Friday, July 31, 2009

Obama Has A Bud Light

President Obama reportedly had a Bud Light during the "beer summit" at the White House yesterday. Is it pure coincidence that Bud Light also happens to be the best selling beer in America?
If the President doesn't really like beer at all, then his best choice politically would indeed have been Bud Light: it's American and it's the nation's favorite. Even more so if, as this photo suggests, he didn't really intend to drink a full beer anyway. So the taste is irrelevant. (Bud Light is not a favorite of mine either, Mr. President.) Did you notice how, in the video footage of this event released by the White House, the President repeatedly went after the pretzels and peanuts in those little silver bowls with much more gusto than he did that almost untouched glass of Bud Light languishing in front of him?

Twinkies Actually Have A Short Shelf-Life

Contrary to urban legend, Hostess Twinkies do not, it turns out, have an indefinite shelf-life. They are actually pulled off store shelves if they do not sell within a mere two weeks, apparently.

On a related (if slightly disturbing) note, the official Twinkies website contains the following sentence, "Whether we're carrying a supply in the glove compartment for a quick on-the-road snack, freezing them, deep frying them, or eating them right out of the package, millions of Twinkie lovers would agree with creator Jimmy Dewar's statement that 'Twinkies was the best darn-tootin' idea I ever had.'"

....."carrying a supply in the glove compartment"?!? Is that really so commonplace in America that it's mentioned as a casual aside in marketing material on a corporate website (along with deep frying the things)? Heaven help us....

That photo at left, by the way, is posted (sort of randomly) on that same official Twinkies website. Does that lady look like she's got an emergency box of Twinkies stashed in her glove compartment.....

I also found it noteworthy that the FAQs section on that same website contains a mere six questions, one of which is, "What is the difference between a Ding Dong and a King Don?" Serves me right for looking.....

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Clear Picture Painted By New Poll

According to a New York Times/CBS News poll whose results were released today, the percentage of those polled who describe health care costs as a serious threat to the American economy has actually dropped over the past month.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tron 2 Test Footage

Did you ever see the 1982 Disney science fiction movie "Tron"? I remember seeing it in the theater back then and not being too impressed. The combination of live action and animation may have been a little too ambitious for that era. Nonetheless, perhaps because of its "computer" themes, which were significantly ahead of their time, the film has since become a cult classic, and is shown on televsion all the time.

While it was at best mildly succesful at the box office back in 1982, for years there have been rumors that Disney was preparing a sequel. Three minutes of test footage for a new film, again featuring the star of the original, Jeff Bridges, was shown at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2008, under the tentative title "TR2N," a name which spawned a million "Rick Rolls" on You Tube.

Nonetheless, that same footage (now converted to 3D) was shown again at this year's San Diego Comic-Con and has been posted for real on You Tube. Here it is:

Solid Advice On Children's TV

Now that I am the father of a young child, I've noticed that there are many more quasi-educational childrens' shows on televsion today than there were when I grew up in the 1970s.

My daughter already has a few favorite shows, one of which is called "Yo Gabba Gabba." The half-hour program itself is a little bizarre and hard to describe. But each episode features at least one song-and-dance number. Many of these songs, I've come to appreciate, actually contain positive, aspirational messages (like "Keep trying/Keep trying/Don't give up/Never give up"). Why is it that these sorts of things stop being reinforced so abruptly when children hit a certain age? Is it that, once they've reach school age, they're assumed to have already become too cynical? If so, what does that say about our society?

In any event, some of the other songs contain very straightforward, practical advice, that's actually good for people of any age. Like "Don't bite your friends," embedded below, advice that Chris Brown might have benefitted from a few months ago:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

People Magazine Article Today About Comic-Con

"People" magazine has published an article today about the San Diego Comic-Con held last weekend.

It says a lot about the cost of the popular success Comic-Con has enjoyed in recent years, however, that the article is titled, "Comic-Con Round Up: Where Megan Fox, Daughtry and Anna Paquin Partied!" And that it never once mentions comic books.

That's Chris Daughtry and Megan Fox "partying" together at left, by the way. No doubt also sharing their equally genuine love of comic books. (Where are you trying to stick that replica light saber in your left hand, Megan?)

Why Are TV Ads Louder Than The Shows?

As it turns out, television stations aren't actually turning up the volume when the commercials air. Because FCC regulations cap the maximum strength of the audio signals that broadcasters are allowed send out, the loudest TV commercial cannot legally be any louder than the loudest part of any actual program. But television programs contain a constantly-changing mix of audio levels for dramatic effect.

