Thursday, December 31, 2009

Y2K Scare Ten Year Anniversary

I've seen all sorts of "Best of the Decade" features over the last couple of weeks. But I haven't seen any mention of the fact that tonight is the 10 year anniversary of the infamous "Y2K problem" scare. Remember that? The irrational fear which swept the (developed) world in 1999 that because all sorts of computers and electronics abbreviated years with only two digits rather than four (i.e. "1999" was just "99"), digital and electronic pandemonium would break loose on New Years Eve 1999 as the year turned to 2000. Planes might fall out of the sky, banks could lose all their records, nuclear plants could explode.

Millions and millions of dollars were spent in panicky computer retrofits during 1999, particularly in the United States and Britain. And yet no real problems ever emerged anywhere as the year 2000 rolled in, even in countries that had "cavalierly" taken little or no remedial action.

I remember getting on a flight to San Francisco on New Years Eve 1999, to meet friends there for a big party. I left after work, so my flight departed in the evening and was scheduled to land less than 3 hours from the turn of the Millenium. And you know what, there were only about a dozen passengers on a plane that could hold over 125. Of course, nothing happened.

Ah, the power of the threatened Armageddon (and the risk aversion of corporate bosses) to stifle rational, critical thought, thereby resulting, on hindsight, in a terrible misallocation of capital. Why is that lesson still so resonant today?

On a lighter note, below is a 2 minute piece about preparations for Y2K and its more dire potential consequences that is unintentionally humorous on hindsight. It's hosted by a much younger Leonard Nimoy. Near the end, it advises everyone to store plenty of water in advance of pending disaster on January 1, 2000. ("Fill every container that you use," advises an expert, "milk, juice, soda pop. Fill them with tap water. Store containers in a cool, dark place. I have containers all over my house, all over my yard. I have them in the bedroom. The linen closet...")

Soviet Couple Were Cold War Master Spies

The Los Angeles Times has an article today about a Russian couple who lived all over the world in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, all the while spying for the Soviet Union under diplomatic cover. To this day, the Russian government is unwilling to disclose exactly what they did, apparently. But the pair are now celebrated there, even in the absence of specifics, as some of the greatest spies of the 20th Century. That's a photo of them above.

Unfortunately, this article is devoid of details about their spying as well. But it does suggests that when they lived In Los Angeles in the early 1940s, they socialized with Hollywood luminaries like Orson Wells and Charlie Chaplin. Perhaps most interesting to me is the sadly predictable consequence that, while they were posted abroad for all those decades, the couple were forced to leave their young children in Moscow, in the care of the Soviet state. They were not even allowed to write their kids letters and saw them only a few times before they grew to adulthood. You can read the entire article HERE.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Obit Montage (I Smelled Dominick Dunne)

Obituaries intrigue me. Death creates an occasion for us to pause and re-visit past accomplishments that otherwise fade with time for lack of any other single reason to celebrate them, no matter how historically or culturally important. Only death seems to be compelling and instantaneous enough to give us all a sufficient excuse for a collective and simultaneous pause. NBC Nightly News aired an excellent 3 minute montage of the famous people who passed away this year, which I've embedded below.

We'll all remember that Michael Jackson and Walter Cronkite died in 2009. But this montage made me remember several others. One in particular was Dominick Dunne. I really liked his column in Vanity Fair magazine, and flipped to it first whenever I happened upon an issue. I 'met' him once, too, actually. Well, sort of. It was in an airport (I can't remember which one now), maybe 10 years ago or so. It was not that long after the 1995 OJ Simpson trial, so he was probably at the peak of his fame. I was connecting from one flight to another, and so was walking within the terminal from one gate to another. From behind me on my right, up came Dominick Donne. He was being wheeled in a wheelchair (unusually briskly, I thought), that was pushed from behind by a uniformed sky cap. He looked much older and more frail than I expected, even back then.

As he passed, my first thought (after, "No way, that's Dominick Dunne!") was, "Huh. What's that he smells like? Is it cologne? No. After-shave? I don't think so. What is that?" He smelled, I don't know, like he'd just bathed, I guess. There was also something vaguely feminine about it. But only vaguely. Not perfume, for sure. But almost overpowering nonetheless. I didn't know what that was.

