Monday, December 31, 2007

Season's Greetings & Best Wishes for the New Year

I haven't had a decent Internet connection since I started my vacation, but today I managed to get Airport and our DSL provider to get up to a good speed. No waiting for the spinning wheel of doom up in the corner.

That being the case, I've only got a few minutes to post greetings and wishes before getting ready to go to Larry and Fuzzy Niven's house for a New Year's Eve party. It's a dress-up event and the food is quite good. I just hope I don't fade before it is over.

I had an unexpected expense when I found it necessary to move the Arabian Prince from where he was living to a new barn which is across the street from the very first ranch I kept him at when he came to California in 2001. The new facility has a lovely barn with big indoor/outdoor stalls. He's got as much of a run as he had at the previous barn, but in addition to the box stall, he's got a covered area outside and large uncovered area as well. So he can enjoy the sun or keep dry while it is raining. We're expecting a big storm by Thursday and I will be absolutely thrilled that he'll be able to keep his feet dry when it happens. I just wish I didn't have to come up with a deposit and the first month's board during the Christmas season. So much for a cash cushion! He has settled in quite easily (we moved him on December 26) and he is nicely protected from the awful winds which have picked up again today.

The holiday season has been filled with parties and the company of friends. We did Vigilia with the Bodner-Oleckis who then did Christmas day brunch, presents, and the movies with us. We also went to the present exchange with the Lasfasians on Christmas Eve.

On the Saturday before Christmas, we attended the party which Patric and Maiya Verrone throw every year. We weren't the only ones surprised that Patric would be up to it with the WGA strike in progress, but we were glad they had it. Favorite line overheard: "If they settle in the next three weeks, we'll know we didn't ask for enough money." Probably true, but no sign of a big settlement yet. We are happy to hear about the agreement with World Wide Pants, which agreed to all of the WGA negotiating points. Too bad the rest of the industry is ready to cut off their collective noses to spite their collective faces.

An ad in the industry trades has reminded me that I've had direct dealings with two of the studio heads. Barry Meyer was a Case Western Reseve University School of Law graduate whom I contacted and met with when I was looking for a summer job while in law school. He heads Warner Bros. Michael Lynton (I think I'm spelling that correctly) was Len's boss at Disney Publishing when Len was the editor-in-chief of Disney Comics. He is now the head of Sony Pictures. The AMPTP still hasn't gotten that they are dealing with a very different situation from previous strikes. Picket lines start up again next Monday. I keep hoping we can go to a dress-up picket line for the Golden Globes.

As the world at large continues to go to hell in a handbasket, I can only hope for a change in our government here at home. I really don't care who gets the Democratic nomination because I'll be out working for whomever does. Senator Dodd impressed me with his filibuster just before Christmas. I like that John Edwards has been out on the strike line with our writers and would be labor friendly. I like Senator Obama and I'm really pleased to see how well Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is doing. However, only Dennis Kucinich really sounds like a good liberal on the campaign trail. Isn't that a shame?

So for next year, I am wishing for a change for the better in our government, for people realize there is a reason for the separation of church and state and the separation of governmental powers, and for Congress to remember that the First Amendment and privacy are important civil liberties. I am also looking forward to the day when George the Third and Darth Vadar are hauled off to the World Court to be tried as war criminals, but that may take a little longer. I'll echo Viggo Mortensen on this one: Impeach. Remove. Jail. George Bush, Dick Cheney and their cohorts are criminals of the worst sort and it is now less than 400 days until they will be out of office. Unless, of course, they try some dirty trick to further destroy our Constitution.

On that note, try to have a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Visiting Vento

My friend Melinda Snodgrass, who bred the Arabian Prince I've owned for six years, just bought herself a wonderful Christmas present: a beautiful Lusitano stallion. He was imported from Brazil in the spring and has been living at Brookside Equestrian Center outside of Los Angeles. He's five years old.

People have some peculiar ideas about stallions being unmanageable or a danger to have around. I suppose this could be true, but I've recently had experience with two different stallions who are amazingly well mannered and give an absolute lie to this preconception. Both of them are far better mannered than some of the mares and geldings I've seen people own. Of course, the stallions' owners are both outstanding "lead mares."

Vento will be Melinda's new dressage horse. She lost her beloved Hanovarian, Steppi, about 18 months ago to colic. Vento's a bit smaller than Steppi was and Melinda really looks perfectly matched on him. I think it would be great to see him with a big red ribbon underneath her Christmas tree.

I figured I ought to go out and meet him while I had the opportunity. I even let "Talky Tina" direct me to go through downtown Los Angeles (early Sunday morning) to get there, which took about 45 minutes. If I tried that on a weekday, I'd still be in traffic.

When I got there, I was introduced as "Vento's visitor." "Vento gets visitors!" the trainer announced. He's supposed to be on a transport to his new home this week and I am so happy for Melinda. Vento looks like Shadowfax. He's got a ways to go before he is totally white (most white horses start off dark and shed out over time, but their skin remains dark underneath and technically they are called "grays" not "whites.") Vento's knees look like he was playing in coal, and there's still plenty of dark in his mane and tail, but he is expected to completely gray out.

The Brookside Equestrian Center was the location for the shoot of the 1940s version of National Velvet with Elizabeth Taylor. When I saw the film recently, I wondered where it had been done and I saw something on line which suggested at least part of it had been shot in Pebble Beach.

Brookside is gorgeous, but Melinda told me that when it was purchased by the current owner in the 1980s, it was a mess. I was very impressed with the way hoof cookies were cleaned up immediately and piddle spots were quickly washed down. The stalls were large and well-bedded, the tack pristine, and the people really nice. And there's a huge covered arena. When I got back to my barn, I told my friend that it's too bad the commute would be impossible, because we'd both enjoy having our horses at Brookside. There's nothing like it nearby, unfortunately.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

You'll Never Work Again--until...

It seems that Peter Jackson and New Line have worked out their differences and Jackson's company will be doing The Hobbit. Any other result would have laughed New Line off the map, I'm afraid. I think that it's great to see a 900 pound gorilla that can beat the studio system. On the other hand, I can't imagine that fellow writers are happy about the announcement of the project in the middle of the Writers Guild Strike.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Good Idea

Rachel Abramowitz had a great idea in her L.A. Times article covering the Golden Globe nominations this morning: take the $100 million the studios use to promote films during awards season and use the money to solve the writers' strike. Not likely to happen, since it is logical and shows how the studios are willing to through good money after bad in some cases. I guess the studios look at it as millions for defense but not one penny for tribute. Cheap bastards.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Excitement We Don't Need

We've had an exciting few days at home, not in a particularly good way.

On Saturday evening, we lit the menorah (a nice mixed marriage celebrates all the fun holidays) and were watching television. When Len shouted "oh my god!" I thought he had recognized the actress on the Burke's Law episode we were watching, but no. The table cloth behind me was going up in flames. Somehow, one of the candles had dripped or toppled, setting the cloth on fire. Before we got it out, the table was charred, one of the chair seats was melted, my son's jacket was melted (fortunately, not the side with the PS2 and games in the pockets), some newspapers caught fire, and black ash landed everywhere. And the supper I had just started to eat was all over my chair as I rushed to grab a blanket to smother the fire. That's truly a way to get adrenaline pumping.

On Sunday night, after we went to bed, we heard one of our beloved golden retrievers sounding like she was in the race for her life. If you've ever watched dogs, you know they must dream about things like chasing rabbits, because when they are asleep you can see eye movement and sometimes their legs start to run. But you can usually wake them up. We could not get Muffin to stop and she began to foam at the mouth. Finally, it did stop and Len took her to the vet in the morning. Her tests came back fine, but she's had three seizures like that since Sunday night and has trouble getting on her feet afterward. Len's calling the vet again today.

Our other golden, Sheba, turns 13 this week. We got her from a rescue when she was 7 months old. Muffin will be 13 in February. We've had her since she was two months old. They are great dogs who almost never bark (Sheba doesn't like the gardeners) and they have us well-trained.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Coming up Short

My impression of I.A.T.S.E. president Tom Short has not improved after reading these two articles which appeared originally in the L.A. Times (2006) and the L.A. weekly (1995.) They can speak for themselves.

I myself have been rather bemused by the fact that as a freelance photographer working for a magazine or newspaper I was paid better rates and retained more rights to my photographs than I would working under the Local 600 contract. Of course, I couldn't actually shoot on a set without belonging to the union, as I discovered when my friend George R.R. Martin asked me to take pictures for him to promote his pilot "Doorways" back in 1992. I'm lucky that the producer nicely told me that after two days I couldn't shoot any more, rather than find my equipment destroyed (a reaction I had read about in the past.) I did join Local 600 when the opportunity arose--it took me two years to pay off the $5000 initiation fee, which is far higher than the WGA's, btw--and I pay my $800 a year in dues despite never getting a job through the union. Those annual dues are eight times what a non-working WGA member pays. The only reason why I simply haven't quit paying those dues is that someday I might need to be on set with a camera and I'd rather not be stopped.

