Friday, June 29, 2012

Riding off into the weekend

This week, a WDW attraction that was never built.

Disney buffs know well that, when WDW opened in 1971, there was no Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The thought was that POTC was old hat to Floridians; why would they need imaginary pirates when they lived in the place that was already full of real pirates?

To which the public responded, What? No POTC in the Magic Kingdom? I demand to speak to the manager! How can you not put in this signature ride?

Also, exactly what pirates is Florida full of, again?

The Mouse had a different idea. They were going to build a Wild West ride every bit as elaborate and signature as POTC. But they never did. Instead, they quickly built POTC (in a down-and-dirty version that never did make much sense until they added Johnny Depp), and the various elements of the Western River Expedition were later worked into things like the mountains Thunder and Splash.

The whole story is well explained at Disney Park History.

Not long ago, D23, the Mouse's official fan club, had an expo at which they displayed a mocked up ride through of the none-existent attraction. It requires a little leap of faith on your part, but how often do you get to ride a ride that was never built?

Happy weekend.

Asimov vs Roddenberry

Isaac Asimov was a real character. I started my publishing career at Doubleday, which was just one of his publishers (he was ridiculously prolific, producing both fiction and nonfiction), and he was a regular visitor to the offices. Maybe too regular a visitor. He had a Harpo Marx tendency to almost literally chase the young female assistants around the office, for one thing, a practice that the young female assistants did not find endearing. On the other hand, he was Isaac Asimov. Maybe this was what was meant by poetic license.

What I remember most about Asimov personally was a talk he once gave about publishing. I forget the occasion, but he made a most interesting point. This is the gist of it: "Only ten percent of the people in this country read books," he said. He went on. "Fifty years ago, only ten percent of the people in this country read books. Fifty years for now, no doubt, only ten percent of the people in this country will read books. Reading is an elite activity, and a minority activity." Publishing, therefore, was similarly elite and similarly small. He didn't mean it as a pat on the back for our specialness, but a reality check. That was life, and he wasn't suggesting that we change it, but that we live with it.

Thirty some odd years later, I think he was right.

Anyhow, I love the exchange of notes between him and Gene Roddenberry. Mostly we have the Roddenberry side of it, but that's enough. Asimov had taken Star Trek to task for scientific inaccuracy. Roddenberry's response is enlightening, and apparently sparked what would become a friendship between the two. You can follow it at Letters of Note.

Ray Harryhausen

Ray Harryhausen turns 92 today!

His professional idol was Willis O'Brien, who had animated the character known at the time as the tallest, darkest (but not quite handsomest) hero in film, King Kong. As a rising animator himself, young Harryhausen became buddies with like-minded fans Ray Bradbury and Forrest J. Ackerman. His first major film work was on Mighty Joe Young in 1949, a sort of remake of King Kong with a more cuddly main character; Willis O'Brien was the technical director on that film, thus uniting the mentor and the student.

What Harryhausen mastered was the art of mixing stop-motion with live action. He thrived in the 50s and 60s, becoming unquestionably a film legend. It could be said that this is his signature work, the skeleton sword fight in 1963's Jason and the Argonauts. Watch it and keep in mind that there was no such thing as CGI when this film was made! (I wish CGI always looked this good.)

Happy 92nd, Ray H!

Jobs 4, 1000 songs

Pixar was the home of John Lasseter and his team. Lasseter had left Disney in frustration to follow his own muse. The Mouse in the 90s was no longer creating signature animated characters, and it bought into Pixar's characters. Steve Jobs had bought into Pixar because he wanted their hardware and software; the animation was a lagniappe that eventually became the driving force, thanks in great part to his support. Over time, Disney's management (the present CEO Bob Iger) realized that the best bet for Disney was not just to work with Pixar, but to take in Pixar as a part of the overall Disney picture. Smart, and as it turned out, a win-win for both sides.

Jobs made out like a bandit in this, but by then, he was back at Apple. He was getting the company back into gear with redesigned Mac products, using exciting advertising to develop the iconic brand image. He remained an enthralling cheerleader, but he was never better than when he had a product that was worth a cheer.

In this video he introduces the iPod. It is not a flashy presentation. He is not seductive and clever. He is straightforward and explanatory. Except, considering the package, it ends with the ultimate clever seduction: the product itself.

It's fun to follow this in the light of subsequent developments. I have a 160 gig iPod, that is becoming quickly obsolete as the cloud descends to replace it. Whatever happened to Firewire (which still speedily connects my MacBook external disk drives)? And keep in mind that the original iPod was bereft of the iTunes store, which was the real game-changer, bringing music directly (and legally) to the digital age.

The first iPod was Mac only. It drove sales of Macs, Macs drove sales of iPods... 1000 songs in your pocket, indeed. It seemed like the end of the rainbow. Turns out it was only the beginning.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

David Foster Wallace: Cruising

I have only read Wallace's nonfiction, to which I respond like a trained seal, clapping and barking over every line. His fiction, most specifically Infinite Jest, is tempting, but the chunk of time required to read and enjoy it isn't in my portfolio at the moment. Short nonfiction, on the other hand, is just right for my straitened circumstances. At one point I even listened to an audiobook of some of his essays, the collection Consider the Lobster, read by the author, which is every bit as good as reading him yourself. Come to think of it, I had indeed read the Lobster story in Gourmet, where it was originally published, where tracking down the footnotes in their multiple-column layout was a chore indeed. In the audio version, he included all the footnotes, but read them in a different voice so you would know that they were footnotes. It was a bravura performance. (Reading Wallace and skipping the footnotes would be like reading Moby-Dick and skipping the parts about whaling.)

Shipping Out is an article that originally appeared in Harper's Magazine, in which Wallace goes off on a vacation cruise of the Caribbean. He is, to put it mildly, an acerbic critic. He is also a supremely literate and hilarious writer, and coming across this [via] forced me to drop everything and read it immediately. A word of warning: it's a pdf, and my eyes still hurt from reading it on my iPad (especially, of course, the footnotes: shades of the Gourmet lobster!).

If you've never read Wallace, start here. If you have read Wallace, you don't need me to prod you.

Today's Adorable Video

Did anyone else have a chemistry set as a kid?

If you like rainbows, or Muppets, or both, I found this via Mental Floss; they've got plenty more where that came from, but by singers, not chemistry teachers.


This is one of those amazing things...

This is from the abstract of the paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: "Music evolves as composers, performers, and consumers favor some musical variants over others. To investigate the role of consumer selection, we constructed a Darwinian music engine consisting of a population of short audio loops that sexually reproduce and mutate. This population evolved for 2,513 generations under the selective influence of 6,931 consumers who rated the loops’ aesthetic qualities. We found that the loops quickly evolved into music attributable, in part, to the evolution of aesthetically pleasing chords and rhythms."

The results are at You can listen as a track develops—evolves—from a vague electronic riff, if you can even call it a riff, to full-fledged music.

You just have to hear it to understand it.


Richard Rodgers

Richard Rodgers was born on this date, June 28, in 1902. I think of his music as well-informed academically. He does things that look as much like etudes as popular songs. Take the song "Lover," for instance. It's a series of chords in half-step descending order, more of a challenge to the scale than a love song. I see that in a lot of his music, at least when I try to play it myself. Plenty of others of the Great American Songbook writers did similar things, but Rodgers seemed to do it most often. I see him as a formalist, in other words. I have no idea whether that's a popular opinion.

Rodgers's first musical partner was the lyricist Lorenz Hart, and their first big hit was "Manhattan." Somehow, I don't think the creation of that song was exactly like this:

That's from the film Words and Music. You've got to love the way Hollywood portrayed the act of songwriting. And this sort of portrayal was nothing new in 1948, when this movie was released. It goes back to practically the first talkies, like 1932's Love Me Tonight:

That, indeed, is the original lyrics of "Isn't It Romantic?" Lorenz Hart's lines always seem to be bursting with playfulness; unless you're really up on your standards, the comic lyrics of the song probably come as a surprise.

Rodgers's other great partner, Oscar Hammerstein II, appears way more conservative than Hart, or maybe the times had just changed from the sprightly revues of the 20s and 30s to the character- and plot-driven songs and plays of the 40s and 50s. Their first big hit together was Oklahoma, the entire plot of which revolves around which guy the girl will go out with on a date. In the London revival with the young Australian cowboy Hugh Jackman as Curly, the result seems...preordained.

If you haven't seen that version, watch it. It's a gem.

