Wednesday, June 29, 2005

We like Ike

Congratulations to general manager Chris Mullin and the Golden State Warriors for picking up power forward Ike Diogu of Arizona State with the ninth selection of yesterday's NBA draft.

Though some people were surprised by Mullin's choice, I actually think this is a solid pick. At 6'8", Diogu's a little short for the number four position, but they said that about a guy named Charles Barkley too. Diogu is tough down low, has excellent moves in the post, and when he gets the ball he can shoot the lights out. He'll give the Warriors a much more confident offensive presence inside, because while the W-Men's starting PF Troy Murphy is a superlative rebounder, he doesn't exactly light up the scoreboard. Diogu is also an 80 percent free-throw shooter, which Mullin has to absolutely love.

Best of all, in an interview this morning on the Warriors' flagship, KNBR 68, Arizona State coach Rob Evans told morning hosts Brian Murphy and Tim Liotta that Diogu is as decent a person as he's ever coached. It's always a good thing when you can pick up a quality young man who also has serious hoop skills.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

You can't take it with you

John T. Walton, heir to the Wal-Mart fortune — one of them, anyway — died yesterday in an ultralight plane crash. He is survived by his wife, his son, his mother, his four siblings, and his $18.2 billion.

Reminds me of the story about the old preacher who delivered the eulogy at a rich man's funeral. As the mourners were filing out of the chapel after the service, a man asked the minister, "So, how much did he leave behind?"

Said the old preacher, "Every penny."

Monday, June 27, 2005

Three-name actresses

Every day, without fail, the Internet Movie Database offers up a poll on some topic related to film or television. The poll is always cleverly designed to pull you into viewing more pages on the site — not that that's a bad thing, since IMDB is one of the most indispensable sites on the World Wide Web.

Most of IMDB's polls are rather prosaic ("What's your favorite Hitchcock film?"), but today's offering caught my attention for its novel concept:

"Who's your favorite three-name actress?"

Presented for your amusement is your Uncle Swan’s quick take on each of the trinomial candidates. These are listed in the same apparently random order in which IMDB’s polling page stacked them.

Sarah Jessica Parker: Never have seen what people love about her. Not attractive, not a compelling presence, just plain not interesting. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Four.

Sarah Michelle Gellar: Can’t act, really, but has that certain something that makes her fun to watch. Gets bonus points for being the star of one of my daughter’s favorite TV shows (we own all of the DVD box sets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Three.

Jennifer Love Hewitt: Not feeling the love. Has no discernable talent whatsoever. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Three, but I wouldn’t waste them feeding her.

Jennifer Jason Leigh: Terrific actress, who often takes quirky, even downright freakish roles. The rare Hollywood star who is drop-dead gorgeous, but frequently allows herself to look hideous on camera when it serves the role. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Three, sometimes four, and I’ll be delighted to deliver them in person.

Mary-Louise Parker: An interesting presence on The West Wing, but I can’t say that I’m familiar with the rest of her oeuvre. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Zero. Looks like a normal human being.

Jamie Lee Curtis: One of my favorite actresses of the past 30 years, not because she’s supremely talented, but because she’s never less than a pleasure to watch. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: One, and I’d gladly split mine with her.

Marcia Gay Harden: A fine actress, though I’m not always crazy about the projects she chooses (case in point: the upcoming remake of The Bad News Bears). Gets bonus points for co-starring in three TV movies as Susan Silverman, consort of my literary hero, Robert B. Parker’s Boston detective Spenser. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Zero. Needs a Better Agent factor: Six.

Mary Stuart Masterson: If she’d done nothing else in her career, she gets mega-props for her performance as Watts, the little tough girl who captures Eric Stoltz’s heart in Some Kind of Wonderful. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Two, one for each of us.

Mary-Kate Olsen: Half of the creepiest set of twins in the history of the world. She and sister Ashley look as though they wandered out of a Keene painting into a casting call for Children of the Corn. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Seven fat cows.

Rachael Leigh Cook: Had the dubious pleasure of starring or co-starring in two of the most sleep-inducing films I’ve seen in the past decade: Get Carter (jovially known around these parts as Get Coffee) and Josie and the Pussycats. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Two. Needs a Better Agent factor: Off the charts.

Jada Pinkett Smith: Just saw her recently in Collateral, and she was marvelous. Will Smith is one lucky hombre. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: None. Needs Me to Come Over and Feed Her Grapes When Will Is On Location factor: Twelve.

Anna Nicole Smith: Why is this woman famous? Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Zero, but I prefer zaftig women. Needs a Dying Billionaire factor: Six. Needs a Lobotomy factor: Too late.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus: I may be the only person in America who never saw a single episode of Seinfeld. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Inconclusive.

Lara Flynn Boyle: The worst thing about one of my favorite TV series, The Practice. Crazy enough to date Jack Nicholson, skinny enough to disappear behind an upright dowel. Needs Her Own McDonalds Franchise factor: Fifteen.

Penelope Ann Miller: Can’t act her way out of a wet paper sack, but darn it if she isn’t as cute as all get-out. Her backless evening gown in The Shadow was worth the price of admission all by itself. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Two.

Joey Lauren Adams: I always get her confused with Katie Holmes, whose Dawson’s Creek character was named Joey. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: I ate it while I was trying to figure out who she was.

Evan Rachel Wood: Loses a point for having a boy’s first name. This whole androgynous moniker fad of the last couple of decades has to go. I liked her as the daughter in S1m0ne. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Three — she’s still a growing girl.

Keisha Castle-Hughes: Wonderful in Whale Rider. Have no idea what else she can do, but it will be fun to watch her career develop. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Do they eat cheeseburgers in New Zealand?

Helena Bonham Carter: Too weird for words. Just knowing that she’s been intimate with a bizarro like Tim Burton makes me want to shower. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Who cares, as long as she’s eating them with Tim Burton and not with me.

Bryce Dallas Howard: I think IMDB just made up this name to confuse me.

