Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Misspent Youth

Speaking of gambling . . .

This would have been around 1973 or 1974. I believe I'm the kid in the funky checkered pants.

Hurricane of Blame

Humans are gamblers. It all comes down to the cost-benefit analysis. I live a few miles from Malibu, where perfectly rational people buy multi-million-dollar houses perched on shaky bluffs. I've been in California for 22 years, and have been smack-dab in the middle of two massive earthquakes (in San Francisco in '89 and in LA in '94), not to mention riots and wildfires. Yet the benefits outweigh the costs.

There's lots of talk of costs and benefits now, after levees built to withstand catagory 3 hurricanes have been breached by a catagory 5/4 Hurricane Katrina, and the newspapers are observing that back in 1778 engineers warned about building a city in the topological bowl surrounded by water that became New Orleans. Yet New Orleans has survived over 200 years of hurricanes (including at least one that caused the nearby lake to break levees and flood) and prospered -- until now. It's just a fact of commerce that cities with waterways become successful ports -- and yet water always presents a danger. A cost-benefit analysis.

Yes, the finger-pointing has begun, and will likely continue long after the flood waters dry up and the lost accounted for. Humans aren't just gamblers; they want someone to blame if they roll snake-eyes. But in the end it's all a cost-benefit analysis. This time, the cost is shattering.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Digital Memories

As a kid, Amy saw the English version of this movie (under the title "The Little Norse Prince") repeatedly on local LA TV stations. Although to our knowledge the English version has never been released on video, we spotted the Region 2 DVD of the Japanese language version in a Japanese bookstore on Sawtelle and bought it. We watched it last night. Since there were no subtitles and my knowledge of Japanese is highly shaky, we had to rely on Amy's knowledge of the story and the occasional word I could catch to interpret the movie. But it held up surprisingly well for a 1968 Japanese animated film; it has impressively fluid animation and skillful direction, and even manages to keep the annoyingly cute animal sidekicks to a minimum.

According to the Anime Encyclopedia, this was the debut feature from the director who would later go on to found Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki (who helped on this film), and wrote and directed the acclaimed 80's anime feature Grave of the Fireflies.

It's Starbucks, Not the Breakfast Nook

Part of the marketing strategy that has made Starbucks an international juggernaut is the calculatedly homey atmosphere of its stores (if your home had industrial furniture and weird murals of mermaids who shill coffee). Unfortunately, that seems to lead some folks to treat their neighborhood Starbucks as mere extensions of their homes instead of, y'know, public eating places.

Yesterday morning, as Amy and I breakfasted in one of several dozen nearby Starbucks, I saw a gentleman in his 20's at a nearby table working on a Vaio laptop. He had his earpods plugged into the laptop, his flip-flops off, his bare feet up on the seat opposite him, and his bare toes curled around the chair rungs. No regard for whoever would have to sit in that chair after his sweaty feet had their way with it.

I'm sure the next step (if it hasn't already happened) is folks showing up in their bathrobes and boxers for their hourly shot of caffeine.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Two Point Oh

The only business magazine I read regularly is Business 2.0. It's dedicated to entrepreneurs, and I'm not one, but it's fun to read. Some interesting info in the latest issue:

-- "Each Trader Joe’s store is about a sixth the size of a typical supermarket but sells more than twice as much, nearly $1,300 per square foot."

-- Insiders tell Business 2.0 that Google is quietly building a national broadband network, which could save the company millions each month. Further, Google may be planning to blanket the nation with Wi-Fi broadcasts.

-- After the Live Aid 8 concert, sales of Pink Floyd albums soared 1,343 percent; the Who, 863 percent; and Annie Lennox, 500 percent. A Paul McCartney/U2 version of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" became the fastest-selling download in history.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

You're Not Getting Better, You're Getting Older

I'm getting sick and tired of film reviewers describing the hero of the movie The Forty-Year-Old Virgin as "middle-aged." And on top of that, a novel I just finished reading, Cut my Hair by Jamie S. Rich, featured this description of a character: "Laugh lines appeared at the corners of his mouth and around his eyes, the only real sign of his age. Lenny was pushing forty or so, yet none of us would have dared to call him old." That had me checking the mirrors for a few days. Well, according to his biographical blurb on the inside back cover, Mr. Rich was born in 1972, so he'll find out in seven years what it's really like to be "pushing forty or so."

Brock Peters, RIP

The owner of one of the most magnificent speaking voices in Hollywood passed away today.

Besides playing the defendant in one of my all-time favorite movies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Peters was ubiquitous in science fiction movies, TV series, and animation. He will be missed.