Monday, December 10, 2007

To Boldly Go: Recognizing Trek Writers on the Strike Line

Considering how badly many writers were treated by Gene Roddenberry and some of his successors, there's a certain pleasure in knowing what's going on over on Melrose Avenue today. Oh how I wish I could be joining friends like Harlan Ellison and David Gerrold outside of Paramount Studios for today's Star Trek themed strike event. I would so like to get one of the special tee-shirts the WGA printed up. Having a day job is definitely getting in the way of my avowed occupation as a creative rights activist.

Friend Gillian Horvath explained about the various strike locations she's been on last night at our Amazing Race (yes, it's reality TV and no, we don't boycott it) watching dinner (this shiksa managed to make a nice brisket and latkes, even though I no longer eat red meat and brisket is a food I never ate with my Italian-American family.) She explained that the Bronson Gate at Paramount has "strike dancing" every Monday at 11 and it also has a "singles strike line" the same day. And I thought it was pretty funny 20 years ago when certain supermarkets in the D.C. area were identified as great places for singles to meet (the up-scale place in McLean was my favorite--rather like a Pavilions, Gelsons, or Bristol Farms is out here in L.A.)

Gillian gave us a demonstration of the "strike dance" choreography, complete with the drill team moves. Priceless. We agreed that the themed strike events are doing a lot to keep morale high during this trying time.

Meanwhile, the AMPTP showed its lack of good faith by walking out of talks Friday with a prearranged PR release blaming everything on the writers--after failing for four days in a row to produce the response to the WGA's counterproposal on Tuesday as they had promised. And Tom Short got IATSE to march in what was, in effect, a protest against the WGA strike over the weekend. No wonder they didn't want WGA members to support the demonstration. I have less and less respect for Tom Short every day and I can't help but feel much more sympathy toward the members of Local 600 who clashed with him (and lost their places in the board.) The man is acting like an AMPTP shill.

Some producer was quoted in the L.A. Times as saying the selfish writers don't care about the working stiffs. I've got news for said producer: my husband and his colleagues ARE working stiffs.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Scare Tactics

The Los Angeles Times reported this morning that the AMPTP has done such a poor job of telling its version of the WGA strike story to the public that they've gone out and hired a hard-ball public relations team to take over from the in-house effort and combat the very good job the WGA has done to tell its story to the world. Isn't it amazing what good writers can do? The article is here, and it should be a warning to all WGA members about what is to come in terms of devisive tactics so the studios win. Given this warning, nothing which is said by the AMPTP should be taken as the truth. I hope people remember this.

PR professionals profess that getting the truth out quickly is the best way to counter potential bad publicity. But when the truth is that you are greedy, scum-sucking weasels like the corporations which make up the AMPTP, it's very hard to tell the truth. That's why PR professionals are also known as hacks and flacks and are likely to work for anyone who will pay them. I have no doubt that the price of this publicity campaign will cost the AMPTP far more than the paltry $151 million over three years requested by the WGA for its members. Just watch.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Screening Season

What I like best about this time of year in Los Angeles is that it is screening time again--that time leading up to Academy Award and Guild nominations for work in film. It's sometimes the only benefit to Guild membership, if you haven't worked enough for health coverage during the year.

Last night we went over to the TV Academy for a WGA screening of I Am Legend starring Will Smith. Based on Richard Matheson's book of the same name, Smith plays a military researcher isolated in New York City after a cancer cure goes terribly wrong. For much of the film, Smith is the only actor on screen. He is utterly compelling. There are some interesting details in the sets which really tickled my fancy. I realized Smith's wall's held some acquisitions from MOMA when I noticed that Rousseau's Sleeping Gypsy was life size and the painting next to it was in the frame I know from that museum. I would no doubt do the same thing under the same circumstances, but my first choice would be Tchelitchew's Hide and Seek.

My sister was an extra in some crowd scenes, but we couldn't pick her out. It looked every bit as cold as she described the experience.

Because it was a WGA screening, there was lots of conversation about the strike in the waiting line. No one indicated they were willing to go back to a bad contract. When we drove over, the radio reported that the producers had made an new offer, but it sounds like they still haven't taken the WGA strike seriously. A flat $250 for downloading an episode of TV forever? Not in this lifetime.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Seditious Libel

The Founding Fathers had the John Peter Zenger case to look to when establishing the First Amendment to protect speech (or writing) which is critical of the government. The case stands for the principal that the truth is an absolute defense to libel and the First Amendment goes further to protect unpopular opinion as well. In England, the truth is not an absolute defense because expression of facts which challenge the the omnipotence of the throne is subject to prosecution. In theory, our Constitution protects us from that kind of threat. At least it did until the Bush Administration started messing with us.

Last night, Keith Olbermann reported that firemen are being trained to go into places and seek out books and other documents that might indicate that the residents are somehow "not happy" with the Bush administration. Apparently such "not happy" people "might" be terrorists and under our new system of draconian laws can be dragged off for prosecution for impure thoughts. Since firemen don't need warrants to go into places police would, this is a big aid for the Bush police state.

Let me make it easy on any of the illegal wiretapping and electronic snooping this service might be subjected to:

1. I am a lawyer. I believe in the rule of law.
2. I think the U.S. Constitution is one of the greatest documents ever crafted and a carry a copy of it and the Declaration of Independence with me at all times.
3. I believe that the administration of George W. Bush and the fascists who surround him are the most dangerous threat that our way of life has faced since we defeated the Germans and Japanese in World War II.
4. I believe the Congress has shirked its duty to balance the excesses of the rule of the pretender and do everything in its power to stop the threat to our people.
5. I know that the oath which every Federal employee takes requires them to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and I believe that the pretender, his own personal Darth Vader, and the sycophants who surround them have violated that oath virtually from their first day in office.
6. I am extremely unhappy with the government and I count down the days until it will be no more on January 20, 2009. It can't happen soon enough.

So now there is absolutely no reason to come and toss my house looking for incriminating evidence against me. The only question I have is how can the Bushies expect to imprison a country where more than 70% of the population is against them? I guess they'll be taking a page from George III's grandfather who collaborated with the fascists and try to round us all up. Anyone who thinks Rudy Giuliani will be better needs a shink--that man got art exhibits closed down because they offended him and tried to stay in office after his term had ended under the pretext of the threat of more terrorist attacks. Yeah, that's democracy in action.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Two Kinds of Jeopardy!

Last night, we went to the Arc-light for a WGA screening of Eastern Promises, the fantastic thriller starring Viggo Mortensen. Writer Steven Knight was present for a Q&A, which was quite enlightening. Several members of the audience expressed a desire for a sequel but I would say please don't. There's really only two possible ways a sequel could end, and neither one of them would be happy. The story, acting, and directing was absolutely perfect and I don't need too much information; ambiguous is better. Despite the three incidents of graphic violence (which I could see coming and ducked for Len's arm-pit), one which included glimpses of Viggo's naughty bits (which I missed because of burying my head in Len's arm-pit), I whole-heartedly recommend this film.

When we got home, we turned to the Tivo-light recordings of Monday's Jeopardy! Len fast-forwarded through the contestant introductions and left the room. I looked up and thought, gee, that first contestant looks like someone at Gillian's party on Sunday. And, oh, she's got the same first name.

Then Len came back into the room and the woman answered a question and he said "gee, that looks like Lisa Klink." I said "that's what I thought." He said "wait just a minute" and backed up the recording to the beginning. Indeed, it was television writer Lisa Klink, who won on both Monday and Tuesday, despite missing the Final Jeopardy! question on Monday and at least one Double Jeopardy! question to which both I spent yelling at the TV the correct answers. Why is it that people never hear the answers when you shout them at the TV?

She shouldn't feel too bad. Len didn't know the answer to Final Jeopardy! was Katherine of Aragon either, which I recognized instantly. I always feel smug when none of the contestants gets Final Jeopardy! and I do.

I am still so annoyed that I didn't get on Jeopardy! after I made the call list two years ago because I had a friend working on Spider-man 3. I was happy that Becky had a job editing visual effects, but her tenuous connection to Sony disqualified me. Unfortunately, her job didn't end until my qualifying period was pretty much up. I'll have to test again when the opportunity arises.a

So I hope that Lisa continues her winning streak, which was probably shot months ago. Jeopardy! is one of the game shows which actually has WGA writers on it, so they probably aren't shooting right now.

