Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Ken Show finally canceled; Sony stock rebounds

The prodigious Jeopardy! run of Ken Jennings is finally over, after 74 consecutive victories and more than $2.5 million in total booty. Well, whatever's left of $2.5 million after Uncle Dubya and Uncle Ahnold slice off their respective pounds of flesh, and after the Mormons snake another ten percent for the root beer and Wonder bread fund.

You've got to hand it to the Kenmeister — you don't win that many straight games of anything by fluke, and especially not in Jeopardy!, as I can attest. Sooner or later you run into either a buzzsaw opponent, a set of categories far outside your sphere of knowledge, or both.

Since Ken started his record-smashing run, numerous folks have asked me how far I think I might have gone had the Jeopardy! rules at the time allowed unlimited wins, instead of limiting champions to five games. Who knows the answer to that? The contestant who won the game immediately following my "retirement" — a chiropractor named Stephen Lebowitz — was a terrific player who also qualified for the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions that season. (As I recall, he was a right congenial chap as well.) I don't recall the categories that came up during Stephen's first game, so I've no clue how a head-to-head match between the two of us might have ended. I'd like to think that, under most circumstances, I could play straight up against anyone and hold my own. But anything can happen.

In the fourth game of my initial five-game sprint, one of my opponents was a rather surly young woman who was a grad student at Cal-Berkeley. After the match concluded, she whispered to me in a snotty tone, "If we'd had different categories in this game, I'd have beaten you." Perhaps she would have. But in Jeopardy! as in real life, sweetheart, what matters isn't what you might do with different categories; it's how you play the categories you're dealt.

I guess she was absent the day they taught that at Berkeley.

All Tyed up and no place to go

No surprise: Tyrone Willingham was fired today at Notre Dame.

Stanford athletic director Ted Leland's next phone call should be to Willingham, or his agent, inviting Ty back to the Farm.

Here's the saddest part of the Willingham story:
With Tony Samuel fired by New Mexico State and Fitz Hill resigning from San Jose State last week, there are now only two black head coaches in Division I-A — Karl Dorrell at UCLA and Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State.
Given the percentage of African American athletes playing football at big-time colleges, two black head coaches out of 117 can't be the product of random chance. Keno has better odds than that, and you know better than to play keno. Don't you?

Ruffles have Ridges, the White House doesn't

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge quit today.

I can't say as I blame him. If I had that job, I'd quit too. (Of course, I'd have been smart enough to decline the offer in the first place. But that's Monday morning quarterbacking.)

The Homeland Security post is truly a no-win proposition. If there's a major terrorist strike, everyone will say it's your fault for not catching the fiends beforehand — never mind the fact that the fiends aren't exactly keeping you up to speed on their action plan. If there isn't, everyone wonders what good you're doing for the money we're paying you. Couple that with the fact that the administration is apparently far more concerned about insurgency in Fallujah, half a world away, than they are about death and destruction right here at home, and the person who takes Ridge's place has a fool for a career counselor.

By the way, we did catch Osama, didn't we? What? Oh. That was the other guy. Never mind, then.

Sweet relief

I'm doing the happy dance. I may even do the Funky Chicken before I'm through.

According to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle — one of the nation's best day-in, day-out baseball reporters — the Giants have tentatively agreed to a three-year deal with free-agent closer Armando Benitez.

The numbers in brief, from last season:

47 saves in 51 opportunities.
A 1.29 ERA.
An opponents' batting average of .216.

Now all we need is a right fielder, and we're set for a World Series run.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Cereal killer

President Bush today nominated Carlos Gutierrez, CEO of Kellogg's, to replace the departing Don Evans as Commerce Secretary.

Asked how he felt about the appointment, Gutierrez reportedly said, "It's G-R-R-R-R-R-R-EAT!"

In other news, the President named Snap, Crackle, and Pop as undersecretaries in the Commerce Department. No word yet on a government post for Toucan Sam.

(And now a true story. A couple of years ago, the ad agency that represents Kellogg's sent talent scouts to the Barbershop Harmony Society's International Convention, in search of a resonant bass vocalist to replace the retiring Thurl Ravenscroft, the original voice of Tony the Tiger. I never did hear whether they hired anyone for the job, or if they did, whether it was one of our barbershop guys.)

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Win my attention!

With the recent upswing in traffic here at SSTOL — much appreciated, incidentally, and welcome to all the new readers, cruisers, and random drop-ins — you may well be asking yourself:
"How could I entice the SwanShadow guy into perusing my blog for more than the 30 seconds required by BlogExplosion, and possibly even into becoming a regular visitor?"
I, being an accommodating sort, will be delighted to share the keys to the Magic Kingdom (or at least, the keys to my criminally brief attention span) with you.

First and foremost, you should not care whether I frequent your blog. Or whether anyone else does, for that matter, unless your specific purpose in blogging is to keep in touch with family members, loved ones, and/or friends — in which case, you should only care whether those specific people frequent your blog. If, however, you are not targeting your blog for a select audience, whose members presumably are already interested in you and therefore will visit your blog regardless of its content, you should blog for your own amusement / entertainment / catharsis / whatever, and to blue blazes with what anyone else thinks about it.

Given that you've read this far, I'm supposing that you still crave my input. And you shall have it.

Here's a five-point strategy to get SwanShadow to read, and perhaps even enjoy, your blog for more than half a minute:

1. Learn how to write, and use the skills you learn. Maybe it's because I use words for a living, maybe it's because language and the verbal arts are one of my highest passions, or maybe it's just because I'm an anal-retentive, persnickety nitpicker. Whatever the reason, if your blog reads like an illiterate third-grader composed it, I'm out of there. Run your posts through spell-check, at the bare minimum. Write in complete sentences unless there's a clear stylistic reason to the contrary. Don't pretend you're e.e. cummings — capitalize the letters that require capitalization, and don't capitalize the ones that don't. Learn where the punctuation goes, and put it there. Learn when to use, and not use, apostrophes, especially in the words "its" and "it's" (which, contrary to increasingly popular usage, are not interchangeable). Divide complete thoughts into paragraphs. Pretend I'm your high school English teacher, and my grade will either get your blog into Stanford, or condemn it to community college.

2. In the words of sports talk host Jim Rome, "Have a take, and do not suck." Far be it from me to tell you what to blog about. Blog about what pleases you — I'm interested in many things, and even if I'm not especially interested in your topic of choice when I arrive at your blog, I may very well hang around if you have something original and intriguing to say about whatever it is. Tell me something I don't know. Tell me more about things I do know. Just have an opinion, and express it cogently and with flair. I'll be all ears. And you don't get points just by posting links to other people's content. Link away, but add something fresh. Share a thought. Have a take. Grow some funk of your own.

3. Don't hate. If you really don't like something, say so, but say so in a respectful way. You can make all the snide japes you want about "the other side" and whoever happens to occupy it — I'll laugh if you're funny, even if I'm on the other side. But I'll weary of a constant barrage of bashing, even if I staunchly oppose whatever the bashees represent. They may be evil incarnate, but I'm more interested in your alternative perspective than in unadulterated vitriol.

4. Go easy on the profanity, willya? I'm not a prude — okay, maybe I'm a bit of a prude — but I've heard all the words and you don't know any I've never encountered. Seriously. I've heard people insult each other on three continents. Your constant use of vulgarisms, however, will soon convince me that you can't communicate any other way. Invest in a thesaurus. Clip and save the vocabulary quizzes in Reader's Digest. Find new ways to express yourself that don't make you look like you're wading in the shallow end of the genetic pool.

5. Use a decent template. That doesn't mean mind-blowingly artistic — it means legible. I really don't care how fancy your blog is. I just want to be able to read what you've written. If it hurts my eyes to look at your neon green, calligraphy script body text against your fluorescent pink Barbie-and-Skipper background, you could be the second coming of F. Scott Fitzgerald and I'll never know. I'm off to find my Visine. And for pity's sake, lay off the cutesy flashing animated graphics. We're all adults here.

That's it. Do the above, and I'll be glad to check you out. If I find something worthy of comment, I'll even drop you a note. Convince me you'll be interesting more than once, and I'll even link to your blog.

Oh, one more thing. Moms (and some of you dads too), if I have to scroll through fifty photos of your adorable little moppet(s), please tell me something unique about little Mitzi or Perseus that I can't discern from the pictures. I have a daughter myself, so I know a cute kid when I see one. But tell me why yours is/are special.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

In the Wakandan night he walks — a king and a hero

Okay, I don't get giddy about much at this advanced and jaded age, but I'm giggling like a plaid-skirted schoolgirl over this. Here's a scan of a commissioned drawing just completed for me by Bob McLeod.

If you were reading comics in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, the name Bob McLeod will immediately resonate with you, as McLeod was one of the most talented (as well as one of the most prolific) inkers of that period. Although perhaps best recalled by fans as the co-creator (with writer Chris Claremont) of Marvel's New Mutants, a group some of us lovingly referred to as "Junior X-Men" (as in, "Up in the air, Junior X-Men...") when they first appeared in the early '80s, Bob's pencils and inks graced dozens of titles for both of the big comics companies, including Adventures of Superman and Wonder Woman for DC, and the various Spider-Man and X-Men titles for Marvel. Bob was one of my favorite inkers on Spider-Man, because he always managed to give the character something approximating the classic John Romita, Sr. look, even when inking over a penciler who had no clue (or worse, didn't care) what Spidey was supposed to look like (I won't mention any names here, but the initials "Todd McFarlane" come to mind...).

When I discovered that Bob was available for commission work, I simply had to ask him to draw T'Challa, the Black Panther, for me. McLeod inked several issues of the Panther's adventures in Jungle Action in the early '70s, over the pencils of the incredible and underrated Billy Graham, at the time best known as the art director at Warren Publications, home of Vampirella. I didn't know it until Bob told me, but the Black Panther strip was one of his first major comics jobs, and he was, as he puts it, "learning to ink on the job." You wouldn't have known it. I recall his replacing Klaus Janson as the Jungle Action inker as generating an immediate improvement in the book's art, because McLeod's line-focused inking style was better suited to Graham's pencils than the heavier approach of Janson.

The Graham/McLeod run on Jungle Action was important as perhaps the first time mainstream comics faced the subject of racism head-on. Scripter Don McGregor, one of the most literary writers in the history of comics in my humble view, spun a powerful and action-packed storyline about the Panther taking on a clandestine cabal of hood-and-robe-clad evildoers obviously based on the Ku Klux Klan. That Billy Graham, one of the few African Americans working in comics then, penciled the tales lent a beautiful irony to those of us who knew. Graham, unfortunately, is no longer with us, having passed away several years ago. But I'll always remember how significant his artistic contributions to the Panther (created by Stan Lee and the King, Jack Kirby) and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire (the brainchild by Marvel writer Archie Goodwin, with collaboration by artists Graham and George Tuska), were for children of color who had rarely, if ever, before seen superheroes who looked like us.

