Thursday, September 30, 2010

P.J. O'Rourke and Christopher Buckley: TV Talk Titans – Almost

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of interviewing writer and political satirist P.J. O'Rourke when he visited The Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco. Most of the interview was just audio-recorded, but for the final question, I asked if he would mind if I video-recorded it.

I asked him if he'd ever been interested in having his own radio or television program. His answer was interesting, in part because he reveals that he and Christopher Buckley once planned out just such a program, and he explains why they eventually ditched the idea.

O'Rourke was in town to discuss his new book, Don't Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards. So our conversation covered political history, libertarians and conservatives, religion, and more. He's a great interview. I'll post a transcript of the interview when I've written it up, and it will also be the subject of my next column in Northside San Francisco. In the meantime, enjoy:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Earth-Like Planet Best Candidate for ET Life, So Far

People are still criticizing physicist Michio Kaku for going on Fox TV to talk about creating official protocols for dealing with our first contact with extra-terrestrial life. Well, maybe Kaku's not getting too far ahead of himself after all.
Just 20 light-years away, there is a newly discovered planet that is the right size and distance from its star to support life.

Discovery News has the full scoop, including:
"Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say that the chances for life on this planet are 100 percent. I have almost no doubt about it," Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at University of California Santa Cruz, told Discovery News.
Well, that's a rather rash statement to make, if you ask me. But I hope he's correct.

And I never doubt Kaku.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Adam Meyerowitz Fondly Recalls Early National Lampoon

National Public Radio has a story about Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, a new book by Adam Meyerowitz about the first decade of National Lampoon magazine.

That decade would be the 1970s, which was all around a very innovative decade for American magazines. All-time circulation highs were hit by National Lampoon, Playboy, TV Guide. Politics, culture, and more were played out in the pages of popular and niche magazines. National Lampoon grew out of counter-culture Ivy League geniuses (and all-around pains), and at its height, millions of readers were loving its take-downs of everyone from the much-hated Richard Nixon to the left-wing icon Che Guevara. It inspired Saturday Night Live, hit the big-time with Animal House (and later Vacation), spawned books, produced a popular national comedy radio program, and launched the careers of Henry Beard, P.J. O'Rourke, Jeff Greenfield, Doug Kenney, Chevy Chase, John Hughes, and many others.

NPR's story concerns itself with Meyerowitz's comments about the writing and artistic talents behind the magazine. The magazine was loaded with an unprecedented number of strong talents. It didn't manage to hold on to them too long, and by the early 1980s, a once-gradual decline in circulation escalated until, within the decade, the magazine first reduced circulation from monthly to bimonthly, and then was ignominiously sold.

Meyerowitz was there in the early years, when, to be honest, I was too young to read it. But I belatedly came to appreciate the madcap genius of the magazine. And to mourn its descent in the 1980s into repetitive, over-sexed humorlessness.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Anderson Cooper Is Spot-on With Renee Ellmers

In the never-ending attempt by Republicans to be dimmer than Sharon Angle or Christine O'Donnell, Carolina GOP congressional candidate Renee Ellmers is making the so-called Ground Zero Mosque a centerpiece of her campaign. Too bad she has her facts wrong. Thank goodness, Anderson Cooper's a good journalist and calmly calls her on it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Harlan Ellison: "I'm dying"

I was very surprised to see this article in Isthmus, the weekly paper from my old homeland of Madison, Wisconsin. Harlan Ellison, a legendary writer of fantastic fiction, sharp-edged essays and criticism, and maker of more than a little controversy in his decades in the limelight, says his attendance at the MadCon science-fiction convention in Madison this weekend is his last convention – ever.

The reason is that he says he's known since at least January that he is dying. "The truth of what's going on here is that I'm dying," Ellison told journalist Josh Wimmer by phone. "I'm like the Wicked Witch of the West – I'm melting. I began to sense it back in January. ... This is gonna be the biggest fucking science-fiction convention ever, because no con has ever had a guest of honor drop dead while performing for the goddamn audience. The only comparison is the death of Patrick Troughton, at a Doctor Who convention. And I don't think he was even onstage."

Well, if you didn't know Ellison before you read this, that previous paragraph gives you a sense of what he's like.

I wish I had been in Madison this weekend.

Crazy Politics Is Nothing New

Americans are dreamers. Some dreams, such as the belief in hard work paying off in success, can be useful and can serve to give people hope during hard times. Other dreams, such as the expectation that national politics should be a mild and uncontentious affair, are dangerous because they actually lead people to take actions that undermine republican government itself.

These thoughts come to mind as I reflect on many people's shock at the rise of extremist politicians in our national debates, as well as the increasing rancor between the parties in Washington, D.C. Often, national figures in the media and in politics are asked about this heated partisanship, and usually they respond by treating it as an unfortunate but temporary fact of life. Well, it is a fact of life, and it is unfortunate, but it is not temporary. I think we had better get used to the fact that American politics is going to remain in the gutter.

This is where history demonstrates its importance, and Americans pay the price for having five-minute memories. That's because American history is filled with many more years of contentious, rude, and outrageous political behavior than it is with years of peaceful coexistence among all of the country's varying factions. 

That's what makes the cover story in the September 20, 2010, issue of New York magazine both important and a bit off-base. It's a profile of Jon Stewart and his Daily Show team, going behind the scenes to see how they react to the news, what they think about the media, and what they do. All interesting. The pitch, as you can see on the cover, suggests short memories, however. The small cover text asks about Stewart, "Wasn't the Obama era supposed to make him irrelevant? If only." A good cover line, but it assumes that the Bush era was an anomaly and that people were expecting to return to some mythical golden age of "bi-partisan" "non-confrontational" national politics. If only

From Preston Brooks beating Charles Sumner with his cane on the floor of the Senate, to Grover Cleveland's opponents accusing him during the presidential campaign of having fathered an illegitimate child, American politics has almost always been a bare-knuckled affair. Lies abounded. Voter intimidation was a regular occurrence. The media was partisan and corrupt.

I'm not saying I like that kind of politics; in fact, I think it's destructive and it keeps people from discussing and solving the real problems facing us. I'm just saying that that is what most of our nation's history has been like and will be like.

We were led to believe otherwise because we have had an unusual period of relative political peace. Post-WWII we had two parties that both tried to serve the middle of the spectrum. (Of course, we also had Marxists to put the fear of violence in the minds of the businesses. But when that fear went away, the polarization, the lying, the cheating, the intimidation, the brazen fakery came back.)

What created that unusual period of peace? It was a number of things, all of which were historically ephemeral. The United States defeated its biggest competitors in World War II and then it ran the world. It had unprecedented prosperity in those decades when international markets were opening to our goods (thanks in no small part to the destruction of the British empire, the withdrawal from economic engagement of the Soviet bloc, and the fact that Europe was flat on its back). Americans decided rapid and unchallenged economic growth was our birthright from God. Meanwhile, big media got big, and the way it got and stayed rich was to pitch to the center (of tastes, of income, of politics). The Religious Right had largely withdrawn from politics after the Scopes Monkey Trial; it would not begin to return until (slowly at first) Sen. Barry Goldwater, then Jimmy Carter and finally Ronald Reagan began tapping into it as a way to get support from outside the mainstream party constituents. Thanks to the economy's unprecedented growth (and a lack of major downturns, due to the government's role in smoothing out the boom-and-bust cycle), there was a growing middle class, which served as a moderating and stabilizing force. More and more students pursued higher education; new jobs in computers and science required more education, and they also paid better salaries. Exciting (and nationalistically supportive) advances in science fed people and money into further scientific education and research, all of which fed our continuing advances in economics and science.

