Episode 140 – Dylan Horrocks

Virtual Memories Show #140:
Dylan Horrocks, Straight Outta Hicksville

“When you love an art form passionately, it can get complicated. It’s not a simple, clean, pure love that constantly enriches your life. It can also break your heart.”

samzabelcoverLive from CXC! Dylan Horrocks, the NZ cartoonist behind Hicksville (Drawn & Quarterly) and Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen (Fantagraphics), joins the show for a live podcast to talk about his fear of comics, our responsibility for our fantasies, the way he built a fruitful career around creative block, the influence of Maori culture on white New Zealanders’ perspectives, the way his backup stories keep becoming his major projects, his take on Charlie Hebdo and how it ties into his experience with the fatwa on Salman Rushdie, and the idea that America is a story we tell ourselves. This episode is part of our Cartoon Crossroads Columbus series of live podcasts. Give it a listen!

“Part of what I was trying to do was to explore what it means to be marginal. Comics were seen as marginal to the literary world and the art world, and New Zealand is seen as being at the bottom of the world. Instead of saying, ‘We’re on the edges of these two worlds, so let’s travel to the center,’ I decided that there is no center. Wherever you are on the surface of the world, that’s the center of the world.”

dylmebyamyDylan also talks about backing into mainstream comics without a vision for what to do when he got there, his parents’ history in a Trotskyist revolutionary cell, the literary aspect of his work, and whether comics really will break your heart. BONUS: you get my story about how Hicksville led me travel to the other side of the planet (and make this jump). Go listen!  (And go buy Hicksville and Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen!)

“I have the idea that America is a narrative, a fiction, in the same way that every nation is kind of a fictional construction. . . . America is a story we tell ourselves.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

hicksvilledylanDylan Horrocks is from New Zealand, where he lives near the city of his birth, Auckland, with his wife and their two sons. He published 10 issues of his legendary comic book series Pickle through Canada’s Black Eye Press in the mid-1990s. A collected version of his Hicksville serial was first published in 1998, and quickly became one of the cartoon works of its generation. Hicksville‘s vision of a small town where comics are so valued that, even those comics that never got to be created somehow exist, is a thrilling, yet human vision for the art form, and one which cartoonists and audiences have rallied to ever since. Horrocks has since drawn the comic book Atlas for Drawn And Quarterly, spent time working for DC Comics, and has become an educator and advocate for the art form in New Zealand and abroad. His newest book is Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen, a new graphic novel published by Fantagraphics about the act of creation and the pernicious qualities of being creatively blocked. His Incomplete Works will be published in the U.S. any time now. You can follow Dylan on Twitter at @dylanhorrocks.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Cultural Arts Center in Columbus, OH during Cartoon Crossroads Columbus in October 2015 on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of me & Mr. Horrocks by Amy Roth.

Thunderstruck

In 2003, I took a 2-week vacation to New Zealand. During that trip, I bungee-jumped, jetboated through river-canyons, took my first helicopter ride (over a rain-forest, onto a glacier), table-danced to AC/DC, and otherwise had the time of my life. The most daring thing I did on the trip? Drink with Australian men.

My last night in NZ, I partied with some Aussies who were in Queensland for a friend’s triathlon. They introduced me to what I thought was the most evil mixed drink ever: the Flatliner. For nearly a decade, I hadn’t come across a worse idea for a drink. When I finally did, it came from an Australian.

In edition 108 of Monocle’s weekly podcast, Australian food writer Jill Dupleix talked about Sydney’s restaurant, bar and coffee scenes. She had a neat observation about the way the 1996 summer Olympics induced an entire generation of youth to drop out of school and go into the hospitality industry. “It was like the national service,” she said. “Like they’d been conscripted.”

And then she mentioned what has to be The Worst Drink Ever: the Lagerita. “A massive amount of beer, ice, tequila and lime juice in a great big glass tankard,” as she described it. I’m sure there are more terrible ingredients in the mix.

My point — and I can’t stress this enough — is never drink with Australians.

Unrequired Reading: The Februariad

Here’s your monthly dose of Unrequired Reading, dear readers who are too lazy or otherwise uninclined to follow my twitter feed at twitter.com/groth18

My dogs would get so confused on these awesome staircases.