To a great extent, the life of Richard Rodgers is the life of the American theater. He won every award imaginable, he wrote dozens and dozens of standards, and his plays are still going strong, with a recent Broadway revival of South Pacific winning 7 Tony awards. And often, Rodgers's music stands alone:

And we would be remiss if we didn't mention the one Rodgers recording, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart, that Rodgers absolutely hated. Not the song itself, but one particular version...

The story is that Rodgers wanted to sue the pants off them, but cooler heads prevailed. Which worked out fine. He ended up making more money just collecting the royalties.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Long ago, people itched a lot

There's more where this came from at Retronaut, one of my favorite sites. Do not check it out if you object to blatant sexism or if you don't want to blame your parents back then for your bald pate now.

The Death of the Inner Techie

The first computers I owned, starting with an Apple II+, required a particular mindset. That II+ came with all sorts of manuals, including access to the operating system and BASIC, meaning that you could talk to the computer either in machine language or via your own homebrewed spaghetti code. BASIC was notoriously capable of working despite one’s crudity on laying down the code, and the best practices of programming never crossed one’s field of vision. Remember, there weren’t a lot of programs out there when PCs first came out, and half the fun of computer ownership was writing your own, however elementary.

On top of that, before long you were going to have to open the box. You were going to install more memory maybe (the II+ came with 48K of RAM), floppy disk drives, maybe even eventually a hard disk (my first, 40 whole megabytes, was an add-on to my Apple II GS). There were sound devices and modems that had to be put into the open board slots. There was a belief, probably true, that chips got unseated, and that it was a good idea if something wasn’t working right to open the box and press everything down firmly to fix the problem. There were just basic chip replacements as such, come to think of it. Opening the box required the ritual of, as the first step as you stared down into the circuit board abyss, to touch the internal power source to dispel any static electricity, which they warned would burn out your computer in the blink of an eye.

I had computer tools in my desk drawer until a few years ago, when I realized that I was no longer opening people’s computers in the office for whatever reason I had been so doing back when I did it regularly. I wasn’t a tech guy, I was an editor. Why was I opening people’s boxes and tinkering in there? I have no idea, but I did do it and I did fix stuff. A tiny, multiple head screwdriver was what the well-dressed tech-minded employee had to wear, if he or she wanted to keep things humming.

There was more than simple need behind this ability to program and to tinker with the hardware. I was doing it for other people—I wrote or helped design extensive DJ programs that are still running our business, and I operated inside the hardware of other people’s computers as well as my own—which means that there were plenty of people who didn’t program and who didn’t tinker, who just wanted the damned things to work. Reading the Jobs bio, one is reminded that Apple’s success was built, starting with the Mac, on selling to those people. And now, of course, Apple is at the forefront of the closed machine with its new retinal display MacBook (which Wired advises us is not the world’s greatest idea in many respects I’m not addressing here). But all my Apple devices are closed these days. And I can’t remember the last time I had to do anything remotely resembling programming, except when I’ve played around with Excel formulas for planning Round Robins, which I did more as a mental exercise than a real need.

What’s happened? Have I changed? Has the world changed?

I know for a fact that nowadays I want a computer, or comparable device in the computersphere, not to require me to do anything but work it. I don’t want to have to set it up, I don’t want to have to think much about maintaining it, and I don’t want to fix it. I just want to do stuff on it. I’m very seriously pondering acquiring an Air because I want something seriously portable but also capable of intense writing (which the iPad isn’t, as far as I’m concerned, even with my Bluetooth keyboard). The Air is closed. You can’t get in there for anything. You can’t change the battery. You can’t even stick a disk into it. A couple of years ago a bunch of us gathered around a friend who was going to change his own Gen 3 iPod battery, which we considered a miracle of ingenuity akin to inventing the light bulb. That may be the last time I was a part of anything remotely impressive on the tech side, absent folks I know who are actual computer technicians of one stripe or another, hard or soft.

My guess is that it is the world that has changed. In the 80s there were a bunch of us who had the spark of interest to go under the hood, and we helped get things started, but as soon as computers didn’t need us there anymore, they shut us out. By the same token, we went back to whatever it was that we were doing before we had to figure out how to debug a thousand lines of BASIC or some scripting language or other that was being tossed around. People who say that “kids nowadays know all about technology” know nothing about a) kids nowadays and b) technology. Aside from whatever some kids learn in their computer science classes, knowledge akin to what they learn in any of their other classes, whatever that means, we do not now have a generation of tech savants. We just have a generation of people who have been raised on devices that were not around when their parents were being raised. Those devices are, if anything, easier to operate now than their analogs were in their parents’ day. In other words, kids today have it easy as far as tech is concerned. Certainly easier than we did. How many kids today have ever had to adjust a set of rabbit-ear antennas just right in order to watch Star Trek in their dorm room? How many kids today know how to adjust the horizontal hold? Bah! Kids today! Get off my lawn!!!

Tech has changed so much. The whiz bang wonder is going away. Or maybe more correctly, a lot of us remain whiz banged, but the complexity behind the whiz bang has gone away. You just turn the stuff on and it works as advertised. And the funny thing is, I don’t think I long for the good old days. I’m perfectly happy not to need my little screwdrivers, my BASIC skills, or my ability to tie tin foil onto my rabbit ears.

I gave away my IIGS to O’C last year. I wonder if he has any little screwdrivers.

Trailers from Hell

This is one of those websites you just have to visit. Trailers from Hell has dozens of movie trailers, ranging from Fellini's Satyricon to The Toxic Avenger. So pick one. Say, for instance, The Alligator People (filmed "in screaming Horrorscope"). It is, not shockingly, a stinker, where men are turned into erect bipedal alligator men. Okay, after watching the trailer cold, you switch over to the commentary, which in this case is done by Joe Dante, the founder of the site. He tells you about the movie, providing a commentary on both the film and the trailer. The trailers would be good enough, but the commentary on some of these is actually quite illuminating.

As you can see, not all the movies are B exploitations. There's every kind of movie imaginable, with commentators including John Landis (everything from National Lampoon's Animal House to Cowboys and Aliens), Larry Karaszewski (co-writer of Ed Wood), It's Alive director Larry Cohen, and a roster of other luminaries of a funky films. If you start poking around on this one, you're going to be there for a long, long while.

(Some of the movies are NSFW. Some them are also probably dangerous to your health and should come with the Surgeon General's warning.)


How I Was Traumatized for Life at Age 3

The Howdy Doody Show was one of the first TV programs for kids. One of my very first memories is going to see the show live at Rockefeller Center. I was approximately three years old and sat with the rest of my peers in the famous Peanut Gallery.

I recall all of this vividly.

Our part of the set was a few rows of seats off to one side. Parents watched from some perch off in the distance. The show played out in front of us. On TV it looked like a real world of sorts, but in person it was all cameras and wires and monitors surrounding a small and fairly barren stage on which cavorted Buffalo Bob, an assortment of puppets and, among a handful of humans, the silent demon, Clarabell the Clown, originally portrayed by Bob Keeshan.

Part of Clarabell's silent schtick was spraying Buffalo Bob with the contents of a seltzer bottle. On that fateful day, when the other Peanuts and I were rollicking in the stands doing our best to respond to BB's exhortations to cheer the proceedings, as always Clarabell was poised for the attack. But on this day, instead of spraying Buffalo Bob with his seltzer bottle from hell, he accidentally, and unexpectedly, squirted me.

I immediately broke down in a coulrophobia-fueled panic. I have not cried so much since. Nothing anyone on the staff, not Buffalo Bob and certainly not that child spritzer Clarabell the Clown could calm me. Finally my parents arrived at the Peanut Gallery from, where, the Elephant Gallery?, and took me away, still in tears, weeping inconsolably over losing my belief in television heroes.

I never went to another Howdy Doody show.

Bob Keeshan, on the other hand, went on to become the legendary Captain Kangaroo. By the time that show came around, I was too old for it, thank God, because the few times I did watch it, perhaps staying home sick or whatever, even at the ripe old age of seven I realized that this was, shall we say, on the slow side. Then again, it was the 50s. Life was slower then.

The premise of the show was that Captain K was a grandfatherly figure, and that little kids naturally responded a certain way, and vice versa, to grandparents. The show lasted about thirty years, so I guess the premise was a good one. This clip is indicative of the show as one saw it back in the day, slow and in black-and-white. It's even got the Cap'n's venerable sidekick, Mr. Green Jeans.