You get the point. It was a virtuous cycle, but not a perpetual one. Other countries recovered from their previous economic and military weaknesses. The Religious Right decided it liked having a seat at the table. The Soviet bloc shrugged off communism. The media landscape fractured, with news departments splicing and targeting segments of the population instead of the broad middle. America's love of science withered, and its previous love of patent-medicine new-age BS returned.

I'm not sure just how upset we should be about people like Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, and Karl Rove. I think all of them are part of a very negative trend in this country. My point with this post is just to note that they are more normal than we would like to believe. Barack Obama – for whom I voted in 2008, and for whom I fully expect to vote in 2012 – nonetheless sold the country a bill of goods in his campaign when he promised to return civility and peace to Washington. Civility and peace won't return to Washington. (For one, Rupert Murdoch has no interest in that happening.)

These things don't turn around quickly, and I'm not sure there's much impetus in this country to steer it back into calm waters. Yes, there's the Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity; there's New York's independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg's quest to support moderate Republicans and Democrats across the country; there are groups that try to hold non-partisan, intelligent conversations on topics of mutual interest. But we are a nation of more than 300 million people; it will take more than a couple million to turn this ship around.

When evangelist Billy Graham was trying to get audiences to make a commitment to Christ, he would begin with tales of political strife and natural disasters right off the newspapers. Then he would tell people that this showed things were getting worse, that the end of the world was nigh, so they'd better make their peace with their creator or it might be too late and they'd spend all eternity in hell with no cable TV.

It was a cheap ploy of Graham's, but it worked for many people. It was predicated on his audience not knowing that the newspapers have always been filled with tales of serial murderers and devastating hurricanes. Read The Devil in the White City. Read Sin in the Second City. Read Roman history. Heck, read the Bible. These things are always in the news because they're always happening. There have always been people doing bad things, and there has always been weather.

I think Christianity can stand or fall without Graham-like deception. And I think American politics can do without the deception of the Roves and Tea Partiers who treat politics like a game. If the new Right were honest about what it wanted and offered realistic ways of accomplishing it, then fine. People could vote for their plans or against them and we could get on with self-governing life in our republic. But so much of the right-wingers' political speech these days is outright lies (about Obama, about economics, about their own moral hypocrisy) that I can't accept them as legitimate players in the national debate.

I can't accept them, but that doesn't mean that I don't accept the fact that they are players in the national debate. They might not have truth or wisdom on their side, but the Tea Party has an audience for the tales they spin.

Because Americans are dreamers.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Me German Tarzan, You French Jane: The Starlog Project: Starlog #172, November 1991

Wolf Larson stars in the new television series Tarzan. The show is shot in southern Mexico; Wolf was born in Berlin; co-star Lydie Denier was born in France; the series is set in Africa; and the audience is in the United States. There aren't many TV programs that are more international than that.

Following many years of Tarzan movies with everyone from Bo Derek to Christopher Lambert, plus television movies and more, this half-hour weekly syndicated series attempted to give the lord of the apes a new lease on life. The series lasted for 75 episodes, going off the air in 1994. It's odd for what is – let's admit it – an odd character, that over the past couple decades, there was almost always a Tarzan series of some sort on the air or in planning stages, whether it's Larson's live actioner, Disney animated series, or other interpretations.

Also funny, but not surprising, is that Tarzan might be the featured show in this issue of Starlog, but the issue has far more to do with Star Trek than the jungle boy/man. Interviews with Trek stars and directors and writers, a look at an abandoned Trek scipt, even an ad on the inside front cover for the newest film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Even more exciting for the Trek geeks among us, Starlog announces this issue the upcoming publication of its Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, an 84-page color magazine filled with articles, blueprints, photos, and more. It was written by Shane Johnson, who had already made a name for himself with his bestselling Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise, and who would later in the 1990s write Starlog’s mega-popular three-issue Star Wars Technical Journal, which you really must buy if, like me, you always wanted to know the interior layout of the Millennium Falcon.

Starlog #172
80 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.50

This issue, Starlog drops its cover price from $4.95 to $4.50 again, after several consecutive issues of the higher price. Also, the page count drops by four to its pre-increase standard. It still seems odd to me that there was the temporary cover price hike. Inflation was not running high in 1991, and adding four pages to compensate for a 45-cents price increase is just a money grab, because it by no means costs 45 cents per copy for an additional four pages. Even today in 2010, nearly 20 years later, I can get a printer quote for an entire magazine of nearly 100 pages, all color, for less than a dollar a piece. So I hope Starlog's publishers wisely invested the extra 44 cents (or whatever) per copy that they got during their little summer price windfall.

The rundown: Wolf Larson's Tarzan and Lydie Denier's Jane are on the cover, posing with their very serious looking chimp pal; Larson and Denier are in a different pose, sans chimpy, on the contents page. Communications letters include writer Michael Moorcock with a gracious correction of a recent interview with him, other letters commenting on Doctor Who and Trek and Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, plus Michael Fisher’s Creature Profile featuring the Metaluna mutant; David McDonnell’s Medialog column notes the upcoming appearance of Leonard Nimoy reprising his Spock character in a two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation; and the Fan Network pages include a note about a national James Bond trivia challenge, plus Lia Pelosi’s directory of fan clubs and the convention calendar.

Edward Gross interviews actress Irina Irvine about her time on the Beauty & the Beast series; David Hutchison’s Videolog column announces the long-awaited home video release of Disney’s Fantasia, plus other genre releases; in his From the Bridge column, Kerry O’Quinn chronicles his trek to Mexico to see an eclipse; the Booklog section reviews The Serpent’s Tooth, Mister Touch, The Martian Viking, The Sorceress and the Cygnet, The Exile Kiss, and The Silicon Man; Lynne Stephens interviews actor Walter Koenig about his role in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country; Jean Airey talks with actor Stephen Greif, who portrayed Travis in the first season of Blake's 7; Edward Gross profiles director Ralph Senensky, whose original Trek episodes include"Bread and Circuses," "Obsession," "Metamorphosis," and others, including "The Tholian Web," from which he was fired after three days for falling half-a-day behind schedule; Dan Yakir talks to actor Wolf Larson, star of the new syndicated Tarzan series; and Edward Gross examines Starfleet Academy, the never-filmed movie that would have served as a prequel to the original Star Trek series (and which bears more than a little resemblance, at least in basic set-up, to the triumphant reimagining of Trek by J.J. Abrams).

In "Bright Lights, Big Zetar," Pat Jankiewicz talks with Shari Lewis – she of Lambchop puppet fame – about "The Lights of Zetar," an original Star Trek episode she co-wrote with her husband, Jeremy Tarcher; Stan Nicholls interviews legendary writer Brian Aldiss, who notes that "many of science fiction's objectives, although the fans are reluctant to acknowledge this, are the objectives of ordinary fiction – to tell a tale that will be entertaining, and preferably enlightening in some little way as well"; David Hirsch, who was a Starlog staffer in the late 1970s and early 1980s, returns with a focus on music, and in this issue, he talks with Leonard Rosenman about scoring Fantastic Voyage, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and others; Tom Weaver checks in with a Q&A with actor William Phipps, who discusses Five, Invaders from Mars, Cat Women of the Moon, and War of the Worlds, among others in his long career; and in his Liner Notes column, editor David McDonnell wraps it all up with more Tarzan information.
"What it was, was a real coming-of-age story. In outline form, it was the story of Kirk and Spock meeting for the first time as cadets at Starfleet Academy here on Earth. We've got a young Jim Kirk, who's kind of cocky and wild. He's not exactly what you might think of as starship captain material. He's like one of these kids who would rather fly hot jets and chase girls. Spock is this brilliant, arrogant, aloof-to-the-point-of-obnoxiousness genius. It's this mask he's hiding behind to cover his own conflicting human emotions. He's an outcast; he left Vulcan in shame against his father's wishes and, like all adolescents, he's trying to find a place to fit in, but he keeps screwing it up."
–David Loughery, writer, interviewed by Edward Gross: "The Undiscovered Star Trek VI"
For more, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit the Starlog Project's permanent site.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bill Maher's Weekly Christine O'Donnell Bomb

Sadly, this one will still leave a frightening percentage of our population scratching their heads wondering what she said that's so controversial, because they themselves believe the impossible, that the planet is 6,000 years old. Nonetheless, people with even rudimentary science literacy should know that they don't want to vote to put this person into office.

