Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dragnet Lives!

Check out Keith Olbermann's Dragnet parody by clicking here and then linking to the "Dragnet: Larry Craig" headline below the Leona Helmsley story. The voice over is pretty much verbatim from the police report, which I was sent by Findlaw. Unfortunately, I'm no Bob Harris or Mark Evanier and I don't know how to bring the videos here for your convenience.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Too Darned Hot

A reminder that we live in what used to be a desert, before Mr. Mulholland stole all that water from up north: it's almost 110 degrees F. The thermometer in the shade outside of my office was at 106 when I looked at it about half an hour ago. There are clouds building to the east which would definitely indicate an impending thunder storm if I was back in New York or Virginia, but this is Los Angeles where water from the sky in August is pretty rare. It rained in Chatsworth, 7 miles to the northwest of our house on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday I heard a report of rain in Burbank, about 10 miles east of where we live. Not a drop fell on our house either day.

Hypocrisy is alive and well among the Republicans today. First is Senator Craig saying "I have never been a homosexual"--as if it is a persona that can be changed at will. Then there are the members of his party calling for his resignation--so the Republican governor of Idaho can appoint an interim Republican Senator who will then have no trouble winning next year in the very red state. (There was another Republican Senator in a similarly embarrassing position recently, but there are no calls for his resignation because he's from a state where a Democrat is likely to be appointed to replace him. The corollary is likely the reason that "independent" Joe Lieberman is being bandied about for Attorney General: Connecticut has a Republican governor who would be able to appoint an interim Republican to the Senate, throwing things back into Republican hands for the next 500-plus days.) And, of course, there is Fox So-called News reporting on this story but refusing to identify Senator Craig as a Republican! It might be an error, if this wasn't the latest of many times one of Rupert Murdoch's companies did this. In fact, they have intentionally mis-identified Republicans as being Democrats for similar gaffes and crimes.

News flash, Senator Craig: no one cares who or what you're playing around with until you lie about it and persecute other people for having the same orientation. As long as you are not taking advantage of minors, Congressional pages, or someone else over whom you have unlimited power and as long as you don't treat the rest of the world like we're stupid, it's your own darned business. Resigning is the coward's way out. We'll be happy to see you go next year. [Thanks, Len, for catching the missing word in the earlier version of this.]

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gonzales Resigns--Film at 11

I didn't have the radio on as I drove to work this morning, so I missed the breaking news. Alberto Gonzales, possibly the worst attorney general since the Nixon Administration is going. I'm no fan of the guy Gonzales succeeded, but even he said "no" to the Pretender at least once. Fortunately, it was the top story once I signed into e-mail.

The rats are all deserting the ship, no doubt to avoid having to testify under oath or to lessen the scrutiny of the Republican Party in anticipation of the 2008 primaries and elections. Frankly, I can't understand how they can avoid testifying. If I were Senator Leahy, I'd be very tempted to send the U.S. Marshals out to round up Gonzales, Rove, Harriet Meyers, and any others who have refused to come clean. They all took oaths to uphold the Constitution and every damned one of them have put their buddy the pretender ahead of the Constitution.

Did everyone catch Keith Olbermann's special appearance with Countdown on the real NBC last night? I thought it was pretty funny and tragic that he had to explain the format of the show to new potential viewers. I figured it out pretty quickly once I started watching it. And isn't it a kick that he got to tell so many more people about the Pretender's handlers instruction book on how to keep protesters away from our governments Republican officials?

The fear-mongers have been jabbed with a strong dose of humor at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The show is Jihad: The Musical and the company is going to "try and open it in New York." Here's a sample of some of the lyrics, sung by the protagonist and a reporter named Foxy Redstate:
I was foolish to doubt you because I can't live without you,
You're the best opposition for my cause, you're the nemesis I dream of,
You're the reason that my team of angry millions wave their flags and give me rabid applause.
And we are finally going to be in a holy war alliance where we are guaranteed compliance with religion over science, we're the overarching giants.
There's a line that we're both selling and it's perfectly compelling for the audience who will hate you by default.

