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Jason Crane Posts

Stardust (the NASA mission, not the ballad)

In the interest of full disclosure, I want you to know what kind of nerd you’re dealing with when you visit this Web site. In 1998, NASA put out a call for names to be inscribed onto two microchips that would go into space on the Stardust mission. Stardust was NASA’s first attempt to fly through a comet and collect a sample.

Jen and I were living in Japan at the time, and I submitted my name. I made it on Chip #2! That still thrills me, and I realize what that implies, so you don’t need to bring it up. There were actually two sets of chips — one set that would fly through the comet and return with the sample-collecting spacecraft, and another set that would stay out in space forever.

Early this morning, Stardust returned to Earth. Welcome back, and bring on the science!

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Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield is a genius. There, I said it. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Go right now and pick up a copy of his solo debut Curtis (1970). If you’re an iTunes user, here’s the link to the album.

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Maryland stands up to Wal-Mart

Back in the halcyon days of The Jason Crane Show on NewsTalk 950, Joan Collins-Lambert talked about the effort by the Maryland legislature to pass a bill mandating that companies with more than 10,000 employees in Maryland must either spend 8% of payroll on healthcare for their employees, or they must pay into a healthcare fund for the state’s poor.

This was seen as a move against Wal-Mart. The company pays its workers so poorly, and provides them with such substandard health care, that states end up footing the bill. The legislature passed the bill last year, but Maryland Governor Robert Erlich vetoed it. Just this week, the legislature overrode his veto.

The New York Times has the story (registration required).

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Celestial Madonna: Timothy Leary didn’t write it, but he could have

I mentioned recently that I’ve been reading a comic book called GODLAND, written by Joe Casey and drawn by Tom Scioli. The book is drawn in the classic Jack Kirby style, and written in the cosmic adventure genre done so well by guys like Kirby, Steve Englehart, and Jim Starlin. Some GODLAND fans have even created a site devoted to the comic at

One of the hip features of the fan site is a regular column by writer Joe Casey called The Genre, in which he explores the world of classic “cosmic comics.” In the first edition, Casey paid homage to Steve Englehart’s “Celestial Madonna” storyline, which ran in The Avengers from 1974-75.

It’s very, very hard to write a simple synopsis of the storyline, mostly because I’m not in possession of whatever mind-altering substances Mr. Englehart was using back in the day. Suffice it to say that the story begins with the appearance of a mystical star glowing above Avengers Mansion, and ends with the character Mantis marrying a tree. Yup — a tree. (Insert sound of bong hit here.)

On Mr. Casey’s recommendation, I asked Andy at Comics Etc. to order the Celestial Madonna trade paperback collection for me. I finished it this morning. Yoikes! This thing was written back in the day when comic book dialgue made George Lucas sound like David Mamet. As Carrie Fisher said of George’s scripts: “You can write that stuff, but you can’t say it.” The Celestial Madonna collection takes that adage even further — you can barely read some of this stuff, let alone say it out loud. That is not an indictment, particularly if you grew up reading comics in the 70’s, as I did. Sure, things have come a long way, but it’s still cool as heck to sink deep into the pages (and pages and pages and pages and pages…) of ridiculous narration and even more ridiculous dialogue.

I was never a big Avengers fan, although I did collect West Coast Avengers for a while in the 80’s. The version of the Avengers featured in Celestial Madonna includes Thor, Iron Man, The Vision, Scarlet Witch, Mantis, and the Swordsman, along with appearances by Hawkeye, Nomad (the former — and future — Captain America) … and every villain Marvel could dig up and dust off. The main heavy is Kang The Conqueror, and that means that our heroes will be traveling through time. They do, visiting the past and the future, and even making a pit-stop in Limbo (!) to fight the likes of Frankenstein’s Monster and WWII-era villain Baron Zemo.

If your head is already spinning just from reading this, imagine how reading all 224 pages must feel!

It was worth it, though. I’m really getting into the whole cosmic adventure thing, and it’s fun to bone up on my cosmic history while enjoying modern treasures such as GODLAND and the equally brilliant Fear Agent, written by Rick Remender and drawn by Tony Moore.

As a teaser, I’ll tell you that I have my own GODLAND project planned, and that it won’t be in the form of a comic book. Stay tuned, true believer…

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It’s good to be King (Kong)!

If you haven’t seen the original 1933 version of King Kong, run down to your local video emporium and pick up the new 2-DVD Special Edition, released earlier this year.