Thanks to Bill Maher for continuing the pressure.

What Will Bill Maher Unveil Christine O'Donnell Doing Tonight?

Last Friday, Bill Maher said on his HBO Real Time program that he was going to release a new video of Delaware right-wing GOP Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell every week until she agreed to come onto his show.

In light of O'Donnell's pledge this week not to do any more national news, I think we're in for a full election season of videos, and I for one couldn't be happier.

Last week, Maher released the now famous video of O'Donnell announcing that she had been involved "into" witchcraft when she was younger and presumably stupider.

This week? Who knows. The live airing of Maher's show begins, as I write this, in one hour. What video will he air tonight? O'Donnell claiming her mind is controlled by aliens? O'Donnell speaking in tongues? O'Donnell making her horse co-consul of Rome?

And when are we going to give Maher a prize? A Pulitzer, an Emmy – something? Maher might just be the  Tina Fey of this election season.

UPDATE: And here it is.

Your Science Fiction Trivia Question of the Day

Please answer in the form of an answer: What year was this first published?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The GOP's Pledge to Bankrupt America

They're promising $3.8 trillion in new debt?

And here I thought the Democrats might be overselling themselves when they warned that the GOP wanted to return us to the mistaken policies that ran the country into the ground in the first eight years of this decade.

But it turns out, they really do.

The Android's Dudgeon: The Starlog Project: Starlog #171, October 1991

Brent Spiner’s not a fan of talking to reporters. Some actors love to give interviews, others don't; that's their right.

Capturing big-name (or even just significant) interviews in genre magazines is something of an art. There are press conferences at which the interview subject might appear, there are one-on-one interviews arranged by studio press relations departments, there are Q&As with several journalists present, there are direct appeals to an actor/director/writer/whatever from a journalist that sometimes are accepted, and sometimes the publication has its own strings to pull to get an interview (such as the publisher is friends with a director, or the editor used to go to school with an actor).

But one of the most tried-and-true methods of securing an interview is for a journalist to meet (planned or “accidentally”) the subject at a science-fiction convention. A number of professional genre journalists began that way; they got the interview, then pitched it to magazines until one of them bought it.

This issue, the cover story is a twist on that method. Marc Shapiro, a veteran contributor to the magazine’s pages, lucks into a whopping seven-minute interview with Star Trek: The Next Generation star Brent Spiner, who was trying to avoid a crush of other media professionals following a Trek press conference. “When the actor who plays Data had an escape route blocked by a phalanx of television cameras and inquiring minds, he agreed to answer a few questions for Starlog while literally on the run,” writes Shapiro. And thus a photo-heavy and text-light cover story is born.

Starlog #171
84 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.95

This month, for the first time, Starlog rolls out its new ad featuring its licensed movie magazine for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

A more important debut this issue is Booklog, a multi-page department featuring short reviews of new print releases. I was glad the magazine launched this section, because books are often overlooked by fans of television and film, and Starlog stuck with this column from this issue all the way until the magazine uttered its final “Phasers on stun!” in early 2009.

The rundown: Brent Spiner looks a little caught-in-the-headlights on the cover; but he’s in a more relaxed pose on the contents page. This issue, the letters section is pushed back deeper into the magazine, and instead we lead off with David McDonnell’s Medialog column, where we learn that rumors of Starlog, Fangoria, and Cinemagic programs airing on the new Sci Fi Network are unfounded, though after the rumors surfaced, the two sides did begin “actually discussing this possibility, but no contracts have been signed or commitments given.” This would never come to be; Sci Fi never had a Starlog TV special or series, and that was probably another big missed opportunity on Starlog’s part. It reminds me of National Lampoon having a chance to create a TV sketch comedy series in the 1970s when the magazine was at the height of its popularity, but its leaders passed on the opportunity; instead, NBC came up with a little show called Saturday Night Live. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

David Hutchison’s Videolog column announces that eight Battlestar Galactica episodes are being released for $14.98 apiece; Communications letters feature readers commenting on everything from Star Trek to Doctor Who to Philip K. Dick, with one letter-writer beginning her letter thusly: “Starlog #167 was a great issue, and I didn’t even mind seeing Hulk Hogan on the cover” – high praise, indeed, plus Mike Fisher’s Creature profile features Mothra; the Fan Network pages include Lia Pelosi’s fan club directory plus the convention calendar (including something called “Eroticon Six” in Kent, UK); Booklog reviews The Worm Ouroboros, Nothing Sacred, The Hereafter Gang, and Smart Dragons, Foolish Elves; and Kerry O’Quinn’s From the Bridge column tells the tale of a young man who overcame a horrendous upbringing.

Marc Shapiro corners Star Trek’s Data, Brent Spiner, for a short interview in the cover story; the Bill & Ted movies have spawned an animated TV series, a live-action series (proposed, at least), and now, as Kim Howard Johnson reports, comics; T.W. Knowles II interviews author Fred Saberhagen, who discusses his books The Empire of the East, Berserker Kill, and others; Marc Shapiro visits the set of John Carpenter’s new film, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, which stars Chevy Chase and Daryl Hannah; Kim Howard Johnson talks with director Terry Gilliam about The Fisher King (with a sidebar on the director’s postmortem comments on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen); and Marc Shapiro interviews James Cameron and William Wisher about their writing chores on Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Bill Florence chats with writer George F. Slavin about his original Star Trek episode “The Mark of Gideon”; in part two of Mark Phillips’ look at Irwin Allen’s The Time Tunnel, we learn about the eight-hour story conferences for the series; David McDonnell reports (with photos by Lynne Stephens) again on the Seatrek cruise for fans and professionals from Star Trek, including Gene Roddenberry this (last) time; and in his Liner Notes column, McDonnell says goodbye to managing editor Dan Dickholtz and hello to the Booklog column.
“We never saw Irwin as a genius of any sort, and we never consulted with him about a script. He would scribble comments for rewrites in the margins. We crossed him on small issues that weren’t worth a damn, and always lost. In one show [“Collector’s Item,” Land of the Giants], the end scene had a house blown to smithereens and we asked that the housekeeper be shown getting away from the explosion. As a character, she had done nothing which required her obliteration. Her death wasn’t necessary. We wrote in the housekeeper’s escape and Irwin crossed it out. We wrote it in again and once again, he crossed it out. This went on until the filming when, of course, the housekeeper was demolished with the house. [Robert’s wife and writing partner] Wanda and I were against gratuitous killings, and we explained that to Irwin, but it was his show and we were not to forget it!”
Robert Duncan, writer, interviewed by Mark Phillips: “Time & Time Tunnel Again”
To see more, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit The Starlog Project’s permanent home.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bishop Eddie Long Falls into Trap o' the Homophobes

So, another virulently homophobic anti-gay crusading religious figure is facing charges of coercing young men (at least one of whom was 17 at the time) into homosexual activity.

