30 December 2011

A Cat Named Scruffy

I was going to write about this story last week -- but I was so angry that I had to wait until I could write about it calmly and rationally.

You have probably all heard the story about the ex-drug addict in Phoenix who found sobriety with the help of a little kitten. Earlier this month, the now-adult cat was injured and taken to the Arizona Humane Society by her caretaker who was desperate to find help. The caretaker did not have money to pay for the treatment at that moment, and the humane society convinced him the cat would be treated if he surrendered the cat to them. A few hours later, the cat was euthanized.

So much has been written about how wrong this situation was. The poor man. The poor cat.

Matt and I have been big supporters of the Arizona Humane Society for many, many years; donating to them thousands of dollars and lots of supplies. (Our cat, Eero, was adopted from them in 2005.) I was incensed by this story and ready to call them and tell them to return the money I had just sent them the day before.

But I waited. I wanted to hear the whole story, to calm down and review it objectively.

Today I called the humane society and spoke with a very nice woman (Monica) and told her how upset I was by their actions, how I was ready to demand a return of my money; but that, in the end, I decided the best thing to do was to ask that they take the money I just donated and put it in their new "9-1-1 account" created in response to this event. Money in this emergency account will be used to help financially-strapped owners pay for treatment and give them time to repay it later. I told Monica that this was a better solution for me than to demand a return of my money: rather than complain about what happened, I wanted to be part of the solution to prevent such needless tragedy ever befalling an animal lover again.

Of course, my donation will not bring back Scruffy, and her owner will never have time with his cat again; but maybe we can all learn from this horrible cascade of mistakes.

I urge you to please make a donation -- in Scruffy's name -- to your local humane society and suggest that they create a similar emergency fund (if they don't have one already).

You can read more about Scruffy here.

29 December 2011

The Itchy and Scratchy Show

Before you get lost in your reverie thinking about our warm winter weather here in Phoenix, please keep in mind that the source of that warmth (persistent high pressure system sitting over us) also causes the crappy, dirty air that obscures the gorgeous mountains of our Valley. Thanks to breathing and rebreathing the exhaust that pours from thousands of cars, my throat is scratchy and my eyes itchy making it necessary to pop decongestant and antihistamine on a regular basis. This is not pleasant.

So, in summary:

warmth in winter = nice; air pollution that comes with it = not nice.

21 December 2011

Something to Think About

Okeh, so today marks the beginning of the end of the world according to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar -- and today also brings word of a two-headed baby born in Brazil. Should I be worried?

19 December 2011

Smart or Stupid?

Just quit my safe and secure corporate day-job so I could spend more time in the unsafe and totally insecure world of freelance writing. Smart or stupid? You decide.

03 December 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Film

I don't want to get into reviewing film on this blog, but we just watched "Crazy, Stupid, Love" sucked in by the critical buzz it received when in the cinema earlier this year. Let me just say this is a film made for people who are not Matt and me.

28 November 2011

Critiquing Critics

Everyone knows I love Stephen Sondheim's work for theatre and film. He does not always succeed in his efforts, but I admire that he tries something different, something other than the sloppy writing that is Andrew Lloyd Webber and others of that ilk. Because he tries to be different, audiences often refuse to try to participate in his efforts -- and for that, we all pay a dear price.

Recently, Sondheim released a second book of lyrics "Look, I Made a Hat." In it there is a section about his experience with theatre critics and criticism that I found to be totally and sadly correct.

For about seven years I was the theatre critic for "The Phoenix Gazette" -- a highly praised, worthy newspaper that was allowed to suffer an ignominious and slow death. At that time there were six or seven other writers in the Phoenix area also doing criticism.

I don't know what people thought about my criticism, but I will tell you that I tried to be both an enthusiastic supporter of what each company was trying to do, and something like a parent-figure who wanted to gently guide the child through the rough spots of life and into a brighter world. Sometimes doing these things was difficult, indeed; but my good intentions were there and sometimes others realized it.

When I was reviewing, theatre in Phoenix was hot. There were times I would review 10 to 12 plays or musicals in one week -- racing from the theatre to the paper to write a review that would be on the streets in a few short hours. It was often exhausting work in grueling conditions, but I loved every moment of it -- even considering the productions that were not quite where they should have been.

As a critic, I was a little different in that I had actually spent many years working in theatre -- acting and behind the scenes. Very little of it was professional work; nearly all of the amateur kind -- the point being that I knew a little something about making theatre. I knew how hard it was, I knew about tech rehearsals, costume change glitches, gels that fall off lights, sound cues that are missed and entrances made too early. No one who has not actually been part of a theatrical production has any idea of the millions of moving parts that must align for the effect to be (and I hate the cliche) magic -- for magic it is when all those parts mesh perfectly.

Unlike many of the critics mentioned in Sondheim's article, I loved theatre and wanted everyone to go to see a show without any regard to anything I might write -- not because I liked something and not despite the fact I did not. I wanted people to go to the theatre because it was a live, living organism -- an art form that has almost no peer and that is different every night because of the people who sit in the audience.

I loved the theatre so much that I wanted people to understand the valuable contribution made by critics, so I did lots of public speaking engagements about what a critic does and how to read a review. I went to schools and I spoke at theatres on the nights they were otherwise dark.

And, as Sondheim mentions in his book, I was loved and hated in equal measure: loved when my review was favorable to a show or performer or designer; hated when I was less favorable. On occasion I was confronted by a person who felt slighted by my review. In most cases, I had also given this person a favorable review at one time. So, when confronted, I gently reminded him / her about the previous favorable review and asked "Did you disagree with that review, as well?" Of course not. I hope that made them understand you either had to accept all the reviews equally or accept none at all: agreeing with the favorable ones and disagreeing with the unfavorable ones was an unhealthy pastime.