Here's a link to the song "I Wanna Be Like Ossama." NPR has coverage here and here. Laughter truly is the best medicine.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Masters of Science Fiction

ABC produced six episodes of this anthology series, which has gotten good reviews, and somehow has decided to air only four of them. They are being blown off this month. Tomorrow night's episode is The Discarded, based on a story by Harlan Ellison and adapted by Josh Olsen (A History of Violence) and Harlan. Harlan has a cameo, assuming it didn't end up on the cutting room floor. Look for a character with what seems to be a huge goiter on his neck.

I've enjoyed the two episodes I've seen, one based on a story by Robert Heinlein and the other by John Kessel. The casting and production values have been quite good. Unless they release the series on DVD, there probably won't be another opportunity to see them.

More Books

I've finished His Majesty's Dragon and I'm on the second book in the series. What a rousing good time. It does make me wish that Ace could actually talk to me in English instead of just looking at me with those warm brown eyes and knickering when I coo over him.

Between re-reading the Harry Potter books and starting the Dragon, I read Barbara Hambly's Patriot Hearts, an historic novel that weaves the stories of Dolly Madison, Abagail Adams, Martha Washington, and Sally Hemings quite nicely. Barbara, whom I have known for almost twenty years, wrote an excellent novel about Mary Todd Lincoln called The Emancipator's Wife and has a mystery series of seven books set in antebellum New Orleans about a black physician. The first of these is A Free Man of Color and I can't understand why someone hasn't picked up an option to film it. I also enjoyed her book about vampires called Those Who Hunt the Night and her fantasy set against early Hollywood called Bride of the Rat God.

There was a small world aspect to Patriot Hearts--when I looked at her source material, the name of someone with whom I grew up appeared. He's one of the editors of James Madison's papers at the University of Virginia and those papers apparently include Dolly's letters. So there was Dr. David Mattern's name. I haven't seen him since a high school reunion a number of years ago, but there was a time when I expected we would be two-thirds of an "It's Academic" team when we were seniors in high school. Unfortunately, our history teacher refused to support our entry when the show switched to a Sunday shooting schedule. Wasn't that silly?

Looking at this post, it indicates I've read nine books in the past month (ten if I count Harry Potter 7 for both times I read it), which, according to an article I read this week, puts me well out of the norm for this country. How sad that so many people read five or fewer books a year.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

His Majesty's Dragon

I'm midway through Naomi Novik's first novel, His Majesty's Dragon. It had been recommended to me by a number of people and I must confess I was hooked by the second chapter.

The conceit is that dragons--of which there are many breeds and varieties--were first tamed in Europe for warfare by the Romans--although the Chinese had accomplished it earlier. The book is set during the Napoleonic wars and the protagonist is the Captain of a British ship who captures a French vessel carrying a dragon egg. This is somewhat problematic, because dragons are under the jurisdiction of an air corps, not the Royal Navy, and dragon riders are trained from early childhood to work with dragons. The egg is about to hatch at sea.

There are three books in the series so far and Peter Jackson has the rights to film them and any future books. There's a long way between acquiring rights and seeing things on the big screen, but these are extremely visual books (the author used to work in the gaming industry) and they should translate well. With Weta doing the special effects (and we know they can make dragon-like creatures look real) it should be spectacular.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Back in the Saddle Again

With a little help from my trainer, I was able to get on--and off--Ace again last night. He was a perfect gentleman. I was very concerned that something was going to hurt badly, but that wasn't the case. I had a little discomfort from my left rib-shoulder blade area and this morning it's a little tight, but that was the worst of it. There was a slight pinch where I still have bruises (some of which are just now reaching the surface) on my backside. Looking at where I sit, we think that some of the worst bruising is from where I hit the cantle on my way to the ground. I managed to slowly slip down Ace's side out of the saddle (he didn't move as I dragged my leg across his back) and nothing got jolted when I touched the ground. Good. Next time will be much easier, and this time was a lot easier than Gayle thought it would be.

After Gayle left, Zsuzsu had a discussion with me about the "story I'm telling myself" about what happened. I said it would be easier to know what story I'm telling myself if I could figure out what happened. The one thing she wanted me to focus on is that the horse did not "throw" me. I lost my seat and then lost everything else. The horse didn't do anything wrong and did not try to make me to come off his back (this part I do know, deep down inside.)

