Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It's Not the Mileage, It's the Years

A 43-year-old anime and manga enthusiast in South Carolina made headlines recently when he showed up at a meeting of a manga club formed by his local library -- only to be turned away as too old. According to the library, it had intended the club for teens, but had forgotten to post the age limit.

A regrettable mistake, but one the turned-away man may be blowing out of proportion: He is reportedly contacting the ACLU to explore an age-discrimination suit.

What are even more regrettable are the comments the story drew when it ran on Anime News Network. Some posters -- apparently young ones -- assumed that any person over 40 (or even over 20) who attended a manga or anime event could only be a pervert trolling for 14 year old girls.
Some quotes:
  • "Move on and date someone your age, buddy."
  • " I agree that the inevitable 40-something year-old fan who shows up to the anime (or in this case manga) club meeting is almost always creepy (as in 'pedophile vibe') and/or incredibly annoying."

On the other hand, the vast majority of commenters -- many of whom are in their 30's t0 50's -- rejected this kind of closed-minded stereotyping. Good for them.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Spellbinding Testimony

The Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society has put online the complete transcripts of all three days of J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers' suit against RDR Books. I read the opening statements and the direct examination of Rowling, and found them fascinating. It's a rare treat to read the testimony of someone who can actually use words evocatively on the stand. Here's a sample from the first day's transcript, p. 107:

"1 Q. Do you have any views as to the impact the publication of
2 the Lexicon on your relationship with fan Web sites?
3 A. Very definitely, that's part of my concerns about fans. I,
4 perhaps naively, I accept that, perhaps naively, I was very
5 keen to maintain an almost entirely hands-off approach to the
6 online fandom where Harry Potter was concerned. And I say
7 'almost' because there are obvious boundaries of decency that
8 occasionally one would not like to see overstepped. But by and
9 large, I simply let it happen. Maybe that was naive, but I saw
10 massive positives in this amount of fan activity. I saw -- I
11 saw it as a great global book club with a lot of enthusiasm. I
12 met people who had made real life friendships through posting
13 on Harry Potter message boards, which I thought was a wonderful
14 thing. The fan sites, the fan created fan message boards and
15 the essays and so on, they were all fun.
16 I have never read online fan fiction. It is
17 uncomfortable to see your world restated in that way. But, I
18 never censored it or wanted to censor it. I let it all happen.
19 So, what will happen if it is decided in court that by
20 taking that approach, I effectively gave away copyright, I --
21 well, I know what will happen. Other authors -- I mean, other
22 authors are already much more draconian than I am with their
23 view of the Internet. Of course, other authors will look
24 sideways at what happened to me and say I need to exercise more
25 control. She was an idiot. She let it all go."

Hat-tip to for the link.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Festival of Heat and Words

This weekend we attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, held on the campus of my alma mater UCLA. The Times boasted today that on Saturday around the same number of people -- 150,000 -- attended both the first day of the Festival and the first day of the big outdoor concert in Coachella.

Both days were marked by heat that set a few minor records (and fueled some wildfires elsewhere in So Cal).

We've generally missed at least the first day of the Festival, because my birthday falls on the 24th of April; the festival invariably runs on the weekend around my birthday; and I'm usually having a birthday party that weekend. This time, we avoided the whole problem by having a birthday picnic at the Festival.

We set up on the grassy hill next to the Janss steps; and fed on baked chicken, fruit, veggies, cake, and Japanese canned teas. One of the advantages of holding the party at the Festival was that folks who never make it to my parties (because they're too busy with the festival) were able to attend.

Today, Amy had work so I bicycled over to the Festival by myself. The road from our neighborhood to UCLA is all uphill, so I rode up there in the morning, before the heat became too unbearable. (Then, when I returned later in the day, it was all downhill).

