Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Animated Writers and Deceased Bears

The LA Times today has a fun article about literati Tom Wolfe, Michael Chabon and Johnathan Franzen lending their voices to "The Simpsons" -- which, sniffs Wolfe, "is the only show of any sort that I watch on television[.]" Incidently, Chabon has been the toast of Comic-Con International: San Diego for the last few years as a high-profile comics fan, based on his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (which I loved), his script for Spider-Man 2, and his various comic book projects since.

Meanwhile, in sadder news, cartoonist and children's author Stan Berenstain has passed away. He and his wife Jan were best known for their "Berenstain Bears" books. A pity. The world can always use more cartoon bears.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


The December 12, 2005 issue of Fortune Magazine has an interesting article about the business side of translating anime and manga -- though it's largely a puff piece about one company, Texas's ADV.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Another Scrabble Game

Smudge pores over the Scrabble board, contemplating his next move.

Loscon Highlights

On Friday through Sunday, Amy and I attended Loscon, a long-running science fiction convention held near LAX. Some highlights:

-- A photo with me, Allison, Janine Young, Doselle Young, Alan Williams, Tanya Williams, and Kory.

-- A scrabble game Saturday night between me, Amy, and fellow attendees Donny and Jon.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Something to Be Thankful For: Smudge is a Good Kitty

I didn't grow up with cats. My mom was allergic to felines. We did have a dog for a couple of years in the early '70's, until he got too big for the back yard. (I was told he was taken out to a farm to live. Dad recently informed me that he actually was taken out to a farm to live.)

In 1994, when I began dating Amy, I first made the acquaintance of Amy's (or Amy's mom's) cat, Smudge. Smudge lived with Amy and her mom onthe Palos Verdes Peninsula. On one of my trips there, I was sitting outside when Smudge marched up to me, decided I was okay, and sat in my lap -- which is generally a way to get on my good side.

In 1997, when Amy and I got married and we bought our house, Amy brought Smudge and his brother, Goldie, to the house. Initially, Amy was thinking of giving away Smudge, since he had a habit of fighting with other cats; but I warmed to the kitty and asked that we keep him.

Living with Goldie, Smudge, and the other cats who took up residence at our house, I was exposed to the varied personalities of cats, which I previously believed was mere hyperbole promulgated by cat afficionados. Smudge started out rather pugnacious, but has mellowed as time went on. When Goldie passed away last year, Smudge became measurably more affectionate toward people. He used to hide under the bed when guests came over; now he's quite willing to venture out and be stroked by complete strangers. Recently, he's developed the habit of walking over to us and tugging on our pantslegs when he wants to be picked up, stroked, or just paid attention.

Smudge has had some health scares. He takes regular medication; lost a lot of weight a few years ago as he became more finicky about his food; and was on a periodic IV of ringers solution for a while. Nevertheless, he has made it to the advanced age of 19 years old.

Unfortunately, Smudge's long life will probably soon end. In September, he was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor in his head. We are therefore just making Smudge as happy and comfortable as we can during his last months of life. And indeed, he still purrs readily when stroked (or even just when he's sitting with Amy and me). He still leaps up onto the bed, when he's able -- sometimes he needs a boost. And he's still a good kitty.

Something For Which I'm Not Thankful

We've received notice that next year our area code (310) is going to have an overlay. That means that new phone numbers in our area will be assigned a different area code. It also means that we will have to dial the area codes for all numbers we call -- including calls in our area code. If I want to call down the street, I'll have to dial the area code. We'll also have to reprogram all of our programmed numbers for our cell phones, etc. The price of progress.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Lifesaving Disclaimers

Last night, I took a class in Infant/child CPR at the neighborhood Red Cross. My previous CPR class was back in 1979. A few things have changed: the instructer started out the class by telling us about the Good Samaritan law in California and other states; and the instructions for life-saving included always asking the victim (or if the victim's a child, the parent or guardian) for consent before heimliching or rescue-breathing them. Liability before lifesaving . . . .

Sunday, November 20, 2005

More Ink about Graphic Novels

Today's LA Times Book Review features a review of Harvey Pekar's new graphic novel "The Quitter", and of an omnibus reprint of the late Will Eisner's graphic novels "A Contract with God" (1970's), "A Life Force" (1980's), and "Dropsie Avenue" (1990's). This follows up the Times' Weekend Section cover story on comics, printed on Thursday. Fortunately, none of this strays into "Zap! Pow! Comics for Adults!" territory.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Big(ger) in Japan

When I started receiving the new, large-format TV Guide in the mail, I thought it looked familiar. So I compared it to the issue of TV Guide I picked up in Tokyo last year when we were touring Japan. The Japanese TV Guide is larger, and the layout isn't identical (after all, the Japanese edition is based on the right-to-left and top-to-bottom flows of Japanese writing), but I wonder whether the Japanese edition was a major influence on the American re-design.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Goblet of Fire Party

Okay, so this is how it happened. We got an e-mail from the downtown Santa Monica Harry Potter tchotchke store, Whimsic Alley: The store was throwing a party for the release of the latest HP movie. The party would begin at eight, and for a fairly low sum per person, you got a catered party, a bag of party favors, a ride in a rented double-decker bus to the Third Street Promenade, and tickets to the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at the Mann Criterion. Sounds like a good deal. One catch: costumes are mandatory.