Huh, another homophobe might be gay. Didn't see that coming.

Long is another of those folks who believe that homosexuality can be "cured" and he has been a very public campaigner against gay marriage.

You know what? That's not shocking. Because like Sen. Larry Craig, who opposed gay rights and then was caught soliciting sex with a male undercover police officer in an airport bathroom (seriously, closeted Right-wingers, public bathrooms? is there any more disgustingly dirty and smelly place you'd like to express your hidden sexuality?), people like Long don't think of homosexuality as something a person is, it's something a person does. So in their view, anyone can be tempted to the dark side, so to speak, and commit a sin that to them is just like being tempted to evade taxes or murder someone. To them, homosexuality is something that is dirty and shameful and undeserving of respect.

These deluded people are probably honest in their opposition to gay rights even though they are likely gay. And that makes all the more destructive what they are doing to gays and lesbians across the country who are denied the right to marry, denied protection against losing their jobs, denied the right to serve their country in the military, denied in many places the right to adopt, denied equal immigration rights, and much more.

While you're trying to figure out whom to believe in this sleazy saga, note this tidbit from the CNN video:
In 2005, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a charity Long created to help the poor and spread the Gospel had made him its biggest beneficiary. An examination of the nonprofit's tax returns and other documents revealed that the charity provided him with at least a million dollars in salary over four years, and the use of a $1.4 million home and the $350,000 Bentley. A frequent critic of black preachers (he once said they "major in storefront churches"), Long responded by saying he was a CEO of a global business who deserved his lifestyle.
Yeah. What would Jesus do? He'd keep his hands off the teen boys, and he wouldn't drive a Bentley, bishop.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Latest Space Battleship Yamato Trailer

Own Harlan Ellison's First Typewriter

Harlan Ellison is selling his first typewriter, a gift from his mother that he used to create some of his earliest works. This is the item you need to get, if you're the type who believes that some of Ellison's angst and spirit was poured into that machine as we worked on it.

I am a strong admirer of Ellison, though I admit I am not sentimental enough to want to own his typewriter.  That seems more fetishistic than realistic. But I did enjoy the explanation of why the typewriter is for sale, as well as the machine's history and Ellison's attachment to it. You can find all that and more on the broker's web site.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bill & Ted's Bogus Sequel: The Starlog Project – Starlog #170, September 1991

Bill and Ted return to the big screen with Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, the sequel to the 1989 quirky surprise hit Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. The sequel was originally called Bill & Ted Go to Hell, but that title was apparently too much for the timid souls who run the film studio, so it was changed to the new bogus Bogus title.

As for the film itself ... well, when was the last time you popped it into the DVD player and watched it all the way through? Within the last 15 years? Ever?

That tells you all you need to know.

Starlog #170
84 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.95

Odd classified ad of the month: "THE ZOMBIE ARMY – The world's first Zombie Combat Rock Music Video Contest! 'Two thumbs OFF!' BIG SHOUT MAGAZINE. The U.S. ARMY battles Zombies head to dead! YOU could win a real Zombie Army surplus Jeep used in the movie! $28. check or MO to ..." Wonder if they got any entries.

The rundown: Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves pose with Bill Sadler (as Death) on the cover; meanwhile, because you can never get enough Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger is featured on the contents page; Communications letters include a reader complaining about science-fiction conventions and the state of genre films, another pleading to resurrect Battlestar Galactica, and more, plus Mike Fischer's creature profile is the cyborg you can't get enough of, the Terminator; and David McDonnell's Medialog column notes that not only is there a Bill & Ted animated series, but Fox is launching a live-action Bill & Ted series, proving that you can, in fact, get enough of Bill & Ted.

Michael Wolff and illustrator George Kochell examine time travel in science fiction; Bruce Gordon returns with another popular examination of the implications of the Back to the Future movies with "The Other Marty McFly Rides West"; the Fan Network pages include David Hutchison's announcement of New York's Fifth Annual Summer Festival of Fantasy, Horror & Science Fiction (which was programmed in part by Starlog contributor Tom Weaver), Lia Pelosi's fan club and publications directory, plus the convention calendar; David Hutchison's Videolog column announces a string of new releases of old Outer Limits, Amazing Stories, and Twilight Zone episodes; Kerry O'Quinn's From the Bridge column explains why heaven is in space; Bill Warren pens the cover story, talking with Bill & Ted stars Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves; and Marc Shapiro manages to interview a multi-tasking Terminator 2 director James Cameron.

Will Murray visits the set of Free-Jack, the movie that dares to bring together Mick Jagger and Emilio Estevez; Bill Wilson previews the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios Florida; Edward Gross looks at the Quantum Leap comics; Marc Shapiro profiles actor Robert Patrick, who portrays the T-1000, the Terminator so advanced it can speak English without an accent; Edward Gross examines the original plans for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which involved traveling back in time ... to meet Eddie Murphy (oh, and Spock had a baby with Saavik); Larry S. Barbee contributes his first article to the magazine, a look at "Shada," the only Doctor Who production to have been begun but left unfinished (due to a strike by the BBC's technical workers); in part one of a multi-part article, Mark Phillips provides "A Brief History of The Time Tunnel"; and in his Liner Notes column, editor David McDonnell goes time-tripping.
"One of the things we had in our earlier drafts [for Star Trek IV] that they took out was what happened when they first went through time. Instead of that horrible time sequence that looks like Russian science fiction, we had them using the slingshot effect around Jupiter and Mars. Also, when they first appeared in the 20th century, they were in a fog, and as they lowered, the monitors picked up all of this cheering and applause. As they come out of the fog, they find themselves over a Super Bowl game and everyone thinks it's a halftime show. Then, they cloak and disappear."
–Peter Krikes, writer, interviewed by Edward Gross: "The First Voyage Home"
For more issues, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit The Starlog Project's permanent site.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Christine O'Donnell Animated by Taiwan

Another in the over-the-top great animated "explainers" from Taiwan.

Cosmo, Bazaar, Elle: Big AND Small Editions?

About a decade ago, I read that some of the major women's magazines were coming out with reduced-size editions. It wasn't a replacement of the normal sized issues; it was being done in addition to them. The smaller editions would have everything that's in the normal-sized editions (which were usually roughly 8.5" by 11"), in fact they would look exactly like the normal editions; they'd just be smaller.

I didn't understand the point of it then, and I don't understand it now. The publishers are still producing the regular-sized editions, so it's not clear where they're saving money. My thought at the time when I first heard about this was that it was a perfect example of publishers with so much extra money they could display it by producing a patently wasteful product.

Well, that mustn't have been correct, because even after enduring a couple years of this horrid recession, these publishers are still at it. I noticed a batch of these smaller editions today during a trip to a Barnes & Noble and a Borders. On at least one of the smaller editions is the label "travel edition," but that just doesn't make sense. Where can you read a slightly smaller edition of a magazine that you can't read the normal-sized edition? It's not as if a normal-sized magazine is just waaaaay to large to read on a plane, train, or bicycle. It's not like magazines are broadsheets. And why are you reading while you're biking?

I think I might be most annoyed at the implied suggestion that these little editions are popular enough to have continued life. I have always been frustrated when publishers reduced the trim size of their magazines. It's been a constant trend from the early part of the 20th century through today. Look at Esquire from 1936; it's 10" by 14"; the October 1958 edition is 10" by 13"; the edition from today is roughly 8" by 11".

Readers should be demanding larger sizes, especially for fashion or sports titles or other magazines that rely on photography. Give us quality and quantity.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Jörg Haider and the Right-Wing Gay Connection

"Jörg Haider war nicht schwul" reads a cover line of Germany's leading gay magazine, Männer (see image, right). In English, that headline means "Jörg Haider was not gay."