Well, it will be back to practice, practice, practice, but not quite yet. My ribs still hurt and I was pretty stiff from wearing my riding boots for three hours. They've got an inch of heel, and that shifted my pelvis enough for it to tighten up. Cleaning Ace's bedding did nothing good for me either. He needs to have clean shavings, but I'm not in any condition to unload them from my car right now. We've also lost the place we were storing that stuff because there is now a full house at the barn. Trixie, an adorable pony who is a few years older than Ace but who lacks a lot in formal training, is now in the shed row stall that used to house shavings and supplements.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Why I Like Viggo

Sometimes he's so quiet on screen that you have to strain to hear what he's saying. On the other hand, he can deliver the rousing purpose speech (you know, the one Morgan Freeman had to deliver for Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) and you're ready to follow him into battle. He looks great in costume. He's a really good horseman. But what I really like about Viggo Mortensen is that his life isn't all about acting. In addition to acting, he's an accomplished photographer, writer, publisher, and activist. He was one of the first people in Hollywood to come out against the Bush administration, wearing a self-produced "No Blood for Oil" t-shirt on an interview show while promoting "The Lord of the Rings."

Viggo's publishing operation, Perceval Press, is located in Santa Monica. The front page of the Perceval Press website contains all kinds of squibs and links, much of it political. A good portion of it is not even in English (oh to be a polyglot.) Every once in a while, Viggo even adds some commentary of his own. I really liked the speech he gave in support of a Democratic candidate for Congress running in the Republican district of upstate New York where Viggo graduated from high school. Lately, Viggo's been recommending reading the Constitution and a list of other works to see how scary things are under this administration in Washington. (A letter to my local paper this morning recommended watching Judgment at Nuremburg for the same purpose.) I found the following quotes on a recent visit:

The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis. -Dante

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State. -Joseph Goebbels

Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. - President Theodore Roosevelt, 1908

I'd recommend a visit to the Perceval Press website for the provocative reading material you can find on-line and to do a little shopping as well. I do like the "IMPEACH, REMOVE, JAIL" t-shirts, but they've been sold out every time I've check to buy one.

Mostly Food

The family drove down toward LAX to catch Harry Potter 5 at the IMAX theatre near the airport. We figured (rightly) that parking would be a lot easier than at Universal, and we could catch breakfast at Dinah's, which we did, and still get great seats.

Dinah's is a 1950s coffee shoppe type place which is famous for its giant apple pancakes. We used to eat there when Michael would fly east on a regular basis to see his father, but that doesn't happen any more. It's not really the kind of place to go out of your way to eat, but the food is plentiful and homey under the right circumstances. Michael loved the chocolate chip pancakes he had. I was disappointed that the Belgian waffles didn't have fresh strawberries.

Harry Potter in IMAX was swell. It's the third of the films I've seen projected in IMAX, but I don't think that the others had 3D effects. I thought that the fireworks scene was one that had been manipulated, but it wasn't. All of the stuff in the Ministry of Magic during the last 15 or so minutes is. It works quite nicely. Remember when 3D was only in black and white?

Len and Michael had a chore to handle when we got home: cleaning the dead squished bug in our TV screen. The thing showed up on the screen on Friday and Len went to wipe it off, which is how he found out that the projection screen is actually a sandwich, and the bug was between the two parts. Squish. So, much against my better judgment, they took the thing apart on Sunday.

First, to my amazement, everything still works and they did a good job of getting most of the bug gunk cleaned up. Second, what a difference it makes cleaning up the inside of a projection television. We had no idea just how bad everything had gotten. With everything dusted and cleaned off, the picture is bright and sharp again. There are no cobwebs casting shadows on the screen. They did a good job, despite the odds.

The default television channel at our house is the Food Network. I may have mentioned this before. I turned it on when Len went off to tank up my car after dinner. I missed the beginning of the show which was on, and boy am I sorry I did. When Len got back home, I told him he HAD to watch what had happened, so we backed up the TIVO to where I had tuned in to watch it together.

