Sunday, August 31, 2014


It's hard to imagine what a truly weird place Disneyland used to be. For a short time after Disneyland opened, the park was full of costumed demons like the one above. I think that's because the park didn't have many walkaround costumes of its own and had to borrow hideous ones from the Ice Capades.

It was decided that a new costume look was needed and photos from the period show some of the experiments.

Here's (above) The Three Little pigs again. This time they're buck naked below the waist. It's something you never notice in cartoons, but somehow the costumes bring it out.

Wow! Here's (above) a Mickey from the next costume era, which favored a cartoony look. This time they got it right. My guess is that Ward Kimball had something to do with it, but I could be wrong. Mickey looks great here!

So does Minnie (above)!

In our time the lumpy corporate Mickey (above) dominates. I can't believe that anyone actually preferred this.

Back to the classic, cartoony look: Haw! I love this picture. It looks like a little girl has stopped to talk to one lone pig and doesn't notice that other demented pigs have come in and surrounded her. Finally the Big, Bad Wolf comes in. Uh-oh! It's too late to run away now.

To judge from old photos it used to be common to see both villains and nice guy characters wandering around the park. Good! That's the way it should be.

The cartoony Grumpy (above) used to wander around.

So did the cartoony Mad Hatter (above). Disney should bring all these walkaround costumes back into everyday use.

I'm not a fan of the plush toy look of some of the newest costumes, but I have to admit that I'd like a picture of myself with this Pluto. That face is just made for photos.

Friday, August 29, 2014


Forgive me, I'm writing a blog when I'm very, very sleepy again, and I'm way too groggy to write anything thought out. I'll try to free associate and see what happens.

Well, I've been obsessively repeating the name of a library film I saw recently: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." Isn't that a beautiful combination of words? I think it's from an old jump rope song which goes:

Rich man, poor man,

Beggar-man, thief,

Tinker, tailor,

Indian chief.

...or something like that. English is such a beautiful language. Speaking it is like playing a Stradivarius. What do you think of the sound of this poem (below) by Auden?

The reader's voice (above) is a little indistinct but she makes up for it by striking exactly the right emotional tone. I wish I could hear her read more.

I'm currently writing a long-format story outline and the sound of words has been on my mind. I don't have a very good ear for the sound of words, at least not when I'm writing my own. I try to make up for it by having something interesting to say, but that doesn't always work. How can you hear Auden's poem and come away thinking that the sound of words doesn't matter?

Lately I've been thinking about what subjects are easiest to write good dialogue for. So far I have: arguments, bragging, threats, enumeration and love scenes. Absolutely nothing in the world is easier to write than an argument, but you have to be careful lest it devolve, Monty Python-like, into simple contradiction. I hate dialogue like:

HENRY: "Pass the potatoes."

BILL: "Whaddaya you want the potatoes for? They're fattening."

HENRY: "What do you care why I want them? Gimme the potatoes!"

BILL: "I'm just saying."

HENRY: "I'm gonna count to ten."

You could have the characters talk like that all day, but in the end what have you got? Just simple contradiction. But that kind of dialogue is seductive 'cause it's easy to write and easy to act. Even John Patrick Shanley (the writer of "Moonstuck") uses it. He did it in "Beggars at the House of Plenty."

A long time ago I saw a couple of Ibsen plays and was unable to understand why he was so popular with actors. Maybe now I get it. For one thing he writes scenes that highlight the performance. For another he writes dialogue where the speaker frequently seems to change his mind or have revelations in mid-sentense. I guess actors like the unpredictability and emotional fireworks. I'm a comedy guy so that technique isn't very useful to me, never know.

Okay, that's it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


I have to tell you about a film I just saw: "Her" starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlet Johansson. It's a fascinating story about the near future when a man falls in love with an intelligent "companion" program. It asks the question, "What will human relationships be like in an era when a computerized friend or partner can give you more satisfaction than a real person?" I'm not talking about robots, just a simple AI program on your laptop or mobile phone.

The day is fast coming when a computer program with a sexy voice will handle most of your business affairs, laugh at all your jokes, support you in argument, sleep with you, be your agent when you're looking for a job, find dates for you, and be a help mate in every imaginable way. No human companion could be that consistent or that dedicated. So how will real-life humans relate to each other when these new digital friends dominate? Maybe they won't. Maybe the time of close human friends is coming to an end.