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Nothing about how Craigslist enables Arab protestors and revolutionaries to get laid? #noitdoesnt

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Great pix from Sept. shuttle trip in honor of my production manager, who bailed on our current ish to watch the launch.

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Simon Schama on Helen Mirren. Well, not ON Helen Mirren, but you know. #IneverdidseethatMazurskyversionoftheTempest

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Sadly, I’m sure there’s a novel/screenplay about a romance between a mope and a fluffer.

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So it’s better to shoot at civilian protestors with 7.62s, not .50s?

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“Exotic Superfluid Found in Ultra-Dense Stellar Corpse”: the title of the new Orb record? #littlefluffytweets

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Glad to find out street heroin and my G&Ts both have quinine: always important to stave off malaria. #themoreyouknow

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I’d be afraid of the NJ version of this #50moststylishnewyorkers list.

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Gator and the Berra. #NYY #louisianalightning

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Don’t bet against the Tic-Tac-Toe Chicken. #starbucksduanereadeorcupcakes

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Profile of Al Goldstein: the (not-)new pornographer.

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Greatest. Memo. Ever. #weneedtosolvepakistanbeforelunch

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@simondoonan: not exactly a fan of Fashion Week (but hilarious). http://slate.me/gLK6Jz #nyfw

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tl;dr?

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There really should be a Yinka Dare award, too. #nbaantiawards

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Great Michael Caine interview. Get Carter was #badass

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“Alcoholic hospice”? I used to joke about drinking with careerist determination, but wow.

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Ahoy-ahoy! #thatisall

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If only Bill Murray had missed out on The Man Who Knew Too Little, too… http://bit.ly/fCEPi9 #billmurray #castingdirectorofbabel

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To Mr. & Mrs. Ball, a son: Curve. #intheloop #greatestmovieever

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That’s it! No Ferrari for me! #okayidriveasubaru

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KenJen on #Watson: very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman.

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Michael Lewis (satirically) on who’s to blame for the financial crisis: #blamecanada?

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It’d be funnier if the greys just took off like rockets: #judginggreyhounds

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Did NYC consult @dandrezner for the zombie invasion section? #apocalypselaw #escapefromnewyork

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West Egg. 8-Bit. Great Gatsby video game. #gatsbyfornes

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Great piece by Adam Kirsch on literary criticism. Go read it! #notbookreviews

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Sartoria Rossi: or is it Satori Rossi? #beitalian #iwishicoulddressthiswell

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@nealstephenson on the development of the Rocket #ficktnichtmitderRaketemensch! #youdroppedthebombonme

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Valentine’s Day special! Here are the best NYC restaurants in which to stage a breakup! #noromance

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Fun story of SEO abuse on Google. #jcpenney #seohack

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Not on the menu @ Veselka: Ron Rosenbaum on cannibalism in the Ukraine c.1932-3 #noendtoevil #ieatcannibals

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Schizo NYC from @jeremoss: Two-Face, Composite Superman, or Ultra The Multi-Alien? #splitcity #uglierbytheday

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“Yoga in bed” is a euphemism, right? #clydefrazier #whatrhymeswithtantric

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Ouroussoff fluffery on new Gehry bldg. Was this actually written by a computer using random samples of O’s prose?

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Important lesson – never marry a chemist: #whenxiaoyemetthallium

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I’d wear Jesse Eisenberg’s costuming from Social Network before I’d be caught dead in Sorkin’s sack suit #badfashion

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Richie Rich: explosion on the runway. http://bit.ly/gyAz2R #nyfw

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My old man swears he once reached a polar research base with his HAM setup: #wb2zvs

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Not quite as implausible as Jews In Space, but it’s close: Jews In Syria! (neat story, trust me) http://bit.ly/gkOntd

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Neat @nicknotned (Nick Denton) Atlantic Wire interview about his news consumption habits.