In a remarkable feat of triumph over adversity, I recovered from my duel to the death with Clarabell, and grew to have no fear of clowns whatsoever, except for the one played by Tim Curry in It. Today is Bob Keeshan's birthday, and in all seriousness, his work as a pioneer of children's TV, and his gentle persona inhabiting the young lives of three decades of kids, is worth celebrating.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The secession resolution: Menick v. Menick, winner take all

Resolved: The constitutions of democratic governments ought to include procedures for secession.

From my original post on this, both O’C and CP seemed to think that I was suggesting that the US would feature in the arguments. I wasn’t clear. I meant that the US couldn’t feature in the arguments, in a decent debate, as the subject really wasn’t up for grabs here.

The discussion on TVFT
was good, and illustrated their opposing point of view on the topic, to wit, not that it was a stinkeroo, but that it was rich with possibilities. I don’t think they’ve persuaded me to give it the 10 they were both suggesting (or maybe they were turning it up to 11, which I’m definitely not buying), but they did get me to think again. Still, I have cavils.

Their point is that nations are sometimes accidental political constructs, formed by history or geography alone rather than the other commonalities of a group (language, religion, culture, etc.) that often distinguish a nation. France, in other words, comprises mostly shared-culture Frenchmen, whereas many African nations (and some European) comprise cultural factions at loggerheads. The creation of the governments of these nations can in practice limit the rights of minorities. For those minorities to secure their rights, they may have no alternative but civil disruption unless failsafes are built into the literal government construct to prevent them. One of these, perhaps the best of them, is the ability for discrete groups to be able to secede from the union to protect themselves, an option of peaceable separation rather than potentially violent separation. Eritrea v. Ethiopia is offered as a cautionary example.

The thought is that this resolution will force students to learn about nationalism, and what it means to be a nation. Very true. It will force research into the various African situations, the breakup of the Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, etc., the specifics of which, coupled with an inherent understanding of government theory, will provide meat for the affirmative position. The negative will argue as often as not that the lack of applicability across all constitutions refutes the generality of the aff position; i.e., since no general principle applicable to all constitutions can be presented by the off, the rez is proved false and therefore neg wins. Aff can draw on counterarguments that potential aspects of a constitution need not determine the thrust of the constitution, etc., etc., etc.

I think I’ve got that right. In a way, I may have been intuiting the basic core neg in my original argument against this one, and I have a vague feeling that when we tot up the numbers, neg is going to win like a house afire, but that may just be self-serving baloney on my part. In any case, I have seen the light to some extent, but not to the extent of CP and OC. If I were you, I’d listen to the podcast. Draw your own conclusions.

Archie Andrews?

We've seen a lot of front-line action with Archie comics lately. First of all, they introduced Kevin Keller, their first openly gay character, then they set him up to get married, and the next thing you knew, every comic book publisher in America seemed to want to get on the gay bandwagon, with the added benefit of capes and superpowers. Then there's the whole Archie marries Veronica business, while also marrying Betty, giving something for Team Lodge versus Team Cooper to chew on. (I'm not quite sure if any of this is meant to be an actual teen marriage; it seems to center more on Future Archie, the one with a job and a receding hairline. It's also, I think, hypothetical, like the "imaginary tales" from the old Superman days when they would imagine what would happen if Supe married Lois. Then, of course, he did marry Lois, for real, so to speak. And then he wasn't married to Lois, but that's another comic altogether.) And on the real-life side, the scions of the Archie founders are locked in a bizarre legal battle to control the empire, which seems about as out of character for the brand as, well, Archie zombies.

It ain't easy being Archie.

But then again, from the looks of things, it never was. is running The 25 Most Awesomely Melodramatic Archie Comics Covers, which makes you think that maybe you've got Archie all wrong, and it really is the cutting edge of drama in America, gay marriage isn't close to being controversial in Riverdale, and there's no reason why Archie can't be married to both Veronica and Betty simultaneously, even if they're all still in middle school. Hell, even Little Archie is close to the edge in some of these.
As I said, it ain't easy being Archie.

Dorothy Dandrige

The story of America is race, even when that story is hidden or buried. Pretending otherwise does not make it go away. The historical reasons for this are obvious, and do not need repeating. That the history is not history but on-going American life, does bear repeating, even with Obama in the White House. I mean, the dude is half-white, which in America, to an awful lot of people, means that he's black. At the point when one's racial makeup will be so far down the list of descriptors that it never even comes up, this story will have ended. But we're not there yet.

Hollywood has ever been a good reflection of America's racial prejudices in general. In the first half of the twentieth century, the roles open to African-Americans were essentially that of menials. To provide entertainment for the black audiences, there were entire lines of race movies with all-black casts, showing in special theaters to all-black audiences, a sort of shadow Hollywood, if you will. Today, of course, we have plenty of blacks in films, but if a film is mostly blacks, well, it might as well be a race movie because it's ghettoized as such. (Ditto television.)

We applaud those who have broken color lines, but not every pioneer was successful. The wonderful Dorothy Dandridge, for instance, would have owned Hollywood if she had been white. Instead, she died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 42 with $2.14 in her bank account. Anne Helen Petersen's telling of the tale of Dandridge for, Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Dorothy Dandridge vs. The World, is both sad and illuminating, and well worth reading.

From that article, I pulled this clip, which I re-post to cheer us all up. I mean, who can see the Nicholas Brothers (one of whom young Dorothy married) without a smile (aside from, of course, the audiences of the southern theaters at the time, for whom clips like this were expunged from the films so as not to upset their tender little bigoted hearts)? That's Dorothy in the middle, holding her own until the brothers really go to town and she slips off into the choo choo. She reappears at the end of a series of their trademark splits, no doubt wondering, as we all do, how they've managed to protect their private parts from the potential damage.


You Need to Know GIlberto Gil

Gilberto Gil. one of the inventors of modern Brazilian music, was born on this date, June 26, in 1942. So that makes him another one of those amazing seventy-year-olds who are still at it, like McCartney and Wilson. Quoting from Gil's website: "Rhythms from the northeast of Brazil like the baião, apart from samba and bossa-nova were fundamental in his formation. Using them as a starting point, Gil forged his own music to which he incorporated rock, reggae, funk and rhythms from Bahia such as afoxé. Gil has tackled a wide variety of issues in his lyrics, pertinent to modern reality: from social inequality to the racial question, from African to Oriental culture, from science to religion, among others. The mastership with which Gil explores these subjects makes him one of the greatest Brazilian composer-lyricists."

His influences seem to include every music you can think of. His devotion to causes like the environment and freedom of information have made him a political player, and he's held various governmental positions, from local city councils up to Brazil's Minister of Culture.

But for me, it's all about the music. I have no idea what he's singing—I don't understand Portuguese—but I don't care. That Tropicalia mix of bossa nova and rock and everything else just puts me in the perfect mood. Sometimes his music is loud and brash, more often it's seductive and mercurial. He tends to go places you're not expecting.



Monday, June 25, 2012

Down at the Drive-In

This is not about the Beach Boys, but you can listen to this while you read:

There are still drive-in movie theaters, but they're rare, vestigial remnants of a long-ago past. Regardless of what the actual dates that bracket the history of drive-ins, they are a phenomenon co-opted by the Baby Boomers (like me) as their own. My recollections are more than fond.

My family didn't own a car until I was seven years old. This was not because we lived in a city, but because cars were expensive and not everyone owned one and when you finally did, it was a big deal. People would drop by and congratulate my parents on it, and wish them luck with it. Whether they were being wished luck that it wouldn't be a lemon, or that they wouldn't drive it off a cliff, I'm not quite sure. But let me tell you, a 1955 Chevy Bel Air was a thing of beauty. It still is. (The model in the picture is a '57; same basic style. And that was our color.)

When you finally owned a car, you had to use it. We took a number of cross-country trips to visit my father's sister out west, for instance. And we also went to the drive-in movie. For families, drive-ins were a true blessing. They were cheap, for one thing, and you could pile the whole family in the car easily enough, although for us, the whole family comprised just the three of us. Still, my parents would include a blanket and pillows for the trip, and when the sun finally set, I would come back from the playground below the screen and settle in and be asleep before the credits rolled on the main feature.

Drive-ins are associated in the popular mind with exploitation pictures, but we went to see regular movies that just happened to be outdoors. You attached a speaker box to the window. It was attached to a post on the other end, and there were warnings on the screen to remember to unplug and not tear the thing out when you yourself tore out. They sounded terrible, and obviously not only monophonic but mono-directional, because it was just hanging on that one window. I understand that these were eventually replaced by broadcasting, so you could listen over your car radio, but I personally never experienced this particular marvel of modern science.