As he passed me (and everyone else), he had this detached but vigilant air about him, which clearly said to everyone around, "Yes, it's 'Me.' But I am way too busy to stop to talk to you. So don't try." Yet he was also very intently scanning the people around him from his seat in that nondescript airport wheelchair, to be sure that he was indeed being noticed anyway. It was a very strange mien for him, I thought, since his literary persona was based in part on skewering the foibles of the idle rich. It was only when I read his obituary a few months ago that I learned this was his standard behavior in public. Oh, and that that smell was in fact his 'inevitable' talcum powder.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In Search of.... Ghost Hunters

I really liked the TV program In Search of... as a kid in the 1970's, and so have enjoyed re-watching some of the old episodes and lovingly critiquing, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, some of the explanations proffered for the mysteries the show examined. Embedded below is a 10 minute segment from an episode about ghost hunters, titled "Ghostly Stakeout," which was first broadcast in February 1979.

The rash of "reality" TV shows about so-called ghost hunters that have aired in recent years all seem to focus on the use of modern technology by the "investigators," usually night vision cameras and powerful microphones. But back in the 1970s it seems, ghost hunters used their "psychic powers" instead. In this episode, the show's producers invite two self-proclaimed psychics to investigate two allegedly haunted houses in northern California. The two are identified by narrator Leonard Nimoy as Sylvia Browne and Nick Nocerino. "Practicing psychics for more than 20 years," Nimoy continues, "working in tandem on more than 200 ghost investigations."

Well, as it turns out, Sylvia Browne, who was born in 1936, is still a practicing psychic and spiritual medium to this day, more than 30 years later. She was born "Sylvia Shoemaker," but acquired the last name "Brown" from the third of her four husbands. She later added the "e" to make it "Browne" after the couple pled 'no contest' to charges of securities fraud in Northern California in 1992. It seems they peddled investments in a purported gold mining operation under false pretenses. The investors' money was instead transferred directly to her Nirvana Foundation For Psychic Research.

Before he died in 2004, Nick Nocerino was one of the world's foremost experts on crystal skulls. (Yes indeed, the very same crystal skulls that inspired last summer's Indiana Jones movie, all of which have been known to be man-made fakes for many years.) This 'expertise' goes unmentioned in this episode. He founded the Crystal Skull Society in 1955, and professed to believe that they were 'intricate computers' that could be be activated using light and sound, thereby revealing 'UFO activities.' He actually owned one of the crystal skulls, which he claimed to have found himself in Guatemala using 'psychic archaeology.' Perhaps surprisingly given his alleged beliefs in their supernatural powers, he nonetheless sold his own crystal skull in 1988.

You can see this pair of ghost hunters apply their psychic powers in the clip below. Watch as Nick, pipe firmly clenched in his teeth, "lays hands" on the outside of the first house, while Sylvia predicts solemnly that the ghost is of a former female occupant from the 1920s who had a "big chin" that she tried to hide with "a lot of rouge."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sec. Napolitano Clarifies "The System Worked"

Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano was forced to appear again on television this morning to clarify her remark yesterday that the terrorist incident on Christmas involving the failed Nigerian underpants bomber was actually an example of "the system working."

"Well, the comment was taken totally out of context, "she explains predictably (and weakly) within the first 30 seconds of the clip embedded below. "Once the incident occurred, we were able to immediately notify the 128 planes that were already in the air from Europe, immediately notify airports on the ground, immediately notify airports in other countries... Small comfort, I acknowledge, for those in the airplane where this incident occurred."

Awesome. That's our formidable Department of Homeland Security at work: leaping into action to diligently notify airports across continental Europe with lightning speed about a failed underpants bomber over Detroit. Like Secretary Napolitano apparently, my heart swells with national pride at their fine work on Christmas day. (Am I just imagining things, or is that the Star Spangled Banner I hear? "Ooh say can you see, by the dawn's early light.....")

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dear Yemeni al-Qaida

Can you help me out? I can't seem to find anything in the Qur'an that condones weaponizing underpants....

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Two Questions About Airplane "Groin Bomber"

By now you've probably heard the news that a Nigerian national named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was arrested yesterday when he attempted to ignite an explosive device as his international flight from Amsterdam was on final approach to Detroit. His explosives failed to fully ignite, however, and he was subdued, badly burned, by passengers and crew.