Most advertisers, however, just want to grab viewers' attention for 30 seconds. To do that, the audio tracks of commercials are intentionally mixed so that every moment is as loud as possible within legal limits. “Nothing is allowed to be subtle,” says Brian Dooley, Editor-At-Large for “Everything is loud – the voices, the music and the sound effects.”

Spencer Critchley, writing in Digital Audio, explained it as follows, “The peak levels of commercials are no higher than the peak levels of program content. But the average level is way, way higher, and that’s the level your ears care about."

Monday, July 27, 2009

This Chair is Medicare

Obese Americans (those who are 30 or more pounds overweight) cost the country an estimated $147 billion in weight-related medical bills in 2008, a new study shows, according to the USA Today this morning. That's double what it was just a decade ago, apparently.

The total cost of treating obesity has increased dramatically because more people are obese, according to lead researcher Eric Finkelstein, a health economist with RTI International, a non-profit think tank in Raleigh, N.C. About 34% of adults — more than 72 million — in the USA were obese in 2006, up from 23% in 1994, according to government data.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Kevin Smith at Comic-Con 2009

Director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy), who is a long-time comic book fan himself, has been a featured guest at the San Diego Comic-Con for many years now. Each year, he more or less just holds court for an hour in the biggest meeting room at the Con, answering questions posed by a huge audience of his fans. He's always irreverent and unapologetically vulgar. And hilarious.

The clip embedded below is from his appearance at this year's Comic-Con International San Diego, just a couple of days ago. It's 10 minutes long, but has several laugh out loud moments, including his take on the "Twilight" series and its legion of pre-teenage girl fans. This is part 2 of 6. If you like his movies, then you'll like this. If you don't, definitely don't bother....

As the clip begins, he has just been asked whether his future films will include more openly gay characters.

Joe Biden's "Deep Thoughts" On Russia

Vice President Joe Biden offered his thoughts on Russia in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published yesterday. Russians, he said, "have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they're in a situation where the world is changing before them and they're clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable."

I wonder what President Obama's reaction was to these comments, given his efforts to "reset" relations with Russia and his pledge last month with President Dmitry Medvedev to finalize a nuclear weapons treaty by December?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pres. Obama Clarifies Remarks About Arrest in Cambridge

According to the New York Times today, "President Obama said Friday that he 'could have calibrated' his words more carefully in the controversy over the arrest of a Harvard professor, but added that he believed there was an 'overreaction' by both sides in a case that has inflamed racial tensions across the country.

“'I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station,' Mr. Obama added. 'I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well. My sense is you’ve got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved and the way they would have liked it to be resolved.'”

Arrest of Harvard Professor Gates in Cambridge

Did the Cambridge police act "stupidly" in connection with this arrest, as President Obama asserted at his press conference on Wendesday? Or, more darkly, was the arrest a racist act, pure and simple?

Or is this in part about two men, one a police officer and the other a Harvard professor, who are each used to being treated with more deference (and maybe obedience) than either of them showed the other during their interaction, resulting in an ego-driven escalation of the situation to an unnecessary point?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"The Funk" At Comic-Con

The biggest comic book convention in the world starts today in California, "Comic-Con International: San Diego." This is the convention's 40th year now. It has become a well-known event in recent years, even among the general public, and an important centerpiece of the City of San Diego's annual civic calendar. Tickets for the four-day convention now sell out months in advance and are highly prized, as are nearby hotel rooms.

What is less well known about it, however, is "The Funk."

What is The Funk? Well, "The Funk" is a smell. An odor, really, and an overpowering one at that. It's a terrible rolling fog of concentrated body odor. Like the bottom of a high school gym locker. But unlike most teenagers who eat fairly well balanced meals at home under parental supervision, this odor also betrays a fearsome collective ill health: bad diets of fast food, perpetual under-hydration and more than a hint of "spice" derived from chronic halitosis.

The Funk comes from packing thousands and thousands of comic books fans and D&D players, whose collective hygene is suspect at the best of times, into one large room for an entire day. As the day goes on, and as the convention fills up with its over 30,000 daily attendees, the big hall becomes hotter and hotter, to the point where even the industrial air conditioning can no longer fully compensate. Fans, many of them heavy-set, begin to sweat ever more profusely into their hawaiian shirts and trench coats and Bobba Fett costumes, as the temperature rises and as all the walking around the Con carrying bags of new purchases takes its toll.

Then in the early afternoon, maybe you step outside to get some lunch or a drink or whatever. When you return an hour or so later and push open the doors to the convention hall: pow, that's when The Funk hits you square in the face. Maybe you actually recoil, a little staggered. But then in an instant you steel yourself and thrust back into the hall for more "fun."
That's Comic-Con.

Taco Bell Chihuahua Dies

Gidget the chihuahua, whose Taco Bell commercials in the late 1990s made her a star, suffered a massive stroke at her trainer's home in California on Tuesday. She was 15.