Carrie-Anne Moss: Kicked major butt in the Matrix films, even though the last one and a half movies in that trilogy were the cinematic equivalent of Sominex. Excellent also in Memento. Gets bonus points for playing the loyal secretary in one of my all-time guilty pleasures, the late-night crime drama Dark Justice. (“Justice may be blind, but it can see in the dark.”) Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Would probably spin-kick the burger out of my hand.

Kristin Scott Thomas: A creditable actress with a knack for intensely boring films: The English Patient, Mission: Impossible, The Horse Whisperer, Random Hearts. I almost fell asleep at the keyboard just now typing those titles. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Three, and those are for me — so I have something to keep me busy so I don’t nod off.

Robin Wright Penn: Three words: The Princess Bride. We’re not worthy. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: One, but be careful to check it for iocaine powder.

Holly Marie Combs: Anyone who tolerates Shannen Doherty and Alyssa Milano for as long as she did deserves some love. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Two, which she can conjure up all by herself.

Zsa Zsa Gabor: That’s not three names, you cheeky monkeys.

Catherine Zeta-Jones: Easily one of the five most beautiful women on the planet, and a pretty fair thespian besides. Needs a Cheeseburger factor: Zero. Needs to Dump the Increasingly Cadaverous Michael Douglas and Hook Up with a Real Man factor: (insert my phone number here).

And now, the three-name actress IMDB left out, but who would be at or near the top of my list: Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Doesn't need cheeseburgers, just more quality roles.

Don't pie for me, San Diego

Yet another reason why the comics industry is in the dumper:

No free pie.

The good folks at Image Comics (or, as I like to call them, the egomaniacs who trashed a perfectly good entertainment medium) had announced some time back that they would be giving away free Home Run Pies (or, as I like to call them, diabetic-coma-inducing gut-bombs) at their booth at next month's mammoth Comic Con International in San Diego. Now, because of a run-in with the San Diego Convention Center, Image has called "no joy" on the whole pie situation.

According to Image artist and publisher Erik Larsen, the Convention Center demanded a $500 fee per day for the license to distribute food on-site, plus a hefty one-dollar tariff per pie. As junk food junkies up and down the West Coast know, Home Run Pies typically retail for 25 cents each.

"They wanted to charge us four times the retail price of these pies so that we could give them away. That's $6500 to give away the 4000 pies that we wanted to share with our fans," said Larsen, creator of the Savage Dragon series and not really an egomaniac like most of his former Image cohorts.

What's this world coming to, when geeky fanboys can't stuff their acne-encrusted, bespectacled faces with free Home Run Pies? It's un-American, I tell you.



Shaquille O'Neal, MBA.

Congrats to Shaq Diesel for completing his master's studies via the University of Phoenix (I believe the elusive phrase you're searching for is "degree mill").

Now the proud holder of a master's in business administration, Shaq is now eminently qualified to compose complex financial strategies — none of which, one hopes, will involve signing contracts to "act" (and I'm using that word accommodatively) in more wretched feature films like Kazaam and Steel.

Shaq says he intends to pursue another postgraduate degree, this time in criminal justice, with a view toward becoming a sheriff or police chief when his basketball-playing days are ended. Sounds to me like a slam dunk for felons everywhere.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

How Stella got her gaydar back

You remember How Stella Got Her Groove Back, right?

If you didn't read Terry (Waiting to Exhale) McMillan's best-selling book, you most likely saw the hit movie starring Angela Bassett, Taye Diggs, and Whoopi Goldberg. But for those of you who were absent the day we covered this in Pop Culture 426: The African American Autobiographical Chick Novel/Flick, here's the 411:

Stella, author McMillan's avatar, is a successful black woman in early middle age who, while vacationing in the Caribbean, "gets her groove back" (that is, restores her joie de vivre) by falling in love with a happy-go-lucky island gent who's young enough to be her... well... let's say her son's best friend. And they live happily ever after.

At least, in the book and movie they do. In the real world, not so much, apparently.

Turns out that McMillan's boytoy, Jonathan Plummer, would prefer to get his groove on with Steve, or Stan, or Stu, rather than Stella.

McMillan kicked the cabana boy to the curb when she discovered last December that little Jonny was swinging from the opposite side of the plate. They're now in the midst of a nasty divorce, in which McMillan accuses her erstwhile groove puppet of being a gold digger who married her only to acquire U.S. citizenship, while Plummer alleges that his superstar-scribe soon-to-be ex is a vicious homophobe. Ain't love grand?

I hate it when the facts ruin a great story.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The not-so-wonderful news about Tigger

Mark Evanier is reporting on his blog (which you should be reading daily, like clockwork) the death of ventriloquist and voice actor Paul Winchell at the age of 83.

For those of us of a certain age (and we know who we are, don't we?), Paul Winchell's unmistakable voice left an indelible stamp on our childhood memories. Mr. Winchell was the larynx behind such familiar characters as:
  • Tigger in Disney's various Winnie the Pooh projects.
  • Dick Dastardly in Wacky Races and Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines (also known as Stop That Pigeon!).
  • Fleegle in the never-to-be-forgotten Banana Splits.
  • The villainous wizard Gargamel in The Smurfs.
  • Bubi Bear in Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch!
  • Goober in Goober and the Ghost Chasers.
Before he was one of the most recognizable voices in cartoons, Winchell was a fixture on TV variety shows as a ventriloquist, probably the most famous practitioner of that dying art after Edgar Bergen. Winchell's figures Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff were, at one time, as famous as he was.

An inventor as well as an entertainer, Winchell held the patent on the original prototype for an artificial heart, which he developed in conjunction with Dr. Henry Heimlich of maneuver fame.

A rare talent, indeed. He'll be missed.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

A Stormwatch is brewing

Today's Comic Art Friday comes to you courtesy of the Weather Girls, who just dropped by to say, "Hallelujah, it's raining men."