I saw movies up through my college years sitting either in the front or back seat, although obviously not with my parents after a while. I shamefully admit that I did not go to the drive-in to make out: even then I was way too interested in what was going on up on the screen. (What a jerk.) The last time I remember going, we saw a double feature that was followed—yes, followed—by a triple feature of the original Eastwood spaghetti westerns beginning with A Fistful of Dollars. We rolled out of there at around four a.m., and as I recall, we didn't make it to the end. After eight hours of sitting in the car, four of them with Clint Eastwood, let's see if you make it to the end.

One time when we went, it was for some pairing of slasher films, and when we bought our tickets, there were giveaways of packets of green blood, the same sort of packets in which they put ketchup and mustard. Yum! In this vein, I will report that the first house we owned, in the early 80s, was not far from the local drive-in, the last in the county. It ran the gamut of pictures, albeit in their third run, and occasionally they, too, showed the odd slasher film. At this point in the life of drive-ins, the common practice was to honk your horn when somebody got whacked. So for a short period of my life, off in the nocturnal distance occasionally one could hear a soft blast of car horns for no apparent reason, sounding what was, for all practical purposes, the death knell of the art form.

There are still some drive-ins around, if you've got the gas. has a nice slideshow of them, which is what got me thinking about all of this. Enjoy it. Feel free to honk at the gory bits.

Popcorn shrimp (Swedish style)

The world's greatest (?) chef has at it.

How could I have missed this when it first came out? A tip of the CL hat to Disney by Mark.

Music video of the day - Harry Potter

And here's one for the road, if HP doesn't measure up for you:


The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

I threw out last week the fact that the Delaware Art Museum has the biggest collection of PRB works in the country. The image on the left is a screenshot from an image search of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the movement's founders. If you're unaware off the top of your head what the PRB is, looking at that should settle it for you.

The first time I really came into contact with the PRBs was a big exhibition that happened to be in Montreal a couple of decades ago. You look at this stuff, and it strikes a chord. The point of the work is to create images of beauty that transcend narrative, and I'm no art historian, but it's safe to say that the birth of the PRB was the period when art was at its most narrative. A good painting was not only technically good, whatever that means, but also told a story in aid of moral uplift. Art was intended to improve the viewer. This is a hifalutin aesthetic development of the 19th Century that one can easily see roots of in the art of centuries before, which was aimed at the edification of illiterate masses: to wit, religious art. Churches did not display their art because they had bare walls they wanted to decorate: that art told the story behind the religion. The purpose of art, a question that has yet to be settled, seems to have been particularly at sixes and sevens in its earliest years of release from religious patronage. As artists get to paint what they want because it's no longer the church paying for it, what artists want to paint becomes very interesting. At some point they still have to sell the stuff, for one thing. But then again, artists tend to be extremely opinionated, even if those opinions are inchoate.

By the time we get to the nineteenth century, we seem to have a set academic idea of what art is supposed to do, at least in culturally trend-setting France, and most famously, the Impressionists rejected that idea and, well, the success of that rejection can be easily measured by the number of Monet postcards, t-shirts and doilies that are available in the gift shop. The PRBs rejected it another way, and a hundred and fifty years later these works are far from bank-busters at the auction houses, but they have a healthy following. In their exaltation of a very particular sort of female beauty they also carry a lot of anti-feminist baggage. That they didn't move the needle of art, so to speak, also works against them. They lead fairly directly to the Whistlers and Sargents of the world, regarded as something like art dandies rather than art giants (although, personally, they're at the top of my fave list, and I can't get enough of either and love discovering new caches of their work hidden off in places like Glasgow or, more accessibly in D.C. recently, the Freer and the Corcoran).

Still, I find so many of the PRB paintings haunting, which is what they were meant to be, and the fact that they still succeed at it a century and a half later is a tribute to their inherent strength as art, I don't care what the critics say.

The Delaware Art Museum has a fine walk-through of their exhibit. If you're interested in any of this, check it out.

More on the Beach Boys

Forgive me for obsessing over the Beach Boys, but I can't help myself. I've been listening like crazy lately to stuff old and new, and thinking a lot about music in general as a result. I'm working up some of those thoughts in a long essay, but that's going to take a while.

Meanwhile, look at these guys. I hate to say it, but as far as appearance is concerned, they sort of look like my monthly poker game, only with about ten years extra mileage. M-M-M-My Generation ain't what it used to be. But don't be deceived by their age, or Brian's perceived detachment, because once they start singing...

There's a couple of other live numbers, and a short interview as well, at the Rolling Stone site.

"God Only Knows" is Paul McCartney's favorite Beach Boys song? I can believe it. After all, as McCartney has said, if it wasn't for Pet Sounds, there wouldn't have been a Sergeant Pepper.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Riding off into the weekend, Far East edition

I love woodies!


Then again, you may be looking for more this weekend. It's been hot, at least in the northeast. So hot that you might think you're in hell. So why not Spend a lovely day with the kids at Thailand’s Hell torture theme park...

This is the sickest place I've ever seen. Enjoy (?) it.

See you Monday.

How to animate

Here's the step by step layers of a short scene from Tangled. (Fittingly enough, Brave is released today.)

This is via Mental Floss. I've seen lots of how-to's on animation over the years. First, of course, there was the drawing process, pre-computers. Then the totally computer-generated process. The Pixar DVDs are rich with extras on, say, Monsters, Inc.—animating fur—or Finding Nemo —the illusion of being under water. But this is the first thing I've seen that hints at the tedium behind the overall complexity of CGI.

Speaking of tedium, the most tedious process I've ever seen was in a documentary about the making of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Stop motion makes drawing or CGI look like speed sketching by comparison. 24 frames per second, with the tiniest movement for each frame. Whew...

More than anything else, watching the Nightmare documentary made me think that it was an immense leap of faith. Everything had to be right before they started—the idea, the story, the entire movie—and then they had to commit three years to it, come hell or high water.

Art isn't easy.

Billy WIlder

(I originally wrote this for my DJ blog. It still stands.)

Samuel Wilder was born on June 22, 1906, in Sucha, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His mother, who had lived in America for a while, called him Billy after one of her heroes, Buffalo Bill. He started out as a journalist, then began working in the movies. In 1934 he arrived in Hollywood to get away from the Nazis. Possessing both little money and little English, he went on to have one of the most successful writing/directing careers ever.

The thing about Wilder's movies is that so many of them have iconic scenes; Marilyn Monroe's dress in The Seven Year Itch may be the most famous minute in the movies (and one Monroe's then husband Joe DiMaggio wasn't terribly happy about). But so many others stand out too. For instance, the ending of Some Like It Hot: if Marilyn standing over the subway grate is the most famous minute in a movie, Jack Lemmon's Daphne and Joe E. Brown are in the most famous ending. (Check it out on YouTube: link.)

And maybe the most memorable walk down the flight of stairs was taken by Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard:

Still, for someone who learned English along the way, Wilder (and his various writing partners) had a way with words. This exchange between Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck is unforgettable, especially that last line. Raymond Chandler gets a screenwriting credit along with Wilder for this one:

"I wonder if you wonder..." And just because we can, here's one that Howard Hawks directed, written by Wilder and longtime partner Charles Brackett. Call it the Yum Yum scene (and be prepared to fall in love with either Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper, or both);

With scenes like that, any wonder why we like plundering YouTube?

Happy birthday, Billy Wilder. The man passed away in 2002, but his movies are still alive and well.

[Some of this I pulled from PBS's About Billy Wilder ]

They're back! LD resolutions part two

Let’s look at the rest of them. I’m not sure how the NFL decides the order in which to list them, but I’m just following them.

Resolved: On balance, the privatization of civil services serves the public interest.

What? I have little or no idea what this one is supposed to be about. Presumably it’s meant to be a thrust at limiting government, but civil services is an awfully broad phrase, and to be honest, I don’t recall anyone lately saying, Gosh darn it, I wish someone would privatize them thar civil services. Although guess the government is cheaper if there’s less of it. Whatever. As a debate topic, this would be all over the map. By the time any agreement about it comes along, it will be over. As for underlying value, anything the government does is civil service, isn’t it? Road building. The FDA. The DMV. You name it. Where’s the core moral/ethic business? Where’s the philosophy? There’s a reason Ron Paul isn’t the designated nominee…

Rating: 0

Resolved: On balance, labor unions in the United States are beneficial.

This is a perfectly fine resolution for Public Forum. For LD, there’s very little real philosophical meat. It’s a question of politics and business and economics, not of morals or ethics. It can certainly be argued, but why? The word “are” at least limits it to present day. I can’t wait to watch them debate this one in Wisconsin.