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Covering J.G. Ballard #jgballard

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Real question is: Can a novel be “philosophical” without being dreadfully dull? #doubtit

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Metropolitan or Gossip Girl? or … #whitstillman #gossipgirl (I’m a Metropolitan man)

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Queenstown, where I heard the voice of God (also, where I bungee-jumped) http://nyti.ms/dSZiHx

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Greatest. Band name. Ever. #drteethandtheelectricmayhem

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Clive James on roman policier: #okaytheyrecrimenovels

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The honey badger doesn’t give a shit: #randall

Honey badger remains b-a-d-a-s-s (I can’t even survive drinking half a 40 of King Cobra). #honeybadger

Lucky Seven

On this day seven years ago, I was

Now I’m

  • married,
  • living in my ancestral home, with lots of room for books,
  • keeping my weight around 40 lbs. below its peak,
  • retired as a book publisher,
  • working on the 100th issue of my magazine,
  • not planning any major trips,
  • starting Eddie Campbell’s Alec: The Years Have Pants, and
  • glad that I finished reading Gould’s Book of Fish, even though the other two books fell by the wayside.

And seven years ago today, I started this blog.

The world and I have gone through plenty of changes since that day. I’m happy that I’ve had Virtual Memories to help me try to chronicle it. To paraphrase Tony Kornheiser, I’ll try to do better next time.

Bonus: And we’re celebrating by having some glass guys remove the big smoked-mirror wall in our living room (installed by my dad, c.1989). Good thing they didn’t break any of those panels, or it’d be seven years of bad blogging ahead!

Meet the G that kilt me

I’m still pretty busy, dear readers, so why don’t you spend some time with this excellent essay from The Nonist on the Fake History (and fake history-making) of the Tartan?

I’ve never seen Braveheart, and my history of Scottish stereotypes goes back to Orwell’s essay on antisemitism in England, where I first heard the “Scots are cheap” meme:

It is interesting to compare the “Jew joke” with that other stand-by of the music halls, the “Scotch joke”, which superficially it resembles. Occasionally a story is told (e.g. the Jew and the Scotsman who went into a pub together and both died of thirst) which puts both races on an equality, but in general the Jew is credited MERELY with cunning and avarice while the Scotsman is credited with physical hardihood as well. This is seen, for example, in the story of the Jew and the Scotsman who go together to a meeting which has been advertised as free. Unexpectedly there is a collection, and to avoid this the Jew faints and the Scotsman carries him out. Here the Scotsman performs the athletic feat of carrying the other. It would seem vaguely wrong if it were the other way about.

Years later in New Zealand, I saw a rental van parked at a lodge. The side of the van was plastered with the logo for “Scotty’s Rentals,” and carried the slogan, “Rates so low, a Scotsman would love them!”

Anyway, you oughtta be checking in on The Nonist’s blog every so often, or add it your RSS feed. He writes some pretty entertaining, thought-out posts.

Springboks Supreme

I watched the finals of the Rugby World Cup this afternoon, and was disappointed to see South Africa’s Springboks knock off England 15-6, esp. after a British try that got overturned by the blind video-judge. Considering South Africa blanked England 36-0 earlier in the tournament, I guess this loss could be considered a little more palatable, particularly since England got to defeat France to get to this point.

I’m not sure why I was rooting against South Africa. Maybe it was an apartheid hangover, maybe it was because they tried to kill Joe Pesci in that Lethal Weapon movie. Or maybe it was the Aryan weirdness and unmoving hair of Percy Montgomery.

Amy & I never did get around to figuring out all the rules, but the games we watched here and in Milan were pretty entertaining. As a contrast, I also got to attend the Jets/Giants game a few Sundays ago, and that got me to thinking about the rugby vs. U.S. football debate. (Here’s a slideshow from that game, tickets courtesy of my buddy Jon-Eric.)

When I was in New Zealand in 2003, some of the antipodeans goofed on me because NFL players wear pads, while rugby players are, um, unprotected (and adventuresome!). I pointed out that NFL linemen are probably 6-10 inches taller than rugby players, a hundred lbs. heavier, and only a step or so slower. Or, as official VM buddy Tom Spurgeon put it, “Would your rather crash full speed into a wall on your bicycle or in a car?”

Anyway, having watched a few matches, I can see that top rugby players are in better shape than NFL players, since there’s really no break in the action (I think halftime is only 10 minutes long), very few substitutions, and lots of ugly hits that these guys keep managing to get up from.