Fast-forward thirty years, and I now have my very own Black Panther, penciled and inked by one of his original artists, Bob McLeod, winging his way to me. When T'Challa arrives in the mail next week, it will be as though a long-lost piece of my childhood has been returned. I'll whoop with joy. I'll do the happy dance. I may even shed a tear or two. But never fear -- I'll hold Bob's beautiful art at arm's length, so as not to smear the ink.

If you'd like to see more of what Bob McLeod has been up to lately, you can browse some eye-popping galleries of his recent commission work at his Web site. I also understand that Bob recently wrote and illustrated a children's book entitled Superhero ABC that will be published by Harper Collins in 2005. Keep it in mind for the little ones in your life next Christmas.

And in other news, Marvel recently announced that a new Black Panther comic, to be scripted by filmmaker Reginald Hudlin and penciled by John Romita, Jr., will premiere in February 2005. If only they could get Bob McLeod to ink it...

Viva Henderson!

In general, I find reality programs insufferable. I'll confess, however, that I dig American Casino. This is due in part to my lifelong fascination with all things Vegas (even though Green Valley Ranch, the titular edifice in American Casino, is in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb, and not in Vegas per se), but also due to the ever-so-slightly off-center cast of characters.

I get a kick out of GVR's wacky, party-hearty public relations guy (who reminds me of dozens of sales and P.R. types I've known over the years), the ice-queen operations supervisor (whose boss kicked the proverbial bucket early in the show's run — given his shark-like, Machiavellian personality, I suspect he was not the least bit missed by his coworkers, despite the commendable display of sorrow they put on over his untimely demise), the Hell's Angels-reject chef who — by his own admission — walks around his own house getting blotto while packing heat, and especially, the terminally insecure marketing guy who, as recounted in tonight's rerun episode, turned his apartment into a passion-pit nightclub (this guy reminds me somehow of Bob Crane, the Hogan's Heroes star whose legendary obsession with perverse sexual adventuring probably resulted in his getting his skull smashed in in an Arizona motel).

Every one of these people has something eerily wrong lurking under the surface — a smoldering desperation that is simultaneously compelling and pitiable. I suppose, when you really think about it, that these are the sort of careerists the faux glamour of the gaming industry in general, and Las Vegas in particular, attracts. But you find people much like them in other fields as well. I know. I've worked with them.

Friday, November 26, 2004

We don't need no education; money, that's what we want

The chorus of London schoolkids who sang — "shouted" might be a more accurate word — background vocals on Pink Floyd's 1979 hit "Another Brick in the Wall" are attempting to claim back royalties for their performance. Now adults, the erstwhile Floydettes (who, one suspects, today resemble a To Sir, With Love cast reunion) want their piece of the proverbial steak and kidney pie, estimated at several hundred British pounds each.

A spokesperson for Pink Floyd reportedly said, "They still can't have any pudding if they don't eat their meat."

In a related story, Leo, the MGM Studios mascot, is rumored to be seeking reparations from one-hit-wonders the Tokens for mentioning his species (not to mention his personal struggles with narcolepsy) in their 1961 chart-topper, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

Genius at work

Over at Comic Art Fans, you'll find a new set of video clips featuring popular artist Adam Hughes creating a sketch for a fan at the National Comic Convention in New York City last weekend. Hughes is an entertaining personality in addition to being a talented artist, and the insight into his creative process is both instructive and oddly engaging. You'll spend about 20 minutes viewing the five clips — 20 minutes better spent than watching some ludicrous reality show on the tube. (Adam's hilarious take on the side benefits of drawing with Sharpie markers is worth the time spent, all by itself.)

Here's a game you can play as you watch and listen: See how quickly in the film you can guess which comic character Hughes is drawing. (No fair viewing the clips out of sequence.)

Incidentally, anyone wondering what to buy me for Christmas? An Adam Hughes sketch would do the trick nicely. Adam signs his work with the monogram "AH!" for good reason.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Far from the madding crowd

Unless you're offering signed original artworks by Lou Fine, Mac Raboy, or Will Eisner as free door prizes, your company is not going to entice me to get out of bed at 4:30 a.m. in order to shop in your store at 5:30 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving. Or on any other day. Or at any other time on the day after Thanksgiving.

So stop with the commercials, already.

Bullets and bracelets

One additional thing I'm thankful for today is a long chat I had the other day with DL. She called in a moment of crisis — one with which any parent, especially a parent of multiple offspring, can identify — and I let her talk herself down a little. (She thinks I helped. All I really did was let her help herself. I'm good like that.)

DL sometimes gives me the sense that she sees herself as a failure. She isn't at all — she's as strong and capable and inherently wise as any person I've ever known. I believe she's a better mother than she thinks she is. I know she's a better friend. So in her honor, I've chosen a picture from my art collection that accurately portrays my vision of DL fending off the challenges of everyday life, as seen with the illuminating and compassionate eye of a long-time friend:

And no, the "D" in DL doesn't stand for Diana...but it should.

(Credit Brazilian artist Eddy Barrows, best known for his work on the G.I. Joe comics series, with this stunning drawing.)

SwanShadow gives thanks, from A to Z

For last Sunday's church bulletin, I wrote an article listing a few of the things for which I'm thankful. You can pop over to the church site if you're interested in reading it.

In a concerted effort not to repeat myself, I'll do the blog's list in alphabetical format. Thus, a few things (hardly an exhaustive recitation — more like the gratitude sampler plate) for which I'm thankful today:

Advertising, because if people didn't need it, I'd be making my living doing something else.

Baseball. As Thomas Boswell once wrote, life begins on Opening Day. Here's hoping the Giants enjoy a postseason run in 2005, as Barry "U.S." Bonds (another "B" for whom I'm thankful) continues his assault on the Babe and the Hammer.

Comic book creators, past and present, for all the wonder they've shared with me over the past 37 years. Thanks especially for the stalwarts of the Marvel Age of Comics: Stan the Man, King Jack, Sturdy Steve, Big John, Jazzy Johnny Sr., Roy the Boy, Gene the Dean, Sal, Herb, all the Jims, Woody, George, Don, Marie, and for a few spectacular, shining moments, the mighty Steranko. We'll never see their like again.

DSL, without which life would be excruciatingly slow.

Everlast, the company responsible for the handy stopwatch that manages my working life. And for all those gloves they provided to Muhammad Ali in his heyday.

Filet-O-Fish sandwiches at McDonalds. Heaven on a bun.

Green growing things, like the grass and shrubbery and redwood trees I see every day outside my office window.

Humor, and the sense with which to appreciate it. If I couldn't laugh, I'd be crying a lot.

Iron Chef, still one of the most entertaining hours in the history of television. Nothing beats watching Sakai, Michiba, Chen, Kobe, and the nonpareil Morimoto turning weird ingredients like anglerfish, sea urchins, natto, and cod roe into gustatory magic, spurred along by the gangbusters commentary of Fukui, Doc Hattori, floor reporter Ohta, and the giggling female guest of the day. Allez cuisine!

Jesus Christ, because without Him, none of the other stuff matters.

KJ and KM, my girls. Two finer young women no man deserves.

Linda Fiorentino, because someone ought to be thankful for Linda Fiorentino. I watched Liberty Stands Still again the other night, and she really is something.

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 15th Edition. The book that saves my bacon several times a day, every day.

News from ME, Mark Evanier's superlative weblog that, more than any other single factor, inspired me to attempt my own. An essential cornerstone of my online experience every day. It's everything SSTOL aspires to be, and more.

Orion. He's my favorite object in the night sky, and I look forward to his reappearance every autumn. It's awe-inspiring to realize that Rigel, his left foot (on our right, as we face him) is over 300 light-years away, and that the reddish glow we see from it tonight left there before George Washington was born.

Pembroke Welsh Corgis. Ask the man who owns one. Or ask the Queen. Speaking of which...

Queen. KM is now, for whatever reason, into the music of Freddie and the boys. Lately she's been digging my old Queen albums out of the massive rack of neglected vinyl that occupies a corner of the living room and taking them to her grandparents' house to play them (we haven't assembled the stereo since we moved into the current house nearly eleven years ago, so there's nothing on which to play records here). KM's favorite Queen song: "Somebody to Love." My favorite Queen song: "Fat Bottomed Girls."

Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on...well, not kittens, because I don't care much for cats. Walruses, maybe. Because, as we all know, the Walrus was Paul.

SwanShadow Thinks Out Loud, the Internet's virtual window into the deep dark recesses of my brain.

Trivia quizzes. Because I like learning new stuff. And proving to myself that I still have my old Jeopardy! chops.

Usual Suspects, after nearly ten years, still the greatest film of the 20th century's last decade; it's constructed like a house of cards, yet never falls down. Featuring star-making performances by a soon-to-be-all-star cast: Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Pollack, Benicio Del Toro, Chazz Palminteri, and the incredible Kevin Spacey as Roger "Verbal" Kint: "Keaton always said, 'I don't believe in God, but I'm afraid of him.' Well, I believe in God — and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze." And whatever happened to screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie? Was this the only great script he had in him?

Vegas: looking forward to our 20th anniversary sojourn in January.

White markerboards, because some of us forget stuff if there isn't a big purple note about it right in front of our faces. And because I can never, amid all my clutter, find a piece of scratch paper when I really, really need to scribble something.

X-Men: stronger than ever after 40 years. Cyclops is still my favorite — even if in the movies, he's been reduced to a whiny second-stringer.

You, you wonderful, marvelous, fabulous SSTOL reader, you.

Zacchaeus, who, like myself, was a little man who found himself up a tree on occasion. His story reminds me that even such a poor lamb as I can be valuable in the eyes of the Good Shepherd.

I hope you and yours, gentle reader, count your blessings today, and discover how innumerable they truly are. And I hope that, for those of you who stop in here regularly, that SSTOL is, in its own minuscule way, a blessing to you. Thanks for your support, your comments, and the gracious use of your eyeballs for a few moments. Shalom!