At 11 am, my family laid claim to two booths at the festival. Cousins Linda and Karen signed their new visual-journaling book at the Borders Booth:

while their brothers, Tod (caught in mid-conversation) and Lee signed at the Mystery Bookstore booth:

After their respective booth duties were completed, I joined the cousins (along with Lee's cute daughter Madison) and headed lunchways. Lee and his daughter took one look at the lunch line and peeled off to grab a burger. I ate with the rest of the family. We discussed such topics as Linda's new iPhone, Karen's walking boot, and an annoyed e-mail Tod received from Dr. Laura triggered by a blog post wherein Tod questioned whether the good doctor was indeed a doctor. (Bottom line: She is.)

After lunch, Tod moderated a panel on "Mystery: Crime with an Edge," at which Tod and fellow crime writers discussed the delights of delineating the dark denizens of the demimonde.

Comic books and graphic novels had a larger-than-usual presence at the Festival -- likely a result of the onslaught of comics adaptations on the silver screen. At the Kinokuniya Books/Tokyo Pop booth, I ran into one of my favorite comics creators, writer/artist Wendy Pini -- dolled up in clothes that may have been a liability in the 90-degree heat.

In the background of the photo is Aimee Major Steinberger, an animator who wrote and illustrated a hilarious and beautifully drawn travelogue of her trip to Japan: JAPAN AI -- A TALL GIRL'S ADVENTURES IN JAPAN. (Ms. Steinberger is 6 fee tall.) I bought her book; and quickly read it after returning home from the festival. She depicts in the book several of the places we visited and things we saw during our two trips to Japan, including the Animate Store, Sakura Cafe and Milky Way Cafe in Ikebukuro, Tokyo; the shops in Harajuku; and the Kiyomizu Shrine in Kyoto.

I finished my visit to the Festival with a trip to the Hi-De-Ho Comics booth, where I found Phil Yeh. I've known Phil since I met him at the 1982 Norwescon in Seattle. He introduces me variously as his fan from Walla Walla; as his oldest fan; and as one of his 33 fans worldwide. He's the artist who drew the T-shirt I was wearing that day. (Other folks asked how they could get the shirt. The answer: They can't. It's 18 years old.)

Do These Conversations Happen to Other People?

(About an hour ago. I'm walking up Westwood Boulevard toward Pico. A white sedan is stopped at the light just behind me. A 30-something guy in a white t-shirt sticks his head out of the open car window.)

T-shirt guy: Hey, can I ask you something?

Me (anticipating being asked for directions): Sure.

T-shirt-guy: Do you remember the '80's band, The Smiths?

Me (what the hell?): Yeah.

T-shirt-guy: Was Morrissey gay?

Me (??????): [Nods.] He was called a "celibate homosexual."

T-shirt guy (to companion in car): Aww-right!

(T-shirt guy gives me thumbs-up. I give him one back.)

T-shirt guy (driving away): This is why I love L.A.!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Kelly Link Who Wasn't There

Amy and I really enjoy several of Kelly Link's short stories (which appear to be called "slipstream" fiction; if they were Latin American they'd probably be called "magical realism," and if they were from a decade before this one they might be called "fantasy") such as "Magic for Beginners." So when we were at Worldcon in Yokohama, we went to a panel for which she was a listed guest. Alas, she had cancelled; she hadn't made the trip to Japan.

So this afternoon, when I was at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and Link was listed as appearing on the panel "Women of Slipstream Fiction," I made arrangements to attend. Alas, just before the panel, it was announced that Link had, yes, cancelled.

So Kelly Link is everywhere. And nowhere.

Travelin' Man

This has been one of those peripatetic months for me. During the first week of April, I stayed in San Francisco on business. Two weeks later, I drove up to Paso Robles and stayed overnight, again on business. Then, last weekend, we went to Utah for the Fannutiku Fest convention, at which Amy worked as a dealer, running her magical embroidery machine and wowing the con-goers with its seemingly mystical movements. I, meanwhile, called up one of my past skills (making change on the fly without a cash register) and handled the green stuff. This was the first time I had worked retail at a convention since, oh, around the mid-1980's.

