31 December 2007

Hearst's Folly

Back in 2000 Matt and I took one of our many road trips to points inside California. We love California. It's a great place to visit -- and live.

Anyway, on this trip we visited San Simeon, otherwise known as the Hearst Castle, otherwise known as Hearst's Folly. Designed by famed architect Julia Morgan, it has a long and storied history much too convoluted and detailed to be recounted here.


After the death of its creator, William Randolph Hearst, the Hearst Corporation donated the castle and its considerable acreage to the state -- that was 50 years ago today.


The Los Angeles Times honors that anniversary with a fascinating look at the hundreds of people who are responsible for the upkeep of the castle. You can read the article
here.

30 December 2007

Can You Spell R-E-C-E-S-S-I-O-N?

I've been telling friends and colleagues this for months, so I thought it would be interesting to put it in writing so I can look back in a year and see how right (or, hopefully, wrong) I will have been:

We are headed for a big crash in 2008 -- as in recession, maybe even depression.

I normally do not follow the economy very closely. Not sure why. We don't buy on credit and the only thing we owe on is our house. No credit cards, no other debt of any kind. (When I bought my new car a year ago this weekend, I paid cash. I am not rich; I put away money during the eight years since I bought my last car. I probably saved about $15,000 in interest charges.)

We stayed away from the re-finance bandwagon when housing interest rates fell. We have a relatively low rate, so why change? We also stayed way far from the "sell your house for a huge profit and buy something you can barely afford" contingent, content to stay where we are.

So, why my interest now? This could be the first time in my lifetime (and possibly last) where we as a country have gotten ourselves so far underwater that it might actually change the course of our country's history. As a journalist, it is intriguing to watch -- no experience -- history in the making.

Next, look at the indicators:

value of the dollar very low
price of oil obscenely high
number of mortgages in default at near-record highs
amount in personal savings accounts very low
amount of credit card and other debt very high

It does not take a Nobel laureate to see the writing on the wall. We, America, are in for a very rude awakening sometime in 2008 (probably).

My advice: pay off as much of your credit cards and other bills as possible (to save on interest charges), start putting away everything you can in savings (to start earning interest) and hold off any major changes (new house, new job, new family member) for 12 months.

Hopefully, by this time next year, we will have a much better grasp of the global changes underway and will be better able to make choices.

You can read more about the financial future here.



26 December 2007

BeetleMania

Some interesting news from the paleohistory arena: beetles might date back twice as far as originally thought.

Originally believed to have originated about 140 million years ago, new research pushes their origin to about 300 million years ago. This means beetles roamed the planet about 70 million years before dinosaurs.


You can read details of the research here; and you can read more about beetles (and see some gorgeous photographs) here.

20 December 2007

Dear Jonathan Tunick:

I don't know if you read blogs. Do you? Well, let's just work under the assumption that you read blogs and that -- maybe -- you read mine.

Anyway, I just want to put into writing how fantastic you are. Every time I hear a great piece of Broadway score, and look up the name of the arranger, it says "Jonathan Tunick."

No, seriously.

I have loved your work since I first heard the score of "Company" many years ago. You know that one section of "Another Hundred People" -- the one that runs from 1:36 through to 2:14 -- I could listen to that one section a million times and never tire of marveling at how brilliant is your work on it. How can a human being create something that fantastic? I mean, is there any way to improve Sondheim? Yes, have you arrange his music.

Of course, it seems a little silly to write a blog entry to someone with so much talent, but I thought I would do it just so I could put into writing the tremendous respect I have for you. So, here it is:

You are the most talented human being on the planet, and I am honored and humbled to be able to experience such greatness.

If you are not Jonathan Tunick, and you are reading this, and want to learn more about Jonathan Tunick, you can see his impressive list of Broadway credits here, and read more about this great talent here.

19 December 2007

A Little Bit of "Flash"

Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a very simple person. I don't dress flashy, I don't like drawing attention to myself.

However....

I am a huge fan of great design, and an even bigger fan of futuristic design. So, slop both of those together and you get my xmas present to myself this year (pictured).

This is the "Barcode"-model watch by Tokyo Flash, the watchmakers whose designs are, well, unlike anything you have seen -- even in forward-looking movies like "Blade Runner" or television shows "Star Trek" and "My Life and Times."

You can browse all of the Tokyo Flash designs here. You can purchase your watch through them (in Japan) or Altivo, an outlet in the United States.

14 December 2007

It Is Easy Being Green

Despite Kermit's words to the contrary, it IS easy being green -- as demonstrated in this really interesting list of 52 things you can do right now to lead a greener life.

I was surprised to see that we already do 28 of the things listed. And that's without really trying. I would love to see if we could get all the way up to 52.

09 December 2007

Ten millimeters?

Finally got the results from my colonoscopy (see entries of 14 and 30 November). The polyp itself was totally benign, so that means it was not cancer. What is weird, though, is that the polyp was 10 mm in diameter. Ten millimeters? That's like half and inch! That's huge! What's something like that doing growing in my colon?

Well, everything is swell for now. They are recommending I go in for another colonoscopy in five years (because I had a polyp) rather than the usual ten years (when you have no polyps or symptoms). I guess that's okay.

08 December 2007

Love Birds

What the author of this article fails to mention is that we -- yes, Matt and I -- have a colony of lovebirds living around our house, and coming to visit whenever we put out bird seed (which is usually Saturday afternoons). They're out there right now.