But had you also heard that he was apparently flying with no checked baggage at all (only carry-ons) and he only had a one-way ticket? Several news articles about this incident suggest that it will raise concerns about the effectiveness of our "no fly" lists, since this 23 year old man was apparently already on some terrorist watch lists. But putting that to one side, is it ever in our national interest to allow Nigerian nationals to fly to the United States on one way tickets with no checked baggage? What possible short or long term good can come from that? Is there no data collection mechanism in place to detect circumstances like that in advance?
And had you also heard that he apparently used a syringe to inject a liquid chemical into some explosive powder taped near his groin, an act he attempted to hide from fellow passengers by keeping a blanket on his lap? What terrorist 'mastermind' conceived that methodology? ("Ok, all you need to do is put a blanket over your lap. That way, no one will notice when you 'innocently' begin to fiddle with a syringe near your groin. Oh, and be sure to do this during landing. No infidel will expect you to do this when everyone is seated upright again, the cabin lights are back on, and the in-flight entertainment system has been turned off. Only then should you thrust this Syringe of Justice down into your Groin of Doom under cover of their flimsy in-flight Blanket of Ignorance.")

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Atari Christmas (SCRAM!)

One Christmas in the very early 1980s (maybe 1980), my parents gave me an Atari home computer: the Atari 400. Not the more famous Atari 2600 from the 1970s (the one that only played games). This was a genuine home computer, designed to compete with the increasingly popular Apple II home computer of the time. Embedded below is a 30 second TV advertisement for it from 1981. "Atari computers: we've brought the Computer Age home," the narrator concludes. Atari dared to envision a brave New World, it seems, where even the ditziest mothers could eventually be trained by modern computing to learn all the state capitals. ("With Atari home computers anything's possible.")

This commercial also captures the graphics of its games very well. I also loved the fact that, among the stack of games and other programs shown, there's one for "Touch Typing." Ah, the irony of that. For the Atari 400 had a "membrane keyboard" (i.e. no keys, just a plastic overlay on which a simulated keyboard had been printed), which made typing excruciatingly slow (you had to press each letter very firmly to make it register on screen) and "touch typing" essentially impossible.
My favorite ever game for it was a Donkey Kong rip-off called "Miner 2049er." I've also embedded below a 45 second clip of the start of the game.
Despite the clunky membrane keyboard, it really was a great machine that I continued to play for several years afterward. (It apparently sold millions of units through 1985, and was a great success for Atari.) Among other games, I later got a nuclear power plant simulator for it called "SCRAM," which was released in the wake of the Three Mile Island "disaster." It simulated (in a serious way) the Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor, and allowed the player to simulate what had happened there in 1979. (That's a screen shot above.) The game was accompanied by a detailed 55 page manual, which included a primer on the basic principles of thermodynamics. (Fun for any 11 year old boy!) The program was apparently designed by a "gaming luminary" named Chris Crawford who characterized it years later as, "a stupid game devoid of entertainment value." If he could do SCRAM all over again, he's quoted as having said, he'd start by asking himself "What is fun and interesting about nuclear power plants?" to which he'd answer "not much," and then he'd scrap SCRAM outright.

Leonard Nimoy Interview About "In Search Of..."

Embedded below is a recent 6 minute interview with Leonard Nimoy where he discusses his experiences hosting the television program "In Search Of..." in the 1970s, a show that I loved as a kid. He seems to have genuinely enjoyed the experience. ("I was very interested in ESP, hypnosis.") But he also seems to have retained a predictably detached bemusement about it all. ("We did seven years. I thought two or three seasons: max. How many times can you do Bigfoot, hypnosis, alien abductions, ESP?")

Interestingly, his actual involvement in the production of the show was apparently very, very limited. ("I went to very few locations. The show was engineered in such a way that they made very good use of my time. I could shoot the on-camera stuff for five shows in one day.... The next day or two I'd go into the studio and record the narration, and I'm very fast at it. I'd do the narration for five or six shows in a couple of hours.")

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How China Sabotaged The Copenhagen Summit

There's an article in the Britsh newspaper The Guardian this morning written by an insider at the recent world environment summit in Copenhagen who explains that it was actually the Chinese who blocked any real deal behind closed doors, while calculating that President Obama would be the one blamed by the outside world.

