Thursday, November 29, 2012

Horse Keeping

I got a call from the barn last night that Ace was showing signs of impending colic. After two years where he's been recovering from a leg injury and the better part of two months where we've been dealing with an eye infection of some sort (and too many dollars later from attempted treatments, let me add), I wasn't quite ready to pay for another visit from the vet.

Of course, it was damp and raining, and he's been on bute for weeks, so I thought we should just keep an eye out before calling the vet. The good news is that whatever was not quite right passed and today he seems just fine.

Buying a horse is easy. Keeping a horse is the real problem.

My friend Melinda Snodgrass arrived yesterday from New Mexico because there's a nation-wide showing of her famous episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation tonight (at theatres near you all, actually) and we're going to the screening in Century City with her. "The Measure of a Man" is based on the Dred Scott decision, but it has a happier ending. The screening will be of a restored version--the original screenplay was too long for a one-hour slot, but the editors gave her a video tape without the cuts that were made. Because she had this version, it will appear in the new Blu-ray release.

Melinda bred Ace. And she left New Mexico with her precious boy Vento not acting like himself. It was hard for her to get on the plane, but her vet came out and tubed him and her trainer is there to keep an eye out. We're going to hope that all will be well with both horses.

Melinda and I will be going to look at a Lusitano filly on Saturday. She took Ebony for a test ride about two weeks ago and is trying to decide about buying her. One of the appealing points is that Ebony could make beautiful babies with Vento. I keep reminding her that she sold Ace's sister because she wasn't going to breed horses any longer, but I think the idea of the new babies may win out. Besides, as an upper-level rider, she needs to have another talented horse in the wings.

I found out yesterday that Harry Whitney will be coming to Pierce to do a clinic in February. I've ridden with Harry three times and he has not held a clinic in Southern California in at least seven years.  I am hoping that Ace will be sound enough to do the clinic, and a few rounds with Harry may be just what he needs coming off a two-year lay-up. If he isn't ready, however, I'll probably ride the mustang mare I've been using for the past year. She's a sweetie and it would be a good experience for her as well. We'll see how things go.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Comic-con 2012

San Diego Comic-con International did not fall on my birthday this year. Nice change, thank you. In anticipation of the trip, we went off to the car dealership and bought me a new set of wheels. For the moment, the Odyssey is still in the driveway, but the new chariot is a 2012 Toyota Rav4. It was hard to resist the zero per cent financing, so we did not. Driving it is definitely fun.

The trip to San Diego rarely is.

We were ripped off by The Toll Roads, where the fare taker returned change for a $10, when we paid with a $20. There was nothing we could do at the time, because we were several miles down the road when Len counted the change. I told this to the fare taker on the way home, five days later. He handed me a card and said to call the number. They don't take calls. They tell you to use the website. Where it says you have two days to report a problem. Apparently they get lots of complaints about these things and no longer want to deal with them. I guess that's how Orange County balances its books these days.

What looked like it was going to be a reasonably time trip when it only took about an hour and a quarter to get to Costa Mesa came to a screeching halt when we got to Oceanside and crawled the rest of the way into San Diego. Total time: almost four hours for a trip that runs about 130 miles.

We checked into the Hilton Bayfront Hotel and were told we were getting a room with two queen-sized beds. Len said he requested a king with a fold-out or roll-away. They said we could have a king with a roll-away, but it would be $20 more a night because it had a bay view. We can afford the additional $20. What they didn't tell us was that it was, in theory, a handicap room, with a too-small closet, a too-large bath room, and no tub or way to keep the shower from going all over the floor. The shower curtain didn't cover the entire area because it had been folded over itself--there weren't enough hooks for all the holes. Annoying, but not worth the bother of repacking to go to another room that probably wasn't available anyway. I still think they should have disclosed this little fact to us at check-in. I would have opted for the two queens and Michael would have been happier than on the cot.