Our Peach-faced lovebirds (agapornis roseicollis, pictured) are wonderful. We first noticed them in our backyard about five or so years ago. There were a few at first, and now there are many more -- not flocks of them, but more than a couple.

I'm not sure what the author means about their screetchy singing. We think it's cute. It's the most distinct sound we can hear. We have lots of birds in our backyard (amazing, considering how we live in a desert). We have woodpeckers, flickers, sparrows, finches, Inca doves, mourning doves, hummingbirds, and a handful of other birds we can't quite identify. No matter, we love animals, and they are all welcomed on our backyard!

06 December 2007

What $57,200,000 Will Buy

I am a big fan of history, specifically three periods: 20th century America between the wars (roughly 1918 - 1946), ancient Greece and Rome at the time of the origins of modern thought (roughly the 7th century BC), and the time when civilization began to coalesce (Mesopotamia, about 5000 years ago).

Mesopotamia, called the cradle of civilization for good reason, saw the origin of the most basic human inventions -- among them: writing, the wheel, glass, the arch, and the concept of "zero." But it is here, too, where arts and culture flourished.

One product of this great moment in time was recently sold at auction for the record-trouncing price of $57,200,000. The last known such piece in private hands, the Guennol Lioness (pictured) was carved from limestone by an unknown artist for an unknown reason. Only three inches in height, it makes a powerful statement of its time and place in history.

You can read more about the history of the piece here and more about the auction here.

03 December 2007

Differently Animated

Matt and I love Aardman Animation -- the company responsible for so many wonderful animated products like "Creature Comforts," the films featuring Wallace and Gromit, and those really cute Chevron Techron adverts on the telly.

Now they have done a series of public service adverts about people who are differently abled, like people in wheel chairs and the like (see photo).

Although the spots are airing in England, you can see them here.

01 December 2007

And the Numbers are In:

According to the National Weather Service:

"A record rainfall of 1.23 inches was set at Phoenix yesterday November 30 2007. This breaks the old record of 0.55 set in 1982."

It is interesting to see how weather plays out in this time of global climate change. About ten years ago, when people really started talking seriously about the subject, experts predicted, among other things, this: Climate extremes would be more pronounced. In other words, where it was hot it would get hotter, cold would get colder, wet wetter, and dry drier. They also said that when storms happened they would be bigger and more intense.


Here in the desert southwest of Phoenix, we have seen these exact things happen: Winter 2007 was the coldest in 30 years; Summer 2007 was hotter and lasted longer than normal. Usually dry, we have been drier (now in our 12th year of below-average rainfall amounts). When we get a storm system move over us, like Friday, it is bigger, lasts longer and drops more rain.

I realize that, statistically speaking, it is hard to form opinions on trends with only a handful of data points (in this case, a dozen years), but it is intriguing that we are now seeing exactly what has been predicted in re climate change.

30 November 2007

My Colonoscopy and Me

Well, the worst is over (I think) regarding the colonoscopy recommended by my doctor (see entry of 14 November 2007).

All together, the process was pretty uneventful. It started Thursday when I was allowed only clear liquids for nutrition the entire day. That afternoon started the phospho soda laxative which, surprisingly enough, works very thoroughly. After a night of crapping out mostly liquid, I went to bed.

After getting up at the unimaginable hour of 5:30 this a.m. Matt and I headed to the clinic only a couple miles away for the actual procedure. We were the first people at the office. After some paperwork, I went back for an interview with an LPN, then changed into a dreadful medical gown. They let Matt come sit with me until the nurse came by.

The nurse took me into the room where the procedure would take place, hooked me up to one of those bleepy monitors, then started the anesthesia. I told her to make sure to go easy as I react super strongly to medication, and a little anesthesia goes a very long way with me.

The procedure started, and I began drifting in and out of sleep. I could feel occasional discomfort as the colonoscope wended its way through the five feet length of my colon. The next thing I knew I was being wheeled out of there into the recovery room where Matt rejoined me. The actual procedure had taken a little more than 30 minutes.

Then the step I most dreaded: coming out of the anesthesia.

I suddenly got really hot and pale. The nurse offered me cold towels which I gladly accepted. After a little rest, I started what must be the most hellish thing on earth: throwing up -- and dry heaves at that.

After about another half hour, I started feeling well enough to get up and move around a little. That's always a good sign. I changed and was on my way to the local donut shop for a well-deserved cinnamon roll.

So, after all that, what did they find? Well, one polyp (see photo of my actual polyp). The polyp is the little bump just slightly off center. They excised it and sent it off to pathology. I need to wait about a week to find out if it is cancer, and then whether it is benign or something to be concerned about. All in all, I think one polyp is pretty good news.

Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Well, let's hope I don't have to -- for a while anyway.

29 November 2007

Rain (Maybe)

I'm hoping I don't jinx it, but there may be rain in our future (click on image: 90%!). We have not had a good rain at our house since 25 July -- that's more than four months! Yes, we are a desert. Yes, we average only eight inches of rain in a year. Yes, we are in the 12th year of a drought.

Please, please, please let it rain!

28 November 2007

A Little Green Goes a Long Way

If the world seems a little greener today, it is thanks to a special project undertaken in Indonesia -- home to some of the world's rain forests that have been destroyed by illegal logging.

In a country-wide project, they undertook to plant -- get this -- 79 million trees. In a single day.

That's a lotta trees -- and, one would imagine, a lotta happy dogs.


You can read more about the project
here.

NPR did a nice story about it, which you can hear
here.