"China's strategy was simple: block the open negotiations for two weeks, and then ensure that the closed-door deal made it look as if the west had failed the world's poor once again. And sure enough, the aid agencies, civil society movements and environmental groups all took the bait... I saw Obama fighting desperately to salvage a deal, and the Chinese delegate saying 'no', over and over again...The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country's foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. The diplomatic snub was obvious and brutal, as was the practical implication: several times during the session, the world's most powerful heads of state were forced to wait around as the Chinese delegate went off to make telephone calls to his 'superiors'."

Some Congressional Pensions Still Paid to Felons

Disgraced former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham was 'my' congressman when I lived in his district for a while, many years ago now. As this 4 minute report from last night's CBS Evening News embedded below explains, despite now being a convicted felon (a consequence of his infamous defense contractor bribery scandal), he is still receiving his congressional pension of over $42,000 per year while serving time in federal prison. And he's not alone in that, apparently. Jim Trafficant. Dan Rostenkowski. (He gets over $175,000 per year, to this day.) William Jefferson. (Remember his cash-in-refrigerator scandal?) The names keep coming. Over two dozen in total.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Story Behind The Salahis Now Revealed

The Washington Post this morning tells the fascinating back story of the now infamous couple who crashed that White House state dinner last month. It's subtitled, "Tareq and Michaele Salahis' flashy union has coincided with unraveling of a tight-knit family," and you can read it by clicking here HERE. It confirms many of my inferences and suppositions. But there were also several revelations and explanations that surprised me as well.

Sammy Davis, Jr. And "Planet of the Apes"

When Sammy Davis, Jr. died in May 1990, he was apparently in deep financial trouble. Most significantly, he owed $5.2 million in back taxes. As a result, in October 1991, the IRS held an auction to sell off his possessions. Among them, according to an article in People magazine from the time, was "an eight-foot-tall fiberglass statue of a character from The Planet of the Apes ($2,500)."

So Sammy Davis Jr. was an "Apes fan," huh. I did not expect that. And if you're keeping 8 foot statues in your house (of anything, let alone talking apes), you must be a pretty big enthusiast. Which character, I wondered? What did the statue look like? Well, as it turns out, this was apparently all very well known in "Apes Fandom" circles. Two identical 8 foot statues of "The Lawgiver" (see photo at left) were made as props for the original 1968 film Planet of the Apes. After production of the last sequel was finished in 1973, one of these statues found it's way to the back yard of the films' producer, Arthur P. Jacobs. (Presumably his wife, Natalie Trundy, didn't complain since she featured in several of those films herself.) And the other one went to..... yup: The Candyman himself. (He was also a big supporter of President Richard Nixon at the time.)
I imagine that Sammy's widow may have been a little underwhelmed when she first learned that in death he had stuck her with a $5 million tax debt, offset by "assets" that included an 8 foot tall Planet of the Apes statue. ("And to my loving wife, I leave, as a symbol of our devotion, my treasured "Lawgiver" statue....") And imagine the "delight" of the IRS when she proposed to give them that to pay this huge tax bill. ("Well, let's see. What can I give you. Hmmmm. Let's think. Well, Sammy did have this very 'valuable' movie prop somewhere....Ah yes, here it is...")

Ceausescu Execution Site, 20 Years Later

Embedded below is a 3 minute piece from CNN in which a reporter re-visits the otherwise grim and unremarkable compound where Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceausescu and his wife were summarily tried and, minutes later, executed by firing squad on Christmas Day in 1989. That's 20 years ago now, amazingly. I thought that the details about what each of the Ceausescus were doing as they were shot were both interesting and revealing.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Star Wars TV "Holiday Special" From 1978

Do you remember that in November 1978 CBS aired a two hour Star Wars Holiday Special? It was almost all live action and featured extended appearances (in character) by all of the stars of the original 1977 Star Wars film, including Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. The show was in a sort of variety show format, amazingly enough. But the overall plot involved returning Chewbacca to his family in time for the wookie equivalent of Christmas (called "Life Day"). The special also featured other aging comedy stars of the 1970s, like Harvey Korman, Art Carney and Bea Arthur, as well as musical acts, including Jefferson Starship (yes, really).