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Pass the yams and the deed to my ancestral land, please

I have a few associates to whom I could address this question, but I've always been leery of doing so:

On Thanksgiving Day, what are Native American folks thankful for?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Turkey TV

If you haven't had your annual fix already (I got mine a couple of days ago), sometime in the next 24 hours you and yours need to settle in and watch the quintessential Thanksgiving movie: John Hughes's modern classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Steve Martin and the late, much lamented John Candy star as two hapless, hopelessly mismatched travelers trying to get home for Turkey Day in the face of insurmountable circumstances. One of my favorite unknown actresses, Laila Robins, makes her big-screen debut as Martin's wife.

You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll pass your plate for another load-up of mashed potatoes and cornbread dressing. (It's only "stuffing" if it was cooked inside the bird, which is unsanitary, as you well know. And if you're eating that Stove Top garbage, you should be ashamed of yourself.)

Warning for sensitive ears: If you rent the theatrical version, there are a couple of scenes featuring some pretty raw profanity — not exactly what you want to throw on for post-dinner viewing with Grandma and Cousin Bertha. But check your local listings; a TV station or cable outlet in your area is bound to show the bowdlerized-for-network version sometime on Thanksgiving. Uncle Swan says check it out.

New on the DVD rack, 11/24/04

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. For my daughter, obviously. At least I hope it's obvious. The Harry Potter phenomenon baffles me a little. I'll confess to not having read the books, so I'm not an especially well-informed judge. But I have seen both of the first two films, which I'm told are relatively faithful to the novels, and I haven't been all that enthused. Chris Columbus's Potter films are fun, but disposable -- I've watched both Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets several times with KM, and I'll be doggoned if I could tell you one really outstanding moment in either picture. And with the notable exception of the young woman who plays Harry's friend Hermione, the acting is atrocious — the adults overplay their roles, for the most part, and the kids can't act, period. I'm told this third one, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, is more textured and interesting. We'll see.

Mulan: Special Edition. Not as much for my daughter as for me. Mulan is, along with The Emperor's New Groove and Lilo and Stitch, one of my favorite Disney animated films of the last decade. It's like a sunburst of radiant energy in contrast to the slog into mediocrity that began ten years ago with Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and culminated recently in tripe like Home on the Range. Mulan combines a powerful story with a compelling lead character and a bravura voice performance by Eddie Murphy as Mushu the dragon, presaging his celebrated work in the Shrek films. Even Donny Osmond, who provides the singing voice of the male lead, can't mess it up. I' looking forward to prowling through the supplemental content on this two-disc set.

The Whole Wide World. Every now and again, diving through the DVD bargain dumpster at Wal-Mart turns up a pearl. This was another one. (On previous dumpster dives, I've discovered such terrific films as The Last Seduction for giveaway prices. Then again, I've crawled through hundreds of discs Wal-Mart would have to pay me to watch.) It's a biopic about eccentric, tortured '30s pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard (the creator of Conan the Barbarian), who died by his own hand at the age of 30 after a long history of emotional turmoil. Vincent D'Onofrio is Howard, and Renée Zellweger is the love of his life, Novalyne Price. I've caught portions of this film on cable over the years, but have never been fortunate enough to come in at the very beginning to see the entire story unfold. Now I can.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Booster, boosted

I haven't posted any new art here in a while — though I think my gallery over at Comic Art Fans is pretty much up to date. Since I likely won't be adding any new items to the portfolio until after the holidays, I'll salt in a new piece here at SSTOL every now and again for your admiration and amusement.


You'll recall the Booster Gold sketch Dan Jurgens penciled for me at the Minnesota FallCon. A terrific drawing with life and personality to burn. Well, I hustled Booster across the continent (okay, the Postal Service hustled while I forked over the dough) to Josef Rubinstein, the legendary inker who previously worked on my Lara Croft sketch, also penciled by Dan Jurgens. Joe delivered another superb inking job, maybe even better than the Tomb Raider piece. I'll let you judge for yourselves.

Good evening, this is Dan Rather Be Playing Golf On Maui

CBS just announced that Evening News anchor Dan Rather will retire in March.

The network will likely attempt to dress this move as a golden handshake rather than an unceremonious shove out the door. But don't be fooled. Rather's departure has been inevitable since the notorious 60 Minutes debacle over apparently forged documents related to President Bush's National Gaurd service (or absence therefrom). Rather walked away from that embarrassing business wiping enough egg from his face to make omelettes for the entire CBS News staff. And if there's anything network executives hate as much as losing money, it's public humiliation. Therefore, it's "So long, Dan, and don't let some lunatic muttering 'What's the frequency, Kenneth?' hit you in the butt on your way out."

It'll be interesting to see who replaces Cowboy Dan at the anchor desk. Unlike NBC, which moves Brian Williams into Tom Brokaw's chair on December 1, CBS doesn't have a ready-made successor for Rather lurking in the wings.

Given that he's already running the CBS programming department anyway, they might as well give the job to Jerry Bruckheimer.

Ring the bell, Fido

Back in the days when I used to spin rock and roll records on college radio (for you youngsters unfamiliar with the terminology, records were large round discs of vinyl with tiny grooves cut into the surface, which reproduced sound when played using a device called a phonograph, and rock and roll was the dominant form of American popular music in the pre-hip-hop/rap/Britney era), I occasionally played a cut by a band known as Pavlov's Dog.

Pavlov's Dog sounded a little like Blue Öyster Cult, only with less clever and labyrinthine lyrics, without the unparalleled electric guitar wizardry of the BÖC's Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, and with a lead vocalist who sounded nothing like the Cult's Eric Bloom. In fact, the singer for Pavlov's Dog, a guy named David Surkamp, didn't sound like anyone you've ever heard. I'm not even sure he sounded human.

The only comparison I can make is with another old-school hard rock band, the Canadian power trio Rush ("Limelight," "Tom Sawyer," "Fly by Night"). Surkamp sounded like Geddy Lee of Rush might sound if he snorted a balloonful of helium just before he stepped in front of the microphone. I often speculated on-air that the name of the band surely derived from the fact that Surkamp's trebly tenor tessitura was capable of notes only canines could hear.

I kid you not.

The only knowledge I have of Pavlov's Dog is that single album, entitled "Pampered Menial," that I used to throw on the turntable on my radio show. The music was bizarre, but in a vaguely cool sort of way, like those incomprehensible early Genesis albums when Peter Gabriel was still the singer, Phil Collins was just the drummer, and instead of quirky yet radio-friendly pop hits like "Misunderstanding" and "Invisible Touch," they filled their records with dark, dense, ponderous stuff like "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway."

But, as is true of almost every facet of recorded history, someone has created a Web site devoted to the myth and mystery that is (or was) Pavlov's Dog. Which is, after all, as it should be.

I'm salivating just thinking about it.

The restroom door said "Gentlemen"

Every Monday evening, three other gents and I wend our way through Bay Area traffic to chorus rehearsal. For me, it's a 162-mile round trip each week; for the two members of our foursome who live in Santa Rosa, the next city to the north, it's about 20 miles more. In decent weather, and barring accidents or other highway mayhem, roughly an hour and a half there, slightly less coming back when the commuters have gone to Lullaby Land. Fortunately, three of us take turns driving the carpool, so it's not so bad.

We do it because we love it, naturally. The local chorus is a fun group of guys, but the music program is at best slightly above average, and at worst mediocre. That's not a criticism as much as it is a recognition that it's a different group of people with different goals than the chorus in which I sing. For all our struggles, we're the best men's chorus in our musical genre for 400 miles in any direction. So it's worth the weekly hassle to make what I facetiously refer to as the Great Trek.

Tonight on the way home, we stopped at a gas station mini-mart around the corner from our rehearsal location to grab dinner. It's always the mini-mart when we're in a hurry to get home, and In-N-Out Burger ("In-N-Out, In-N-Out, that's what a hamburger's all about") when we're not. Before venturing to the deli case to pick over the paltry selection of prewrapped sandwiches, I made a pit stop at the men's room. The little sign on the lock said "Vacant." When I opened the door, there was my reflection in the mirror -- and sure enough, that was the expression on my face...vacant.

Amazing. How did the locksmith know?

Monday, November 22, 2004

A pox on all their houses

Good on ya, NBA Commissioner David Stern, for giving major league wack job Ron Artest the bum's rush for the rest of the season, as well as booting Artest's Indiana Pacer teammates Stephen "Don't call me Phil" Jackson and Jermaine "Don't call me Shaq" O'Neal for 30 and 25 games, respectively, for their involvement in that ugly incident at Auburn Hills on Friday night. Stern handed two other Pacers and four Detroit Pistons smaller but well-deserved suspensions too.

Artest, by the way, was a major league wack job long before he leapt into the stands. This is the same clown who earlier this month asked for time off to go promote his rap CD, and got benched for two games for his trouble.

But let's not act as though only Artest and Co. were the only ones who did something stupid and worthy of punishment that dreadful evening. That knucklehead who pitched his cup of beer on Artest deserves to be smacked about the buttocks for initiating the melee. If he's a season ticket holder, the Pistons should refund the remainder of his payment for this season and make him persona non grata at the Palace. People like that aren't sports fans; they're gang-bangers in polo shirts.

Too bad spectators can't suspended. But then, if they could, the Coliseum would be empty (or at least emptier) at Oakland Raiders games.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The verdict is in...

...and Dick Wolf has spoken. Former soap actress Annie Parisse has been tapped to replace the departing Elisabeth Rohm on Law & Order.

Although Ms. Parisse apparently guest-starred on an L&O episode two seasons ago, I can't say I can place her from her photograph. I only hope she'll be a better pick than Rohm, whom I've always thought was miscast.

Friday, November 19, 2004

I feel an episode of CSI coming on

Did you hear the one about the Massachusetts woman who made a startling deathbed confession? Before succumbing to cancer earlier this week, Geraldine DiMarzio Kelley admitted to her daughter that she had killed her husband 14 years ago and kept his body in a freezer locked away in a self-storage facility.

"She told me he took off in the car and last she heard he had an accident, that he was hit by a truck or something. It was in Nevada," Kelley's daughter, Tami DiMarzio, told a Boston television statement.

As Mac Davis said in North Dallas Forty, "Here's the weird part." The murder apparently occurred in Ventura, in southern California. When Kelley moved back to Massachusetts six years ago, she had the freezer shipped cross-country, with her former spouse sealed inside with duct tape, before locating appliance and decedent at the storage unit.

Whatever the reasons Kelley killed the old boy, you just have to wonder what on earth she was thinking, keeping his carcass around all these years. Why not bury him, or dump him in the nearby Pacific?

The Legion of Stupid Heroes

As I was reaaranging my comic art portfolio today, I paused today to admire my Mike Dooney Saturn Girl portrait. In so doing, I was reminded of what some of us as kids used to call the group of which Saturn Girl was a founding member:

The Legion of Stupid Heroes.

