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» 2009 » June

Monthly ArchiveJune 2009

Commentary & Media 29 Jun 2009 03:37 pm

The Price ($0.00) Is Right

The July 2009 issue of Reader’s Digest has a piece titled “The Price ($0.00) Is Right.” Chris Anderson, editor of Wired and author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price, discusses the various ways that “free” can work to the advantage of both online businesses (specifically publishers) and customers.

While some take an either/or approach, Anderson is more nuanced: It’s OK, he says, for sites to give away mountains of free content, and it’s also OK for them to phase in some system of paying for it. He believes the New York Times, for instance, had no choice but to begin giving away content online if it wanted to remain “a thought leader that maintains its leadership by dominating the conversation.” He is a believer in tiered marketing — offering a free level of service and a paid level, with enough bells and whistles at the paid end to entice non-payers to give it a try.

Even customers who are paying nothing are bringing something to the table — “time and attention,” Anderson says. He believes that advertisers will pay to have access to both, but that sounds a lot like the philosophy that’s driven Internet news for the last ten years or so, the one that many papers are abandoning because they can’t find enough paying advertisers. In some ways, I this failure is actually a failure of imagination — not thinking far enough outside the traditional advertiser base and not accepting that in 2009 it may take 140 small- to medium-sized customers to make up for one gigantic account from years gone by. It’s hard to readjust the scale of your thinking about advertiser size downward when your potential circulation has increased exponentially — from maybe a few thousand or hundred thousand in a relatively concentrated geographical area, to millions and millions around the world — but it has to be done.

Ironically (I suppose) the piece isn’t available at the Reader’s Digest site, at least not anywhere that I could find it. I paid $3.99 for my copy at the Wal-Mart checkout. I’m not a regular RD reader, but I do pick up the occasional issue and am seldom disappointed in the variety of articles and features. Maybe this is the best way to ensure paid customers: Providing enough quality content to keep them reaching for their wallets.

Music 28 Jun 2009 09:30 pm

Raise Your Fist and Yell


Back in 1987, I listened to Alice Cooper’s Raise Your Fist and Yell so much that I wore out one cassette and bought a second. After I left that one on the seat of my car one hot day, the case melted around the cassette, ruining it. So it’s been a couple decades since I’ve heard the album, until my wife gave me a CD copy for my birthday last week.

What a difference 22 years makes! Cooper creeps into the metal age with generic melodies and anti-social lyrics. Until he starts singing, it’s hard to differentiate one song from the next, and co-writer Kane Roberts’ guitar playing is uniformly fast — and bland — throughout. The only redeeming songs are ”Freedom,” a blistering anti-censorship track that opens the album, and the “Chop, Chop, Chop/Gail/Roses on White Lace” trilogy that closes it. Here, Cooper plays a ferocious serial killer, one who is truly frightening, unlike his kinder, gentler sociopath from last year’s Along Came a Spider. Other tunes are either forgettable (”Step On You,” “Not That Kind of Love”), achingly average (”Prince of Darkness”) or downright embarrassing (”Give the Radio Back” and “Lock Me Up,” the latter with a snicker-inducing voice over by Nightmare on Elm Street’s Robert Englund).

Nothing screams late ’80s like that Jim Warren cover (above). I feel self-conscious listening to this one in the car. Maybe if I leave it on the seat on a hot day … 



Commentary 27 Jun 2009 06:57 am

Lovers continue to create controversy


Below is my June 25 column from The Alliance Review:

More than 400 years after it was originally written and performed, William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” still causes controversy. Certainly, this is the mark of a classic.

In a letter published Monday in “Dear Abby,” a parent fretted over her son’s reading the play in his freshman year of high school. Abby, bless her heart, defended the tale of star-crossed lovers who kill themselves, but perhaps unwittingly made a distinction that exposure to the work is only OK when “it’s done under the guidance of a teacher,” as if having an impressionable teen read the play on his own is similar to his self-medicating from Dad’s liquor cabinet.

I have an image of small print at the bottom of the prologue that notes, “Caution: Professional readers on a closed track; do not attempt at home,” or some other variation on car-commercial legalese.

In my teaching experience, I have never encountered a student — not one! — who found the suicides of the two main characters to be romantic. Usually, it’s just the opposite: They find the characters’ deaths — one by poison and one by dagger — to be brain-numbingly stupid. They often fault Shakespeare for this, even after learning that he borrowed the plot from an earlier story to such a degree that any writer who tried the same thing today would likely be charged with plagiarism.
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Music 26 Jun 2009 08:45 am



I had the chance recently to listen to the debut CD from Chickenfoot, a supergroup made up of ex-Van Halen lead singer Sammy Hagar, ex-Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith (don’t know if he’s an “ex” or not), and guitar god Joe Satriani.

Based on the finished product, I picture the four members — or their agents and record companies — getting together and figuring that if each member brings 50,000 or so fans to the table, the album could be a moderate hit and an excuse to tour outdoor venues and make some cash this summer. Because this thing plays like a well-calculated corporate buy-in — very slick, very commercial, very safe.
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Books 25 Jun 2009 07:20 am

The truth about ‘Lies’


Since the phenomenal success of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, novelists have been falling all over one another to come up with the next big, Bible-based mystery thriller. It’s tempting to lump Brad Meltzer’s Book of Lies (new to paperback this month) into that category, but you have to credit him with finding a unique spin that makes this the first, and possibly only, entry in the scripturally oriented comic-book thriller subgenre.