This special was so unbelievably, unwatchably terrible that it aired only that one time. George Lucas has never allowed it to be re-aired or released on DVD or in any other way in the 30 years since then. (I remember watching it on TV at the time and thinking, even as a young kid, that it was terrible. I turned it off well before the end.) That alone has made it a much sought after "cult classic," however, out of all proportion to its actual quality or entertainment value. But the gem at its heart was a 9 minute animated short featuring the first ever appearance of Bobba Fett, which is actually pretty good. I've embedded that below.
How can something be both unbelievably boring and simultaneously cringe-inducing? Well, you can see for yourself if you watch the second, 5 minute clip from the special that I've embedded below. Someone has cleverly abridged the live action portions of the 2 hour show down to 5 minutes of "highlights," including a Bea Arthur song and dance number in the creature cantina, Art Carney as Chewbacca's home town junk peddler, and Carrie Fisher closing out the show by singing a musical ode to Life Day. If you watch this, it will give you a great idea what the whole show was really like, and why George Lucas has buried it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Unintended Problems For "House Raffle" Winners

Have you seen any of those stories over the last year or so about people who own big, expensive homes (usually valued over $1 million) and who need to sell them but can't find a buyer (because of the economy), so they decide to raffle them off instead? The owners then sell raffle tickets for like $50 or $100 apiece in hopes of making enough money thereby to approximate what the house might have sold for in better times. And then some "lucky winner" gets a million dollar house for a hundred dollars. Seems like win-win situation, huh?

Well, this 2 minute story from MSNBC embedded below reveals that the "winners" actually get stuck with huge tax bills and other expenses that they then find hard to escape themselves because they're unable to sell the house either.

Tiger Woods Action Figures Flying Off Shelves

Despite having been dropped by multiple sponsors in recent days, the Tiger Woods scandal has been really good for at least one tiny corner of his business empire. According to this 1 minute story from NBC News embedded below, Tiger Woods action figures, which apparently hadn't been very popular before, are now huge sellers for the distributor. ("This is the first athlete who's had a problem where we've been able to sell their product.")

Indiana Jones: "Saucer Men" To "Crystal Skull"

Unlike some, I actually really liked the 2008 summer movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, right up until that immense alien space ship came flying out the mountain near the end. There they lost me.

Embedded below is an interesting 6 minute interview with Steven Spielberg in which he explains at length how the plot of the film evolved. During discussions between he and George Lucas, it apparently moved from a more direct homage to the B-grade UFO movies of the 1950s (originally to be titled "Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men"), to the final film in which the aliens were de-emphasized at Speilberg's insistence, and were "inter-dimensional" rather than "extraterrestrial" in nature (a distinction I didn't really pick up on when I saw it in the theater).
Will there ever be another Indiana Jones movie? Speaking to Le Figaro just a few weeks ago, Harrison Ford reportedly said that, "the story for the new Indiana Jones is in the process of taking form. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and myself are agreed on what the fifth adventure will concern, and George is actively at work. If the script is good, I'll be very happy to put the costume on again."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Next "X-Men" Movie: Good News And Bad News

Bryan Singer, who directed the first two X-Men movies before departing to direct 2006's Superman Returns (leaving Brett Ratner to direct the very disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand), has returned to the franchise. He has now reportedly signed on to direct the next installment, tentatively titled X-Men: First Class. That's the good news. The bad news is that this new film is apparently a "prequel" to the others. It will reportedly tell the story of Professor Xavier and Magneto’s first meeting and the founding of the Xavier Institute, featuring younger versions of the X-Men.

After years of conditioning, I have an almost Pavlovian negative response to the term "prequel." How may terrible prequels have there been? The three recent Star Wars films are perhaps the most notorious examples. But do you remember that 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was also as "prequel"? As was 2002's The Scorpion King, and 2007's Hannibal Rising? Have there ever been any good "prequels"? The best I can think of off-hand (like the recent Underworld: Rise of The Lycans) were at best serviceable, or maybe "better than expected."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Iron Man 2 Trailer: This Looks Really Good

Domino's Pizza Tied Worst With Chuck E. Cheese

Research firm Brand Keys ranks Domino's the No. 1 pizza chain overall. But it tied for last place for taste with children's party chain Chuck E. Cheese.

I knew it was pretty mediocre. But on par with Chuck E. Cheese? Wow. The vintage 30 second Chuck E Cheese commercial embedded below gives some insight into their priorities. Pizza is never once mentioned or shown. (The forlorn birthday boy summarizes it well, "some place where the food and fun are all there." Indeed, "food" is available "there.")