Monday, November 26, 2007

In Recovery

We had another successful Thanksgiving feast on Thursday. It was a small crowd of a mere 10 people and everyone pitched in to help. We did all of the traditional stuff, including turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole (using Alton Brown's recipe from scratch, although I did burn the onions and we had to make a run to the grocery store to buy the canned fried onions), corn, butternut squash (with blue cheese and pecans, again from the Food Network website) and pumpkin and apple pie. I had a major panic when I discovered I had thrown out my old pastry cloth and not replaced it, since that's the easiest way to roll out pie crust. I managed with waxed paper, but I did go to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to replace the necessary cloth and rolling pin cover on Saturday.

Len makes the stuffing, but that's really his only contribution in the kitchen. With the exception of some donations from guests (Gillian Horvath made a great oyster pie and I couldn't have gotten dinner on the table without her help in the kitchen), I cook the rest. It's a very long day on my feet and Len did not follow through with my request for kitchen mats to ease the pain in my back.

After Harlan and Susan Ellison left, the remaining guests helped pack up the food and stack dishes and I spent the next three days cleaning up and then cooking a huge pot of turkey posole to take to a party on Sunday (thus messing up the kitchen again.)

The posole recipe was from Rachael Ray's suggestions for left-overs at Thanksgiving, and it was a huge success with the other guests at Gillian Horvath's party. I had eaten posole, a traditional New Mexican stew, at a place called "The Shed" on the square in Santa Fe. What's not to like about something with that much corn (in the form of hominy)? I realized I had never cooked with fresh jalapeno peppers before and I certainly had never had tomitillos in the kitchen before either. Tomitillos look like green tomatoes, once you pull off the papery outer wrap they have and taste a bit like green pepper squirted with lemon or lime when they are raw. I've had them in a mild sauce on the wonderful fresh and green corn tamales made by Corn Maiden here in L.A. (a must-stop-by at any of the bigger farmers' markets around town) and in this dish they were chopped in the food-processor before being added to the soup. The recipe is available on the Food Network website here, and it tastes just wonderful when finished with a squeeze of lime and some tortilla chips. I've got the leftover posole in my fridge and that's going to be lunch this week.

I started to make the house look like Christmas by laying out a red tablecloth and putting flowers in a vase of Lenox's Holiday pattern, flanked by a matching tea pot and candy dish. Then I replaced the every day white Corelle dishes with Holiday pieces on the open shelves in the kitchen. It's a pretty holly pattern and matching pieces are on my Christmas list.

We won't get a tree for a few more weeks because we hold our Christmas party on Twelfth Night and we like the tree to look decent on the first weekend in January. I think we're doing our party on January 5 this year, which is actually the right night to hold it. I've even found a fine way to make King's Cake (the same thing that's served during Mardi Gras), so this will be the first time I've made one for the party (if I get around to it.)

I did not indulge in the shopping frenzy on Friday, where stores opened as early as 4 a.m. There's nothing I want that much and I sure have no love for dealing with traffic at the malls. My son, however, did go to Best Buy at 5 a.m. but came home empty handed. He couldn't bring himself to stand in a line that snaked entirely around the store.

I did do a quick drop by Macy's on Saturday to pick up the afore mentioned Holiday vase, because I got $10 off the price which was already half of list. I think that brought the price down to about 30% of the original price. I do like bargains, but not at the cost of sleep.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Strike, Week 3

I got an e-mail this morning from the president of IATSE Local 600, the camera guild of which I am a dues-paying member. This one irritated me as much as the one from Tom Short did during the first days of the strike (Tom Short heads all of IATSE.)

As I may have written before, the below-the-line unions which are part of IATSE get residuals which are applied to fund the unions' pension and health plans. Many of the members of those unions aren't aware of this and I don't think that the leadership has done a particularly good job of getting that information out to the membership. So now I've gotten two e-mail telling members not to honor the WGA strike and basically telling the WGA to get back to the bargaining table because the strike is bad for all of these other people.

Yes, strikes are bad for people, but the willingness to say "NO" to a bad deal is something that benefits everyone. Being part of a union should be about making it easier to say "NO" to a bad deal. It's really hard to say "NO" when you are an individual who knows that someone will undercut you and say yes to that bad deal, thus harming you and their own long-term prospects. I said "NO" a lot when I worked as a freelance photographer. Most of the time, I was lucky enough to get the better deal when I said it. A few times, I got stabbed in the back by other photographers. Their loss, not mine, because they had to work with the kind of clients you always regret accommodating.

I would have a lot more respect for Tom Short and the President of Local 600 if the letters had pointed out that there is a no-strike clause in the contracts, so if you are working you are required to continue to work but, if you aren't working, it is important to show support to the WGA by assisting them on the picket lines because the WGA issues are IATSE member issues.

Instead, the President of Local 600 suggests that Tom Short's pressure is sending the WGA back to the bargaining table. What crap. The WGA didn't leave the bargaining table, AMPTP did. It seems to me that the show of solidarity among WGA members and the members of SAG and other unions which have joined in the strike activities, along with the amazing support of the public, is what is forcing AMPTP back to the bargaining table after they insisted nothing would be done until after the New Year. The Internet has been great at getting the news out and gives the WGA a way to respond to lies and exaggerations which are reported by the news media under the control of the heads of the Big Six.

When the stage hands (an IATSE union) went on strike in New York, the WGA immediately sent a letter of support. Too bad the heads of IATSE didn't take a clue.

My Thanksgiving wish is for a quick resolution of the strike, but not one that requires agreeing to a bad deal.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanksgiving Preparation

Well, it has now been a year since the work started on my kitchen and I still don't have doors on the unit that houses the sink. July was the last time I saw our carpenter, and the old dishwasher sits face-down in what is supposed to be my kitchen garden. I have a new selection of herbs to plant to replace the ones that died from the heat when I couldn't get them into the ground. Here's hoping I can get it done this weekend. I did go out this morning before work to start some of the clean-up. If only it didn't get dark so darned early.

We're waiting to hear whether our friend Jack Dann is showing up to stay at our house this weekend and if we've convinced him to stick around a few extra days for Thanksgiving before heading back to Australia. Jack is always a welcomed guest. At the moment we think we've got a dozen people for Thanksgiving itself, which is a small crowd for us (we've had twice that in the past.) There's still plenty of time for that number to expand, as we've often learned in the past.

This weekend, we'll go out and pick up our turkey and I'll make pie crusts. I took the afternoon before Thanksgiving off last year, but I decided I didn't need to do that again this year. Having two ovens means I really do have the ability to bake my pies during the day on Thursday. I was inspired by Alton Brown last week when he made the green bean casserole entirely from scratch and I pulled down the recipe to try it myself. I hate the version with canned beans although the one with frozen beans is edible.

Our appetizers are being taken care of by a friend who will bring them in. Len's big contribution is his stuffing. Susan Ellison will bring a pumpkin bread. I get to do pretty much everything else, which I don't really mind. I just wish I liked Thanksgiving food more. It's just not Italian.

Calvin Trillin did a wonderful article about why pasta carbonara should be the national dish at Thanksgiving. It had to do with Thanksgiving being about home comfort food and that it was always served at his family's Thanksgiving table. I have vague recollections of similar Italian foods at Thanksgiving when my grandmother was alive, but there was always a turkey as well. The Trillin article was frequently reprinted. I think that article also made reference to Brits putting brussels sprouts on the stove to cook for 400 years, by way of reference to terrible British cooking versus wonderful Italian cooking.

I get to use my good china and silver at Thanksgiving and the table looks very pretty. Len grumps and says that before I came along, he was happy when he had enough superhero glasses to go around. I probably wouldn't get so pissed about his attitude it if he didn't highly complement other people who pull out the good dishes and fuss and decorate at various holidays.

Len has promised me that he will get the wall of comic books out of the living room this weekend instead of waiting until the last minute. We've also got to go to storage to get out the folding tables. Dinner for a crowd means that the couches go out on the patio to make way for tables and chairs in the living room. Last year (or the year before), I bought a dozen incredibly comfortable folding chairs with high backs at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. It took me quite a while to save up enough 20% off coupons to pull the purchase off, but I did it.

Len promised me a new dining room table for my birthday, but that hasn't happened yet. I actually found a table I like on-line. It is a 48" round table that can seat a whole lot of people when it opens up with 12" leaves. I think it can take 12 or 14 of them. Right now, I use four 6' folding tables and one 5' folding table to do the same thing. The table comes in oak or cherry and I've always been partial to cherry. It has a pedestal which splits and leaves a center support. I had hoped to find something with dropped leaves that opened, but this is would be just fine. In my perfect world, I would be able to have a round table that seats 12 comfortably but I don't have the room. (I saw a spectacular round table that adjusts from seating 6 to seating 12 with intricate triangular pieces but the $14,000 price tag did scare me away.) So this table will go from round to a very long oval and that will do quite well and be not quite as wide as my current system. That will make it easier to get around things for dinner. Maybe I'll have it by next Thanksgiving.