Speaking of Weather Girls, here's an amazing tableau featuring everyone's favorite weather-wielding mutant Storm, best known as a member of the X-Men. Storm's comrade in this potent pinup is none other than Beta Ray Bill, the noble alien who stood in for Thor briefly during Walt Simonson's legendary run as creator of the Son of Odin's adventures.

As one of the relatively few comics heroines of African American heritage, Storm has always held a unique place in the superhero pantheon. Introduced by writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum as a member of the "All-New! All-Different!" X-Men in the early 1970s, Storm (real name: Ororo Munroe) was originally supposed to be from Kenya (that noted hotbed of comics fandom), until later when it was revealed that she was in fact American-born, a native of New York City. She grew up as a sort of distaff Artful Dodger on the mean Egyptian streets of Cairo until her mutant powers kicked in during her adolescence. For a time, Ororo was worshiped as a goddess by certain African peoples, then returned to the U.S. to manifest her destiny as a linchpin in Professor Charles Xavier's personal mutant army.

Like many superheroines in comics, Storm has changed her crimefighting outfit more frequently than Donald Trump changes apprentices. I asked veteran artist Ernie Chan to draw her in her original Dave Cockrum-designed costume, still a classic look. (Mr. Chan, by the way, completed this incredibly detailed artwork in a single day — it was done before I even had an opportunity to pay him for it. In fact, I didn't even know he had accepted the commission assignment before a digital photo of the finished art landed in my inbox.)

Filmgoers will, of course, think of Storm in the person of Halle Berry, who portrayed the character in the first two X-Men films. (No word yet on whether the Oscar-winning actress will return for the upcoming third installment, which has already gone through more directors than Storm has gone through uniforms.) A mixed review, that — Halle was saddled with a horrendous white wig and an embarrassingly hit-and-miss quasi-African accent in the first movie, then graduated to better hair, her own natural speech pattern, and a stronger overall performance in X2.

As for Beta Ray Bill, the equine Asgardian and his mystical hammer Stormbreaker were recently featured in an intriguing Marvel Comics miniseries written by Michael Avon Oeming and Daniel Berman, with art by Andrea Di Vito.

To quote from "Dun Ringill," a tasty number from Jethro Tull's 1979 album Stormwatch:
We'll wait in stone circles
'Til the force comes through
Lines join in faint discord
And the Stormwatch brews
A concert of kings
As the white sea snaps
At the heels of a soft prayer

Thursday, June 23, 2005

I never realized the "T" in "Tee Time" stood for "Tinkle"

From the "Don't You Wish You Had Invented This?" file:

The "Tee Time" bathroom golf kit, designed to allow the fairway freak in your life to practice his putting while exercising certain other vital functions.

(I was going to say "practice his short game," but that seemed inappropriate, somehow.)

And is it just me, or shouldn't the name of the product begin with a different letter of the alphabet?

We saw this crazy gizmo in the "As Seen on TV" store at the mall this evening, and nearly fell on the floor laughing. Before too long, we needed to look for a place to... umm... practice our putting.

The "Free 'Occupied' Sign!" is icing on the cake.

This is why I'm not a wealthy man today. I never think of stuff like this. Or if I do, I'd be too embarrassed to sell it in public.

To the shameless go the spoils. The rest of us just get the shaft.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

It's a Southern Baptist world after all

The Southern Baptist Convention has called off its nine-year boycott of the Walt Disney Company.

And there was much rejoicing.

If you're a Southern Baptist, you can once again take your Mickey Mouse wristwatch out of the sock drawer and wear it with pride. You can load up your Wal-Mart shopping cart with Disney DVDs. You can take the wife and the little Baptists to a Disney theme park and have yourselves a gay old time.

Well...maybe not.

That was what started the whole boycott business in the first place.

Given that nothing has really changed at Disney during the past nine years (these are, after all, the people who bring you the salacious Desperate Housewives every Sunday night), it doesn't appear that the boycott accomplished much. The Disney folks seem to have done quite well for themselves without the constant influx of Southern Baptist cash (although... I don't want to tell tales out of school, but the last time we were at Disneyland, there were quite a few folks enjoying the festivities who had that Southern Baptist look about them — though they might have been Mormons; you can't always tell), and I guess all the little Southern Baptist kidlets grew up just fine without Lilo & Stitch and Lindsay Lohan.

Me, I was just relieved to learn that the initials of my high-speed Internet provider didn't stand for "Southern Baptist Convention."

Monday, June 20, 2005

You can lead a hog to water, but you can't make him not stink

Scientists at Purdue University are busily attempting to make pigs smell less awful.

Yeah, like that's important.

In case no one had noticed this before, pigs reek. Rank odor simply goes hand in cloven hoof with swinehood. Even Disney cartoons (The Lion King) joke about this fact of nature. Setting out to make pigs less odiferous is akin to making hippopotamuses svelte, or baboons attractive by human standards. It's not happening. You might as well expend your efforts trying to accomplish something that (a) is remotely possible, and (b) might actually benefit humankind.

Apparently the impetus behind this porcine deodorizing campaign is the complaints of hog farmers, and people who live near them. Look, if you decide to pursue pig-raising as an occupation, or to reside in an area where pig-raising is widely practiced, you just have to accept that some serious funk goes with the territory.

It's like those morons who buy houses near the airport, then gripe about the noise. Hello? It's an airport, dummy.

Some wise person once said, "Never attempt to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig." I suspect the same could be said of attempting to train porkers to smell like petunias.

Customer service is our bread and butter

Service-oriented as we are here at SSTOL, we were delighted to receive this e-mail from reader Nina:
I got to your site Googling for the "singer" who did "I like peanut butter; I like toast 'n' jam." I couldn't find him ANYWHERE but the attempt was totally rewarding, because I adore your blog... Thank you for randomly pounding the keyboard. However — do you know that silly singer's name?
Well, of course we do, Nina. We know darn near everything.

The song you're thinking of is entitled "Bread and Butter" (a lot of people confuse it with "Peanut Butter," a very different song recorded by The Marathons). It was recorded by The Newbeats in 1964. That famous screeching falsetto belonged to a vocalist named Larry Henley.