Then I lost my job at the paper and something happened that surprised me: I received only a single note from a single person who lamented that I would no longer be reviewing theatre. Of all the effort I made to help people understand and enjoy theatre, of the many hundreds of reviews I wrote and the many thousands of people whose work intersected with mine, only one person made it known that he was sad I was leaving. That was probably a harsher review than any I could have written.

You can read Sondheim's comments about critics here.

You can buy his first book of lyrics here.

You can buy his newest book of lyrics here.

18 November 2011

A Little Less Evil in the World

Long before the United Nations began searching for Iraq's WMDs (weapons of mass destruction), I had my own WMD -- WalMart, McDonald's and Disney. This WMD is what I consider the axis of evil. WalMart for how they treat their employees and the suppliers; McDonald's for the crap they put on their menu; and Disney for their overbearing presumption that they own everything on the planet and, by extension, can alter history any way they damn please ("Pocohantas" anyone?).

While I am still not a huge fan of McDonald's, I have to give them credit for their quick action in ceasing business with Sparboe Farms -- which had been a major suppier of eggs to the food empire -- because of the way they treat their chickens and possible contamination of the eggs.

If you want to know more about the investigation that led to the decision by McDonald's, you can watch two programs tonight: 20/20 and World News with Diane Sawyer.

If they show the footage they aired this morning on Good Morning America, you should exercise caution because the way the birds are treated and caged is disgusting and unacceptable.

If you would rather read about McDonald's courageous (and appropriate) reaction, you will find an article here.

Thank you, McDonald's, for setting a great example by doing the right thing.

09 November 2011

Bil Keane RIP

My dinner with Bil Keane (1922 - 2011): In 1991, I was covering an event for the newspaper that included dinner with several notables -- Robert McCall (illustrator), Cindy and John McCain (politician), and Caryll and Jon Kyl (politician). Seated at my table was Bil Keane (cartoonist of "The Family Circus"). We had a brief conversation and he made a little drawing with his autograph (pictured).

30 October 2011

Drug Take Back Day -- Maybe

Saturday was the latest National Drug Take Back Day, in which people are encouraged to drop off expired or unneeded drugs for safe disposal -- rather than just flushing them down the toilet and spoiling our already-tenuous supply of drinking water.

Matt and I set out late in the morning to our local department of public service (DPS) office to drop off our small baggie of drugs. We got to the location to find blocked both entrances to the parking lot. We drove around to the back parking lot and spoke with a security guard via speaker. Not only did she know nothing about drug take back day (!), she assured us it could not possibly be happening today because the state fair was going on (about half a mile away). As we began to leave we saw a uniformed DPS officer. He knew what we were talking about so he removed the barriers so we could park and drop off our drugs.

What should have taken all of a minute or so took nearly ten -- but our drugs are gone and we feel better about it all. We probably could have purchased a serving of marijuana faster than it took us to drop off our old drugs.

You can read more about the day here.

22 October 2011

I Love Facts, Don't You?

Anyone with an ounce of grey matter in his/her head knows the planet is warming. The reasons behind this warming may not be fully understood (is it caused by human technological development or just part of the Earth's natural cycle of warming and cooling?); but there is no denying that the planet is getting warmer.

Politicians of a certain -- shall we say -- political affiliation have taken the stance that climate change (aka global warming) is just a trick by the other political party to save animals and kick people off their land. So back in March, with what must have been a certain amount of glee, they invited to testify at capitol hill a renowned scientist who has long argued that climate change is hooey. I wish I could have been there as this renowned scientist sat down in front of all these naysayers and began his testimony. I would have loved to see their faces as he basically said "global warming is true." That would have been a hoot.


Of course, there are people of a certain persuasion who never let facts stand in the way of their beliefs (examples of which are far too numerous to recount here); so they will surely say this renowned scientist has been paid off to lie, or drugged, or replaced by a pod person. But you, dear intelligent reader of this blog, can read the facts for yourself (not that you ever doubted climate change).


You will find an overview of the study
here.

You will find a more in-depth explanation of it
here.

You can visit the site of the group that did the study
here.

15 October 2011

Matt and Christopher and Zebra and Giraffe

Matt and I recently spent a few days touring gorgeous northern Arizona. Along with stops in Prescott and Flagstaff, we spent a couple hours at the Out of Africa wildlife park in Camp Verde. I made a little video of our African bush safari tour in which we ride in old buses through the part of the park where the animals run free. As you can see in the video below, the animals get VERY close.



14 October 2011

10 October 2011

Season Four Slump

Matt and I have spent the last few years making our way through all six seasons of the half-hour version of "I Love Lucy" -- each episode, in chronological order. The other night, while watching a season-five episode, I realized something very interesting: the quality of "Lucy" started to fade in the fourth season and did not improve in the fifth. Season four is my favorite -- that's where the gang goes to Hollywood and Ricky makes a movie; but I noticed that the show overall stopped being as funny and could never figure out why.

Matt and I have been huge fans of the current television show "The Big Bang Theory" since it started. We are watching the new season (season five; note the similarity). It remains the funniest show on broadcast television ("South Park," on cable, is funnier). We still love it, but it also started being less funny in its fourth season -- just like "Lucy."

Why is this? In season four of both shows, the scripts began focusing less on the ensemble and more on the person who got the most laughs: Lucy on "Lucy" and Sheldon on "Theory."