Domino's ranked a close 2nd to Pizza Hut in terms of value, and the two shared the top ranking for location and service. Papa John's was No. 1 on taste, apparently. To better compete on taste, Domino's has announced today that it is making its pizza crusts more garlicky, tweaking its tomato sauce and upgrading its cheese, according to Reuters.
For such a dominant chain, there's always been something elusively "different," I've thought, about Domino's pizza crust, and not in a good way. (Unusually puffy and unusually hollow, maybe?) Is more garlic really the answer? (Who hit on that "solution" in their test kitchen? A chef in a Chuck E Cheese costume?) But they might be on to something with the better cheese...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Yegor Gaidar Dies, Liberalized Russian Economy

Yegor Gaidar, who liberalized the Russian economy in 1992 in what was then called "shock therapy," has died. You can read his obituary published in The Economist magazine HERE.

As referenced at the end of this piece, he was last in the international news a few years ago when he claimed to have been mysteriously poisoned in Ireland in the wake of the poisoning (with polonium 210) of Alexander Litvinenko in London in November 2006. Like Litvinenko, he had become an increasingly virulent critic of Vladimir Putin in the years before he was poisoned. But I found the last paragraph of this obit, concerning his fears of a "Weimar Russia," the most interesting.

Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Decade

Rolling Stone magazine has released a list of their 100 best songs of the decade.

I must be getting old, because I only liked two of the top ten songs (Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" and U2's "Beautiful Day"), and only recognized two more songs in the top 50 from their titles alone (#13 "In Da Club" by 50 Cent, and #45 "Cant Get You Out of My Head" by Kylie Minogue).
It's probably predictable that this list would be top heavy with Coldplay (4 songs). But why so much Radiohead (3 songs)?
You can view the entire list here:

Sol Price, Founder of the Price Club, Has Died

The NBC Nightly News included a 30 second obit for Sol Price last night, which is embedded below. He died at the age of 93 of natural causes. He was the pioneer of membership-based wholesale stores, having opened his first "Price Club" in San Diego in 1976. I remember driving by one that was located just off the freeway when I was in high school in the mid-1980s. His "Price Club" chain later merged with "Costco" in 1993. And that "Price Club" off the freeway is now the "Costco" I go to today, 25 years later.

His obituary in the New York Times today ended with perhaps the ultimate compliment from a one-time competitor. "One of the chief beneficiaries of Mr. Price’s legacy, Sam Walton, acknowledged the debt in his 1992 memoir, 'Made in America'. Mr. Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, wrote, 'I guess I’ve stolen — I actually prefer the word ‘borrowed’ — as many ideas from Sol Price as from anybody else in the business.'”

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Again ?!?!" (What You Don't Want To Hear)

I was in line this evening at the grocery store. As I was picking up my bags and walking out, the check-out clerk exclaimed to the guy behind me in line, who looked like a construction worker in his early 30s, "Again!?!?!"

He seemed surprised and a little taken aback, perhaps more so because the clerk said this really loudly, almost theatrically. He seemed about to say "no" when she quickly added in a semi-accusatory, almost patronizing tone, "Didn't I see you here this morning?" After a half second pause, he responded a little sheepishly, "Yeah. I just wanted some cake for dessert."
Curious, I then looked down at what he was buying. And sure enough, he did indeed have a slice of chocolate cake in a clear plastic carry-out container. Oh, and four 24 ounce cans of Bud Light and Clamato Chelada. (That's 8 beers and cake, to you and me.)

A "Thundarr Teaser"? Thundarr In Space

The 1980 saturday morning cartoon Thundarr The Barbarian had been one of my favorites as a kid. But because it only lasted for two seasons on ABC back then, a mere 21 episodes, I was never able to find out very much about it in subsequent years, except what I could glean from the credits.

As I wrote here before, the Mego Corporation was planning a line of Thundarr action figures in 1982, but went bankrupt just before they were released. But other than that, I never could find out why the show had been cancelled back then, or whether there might have been any plans for a third season before it was cancelled, and if so, what they were.
Well, about 10 years ago or so now, I stumbled upon a fan site about Thundarr that had a picture of him dressed in a space suit, with an accompanying explanation that this was a design for an episode in a proposed third season, in which Thundarr, Ookla and Pincess Ariel would travel into space. Alas, that episode was never produced. But I've never seen those plans mentioned anywhere else since then. So I was never sure whether that was "real," or just a clever invention of a fan. And then, when I tried to go back to the site a few years later, the whole site was gone. So I'd never been able to see that image again either.
Before today, that is. That's it above. I stumbled on it this afternoon on another site. And this one appears to be an original animation cel, signed by the show's producers, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears. (Though I still question whether this is "real" because the same site also contained another animation cel like this one, also labelled "Thundarr Teaser," which was a full frontal nude shot of Princess Ariel.) And so the mystery continues, I suppose.....