Rating: 2

Resolved: The United States ought to guarantee universal health care for its citizens.

Again, a fine resolution for PF with absolutely no LD underpinnings. It’s your politics vs my politics, and here I’ll agree with George Washington that parties just don’t work well.

Rating: 2

Resolved: Oppressive government is more desirable than no government.

I can hear the winds of the good old days blowing down the highway. This was a classic in its day, on so many counts. It’s about the old-time social contract stuff that used to be the meat and potatoes of LD, plus since both sides are bad, you have to run the less bad. On top of that, the advocacy is clear: either you’re one side or the other. 20 years ago this was the most beloved topic of all time. It was a serious contender for the northeast Modest Novice topic; we went with civil disobedience mostly because of the two negatives of this one, which seemed a little sophisticated for newbies. If you want to push LD back a generation or two, vote for this one for Jan-Feb. In the best of all possible worlds, this would be the NatNats topic.

Rating: Depends on the months. 8 for Sept-Oct or Nov-Dec, 6 for Jan-Feb (from a $ircuit bias), 10 for Mar-Apr or NatNats.

Resolved: Rehabilitation ought to be valued above retribution in the United States criminal justice system.

Another classic. This question is ever argued and never settled, and it forces one to draw on canonical texts and thinking. Downside is the interpretation on the neg that rehab ought to be valued the same, which is a Mickey Mouse approach if you ask me, but it will be popular nowadays no doubt, because it’s not illegit, just weak. (When did we arrive in a world where the best defense is not an offense but instead a bland demurral from the other guy's offense?) I don’t like this for newbies because it’s a bit off the mainstream of old-fashioned political philosophy, but it wouldn’t hurt them. Again, putting this in Jan-Feb would make $ircuit heads spin like crazy. Still, I like this topic, and have every other time we’ve debated it.

Rating: 7

So, overall, not a bad list, yet again. A couple of stinkers, no doubt one of which will get through, some oldies but goodies, and some nice new ideas. That's pretty good considering the ridiculous method with which NFL comes up with these things. We've talked about it often on TVFT, and no one inventing a system would invent this system. But the folks on the committee, nevertheless, do a great job under the circumstances. Now it's all up to the voters.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

They’re here! The new LD resolutions, that is.

Every year ten possible resolutions for the next season are posted after NatNats, then (a handful of) NFL members vote for their favorites in given time slots. Then everyone complains. But the VCA is well aware that around here, we don’t wait to complain until the last minute. We do it at the very first opportunity.

Let’s take a look.

Resolved: The constitutions of democratic governments ought to include procedures for secession.

I personally think of this one as sort of ridiculous, since I vaguely remember something called the Civil War in the US which allegedly put an end to secessionist ideas except for people who have two years of food, a vast collection of weaponry and a statue of the Holy Wingnut in their basement. Are we supposed to argue against the Union? What is this? 1863? For non-US, let’s see. How many countries even comprise entities capable of seceding, for one thing? The point of nation-ness is that it is absolute; suggesting that it isn’t, or shouldn’t be? Why? Anyhow, what particular moral/ethical issue is at stake here? I guess this is thought of as a pre-nup for the social contract, but inherent in democratic polity is that the government represent the people, end of story (or end of government). After all, Hobbes rationalized regicide as an acceptable social action in certain situations…

Rating (scale of 1 to 10): 0

Resolved: When making admissions decisions, public colleges and universities in the United States ought to favor members of historically disadvantaged groups.

SCOTUS said no to this, but that doesn’t make them right. I think SDO’Connor wrote the decision, if I recollect correctly. Anyhow, it’s an okay topic, asking the question whether present day populations carry some responsibility for the actions of previous populations, given that those actions can be socially determinate. On the other hand, I’m not excited about it because it seems sort of narrow, as written. And it allows minority vs non-minority debaters to get a little too dirty and potentially ad hominem.

Rating: 3

Resolved: United States Supreme Court justices should be subject to term limits.

This one is wonderfully nutty: did anyone read the SCOTUS article a week or two ago in the New Yorker? Get it now, just in case this one goes live. Anyhow, what we’re addressing here is very specifically the power of the court, which as it stands now is unbound aside from its inherent need for an internal majority. So the underlying subject is governmental power, and the voice therein of the population. Obviously as it stands now, the Prez picks ‘em according to partisan politics, Congress approves/disapproves them when they pretend not to even know there is such a thing as partisan politics, and then once they get in they put the wingnuts to shame with their unabashed partisan politics. I think this one will be fun, mostly.

Rating: 8

Resolved: The United States is justified in intervening in the internal political processes of other countries to attempt to stop human rights abuses.

Let’s see. The wording, because of all the clauses and limitations, means that people will actually have to argue whether the US is justified in intervening in the internal political processes of other countries to attempt to stop human rights abuses. Right. The point is, you can’t try to push the rez off the track with some wording mumbo jumbo. Normally I demur from wordiness, but here it's necessary. The rez requires an underlying argument that the US has/hasn’t international supra-sovereignty responsibilities (or that everyone does, and simply that the US has the wherewithal), and it requires that you know about the hows of intervention and the wheres of human rights abuses. Can you say Jan-Feb? My only demurral on it is its inherent complexity for novice debaters.

Rating: 9

Resolved: In a democracy, voting ought to be compulsory.

Voting is compulsory in Australia, for example, and much of South America. The rez broaches the basic areas of civic responsibility, social contract, etc., etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. Plus, it’s only 8 words. In other words, absolutely perfect, especially for Sept-Oct or NatNats.

Rating: 10 (5 for Jan-Feb).

The next five next time.

The Automat

This is like a master's course in film, music and general culture:

First of all, there's the automat. Horn and Hardart closed the last one, on the corner of 3rd and 42nd right down from the Daily News Building, in 1991. As a kid going into Manhattan with my parents, the need to eat at the automat bordered on the obsessive. What kid wouldn't want to put coins into a slot to open a little window to pull out lunch? On the flip side, it was cheap, so my parents got to save a few bucks, so I never heard them complain about it. Gourmet tip: the chicken pot pie, regardless of what Ray Milland has to say in the clip.

The clip is accurate, by the way (except, I guess, for the Day of the Locusts ending). That is exactly what the automats were like (for further details, you could also read this Times article: apparently the NY Public Library is rebuilding the automat for a "lunch" exhibit). If you go onto YouTube, you'll find a series of automat videos, but if you ask me this is the most interesting. Here's the rundown:

The movie overall is one of the great albeit lesser sung classics of screwball comedy.

It's got Jean Arthur, one of the most astonishing voices in the history of film. I could listen to her all day.

The script is by comedy god Preston Sturges. If you haven't seen all his films, drop everything and do so, then wonder why Adam Sandler ever got a job in the same town.

The song in the background is also called "Easy Living," by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, and it became a jazz classic.

Ray Milland was the first Welsh actor to win the Academy Award (for The Lost Weekend), but honestly, who cares?

How I Spent Part 1 of My Summer Vacation, Part Four

The other thing we did was walk around gardens. This is more major than it sounds.

One of the DuPonts bought this place called Longwood, which already had an arboretum of sorts in it, and turned it into what is simply one of the greatest gardens in the world. You name it, they’ve got it. You want trees? They’ve got trees. Cabbage plants? Dancing fountains at night with Gershwin music? Carillons? Norwegian stave churches (sort of)? Conservatories (plural)? Old house? Student competitions? A really good restaurant? You got ‘em. Also, there was an art installation of light, which translates in one case to a forest floor covered with 125,000 fiber optic balls changing colors in waves, looking like something out of a fairyland, only more magical. There were other works, each as arresting. It will be there all summer, if you’re in the Philadelphia area.

Winterthur, which I gather was the point of going to this region in the first place, is some other DuPont’s house, which has the architectural distinction of baby’s first Duplo set, although it does have something like 200 rooms, each of which is filled with antiques. We walked through about 10 of them, with the most boring docent ever. Even I knew more than she did, which isn’t saying much. This particular DuPont was a horticulturist and planted all sorts of natural gardens, which were okay, but pretty punk compared to Longwood. Not that they were necessarily in competition by any means, either directly or conceptually, but, well, there you are. The place was, in the end, not exactly a disappointment, but more of an, okay, that was nice, what else have you got. So it goes.

I’ve got plenty of photographs that I’m editing down to a manageable number, and I’ll post them probably next week. Unfortunately the light show stuff was hard to capture; it would have been the high point.

The next vacation is later in the summer in the opposite direction. Plans are still in development; I’ll keep you posted after the fact.