For me, that was a big factor that made rugby fun to watch: no one takes a dive. One guy went down during this match, and the medico ran over to treat him while the game kept going on. There’s none of the flopping that characterizes soccer (and now the NBA), none of the “I’ll never walk again” writhing that ends 15 seconds later with the player getting up and running downfield.

Of course, most of the rugby players also have cauliflower ears, swollen brows, and cognitive impairment, but I’m pretty sure that last one was what led them into rugby to begin with.

* * *

Virtual Memories bonus! When I visited New Zealand (see enormous slideshow), my flight into Auckland landed the morning after the finals of the 2003 Rugby World Cup. The pilot spent a good five minutes describing the action from the game, in which England beat Australia in overtime. After 12 hours in the air (this followed a 6-hour flight from EWR to LAX), I wasn’t exactly in the mood for the George Michael Sports Machine, but he made it entertaining while we taxi’d to the gate.

Days later, on a Saturday morning, we cruised along in our tour bus. I watched the countryside and small towns roll by, and then I saw something that I never bothered to share with anyone. In the front yard of a house, at 8 o’clock in the morning, a kid (he had to be under 10) was marching back and forth carrying a large sign that read, “POMMY RUGBY IS BORING!”

I can only assume the kid lost a bet on the finals.

Bigger Than Tina

On the heels of yesterday’s announcement about Faiz K.’s new baby, another dutiful VM reader has great news to share: my favorite Australian is getting hitched!

No, not Jacko! He’s washed up!

No, not Michael Hutchence! He died under weird circumstances!

No, not Paul Hogan! What happened to him, anyway?

The Australian who’s getting married is none other than Tina B.!

Pictured here at Petra, which is nowhere near Australia! Good luck to her and Brendan (the wedding’s not for another 13 months, but hey)! It just goes to show you, dear readers: Love conquers all, including the Coriolis Effect!

(VM Bonus: Tina took two of the greatest photos of me ever: looking cute, and shitscared.)

Update: After Tina’s protest (see comments), I found a pic she sent of her and Brendan at Lord Howe Island. I’m just glad she remembered that I have those terrible pix of her table-dancing in a C&W bar in Nelson, NZ. Fortunately, no photographic evidence exists of me throwing down to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck:

Cloudburst

“The things we crave are either near us or far, whereas time is about process. I have lived many years and I have learned not to trust process. Creation, destruction: these are not the real story. When we dwell on such things, we inevitably lapse into cliché. The true drama is in these relationships of space.”

–Emil Kopen

I’ve bought a lot of comic books over the years, but I’m not what you’d call a collector. When a store clerk asks if I want a bag-and-board for a new purchase, I answer, “No, thanks. I just read ’em.” I used to have some “valuable” comics, but I sold most of them off during college. I don’t remember what I needed the money for. A few years ago, I gave away a ton of “worthless” ones to some friends of mine. They treasure them.

You could say I own a couple of expensive comics, but that depends on your definition of “expensive”. Is $100 too much to spend on a hardcover collection of Little Nemo in Slumberland comic strips, reprinted at their original size (21″ x 16″)? Is $95 too much to spend on a three-volume slipcased edition of the complete Calvin & Hobbes, the best comic strip post-Peanuts? Is $125 too much to spend on the trade paperbacks of the final 100 issues of Cerebus? (Okay, don’t answer that one.)

And is $3,000 too much to spend on Hicksville?

There’s certainly nothing on its cover to indicate that Hicksville carries such an extravagant price. In fact, my edition reads, “$19.95 US / $24.95 CANADA”. It’s no rare, pulled-from-circulation issue, has no first appearance of Wolverine nor the death of a well-loved character (“Not a dream! Not a hoax!”).

But Hicksville brought me to the other side of the world, to small towns and jade factories, to wineries and bungee-platforms, to glaciers and Bunny Hell, to myself and beyond. It brought me to New Zealand.

Hicksville collects a story from the early-to-mid-1990s comics of Dylan Horrocks, about a comics journalist who travels to a small town to research the childhood of a famous cartoonist. The journalist discovers that everyone in this town is a comics aficionado. It’s a dream that I think all comics readers had at some point in their lives, that there’s a place in which we’re home.