Henley's other claim to fame is that he was the lyricist responsible for Bette Midler's Grammy-winning hit, "Wind Beneath My Wings." (He didn't write "Bread and Butter." You can blame the songwriting duo of Larry Parks and Jay Turnbow for that one.)

Once again, the existence of this blog is justified.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The girl with kaleidoscope eyes

In a sad bit of news, Lucy Richardson, who nearly four decades ago inspired the Beatles hit Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, has died of breast cancer at the age of 47.

John Lennon wrote the now-famous lyrics in playful response to a drawing made by his son Julian, who had a youthful crush on the girl whose family owned an antique shop in Weybridge, Surrey, England.

Lucy Richardson grew up to be a successful motion picture art director, with such films as Elizabeth, The Saint, and Chocolat among her flashier credits.

Now, I suppose, she really is in the sky with diamonds.

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All she wants to do is ride around, Sally

Twenty-two years ago today, Dr. Sally K. Ride became the first American woman in space.

During her career as a shuttle astronaut, Dr. Ride logged a total of 344 hours of spaceflight over two missions. She has since served as a member of the investigative teams that reviewed the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters. She is currently a physics professor at the University of California, San Diego.

Mostly, we here at SSTOL admire Dr. Ride for managing to get mentioned in Wilson Pickett's 1966 rhythm and blues classic, Mustang Sally, more than a decade before anyone knew what a space shuttle was. Anyone who rates a nod from the Wicked Pickett is way cool in our book.

Ride, Sally, Ride.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Clash of the Titans

Today's Comic Art Friday is brought to you by Saturn, makers of fine American automobiles. If you're in the market, you might consider picking one up.

Readers of superhero comics are familiar with the concept of a "universe," the setting in which the stories in the comics take place. It's an accepted convention that comic book universes are more or less parallel to our own "real" one; that comic adventures occur in a place that is in many respects similar to our reality, but different in others (the existence of superpowered beings, for instance). In the universe inhabited by Marvel Comics characters, many of the places are familiar to us — most Marvel superheroes live in a New York City that's like the one we know. DC Comics characters occupy localities that have no direct correspondents in our world — Metropolis, Gotham City, Central City, and so on.

Occasionally, comic book universes have to deal with common locations, and each company's artists and writers end up treating those locations differently. Both Marvel and DC envision a civilization on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. But the Titan of DC Comics is not the same place as the Titan of Marvel. Which this beautifully delineated artwork by the talented Steve Mannion illustrates.

On the left, we have Thanos, one of the deadliest supervillains in the Marvel universe. On the right is Imra Ardeen, better known as Saturn Girl, one of the original members of DC's Legion of Super-Heroes. Within their respective realities, each hails from Titan. In this tableau, we see the striking contrast between the Marvel Titan and the DC Titan.
  • Thanos is bad. Saturn Girl is good.
  • Thanos wants to conquer the universe. Saturn Girl wants to save it from evildoers.
  • Thanos is mighty and powerful. Saturn Girl is mighty cute.
  • Thanos likes to crush people's skulls. Saturn Girl likes to read people's minds.
  • Thanos looks like Shrek on a really, really bad day. Saturn Girl looks like Heather Graham.
If you ever wanted to understand the essential distinction between the DC and Marvel universes during the Silver and Bronze Ages of the 1960s and '70s, this picture tells all.

By the way, this is one of those artworks for which a scan simply does not supply adequate justice. Steve Mannion's subtle shading technique is gorgeous when seen up close. I'm not certain how he achieves the effect, but it's amazing.

That's your Comic Art Friday. Now go get your dad something cool for Father's Day.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Great Caesar's ghost!

Sad to hear about the passing of character actor Lane Smith, following a long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ("Lou Gehrig's disease").

You probably remember Mr. Smith either as Perry White, the crotchety editor of the Daily Planet on Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, or as Jim Trotter, the wily Southern prosecutor pitted against Joe Pesci's tyro lawyer from Brooklyn in My Cousin Vinny. He also turned in a deadly accurate performance as President Richard Nixon in the TV drama The Final Days.

Sincere SSTOL condolences to Mr. Smith's loved ones.

No wonder they couldn't find him

This is the kind of delicious irony that can only happen in the hub of government in a free society...

Mark Felt, the former FBI deputy director who recently revealed himself to be infamous Watergate informant "Deep Throat," was in charge of the FBI's probes that attempted to identify Deep Throat.

Many years ago, the humor magazine Mad ran a feature designed to educate kids about the meanings of terms they might hear used on the evening news. This was the definition of "conflict of interest":
When you're appointed hall monitor to keep people from stealing stuff out of lockers, and you're the main one who's stealing stuff out of lockers.
I am now more convinced than ever that the United States government is not really being run from the White House, or the Capitol building.

It's being run from the offices of Mad.

Guns don't kill people; pit bulls kill people

What is it about people and pit bull terriers that makes the former keep the latter around until one day the latter goes off like a time bomb and devours someone?

Less than two weeks ago, a 12-year-old boy in San Francisco was mauled to death by a couple of pit bulls. (In a valiant attempt to win the Moronic Parent of the Year Award, the boy's mother left the kid alone in the house with the dogs, despite the fact that one of them had bitten the youngster mere hours earlier.)

Then yesterday, right in our own sleepy little hamlet — in fact, just around the corner from my mother's house — a woman was half-eaten by one of these miniature tyrannosauri. According to animal control officers, the dog already had a lengthy history of taking chunks out of the bodies of family members.

What are these people thinking?

Now, don't get all up in my grill with that "dog hater" jazz. No one appreciates dogs more than I do. I own, and love, a dog. I take my family to dog shows. I've seen Best in Show about two dozen times. (Cats are another story. I'll cop to my ailuroantipathy in a New York minute.)

But let's get serious.