On an almost entirely unrelated matter, embedded below is a 40 second You Tube video of a man who walks into a Taco Bell wearing only his tight whites and asks for a job application.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Equal Protection Clause

Today the Senate fell two votes short of the 60 necessary to approve a measure allowing a person with a concealed weapon permit in one state to also hide his firearm when visiting another state, according to the Associated Press.

Don't Drink And Sleep

Former NFL star Steve McNair had a blood-alcohol level twice Tennessee's legal limit for driving when his girlfriend shot him to death as he slept while sitting upright on a sofa, according to the Associated Press.

Who would have imagined that falling asleep drunk on a sofa could have consequences more dire than having a hand mischievously placed in a bowl of warm water?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The "Real" San Diego Comic-Con

I attended every San Diego Comic-Con from 1985 through 2001.

Some time in the early 1990s, the Con moved to the new San Diego Convention Center from the much smaller (and tired) Golden Hall. In connection with that move, it re-named itself "Comic-Con International San Diego" and broadened its emphasis to include television shows, movies and other media. Attendance more than doubled the first year after those changes were made, and continued to grow rapidly in subsequent years.

But in the 1980s, it was a much smaller affair, more focussed on cardboard boxes of old comic books than on Hollywood celebrities and upcoming summer blockbusters like it is now. The Con only broke the 10,000 attendance barrier at the very end of the 80s. By comparison, it's total attendance now exceeds 125,000, and sells out entirely months in advance.

Could you picture Angelina Jolie, who attended the Con in 2003 to promote one of her "Tomb Raider" movies, walking through the San Diego Comic-Con in 1982 pictured above? Or participating in the "women in comics" panel held that year also pictured above? (Photos by Alan Light.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Coincidence or Concerning?

Yesterday afternoon as I was leaving my local grocery store, I noticed a guy at the far end of the parking lot. He first caught my eye because he was almost cartoonishly huge: he looked a little like the 1990s pro wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (pictured above). He was wearing jeans and no shirt in the hot sun. But what really caught my eye was the machete swinging in his right hand as he strode purposefully down the sidewalk, like he was looking for someone. Not wanting to be in a real-life Tarantino film, I quickly got in my car and drove off. But maybe that was nothing, I thought, as I pulled away. (Maybe that wasn't even a real machete?)

As I turned the corner out of the parking lot, however, I saw another unusually big guy. He was also wearing jeans and no shirt. This guy looked like the NFL linebacker Ray Lewis, and, oddly, seemed to leaning on a decorative cane in his right hand, while he just stood there staring down the street. He was staring in the general direction of The Machete. But The Machete was more than a block away, and they didn't seem to be interacting. "Coincidence?" I wondered, as I drove on.

At the next intersection, a car was idling at the stop sign on my left. It was an old T-bird with a bunch of dents. The driver was a young guy who appeared to be in his mid-20s. He was staring back down the street toward Ray Lewis as he talked on a cel phone. Was he in a gang or something? (He was wearing some sort of nylon bandana.)

Maybe not: he then looked up and politely waved me on with a friendly smile... (And I smiled back and hit the gas, a little concerned but wonderign whether that was all just one big coincidence.)

Stimulus: $2.5 Million for 2-LB Ham

According to the President's "Recovery.Gov" website, one recipient of federal stimulus money was paid $2,531,600 for "HAM, WATER ADDED, COOKED, FROZEN, SLICED, 2-LB."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Minute Sales of Role-Playing Games

The popularity of pen and paper role-playing games like "Dungeons & Dragons" has fallen dramatically from the mid-1980s peak. I didn't realize how far they'd fallen until now, however.

Today, most publishers (other than Wizards of the Coast and a few others) are lucky to sell even 1,000 copies of anything they produce, according to James Mishler, a former editor of "Comics and Games Retailer," in a post on his blog at this link below:

If that's true, the photo above, taken at Gen Con 2007, may be of every living "gamer." (Notice how every person in that picture is male, caucasian, and over 30?)

Mischa is 5150

Actress Mischa Barton was placed under an involuntary psychiatric hold (also known as a "5150") by the Los Angeles Police Department on Wendesday evening and transferred to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code authorizes authorities to hold a person involuntarily for up to 72 hours if they present a danger to themselves or others, or suffer from a mental disorder.
Was the first warning sign when she was photographed crying in her car (above)? Or was it when she was caught buying Bud Light (of all beers)?

PS: Van Halen's 1986 album "5150," their first with lead singer Sammy Hagar, was also named after the same California code section.