In Search Of... Glenn Miller

Legendary big band leader Glenn Miller died on this date in 1944, 65 years ago today. His military airplane mysteriously disappeared while he was flying from Britain to France to play a Christmas concert for G.I.'s in recently-liberated Paris. His body has never been found.

"Military sources claim the plane went down in the English Channel," Leonard Nimoy explains in the episode of In Search Of embedded below, which first aired in March 1980. "Yet conflicting reports concerning this doomed flight continue to cause debate." If you don't remember Glenn Miller's music, just watch the first 2 minutes of this episode. You'll instantly recognize his standards.
Glenn's brother Herb disputes this account of the disappearance during an interview in this episode. "Why wasn't there an extensive search for the plane, especially when it involved a world famous celebrity?" Nimoy then asks. Surprisingly, this episode goes on to answer its own rhetorical question in a very prosaic way, "You have to look at it in the context of the times," an expert explains on camera, "they had a war to fight and every plane or boat they used to search was one they didn't use to fight the Germans."
Disappointingly perhaps, the show does not traffic in some of the more bizarre rumors about Glenn Miller's disappearance, including one suggestion that Dwight Eisenhower had actually sent him on a secret mission to convince some German officers to end the war early (Miller spoke German fluently), but he was captured and killed in a Paris brothel before he could contact them. His death was covered up, this conspiracy theory goes, to save the government embarrassment.
Whatever the real cause, no trace of the plane, crew or passengers has ever been found to this day. Glenn Miller is still listed officially as "missing in action."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Iconography On Toast: Michael Jackson vs. Jesus

Embedded below is a 4 minute segment by MSNBC's Willie Geist, who summarizes the year-long, see-saw "battle" to see whose image would appear more frequently on inanimate objects in 2009, from slices of toast to Cheetos to ultrasound photos: Jesus or Michael Jackson.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Best Line So Far About Tiger's Hiatus From Golf

"Finally, and of no small importance, this announcement should stop the bimbo bleeding.... At this point, the only woman who would amaze us by revealing she's sleeping with Tiger would be his wife."

-From Bill Plaschke's latest column in the Los Angeles Times. You can read it HERE.

Friday, December 11, 2009

You Know You're In Trouble When....

As a general rule of thumb, you know you're in trouble when, as Tiger Woods has now done, you have been forced to go to court to ask for an injunction to block the publication of your nude photos and sex videos. And you'll know that you're still in denial as well if that order reads in part, as Tiger's does, "This Order is not to be taken as an admission that any such photographs exist. And in the event that these photographs do exist, and it is not admitted..."

What Was That Bizarre Spiral In The Night Sky?

Did you see the news a couple of days ago about the bizarre spiral that appeared breifly in the night sky over Norway? Was it a UFO, as some predictably claimed? Or a so-called "worm hole" to another dimension? Or maybe just a clever prank, like those crop circles turned out to be?

In the end, it was none of those. The Russians have now admitted that this unusual sight was due to a failed missile test just off the coast. A huge embarrassment to them. A 3 minute piece on this from the NBC Nightly News is embedded below. Near the end it notes that during the Cold War the Kremlin encouraged the belief in UFOs, so as to cover up secret military test flights and missile launches.
Well, so did the United States. ( And in the wake of the popularity of The X-Files a decade or so ago, that ended up boomeranging on the Air Force when huge swathes of the American public claimed to believe in the so-called "Roswell Incident," no matter how many detailed explanations were later offered by exasperated military spokesmen.)

Only Obama Could Go To Oslo

I give the President huge credit for delivering a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo yesterday that reminded the audience in continental Europe of something which sometimes seems to have been forgotten there: that the American people have paid the price on their behalf, both in treasure and blood, to keep the peace in Europe and elsewhere around the globe since World War II, and that, perhaps paradoxically (and despite some significant mistakes along the way), a powerful U.S. military and the willingness to use it are the single most important reasons that this "Pax Americana" has endured through the Cold War to today.

