Monthly ArchiveAugust 2007
Commentary 29 Aug 2007 05:43 pm
Internet Explorer just threw up the strangest error box as I attempted to close my browser. It read, “This window is busy. Closing this window may cause problems. Do you still want to close this window?”
What kind of problems — home foreclosure, loss of life or limb, or a clogged kitchen sink?
Luckily, none of the above occurred — and my computer is still running, too.
File the subject of this vintage comic book ad under Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time:
A well-meaning father hands his son a BB gun a few days before his birthday and proceeds to set up an indoor target range for the little shooter.
And it’s not like the range is in the basement or the garage or someplace even moderately safe. No, it’s right in the living room, where the whole family can put their eyes out with a stray pellet.
You’ve gotta love those liberal 1950s, man. Click on the thumbnail below to see a larger version of the ad.
Commentary 28 Aug 2007 04:02 am
I was standing in line at Staples this weekend and looking at a display of personal alcohol testers.
As the name indicates, this little machine records the blood alcohol level of the user so he or she will know if it is safe to drive.
In theory, this sounds logical, but in practice, not so much. Does a person who is drunk have the presence of mind to blow into a personal alcohol tester, and if so, would he or she also be sensible enough to follow its directive and stay off the road?
My guess is no. People who have that kind of self-control either do not drink to excess or have made other arrangements — designated drivers or hiding the keys — before choosing to drink.
Comic books 27 Aug 2007 04:30 am
“The Adventures of Little Archie” is a 96-page trade paperback collection of vintage tales from the 1960s. The author and illustrator is Bob Bolling, who provides a new cover and introduction for the volume.
According to the back cover, many collectors consider Bolling to be the “Archie Comics’ equivalent of ‘the duck man,’ Carl Barks.” This is stretching things quite a bit. What Barks did during his lengthy stint writing and drawing Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge is, quite honestly, some of the most brilliant creative work inside or outside of comics. Perhaps Archie fans who see Bolling’s work in a similar light are blinded by nostalgia; I came to both Barks and “Little Archie” as an adult, so I am not fooled. Which isn’t to say that the present volume isn’t good. Point in fact, it’s great, but it isn’t up to the level of Barks. Then again, what is?
The book reprints eight stories of Little Archie, beginning with the first, “Little Archie on Mars,” and concluding with one of the best, an homage to Richard Matheson’s “Incredible Shrinking Man” called “The Incredible Cat Caper.”
Readers looking for prepubescent adventures of the entire Riverdale gang will be disappointed. While Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the rest make occasional appearances, most of the characters Bolling creates are separate from the rest of the Archie universe. These include green-skinned mad scientist Doctor Doom and his boy assistant Chester, Archie’s seafaring Uncle Burt, and aliens Abercrombie and Stitch.
While Bolling draws Little Archie in a familiar cartoon style, many of the secondary characters are rendered more realistically, as if they just stepped out of an adventure strip. An escaped gorilla looks more real than Little Archie, even when they appear together in the same panel. Ditto for Archie’s mom (quite the dish as Bolling renders her) and many of the strip’s villains.
I have been on an Archie kick of late, and this volume keeps my interest alive. It was originally published in 2004, so the Archie Comics folks are past due for a second volume.
Commentary 25 Aug 2007 01:04 pm
On the topic of clarity in writing, William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White advise: “When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair.”
I thought of the line after reading a recent Open Forum letter critical of one of my columns. You can read the original column, “Of doors and death,” by clicking on the title. You can read the letter it provoked, “Having faith in Jesus Christ,” by clicking that title.
I am flattered when my writing inspires a response, especially one that is carefully considered. But my intention in the piece under question was not to discredit religion (although I’ve traveled that path before), but to talk about the importance of clear writing.
The misunderstanding was twofold. First, when I wrote that William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” was “my Bible in college,” I should have followed Associated Press guidelines and made the word Bible lowercase. Zinsser is not a substitute for scripture, but he was essential in the development of my style, just as a Betty Crocker cookbook is the bible for aspiring chefs.
Secondly, I did not consider the religious link between doorways and death, although one definitely exists. My first example of wordiness came from a sign I saw posted on a restaurant door. The door was not metaphysical; it was real. My second example was people who avoid the verb “die” in obituaries. Wording like “gone to Heaven,” “ascended to paradise” and “gained her eternal reward” are flowery, but less precise. I said that I preferred “died” to any of those, and I still do. Again, however, it was not my intention to disabuse anybody of a belief in an afterlife.
Strunk and White also advise: “Do not explain too much.” With the column in question, I should have explained a little more to improve my odds of saying what I meant to say.