The Links are Back -- and Better than Ever!

Missing Links

You may wonder what happened to the links on this blog. I changed the template for the blog, because the one I was using was too cramped. Unfortunately, changing the template erased the changes I had made to it -- including the links. I'll work on rebuilding them.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Counterfeit Heroes

The news services were having fun this morning with a story about a police raid on a warehouse in downtown LA filled with 120,000 counterfeit superhero action figures. Somebody apparently got that whole "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" thing wrong.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


Amy took her bike to work yesterday. Here's some photos of her shooting off down the alley behind our house.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes . . .

I've changed the "comment" options for the blog, so that you don't have to register with Blogger to post comments. Also, now the dates of comments will be displayed.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

What a Fool Believes

One of my pet peeves is people who come up with a speculative theory about something, adopt it as fact, and militantly reject any alternative theory or interpretation. Although the phenomenon appears in a variety of settings (I certainly see quite of bit of it in attorneys' interpretation of the law), it is particularly rife in various genre fandoms, including science fiction and mystery fandoms. This may result from a fan adopting a particular work or universe as his or her own, to the point where his or her "understanding" of the work trumps not only any other interpretation, but the author's own view of the work. (My cousin Lee Goldberg, who has worked on several SF and mystery shows and who has aroused more than one fan's ire, coined the apt term "Talifans" for folks who militantly shout down opinions about their particular obsession that differs from their own.)

One of the subtexts of Wrong about Japan -- a short and highly entertaining book by novelist Peter Carey -- is that tendency, which manifests both in the author and the people in Japan he meets. The foundation for the book is the author's growing fascination with Japanese animation and manga, which has beguiled his shy 12 year old son. Carey Sr., who has been to Japan before, hatches a plan to explore Japan's culture through interviews of manga creators and anime directors. He also seeks the perspective of others relevant to various significant anime works -- for instance, he watches My Neighbor Totoro with a Japanese architect to get his perspective on the old country home that is practically a main character in that film; talks to a Japanese swordmaker to explore the nuances of Blood, the Last Vampire; and interviews a survivor of the firebombing of Tokyo who knew the author of the novel Grave of the Fireflies, later made into an anime film.

Carey has his son formulate questions for the anime interviewees, which are translated and provided to the directors and the like in advance. Time and again, Carey comes up with his own interpretations of what the filmmakers are trying to communicate in their anime works; time and again, he is informed that he is "wrong." Most memorably, he advances the theory to Yoshiyuki Tomino, the creator of the Mobile Suit Gundam giant robot franchise, that a theme of his work is to show young people battling encased in armor, to empower the youth who are victimized by war. Tomino gently replies, through a translator, that Gundam was a vehicle intended to sell toy robots. The various artistic choices in it were compromises intended to sell the toys better. And Tomino used young soldiers because, until the last two World Wars (and to some degree during those wars), children fought in wars.

In many cases, this is because the person he is talking to has come up with his own theory of interpretation, and attributes Carey's theories to some stereotype about Westerners, or more often Americans. Attitudes and loyalties also play a part: A Japanese youth who befriends Carey's son (and who, I later discovered, was a fictional composite character) tries to dissuade the Careys from visiting Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, and wants them instead to visit his home and watch Gundam videotapes. It turns out that he has pledged his obsession to Gundam, and feels one cannot enjoy both Gundam series and Miyazaki's works -- reminiscent of the various silly Marvel vs. DC or Star Trek vs. Babylon 5 rivalries that pop up amongst American fans.

In any event, Carey eventually begins to bristle, wearying of being told constantly that he is wrong about Japan. It builds to a satisfying climax that makes a point of how preconceptions and expectations can color one's experience of another culture.

This isn't the deepest book about Japan, or the anime/manga phenomenon, but it's certainly an enjoyable one.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Everything's Archie -- Even the Courts

Archie Comics, publishers of the adventures of the eponymous redheaded teen with the outdated fashion sense, has sicced its lawyers on an Australian rock band called "The Veronicas." The Reggie Raconteurs allege that the existence of a band with the same name as Archie's raven-haired rich witch will dilute their brand name; and interfere with their planned production of a "Betty and Veronica" movie with Miramax. (Maybe Miramax with give them the "Sin City" treatment.)

I'm sure the TV show "Veronica Mars," the estate of Veronica Lake, Ronnie Spector, and every female in the world named "Veronica," "Nica," or "Ronnie" is next.

Damn Mr. Lodge and his high-priced shysters!