Here's hoping the refrigerator keeps working this year.

And the Strikes Go On

Len got to see some of our friends yesterday when he joined the picket line outside of Disney/ABC over in Burbank. It was so hot that he claimed he needed to be carried back to the car after about an hour. The man has no stamina whatsoever. He's off to the doctor for several tests today.

I wish I could go over to Universal to see the picket lines today, starting at 10 a.m. It's "fan-appreciation-strike-day," and it should be interesting to see who shows up. The public has been incredibly supportive of the writers' position on this strike, which is great.

I've been enjoying all of the posts and video streaming on United Hollywood. Today's posts include a letter to CalPers stating that the conglomerates are lying either to the writers or to their investors, and, until that is sorted out, CalPers should divest itself of any entertainment company stock. I'm quite impressed by this attack on the studios' position. Since I do have a retirement fund with CalPers (I'm employed by a community college), I may write a similar letter.

As I suspected, but had not heard confirmed until today, the stage hands strike in New York has affected the opening of my niece's play in New York. Previews have been suspended on August: Osage County and the premier was to be November 20, but who knows. At least the parties will be back in talks this weekend. Apparently, no theatre over Thanksgiving weekend was too much for the producers. The AMPTP hasn't gotten that same jolt yet.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Must See TV

A shout out to Chuck Lorre who used his vanity card at the end of both Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men last night to say:

United We Stand

Chuck's show-runner end-cards have been must-see-TV since we became aware of them during the end-credits of Dharma and Greg. We met him at the Writers Guild Craft Conference around 10 years ago and his presentation was hysterical. At the time, he had professionally successful and personally stressful runs on Roseann and Grace under Fire and I can't remember where Sybil fell into the scheme of things. Big Bang Theory is my favorite new show this season, and we have noticed that several of the supporting cast of Roseann have already appeared on the show--not to discount that one of the leads of BBT is also a Roseann alumnus. Chuck Lorre is a major show runner and I admire him for letting the viewing world know where he stands on the WGA strike.

Another shout out to our friends Lynn M. Latham, who was running the soap opera The Young and the Restless, and her husband Bernard Lechowick. They both survived the 1988 strike and are prominent in this one as well. I saw Bernard quoted in the L.A. Times and I hear Lynn's office is now occupied by a Sony exec who's trying to fill her shoes. Not likely. Len came in to tell me that the writers on some soap opera have elected to go "core" and cross the strike line. Shame on them.

For anyone who might not be aware, it isn't just writers, directors, and actors who get residuals. As far as I know, every below the line union also gets residuals. Instead of going to individuals, the residuals cut goes to help fund pension and health programs. As expenses for medical coverage go up, that money is more necessary than ever. Even though I am unlikely to ever see a benefit, I do belong to IATSE Local 600 and I am incredibly angry that I, and every member of my guild, got a letter informing us that our working membership would get no support for honoring picket lines. Thanks a lot.

The WGA isn't holding a grudge about the IATSE response. It has already sent a letter in support of the IATSE stage hands who are striking in New York. That strike hits another member of my family: my niece Kristina Valada-Viars had just started 16 weeks of employment understudying one of the major characters in August: Osage County which was in previews and set to open on November 20. I'm hoping for a quick solution to that strike so my niece will have health insurance next year.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Back in the Kitchen

On Thursday morning, I watched the woman driving the car in front of me blow-dry her hair all the way from where I pull out of our cul-de-sac to the college campus. Multitasking at its finest. At least she wasn't on the freeway, where I've seen even worse.

In my effort to keep my kitchen somewhat tidy before I have to go into a panic the day before Thanksgiving, I've been going through the containers which were in the back yard for most of the past six months and sorting the contents to get rid of the duplicates (if Len can't find something, he never asks; he just goes out and buys another one) and the stuff that doesn't work.

I've got more sets of measuring cups and spoons than I can count. Many are plastic and have developed stains and tackiness that are best dealt with by throwing them in the trash. I just bought a good, heavyweight set of metal measuring cups which have no place for crud to build up and I'd like to find a replacement for my Tupperwear dry-measure cups which have the in-between sizes. Maybe if I go to the Rose Bowl Flea Market on Sunday I can score it. I reconfigured a couple of sets of measuring spoons and have the rest set to go away. I've gotten rid of all of the stained and melted plastic spoons which seem to be replacing good old wooden spoons. When I wasn't looking, Len went out and bought a number of plastic cutting boards and every time I try to get rid of the one shaped like a Scottish Terrier, he retrieves it. I've still got one more paper bag to go through and I just hope that my cleaning lady doesn't think she's doing me a favor by going through it and hiding stuff all over my kitchen for me. I need to have a yard sale or have my son move out to a place I can outfit for him.

Sometime in the last year, I felt the need to replace the Fry Daddy we had. The non-stick had partially peeled away and it seemed like a bad idea to use it any more. So I went off to Bed, Bath, and Beyond with a 20% off coupon (which I collect like crazy) and found a nice little number from Cuisinart. It got taken out of its box for the first time last night and it will now go into a much smaller space.

As part of the pre-Thanksgiving prep, I'm trying to get rid of stuff in the fridge and freezer, so last night's dinner was frozen fish and French fries. I have to say frozen French fries taste a whole lot better when they are fried than when they are cooked in the oven. The new deep-fryer did a great job on them.

Maybe I'll use the fryer for some of the traditional Italian Christmas sweets that I usually don't make like chichi cookies that have a sweet chick-pea filling and look like fried ravioli or the cone-shaped tower of fried dough with honey syrup and sprinkles called struffoli. The Christmas after my father died, I sat in the kitchen and watched my mother make all of the traditional Italian sweets and made notes in the margins of the recipes I had written out so the actual ingredients and amounts matched what she was doing and not what was written down. I've had a lot more success with the family recipes in the years since then than I did before.

The pre-holiday attack on the kitchen was also precipitated by a search for a special cupcake sheet that was given to me last year. It has many of the shapes of the Nordic Bundt cake molds reduced to cupcake or petits fours size. I searched literally high and low and began to panic that somehow it had gone missing when stored outside during the reconstruction (which is still not finished.) After two weeks of looking, I found it when I sat down on the floor to open my cookie sheet storage boxes once again, and there it was tucked high on top of one I could not see except by sitting on the floor. I was greatly relieved to find it.

I saw some really large baking sheets and a 24 hole cupcake sheet at Smart and Final the other night. I would never be able to use them in my wall oven, but the new oven could easily accommodate the big sheets and I could make a whole lot more cookies in less time that way. If I can figure out where to store them, I might just indulge myself. Parchment and heavy-duty shiny pans are much better for baking than dark, non-stick pans are.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

And the Strike Goes On

There's a great new piece on You Tube explaining what the money issue in the WGA strike is all about called "Why We Fight." Check it out here. "Why We Fight" was the title of the Frank Capra series of propaganda films he directed during WWII to raise morale about that war, and I'm sure the irony was not lost on anyone else who saw the video. I'm a big fan of Capra films, but the writer for many of the most famous was Robert Riskin (Fay Wray's husband.) The story is that Riskin became so fed up with the famous "Capra touch" that one day he took a sheaf of blank paper and shoved it in Capra's face saying "put the *%&!ing Capra touch on that!." The WGA has an award named in honor of Robert Riskin. Capra, I think, may be the basis for the possessory credit dispute between the WGA and DGA members. In addition to "Why We Fight" there are more videos about the strike here.

I watched my friend Patric Verrone on TV this morning make an excellent presentation on the KTLA morning show as I got ready for work. I've known Patric since I passed the bar and succeeded him has chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association Barristers' Artist and the Law Committee and he invited me to publish my article on comic books and the law in the Los Angeles Lawyer Magazine entertainment law issue. I even wound up on the cover, which stunned me because I was only a few years out of law school then. Here's what the LACBA has on its website:

April 1996 Issue

Cover photo: Tom Keller
Featured Article:
In the Line of Fire

by Edwin F. McPherson

A tortious interference claim may be the answer when a star client is snared away.

Plus Earn MCLE Credit Online: MCLE Test No. 39, sponsored by Lexis®-Nexis®.

Cover Story:
Christine Valada, cochair of the Association Barristers Artists and the Law Committee, represents writers and artists in entertainment and copyright law matters. Her article, "Truth, Justice and the American Way," examines the past and future of the rights to comic-book characters.

