Saturday, February 09, 2008


From Byzantium's Shores, again.

1. Have you ever had mono? Nope. Alas, no one ever wanted to give me the dreaded kissing disease.

2. The last place you were (besides now)? The store, buying some new nondescript shirts. I tend to wear the same ones over and over. Although I did buy a Superman logo shirt. A second one...

3. The last gift you received? A poster that may or may not have been of a young pop star... I'm not going to say.

4. How many times a day do you drop your mobile phone? Never; I don't have one. I am perfectly willing to drop anyone else's mobile phone, however.

5. The top three things you spend the most money on? If I had money, I'd spend it on taking Becca to the movies more often and catching up on my animation DVD collection. And strip clubs. Haven't been to one of those in a long time, either.

6. Last food you ate? I cheated again last night and had some pizza. Don't worry, my bowels are punishing me for it.

7. First thing you notice about the opposite sex? Their eyes, although I'm sure no one believes me when I say that. The eyes are what draw me in right away, and I like to think that, even though I post a lot of pictures of a variety of women, they all have beautiful eyes. And some personality. Personality goes a long way.

9. The school you attend? None, currently. And I don't really want to go back. I'd rather sneak into teaching by being a sub.

10. Your mobile phone provider? None. I have yet to be provided with a mobile. Who needs to reach me that badly?

11. Favorite store that's usually in a mall? I don't really care to go to the mall anymore. There aren't any malls in DeKalb, and being broke it's not really fun to go to stores anymore. I like to shop online. You find more stuff that way.

12. Whats the longest job you have ever had? Let's see... I worked at Barnes & Noble from 1995 to 1997, but I worked there over Christmas in 1999 and 2000, so that might count, what with the extra time. Otherwise, probably my longest-held continuous job was delivery driving for a small printer from mid-1997 to sometime in 2000.

13. What do you smell like? I don't know, but it's probably not good. My deodorant is Speed Stick and my aftershave is Skinbracer, so something combining the two. Plus there's a little cocount, because of the hand soap in the bathroom.

14. The biggest lie you've ever heard? Anything having to do with the War on Terror, really. Still waiting for that war to pay for itself. And for the link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. And the location of the weapons of mass destruction.

15. The last time you cried was because why? Because Geraldine Page made the trip to Bountiful.

16. In your opinion, do long distance relationships work? No, would be my guess. I think it probably takes a lot more strength than I have to be solitary for long periods of time. Honestly, though, I think a worse relationship would be one were someone put their career in front of the relationship. That's hard to accept.

17. Do you drink coffee? Not anymore.

18. What do you wanna say to your most recent ex? "You're telling me you didn't know that trying to make me jealous on purpose was going to make me not trust you and not like you anymore?" (Seriously, Christy, thanks for the emotional abuse.)

19. Do you believe in God? No. Insert strident answer here.

20. Favorite color(s)? Purple, still.

21. The last person on your missed calls list on your mobile phone? Seriously, can't anyone envision life without a mobile phone anymore? Is it such an umbilical? Because for me all it does is take away the gift of solitude. There are times I want to be unreachable, dammit.

23. How many pillows do you usually sleep with? Three. I need to be elevated because of the acid reflux. Sometimes I add a fourth.

24. What are you wearing now? Charcoal sweat pants and a grey tee shirt. With black socks. It's cold. What are you wearing?

25. How many pets do you own? Just the bunny. I'm still trying to figure out who I talk to in order to purchase Bai Ling.

26. What are you doing tomorrow? Why, what did you have in mind? Actually, it looks like we might be doing a movie crawl tomorrow.

27. Can you play ping pong? Not really.

28. Favorite gender? Neutral.

29. Do you like maps? I still use them constantly; they were my best friend as a delivery driver who pretended to know where everything was. Just drive off a ways and then consult the map.

31. Have you ever attended a themed party? No, but it always sounded neat.

32. Have you ever thrown a party? I've had people over, but never a party.

33. When did you wake up this morning? Around 7 or so, bloated and in pain.

34. The best thing about winter? It ends eventually.

35. Last time you were in trouble with the cops? I got arrested in junior high. I've had some tickets for speeding, once for running a stop sign. The only recent brush I had with the law happened a few years ago, when I got pulled over for having expired plates.

38. What are your plans for this weekend? Quit hitting on me!

39. How many days is it until your birthday? 159.

40. What do you want to be when you "grow up"? I dunno yet. I'm still not sure I've grown up, anyway.

41. Are you on a laptop? No. Is that a come on?

42. Are you smiling? No. I'm not feeling well.

43. Do you miss someone right now? I see this question a lot on memes. And yes, I do. I miss a few people, one in particular. Very much.

44. Are you happy? Not really. But I'm not sure I'm exactly unhappy, either.

45. Have you ever been in the hospital for an emergency? Sure. My false alarm heart attack, most recently. In high school when I nearly broke my ankle. The last time I was in the emergency room was to get the ER doctor to sign something saying I was physically capable of doing my job (teaching) without suddenly dying. He refused to sign it because, after realizing I wasn't having a heart attack but a panic attack, I wouldn't get whatever expensive x-ray he wanted me to have. He told me (through a nurse) that he couldn't sign it because I hadn't had the test. Doctors are easily offended, delicate prigs who hate to have their position as demi-god of all health questioned.

46. Last time you ate chicken? Just the other day, actually. Thursday, I think.

47. What jewelry are you wearing? Do my glasses count?

48. What are you going to do after this survey? Make some lunch. I'm starting to get hungry. Plus I wouldn't go to the store with Becca this morning, so I said I'd make it up to her by making lunch.

49. Song you're listening to? None. The TV is on.

50. The car you were in last? Mine. I still won't let anyone drive me around.

52. What color shirt are you wearing? Gray. I said already, guh!

53. How long is your hair? It's pretty short. You saw it last week. I'm already thinking of a cut. I like it short.

54. What's on your mind right now? I'm really starting to get hungry. Guess that sickness is over. Good; best not abuse the system right now.

55. Last show you watched? Hannah Montana. Hey, it's Saturday morning.

56. Last thing you drank? Sweet Dasani water. Refreshing as hell.

57. Who was hotter, Ginger or Mary Ann? Why choose just one? They were both smoking as hell. Even as a kid I was trying to figure out why the Professor wasn't trying to get them in a three-way. Why are so many people on the internet intent on choosing one thing over the other when both of them are pretty great. Too much drawing of sides going on.

That said, if a gun were to my head and I had to say one was slightly hotter than the other, a redhead beats out anyone else 95% of the time. Provided she's not Lindsay Lohan.


Friday, February 08, 2008

Throwdown 2/8

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. I’d officially like to thank Brittany Murphy for finally, finally breaking me of my insane need to see any movie she’s in, no matter how crappy it is. It just doesn’t seem worth it anymore… Seriously, though, I hope she cures whatever it is that’s causing her face to melt that way.

2. I think it’s almost cute to see the Spice Girls amid the wreckage of their undersold reunion tour claiming that their tour is ending because they decided it should, not the lack of audience. It sure was not the time for a Spice Girls reunion. No one cares. Try again when late-nineties nostalgia hits its boom in about seven or ten years. Right now we’re still sick of everything from the late nineties. Too soon. Too soon.