If you believe Wikipedia, then it's illegal, following an Austrian court ruling, to call the late nationalist Austrian politician gay or to say he had male lovers. But I'm not Austrian, and I don't always believe Wikipedia, so I don't have to change my opinion.

Today, the English-language online news site Austrian Independent reports that a member of one of Haider's right-wing parties, Vienna Freedom Party official Gerald Ebinger, had used Haider's alleged homosexuality as a selling point when trying to get gay Austrians to support his party. This led to an argument with officials from the party that Haider created after leaving the Freedom Party, but that's too uninteresting to recount here.

My own probably safe guess is that Haider was gay. Rumors of his sexuality apparently followed him for many years, and he famously died after crashing his VW Phaeton following a visit to a local gay bar. I think it's very, very safe to say that xenophobic, ultra-right wing conservative politicians don't visit gay bars to use the restroom or get directions.

I've read articles in gay publications expressing shock, yes shock, that there are gay right-wingers, but it doesn't surprise me, and the sooner people get over it and get real, the better off we'll be. As a friend of mine said back at the University of Wisconsin in the 1980s, just because you're gay doesn't mean you can't hate communism. (A corollary is that just because you hate communism doesn't mean you're a right-winger, but that's another blog post.) And just because you're gay, it doesn't mean you're sensitive, or smart, or nice. It might be nice if it were otherwise, but that's the truth. People are people.

One would think we've seen enough right-wing politicians and political activists come out of the woodwork and come out of the closet to make us realize that one's sexuality doesn't dictate one's politics. I'm gay, but my politics straddle center-Left to center-Right. True, I won't vote for a far-Right candidate, but that's because I was raised in a good family and a fine church, not just because I love my partner. I've never been tempted to become a Log Cabin Republican, because I think the Republicans have turned their backs on any real semblance of moderation. Or science and rationality, for that matter. But I have known Log Cabin Republicans, and I respect them, if not their faith in their party.

But David Brock. Larry "I'm still not gay" Craig. J. Edgar Hoover. Edward L. Schrock. Hell, go back to Ernst Rohm, who was done in by a little wacko named Adolf Hitler. this is no longer something that should surprise people. Ideas and political philosophies matter. Sexuality shouldn't.

I'll leave you with the image to the left. Simply because I like it. And it in no way makes me right-wing.

Starlog's German Adventure

Just a couple cover images to share here. In the late 1990s, Starlog magazine published a German edition. It was produced and printed in the United States by its U.S. staff (plus some translators, naturally), with only a little local German content added, mostly in the form of book reviews and the like.  In fact, oddly, for much of its run, all of the in-house ads, including subscription ads, were untranslated English-language ads straight out of the American edition. Later they began translating them into German so it matched the other content.

It lasted for about four years, and despite those oddities, it was a nice publication, though I think they missed the boat with it. Germany has such a rich science-fiction past – from foundational writers such as Kurd Lasswitz to great silent classic SF and horror films such as Metropolis or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and onward into the modern era with Cornelia Funke and that damned neverending story – that the magazine should have featured some regular original articles on German content. The U.S. team should have supplied what it did best, which is coverage of the U.S. film/television/book/games/comics market, and supplemented it with a few articles each issue of original German content.

Nevertheless, during its run, the magazine also published two special issues: Starlog Feiert Batman & Robin (which is what inspired today's blog post after I stumbled across it in a random web search) and Starlog Feiert Star Wars. (Fiert means celebrates.) Leaving aside for the moment the oddity of having one special issue on one of the truly great genre films and another special issue on one of the truly miserable genre films, it nonetheless interests me that Starlog was being creative in its marketing over in Germany, even if it wasn't terribly creative in its article selection (as noted above).

In 2000, Starlog in the United States produced a short series of special 100-page "Millennium Edition" one-shot magazines all on the theme of "100 Years of." So there was 100 Years of the Automobile, 100 Years of Baseball, 100 Years of Science Fiction, and 100 Years of Comics. (100 Years of Animation was also advertised, but I've never seen a copy of it. Please correct me if you know otherwise. My assumption was that the series wasn't selling well so the publisher killed it before that last title was published; the company underwent swinging reductions in staff and magazine titles shortly thereafter, related or unrelated, I don't know.) I only mention it here because, even though it was no longer publishing a regular German edition, the company did publish 100 Jahre Science Fiction and 100 Jahre Comics in Germany. I own a copy of the latter, but haven't gotten my hands on a copy of the former. I also seem to recall that, during my visit to Berlin in early 2001, I saw a German-language edition of Starlog's official licensed movie magazine for the L. Ron Hubbard turkey Battlefield Earth. I didn't like the movie, so I didn't buy the magazine in English or in German. Nonetheless, Starlog obviously hadn't given up on the Fatherland's audience at the turn of the century.

Your Moment of Zen: Raccoon Thief at Work

The above scene was viewed through the window of my brother's family's house outside Green Bay, Wisconsin, in early June. The raccoon has apparently cased the joint before and knew exactly where the precious bird feeders were kept.

We just don't have these views outside our windows in San Francisco. Though, to be fair, we do get to see the drunk stagger home from the bars at 2 am, bumping into cars along the street. So it's sort of the same thing.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Tea Party and the Mainstreaming of Kooks

When did it become acceptable to be a fanatic and get official blessing for high political office? As I've watched the elections news over this past year, I've been amazed and occasionally amused by the stranger folks who have sought elections. There's always a far-out candidate or two in any election season; that's the spice of life in a republic. But this year, they seem to be winning Republican primaries.

Last night on PBS NewsHour, three experts were being interviewed about the Tea Party movement's successes in this week's primaries, and one of the experts, a Republican strategist (sorry, I don't remember his name, and have no wish to) chastised Democrats for attacking Tea Party people as crazy when they represented the center's concerns about big government. Unfortunately, he wasn't called on that; the Democratic strategist on the panel simply said that he hadn't attacked Tea Partiers. But that wasn't the point; the point is that Democrats (and many, many Republicans and independents) who criticize the Tea Party do it because of the movement's crazy aspects; its embrace of anger without realistic solutions, its embrace of fringe ideas such as Kenyan presidents and fundamentalist Christian fever dreams. In fact, Democrats – even the White House – have gone out of their way to publicly acknowledge concerns and criticism about deficits and debt and government size.

Crazy matters, though. And it is fair to take the Tea Party to task for its crazy elements, which are not just at the edges of the movement.

Consider Christine O'Donnell, the young woman (well, she looks and talks like she's a thirty-something) who upset the GOP establishment to win that party's now-doomed nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that used to be held by Vice President Joe Biden. There are just too many juicy stories about her kookier ideas, such as her obsession with the dark niches of gay sex life, her belief in the widely discredited ex-gay movement, her belief that mast ... – let's be biblical and just call it onanism – is as sinful as adultery. Videos of her public espousal of these ideas are getting heavy play in this age of YouTube and 24-hour political blogs.

And don't get me started on Sharron Angle in Nevada.

I found myself thinking this morning that I don't remember fringe candidates getting this far earlier in my life. Granted, I grew up in Wisconsin, a state known for relatively clean and good politicians (at least in the post-Joe McCarthy era). But I later moved to Chicago, where for the first mayoral election there, Mayor Richard Daley was facing three potential Republican challengers: A professional clown, a German-American businessman, and a Hispanic businessman. The Hispanic businessman called the German candidate a Nazi, and the Nazi – I mean, the German businessman – called the Hispanic candidate an illegal alien, and the professional clown won the nomination. He lost of course, because as wild as Chicago politics gets, its citizens have low tolerance for idiocy in places of power. (The Daleys kept winning because they delivered competence, albeit not super-clean government.)