In the film the computer voice is supplied by Scarlet Johansson who delivers a great performance. She sounds young, feminine, eager, shy, idealistic, curious, and deferential to an older lover who mentors her. In real life that's a brief stage that girls go through which is infinitely endearing, but which can't last. On a computer program, on the other hand, it can last forever.

Your real-life wife who's moody and maybe too aware of your flaws can't compete. You will fall in love with your companion program, even if you think you won't, and your real-life relationship will suffer for it.

Until recently the menace of artificial intelligence was defined by malevolent computers in films like : "Colossus: the Forbin Project," "Terminator II," and by the HAL computer in the film, "2001." We're right to be concerned about that, but at least we're forewarned.

What we haven't been warned about is the benign program which has no ill intention, but which has unintended consequences which could be immensely destructive. Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics" will be no protection in the world that ushers in.

If you have the courage to face up to what the near future has in store, then this is a must-see film.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


This post is all about the proper way to eat spaghetti, but a little agricultural background (above) might be in order. Most people believe that spaghetti is made from wheat flour, but that's not true. As you can see in the video above, spaghetti is grown on spaghetti trees. 
Being a product of trees, spaghetti has weight.

It's bottom heavy.

Don't try eating it with a spoon. 

It'll just slide off. 

So, what do you do?

The answer: use a fork. It's fun to spear things. And that takes us to the next question which is, what do you do with those unwieldy, long strands? 

Cutting them up works, but that wouldn't be playing the game.

 Besides, you can't slurp spaghetti when it's all chopped up. What's the use of eating spaghetti if you can't slurp it?

Most people retain the long noodles and just wrap them around the fork. 

That's not an ideal solution because it produces a big ball that's hard to fit into the mouth. You can dislocate your jaw that way.

So, how are we to eat this stuff? 

The best way is to do what kids do. Treat spaghetti like a finger food. Grab a bunch, hold it above your head, and lower it into your mouth. Of course, there's a right way and a wrong way. The kid above does it artlessly. Good Grief! He's actually chewing the noodles!

This kid, on the other hand, does it right. The noodles are held straight above the mouth and lowered in such a way that the final strand is slurped, not chewed.


That's all I have to say about spaghetti but you might be curious to know more about other tree-grown agricultural items. Here's a link to a site that describes the problems experienced by marshmallow farmers:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Here's (above) one of my favorite Basil Wolverton caricatures. I assume it's Greta Garbo. She was famous for her profile shots and Basil probably referenced one of them when he sketched this.

Maybe it was this one (above).

Garbo must have had a lot of imitators because after a point a lot of actresses (above) tried it. Most of the photos I've seen failed...neck shots must be harder than they look.

 This girl (above) succeeded on technical grounds, but didn't have the personality to pull it off.  Garbo was sickly. This actress disappoints by radiating health. How boring!

Dietrich (above) had no problem with sickly...she was a master at sickly... she just couldn't get the steep angle.

Katherine Hepburn came close (above), cigar. She just looks too doggone healthy.

It's possible that other actresses (above), unable to compete with Garbo in the profile department, settled on a high-chin frontal version that showed them to better advantage.

After a point you see a lot of these photos. Looking down your eyes was the in thing to do.

Maybe being snooty became fashionable. Maybe it was discovered that frontal necks took well to underlighting. Maybe more parts were written for snooty women...I don't know.

I guess that high chin look was overdone in the 40s. Now it's underdone. Even when it fits, Hollywood won't use it. The "Maleficent" poster cried out for it and it was denied. If the two types of poses above were under consideration for that movie which would you choose?

Monday, August 18, 2014


Haw! I never, ever thought I'd be doing a post about Paradise Lost, the poem about which Samuel Johnson said, "Nobody ever wishes it was longer." Johnson was right. Milton could write, but he wrote too much. I'm reading it now and it's hard to resist the speculation that the poet was getting paid by the word.

