29 November 2006

It's All in the Mind

I first heard about the Antikythera Mechanism (pictured) when I went through my "UFO" phase in my early teens. I read about it in one of those books that try to explain away all the great achievements of early humans -- pyramids, Mayan structures, etc. -- by saying extraterrestrials did them.

It was really hard for me to put any stock in all those theories. Early human civilization was not just populated by grunting rock throwers. Such early civilizations created the screw mechanism, perspective in painting, early thoughts against the inherent wrong of slavery -- and other such heady stuff.

Not hard to believe was that some great mind, or assemblage of minds, created the earliest-known mechanism that is something like a computer: the Antikythera Mechanism.

New research, discussed in this New York Times article explains the probable uses of the mechanism: that of a method for determining the position of the moon and planets, possibly for use in the planting and harvesting of crops.

Although it is true another thousand years would pass before the next such mechanism would appear in the historical record, that does not in any way mean humans could not have created it.

28 November 2006

The Other Man Behind Charlie Brown

It's always fun to learn something new about something as iconic as Charlie Brown, the Peanuts, Snoopy, and that pathetic little xmas tree.

We've been to the Charles M. Schultz Museum, seen all the television specials. I even have that fabulous book about the making of the 1965 television special.

But, even though he wrote some of my favorite music, I never knew much about Vincent Guaraldi, the man who wrote the music for the first Charlie Brown television show -- and the next 16 before his death in 1976.

NPR today did a very interesting little tribute to Guaraldi, with some background on how he came to work on the special. You can find that interview here.

More about Vincent Guaraldi will be found here.

More about the museum here.

The book can be found here.

27 November 2006


We watched an otherwise wretched show the other day on HGTV:

"Toy Fair 2006" originated at some huge venue in New York City, and featured the kind of garbage that passes for "toys" nowadays.

Okay, there was one really keen toy: the newly redesigned "Ken," of Ken and Barbie fame (pictured); but most of the "toys" were just expensive, many-batteries-required junk that will be played with for about five minutes on xmas morning and then junked.

That general criticism aside, one thing that really pissed me off was the blatant sexism by the show's hosts (who, out of respect for people who did not have the advantages I had growing up, will remain unnamed): the football games were "for the boys" and the computer software fashion design program was something "every girl would love."

In this modern day and age, why is it that people continue to insist boys do activities related to sports or the military, and girls do computer programs about make-up? Why are we still such a sexist society? Why do we still insist on screwing up so many people by forcing them to play roles that just maybe they don't want to play?

23 November 2006

22 November 1994

Matt and I have had a couple requests to tell the story of how we met. The short version follows:

There were two daily newspapers in Phoenix (those were the good old days) owned by the same company, and housed in the same building -- although that is not directly related to how we met. Matt was a graphic designer for the morning paper and worked in the East Valley office, and I was the theater critic for the afternoon paper working downtown.

I was assigned to review a Broadway touring company show, and when I went to the theater that Tuesday night, Matt was sitting next to me. I always made a point of being very social to people I sit by when at the theater, so Matt and I struck up a conversation.

When the show ended, I had to get to the newspaper to write my review. I told Matt that I was going to a movie the next night with some theater friends, gave him my telephone number, and told him to call me if he wanted to join us. He called, he joined us, we all went out for snacks after the film. I suggested Matt and I see another film Friday night, if he was interested.

The next day was Thanksgiving.

The next day, Friday, Matt called me. We met for a film, went to a local diner for a late-night snack, and started seeing each other regularly after that.

Our relationship built gradually; it was not a bolt from the blue -- although, when we met, I thought he was really cute and clever. (I found out later he had been really sick that night, and almost did not go to the show!)

It was a bit cumbersome to get together because Matt worked days and I worked nights. We often would only be able to see each other when he would join me after work as I attended a theater assignment. (With the exception of that first Thanksgiving, we have at least spoken to each other by phone, if we could not be together, every single day since the day we met.)

22 November 2006


When I lived in San Francisco in the 1980s, I knew several gay couples that had been together for what-seemed-to-me-then like forever: three years, eight years, and -- gasp!-- ten years. These were the exceptions, of course, because I also knew gay couples that had been together about ten minutes and were celebrating their longevity.

In the years since, I marvelled at the really long term gay relationships: Raymond Burr and Robert Benevides were together 35 years, Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas were together nearly 40 years, William Haines and Jimmy Shields were together nearly 47 years. And I know a lot of non-famous people who lived quiet lives of love and devotion even longer.