Do-It-Yourself House Building

Yes, sir. You like to work with your hands? You've got a tool set getting dusty? You want to share in the American dream of owning your own home?

Sears Roebuck to the rescue.

From 1908 to 1940, Sears sold house kits. That's right, house kits. Over 20 tons of materials would be shipped first by rail and then by truck directly to your (future) doorstep, ready for assembly. Wikipedia says that folks would put the houses together by gathering family and friends in an act of construction similar to an old-time barn-raising, which sounds about right because I don't care how handy you are, putting one of these suckers together by yourself probably would have taken about, oh, a lifetime.

The Betsy Ross (Four rooms and bath!) is one of the cheaper models, at $1691. That's about $23,000 in today's dollars, still quite a bargain:

One of my favorite sites, Retronaut, has a whole bunch of these from the 1923 catalog. Today, the houses built from these kits have a lot of extra cachet, and often sell for a premium in their local markets. As a person who can't screw in a nail, I am in awe of this phenomenon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How I Spent Part 1 of My Summer Vacation, Part Three

A couple of quick notes.

First, there is stuff on Twitter that is not here. If you don’t follow @jimmenick, then look to the right to keep track of posts. The stuff that’s not here is stuff that is self-explanatory, and doesn’t need me yakking all over it.

Second, yes, the iPad can take photographs. But no, you don’t want to use it as your vacation camera. It’s not so much that you’ll look like an idiot, although you will, but it means that you’ll be lugging your iPad with you everywhere, which makes you even more of an idiot. I believe that a few years ago there was an iteration of anvils that had built-in cameras, but you never saw blacksmiths on vacations taking pictures with them, did you? Jeesh.

And yes, I did tinker with the design a bit. And finally got around to inserting SEO functionality. Took me long enough…

Anyhow, back to the vacation. From DC we drove up to Kennett Square, Pa, which is either DuPont or Wyeth country, depending on your point of view.

It was Howard Pyle who started the Brandywine School. He was a classic book illustrator (that’s his illustration on the right) and he opened a school to teach others, including N.C. Wyeth. The Brandywine River Museum was our first stop, and Pyle is prominently featured. Then again, so are the Wyeths, who are, as you quickly find out, reckoned by the dozens. The chief ones are N.C., the illustrator whose non-illustration work was a revelation, his son Andrew (Christina’s World and the Helgas being the most famous), and Andrew’s son Jamie (who is still alive and active). You get the impression there’s an art gene or something, because these are the cream of the cop, but there's always another lurking around every corner. The rap against all of them, especially Andrew given his time, was their refusal to go abstract. I wonder. We were walking along one night at dusk, down a path dimly lighted by lanterns, surrounded by tall meadow on both side, and although I tried to photograph it, we realized that only an artist’s hand could really capture the scene, not literally but conceptually, albeit still representationally. In other words, there is still a need for artists to create representational art of some sort, where nothing else will do. Granted, some hyper-realistic oil styles were rendered obsolete by the creation of photography, but they are not the only styles available to artists. Can any photographic portrait grab a viewer by the eyeballs as much as a John Singer Sargent? Dream on.

Anyhow, this was a pretty great museum. I’m a great fan of illustration, especially from the Golden Age (when magazines like Sat Eve Post were the coin of the realm), and there was plenty, plus as I say lots of non-ill work. Great illustration work is still being done nowadays, by the way, although more often than not with computer tools. The DJ art director used to be a member of the Society of Illustrators in NYC, and we used to go to the annual show, and some of this stuff would blow me away. The narrative goal of illustration, in aid of the written word, is very specific, and when it works, it really works. A lot of illustrators separate their illustration work from their gallery work, though, as if the former is cheap and the latter is high-toned. N.C.W. was certainly indicative of that three generations ago. (He was a student of Pyle's, by the way, which is how all of this connects.)

There were more Brandywiners at nearby Wilmington’s Delaware Art Museum, plus the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite works on the continent, so as far as art was concerned, the area was a strong recommend, if you like that sort of thing. And since I do like that sort of thing, I was more than satisfied.

The other big attraction is DuPontiana, which I’ll get to tomorrow.

Jobs 3, "Very, very special thanks"

Steve Jobs, while he was working with NeXT, poured endless amounts of money into Pixar in hopes of selling its design hardware and software to consumers at one level or another, and as the rewards from the company were not forthcoming, there were bunches of cutbacks of staff. But Jobs and the animator John Lasseter, who was the least important aspect of the overall Pixar business when Jobs bought into it, made a connection, and somehow Jobs kept supporting Lasseter as the rest of it didn't pan out.

And Lasseter and his team made this:

It won the Academy Award. Check the very end credit.

Oh, yeah. It brought Lasseter, who had been raised at Disney, back into the Mouse's eye. And the rest, well, you know it without even reading the book.

The E.T. sequel

How have I managed for so long not to see this?

You realize, of course, that if E.T. had been made three years ago, this year we really would be watching this sequel, or something very much like it. As a matter of fact, Spielberg and E.T. writer Melissa Mathison did indeed write a treatment for a sequel where the E.T.s were evil, which is about as good an idea as Harper Lee going on the Food Network and publishing a book, To Cook a Mockingbird. (William Kotzwinkle, the unlikely author of the novelization of the original film, did publish a sequel, but not with evil E.T.s, thank God.)

This is a great story, all laid out in 'E.T.' 30th Anniversary: The Sequel That Never Was and Three Decades of Cameos. It's catnip for E.T. fans, especially those who saw The Phantom Menace on opening day...

Brian Wilson

Brian was born on June 20, 1942, and turns 70 today.

That's from a documentary predating the long-lost Smile album, which is now finally available (and probably the best Beach Boys album ever, and that include Pet Sounds, my former best Beach Boys album ever, so we're not just whistling "Dixie" here). [Via] I only acquired the album a couple of weeks ago; even though I know all the songs, and I have the solo recreated version Brian put together, this is the keeper, with the original tracks by the original BBs.

Last year on this date I posted this, containing three videos, including one from Orange Crate Art, a relatively recent and ridiculously underrated album Brian made with his Smile collaborator, Van Dyke Parks. And of course, right now Brian is on the road with his old band, which has a new and fine album out, and after all these years, and lots of troubles, Brian is still hanging in there.

Happy birthday, and many more.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Elephants is elephants

In Washington I saw two elephants (excluding Republicans). Hard to believe that they're the same creatures. I guess you could say that the Disney version sort of softens the image a bit. It's from the original Disneyland ride, if you're wondering. (The one on the top, that is, not the one on the bottom.)


Fire plaque

Here's an example:


How I Spent Part 1 of My Summer Vacation, Part Two

One thing about Washington: you don’t go there for the variety of architecture. After having spent time recently in Toronto, which is falling over itself to build major, signature buildings, most noticeably the CN Tower, once the world’s tallest freestanding structure, and Las Vegas, which is a living textbook analysis of postmodernism and semiotics as applied to structure, Washington is one boring ponderous neoclassical pile after another. Occasionally there’s a neo-Gothic church somebody snuck in, but mostly it’s one Greek column after the other. There’s a reason for this, of course. It was built as a capitol city, and the new nation wanted to impress people with its permanence, and what better way is there to do that than build ancient Greek palaces? The birthplace of democracy, etc., etc., etc., and Greek it is. The major alternative, Gothic, was the architecture of the Palace of Westminster; obviously, that would not do.

On the other hand, the official monuments are a bit of a mix. Sure, Lincoln and Jefferson are all columns (although TJ at least has the sense of the Palladian, which itself has neoclassic roots), and GW is an obelisk (Egyptian classicism, but the word itself is Greek), but there are major exceptions. The Vietnam Memorial, for instance, is a modern as could be, a slash in the ground and engraved names. The FDR Memorial is virtually his life story in narrative of statuary and words and water: I loved it. MLK is a white representational slab of granite drawn from the words “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” I have mixed feelings, I think because I wish it were something more modern in approach. It certainly is different from the other memorials, though. So there is some variety around, not to mention the mix of architecture in the mall structures, ranging from (yawn) neoclassical pile to the pure round modernism of the Hirshhorn and the zippy glass modernism of the Air & Space. Pretty much you get your greatest variety of eye candy in a very small radius, in other words. But as for the federal buildings—meh.

I did get a kick out of the Pension Building, home of the National Building Museum. Here’s the outside:

and the inside:

What’s not to like?