21 November 2007

Oh, Scorpion, Where is Thy Sting?

We have scorpions in Arizona. We have big scorpions and we have small scorpions. The rule of thumb is avoid the small ones: the smaller they are the more dangerous (venom-wise). Usually, the big ones are harmless -- scary, but harmless.

However, according to this article the planet's oceans used to be populated by a scorpion-like arthropod that seems pretty scary: It was more than eight-feet long and had claws that could rip off your head (see image).

19 November 2007

Salt No More

I am so happy to see this article in today's New York Times.

For more than five years, we have been drastically slashing the amount of sodium we eat: we have never salted food while cooking or at the table, we have practically stopped buying processed meals, and we are always trying to support companies that make reduced-salt versions of their products. (Thank you, Progresso soups.)

We're healthier, but it's not enough.

Recently, at a restaurant, we saw a man (who must have weighed more than 300 pounds) spend about a minute shaking salt on a salad. At another restaurant, we saw a woman salting her pizza -- one of the saltiest things you can eat. Where will the madness stop?

High levels of sodium in your body can lead to numerous issues -- not the least being high-blood pressure.

Find out facts about sodium here.

14 November 2007

In One End...

Okay, so here's the story: Tuesday I had my "Well Man" exam at the doctor. For the women reading this, that involves a lot of attention to the parts of a man that make us different than you.

Part of the exam involves the insertion of a gloved finger rather far into a rather sensitive area of the man's physical presence. The point of the exam is to feel the size of the prostate gland (if it is enlarged, it could mean trouble). My prostate is of normal size, thank you.


While up there Tuesday, my doctor felt a little something that should not be up there (no jokes, please), and suggested a colonoscopy -- a procedure usually reserved for men considerably older than me (okay, two years older than me), unless there are
symptoms. I have none of these symptoms.

Right after that suggestion, the doctor virtually tripped over himself attempting to convince me that "it's probably nothing." I told him it was okay: whether it is something or not, I would rather find out as soon as possible. If it's nothing, great; If it's something, then we've probably caught it early enough to do something about it.


No waiting around month after month, year after year before having it checked only to find out it could have been cured if I had just come in earlier (like my dad). Nope. Go in, check it out, cut it out, whatever you need to do.


Will update you when I know more. :-)


11 November 2007

11.11.11

It has been 89 years since the First World War ended in the 11th month, on the 11th day, at the 11th hour. It was the end of a great war that signaled a great prosperity for America and other Western countries.

It was, also, the time of great mistakes. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles (in 1919) is considered by many the start of World War Two. Its provisions against Germany were harsh and punitive, and gave rise to an anti-West sentiment that allowed the Nazi movement to gain a foothold. Hopefully, you know the rest of that story.

Every year, we celebrate the end of that war. For a time in America, it was known as Thanksgiving Day (making two Thanksgivings each year). The name has changed a couple times; but now it is called Veteran's Day in America and Remembrance Day in Canada and England.

Why do we remember this day from so long ago? Presumably to remember the men and women who fought (including my grandfather Joe Martinez). But, I hope, also to realize the futility of war. War is never the answer to problems between countries. It is neither noble nor great. It is always (and history bears this out) a mistake filled with consequences unintended and, often, severe (look at World War Two).

It is very sad that we have to remember the dead from war. How much better would this world be had they been allowed to live and create and love and make and laugh and cry?

I find it hard to understand how, in this country, so many people demand an end to abortion, demand an end to the death penalty, and yet do not lift a finger to put an end to the greatest folly in human history.

06 November 2007

"House" Stands No More

It is with sadness that I report the demise of what once had been one of the best home magazines published: "House and Garden" magazine is being closed.

It lead a good life, published from 1901 until this year. The magazine experienced a Golden Age in the 1920s and 1930s, roughly coinciding with the great years of prosperity in America between the wars.


We live in a historic district just outside the Phoenix downtown area. Our Craftsman Bungalow "honeymoon house" was built in 1927. I cannot tell you how many hours we have spent thumbing through old issues of "House and Garden" (like the issue from April 1927, pictured) to find ideas for decorating and styling our home.


It is a sad day indeed.

You may read more about this demise of this great magazine
here. (Thanks to Matt for the heads up.)

02 November 2007

Str*ke!

First off, let me say that I am not a member of the Writers Guild of America. I wish I was. I wish I could earn some part of my living writing for Hollywood. But, I'm not and I don't. I am a writer, but I don't work for Hollywood.

With that out of the way, let me add that I grew up in a union household. My father was a Teamster. He made a good living, and only went on strike a couple times. I remember the first time he went on strike, I was really young. My mom told me we wouldn't have money and we couldn't buy anything because he was going out on strike. I had no idea what that all meant, but I started crying because it seemed so serious. I didn't know what would happen.

Clearly, we survived, but I never liked the idea of a strike.

I'm not much of a fan of unions. They don't seem to do a whole lot of good for their workers in today's world the way they did when they were new and really achieved something in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I mean, look what just happened at Chrysler: their union ratified a new contract and a couple weeks later the company announces it will lay off 12,000 employees -- many of whom, one would imagine, just voted for the new contract. How did that help anyone?

Now, put that all together, and let me tell you why I am all for a writer's strike:

Writers are the backbone of every creative venture. They create the movies, they create the television shows, they write the books, they write the plays and (please forgive me) they write the songs that make the whole world sing -- or at least that segment of the world that can carry a tune.

