Friday, February 28, 2003

"Strange as the glimmer of the ghastly light
That shines from some vast crest of wave at night."

William Hope Hodgson - The Ghost Pirates

Growing up in southeastern Connecticut, I suppose it was natural to have some interest in the sea. My hometown of Norwich had been a harbor and even had some whaling ships sailing from her docks in the 19th century. Also, with a large Naval station, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and General Dynamics submarine construction facility less than a half hour away it was impossible not to be aware of the maritime history of the area.

Considering this, plus the fact that my father and his brother had both served in the U.S. Navy during WWII, it was not hard to imagine that I'd find myself serving as well. Of course, if you remember the fact that this occurred while our country was deeply involved in Vietnam and I thought my chances would be better sitting in a ship, rather than 'in country' (as they called it).

Add all this and you may understand that the literature of sea holds a fascination for me. The novels of Herman Melville, C. S. Forester, Patrick O'Brian and the like continue to hold my interest. True stories of the ships that sailed the world's oceans and the men that sailed on them (often at their peril) grip my imagination and pull me into a world long past.

If you happen to share my interests, or maybe the movie TITANIC moved you to such a degree that you have become one of those who seek out books on that disaster and others, you might be interested in checking out the link I've just installed.

Damn, but I'm a sucker for stories about the 'rich and powerful'. Dominick Dunne's program on Court TV is one of my favorites, dealing as it does with scandals involving the very, wealthy. In fact, I'm currently listening to an audiobook version of Dunne's Justice: Crime, Trials & Punishments.

I'm also a sucker for Court TV in general, which seems aimed at folks like me.

The reason I mention this was because of an article by John Bloom (check the link to Joe Bob Briggs and click on "Clueless Celebrities?" ) about the Catherine Zeta-Jones/Michael Douglas lawsuit over photographs taken at their wedding. One of Zeta-Jones comments about it not being about the 1.6million dollars they were paid by a British tabloid, since that was "a lot of money maybe to a lot of people in (the courtroom), but it is not that much for us.", certainly puts her in the 'out of touch'/Marie Antoinette category.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Well, I couldn't bring myself to watch G.W.'s entire speach last night, but then I often find myself grabbing the remote to flip past his smug mug whenever it appears.

Is it really wise to have the 'leader of the free world' beginning his speech about an upcoming war by making jokes about the "dress code" as the AEI dinner, where he found a most receptive audience? His administration is about to send thousands of American & British troops into a war from which hundreds may not return. He is going to order the bombing of 'strategic sites' which all too often turn out not to be such, thus leading to the death of innocent men, women and children.

But before that let's make jokes and name drop, despite the fact that most of the American public (and any international audience) has NO IDEA who these folks are or what the AEI does. From the way Bush spoke about these conservative intellectuals and big-business apologists you'd think they were strapping on equipment and leading the charge into the Iraqi desert, rather than sitting around collecting paychecks from the companies eager to profit from the up-coming war.

Oh, since I'll be discussing the Iraq situation and nay-saying the invasion, I just want to make it clear that my admiration and respect for the men & women in the Armed Forces runs deep. Unlike many 'hawks' who seem all too happy to send other folks into hostile fire, yet didn't find time to serve themselves, I spent close to ten years in the U.S. Navy. I've been in hostile waters and have been on a ship attacked by suicidal folks in the dark of night. It's scary out there folks and our politicians should remember that as they lay down in their beds each night.

It was Captain Kangaroo and NOT Mister Rogers who helped form my childhood. I don't even recall seeing Fred Rogers' program until I was in my twenties. Since I don't have this connection I guess I'm not as touched by his passing as those millions of kids who did 'know' him growing up. However, I can appreciate all that he did for children and for children's programming over the years.

While Bob Keeshan became the good Captain, Fred Rogers WAS Mister Rogers. He didn't need makeup to transform he simply entered the set and was himself.