But it wasn’t this vision that stayed with me over the years and led me to call my travel-industry friends to set up a two-week tour of the North & South Islands. I wasn’t naïve enough to think there was a comics Shangri-La waiting there. (That’s in Angouleme!)

What brought me to New Zealand was the sky. It’s no mean feat in a black-and-white comic book to convey such subtlety in clouds. In fact, Horrocks’ scratchy pen style would seem to dictate against it, mere outlines separating absence from absence. But there was something in his skies that stayed with me. I was captured by the romance of it, right down to the Maori name for the country: Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud.

In 2003, I decided to go there and see it for myself. My friend Liz set me up on an “adventure tour” group, which was an extensively mixed bag of people (one of whom has stayed a good friend ever since). For the first few days, all I saw were clouds. Oh, and rain. Lots of rain.

But by the time our tour headed to the South Island via the Wellington-Picton ferry, the sky cleared and I started to understand things that I can’t explain. By the end of the trip, at the peak of the Ben Lomond trail, a mile or so above Queenstown, I knew where I was.

A day later, I would spend 24 hours in planes and airports, replaying Emil Kopen’s remarks about space, not time, being the essence of storytelling, as I jetted from Queenstown to Auckland to LA to Newark. Today marks the third anniversary of my return from NZ. Time and space.

I bought my copy of Hicksville at a small press comics expo in Maryland in 1998. Dylan Horrocks was in attendance, signing copies (he’d been brought in to give a presentation on the history of comics in NZ). He made a sketch on the first page of my copy, along with the inscription, “Hey Gil! You’re always welcome in Hicksville!”

And I am.

(You really want to look through my photos from that trip.)

Unrequired Reading: Nov. 10, 2006

As you know, I’ve been interested in the development of the new Airbus A380 (the really big plane) and all the production problems Airbus has been having with it. The fact that I fly between 25,000 and 35,000 miles each year is a key contributor to this interest.

Barbara Peterson at Popular Mechanics takes care of my addiction with an article on the engineering issues Airbus is running into:

Will the A380 be the next Concorde — an engineering breakthrough with little chance of breaking even? Certainly, the problem the jetliner was supposed to help solve — airport gridlock — still exists. The world’s major hubs already operate at full capacity during peak hours, and traffic is expected to increase 4 percent annually, from 4.2 billion passengers in 2005 to 7 billion passengers in 2020. Building new airports or significantly expanding existing ones, though, is a practical and political nightmare.

The Airbus solution: Increase capacity with a plane that carries up to 900 passengers — nearly twice as many as the 747. “It is this big monster,” says Hans Weber, president of Tecop International, a San Diego-based aviation consulting firm. “And Airbus has struggled with the nightmare of making something this big economically efficient.”

Meanwhile, Boeing has gambled that the market is most interested in a fuel-efficient, midrange widebody that gives airlines flexibility. Its flagship project became the 250-passenger 787 Dreamliner, slated to go into service in 2008.

Virtually all experts agree that the A380 will eventually join the civilian fleet. (The plane’s maiden voyage — a planned Singapore Airlines flight to Sydney, Australia — was recently pushed back, again, and is now slated for late 2007.) But the problems facing the most expensive, ambitious nonmilitary aircraft project in history are mounting.

* * *

The AV Club interviewed Steven Wright this week. Turns out he and I share thoughts on travel:

AVC: What are the best and worst parts of touring?

SW: The best is definitely being in front of the audience, that rush in front of all those people. And then the other part is, “Oh my God, I’m in another hotel.” I say to my friends, if I won some contest, it would be like, “You have won five weeks in your own house!” Oh my God! I’d be jumping up and down hugging the host, hugging the other contestants.

AVC: So you’re not a fan of hotels?

SW: There’s just so many of them. It’s not that I don’t like hotels. This sounds kind of simple, but it’s true: The fact that you’re in a hotel means also that you’re not home. So as the time keeps going, and the experiences keep going, it’s like, “Man, I have not been home in this giant amount of time.”

I wonder if he was really enthusiastic and energetic in the interview.