"Theory" was originally funny because it focused on normal-Penny's interactions with four "fish out of water." That interaction was VERY funny indeed and had to be why the show was so popular -- we all feel we are fish out of water at some point in our lives and, therefore, we can all identify with their situation. "Lucy" started out with essentially the same formula: Fred and Ethel are the normal ones and the fish out of water were Lucy (ditsy) and Ricky (a foreigner in a foreign land).*

Over time, both shows began focusing less on the ensemble and more on the person who got the laughs. This change in direction skews the stories away from the humor to be found as the ensemble interacts, and more toward one person getting obvious laughs. Slowly but surely, "Lucy" episodes began focusing strictly on Lucy getting into some absurd situation (the entire European-tour-driven season five). "Theory" has not slipped all the way down that slope, but it is well on its way. There have been episodes where Penny has had a couple lines and that's it. ("Theory" has made the additional error of adding many more regulars. This not only diverts focus from the core source of humor, it also dilutes the humor that comes from that core.)

There is no arguing that "Lucy" is the best comedy show to come out of early television, just as there is no denying "Theory" is still funny; but it is interesting to note similarities in shows more than 50 years apart, and how Hollywood continues to make the same mistake.

Post script: Jack Benny was arguably the funniest man on radio and the early days of television. He did two things right: he hired the very best writers he could find and made sure the jokes were spread around to all his cast. As obvious as the latter might seem, many of the early radio stars hogged all the jokes for themselves (most notably Red Skelton). Benny knew the important thing was that the JOKE got a laugh, not which PERSON got the laugh. By spreading around the humor, each of his cast members were able to shine in different episodes. This was the key to his longevity on radio (1932 - 1955) and on television (1950 - 1965); and why he remains popular to this day.

*You can get an idea of how much "Lucy" changed by listening to episodes of "My Favorite Husband" -- the radio show that spawned "Lucy." Here, ensemble interaction drives the humor. This interaction survived the early seasons of "Lucy" (many episodes using the same scripts as the radio show) but then slowly changed.

09 October 2011

Birthday Matt

Matt had a birthday yesterday. We spent it playing miniature golf, video games and ended with a great lunch of soul food! Here's a photograph of Matt having fun at a local golfery. Click to enlarge.

02 October 2011

Aye, There's the VapoRub

I had a rough time of it when I was a child. My asthma and allergies were so bad that I almost died three times before I was ten years old. Back then, in the early 1960s, there weren't a lot of medicines that children could take for these issues, so I played test subject for a lot of home remedies.

My favorite was chewing honeycomb from hives in the Phoenix area (where I was growing up). Back then, you could go to any local supermarket and find honey grown in your own city -- complete with pieces of the honeycomb. My mom would take out the comb, slice off a small piece, and I would chew it like gum. The point of this was to expose me to the very pollen to which I had an allergy. Doing this over time helped me develop a slight immunity to those allergens. (The same theory is behind why we get allergy shots.)

My least favorite was having my chest rubbed with Vicks VapoRub -- a sticky gooey mess that my mom put on my chest under a T-shirt. I suppose the fumes helped my sinuses, but it stank and was sticky and the T-shirt was hot. Every time I smell eucalyptus (one of the ingredients), I flash back to those many days and nights of having a sticky chest.

I was recently listening to one of my vintage radio programs and heard a commercial for VapoRub from 1933. I understand the product was already 28 years old. Here, then, for your listening enjoyment is a 1933 radio commercial for Vicks VapoRub.

11 September 2011

Happy Happy Hypo

After lunch one Friday in May 2009, I was jaywalking across a street and had a weird episode. My vision and hearing both started to go out, I had trouble walking and I could not speak. I thought I was going to pass out -- right there in the middle of traffic!

I went to my doctor. Was it a mini-stroke? He said no. Over the next couple years, trying to find an explanation, I visited doctor after doctor. In order: a general practice doctor, a pulmonologist, two different general practice doctors, two cardiologists, a gastroenterologist and two endocrinologists. I wrote about one of those doctor visits here.

Just this past June, with the help of an endocrinologist, we finally found (what we think is) the answer: like my father, I am hypoglycemic.

Basically, hypoglycemia is when your body does not have enough fuel (glucose) to function. If you have no fuel you can faint and even die; if, like in my case, you are running low on fuel, you have near faints and other symptoms which are annoying but not really dangerous. There are two kinds of hypoglycemia: one is when you have low blood sugar (glucose) all the time; the other when you only have low blood sugar after you eat.

How can you have too little fuel AFTER eating? In the kind of hypoglycemia known as reactive hypoglycemia -- which only occurs in reaction to eating.

When you eat, your body releases insulin to help process the food (glucose). When I eat, my body produces prodigious amounts of insulin -- three times more than it should -- that processes the food and then keeps on processing whatever glucose it can find floating in my body. This upsets the balance of my blood sugar and I have these weird symptoms. It is not something that can be cured; and can easily progress to something much worse -- not least of which is full-blown diabetes and all its associated problems.

Reactive hypoglycemia can be controlled by proper eating (reduce carbohydrates -- especially processed sugar), controlling weight, and being physically active. I have cut out ALL processed sugar from my diet (there was not much to cut, but it's gone now), I have been maintaining a good weight since 2002 and I am physically active but I'm increasing that.

Reactive hypoglycemia becomes relatively common as we age. In some cases it occurs in people who eat tons of sugar, in others it is genetic. It is probably genetic in my case because I never ate much sugar and my dad had regular hypoglycemia. If you ever have similar symptons, I would suggest a visit to your regular doctor followed by a trip to an endocrinologist to measure your glucose and insulin levels. You might as well start where I ended up and save yourself all that money, time and frustration.