Len and Michael headed over to the Convention Center for the preview night opening while I took care of a few things in the room and then I went over, checked in, got my badges (for me and "adopted daughter" Sara) and went looking for my men. I was surprised that I got to the DC both before they did. It turns out that Len fell on entering the Convention Center and managed to bruise himself up pretty well. This was his third fall at a convention this year. He fell twice in Chicago, once because he tried to go over a velvet rope to his signing area--his own fault--and once because a megasized guy backed into him. I'm concerned about him going to other shows this year without a minion to keep him safe. I think that his new requirements for being a guest will have to include at least one minion to help him negotiate the crowds and to make sure he eats.
The floor of the San Diego Convention Center on Saturday morning taken from the DC Entertainment green room on the mezzanine level. Strangely, there is still room to walk around on the floor  on what is usually the most crowded day.
I may have spent the least amount of time I ever have at the actual convention. I don't like trying to move through crowds. I drove up to see the horse exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Natural History, but I didn't bother to go to Mary's Tack and Feed in Del Mar or to the antique shopping areas in Ocean Beach or elsewhere because driving was particularly dangerous this year. My friend Noel had a collision with one of the prolific pedi-cabs in the down-town area (the pedi-cab's fault, I think) and so many streets were closed that getting anywhere other than on foot was pretty hard.
Trying to cross the street into the Gaslamp District for summer is a challenge at any time, not just when the showroom closes each evening.
Adding to the crowds are the right-wing religious crazies who have, over the past three years, decided to let the people at Comic-con know they are damned. It is an unpleasant distraction from what was a rather lighthearted event for many years.
So called "Christians" protesting at Comic-con.
I'm not inclined to stand in front of a church with placards reminding the attendees that the mythology of a zombie god that came out of a nomadic desert people really doesn't fly in the face of modern science because they are entitled to believe whatever they want. Just keep your noses out of text books, leave me the heck alone, and stop impeding foot traffic, thank you.
My spousal unit when he finally showed up for his scheduled panel on Saturday.
The only panel I saw was one Len was on--and he was late for it. Plus, Quentin Tarrantino interrupted it to make a pitch for a movie tie-in comic he would be doing with DC later this year. I don't know why people thought this would be a good idea.
Quentin Tarantino makes a surprise visit to the Before Watchman Panel at SDCC.
It would have been nice to see the panels for The Big Bang Theory, The Game of Thrones, and The Hobbit, but one look outside our hotel window guaranteed that would not happen. I don't sit in lines for three days, thank you. One Twihead died before the convention started because she left her place on the line and then tried running back to it while not paying enough attention to traffic. People were lined up days before the convention started--that's insane. Now, at least, if you don't get in you are likely to find at least the highlights of panels on YouTube or on a studio or network website. Not as much fun as being in the audience, and not as likely to get you a trip into outer space, but it is a solution.
The overflow line for Hall H on Friday morning. These are the folks who aren't snaked under the tents close to the entrance to the Convention Center. The line runs the length of the Convention Center to about the Marriott Hotel and doubles back on itself. Hall H holds about 6500 people. There may have been more than twice that waiting in lines to get in at any time during the weekend.
 Len's convention involved a lot of interviews because of the high profile Before Watchmen project. He deserves the attention and good for him.
Len Wein enjoying himself at Michael Davis' post-Eisner Awards party. Len won a life-time achievement Eisner in 2008. Yes, the leather doublet is supposed to look like Captain America's.
For the past three years, I've been a guest at a party I consider the highlight of my Comic-con weekend. It is thrown by Bill Prady, the co-creator of The Big Bang Theory, and what makes it so wonderful is you never know who will show up and it is in a venue which actually allows people to talk to each other.

The invitation authorizes invitees to invite "other awesome" people. So the first year, I brought Melinda Snodgrass along and last year and this year I also brought George R.R. Martin--a major hit and inspiration for a change in decor at the Leonard and Sheldon apartment, because they now have a replica sword from A Game of Thrones situated where it is shown whenever anyone enters or leaves the apartment. Very cool. (I've seen a number of Len's covers show up around the set and a copy of Legacies was on the table next to Sheldon's seat the last time we visited the set.)

I was delighted to meet Adam Savage from Mythbusters the first time I went to the party and got to speak to him again last year. This year, he was pretty busy talking to other people, including John Landis, and I didn't want to interrupt. But I spent a bit of time talking to Wil and Anne Wheaton, Chase Masterson, Chuck Lorre's assistant Mackenzie Gabriel, and my old friend George. I introduced George to Felicia Day, whom I knew had been dying to meet him for quite some time, and we all got to meet Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca from Star Wars) and Paul and Storm who recorded "Write Like the Wind (George R.R. Martin)" as a plea to George to finish A Song of Ice and Fire. Here's a link to the video.

Here are some of the photographs I took at the party. I know it looks rather like I was there as George's personal photographer (been there, done that), but everyone wanted their photograph taken with George, and I was happy to oblige:

Sam and Topher, a couple of my "adopted children."
George R.R. Martin with Max Landis, a writer-director in his own right and son of John Landis who was somewhere else in the tent.
Felicia Day (Geek and Sundry) with George R.R. Martin.

George R.R. Martin with Wil and Anne Wheaton.
George R.R. Martin with Chase Masterson.
George R.R. Martin with half of Paul and Storm

George R.R. Martin with host Bill Prady.
George R.R. Martin with Peter Mayhew.
Len Wein, Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton, Peter Mayhew, George R.R. Martin and Chase Masterson. How many fans would like to be in this room?
My "adopted daughter," Sara Katz-Scher, with George R.R. Martin.
My "adopted daughter" Dani Dornfeld and Chase Masterson with Brent Spiner.
My most awesome moment at Comic-con in several years, meeting Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Paul and Storm, Wil Wheaton, and Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has one of the the coolest jobs in the world: he's the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History in New York. When I was nine-years-old at the start of my enrapture with astronomy, I lived for the day I would be able to visit the Hayden. Even though it wasn't that far away (150-200 miles) and even though we visited family on Long Island all the time, I did not get there until I was 12 or 13. It was a religious experience for me. I have not yet been to a program at the beautiful renovated Planetarium, but I will get there sometime.

I've become a huge fan of Dr. Tyson's over the past few years and was heartbroken when I learned he had done a guest spot on The Big Bang Theory when I wasn't in the audience. When I saw that he was at Comic-con because of a Facebook photograph, I was beyond excited that he might show up at Bill Prady's party. As it happened, Bill did not know he was attending Comic-con until he saw my post and shot off an invitation. He hadn't heard back from Dr. Tyson, but then I got a phone message from my husband, who had to go back to the Convention Center for a meeting, saying that he had just passed Neil deGrasse Tyson who was walking in my direction. Then I got a call from Ginjer Buchannan, who had left the party and wanted me to know she had just touched Neil deGrasse Tyson, who was headed in my direction. When he showed up, I went rather school girl crazy to Mackenzie and then I went to speak to him. Sometimes, it is fun to be a teenager for a few minutes. Len is still jealous, because Dr. Tyson was gone when Len got back to the party.