Patric and I both have a long-standing commitment to creators' rights. I'm glad he's in a position to do something about it. I think that the producers have made a big mistake underestimating the way writers are connected by the Internet. In the old days of 1988, it might have been more of a divide and conquer world, where people acted out of fear because of a lack of knowledge. Now, everyone has easy access to what is going on and an ability to sort out the facts from the fictions the AMPTP may try to spread. It's pretty funny to listen to the arrogance of Michael Eisner telling calling the strike "stupid." I'd say a number of things Michael Eisner did while CEO of Disney were pretty stupid and the shareholder cost of any one of them would pay for what the WGA is asking for many times over.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Writer's Strike, Day 3

The WGA went on strike on Monday and production is grinding to a halt out here. Len's been too sick to go out on a picket line, but I think he's missing a lot of fun. If I didn't have this day job, I'd go out with my camera. It isn't often that writers are actually in a position to legally protest their working conditions. If novelists talk about what they are being paid or the terms of their contracts with the thought that they should all get together and protest the obscene grab of rights these multinational companies have put into their contracts, the Justice Department could come down on them like a ton of bricks for anti-trust violations.

Many years ago, I sat on the national board of directors of the American Society of Media Photographers. Unlike Local 600, which covers still photographers who work on movies and television, ASMP is a trade association and not a guild or union. Unions can collectively bargain. Trade associations cannot, and trade associations can get into trouble with the afore-mentioned Justice Department if any of the clients their members work with decide to complain about them for, oh, doing surveys about what is actually being paid for the use of photographs in consumer magazines. ASMP used to do a very helpful survey and pricing guide. I haven't seen one in a very long time. Since ASMP members can't collectively bargain, each photographer individually has to make a deal for a job and there are photographers, often new photographers, who see nothing wrong with undercutting a bid which would be fair compensation and payment for all parties involved in order to get the job. In the long run, such behavior destroys the entire business. Just ask any photographer about how they are making a living with the new technologies. Particularly, ask them about payment for stock photographs these days.

In those good old days of the 1980s, before I went off to law school because I could see the writing on the wall, many photographers looked at stock photography sales as retirement income. Stock photos, for those who might wonder, are those pictures which have universal appeal, are properly released, and can be used for many different purposes. I've had a few images which have been licensed over and over and over. If you look hard enough, you too can identify stock images. Those checks from the agencies which licensed my work were like found money when they arrived quarterly or monthly (depending on which agency) and it was a happy arrangement where they got half of the fee and I got the other half. No more.

Two agencies dominate stock photography in the US: Corbis (owned by Bill Gates) and Getty Images. They bought up many existing agencies around the world and sucked up photographers who didn't necessarily want to be with them. They promulgated contracts which gave themselves more than 80% of each license. Photographers are no longer "creators" but are now "suppliers" of images. The digital revolution has shrunk license fees to a fraction of their former values. The agencies make lots of money by licensing images in bulk at discount. The individual photographers are left with pennies--probably a lot less than it cost to make the image in the first place. I know some photographers who made a killing by being the first to sell their entire file to Corbis, which was paying good money in the 1990s to acquire libraries. But I look at those photographers as helping to put the profession in the current sad state it is in. They got theirs and to hell with everyone else who gets told "these are our terms, take them or leave them." I left, even though I would rather not have done so.

As an attorney, I've met a number of photographers whose livelihoods have been damaged because they lost the ability to say no to a bad deal. Which brings us back to the WGA.

I am so very pleased to see the writers say NO! to a bad deal. It's a lot easier to say no when there is some clout to deal with those who might say yes, but each member of the WGA had a secret ballot with which to express an opinion, and 90% of them did say yes and even those who voted against the strike have expressed their solidarity with the actual action.

The writer starts with a blank piece of paper. You know those ideas that producers are always throwing around--they are a dime a dozen. You know how below the line workers are complaining that writers don't know what work is--they've never seen the sweat and panic that comes at 2 a.m. when a scene simply will not come together. Hell, the below-the-lines are somewhat protected from working 24 hour days, which writers are not. There's no craft services set up in our house unless I'm around to cook when Len's on a deadline.

I took a day job so we could have health insurance, which has become more difficult for writers to achieve unless someone has a job on a TV series and the prevailing wisdom is that Len falls into the "too old" category for series jobs. And since much of his TV work has been on animation, where Local 839 doesn't cover everything and doesn't believe that writers have particular value, there's even less likelihood of health coverage. As a still photographer, I did join Local 600, but still photographers are not required as part of a TV crew and enough days shooting on a film are very hard to come by to qualify for health insurance. And, oh yeah, my quarterly dues are a hell of a lot higher than Len's are when he's not doing WGA projects.

Many writers look to residual payments to keep them covered under health insurance during those periods when they aren't working. Many people don't really understand why residuals are important or why writers should get them. When I was a law clerk at the WGA, I had one of their lawyers ask me if I knew what residuals were and if I understood them. I said yes because they are the equivalent of relicensing photographs or collecting royalties on printed work. The lawyer then said "maybe you can explain them to me. As far as I am concerned, writers are no different than lettuce pickers and I don't see why they should get residuals." I was flabbergasted and I've never gotten over the fact that an employee of the WGA could say that. How can you represent people when you don't believe in their issues?

Residuals are royalties for creators who work in the film industry. A whole legal fiction has arisen around who the creative forces entitled to copyright are in television and motion pictures. It's been controlled by a little phrase called "work made for hire" by which the actual creator of a work agrees that the person paying for the work is the "author" for purposes of copyright law, so the copyrighted work can be protected. The phrase arose under the 1909 Copyright Act and was expanded under the 1976 Act and a few years ago the music industry slipped in an expansion which was rescinded after a justifiable outcry from the singers and musicians adversely affected. Copyright legislation is supposed to be accomplished by balancing the rights of the creators and the publishers (in the broadest sense of that word), which is a far cry from the Constitutional instruction (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, as I recall) to Congress to balance the rights of the creators and the public. The founders of this country thought creative out put was important to the welfare of our nation. (I think John Kennedy was the last president who agreed with that. Hence, the Kennedy Center and the Kennedy Center Honors.)

So, according to the law, motion pictures and television programs may be considered "works made for hire" if the parties agree in a writing to that. What the real creator gives up is the right to the copyright of a work for his or her life-time plus 70 years. (I thought the plus 50 years was more than enough, but the Walt Disney Company saw the end of copyright protection for Mickey Mouse and paid copious amounts of lobbying money to get the term extended.) It very clearly doesn't have to be that way, because copyright rights can be licensed in parts with the balance retained by the copyright owner and it is possible for a writer to license a screenplay without losing their own copyright rights. Don't let the AMPTP find out you know this little secret, but going along with their legal fiction leads to the creation of the WGA. Writers have balanced the loss of control of the copyright by the ability to organize and collectively bargain as "employees" in the motion picture and television industries and that has led to residuals--payment for the relicensing for work during that work's useful life--just as a novelist collects royalties on a book (and, at least until the motion picture industry started foisting its business model on the publishing industry) and retains control of all subsequent and subsidiary licensing of the work for further royalties. And writers in television and motion pictures can strike in order to say NO! to a bad deal.

Writers are not like lettuce-pickers, except in the way they are treated by the forces of greedy businesses who want to exploit their labor without appropriate compensation

Lettuce-pickers do not have a Constitutional provision which entitles them to benefit from their creativity. Congress has the power "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

If the AMPTP wants to keep its little legal fiction alive by which writers have given up the authorship of screenplays and teleplays, they damned well better get back to the bargaining table and figure out a fair percentage for residuals in the new media and stop trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the public by crying poverty. Anyone with a computer can have financial facts at their finger-tips.

The AMPTP has looked to the WGA and other Guilds to help them with the fight against piracy. They've gone to Congress to cry about the money they are losing to pirates. They've sued people for pirating films and sued companies for uploading what they consider to be copyrighted work owned by them. If WGA members aren't going to see residuals for the Internet and see a piddling amount for home video sales, what's their incentive to helping with this battle? If the AMPTP was losing money on the Internet, the shows wouldn't be there legally.

Now, for any members of the AMPTP who think that busting the WGA, SAG, and the DGA will make life better for them in the future: Writers are more sophisticated than they were in the past and have access to a whole lot more information. A writer isn't going to sell a spec script without the knowledge that licensing "all rights forever throughout the universe" means that in 35 years he or she gets an inalienable reversion of the rights which were licensed and the companies are left with a problem. If DVDs were produced, they can continue to produce DVDs, but if the next mode of distribution is fiber-optic input silicone, that source of revenue is lost to them. We'll weep all the way to the bank.

This strike is not about being unreasonable. It is about getting a fair share of revenue. If the companies are making money, those individuals who created the work that is making them money are entitled to a percentage. But that percentage better be based in reality and not in Hollywood accounting. We all recognized Fred Amisten's character on Saturday Night Live the other night because we know an item that costs $0.60 to make and sells for $29.95 has a profit of $29.35, not a loss of $13 and change. For the writers and other creators entitled to get a royalty, an increase of $0.03 or $0.04 per unit is not going to send any studio head to the poor house. I understand the total increase that the WGA was looking for in 1988 would have amounted to $6,000,000 in payments--less than 10% of what Michael Eisner was pulling in salary that year and an even smaller percentage of the pay-off his buddy Michael Ovitz got when he was fired after a little more than a year helming Disney.