First and most importantly, the newly restored Kong looks fantastic. Many lost or censored scenes have been added back in — and they’ve been taken from a recently discovered UK print of the film, rather than from grainy 16mm reprints. The music has been remastered, and it’s wonderful, although still in mono.

I was really amazed by how much I got into this movie. I have to come clean: I’d never seen the original in its entirety. I’d seen bits and pieces here and there — I think it’s just about impossible not to have seen the Empire State Building sequence at some point in your life — but never the whole thing. And here comes an understatement: It’s a great movie. A little hammy where the acting is concerned, but I actually find that a plus, not a minus. After all, this was a monster movie made in 1932. It’s supposed to be hammy!

The second DVD contains two documentaries — one about director Marion C. Cooper, and another 2.5-hour documentary about the making of the film, produced by Peter Jackson, who directed the new King Kong movie and a little indie fantasy trilogy called Lord of the Rings. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. This latter documentary contains all the standard “making of” stuff, plus the kind of detail and extra effort only found when fans talk about their favorite films. The coolest bit? Peter Jackson and the WETA Digital crew use 1932 technology and stop-motion animation to recreate the classic lost “Spider Pit” scene, removed from the original film because it was too shocking.

Two documentaries, one classic film. This set should be in everyone’s collection.

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The adventures of Scott Pilgrim

After living in Japan for several years, you’d thing I would have a fair amount of experience reading manga, Japan’s wildly popular comic books. You’d be wrong. For some reason, I never really got into manga when I lived there, even though they’re a fairly useful way to learn Japanese. Part of the problem for me was the content, and in particular the offensive portrayal of women in many manga, but that’s not a reason to have missed out on the whole genre.

As it happens, manga are also becoming wildly popular in the English-speaking world. I recently read a review of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim manga on somebody’s blog. I wish I could remember where, so I could give the blogger credit. In any case, this person gave a huge recommendation to the Pilgrim books, so I had my local comics shop order them for me. They came yesterday, and I read them both last night.

Manga are smaller in height and width than regular comic books, but they’re several times longer. Every manga I’ve ever seen has been in black and white, as are the Scott Pilgrim books. Thus far, Bryan has written two books: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS VERY MINOR SPOILERS: The premise is a combination of the mundane and the fantastic. Scott Pilgrim is a 23-year-old bassist in a crappy Toronto rock band. He’s dating a high school student named Knives Chau. And he’s having strange dreams about a roller-blading woman with exotic hair. Things turn weird when he actually sees this woman in the real world. Turns out she’s Ramona Flowers, the only delivery worker in Toronto for She’s been traveling through Scott’s dreams as she delivers packages. They end up dating. But before they can live happily ever after, Scott must fight Ramona’s seven evil ex-boyfriends. And Ramona must defend herself from the jilted Knives Chau. Hilarity ensues.

Like any description of a visual work, the preceeding paragraph pales in comparison to the real thing. You really need to see and read Scott Pilgrim for yourself. You can visit the Web site to learn more, or you can cut to the chase and order the books from the Oni Press site. And of course, if you’re in Rochester, you can stop by Comics, Etc. at 274 N. Goodman St. in Village Gate and ask Andy to order them for you.

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Giving the gift of Respect

The Bop Shop Atrium was rockin’ last night with the joyous music of The Respect Sextet, one of the best bands to come out of the Rochester scene.

The band — Josh Rutner, Eli Asher, James Hirschfeld, Red Wierenga, Ted Poor, and Matt Clohesy — played its patented brand of jazz (whatever that word means) replete with radio transmissions, electronicals, uplifting beats, gorgeous melodies, intricate post-bop lines, and … um … some other stuff.

A capacity crowd crammed around the Xmas tree that now fills up most of the atrium. People were peeking through the branches, sitting on the stairs that lead up to the second floor, and hanging over the upstairs railings to see the show, the first in Rochester by the band in 18 months.

If you’ve never heard the Respect Sextet, do yourself a favor and visit their Web site. And while you’re there, pick up a copy of one of their CDs. The most recent recording, Respect In You, has received critical aclaim in several national magazines. It captures the band during a live performance. Also available is the popular studio album The Full Respect. Either one makes a great gift for yourself or for anyone you know who digs good music that manages to say something without taking itself too seriously.