Today marks 12 years for Matt and I -- and it truly does seem like only last week that we met.

Here's to another 50, HBSP!

19 November 2006

You Can't Go Wong

The "New York Times" has an interesting article on one of our favorite directors, Wong Kar-Wai. This Hong Kong director has made lots of films, but is finally making his first American film.

If you want to see one of the most romantic, and most visually stunning films ever made, rent his "In the Mood for Love." Totally awesome.

18 November 2006

A (cough) Clear and (cough) Present Danger

Welcome to sunny, balmy, Phoenix where the current temperature is 82 degrees. While it is snowing in the east, and raining in the Pacific northwest, it is warm here -- too warm.

But before you pack your bags and head to the airport for a little of that warmth, please remember one thing: the air pollution is really bad today. In fact, we are under a high pollution advisory for the second day in a row.

Yes, this silver lining has a cloud -- a brown cloud of noxious fumes, exhaust, dust and lots of other stuff unhealthy to breathe.

It's unfortunate that this is not unusual. Whenever it is cold out, and Phoenix is under a high pressure system, we experience what is known as a cold-air inversion: where the heavier cold air sinks onto the top of our city, holding in place the lighter warm air. The warm air (and the pollution it contains) is trapped -- and so are we.

Please remember this -- and have a little sympathy for we who have no snow to shovel -- when you hear the weathermen and weatherwomen talk about how nice and sunny Phoenix is this time of year.

13 November 2006

An Arm and a Leg

Over the weekend, I saw a fairly interesting movie from 1944 called "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo": a dramatized version of the first bombing raid of Tokyo in 1942. I am also reading about this event, and the people involved in it, in a book called "Flyboys." Pretty grim reading.

However, this post is not about that book or movie; rather, a scene from the movie in which one of the pilots has to have his leg amputated because of injuries when his plane crashed.

The character was going on and on about how he did not want his wife to know about the amputation, and hesitated about his options when he was told it was either his leg or his life.

While I certainly don't think losing an arm or a leg is any kind of picnic, I cannot imagine hesitating if given those options. I am not my leg or my arm, I am my brain.

Could this character's concerns have stemmed from the fact that prosthetics were not as good then (compared to now), or were such people really so badly discriminated against just because they had a fake leg?

I remember an early scene in another war-related movie, "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946), when real-life double-amputee Harold Russell returns home for the first time after his injury. When his mom sees his missing hands she has a look on her face that basically says "Our lives are over, his life is over, we might just as well kill ourselves now."

Whatever the context back then, I am just glad people with disabilities are not looked at like such pariahs anymore.

10 November 2006

11/10/2006 - Welcome to the Afterlife

Okay. Here we are.

According to that supermarket tabloid, the world as we knew it ended yesterday. So, I am presuming this to be the "afterlife" -- which seems surprisingly like the "old" life we used to lead.

I have not yet seen any of my dead loved ones, I do not hear any har
ps or flutes, and the air pollution today is kinda bad. So, is this heaven? hell? purgatory? I can't really tell.


08 November 2006

11/09/2006 - Countdown

Just a reminder that, according to that supermarket tabloid, the world will be ending sometime tomorrow -- or, for our friends in the southern hemisphere, sometime later today.

03 November 2006

Cafeteria Style

There is something particularly romantic about a cafeteria. Don't ask me what it is because I can't tell you. Maybe it's related to the automat, the first cousin to the cafeteria.

The automat (top) was the wonderful invention where, for the right amount of nickels, you could open a tiny door to a piece of cherry pie, some mashed potatoes, or a nice piece of ham. Although considered somewhat plain and boring, during the Depression, or the war, the automat was the poor-man's fancy restaurant, the working woman's only square meal of the day.

The cafeteria, invented sometime in the late years of the 19th century, was all of this and a little more: a buffet set up wherein you would pay for what you selected. Or, in the case of the wonderful Clifton's cafeterias in California (bottom), pay only what you wished to pay. (In 1946, Clifton's employed more than 600 staff, serving more than 20,000 meals daily.)

I love cafeterias; and it is sad to report that one of the last major cafeterias in southern California is about to close.

Well, we in Phoenix still have Bishop's which, in our neck of the woods used to be called Furr's, which won out in the competition against Luby's. Sigh. The world moves on too fast.

More on Clifton's can be found here.

More on the last major cafeteria in southern California can be found here.