The American pit bull terrier gene pool is so thoroughly polluted by generations of overbreeding for aggressive tendencies that the breed is irredeemable. Living with a pit bull is like riding a motorcycle — it's not a matter of whether the monster is going to take you down, it's a matter of when.

People with pit bulls — and especially numbskulls with both pit bulls and children — remind me of the old woman who found a rattlesnake half-frozen in her woodpile one icy winter's day. Taking compassion on the scaly Popsicle, the woman brought the rattlesnake into her house, stretched it out in front of the fireplace to thaw, and carefully nurtured it back to health. The instant the snake revived, it clamped its deadly fangs onto the woman's hand, pumping her body full of its venom.

"How could you do this?" cried the woman, as the poison began to seize her central nervous system. "I was so kind to you."

"Come on, lady," replied the serpent, "you knew I was a rattlesnake when you brought me home."

Substitute "pit bull" for "rattlesnake" in that story, and it still reads true. Except for that whole venom business.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Stars and stripes

It's Flag Day. Are you flying your colors today?

The National Flag Day Foundation, based in Waubeka, Wisconsin, certainly hopes so.

I was unaware until today that a National Flag Day Foundation existed. I wasn't aware that Waubeka, Wisconsin existed either. But I'm glad there's a National Flag Day Foundation, because Flag Day is a good thing. Waubeka, Wisconsin I don't care about quite so much. (For which I apologize to those of you who may live in Waubeka, Wisconsin. I hope your Flag Day is going gangbusters.)

Of course, when I think about the red, white and blue...I think Wonder Woman. (Actually, any excuse to post a selection from my Wonder Woman art collection is a good one. But Flag Day may be more legitimate than most.) This star-spangled pinup was created by the artist known as "Shade."

May we always honor the principles behind these words:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands; one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
And yes, "all" includes those with whom we disagree politically... a concept too often forgotten in these partisan days.

Abby's water safety tips

Greetings, everyone.

This is my personal assistant, Abby, with a public service announcement.

There is fun in the water
But there's danger too.
So you've got to swim well
So nothing happens to you.

Learn how to swim
But never swim alone;
It's fun with a buddy
But it's danger on your own.

And never dive
Unless you know
The water's not too shallow
And it's clear below.

Thank you for your polite attention.

Abby and I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Michael Jackson beats it (so to speak)

If you're expecting a lengthy dissertation on the unsurprising "not guilty" verdicts in the Michael Jackson molestation trial, you're looking in the wrong place, buckaroo. I stopped caring about this whole sordid business a long time ago.

No one looks good in this deal.
  • The Keystone Kops on the prosecution team failed to prove any aspect of their case, despite the least sympathetic defendant since Robert Blake. (Oh yeah, he got off too, didn't he?)
  • The accuser and his mother came off like the kind of moneygrubbing snivelers who don fake cervical collars and frequent the offices of shady personal injury lawyers (or is that redundant?) hoping for a quick score.
  • The King of Jesus Juice — I mean, Pop — is either a perverted freak, or the most seriously clueless human being on the face of the planet. But then, we knew that already.
So let it go already, people. Show's over.

Thank goodness.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Alicia's Story

The next time you're sitting around feeling sorry for yourself because of some infinitesimal irritant that's been nagging at you, go read Alicia's Story.

Alicia Rose Parlette is a copy editor for the San Francisco Chronicle. She was recently diagnosed with a metastatic alveolar soft part sarcoma, which has spread from a mass in her right hip to her lungs and one breast. The cancer is so rare that fewer than 200 cases are diagnosed each year.

Alicia Parlette is 23 years old.

This week, the Chronicle published a seven-part series of narratives written by Alicia, recording her thoughts beginning with the discovery of the lump that in turn led to her diagnosis.

If you don't need a box of Kleenex before you're halfway through the series, the undertaker is on his way to your house right now.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

Look, Ma, I'm in the paper!

Previously on SSTOL, I wrote about spending last Tuesday evening with a crew of fellow Jeopardy! veterans playing pub trivia at a popular Berkeley watering hole.

Jon Carroll, the eminent human interest columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, has written a delightfully entertaining column about our exploits for today's newspaper. Jon was kind enough to make mention of this fine blog, and even provide the address. (So if you're here because Jon sent you, welcome aboard. Try the veal, and be sure to tip your waitress.)

As I told Jon on Tuesday, his column has long been one of my favorite Chronicle reads, along with Tim Goodman, the Chron's TV critic. Jon occasionally does entire columns featuring mondegreens — misunderstood lyrics from familiar songs — that are nothing short of hilarious.

I still miss Herb Caen, though.

There's something about Mary (Marvel)

In honor of the last day of school for this academic year, Comic Art Friday is sponsored today by Vacation, the classic 1982 album by the Go-Go's. Retro chic for summer — trés cool.

Speaking of cute girls and summertime...

In those long-ago days when superhero comics were fun, and kids of all ages could enjoy them without feeling the need to shower or take antidepressants afterward, there was Mary Marvel.

Our younger readers may be surprised to know that, for most of the 1940s — the core of comics' Golden Age, Fawcett Publications' Captain Marvel was the most successful costumed hero in the business, outselling DC stalwarts Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman almost every month. That is, until DC's protracted legal machinations against Fawcett finally resulted in the Captain Marvel purveyors losing a copyright battle to the Superman folks, and the Big Red Cheese and his associates vanished from the newsstands until DC began reintroducing their adventures in the early '70s.

Part of the appeal of Captain Marvel in his heyday was his coterie of cohorts, collectively known as the Marvel Family. Crippled newsboy Freddy Freeman transformed into Captain Marvel Jr. whenever he shouted the good Captain's name. (Readers in the '40s never seemed mystified by the fact that a handicapped kid who could zap himself into a superpowered body would willingly change back into his ambulatorily challenged real self at the end of each adventure. Seriously...would you?) And Mary Batson Bromfield, the long-lost sister of Captain Marvel's alter ego Billy Batson, would cry "Shazam!" just like her sibling, and magically become Mary Marvel, the World's Most Powerful Girl.