3. Saying you have “people” because H&R Block does your taxes is a little like saying that you’ve got a personal chef because you eat at McDonald’s.

4. The mainstream media has actually succumbed to the stupidity of the average big time gossip blogger. Britney Spears admitted what was already obvious—that she’d had breast implants as a teenager, then had them removed. And the media’s all scandalized and shocked about it. No, guys, it’s normal for breasts to get really huge and then a lot smaller and then really big again, especially when you’re a teenager. And are you believing she only did it once? Because that’s what she told you?

5. That’s another home run for real world copy editors.

6. Actually, this one’s even funnier. Not just because it’s ABC, but because the article was already corrected once. Stop firing copy editors to save money!

7. Russell T. Davies on Doctor Who: “I think we're an unusual science-fiction franchise in taking a very big step back from fandom and having nothing to do with them. . . . Every program on the BBC has a message board on the website. I forbid it to happen on Doctor Who. I'm sorry to say this, all the science fiction producers making stuff in America, they are way too engaged with their fandom. They all need to step back.” Love it. And he’s right; usually when producers take too much input from the fans, the shows collapse in on themselves.

8. Mitt Romney dropped out. Okay. I guess I don’t really have anything to say about it.

9. With John Edwards out of the race and the nation deciding a vague promise of change is much better than a truly progressive candidate, I’ve decided to go the opposite route and vote for Ralph Wiggum. Yes, he’s a moron with the backing of a shadowy corporation, but we’ve had that for eight years already, and Ralph is much more entertaining and likable than Dubya. So what the hell, if the country’s going to crash down around our ears, I might as well have something more entertaining than American Idol on TV.

10. Not only can I not believe that people were surprised when Disney announced they were extending the run of their Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: The Best of Both Worlds Concert beyond its supposed one-week run, I especially can’t believe the level of outrage directed at the company for doing so. Why are Americans so constantly surprised by the way marketing works? Why is it that people can’t figure out how capitalism works when they’re constantly on about how it’s the backbone of democracy? Give me a break. Yeah, big surprise, you got fooled by a marketing scam. Americans may think it’s normal and even cute how surprised they are that guns kill people, not everyone thinks the same way as them, and snow falls in winter, but it really isn’t. Aren’t there more important things to be outraged about?

(That said, Max Burbank has an excellent open letter to Hannah Montana about why this was unfair to children. But adults--and the media--should get a grip.)

Occasional Links #1

The links have gotten smaller and unscheduled. I don't have as much time as I did when unemployed, so the format's a little different.

JA has this and other Hitchcock-inspired pictures from Vanity Fair.

From Cracked: The 6 Cutest Animals That Can Still Destroy You and The 10 Most Insane Medical Pracitces in History. Also, here are two articles that freaked me out so much I'm almost sorry I read them: the 6 Most Terrifying Foods in the World and, dear God, the utterly horrific the 5 Most Horrifying Bugs in the World.

The Guardian: America now has only one World War I veteran still living. Did you know we had any? I didn't, but he's got some interesting things to say about the war.

Ask Dr. Helen: Some actual good insight into why men don't want to get married. We're not all overgrown children, ladies.

The Onion A.V. Club interviews John Cleese.

Retrocrush: the 25 best duets.

Johnny Yen has a lovely reminiscence about Chicago that involves some film locations.

Dr. Zaius has dozens of clips of the Runaways and Joan Jett. Long live Cherie Currie and rest in peace, Sandy West!

And finally, Jeff Kay's West Virgina Surf Report has, no kidding, the funniest picture I have ever seen in my life.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Everybody Needs to Know It's the Year of the Rat

Since today is the first day of the Year of the Rat, I have a good excuse to put up this wonderful video for Badly Drawn Boy's song "Year of the Rat." This may be my favorite music video of all time. Idealistic? Sure. But why the hell not? It always puts a warm feeling in my heart. Why not try being decent to each other today?

Glad to Know It's Not Just Homer Simpson

UKTV Gold recently surveyed 3,000 people in Britain. Of those 3,000 people, 58% thought that Sherlock Holmes was a real person. "Oh, Homer, Sherlock Holmes is a character." "He sure is!" Also troubling: 33% thought Biggles was a real person.

Even more troubling: a number of people thought Gandhi, the Duke of Wellington, Florence Nightingale, and Charles Dickens were fictional people. 47% thought King Richard I (the Lionheart) was a myth. 23% thought Winston Churchill was made up instead of just a horrible world leader.

So, either a quarter of people polled have a great sense of humor, or the British public education system is not what it's cracked up to be. Can't wait to read the British history books of the future. It's like we're in a race to see which country can forget its own past the quickest.

Reading and Meme-ing

You should really read Byzantium's Shores. It's much more than what I make it look like sometimes: a place I get memes from.

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

I hate to be so pretentious, but I have to admit that if a book gets overwhelmingly great reviews from places like Entertainment Weekly or Publisher's Weekly, I file it away as something that probably isn't worth reading. They don't highlight a lot of, I guess, fringe writers I like (Joe R. Landsdale, for example), and I think they consciously look for something that's going to be the middle ground between obscure and an Oprah book. I'm not really a snob about what I read, but there is a lot of stuff that I don't like because it insists on itself. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a recent case of a book that a lot of people I know liked, but which I just couldn't get into because it was so insistent about how different it was trying to be. But I gave that one a chance. And I still really do want to read The Corrections and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and similar novels.

I guess I also figure that a lot of those books will eventually become movies, and if they're a certain kind of movie (say, a big Miramax production where the music on the trailer is all inspiring and some terrible director like Lasse Hallstrom is directing), I figure I made the right choice in ignoring them. Doesn't it ever seem like some books are just written to be bestsellers and movies?

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

I'm thinking Scarlett O'Hara, Eustacia Vye, and Isadora Zelda White Stollerman Wing for a, um, private party.

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realize it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

The Da Vinci Code. Boring, but it would be over quickly.

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

I try not to be one of those guys, really. I'm pretty honest about what I've not read. Jaquandor pointed out in his answer that he says he loves Lovecraft but has only read a small number of his stories. I guess I'm the same way. I say I love Lovecraft, but I've only read At the Mountains of Madness and a small number of stories. I also say I love Arthur Conan Doyle, but I've only read The Hound of the Baskervilles and a few stories.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realize when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?

No, never.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead of personalize the VIP)

What a weird question. I have no idea, but any Julian Barnes novel is a good read. Well, most of them. Why not read Talking It Over or Arthur and George or England, England?

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

Spanish. I can already handle German, but I'd love to have perfect reading comprehension so I can read Don Quixote in its original language.