The show was Iron Chef America and the challenge was to the Japanese Iron Chef, Morimoto. The challenger, Homaro Cantu, is a master of "techno-food" or "molecular gastronomy" and used all manner of things, including lasers, edible paper, computers, printers, liquid nitrogen and chemical reactions at presentation, to produce an amazing array of food. The "secret ingredient" was beets of a variety of colors and types. Len looked at me and said "I don't really like beets, but I would try these." Morimoto, by the way, also did some strange things and his presentations were also excellent. The challenger won by one point. If you get a chance, try to catch this episode in reruns. It originally ran back in January or February, and you can read a review of the episode and some information about Cantu here. There's another article about this "mad scientist" chef here. Unbelievable.

Friday, August 17, 2007

This Day in History

I really enjoy the New York Times feature on "this day in history." Today's marked the end of the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969, something, as Len says, "from the childhood of my youth." Woodstock actually took place in Bethel, New York because they lost the original location for some reason. But say "Woodstock" and everyone over a certain age knows exactly what you're talking about.

The poster here is not the original for the event, but it is the one which always comes to mind. I remember one hung in the New College student lounge at Hofstra when I started there in September that year. I think Len had an artist do a parody of it for a Marvel comic he wrote around the time of the 25th anniversary of the festival.

I lived in a different part of the Catskill mountains from where this phenomena occurred, but there was no way in hell my parents would have permitted me to attend. Truth be known, half a million people in the mud with limited toilets would not have been my idea of a good time, even then. A number of people near and dear to me were there, however, and it was an iconic event to my generation.

My husband has his pristine tickets in a drawer in his office. Nobody collected tickets when there were that many gate-crashers. He and his good friend Peter went. They had a car to sleep in, but Len claims they were still covered in mud. My friend Karen was there as well. I think she may have been a volunteer in the medical services tent, or maybe that was another friend of mine.

Even in my small town, news of the upcoming event had been heard and some people I with whom I had just graduated from high school planned to go as a fling before we went off to college in September. I don't know if they got there or not. The road conditions rivaled present-day L.A. in a rain-storm. Traffic was stopped dead for many miles on the major thoroughfares. People who had tickets couldn't get within 25 miles of the place. People abandoned their cars and got out to walk.

I remember well that it was a very wet summer and that some Native Americans attributed the rain to the gods' anger that man had walked on the moon in July. I don't think the film A Walk on the Moon accurately reflects the wet weather of that summer, but you do get to see a pre-Aragorn Viggo Mortensen as the sexy "blouse man" who whisks Diane Lane off to the Festival. Maybe I'll slip that into the DVD player tonight for fun.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Quick Draw

Thanks to Mark Evanier, I've seen some photographs of my husband he'd probably wish hadn't been posted on line from the 1982 Comicon, an event which looks far different than it does today. My first Comicon was 10 years later and it already looked different than what I saw in the photographs this morning.

Mark also uploaded this piece from YouTube, which shows Len trying to guess three words at Mark's Quick-Draw panel at Comicon last month. It's pretty interesting. Len had a great time doing it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Joy of Reading

When I was a child, I was the kid who you'd find in a corner in any room reading whatever happened to be available. There were certain homes of friends of my parents I particularly liked to visit because of the vast quantities of reading material (full sets of encyclopedias, old National Geographics, "Zoo Doctor") which I didn't have at home. Raiding my grandparents attic, where I found my aunts' and uncles' copies of Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys, Robinson Crusoe, Heidi, and other unabridged classics was the best, because those went home with me. I love books. Books are my friends (who are taking over my home and storage bays.)

Being flat on my back for almost a week gave me an opportunity to do something which would otherwise take a couple of months: rereading the entire Harry Potter series back to back to back. I'm within about 200 pages of finishing the task and I've enjoyed the hell out of it.

I had read the first four books at least twice before, but did not have time to do that with five or six, and, of course, seven just came out. There is so much that Rowling set up in the earlier books that I had forgotten by the time I got to seven. And I read seven in a hurry so as not to let anyone spoil the ending. It isn't about the ending. Ultimately, it is about the journey.

This is very much like watching "The Sixth Sense." Most people I know, including those who are professional writers and who can spot what's going to happen, were taken by surprise by that punch-line. Having seen the film, I couldn't wait to see the DVD to catch the clues I missed the first time out. That's how the Harry Potter books are. By book four, she was already paying off things she set up in book one, but other things don't pay off until book seven.