I wonder what was going through the minds of the audience sitting there yesterday as he said that. (How does unwelcome surprise mixed with disappointment taste when it's topped by a thick layer of Scandinavian stoicism? Is it bitter?)

As you can see in the 3 minute piece about this embedded below from the NBC Nightly News last night, the President was still showered with adulation in the streets of Oslo, even after this speech. Imagine how different the reaction would have been had President Bush expressed the same sentiments? He would have been roundly jeered, ridiculed and ignored. Only President Obama could have said these things in that forum and then stepped out on his hotel balcony to a candlelight street vigil below him. And good for him that he did so.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Perkins" Makes Me So Hot (What'd Tiger Have?)

I wrote here a few days ago about how Tiger Woods is alleged to have had an affair with a woman who worked at a Denny's-like family restaurant called "Perkins," which was located just a few miles from his home in Windermere, Florida. (Sometimes, according to the New York Post, right there in the parking lot as soon as she got off of work.) Tiger apparently used to eat breakfast there with his wife on occasion, too. Well, it turns out that Perkins, like Denny's, is also a chain. Embedded below is a 1 minute video advertisement for it. If you watch this, ask yourself whether you think there's anything sexy at all about any of it (or the waitresses' uniforms). And does this give any insight into whether Tiger is just a "player," or whether he may actually have a problem.

Richard Pryor Died On This Day In 2005

Richard Pryor died on this date in 2005. He's obviously a comedy legend, and was a hugely influential stand-up comedian. But how and why did such a ground-breaking performer make so many terrible movies?

I was only 11 years old when Live on the Sunset Strip was released in 1982, and therefore was way too young to see it then, or to have known anything about his infamous freebasing accident in 1980, which he discussed at length in the film. As a kid I knew Richard Pryor only as the buffoonish star of some pretty bad movies, like 1981's Bustin' Loose, 1982's The Toy, and 1985's Brewster's Millions, all of which I saw on TV later.
So I cringed (as did many of his adult fans, probably) when it was announced that he was to star in the 1983 film Superman III (as "the world's greatest computer genius," no less). I had loved the first two Superman films starring Christopher Reeve, which made how predictably terrible the third one was all the more painful. In case you've forgotten about it and have 3 minutes to waste, I have embedded the trailer for the film below. ("This time Richard Pryor has come to Metropolis," the narrator intones in this trailer, as a taxi door 'hilariously' hits him in the groin.)
Perhaps less known is that Richard Pryor also starred in a very short-lived TV variety show on NBC in 1977 called The Richard Pryor Show. If you watch the 5 minute clip from that show that I've also embedded below, you'll quickly understand why it was cancelled after only four episodes. The clip is a Star Wars parody, in which Richard Pryor plays the bartender at the creature cantina. Amazingly, the show somehow got a hold of the real, original creature costumes. So Pryor interacts with all of the same aliens from that scene in the real film. That amazing coup makes how incredibly un-funny the clip is all the more amazing. (It also shows how times have changed over the last 32 years. Pryor uses the "n word" in this clip (only once, but very casually), which was aired on broadcast television in 1977, apparently with no problem at all.)

Puppet Show And Spinal Tap

Embedded below is a 2 minute segment from the CBS Evening News last night on some 100 crazy and wasteful projects that have been approved for $7 billion in funding as part of the President's $787 billion stimulus package. They apparently include: $75,000 for puppet shows and clown theater, $389,000 for people to keep journals of their malt liquor and marijuana use, and $9 million for a footbridge over Route 1 in Foxboro, Massachusetts that the Governor there claimed would create 8,000 jobs ("astonishing," says CBS).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

First Tiger is Dropped By Gatorade, Is Jared Next?

By now you've probably heard that Tiger Woods has been dropped by one his high profile sponsors, Gatorade (allegedly a decision made "months ago," they now say). Could Jared, the guy who has featured in all those Subway commercial for years because he lost so much weight eating one 6" sub per day, be next? As you can see from the picture at left, he's seems to be packing on some weight again. You can read the entire article HERE.

Maybe there is a downside to the $5 footlong after all. (I guess every commercial spokesman has his dirty little secrets away from the camera.) "Oh Sun Chips, how can I stay mad at you..."