Even if the WGA got everything and every penny it was asking for and the other Guilds got the same, no studio head would be headed for the poor house and no company would be going under. This is all about greed, plain and simple, but too many studio heads believe in Gordon Gekko.

Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Horse Gone?

For the past year or two, I've had a silhouette of an Arabian horse very similar to the one here (without the circle around it) on each side of my car. The pair of magnetic vinyl decals were about 8 x 10 inches overall, and it made it very easy to spot my car.

We went to a wedding reception in Granada Hills on Saturday, and, when I went to pick up Len, he didn't recognize the car because the decals were gone.

I got them at the Calabassas Saddlery Sale on the deep discount table where I think the original price was around $30 (at which I wouldn't have bought them--then) but I probably paid less than a third of that. I've only been able to locate much smaller ones so far on-line, which is incredibly frustrating. So if you see a pair of the large Arabian magnetic decals, let me know.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Halloween and Other Frights

Halloween is over, but I just found this link to a photograph of a pumpkin that comes via Neil Gaiman's website. You can see why. I then went looking for the rest of the geek pumpkins, and there were more at this location on Wired's blog site. We could have used the Yoda to go with or Chewbacca on Sunday.

No trick or treaters showed up at our house on Wednesday. A major disappointment. We've got about 4 pounds of miniature candies to eat now.

I'm always disappointed when my husband doesn't update his website regularly. Actually, I'm disappointed when any of the blogs I read regularly aren't updated. How incredibly silly of me to think that these people should inform or entertain me each day, especially when I can't do a daily update on mine. I believe that Viggo Mortensen is off in New Mexico making a movie, which is why I was actually surprised to see an update at the beginning of the week. Mostly, he posts links to other news stories, but occasionally he puts in a line or paragraph of his own at the Perceval Press website. I know Melinda Snodgrass is off to Saratoga, NY for the World Fantasy Convention, which starts today (hello to all my friends there; wish we could be with you.) But Len's at home and should be able to post something. Mark Evanier manages five or six posts a day.

We are waiting for the official word on when the WGA starts its strike. Len hasn't written much for TV or film for a while, but part of the issue is other media and he was about to start work on a webisode project and the WGA leaders don't want members writing for the web or games or animation until this thing is sorted out. The Teamsters have said they will honor the picket lines, but the head of IATSE has told his members they can be permanently replaced if they do honor the picket lines. Nice. I'm sorry I paid my quarterly dues to IATSE Local 600 (which covers still photographers and publicity people, along with all the other moving camera persons). The Animation Union (Local 839) is part of IATSE, even though every writer I know who belongs hates the fact that they are stuck with people who don't respect writers and who don't believe that writers of animation are entitled to residuals. On the few animated shows which are under WGA jurisdiction (most of the prime-time animated shows like Simpsons, Family Guy, etc.), the writers do get residuals. I do believe that voice actors get residuals for everything they do, but, somehow, the folks responsible for those words don't. (Given enough time and space, I can discuss what happened under the union-busting Reagan-era when the WGA was about to cover animation writing and the Reagan goons stopped it in its tracks. Reading the ruling makes my blood boil.)

The news is making the writers look like bad guys--probably because the companies that own the news also own the studios--or at least some of them. The huge demands of the writers basically boil down to $0.04 per DVD. Admittedly, this would double the amount of money the writers get for DVD sales, but the royalty is based on 20% of the price of a DVD, not 100% of that price. A book writer would have a fit if their 10-15% royalty on cover price was limited to 10-15% of 20% of the cover price because of "breakage" or "production costs." The cost of producing DVDs has dropped dramatically since this royalty was foisted upon writers and the profits from DVDs has replaced box office for films and probably actual watchers of the shows on TV. One report or article said the strike is about greed, laying it on the writers. It's about greed alright, but it is the greed of the corporations which has caused this strike. Few stockholders seem to have a problem with nine-figure golden parachutes for studio heads, but $0.04 a DVD for the writer is a major problem. As far as I'm concerned, the writers should have demanded the residuals for DVDs be based on 100% of suggested retail price. Then it might have been easier to compromise on that additional $0.04 a unit.

Monday is Bonfire Day. I think the writers should be burning effigies of studio logos in the parking lot of Farmers Market (across from the WGAw headquarters) to raise a little team spirit.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Goblins, Alley Cats, Witches on Brooms

I can't remember when it started, but a number of years ago our friend Gillian Horvath initiated a pumpkin carving party for Halloween. Sunday was the latest installment.

Len's contribution is the first photo up. He draws from scratch. He's done SwampThing, Batman, the Bat Symbol, and a variety of other things. The pumpkin he chose this year turned out to be somewhat unripe, resulting in the fascinating green outline to his carving which you can see before we lit the candle.

This Jolly Roger was carved by friend Jesse. She added a second carving on the back which casts an image reading "TELL NO TALES" which may show up in some of the other pictures, but it was quite hard to capture. Some of the other pumpkins also had rear carvings. In the big group shot, the top pumpkin has a haunted house which casts ghosts on the wall slightly to the right of the pumpkin and in the middle on the left of the same photograph, you can seek the cast of a bird in flight.

Some of the other pumpkins show bats in flight, a couple of rats, a mummy with the wrap over one eye undone, a howling wolf, and Chewbacca. Next year, I'll remember my tripod.

It is all great messy fun. Gillian has insisted that we remind her that she must hold this party each year because it is too much fun to forego. Martha Stewart can eat her heart out.

On Saturday night we went to the annual Niven Halloween event. Each year Larry and Fuzzy have a theme for their party and this year it was "Come As Your Second Life Avatar." This was a tough theme, because I've got a pretty good first life and I don't need a second life. I finally decided that since I often describe myself as 18 with a lot of years of experience, the avatar should dress like it was 1969. Out came the jeans, which I needed to cut to unravel at the ankle, a peasant blouse, a mesh-crocheted poncho I made while sitting in an English class that year, and the peace symbol necklace my college boy friend brought me from Spain. I put a paisley scarf around my forehead and tied it on the side and put on a pair of sandels. Perfecto!

Last year, we were supposed to dress for the year we were born. I had to pull out the sewing machine to make a skirt as full as they were that year. I took a whole lot of clues from "I Love Lucy" and had my hair dresser do my coif like Lucille Ball and then I pulled out the bright red lipstick and nail polish. Often, I wish we had more lead-time.

I can't remember when Halloween turned into a time for decorations at home. I do remember the competitions to paint scenes on the windows of the stores on Main Street in my home town, but we really didn't do anything at home. Now, I've heard, it is second only to Christmas for decorating frenzy. One of the houses we passed on our way to the Niven's house looks like 1313 Mockingbird Lane, with its big gate and orange lights. Another had lit pumpkins all along the fence. In a gated community, it is less likely that someone will come along and destroy things, I guess. At home, Len's been known to put up some decorations like a skeleton on the door or a banner off the flag pole. We don't get many trick-or-treaters, which is a big disappointment to us both. What's Halloween without beggars at the door?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fire Season upon Us

This is the view that KNX is showing of the Los Angeles County fires mere minutes ago. It's accurate, because I am looking at the layer of dirty air above me. On the photograph, the spot marked closest to the ocean is the Malibu fire. The one almost perpendicularly north is the Stevenson Ranch fire, and that's the one I've got to keep an eye on, because its march to the sea could include Chatsworth where the Arabian Prince is in residence.

It's a bit like tornado weather around here, except there is no wet and the sky is brown instead of that sickly green that the mid-west gets as a storm approaches. Without the fires, I might even call it "Earthquake Weather," a phrase and title from Tim Power's work. "Earthquake Weather" doesn't usually have this kind of wind. It is warm and dry. The humidity is less than 10%. This is tinderbox time.

As I look out the window to the north, I can see blue sky between the cloudcast and the horizon, but just beyond the hills is black smoke from the fire to the north. Looking out the south window, it is evenly overcast, with the sun making the view a bit warmer than I would expect this time of the afternoon.

The air smells and tastes terrible. My throat hurts every time I take a deep breath. My eyes itch and weep. And I want to rip my skin off.

My friend Jack Dann arrived from Australia last night. He's beginning to think he brings these fires with him, because the last several trips he's made here have been in the Fall, and there were major fires--closer to us, in fact, than they are now. I could see flames from where I am sitting.

We deal with all of the four elements--or are they elementals?--in Southern California: earth, air, fire, and water in the forms of earthquake, wind, fire and floods. Fire and flood sort of alternate. I expect in moderation we would have neither or fewer of each.