A mischievous fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

There are a lot of books I wouldn't mind reading once a year. I don't care how pretentious it sounds, I absolutely adore Don Quixote and Paradise Lost. I could easily read Julian Barnes's A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters over and over. But I guess my choice would be a graphic novel, if I may. And it would be Uncle Gabby, one of the books in Tony Millionaire's Sock Monkey series. The ending makes me cry, and it feels good.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

I have no idea, really. I just pick up a lot more recommendations, which is good enough for me.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favorite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

I want hardwood floors. I want a desk and one of those lounge areas with the bay windows. I'm not really a leatherbound guy; my library already resembles an English professor's office, with books of all types haphazardly stacked on shelves, on the floor, in every space where cinder blocks and wood can be rigged to create shelving. And I like it that way, actually. I like the clutter. I just need a better list of everything I have. I group by author and category. What I really want is for that room to be bigger or, I don't know, a TARDIS, so I can cram more inside of it in a limited space. I'd put up more paintings--well, prints, really. I like prints. And they would all be Frazettas and NC Wyeths (especially the Wyeths). A large stereo system would be nice, too, because sometimes I like to listen to film scores or Classical music when I read. And an office area. And a very comfortable chair for that lounge area. Knickknacks everywhere, like it is now (mostly comic book stuff and science fiction toys, like it is now). I'd probably file my film score CDs in there, too, so I need a lot of shelf space for that.

It would be nice to have some author autographs, I think. But, again, I like the sort of cluttery, DIY look with hidden treasures all around, so I'd probably just have them on bookplates that are framed and hung up around the room.

Damn, I wish I had that now.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

For Clarification Purposes

To the anonymous piece of shit going by the name "your god" who commented on a post and told me "fuck ur mather": did you mean Cotton Mather?

Because I've never really thought of him as my Cotton Mather so much as history's Cotton Mather.

But is "ur" a misspelling, or did you mean to say "fuck the ur-Mather," as in the original Mather. If that's the case, I don't know what you're talking about.

And why Mather, anyway? I mean, he did do some bad things, but he did help a lot with smallpox inoculation in early America. And he influenced American literature before such a thing really existed. I can see not liking Cotton Mather, but hating him? It's just a little weird.

Film Week

A review of the films I've made this past week.

This movie starts off with a serious note telling us, the audience, that it is a composite of actual events that have happened involving prostitutes, crime, and the police. Then it proceeds to be utterly ridiculous, badly-acted, overblown, and impossible to take seriously. So I was expecting some classically hilarious exploitation, but sadly, this movie thinks it really has something serious to say, and it might, but it's just buried under differing levels of badness. * star.

There's an excellent character study in this movie, but the film sometimes loses its way. Ostensibly, the film is about a successful, divorced businesswoman (Angela Bassett) who meets a man half her age on vacation and has a fling, all while dealing with the death of her best friend, the loss of her job, and the scorn (or acceptance) or her family members. But the movie focuses so intensely on the principal age difference that much of the second and third acts feels extraneous and loose; there needed to be some real tightening at the script level (though I don't know who looks to Ron Bass for tightening). That said, the love story is genuinely affecting, as are the various reactions of her family (one of them is actually downright angry and offended by it). The film could have more forecefully made its point that age can only be a number and it shouldn't keep two adults who love each other from being happy. But Taye Diggs is great (as always) as the younger man, and Angela Bassett gives the best performance I've ever seen her give. I'm sorry she didn't get more attention, especially around awards season (Gwyneth Paltrow won the Oscar for that dreck Shakespeare in Love). I can't help feeling that a white woman like Diane Lane or Julia Roberts would be hailed as "courageous" for taking a role like this. Angela Bassett is absolutely excellent and deserved a lot more recognition. ***1/2 stars.

Lifetime's annual Predictable Movie About How Fatties Are People movie stars Nikki Blonsky. And she's a cutie. I hope she gets to do a real film next. ** stars.

I admit, I hate these kinds of movies about uptight people meeting quirky people and being awkward. Liza Minnelli is excellent as the quirky girl. But it's boring as hell. *1/2 stars.

An absolutely beautiful movie about a woman in the forties who simply wants to see her childhood home again. She lives in Houston with her weak son (John Heard) and his shrew of a wife. She hates her life and one day jumps on the bus and heads to Bountiful to see her home and her girlhood friend, along the way examining the realities of her life and accepting it for what it's been. It's a touching movie, alternately happy and sad, and it earns every emotional reaction. This could so easily have been Hollywood bullshit about an elderly person having a whimsical adventure (The Bucket List leaps to mind), but instead it's a reflective movie about the human experience. Horton Foote wrote the film, back in the days when screenplays could be edgy without having to be quirky and call attention to how edgy they were. It's edgy for being about humanity instead of about being a movie. Geraldine Page deservedly won an Oscar for her performance. Rebecca De Mornay has a small role as a fellow passenger. One of the greatest movies I've ever seen, from an era that is still underappreciated for the few gems it hides. **** stars.

TARGETS (1968)
Peter Bogdanovich's first film is an examination of violence. Half of the story deals with Boris Karloff as horror film star Byron Orlock. He's about to retire, having decided that his kind of costume-oriented movie horror is outdated in a world where bloodshed routinely makes the papers. The other half of the story follows an all-American type of young man who has recently found himself buying large numbers of guns and having violent thoughts. He doesn't know why, but the impulse is getting stronger and stronger. Both of these stories meet in an explosion of violence and anger. The first half of the movie is excellent. It has all the hallmarks of a first film--long tracking shots, long trucking shots, a reverence for older films disguised as cynicism about modernity, the director playing a director, etc. But it unfolds so well, and it looks so good, that I easily overlooked those. Karloff is giving one of the best performances of his later career (and this is even a Corman production). The characters are fascinating, and the story reveals more and more about them. But then the second act slows down too much, and the third act is a mass of confusion that seems less like an effect and more like desperate filmmaking. The very end, however, is excellent, and one of Karloff's finest scenes. ***1/2 stars.

Rene Clair wrote and directed this excellent satire about an ex-convict who escapes from jail, becomes a salesman, and works his way up to factory owner. A fellow inmate gets a job working for him because the owner is afraid of being exposed. There's a love story and some great, funny mechanical effects involving how highly mechanized (and dehumanizing) the factory is. The film is so perfect for its time, cheekily tearing at industry in favor of humanity and coming out on the side of labor. But it's also very, very funny and odd; I laughed more in this movie than I thought I would. It's complicated, but never in a way that makes you work to understand it. The production company sued Charles Chaplin for, they claimed, plagiarizing their movie in Modern Times. Quite possibly the greatest French film ever made. **** stars.

WINGS (1927)
The first movie to win the Best Picture Oscar. Two men sign up to be pilots in the Lafeyette Escadrille and then realize that they're both romancing the same woman (Clara Bow--who could blame them?). It's melodramatic, of course--this is the twenties--but luckily none of the melodrama gets in the way of some truly amazing scenes of aerial combat. It's an involving movie, and Bow especially is excellent in one of her strongest performances. **** stars. Gary Cooper made his film debut here and became an overnight star. William Wellman directed.

Unmade Disney: The 1940s

Some time ago, I had a post about unmade Disney projects from the 1930s. Since I’ve come to the end of the 1940s in my evaluation/history of Walt Disney Productions, I’m now going to talk about some of the projects developed and abandoned in the forties.