For virtually ever writers have gotten the end of the stick that was just used to stir the pile of steer manure: yes, the shitty end. Hollywood has been on top of the list of people who hand that stick to the writers. They give a writer $5 for a great idea that then goes on to make the studio millions. When the writer asks for more, the producer doesn't even remember him or her. That's the way it's been since Hollywood was still just a gleam in the eye of H.H. Wilcox.

But still writers keep writing. They like the idea of their creation being made real, of seeing their name in print, or on the title card, or on the base of the little gold statuette that says "Best Whatever." They know the producers get rich off their work, and yet they still plug away, trying for a new spin on the old story of "boy meets girl, boy looses girl, boy gets stabbed in the eye with a stick."

Now -- finally -- the writers are fed up with the producers making millions, and them getting little in return, and are going out for the first major strike since 1988.

And I say, "GO!"

What will happen with the writers on strike? Who cares? The major networks could all go dark, and I guarantee I would not lose a minute's sleep over it. Except for "The Simpsons" what good television is on the networks, anyway?

I'll wait while you try to think of an example.

"Meerkat Manor" ended tonight. "Torchwood" is on BBC America, so that's not going to be affected. We have the first eight seasons of "The Simpsons" on DVD (the only really good seasons, anyway) so we're set.

Audiences will leave the networks in droves (like they did in 1988). We might get a few episodes of a remake of 25-year-old episodes of "Mission: Impossible" (like we did in 1988), but -- meh! -- who cares? More reality shows? Who cares? More repeats? Who cares? We get something like 8,000 channels on our satellite system, and another million or so on the internet, so I say "Screw 'em!"

Let the producers plead poverty all they want. I want the writers to stay on strike until they get everything they're asking for.

31 October 2007

Truth in Flying

I am not afraid to fly. I get a little airsick now and again, but I don't really mind flying at all. The only thing I kinda don't like about flying is the idea of sudden deceleration -- like, into the side of a mountain, or something.

The first week of October, we flew to Key West, Florida for our annual holiday. That's 2,525.7 miles door to door. The trip took about ten hours -- seven of those actually in the air.

It was fine. I felt safe (well, except for having to endure a Harry Potter in-flight movie). However, according to a report soon to be released by NASA (under pressure, it appears) we were not nearly as safe as I would have thought.

NASA spent more than a million dollars to interview 24,000 pilots about the true levels of safety issues with airplanes. NASA originally said it would not release the results because it "feared it would upset air travelers and hurt airline profits." Because, of course, the most important things involved here are airline profits and the sensitivity of flyers.

I don't know about you, but if there is a problem with airline safety, I would much rather know about it than fly ignorant of the possibilities. And if there IS a problem with air safety, I would certainly hope someone would address it and make it safer.

23 October 2007

Have You Seen Me?

Generally speaking, I don't like "Antiques Roadshow." Although they occasionally have items of interest, they seem too focused on the biggest, the oldest, the rarest -- with little regard for something unique, important or just different. I mean, how many Greek helmets are you going to find stuffed up in an attic? Not many.

That said, I will allow they do some good -- especially attempting to track down lost art items of no little importance.


At their
Missing Masterpieces site, you can read about items for which the art world is furiously looking.

One of these items actually turned up recently. Don't know which one? Click
here to find out.

22 October 2007

Think Big. Think REALLY Big.

They trip off the tongue: Vesuvius. Krakatoa. Mount Saint Helens. Santorini. These are just some of the big volcanic eruptions known to have affected humans and other animal and plant life around the world.

Think of an eruption even bigger -- bigger than those four eruptions combined -- and you will get Tambora, the Indonesian volcano that killed more than 92,000 people in 1815, and whose influence was felt for many years. In fact, so great was that explosion, so massive was the amount of crap hurled into the air, that summer did not come to most of the planet in 1816, killing crops, animals, and causing the starvation deaths of untold number of people.


Now, just imagine what would happen if such an eruption occurred today.


You can listen to a story about Tambora
here.

14 October 2007

"This one's going to die"

It is a disgrace to our country that so many dogs and cats are euthanized each year because their caretakers do not take care of them. Spaying and neutering are the only way to reduce the numbers of animals killed each year.

But, in the meantime, what do we do with all the animals that have been abandoned?

Please read this article about what one man has done to stop the carnage.

His website will be found here.

12 October 2007

Paging John Galt

Today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand.

I cannot begin to explain the profound influence Rand's work had on my life. I cannot understand it, let alone explain it.

I have never been a real religious person. I find it hard to believe one omnipotent being has enough time and energy to care about the individual lives of a couple billion humans on the planet. Additionally, how to reconcile the myriad religions? Buddhists think one thing, Muslims something else, Christians something entirely different. They cannot all be right, so what gives?

Back in the very late 1980s I was looking through my library of books, and found my paperback copy of "The Fountainhead," which I had had for a few years, but never read. I read it and my life changed. I was astonished to discover there was another person on this planet (Rand) who thought the same as I did about the value of a human being, the value of achievement, and the frustration living in a world where so many people do not care about either.

Then, I sought out her epic novel "Atlas Shrugged" and have never felt so alive in all my (then) thirty years of life. I wanted to find a place like that Valley populated with people like in her book.

Other of her books followed. I am glad to know there are others like me in the world, and sad for the people who read her works and do not get past their misconceptions of her concept of selfishness. It is not about "Me, me, me." Far from it. It is about people having the freedom to do as they please, guided only by reason, free from the restraints of emotion, mythology, government and the need to do for others -- as long as their actions do not intrude on the lives of others.

