28 May 2007

Fahrenheit 451: What's That in Celsius?

There is a really fascinating article in today's New York Times about an owner of a used-book store who wanted to thin out his stock. Finding he could not give away the books to libraries or thrift stores, he decided to burn them

I find this interesting on so many levels: the owner has said that not reading a book is the same as burning it; he said he was burning the books to protest the lack of reading in this country (citing a study that showed less than half of adults say they read for pleasure[!]); and, of course, the parallels to the novel and film "Fahrenheit 451."

This lack of reading and burning of books is so foreign to me. I am reading constantly. I always have a book in my car so that I can read at lunch, or whenever I am waiting at a doctor's appointment. I go through, easily, 20-30 books a year -- and these are big, long biographies or histories, not simple little short books.

Reading is, for me, as essential as food or air. I love to read as much as I love to write. Our house is filled with books. Our garage is filled with books. We are constantly buying books -- mostly from thrift stores (great selections of really offbeat subjects), independently owned book stores (like the one in Tempe we visited Friday), and online (we admit it) because the prices are so great.

I have long held that I do not trust a person who does not have any books in his/her house. I feel uncomfortable being around people who do not read -- even if only trashy novels (at least they read).

Reading is more than fundamental: it's essential.

The article will be found

[Illustration by

25 May 2007

Star Wars to Jericho

For the past couple days I've been thinking of what to write about today being the 30th anniversary of the film "Star Wars" that isn't being written by someone else.

I could tell you about how I "ditched" school that Wednesday in 1977 to be at the first showing of the film (and the second and the third). I heard about it via the "new" magazine called Starlog which published some really great production designs from the film a few months before it opened.

I could tell you about the great cinema, the now destroyed Cine Capri, where we saw it on a huge screen (in what I understand was a 70mm print).

I could tell you about the wild crowd reaction when that first ship kept coming and coming and coming and the music grew louder and louder.

I could tell you about how that film changed me, making me love special effects (and cinema) even more than ever before. It was pretty heady stuff for a 17 year old.

But, no. Instead, I thought I would tell you about one of the offspring of "Star Wars" -- the really fantastic (despite what Matt says), short-lived television show "Jericho."

"Jericho" was science fiction that focused less on science and special effects than character drama (which I prefer). It told the tale of a small Kansas town that found itself isolated after a large percent of America was destroyed by nuclear bombs set off by many unknown people.

Of course, without the benefit of gory murder scenes, pat solutions to even the most complicated crime, or sexy doctors in emergency rooms, "Jericho" was doomed -- with an average audience of only seven million viewers who, apparently, don't count, as CBS canceled the show anyway. (The hit cable show "The Sopranos" has an average rating almost identical to "Jericho.")

This of course echoes the history of really superior television programs canceled due to low audience numbers (translated: because the show does not feature the lowest common denominator in its stories, to attract the largest number of viewers): There was the original "Star Trek," the really great sci-fi "Firefly," the fascinating "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," etc.

But, in the tradition of networks royally pissing off their viewers, "Jericho" fans have started a rather brilliant campaign to express their dissatisfaction: they are sending tons of peanuts to CBS.

Why peanuts? The answer is

You can also sign an online petition to save "Jericho"

May the nuts be with you.

21 May 2007

The Sound of Silents

Speaking of silent films, NPR recently did a fascinating story about early sound in film. You can hear it here.

Includes early sound clips of some very famous people.

20 May 2007

The 400

It's hard to believe it's been 20 years since "The Simpsons" first appeared on television -- on "The Tracey Ullman Show," in short animated films about a wacky family.

It's been 18 years since their own television series started.

It's harder yet to fathom that I have stayed with that show all along -- up to and including episode number 400 which airs tonight.

I could go on and on about why "The Simpsons" is such a great show -- listing things like the writing, the voice talents, the writing and, of course, the really well-written scripts.

But, I think it is the writing that makes "The Simpsons" so good.

I love how the scripts contain jokes for every strata of intelligence -- the easy jokes for the kids, the more clever jokes for the adults, and the really subtle but funny jabs missed by many except those of a certain group -- like sports fans, or theater buffs. I love that.

How can you not like a show that features the great scientists Marie and Pierre Curie as giant creatures terrorizing a city with beams of radiation shooting from their eyes? (Pictured, "Marge gets a Job" 9F05.)

How can you not?

16 May 2007

How Special is "Special"?

One of the strongest forces from my own childhood is my love of special effects in cinema. Matt will tell you I often rent or TiVo films just to fast forward to the special effects. I love being wowed and amazed at the cinema trickery.

Rarely can I attest to such a feeling of awe and admiration for a person's craft greater than that I felt when viewing "Titanic" and turning to Matt and saying "How could they make a set that big?" (in reference to the huge boiler room). Turns out they didn't. It was all computer generated images. It was so real that even I -- a self-professed expert on special effects -- could not tell. THAT is amazing.

The Visual Effects Society has just released its list of the
Most Influential Visual Effects Films of All Time. (Even more interesting than the list are the comments posted below it -- many of which echo my sentiments.)

