Sunday, April 29, 2012

Silent treatment

Some of the best gag cartoons have no captions. The New Yorker co-founder and original editor Harold Ross insisted on the one-line punchline. Before then cartoons could have more than one character speaking. The rule that Ross imposed on the magazine isn't observed all the time nowadays, but is still more common than dialogue between characters. Less common now was more common in the golden age of gag cartooning (in my opinion roughly the 1930s through the 1960s) the caption-less cartoon, which lets the picture be a visual punchline.

Copyright © 1951, 1952, 2012 The New Yorker

Friday, April 27, 2012

Happy birthday, Kate

Kate Pierson (B-52s) is 64 today.

Here's a video with Iggy Pop.

Happy birthday, Kate!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Happy birthday, Carol, Bobby and Gary

Carol Burnett is 79 today. Here's a classic sketch from her '70s show.

Bobby Rydell is 70 today. This song was Bobby's last hit, late 1963. The Beatles came to town and took over the charts. This is my favorite by Rydell, though.

Gary Wright is 69 today.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Before the video recorder, the video novel

Every Sunday night I record some programs on my DVR, and watch them later in the week. It seems I've had this ability forever, but it's really been just about thirty years. I bought my first VCR in 1980, a huge RCA with manual controls (no remote), hooked it up to my broadcast-only television (no cable), and taped programs I could watch later. It was at least a couple of years after that before I was able to rent movies from a local video store. We have a whole generation of people who don't know what it was like to be at the mercy of television schedules. If you wanted to catch a program you'd better be in front of your TV when it was on or it would be gone forever...or at least until it was rerun.

Today I found a book that's a sort of precursor to video recording, the "video novel." I remember there were others of this type, but this is the only one I own. Mork and Mindy was a cute sitcom, and I watched it occasionally, but I doubt I would have spent $2.75 for this book when it came out in 1979. This is the second printing so apparently there were enough fans of the show to sell out the first.

I've just taken a section of the book, which is from the Mork and Mindy Hour Special, to show you. In 1979 it wasn't unheard of on TV to show unmarried couples living together, but it was still frowned on by society in general. They made it easy in the show by making Mork an alien. Or at least I guess that made it easy.

I may not be sure of that, but I know one thing for sure, the sly scriptwriters slipped one by the network censors in Mindy's line to Mork, "It's not nice to sit on your face."

Na-nu, na-nu!


Saturday, April 21, 2012

War without end, amen

The Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Education, Housing and Urban Development are all in the Republican sniper crosshairs, with their itchy fingers on the triggers. When I hear Republican candidates talk about getting rid of government departments I wonder why they never include the Drug Enforcement Administration.

I have an opinion, though. I believe it's because the federal departments they want to get rid of impact their fellow millionaire/billionaire friends, and eliminating such bureaucracies would make it easier for them to completely destroy the air, water and wilderness in the pursuit of profits.

But with the Drug Enforcement Administration the targets aren't businesses (unless the businesses are illegal), and not the Republican family of incestuous rich folks. People incarcerated for using illegal drugs are mostly black people, even though, as pointed out by Leonard Pitts Jr in this editorial, white people do most of the drug abusing. If there is anyone Republicans like to drop-kick into prison it's blacks, the poor and homeless, and those addled by substance abuse. Forget about spending public money on treatment for addiction, it's too hard to quantify results. Republicans would much rather pour strained financial resources into courts, police and prisons, and yes, the Drug Enforcement Administration, using weapons and technology in a 41-year War on Drugs. A war that has so far been a failure. If the United States had fought World War II like they fight drugs, right now we'd all be speaking German and Japanese. The need to punish, especially those who "aren't like us," is strong with Republicans, and unlike rehabilitation, where you can't tell if someone is truly cured of addiction or not, with prisons you can at least count how many drug users and dealers are behind bars.

Harry Anslinger was really the first drug czar, appointed in 1930 to the Bureau of Narcotics. He hated marijuana. It was probably because, as he put it (and I'm paraphrasing), weed helped Negroes invent blues and jazz music, and listening to that evil music and puffing reefer is why marijuana-crazed blacks crave white women. Anslinger was good with terrifying whites with his anecdotes, but used no science as a basis for his claims. He depended on yellow journalism (courtesy of his friend, William Randolph Hearst), along with fear and scare tactics.