It turns out there are a tremendous number of people who look at him like he's a Rock God and he got a great reception at what I've been told is his first-ever Comic-con. Here he is at the Starship Smackdown Panel on Sunday. Wish I had been there, but I was trying to get Len out of the Convention Center before it became a mad dash to the doors and the roads became engorged from the traffic back north to Los Angeles.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Aurora, Colorado

First of all, everyone should know that Batman never uses guns. They are what killed his parents. He's smarter than that and his superpower, as my husband likes to say, is that he never loses.

Coming on the heels of Comic-con, what happened in Colorado is particularly tragic to a lot of people I know, and the negative publicity DC, Warner Bros, and the comic book industry are getting because of this one sociopath is unwarranted. Batman is about justice, so I'm pretty annoyed that the news media keeps harping on the killer's Batman poster and doesn't spend a lot of time talking about his being raised in a religious household. The failure to report on this last point is letting Mike Huckabee and others get away with claiming that a lack of religion is what leads to what happened in Colorado. I doubt it, because I've seen ample evidence that an OVERLOAD of religious zealotry leads to many tragedies.

The shooter's background and his behavior in court remind me so much of Edward Norton's character in Primal Fear, a brilliant sociopath who is gaming the system. And I keep wondering if the murderer is color blind, choosing a red hair dye to emulate the Joker instead of the appropriate green color of the Joker's hair. I do not spend too much time thinking about this, however.

What I do think about is the piece that victim Jessica Ghawi/Redfield wrote after barely missing a similar, senseless shooting in Toronto barely a month before she died in Aurora. If you haven't read it, here is a link. I'm sorry her Spider-sense wasn't working last week.


For a long time, I thought we were the only ones who considered 1776 to be a necessary part of celebrating July 4. Facebook and Twitter have made it quite clear we are not alone.

I saw 1776 during its original run on Broadway from nosebleed seats. I'm pretty sure it is the very first show I saw on Broadway. Some group or other at Hofstra had arranged a bus and group tickets and I found out about it because I used to hang out with a bunch of the theatre students who lived in the dorms. It was love at first sight for this history major. When the filmed version opened at Radio City Music Hall a few years later, I had tickets for it. If the show was playing anywhere within my knowing, I would get tickets for it.

Fortunately, when I met Len Wein, I quickly learned he was equally enamored of the show. We bought the restored film when it came out on laser disk. We bought the DVD. We've seen it done in Santa Barbara and in Glendale, and if we had time this close to Comic-con would drive out to Camarillo to see it this weekend.
Roger Rees was in the production we saw at UCLA a few days after 9/11. (We lost the poster signed by the entire cast as a fundraiser in our house fire.) Len may have seen the revival with Brent Spiner in New York on one of his trips east.

As far as I am concerned, William Daniels is the definitive John Adams, just as Howard da Silva was born to play Benjamin Franklin (oh that voice) and the young and handsome Ken Howard was perfect as Thomas Jefferson. No matter how much liberty was taken with the truth, it is an inspiring production that has you worrying that they will never, ever reach their goal of declaring independence from England. Since much of the dialogue was taken from correspondence and other writings of the day, I can't help but long for a time when language was elevated and insults were so much more interesting.

We missed the TMC broadcast during the afternoon because we went out to buy me a new car and because Len had a signing at a local comic book shop for Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1. But we had a few members of the Sunday Super Supper Squad who came over to use the pool and throw food on the grill as a celebration of the Fourth, with the intention of watching the film after supper.

We got the first half of the film in before folks went off in search of fireworks (I was actually able to see some from our front yard) and then when everyone came back, we watched the rest of it. I am always struck by the song Cool, Considerate Men, which Richard Nixon succeeded in having excised from the original film release as "too lefty." Here's an article about the cut from the LA Times in 2001. We are so lucky the film's editor ignored the order to shred the negative footage.

During that pointed song, there is a brief exchange between John Hancock and John Dickinson that rings with irony in this day of the Astroturf Tea Party:  Dickinson had asked Hancock why he sided with Adams when he (Hancock) was a man of property. Hancock tells Dickinson, "Fortunately there are not enough men of property in America to dictate policy," and Dickinson replies, "Perhaps not. But don't forget that most men without property would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich, than face the reality of being poor. And that is why they will follow us."  And the chorus finishes the sentence singing "ever to the right."

Come ye cool cool considerate men
The likes of which may never be seen again
With our land, cash in hand
Self-command, future planned
And we'll hold to our gold
Tradition that is old, reluctant to be bold.
We say this game's not of our choosing
Why should we risk losing?

Think about that as you face the upcoming election.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tempest Calmed at Mr. Jefferson's University

In a stunning, but no doubt well received decision, the University of Virginia has reinstated its president. I doubt few people outside of the State of Virginia (I lived there for 14 years) or those working in education were aware of the firestorm over the forced resignation of  Teresa Sullivan, the first woman to be president of the jewel in the crown of Thomas Jefferson's legacy. (For those who are unaware, Mr. Jefferson's tombstone lists three accomplishments of his life: authorship of The Declaration of Independence and The Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, and as the father of The University of Virginia. These were the achievements  for which he wished to be remembered. As John F. Kennedy once noted, Jefferson was the greatest collection of genius ever assembled in the White House when he dined alone.)

Ms. Sullivan, widely reported to be held in high esteem by most of the UVA community (and by those at schools where she was employed in the past), was forced out by the action of the head of the Board of Visitors, Helen E. Dragas (I'm not sure how this is pronounced, but I know how I'd choose to pronounce it) and Ms. Dragas' second in command (who has since resigned from the board.)