19 August 2011

A Happy Song

You all know I am a huge fan of vintage radio comedies and dramas. Today, I heard a 1934 episode of a show called "Taystee Breadwinners" which was a musical variety show. On it was a surprisingly fun song that I had never heard -- and that is apparently very obscure. So, I thought I would share it with you. Please enjoy Hot Dogs and Sarsaparilla.

23 July 2011

Guns Don't Kill People

With a total now of 85 shot to death, I wonder how many the crazed gunman in Norway would have been able to kill if he did not have such easy access to guns -- and had only, say, a knife.

Of course, guns don't kill people.

You can read more here.

10 July 2011

Who Wrote That?

Don't you just love the musical score for the film "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (the original version)? And what about "Vertigo"? Or "North by Northwest" and "Mysterious Island" and "Jason and the Argonauts"?

Me too.

What's interesting is that the same person wrote all those scores -- along with "Psycho," "Taxi Driver" and many more.

What's even MORE interesting, is that the same person also wrote lots and lots of original scores for radio shows -- including Campbell Playhouse, Columbia Workshop, Mercury Theater of the Air, quite a few episodes of Suspense, and many other programs.

Who is that person? Bernard Herrmann, of course.

You can read an interesting NPR blog entry about Herrmann here; and find a list of his movie credits here.

04 July 2011

This Just In

FoxNews.com announced that its Twitter account has been hacked. However, it cannot say for certain that a picture that was sent showing a man's underwear with a large bulge in it is not his. "I am not going to let this distract me," was all FoxNews.com had to say as it rushed passed reporters.

03 July 2011

Three Years

Matt and I have been married three years today. I don't think Liz and Dick made it that long -- did they? Happy third wedding anniversary, HBSP :-*

02 July 2011

You Are There: 02 July 1994

Do you know where you were 17 years ago today? I do. It was right around this time 17 years ago that I was about to fall from the top of a very tall ladder about 14 feet onto the cement driveway below, with all my weight bearing down on my flexed right wrist.

It was a fine summer Saturday morning, my father's birthday in fact, and I volunteered to trim a very tall tree bordering the driveway at my parent's house. I set up the ladder properly, I found a sturdy limb on which to lean, and proceeded to trim away several large branches. Then, while leaning, the once-sturdy limb cracked and flew to the west. Recoiling, I sent the ladder flying to the east -- leaving me suspended in mid-air for a fraction of a second about 14 feet above the driveway.

In that split second, I tried to think of the best option available to me. Not really having rehearsed for such an event, I opted for sticking out my right arm to help deflect the force of the fall away from my head and back. This worked (I did not land on my head or back) and did not work (badly fractured right radius just at the wrist).

It took me a moment to begin breathing again and to realize something was wrong with my wrist. I went to my mother (a nurse), held up my wrist that had a huge swollen area around it and asked her if this was a problem. She called my father who took me to the nearest emergency room.

After a couple hours at emergency, and a handful of x-rays, the very helpful doctor started splinting me up and instructing me to telephone an orthopaedic specialist on Tuesday (Monday being July 4th). I finally blurted out that no one had told me whether my wrist was broken. "Oh, it's VERY broken," he said.

In the photographs above (click to enlarge) you can see the part of my wrist that broke (left image). The center image is how my genius doctor fixed it -- using an external fixator not designed for this use. I'm written up in a journal somewhere and he did a few speaking engagements about it. (Those four horizontal white things are long screws.) The right image is my wrist after the final surgery -- and what it looks like now complete with a plate, three hooks and two screws. In surgery they had to do bone grafting because under the big chip (circled, left image) is a lot of pulverized bone -- "like powder" my doctor said.

A couple months after the surgery -- sleepless months, I can assure you -- I was at my final appointment with my doctor. External fixator out, bones healing nicely, thank you. Coincidentally, who should walk by but the doctor who had assisted my doctor. He was invited in, introductions made. This second doctor shook my hand (gently, thank you) and held it. He turned it, looked at the scars and his handy work and said "If you had seen what we had seen in surgery, you would be surprised you have any use of this hand at all." (Insert cold shiver up and down spine.) That was the first inkling I had as to the seriousness of my injury.

Originally, my doctor estimated I would retain between 50% and 75% of my normal wrist function. Needless to say, it is 100% thanks to my genius doctor and his brilliant use of technology.

That's how it was, 17 years ago today -- and you are there.

25 June 2011

Whodda Thunk It?

New York becomes the sixth state in America to legalize marriage equality (not counting the blip that was California).

My only regret is that Matt and I got married in California in 2008 -- when we could have done it three years later in New York. Oh, well.

You can read more about this astonishing victory here.

16 June 2011

One Newspaper Article you will NEVER Read

NEW YORK THEATER GOERS RIOT OVER "CATCH ME" LOSS TO "MORMON"

New York City, New York - Angry, drunken theater fans ran wild Sunday night after the loss by "Catch Me if You Can" to "The Book of Mormon" in this year's Tony Awards which honor excellence in theatre. "Catch Me" fans set cars and garbage cans ablaze, smashed windows, showered giant TV screens with beer bottles and danced atop overturned vehicles. Later, looters smashed windows and ran inside theater gift shops.

"We have a small number of hooligans on the streets of New York City causing problems," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "It's absolutely disgraceful and shameful and by no means represents the city of New York. ... We have had an extraordinary run during this Broadway season, great celebration. What's happened tonight is despicable."