Now, I'm really not the type who attends movie premieres (or even walks around conventions) in costumes. Really. But just for costume parties, I have in my closet a Regency-style coat and puffy shirt (straight out of Seinfeld) that I figure will suffice. After all, it'll just be a few folks who want to be up until after 3 am on a work night.

Little did I know that Stan, the owner of Whimsic Alley, put out a press release; and the press has come. There's CNN, and news photogs; and wonder of wonders, they want to take pictures of me and Amy, and interview me. I suppose I could have said no; but I was caught up in the moment.

So if the footage of me gets broadcast, and I become a laughing stock, I suppose I've only myself to blame.

Big props to Whimsic Alley for putting together a magical night. Photos below.

The Goblet of Fire party at Whimsic Alley. Posted by Picasa

Slugging down Pumpkin Ale. Posted by Picasa

More magical folks chow down at Whimsic Alley. Posted by Picasa

A dead ringer for Harry. He says that when he's in the costume, kids ask him for autographs. Posted by Picasa

The double-decker bus that drove us over to the theatre (about a two-mile trip). Posted by Picasa

Amy and me atop the double-decker bus, as downtown Santa Monica rushes by behind us. Posted by Picasa

Folks posing at the theatre. Posted by Picasa

The host for the evening, Stan. Posted by Picasa

Us, at the theatre. Posted by Picasa

Stan makes sure everyone is having an enchanting evening. Posted by Picasa

Audience members get photos taken with the costumed folk in the theatre.

Harry Potter and the Hormones of Fire

We saw a midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (and yes, I've only had a few hours' sleep, so please excuse any grammatical weirdness). It was a fun and well-publicized affair -- I'll post photos soon; and you may catch me on CNN on Sunday afternoon.

Anyway, the movie: I thought it was the best yet. In no small part, that's due to child actors who have grown to the point where they can do some serious acting; and a director who is adept at working with human beings and making them believable as human beings. The director and screenwriter also deserve massive credit for hewing a taught, exciting two-and-a-half-hour thriller out of what was perhaps J.K. Rowling's most rambling narrative. In the process, the movie makers of necessity sliced out huge slabs of the story (there are parts of the Potter mythos that may just never show up on screen), but the film is still awash in elements of the Potter story that will dominate the next two books: Death Eaters, Dark Marks, the Nuremburg-like trials of Voldemort's followers, the unforgiveable curses. And most of all, the kids are definitely hitting the maelstroms of adolescents. The critics who cheered the adolescence metaphors of the previous film are going to be amazed with this one, where Hermione can complain that her new boyfriend is more "physical" than loquacious, and Harry can respond with a smirk.

The one discordant element was the depiction of Dumbledore. Although Michael Gambon is still a delightful actor to watch, the director has turned the supernally even-keeled headmaster into a high-strung chap given to shouting and even pushing Harry backwards into a glass case.

Anyway, I predict this is going to make another bushelful of money for all concerned.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Republican Superheroes and Hobbits

Tomorrow's Los Angeles Times features a dandy article about comics and graphic novels for the uninitiated. But today's edition featured one of those op-ed pieces that makes me stop and shake my head -- in disgust, amazement, or equal parts of both.

Brian C. Anderson, author of something called "South Park Conservatives," has written this piece of creative revisionism, in which he asserts that the current downward trend of Hollywood box office is based on appeal to "liberal elites"; and characterizes recent blockbusters as "right-friendly." His four examples are SPIDER-MAN 2, THE INCREDIBLES, the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, and PASSION OF THE CHRIST.

PASSION is a gimme, true, but one can only buy his argument about the others if you accept his swiss-cheese premise that only right-wing folks care about families, doing the right thing, and helping others. He disregards a couple decades of long-haired folk wearing "Frodo Lives" t-shirts when he asserts that the LOTR trilogy's "martial values were long jeered at by liberal Hollywood — values that underline the need to stand up with massive military force to totalitarian evil." In addition to the family values in THE INCREDIBLES, he derives a "master race" theme from it that pleases him: "The defense of excellence (and frustration with the politically correct war against it) is a central theme of 'The Incredibles.'"