Ms. Sullivan's sin appears to have been to fail to respond with appropriate speed and agreement over an article written by non-academics in a newspaper extolling the virtues of on-line education as a profit center and to rid the University of certain language departments and the classics department, which Ms,. Dragas and her colleague labeled "unprofitable."

I did not attend UVA, but I spent a lot of time in graduate school at Columbia University studying Mr. Jefferson's work in education. Much as I must set aside his lack of modern sensibilities about slavery (he was certainly ahead of his time, but not of this time), I am forced to ignore his general belief that women were not to be accorded the same place in institutions of learning that men (women were not admitted to UVA until I was almost through with college) are in order to recognize the beauty of his University and his firm belief that studying the classics and foreign languages was the backbone of a good education.

I studied Latin at a time when it had fallen out of most favor. The final death knell had been Vatican II's rulings that put the Mass in the language of each country. But studying Latin is an excellent way to better learn English and used to be necessary for the study of law (most people rely on Black's for what Latin and French they might need when reading older legal cases these days.) So I took three years of Latin in high school, the New York State Regents Exam in Latin, and a couple of independent study quarters of it in college. I thought I was a dinosaur.

That lasted until I moved to Northern Virginia in 1975 and was working as a freelance photojournalist for some small newspapers and The Washington Post. I don't remember which client it was, but I got sent off to cover a huge event that the high school students who took Latin in that area of the state were holding. Latin was being taught as a living language and the enthusiasm for it was simply amazing. According the the articles I've been following about the UVA uproar, that support for the language and the classics remains, and is reflected in the enrollment in classics at UVA.

I'm guessing that Ms. Dragas is a business woman who has little interest in an actual liberal arts education, which was the core of Mr. Jefferson's vision for his University. It may be old fashioned, but a liberal arts education opens the mind of students by expanding their exposure to thoughts and experience beyond their childhood. It helps students become creative and critical thinkers. Ms. Dragas may be a UVA alumna, but she must be holding a grudge about something.

Ms. Sullivan is apparently aware of this and skilled in dealing with faculty, staff and students. Ms. Dragas has all of the grace of a bull in a china shop.

Like the government, public education is not a for-profit endeavor and cannot be run that way. While it is good to have some accountability and methods that take into account cost-benefit analysis, neither government nor education is about making profit (though surpluses are nice.)

The University of Virginia is one of the "Public Ivies," a school steeped in tradition which honors its founder's vision. I'm glad that Ms. Sullivan will be getting back to work and I hope that Ms. Dragas submits her resignation from the Board of Visitors.

It should take more that huge political contributions to earn a seat overseeing a top-notch University. At the very least, it should require an appropriate understanding of public education.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ride a Horse to London

I have no idea what my fellow bloggers who write about horses are saying about the Ann Romney/dressage issue. I wanted to get my own thoughts into writing before I went looking around.

If you've missed out on this because you don't watch Stephen Colbert or Lawrence O'Donnell, I'll try to lay out the facts. Mitt and Ann Romney co-own a high-level Oldenburg dressage mare named Rafalca which has just qualified for the Olympics. Mitt, in just about the only thing he's said which shows an ounce of caring for anything, stated that his wife has a love for horses which he indulges and that this horse has helped her through her MS problems. The Romneys took something like a $77,000 tax deduction for their horse expenses last year as a "business expense."

Unlike Colbert or O'Donnell, I see nothing silly about dressage, where horses are trained "above that which is necessary" to execute moves that were once a part of military maneuvers. Dressage is generally good for the mind and body of these animals and the humans who work with them. Contrary to Lawrence O'Donnell's snarkyness on TV, these horse are athletes and dressage is a sport which is less likely to cause instant damage to the horses or riders than jumping, steeple-chasing, eventing, or racing can. Both Colbert and O'Donnell are focusing their remarks on musical freestyle, ignoring the intricacies of dressage tests which are just as fascinating as skaters doing figures in competition used to be. "Horse ballet," as they've been calling it with sarcasm, is a dance done best when horse and rider appear to be a single creature. It is breath-taking, as most horse people know..

And unlike Lawrence O'Donnell, I am completely aware of the good that hippotherapy does in treating people who have diminished physical capacities for a variety of reasons. One of the very first photographic assignments I covered for the Washington Post more than 30 years ago was to take pictures of a child with cerebral palsy at a hippotherapy program in Rock Creek Park which was facing closure due to a funding crisis. It was my very first encounter with the treatment and the amazing interaction of these riders and horses. It broke my heart when the article ran without pictures for lack of space because if there ever was proof of a picture being worth 1,000 words, I captured it that day.

Years later, when I acquired my beloved Arabian Prince, his first home in L.A. was at a barn which housed a hippotherapy program. I got to see a lot of disabled riders and the progress they could make through the healing effects of horses. Bill Shatner has a charity horse show every year out here to benefit a hippotherapy program. They work.

Lawrence O'Donnell has pointed out that his statements were not to attack Ann Romney but he was not aware that dressage is a common treatment for MS. He's probably right about dressage in particular, but if he had looked up hippotherapy and MS in a Google search, he would have found plenty of information. Mr. O'Donnell should go to a para-Olympic competition and see the horses and riders there. It will bring tears to his eyes.

Most hippotherapy horses are not high-level competitive horses that cost six figures and $77,000 a year to keep. Some of them may have been competitors in their past lives, but are now cool, calm, and collected therapists who can deal with unskilled riders and claustrophobia when as many as six assistants try keeping a severely disabled rider in place.