Not for a moment will readers buy into the convoluted plot that combines Depression-era writer Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman, with the story of Cain and Abel, a mysterious cabal intent on finding the first murder weapon, and an emotionally fragile protagonist who watched his father kill his mother. From such disparate materials, Meltzer weaves an intricate story, making use of the same techniques of short, short chapters, multiple points of view, and frequent cliffhangers that propelled readers through The Da Vinci Code, but  does it so charmingly that one can forget about the implausibility of it all and just go with it.
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Media & Movies & Television 24 Jun 2009 07:07 am

Even cartoons can’t break the law(s)


I’ve been watching vintage Looney Tunes cartoons from the fifth DVD collection the past few days, including one of my all-time favorites, “Ali Baba Bunny.” The cartoon is laugh-out-loud funny, with some of my favorite Bugs and Daffy bits. Daffy is all greed as he attempts to steal a vast treasure, and Bugs is the epitome of grace as he bails out his web-footed friend. I remember watching this as part of “The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie,” first as a kid myself, and later with my daughter. We both laughed out loud at the “Hassan chop!” line, and Daffy’s assertion that he is “socially secure” and “comfortably well-off.”

Watching all these ‘toons reminds me of the Cartoon Laws of Physics, familiar to most animation buffs as an explanation of how gravity works (or doesn’t work) in the cartoon world.

Comic books & Movies 23 Jun 2009 06:44 am

King-sized adaptation


A couple years ago, I splurged and spent ten bucks to buy a copy of “Giant Classic King Kong” on eBay. It is a comic-book adaptation of the classic adventure film. Apparently, Gold Key released it first  in 1968, as some copies have  the GK logo in the upper left-hand corner. My copy looks like the one shown above, with the Whitman logo in place of Gold Key. I believe Gold Key was an imprint of Western, so it wasn’t (and isn’t) surprising to find the two logos interchanged on comics covers of the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s. Apparently, the Gold Key version is standard comic size, while this Whitman edition is a larger treasury size, released to coincide with the 1976 remake of “Kong.”

Anyway, back in the days before DVDs were released within six months of a movie’s theatrical release, options for fans to relive a favorite sci-fi or fantasy film — short of seeing it again — were limited: You could read the novelization, collect the trading cards, or buy the comic adaptation.
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Movies 22 Jun 2009 05:21 pm



What I like most about Pixar films is how the various elements that go into movie making come together so seamlessly. Everybody is doing his job — screenwriters, character designers, voice talents, and animators — to make an end product that works on every level.

“Up” is a terrific film, a poignant story of love, loss and redemption that plays powerfully to adults without sacrificing anything to the kiddie crowd. It’s an all-ages movie in the very best sense. I can imagine lots of little ones seeing and enjoying it today, and then coming back to it with their own kids and grand kids and picking up on another entire subtext that they weren’t able to appreciate the first time ’round.
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Commentary & Family life 20 Jun 2009 07:39 am

Last wagon ride

Below is my June 18 column from The Alliance Review.

As my wife and I were walking Sunday morning, we passed a young mother pulling her son in a wagon. Suddenly, he jumped out and raced through what was evidently his yard. “I’ll see you ’round back,” he shouted over his shoulder. Then he was gone.

It is as apt a metaphor for raising kids as I can think of. One moment you’re pulling the wagon, keeping one eye peeled for what’s ahead and the other on the precious cargo behind; the next, you’re staring down at the handle and the remnants of the dependence, wondering what happened, stunned at how quickly the change occurred.

The night before, my wife and I and a few family members and friends had been sitting around a picnic table in the dying light of a beautiful summer’s day, watching as our daughter opened high school graduation cards and gifts. I realized that a major part of our lives as parents was coming to an end. We’d navigated the stormy seas of adolescence: the first love and heartbreak, the academic and athletic successes and failures, the mood swings that took us up and down like yo-yos. We’d survived the driver’s license and the dances, the sprained ankles and pulled ligaments, the auditions and ruminations and recriminations (whoever decided it was important for kids to know at age 18 how they will spend the rest of their lives was crazy) that go along with shepherding another life until he or she can start making intelligent decisions without you.
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Commentary 19 Jun 2009 07:02 am

R.I.P. with Madison Avenue

The one place a person should be exempt from the forces of marketing is the grave. But it’s not meant to be, as these Precious Moment, Star Trek, MLB, and American Kennel Club caskets and urns from Eternal Image demonstrate. How one is laid to rest is a highly personal decision, so if somebody really wants to be buried in a Nascar casket, more power to them. But it’s not for me.  

In other words, I may be a big comic-book fan, but nobody better slap my remains inside a Spider-Man coffin. Excuse me, “casket.” The word coffin is no longer in favor, as it apparently has a negative connotation, as well it should, since it’s tied to death and all.  

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