Just think what a grand world this would be.

Here are two articles about Rand's influence:

The New York Times

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

04 October 2007

I Miss the USSR

Do you remember 50 years ago today when the Russians (the USSR) launched the first space object called Sputnik? Do you remember the panic that swept the streets when America (gasp!) realized that someone else had more brains than we did? Do you remember the great race to put America into space -- to do it better, faster, and sooner than those godless commie bastards?

Neither do I. I wasn't born yet.

And, as if that weren't enough, four years later (1961) those ignorant peasants put a human into space. A HUMAN INTO SPACE!

Yeh, I miss those days.

I miss the days when another country beat America, was first into something that would wipe the complacent smile off our collective faces. I miss that. I mean, look what happened:

Slightly less than 12 years after Sputnik, America and Americans put a human being onto the surface of the moon (1969). Yeh, we beat the stinking beet eaters there, didn't we? Nineteen years after (1976), we put a probe on Mars; and then 24 years after (1981), we launched the first space shuttle.

Then, the Berlin Wall came down (1989), and the Soviets and their country began to unravel.

So, what have we done since then?

Um, cut back NASA funding.

Ah, sent a couple more probes to Mars.

Let's see, we've done a lot of talking about a new space shuttle, and more talk about humans on the moon (by 2020) and on Mars (by 2030).

Hold on! In that time we perfected the cellular telephone, and made better microwave ovens, and cheaper flat screen televisions, and bigger SUV's.

Well, that's just great.

I want to go back to living in a country where people actually want to achieve something worth doing. Do we really need flat panel televisions? Perhaps, but think of what we as human beings could achieve by finding a way to put human colonies on another planet.

Of course, that's not going to happen until we Americans once again have a superior foe that will piss us off and force us to get off our lazy butts and actually start WORKING toward achieving something other than finding more sources of oil or cheaper digital cameras.

Competition is indeed the driving force behind innovation and creativity, and just look what's happened since we lost ours.

29 September 2007

Flower RIP

What a horrible turn of events -- the death of Flower (pictured), matriarch to the Whiskers clan on the excellent series "Meerkat Manor."

The Animal Planet series, now in its third season, took a sad turn Friday when a cobra infiltrated the Whiskers' den. When Flower tried to evict the unwanted tenant, she was bitten -- a fatal blow. It was a stunning event that demonstrates why "Manor" is one of the best series currently on television.

26 September 2007

Orchid You Not

In a world that is rapidly losing so many species of plants and animals, it is nice to be able to report the discovery, announced today, of 11 new species found in Vietnam.

The new species include a snake, two butterflies, and several orchids (one of which is pictured) not known to exist outside of the "Green Corridor" in the central part of the country.


You may read the article
here (make sure to view the slide show).

23 September 2007

Murder Comes To Life

Back in October 2006 I wrote about the dinner I had with Winnie Ruth Judd, who had been accused, tried, convicted and punished for a pair of murders in Phoenix in 1931. That original entry will be found here.

Saturday, Matt and I got our camera and took photographs of many of the places that played an important role in the Judd story. Oddly, they are all within three miles of our house!

With those photographs, and a few others, I have created a little website called Winnie Ruth Judd's Phoenix that might be of interest.

It is so strange to be able to travel the same roads, walk the same sidewalks and streets that had been walked by Judd and the two women who died that night. For the first time I understand the appeal of those murder or crime tours popular in Los Angeles, New York and other cities. It makes the story come alive when you can actually walk up to the place where it happened (pictured, 1931).

21 September 2007

The Hyphen RIP

The demise is being reported of one of the most useful elements of punctuation -- by which I mean, of course, the hyphen (known in journalistic circles as the en-dash).

I do not, however, buy the explanations offered in the article; rather, I would like to blame sloppiness and sloth -- two elements of modern culture that are damaging far more than literature, grammar and punctuation.

Is it the modern way to be sloppy? To write poorly? Apparently. Just as it is the modern way to refuse to learn proper grammar, how to punctuate properly, even -- dare I say it? -- proper manners.

Well, decide for yourself. The article is here.

16 September 2007

Help! Help! I'm Trapped in a Hole!

Sad but ultimately enriching story of humans helping a defenseless animal -- in this case, a donkey who had wandered from his field. Make sure to read how the caretaker scolded the animal. It's priceless!

The article is
here.

15 September 2007

Building the Past

As a child, growing up in the then-small town of Phoenix, I wish I had had as much appreciation for the great architecture that existed in the city then, as I do of what precious little is left today.

Luckily, some of what is left is really great. Phoenix, as a city, has (in the past 20-or-so years) come to realize the diamonds that were being thrown away every time a historic building was razed, and made efforts to curb such destruction.

You will find an interesting article on some of the quirkier architecture in Phoenix from the 1950s (pictured)
here; and photographs of a lot of the buildings mentioned here (scroll down).

14 September 2007

Reigning Cats and Dogs

I want to say something about the impression given in the Los Angeles Times article (below) that pets are nothing more than some kind of substitute for children, relationships, friends, or whatever.

A pet is an important part of my house. My cat is not a substitute for a child (thank you very much), nor a substitute for friends, or for a healthy relationship. I treat my cat with respect, but she is a cat, not a human. She does not wear sweaters, does not get pampered at a day spa, and eats traditional cat food. Is she spoiled? Probably. But she does not get any kind of preferential treatment -- well, except for the occasional bowl of tuna juice, but that's not really unusual, is it?