The most startling moment was when the dealer's room closed; and before we could break down our table, the wall behind us disappeared. We were in one half of a divided ballroom; and the hotel was taking the room apart around us to prepare for their next event. ("Did I break anything?" asked the hotel worker as he whipped the sliding wall out from behind us.)

The St. George Holiday Inn where the convention was held had an unusual feature: a pool that began in the lobby and extended outside (with in and out separated by a cat-door-like rubber flap). I spent early Sunday morning swimming laps under the cat-door, while the hotel sound system played seemingly un-rural-Utah-like songs from Elvis Costello, Jamie Blunt and Sound Asylum

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

If you attend this weekend's LA Times Festival of Books at the UCLA campus, the chances are good that you will run into at least one of my cousins. Tod Goldberg is participating in panel discussions; and he, his brother Lee, his sisters Linda and Karen, and their uncle Burl Barer will all be doing booth book signings. See their individual blogs (links are over there on the right side of the screen) for more details.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Last Old Man Boards the Express to Forever

An obituary for Ollie Johnston, train enthusiast and the last of the storied "Nine Old Men" of Disney animation.

Monday, April 14, 2008

And Then the Hulk Sat Down, Robbing American Film of One of Its Finest Thespians

The teaser poster for the upcoming INCREDIBLE HULK movie, the "do-over" being produced by Marvel Productions, has been released. The poster gets props for setting mood, and for conjuring memories of the opening titles for the '70's TV series. But it also deserves some disses for the composition, which suggests that Edward Norton is emerging from an unpleasant portion of the Hulk's anatomy.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

When Comic Books Become Reality II: A Portal into the Negative Zone

Here's a device that would be at home in a '60's issue of the FANTASTIC FOUR: a humongous supercollider installed on the Franco-Swiss border by Cern that is expected to solve several lingering physics questions -- and quite possibly open portals to extra dimensions. Oh, and some folks are afraid it might open up a mini black hole that (if sustained) could suck up the Earth; or that it could transform the planet into "strange matter." Hence, they've filed suit in federal district court in Hawaii (surely a nice place to file it, although the connection with Cern is unclear) to demand an environmental impact statement.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

No On-Site Registration for Comic-Con International 2008

Welcome to Comic-Con International: Coming up Next...WonderCon 2008!

According to the Comic-Con International:San Diego Website, the con will not sell any memberships on-site during the con.  Apparently, the committee expects to sell out all available memberships through advance sales.  But currently, both 4-day and 1-day memberships are available through the Website.  So if you want to go to the con, you should get your membership sooner rather than later.  (As per our tradition, we signed up for this year's con at the end of last year's, when the memberships are at their cheapest.)
Blogged with the Flock Browser

When Comic Books Become Reality: The Real Iron Men

The new issue of Popular Science Magazine features this way-cool article (which the writer and editors tie into next month's IRON MAN movie) about real-life projects dedicated to developing exoskeletons that can perform many of the functions that IM's armor can in the comics. These prototypes can't fly, or fire plasma weapons from their palms; but they can augment the wearer's strength and endurance. Here's a video of the XOS suit in action.

Beyond the obvious military applications (the projects were started by Darpa grants, and one of them has won a grant from the U.S. Army), these exoskeletons may one day allow the crippled to walk, and let heroes like fire-fighters become real life superheroes.

In the comics, one of Iron Man's constant challenges was maintaining his exoskeleton's power supply; and these real-life armors face the same challenge. Right now, the most promising powersuit resembles one of Neon Genesis Evangelion's Evas in that it requires an external power source (and an extension cord). Making the suits self-powered doesn't require increasing battery power so much as decreasing the suits' power demands.