At one shop, looters were seen grabbing "Catch Me" T-shirts and anything else they could get their hands on. Young women were seen escaping with "Catch Me" mugs, with one carrying out part of a mannequin. The theater was filling with smoke as people, their faces covered in bandannas, continued the violence.

"Catch Me" star Norbert Leo Butz said "It's terrible," shaking his head. "This city and theater district has a lot to be proud of, the cast we have and the guys we have in here. It's too bad."

"Sister Act" cast member Patina Miller, from a nearby theater, sent a Twitter message imploring the fans to stop the violence. "We're a great city and have a lot of class. Broadway is great and our honors will come. "

It appears there have been no fatalities, but ambulances seemed to be having trouble getting down the street outside the Beacon Theater and TV images showed at least one woman mopping blood from her forehead with a "Catch Me" Playbill.

12 June 2011

It's Important to Know

When thinking about the food you eat:

It's important to know how many calories it contains.

It's more important to know how much salt it contains.

But, it is most important to know how much sugar it contains.

11 June 2011

Hamsters!

I think the French are pretty nice people, generally speaking. I like their fries, I like Marion Cotillard, and Gerald and Sara Murphy seemed to think they were swell. But I am concerned, like the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, that our friends the French are not doing enough to help the last species of hamster still living in the wild.

The big problem, it seems, is that French farmers have stopped cultivating crops that hamsters like to eat, and switched to corn -- which hamsters apparently don't like. (And really, who can blame them?)


You can read more about the plight of the Great Hamster of Alsace (pictured)
here. (You will enjoy the reader comments after the article. VERY clever indeed.)

07 June 2011

Found Films?

Hey! I guess I am slow on the uptake, but I just today found out about a really cool project to help find and identify lost films! We are big fans of vintage film here at Chez JAC, and are always happy to find out about the discovery of films thought to have been lost. So, please go check out these two links and see if you can help!

Read about the project here; visit the site organizing the project here.

30 May 2011

Baby Raccoons!

What's cuter than a baby panda? Why, a baby raccoon, of course. What's even cuter than that? Three albino baby raccoons, of course (pictured).

22 May 2011

Notes From Heaven!

Greetings!

Well, the world ended yesterday and I guess I was one of the lucky ones taken to heaven!


Interestingly, heaven pretty much looks just like the place on earth where I lived. In fact, the entire house came to heaven with me -- so did Matt, our dog Aalto and our cat Eero (so I guess that answers the question of whether pets are allowed into heaven). Looking out the window I see that the entire street where I lived was transported to heaven, as well as a big chunk of our neighborhood.

What's really neat is we still get television reception from earth and the internet is working -- which is how I am able to make this blog entry. The news stations are not showing any of the suffering going on back down on earth. This is probably because heaven is supposed to be all nice and everything, so they are not allowing coverage of the carnage going on during the five months of "hell on earth" that is currently engulfing the planet I once called home.

Will I miss the earth? Probably; but it seems that heaven is filled with all the comforts of my old home so I probably won't miss it long.

20 May 2011

Note to Self: End of World Tomorrow

We're down to the last 24 hours before the world ends. Matt suggested you might want to make sure you clean up the crap on the roof of your house. You don't want the raptured folks to see that old frisbee that's been up there since the kids were eight. That would be poor form.

14 May 2011

Take a Bird to Lunch Today!

Today is international migratory bird day in which the whole world takes a moment to realize the importance to the planet of birds, migration routes and the need to protect the environment.

Celebrate by taking a migratory bird to lunch! Find out what kind of birds are likely in your area today and what kind of foods they like to eat and put some around your yard to say "Hey, migratory birds! Welcome to my neighborhood! Here, take a load off and have a snack."


You can read more about the day
here.

Find out more about the birds you can see at the Petrified Forest National park in Arizona here.

You can read more about what bird-related events are going on in Dubai
here.

The illustration is by famed naturalist Charles Harper.

10 May 2011

Good Manners Cost Nothing

I totally agree with this article about the importance of teaching good manners to children. And not only children: given the current state of affairs, I know a whole lotta people who would benefit from reading it.

At some point, people lost sight of the fact that manners are not some tortured stricture that forces us to act a certain way; manners are the way we show respect for ourselves and for other people. Without respect the world descends into anarchy and chaos. I know you are probably thinking "too late"; but it is never too late to understand the added value brought to our lives by good manners.

08 May 2011

End of the World (again)

You might remember back in October 2006 when I posted this entry about how the world would be ending on 09 November. It appears they got it wrong that time.

However yesterday, while driving around, we saw a large billboard proclaiming that "judgement day" was coming on Saturday, 21 May 2011. It even included a special note in a big circle proclaiming "the bible guarantees it!" so I am thinking it is probably true this time.

We have (or, I guess, had) plans with some neighbor friends on 28 May, so we let them know we might not be there (if the world ends we will probably not be available for a picnic). They probably wouldn't be available either, but it would be rude of me to not at least give them a heads up, don't you think?

Anyway, we're down to less than two weeks before the end of the world, so I suggest you tidy up around the house. I'm sure you don't want the place looking a mess when the angels arrive at the door. Do you?

03 May 2011

Wanna See a Great Movie?

We are great fans of foreign and independent films. I would say of the films we screen at our house, easily half are either foreign or independent. (The other 50 percent comprises something like 30 percent vintage films, and 20 percent new Hollywood offerings.)

Why do we like foreign and independent films so much? Well, aside from the fact they are more competently made, most also have substance and believable characters and plots and logic -- all things missing from most Hollywood films. In addition, foreign films offer a look at another world clearly ignored by Hollywood. I like seeing stories about other people and other lands.