As was true of the Captain, Mary's special code word represented the mythological figures from whom her powers derived. Mary possessed...
  • the grace of Selena, goddess of the moon
  • the strength of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons (and mother of Wonder Woman, for those of you keeping score at home)
  • the skill of Ariadne, who helped Theseus solve the riddle of the labyrinth
  • the speed of Zephyrus, the West Wind
  • the beauty of Aurora, goddess of the dawn (which appeared to mean that the goddess of the dawn looked like a 15-year-old girl)
  • the wisdom of Minerva, the goddess of (you're way ahead of me) wisdom.
The interesting thing about Mary Marvel was that, unlike her brother Billy, who became a broad-shouldered, muscular adult when he powered up, or Freddy, who as Captain Marvel Jr. regained the use of his lame leg, Mary's Shazam-ing changed only her clothes. She remained, to all appearances, a cherub-faced teenage girl — a cherub-faced teenage girl who could layeth the smacketh down as well as the big boys, of course.

I've been commissioning a lot of Mary Marvel art lately, I think because I'm becoming increasingly conscious of the fact that my daughter, who's just about Mary's age, is now just two years away from graduating from high school. Like Mary Marvel, she's on the verge of flying off to exercise her powers for good in the real world.

Thus, for your Comic Art Friday viewing enjoyment, consider these two distinctive takes on one of my favorite superheroines. First up, this gorgeous pencil portrait done in the classic style of the Golden Age by artist Steve Mannion:

Mannion, whose specialty is drawing buxom and sexy superwomen, was a bit perplexed when I commissioned him to recreate Mary Marvel. According to his art representative, the redoubtable Scott Kress at Catskill Comics, Steve actually thought the assignment sounded "boring." But when he got into the character, he found that she was in fact fun to draw, and he was reportedly delighted with his final creation. I am, too — it's a beautiful example of period-style pinup art. I can easily envision this version of Mary painted on the nose of a B-17 Flying Fortress during World War II.

For a striking contrast, here's Mary powerfully portrayed in the bold black inks of artist Cully Hamner of Gaijin Studios:

I love the way Hamner retained Mary's youthful innocence, but surrounds her with a dark, lightning-streaked background that underscores her mythic might. Cully's fresh, vibrant take on the character is one of the best I've seen.

Mannion and Hamner slam back-to-back home runs in the Mary Marvel department this week.


Have you had your Ghibli today?

If you love animated film as much as I do, you owe it to yourself to read this brilliant column by Jeff Yang of the San Francisco Chronicle, about the marvelous masterworks of Japan's Studio Ghibli.

Studio Ghibli's latest film, Howl's Moving Castle, opens in U.S. theaters today, and I, for one, can hardly wait to see it. Directed by the legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki, Howl's Moving Castle looks like another winner for the traditional yet inventive filmmaker. Two of Miyazaki's previous films for Studio Ghibli, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, are among the greatest cinematic achievements in any genre during the past ten years. And if you have children and they haven't yet seen Kiki's Delivery Service or Laputa (also known as Castle in the Sky), dash over to your local video outlet and pick up one or both this weekend. Trust me.

I do have to take issue with one point in Jeff Yang's article. In slamming Disney Studios — with good cause — for its mismanagement of its animation department over the past several years, Yang writes:
In the past half decade, the studio that lovingly birthed such classic toons as Bambi, Snow White, Fantasia and The Lion King has stamped out an embarrassing series of, ahem, nonclassics: The Emperor's New Groove. Treasure Planet. Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Brother Bear. Home on the Range.
Though he's mostly right, Yang's wrong about a couple of the films on his list of "embarrassing...nonclassics." The Emperor's New Groove (read my review) is a terrific comedy — perhaps the funniest animated movie, end to end, that Disney has ever done. It's animated in a simpler style than most of the Disney classics, but the approach works very well for what is essentially a extended Chuck Jones Looney Tune. And while they were duds at the box office, and certainly a notch down from the great Disney films of the previous decade, both Treasure Planet (read my review) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (read my review) were decent films that, although flawed, were far from embarrassing.

Home on the Range sucked, though.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Happy birthday, Donald!

It's Donald Duck's 71st birthday today.

Isn't it about time he got some remedial therapy for that speech impediment?

And put some pants on?

(And if you're Johnny Depp, Natalie Portman, or Michael J. Fox, aren't you a tad miffed that your birthday goes unheralded, while some darned cartoon duck grabs all the glory? Then again, Michael J. Fox is the Anti-Elvis, so who cares about his stupid birthday?)

In a vaguely related story, the mayor of Valdosta, Georgia adopted a rubber duck, and invited his fellow citizens to do likewise. (All right, it's some kind of promotion to support the local food bank. But it just sounded odd. And it had a duck in it.)

Bring me the knickers of Madonna Ciccone

A "gentlemen's club" in Aberdeen, Scotland recently sold a pair of lacy black undergarments worn by Madonna for the equivalent of $1,800 US.

That is, the panties sold for $1,800. Madonna didn't get $1,800 for wearing them. I suspect she got considerably more than that.

The most remarkable facet of this tale is that eBay refused to allow the owner of the "preowned" underwear to sell them on the 'Net's auction juggernaut. What? You can sell a grilled cheese sandwich with a picture of the Virgin Mary on it on eBay, and you can't sell Madonna's soiled BVDs? What's up with that? Isn't one Madonna as good as another?

An unnamed Madonna fan in the United States closed the deal. I don't even want to know why this guy was willing to spend nearly two grand to purchase the DNA-infested drawers of someone he presumably doesn't even know. Although I wouldn't be at all surprised if people have gotten into Madonna's underpants for a lot less than $1,800.

Which brings us to the question: What is it about Madonna anyway?