* * *

Five teams of finalists have been named by the New Orleans Building Corp. for the project of rebuilding the city’s waterfront. Unfortunately, Frank Gehry’s on one of the finalist-squads.

The potential development zone includes a largely derelict 4.5-mile stretch of the north bank of the Mississippi River between Jackson Avenue and the Industrial Canal, which now includes mostly wharves and port facilities. It borders the Lower Garden district, the warehouse district, the French Quarter, Marigny, and Baywater.

The RFQ calls for new commercial, cultural, park, and transportation uses for the area, and for maintaining cruise and cargo operations. This, says Cummings, could include a continuous park with walking and bike paths, museums, a large performance venue, a culinary university campus, and modern cruise ship terminals. He stresses that the area will be oriented to public facilities, not ”condominiums and private property.”

* * *

In the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” category, Sheldon Silver helped shut down the West Side Stadium project, for which I’m quite thankful. As this City Journal article points out, Rep. Silver’s done a lot of stuff I don’t agree with:

Until last year, New York had an 80-year-old law that held auto-leasing companies ultimately responsible for accidents caused by drivers who leased or rented their cars. The law made about as much sense as, say, holding Chrysler responsible for accidents caused by the customers who buy and drive their vehicles. The law drove many auto-leasing companies out of New York, and it forced those that stayed to protect themselves by asking customers to jump through expensive legal hoops. The law had no constituency save the trial lawyers.

But the law stayed on the books thanks to Silver, who used his control of the assembly to block its repeal repeatedly. Silver said that he got in the way to protect victims of car accidents. But the more likely explanation for his obstructionism is that he himself is a trial lawyer and is beholden to the trial lawyer lobby. In fact, it took blanket federal legislation last year to nullify the auto-leasing law and similar if more limited laws in a few other states.

* * *

Rumsfeld et al. obviously mangled the postwar planning for Iraq, but I think he had some revolutionary ideas about how to execute a war-plan itself, sorta like being a good in-game basketball coach who has no ability to manage his players between games. The Iraqi army, one of the largest in the world, with months of preparation, was flat-out annihilated by a relatively light force of troops. That’s nothing to sneeze at, even with all the disastrous consequences. I think military theorists (and practitioners) will have plenty to learn from his mistakes and his successes.

Victor Davis Hanson goes a lot further in his praise for Rumsfeld.

* * *

Speaking of the election, Brandon Arnold at the Cato Institute contends that gerrymandering is still a major force in Congressional elections:

Consider that there were 435 races in the House and Senate with an incumbent trying to retain his or her seat. Only 26 — 6% — of challengers in these races have won. That’s pretty low for a “throw the bums out” election. Pending the outcome of three or four yet-to-be-determined races, this year’s 94% incumbent reelection rate appears to be slightly higher than the 90% rate of 1994.

* * *

Where’s the cup holder?

* * *

Pop music stars should not write children’s books. Only Ph.D.’s formerly at contract research organizaztions should write children’s books.

* * *

According to Theodore Dalyrmple, New Zealand once had excellent used bookstores but now has a crappy penal system.

* * *

And finally: “A chicken, with two asses!” (thanks, Tina!)

Unrequired Reading: Oct 27, 2006

A friend of mine recently brought up how “the West has lied,” failing to keep its “never again” promise after Rwanda. I mentioned that, just as anti-genocide forces learned from Rwanda, we should remember that groups that plan to commit genocide also learned lessons from what happened in Rwanda (and other massacres).

A former assistant secretary of state thinks the world’s approach to the genocide in Darfur isn’t helping any:

When pressure is applied to the Sudanese government, there is always the perceived sense, much as there was in Vietnam, that just a little more and Khartoum will cave. Perhaps. But Bashir, admittedly no Ho Chi Minh, is sitting on growing oil revenue, and he can see that the international community is divided and that the demands for more aggressive action are going nowhere.

Moreover, many measures the advocates demand for bringing pressure on Bashir, such as targeted sanctions, an investigation of Sudan’s business holdings or a threat of action by the International Criminal Court, hardly meet the standard of urgency, however much these things may be worth doing.

* * *

It turns out that the solution to U.S. oil independence may come from Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa.