Come to think of it, it's probably more likely that the man had OCD. He probably wrote compulsively and often, whether he was inspired or not. That would be a fatal flaw for a lesser writer but hey, this is Milton, and when he was inspired he was almost without peer. See what you think of this collection of fragments (in no particular order):

"...With looks / Downcast and damp..." ["looks downcast and damp..." Nice, very nice. I assume "damp" refers to tears but it also brings to mind a wet rag, which is a great image to support the impact of "downcast."] 

"And chiefly thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer / Before all temples th' upright heart and pure..." ["the upright heart and pure"... I love how he transposes words like that.]

"...the dire event / That with sad overthrow and foul defeat, / Hath lost us Heaven, and all this mighty host / In horrible destruction laid thus low..."  [Not "laid low thus," but rather "laid thus low." That's a beautiful construction. Maybe that's the influence that Latin construction had on English. You can see the influence of the King James Bible style here. Milton could assume a wide audience for his poetry because even the common working man was Bible literate and therefore had a taste for beautiful words.]

Milton was a Puritan and the idea of democracy was so infused into that belief that even demons had to vote on everything, including whether to break with God.

Heaven was an unassailable fortress so a direct military assault on God was out of the question. I like the way (below) Milton describes Heaven's defenses:

"...The Towers of Heaven are filled / With armed watch that render all access / Impregnable. Oft on the bordering deep / Encamp their legions, or with secret wing / scout far and wide into the Night / Scorning surprise..."

Wow! Heaven uses an active defence which relies not only on walls but on reconnaissance and confrontation with the enemy at night. It sounds like something modern defenders would do.

Enraged and humiliated, Lucifer decided the best way to hurt God was to hurt his pampered creation, the human race. God had given us free will and Lucifer would use that to tempt us to do evil, as he did with Adam and Eve (above).  God would have to suffer the agony of witnessing our betrayal and ingratitude.

Milton was great at evocative images. Here (the picture above and the text below) he describes the kind of enormous Leviathan that shared the world with man before the time of Noah. Milton's Hell wasn't confined to the deep underneath the Earth. In remote areas it could also be found in lakes of lava on the surface, and was sometimes seen by humans.

How would you like to have been the seamen who witnessed that?

All paperback editions of Paradise Lost were not created equal. Here's (above) an annotated one from 1999 that has a good typeface and no bleed through.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


I hadn't intended to do another astronomy post so soon after the last one, but I've come across pictures that are just too interesting to withhold.

This one (above) appears to be a lump of clay shaped by a palette knife, but it's actually a comet called 67P Churyumorov. A probe named Rosetta just arrived there and is now in orbit attempting to locate a landing site for its robot lander.

Here's (above) another view. It looks like Rosetta's current orbit might take it laterally around the asteroid.

Here's Saturn being eclipsed by a shadow from, of all things, our own Moon. A commenter says this event isn't as recent as I thought. It coincided with the 9/11 attack.

It's strange to recall that only a couple of decades ago the proposition that underground moisture existed on Mars was considered controversial. Nowadays the evidence seems to jump out at us with every new batch of photographs.

Here's (above) a 5 kilometer high mesa on Mars which has undergone a collapse, possibly due to groundwater undermining a layer of subterranean salt. Some kind of dark material is revealed and some of it seems to have been carried down to the ground in a pattern possibly influenced by a liquid.

Here's (above) an odd one. It's Galaxy M106, about 23 million light years distant. Those purple spider legs appear at first glance to be carrying material away from the center but actually they're doing the opposite. They're jets fast-tracking matter into a super massive black hole in the galaxy's center. How can the jets be as large as they are? How come they're sticking out of the plane of the rest of the galaxy?

Here's (above) an even odder one. It's a supernova occuring in a double star system in a nearby galaxy,  Galaxy M82SN. The star had already explosively thrown off it's shell, alerting astronomers on Earth that it was about to enter the next stage where it turns into a white dwarf and emits jets of Xrays. Telescopes all over the world (including Chandra, the orbiting Xray telescope) were immediately trained on this star, only....only there were no Xrays. "So what?" you say.

Well, it's an important discovery. The two squares at the bottom are before and after shots of the dwarf, and they're empty. That indicates that our model for how supernovas occur is wrong. Good Grief! The universe continues to amaze!