"Thundarr" Newspaper Comic Strip

I have written here previously about how as a child I loved the 1980s saturday morning cartoon "Thundarr the Barabarian." I also wrote about how Mego was to release a line of "Thundarr" action figures in 1983, but went bust before they came out. In the same wistful "if only" spirit, I offer the page above, which is from a proposed, but never published, "Thundarr" newspaper comic strip, which would have been drawn (like the sample above) by the legendary Jack Kirby.

Cronkite's "That's they way it is" almost wasn't

I remember thinking as a child in 1981 as I watched Walter Cronkite's last "CBS Evening News" broadcast that he must be leaving the show because he had only months to live, but didn't want to admit that on national television. (Good for him: I was way off. And he lived almost 30 years more, long enough to see that no other television news anchorman ever approached his stature.)

But did you know that his bosses at CBS News initially hated his signature "that's the way it is" sign-off? He discusses how he came up with that, and why, and how he was almost forced to stop using it during this 2 and a half minute clip from 1998 embedded below.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Proposed Health Care Reform Does Not Cut Costs

Yesterday, the chief of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said of the leading Democratic health care proposals in the House and Senate, "In the legislation that has been reported, we do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount and, on the contrary, the legislation significantly expands the federal responsibility for health care costs."

Hotel Bombings in Jakarta

Blasts hit the Ritz-Carlton and J.W. Marriot hotels this morning in Jakarta, Indonesia, killing at least nine people and injuring at least 50 more.
When I was in Jakarta on business in 2007, I stayed at that same Ritz-Carlton a couple of times. The first night I ever went there was quite an experience.

I had been working across town at a client's office until about 10 PM. But my firm had a driver on staff in Jakarta, so when I was finished there he was already waiting for me in the parking lot to drive me to my hotel, the Ritz-Carlton. Since I had gone to my meeting straight from the airport, I had not even checked in there yet. Not speaking much English, he drove me silently through the late night Jakarta traffic. I was surprised when he abruptly stopped about 20 minutes later, wordlessly, at what looked like the back entrance to a nice (but not luxurious), indoor shopping mall.

Used to the grand facades of luxury hotels in Asia (and the gauntlet of bomb-sniffing dogs and guards with hand-held mirrors stationed in front of them that is so common in the poorer, less stable capitals of southeast Asia) I was not expecting to be dropped off in front of a set of unpresupposing glass double-doors at a shopping mall. So when the car stopped, I didn't immediately get out. We both sat in the parked car silently, he and I, air conditioning still running, for what seemed like a couple of minutes. Finally I leaned forward and asked my driver if this was the Ritz-Carlton. Yes, he said, walk right through those glass doors. "Could we go to the front entrance of the hotel instead," I asked. No, he said. "Security. Not safe," was his response.

So I grabbed my bag and in I went. I was a little leery and skeptical, thinking this was all a big language barrier mix up. But in I went. Two uniformed guards stood next to an airport-style metal detector just inside these glass doors. I went through that and found myself inside a three story shopping mall that was closed for the night. I looked at the mall directory and saw no listing for the Ritz-Carlton hotel, however. (Language barrier mix up indeed, I thought to myself, now peeved.) So I marched back to those security guards at the door and asked about the hotel. To my surprise, one volunteered to walk me there. Great! Off we went.

He then proceeded to lead me accross the mall, lights dim and people-less, then down two floors to the lowest level, beyond a food court in a basement and then through some un-marked swinging doors that appeared to be a service entrance. Those swinging doors led into a long, dimly lit corridor with a low ceiling, the floor of which was covered in dirty linoleum. Flourescent lights flickered as we continued to walk for another five minutes through this winding service hallway, until we hit yet another airport-style metal detector staffed by a lone, bored security guard.

He jumped to attention and I went through that screening as well, as the other security guard waved goodbye to me. I was pointed to continue on, which I did (unescorted), until I hit a service elevator. I went up a few floors in that elevator and, bang, found myself among hardwood floors and soft music in the ornate atrium of the Ritz-Carlton.
As I was checking in, I asked the receptionist why the hotel's front entrance was sealed off and why I was led to the hotel via this unconventional way instead. "Security," was all she said on that topic, not even looking up at me as she said that, not mentioning that there had been, I later learned, previous bombings at luxury hotels in Jakarta less than two years before. But she then did lead me up to the nicest hotel suite that I've ever stayed in, complete with 20 foot high ceilings and a marble bathroom that was bigger than my entire apartment at the time.

As I watched the coverage of these bombings on CNN, I saw Indonesian officials at a loss to explain how these bombings could have happened yesterday, given all of this security at these luxury hotels. And all I could think of was that lone, bored security guard stationed at the metal detector in that linoleum service corridor, underpaid and half asleep in an ill-fitting uniform....