I missed some of the movement of the Deathly Hallows the first time through. Now I'm getting it. I realized that I had forgotten key scenes in book seven a mere three weeks after reading it the first time. It is amazing how you remember the broad strokes but only selective details.

I've also been watching the films as I finish each book, so now I can see why Michael's been less satisfied by them than I have been. I still think that three through five are really good films, but they are less faithful adaptations than I recalled. One and two remain pretty faithful to the narrative but lack any great spark as films. Chris Columbus is one of the world's worst directors, IMHO, and it is only due to the great skill of British actors that they are able to carry off the film without any important contribution by the director. Films three and five have terrific directors who are able to enhance the material. Four was o.k., but not in his element (I really liked some of his other films a lot more.)

My husband is what he calls an "organic" writer--he doesn't do a lot of planning and the story unravels before him. He doesn't like to plot and relies on his great skill with dialog and emotion to pull off some of his stories. (In all honesty, his stated failure to plot out things over long stretches of time and story isn't entirely true based on some of his talk about long runs he had on certain comic books where he set up things months or years into the future, but he doesn't do charts or story cards or anything like that.) Rowling appears to have done a whole lot more plotting and planning. She seems to work in the way I was told Dickens did--every character's movement through a book was charted out and events were carefully set up. It leads to a very rich reading experience.

There's been much talk about whether or not these books will stand the test of time. I strongly suspect they will because every one who loved these books will remember them and pass them on to their children, grand-children, nieces and nephews. I've done that with books which were childhood favorites of mine, like "The Boxcar Children," "Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates, " or "Swiss Family Robinson," and books I read later such as "The Little Prince," "Lord of the Rings," and "Way Station."

The Potter books have an added bit of sticking power, having been put on film so close to their publication, so even post-literates are familiar with their content. I did not read "Peter Pan" until after I saw the Mary Martin stage production, nor the "Wizard of Oz" until after seeing Judy Garland go down the black and white road the first time it was broadcast on television. There's many a good book I read after seeing what turned out to be really bad Disney-izations of the original material. With a book, you can see your own adaptation in your mind's eye.

Like "The Lord of the Rings," the Harry Potter books are made for critical reading. I wonder if I could convince my son to get his college degree if I told him that he could do his thesis on Harry Potter? I'd probably do better suggesting "Classic Literature as the Basis for Conflict in RPGs."

Monday, August 13, 2007

Movies, Movies

I managed, though somewhat uncomfortably, to sit through two films in the theatres this weekend.

The first was Hairspray, on Saturday. It is absolutely terrific. Well cast, great songs, swell choreography. For those who don't recognize him, John Waters, the writer and director of the original film (on which the stage production and this film are both based) has a cameo in the opening number. He's the flasher on the streets of Baltimore, in the song "Good Morning, Baltimore." Christopher Walken, who attended Hofstra University a few years before I did, is just great as Wilbur. The breakouts are the kids who play Seaweed and Tracy. And whodathunk that Cyclops could sing and dance! James Marsden certainly had that early 60s look.

On Sunday, we saw Stardust, based on the graphic novel by my friend Neil Gaiman. He didn't write the script (although we did see a trailer for the film Beowulf, for which Neil did write the script), but his voice is there in the dialog. It started a little slow for me, but when Robert De Niro came on the screen, it really picked up. This was the second day in a row I got to see Michelle Pfeiffer play a villain, and she's good in both films. I must say I really found the "Greek chorus" of dead princes pretty macabre and hysterical. Very Neil.

Speaking of whom, there's really good coverage of his "Spotlight" appearance at Comicon at Comic Book Resources. I especially liked this bit:

When asked which authors had made him realize that he wanted to be a writer, he replied that the first one was C.S. Lewis. "I loved the way he put things in parentheses." He then rattled off a list including Len Wein ("Len and Bernie's 'Swamp Thing' was the first time I read a comic and said 'now this is art'), Archie Goodwin, Will Eisner, Gene Wolf, Jonathan Carroll, Ursula K. LeGuin, Roger Zelazny ("Roger's a wonderful writer - you can watch him having fun writing"), and others.

I've heard Neil credit Len in the past, but I must say this is particularly nice.