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Hatin’ on comic books

Back in the 80’s, my favorite part of any week was a trip to the now-defunct Top Shelf Comics in Victor, NY, to spend my tiny allowance on comic books. My cousin hooked me on comics when I was a wee lad in the late 70’s, and I stayed hooked for about a decade. Back in the day, my faves were Batman and The Man Called Nova. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of Nova. You’re not alone.

When I moved back to the Rochester area five years ago, I started going to Comics Etc. in Village Gate, the best comics store in the area. I read Sandman and a bit of Preacher and a few others, but I stopped after a while.

About a year ago, I fell off the No Comics Wagon again — even going so far as to set up a weekly reserve list at Comics, Etc. That means that the fine folks at CE pull a bunch of comics for me every week, and I troop in every Wednesday to pick them up. I’m hooked again.

I’m not sure why I’m enjoying comic books so much these days, but I’m definitely recapturing some of the excitement I felt when I was a kid. There are a lot of great comics out there these days, although most of them seem to be outside the normal superhero realm. Here are a few I’ve been reading recently:

  • Fell
  • DMZ
  • Local
  • Batman
  • Detective Comics
  • Ex Machina
  • Tom Strong
  • Chicanos
  • Daredevil
  • Fear Agent
  • Ferro City
  • Godland

I’m reading more than that, but the memory ain’t what it used to be.

Turns out that my love of podcasting dovetails nicely with my new funnybook passion. And one of the best comic book podcasts out there is The Comic Book Haters. Two guys from New Jersey who spend 30 minutes every couple days hatin’ or lovin’ (but mostly hatin’) a particular issue of some comic book. Sloofus digs comics, Schooly G hates ’em. They’ve done a dozen-plus episodes so far, and you’d be doing yourself a favor to check them out. NOTE: If you’re easily offended, beware. However, if you’re easily offended, we probably don’t run in the same circles, and you’re probably not reading this blog. ANOTHER NOTE: You can subscribe to The Comic Book Haters podcast through iTunes, too, using this link. If you drop the guys a note, tell them you heard about them at Enjoy!

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Free man in Auckland

My friend Richard Freeman has been traveling around the world this year. He’s been to Argentina, Shanghai, and now Auckland, New Zealand. And here’s his latest e-mail update:

(AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND) 9 Dec 2005 — Ahhh, it is nice to be back in an English speaking country again. Even if they don’t really speak English! (Kidding). (Kind of). Auckland is a pleasant enough, if not boring, city. Many Kiwis (who do not live here), say it is the worse part of NZ. I can see their point. I was even in Wellington for 4 days (the capital), and it was smaller (300,00 v. 1.2 million), yet it felt like there was much more culture and other amenities…

NZ has this reputation of being a “green” country. Maybe I should hire their P.R. company to help get me a job. They produce more waste per individual then any industrial nation. They have more cars per capita then we do in the US!!!! Also, their streets are full of cheap Japanese used car imports. These cars could not pass the smog controls in Japan, so they sell them here, where their laws are less stringent! They also drive like idiots, (as well as on the “other” side of the road). NO ONE crosses the street without having a walk sign! It’s bloody ridiculous! I waited too. Especially because i had no idea from where i would be hit if i tried to cross. I played a game the first week; if i was to cross now, when it appears clear, from where would I get plastered? After a week or so, when it seemed the worse that would happen was a little nick, I started taking matters into my own hands (or feet), and began crossing without the light! Always a rebel! The culture of NZ is a total car culture, borrowed directly from L.A. There is the ugliest huge highway that cuts the city and fills an entire little valley with the juncture of several routes and overpasses and ramps. It cuts one side from the other to any pedestrian contact! (I will add a photo today or tomorrow). It is also VERY ugly! The bus system is not real helpful, although we have used it. Also, there is one kind of regional train (and cross-country). We have used the regional often enough, and it is not bad (although it is always late). One interesting thing, however, is that for much of its line, there is only one track. Yes one. That means two trains going in opposite directions (i.e. to the city, away from the city), cannot be running at the same time… There are some places for passing… Who in their right mind did this???? (I forgot to ask!).