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

House Healthcare Bill: Sucker's Bet

Democrats in the House of Representativates unveiled a healthcare reform bill yesterday. It proposes, among other things, a surtax on the incomes of high-earning Americans to pay in part for the bill. House Democrats estimate that this surtax will raise $544 billion over 10 years, roughly half the cost of the bill over that time according to the (non-partisan) Congressional Budget Office. According to the New York Times this morning, the surtax would apply to any adjusted gross income exceeding $280,000 a year for an individual and $350,000 for a couple filing a joint return. The tax rates would range from 1 percent to 5.4 percent.

This bill also contains another provision stipulating that these surtax rates could rise significantly in 2013 if specified savings in federal health programs like Medicare and Medicaid were not, in fact, actually achieved by then. This provision effectively forces every high income American to place an involuntary suckers' bet that the federal government can actually realize these hypothetical savings in Medicare and Medicaid (self-servingly touted by these same politicians to gain support for this bill), while also simultaneously expanding coverage to 40 million more Americans.

Notably, these surtax provisions have been drafted by House Democrats in such a way that they will never apply to themselves, however. Speaker Pelosi's annual salary is $223,000 and rank and file congresspeople are paid an annual salary of $174,000. They're not suckers, obviously.

Naked In A Cemetery

A 51-year-old man told a police officer that he was naked in an Indiana cemetery because he had taken off his wet clothes after checking on his in-laws' grave and then wanted a closer look at some flowers. This according to the Associated Press.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Synergies: A Kong Kong Phooey Movie

It was announced yesterday that Alex Zamm, the director of Carrot Top’s “Chairman of the Board” as well as “Dr. Doolittle: Million Dollar Mutts,” is developing a live action movie adapatation of the 1970s saturday morning cartoon “Hong Kong Phooey” (pictured at left). The title character was a talking dog, voiced by Scatman Crothers, who transforms from a janitor into a bungling kung fu super hero.

I liked this cartoon as a child. But how can this combination fail to produce a movie that is anything other than scat, man.

Don't believe me? Remember the live action "Scooby Doo" film that was released (to terrible reviews) in 2002? The trailer for that movie is embedded below. Can you even make it through the full 2 minutes?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Zoo Threatens To Kill Animals Due to Budget Cuts

Zoo New England issued a press release yesterday warning that state budget cuts may force them to close two Boston-area zoos and to euthanize some of their animals, a possibility that the Massachusetts governor's office categorically dismissed today.

Kim Jong Il Has Cancer

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, who has looked gaunt and frail during his few public appearances in recent months, is suffering from pancreatic cancer, South Korea's YTN TV network reported Monday.
The photo above is from his earlier, healthier days, taken while he performed an official "inspection." If this report is accurate, however, Kim may feel these roles to be reversed today, with him the one standing rigidly at attention and smiling nervously, while pancreatic cancer menacingly strokes its chin.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Let's Play "Hide The Horn"

Two men were seriously injured during the traditional Running of the Bulls in the Spanish city of Pamplona on Sunday, one day after another runner was gored to death there for the first time since 2003, according to Reuters.
The two guys in the photo above were apparently among the "lucky" participants who were not seriously harmed today. But how will they explain that injury later, once they get home?
"You see, I was running with the bulls in Pamplona and then all of a sudden...."

Michael Jackson Was An "Anesthesia Addict"

Medical professionals have reportedly said that Michael Jackson was an "anesthesia addict," who would would seek out Propofol and other drugs that would sedate him or knock him out, according to TMZ. Several Los Angeles doctors have told TMZ it was known in medical circles that Jackson used dentists to feed his habit.
Maybe he was just scoring surgical masks...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Obama in Ghana: Skip the Okra Soup

In 2002 I went to Ghana on business for a week. Very warm, friendly people. (Though I did see a lot of Osama Bin Laden t-shirts for sale.) On my last day there, I asked my hosts if we could go to a restaurant that served ghanaian food. They happily obliged and off we went to an outdoor place very near the US embassy in the capital city, Accra. Once we were seated and given menus, my hosts said, tantalizingly, that they were hesitant to order the okra soup with banku (pictured above), because it was very spicy and tended to make non-Ghanaians "sick." Nonsense, I said, that sounds great. Let' get it.
So, after their worried glances turned into knowing smiles, we did. And I ate an entire bowl enthusiastically, to their bemusement. It was fantastic, and went great with the local "Star" beer on a hot afternoon. Just two hours or so later, though, I was sicker than I'd ever been before. (I'm reminded of an old elementary school jingle, "When you're standing on a ladder and you hear something splatter....." Though in this case perhaps it would more fittingly have been, "When your walking through Accra and you feel something fall....")