Hats off to a man who dedicated his life to making children's television more than an excuse to sell merchandise.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

The first time I actually set foot in a casino was while I was in the Navy. It was probably either late 1968 or early 1969, on one of the first Caribbean cruises that I took. I believe I was serving on the USS Boxer at the time, and we were visiting the island of Nassau. The casino was British owned and operated, with an opulence that can’t be imagined outside of movies.
Except for the other sailors present (we were in our dress blues) it seemed that every man was dressed in tuxedos or dinner jackets, while the women were all in the most expensive gowns you could imagine. At eighteen years of age, to me it seemed as if I had stepped into a scene from a James Bond film.
Besides getting my first taste of slots and watching the more experienced folks at the tables, seeming unimpressed to be dropping stacks of chips, I learned the wonderful fact that if you played you were offered ‘free drinks’. Well, hell, you certainly can’t go wrong with a great deal like that!
I mean, what could be more sophisticated than dropping twenty bucks in a machine and getting a watered down rum & coke (worth maybe four bucks). So okay, maybe it seemed like a good deal at the time.
I have long since lost count of the various casinos that I’ve frequented both here and abroad, but there is still a thrill I get whenever I travel and find myself entering a new gambling establishment for the first time. They are all so different in the way they try to fashion the total experience of the patrons.
I’m certainly not going to try and top what Joe Bob Briggs is doing over on his site with his regular “Vegas Guy” column, but I do plan on running several posts (spread over the next month or so) on my personal experiences. Along the way I’ll probably post some links to casino websites so you can check out things for yourself.
The first two will deal with my visits to Las Vegas. Later I’ll have some comments on Atlantic City, followed by shorter accounts of visits to the two ‘native American’ casinos here in Connecticut (Foxwoods & Mohegan Sun) and also one on what I’ve experienced in the shipboard casinos of both the Carnival & Celebrity cruise lines.

Ever since his days doing the "hippie-dippie weatherman" I've been a big fan of George Carlin. His 'Seven deadly words that can't be said on television', his sometimes open contempt for organized religion and people in authority have all touched a cord in his many fans. He's got a number of gold records and a Grammy or two, plus a couple of best-selling books to his credit.

Now fans can find Carlin's sense of humor 24/7 over on his website, which you'll find over on the side with the other links.

When you go there be patient and wait for the hamster to wake up.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

As I'm not a big fan of contemporary music I haven't been a viewer of the Grammy Awards for several years. Basically my tastes run to classical, 'new age' (or whatever you'd like to call it) and older stuff. Face it, my musical tastes were formed in the late 1950s to early 1970s and really haven't changed much since then.

Anyway, Timothy Noah over at SLATE has a good article "The Shame of the Grammys" which points out that despite national attention, at no time did anyone at the awards show mention the fire at the RI club. Surely the death of close to 100 music fans should have been important enough to call for a 'moment of silence'. The ceremony, from what I've read, did a tribute to a number of music industry folks who had passed away. Apparently fans just aren't as important.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Another work week begins and a dreary one at that. Overcast and chilly. Just so New England!

One of those February days when Spring seems so far away and Summer never in reach. A day for somber reflection and speculation of what may lie ahead.

"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago -- never mind how long precisely -- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation." - Opening paragraph of MOBY DICK by Herman Melville

Don't mind me, I sometimes think that I was born into the wrong era. I've just finished listening to an audiobook, "DEMON OF THE WATERS". The book tells of the whaling ship The Globe and a mutiny which, may or maynot, have influenced some of Melville's novel. I don't know what it is that fascinates me about that particular period in our nation's history, but I often find myself reading tales (fiction and non-fiction) about the events that occurred and the people who lived in that time.

What is there about literature (good or bad) that can capture our minds and transport us to some other reality? A film, no matter, how good, can never entirely surround you and allow you to 'experience' another life. Even the best film will have moments that release you and remind you that you are apart from the characters. Literature holds you and doesn't release you until you purposely pull yourself away.