You see, women, by and large, do not comprehend the appeal of Madonna. They look at her and sniff, "She's not even pretty." And they're right — she isn't. Madonna is, at best, a rather average-looking woman. Were she not one of the biggest cash cows in the world of entertainment, you wouldn't glance at her twice if she passed you in the produce section of your local supermarket. Heck, if Madonna weren't a pop music superstar, she might be working in the produce section of your local supermarket. Perhaps in charge of the cucumbers.

But Madonna long ago discovered The Secret, which is: If a woman flaunts her sexuality like all get-out (or perhaps "all get in"), she can look like a thousand yards of well-driven macadam and men will beat a path to her door.

Think I'm kidding? One word: Cher.

Men do not care that Madonna is — not to put too fine a point on it — homely. They do care that every iota of her public persona screams, "Hello, sailor." Men will overlook a lot of homely for a little "Hello, sailor."

When I was in college, there was a young woman also matriculating there who was known across campus as "Crazy Mary." Crazy Mary made Madonna look like Charlize Theron. But Crazy Mary had the "Hello, sailor" factor honed to a fine art. (Or so the rumors went.) Let's just say that Crazy Mary never lacked for a date on an evening when she wanted one. Now, my only interaction with Mary was as a fellow student in a couple of her classes. She seemed perfectly pleasant, though I quite frankly could not see what all the fuss was about.

But Madonna would have.

Last question: Why do they call the establishment a "gentlemen's club" when the whole idea of the joint is that you can go there and behave, shall we say, ungentlemanly? Were it truly a gentlemen's club, the women would at least get dinner and a movie before being asked to disrobe.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

What's Up With That? #22: Worst. Product. Name. Ever.

In my guise as an advertising and marketing copywriter, I am frequently called upon to help clients name products and programs, occasionally even companies.

I would never let a client do this.

I don't care if the name is legitimately attached to a recognizable celebrity, and that the controversy alone would help the product gain public attention.

I would just say no.

And if they insisted, I would walk away.


Lest someone suppose it was my idea.


God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson

I was sorry to hear the news about the death of actress Anne Bancroft, after a lengthy bout with cancer.

Ms. Bancroft will, of course, be remembered always as Dustin Hoffman's elder seductress in The Graduate, and for her Oscar-winning turn as Helen Keller's teacher Annie Sullivan in the original The Miracle Worker. But I think the role in which I appreciated her talents most was as the senior nun in Agnes of God, a film I otherwise didn't care for very much, but in which Ms. Bancroft lent subtle nuance to a role that could have been simply stereotypical. She was also excellent as a fragile, conflicted woman in Jack Clayton's The Pumpkin Eater, adapted from Harold Pinter's play. I even forgave her for being horribly miscast in husband Mel Brooks's ill-conceived remake of one of my favorite films, To Be or Not to Be. (Talented she was; Carole Lombard she wasn't.)

And, perhaps as much any of her other accomplishments, Ms. Bancroft deserves plaudits for convincing Brooks to turn The Producers into a musical for the stage. Millions of delighted theatergoers owe her a debt of thanks.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


I just rolled back in from beautiful downtown Berkeley, where I spent a delightful evening playing pub trivia with an august quartet of fellow Jeopardy! veterans. In the wake of a recent discussion on the J! discussion boards about other forms of competitive quizzing, the five of us pulled together to take a shot at the weekly Tuesday night trivia event at the Pyramid Alehouse.

We dubbed ourselves "The Ruttersnipes" in honor of Ultimate Tournament of Champions winner Brad Rutter. Around the table, the 'Snipes were:
  • Steve Chernicoff, technical writer, a five-time champion in 1994 and member of the Elite 18 in the UTOC.

  • Dr. Dan Melia, professor at UC Berkeley, winner of the 1998 Tournament of Champions and another Elite 18 qualifier.

  • Carolyn Cracraft, UC Berkeley grad student, the 1999 College Champion.

  • Bruce England, one of the 148 unfortunate souls Ken Jennings left in his wake during his historic 74-victory run.

  • Yours truly, whose Jeopardy! stats you already know if you camp here often. I was the "old dog" on the squad, having won my original run of games way back in 1988.
Observing the Ruttersnipes with the keenly observant eye of an experienced journalist was Jon Carroll, the popular human interest columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Jon was watching to see whether this assemblage of legendary brainpower would generate any human interest worth writing a column about.

We started the game strong, ticking off nine correct answers in the ten-question first round of play. (Actually, truth be told, we had all ten right. The quizmasters blew the answer to a question about Peter Pan's hideaway and scored our correct response of "Neverland" as incorrect, judging the appropriate answer to be "Never-Never-Land." They're wrong, and you can look it up.) Then we encountered some rockier territory in rounds focused on celebrity photos -- we misidentified Brittany Murphy and Melissa Etheridge -- and war movies, dropping back to about seven points behind the leaders midway through the game. But we rallied in the last three rounds, ending up in second place, only two points off the lead.

One handicap we discovered was our being accustomed to playing at Jeopardy! speed. Given ample time to discuss our answers before submitting them, we on several occasions talked ourselves out of correct responses by overthinking. Had we been clipping along at the pace of the show, we would have had to go with our first impulse more often, and would have ended up with more correct answers.

Still in all, the evening was a blast. Meeting Dan Melia was a real treat -- he's been one of the players I've most admired over the years, and he's a delightful fellow in person. Steve Chernicoff I met seven years ago when he was the alternate for the Jeopardy! Battle of the Bay Area Brains, in which I competed and won, so it was great to see him again. Carolyn Cracraft is every bit as fascinating as she seemed in her recent UTOC appearance. And Bruce England appeared genuinely thrilled to be in the company of several J! champs not named Ken Jennings. For me, meeting Jon Carroll, whose columns I've relished for years, was icing on the cake.

After the match, we all agreed we'd enjoyed the experience enough to reconvene the Ruttersnipes again sometime in the near future. So, if you play pub trivia anywhere in the East Bay, keep an eye out for four middle-aged guys, accompanied by a lovely brunette, at a table near you. They just might be ringers.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Looks like MJ's in Final Jeopardy!