While these things are subjective, I can say one thing for certain: more early silent films should have been recognized if for no other reason than their special effects had to be done in real time -- no CGI or green screen here:

"Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1921) where film stock had to be masked off, and a roll of film run through the camera twice, so that Mary Pickford as the boy could be seen kissing Mary Pickford as the mother.

"Ben Hur" (1925) which used hanging miniatures to match real structures, allowing the coliseum set to be enlarged.

"The Penalty" (1920) which featured Lon Chaney's performance as a man with no legs.

Difficult as CGI is, it is no match for the work of the master craftsmen and craftswomen who created astonishing special effects by hand.

14 May 2007

Dear Santa:

I know it's a little early to be writing you, but I wanted to get on your list early -- the "nice" list, of course -- and ask you very politely for a copy of the new book "Charley Harper -- An Illustrated Life" by Todd Oldham (pictured) for xmas.

Now, I am only asking for the regular edition -- which you can see on the American Modern Books web site
here and not the really fancy limited-edition slipcase version which you can see here.

Of course, I will leave it up to you as to how good a boy you think I have been this year, in case you think I have been good enough to warrant the limited-edition slipcase version. It's up to you.

As always, in the interest of saving money, you can get it at a pretty hefty discount
at Amazon.

Thank you, Christopher

P.S. Cookies and milk will be yours this xmas eve with or without the book. :-)

12 May 2007

Waste Not

I hate waste. To me, the three biggest sins are wasting time, wasting food, and wasting materials.

While we are not totally successful at preventing waste of these three items, we try really hard to reuse, reduce, recycle everything -- reduce the amount of time it takes to do things, reuse whatever we can, and recyle whatever is left over.

With that in mind, I link to this New York Times
article about big companies working to reduce the amount of packaging in their products.

Am I happy? You bet.

10 May 2007

Yesterday's Tomorrow, Today!

I just love history -- especially America between the wars. I mean, so much really great happened then: plastics, Worlds Fairs, inventions, prosperity, flappers, Lindbergh, medicine, gadgets, foods.

Gerson, my new friend in Brazil (and fellow plastic collector) turned me on to
this really keen website that has all kinds of stuff from the magazines "Mechanix Illustrated," "Modern Mechanics," "Popular Science" and more! How cool is that?

07 May 2007

Faulkner in Hollywoodland

You know, I never could warm up to the works of William Faulkner (pictured). I mean, I like the work of his contemporaries -- Fitzgerald, O'Hara, Cain among them. Just not him.

That said, you have to admire the balls of the man who went to work in Hollywood mainly for the money, said he was having trouble writing and asked if the boss minded if he wrote from home. The boss said okay; so Faulkner went home to write -- to Mississippi. How cool is that?

More about Faulkner's arrival in Hollywood -- 75 years ago today -- will be found

06 May 2007

70 Years of "Humanity"

"Well, here it comes, ladies and gentlemen; we're out now, outside of the hangar. And what a great sight it is, a thrilling one, just a marvelous sight."

Seventy-years-ago today -- 06 May 1937 -- radio journalist Herb Morrison uttered those famous words. It was the start of what would become one of the world's most spectacular events: the explosion and then crash of the famed dirigible, the Hindenburg (pictured; click for much larger image).

This event spelled the end of one of Germany's crowning glories, but it is also considered by many the beginning of media disaster coverage -- coverage while the event was unfolding.

Many journalists put themselves in harm's way to get a story, hoping to be in the right place at the right time. Morrison was there by coincidence (lucky bastard!).

Click here for an audio copy of Morrison's reporting of that moment.

05 May 2007

Charles Harper, Anyone?

We went on a combined thrifting and antiquing junket today.

Did not find much, but we did luck upon nine new editions of the old "Ford Times" magazine featuring the works of naturalist Charles Harper -- whose illustrations have often graced this web log.

So thrilled were we to find even more of this great artist's magazine covers, I decided to created a new web page.

You will find the page

04 May 2007

I, Chimp?

You knew it had to come to this: some people in Austria are trying to have a chimpanzee legally declared a "person." In this case, it is not because they actually think the chimp, Hiasl, is a person; rather, to get around a quirky legal technicality in Austrian law.

Are chimps people? No. If we were to assume they were, then all sorts of other problems would arise. For example, could they be charged with a crime? Could they own property? Should chimps be afforded legal protection? Absolutely. I find it hard to argue that a sentient animal is just a "dumb" animal.

Higher mammals have been demonstrated to have many traits that are exhibited by humans (arguably, the most intelligent animal of the lot). These include:

*Compassion (demonstrated by certain large cats bringing food to injured cats in their group)

*Intelligent use of tools (we all know about the chimpanzees who modify branches to make sticks for fishing out termites)

*Ability to communicate in a structured manner we recognize as language (many examples, but the most famous being Washoe, the chimp)

*Organized warfare (sadly, too many examples, including chimps)

*Ability to have sex for pleasure, rather than just reproduction (dolphins)

This makes them intelligent, but it does not make them "persons."

More on the Austrian case will be found in this