Friday, August 10, 2007


In the interest of recovery, I went back to work today. It was all I could do to get showered and get my hair washed and I felt exhausted. Nevertheless, I managed to pull into the parking lot on time and climb the stairs to the office. I dropped my cane twice within the first 10 minutes, but my co-workers have been great. "Don't you dare try to pick that up," said Sharon. She wisely decided I was better laying it on a counter than propping it in a corner and she was right.

I've got my yoga teacher friend coming by to see what we can do about keeping my body from seizing up the wrong way later this evening. I'd much rather do yoga than go to the chiropractor. Chiropractors scare me.

I am still seething about the new assault on my civil rights and re-reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (the book upon which the latest film is based) has done nothing but reinforce my ire at politicians who go to far and those who stand by and let them get away with it. The book and film are statements against the kind of fascism which is rising in the U.S. and Britain in the wake of the so-called Christian conservative movement. (This would be one reason for the fundies to try and ban J.K. Rowling's books.)

So, the best way to combat this kind of evil is to work against it. To that end, an old friend of my husband's named Elliot Maggin has announced his intention to run for Congress from the 24th Congressional District in California. I read his statement of intent here, and I urge you to read it and contribute to his efforts.

As you can see from the Wikipedia map, the CA 24th is a gerrymandered district which skirts the major cities like Santa Barbara and reaches deeply into the very Republican areas of Ventura County. The representative for the past 20 some years is a Rubber-Stamp, Ultra-Conservative Republican. Bush got 56% of the vote in 2004.

Stardust opens today. The film is based on the work of my friend writer Neil Gaiman and wonderful artist Charles Vess. The reviews I've seen have been mostly positive and the trailers were beautiful--there's also an amazing cast. I confess that I haven't read Stardust. The book's been on my to-read pile since it came out, but Neil's American Gods is a novel I thought was terrific and I heartily recommend. Neil may suddenly be hot in the greater world, but he's been hot in comic books since he started writing Sandman for DC comics away back in the late 80s. I met and photographed Neil the first time in 1990. The photograph appears on a couple of dust jackets. He looks remarkably like John Lennon in it.

Around the time that Len and I got married, Charles Vess did an illustration of SwampThing, Abby, and their daughter for the DC Christmas card. I desperately wanted to buy the original, but it is in the collection of Bob Chapman, who owns Graphitti Designs. That's my way of saying I love Charles Vess' artwork.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Slow Recovery and Slow Burn

It still hurts to sit up for too long, but the good news is that nothing broke when I hit the ground last Friday night. The bruise is worse, the ice sill helps, and eventually I will be able to go back to work. I'm having a hard time twisting my torso, so driving the car is problematic. Getting into and out of the bed still hurts, but it is getting easier.

Of course, while I've been wound up in my own problems, Democrats in the US Congress showed nothing but cowardice in submitting to the evil Pretender's demands and helping the MINORITY Republicans pass another assault on our civil rights. Think about it and weep.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

What Happens When You No Longer See the Horse Underneath You

This will be fast because I'm still not sitting up for very long.

I became unseated from the Arabian Prince during my lesson on Friday and I've got a bruise the size of Nebraska on my left hip. I did get an x-ray this evening, and I didn't seee anything indicating a break, but I'm not a doctor so we'll see what he says tomorrow. Meanwhile, when I move the wrong way, it feels like a big scab ripping off me--and I have no broken skin anywhere.

So here's hoping the news is good tomorrow and I'll be back on the horse shortly. I'll definitely be talking to my yoga teacher about some yoga therapy.

Friday, August 3, 2007

From the Shores of Gitche Gumee

My old friend Bob Mackreth retired not so long ago from 30 years with the National Park Service. For the last stretch of years, after postings to Kings-Sequoia, the Emerald Necklace, Cape Cod and Fire Island, he's lived in Northern Wisconsin where he's been a ranger-historian. His website, linked here and on the list at the right, has some nice writing and photographs.

I found the article debunking the story that the NPS at the Grand Canyon was forced to toe the creationists' line particularly interesting. Since Bob was an old-style liberal when last I saw him, I'd take his word on the matter.

There's also a lovely piece about a day taking trains which immediately brought to mind John Denver's tribute to them "All Aboard," recorded shortly before his untimely death in 1977.

