Note 19: Great Nixon's (happy) ghost!

Plus, Phase Conjugate Grammars for Extra-Dimensional Summoning

Somewhere, the ghost of Richard Nixon is dancing a jig, given now that he’s no longer the go-to historical example of a crooked President caught on tape making stupid remarks:

At one time, I was pretty sure that Trump was cynically running a con to raise funds for his post-election life and to smudge the stigma of being a loser. Listening to the call above, it sounds very much to me that Trump’s been devoured by his own conspiracy theorizing and believes it now.

The good news is that there are still some Republicans out there who haven’t been mainlining the crazy juice and they’ll be sufficient to hold the line and keep the Republic as their fellow party members - too cowardly to speak the truth to the #MAGA base - continue to enable and encourage Trump’s insanity.

The nice thing about the past week’s view into the looney bin is that it makes it crystal clear who the adults in the room are, and who are the toddlers.

In a comment elsewhere this past week, I remarked that I felt most sorry for the Georgia voters this past month. With record funds pouring into the Senate runoffs, it’s likely worse than Iowa during the primary season when it comes to being able to get away from politics. After listening to the call above, I may now feel worse for the Georgia Republican election officials. You have to know that this can’t be the first call they’ve been stuck on the phone telling the President that his handlers are feeding him a truckload of unadulterated bullshit. You can hear it in the weariness in their voices - they’ve gone over this repeatedly over the past two months, and they can’t wait for Trump to sod off into retirement so they don’t have to waste their time on this demented man-child anymore.

Exterminating clutter

One of my first tasks for 2021 is a general de-cluttering of my life. Thus far, I’ve been most successful on the podcast front, entering December with over 100 episodes from about 12 different shows, to this weekend where I was down to about 60 episodes of The Soundtrack Show. (The reason I have so many of those episodes is because I discovered the show recently and went through and downloaded their entire archive, and have been picking my way through movie-by-movie.) I was able to do this because most of my podcasts took a holiday break, so this week, we are back to normal with shows coming in from all sides.

On the alcohol front, I’ve been taking a hard look at all the spirits I’ve accumulated over the better part of 15 years to decide which core spirits I’ll keep for favorite drinks, and which I’ll find a way to drink and not replace. (Ciao, banana liqueur! Sayonara, Southern Comfort!) The goal here is to have a manageable collection once my home bar is reconstructed and to focus on doing a few drinks well (vodka and whiskey-based) and leaving the rest for trips to restaurants (tequila and gin).

On the gadget front, I’ve been giving away HDTV antennas, HDMI switchers, digital radios and all kinds of miscellaneous devices (and device parts) via the local Buy Nothing group here in my neighborhood. Getting rid of stuff is hit-or-miss, but I’m still early enough in the process that I’m confident that I’ll clear out some space and shelves. (If you’re reading this and you have any need for mid-aughts Mac and iPhone accessories, call me.)

On the book front - as mentioned before - I’m using my 100-book-year to first plow through a ton of books that I’ve accumulated over the past decade. While finally reading them is the primary purpose, the secondary purpose is determining which to keep around to read/lend later and which to sell/donate/gift to others. So far, all I’ve read are keepers, but I imagine that there are several deep dives into Dante and his Divine Comedy (acquired for a writing project a few years ago) that will end up living elsewhere by year’s end.

And my White Whale of this decluttering project is finally getting around to curating my comic book collection to make it a more focused set of books and freeing up space that I simply don’t have for the full collection.

To give a small bit of personal history, I began collecting comic books way back in the fifth grade with a “how to collect comic books” kit that I received as a gift. One of the books within it was Chris Claremont and Paul Smith’s Uncanny X-Men #278, which was one of the early issues of The Muir Isle Saga. Interestingly enough, this particular issue didn’t really feature that many major X-Men characters as it was more of a transition story from the post-Siege Perilous X-Men to the Gold and Blue Team era that Jim Lee would be shortly introducing to bring the team(s) back to their roots, and kick off the early ‘90s X-Men Golden Age.

These early issues kicked off what would become a lifelong literary obsession, with one extended pause from me starting college to Marvel’s Civil War crossover. When I returned to collecting, it was in a much different world than I had left. Out in New Mexico, the most reliable method I had for getting X-Men comics was either through a subscription (remember those?) or ordering issues that I missed through mail-order shops like Things from Another World (who now serves as the largest revenue generator for Fresh Comics). It could be very hit-or-miss.

As an adult in Chicago, I now had a ton of comic shops at my disposal and the income to not only keep up with the slate of new X-Men books being released monthly, but to go back and fill in holes in my collection that I would never had been able to as a teen. I managed to collect a full run of X-Men from Giant-Size X-Men #1 (the first appearance of the “international” team of Storm, Colossus, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler) to the present day. I picked up the full run of The Brood Saga and was gifted the original issues of The Dark Phoenix Saga. Short of Wolverine and the original five X-Men, I also managed to pick up any number of first appearances, including Cable (both as a child and as an adult), Deadpool, The Hellfire Club, Apocalypse, Mister Sinister, and Gambit. Given that my collection stretches back to the Silver-Age X-Men reprint era, if a character didn’t first appear in the Swinging Sixties, odds are good that I have their introduction in my collection.

Now while there’s quite a few notable issues in there, Marvel - for decades - has always published a ton of X-Men titles. Uncanny X-Men spawned The New Mutants, X-Factor, and Excalibur even before the ‘90s explosion in more mutant-related titles. The publisher also hasn’t been shy about mini-series and one-shots. For every God Loves, Man Kills, they released a Phoenix: Warsong. As an X-Men fan, it’s been fun reading the various series over the years, and watching people paid to write X-Men trip over their shoelaces and established continuity until Jonathan Hickman blew all of our minds and pretty much made past continuity irrelevant.