I'll explain.

When I was a young comics reader, I was a True Believer. A Keeper of the Flame. In short, I was a Marvel Snob. I looked down my nose at the product of the so-called Distinguished Competition. (I still looked, mind you — I read practically every DC comic that came out. But I always did so furtively, lest any of my fellow Marvel Snobs should spy me red-handed with that weak, goody-two-shoes DC stuff.)

We Marvel Snobs loved to mock DC comics for their poorly conceived heroes, who were mostly too powerful to be compelling. Superman was indestructible, and so strong he could throw planets around. The Flash could outrun time, for pity's sake. The Spectre was all-powerful, besides which, he was dead, so the bad guys didn't even stand a chance of killing him. Green Lantern's power ring could accomplish anything, as the Saturday morning cartoon song went...except when confronted with something yellow, on which GL's verdant magic beams had no effect.

Oh, yes...that was the other thing Marvel Snobs mocked about DC heroes: Because they were practically unbeatable, the writers had to saddle them with silly weaknesses just so the stories didn't end by page three. For example, Superman had kryptonite — and not just kryptonite, but a rainbow of different colors of kryptonite, each shade of which affected the Man of Steel in a different pathetically lame way. Green Lantern had the whole yellow thing. Aquaman couldn't remain out of water for more than a short period. And so on.

Among the characters in the DC pantheon most ridiculed by Marvel Snobs were the Legion of Stupid...I mean, the Legion of Super-Heroes (yes, DC used to hyphenate it just like that). We called this super team by the latter epithet because DC seemed to use this feature as a dumping ground for all of the dopey character concepts that never should have made it past an editor's wastebasket. The Legion fairly teemed with heroes with ridiculous abilities.

Take Bouncing Boy, for example. (Not only were the Legionnaires' superpowers stupid, their names often were too.) Bouncing Boy's superpower enabled him to blow himself up like a beach ball at Dodger Stadium and bounce around, like...well...a beach ball at Dodger Stadium. What kind of superpower is that? Plastic Man and his elastic imitators, Mister Fantastic and the Elongated Man, occasionally pulled the same trick, but they could perform all manner of other stretching feats as well. Bouncing Boy bounced. Period. Eventually, even the scripters at DC realized what a boneheaded concept this character represented, and they wrote him out of the storyline.

Then there was Matter-Eater Lad. (You now see what I meant by the "stupid names" comment above.) This guy's superpower involved the ability to eat absolutely anything. If that's a superpower, then I shared a college dormitory with a few superheroes. My problem with Matter-Eater Lad (I can't even type that without chuckling): How in the world did he first discover he had this singular ability? Did he stumble upon an steel girder one day and think to himself, "I'll bet I could eat that"? What would possess him to try in the first place? And it baffled me that DC never addressed the issue of what became of all the odd salvage Matter-Eater Lad ingested, after his digestive system metabolized it? I won't describe that any more graphically but you see where I'm going.

Even the Legionnaires that had cool superpowers sometimes had them ruined. Triplicate Girl (who sounded more like a clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles than like a superheroine) could divide herself into three identical people. Then one of her "selves" was killed in the line of duty, relegating the survivors to carry on as Duo Damsel, a name even sillier than Triplicate Girl. Lightning Lass, sister of (guess) Lightning Lad, lost her electric-bolt-throwing power and instead was stuck with the far less imposing power to make things weightless. She took on the name Light Lass (despite the fact that her power had nothing to do with light at all, but rather molecular density — she made things light, get it?), whereupon she changed the emblem on her uniform to a feather — a symbol guaranteed to strike terror into the hearts of evildoers.

I won't even get into Element Lad and Cosmic Boy, both of whom wore superhero togs that were predominantly pink in color. Even in fourth grade in a far more innocent age, we knew what it suggested when two guys wore pink duds. Today, E-Lad and C-Boy would be as out as Northstar in Alpha Flight, or the Rawhide Kid. Back in the day, however, they were still Legionnaires on the down low.

None of this suggests that Marvel didn't have characters with dorky powers and names too. It's just that over at Marvel, such names and powers were usually conveyed on minor, one-shot villains, not recurring heroes in a continuing series. (Stupidest Marvel villain ever: Paste-Pot Pete, a ne'er-do-well armed with a Super Glue pistol who used to duke it out with the Fantastic Four. Seriously. The character later changed his nom de guerre to Trapster, which itself is only slightly less dubious than Paste-Pot Pete.)

The all-time series winner for inflicting the greatest number of stupid heroes on an incredulous public was a DC feature that ran for several years in the back pages of House of Mystery comics, called Dial H For Hero. A kid named Robby Reed discovered a magic telephone dial (?) that turned him into a superhero whenever he dialed the word "HERO" (!). Robby never knew what hero he would become, but more often than not, it was something incredibly ludicrous like Yankee Doodle Kid (a Captain America knockoff), King Kandy (imagine Willy Wonka as a superhero), or Mighty Moppet (imagine one of the Rugrats as a superhero). After a while, DC even started letting their juvenile readers invent characters for the hapless Robby to transform into -- a certain sign that the creators had run out of ideas. (I understand that DC resurrected Dial H for Hero a few years ago. Some dead series deserve to stay buried.)

I still like Saturn Girl, though.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

And on every street corner you hear...

The quartet auditioned tonight for a slot on the local chorus's Christmas show. We've been working hard to get a couple of Christmas tunes up to speed just for this occasion. For the audition, we performed both songs in front of the chorus and our coach, who helped with the evaluations.

I felt we did a decent job. We're still really learning the two songs, and we had a few minor rough spots here and there in the music. But the performance was solid most of the way through, and we added a good bit in terms of engaging visual presentation. Evidently we did all right, because we got the gig.

In case you're curious, our two holiday numbers are "The Secret of Christmas" and "Silver Bells," the latter of which has a great anecdote connected to it.

"Silver Bells" was written by the legendary songwriting team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who wrote music together for some 60 years, and scored more than 80 motion pictures. Among their better-known classics were three Academy Award-winning songs: "Buttons and Bows" (from the 1948 Bob Hope comedy The Paleface); "Mona Lisa" (from the now-mostly-forgotten 1950 World War II epic Captain Carey, USA); and "Que Sera Sera" (introduced by Doris Day in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much — more specifically, in the 1956 version of that Hitchcock thriller; Hitchcock made the original The Man Who Knew Too Much 22 years earlier). The Christmas song "Silver Bells" itself came from a movie — yet another Bob Hope film, 1951's The Lemon Drop Kid.

When the duo was working on the song, they were far from enthusiastic about the project. They reasoned that the music people want to hear at Yuletide are the old standard carols, not unfamiliar new songs. But the film called for a Christmas song, so Livingston and Evans finally wrote one they liked, one which lyricist Livingston entitled "Tinkle Bells."

When he came home from the studio and performed the tune at the piano for his wife, Mrs. Livingston was appalled. "Jay," she reportedly said, with hands on cheeks in a posture later made famous by Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, "you can't put that in a movie. Don't you know what 'tinkle' means?"

Obviously, he didn't. But Livingston quickly rewrote the lyric to the less controversial "Silver Bells."

In later years, Livingston and Evans referred to "Silver Bells" as "the annuity." Their most frequently recorded song (and the most frequently recorded modern Christmas carol written to date), its royalties alone kept the two composers in the chips the rest of their lives.

Think of all the money they'd have missed out on had Livingston's wife not reacted as she did to the original lyric.

Late night a cappella

Boss props to my a cappella brothers the Alley Cats for lighting up CBS's The Late Late Show this morning as the "house band for a day." The doo-wop foursome rocked the mike and traded quips with the evening's host, D.L. Hughley. Barbershop insiders know 'Cats vocalist Sean Devine as the lead singer of one of the hottest, fastest rising 'shop quartets in the nation, O.C. Times.

Speaking of D.L. Hughley, why doesn't Worldwide Pants (David Letterman's company, which produces The Late Late Show) just give my man the job, already? He's easily the best of the folks they've tried out in the wake of Craig Kilborn's sudden retirement.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Desperate Watchdogs

I'm mildly amused by the furor touched off by ABC-TV's little attempt at humor to kick off this week's Monday Night Football game. Of all the injustices in the world to get exercised about, we're choosing a skit about a woman offering herself sexually to a pro football player.

Yeah, like that never happens.

Now Tony Dungy, coach of the Indianapolis Colts, raises the spectre of racial stereotyping over the issue. I'll admit, my first thought when I saw how this business was blowing up was, "I wonder whether people would be this upset had it not been a white Nicolette "The Sure Thing" Sheridan coming on to a black Terrell Owens." After all, there will always be those latter-day Lester Maddoxes among us who recoil at the very hint of miscegenation, as if different shades of skin implied different species.

But then I thought, "Yeah, given the current political climate, they probably would be." Never mind the fact that the sketch revealed about as much of Ms. Sheridan's epidermis as is routinely on view every week on Desperate Housewives. And never mind the fact that the NFL (jokingly referred to in some quarters as the Naked Flesh League) has been exploiting feminine pulchritude to promote its product since time immemorial. (Three words: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.) The self-anointed morally upright these days love to get up in arms about trivial stuff like this, then skulk back to their hidden porn stashes and clandestine swinging.

Let's not kid ourselves here. ABC exists, as do all commercial broadcast corporations, to sell advertising. (The first truth of television: If the networks honestly thought people would watch nothing but commercials 24/7, there would be no programming on at all. Period.) The more people who watch ABC programming, the more ABC can charge for that advertising, and the more money the network returns to Disney stockholders. You can bet your last wet towel that plenty more eyeballs will be tuned in to Desperate Housewives next Sunday, and to Monday Night Football the following evening, as a result of all this commotion. ABC will rake in the geedus hand over fist. And the advertisers and stockholders will smile broadly and light fat cigars. Don't you think for a minute that they'll cry a single tear for the alleged moral decline to which they have indirectly contributed.

Oh, and here's a note for Michael Powell, the FCC Chairman, who tossed off the pithy quote, "I wonder if Walt Disney would be proud." Check your history books, Michael: Uncle Walt's favorite color was green.

What intrigues me — which I haven't heard anyone yet mention — is that no one seems to notice that the skit that touched off all this outrage featured a woman who will celebrate her 41st birthday on Sunday. In a culture that elevates youth and despises age — especially in women — to the degree that modern America does, it's worth noting that the most talked-about sex symbol of the week is officially middle-aged.

That may just represent a weird sort of progress.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Killing me softly with his song

Those of you old enough to remember Chuck Barris's '70s hit The Gong Show — and lacking in taste enough to have actually watched it — will recall that most of the acts that appeared thereon were talentless hacks just looking to eke out 15 seconds of TV fame (infamy might be a more accurate word).