Saturday, February 22, 2003

Also of note yesterday was that the explosion and fire at an oil/gas depot in Staten Island wasn't important enough to delay or interrupt the soap operas on the local NYC stations. While the Fox News channel, along with CNN & MSNBC kept switching coverage between the two fire related stories, the network affiliates in the nations #1 market seemed to feel that it wasn't really worth the airtime that it would take from the fiction of day-time drama.

It's probably a good thing that the 9/11 tragedy happened while the TODAY SHOW was still on and they hadn't switched over to Judge Judy. Folks outside the Financial District might not have known what happened until the News at Noon.

Is it the gloomy weather that has me so cynical today, or what?
I had the day off yesterday (2/21), so after running some errands I went home to relax. As usual, unless I've rented a video/DVD I was skimming the channels looking for something of interest. As is often the case I found myself glued to the various news channels, seeing how each covered a particular story.

It interesting how there seems to be very little going on anywhere except the up-coming invasion of Iraq (brought to us be the unelected President and his henchfolks), however sometimes there is something that catches the attention of the Powers That Be enough to give that some airtime.

Sadly, it was the tragedy in West Warwick, RI where close to a hundred people (the number of dead may have increased by the time I post this) lost their lives in a nightclub fire. Coming on the heels of an earlier tragedy in Chicago (where about twenty people lost their lives, being shoved and trampled by fellow fleeing patrons) the RI fire had the additional advantage, if you will, of actually video documentation.

Nothing can guarantee that something is newsworthy like video. It's always fascinating to me, when I watch either local or national news, that the destruction of an entire town and the loss of a hundred people in some remote part of the world is barely a 10-second footnote, but if a single-engine plane happens to land in the parking lot of a mall (with no injuries) it can become worthy of several minutes of airtime, simply because somebody happened to be nearby with their Sony camcorder.

I realize that this is nothing new to anyone and that wiser folks than I have discussed the same thing. Still when I find myself watching these events I can't help but try to distance myself enough to remember that there is somebody there in the control room deciding for me just how important this event is and whether it's time to "interrupt this tragedy for a word from our sponsor".
If there is a more pleasant and funny cartoonist than Sergio Aragones I haven't met him (or her). I've had the pleasure to chat several times with this wonderful and talented gentleman at a number of different conventions over the past 15+ years.

Finally, with the aid of his regular collaborator Mark Evanier, Sergio finally has his own website up and running. You cannot only keep up with what he's up to and pick up copies of his numerous books, but he also has an "Ask Sergio" section where he'll personally reply to guestions regarding his art and other things.

Just check out the link over on the side and enjoy!

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Growing up I can recall my father reading two newspapers everyday, with a third one added on Sunday. I'm not simply saying he skimmed the headlines and read the sports page, I mean he actually did read almost everything (including the comics in each paper). I have to wonder what he'd think, if he was still around, about his Librarian son almost never getting his fingers dirty with newsprint?

Thanks to the Information Age I get my full of both mainstream and alternative publications via my computer terminal. All that and I never have to feel guilty about the paperboy having to trudge through the snow to deliver his wares.

Granted I don't read each publication as thoroughly as my Dad did in his day, but I can certainly keep up with my favorite columnists and see what the Powers That Be have decided is newsworthy for the rest of us.

The best place for me to start each morning is with the "Today's Papers" newsletter which I have e-mailed to me by Slate Magazine . Not only do I get the headlines of five major newspapers (NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST, WALL STREET JOURNAL, LOS ANGELES TIMES & USA TODAY), but links to each paper, as well as occassional links to other newspapers and magazines (both American and international). I find it amazing to compare how each publication views the major events of the day and what gets priority.

First off, my apologies for not posting for the past few days. We got hit hard by the Storm Daniel (When the Hell did they start naming blizzards for pete's sake?) here in Connecticut and the University was closed both Monday & Tuesday. Since I very rarely go online from home things had to wait until I had some free time here at work.