When I see a page like this one I took from a 1946 issue of Detective Tales, a pulp magazine, I recognize that it is right out of the Anslinger anti-marijuana propaganda manual.

(Make sure you click on it so you can read it.)

In his editorial, which I linked to in paragraph three, above, Leonard Pitts Jr is upset with President Obama for not advocating legalization of drugs. I don't blame Pitts, who sees drug laws as excessively harsh, biased and racially motivated. I'm more forgiving of Obama. The reality is he would be in an untenable position if he called for decriminalizing drugs. The public has been told for at least 80 years that drugs are always bad, drugs are used by mental defectives, criminals and minorities like African-Americans and Mexicans. You can see why asking Congress to legalize illegal drugs would be for the president a fast track back to civilian life.

Prohibition against alcohol did not work. There was plenty of alcohol during Prohibition, but to buy it customers lined the pockets of criminals. People are still doing that, only this time it's for cocaine, meth and marijuana, as well as the usual potpourri of other illegal substances in which people like to indulge. And the people whose pockets they line are some very nasty types with armies of killers and drug runners.

As Americans we have to take a long, hard look at ourselves and figure some things out. The reason Mexican drug cartels exist is because the American demand for their product makes it so ridiculously profitable. Americans are slow and often unwilling to give up their vices. Millions still smoke, millions drink and sometimes do stupid things. Since tobacco and alcohol are legal there are laws regulating both. Americans apparently don't see, or just ignore, the correlation between a war being fought between drug cartels and Mexican authorities and us. Even totally putting away the basic moral problems of drug users funding terror, and dead bodies piling up, we have to weigh the cost of this never-ending war on drugs and ask ourselves if it's worth it to keep throwing money at it with no real or permanent result.

I'd like to be in a question-and-answer period with Mitt Romney and ask why he never advocates for shutting down the DEA. I'll bet his answer—if he has one, or if he's even thought about it for more than a millisecond—would be firmly with the status quo: Continue spending billions to fight a war we can't possibly win, continue spending more billions to build more prisons (keeping America's record as the country with the most prisoners per capita), paying for more police, never trying to address the cause of the problem, just the symptoms.

I don't take illegal drugs, and I do not encourage people to take illegal drugs. What I'm doing is calling for some sanity in an otherwise insane situation. .


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Levon Helm 1940-2012

Happy birthday, Alan, Mark and Tim

Alan Price (founding member of the Animals) is 70 today.

Mark Volman of the Turtles (white shirt, tambourine) is 65 today.

Tim Curry (that sweet transvestite himself) is 66 today.

Happy birthday to you all!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Let me tell you how it will be...Taxman!

Cartoons copyright © 1951, 1954, 2012 The New Yorker

As I write this, just before midnight, Monday, April 16, 2012, we're going into the final day, the deadline for 2011 taxes. If you're an American you already know that and don't need me to tell you.

If you're a Republican member of Congress, then at this moment you are trying to kill a bill that would create a 30% tax on people earning over one million dollars a year. The deck is stacked in favor of the rich and against working folks and retirees. We pay more than our share. I feel abused because I just paid thousands of dollars in taxes on last year's income, and I didn't earn that much. My tax bill was disproportionate to my income.

Why? Well, it's because of the way the tax code works. If you have a mortgage, have young children in daycare, have investments, or you lost money gambling...oh lordy, the list goes on and on and on and on...if you have deductions, is what I'm saying, then you get to pay less taxes. That's all well and good, except for those of us who don't have deductions. About the only thing Sally and I have, since we own our house, our cars, and have no bills but a monthly payment to Best Buy for Sally's new laptop, is Sally's pet sitting business. She runs it out of our home and last year it didn't do very well. Her client list dropped from attrition, her pet sitting jobs slowed, but she didn't really miss it. She still had her part-time job working for the school district, in addition to our state retirement and Social Security. Her business lost money, and our taxman was able to save us some money there. But in February her school district job ended. The paychecks stopped coming in. We have paid the piper this year for income earned last year. We are punished for not having debt.