I had no idea what level of dressage Ann Romney rides until I found this article about her from 2008 in The Chronicle of the Horse. She has, despite her MS, earned silver and gold medals at Grand Prix. I can understand that riding "makes her heart sing" because that's how I feel about the Arabian Prince. Through her horse Baron, she found a way to get out of her bed and back into the world after her diagnosis. That's really a great story.

Rafalca performs at the highest level there is. Her rider at the Olympics and elsewhere is not Ann Romney but trainer Jan Ebeling, who operates his barn about half-an-hour away from where I live. I've been to his facility (it is lovely), I've met him, and I've watched him give lessons to friends of mine. (Jan's wife is another of the co-owners of Rafalca.)  I know how the Romneys had $77,000 in horse expenses last year.

I don't begrudge them having that kind of money to spend on their horse and I have no doubt that Rafalca gives Ann Romney a great deal of happiness and mental well-being, but she's not for physical therapy.  I don't think the Romneys have any of their six homes any closer than La Jolla, down by San Diego, so how does she ride horses she keeps in Moorpark? Ann gave an answer in that 2008 interview: “I’m just like any other crazy horse person,” she said. “You find a way to make the time to ride. If I have to get up at 5 a.m. to fly to California and then ride until 10 p.m. at night, because that’ll be my only chance to ride for a month, then that’s what I’ll do.” (Italics mine.)

Is she joking? That's not a reality for most horse crazy people. Does the IRS let Ann Romney write off the expenses for her flights to California to ride her horses for a day? She's an amateur rider, not a professional rider, at least according to her dressage awards.

So Rafalca is more like a kid who's been sent to boarding school or off to college to live away from her parents. This is not an ideal situation to convince me that Ann Romney rides Rafalca for MS therapy (especially when the article in the link says she wasn't riding her at all in 2008 to avoid ruining Rafalca's  prospects), though I am willing to accept Ann might have a more appropriate, less flashy, horse somewhere to help with the MS. Perhaps her therapy horse is Baron, who would be 23 now.

And that brings us down to the real issue which is that the Romneys took a $77,000 business (not medical) deduction for their horses in the only tax return they have released. I'd like someone to really investigate what their "horse business" is. Ann rides as an amateur, so aren't her horses a hobby? I know that the way to make a small fortune in the horse industry is to start with a large one (thanks, Ron Weschler), but what exactly is the business model? The IRS says you have to make a profit 3 of 5 years. Where's the potential profit in a dressage horse short of building up her show ribbons and selling her off for more competition or turning her into a brood mare and selling the babies? Do the Romneys have a breeding operation? It doesn't sound like it from the Chronicle article. A horse like Rafalca takes a number of years to mature and train into a horse for the rarefied atmosphere of Olympic dressage, so where are the 3 of 5 years of profit? It is not like horse racing where there are potentially huge purses for wins. (Yes, I know there can be monetary value at some shows, but, really? Enough to cover the year's worth of expenses for the stable?)

Is the reason that Mitt Romney has failed to disclose his tax returns because this $77,000 business deduction (something like twice the annual income of the average American family)  is the tip of the iceberg in questionable Romney business judgment (let us not forget that sources indicate he keeps most of his money in oversees tax shelters, not invested in America)? At what point do voters realize they will never have this kind of money and someone who does, and who seems to almost totally lack empathy, can never, ever understand their realities? (Here's another piece on the Romneys and their dressage horses, and how the reason they are "keeping a low profile" is because this kind of dressage involvement is something that few Americans can relate to.)

I'm giving Stephen Colbert a big pass on this (except to say "Steve. Riders wear top-hats, not velvet hard-hats for top-level dressage) because he's a comedian, not a newsman. But I expect better research and reporting from Lawrence O'Donnell. I expect him to be more truthful and informative that Murdoch's squawking parrots.

I wish Ann Romney nothing but the best in her fight against MS and that Rafalca continues to make her feel better. I will be cheering Rafalca on during the Olympics and hope that the attention that dressage is getting from Stephen Colbert and others means that I'll be able to watch ALL of the dressage events at a reasonable hour when NBC covers the Olympics this year.

But I won't be voting for Mitt Romney for President of the United States and I hope the IRS takes a real close look at the Romney tax returns. Rafalca is a hobby-horse.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rose Bowl

The Rose Bowl Swap Meet is where all those things your mother threw out go to find a new home.
Held the second Sunday of every month in the parking lots surrounding the famous sports arena, the Swap Meet attracts a diverse crowd from bargain seekers to serious collectors and makes for some decent exercise. Many dealers have been there longer than I've been a customer, like the owner of this booth of old glass bottles.
My first foray was twenty-two years ago during my first summer in Los Angeles when I was a law clerk at the Writers Guild of America, west, Inc. Len's friends made it a monthly outing, culminating in lunch somewhere in downtown Pasadena, so we could compare our finds. Back in those days, parking was free and admission was in the $2 range. Now, priority parking (not to be passed up, IMHO) is $15 and admission after 9 AM (die-hards get there around 5 AM) is $8.00. It is no longer a reasonable place to go just for the exercise.
I hadn't been to this particular swap meet for a number of years, probably going back to before our house fire. Once I got Ace, spending money on miscellaneous stuff for which I had little room didn't seem like such a great idea. Len has long lost the stamina to cover the Rose Bowl, which often became a 4-5 hour expedition with no likelihood of finishing the entire thing. There's another swap  in Pasadena that meets on the first Sunday of each month and doesn't have an admission fee (parking is a mere $2.00.) Since many of the same antique/collectible dealers attend both, and the first Sunday swap meet at Pasadena City College can be completely covered in less than 3 hours, it has become my preferred shopping experience.(Not to mention that many of the dealers set up in one of the parking structures on campus, so it is actually reasonably comfortable to go in the summer time.)