Anyway, we've dug ourselves out (I actually had to go out three times to keep the snow from burying the car and still had to get a helping hand from a neighbor to get the car out of its resting place.), so we're keeping our fingers crossed that any further snow doesn't really amount to much.

Before I go on I want to point out a new link to the Blog site of Elayne Riggs (former wife and co-conspirator of many years). Elayne and I began corresponding back in the early 1980s, when I subscribed to her newsletter INSIDE JOKE. For years she was Queen of the rac* groups on Usenet and she can still write rings around most folks I know. We don't always agree (Heck, even when we were married we didn't always see eye-to-eye!), but she is never boring. Click on the link over there and see what she's ranting about nowadays! :-)

Btw, as I mentioned previously I had submitted the review of THE CLUB DUMAS to Joe Bob Briggs in hopes that he'd consider me as a book reviewer for his site. You can imagine how excited I was when he actually wrote back saying I got the gig. Pretty cool, huh? I'll keep you all updated on when any review of mine is going to be posted. (If possible I'll also post it here, after it is 'published' on Joe Bob's site, or if that is a problem, I'll just let you know that you can go over there and check it out yourself.)

Friday, February 14, 2003

With the UN inspectors coming in with the latest report, we can bet that George W. is ready to send troops across the Kuwait border in Iraq. In honor of that I wanted to put forth the following, for what it's worth.

The following are lyrics from a song in the 1933 Marx Brothers’ comedy "Duck Soup" entitled "The Country’s Going to War."
Firefly: Then it’s war! Then it’s war! Gather the forces! Harness the horses! Then it’s war!
Minister: Freedonia’s going to war!
General: Each native son will grab a gun.
Stenographer: And run away to war!
All: At last we’re going to…. Feet will beat along the street to… War! We’re going to war!
Chicolini and Bob: At last the country’s going to war
All: It seems the country’s going to war.
Ministers: At last the country’s going to war.
All: We’re going to war!
Prosecutor: This is a fact we can’t ignore.
All: We’re going to war! This is a fact we can’t ignore! We’re going to war!
Firefly: In case you haven’t heard before. I think they think we’re going to war. I think they think we’re going to war
All: We’re going to war!
Bob: I think they think we’re going to war
All: We’re going to war!
Chicolini: We’re going to war!
Guards: We’re going to war!

Music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby

I expect that the deed will be done before mid-March, since the longer the administration drags it's feet the more the anti-war movement will have a chance to organize and get the word out.

While I'm on the topic, as a kid who grew up during the Fifties I get this scary feeling of deja vu' when I see these reports about folks buying duct tape, rolls of plastic and stocking up on food & water. One of my uncles actually had a fallout shelter built in his basement, even though the family lived less then five miles from the submarine base in New London. He might as well have drawn a bullseye on his roof for all the good the thing would have done.

Now I've been seeing reports on the local news that all schools have 'terrorism alert plans', which will be implemented if terrorists decide to hit the local elementary school. I also remember the town I lived in (Taftville, CT which usually doesn't even appear on many state maps) holding drills, where cars would have to pull off of the road and all us school kids would duck under our desks. Granted we were maybe twenty miles from the same Naval station, but I'm sure our schoolhouse (built in the 1920s) would have easily survived anything the Russkies would have handed out. :-(

I'm not saying that there aren't serious dangers, as 9/11 made pretty damn clear, but let's not panic folks. Be prepared in case events happen, but don't let the administration use hysteria to undermine the very things this country stands for.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

I don't know about you, but last year when they announced FREE COMIC BOOK DAY I made sure that I was able to hit the local shop. I mean it's not like I don't have way too many comics, especially of the unread variety laying around. Still, if I have the chance to sample a comic I might otherwise not buy, well, why not?

Hell, when I used to go to conventions on a regular basis the 'freebie' table was usually the first place I'd hit after paying my way. To be honest, I think there are still some comics I picked up at a San Diego convention five-six years ago that I still haven't cracked the spine on. :-)

Anyway, if the response to the last FCBD is any indication the event seems to have been a success and the publishers who took part last time around (this time joined by hold outs) have even more goodies that they'd like us to sample.