Now, the population of the “floating” population of Shanghai is 4 million (to refresh your memories, it is not allowed in China to just move from one place to another, you must have a resident’s card to get all the benefits of citizenship (what few remain). Yet, most of the construction workers are “illegals” from the rural areas, uncounted in census numbers). The entire population of NZ is 4.3 million. The same as just the unknown quantity in Shanghai! This is a small and intimate place. People know each other. People know their Politicians, personally. We met with two mayors! Including the mayor of Auckland, Dick Hubbard, who is a cereal magnate. He started an “ethical” business, and has some great ideas for the city. Mayor Bob, of Waitekere (one of the 5 cities that makes up the Auckland region) invited us to his home in the woods (since we mentioned we will be near there our last week at a retreat for 5 days). (All this is only 30 minutes from the city). He is a very charismatic man, from the labor party, and is trying to get some interesting things done for the city as well, to make it really more green (as is Hubbard).

One of the great things about the city is the beaches nearby and the countryside, which starts right at the city limits. I have done some hikes, but will do more when the students leave and I take a 15 day trekking trip to the south island (Auckland is on the north island).

Now what is fascinating about this country is its cultural make-up: Mostly European, 15% Maori (Kia ora, all!), abut 8% Pacific Islanders (more Samoans here then in Samoa!), and a new influx of Asians. Things are not all harmonious, but they are trying. There was a treaty with the maori in 1839, giving them equality. But, it was a little different in both languages. The Europeans (re: the “whites”), or Pakeha, did not really keep the spirit of the treaty very well. Today there is a national debate about redress issues, they redid their parliamentary system to see to it that minorities (re: Maori) have representation (gee, let’s work our system so the Blacks are represented in numbers to their populations, and the Latinos too!). As I said, it is not all rosy, but there is a determination to construct a harmonious bi-cultural society. A discussion sorely missing in the US. Yes, racism exists, etc. But still, they are addressing it publicly! Now, a problem is that a bi-cultural society does not do much for the Pacific Islanders (who were invited to come in the 60s-70s because of a labor shortage, and whose kids have largely never been to the islands (we have met with many of them)), nor the Asians. This is also somewhat being addressed. The P.I. will be a higher % of the population then the Maori in 30 years or so. A fascinating experiment in multi-culturalism… (bi-lingual education, etc.).

Some numbers, back in the 70e when the Pis came, unemployment was 1%!!!! Today it is a whopping 3.8%.

Much discussion is that the land to the Maori is not just physical, but it is their ancestors, and is very sacred. So, there are discussions in urban planning when land sacred to the maoris is threatened. Etc. (Interesting, the Maori’s arrived about 1,000 years ago from around the Pacific. Islands. Their were some 50 tribes. And they fought with each other constantly, until the Europeans arrived which united them (see, we always define our community in opposition to who is not one of us, the “other”). They were all from the same basic language family. They were only called the Maori after the arrival of the Europeans).

Well, I think that says most of the basic things i have discovered here. I also hiked in a park within Wellington where they shot the scene from Lord of the Rings when the hobbits were hiding under a huge tree root from the dark riders. And let’s not get started with King kong…

Today was the last day of classes. Monday we are heading into the hills for a 5 day “retreat” at a Yoga retreat. A beautiful space in the woods, with hiking trails, a river to swim in, cabins, food will be served to us, and we will get to the ocean a couple of times. While there we will close the semester with reflections and shit like that. The faculty stopped by last week on drive. It is lovely! As for the students…. Well, they are the same bunch of very ego-centric individuals who just can’t see beyond their own worlds and their own comforts. The faculty? Well, my tongue is very bloody from holding it all semester… But overall we do get along (at least we talk and laugh with each other, unlike last year). And our program fellow, “jefe” is just great. She helps my sanity, and she gets along with the students, so she is a good balance for us (I get along with the students too, just to be clear) (The other two faculty… well….).

I really do think the students have gotten a lot out of this program. They really will not see it until they are back home, for the most part. Their assignments for my class showed that when they put their minds to it, they do “see” things. My assignments are all fieldwork based, so it forced them to go out and look and talk to ….. locals. For the most part, i was pleased. One young lady, a Texas raised Bush-ite born again Christian, is, apparently, having an existential meltdown. She had lunch with our fellow, and is worried about going home. She sees things now that she did not before, because she was raised to think in this way, and not to look (she is also an engineering student at MIT). Her grandmother is a racist, and her parents do not treat others different from them very, well, Christian (heh, heh). She sees that there are many other views out there, all valid, some more so then hers. And she has seen people struggling in ways and communities she had never new existed. WOW, no? My work is done. Time to move on.