I'm telling you all this because even though I feel abused I paid. When my taxman came to my house Friday night with the forms I wrote the checks and he went on his way to the Post Office to mail them. I did it because I didn't dare not do it—I've seen what happens to people who think they don’t have to pay taxes—but as a citizen I obey the law, and if the law says I owe taxes I pay them. I don’t have to like it. Every country has tax laws. It's a part of civilization we haven't figured how to live without. Somebody has to pay the bills. I was on the other end for over thirty years, earning my living, as Sally did, working for the school district, our salaries paid by taxpayers. But what goes around, comes around. We paid taxes out of that income the taxpayers paid us.

The rich don't think like us. I suppose they think they're doing us all a favor by letting us pay the bills for the infrastructure of our society, while they do their jobs collecting wealth, and with the help of friends in Congress, reap much more than they sow.

What I don't understand is why my fellow citizens, especially those in my financial bracket, think that's all fine and dandy. I imagine some of it is that they would like to be in the place of those millionaires, and by not complaining about the rich taking unfair advantage of tax codes, that will work to their advantage. It's something I think of as the myth of Ronald Reagan. He had those "voodoo economics" (what George H.W. Bush called Reagan's economic plan while he was running against him for the nomination in 1980), which claimed the more the rich had, the more the middle and lower classes would have. The money would “trickle down.” Oh, something trickled down, all right, but it wasn't money. The rich kept their money, and what trickled down to us in those lower brackets was a greater share of the tax burden.

I'm not asking to be relieved of my responsibility for paying taxes, I'd just like someone else to help me out by paying what's fair. So if the 1% can't get a new Ferrari or Lamborghini because their free ride provided by Congress is over and they are suddenly paying more in taxes, they should consider the ten years they had to collect their money in the big piles in which it is sitting in their banks, investment accounts or portfolios. They might have to wait a year to get their new toy, or what the hell, put in on their credit card like the rest of us.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

The magic of Hugo

Hugo is a movie about magic. Not Harry Potter, wand-waving magic, but the magic of technology and movies. Director Martin Scorsese has done a masterful job translating the magic to the screen.

The book from which it comes, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (who has a sort of magic surname, if you know your movie history), is a sumptuously illustrated book set in Paris of the 1930s. I don't want to get too deeply into the story, because anyone who doesn't know the story will be as dazzled as I was. Hugo Cabret is an orphan who has set up a secret residence in the clocks of the Paris metro station. Hugo has been taught much by his father about fixing things, and both he and his father (played by Jude Law in an all too short sequence) are working on an automaton, a mechanical man.

Asa Butterfield is the young actor who plays Hugo. The cast also contains Sacha Baron Cohen as the station security cop who chases Hugo, Sir Ben Kingsley as Papa Georges, who hides a past painful to him, and Chloë Grace Moretz, the young actress who did a brilliant job as a vampire in Let Me In. I reviewed that film here.

A film lover and historian as well as a filmmaker, Scorsese has made a PG-rated film which doesn't depend on any sex, violence or profanity to tell its story. But it does use extensive special effects, and that's where the magic of technology comes in. When I saw the opening scene, which is a fast tracking shot through the metro station, I wondered how it was done. A note in the end credits says that scene was done by Industrial Light and Magic. I'm sure much of the film was done in front of green screens, but the storytelling is such we're less aware of the part CGI plays.

I think a subject like French film pioneer Georges Méliès would automatically attract anyone interested in film magic, where we enter a world not possible except for special effects.

[SPOILER ALERT!] Méliès, who we find out is actually Papa Georges, is reduced to running a small toy shop in the Metro. He believes himself totally forgotten, but thanks to the work of a fan and film historian, Rene Tubard (played by Michael Stuhlbarg, whose face is well known even if his name isn't) some of his more than 500 films are found and restored, and shown to a receptive audience in a crowd-pleasing finale to the movie.

I was disappointed in the DVD, which I got from Netflix, for not having a "making of" featurette. I'd like to see a version with a second disk, perhaps with an extensive look at how the effects were achieved, and perhaps also some of the restored footage of the Méliès films, including any his films that exist in their entirety.