Friday, July 10, 2009

Thundarr's Princess Ariel Is A Bad Girl Now?

As I mentioned in my last post below, "Thundarr the Barbarian" remains one of the best regarded cartoons of the early 1980s, despite the fact that only 21 episodes were ever produced.

How does that regard manifest itself today? Admittedly very few new "Thundarr" products have been marketed in recent years (though a line of action figures was made), and it is not even available on DVD.

But there does seem to be a booming trade in vaguely fetish-istic images of Thundarr's female companion, Princess Ariel. One example is the painting at left, which was apparently done as a commission.

And a young woman has posted a series of similar photos of herself dressed as Princess Ariel at this link:

Imagine the type of guy she's trying to attract like that....

Thundarr the Barbarian and Jack Kirby

"Thundarr the Barbarian" was a saturday morning cartoon that first aired on ABC for two seasons from 1980 to 1982. As I mentioned in a prior post, Thundarr was more or less "Conan The Barbarian," only set on a post-apocalyptic earth rather than in a fantasy world. It also shows the pervasive influence of "Star Wars" in those years. Thundarr's ape-like companion, Ookla, is more or less a Chewbacca clone, and Thundarr's "sun sword" is, essentially, just a light saber, to name just two examples.

But the show was far more than a derivative collection of thinly veiled rip-offs. It remains one of the most highly regarded cartoons from that era (and is still aired on the "Boomerang" channel today). Why? Well, among other reasons, it was created by a number of unusually talented people. It was produced by Ruby Spears, a company founded by two veteran animators who had previously created "Scooby Doo." The inital designs for the three main characters were done by master illustrator Alex Toth. And when he moved on to other projects, legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby was brought in to do the remaining designs. That's a Kirby illustration above. It was one of the preliminary drawings used to sell the show to network executives.
Embedded below is the 1 minute intro to "Thundarr The Barbarian" that ran at the start of each episode. I'v never met anyone who was a child in those years who doesn't immediately remember this after viewing it again.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Abercrombie & Fitch Takes It In The Shorts

US retailers reported today generally lower sales for the month of June. Abercrombie & Fitch posted among the sharpest declines: a drop of 32% compared to last June.
Hard to belive advertising like that isn't packing them in....

The "Generosity" of the Ensign Family

“In April 2008, Senator John Ensign’s parents each made gifts to Doug Hampton, Cindy Hampton, and two of their children in the form of a check totaling $96,000,” a statement on the senator’s behalf said. “Each gift was limited to $12,000. The payments were made as gifts, accepted as gifts and complied with tax rules governing gifts...The gifts are consistent with a pattern of generosity by the Ensign family to the Hamptons and others."

Senator Ensign had had an affair with Cindy Hampton while she was on his campaign staff. In addition, the senator's office confirmed that Mr. Hampton had recently demanded money and had threatened to go public with the affair just before Ensign's public admission.
Is it an old Irish blessing that goes, "May you never be subjected to the 'generosity' of the Ensign family"?
And would Emily Post consider it good manners in these situations to pay hush money not just to the cuckolded husband, but also to his children? (Though perhaps it was consistent with a "pattern of thoughtfulness" by the Ensign family to have also considered the US tax implications in advance.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Michael Jackson: Smooth Criminal and Renaissance Man

Did you know that Michael Jackson held a genuine US patent for the special shoes that allowed him to do the famous "lean" in his "Smooth Criminal" video pictured above?
That's right. He did that dance move using a pair of special shoes. They had a wedge shaped groove in the heel designed to catch on a nail that would rise from the floor as the dancers stepped over them. That's a couple of the illustrations from the patent.

John Edwards Sex Tape

Former presidential candidiate John Edwards is accusing his former aide, Andrew Young, of secretly filming Edwards and his mistress, Rielle Hunter, having sex at Young's North Carolina home in 2007, while Hunter was pregnant with Edwards' love child. This according to the National Enquirer.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Steve McNair's Death in Two Photos

More Michael Jackson Insanity has a story today about a telephone interview that they conducted with the lawyer for Michael Jackson's live-in doctor, Dr. Conrad Murray. (He's the one who is suspected of having administered multiple prescription drugs to "The King of Pop" in the hours and days before he died.)

During that telephone interview, this lawyer, Edward Chernoff, apparently asserted multiple times that Dr. Murray did not give Michael Jackson Demerol or OxyContin on the day he died, but, curiously, would make no comment about whether the doctor gave him Propofol. "I have no statement on whether the doctor prescribed or administered Propofol."

This non-denial made big news, apparently. As a result, a "spokesman" for Mr. Chernoff subsequently called TMZ in an apparent attempt to set the record straight. Ed Chernoff, "was not conscious" during that telephone interview, this spokesman explained, "he had just woken up and he can't speak for anything that was in the home." (This initial phone interview was apparently conducted at 11:15 PM.)