On the other hand, we visited the old town in Alexandria, and that was a bit of a hoot, with some just basically old buildings that are always fun to see. I’ll eventually put up some pix on FB so you’ll see what I mean. A lot of the old buildings have plaques on them indicating that they’ve paid their fire insurance, so the fire brigade could feel free in extinguishing any blazes that might erupt. (The ones without plaques must have burned down…)

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in the Potomac. We cruised down to GW’s place, on the presumption that it would be nice to take a boat ride, and that the Potomac would be either interesting or pretty. One forgets that one lives on the Hudson; as far as I know, there is no Potomac River art style. Oh, well. It beat driving around on DC’s ridiculously busy roads, even if it couldn’t take on the Hudson. How many rivers can?

Los Lobos concert

I was looking for something else entirely, but gave in to this instead. I love these guys.

Skip the chitchat and go to 1:30ish:

If you ask me, their version on the indispensible Stay Awake was better, but this one will do.

Door-to-door Part Two

Come to think of it, my family had door-to-door experience on both sides, the knocker and the knockee.

In 1960, my mother took on temporary employment as a census taker. Basically a stay-at-home mom, this was the perfect job for her, as she got to stalk around the neighborhood knocking on people’s doors and asking how many people there were hanging from the rafters. This was back in the day when the rafters were pretty empty (illegal immigrants were barely a glint in Arizona’s eye) so there wasn’t much to it, but the Constitution demanded it and it earned her a little extra spending money, so it seemed like the good deal. The problem was, not everyone was there when you knocked on the door, which meant going back. Therein lay the rub. My mother, who is about as extroverted and people-oriented as a squid, could get through the first level in the daylight, but going back, usually at night (even then she was fairly anti-nocturnal, a trait that grew in proportion over the years as her vision deteriorated and she began comparing night driving to a Mars landing), was beyond the pale, Constitution or no Constitution. This forced my father into the fray, he being the opposite of the squid personality, a friendlier and more outgoing fish by far. The two of them would go out, and eventually all the doors got knocked on, and the Constitution was upheld.


My own door-to-doorness was, first, the regular business every year of selling chances on a turkey, our annual grammar school fundraiser. I imagine it was every grammar school’s annual fundraiser. You could buy a raffle ticket for a quarter, five for a dollar. Given the price of turkeys nowadays, which isn’t all that steep, unless there’s been an amazing population explosion of gobblers since my youth this wasn’t all that great an investment. Worse, all the kids in school would get their raffle books at the same time, and each of us would stop at every house on our way home that first day (we had no school buses back then, being forced like everyone at the time to walk five miles uphill in the snow in both directions) to sell the stay-at-homes chances on a turkey. This was a mug’s game, because once the first kid got in, the rest of us were shut out. And I’d bet anything the locals got advance word from the school that the tickets were coming, and most of the time when you knocked on the door there was no response whatever, except perhaps the tiniest movement of a curtain on the second floor as the natives hid in fear and trembling. (This is much the same way door-to-door censuses are today, where the natives aren’t exactly natives, but that’s a different story.)

Needless to say, the most chances were sold by parents who took the books to their jobs and shamed their coworkers into buying them. The same holds true today with Girl Scout cookies, which has built an entire entrepreneurial empire of children based on the fact that the children aren’t entrepreneurs, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. For me, the sad thing was that my father’s office was small, and the number of people he could shame into buying chances on a turkey that they didn’t want was pretty small, which means that I never won a prize for selling the most chances. And yes, there was a prize; this being a Catholic school, there was always a reward for good works, although the prize was probably a missal or a collection of holy pictures or something, I can’t remember exactly what, having never partook. Childhood for me was, alas, cruel.

On the other hand, I did luck into a gig at some point collecting back subscription fees for the Catholic News. People would subscribe to the paper, but stop paying for it, but the Pope kept sending them weekly issues anyhow. Then kids like me, dusty-faced urchins looking like poor starving orphans (which actually wasn’t me, but go with me here), would appear at your door with an Oliver Twist plea for paying the back funds. I was paid a share of the proceeds, plus some people tipped, although why they tipped me I can’t say, given that I didn’t deliver the paper, just the arrears. Guilt, I guess. I mean, it was the Catholic News; what was wrong with these people, stealing it from the Vatican in the first place? This proved to be a lucrative but sadly isolated venture in my career. I had a sheet of names and addresses and amounts owed (some of them going back for years), and over the space of a couple of weekends I cleared it as many names as possible (except for the lurkers behind the second-floor curtains), and made the most money I had ever made so far in my young life. I learned a great lesson from that, namely, that if you’re in the right place at the right time you can get a quick gig and make a few bucks and never look back. It’s the right place and the right time that are key.

Jobs 2, NeXT

There's this wonderful alternate bio of Jobs on YouTube...

After he left Apple (here's my first post), Jobs went on to NeXT, which he envisioned as a high-end computer for the educational market. This video shows him at work, and shows all those young folks he had stolen hired from the Mac team to work with him on it. You also get to see the strikingly spare NeXT offices, and the high-priced designer of the corporate logo.

I love the start of this with Jobs picking carrots. He was a diet nut, vegan as often as not, and there's stories in Isaacson's book of Jobs thinking that his wonderful diet was a substitute for soap. Going by the smell emanating from his unwashed body, apparently it wasn't. You also get to see that he's already discovered the black turtleneck.

NeXT was ultimately a disaster. It was a striking black cube, horribly overpriced (if you wanted a printer and a disk drive, figure on spending about ten grand), proprietary, and more evolutionary than revolutionary. The logo was the best thing about it, in hindsight.

At that same time, Jobs bought a controlling interest in a company that George Lucas wanted to get rid of to help pay for his difficult divorce. That company had created a computer that rendered incredible images, which is why Jobs wanted in; the company was Pixar, named after that artistic rendering computer. Jobs intended to use its resources to sell Pixar-like computers and software. Animation was merely a demonstration medium for the company at the time. The lamp was still to come.


If you think back really long and hard, sometimes you can come up with things from your youth that seem to be from so long ago that they must be from someone else's youth altogether. For instance, I distinctly remember the show "Gunsmoke" when I was a kid. Except it wasn't the long-running television show that I remember, it's the radio show that my mother used to listen to before we even owned a television. Come to think of it, I remember a time when we didn't own a television, and then we did, and it was a big hit and all the neighbors came over to see it. The great thing (?) about early televisions was that every now and then they sort of blew up: some vacuum tube or other would burn out, which was no big deal, but it smelled like the doors of hell had been opened, and was usually accompanied by a bit of smoke and, of course, loss of television. You'd call the television repairman, and he'd come over and fix things, and in my memory the tv repairman was our most regular visitor, but that may just be my imagination. Do they still have tv repairmen?

I bring this up because I was looking at this article on the Fuller Brush Company. Now that brought me back, because I distinctly remember that our home town was lousy with Fuller Brush men, door-to-door salesmen who literally went door-to-door selling their wares. Even when I was the proverbial knee high, I wondered about the economics of brush sales, which sounded woefully penny ante, but the Fuller Brush company in one iteration or another has been around for over a hundred years, and as far as I could tell in my research, still sells door-to-door to this day. College graduates looking for employment in these bleak times should take notice. Fashions come and go, but people will always need brushes.

We also had a milkman for a while, who if I remember correctly left his wares on our fire escape, but that part may just be my imagination. The Avon company was in the next town over, so we had our fair share of Avon ladies who not only sold cosmetics but no doubt also acted as escorts to the Fuller Brush men. They certainly sound like a perfect pairing. And yes, we had the odd encyclopedia salesman, and I remember distinctly having an encyclopedia, so that guy did good work. I like to think I also remember a knife sharpener going up and down the streets too, and I think that's true. Then again, I also remember Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler, but that may just be because I've seen Oklahoma too many times.

It's interesting the things that pass through your mind, if you only let them.

Monday, June 18, 2012

How I Spent Part 1 of My Summer Vacation, Part One

I have this thing about traveling and talking about it while I’m traveling. I realize that life doesn’t exist unless it’s tweeted or facebooked or foursquared, or all three at once, but I’m afraid that if I start telling everybody the Chez is empty and available, it will be taken over by debate ruffians just wanting to get their hands on my classic copy of Black’s Law Dictionary to see if it really exists, not to mention the Speecho-American ruffians who will drink all my liquor and get my cat pregnant. (Poor Tiki—I don’t think pregnancy would suit him.) Maybe it’s a generational thing. I can actually go somewhere and not immediately report on it. Maybe it’s that I can’t keep my comments down to a small number of characters, or at least I don’t want to. A lot of what I do doesn’t warrant comment, but what does, warrants a sufficient amount thereof. Hence a blog with no limits. Read it at your own risk.