If you haven't been paying attention you might want to drop in on their Free Comic Book Day site

Then circle Saturday, May 3rd on your calendar and head on over the the closest shop. Pick up a book you normally wouldn't bother with and give it a try. It's free, ya know?

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

There's a great article on the "Liberal media" and so-called 'liberal bias' of the mainstream press over at The Nation magazine website.

Written by columnist, Eric Alterman, the article may not change your mind, but it certainly is a great answer to folks like Ann Coulter and Bernard Goldberg, whose NYT bestsellers set out to 'prove' such a bias exists. The best thing about Alterman's piece is that he demonstrates that even those places where we think we might get a liberal perspective, the Powers That Be have all but ensured that even that is 'balanced' in favor of the Conservative to Right positions.

Personally, whenever I hear the phrase I immediately know that I can tune out just about anything the speaker is going to say, since I know where they are coming from.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

As you can see, I've been posting a bit today. Not that it makes up for forgetting to update the site for days on end, but I generally try not to post unless something comes to mind that I think may be of interest.

I'll also try not to bore folks with my political opinions, since there are much better writers and certainly better informed folks already posting Blogs that deal with the day's events. You don't need my two-cents.

That said I do want to let folks know about a site of which you may not already be aware. The organization UNITED FOR PEACE seem to be swimming against the popular tide, at least if you believe the polls that say that the American people will join the unelected President in his personal agenda. Hell, I actually was against the original war in the Persian Gulf and you could probably find better rational for that one, since there was actual provocation in the form of the invasion of Kuwait. Still, if the then current US adminstration (under George I) had pressured Saddam then it seems unlikely that he would have done anything, but of course he wasn't part of the "Axis of Evil" at that point, was he?

Anyway, while I doubt that there is anything that the anti-war faction can do at this point we should at least remember that there is a segment of the American populace that doesn't favor sending troops to kill and be killed for ill-conceived purposes. Hit the link over on the side and see what some folks have in mind.

As I've mentioned before, at one time I was doing movie reviews for Joe Bob Briggs' newsletter. I was recently over at Joe Bob's current website and noticed that he was looking for folks willing to do 'book reviews'. Hell, I'm a Librarian and certainly have free time on my hands, so what the heck.

Anyway, I haven't heard yet if I have a slot, but I wanted to post the review I submitted. To be honest I whipped it off in about 10-15 minutes, so don't expect much. Still I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will get me a gig with Joe Bob once again.

Here's hoping! :-)

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Adapted into the film THE NINTH GATE by Roman Polanski (starring Johnny Depp) the book is set in contemporary Europe. The novel deals with the search for a 17th century book, whose publisher was burned alive by the Inquisition. With only three known copies surviving a mass book burning, the manuscript is sort after by various parties, all with their own agendas. Said to have been written and illustrated by Lucifer himself, the book is said to contain a hidden code that will allow a person to conjure the Devil.

The novel’s ‘hero’ Lucas Corso, who makes his living finding and selling old books & manuscripts, becomes involved in a scheme way beyond his abilities. Although not above using some underhanded methods of his own (including thievery and a corrupt policeman) to get his hands on items desired by his employers, and having loyalty only to himself, Lucas is ill-prepared to find himself dealing with murders, conniving widows and a beautiful young student, who is not what she seems at first.

Told by an acquaintance of Corso’s after the fact, and jumping back and forth over months and even centuries, Perez-Reverte has created much more than a simple mystery. In reading the book I was reminded of Umberto Eco’s NAME OF THE ROSE, since you’ll find a copy of a Latin-English dictionary pretty useful. It’s also helpful to have at least a passing knowledge of THE THREE MUSKATEERS and other works by Alexander Dumas to follow the plot, since Corso and others seem almost as interested in detailing the life and writing of that gentleman as they are in finding out whether or not they have a genuine copy of the book or a forgery.