Hootsie the Owl (1940): This film about a misfit owl who sleeps at night and is awake during the day was an Al Hurter concept. Walt thought the idea was cute, and there’s a lot of really great concept art for this cartoon, but the idea was just too slight. The animators worked some ideas for Hootsie again in 1969, but could never make anything of it.Don Quixote (1940): Cervantes’s novel was meant to be one of Disney’s artistic features, another follow-up to Fantasia and Bambi. Walt wanted the short to be animated with as much realism as possible, but there were fantasy sequences that opened up space for surrealism. It was set aside in 1941 with many other projects, but revived in 1946 as a possible short set to Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote: Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character for Large Orchestra. It’s unclear whether it would have been part of a package or a short on its own. Either way, it was never made. In 1951 the idea was revived again, this time in a kind of simple, flat, UPA-inspired style. But nothing came of it.

The Hound of Florence/Inspector Bones (1941): The Hound of Florence was a novel by Felix Salten (author of Bambi) about a detective who turned into a dog. Development as an animated feature seems not to have gone very far, although it also was pushed as a combination feature or even a completely live action film. It would finally surface as The Shaggy Dog in 1959. The idea of a dog detective seems to have inspired Inspector Bones, which was a direct parody of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films which were very popular in the forties. The film would have pitted Inspector Bones and Dr. Beagle against either Professor Mongrel (“The Mad Dog of London”) or Sir Cyril Sealyham. The story notes feature a lot of Tex Avery style self-referential jokes, and many who see them now think the project an odd one for the Disney of the early forties. Some scenes prefigure the 1986 Disney film The Great Mouse Detective, although the makers of that film were unaware of Inspector Bones.

Babar (1941): Disney was offered the rights to the first three novels in the popular children’s series, but turned them down.

Ditch Diggers (1941): Mickey, Donald and Goofy on a road construction crew.

Gremlins (1942): Gremlins is one of Disney’s legendary unmade films, not least because it was based on an unpublished story by RAF Lt. Roald Dahl. The combination of Dahl and Disney seems irresistible. The gremlins themselves have a very appealing design. I don’t know if it had anything to do with Disney’s decision not to make the film, but the Bugs Bunny cartoon Falling Hare premiered in 1943.

Prostitution and War (1942): Another scrapped war film about the dangers of venereal disease. Probably this would have been one of the army-only films. Another unmade war film was called Army Psycho-Therapy.

Guerilla Duck (1942): This is one of a couple of shorts, including The Lone Raider, in which Donald was meant to take on the Japanese. As it was, after all of that Basic Training, Donald seems to have been removed from active duty after wiping out a Japanese airfield in Commando Duck. Donald was also supposed to match wits with a Garbo-esque double agent in Madame XX.

A House Divided (1942): This short would’ve seen the Three Little Pigs once again, this time working in a defense factory. Piper and Fiddler Pig would’ve learned that not paying attention to their work could end in disaster for the United States.

How to Be a Cowboy (1942): I’m sorry they never made this Goofy short, if only because the concept drawings are so expressive and funny.

Lorenzo the Magnificent (1943): This was meant to be a surreal short set to Classical music about a Persian cat whose tail takes on a life of its own. The concept for this dance short came from Joe Grant. The cartoon was never made, but the idea was never forgotten at the studio, and Mike Gabriel directed Lorenzo, which was released in 2004. It was originally intended for the third Fantasia film, which has yet to materialize (although the segments have now all been released separately).

Ajax the Stool Pigeon (1943): This project seems like it would’ve been especially promising. It told the story of a military carrier pigeon with acrophobia who has to battle with other birds to get an important message through. The concept drawings show a lot of character, including a Mata Hari type alongside Nazi vultures and bats. The project also went under the name Roland XIII. This might have made quite an exciting short or even a feature along the lines of Dumbo, but it was unfortunately scrapped. Some of it now seems similar to the recent animated film Valiant.

Democracy (1943): Joe Grant and Dick Huemer developed this short about how the common American should be proud to contribute to the war effort. Only one of a number of wartime shorts that went unmade. Another one was called Melting Pot.

Square World (1943): Another Grant/Huemer conception, this one was minimalist and dealt with a square-shaped ruler who attempts to force conformity and make everything else square-shaped. The symbolism is obvious, but some of the concept drawings are pretty neat.

How to Be a Commando (1943): For whatever reason, it was decided not to bring Goofy into the war. Another unmade short was called Army Story, although there’s every possibility that was actually a designation referring to this same film.

Chanticleer and Reynard (1945): Disney had been trying to make Edmund Rostand’s Chantecler or Saint Cloude’s The Romance of Reynard into films for over a decade now; finally, the projects were put together as a single film. Though the animators had some real enthusiasm for the project, it was finally shelved in 1945. This was not the last time this project would pop up, however.

Cuban Carnival (1945-1946): Walt had intended to follow Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros with a third Latin American feature; Cuban Carnival seems to be a consensus name, as other notes refer to it as Carnivale, Carnival Carioca, or Caxaga. Donald Duck would’ve returned, as would Jose Carioca (no word, sadly, on Panchito Pistolero). The film was meant to have a through-story, a sort of version of the Crosby-Hope Road to movies with Donald and Carioca competing for the love of a female parrot called Aurora (the name suggests that, possible, Aurora Miranda, who appeared on screen with the two in Three Cabelleros, may have been asked to voice). Segments were planned, including a sequence with a crow plantation owner in Cuba (white suit, wide hat and all) and something called Lady with the Red Pompoms. Other segments which were probably intended for Cuban Carnival were The Laughing Gauchito, Homer Brightman and Frank Thomas’s revisiting of the characters from The Flying Gauchito (in Three Caballeros); Cape Dance, inspired by a dance from Grenada and featuring contrasting color shifts and a red cloak; San Blas Boy, about a boy and his dog who are caught in a storm while fishing; La Loca Mariposa, in which Donald tries to capture giant butterflies (Wilfred Jackson would’ve directed; it was also considered as a short on its own as early as 1944); and Rancho in the Sky, a surrealist short featuring a man and a woman riding in the clouds and stars among strange shapes and colors. Since The Three Cabelleros was incrementally better than Saludos Amigos, it’s a shame, I think, the movie was never made.

On the Trail (1946): Another Americana short, this one would have been accompanied by a segment of Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. It was developed by Retta Scott, and many studies of pueblos, mesas, and sand paintings were done. My own personal feeling, based on some of these studies and the studies for Rancho in the Sky, is that Walt had intended to do, once Cuban Carnival was stopped by the box office failure (and critical savaging) of The Three Cabelleros, an Americana version of Fantasia that was set to American art music and much more of an artistic, highbrow sort of film; probably this project was scrapped in favor of a film devoted to popular music that could be animated much more as a cartoon than as an experimental film. It’s tantalizing to wonder what might have been.

Surrealist Short (1946): I’ve seen this name, but I can’t find out much other than the short was set to music. It might actually be a shorthand name for one of the Make Mine Music segments that hadn’t been titled yet, or it might have been something else.