I was also interested to read up further on Méliès, and find that the biographical information in Hugo is close to the filmmaker's life. His second wife, "Mama Jeanne" as she's called in the movie, his toy stall at the Montparnasse station in Paris, the resurrection late in life of his reputation and fame (but no financial reward, regrettably), are fairly well represented in the movie.

Despite my complaint about the DVD not having some of Méliès' films, there are several available online. See the Wikipedia entry on Méliès here.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday the 13th is your lucky day

It's Friday today, Friday the 13th, no less. I've been going through in my files for something unusual to show you that won't require me to expend any more brainpower than necessary. I have the rest of the week to be brilliant—that's a joke, son—and need Friday to rest my tired mind.

Today the movie The Three Stooges is being released. It's been getting really bad reviews. The guys who made it, the Farrelly Brothers, have a string of hits like There's Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber. The appeal of their movies escapes me, but we always have the real Three Stooges to watch. Let's all drink to that.

I found a couple of photos which depend on the timing of the photographer.

The shadow knows! In the Biblical sense, that is.

I discussed my prostate issues a couple of days ago. This picture is a reminder that a digital rectal exam is part of the procedure. In a doctor's office, of course.

My friend Dave took this picture a few years ago at the Solano Street Fair, near his San Francisco Bay Area home. Obviously this is some hot babe, dressed like a showgirl. But why isn't anyone but a little girl looking at her (well, except for Dave, of course, who was taking her picture).

When all else fails, go to the mugshots. Yep, here are more booking photos to inflict on you show you.

If Carrot Top had a son and if that son got himself arrested in Ogden, Utah, this would be his booking photo.

At last! Someone has taken my suggestion and made it illegal to wear a mullet.

Two colorful characters.

The guy lives in a cave...the last of the Neanderthals?

I looked around the site to see if there was a face anywhere attached to this tattooed torso. But no. So either the guy is headless, or the most important thing about his booking photo is his skin art. Who knows, maybe the person taking the picture was into that sort of thing, if you catch my meaning.

Finally, from the Beatles Fan Club magazine, 1964, he yam what he yam!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A good news, bad news kind of day

Wednesday was one of those days. I had an appointment with my urologist. The week before I'd gone in for a PSA blood test. Since I've had my prostate removed the desired number of my PSA is zero. Zero means there are no cancer cells from the prostate still in the body. My urologist, Dr. Gee, was also my surgeon in February, 2009. When my prostate was biopsied after removal there was optimism that he had gotten all of the cancer, but it always takes a blood test to tell for sure. So far it's been three years, and every time they take my blood and test for prostate-specific antigens the number is zero, and that's good.

But when I had my operation I had complications. If you have a strong stomach you can read about it here in a posting I wrote just a couple of weeks after surgery. Dr. Gee has apologized for it (and is probably lucky I didn't sue him since he admitted he screwed up).

Dr. Gee is arrogant. I don't necessarily hold it against him, although I don't particularly like him, either. I think arrogance comes with being a surgeon. But his bedside manner is not so good. He's very abrupt and can be impatient. Six months ago during our meeting he reiterated the surgery was the right thing for me. But yesterday he told me he rarely does surgery anymore, because there are new treatments that are better. When he saw the look of pain that crossed my face he said, "I'm sorry for what you went through, and I'm sorry for the side effects you still have, but I can't undo what was done."

Sure, Doc, sure. I understand.

This is a diagram of my cancerous prostate.

He looked at his laptop screen and said, "Three years out, still zero, that's good." I nodded my head. Three years cancer free. It has a nice ring to it. I've always heard if you get to five years out you're considered cured of that cancer. Then he told me, "I had a guy last week, five years out, and his cancer cells went up. It's a good idea to come in every six months for testing so we can catch it."

Gulp. He said, five years out cancer came back...? But...but...I understood that after five years you're considered cured. I guess not.

We talked about me going on Medicare. Next time I see him in October I'll be on Medicare, and wanted to know if that's a problem. "It's only a problem if they cut it 30% like they're talking about," he said. At least then I knew he wasn't a fan of the Paul Ryan plan to cut Medicare. That was good news.

Then he got up; apparently my five minutes or however long I was in there was up, and it was time to move on. He shook my hand. "See you in six months." Before he went out the door he asked, "You have arthritis in that wrist?"


"I could feel it wiggling."