By the halfway point in the novel, you’ll probably know more about not only Dumas, but also the history of bookbinding and Napoleon’s fate than you had ever thought possible. Oh, and did I mention that Corso and his pals like to toss around some Melville when things get boring?

What does the handwritten chapter for a draft of a Dumas book have to do with the suicide of its former owner? Why is his widow first willing to seduce Corso and next trying to kill him? Who is the mysterious stranger with a scar following Corso?

Convoluted and involved barely define the plot of this tale, but I couldn’t put it down. Not only did the story keep me riveted, but it actually inspired me to read up on Dumas to see if the ‘facts’ laid out in the novel were true or not.

Hey, who said that a good liberal education would go to waste?

Not that anybody really cares, of course, but I do have my own opinions on the Oscars (see my previous post).

Quickly, the three films I really enjoyed this year and felt deserving of Oscar consideration were MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING (which I see is being turned into a weekly sitcom), ADAPTATION (with remarkable performances by Meryl Streep and Nicholas Cage) and LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (which should force the Academy to create a new category for CGI/animated Best Actor).

In the weeks to come I'm sure I'll have more to add, but I just wanted to jump on the bandwagon early. :-)
Some mornings I wake up, immediately turn on the news to discover what has gone on since the previous night. Then there are days, like today, when I don't even turn the radio on in the car. You just know that they'll be nothing of any importance or that whatever you hear is just going to depress you for the rest of the day.

For the past week there have only been, apparently, three news stories that have been important enough to garner any more then 30 seconds on any given news program. The "Showdown With Saddam" (I think the networks share a trademark on this but it's possible that the Republican Party gets a kickback everytime it's used), the Columbia disaster (or 'tragedy', depending on which network you happen to be switched to) and Michael Jackson's sanity or lack there of. Personally, I find the last item the more fascinating.

I mean we all know that an American attack on Iraq is only a few weeks from happenening, no matter what either NATO or the UN decides to do (or NOT do). The shuttle accident investigation, like that of the Challenger, will drag on until most of us have forgotten about the thing (after all the Oscar nominations have been announced and we have to make time in the primetime newscast for that), NASA will shuffle folks around and try to cover up anything that could point a finger at any major contractor or executive. The public's perception of Jackson on the other hand is an on-going subject of interest and can easily fill hours of air-time.

Okay, that ends my rant for today. I'll try to be more entertaining next time out, plus I have an actual book review that I want to post.


Thursday, February 06, 2003

It seems like years ago, but once upon a time I was reviewing movies and television shows for Joe Bob Briggs. Back then Joe Bob was publishing an actual newsletter that one could subscribe to and receive the old fashion way. Namely via the U.S. Postal Service. For more than two years I would receive a package containing one or more video tapes, which I would then review and pass along to the next member of the Drive-In Movie Review committee.

I started with horror movies, than on to low-budget films of all types and finally to reviewing releases of television shows and made-for-TV movies. You never knew what you might find, but most of the time you were amazed and sometimes delighted to get the chance to see something that probably fewer than a couple of thousand folks would ever see.


Anyway, Joe Bob is still doing things right over at his website, THE JOE BOB REPORT. You'll find not only his reviews, but also a great archives of his other writing (and even some guy named John Bloom, whom looks awfully familiar). Try something a little bit different, you won't regret it. I've even made it easy for you by adding a link over on the side.

Steve Bob says check it out!

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Well, I really have nothing to add to all of the comments made by folks with better knowledge of the shuttle disaster. I quick skim of other Blogs and websites is overwhelming, so anything I have to say would only repeat what they have already said.

I simply want to say that my thoughts are with the families and friends of those seven astronauts. Sadly, we have (as Americans) have come to see space flight as almost ordinary, ignoring the difficulties and dangers that are all too real for those who put their lives on the line. It is only at times like this and with the earlier Challenger disaster that we stop for a moment in our day and give thought to those brave enough to go where only our imagination has gone before.