On Sunday, however, Len was out of town and I woke at a reasonable time to get over to Pasadena for a long walk. Besides the sticker-shock of parking and admission, I found that the layout had somewhat changed and, in some areas, the crush was bad because there's some major construction going on at the facility. It looks like they are trying to add skyboxes and it is ruining the aesthetic of the place. I'm sure the neighbors aren't particularly happy about this.
I found something to purchase mere minutes after starting my way through the dealer maze: an Aynesley Cottage Garden egg to add to my collection of the English china pattern. I decided to forgo the other three pieces the dealer had because I don't really need two more small vases that match.
These are the three pieces I left behind.

There were a couple of things I got excited about, but I didn't have a strong body like my son with me to carry furniture to the car or wait while I brought it around for loading. So no drop-top maple table for a chess set. Then there was a 1960s stuffed chair that looked like a hand that made me laugh but I doubted I would want to live with it for long.
 I did see an extremely nice 1940s-1950s linoleum topped table with four matching chairs, but I have no place for it. I also saw two art deco china/curio cabinets that were extremely tempting. They were what reminded me that the Rose Bowl is probably the best place to look for vintage furniture, short of hitting every estate sale in the region on Saturdays.
It has always been a good place to find clothing--I once bought a beautiful silver mink stole (lost in the fire) for $15--and Len's bought all kinds of costume parts in the past. On this trip, there were many dealers in vintage linens and several booths had vintage fabric. I'm considering taking some of the boxes of fabric I've got in storage to find a new home.
I was tempted--but resisted--several different sets of snack plates. I don't need any more. I don't need any more. I don't need any more.
There were several booths with beads for sale, and I liked the colors in the sunlight. If I were into making jewelery, I would have bought some. I prefer to buy jewelery ready-made, though. I did see two pieces of jewelery in the shape of horse heads that I liked a lot. One was a bakelite piece and the other was reverse-carved acrylic. There was also an acrylic greyhound which made me think about my grandfather's second wife, who raised whippets. The bakelite piece was $400--way beyond my price range--and the acrylics were more than the cash I had on hand. It is best to carry lots of cash, since so few dealers take check or credit cards.

I managed to find a couple of gifts, so the admissions costs were amortized somewhat. Because it gets so hot in the summer, I am unlikely to hit the Rose Bowl Swap Meet again until October or November. I do think I should try it a bit more often than every five years. It can be more fun to go with a group of friends, but it is more efficient to go alone.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dishes & Horses

I've written a piece about my obsession with dishes for my other blog, but dishes and horses took a big crossover step this week when I acquired pieces of the Gien pattern "Chevaux du Vent" or "Horses of the Wind." Yes, it actually features Arabian Horses. How perfect for me.
The linen towel of this magnificent Arab is going to grace one of the walls in my house. It is off to the frame shop and probably won't come home until after the Belmont Tea I'm holding to watch the third installment of this year's Triple Crown quest.

 If I could afford it, I'd buy an original piece of the artwork, like the piece below, but it is far beyond my means and I can do other things with that money. I like looking at it, though. Arabs are art in motion and the artist has done a good job of capturing this.
I don't speak French beyond a high school semester's training, but here's a link to a video which I think interviews the artist of the line of dishes I am now collecting. (There's an ad first, but it is short.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Wondercon was a relatively small convention the first time I attended it with Len, probably in 1992 or 1993. It was held in the convention center in Oakland, walking distance from some decent restaurants on the Bay. Noel Wolfman and I would spend the days visiting antique shops in Oakland or go across the bridges to visit San Francisco proper or maybe go north to Sausalito.

We went relatively frequently when the convention picked up at least part of our hotel costs to have Len in attendance. He went without me sometimes when I was too busy for work, and then he had many long gaps in attendance, during which time the convention moved across the Bay to the Moscone Center and the convention would no long kick in on the rooms.

Last year, Len was once again invited to be a guest and I took several days off from work to drive up to San Francisco and enjoy the vacation. Things had changed. It was approaching Comicon size with some 50,000 people expected. It was the kind of event where you had to make plans to meet with people, because you weren't going to run into them anywhere. (The only time we saw Neil Gaiman was at his panel, even though we were in the same hotel.) We were actually assigned a couple of minions (for which we were grateful) who managed to make sure we got lunch while we manned a guest table on the show floor or who watched out for stuff when we went to panels.

Because of Mark Evanier (in the photo with Len before the interview he did at Wondercon), we also got to see Beach Blanket Babylon, which has been running since I lived at Stanford in 1974-75, but which we had never seen. Hysterical, but the wigs and costumes were the truly amazing part. We saw a few friends we normally don't get to see and we had some notable meals. We met the "Goths" from the Amazing Race (which was on the air at the time and they hadn't yet been eliminated) and it was the first time that strangers came up to me because the recognized me from Jeopardy! Having had such a good time, we resolved to return this year.

Well, we did return, but not to San Francisco. Renovations at the Moscone meant the convention couldn't be there, so the con-com, the same people who run Comic-con, decided to give Anaheim a try. That made it a no-brainer for us to attend, and we even brought Michael along for the weekend.
The Anaheim Convention Center has grown significantly since the last time the World Science Fiction Convention was held there (I think around 2006, but I'd have to look at photographs to be sure), and we don't get down to Disneyland very often any more. The convention was well attended, but it was only one of three events being held that weekend (one of the others was a huge cheerleading competition and I can't remember what the third was), so parking was dreadful (at least we had hotel parking) and getting anything to eat in a hurry was next to impossible.