I rather hope that Bob takes the time to write about going to Washington to protest the Vietnam War and what happened when they tried to surround the Pentagon. In my mind's eye, he's 19 and I'm 18, instead of that plus a lot of years of experience.


Thursday, August 2, 2007

Visual Communication

I've just added a link at the right to "Visual Communication" also known as my "Photo Class at Pierce Blog." I set this up for the class I taught this spring. Since I'm not teaching right now, I don't post to it very often. But it does have a large number of photography-related links which may be of interest to anyone who takes pictures. Enjoy.

Prisoner of Trebekistan

I tend to read more fiction than non-fiction for pleasure, probably because I have so much non-fiction to read to keep up with the fields of law I need to know. Much of the non-fiction I read is biographical, and thus I come to Prisoner of Trebekistan, written by Bob Harris.

Bob Harris is a memorable five-time Jeopardy! champion. As I've probably written before, Jeopardy! is a daily ritual for our house and last year I even managed to make it on to their potential contestants list (although I could not go on when they called because a friend was doing effects editing on Spider-Man 3. Rats!)

Bob was a very funny contestant who also did commentaries on KNX, the radio station I listen to most of the time in L.A. because it gives frequent, necessary traffic information. About five years ago, a friend of Len's wanted to introduce us to his neighbor Bob because Frank thought we'd really like him. Frank never got around to making the introduction, so Len and I now feel we've wasted five years of potential friendship because we got to meet Bob in July when he was a co-panelist with Len on What's My Line Live on Stage. It was like meeting an old friend rather than a new friend and now Len and I have both finished reading this delightful autobiography with hints on how to prepare for Jeopardy! I think Bob's way is a little too obsessive-compulsive for me, but some of the hints are quite useful.

I highly recommend this book which is in turns funny, insightful, touching, and heart-breaking. And I must recommend Bob's website/blog which I now check on a daily basis and which you can find right here. For a sample of the book, here is an animated promotional video, with Bob reading about answering the Final Jeopardy! question which would put him in the finals of the Tournament of Champions. On his website, there is actual video of him reading a passage about J.J. Newberry's, which is priceless for those of us who remember the store.

I've attached the photograph I took of Bob (on the left) with Len after What's My Line last month. I have no idea where it will actually show up in the blog when I go from entering it to posting it. This program leaves something to be desired in that way.

Bridge Fall Down, No Partial Credit

The title is from something my ex-husband used to say, I think. It's the response students would get from some math professor he had in college.

As it happens, my college boyfriend (who preceded the ex in my life) was obsessed with bridges. One date we were on, we crossed many of the 97 bridges in and around New York City. It was a fun adventure, and I had no trouble going over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, with its 4066 foot suspension span between the towers (I've got a little trouble with the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge and its 4000 foot span, but that has to do with the possibility--nay, probability, just ask my ex-husband--of earthquakes), not that day or any other.

So now I can be freaked out by an 458 foot steel-arch construction and the knowledge that it was proclaimed "deficient" several years ago--along with a large number of other bridges around the country--yet the cost of building a new bridge made it somewhat less of a priority for Minnesota than it should have been. From KPIX's website:

The bridge had been inspected by the Minnesota Department of Transportation in 2005 and 2006 and no immediate structural problems were noted, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Wednesday.

"There were some minor things that needed attention," he said. "They notified us from an engineering standpoint the deck might need to be rehabilitated or replaced in 2020 or beyond."

A federal database, however, showed the 40-year-old bridge had been rated as "structurally deficient" in 2005 and possibly in need of replacement, the Star Tribune reported citing the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Bridge Inventory.

"We've seen it, and we are very familiar with it," Jeanne Aamodt, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said of the 2005 assessment. She noted that many other bridges around the country carry the same designation that the I-35W bridge received, and she declined to say what the agency was going to do to address the deficiencies found in 2005.

I can't help but wonder where the rest of these "deficient" bridges are located.

I've been over this bridge and I have many friends who live in the greater Minneapolis area (including the old college boyfriend and a lot of science fiction and fantasy writers.) My niece used to go to the University of Minnesota. I am very glad more people weren't on the bridge and that so many walked away from this possibly avoidable disaster.