But every now and again I think about one truly marvelous act that appeared on The Gong Show, and wonder whatever became of the guy. He was an acoustic guitarist and vocalist who delivered a rendition of José Feliciano's "Rain" so heartfelt, tender, and redolent of genuine emotion that I remember tearing up in front of the TV listening to the man sing. Unfortunately, I can't remember the performer's name, or even whether he won the show on which he appeared. He was an African American gentleman, probably in his 30s, and had a sound reminiscent of Bill Withers, who's been one of my favorite musicians for over 30 years.

I'd love to find out whether this fellow went on to fame and fortune, or even whether he's still performing his music for public consumption. Of course, if I knew his name, it would be a snap to hunt him up on the 'Net. But alas, I don't, and therefore can't. If nothing else, I'd like to share with him how deeply that one song touched me all those years ago, and how many times on rainy days and nights I've replayed that tape on the virtual stereo of my mind.

Monday, November 15, 2004

So much for the voice of reason

Colin Powell, the one sane individual on the Bush administration's foreign policy team, has tossed in the towel. The wonder isn't that Powell resigned — it's that he didn't call it quits months, even years, ago.

Throughout the post-9/11 era and the current Iraq debacle, Powell has been the lone voice of moderation against the warhawks like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and has lost every significant point of disagreement. Worst of all, Powell was the guy who got hung out to dry before the United Nations like a dressed duck in the butcher's window, forced to propound a policy he never believed in based upon evidence he knew didn't exist. But like a loyal soldier, he took the brunt of the onslaught without (much) public grumbling. Bush and Co. owe the General big-time, and you can bet they'll never make good on the debt.

Apparently the President is tapping national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to replace Powell as Secretary of State. I'm not at all sure Dr. Rice is the right person for this job — after four years of playing yes-woman to George W. and giving him what looks like a slew of ill-founded advice (or at least failing to counter the ill-founded advice he received from others), I question whether she will be able to garner the respect and admiration in the international arena that General Powell has enjoyed. But she'll have to try.

Good luck, Dr. Rice. You'll need it.

They might as well just call it the Barry Bonds Award

Speaking of the Giants, congrats to Number 25 for winning his seventh Most Valuable Player Award, his fourth in as many seasons.

There really isn't more to say about the Bondsman except...wow.

He can pick it

Kudos to the Giants for signing free agent shortstop Omar "Little O" Vizquel to a three-year deal. Vizquel, a nine-time Gold Glove winner, is one of the best defensive shortstops of all time, and is coming off a solid offensive year in which he batted .291 for Cleveland.

He'll be 38 when the season starts, so one thing's for certain: The G-Men aren't getting any younger.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Ahnold the Prezinator?

So Conan the Governor wants to be President now.

(You don't really believe the folks pitching this effort to amend the U.S. Constitution to make foreign-born naturalized citizens eligible for the nation's highest office are acting without Big Arnie's imprimatur, do you? And if you do belive that, I'd like to sell you Jack Kirby's original cover art from Fantastic Four #1, cheap. You'll just have to wait for the ink to dry before I mail it to you.)

I don't have a philosophical difficulty with permitting naturalized citizens to run for the Presidency. Yeah, I get this whole Manchurian Candidate scenario dashing about in my cranium, but I realize that's pretty far-fetched. What does set my teeth on edge ever so slightly, though, is the notion that we ought to change the foundation document of our society for the benefit of one guy. Even if that one guy is the Terminator. ("Vote for my amendment if you want to live!")

If there were hundreds — even dozens — of eminently qualified foreign-born Americans clamoring for their shot at the brass ring (or the White House, take your pick), that would be a different story. But there aren't. Aside from Mr. Maria Shriver, can you name even one?

I'm waiting.

No, you can't.

Not even the people running the "Amend for Arnold and Jen" Web site can. I had to do considerable surfing on my own to find out that the "Jen" of the site header is Jennifer Granholm, the Democratic Governor of Michigan. Governor Granholm was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. But I didn't learn that from the "Amend for Arnold and Jen" site, because the people running it didn't even think Governor Granholm was important enough to be mentioned by full name and title anywhere on their site. That alone should tell you that the idea that this effort is anything but a Schwarzenegger shell company is simply a canard — a word with which I'm sure Michigander Granholm is quite familiar.

Topped out at 88

Harry Lampert, the artist who co-created (with writer Gardner Fox) the first superhero to go by the name The Flash, died yesterday at 88 years of age. In addition to his signature contribution to everyone's favorite comics genre, Mr. Lampert also founded a successful advertising agency, drew cartoons for numerous popular magazines, and wrote extensively about bridge (the card game, not the engineering marvel).

Had I ever met Mr. Lampert, I'd have had one question for him: How the devil did Jay Garrick run so fast without that stupid washbasin hat flying off his head?

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Ripped from Saturday's headlines

Vice President Dick Cheney was taken to a hospital emergency room, suffering from chest pains and shortness of breath. X-rays of the Vice President's heart showed nothing.

Rapper O.D.B. (Old Dirty Person of Illegitimate Parentage), formerly of the Wu-Tang Clan, died in a Manhattan recording studio at the age of 35. The death shocked Israeli officials, who had been under the impression that the O.D.B. had passed away earlier in the week.

The Golden State Warriors posted their first victory of the NBA season, after starting the campaign with six consecutive losses. The victory shocked longtime Warrior fans, who were under the impression that the team might not win a game all year.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Justice: a dish best served cold

Surprise, surprise: Scott's guilty.

If Scott Peterson had not, in fact, murdered his wife and unborn son, he would have had to have been the unfortunate victim of the most bizarre sequence of circumstantial coincidences in the history of humankind...or at least since the O.J. Simpson case.

For me, the most telling evidence in this entirely circumstantial case was the fact that the bodies were discovered in the general vicinity where Scott had claimed he was "fishing" (apparently, with a rather substantial hunk of bait) on the day Laci disappeared. If this area had been in the Petersons' back yard, or around the corner from their house, or in the area around Modesto, one could write that off to — as the defense counsel attempted at various times — homeless people, neighborhood sexual predators, or Satanic cultists. But considering that the location was 90 miles from the Petersons' home, the chances of any of the abovementioned alternative suspects picking that exact same area to dump the bodies are...well...let's say Scott would have a better chance of winning the California Lottery, being struck by lightning, and engaging in a passionate affair with Princess Stephanie of Monaco, all in the same day.

Scott telling his girlfriend Amber Frey (and boy howdy, you'd want to think that if a guy was going to be moved to kill his wife as a result of an affair, the Other Woman would have a little more going for her than a Fresno "massage therapist" — we called those "hookers" back in the day — who looked like the illegitimate offspring of Courtney Love and Keith Richards) his wife was deceased two weeks before he actually killed her didn't help him any, either.

There was no video in the courtroom as the verdict was read, but on the audio feed, the jurors all sounded firm, adamant, and unwaveringly definitive as they were polled on each of the five portions of the information: guilty of the murder of Laci Peterson, guilty of the murder of Connor Peterson, first degree on Laci's murder, second degree on Connor's, and special circumstances that could result in the death penalty.

It's always interesting, the cases that transfix the American media and public. There will be other murderers convicted today, some of them having committed more numerous crimes than Scott Peterson, though perhaps few (if any) more heinous than the murder of a pregnant woman and her child. But this is the verdict that booted the afternoon soaps from the schedule, that will occupy most of the time on this evening's newscasts, and that will blare from banner headlines in tomorrow's newspapers.

Based on what I've studied of the case, I believe it's the right verdict.

TV's 100 Club

I once believed that no writer could ever replace John Carman, the former television columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. But Tim Goodman, who stepped into Carman's mighty boots several years ago, has accomplished the task with aplomb. Goodman is one of the funniest, most insightful people writing anywhere about anything, and his TV columns are the best in the business.

So go read today's Goodman column about the Hollywood Reporter's list of TV shows that have surpassed the 100-episode mark. If you're not grinning from ear to ear by the end of the article, you (a) need to cut back on the Botox, or (b) have pulled a Van Gogh, thus making an ear-to-ear grin physically impossible.

It's truly appalling to see some of the programs that lasted 100 episodes or more. 160 episodes of Step by Step, the sitcom starring Suzanne "Thighmaster" Somers and Patrick "The Man From Atlantis" Duffy? 209 adventures of Blair, Tootie and the gang on The Facts of Life? And 253 cruises on The Love Boat (and that's just the original series, not including the remake starring Robert Urich)?

Hokey smoke, Bullwinkle. Who watched all that garbage?

Goodman is aghast that One Day at a Time ran for 209 episodes, but I must confess to some responsibility for that one. I had a serious jones for Bonnie Franklin back in the day. (Oh, stop. You know there's no accounting for taste.)

This just in: ABBA to head PLO

Oh...Abbas. My bad.

For a second there, I thought the Palestine Liberation Organization had chosen as its new leaders an obnoxious pop quartet from Sweden.

On the other hand, maybe what the Middle East peace process needs is for the Israelis and the Palestinians to join hands in the streets of Jerusalem and sing a few choruses of "Dancing Queen."

It couldn't hurt.

Desmond has a barrow in the marketplace, Molly is the singer in a band

In a recent online poll, British pop music lovers voted the Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" as the worst song ever recorded.

This is, of course, further evidence of the Empire's decline.

Not only is "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" not the worst recorded song of all time, it's not even the worst Beatles song. (There are numerous candidates for that title: "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," "Revolution #9," "Polythene Pam," and the infernal "Yellow Submarine" among them.) In fact, it's not even the worst song on the White Album, a twin-platter set that fairly teems with dross (the aforementioned "Revolution #9," "Rocky Raccoon," "Wild Honey Pie," "Piggies," "Sexy Sadie," Lennon's bitter "Glass Onion," and McCartney's vastly overrated "Helter Skelter," to name but a few of the turkeys here) among the gold ("Back in the USSR," "Blackbird," "I Will," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Julia," and yes, "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da").

Just remember, these are the opinions of a nation of people who boil beef, eat kidney pie, and thought Twiggy was a babe.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

That's just wrong, for so many reasons

I'm not sure what's ickiest about the story that Liza Minnelli allegedly coerced her 56-year-old bodyguard into having sexual relations with her rather than lose his job:
  • That anyone would be coerced into having sex with Liza Minnelli;
  • That anyone would view remaining in the employ of Liza Minnelli as being worth having coerced sex with her;
  • That a woman with Liza Minnelli's wealth and celebrity status would, having made the decision to coerce someone into having sex with her, choose a 56-year-old bodyguard instead of some handsome young studmuffin on the make;
  • That we all now have the mental image of Liza Minnelli and her 56-year-old bodyguard gettin' jiggy wit' it.
Eeewwwww. I'd go take a hot shower and scrub myself all over with a loofa, if that wasn't going to make me think of Bill O'Reilly.