Racer XXX

The soon-to-be-released SPEED RACER movie was filmed in Germany.  One therefore wonders if the recent scandal involving the president of the organization that oversees formula-one racing was an impossibly subtle piece of marketing for the movie.  According to the LA Times, this chap was videotaped engaging in a five-hour s & m party with prostitutes dressed as prison guards and as striped-suited prisoners -- during which he occasionally adopted a German accent, or counted in German -- then, ever the British gentleman, treated himself to a spot of tea.  Adding historical context to the story are the facts that the president's parents were interned during World War II for their support of the Nazi cause; and that the parents were married in Joseph Goebbels's home, possibly with Hitler in attendance.  (The president denies that his session had any Nazi overtones.)

The whole affair sounds like the plot of some short paperback with large type, a poor binding, and a gaudily-painted cover left behind in a bus station.

Movin', Movin', Movin' (And Some Disapprovin')

At the end of March, our firm moved out of Century City (where they -- and I -- have occupied various office buildings since 1992) and into a building on Olympic Boulevard near the 405.  Overall, I'm happy with the new location.  It's closer to my house (I can walk to work in less time than it used to take me to drive); it's near the "Little Osaka" area on Sawtelle, and the restaurant choices for lunch are terrific; and my new office is nice, with a southwest view that takes in most of the Westside from Sepulveda/Olympic down to Westchester, and west to the ocean.

But every move has its problems.  Ones that have manifested so far:  The box containing the contents of my desk has gone missing.  (That of course raises existential questions -- such as whether I really needed that stuff anyway?)  The glass on the framed poster of the Walla Walla Balloon Stampede also went missing in the move, except for a shard still stuck in the frame.  My old office had built-in bookshelves, and the new office doesn't -- so I've been waiting and will wait for a while for a new bookcase to be delivered.  Meanwhile, my books remain in about 13 boxes on my office floor.  (How did I accumulate so many books?  And that's after going through the usual pre-move purging ritual.)  And there have been other issues that I won't go into.

The gradual kudzu-like spread of e-filing with federal courts has also raised issues.  Used to be that when an attorney moved offices, he just had to notify the state bar and file change of address notices in his cases (which in itself is a chore).  Now the attorney must also go to the Website of each federal district court in which he is admitted (for me, every federal district court in California) and register a change of address.

The philosophical might say that with every move, we give up something, get something new, and are handed another chance to reinvent ourselves.  The more practical would say that we accumulate crud; and moving forces us to choose which crud we really need.  Come to think of it, the philosophical might say that too.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Mr. Nokia's Patent Mobile Telephonic Communicator

What if the Nintendo Wii came out in 1880? Or Vitamin Water in the Art Deco era? This Website ran a contest challenging folks to design vintage advertisements for modern products. The results are amazing.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Noir: Hollywoodland, Hornet, and Javier

I suspect that my fascination with film noir iconography originated from watching the '60's TV series THE GREEN HORNET at a tender age. I'm sure I did not see the Hornet in its initial run (1966-1967), since I was only one to two years old at the time. More likely a local station picked it up as syndicated reruns and ran it. But I was a big Hornet fan as a little kid. My parents would buy me some of the GH merchandise that was still left on the store shelves. (The series was put out by the same producers as the '60's BATMAN show, which was one of the biggest merchandising successes ever; and the producers entered into numerous licenses for the Hornet, convinced lightning would strike twice. It didn't.) In particular, I had a bendy-toy figure of the Hornet, which I would periodically lose, and raise a ruckus until my parents got me a new one.

A couple of days ago, I watched one of the early episodes of THE GREEN HORNET, "The Silent Gun," on a cable station. The series is best remembered today mostly as the American debut of Bruce Lee, who brought a catlike grace to his portrayal of the Hornet's sidekick Kato. (And everytime Lee springs into action on the show, you can't tear your eyes off him; he looks almost superhuman in his movement.) But what stuck with me was the scenes in which the producers sunk a little bit of money into shooting beautifully lit nighttime sequences, with the Black Beauty (the Hornet's big, nasty American car)tearing around rain-slick city streets, its green headlights reflected in puddles.