Books 22 Aug 2007 02:00 pm
I recently read The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which claims to be an unpublished adventure of Sherlock Holmes written by his companion, John H. Watson, M.D., and edited by Nicholas Meyer.
Fans of Holmes know that it is a long-standing conceit to claim the detective was a flesh-and-blood person and that his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was simply the editor of the Watson-related mysteries. Meyer does not relinquish that belief here until his acknowledgements at the end, when he gives Doyle credit for creating one of the most enduring fictional heroes of all time.
The story itself is a near pitch-perfect copy of Doyle’s literary style, something that is not easy to pull off, if the profusion of poorly written Holmes pastiches is any indication.
The plot itself is simple: Watson secures Sigmund Freud to wean Holmes off a nasty cocaine habit (the seven-per-cent solution of the title). Meyer, who also co-wrote and directed the best of the Star Trek films, The Wrath of Khan, keeps the story moving briskly and manages to work in many familiar faces and objects, including Toby, the bloodhound with the ultra-sensitive nose, the detective’s Stradivarius, and Watson’s often-referenced war injury.
It’s all good fun and makes me want to revisit Holmes in the original Doyle stories. Isn’t that what a good pastiche should do?
One good thing about the Internet is it allows you to stop those irritating tickles of the mind caused by half-remembered faces in movies or lines in books and short stories.
Case in point: I was watching an episode of “The Fugitive” recently and recognized one of the actors playing a Tucson detective, but I couldn’t remember where else I had seen him. A few days later, I saw his face again in the 1953 “House of Wax,” also playing a police officer. But this still wasn’t where I had seen him before.
Prior to the Internet, finding his name and list of credits would have required consultation with several print sources, none of which I have handy. These may or may not have listed an actor with such a minor part, and certainly no single source would have included both his film and TV credits.
Internet Movie Data Base to the rescue! There, I found the character’s name from “House of Wax” (Sgt. Jim Shane) and that he was played by Dabbs Greer. By clicking on Greer’s name, I found he was a versatile character actor who had appeared in literally hundreds of film and television roles spanning five decades.
But the role I remembered him for was the elderly Paul Edgecombe in “The Green Mile.” I never realized he was the same actor who played Rev. Alden on the “Little House on the Prairie” television show, a staple of my Monday night viewing as a kid.
Greer died earlier this year. I would post his photo, but my blog site is being cantankerous today. You can see him as Rev. Alden here.
End of irritating mental tickle.
Think about how much of our lives is consumed by marketing. Looking down right now, I note that my shirt is a billboard for a business (albeit defunct), my shorts and shoes bear the logo of the company that made them, the monitor on my computer is branded by Dell, and the telephone next to the monitor says Panasonic.
And that’s just one quick scan of the immediate area. My cupboards are filled with brand-name products, or off-brand products bought in reaction to brand names. The TV pumps in hundreds of ads each day, as does the radio and Internet.
In 2005, automobile manufacturers spent $20.9 billion to get their messages out to the public, according to Ad Age. That was enough to put them, collectively, on top of the advertising heap. The top company, Proctor and Gamble, spent $4.6 billion to spread the word on its products. Even a relative lightweight (by comparison) like communications wannabe Vonage spent $414 million in 2005, good for only eighty-sixth place.
A wise person once said that nothing happens until somebody sells something, and he or she was right: A product, an idea, a way of life, a political policy, all are sold and bought everyday, with life-changing results for all concerned.
Where does one go to escape? Nowhere, quite honestly, because even if you row yourself to a deserted island or plop down in the middle of a wooded glade, how did you decide on that particular deserted island or that specific wooded glade?
Chances are you read about it, saw it on TV, or heard a blurb on the radio. Or if it was recommended by a friend or relative, that person learned about it through advertising, or by word of mouth from somebody else in the marketing business.
Everybody has something to sell. More’s the pity.
I played racquetball with my daughter and her boyfriend yesterday. Both are in their teens, and both are considerably younger than the two people with whom I usually play racquetball. (The fact that they also are considerably younger than I am isn’t lost on me, either.)
Anyway, with their shiny new bodies, they were able to dive, pivot and rotate in ways I would never attempt. At one point, my daughter skidded across the floor, the rubber handle from her racket leaving a long black gash across the floor.
I won’t — and can’t — play that way. Not and get up for work the next day. Not and get up at all the next day. My strategy was to play smarter, not harder, to select where to place my shots, to return serves to where they weren’t, and to use their own speed against them by hitting the ball softly.
And you know what? It worked. I won all three games we played.
The real victory, though, came in crawling out of bed this morning without the benefit of Ben Gay. That’s the sign of a real champion.