That's the price you pay to live in Paradise.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Day the Music Died

10 years ago today, John Denver had an unscheduled landing in Monterey Bay. I first saw him on a local music program on television around the time that Peter, Paul and Mary had a hit with Jet Plane. I confess that I made a point of going to Jasper, Alberta to photograph the things of which he sang. His music spoke to my soul in a way no other songwriter's work has and I sorely miss the enjoyment of a new recording.

He was also a terrific performer, and I saw him in concert many times. The last was six months before he died in a venue where we had the best seats I'd ever had for one of his appearances--fourth row center. His voice got better with age and he was fantastic that night.

I met him once, in the mid-1980s, when he was in Washington for World Hunger Day. I screwed up my courage to go tell him how much I had enjoyed his music over the years. He got my name, addressed me by it several times as we walked out of the Kennedy Center theatre, which impressed the hell out of me. I photographed him that evening when he sang at the National Cathedral, but I never got the opportunity to shoot a magazine or album cover of him. That's a major regret of my photographic career, along with shooting a cover story for Life Magazine.

It is rather sweetly ironic that on the anniversary of the death of this songwriter who used his celebrity so well in pursuit of world peace and concern for the environment that Al Gore should receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on environmental issues.

Fun Things to Do When You Live in LA

It has been an incredibly busy two weeks around here.

First, I needed to get through the second "Creative Voices" program that Donna Accardo, head of the English Department at Pierce College and I have arranged at the school. We had Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the writing team behind all three Pirates of the Caribbean films (as well as Shrek, The Mask of Zorro, Aladdin, Small Soldiers, and a few to many others to mention), as our speakers. When we had Harlan Ellison in the spring, we just let him go on stage in performance. For Ted and Terry, we had to work out a Q&A format, which actually went quite well. The school paper called it "well organized" and we've gotten many compliments from the president, veeps, and faculty and staff.

Ted and Terry, whom we've known since 1993, put together a great clip reel of scenes from their films, using the Pirates score behind it. The only dialogue is an exchange with Jack Sparrow ending with "but you have heard of me" which closed the 3-minute reel. I'm looking forward to seeing a second version of what they called a "vanity reel" which includes the sharp dialogue they've written.

Our next event will be early in the spring semester, when we will have novelist Larry Niven. I've asked Barbara Hambly to handle the Q&A for that.

After things finished on October 2, I spent the next week scrambling to get our taxes for 2006 done before the expiration of the extension. The paperwork got turned into our accountant on Wednesday, and we are now awaiting the bad news.

Last night, after much debate about whether we were too tired or simply did not have the enthusiasm to leave the house, we headed across the Valley to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences auditorium to see a program about television theme music.

We are so glad we did.

It was the best program we've ever seen there in the 10 or so years Len's been a member (beating out the night with the West Wing cast or any night a David Kelly show has been featured.) Octogenarians (or possibly nonogenarians) Earle Hagen (I Spy) and Vic Mizzy (The Addams Family) were both interviewed on stage and both of them were sharp and entertaining. Mike Post was interviewed along with Steve Bochco, with whom he has collaborated on many shows. John Schneider and Jean Louisa Kelly showed off their Broadway chops by singing a number of themes. Mr. Schneider did the Dukes of Hazzard theme and Ms. Kelly did a torch-song version of the Mickey Mouse Club theme, after which Schneider said "Walt Disney is no longer frozen."

The program was produced by Ray Colcord and Arthur Greenwald, and the interviews were conducted by Jon Burlingame who wrote TV's Greatest Hits. Mr. Colcord (who has a pretty interesting website, check it out) introduced the program and was so funny I was very sorry when he left the stage. Fortunately, everyone else was equally good. I guess it does help when when you get a writer (Mr. Greenwald) to write the show. Henry Mancini's daughter hosted most of the evening, with theme opening montage (Comedy, Action, Detective/Spy, Drama, Science Fiction) introductions by Maureen McCormick, Lindsay Wagner, Robert Vaughn, Stacy Keach, William Daniels and Bonnie Bartlett.

Since Len knows virtually every TV theme song ever written, we had a great time singing along--which was encouraged, but probably annoyed our neighbors.

And while I'm hanging around today, a big Happy Birthday to the personification of Wolverine himself, Mr. Hugh Jackman. It would be really nice if Len did a cameo in that new film that's coming out. If Chris Claremont got one in X-3, it would be only right for Len to get one in Wolverine.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Take Me to the Fair

It's Monday morning and I've got to finish the program for tomorrow night's appearance by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio as "Creative Voices" for the series we started with Harlan Ellison last spring here at Pierce College. I've known Ted and Terry for 14 years and I'm certainly pleased with the success they've earned with Pirates of the Caribbean, although we don't get to see them nearly as much as we used to.

We spent yesterday at the Los Angeles County Fair, eating food which was bad for us and spending money for things we didn't need--well, I didn't participate in that part. We've gone almost every year since Len and I have been married, and he started going before then. (I grew up in the town in New York where our county fair was held, but it was a much smaller event. I doubt as many people lived in our county as attended the L.A. County Fair yesterday.)

I wound up with a new pair of black pearl studs for my ears. Our annual tradition includes a stop at Kobe Pearls, where for about $12.00 you get to chose an oyster and see what's inside. This year, a pair of 6 mm black pearls. So, for another $22.00, they drill and mount them. I've got a large black pearl ring from a previous year and a pendant from another. Then there's a box with all the pearls I haven't bothered to get set. One of these days I'll have enough for an entire string of them. They come in all colors. I'm partial to black and the rarer pinks. I've got lots of cream and gold-creams in the box. Someday, I'd like to have a large baroque pearl pendant accented perhaps by diamonds. I think the really huge baroques I've seen (when I used to accompany someone on wholesale buying trips on 47th Street in NYC) come from Tahiti. I probably have better things to do with my money.

The horse events for the weekend involved Drafts and Mules and Donkeys. I watched the junior riding competition--little girls riding big Clydesdales, Belgians, Shires, and Freisians in either English or Western tack--and it looks a lot like riding a couch with pretty action. I saw what was supposed to be a driving event with two competitors, but one of the horses really acted up and the driver lost his temper with his whip and was sent out of the arena. I guess the woman won.

There were also some ponies in the stock barns which I watched for a bit. There was a mini-palomino in an isolated corral which I'm pretty sure was a stud. One of the mares in the group of ponies was in season, which I mentioned to my two companions who didn't want to know how I knew. Bob said he didn't see the problem, because it would be mission impossible, until I explained that the mare might be willing to accommodate by lying down. That was too much information for him. Len said I couldn't bring the palomino home, even though he was smaller than our golden retriever Muffin. He was eohippus sized.

We really like seeing the table-setting competition. Last Friday's L.A. Times did a front-page story about them. Friends of ours used to compete regularly, but they haven't done so in years. I'll have to post some pictures when I get a chance to process the ones I took yesterday.

Bob had gone to the Fair the day before and had done a craft thing which he paid for us all to do together. I'm not sure what it is called, but it involves a clear, egg-shaped ornament, mica based colors, and a setting medium. When all is done, the colors make a beautiful ornament. I'll have to photograph them as well. Even grown-ups like arts and crafts time!

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Few Words about Harlan Ellison

Our friend Harlan Ellison was feted at the Cleveland Public Library on Friday night. I'm not from Cleveland, but I spent 2 1/2 years living in the Heights while I went to law school there. I couldn't be at this event, but I did let some friends of mine know about it and I hope they had a chance to see Dreams with Sharp Teeth and hear Harlan speak afterwards. It is an experience not to be missed. I was asked to write a tribute, which I did. I thought I'd post it here.


“Ms. Valada?” questioned the voice on the other end of the phone. “This is Harlan Ellison.” The call came through just a few days after I had moved to Cleveland to start classes at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law. I had left my career as a professional photographer in Washington, D.C. to become a copyright lawyer. Six weeks before the call, I flew to Los Angeles to photograph a number of science fiction writers for an exhibit and Harlan Ellison had been my primary goal.

My formal introduction to Harlan got off to a rocky start (and that’s a whole story I won’t tell here) but illustrator Leo Dillon stopped Harlan from walking away from the sitting. Despite that prickly meeting, I knew I had captured something special about Harlan on film and that he would have to love the print I mailed him. He did. His tone on the phone was far friendlier than it had been in July. He wanted to use the photograph on a book jacket. Obviously, I was a “real photographer” and not just somebody with an expensive camera. I realized he must have called within minutes of opening the envelope.