Soooo, I will. Everyone flies home next Friday (the 16th). As I mentioned, i will stay here for 2 days then fly down to the south Island to do some trekking. Landof glaciers and lakes and adventure! Then visit a friend in Adalaide, Australia (She and her friends are renting a house on the ocean in a national park while I am there). Then off to Sydney for 5 days… And home to the cold winter days of western New york (on the 18th, for those who care)! Well, it is nice weather to edit my video, get the revisions done for my chapter (due early Feb) (to be published in an edited volume on teaching visual anthropology by University of Texas Press), and some other business (which, unfortunately, does not pay). Although, this program (IHP), is going to pay me for a month to do some curriculum development work to try and get this program better integrated. Also, i will be teaching a 4-week intensive seminar at the University of Rochester this May-June. I am going to try and put together a mini version of this program, looking at Rochester, talking to local politicians, activists, touring neighborhoods, etc. And, next August it looks like I will be off again!!!!!

So, my friends, our journey together is coming to an end. I really appreciate the time you gave me, allowing me to bend your ears. I hope you liked my “yarns.” I will leave you with three images of Auckland. Nothing shattering, but a glimpse of the city, and the beach, only 40 minutes away, near where we will be next week. I will lose this laptop and regular internet access, but will hit-up the internet cafes every couple of days. So, please feel free to say hey.

Love to you all, have a great holiday and a very happy new year!!!!!!

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Countdown to the 2006 World Cup!

If you’re a soccer fan, you know that today was the draw for the 2006 World Cup. Four groups of eight teams were divided into eight groups of four teams. The United States ended up in Group E with Italy, Ghana and the Czech Republic. It’s already being called “The Group of Death” by some (though others might give that moniker to Group C). Very tough competitors who will present a real challenge to the U.S. team. A co-worker and I listened to the draw live on the BBC, and it was thrilling just to think about next summer’s action.

If you need to get up to speed on our opponents, here are some useful links:

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The future of labor organizing

As you know, I’m a union organizer for UNITE HERE in Rochester, NY. I recently attended the first national organizing conference put on by Change to Win, the union federation that split earlier this year from the AFL-CIO.

If you’d like to read my report on the conference, you’ll find it at Joan Collins-Lambert’s excellent labor blog, Work Related.

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Jack Bradigan Spula is back

If you know anything about Rochester’s progressive scene, you know the writing of Jack Bradigan Spula. Now you can peek into Jack’s brain again, via his new blog The Rochester Dissident. Do yourself a favor and check it out today.

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A silent vigil for economic justice

(24 October 2005) BRIGHTON – It’s 7 p.m. A light rain is falling. Snaking down Ambassador Drive in Brighton is a long line of silent workers, candles held in cups under their umbrellas. The line moves slowly down the street, a silent testament to labor solidarity in an age of “every man for himself.”

The men and women of Caldwell Manufacturing, proud members of IUE-CWA Local 81331, are bringing their fight for justice and security into the neighborhood where Caldwell’s owners live. The message? Ted and Jim Boucher are letting their greed overcome their family history.

Caldwell Manufacturing makes parts for windows – parts that you’ll find in most houses, including those on Ambassador Drive. For three generations, Caldwell has been run by the Boucher family, and the company has long provided good union jobs for Rochester workers. Now, though, Ted and Jim Boucher are attempting to bust the union by removing the union security clause from the workers’ contract. If they’re successful, Caldwell would be an open shop, a move that would pave the way to remove the union completely. And that would likely be the first domino in a long chain of anti-union activity in the Rochester area.

As the vigil moves through the streets of Brighton, keeping a silent watch, it may be difficult to connect these 50 rain-soaked workers and community members to the larger fight for Rochester’s future. But the connection is clear. Rochester needs good jobs with a living wage, health care, pension benefits, and job security. One proven way to provide those jobs is a union contract. These workers and their supporters in the community are fighting for the very life of this area.

Two by two, pairs of workers knock on the doors of the homes in the Bouchers’ neighborhood. They politely explain why the vigil is happening, and hand the residents a flyer outlining the situation. The response is largely positive, and the effect is immediate. By the end of the vigil, a local trial lawyer who lives on the street has come forward, offering to put a pro-worker sign in his front yard.

As the rain falls, the workers quietly return to their cars. This night’s action is over, but the morning brings the promise of more to come. The fight for Rochester’s future is under way.

Which side are you on?

For more information on the Caldwell strike, and on other local labor issue, visit Joan Collins-Lamberts’ blog, Work Related.

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