Of course, the reason the producers spent money on those shots was because the series made extensive use of stock footage. The sequences would be repeated whenever they wanted to set a bit of mood while getting the story from point A to point B. Most location shots, especially later in the series, used outrageously bad day-for-night effects. (In one, the establishing shot featured the Black Beauty driving down PCH, somewhere around Pacific Palisades, with the sun high in the sky. Cut to the Hornet in the back of the car, the windows around him black with night, as he tells Kato, "It's almost midnight." Uh-huh.)

Nevertheless, the show was, in my memory, the slickest piece of film noir ever made for television; and I've always thought that if onewere to become a crime-fighting mystery man, there's worse ways to roll than Britt Reid's approach: dress to the nines; play-act as a gangster; travel in a stunning car; and have Bruce Lee cover your back.

What brought these thoughts to mind was my back-to-back viewing last week of two recent noir movies: HOLLYWOODLAND, the biopic about the complicated life and death of Superman actor George Reeves; and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, the Coen Brothers' multi-Oscar winning meditation on implacable pursuit and death under the hot Texas sun.

HOLLYWOODLAND was pretty good, although the movie was far more engaging when telling the true story of Reeves than when depicting the framing device, the fictional/composite story of private detective Adrien Brody as he seeks the truth of Reeves's fate while dealing with the shambles of his own life. Perhaps the truth (augmented and concentrated) is more compelling than any fiction the screenwriter could come up with.

NCFOM, while nominally in the same genre as HOLLYWOODLAND, was far, far superior in quality. The Coen brothers grab your attention from the first frame, and won't let you look away, no matter how grim and horrifying events become -- and they become quite grim and horrifying indeed. The film is one of those few ones that reads like a novel (perhaps the result of following its source material closely, although I haven't read the book and am not in a position to judge): It does not follow predictible paths, but every path it follows feels right and fits into the overall rhythm of the piece. Furthermore, despite being lean on both dialogue and background music, whenever the movie concentrates on Josh Brolin as resourceful prey Moss or Javier Bardem as even-more-resourceful force of nature Chigurh, you can tell nearly every thought that goes through their heads -- even when their facial expressions barely flicker. It was excellent moviemaking -- though I'm still amazed that so many Academy members were enchanted with so nasty a film.

The 'Bucks by the Bay

On Thursday and Friday of this past week, I took a business trip to San Francisco, and stayed at the Guest Quarters hotel across the street from the Embarcadero. Although I've been to San Francisco several times since I moved away from there in 1990, this was the first trip to the Embarcadero area I'd made since I lived there. The biggest change is that local cafes are difficult to find; instead, the area sported the most concentrated swarm of Starbucks stores I've ever seen. There was a Starbucks attached to my hotel; another a few steps away; and one on practically every street. At one point, I saw two directly across the street from each other. And amazingly, on Friday morning every Starbucks I saw was stuffed with customers.

I saw one Peets Coffee (a native chain of SF), and one Tully's Coffee; but if independent coffee shops were around, I didn't see them.

On Thursday night, I walked through the Embarcadero Center (which was completely deserted) and went to the Hyatt Regency, near the Ferry Building. I visited the 13 Views lounge on the third floor for a cocktail and a small sourdough bowl of clam chowder (it was San Francisco, after all). The Regency is absolutely stunning inside: the lounge is located in a 27-story atrium, in which the straight-line ledges above converge at an off-center point, creating a vertiginous feeling. It's all combined with a giant see-through metal sculpture of the Hyatt Logo. It looks like quite the place to take a date after an evening at the Embarcadero cinema.

On Friday, the sky was robin's-egg blue; and the 60-something-degree weather was warmer than LA -- which, when I landed Friday afternoon, was as foggy and grey as the weather usually was in San Francisco when I lived there. Why is the weather always gorgeous in SF when I visit there?