It's typical of the head-spinning insanity of "things Michael Jackson" that his doctor's lawyer has his own spokesperson.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Personal Details of New British Spy Chief On Facebook

"Personal details and photographs of the incoming head of Britain's international spy agency have been posted on Facebook, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband acknowledged Sunday....The man in question, John Sawers, is currently the British ambassador to the United Nations. His wife posted details about their family, vacations and residence on the social-networking site, British media reported Sunday. Her Web site has since been taken down, reports said." This according to CNN.

Miliband insisted that no compromising information had been relvealed. "You know he wears Speedo, swim, swimming, swimsuit... I mean what is that? I mean, that's not a state secret," he reportedly said on the BBC.

What's amazing about this is not that his wife posted these details on Facebook initially, but that MI6 did not catch this before his appointment was formalized and, at the very least, delete this information from her site beforehand. (That's NOT him in the photo above, by the way.)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Story of Halogen Part 8: The Comic Book

By the spring of 1988, I had finally received some non-committal interest in "Halogen" from two very small independent comic book publishers. This was during an unprecedented boom in sales of black and white comic books produced by small companies (kids were buying multiple copies as "investments"), a boom that soon thereafter went "bust" spectacularly. (I laugh even writing that, but it was true. And it has an odd resonance today, doesn't it?) Anyway, I mention all of that to explain why I was proud of this "achievement" out of all proportion to the difficulty. In response to that interest, I enthusiastically wrote and began drawing rough pages for the first issue of a proposed "Halogen" comic book. At left is a few frames from one of those "sketch" pages.

Predictably, that vague "interest" never went anywhere. But I was picked up "on the rebound" when my high school principal asked if I'd like to draw an educational comic book for the local blood bank. (You read right: the blood bank.) I said sure. I took meetings with an official there. I wrote a script and began pencilling pages. To try to make my work more professional (I assume), the blood bank put me together with a man who had co-founded the San Diego Comic-Con years before named Shel Dorf. Through Shel I was introduced to a local comic book company. I remember their name (even though they're long gone). But I doubt that any of you would recognize the name of the little company that published, for example, "California Raisins Summer Fun Special No. 1 in 3D." I ultimately went off to college before the blood bank project was completed, unfortunately. To the best of my knowledge, that was never published either.

As part of that whole process, however, Shel also took me to Los Angeles one saturday morning in the summer of 1988 to meet an aging Jack "The King" Kirby, and to get his feedback on my initial "Halogen" pages. And I did.

That, the last chapter of this story, next time.

More Defiance From North Korea

"North Korea fired seven ballistic missiles off its eastern coast Saturday, South Korea said, a violation of U.N. resolutions and an apparent message of defiance to the United States on its Independence Day," according to the Associated Press.

This reminds me of a scene from the movie "Team America: World Police," embedded below, in which Hans Blix visits Kim Jong Il on behalf of the UN and asks to be allowed to inspect for weapons of mass destruction "or else."
"Or else what?" asks Kim. "Or else we will be very, very angry with you. And we will write you a letter telling you how angry we are."
This clip is only 1 minute 43 seconds long, but the language does get a little "strong" near the end.

Colin Powell's Concerns About Spending

"Colin Powell, one of President Obama's most prominent Republican supporters, expressed concern Friday that the president's ambitious blitz of costly initiatives may be enlarging the size of government and the federal debt too much," according to the Washington Times.

"He said, 'one of the cautions that has to be given to the president -- and I've talked to some of his people about this -- is that you can't have so many things on the table that you can't absorb it all. And we can't pay for it all.'

"Mr. Powell expressed alarm at 'budgets that are running into the multi-trillions of dollars' and 'a huge, huge national debt that, if we don't pay for in our lifetime, our kids and grandkids and great-grandchildren will have to pay for it.'"

Friday, July 3, 2009

"Show Me The Money!"

Gov. Sarah Palin's surprise announcement today that she intends to resign as governor of Alaska at the end of July has engendered media speculation that she intends to run for President in 2012 .

It's a bit early for that, though, if that were her only reason. Her more immediate motivation, I expect, is to be able to give paid speeches and to promote her upcoming book. In other words, to take more financial advantage of her new national prominence than the ethical or practical constraints of doing so while being the sitting governor of Alaska would allow.
But she said during her announcement that, "We're not retreating. We're advancing in another direction."
Referring to herself using the royal "we" does betray presidential aspirations, I think. ("Show us the money, Jerry!")