Here follows two very different views of pets. I am not making any other comment about them. Things are what they are.

In America, pets are pampered and spoiled.

In Zimbabwe, pets are becoming food. (Warning: this article contains some unpleasant descriptions.)

12 September 2007

Together Again

You know, I'm a sucker for young love. I'm even more of a sucker for cute guys. So, when a cute guy is involved in young love, well, I go all woggly -- even if the cute guy is long dead, and the young love ended 50 years ago.

I write, of course, about actor and total hottie (in his day) Lon McAllister (pictured, left). I just found out today that he was boyfriends with fellow-actor William Eythe (right).

Information is scarce, but what I can gather is this:

McCallister and Eythe got together around the end of the war (1946-ish). McCallister was 23, Eythe 28.

A magazine photograph of the pair together enraged Darryl Zanuck, president of 20th Century Fox (Eythe's and McCallister's boss), who sent Eythe to England to break up the pair. It didn't work, of course. When McAllister joined Eythe in England, more photographs started popping up, spelling doom for Eythe. (But not McCallister.)

Attempting to save his career, Eythe did what other in-the-spotlight fags did in those days: he married a woman, in a relationship that lasted barely a year. McCallister and Eythe apparently broke up during that time; but got back together. All told, they had been together more than 10 years when Eythe died in 1957 -- aged 38.

I know it isn't much, but I kinda wanted to get them back together again -- if only in this little blog -- one last time.

More about McCallister here.

More about Eythe here.

11 September 2007

Waste Not

I have not seen any studies, but Americans have got to lead the pack in wastefulness: so many buy clothes, wear them a couple times, then give them away; they buy a big dinner, and only eat half of it, the other half to be thrown away; we have one of the lowest levels of recycling of any country in the world.

We Americans are just not frugal -- and, with the Great-Depression generation dying off, I am afraid we are getting even more wasteful.

I think I live a pretty frugal life. We try not to waste things, we don't waste food, we recycle as much as possible, we buy a lot of things for the house at thrift stores (at great prices, I might add).

Given all that, this is intriguing on so many levels. I don't think I could make the commitment these people made, but it is intriguing.

09 September 2007

Going Down With the Chip

Quite a troubling story being reported today by the Associated Press about cancer being caused by the same identification chips some people put in their dogs or cats -- and that some people are suggesting implanting in humans.

We had a chip in our dearly departed cat Eames; but have not yet chipped our new kitty Eero. Now, I'm not so sure I want to.

Read the story here.

08 September 2007

Rejection, Please!

I would like to think I have been somewhat successful in the 30+ years that I have been a writer. Famous? No. Wealthy from it? No. Published? Yes, many, many times. As far as I am concerned, that's success enough.

Along the way, however, I have received my fair amount of rejection notices -- for both articles and books.

I have written two novels and have had both resoundly rejected -- often.

I received a contract for my one non-fiction book, which I promptly signed amid much dancing around the living room, only to be notified shortly thereafter that the publisher was filing for bankruptcy.

Have publishers made a mistake in passing by my gems of art? I would like to think so. Such confidence is bolstered by a fascinating little essay in tomorrow's New York Times about the books that were rejected by the venerable Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Among them, "The Good Earth," "Animal Farm," "Lolita," and “The Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank, which was dismissed as “very dull.”

So, I guess there is still hope for "News on the Homefront" (my second novel).

You may read the essay here.

06 September 2007

Warming Up to Global Warming

Whether you are smart and realize global climate change is real, or stupid and think it's just another invention of Al Gore (like the Internet), you have to admit something is changing the planet.

Cartographers have been working diligently to redraw maps, keeping up with myriad changes over the Earth's surface. It is interesting to see how different places have changed in just a few years. A fascinating article about those changes is here.

Even more interesting is a "Top Ten" list of other changes that have occurred on terra firma during the climate change. You will find the list here.

29 August 2007

One Then There Were ... One?

Back in December, I wrote this entry about the reported extinction in China of the baiji dolphin (pictured), once one of the most endangered animals in the world.

Today comes a report that one baiji might have been seen in the dirty, polluted Yangtze River that the species had called home for thousands of years.

At first, I was excited by the news; where there is one, there could be two, a third, a fourth, maybe an entire pod that escaped the determined effort of humans to kill them off.

Then, I started thinking about how sad it would be if this baiji was, indeed, the last single survivor of its species. How sad would that be?

Then, I started thinking about Martha.

Poor Martha.

Martha was the last known passenger pigeon. She died in 1914, in captivity, at the Cincinnati Zoo -- the last of her species. All alone.

The only thing worse than the demise of an entire species, is the demise of an entire species but one -- one last lone survivor. Martha, then, and this baiji, now, with not one of their species to cuddle with when it becomes afraid, or talk to when it is lonely, or interact with just like any other animal that needs companionship.

I really hope there is a secret pod of baiji living in some clean side pool of the river. If not, then I hope it really is gone, that the species is really extinct. I just cannot bear to think of another case like Martha.

Read the article here.

Read more about Martha, and the demise of the passenger pigeon, here.

26 August 2007

Books I Am Reading

Am reading "The Hollywood Reporter" (1984) covering the first thirty years (1930-1959) of reporting by the Hollywood newspaper.

Just finished reading this.

21 August 2007

I'm at 20

I read this really depressing story about how many people have read NO books in the past year. How sad is that?

Me, I read like there is no tomorrow. I went through and counted how many books I have read since January, and came up with 20.