And his characterization of Spider-Man as a red-stater is simply beyond the pale. He calls a doctor who tells Spider-Man he has choices an "aging hippy." (God forbid anyone should have free will!) Trumpeting Peter's decision to take up the webby mantle again, he comments, "The movie's message is exactly contrary to the 'just do it' ethos of liberalism and the 1960s: Sometimes you have to do your duty." Seems to me that the ethos of the '60's was more, "Ask not what your country can do for you . . . "

Now, Spider-Man was created by writer Stan Lee and plotter-artist Steve Ditko. Ditko was and is not only conservative, but a dyed-in-the-wool Ayn Rand individualist -- as anyone who has read his "Mr. A" and "The Question" comics can attest. Lee is more of a middle-of-the-road type, equally at home writing the ultra-conservative Iron Man (defending industry from savage communists in armor) and the ultra-liberal Silver Surfer. But if Peter Parker's politics were pinned down, I'd characterize him more in the bleeding-heart camp than the Karl Rove domain. And certainly, the writers who came after Lee tended to be the aging-hippy type.

But ultimately, Spidey isn't left-wing or right-wing. He's a hero. And there's both red and blue in his costume.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Comcast: Spoilsport

This afternoon, I finished watching Wednesday's episode of Lost. (I managed to miss most of the first season, but through the magic of DVR I've been keeping up with this season, even though it runs opposide Veronica Mars.) It had a surprise-twist ending -- but it wasn't a surprise to me. My Internet service provider. Comcast, put a headline revealing just that plot twist on its homepage -- the homepage that loads every time I sign onto the Web. Further, it posted that headline mere minutes after the episode finished on the west coast. (For that matter, it may have been up earlier -- that's just when I saw it.)

Now, the LA Times ran a story about the same spoiler (complete with a photo of the character involved) on Friday, but with a newspaper article one can glance at the headline and choose to skip the story. (If you don't want to skip the Times story, here it is.) Not so with a headline that pops up as soon as you click the Internet Explorer article.

Boo to Comcast, for failing to realize that TV viewers time-shift -- something they've been doing since Betamaxes were introduced nearly 30 years ago.

Speaking of Lost, either the caption-writer or the copy-editor of the LA Times seems a bit lost: In a story about DVD box sets in the front section of today's paper, a photo caption (click on the caption that reads, "Success Found") refers to the first season of Lost as "ratings challenged"; and contends that the box set resulted in the second season's huge ratings. Does being in the Top Ten shows (and sometimes at the top of that list) every week really constitute being "ratings challenged?" A review of the article shows that the reporter was actually referring to Alias as ratings-challenged. Still, considering Lost was a phenomenon of the 2004-2005 season -- one of the most, if not the most, successful SF/Fantasy series ever --you have to wonder how a writer or even a typesetter could make that mistake.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Serious Words about Funny Books

A couple of Los Angeles museum exhibits about comic book/strip art -- at the Hammer and the Museum of Contemporary Art -- have resulted in some positive press in the L.A. Times that goes far beyond the usual "Zap! Pow! Comics Aren't Just for Kids!" stories seen in newspapers.

Today, the Times Calendar Section featured a nicely-illustrated story about critical favorites Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter, and R. Crumb. (Unfortunately, the online version omits the illustrations.)

And on Wednesday, the Kid's Page sidebar had a story about Jack Kirby, illustrated with the cover to Fantastic Four #50. Considering that most kids these days probably grow to adulthood without seeing a comic book (despite being inundated with comic-book heroes in movies, videogames, and animated cartoons), this is a nice hook to try to get the rugrats to pick one up. One problem: They probably won't find a contemporary comic with art as gorgeous as Kirby's jump-off-the-page cover to FF # 50. (From the early '60's on, Stan Lee, never one for modesty, put the masthead "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!" on Fantastic Four covers -- and during the period that Lee and Kirby were at their peak on the title, from about 1963 to 1969, few would dispute that boast.) Nor will they find one at the 1996 price of 12 cents -- now that the cheapest comics sell for $2.95.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Tortured Thoughts

Oh, for the halcyon days when the US Government at least said that it did not assassinate people and that it viewed torture as an abomination.

The assassination thing went out the window after 9/11, when the US sent killer flying robots (excuse me -- unmanned drones) to try to take out Bin Laden and Saddam. Now, with the Senate passing (90-9) an anti-torture bill, sponsored by John McCain (who, unfortunately, knows about torture, since he was tortured as a POW), Dick Cheney (who as far as I know hasn't been tortured or been a POW, but who got arrested a few times in his twenties) went in and asked that the CIA be exempted from the bill. Further, the White House (excuse me -- Cheney, via Bush) is threatening to veto the bill, even as Bush protests that the US doesn't torture anyone.