The vacation was a week long. It originally was planned to cover the states of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, but ultimately didn’t. I really wanted to see Annapolis, but not enough to actually go there, if you know what I mean. By the same token, I really want to see West Point, which I can practically walk to from the Chez, and I don’t do that either. It is not any sort of antimilitary bent: far from it, not to mention my fascination with the history of the places. It’s just that when push comes to shove, I don’t shove. So, the first thing we didn’t see on our trip was Annapolis, which was going to be our first overnight stop. And I don’t have the photographs to prove it.

Instead we went directly to DC, planning to day-trip from there, although obviously the Annapolis day trip was lost somewhere in the shuffle. We arrived in the middle of a heat wave, and spent a couple of days walking slowly and drinking lots of water, but not so much as you’d notice. We hit various spots of interest, like the Building Museum, Smithsonian American Art museum, the Corcoran, Renwick, National Gallery, FDR memorial, TJ memorial (which I’d never been in before), etc., etc., etc. It was the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts, who took over the mall in force. Honestly, they reminded me a lot of Speecho-Americans, only younger. They were clogging the Metro, I’ll tell you that. I’ll also tell you that we never were in a Metro experience that wasn’t, in some way, broken or failing. Trains break down more often than not, finding a working escalator wins you free drinks at the nearest pub, and anyone who can actually understand the announcements is instantly worshipped as a god by the rest of the passengers who are mostly wondering if, in fact, the announcements are in English. I would say not, from my experience. If you begin thinking that the New York subway system is splendid by comparison, then you know you’re in trouble. Hell, the Kandahar subway system is probably splendid by comparison, and that’s when they’re bombing it by mistake.

We also boated over to Mount Vernon to see the General. A nice way to get there, floating down the Potomac. When we arrived there were more Girl Scouts in clog mode, needless to say, but it is a place one must visit. At the gravesite, they give you roses to lay down in homage. I sort of got choked up, I’ll admit. The General is one of my heroes (as he should be one of any American’s heroes), and actually paying one’s respects, even two hundred years later, seems fitting.

We were in DC from Friday night (who doesn’t love driving down 95 during rush hour?) through Thursday morning. Then it was onward to Pennsylvania and Maryland, about which, later.

Four hours of your life, saved

Anybody plugged into the Disneysphere, and plenty of people not plugged into the Disneysphere, are aware that this was a big week in Disney history. A bunch of years ago the Mouse opened Disney's California Adventure, an adjunct to Disneyland. In essence, they turned the parking lot into a second gate, and while there were a few hits within, like Soarin', for the most part the park was a critical bomb. Fast forward a few years, and mix in John Lasseter, and the next thing you know, last weekend DCA reopened with the addition of Cars Land, and it's the greatest thing since sliced whole wheat. There's three new Cars-based attractions, plus the hits from the past, and new theming to connect the park to the arrival of Walt back in 1923.

They're breaking down the doors.

Last weekend, there was a four-hour wait for Radiator Springs Racers, the E ticket of the new rides. Four hours? You could get in a real car and drive to Vegas in that amount of time. Who stands in line for four hours?

In essence, the ride is a reimagining of Epcot's General Motors Test Track, with Cars characters. The theming is amazing, with a whole mountain and a city and whatnot. And in the spirit of saving you the trouble of flying to California (or, if you're already there, daring the freeways) and waiting on line for four hours, we offer two videos. The ride bifurcates, and you either go through Luigi's Tire Shop or Ramone's Paint Shop. Here's videos of both. They're not professional, but they're not bad.

Too bad the DisAd13 won't be there!



Watch this sucker:

This is probably the most famous commercial ever. It ran once, during the 1984 Superbowl. It was directed by Ridley Scott, chosen because of Blade Runner. He hired bunches of real skinheads as extras, and a real discus thrower (who was not a skinhead). It won every award on the planet.

Now watch this. It's Steve Jobs giving the keynote address at Apple where he introduced the Mac, and the commercial.

I mean, look at Jobs's face. He is the smuggest, cockiest bastard ever. And in 1983 he already knew how to work a room, and he hadn't even come up with "one more thing" yet.

Oh yeah. A couple of things. The Apple board wanted to squelch the commercial, which they hated, and asked the ad company to sell back the Superbowl time. The Mac, when it was introduced, was sort of a flop because it was so underpowered. And not long after this Jobs was ousted from the company that he had originally helped create.

I mention all this because I'm in the middle of the Isaacson Steve Jobs biography. For someone like me, who bought an Apple II+ in 1981, this is the story of my (tech) life. I feel like I've known Jobs forever, which is maybe why I was affected by his passing last year. When you read the book, you realize that he wasn't exactly perfect (in fact, he was at times a miserable son of a bitch and a horrible human being), but he did have an incredible impact on the world. If you were wondering whether to read the book, then you should. Simple as that.

Now what?

The attentive member of the VCA will have noticed the melding in of the Grinwout’s posts, which I think I threatened to do, or at least mentioned I was contemplating. Here’s the story.

I like doing CL, obviously, and have little problem filling it up with stuff during the season. The stuff that I fill it up with is, obviously, debate-oriented, although I have been known to go off on tangents, some more tangential than others. It’s one thing to write up a history of art as narrative (“Caveman,” of course, which I still love) and another thing to write up my personal experiences going to Disneyland. Still, it’s all of a piece, and once you start down the road of regular blogging, you write whatever is foremost in your mind at the time. During the summer, I wish I was at a Disney park, and there’s no debate going on, so there you are. No one ever complained, so I kept at it.

I’m quite satisfied with the readership numbers for CL, which are tracked for me by Google. Plus I know there’s untrackable subsidiary readership in RSS feeds and the like, so as far as I’m concerned, I’m reaching a number of people that makes it worth bothering in the first place. While I do write this because I like to write, I wouldn’t do it if there weren’t people who wanted to read it. Instead, I would do something useful like buy a high-end PC and play online games in my spare time. Or watch more TV. Or raise chickens.

I did at one point develop the habit of RSS reading, concentrating on debate-related materials, which I then, via automation inherent in Google’s Reader, posted over to what I called the Coachean Feed. I did this for a while, getting myself into the habit of following and organizing feeds, but without a lot of traction as far as readership. For a while I merged the Feed into the CL blog, and got a couple of complaints, and stopped.

Meanwhile, for the DJ, I wanted to create content to support the series I publish, and began blogging there, eventually evolving into an annotated link blog. I did this independently for months to prove that it could be done, then for a while did it on the DJ website. Unfortunately, the supporting materials on the website (marketing stuff) never materialized, and the DJ website people wanted something different, and there you are. (Actually, the DJ is getting its act together, and doing what I wanted them to do in the first place, so it may be panning out in the long run).

Because I was doing so much Feed/Blogging on entertainment subjects, I lost the time to do the Coachean Feed, plus Google’s Reader was modified so that the automatic part wasn’t working the same, so that fell by the wayside. Meanwhile, I so got into the habit of the entertainment feed/blog, that when the DJ cancelled it, a few weeks later I started it on my own. I figured I’d keep it separate from CL, and therefore baptized it Grinwout’s. I created a Twitter account which got direct feeds from the blog as they were written, and kept it as a separate entity. Eventually I created a Facebook page for it as well. The thing is, the Grinwout’s type of content has sort of become something I do, for whatever reason, but mostly because I like doing it. It gives me a chance to write about other things, and to explore videos and music and stuff that I like doing. It has become part of the Menickean mental makeup slash output.

The problem was that having it separate from my main line, which is CL, seemed to be more trouble than it was worth. It’s a secondary brand, so to speak, and doesn’t have the oomph to allow it to stand on its own. And why should it stand on its own? After all, it’s still all Menickean crap. And CL, for better or worse, is Menickean crap from top to bottom. More Menickean crap would seem to fit right in.

So, the plan is to merge Grinwout’s and CL. For the time being, G posts will be written by Grinwout’s, and CL posts will be written by me. I’m stopping the @Grinwouts and eliminating automatic posting to Twitter, but I will kick myself in the pants and use @jimmenick to support Grinwout’s publishing. And I’ll let the Facebook page I created for Grinwout’s languish; it’s not hurting anyone, after all. I realize that if you really want to get stuff out there, you need to connect every which way, but I’d rather use FB for my own personal stuff, at least for now. We’ll see.

If all of this annoys you no end, keep it to yourself, you spalpeen! Who needs you and your negative worldview? Otherwise, let’s see what happens. It’s the beginning of a great adventure, as Lou Reed would put it.