How many have you read this year?


20 August 2007

L'eggo my Lego

Do you know who Hilary Page is? Neither did I until yesterday. He is the genius behind a great number of children's toys -- including the "Self Locking Building Bricks" that you and I know as Lego (pictured).

Page was a pioneer in using plastics for children's toys (go plastics!). He took out a British patent for his blocks in 1939, selling the rights to Lego sometime in the late 1940s.


You can learn more about the inventor here.

You can read about his original building bricks
here.

18 August 2007

Accent on Accents

British programming and I have been fast friends since high school. I cut my teeth on "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and it did not stop there. I love British humor because it is wry, witty, subtle and smart -- rather like a description I would write of myself.

Here's an example of why I love the Brits so much: as a disclaimer to their new show "Hotel Babylon," they run this:

"The following program contains accents that you would have heard a lot more of if you hadn’t thrown our tea into Boston Harbor."

Followed by:

"To find out what on earth anyone is talking about, please turn on closed captioning."

Don't you just love that?

P.S. I understood them quite fine, thank you, without the assistance of closed captioning. I guess I dig foreign accents, and watching so many foreign television shows and movies probably helps.

13 August 2007

Grocery Store Refugees

On 25 July, a pretty sizable summer storm swept through the mid city. It did not last very long (they rarely do); but it wreaked a lot of havoc: streets were flooded, some trees blown down.

The damage was pretty routine, with one exception: the roof to our grocery store caved in. After shopping at that same store more than a decade, we were forced to find other accommodations.

The first week we tried another branch of the same store. Didn't like it. Too small.

The next week we tried another grocer near our damaged store. Didn't like it, either. (A mid-century modern building from 1956 when the average human stood 5' 6" and weighed 120 pounds.)

Last week, we went back to the store we visited the first week. Still don't like it, but we are resigned to not having much choice. There are plenty of grocers in Phoenix, just not very many near downtown.

At first, they said it would be a couple weeks until the store re-opened. I thought it would be more like four weeks. We now hear it will be eight weeks in addition to the three it has already been closed.

I miss my grocery store.

10 August 2007

Sambo's Mania

There's been a lot of talk lately about the wonderful restaurant chain called "Sambo's" -- which is, sad to say, no longer a chain. Where it once had 1200 stores in 47 states, it now consists of a single link -- in Santa Barbara, California.

There are lots of reasons why the restaurant went out of business, but that really doesn't matter.

What does matter is the fond memories many people seem to have of this unique place -- memories which I am fortunate enough to share.

I remember visiting our local Sambo's when I was a wee lad in the 1960s. I also remember stopping, when we traveled, at the various Sambo's along the way. This was in the days before the exact same fast food restaurants were perched on every single exit of every single freeway from sea to shining sea.

If you did not find a Sambo's, or maybe a Howard Johnson's (one of the few country-wide restaurant chains at the time) you would eat at a local diner, a little "mom and pop" place with four tables and mismatched chairs. (I have vague memories of those places, too. Including one where the nice old lady [probably only 50] gave me an extra piece of cherry pie because I was, as she so accurately noted, "A handsome little boy." I remember that like it was yesterday.)

But I also remember Sambo's. I remember the little stuffed tiger (like the one pictured) and the rubber baby tiger that (I think) came out later, I had an entire set of the post cards, and few other bits and pieces I only vaguely remember.

I actually still remember when my father bought me my stuffed tiger, at one of the Sambo's in California (where we spent almost every vacation). I was probably only six or seven, but I remember when we got into the car after eating, and it was so dark, and so late, and I fell asleep holding that little tiger that I loved so much.

More on the history of Sambo's.

You will find the web site to the original Santa Barbara store -- which opened in 1957 -- here.

06 August 2007

Evil Has a Name

Okay, let me see if I understand this correctly:

If you take carrots and give them a wrapper that says "McDonald's" on it, children aged three to five will think they taste better than carrots without a wrapper.

Is any more proof needed that McDonald's is evil?


Read the article here.

04 August 2007

Earth Alone

I will stand tall and proud and say that I love nature and wish humans would stop damaging the planet so much. Humans are the only animal species that can so dramatically alter its environment. I don't mind the altering, I just wish we would do it with a little more care and compassion for the other animals on the planet.

Earlier this week, NPR interviewed Alan Weisman, who wrote the book "The World Without Us" about how the planet would recover once human beings disappeared.


While it would be sad to see humans gone from the planet, it is intriguing to think what would happen once we are gone.


More about the book here.

Hear the NPR program here.

Here you can read about the "Voluntary Human Extinction" movement which, while unfeasible, is certainly interesting.

30 July 2007

Coffee Cures Cancer?!?

Oh, boy. I can hardly wait for those coffee houses to start advertising that their product cures skin cancer.

I am no fan of caffeine, as anyone who knows me knows. It is a very unhealthy part of our daily lives and does a lot of damage -- especially to women. But, according to a preliminary study, caffeine -- combined with exercise -- can reduce skin cancers.

You can read more about it here.

27 July 2007

27 July 2007



27 July 2007 (pictured).

Why? Just 'cause.

P.S. Today is Bugs Bunny's birthday.

P.P.S. Today is mine, too.


25 July 2007

Death Walks in Silence -- Like a Cat

Okay. This is really weird.

Back in March, when I was sick with influenza, I wrote
this entry about how my lovely cat, Eero, stayed by me nearly the entire four days.

Now there is an article about a cat, Oscar (pictured), who is able to sense the pending deaths of nursing home patients, as recounted
here.