Ally McForty

Hey, Calista Flockhart turned 40 today.

That's years.

Not pounds.

In the criminal justice system, someone's about to be replaced

Last night's Law & Order episode underscored the fact that Elizabeth Rohm and her character Serena Southerlyn are being eased out of the show (at the actress's request, by all accounts) by the middle of this season.

This is the third time this fall (by my unofficial count) that Serena has experienced a major parting of philosophical ways with her bosses, District Attorney Arthur Branch (Fred Dalton Thompson, having come light-years from the U.S. Senate) and Executive Assistant D.A. Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston, having come light-years from Capricorn One). I can see these disputes building to the point that Serena will soon resign, probably to join a high-powered criminal defense firm (affording the opportunity for periodic guest appearances, once Ms. Rohm's nascent movie career goes the say of, say, David Caruso's).

Most of L&O's previous departees (which now includes the entire original cast) have made much more abrupt exits. When NBC threatened producer Dick Wolf with cancellation after the show's third season if he didn't replace two members of the then all-male cast with women, ADA Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks, who eventually went on to the entertainingly bizarre G vs. E) and Captain Don Cragen (Dann Florek, who eventually rebounded as one of the stars of the L&O spin-off, Special Victims Unit) simply disappeared from the proceedings. George Dzundza's older cop Max Greevey and Paul Sorvino's older cop Phil Cerretta were both shot (Greevey fatally, thanks to Dzundza's somewhat acrimonious departure). Michael Moriarty's EADA Ben Stone quit after an unwilling prosecution witness (Allison Janney, later of The West Wing) was murdered. Other characters slipped into the ether with similar lack of prelude. Only Benjamin Bratt's younger cop Reynaldo Curtis was allowed to wind up to a resolution — his concerns over his ailing wife's multiple sclerosis built for the better part of Rey's final season, before he left the force to care for her.

Personally, I won't be sorry to see Ms. Rohm go. Of the actors who have succeeded Brooks in the junior ADA's role, the icy Rohm (who would have been the perfect Hitchcock ingenue — blonde, cold, and minimally talented) is by far the least interesting. (She's a slightly better performer than her immediate predecessor, Angie Harmon, but her Serena character is less well defined than Harmon's gung-ho Texan, Abbie Carmichael.) I'm hoping that Wolf and the producers — who are, according to the latest Internet rumors, paring the short list of replacement candidates this very week — bring in a stronger actor, and give her (I presume it will be a "her") a stronger part to play.

Veterans' Day

KM was out of school today for Veterans' Day. As the son of a 20-year Air Force veteran, and as one who grew up with and around servicepeople and their families, I'm pleased and proud that we still honor to those who have served, and are serving, and extend them the respect they're due.

It has nothing to do with whether you favor or oppose war — the current conflict in Iraq or any other. It has to do with appreciating the sacrifices made by those who elect to serve their country (and in many cases, their adopted country — a fair number of our servicepeople are immigrants) in this particular way.

Not every member of the military serves by packing an M-16 or by dropping bombs on the enemy. My father was a carpenter by trade. One Christmas Eve, he drove a snowplow to clear streets during a blizzard in Washington, D.C. so people could navigate the roads safely. He helped rebuild homes and public buildings in Biloxi, Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Camille. He delivered donated toys to needy kids. He taught English to children in Thailand during the Vietnam War. He managed recreational facilities for servicepeople and their families stationed on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean. He helped convert former military installations to civilian use, and ensured that those converted buildings were code-certified for public use. He sandbagged flight lines during driving rainstorms so that military and civilian aviators could take off and land safely.

On Veterans' Day, I salute everyone who has served honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces. Many of them sacrificed so that others of us never had to.

If you have a chance today, hug a vet. And tell him or her how grateful you are for their contributions.

Search Bill

Microsoft debuted its new search engine yesterday. MSN Search is still in beta, but you're welcome to play with it now.

It probably won't draw too many diehard Google users away, but it should be interesting to compare its results on a few of your favorite searches with those from Google, Yahoo! or AlltheWeb.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

A pair of queens, with an ace kicker

A few weeks ago, I saw on eBay that Michael Dooney was auctioning a commission opportunity. Although he's a tremendously talented artist who draws (and sculpts too, according to his Web site) everything under the sun, in the comic art world Mike Dooney is celebrated for two things: drawings of cute superwomen, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (For many years, he has been one of the key artists on TMNT projects, including much of the artwork for TMNT toys and other aftermarket products.)

Not counting myself as a major Turtles aficionado, a commission from Dooney represented for me a chance to acquire an example of his modern-day "good girl" art. So after I won the auction — for an eminently reasonable final bid — I contacted Mike to set up the commission. I made it as easy as I could for him: I sent him a list of seven superheroines I thought would be perfect for the patented Dooney style, and said, "Pick one."

As it turned out, Mike couldn't pick just one. He created preliminary sketches of five of the characters on my list, sent me scans of the sketches, and basically said, "Your turn." Despite the plethora of choices, I quickly pared the possibilities to just two — I already own pinups of Power Girl and the Scarlet Witch with which I'm very pleased, and I've seen a number of Dooney takes on Supergirl owned by other collectors. That left me with two old favorites: Ms. Marvel, one of my favorite characters from the '70s, and Saturn Girl, an original member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. A note from Mike appended to the Ms. Marvel prelim sealed the deal: "I've always wanted to draw her, because she's the only Marvel character with a scarf!" So I asked Mike to interpret Ms. Marvel for my commission.

But the more I looked at the Saturn Girl sketch, the more I liked it. Even though it's the modern version of Imra and not the one I recall from my youth, I nonetheless found myself enchanted with Dooney's take on the character. So I asked Mike if he would be willing to complete the Saturn Girl drawing also, for an additional commission fee. He was.

Both drawings turned out perfectly, especially Ms. Marvel — here seen wearing the original design of her costume, with its ludicrous open abdominal panel. (Considering the popularity of bare midriff fashions these days, Ms. Marvel was ahead of her time. After a few issues, and numerous complaints from female readers, Marvel's staff retooled the costume to cover her navel.)

I was delighted when, after I wrote to thank Mike for two jobs well done, he noted that this is the first time he's ever drawn either of these characters. That condition likely won't last, but may the record reflect that my Dooney Ms. Marvel and my Dooney Saturn Girl were the originals, thank you very much.

Regarding Ms. Marvel: She was one of a spate of female versions of male superheroes Marvel cooked up in the late '70s and early '80s, primarily for the purpose of establishing trademark rights to the names. They had Spider-Woman (who would make another great Dooney commission, if I ever get another chance), She-Hulk, and of course, Ms. Marvel, whose costume and powers were a direct swipe from the Marvel Comics version of Captain Marvel. As the years passed, Ms. Marvel changed not only her costume but her name also — the character has been known more recently as Binary, and now Warbird, and her powers and secret identity are different now. But I still like the original...scarf and all.

Firefox: It's not just an Eastwood movie

It's been out in preview mode for a while, as its rapidly growing community of users can attest, but today marks the official release of Mozilla Firefox 1.0, the most user-friendly and efficient Internet browser on the planet. (Trust me — I've tried about a half-dozen of them.)

For most people, it takes only a few minutes of using Firefox to be impressed with it. Its built-in pop-up stopper and spyware buster are worth the price of admission all by themselves, and would be even if that admission price weren't free. (And you know the SwanShadow credo: "If it's free, it's for me.") Add in a superb user interface that incorporates tabbed browsing and built-in Google search — again, well worth the money you won't pay to use them — and Firefox is one sweet piece of open source software.

If you're tired of the hassle and security risk of Internet Exploder, hie yourself over to the Mozilla Web site and grab yourself up some Firefox love. After a taste of Mozilla, you'll never settle for less 'zilla again.

(The title's no joke. There really was such an Eastwood movie.)

Exit, stage far right

Attorney General John Ashcroft, as creepy and unpleasant an individual as has ever served in high office in the United States, resigned today.

To quote Monty Python, "And there was much rejoicing."

In other news, Yasser Arafat, as creepy and unpleasant an individual as has ever served in high office (or non-office, in this case) anywhere, clings feebly to life in a Paris hospital, supposedly mere hours from the Big Sleep. His wife yesterday accused other Palestinian leaders of trying to "bury him alive."

To which the Israeli government commented, "And your point...?"

A tale of two choruses

Last night I rehearsed with the women's chorus whose annual show I am MC'ing on Saturday. This is my third consecutive year working with the ladies of Harmony Crossroads, so when I walk in the door I'm immediately among friends. (You'll notice that I deftly avoided saying "old friends." "Old" is not a word one uses — even as part of a colloquial phrase — in describing women of one's acquaintance. Not if one wishes to continue the acquaintance.)

It's interesting to watch the women at work, and compare them to my own all-male chorus that performs the same style of music. Assigning characteristics from general observations is always dangerous, but I know both groups well enough that I believe my conclusions are sound. My notes are necessarily tempered by the differing levels of ability between the two choruses — my chorus possesses a significantly higher overall skill level than this particular women's chorus, not because of gender but because of individual personnel and the differing goals of the two groups.

The women appear, in general, to be less resistant to instruction and direction. They don't necessary implement the instructions any better than the men do, but they seem to be more open to receiving them. Men have more of a "I'll do it my way, doggonit" mindset, and when pushed to adjust, tend to push back. On the other hand, the men are more persnickety about musical and performance details. Men need more direct and specific instruction about how to do something, and want thorough explanation of the process involved in making the change. The women's chorus is more intuitive about such things.

Related to this is the fact that the women exhibit better discipline in rehearsal. There's less extraneous chatter and more attention focused on the director at all times, and when the noise gets out of hand, the women can be more readily and quickly corraled. That would seem to be counter to the notion that women are more interpersonally talkative than men, but in this case I think it's more a matter of our guys simply being more stubborn about not shutting up when told to do so.

One fact that surprises me — because I guess I expect it to be otherwise — is that the women aren't substantially better visual performers than the men. I think of women as being freer emotionally and less rigid, such that their performance should be more naturally effusive. Instead, what I observe is that the men's chorus will execute specific performance concepts better, though in the main more robotically, than the women. The women get into the flow of the performance more readily, and seem to internalize the music better — there's much more body involvement when the women sing — but they have a somewhat harder time executing a cohesive performance plan. I always see more uncertainty when I watch the women's chorus than I notice among my risermates. There are a couple of truly stellar performers in the group, however — in particular, I'd trade three members of their front row for any three of my guys in a heartbeat.