Uh...wiggling? Did he say wiggling?

Before I got a chance to ask what he meant he was off down the hall, his final words being, "I'll send a copy of this [blood test results] to Anna Leeza."

My family doctor is a young Filipino woman whose first name is spelled AnnLiza, but I've never heard it pronounced. I've only seen her twice since she became my doctor, and I can already tell her bedside demeanor is much better than his. Was he being arrogant, calling another doctor by her first name, maybe because she's a woman, or to sound cool. As usual with Dr. Gee, when I left his office I had more unanswered questions than when I went in.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

One Flew Over, Under and Around the Cuckoo's Nest

I’m saying this, yet even I find it hard to believe. I watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for the first time last Saturday night.

Why hadn’t I seen it before? I’ve had thirty-seven years to catch it, but didn’t.

I approached the movie with a perception I had built in my mind since its release in 1975. It is an anti-establishment parable, after all. It is about the rebel (Jack Nicholson as R. P. McMurphy) against the system (personified by Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched). I was prepared then to hate Ratched, to cheer on McMurphy.

When I was in my twenties I would have seen McMurphy as a rebel I could respect and cheer for. But last Saturday night I saw McMurphy not as a rebel, but a destructive force in a system. He’s charismatic and leads the mental patients in a revolt, which is less commendable because McMurphy has selfish motives. He wants to escape, so it’s not rebellion, it’s just part of McMurphy's criminal behavior. He was sent to the sanatorium from prison where he was serving a sentence at hard labor. He wanted to avoid that hard labor so he played crazy. He’s not only a criminal, he’s a malingerer. The next night at dinner when we discussed it my younger brother told me my reaction was colored by my age.

If the movie mentions what he did to act crazy enough to get sent to the mental hospital I missed it. Even during his interview with the psychiatrist at the beginning I didn't get the feeling McMurphy had any mental problems, and wouldn't fool anyone in real life. But this is a movie, so I guess we have to accept the situation.

Because of the set-up we're supposed to see Nurse Ratched (in a star turn of a performance by Fletcher) as “evil,” keeping free spirits like McMurphy down with her strict rules. But I saw her and her staff as being a stable force in a building full of emotionally and mentally damaged men.

The men want her to relax her rules. One asks why the dormitory is locked during the day. She says it’s because if it was open they’d lie on their bunks and sleep, when they need the interaction with other people to help them get well. Her reason seems perfectly legitimate. So why does Nurse Ratched end up being “atrocious,” as I saw her described on the Internet Movie Database? Well, because she represents the establishment, “filling me up with their rules,” as Paul McCartney sang.

There was a time in movies when criminals were turned into likable people we cheer on. (What am I saying? movies still do that.)  I like Jack Nicholson the actor, but in a turnabout it’s because his performance as McMurphy was so real that I hated McMurphy the character.

What a difference a few decades make, eh? The movie came out when I was 28-years-old, and more anti-establishment in my thinking. I ultimately found out that continually bucking the system gets you nothing and nowhere. At some point, much as I hated it, I realized I had to bend to rules. In a closed universe, like the mental institution of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the rules become amplified in their effect. In my daily life I can sit in my house and break all the rules I want, but if I go out in public I have to observe them in order to fit into society. A guy like R. P. McMurphy feels he doesn’t need to observe rules no matter where he is, and Nurse Ratched, bless her, is there to make sure that either by force or persuasion she will make him obey the rules of the institution.

It’s a great movie, but I saw it exactly 180 degrees away from where I thought I'd see it. And my brother is right — it has to do with my age.


Sunday, April 08, 2012

Hardboiled Easter yeggs

My advice to criminals. If you are out to commit crimes, make yourself less conspicuous.

This young man was identified by a witness for assault.

These young women were caught in the act of shoplifting. You think something about them got store security's attention?


Saturday, April 07, 2012

“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”

Here's a follow-up to the article Thursday on Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan. I found the mug shot of a Satanist who believes that self-mutilation is cool. Of course he's in jail. Where else would he be with a face like that?

I've had this article about Satanist Aleister Crowley kicking around in my files for a while. It's from a 1939 magazine called Sensation. I'm sorry I don't have any of the parts but this one. You can read more about Crowley on the Internet.