Sonja Henie Fantasy (1946): Another possible short for a package feature, probably meant to be a combination short with champion figure skater Sonja Henie alongside animated animals. It’s worth pointing out that Melody Time opens with an ice skating fantasy, Once Upon a Wintertime.

Hiawatha (1946): Walt often liked to keep working on things in order to improve them (witness Cinderella, which had popped up in one form or another as a project after he’d done it as a Laugh-O-Gram in 1922). Though David Hand had directed an excellent, very cute Silly Symphony called Little Hiawatha, Walt wanted to make a feature based on the Longfellow poem. And he wanted to make it very artistic, more along the lines of the impressionism of Bambi. People had reservations about the project, but they loved the concept art and the project was seriously considered. But there was no money to make a film like that, and when Walt decided to get back into features in 1948, Hiawatha was pushed aside in favor of Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. Ultimately, it was decided that there were too many story problems; besides that, there were people at the studio who feared the project was too highbrow and might be another Fantasia (which would not make its money back entirely until the 1970s). Hiawatha was permanently shelved in 1949.Share and Share Alike (1946): This short, featuring Donald Duck and his nephews fighting over an apple, was apparently horrible. Much of it was animated ($26,000 was spent on it), but when it was screened many people in the studio felt it was a disaster and potentially one of the worst films in the company’s history. I guess it couldn’t be salvaged, because it was never finished.

Destino (1946): This collaboration between Disney and Salvador Dali was quite a legend for a while. What would that have yielded? Remember, Dali respected Disney’s artistry and at one point even called him America’s greatest surrealist. One of the intellectual artists who didn’t abandon Disney in the forties, Dali was very pleased to work with Disney. But the project fell apart; they just couldn’t find a way to make it work. Only fifteen seconds of animation were produced. The film was probably meant to be part of a package film, oddly enough. It was one of the shorts revived for the third Fantasia; in 2003, the short was released, directed by Dominique Monfery.

How to Train a Dog (1947): Another proposed Goofy short. Does that mean Goofy isn’t a dog?

In the forties, there were always ideas for features in the studio: Alice in Wonderland had been in seemingly constant development since 1931; Peter Pan had been at Disney since 1939. Both would see a release in the fifties, as would other ideas from the forties: Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty. He pursued the rights to the Mary Poppins books for two decades; if they couldn’t be obtained, he had already bought the rights to Mary Norton’s novels The Magic Bed Knob and Bonfires and Broomsticks, which were similarly English stories about magic.

In 1940, with Fantasia about to be released, Walt said of his future plans for the company: “What I see way off there is too nebulous to describe, but it looks big and glittering. That’s what I love about business, the certainty that there is always something bigger and more exciting just around the bend; and the uncertainty of everything else.” But, unfortunately, things had turned out differently. By 1951, he was still excited, but he was excited over a theme park and television. He now saw animation as an ancillary part of the studio, not its driving force. He would never feel again that animation was an exciting realm of experimentation and discovery.

Masters of Animation: 1940s Cultural Interlude

With 1950 reached in my Evaluating Disney series (finally, after a much longer time than I intended), I'm going to pause and do another of these, the interludes which place animation history in a wider cultural perspective. I'm going to take a short break before I move on to 1951 to do some posts about Warner Bros., UPA, and Chuck Jones.

Haphazardly, as always:

In 1941, World War II continued to escalate as Germany invaded Greece, Yugoslavia, and Russia, and ramped up persecution of Jews. America is finally drawn into the war when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill see Disney’s Victory Through Air Power. The FCC granted the first commercial licenses to 10 stations authorizing them to broadcast; the first regular television broadcast occurs, as does the first television commercial (Bulova watches). Joe Simon & Jack Kirby’s Captain America #1 is published by Timely Comics. Other comic debuts this year include Archie (Pep Comics #22), Wonder Woman (All-Star Comics #8), Plastic Man (Police Comics #1) Aquaman and Green Arrow (More Fun Comics #73), and Blackhawk (Military Comics #1). Albert L. Kanter creates Classic Comics, later called Classics Illustrated. Dr. Suess begins doing editorial cartoons; Margaret and H.A. Rey introduce Curious George to the world. Hayao Miyazaki is born; so is Rintaro. Citizen Kane is released. There is a strike among the Warner Bros. animators; Columbia changes the name of its cartoon studio to Screen Gems. The Fleischers begin to animate the first Superman cartoons; they are the most expensive cartoons their studio has made. The Disney strike occurs from May to December. Mary Blair begins to work for Disney; Art Babbitt and Bill Tylta will leave as a result of the strike. Tex Avery has an argument with Leon Schlesinger and quits, heading first to Paramount and then MGM. Hugh Harman leaves MGM. Cartoon studios are founded in Hong Kong and Spain. Norman McLaren joins the National Film Board of Canada. The Princess with the Iron Fan is the first Chinese animated feature. The Fleischers have the misfortune to release their second feature, Hoppity Goes to Town, the same week that Pearl Harbor is bombed; the failure ruins their studio. Disney releases Dumbo and The Reluctant Dragon. George Pal releases Western Daze, the first Puppetoon film; Cracked Nut is the first in Walter Lantz’s Woody Woodpecker series; The Fox and the Grapes is the first in Frank Tashlin’s Fox and Crow series for Screen Gems. Otto Messmer produces a series of animated ads for Botany Lamb, the first to be shown on television. Disney makes some war drive cartoons for the National Film Board of Canada, and wins an Oscar for Lend a Paw.

In 1942, America put 100,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps while atomic fission tests become successful and Jacques Cousteau invents the aqualung. The Sad Sack comic strip begins; so does the Little Golden Books series. Carl Barks moves over to Disney’s Four Color Comics to write more stories with Donald Duck that, in many ways, will outdo and outlive the film series. Frank Tashlin hires a staff for Screen Gems that comes right off the Disney picket line, including John Hubley and Zach Schwartz. The Fleischers are removed from their own studio by Paramount; the studio is renamed Famous Studios. Bill Tytla will work there after leaving Disney. Max Fleischer moves into producing war films; Dave Fleischer head to Columbia as head of animation production, only to discover his staff is already on strike. Paul Terry creates Mighty Mouse as a spoof of Superman and debuts him, as Super Mouse, in The Mouse of Tomorrow. Rudolph Ising becomes head of the Air Force’s First Motion Picture Unit. Michael Eisner is born. Disney designer Al Hurter dies of rheumatic fever; Frank Churchill, the composer of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” and all of the songs and music for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, shoots himself over his piano, partially distraught over Walt’s harsh criticism of his excellent score for Bambi. He is 41. Carole Lombard and John Barrymore die. Disney is accused of profiteering because of the cost of his war film The New Spirit. Bob Clampett’s Horton Hatches the Egg is the first cartoon based on Dr. Seuss. Spike and Tyke make their first appearance in Dog Trouble. The first non-Fleischer Popeye cartoon is You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap; Famous Studios will continue to produce Popeye shorts until 1957. Tex Avery’s The Blitz Wolf is released. Tweety Bird first appears in A Tale of Two Kitties. Bob Clampett’s Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs is released. Disney releases Bambi; the studio wins another Oscar for Der Fuehrer’s Face.