* * *

Theodore Dalrymple reviews Ian Buruma’s new book on the murder of Theo Van Gogh (and all that it may or may not signify):

[Van Gogh] thought he was a licensed jester. His ability to shock depended, of course, upon the persistence in Dutch society of the Calvinist mentality of purse-lipped moralism, now as frequently employed against those who dare suggest that the rank, and deeply ideological, hedonism of Amsterdam is not only unattractive but morally reprehensible as against those, such as fornicators, traditionally regarded as sinners. Scratch a Dutch liberal, and you will find a Calvinist moralist not far beneath the surface.

This Calvinism, however, was tolerant to the extent that it did not prescribe slaughter in the streets for those deemed to have insulted it. Its worst sanction was disapproval — precisely what Van Gogh sought. Van Gogh hid under so many layers of rather crude irony that it became impossible to know what he really believed, if anything; and it was beyond his comprehension that anyone would take anything so seriously, or perhaps literally is a better word, as to kill for it.

* * *

China plans to become the world’s R&D hub. I don’t believe it’s going to happen, for reasons that are so full of racist stereotypes that I am both embarrassed to recount them and fully convinced that they will apply in spades. (Which is to say, their best-known invention is more Chinese people, and their best-known export is SARS.)

* * *

I was wrong about the Cardinals getting destroyed by the Tigers in the World Series. But that doesn’t change the fact that I love Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland, not least because of his inability to quit smoking. Which is fantastic. Not the inability. Smoking.

He was being interviewed by then-ESPNer Chris Myers, who was asking him about his well-publicized tendency to smoke cigarettes in the dugout. Leyland paused for a moment, put his head down and delivered the obligatory platitudes about how bad smoking is for you, how children should avoid smoking, how he knows it’s unhealthy. Then he looked directly into the camera, his eyes very wide, and said, “Still. Smokers out there, you know what I’m talking about. That moment, after you’ve had a huge meal, say at Thanksgiving, when you step outside in the cold, light up a cigarette and take a deep inhale … that’s about the best moment in the world, you know? All the smokers out there, you know that feeling. Sometimes, smoking is fantastic.” Myers quickly cut to commercial, and Leyland has never been on the show since.

* * *

A few weeks ago, while channel-surfing, Amy & I came across a documentary show on the Travel Channel. It featured John Ratzenberger exploring the history of stuff that’s Made In America. My first thought was, “John Ratzenberger gets work?”

Amy’s first thought was, “Seriously? Shouldn’t he be wearing a USPS uniform?”

Anyway, that episode chronicled the Maker’s Mark whiskey factory in Kentucky. Out of deference to my southern wife, we stayed with that segment. Here’s a BW piece on the issues Maker’s Mark faces in keeping up its quality as its market share grows. It’s an interesting story because, while the brand is owned by a larger group, it looks like there are very site-specific issues involved in making the stuff. (I don’t think this includes sourcing that red wax they use to seal the bottles, but you never know.)

Have a slide show, while you’re here.

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I’m not only interested in the scaleup of whiskey manufacturing. I’m also interested in the massive infrastructure needed to run something like Google. So is George Gilder, who wrote this lengthy article about the subject. So next time you’re googling about whiskey, remember this blog.

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Does the earth sing to itself? I have Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome’ on right now, so I can’t tell.

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Speaking of music, Roy Blount, Jr. doesn’t like Bob Dylan’s music.

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Like everyone else, New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose has had a rough time in the year-plus since Katrina:

I was receiving thousands of e-mails in reaction to my stories in the paper, and most of them were more accounts of death, destruction and despondency by people from around south Louisiana. I am pretty sure I possess the largest archive of personal Katrina stories, little histories that would break your heart.

I guess they broke mine.

I am an audience for other people’s pain. But I never considered seeking treatment. I was afraid that medication would alter my emotions to a point of insensitivity, lower my antenna to where I would no longer feel the acute grip that Katrina and the flood have on the city’s psyche.

I thought, I must bleed into the pages for my art. Talk about “embedded” journalism; this was the real deal.

He realized that wasn’t smart, and has a LONG column on how he now deals with his depression. You may want to take notes, since you will likely be mighty depressed by the end of this column.