The women seem to have more fun, and I enjoy working with them for that reason. (I'll avoid making a chauvinistic comment like, "And they're easier to look at, too." Though in several cases, it's true.) This chorus is always so enthusiastic and welcoming that I look forward to the handful of hours we share each year. Their shows are always entertaining, both on the stage and in the audience. I'm honored (even flattered) that they keep asking me back. At least this year I don't have to dress up like a chicken (as I did briefly in our first show together) or sing a solo (as I did last year).

Monday, November 08, 2004

Lidsville is the koo-koo-kookiest

I don't know what triggered it, but this morning I was thinking about those old Sid and Marty Krofft kids' shows that were ubiquitous on Saturday morning television in the '70s. Specifically, I was thinking of Lidsville, the Krofft brothers' follow-up to the popular H.R. Pufnstuf (oh ho, is there a marijuana reference lurking in there somewhere?). If there were a Hall of Fame for the weirdest TV programs of all time, Lidsville would occupy a hallowed place in that institution.

For the benefit of our age-deficient readers, Lidsville related the tale of a young man named Mark (played by Butch Patrick, at the time best known as Eddie Munster from the ersatz horror sitcom The Munsters) who fell into a top hat belonging to an amusement park magician (I know, it sounds ridiculous already — just stick with me). Like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, Mark found himself in a psychedelic fantasyland filled with bizarre wonders — in this case, a population of talking hats, ruled over by an evil wizard named Horatio J. HooDoo (portrayed with biting sarcasm and outrageous camp by future Match Game panelist Charles Nelson Reilly) and his unwilling yet charmingly androgynous slave, Weenie the Genie (played by former Pufnstuf villainess Billie Hayes — add "Weenie" to Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver and Paladin's Asian manservant "Hey Boy" on your list of Character Names You Couldn't Get Away With on Television Today). HooDoo, for reasons I've long since forgotten, spent all of his free time trying to keep Mark from leaving Lidsville, while Weenie spent all of his (her? its?) free time attempting to help Mark do exactly that, so they could escape HooDoo's clutches together.

Lidsville was every bit as freakish as the preceding description makes it sound, and more besides. But as strange as it was, it didn't play down to its young audience. If anything, like most of the early Krofft fare (Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos, Land of the Lost), it may have given kids too much credit for being hipper than they actually were. (The Kroffts were often accused of inserting too-adult references into their children's programs, in an era when people were just beginning to pay attention to such things. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The brothers Krofft always seemed genuinely shocked when people found what they interpreted as drug ("Pufnstuf"?) and sexual ("Weenie"?) allusions in Krofft shows.)

Charles Nelson Reilly, incidentally, followed his Lidsville stint with the lead in another '70s kids' show, Uncle Croc's Block. Those of us who remember Uncle Croc and his crew, which included fellow camp icon Jonathan Harris (Dr. Zachary Smith from Lost in Space) and Mel Brooks repertory veterans Robert Ridgely (the hangman in Blazing Saddles) and Kenneth Mars (the constable in Young Frankenstein), view it as one of the seed pods from which the later, but remarkably similar, Pee Wee's Playhouse germinated.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

It's official: The 49ers stink on ice

Diff'rent strokes

Today would have been Dana Plato's 40th birthday, had she not been...well...Dana Plato.

You recall the story, I'm sure. Plato was the young actress who played the older adoptive sister of the characters played by Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges on the '80s sitcom, Diff'rent Strokes. Like many child actors — including both of her costars — Plato fell on hard times after the spotlight dimmed. She got involved with drugs, and had several much-publicized run-ins with the legal system. She robbed a video store in Las Vegas in 1991, was sentenced to probation, then was arrested again the following year for forging a prescription for Valium.

Struggling to make a comeback, she starred in a softcore flick entitled, not coincidentally, Different Strokes, in which she played a lesbian who has an affair with a married woman. A year after the film became a late-night pay-cable staple, Dana Plato was dead of an overdose of Lortab, a narcotic related to codeine. Her death was ruled a suicide. She was 34 years old.

Sad story. Hollywood history is filled with others not unlike it.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be child stars.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

I shot an arrow into the air

George Pérez has been high on my list of artists I wanted to have represented in my collection. Mission accomplished.

It's only a rough convention sketch, but it's still an original Pérez. And, with the Mike Grell Green Arrow I already own, I've completed the archer superhero duet. All of which tickles me no end.

Color Dad proud

After some serious struggles at times during her freshman year, KM pulled down a 3.83 GPA in her first quarter as a sophomore. Given that three of her six classes are honors courses, that's solid work.

I asked her how she felt about how she had done this quarter, and she said she felt really good. I told her her mom and I did too.

Genius is genetic, they say.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Funniest line of the week

Lewis Black on The Daily Show, in response to Mel Gibson's statement on another network's talkfest that he would "give a cigar" to anyone who could name one person who wasn't once a cluster of embryonic cells:

"Adam and Eve, Mel. That's TWO cigars!"

In her satin tights, fighting for our rights

Usually I wait until I have an artwork in hand before showing it off, but this piece is just so gorgeous I just couldn't hold out any longer. Besides, it was shipped Thursday via Priority Mail, so it should be in my chubby little mitts in short order.

This knockout drawing was done especially for me on commission by Al Rio, a spectacular comic artist based in Brazil. Al may be one of the finest talents in the business today. In my estimation, he is one of the best interpreters of Wonder Woman ever, right up there with John Byrne and George Pérez. Why DC hasn't hired him to draw WW on a regular basis is beyond my ken.

The only direction I provided for Al on this commission was that I wanted Diana depicted wearing the costume she wore during the 1950s: the bustier with the eagle on it (the modern version has the eagle stylized into a "WW" design); the star-spangled bicycle shorts (the modern version's French-cut bikini bottoms seem not only undignified and immodest for a warrior of Wonder Woman's stature, but also pretty darned impractical for crimefighting — how do you beat up bad guys when you're struggling with a permanent wedgie?); the ballet-slipper shoes that lace up the calf like Roman sandals (this footwear always made more sense to me in the context of the character — where would an Amazon from ancient Greek mythology get bright red, high-heeled go-go boots? and how in the name of Hera could she run in them?). Al nailed the costume perfectly, and crafted an exciting and intricately detailed action scene around it. His rendering of the mighty Princess Diana is beautiful, yes, but fiery and powerful — like a superheroine, not a supermodel.

My Blogger template won't accommodate a scan sufficiently large to do justice to the art, so pop over to my gallery at Comic Art Fans and have a look from a bigger, bolder perspective.

I can't dish out adequate praise for Al Rio's splendid work of art, or for his representative, Terry Maltos, who couldn't have been nicer or more helpful in making this commission happen. Believe it or not, the turnaround time from Terry's acceptance of my commission request until the piece was shipped was less than a month. Considering that the artist lives a continent away, that's amazing.

Here's where one of you may be able to help: I can't identify the villain pictured here. He reminds me of Professor Smythe, a member of Spider-Man's rogues' gallery, who builds robot exoskeletons very much like this (he calls them "Spider-Slayers"). But since Smythe is a Marvel character, I'm thinking this must be a similar but different villain. (It may also be a character of Al Rio's own creation.) If someone out there knows for sure, I'd appreciate a tip.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

You thought you had a rough day...

Yesterday morning, Elizabeth Edwards's husband John, the Democratic nominee for Vice President, conceded the race for the second-highest position in U.S. government.

Yesterday afternoon, Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer.

There are things more important than who votes for whom. KJ and I wish the Edwards family strength for the fight that really matters.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is over, but keep spreading the word.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Now let's clasp hands and sing "Kumbaya"

Senator Kerry was suitably gracious — and surprisingly emotional — during his concession speech today. The President likewise was appropriately welcoming and inclusive in his victory announcement. Candidates post-election always play the kiss-and-make-up card.

Just once, I'd love to see the losing candidate get up and just lambaste the electorate:
"What's wrong with you people? Can't you see that guy's nuts? He's a moron, for heaven's sake. He's screwed up everything he's touched these past four years. What are you, masochists?"
And then the winner could follow up with:
"I'm glad to see you all showed some class and voted for me instead of that whining loser. He'd have sent the country straight to hell in a handbasket, that commie God-hating wacko freak."
It wouldn't be pretty. But it would be fun. And honest.

Because you know that's exactly what Kerry and Bush were thinking as they spoke today.

Super girls

These two nifty (does anyone except me still say "nifty"?) drawings arrived earlier this week. Both are the work of the talented Robb Phipps, who's known in the industry for his depictions of attractive superwomen. His portraits of Batgirl and Power Girl, seen below, do absolutely nothing to counteract Mr. Phipps's reputation in this regard.

Robb modeled his Power Girl on the style of another noted "good girl" artist and fan favorite, Adam Hughes, who signs his work "AH!" (For those of you scratching your heads, Power Girl was the Earth-2 version of Supergirl, before DC Comics destroyed both Supergirl and Earth-2 during the legendary Crisis on Infinite Earths. Since then, they've decided that Power Girl really isn't an alternate Supergirl, but rather a survivor of Atlantis or some such nonsense. Leave continuity alone — that's what I always say. Otherwise, you'll do stupid things like try to explain Spider-Man as a clone.)

'Tis the season to be signing

The Giants today inked four of their core players from this past season, keeping the quartet on board for the 2005 campaign: outfielder Marquis Grissom, who had his second-best-ever season with the G-Men at age 37; first baseman J.T. Snow, who barreled back from knee surgery and hit like a house afire the last half of the season; starting pitcher Brett Tomko, who began the year shaky but finished solid; and shortstop Deivi Cruz, who pushed Neifi Perez off the roster at mid-year.

Good moves all. Grissom is indispensible as a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. Tomko, once he got on track, helped steady the rotation behind Jason Schmidt. Cruz was a fine pickup, though I wonder whether playing everyday on a longterm basis is realistic for him.

And Snow...anyone who's heard me talk about the Giants over the past several years knows how mercilessly I've ripped Jater at times for his occasionally pitiful offensive production. It was nice to see him get the bat in gear this season. He's still one of the great defensive first sackers in the history of the game.

This was pleasant news on an otherwise sour post-Election day.