I agree with almost all of the sentiments in this story recently on NPR. Most Americans are missing out on the very best in cinema because they either have no desire to see foreign films (Subtitles? You mean I gotta READ the movie?) or because Hollywood makes it hard for people to find these films.

Well, these movies are available if you expend just a little effort to find them. If they run at your local cinema, go see them. (If they don't, call and ask why not.) If they don't, well, all I can say, is thank the gods for Netflix.

29 April 2011

Christopher's Law

I just invented a new adage that has to do with events that happen in your life: "As you get older, events in your life happened longer and longer ago." Kinda makes you think, doesn't it?

16 April 2011

Goodbye Old Hollywood, Hello Crap!

I don't know Stephen Simon, and I have not read his new book Bringing Back the Old Hollywood; but I totally agree with everything he says is wrong with Hollywood today in this interview.

10 April 2011

Freaky Weather

In Phoenix:

Friday, 01 April 2011: high temperature of 100 degrees sets new record for that date.

Saturday, 09 April 2011: high temperature of 54 degrees sets new record as the lowest high temperature for that date. It ties as the second lowest high temperature ever recorded in April in Phoenix (all the way back to 1896).

08 April 2011

Brilliant Move, Oscar

What's the smartest thing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscar people) has done lately? Hiring this woman as its new CEO. Independent film's loss is independent film's gain.

07 April 2011

Better?

Because it is so difficult to make mashed potatoes from actual potatoes, there is now potato pearls. Has the world really come to this?

06 April 2011

China Syndrome

If you are as much of a foreign film geek as I am, and if you watch as many films from Asia as it is possible to see in America, then you will likely find interest in an article that recently appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Films coming from China today are really interesting. It's amazing to see the freedom being enjoyed (or, I guess, taken) by some filmmakers. Of course, certain artists are being muzzled as is always the case in a restrictive culture; but there is apparently an independent streak in films that is able to work around government restrictions.

You can read the article here.

02 April 2011

Dear Hollywood:

Why does it seem like the people writing television programs and movies have never seen very many quality television programs or movies -- or, it appears, read many books? Your products of late are nothing but a series of cliches strung together. Remember that cliches become cliches when everyone uses them. So, if you don't know that everyone has already used them (by reading books or seeing older movies) then you are doomed to repeat them.

We recently watched Dana Delaney's new television program "Body of Proof." (We like her work, and still think "Pasadena" was criminally cancelled after only one short season.)


"Proof" is filled with just about every cliche known to human kind. The fat gruff male police detective who doesn't want any outside help -- especially from a woman. The black female police detective (the wonderful Sonja Sohn from "The Wire") forced to stand around and basically do nothing useful. The fiery female protagonist who is hated by everyone but who is (surprise!) always right. The lead character who is recently divorced and is not allowed to she his/her child by the ex-spouse (can you say "Hawaii 50" reboot?). The lead character who lost his/her family because s/he was married "to the job." The goofy novice who does not know his ass from a hot rock and is always cowering in fear of the protagonist who knows all. And, of course, the gruff boss who must "watch the budget" but who is finally won over by the fact that the protagonist is always right. I mean, really: "Proof" is a perfect example of the "one item from column A, one from column B, and one from column C" school of writing.


Then there is "Battle Los Angeles." Man, has THAT movie been done before (many times and MUCH better). The list of cliches here is very long, but the most egregious include:


The group of soldiers separated from their squad who must make a perilous journey to get back. The lone female soldier who, in doing something particularly well, is suddenly accepted as "one of the guys." The addition of civilians who must be protected. The addition of KIDS. The moment when the movie makers try to make the audience think one of the kids is about to die when -- surprise -- the kid's okeh. The washed up military leader who "made a mistake" and let his men die who ends up convincing everyone that he really knows what he is doing. The military leader who, fresh out of school, freezes up but, in the end, kills himself so that others might live. There are more examples, but these are the most obnoxious.


To add insult to injury you could have easily mixed up even these stale old cliches and made better entertainment.


A few quick improvements to "Proof": why isn't the main police detective played by Sohn (pictured)? Having a gruff female police detective, while not new, would certainly have been a better mix. (For that matter, why isn't Sohn the lead in this show? Will someone please give this fine actor her own series?) Couldn't you have created a boss who actually trusts his employees to spend money wisely? And how come no company (in this case, a medical examiner's office) hires employees who are actually competent? Why do they always hire people who are too stupid to know what to do and must always rely and the sage wisdom of the protagonist? Those three changes alone would have greatly reduced the annoyance factor. (And don't get me started on the novice's mistake of having the guilty party be a character that was not even introduced until s/he was found out.)


"Battle" would be harder to save, but I think right off the bat a good fix would have been to have several women soldiers in the cast -- ALL of whom were already considered "one of the guys" so we would not have to waste valuable story time on that. And, seriously, can you ever make a film that has kids in the cast for some reason other than to be in peril? Can't we move on from that hoary old cliche?


Sincerely,

A Film Fan



29 March 2011

Farley Granger RIP

Farley Granger (1925 - 2011). I don't have a story about Granger (pictured). Once, about 20 years ago, I wrote him asking for an interview and he never replied. I followed up with a birthday card, and he still never replied. So, no story. However, his death did cause a bit of a story:

Farley Granger was a big fag. He admits it in his autobiography "Include Me Out." Interestingly, the Associated Press story that ran in the online version of The Arizona Republic conveniently does not mention this fact. However, when consulting the original AP version, you can read seven additional lines all about his same-sex affairs and relationships. So, why did the AZ Republic censor this part of the story? Well, you could say it was cut for length, but any good editor knows you cut from the bottom, not the middle. I am not saying there are any good editors at the Republic, but just for the sake of argument...