In 1943, the Allies invade Sicily, Mussolini is deposed, and the United States begins a bombing campaign against Germany. The first live action Batman serial is released. The Superman cartoon series is cancelled because of high budgets and a lack of audience interest. Bill Tytla leaves Famous Studios for Terrytoons, but only works there a year. Norman McLaren creates an animation division for the National Film Board of Canada. Osamu Dezaki is born. Casablanca is released; Jane Russell makes a splash in Howard Hughes’s The Outlaw. Disney releases Saludos Amigos and Victory Through Air Power; Reynard the Fox is the only animated feature made under the Nazi regime. The first Japanese animated feature is Momotaro and Eagles. Famous Studios begins the Little Lulu series with Eggs Don’t Bounce and the Noveltoons series with No Mutton for Nuttin’; Tex Avery starts off the Droopy series with Dumb-Hounded. George Pal releases The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, written by Dr. Seuss. The Private Snafu series begins. Halas and Batchelor’s Abu’s Dungeon is the first in a series of anti-Nazi Abu cartoons. Yankee Doodle Mouse is the first of seven Tom & Jerry cartoons to win the Oscar.

In 1944, the D-Day invasion occurs, the U.S. bombs Berlin, Jews are slaughtered by gas chambers in Auschwitz, Rome and Paris are liberated, Germany bombs London with V-1 and V-2 rockets, MacArthur lands in the Philippines, and FDR wins a fourth term. Louis Lepke, the heard of Murder Inc., is executed. The Harvard Mark I calculator is invented (it weighs 5 tons and stores 72 numbers, but it can perform 3 additions per second, perform trigonometry, and calculate logarithms). The live action Captain America serial is released. Frank Frazetta begins working in comics. Warner Bros. buys out Leon Schlesinger; Bob Clampett moves to Screen Gems. Industrial Films and Poster Service, an animation group made up of former Disney artists Zach Schwartz, Steve Bosustow and Dave Hilberman produce Hell Bent for Election, a pro-FDR cartoon directed by Chuck Jones. Gene Kelly is turned down by Walt Disney to animate a dance sequence in Anchors Aweigh; Hanna and Barbera animate him dancing with Jerry Mouse instead. Max Fleischer produces an animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for Jam Handy that is still a perennial on WGN. David Hand leaves Disney to found Gaumont-British Animation for producer J. Arthur Rank. George Lucas is born. Edvard Munch dies. Tex Avery’s Screwball Squirrel is the first of the Screwy Squirrel series (it only lasts four cartoons); George Pal’s And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street is another Suess cartoon. The National Film Board of Canada begins the Let’s Sing Together series. MGM’s Mouse Trouble is the second Tom & Jerry cartoon to win the Oscar.

In 1945, Auschwitz is liberated by Soviet troops, the American flag is raised over Iwo Jima, Adolf Hitler commits suicide, Germany surrenders, the Allied leaders meet at Potsdam, the United Nations is formed, a lost B-52 bomber crashes into the Empire State Building, atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrenders, and World War II ends. Franklin D. Roosevelt dies. Mussolini is executed. The Nuremberg War Trial begins. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are formed. Korea is divided. Jackie Robinson is the first black player in the Major League. The Whirlwind computer project starts at MIT. Shin Nihon Doga, an animation studio, is founded in Japan. More Fun Comics #101 sees the debut of Superboy. Frank Welker is born. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is published. Disney releases The Three Caballeros; the first animated features debut in Spain (Garbancito de la Mancha) and Great Britain (Halas & Batchelor’s Handling Ships). Chuck Jones’s The Odor-Able Kitty introduces Pepe Le Pew; says colleague Eddie Selzer: “Nobody’s going to laugh at that shit!”). Sutherland’s The Cross-Eyed Bull is the first in the Daffy Ditties series. Life with Feathers debuts Sylvester the Cat. For the third year in a row, Tom & Jerry win an Oscar; this time it’s Quiet, Please.

In 1946, the first Cannes Film Festival is held; it was meant to be held in 1939. Nine Nazi wars criminals are hanged, the Dead Sea Scrolls are found, and a medical symposium finds that smoking may cause cancer. Xerography is invented, the bikini is invented, and Bikini Atoll becomes the site of atomic bomb tests. The first American rockets leave the atmosphere. IBM builds the ENNIAC, the world’s first all electronic circuited computer. Bill Plympton and Steven Spielberg are born. H.G. Wells dies. Dr. Benjamin Spock writes Baby and Child Care. Disney releases Song of the South and Make Mine Music. The final Private Snafu cartoon is released; Terrytoons debuts Heckle and Jeckle in The Talking Magpies. Walky Tawky Hawky is the debut of Foghorn Leghorn. Famous Studios introduces Casper the Friendly Ghost in The Friendly Ghost. The Oscar goes to a fourth Tom & Jerry cartoon, The Cat Concerto.

In 1947, the first modern UFO sighting occurs and so, supposedly, does the Roswell Incident. India and Pakistan gain independence. Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier. Howard Hughes flies the H-4 Hercules. Palestine is divided by the UN. The zoom lens is patented. Transistors are invented at Bell Labs. Carl Barks’s greatest creation, Uncle Scrooge, debuts in Four Color Comics #178. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby create the first romance comic, Young Romance. Howdy Doody begins airing on NBC; it will run until 1960 and be one of the most popular children’s shows in TV history. Jiri Trnka founds the Studio Loutkoveho Filmu in Prague. Terrytoons employees go on strike. Will Vinton is born; Henry Ford dies. Disney releases Fun and Fancy Free; the feature The Magic Pony is released in the Soviet Union (the USSR releases animated features at least as often as Disney). The puppet film The Emperor’s Dream is released in China. The first children’s television series airs on the DuMont Television Network; Movies for Small Fry is hosted by Big Brother Bob Emery and airs old Van Bueren cartoons. Tweety Pie is the first Warner Bros. cartoon to win an Oscar.

In 1948, the US Supreme Court had to order the University of Oklahoma Law School to admit a black student, President Truman proposes Alaska and Hawaii for statehood, Israel becomes a state, North Korea becomes a republic, and a 200-inch telescope opens at Mount Palomar. The first Polaroid camera goes on sale, and coaxial cable is used for televisions for the first time. The Supreme Court rules that Hollywood studios are monopolies and must sell their theaters. Jay Ward founds Television Arts Productions to make cartoons for TV. Columbia hires UPA to make their cartoons and shut down Screen Gems. Kirk Alyn is the first live action actor to play Superman in a serial (though animation is used for many of the effects). Prince Charles and Gary Trudeau are born; Sergei Eisenstein and Babe Ruth die; Gandhi is assassinated. Disney releases Melody Time. Jiri Trnka releases The Emperor’s Nightingale. Marvin the Martian is introduced in Haredevil Hare; Seymour Kneitel begins the Little Audrey series with Butterscotch and Soda. UPA’s first cartoon for Columbia is John Hubley’s Robin Hoodlum. A fifth Tom & Jerry cartoon, The Little Orphan, wins the Oscar.