But now in American political life, the crazier the better, it seems, in some circles. With the Republicans pretty much ideologically bankrupt after eight years of giving in to the worst inclinations of their once-proud followers, all they have left is anger, and the Tea Partiers know how to leverage anger.

I am happy that the rise of fringe candidates – and O'Donnell in particular – likely means the Democrats will retain control of the U.S. Senate. But this isn't just about Democrats. I want a strong Republican party, one that is an honest conservative force to keep in check the loonier impulses of the Left. Conservatives have a very important role to play, even if they aren't doing it now. But until a party represents the good side of the Right, I can only hope for dismal election results for the current incarnation of this political party, because it has given in to the dark side.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

So Why Are the Homeless Musicians in the Subway Stations Playing Christmas Songs This Early?

This is the second time in three days I've heard a Christmas tune as I exited the BART station. Are they waaaaay too early for Christmas? Or are they waaaaaay too late for Christmas 2009?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Starlog Project: Starlog #169, August 1991: Arnold’s Back to Back

Starlog knows how to spot ‘em, sometimes. Sensing that Terminator 2: Judgment Day would be a big hit, the editors put T2 on the cover of the August issue, just as it was on the cover of the July issue. It even features the same character from the same movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. (If the movie can be T2, can we just call Arnold’s character T? I suppose so, though then people might start calling him Mr. T, which would just be disastrous.)

Starlog also has a horse in this race. This issue it announces that it’s publishing the official T2 licensed movie magazine. $4.95, all color and 68 pages (if I remember correctly). I’m just guessing that it will make a ton of money for the company.

Few people thought the studio would recoup the then-record $100 million cost of producing the film, but of course T2 went on to become a smash hit and just the latest in a long line of James Cameron near-death career experiences.

Starlog #169
84 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.95

Interesting, this: This issue’s cover price is $4.95, the same as the previous issue, which was the extra-pages anniversary edition. Is it a permanent cover price hike? No, but oddly several issues will carry this new cover price, after which the cover price will drop back down to $4.50 and the page count will drop again from 84 to 80. Why the price spike? Was it a trial to see if readers were willing to page $5 for a copy of the magazine? Was it an attempt to get some greater lucre from the summer film-going season? Who knows?

The rundown: The Schwarzemeister’s on the cover, again; meanwhile, Doctor Who’s Sophie Aldred is featured on the contents page; in the Communications section, Star Trek Research Consultant Richard Arnold responds to previous letters on Star Trek, a reader responds to Richard Arnold’s letter (no, not this one, but rather Arnold’s letter in Starlog #161), and other readers comment on Star Trek games, scripts, and more, thus giving Mr. Arnold a reason to write a third letter, if he's up to it, plus Mike Fisher’s Creature Profile comic features Them!; in his Medialog column, David McDonnell notes that the previously announced Starlog: The Science Fiction Universe television project is “on hold”; in his Videolog column, David Hutchison announces Woody Allen’s Alice, Edward Scissorhands, and other genre releases; and the Fan Network pages include Lia Pelosi’s directory of fan clubs and publications, plus the convention calendar.

The great writer Roald Dahl is interviewed by Tom Soter, and he discusses working on two adaptations of Ian Fleming works: You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (and he has some pretty tough words for Sean Connery, who he thinks got too full of himself when he decided to walk away from the Bond role: “He was a very foolish fellow to get bored by Bond because it made him. ... I don’t think Sean behaved very well on this film. ... No, I don’t think Sean Connery’s a complicated creature at all. he’s an absolutely straightforward, rather dull Scotsman.”); in a two-page Tribute section, Marc Shapiro writes actor Kevin Peter Hall’s obituary, Kim Howard Johnson does the honors for James Bond titles designer Maurice Binder, and Ian Spelling remembers writer and lyricist Howard Ashman (The Little Mermaid); and Kerry O’Quinn’s From the Bridge relates his injury and surgery after crashing his motorcycle (which he discussed pre-crash in #167).

Marc Shapiro interviews Terminator 2: Judgment Day actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who admits that "acting out the action stuff and the ballsy parts was not a difficult thing for me to do. The most difficult scenes were the ones where I had to respond to questions or rattle off dialogue and come across as believable as a machine”; Bill Warren talks with veteran actor Alan Arkin, who discusses The Rocketeer, as well as The Seven-Percent Solution, The Return of Captain Invincible, and other films; Warren also visits the set of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey; Kyle Counts checks in with screenwriter Joe Gannon about Solar Crisis, a film he wrote but that was then drastically rewritten by others; David Hirsch profiles composer Gerald Fried about his work on the original Star Trek TV series; John B. McLay examines new original Doctor Who novels; in “Tenctonese Funnies,” Edward Gross previews the new comic books based on the canceled Alien Nation television series; Peter Weller exits the metal copsuit and is replaced by actor Robert Burke for RoboCop 3, the set of which Kim Howard Johnson visits; and David McDonnell’s Liner Notes column touts various new releases from the wonderful world of Starlog magazines, including the aforementioned Terminator 2: Judgement Day Official Movie Magazine, which includes designs and production illustrations “you may not see published anywhere else. Truly amazing!”
“When I first heard the primary notion that some part of the movie [Solar Crisis] would take place inside the Sun, my heart sank. I love science fiction, but I love science fiction that’s based on degrees of reality, even if that reality is warped in some way. My first feeling was that this [plotline] was so implausible, you could never really bring the audience with you, as it were. But then, as I thought about it, I realized it was implausible, but not impossible. In that distinction, I found I could believe in the story.”
–Joe Gannon, screenwriter, interviewed by Kyle Counts: “Flare-Up”
To see more, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit The Starlog Project’s permanent home.

Monday, September 13, 2010

When Life Was Good – Magazines of the Jazz Age

What magazines would the Great Gatsby have on his coffee table? In 1925, he probably would have had magazines like the ones you see here.

Back then, magazines such as Puck (which started as a German-language magazine and then published English- and German-language editions), Judge, Life (the original one, before Henry Luce came out with his version), England's Punch, Germany's Fliegende Blätter and even the early New Yorker and the similar Chicagoan were flourishing, many of them published weekly.

These magazines were both part of and mockers of the new modern, sophisticated population in the country that was coming about as a result of urbanization, industrialization, and spreading wealth. They were filled with cartoons and fanciful illustrations by the best illustrators of the day, short snarky humorous bits and brief articles lampooning the mores and peoples of the day.

Judging from the number and creativity of these magazines, there was clearly a readiness on the part of the reading public to enjoy sophisticated commentary on their lives. The magazines were eventually done in by changing reading tastes, though I suspect it was also a change in the country from the brash optimism and edginess of the 1920s to a more conservative and traditional mindset established by depression and world war.

They are worth seeking out if you're curious either about Jazz Age magazines, or about how different American society was back then.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering the Twin Towers and 9/11

Last year I wrote this remembrance of being in Manhattan on 9/11/01. I just re-read it, and it still reflects my thoughts and emotions.

The Starlog Project: Starlog #168, July 1991: An Arnold-Sized 15th Anniversary Issue

Arnold Schwarzenegger is on the cover of Starlog, touting Terminator 2: Judgment Day, one of my favorite James Cameron films, though it's interesting to read Cameron in the cover story talking about how he has no new film lined up after this one, so if T2 isn't successful, his career could be trashed. A $100-million budget buster at the time of its making (well, few Cameron films arn't budget busters), it went on to become a huge success. It was also noted for its relentless action and violence, but I thought Cameron & Co. did a great job of making the film an anti-violence and anti-war film.