Harlan recognizes, encourages, and respects talent. Many writers got a break because of Harlan Ellison. So have artists. Harlan is, and long has been, a tireless advocate for creators’ rights, but he doesn’t just talk the talk. He understands the business of writing. I don’t know anyone who can find more ways to make money off the same words than Harlan can. Most importantly, he’s ready, able, and willing to take on anyone who infringes on his rights as a writer. From the standpoint of preparation, he’s the perfect client for a copyright lawyer and a shining example to anyone who ever had delusions of making a living from their creative output.

In April of 2000, I got another call from Harlan. By then, I was living in Los Angeles, had practiced copyright and entertainment law for about seven years, was the outside general counsel for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and was married to one of Harlan’s best friends (despite what was said back on that day we were first introduced), so a call from Harlan was a relatively common occurrence. This time, however, Harlan was hopping mad because his work was showing up in news groups on-line and he wanted to go to war.

Unlike almost all of the other authors whose short stories were being “shared” on-line—and there were many--Harlan’s copyrights were all registered and properly renewed with the U.S. Copyright Office. Under any other circumstances, we could have filed an action that very day going after all direct and contributory infringers, demanding statutory damages and attorneys fees, and we most likely could have prevailed at the level of a preliminary hearing. Not so when the infringers were using the Internet, where the law had recently been changed to shield the deep pockets (in this case America On Line and a company called Critical Path), and where there was not one reported ruling construing the new law.

Harlan wasn’t too happy to find out that what is known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) required us to send notification to both AOL and Critical Path and that they had the right to be dropped from any lawsuit if they responded “expeditiously” and took down his stories. He would be limited to going after the individuals who had scanned and uploaded his stories, and those who continued to post and re-post them. Identifying the perpetrators in this or any similar case would prove to be almost impossible or financially ruinous, leaving a copyright holder with little in the way of restitution for infringement on the Internet.

Amazingly, neither AOL nor Critical Path responded to the notice-and-take-down demands we sent. They did notice the filing of the lawsuit, though, and thus began four years of facially conflicting defenses, motions, discovery, motions, rulings, settlement (with the one direct infringer we could identify and with Critical Path), and appeal before the Ninth Circuit recognized that the DMCA placed obligations on service providers before they would be able to claim that precious limitation on liability and AOL finally sat down to negotiate a settlement.

Through it all, Harlan never wavered in his belief that he would prevail. While many of Harlan’s colleagues and fans gave financial support (all repaid) for him to carry on this fight, a huge vocal contingent of the “information wants to be free crowd” jeered his efforts and dismissed his likelihood of success. Now, there’s a reported Ninth Circuit ruling with his name on it, which, unlike a large percentage of published rulings, has already been cited by other courts working their way through the legal mire of copyright in the digital age.

There are many people who want to be like Harlan Ellison the writer, with good reason. More of them should try to be like Harlan Ellison the businessman.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Now That's Customer Service!

I've been trying to buy the "Impeach Remove Jail" t-shirt from Viggo Mortensen's Perceval Press for several months. Every time I try to place an order, they are out of stock. I'm not sure that's because of the sentiment or because of who's selling it, but either way it's a great slogan. So, on Thursday, I noticed the shirts were available again and I attempted to order one in long sleeves and one in the new pink color in short sleeves.

The site had several places where it warned customers to it the send button only once, lest they be charged for duplicate sales. Unfortunately, when I clicked the button, I got an error message. I tried fixing things twice more with the same results (insanity would be expecting a different result, I guess), so then I went in search of the information to contact the company to ask what was going on and make sure that six shirts weren't in the mail.

I can understand why it's a little hard to find an e-mail address to actually contact the company, but I finally managed to find it--no hot link there--and I sent off a short e-mail explaining the problem. Much to my amazement, used as I am to never hearing a response to queries I send to on-line companies (why hasn't that bra company answered my question yet?), I got an e-mail from a nice person named Walter within minutes.

Walter told me that had changed servers only the day before and they were having some problems, but if I tried again, thing should be o.k. Also, not one of the three orders had gone through, so my credit card was safe. I tried to place the order again, and got the same error message. I immediately let Walter know and THEN he wrote back to say that they were trying to get in touch with their tech person and that he would e-mail me as soon as he knew things were working again. He also assured me they had plenty of shirts in stock.

The next morning when I checked my e-mail, there was an e-mail from Walter assuring me things were working and I was able to place my order. On Saturday--that's yesterday, the day after I placed the order--the shirts arrived. Now that's great customer service.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Where Once It Never Rained 'Til After Sunset

We went over to UCLA to catch the road production of Camelot. Somewhat to my disappointment, we didn't get the version with Michael York as Arthur. Even if he can't sing, he follows a long tradition of actors in musicals who can't sing: Richard Burton and Richard Harris in that particular role, actually, and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. Instead, we got Lou Diamond Phillips, who can carry a tune most of the time.

I had never seen the play done and I've fallen asleep during my attempts to watch the 1968 screen version which has a design sensibility firmly seated in the flower-power, Peter Max days of the waning decade. It doesn't work for me, any more than the filmed version of Hair does locked into the look of the wrong decade.

I thought the look of the production was very nice, with Arthur and Guenevere frequently color-coordinated. Merlin was wearing long rasta-hair in his brief appearance. Most of the singers were just fine and Rachel de Benedet was terrific as Guenevere. The audience was fairly sparse, which lowered the energy in the room.

Pretty much only the center section of seats was filled, leaving lots of open space at Royce Hall. Len wondered why he hadn't been able to buy better seats last week and I felt annoyed for the man ahead of us at the box office trying to buy cheap seats for his kids for tonight--they should be offering twofers to fill up the place. People will definitely be moving around just like they did last night.

I'm partial to the Mary Stewart books on the Arthurian legends, with Marion Zimmer Bradley's effort in second place. The Once and Future King has never done it for me at all and I think that Disney's attempt at that story is one of its least successful animated film.

It was very easy to see why the Kennedy administration chose or had "Camelot"chosen as its theme. It is all the sadder to look at that choice from more than 40 years later, for both the successes and the failures resound in the lyrics and dialogue.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Who Was that Hooded Man?

Last week, I saw what looked like an uncredited cameo by Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn on The Colbert Report. The video of the scene should be here. I'd like someone to confirm whether Viggo was indeed under the Strider costume. Although his voice didn't sound quite right--I'm so used to the soft-voiced Viggo rather than the troups rousing Viggo--he was wearing the beard I've seen him in promoting his new movie and it sure looked like him in the close-in shots. That final line about going after some orcs made it seem pretty likely it was Viggo--just in case the audience had doubts.

The Spector of Simpson

Mark Evanier is planning on going on a tri-county killing spree if Phil Spector gets off because he figures that no celebrity can be convicted of murder in Los Angeles. So keep your doors locked. At least a 7-5 jury isn't as stupid as the one that let O.J. Simpson go after a matter of minutes of deliberation, but I do think the judge made a mistake about not giving instruction on lesser included charges such as manslaughter. I do believe that reckless disregard moves things from manslaughter to murder, but it's been almost 20 years since I took criminal law.

It may be that O.J. is finally getting his come-uppance over in Nevada. Len said that one of the victims of the alleged robbery has had a massive heart attack. He asked if the guy dies, does it append a murder charge. That would be a felony murder charge and I think it would require a causal connection between the robbery and the heart attack. It might certainly hold up in a civil damages trial as connected. We study a case in law school torts known as Pfaltzgraff--spelled something like that--which is all about causation and foreseeability, but there's also a matter of "the eggshell skull" which says you take your victim as you find them and too bad if you didn't know they had an eggshell skull and that pat on the head killed them, liability attaches.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Back to the Future with WML

The double dose of What's My Line Live on Stage on Sunday as a charity event was great entertainment. Of particular fun for us was meeting Rose Abdoo, who was on the first panel of the evening, along with our friend Andy Zax. Rose played Gypsy on Gilmore Girls, the wonderfully written series created by Amy Sherman-Pallidino and a big favorite of ours. Rose will be in the new Sherman-Pallidino show The Return of Jezebel James. Rose stayed through the second show so she could have her picture taken with Len. She said there was a closet in her house filled with comic books he had written.

The fabulous Lea Thompson was the mystery guest on the second of the back-to-back shows Sunday night. Despite her faux French accent, her friend Elaine Hendrix guessed her after only four "no" answers were given to the panel. She looked just great. In addition to her acting work, she's directing these days. It turned out she had been in the audience with us on Saturday night at Falsettos watching her Caroline in the City co-star Malcolm Gets play Marvin.

The two panels each managed to guess half of their guests. The big reaction of the evening came with Bo Slyapich who catches rattle snakes--he brought one with him and had it out on stage as you can see in the photograph. I watched one woman jump out of her seat and had to keep the friend sitting next to me from doing the same. Len, who was sitting in the front row wasn't particularly thrilled with things either. Me, I'll handle non-poisonous snakes but I do worry about running across a poisonous one when I'm walking Ace out on the trails in the hills of Chatsworth.