In 1949, the UN Building went up in New York, NATO is formed, Mao Tse-Tung takes over China and establishes the People’s Republic, and Orwell writes 1984. USSR begins atomic weapons testing. RCA introduces the 45. The Williams CRT storage tube is invented; Wang develops core memory. The first Emmy Awards are presented; Hopalong Cassidy begins airing on NBC. A second live action Batman serial is released. Joe Grant quits at Disney; the studio releases The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. George Dunning and Jim Mackay form Graphics Associates. UPA begins the Jolly Frolics series with John Hubley’s Ragtime Bear; it is the first cartoon starring Mr. Magoo. Fast and Furry-ous, by Chuck Jones, is the introduction of the Roadrunner. Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion Little Red Riding Hood is the first of a series of Mother Goose films. Jay Ward’s Crusader Rabbit debuts on television. Warner’s For Scent-imental Reasons wins the Oscar.

In 1950, the Korean War starts; so do atomic energy tests. It is reported that kids spend an average of 27 hours a week watching TV (especially wrestling and Ed Sullivan). RCA invents a three-color picture tube; the oscilloscope is also invented. EC Comics’s Haunt of Fear becomes the long running Two-Fisted Tales. Wally Wood begins working at Avon Comics. George Orwell dies; so does George Bernard Shaw. ABC begins airing Official Films Cartoons, a collection of Van Beuren shorts. Gaumont-British Animation closes. Disney releases Cinderella. Jiri Trnka releases Prince Bayaya. Famous Studios’s Quack a Doodle Doo is the first in the Baby Huey series; Terrytoons begins the Little Roquefort series with Cat Happy. UPA’s Gerald McBoing-Boing, with a story by Dr. Seuss, wins the Oscar.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 8

It's dark out and getting darker. We've got a winter storm warning for tonight; we're supposed to get between 3 and 9 inches of snow, but I have a feeling it'll be closer to 9. And as today goes on, I find myself just getting more and more tired.

Part of the reason for this is the new drug I'm on. Dr. Atta put me on Coreg and took me off Toprol, and the Coreg was working pretty well. I was supposed to go in for some bloodwork and lab tests, and then Dr. Atta was going to either put me back on Toprol or write me a prescription for the Coreg generic. When I went to the clinic a few weeks ago, I called to see how much I would have to pay up front because I have no insurance. They told me $120; anything over that I would be billed for. I wasn't sure if the labs counted as part of the same process, so I called to see if I would have to pay for the lab tests. When they told me I'd have to pay $235, I immediately cancelled my appointment and called Dr. Atta's nurse. There was no way I could pay for that; I only have $4.88 in my bank account.

(On a side note, this is why I supported John Edwards; I think it's utterly criminal that the richest country in the world can't help to care for people like me who have low-paying jobs with no insurance benefits. $235 I can't pay and I swear to Christ my first thought was "Great, so now I get to have a stroke and die because I can't afford every single process my doctors want to put me through." And those doctors do give you shit about it later. Dr. Atta wanted to know why I hadn't gotten that ultrasound last year that Dr. Sabrawhal had unneccessarily recommended.)

Dr. Atta did put me on the Coreg generic, Carvedilol, which is a four dollar prescription at Wal-Mart like my Enalapril, so I'm finally paying less than ten bucks a month to medicate myself. That helps a lot. Unfortunately, though, the Carvedilol has to be taken twice a day, and I keep forgetting to take it at night. I'm not in the habit yet, and I can feel it wearing off sometimes. It's hard getting used to that. I much prefer the Coreg capsules, which only need to be taken once.

I have to admit, though, I'm starting to get to that point in the cycle again where I don't care whether or not I lose any weight. This is the whiny part that everyone hates seeing (those few people who still read this, anyway), and I'm trying to figure out how to break that part of it. I was feeling really, really good. Now... meh. I have less energy. I've had a few frozen pizzas. I feel unsupported again. I'm having too much soda; it's got sugar instead of chemicals, but that doesn't make it incredibly healthy--it just doesn't mess with my mind too much. I can feel myself putting some weight back on. I hate it. But it's so much easier to be lazy.

I don't know. Since I started this process, I've fallen back so many times. I've faced a lot of the issues of my self-esteem and my emotional problems. I've actually gotten over so many past hurts, so many present slights, and there is so much from my past that hurt me over and over for years and years that doesn't even affect me anymore. But there's still something there that won't let me just move on with my life. I hate to use this, but there's something blocking me from feeling like I deserve to be healthy and happy. And I hate feeling like it's something I have to deserve or not. That's what I need to break. I just don't know how to do it yet.

I went out and voted this morning (and sent Johnny Yen some overdue mail). I like to go around nine in the morning, when everyone else is at work. I was told that I was the first person to choose the non-partisan ballot, meaning that--as I said last week--I didn't vote for the presidential nomination. The non-partisan ballot only had two items on it, both of which I voted for: to increase federal spending on health care for veterans, and an $11 million dollar allocation for DeKalb (which is rapidly becoming overcrowded) to build two new schools and expand some others. There was a second ballot which was Democrat or Republican only; I took the Democratic ballot so I could vote for John Laesch for Congress.

So I didn't, as someone rather rudely suggested, just go vote for Nader or McCain. I didn't vote for any of the Democratic candidates because I didn't feel any of them represented my values best. I don't trust Clinton, and Obama seems to have no position on anything. I don't like either one of them (no matter how much that opinion apparently "disparages" the Democrats, a party which I do not belong to and therefore feel no loyalty towards). Parties and organizations don't win my respect; people do. Edwards had my respect. Kucinich nearly had it. Even Bill Richardson had a little of it. But these two... no. Something inside me says that the way to reform a flawed system (and as long as we have the Electoral College, voting is in my eyes a flawed system) is not to help perpetuate it. Maybe if I liked anyone at all in any part of this race, things would've been different. But the choice I was presented with was not much of a choice. I finally understand why my dad writes in a vote every year.

Anyway. It's Fat Tuesday, apparently. I think I'm going to smoke a big fatty and try to get over myself.


Another swipe from Byzantium's Shores.

1. How old will you turn in 2008?

2. Do you think you'll be married by then?
No, despite this now being my mom's favorite topic of conversation.

3. What do you look forward to most in the next 3 months?
Not dying, I guess.

4. Do you like to say "I told you so?"
Only a little bit; saying it when someone's been hurt is too evil even for me, but when it's something trivial then yeah, it occasionally comes out.

5. Who was the last person to call you?
Some creditor whose call didn't get answered.

6. Do you prefer call or text?
I don't text people; I don't have a cell phone. I like to hear a voice. Once again, I don't understand how progress

7. Do you have any pets?
Yes, my rabbit, Thumper.

8. What were you doing at 1:30 am?

9. What were you doing at 3:00 am?
Still sleeping.

10. When is the last time you saw your mom?
Christmas Day, actually. The weather's been so crappy ever since that neither one of us really wants to make the drive.