Do cats have some special power to determine who is sick or dying?


I dunno.

24 July 2007

Typography

A really fascinating film on elements of typography is to be found here.

Created by Boca and Ryan Uhrich of the Vancouver Film School.


23 July 2007

Can You Say "Conspiracy"?

This morning's episode of "What's My Line?" re-broadcast from 14 November 1965, is the first after the mysterious death of columnist Dorothy Kilgallen (pictured, center). Was her death an accident, suicide -- or murder?

You decide.

Brief biography.

The case for murder.

The case for accident / suicide.

The FBI files on Kilgallen.

20 July 2007

No, NOT the One from "Lost in Space"

I have a great deal of respect for an actor with genuine talent, for someone who goes to work, does her job, and eschews the perks that come with "celebrity."

Usually, those people are living in England or Europe where acting is about art, not about how quickly it will make you famous (as in this great country of America).

Sadly, there are only a few American actors to whom I can ascribe those qualities: Patricia Clarkson, Dennis Haysbert, Julianne Moore among them.

However, the one actor for whose work I have the highest possible respect is Veronica Cartwright (pictured) who has been acting since shortly after birth (it would seem), who has appeared with the great and near-great, who has been nominated for an unfairly small amount of awards; and yet, an actor who gives a unique turn to every role she plays, disappearing so completely as to make me say "Wow! She's good. Who is that? Oh, wait: it's Veronica Cartwright -- again!"

Whether it is as a scared member of the crew Nostromo ("Alien"), an alien abductee who comes back to Earth ("The X-Files") or, in perhaps her best turn as Jack's clueless mom ("Will and Grace"), Cartwright never fails to deliver a believable, honest and exact performance.

You may find out more about this wonderful actor here.

You may find out more about her work here.

P.S. She is the older sister of Angela Cartwright -- the one from "Lost in Space."

18 July 2007

Are You Talkin' to Me?

According to results of a study detailed in the July issue of the journal Psychological Science, Americans are not as likely to understand other humans as some other cultures.

The report, while admittedly simple in its scope and conclusions, compares the American society of "individualism" with other societies in which the welfare of the whole group takes precedence over individuality.

I can say from personal experience that I would agree with the study's findings, as America is one of the few countries that demonstrates little real concern for the less fortunate (whether human or other animals) as compared to, say, France or Canada. (Can you say "47 million Americans without health insurance"?)

This is not to say individualism is a bad thing. After all, more modern technological advances have been generated in America and by Americans than by any other society of people. There is a lot to be said for one man or woman striking out to do something beneficial to himself or herself that -- oh, by the way -- also happens to benefit the world at large.

But, do we really need so many technological advances that come at the cost of considering the welfare of our fellow humans? Sometimes, I wonder.

You can read an article about the survey here.

15 July 2007

Dewey or Don't We?

Apparently a new trend started in Arizona last month -- in a little library in what was once the little town of Gilbert.

It is there where they have their books organized in a more casual system based on retail book stores, having done away with the classic Dewey Decimal system invented in 1876 by Melvil Dewey (pictured).


Hmmm. I have been hesitant to write about this because I do not really know what I think about it.


On the one hand, organizing it like a book store might be good -- especially if it helps encourage people to read; on the other hand, in book stores it is notoriously difficult to find a specific book without reading through every title, or following long stretches of shelving looking for a book based on the author's last name (sometimes alphabetized, sometimes not). So, if you come to browse without any specific book in mind it might work; if you are looking for something specific, maybe not.

So, here it is, without any opinion from me:


An article about the library is
here.

The library's website is
here.

10 July 2007

18 Jan 08

I don't know what's going on with the movie currently being called "Cloverfield," but I am so there on 18 Jan 2008 when it opens.

What's all the excitement about? Click here.

09 July 2007

But We Do Rate One of These

Yesterday I was bemoaning the fact that, apparently, the good people at Twentieth Century Fox Television and 7-Eleven Corp do not think Phoenix rates a Kwik-E-Mart.

Today, I visited the closest 7-Eleven to our house (15th Avenue and Indian School) because it was my understanding that ALL 7-Elevens in the country would have "Simpsons" merchandise. Not only did this store NOT have any "Simpsons" merchandise, the clerk did not appear to have any clue what I was talking about.


So, trying to be understanding, I asked him if there was a 7-Eleven near by that might have any "Simpsons" merchandise. After thinking a moment, he said "Maybe, no."


Humph.


I can report sighting one promotional piece for the upcoming "The Simpsons Movie": at the cinema near our house they actually have one of the cardboard Simpsons couches complete with plastic family (similar to the one pictured). The only difference is that the couch is starting to come apart, and someone stole Homer's arm (which is apparently becoming the thing to do).

08 July 2007

We May Not Be Springfield, But...

Phoenix has the fifth or sixth largest population in America (depending on how many people are visiting Philadelphia on any given day).

But, apparently, that is not reason enough for the good people at 7-Eleven to include Phoenix in its
promotion for "The Simpsons Movie."

How can that be?

06 July 2007

The Fire

History has always been a favorite subject of mine -- especially the early-to-mid 20th century.

One subject that has fascinated me since I first heard of it is the 1944 Hartford (Connecticut) circus fire (pictured) -- at the time, one of the worst non-military losses of life due to fire in the country's history.


The fire occurred 63 years ago today.


You can read Time magazine's original coverage of the event
here.

More information about the fire will be found
here.