Makes me wonder about the various other rock and pop bands with comics-derived names -- Love and Rockets, Tintin, Duran Duran (named after a character in Barbarella), or even that Australian band from the '80's, Uncanny X-Men. Did any of them interfere with the brand names of their various namesakes?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Anniversary Minus Two Brunch

Amy and I love Japanese food. We love brunch. And we love being married. So we decided to celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary -- which takes place Tuesday, August 16 -- two days early with a fancy brunch at the Thousand Cranes restaurant, at the New Otani Hotel in Downtown LA's Little Tokyo. The food (all sorts of different Japanese dishes, from sashimi to sukiyaki) was superb, the atmosphere was tranquil, and the company was great. Here are some photos.

Mari Music

Someday, Mari Iijima's life should serve as the inspiration for a novel or a hit movie -- sort of Lost in Translation in reverse. When I started getting into Japanese Animation fandom in the early 80's, Iijima was the first Japanese voice actor I knew of by name. She acted in a single anime work -- the TV series and movie Macross, shown on American TV as part of Robotech. She played teenage ingenue Lynn Minmay, who became a "pop idol" in the show; and Iijima similarly found herself a wildly popular real-life pop idol in Japan, as the songs she sang on the show became hits. Iijima is a songwriter as well as a singer, and has put out something like 19 albums through her career. In 1989, Iijima moved to LA, became involved in a marriage that later ended, and became the mother of twin boys. Since then, she has attempted to recreate herself as an American singer-songwriter-actress. Although she has the advantages of musical talent and youthful looks (she still gets cast as college students, even though she has been in the business for around 23 years), she has met with mixed success. Ironically, she has found her fan base in America through those like me who recall her single foray into anime stardom.

Above is a couple of photos of Iijima performing in LA's Little Tokyo yesterday, as part of the neighborhood's Nisei Week activities. She performed a couple of songs in English and a couple in Japanese (including her biggest hit from the Macross movie, Do You Remember Love (Ai Oboitemasuka)) . She spoke between songs about her dissatisfaction lately with the romantic arena; and, spotting Amy and me holding hands in the audience, remarked that she envied us.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

No Failure to Communicate

From the category of obvious yet brilliant ideas: a company is going to manufacture cell phones that are modeled after the old-school Star Trek communicators. Thanks to Lee Goldberg's blog for the lead on this. It belongs to the "I don't gotta have it, but I'm glad it will exist" catagory of tchotchkes.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Imaginary Lovers

It's summertime, and the reading is easy. DC has put out another fun trade paperback of Silver Age stories. This one collects "imaginary stories." Now of course all of their superhero stories are "imaginary," in the sense that they're fictional. But these were stories where the writers would take a "what if" concept and roll with it, without any concerns about trashing characters or concepts for future stories -- because they occur "on an imaginary day which may or may not happen . . . ."

Mort Weisinger, editor of the various Superman titles in the '50's and '60's, evidently loved imaginary stories, because tales of Superman and his supporting cast dominate this volume. Alan Moore has said that Superman stories Weisinger edited were often based on what came out during Weisinger's psychoanalysis sessions. That would certainly explain the emotional roller coasters these stories travel.

July 1963's THE AMAZING STORY OF SUPERMAN-RED AND SUPERMAN-BLUE is one of the most joyful and optimistic comics stories ever written. In it, Superman divides into two beings, who, working together, solve not only every ongoing problem in Superman's life, but all of humanity's problems .

Then, immediately following that, we have August 1964's darkly nihilistic THE THREE WIVES OF SUPERMAN. Given that the primary audience for Superman stories at that time was young boys, imagine the impact of a story where Superman marries -- in succession -- Lois Lane, Lana Lang, and Lori Lemaris; and each wife (spoiler warning) dies horribly! It comes complete with subchapters with titles like, "The TRAGIC TORMENT of MRS. LANA SUPERMAN!"

There's also another weird marriage tale, from 1961, JIMMY OLSEN MARRIES SUPERGIRL, in which Olsen marries a girl who is in fact Supergirl's alter ego, then is flummoxed when Supergirl herself starts coming on to him and he is tempted into infidelity! (Incidently, in all of these stories, the married couples are depicted as sleeping in twin beds. No super hanky panky, even after marriage!)

Death and marriage are two primary focuses of these stories, which include THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN from 1961 and MR. AND MRS. CLARK (SUPERMAN) KENT from 1960.