Picked up this juicy tidbit over on the official Jeopardy! discussion boards, and don't you just love it...

Check out Juror Number Five on the Michael Jackson jury panel:
This grandmother is the oldest juror and has lived in Santa Maria all her life. A widow with some college education, she is a self-proclaimed movie buff whose favorite television show is Jeopardy! She has a close relative who is a registered sex offender.
Loves Jeopardy!, is related to a registered sex offender. In the never-to-be-forgotten words of John used-to-be-Cougar Mellencamp, "Aw, but ain't that America?"

Speaking of Crazy Mike, as we like to call him here at SSTOL, the King of Pop had to dash off to the hospital yesterday to be treated for "excruciating back pain." (Sort of like what I get every time the MJ trial shows up on the news sites. Only mine manifests slightly lower.)

But if you have to hustle to the emergency room, where better than in Solvang, America's Little Denmark? A quaint and charming burg decked out like Walt Disney's fever dream of Tivoli Gardens, KJ and I have whiled away many pleasant vacation hours there.

If you're ever in Solvang — and you certainly should be, at least once in your life — I highly recommend the Inn at Petersen Village. It's a great place to grab a little piece of Danish. (If you know what I mean. And I think you do.)

Isn't he lovely?

While we're on the celebrity baby kick, congratulations to Stevie Wonder and his wife Kai on the birth of their son Mandla Kadjaly Carl Stevland Morris. (Stevie's real name is Stevland Morris, for those of you who didn't know. And here all these years you thought he was the heir to the Wonder Bread fortune.)

According to Stevie's publicist, Mandla means "powerful" or "defiant" in Zulu, and Kadjaly means "born from God" in Swahili. I think Carl means "owner of West Coast hamburger chain" in some language or other.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

And you mocked me when I nicknamed my daughter "Supergirl"

Penn Jillette of the comedy illusionist team Penn and Teller is the proud new papa of a baby girl, born yesterday to Penn's bride Emily.

The new arrival's official moniker is Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette.

Basically, the kid's named after a soft drink, a comic book character, and a brand of razor blades. Dangerous combination, this.

Congratulations to the Jillettes. Look sharp. Feel sharp. Be sharp.

Incidentally, if you're ever in Vegas with a Benjamin in your pocket and a couple of hours to spare, cruise on over to the Rio All-Suites Hotel and check out Penn and Teller's show. Great fun — though not recommended if you're easily offended (in which case, maybe you need to get over yourself) — and excellent entertainment value for the price despite the imposing tariff. Get there early, and you can enjoy the upright bass stylings of Mr. Jillette as part of the preshow ambience. After the performance, Penn and Teller sign autographs and pose for pix with fans. A fine time is had by all.

If your middle name is CrimeFighter, they might knock a few bucks off the ticket price. Maybe.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Spahn and Sain and pray for rain

The immortal baseball poetess Annie Savoy once said, "Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes, it rains."

When you're the hapless San Francisco Giants, injury-riddled and pitching-challenged, wallowing at the nadir of a seven-game losing streak, sometimes you're grateful for the latter.

Last Son and Daughter of Krypton

Today's Comic Art Friday is brought to you by truth, justice, and the American way. Accept no substitutes. Even when your elected representatives do.

Two Comic Art Fridays ago, we made a before-and-after comparison of a gorgeously tight pencil rendering of Marvel Comics' heroine Elektra by artist Al Rio, and the finish work of a second artist (Geof Isherwood) commissioned to complete the artwork in ink. In that comparison, we noted how even a pencil drawing as precisely detailed as Rio's could be enhanced by a skillful inker like Isherwood.

Now here's another Al Rio pencil drawing, this time starring those Kryptonian cousins, Superman and Supergirl, as they rescue a young lad from danger.

You'll notice that this piece, in contrast with the Elektra, is very loosely drawn. It's actually a preliminary sketch for a finished artwork Al created and auctioned off for the Southeast Asian tsunami relief effort earlier this year. (The end product turned out very differently from this original conception, with both Supes being replaced by other characters.) Artists frequently "rough draft" ideas in this way before committing themselves to a final version.

I was fortunate enough to acquire this sketch from Al Rio's art representative. Knowing that the piece would need to be finished before taking up permanent residence in my collection, I sent it off to Bob Almond, a superbly talented inker best known for his frequent partnerships with penciler Sal Velluto, including a lengthy run on Marvel's Black Panther and some flat-out stunning work currently appearing in Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril, published by Penny-Farthing Press.

Below is the completed piece after the Almond touch has been applied.

As you can see, Bob had a great deal more initial work to do on this drawing, given that most of the details were only loosely sketched out. I'll let Bob tell you in his own words how he tackled the project, as described on his Web site, Almond Ink:
"I elaborated on the pencil art and then finished the image in ink. I used brush, markers, brush marker, white and black ink spatter, razor blade scrapings, and dry brush."
One of the features I admire most about Bob's inking style is his use of effects. He's a master at creating realistic textures with ink spatter and brush stippling, both of which you can see here.

This is the first commission Bob has completed for me, and as impressed as I've been with his published work and image scans of his commission projects, holding this beauty in my hands today just floored me. I can hardly wait to get another of my pencil pieces into his gifted hands.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

What are you, Cracked?

Now this takes me back a few years:

Cracked Magazine is resuming publication next year, with a new editorial team.

For those of you with challenged childhoods, Cracked was the long-running competitor to the better-known humor magazine, Mad. Cracked always played the Avis Rent-a-Car to Mad's Hertz ("we're Number Two, so we try harder"), but was often very funny in its own right. John Severin, a veteran comics artist who drew mostly war and Western titles for such companies as Marvel and EC, was Cracked's lead caricaturist when I was reading the mag in the '70s.

And who could forget Sylvester P. Smythe, Cracked's sad-sack mascot? He was no Alfred E. Neuman, but still a recognizable figure in his painter's cap and overalls. It'll be cool to see him back on the newsracks.

Wonder if the new Cracked will be looking for writers?