborhood.

The article’s mesmerizing action photographs transform these rippling athletes into a pride of powerful lionesses honed by the hunt, and I can’t wait to see the big can of whooping the Steel City Derby Demons are going to open on Jan. 27.

Women of Pittsburgh, unite and support your flat ring roller derby sisters while encouraging your boyfriends and spouses to temper their non-priapic man crushes on Pittsburgh’s male professional athletes long enough to give these “Hot Wheelers” a chance to prove their mettle.

Xena and Gabrielle were the peers of Hercules and Iolaus; the Steel City Derby Demons will eventually rival the Steelers.

Robert Biller


The fact that the author is “Robert Biller of Fombell” is just the icing on the cake — that name has sort of a Dr. Seuss quality, or at least a Shel Silverstein quality. Or perhaps it sounds like someone who should be listed in the litany of the saints, between St. Robert Bellarmine and Sts. Cosmos & Damian.

I hope that brightened your day as it did mine.

blah blah blog

January 25, 2007

I’ve recently made some changes to my blog reading habits that I feel inclined to inform you of, because maybe you’ll like to read the things I’m reading too. (You and I, reader-friend: little nodes in the Reputation Society.)

  • I’ve nixed Balkinization from my RSS reader; the intense constitutional law-talk is a bit too much for me for the most part and, for better or worse, I get kind of bored with the daily updates on just why it would make sense to impeach the president and/or why the constitution is inadequate in that we can’t recall him or have a vote of no confidence on the subject.
  • I’ve added Crooked Timber and Eszter Hargittai because they both are fun to read and tend to include occasional posts that apply to the research I’m doing right now on scholarly blogging.
  • I’ve also added (Notes on) Politics, Theory & Photography, because it, uhhh, looks sweet.
  • I guess it’s time to remove Berube as well, since he stopped posting a month ago.

Tonight I make soup — if it looks pretty, I’ll post pictures for you. You like looking at pictures of food I made. I should probably give you recipes now and then too. There’s been a much-bandied-about cookbook idea that may someday come to fruition, which will involve favorite recipes of the roommates and myself and a bunch of bands/folks who have stayed with us while on tour/traveling. It will be beautiful. I should work on this, and pressure the folks to work on it as well.

hey buddy

January 23, 2007

As I type, the president is kicking into the meat of the State of the Union. Pork barrel spending must end, more jobs must be created, work together work together blah blah. Save social security. Sounds good, fella. (I have a bus driver I sometimes get in the morning who alternately calls me either “guy” or “buddy.” “Fella” is on the same level of comical familiarity, I think.)

The other day I borrowed Miss America, a collection of poems by the contemporary American poet Catherine Wagner. I’m trying to make myself read more poetry again — I sort of burned out on it, but it’s not all bad. I enjoy Catherine Wagner thus far; take this for example:

Is it hotter to wear a bra
Or let my boobs stick to my chest
Melanin, melatonin, metonym, melanoma

Doesn’t that sounds like perhaps maybe something I might write, if I had boobs?

Also, isn’t it about time I updated my “currently reading” sidebar feature?

Also, don’t forget — tomorrow is Wednesday, which means Avant-garde Films from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland! Get into it.

check out this meal.

January 22, 2007

Here is a meal my roommates and I (but mostly my roommates) (I diced the potatoes . . .) made and subsequently ate last night.

Clockwise from left:

  • Vegan French toast with a little cornmeal, corn starch and soy milk, topped with bananas and powdered sugar.
  • Diced roasted potatoes with rosemary and thyme (and olive oil).
  • Kale with some little slicey carrot parts and a tiny smidgin of tofu (leftover, as prepared a few days ago by Tiny Hawks).