I was fortunate to discover the X-Men shortly before the ‘90s speculation bubble almost destroyed comic books, and that engendered in me a “Pokémon” mindset where it made sense to “collect them all”. Adult earnings allowed me to carry that mindset into my twenties and thirties, and it wasn’t until recently that I was forced to acknowledge that my collector’s mindset needed to give way to to a more focused curator’s mindset, given that I’m literally out of space for physical issues. (I stopped purchasing issues in mid-2019 before House of X / Powers of X.) The last I counted, I was storing somewhere north of three thousand individual issues and I need to get that count down to between 1,200 and 1,800 issues. Fortunately, Hickman’s re-invigoration of the X-Men franchise has sparked interest in classic titles such as Excalibur, so I should be in a good position to sell some issues back to the local comic shop for some decent store credit for collected hardcover editions and for my growing stable of young comic fans whom I’m trying to rope into the medium with books like IDW’s Marvel Action line, which are comics written for actual kids, and not middle-aged men like myself (with too much disposable income).

This defenestration of my comic book collection will be something that will take a period of months - but I’m aiming to sell one long-box of issues back to the comic shop each month. Where I’m at now is determining the actual parameters and definition of my collection. I think where I’ll probably land is something that is primarily creator-centric. For example, I may end up keeping all the Uncanny X-Men issues that Chris Claremont wrote, even if I was not a fan of an issue’s artist. I’ll certainly keep every issue I own that Chris Bachalo penciled. I’m not the biggest Alan Davis fan, so classic Excalibur and later 2000s-era Uncanny X-Men issues will likely be headed back to the comic shop, along with the entire Chuck Austen era. As for The New Mutants, I’ll keep my Bill Sienkiewicz Demon Bear issues, but I’m on the fence about the X-Force prequel era. (If I keep those, it will be more on the strength of Louise Simonson’s writing than Rob Liefeld’s art - which was fine.)

In any case, it should be interesting to see how this shakes out. Let’s hope that I survive the experience.

Now the fundamental reason for doing this de-cluttering isn’t just to have a cleaner house, it’s to also engineer a calmer and more organized mode of thinking than I’ve had for some time. As mentioned in my prior Note, I’m a big believer in embodied cognition and the idea that we don’t just think with our minds, but we also think with our bodies, the artifacts we use, and the environments in which we find ourselves situated. And while I’m working on my own physical health, choosing and using better tools, and improving overall mental health, it would be foolish to leave my surroundings unaddressed in this endeavor. My goal for 2021 is to move from 2020’s largely-reactive approach things to something of a more deliberate and calculating method of working and living in the new year. And I can’t do that sitting in the middle of an organizational mess, even if it’s a complete organizational mess.

Book reports

2021’s 100 Book Reading Challenge has begun and I have a few book reports for class:

Les Montagnes Hallucinées (Tome 2) by François Baranger & H.P. Lovecraft: Baranger is likely the most talented visual artist working on Lovecraftian projects today and this second volume of his illustrated edition of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness is incredibly executed, and has me hoping that a Hollywood executive is smart enough to look at these volumes and pay Guillermo del Toro to make his movie.

At the Mountains of Madness (Vols. 1 & 2) by Gou Tanabe & H.P. Lovecraft: Where Baranger gives Lovecraft’s tale a grand sweeping cinematic treatment, Tanabe’s manga adaptation is much less Guillermo del Toro and much more Pi-era Darren Aronofsky. It’s a black and white psychological drama playing out among members of the first human team to visit the interior of Antarctica. It’s a much more personal and claustrophobic experience, and Tanabe’s attention to the grit and detail and muck of the story grounds it in a way much different than Baranger’s thinner volumes. Where Baranger captures grand sweeping vistas on single and double page spreads, Tanabe takes advantage of the hundreds of (smaller) additional pages he has at his disposal draw our attention to various aspects of the story with microscopic precision, panel by panel. Tekeli-Li!

One warning about these book reports moving forward: while I’ve committed to reading one hundred books over fifty-two weeks, progress won’t be a linear 1.9 books read every week. Some weeks (like this one), I’ll bank a few extra books to prepare for some more ambitious reading later in the year. Off the top of my head, the first of the won’t-finish-in-one-week set that I’ll be tackling is Doug Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which will require some steady attention and time, unlike the latest genre novel on the stack. I also have Musimathics on deck, and ultimate goal of this year’s reading is to give Don Knuth’s The Art of Computer Programming a solid and intensive review. And if I’m lucky and my Lovecraft connections come through, I may even get to read the complete fourth volume:

So, be prepared for weeks of feast (like this one) and weeks of famine where I may not have a book report ready for the class. In those cases I’ll take extra care to do a more intensive review in subsequent weeks on the books where I spend the most time.

Interesting reads

SpaceX may try to catch a falling rocket with a launch tower (Ars Technica)

The Cruise Ship Suicides (Bloomberg)

Vegas on the Black Sea (Roads & Kingdoms)

The Trump-Bernie alliance that could have been (The Week)

Trump’s worst pardon is one you haven’t heard about (Washington Post)

George Orwell is out of copyright. What happens now? (The Guardian)

The Risky Wager of Betting on Trump (National Review)

Was That a Dropped Call From ET? (New York Times)

Hope your New Year is off to a good start, CMDRs!