The book begins with a 1946 story originally published not by DC, but by Fawcett, starring Captain Marvel (whose rights DC bought after driving Fawcett out of the comics publishing biz). This startlingly dark story, published little over a year after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, depicts a nuclear war in stark detail -- ending with Captain Marvel the only living being on Earth. Damn.

If you want to read a book of comic stories that are simply written, simply drawn, and yet delve deeply into weird psychology, this is the one for you.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Justice Linux of America

Courtesy of Don Burr, a photo of a couple of super-heroes wandering around the LinuxWorld Expo in San Francisco. Guess the Justice League got tired of using XP . . . .

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

In The News (Yet Again)

The press has started discussing the ruling yesterday granting the motion we made for a new trial.

Boom! There it is!

I was awakened early this morning with direct evidence of the shuttle's successful return to Earth: a sonic boom that rattled our doors. Congratulations to the Discovery crew for a mission accomplished under intense scrutiny and trying conditions.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Happy Birthday, Burl!

Happy birthday to cousin, fellow blogger, and Edgar Award Winner Burl Barer.

The Goldberg Link

Wouldn't that heading make a great title for a Robert Ludlum or John Le Carre' novel? But in fact, it just refers to some of the links on the right side of this page.

Some of you may not follow the links to the blogs of my cousins Lee Goldberg, Tod Goldberg, their mom Janice Goldberg Curran, or their uncle Burl Barer. That's probably better for me, but leaves you the poorer, because they are all professional writers -- and far better than me at wielding a rapier keyboard. (How's that for a mangled metaphor?)

You should definitely check out the latest posting from Tod. Every week, Tod picks a question and answer from Parade Magazine's "Walter Scott's Personality Parade" column to skewer; and this week his commentary on one exchange had this lawyer choking back inappropriately loud laughter. (Plus, now I can't get that damn Paula Cole song outta my head . . . )

Saturday, August 06, 2005

In the news

Here's a news story about a motion hearing I participated in Tuesday.

Shadow of the Atom

Sixty years ago today, the Enola Gay dropped the first of the only two atomic bombs ever dropped on an enemy in war -- and the military-port city of Hiroshima essentially evaporated.

Last year, Amy and I visited Hiroshima as part of our tour of Japan. We visited the Peace Museum (see the cover of the catalogue above), and Amy took these photos of the Peace Memorial Park. Hiroshima today is a beautiful city -- in part because there are almost no buildings that are more than sixty years old.

Perhaps the most sobering part of the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima is the cenotaph maintained listing the names of the victims of the bomb (fourth from the top). Every year, as survivors succumb to radiation-related diseases, the cenotaph is opened and more names are added.

Our generation may tend to think of World War II as something that happened in a far-off, more innocent time of technicolor and black-and-white. But the thought that kept occurring to me while in Hiroshima was that every Japanese person we met over the age of 60 was living in Japan when it was at war with the US.

Unfortunately, neither World War II nor its predecessor turned out to be the "war to end all wars." As we live in an era that remains beset by numerous wars around the globe, we must always remember the devastation of Hiroshima. Beyond all the debates of whether destroying this city by the river was necessary, it cannot be denied that the destruction was the bitter fruit of a bitter war -- and that decisions can have consequences that last forever.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Born to be Wild

Here's a picture of the newest and oldest vehicle at the Barer household: Amy's 1983 Kawasaki Spectre. Late last year, Amy had it towed from her parents' house and taken to a motorcycle shop. Saturday, after eight months, the shop called to tell her that the bike was back in running condition after a long period of non-use. Now it resides in our garage, ready to roll.

Monday, August 01, 2005

But They're Saying It With Love . . . .

I've seen articles about this year's San Diego Comic-Con in the LA Times, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, and now TV Guide. All the articles have two things in common (1) extensive gushing about the Hollywood types who attended and (2) reporters who believe they are the acme of cleverness because they have come up with a new use for the word "geek." "Geekapalooza!" raves the headline on this TV Guide article; reporters Ethan Alter and Rich Sands assert, "The message was loud and clear . . . The geeks have all the power."

If these "geeks" indeed had "all the power," would they really wish to be referred to as "geeks?" Here's how the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines this affectionate term:

Function: noun
Etymology: probably from English dialect geek, geck fool, from Low German geck, from Middle Low German
1 : a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
2 : a person often of an intellectual bent who is disapproved of

In other words, call someone a "geek" on the mean streets of LA and he may hand you your liver (or bite your head off, if the word really fits). Call someone a "geek" in a national magazine and he'll supposedly genuflect at your feet for glancing in his direction, like -- well -- like a person of an intellectual bent who is disapproved of . . . .