There was one guest I was intent upon meeting at the convention: Joe Hill. I'm a big fan of his Tweets and I had been following him for quite a while.  Since Len has known his father since they were comic fan boys in the 1960s, I figured it was a good bet that we would meet him.  As it happens, Joe was a huge fan of Len's and invited us out to dinner with his publisher and some friends the first night of the convention. It was the best meal of the weekend, and the conversation was sparkling.
Joe's the one standing with Len. Joe and his friend Jason Ciaramrella (sitting next to me in the photo) found out about my run on Jeopardy! and peppered me with questions about it. We also talked about Joe's father's experience on the Jeopardy! Celebrity Tournament of Champions many years ago. Oh, right, burying important information (if you can't tell by the clear resemblance): Joe's father is Stephen King.

Wondercon was the first opportunity for DC to promote Before Watchmen, the somewhat controversial project which will be published over 38 weeks, starting in June.
Len is writing one of the books, Ozymandias, and the original pirate serial that runs two pages at the back of every one of the 38 issues, The Crimson Corsair.

The thing that happens at conventions is that we run into people who live very close to where we do, whom we rarely see outside of the convention circuit. Here's Len with Michael Davis, a very funny and talented gentleman.
They've known each other a very long time.

Hall costumes and costume competitions are omnipresent at comic and science fiction conventions. I'm very fond of the steam punk look that is so popular these days. I haven't yet attempted to participate, though Len has.
This group of people were hanging around in the halls on Sunday, just before we left to go home. I love the jaunty hat on the woman and the grenade launcher on the fellow on the left. Len's been pulling together pieces of a costume over the past couple of years. He particularly likes the proto ray guns that look like the come from Jules Verne. We have several of them on display at the house, the most beautiful of which comes from Weta, Peter Jackson's design house.

Next year? We're not sure where Wondercon will be. If it is back in San Francisco, we might go. If it is in Anaheim, we will most certainly attend. This is going to be a major travel year for Len. I've already traveled to Chicago with him for Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) where he was a guest and we got to see my niece perform at Steppenwolf. He followed that with trips to Vancouver and Dallas and will be off to Albuquerque in two weeks, Toronto in August, Montreal in September, and New York in October. There's also an invitation to London in February. And we'll be in San Diego for Comic-con in July.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Last evening, as we were getting ready to go out for dinner, I heard one of my dogs barking. It was a different kind of bark than he usually makes. I took a peek and saw he was standing at the kitchen door and calling out periodically. I asked my son if there was something in the back yard. Turns out that there was:
I'm pretty sure it's the same breeding pair of mallards I saw strolling across a neighbor's lawn last week.

After the fire at the old house, as the place was sitting in limbo before the actual rebuilding began, a pair of mallards started hanging out in the back yard.  The first time I discovered them, it startled me, but then I got used to them swimming around the pool and looking for bugs under the cedar trees along our back wall. Basically, with no dogs around, they could live in peace with a big swimming hole (they didn't mind the algae build up) and a certain level of shade from a tree that had branches hanging to the water.

With three Golden Retrievers in the yard, on of which is quite aware she's a water dog, the new house is hardly duck heaven. But they got a nice swim in and got to walk around Maui East for a while, much to the frustration of the dogs in the kitchen window.. By the time we got home, they were gone, but I expect they may show up somewhere in the neighborhood again.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Beltane Moon

My digital camera like to argue with me. When I set it on manual and tell it that the exposure is the same as on a sunny day, it refuses to release the shutter. "You can't possibly be right," it says. "I've got almost 40 years of professional experience," I tell it. "I know the proper exposure is the inverse of the ISO at f/16. Dammit, listen to me!" It won't, so the image isn't as sharp as it should be because I have to fool it into releasing.

So this is the lovely moon over the San Fernando Valley tonight. I'm glad it was clear.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Visit with Janis

Janis Ian came to town to work on an audio book of her autobiography. I was introduced to Janis in 2001 at the Philadelphia Worldcon, just as she was announcing  that she had just met Connie Willis and needed to go cry. She's a fan-girl geek at heart. We met up again the following year and have maintained a lovely friendship since then, solidified when I asked her to be my toastmistress at the 2009 Nebula Awards. Chuck Lorre, who turned out to be a huge fan of Janis' work, was my keynote speaker, and his partner in crime, Bill Prady is an even bigger Janis fan. So Janis' latest L.A. visit gave us an opportunity to get together for a taping of The Big Bang Theory. (The show ran a mere 10 days after it was shot. It's the one about Sheldon refusing to go to Amy's aunt's birthday party so he could play Star Wars on-line with the other guys.)
Here we are on the couch in the boys' living room. That's David Gerrold (who introduced me to Len Wein in 1989) and me in back of the couch and my husband, one of our "adopted daughters," Dani Dornfeld, and Janis in "Sheldon's place."
Janis wanted a photo of the forever-broken elevator. This set is redressed for each floor every time you see people using the stairs. They had to dig a hole for the down stairs on the right, because the rest of the set is on the ground floor. Penny's living room and the boy's living room flank the hall way, and those are the three permanently standing sets for the show.. The comic book shop swings with various bedrooms and Amy's stripped efficiency set was where we got to sit with the writers during part of the show.
Everyone wanted a chance to sit in "Sheldon's place." When I went to photograph Len in it, I couldn't help but notice that a copy of his DC Legacies hard back was sitting on the coffee table. I did not put it there. When we mentioned it to Bill Prady he said "we know what we're doing."