In the interest of full disclosure, I was once in the employ of the company that owned The Arizona Republic at that time (they have since sold out -- and I mean that in both senses of the phrase).

You can read the censored version here.

You can read the full AP article here. (The missing text starts after paragraph 10.)

27 March 2011

Waiter! There's Amino Acid in my Soup

Back in the 1970s I first encountered the results of an unusual experiment conducted in 1953 by an American chemist named Stanley Miller. In it, he combined certain gasses that scientists thought were probably in the atmosphere on the earth prior to the beginning of life. He added an electric spark to simulate lightning and left the mixture to stew. After a while, the mixture started turning into a brown goo. He tested it and found five amino acids: the building blocks of proteins. This was a pretty astounding result and fueled research into how life on the earth could have come to be.

After Miller's death in 2007, scientists found a box of samples from this early experiment and others that Miller conducted along the same lines. They decided to retest the samples with more modern and sensitive equipment. Where Miller's original sample contained five amino acids, a follow-up experiment contained twenty-three -- further illustrating how life could have evolved on the earth.

Other experiments in the ensuing decades, including testing on meteorites, have shown similar results: amino acids could have formed on planetary bodies other than the earth.

You can read more about these amazing new findings here.

19 March 2011

Post-Idealism Let Down

There is a television show called "Glee." It's really popular. I've seen a few episodes and I don't like it.

It's strange that I don't like it as my years in high school were very much like "Glee." I was in the boys and group choirs (often a featured soloist) and in theater (worked on about 20 shows dancing, acting and singing on stage and working back stage). Despite all the problems during those years (being smart, being gay, being a loner and being picked on by most of the other kids) I loved high school -- and being part of the performing arts was a big reason why.

So, why don't I like "Glee"? Good question.

Matt watches "Glee" all the time. Occasionally I sit with him and watch -- especially if there is a cute guy on. Last night I watched part of the episode where the clubs went to the regional finals -- and I finally realized why I don't like "Glee": its idealism.

Don't get me wrong: I am not some cranky old man who hates perky kids and all their idealism. No. In fact, I was once one of those perky kids filled with idealism that life was great and I was going to be great, too. My idealism led me to drop out of college and move to California to continue with theatre, to get into the big time, to be a famous actor and make something of myself.

While a cold splash of reality changed that, it did not dampen my idealism. I returned to writing and made quite a success of it for many years, thank you. But during those years, without realizing it, my idealism was slowly replaced with reality: The need to earn money -- sometimes doing work I loved; many times, not. The need to set aside what I wanted in order to be supportive of someone I love. The need to accept that things will not always go the way I want them to.

My life is different than I imagined it would be in my idealistic "Glee" years; but I am not complaining. I have a great life, a wonderful spouse, wonderful friends. I am not doing the job I want full time -- print journalism having been one of the first casualties of the internet world; but I have a day job that pays me a lot of money and comes with super benefits that somewhat ease the sting of my idealistic disappointment.

I loved the idealism of my youth, even if that meant more disappointment with the reality of adulthood. In my youth, the idealism that formed in my own brain set the bar rather higher than I would end up achieving; but the idealism on "Glee" sets it higher than any human can achieve.

In the idealistic world of "Glee" the dorky gay boy gets the hot boyfriend. The nerdy boy in a wheelchair lands the hot cheerleader as a girlfriend. The very overweight girl is doggedly pursued by a hot football guy. But there are disappointments: One girl cannot land the quarterback for a boyfriend because she has so much talent that she is destined for Broadway and a life better than settling down and having his kids.

Do I wish life could be like "Glee"? Hell, yeh; but it's not. Here is the reality: young boys and girls who "come out" as gay in high school experience an empowering moment that all too often leads to bullying and physical abuse from their peers. Overweight girls are picked on for being "fat." Hot football guys experience a few years of adulation that changes with the crushing realization that, after high school, they have no marketable skills. There are still cliques that exclude peers because of their clothing, their income levels, their personal preferences. This is the reality that exists everywhere, not just in high school.

While I fully support idealism, I feel sorry for any young person who watches "Glee" and thinks that's what life is really like. It is not fair to show them a life that does not and cannot exist.

16 March 2011

Poor Doggie!

Like everyone else, Matt and I have been riveted by the coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last Friday. It is all so horrible to watch, but the thing that really got me was the footage of the poor dog (pictured) standing guard over another, obviously injured dog. I saw it this a.m. and thought about it all day.

To my great relief, both dogs have been rescued and are receiving care. You can read more about it and see the original video coverage here.

12 March 2011

Almost

A few years ago I started having occasional near-fainting spells. Trying to find the cause I went to a general doctor, a pulmonologist, and two cardiologists.

As part of the investigation process, my recent cardiologist suggested I have an angiogram -- where dye is injected into the blood stream and x-rays are taken of the arteries surrounding the heart. This is usually done when a person has some symptoms of heart disease -- like pain in the chest, or trouble breathing. My doctor thought a recent stress test showed some blockage and hoped the angiogram would find it.

I had my angiogram yesterday. It was a fascinating, if painful, experience. It showed that I have no blockage in any of my arteries; they are all open and totally clear. This is a relief; but it adds to the frustration that we have still not found the cause of my near-faints.