Plus it gave us a vengeful Linda Hamilton and little Edward Furlong, so it’s an all-around success.

Starlog #168
88 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.95

The cover price is jacked up to $4.95 from the usual $4.50 for this issue, but we don’t get the 100-page anniversary issues we got for the past decade. Instead, it’s only 88 pages. However, it does actually celebrate its anniversary, unlike most of the recent anniversary issues, which featured really just a larger issue (good issues, they were, just not chock full o’ anniversary goodness). This time, there’s a 10-page feature of photos and select quotes from the magazine’s history, plus a four-page gatefold poster of all of the previous covers of the magazine.

Editor David McDonnell notes in his editorial, “We could have chosen to review 167 issues of Starlog in this edition, remembering them all in great detail. Or print a section filled with anniversary messages from various celebrities – an idea I’ve always found self-congratulatory back-patting (and which we abandoned years ago). ... I didn’t want to do that. Many of you have been with us as readers for so long that you know our history. It’s as close as your bookcase (or mine) ... So rather than revel in the past, we’ve limited the celebration. Our special gatefold this issue re-presents all 167 Starlog covers. ... And in a long (but not that long) section, look to the voices of Starlog’s past, present and future as published over 15 years.”

The rundown: Arnold’s Terminator is on the cover; as noted above, there’s the eight-page fold-out poster of all previous covers, and there’s a two-page fold-out poster of Kevin Costner in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves garb; comic-book versions of the Lost in Space folks are on the contents page; and in his Medialog column, David McDonnell alerts us that there will be an animated TV series spinoff of the Back to the Future films.

Interplanetary correspondent Michael Wolff, with illustrator George Kochell, looks at the depictions of Death (personified death, that is); Communications letters include Philip José Farmer commenting on William Wilson Goodson’s Robin Hood historical article from issue #166, readers complaining about the ugly creatures featured on the cover of issue #164, others exploring ideas raised in the recent Philip K. Dick interview or picking over the carcass of Beauty & the Beast, and more; Fan Network includes Lia Pelosi’s science-fiction fan club directory and the convention calendar; David McDonnell’s Videolog departs from his usual practice of listing newly released genre videos and instead explores the advent of 3-D home video; and Kerry O’Quinn’s From the Bridge column includes his experience in a college class that explores Star Trek episodes.

In “Voices of Starlog Past,” photos and quotes are reprinted from past issues of the magazine; Marc Shapiro visits the set of Terminator 2: Judgment Day; Edward Gross interviews Pen Densham, co-scriptor of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, which he admits was spawned by his idea of a “Robin Hood a la Raiders of the Lost Ark“; Kim Howard Johnson looks at the comics form of Lost in Space; and Edward Gross talks with writer Steven Carabatsos, who scripted original Star Trek episodes such as “Court Martial” and “Operation Annihilate.”

Gregory Mank talks with actor Hurd Hatfield and explores The Picture of Dorian Gray on film; Bill Florence profiles actor Harry Townes, a veteran of Star Trek (“The Return of the Archons”), The Brothers Karamazov (on which he worked with William Shatner), Screaming Mimi, and more; Stan Nichols interviews writer Michael Moorcock, who says that “Science fiction and rock ‘n’ roll were the two areas, as a kid, where there was no adult interest, no Establishment interest. I suppose I could dignify it all and romanticize it by saying it was revolutionary, or against the grain, and to some extent it was, but the fact is that every generation looks for something they can call their own”; and editor David McDonnell wraps it all up in his Liner Notes column by discussing the creation of this anniversary issue and listing a bunch of staffers, current and former.
“[For the film Dragon Seed,] I had these Chinese eyepieces; mine always came loose just before each shot. On location, in the San Fernando Valley, the loudspeaker would order, ‘Hatfield to the cameras!’ The first day, [costar Katharine] Hepburn – who terrified me – came out to watch this new young actor. I got on my Chinese water buffalo, and the buffalo, quite logically, went straight into the water, soaking my costume! I hit him with my antique Chinese flute – and broke it! And, of course, I knew nothing about continuity. In the scene on the old Chinese farm, I was to play my flute. In the master shot, I played the flute one way; in the medium shot, to be creative, I played it another way; in the close-up, a new way! Suddenly, there was this terrible pause. The director came up to me and said, ‘Have you been playing that flute the same way all morning?’ ‘Oh, no!’ I said very proudly. ‘I played it here, and this way, and this way ...’ Well, he threw his hat down, stamped on it, shouted implications and oaths... I had ruined most of the morning’s shooting! I thought, ‘Why’d I ever leave the theater?’”
–Hurd Hatfield, actor, interviewed by Gregory Mank: “Portrait in Gray”
To see more, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit The Starlog Project’s permanent home.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Riesling and the Growth of the German Soul

I always thought German Riesling is a good part of many meals. I also have been following from afar the debates over racial and religious integration in Germany – the good (as in the country's enthusiastic embrace of its multi-racial and multi-religious young national soccer/football team at the recent World Cup in South Africa) and the bad (the nutty claims about Muslims and Jews in a book by former German bank exec Thilo Sarrazin).

What do these two things have to do with each other?

I was pleased this morning to read this article in The New York Times about a Chinese-born restaurateur who has become a successful and popular Berlin fixture. Jianhua Wu's Hotspot has become, well, a hotspot in the city after it was featured in a popular chef's TV program. Wu pairs Chinese food with German Riesling wines, and the result has been a hit.

The Times article also shows that integration is no more exciting or difficult than it has been for anyone else in the world. He didn't set out to undermine Germany (such as Sarrazin apparently believes). Like pretty much everyone else, he set out to build a career and a family. He's done that, in the process falling in love with his adopted country. Again, like pretty much every other immigrant.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Visiting the Land of the Soviets (October 1930)

While doing some research for work, I came across a condensed transcript of a speech to The Commonwealth Club of California eight decades ago in which an American clergyman and journalist reports on his trip to the Soviet Union. He went with expectations of finding wonderful things, but his experience is pretty awful. I found it fascinating to read his commentary, especially in light of the worship of Russian communism by Western marxists, as well as all of the post-Cold War revelations of how monstrous life was in the time of Lenin and Stalin.

I wanted to share this speech, so I figured I should get permission to run it here – and then I thought, hey, I'm the VP of media and editorial at The Commonwealth Club; I'm the person who grants reprint permissions. Thus, I granted myself permission. (I think the Pope feels like this sometimes.)

I don't know how accurate some of this is, such as the 18-times married woman, but much of the rest (and much worse) has been confirmed long since.

"The Spirit and Face of Bolshevism"
October 17, 1930
Dr. Louis Richard Patmont

When I started for Europe this past winter, I looked with favor upon the experiment that was there taking place. Like many other Americans, I was a victim of the favorable propaganda that has been spread over the United States.

Perhaps Russia was a paradise for the worker. I was inclined to discredit unfavorable reports, and to give those reports which put Russia in a favorable light my full credence.

Getting into Russia, I found to be my great problem. In Berlin, the Soviet Embassy refused me a visa because I was a minister and a newspaperman. But they kept the money which I had advanced.

In Warsaw, Poland, I met with equal success. And in Latvia, again; and in Esthonia [sic], again. I decided then to get in Russia, cost what it may.

It was in desperation that I finally attempted to obtain a Russian visa on my passport. I decided to change my occupation. Last year I was fortunate enough to have been engaged in some paleontological work in Mexico, so for the benefit of the Russian embassy, I became a paleontologist.

I told them I intended to study the bones of some mammoths. And I refused to speak in Russian. And so they let me in.