Janis was in town long enough for us to have dinner a couple of times and she even came by for a Sunday Super Supper Squad dinner. She was very impressed that I made bread and insisted on being photographed with it and Len, who had just donned his Captain America wardrobe. Yes, I am married to a 12 year old.
We're hoping Janis will be back out in L.A. to perform again sometime next year. She hasn't been out here as a singer for two or three years now. We could probably fill the audience just with our gang.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dejah Thoris

 The golden age of science fiction is twelve. I started reading science fiction a bit earlier than that, but it set me on a journey which has taken me to wonderful places and given me amazing friendships and acquaintances. I read Edgar Rice Burroughs at exactly the right age, when I wasn't aware of his shortcomings as a writer, but I could soar on his imagination.  I loved his Mars books.

When I married Len and came out to California, our circle of friends grew to include several of the writers and the producer who were working to bring A Princess of Mars to the big screen for Disney. That movie never got made, but somehow a Pixar director got the project brought back to life and the movie hit the screen two weeks ago as John Carter.
It has been hailed as a flop of the magnitude of Ishtar, when the problem is not the film but the Disney marketing department.

My observations of the Disney marketing department go back to the time when Len was editor-in-chief of Disney Comics. This was at the height of the comic book collecting frenzy where books were selling in the millions to people who thought they would eventually get rich selling their copy of the "Death of Superman" or an Image #1 book. You would think that Disney would be happy to support this product which appealed to kids of all ages, but you would be wrong. Disney refused to make space in its stores for the 1 square foot of space a comics dump display would take for the monthly books. Disney's in-house U.S. comic book division lasted two years and they outsourced it again. I have a pretty low opinion of the Disney marketing division when it comes to supporting anything but the core Mickey Mouse characters and theme parks.

The first problem with marketing John Carter is the title. Isn't John Carter a character on ER? (Just another example of where Michael Creighton stole things.) My friend, the original producer whose name does not appear anywhere, not even in a credit to thank him for getting ERB, Inc. to agree to a Disney deal back in the 1980s, says that was part of the original agreement and that ERB, Inc. wanted that title for trademark purposes. ERB, Inc. is notorious for using trademark law as a way of maintaining control of a character where the copyright has long expired. (You can find plenty of examples where they've done this with Tarzan over the years.) As I said, big mistake number one. From a trademark stand point, the title could still have been big-letters-John-Carter, but it should have added a subtitle indicating that it is a series (and bolstering the trademark claim.) JOHN CARTER: A Princess of Mars would have been perfect.  JOHN CARTER: Under the Moons of Mars (the original title in serial form) would also have worked. If I hadn't turned down Danton Burrough's offer of employment 7 years ago--a short story for another time--maybe I could have convinced somebody this would be a very good idea. Oh, well.

The second problem with the marketing of John Carter was the lack of any reference to Dejah Thoris, either as a kick-ass scientist-warrior or as the love interest of the film.

Rumor has it that Disney did not want "princess" in the title, because boys won't go to a "princess" movie. They didn't want "Mars" because of some other flop they had. Disney had its head in a dark place about this one. LOTS of twelve year old boys read A Princess of Mars growing up. Depending on their current age, they will talk about covers by Frank Frazetta (below), Michael Whelan, or another artist. Some of them will even admit to entering puberty upon seeing those covers. As for "Mars," maybe if the other film had been less of a POS, it would not have flopped.
 I saw exactly one trailer for John Carter. It did not make me want to see the film. But we went anyway, with some trepidation because it wasn't going to be the film Ted and Terry or Melinda wrote for Michael, and we knew where the broken hearts were. Knowing Michael Chabon wrote the film we were going to see was encouraging, and seeing how some writers we knew with advanced screenings felt encouraged us.

We loved the film. I thought it started out slowly, but it reached an emotional hook and carried me through to the end. John Carter looked just fine, although he lacked the wear-and-tear I pictured a Civil War vet from the south would have. Tars Tarkis and Sola were wonderful, and who could resist Woola. And I loved, loved, loved Dejah Thoris.

In all the time Princess of Mars was part of the dinner discussions with our friends, I don't remember us ever taking about who would play Dejah Thoris. We spent plenty of time on casting John Carter. Disney wanted Tom Cruise, which we all thought was a terrible idea. Tom Hanks wanted the part before he had two Academy Awards, but Disney said no (I love Tom Hanks, but I don't see him in a period piece.) Michael (the producer) wanted Viggo Mortensen, before he did Aragorn, after seeing him in A Walk on The Moon. That would have been brilliant casting. I pushed for Hugh Jackman from the moment we saw him as Wolverine. He turned the part down. He could have had two franchises. So we got Gambit instead of Wolverine. I can live with that.
But Dejah Thoris? It's not the kind of part a lot of actresses get to play. Carie Fisher played her in Star Wars (and make no mistake about where George Lucas stole a lot of Star Wars) and Karen Allen played her in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think that Lynn Collins, whom I had only seen previously in Wolverine, did a great job. Smart, brave, honorable. A great role model for girls, much as Hermione is in Harry Potter (as opposed to that idiot Bella in the Twilight franchise.)
I want my Dejah Thoris Disney Princess Barbie Doll. My husband (and every male I know) wants a Woola stuffie. But Disney didn't even bother to do merchandise based on this film, which says to me they scuttled it from the get-go. Nevertheless, I think you should all gather up the family and go see John Carter.  You really will enjoy it. It is a beautifully designed and executed swashbuckling film. And maybe this fan trailer will do what the Disney trailers didn't do for me: make you want to see the picture.