A couple weeks before the angiogram I observed an interesting irony: I am a few years away from the age my father was when he was diagnosed with really bad heart disease -- so bad they could not operate on his heart. They gave him medication to seriously thin his blood. It worked pretty well, considering how he lived another 15 years. Of course, for most of his life, my father smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish and never ate very healthily; so heart disease was not much of a surprise. I have never smoked, used alcohol or any illegal drugs and usually always ate pretty healthily -- and made major changes to my diet in 2002 to lose some weight and make sure I stayed healthy.

I don't know where this puts me when compared with the rest of the population; but I am relieved to be nearing 52 years of age with no blocked arteries, normal blood pressure (without drugs) and a basically healthy body (aside from allergies, back problems, and the usual aches and pains of getting older).

As for my near fainting spells: we think it has to do with my blood pressure plummeting after eating. Blood pressure usually goes down after eating, but mine goes down way too much. So, we're isolating the problem, but don't yet know the cause. Any ideas?

06 March 2011

Two Down, One to Go

Back in 2007, I wrote this blog entry about the three things I wanted to see happen in my lifetime:

1: humans on Mars

2: life discovered on another planet

3: proof that neanderthals have descendants living on our planet right now.

Last year came evidence that one of the three has happened: proof that neanderthals walk among us.

This year seems to bring the second item: evidence that life exists on another planet. In this case, what appear to be fossils of microorganisms have been discovered in meteorites that have landed on earth. While meteorites are not planets, they are often bits of planets that have been blown into space by some kind of explosion or impact.

If these early results prove true, it would be both a major find and one that is not at all remarkable. Major, because it would finally prove what most people have thought all along: that there has to be life elsewhere in the universe. But the results would also provide a "duh!" moment because the odds of life elsewhere are just too monumentally large in favor. Of course, these microorganisms most likely could not have built spacecraft and come to visit earth. That would need multi-celled animals that have evolved intelligence; but that is also likely given the number of habitable worlds in the galaxy and universe.

Now, if we could just get people off their butts and onward toward Mars, the last item on my list might finally come to pass!

28 February 2011

Jane Russell RIP


Jane Russell (1921 - 2011)

When Jane Russell and I spent some time together on a couch: In March 1991, I was covering a fundraiser for my newspaper. It was at some fancy private house, probably in Scottsdale. The chairwoman of the event was Russell.

I had arranged in advance to have an interview with her; so, when I arrived, the host told me to have a seat on the couch and that Russell would be there shortly. A few minutes later she walked into the living room -- making a grand entrance just for me. Although there was plenty of room on the couch, she sidled up next to me close enough that I could have easily handled her two most famous assets. She probably thought she was giving me the thrill of my life, not realizing I was gay. Yes, it was a thrill to meet and interview her, but most likely not for the reasons she thought. She was very nice and gracious and gave me her autograph and a great interview. (Side note: I sat next to Gene Autry at dinner. I got his autograph, too. That was a hoot!)


24 February 2011

The End of the Dream

In 1970, the MGM studios in Hollywood conducted an event that is still talked about today, more than 40 years later: a big auction of thousands of costumes and props from decades of movie making. One of the buyers was Debbie Reynolds -- an actor who had worked at MGM. Her plan was to save these important historical items and feature them in a museum. A few years later, she bought more history -- this time, from the store houses of Twentieth Century Fox.

In 1993, the museum opened as the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel and Motion Picture Museum. (See photograph.) It did not do well, closing in 1997. There were plans to open a new museum in Hollywood (where it belongs) and then Tennessee.


Today, there is no museum, and decades worth of Hollywood memorabilia will be put back on the auction block to be sold to the highest bidder. Despite her best efforts, Hollywood history will once again drift on the winds to the four corners of the globe -- never, it would seem, to be together again.


Hollywood has a long and storied history of neglecting its heritage. Why didn't anyone help Reynolds make her dream a reality? With all the money in Hollywood, how would they ever miss the few million it would have taken to preserve and exhibit these rare, unique objects?


Unless they step up now and buy these items at auction, Hollywood will have again proven derelict in its duty to preserve the past.

You can read about Reynolds' efforts
here.

Some of her massive collection is viewable
here.

You can read more about the auction
here.

20 February 2011

Billions and Billions

You know you did it: went around intoning in a grave and deep manner Carl Sagan's unlikely catch phrase "billions and billions." Although he never officially said it, he did use the word "billions" when talking about the simple mathematical possibility of the number of planets in our galaxy.

Now, scientists have come up with an estimate based on the number of planet-like objects that have been discovered by a telescope named Kepler. And that estimate is pretty much what Sagan thought all along: billions. In fact, about 50 of those billions -- of which about 1 percent (about 500 million) fit into the not-too-hot not-too-cold segment that could conceivably harbor life in some form.

The numbers start getting really massive when you consider that ours is only one galaxy, and scientists estimate there are 100 billion galaxies. How many habitable worlds would that indicate? You do the math.

You can read more about the new estimate here.

17 February 2011

The Changing Meaning of Words

Yesterday I went to the cinema to see the film "The King's Speech" (which was really well done). During the course of the film, it kept striking me as odd to hear people constantly talking about the "wireless" which, when used in the early years of the twentieth century, referred to radio. This was to differentiate radio communication from telegraphy -- which was communication sent along actual wires strung up from one place to another.

Once radio stopped being a new thing, people just started calling it "radio" and stopped using "wireless."

Now, of course, the word "wireless" is back in vogue -- this time, referring to computing devices that are connected to their service providers or each other without the use of wires.

Interesting how a word can go out of fashion only to come back decades later meaning something entirely different.