The Story of Halogen Part 7: Treachery and Greed

What does “Max the Magnificent,” pictured at left, have to do with “Halogen”? Almost nothing, as it turns out. Almost. As I mentioned last time, in 1987 I mailed drawings of "Halogen" and some other of my cartoon characters to a number of comic book publishers, soliciting interest. I heard back from almost no one. A few sent generic rejection letters. Then, months later, I saw that first issue of “Max the Magnificent” in a comic book store. I couldn’t believe it. That was my “Roy the Guppy”! I hadn’t ever taken any action to copyright or trademark him before sending out those mailers, however. So there was nothing I could do. In the same way that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were "screwed" out of all the money that Superman (which they had created in 1938) had made for Time-Warner over the years, I was going to lose out on the dumptruck of cash that would, I was sure, soon be laid at the feet of the publishers of "Max the Magnificent." Cartoons. Movies. Toys. I was dejected and angry.

But I got over my anger when, even a year later, no second issue of "Max" was ever published. There was never any cartoon. Or toys. Just that single comic book. Which now sits in my collection as an object of pride.

Next time: the pulse-pounding, penultimate chapter. An unusual publisher emerges for the Halogen comic book.

20th Anniversary of Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman" Movie

The photo above is of Bob Kane, who created Batman 70 years ago in 1939. He's with Michael Keaton on the set of Tim Burton's "Batman" movie. Last week was the 20th anniversary of the release of that film in 1989. Despite having died in 1998, Bob Kane remains a controvertial figure, in part because he was perceived to have vigorously and inaccurately promoted himself as the sole creator of Batman (at the expense of, most notably, writer Bill Finger), and because from very early in his career he did little of the actual artwork, instead hiring uncredited ghost artists.

I met Bob Kane once. It was at the San Diego Comic-Con (back when it was called that) in the summer of 1987 or 1988. Comic-Con was on a much smaller scale then. It's emphasis was much more on cardboard boxes of comic books selling 3 for a $1, than on movie stars and summer blockbusters like it is today. Bob Kane was handing out yellow buttons (like the one I got from him above), promoting the upcoming film. At the time he handed me that button, the film was still not even in production and so the worldwide hype and "Batmania" that ultimately surrounded the release of the film itself was still over a year away. The Bob Kane I met was just a well dressed older gentleman handing out these buttons while standing in front of a card table. No one was surrounding him.

In many respects, it was the colossal success of that film that changed the "San Diego Comic-Con" into the much grander "Comic-Con International San Diego" that it is today, in the process ensuring (unfortunately) that the way I met Bob Kane would never be repeated in later years.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

When Good Comics Become Bad Cartoons

Another one of the best comic books that you've probably never heard of is "Xenozioc Tales" by Mark Schultz. Set on an earth of the far future that had suffered environmental ruin and then been reclaimed by dinosaurs, it centered on the adventures of Jack Tenrec, who modified old cadillacs to run without oil, and his love interest, Hannah Dundee. But the best part was Schultz's beautifully detailed artwork (as you can see at left), with its Frank Frazetta and Al Williamson resonances. It took Mark Schultz so long to draw the book in this way, however, that only 14 issues were ever published, all in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
These comic books were originally published in black and white. But to bring them to a larger audience, they were later published under a different, and perhaps more approachable title, "Cadillacs and Dinosaurs." And it was under this name that a heavily hyped but truly terrible saturday morning cartoon was aired on CBS in 1993-1994. As you can see if you watch the one minute intro embedded below, the cartoon was devoid of any of the comic book's trademark lavish artwork. Mercifully, it lasted only 13 episodes. Though I saw the accompanying toy line languish in bulk on store shelves for well over a year afterward. 

Obesity in America and the Health Care Time Bomb

In 31 US states, more than one in four adults are obese, says a new report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Obesity rates among adults rose in 23 states over the past year, and no state experienced a significant decline.

"While the nation has long been bracing for a surge in Medicare as the boomers start turning 65, the new report makes clear that fat, not just age, will fuel much of those bills," according to the Associated Press. "Health economists once made the harsh financial calculation that the obese would save money because they [were thought to die] sooner. But more recent research instead suggests that better treatments are keeping them alive nearly as long — but they’re much sicker for longer, requiring such costly interventions as knee replacements and diabetes care and dialysis. Medicare spends anywhere from $1,400 to $6,000 more annually on health care for an obese senior than for the non-obese."

Will John Edwards Be Free To See Baby's Second Birthday?

Andrew Young, an ex-aide to John Edwards, appeared yesterday before a Federal grand jury in Raleigh, North Carolina that is investigating possible presidential campaign fund abuse, according to the National Enquirer. This comes just a day after Young apparently signed a deal to write a tell-all book confirming that Edwards is the father of his mistress' baby (pictured above).