Barnako knows the 'Net

One of the best and most eagerly anticipated features of my day is the arrival of Frank Barnako's Internet Daily e-newsletter from CBS MarketWatch. Barnako is as sharp and perceptive as anyone writing about the 'Net today. He's also not afraid to buck the conventional wisdom, as in his online column today, entitled "Bloggers Blew It." Here's an excerpt:
Despite all the anti-Bush screeds on Web logs, the frequent priming of wordy bonfires with Bush's National Guard duty records, the rush to judgment about missing explosives in Iraq ... it just didn't matter. All those opinions. All that Internet buzz. So little impact. Could it be not even bloggers trust what they read on blogs?

Blogs were quick to publish real or made-up exit polls at midafternoon, showing Kerry strength. That killed a 60-point rally in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

At least some traders read blogs, then, and act on what they read. Not so, it would appear, young voters. Advertisers including Nike (NKE) and Audi think Weblogs are the medium to reach young consumers. So where was the youth and minority vote? Not reading political blogs, it appears. MSNBC says the percentage of young voters who cast ballots was the same as it was four years ago.

Don Imus says his favorite moment came about 2 a.m., when NBC's Campbell Brown was interviewing P. Diddy about his "Vote or Die" campaign. Seems to me it's dead. Where were the 18-29s? At Meetups? The Associated Press says exit polls found blacks made up roughly the same proportion of voters as in 2000.

GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie's incredibly optimistic spin on CNN early in the evening was an effective, "old media"-style get-out-the-vote entreaty. While his mouth told how confident he was, his eyes transmitted a subliminal message: "The bloggers said the early exit polls were horrible. We need to pile on. Go vote! It's not too late."

Bottom line: Political blogging is like Ralph Nader. Nobody pays attention.
You can read Internet Daily at CBS MarketWatch. While there, subscribe to the e-newsletter version and they'll drop Barnako in your inbox every day for free. You can also get your fill of Barnako's 'Net news and views at his non-CBS-affiliated blog, Barnako.com.

Skating away on the thin ice of a new day

It's morning in America, and the people have spoken. They want four more years of George W. Bush, and so, by cracky, that's what they'll get. The Peter Principle is alive and well in the heartland.

If you're looking for hand-wringing and outrage, you'll not find it here. Am I disappointed that we as a nation have condemned ourselves to another term of a presidency I believe has failed in every conceivable aspect? Sure. But in case you hadn't noticed, the sun did rise this morning. The good Lord willing, it will do the same every morning for the next four years. As historians and social scientists wiser than I have noted many times, people tend to acquire the leadership they deserve, or at the very least, the leadership they're willing to tolerate. If George W. Bush is the leader we are willing to tolerate, then he's the leader we deserve.

The unfortunate fact of this whole sorry business is that, for whatever reason, the Democrats have a singularly difficult time creating exciting Presidential candidates. I thought, and think still, that either Al Gore or John Kerry would have made better Presidential timber than Bush. But let's face it -- neither Gore nor Kerry is the most scintillating guy ever offered to the public. (Both remind me of the guy in that Star Trek: The Next Generation episode who's the galaxy's foremost cocktail party bore, and Data follows him around in an attempt to learn the art of making innocuous small talk.) I'm not saying that personality is everything, but the reality is that people vote for personality more than any other single quality -- the "Cool Guy" factor, as I've explained before. Until the Dems can come up with a candidate who is both competent and cool -- for lack of a better example, another Bill Clinton -- they will continue to find themselves sucking hind teat. Bush's pseudo-rustic redneck chic leaves me cold; but then, I can't stand mullets, NASCAR racing, or honky-tonk music either. But the reality is, that cowboy-slash-Alfred E. Neumann act does resonate with a lot of folks, and they vote. Which is why we are where we are.

Is newly elected Illinois Senator Barack Obama the future of the Democratic Party? I can't say, but he's the kind of electrifying personality the party has to (a) find and (b) promote in order to get people excited about voting Democratic again. Am I saying that it's not about positions and policies and issues? Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. I'd wager that 85 percent of the people who voted for either Bush or Kerry couldn't tell you what their man's specific position is on the overwhelming majority of issues, and of the remaining 15 percent, half of them would be wrong about what they think those positions are. When the little curtain on the voting booth closes, people always arrive at the same place: Which person do I like the most? Which person do I think is most like me? The question is less "Who will make the best leader of the free world?" and more "Who would I rather hang with on Saturday night?"

Anyhow, the die is cast, the deal is done, and we move on. I can only hope we have less cause to regret the second term of Bush 43 than we have the first. For the sake of my daughter, who will turn 18 during this half of the Bush administration, I pray that we will.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Didn't I see this before?

ScreenSelect, the UK's leading online DVD rental site, has announced the results of its poll to determine the worst movie remakes of all time. Here are the offenders:

1. Get Carter
2. Psycho
3. Thunderbirds
4. Assassin
5. Charlie’s Angels
6. Alfie
7. Planet of the Apes
8. Starsky and Hutch
9. Cape Fear
10. Ocean's Eleven

I'll grant them that the Sly Stallone-starring retooling of Get Carter wasn't a great movie: too long, too talky, too just plain dull. (I always wanted to write a review of this disc for DVD Verdict just so I could open with: "Get Carter? Get coffee." But that's out of my system now.) But I don't think it's the worst remake I've seen. Stallone actually gives a very creditable performance in it (as he's done in several terrible flicks in recent years, in which he's actually been better than the material), as does John C. McGinley as his hyperactive colleague in crime whose mantra is, "Take care of the business or the business will take care of you." On the down side, director Stephen T. Kay had zero idea of how to put a film together, so the narrative meanders all over the place without building any interest or momentum.

For the record, my vote goes to Gus Van Sant's absolutely worthless remake of Psycho, one of my ten favorite movies of all time. If you don't have any new ideas to bring to the party, if you're just going to copy the original shot-for-shot, why bother?

On the rest of the list:

Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven is one of the most entertaining movies of the last five years — I've probably replayed it as frequently as any DVD I own — and certainly doesn't belong on a list of worst anything. In fact, it would be my top contender for best film remake ever. Soderbergh's picture far outstrips the Rat Pack original in every possible way, in part because the original — lighthearted romp through old-school Vegas though it is — isn't really much of a movie. If the point of a remake is to improve on a concept, Ocean's Eleven does that in spades.

I didn't care much for Tim Burton's misguided take on Planet of the Apes, and would probably place it higher on this list. I loved the original (now painfully cheesy and dated) movie series when I was a kid, and found Burton's version grim and lifeless. (It also doesn't make any logical sense, if you analyze the plot carefully. Not that one expects a movie about talking apes to make logical sense, mind you.)

It's a given that Charlie's Angels and Starsky and Hutch weren't very good (though my wife and daughter disagree with me about the former, which they both liked). But they aren't remakes in the strictest sense, inasmuch as they're not based on earlier movies but rather on TV shows. I wouldn't have included them in the survey. Besides, there are far worse TV-to-film reimaginings out there. Did anyone see Tom Arnold in McHale's Navy? Egad.

And seriously, how good did anyone expect Thunderbirds to be? The only way to make that concept work is not to try.

Filmmakers should learn that the movies that are most ripe for remaking are those whose concepts were intriguing, but whose execution was poor (Ocean's Eleven is a fine example), or dated classics that can be made more timely and pertinent for modern audiences (i.e. the recent reboot of The Manchurian Candidate, which I haven't seen but understand is quite good). Films that were already both excellent and timeless (i.e., Psycho, or, heaven forfend, Citizen Kane or Casablanca) don't need to be remade. You'd be foolish to even attempt.

It's a great time out...at the bank

Barely beating the signing deadline, the Golden State Warriors locked up their two young stars Jason Richardson and Troy Murphy for the next seven seasons. (Both players got six-year extensions, having already been signed for the NBA season beginning tonight.)

It's the right move, I think. Both J-Rich and T-Murph have demonstrated significant skills growth over the past couple of years, Murphy despite an injury-riddled campaign last year. GM Chris Mullin knows he needs to develop a nucleus around which to build into the future, and I concur with his judgment that two-guard Richardson and power forward Murphy constitute a solid nucleus, along with small forward Mike Dunleavy, point guard Speedy Claxton, and recently re-signed center Adonal Foyle.

Just don't forget, J-Rich, that every now and again in the Association, you have to D up.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Of chicks and their flicks

A few months ago, O, the Oprah Magazine (don't you just love that title?) published this list of the 50 Greatest Chick Flicks of All Time. I enjoy getting in touch with my feminine side now and again — cinematically speaking, of course — but I'm a mite puzzled by this list. Morocco is Number One, but Casablanca doesn't even make the list? (Don't misunderstand — Morocco, which stars a smoldering Marlene Dietrich, is a classic film. But Casablanca defines romance for the silver screen.) And Aliens is a chick flick? Yes, the hero(ine) of the film is a woman, but I don't generally associate violent sci-fi/horror action with the term "chick flick." By this definition, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Resident Evil 2 are "chick flicks."

Of the roughly two-thirds of the listed films that I've seen, almost all of them are indeed excellent and worthy of viewing by cineastes of both genders. A trio of highlights:

Smooth Talk
(#30), directed by Joyce Chopra, is one of the more eerily compelling movies I've ever watched. A teenaged girl (Laura Dern) strikes up a creepy friendship with a much older man (played with understated menace by Treat Williams), who makes us wonder what he's up to from the moment he appears onscreen. What begins as a casual flirtation ultimately turns into something dark and frightening. But Chopra structures the latter part of the film so skillfully that the audience can only speculate about what finally occurs. It's a movie that will have you talking about it for days, and thinking about it for long after that. Added bonus: it was filmed entirely in Sonoma County, not far from where I live.

Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life (#39) is a 1959 remake of John Stahl's 1934 original, which starred Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers in the lead roles assayed by Lana Turner and Juanita Moore in the Sirk version. The later film is a sterling example of the kind of melodramatic potboiler for which Sirk was famous. It's also an interesting commentary on race and gender politics that was remarkably progressive for the late 1950s. It remains one of very few American films to deal with the issue of gradation of skin color within the black community (Spike Lee's School Daze is another). Sirk's narrative style is still being copied by filmmakers today.

Nicole Holofcener's Lovely & Amazing (#46) presents a brilliant look into the lives of a middle-aged woman and her three daughters, one of whom is an adopted African American girl. Each of these four women struggles with her own unique neuroses, as well as her relationships with the other three. It's a women's film that only a woman could have crafted with such subtlety and insight. I recommend it highly, as you can read for yourself in this review I wrote for DVD Verdict.

Speaking of Joyce Chopra, did you ever consider that if Oprah Winfrey married Deepak Chopra, she'd be Oprah Chopra?

I crack me up.