I had been in Russia previously during the Czarist regime. The contrast was striking. When I was in Leningrad this last time, streets were out of repair, houses were dilapidated, people in rags.

I avoided the tours that are arranged for American tourists. Most visitors are virtual prisoners while in Russia. They see only what they are allowed to see.

Throngs of people, four abreast, waited for food all day outside the 'magazines.' Little red tickets were in their hands, allowing them so much bread. It was a pitiful sight. Hundreds were hungry. …

Several families lived in the same room. Little girls, of from 12 to 15, babes in their arms, walked the streets, victims of the loose moral code.

In Moscow I went to one of the big American hotels. The next morning the secret police called. An American tour was starting. Luckily I had a toothache, and for several days I searched for a dentist, absorbing meanwhile all the intimate details of this Soviet city.

People lived in dugouts and in sewers. Children crowded into the railroad station for shelter. Russia is suffering, and there are millions who are ready to throw off the soviet yoke.

As I left Moscow, I saw hundreds of freight cars, loaded with prisoners. These men were on their way to the White Island in the White Sea, where they will be interned. They were contra-revolutionists.

I met a woman who said she was on her way to be married. She had been married eighteen times previously. Marriage is easy in Russia, and a divorce can be secured within ten minutes after the marriage ceremony. Merely register at the police station, and direct a postcard to your former wife, telling her you have secured a divorce.

Fatherless children are cared for in homes. They are raised scientifically, say the Russians. Sickness, they say, is unnecessary because medicine has been socialized. But the children are huddled together without regard for sex, and social disease is prevalent. Most of them run away when they can.

There is a three-fold war going on in the Land of the Soviet. First, there is a war against the peasant or property-holder; second, a war against family; third, a war against religion.

And despite lack of food, despite deplorable living conditions, Russia has the most efficient, well-organized army in Europe. She is a menace to the world, this spreading sore of humanity.

The Weird Anti-Gay Fixation of X-Box

I'm not a gamer. We have a Playstation console at home and a handful of games for it, but I don't think it's even been hooked up to the TV for four or five years. So I am certainly not an X-Box user, and have never been big into games – not even when I was a teenager or college student.

But I do take note of amusing and annoying things in the gaming world, from time to time. And from WSAZ TV news comes this report that X-Box had banned one of its players because his gamer profile included the name of his city. Chicago, you ask? Or New Berlin, Wisconsin, perhaps? No. Josh Moore's hometown is Fort Gay, West Virginia, and he is rather proud of it.

Reports WSAZ:
Moore tells after questioning the decision, X-Box lifted a suspension they said was fueled by complaints from other gamers. Moore was reinstated, providing he make no profile references to Fort Gay.

Moore believes it's the word "gay" that is automatically flagged by the computer as offensive, but it's in the name of his home town. "It’s where I live," said Moore. "You can be from Fort Gay, you just can't tell anyone with X-Box.”

Both peeved and puzzled, Fort Gay mayor David Thompson contacted X-Box Microsoft on the behalf of Josh and several other gamers. The Mayor was told the city's name doesn't matter, the word "gay" is inappropriate content in any context.
After the TV news station contact Microsoft and explained the situation, the company apparently changed its mind and said that "Fort Gay, West Virginia" does not in any way violate its rules of conduct.

But earlier Moore told Gamespy: "At first I thought, 'Wow, somebody's thinking I live in the gayest town in West Virginia or something.' I was mad," Moore said. "It makes me feel like they hate gay people. I'm not even gay, and it makes me feel like they were discriminating."

Funny, no? No. Why the hell was "gay" banned to begin with? Were they afraid that people would use it as a term of abuse? Or that gays would use it to identify themselves? Wouldn't it have made more sense if they'd just banned people who used the term abusively or something?

This goes to show that much can be automated, but the human element has to be present, or companies do stupid, insensitive things.

Heaven forbid anyone from Gay City, Connecticut, should want to engage in online X-Box gaming.

Is It Starlog Memory Time? Grognardia, Others Remember the Dearly Departed

Grognardia has a nice little remembrance of Starlog magazine on his blog.

Then I noticed that Chicken Scratch did the same thing a month ago on his blog. Or Check out The Cool Kids' Table's post. or Think Lynsen. And of course I recently noted the Don Lawson had written one for

Starlog magazine died a year and a half ago, so it's interesting that there's sort of a mini-revival, at least in memoriums. Most of the thoughts people are sharing are kind, wistful (remembering their life when they were absorbing Starlog's Empire Strikes Back previews, or whatever), and happy.

That's not a bad legacy for a magazine to have left behind.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Book-Burning Bigot

By now, you've all heard about the ultra-fundamentalist Gainesville, Florida, preacher who plans to burn the Islamic holy book on 9/11, despite warnings from city leaders, government officials, military generals, and even conservative evangelicals that such an action would endanger American troops – not to mention, it would trash our reputation in much of the world (and not just the Muslim parts of it).

Now, I think the guy's a bigot and an idiot. Though he has the legal right to do something stupid and insulting, we have every right and responsibility to judge his character by his actions, and his actions show him to be very unchristian in intent and deed. He is also something that should turn off the hardcore right wingers in this country: He's unpatriotic, because the only outcome of his lunatic scheme will be lasting harm to our image and possibly to our soldiers' very lives.

So I was thinking this morning that it's very unlikely that there wouldn't be direct retribution against this wacko and his 50-member church, so I sure as hell wouldn't want to be the sucker who sold him property insurance on the church. Little did I know ...

Sure enough, here's this tidbit from a nice article on Time's web site, which notes how much the city of Gainesville has banded together against this cretin:
Although Jones certainly has every First Amendment right to burn books, Lowe says city officials hope to convince him to call off the Koran conflagration, which he insists on carrying out even though the Gainesville Fire Department has refused him a permit. This week, Jones said he and his congregation were "praying" over the statement of Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, who warned that "images of the burning of a Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists... to inflame public opinion and incite violence." Christian leaders around the U.S., among them conservative evangelicals, have condemned Jones' plan; his property insurer has cancelled the Dove center's coverage and the North Carolina bank that holds the church's mortgage is demanding repayment of the $140,000 balance.
Italics mine.

I'm sure the wayward pastor, Terry Jones, is lapping up all of this controversy. Being hated and ridiculed is a badge of honor for the truly extremist religious right (and, let's be fair, the truly extremist left).

But it's worth noting that insurance companies and mortgage holders can usually (well, forget about the subprime thingie) see clearly enough when something's a lost cause.

Tim Gunn Takes Top Honors, Again

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Tim Gunn
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Like most Project Runway viewers, I think the highlight of the show – and sometimes the only classy part of the program – is Tim Gunn. He's unfailingly polite, honest, professional and, unlike the judges, he manages to give the designers honest critiques without making them feel worthless.

So I was pleased that Gunn made an appearance on The Daily Show last night to plug his latest book, Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making It Work. I had not been planning on buying the book before I saw the program, but after watching him discuss Anna Wintour with host Jon Stewart, I have to get this book.

They discussed an incident in which Ms. Wintour – the legendary editor of Vogue magazine – was carried down five flights of stairs because she couldn't get down fast enough in her shoes. I've defended Wintour on this blog in the past, and I think much of what I wrote still holds. She's an extraordinary editor and leader in her field. But Gunn's critique (and his hilarious response to Vogue's minions who tried to pressure him into removing the item from the book; watch the video above) show him to be perceptive and even brave. He's not being catty; he's making a serious criticism of the bloated egos in the fashion industry.

Which makes him something of a rarity. When will we get Tim Gunn's fashion magazine? Need an editor?