Now, it seems to me that banning torture is a pretty good idea, and the White House asking for the right to torture is a pretty bad one, for various reasons:

-- The nations that torture folks as a policy are usually the ones that the US Government boycotts (or tries to depose).

-- Torture is morally wrong.

-- State-sponsored, state-conducted, and even state-condoned torture does not make the US a shining example that other nations want to emulate.

-- Torture as a means of getting information seems based on the questionable premise that if you hurt someone, he will tell you the truth (as opposed to telling you whatever he thinks you want to hear, so that you'll stop hurting him).

-- If we abandon the Geneva Convention and torture "enemy combatants," we put Americans -- including military personnel -- in greater danger of the same treatment if captured.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Good Night, and Good Movie

I saw GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK tonight, and found it to be a gripping , spare, and beautifully-photographed movie. It's certainly timely, too; when people, in archival footage, criticized charges brought on "hearsay and rumor," it seemed almost quaint. The movie also featured nice bits of irony for the present-day audience -- such as advertisers using Murrow's name and integrity to tout Kent cigarettes, twelve years before cigarettes killed Murrow.

I was left with two questions, however:

1. Why was Technicolor's logo in the closing credits? It was a black-and-white movie.

2. The movie was rated "PG" for "thematic elements." Since when do freedom and attacks on the misuse of power require Parental Guidance?

The Siren Call of Caffeine

Here's a fun story I found about the evolution of the Starbucks logo siren, from naughty to family-friendly.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Bring Me a Dream . . .

The official Website for the third Spider-Man Movie has posted this picture of Thomas Hayden Church from the film, playing Flint Marko, and showing that striped green T-shirts and brown slacks didn't go out of style in 1963. He's even got that weird curly hair that Steve Ditko used to draw (and which the filmmakers ditched when it came to depicting Harry and Norman Osborn in the first two films). The site asks us to guess which villain he is -- but anyone who has read a Spider-Man comic book, or seen the cartoons, or drank from a Marvel Slurpee cup, in the last 43 years can probably answer that question.

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: Calle Vista Coffee

This coffee house on the corner of National and Sepulveda in West LA (in the same strip mall as Hamburger Habit and Baja Bud's) has recently gone from pay wi-fi to free wi-fi with purchase.

Positives: Good wi-fi connection, some comfortable chairs, electrical outlets (some work, some don't), and pretty good panini.

Negatives: The coffee drinks, tea drinks, and boba are pretty mediocre. The service is ideosyncratic; the counter folks often disappear for long stretches of time, and you have to yell for them.

Harry Potter and the Clips of Fire

For those who want a taste of the movie, which is coming out in two weeks, here's 13 clips from it. Looking good.


The real-life sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean appears to be Pirates of the Somalian Coast.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Dreams Can Come True, It Can Happen to You

Here's a story from the L.A. Times about a magical experience for a young band that U2 brought up on stage to play at the sold-out Staples Center -- and Amy and I were there Tuesday to see it. Frankly, until I read the story, I thought that the whole thing was a set-up and that the band, Exit, was a plant, since they sounded too good to really be a band U2 pulled out of the audience. But turns out it was on the up-and-up. As Bono said at the concert, "L.A. has a history of great girl bands."

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

How Long, How Long Will We Hear This Song . . .

Back in 1987, in my first year of law school (Hastings, in San Francisco), a friend told me that U2 was playing a free show in the Embarcadero. Since everything is within walking distance of everything else in downtown SF, I hoofed it over to the Embarcadero, and waited for about an hour past noon for the concert to start. (I had a break between classes, and this was more fun than studying.) Eventually, U2 popped out, I watched them perform "People Get Ready" (about which Bono said, "Curtis Mayfield co-wrote this song with God. All the best songs were co-written by God.") and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" before I had to catch the subway back to the Tenderloin for civil procedure class. I therefore missed the infamous moment -- captured on the film being shot during the concert, U2: Rattle & Hum -- when Bono climbed the ugly sculpture and spray-painted graphitti on it.

Could I have anticipated on that San Francisco afternoon that 18 years later I'd be watching U2 perform a spectacular show at the Staples Center, as I did yesterday? Well, maybe. After all, even in the mid-eighties we were treated to the spectacle of folks like The Who, The Stones, and the surviving Beatles continuing to perform long after their youth had wafted away. Rock and Rollers may hope they die before they get old; but if they survive, they keep on rocking.

Anyway, Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry put on a hell of a show, one of the best concerts I've ever been to. The lighting effects and stage design alone were stunning. And watching them, you realize that no one sings quite like Bono, no one plays a guitar that sounds exactly like The Edge, and Larry's drumming is unique. (As for Adam, most bass players sound about the same.)