11. What is your mood?
Meh. I've got a little bit of a headache. I just came back from the polls, so I'm still full of the outside. And it's nice out, despite the ice and clouds; at least, it's nice now, we're supposed to have a winter storm tonight. This is nice weather for Illinois in January.

12. How many houses have you lived in?
Well, I was born in Iowa, then we lived in (I assume) military housing in Texas when my dad was in the Army, then we moved into our town home in Illinois. When my parents got divorced in 1990, I moved with my mom and sister to a condo. I had an apartment for a year in Villa Park, then I moved back home because I was broke. Now I live here in DeKalb, so... 5 places.

13. How many city/towns have you lived in?
Des Moines, IA; Killeen, TX; Woodridge, IL; Villa Park, IL; DeKalb, IL.

14. Do you prefer shoes, socks or bare feet?
Usually I wear socks around the house, unless it's hot, and then bare feet. I wear sneakers or boots outside. Pretty average, I assume.

15. Are you a social person?
Not especially. I know this sounds egomaniacal, but people disappoint me eventually. I'm always polite and friendly with people, but I don't make friends easily because I'm outspoken and very frank and people eventually mistake that for being strident and smug. It gets old. Put it this way: I've been friends with Carl since around 1987 or 1988, and we see each other once or twice a year. I still haven't seen his new apartment. I'm that kind of social.

16. What was the last thing you ate?
I had scrambled eggs for breakfast.

17. What's your favorite color?
Purple. I also love green and blue.

18. What are you doing for your next birthday?
Dunno, it's not until July. Probably I'll go to a show like I usually do. Birthday's aren't a big deal for me.

19. What is your favorite TV show?
Ever? Doctor Who and Farscape. And Futurama. Hmm, I see a theme. My favorite current show (a relative term right now with the strike) is a tie: Ugly Betty and The Office.

20. What kind of jelly do you like on your PB & J sandwich?
I don't eat PB & J; I haven't since I was a kid. I stuck with the PB and left the J out. I like jelly on toast, though, and I usually go for strawberry.

21. Do you like coffee?
I used to love it, but I don't drink it anymore because I put too much sugar in it and I don't see the point of it without all the suger. Like I used to say when I was a kid: it tastes like mud strained through a dirty sock.

22. What are you listening to?
Nuttin'. I was listening to Queen in the car.

23. Do you have an iPod?

24. How do you feel about the last person you kissed?
I hope she gets home from work okay, since I had to help her get out of her icy parking space this morning.

25. Do you sleep on a certain side of the bed?
As I'm laying down, on my right.

26. Do you know how to play poker?
I used to like playing it with my sister when I was a kid. I haven't played it since, so my understanding is at the basic level. I can follow it, but I doubt my skills as a player.

27. What are you thinking about right now?
What I plan to have for lunch. Lamb, maybe.

28. Any plans for this weekend?
None, really. I think Becca and I are getting together with some of her friends from work. We always gather with the most dreadful music and movie scenes we can find.

29. Have you cut your hair this week?

30. Last picture you took?
I'm working on Silver Surfer post.

31. Are you a tease?

32. Have you ever been in an ambulance?
No, thankfully.

33. Do you prefer an ocean or pool?
Pool. I have swum in the ocean, but I prefer a pool.

34. Do you smile often?
I hope so! I laugh a hell of a lot, so I guess I do. My laughter used to be quite the point of contention when I lived at home. My mom went through this idiotic phase when she decided life wasn't worth living or something and was going to bed at 7 every night, then getting pissed off at me for laughing at something. My laugh is, apparently, too loud. I don't acknowledge the idea that we live in a society where being caught off guard and laughing boisterously is impolite. Nothing feels better than a hard, loud, sudden laughing jag. Excuse me for enjoying my life on occasion. It's not an all-day thing, so let me enjoy it when I can.

35. What color are your bed sheets?
I think they used to be white. They have pinstripes.

36. What is your favorite thing to spend money on?
Animation DVDs.

37. Do you wear any jewelry 24/7?
No. Do people? The only accessories I generally wear are my watch and my glasses.

38. Have you heard a rumor about yourself this week?
Rumor? No. But I've seen a lot of people getting aggravated with me this week.

39. Who is the funniest person you know?
Carl is hilarious. Trust me on that.

41. Where do you want to go to college?
Already went, don't want to go back.

42. Who was the last person to make you cry?
I'll say Horton Foote and Geraldine Page. I saw the movie The Trip to Bountiful last night, and it made me cry. But it earned the tears.

43. Do you shut off the water while you brush your teeth?
No. I probably should. It's a habit.

44. Do you wish you were with someone right now?
Heather Graham.

45. Are you mad about anything?
Usually. But I'm too tired to be mad today.

WALL*E Superbowl Commercial

There's a great high quality version here.


The best thing I saw this weekend happened on Real Time with Bill Maher. He pointed out a great inconsistency in the Republican candidates' non-stop suckfest of the Great God Reagan: that Ronald Reagan raised taxes, gave amnesty to illegal immigrants, and cut and ran when Lebanon turned into a civil war. Reagan, he said, wasn't Reaganesque, so who is it these people keep talking about?

The fact that George W. Bush and the current crop of Rebublican candidates make me actively wish for a Republican like Reagan is pretty damn sad, actually. Because Reagan was a monster. But Bush, McCain, Romney, Huckabee, and Paul are far worse.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Bush Economics and the (First) Great Depression

Well, I knew he wouldn't go down without some kind of fight.

President Duh is now sending Congress a $3 trillion spending plan. The first president in history to do something so destructive. Yeah, he's not done with us yet. Not by a damn sight.

The spending plan is basically to protect his destructive tax cuts, and it will generate near-record deficits over the next two years. Oh, and to save money, he didn't send paper copies to Congress. How magnanimous of him. His one piece of fiscal responsibility is used to spit in the collective Congressional eye.

Does he not understand how taxes work? Less taxes mean less money to spend which, especially with Republicans, means you have to cut services to save money to have any to spend. This money--either for more tax cuts or for a $3 trillion budget--simply does not exist. If that budget goes through (and frankly I don't trust Pelosi or Congress enough anymore to think it's for certain that it won't), we're looking at $400 billion in debt in a SINGLE YEAR. Some economists are saying it could be more, especially with a recession looming.

Economic stimulus?

Of course, the biggest increases are in national security (especially border security). He does at least want to increase the budget for food inspection (especially imported food), but it also slows the growth in the Medicare and Medicaid programs he's already stealing from to pay for his tax cuts for the rich. $200 billion in cuts over five years from those programs, plus freezing payments for hospitals. Half of the total budget is already coming from Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and similar programs.

The best part is that he claims his plan will make tax cuts permanent and balance the budget by 2012, so either he still believes in magic (the kind of magic that equates knocking a statue over with "mission accomplished"), or he really just plans to fuck things up so bad for whichever Democrat wins this year so that America goes running back to Republicans in 2012. Democrats have pointed out that the plan doesn't include any money to keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting the middle class hard after 2009. This plan also assumes the wars will cost us only $70 billion in 2009, rather than the $200 billion we're going to spend just this year to perpetuate imperialism.

Bush's plan also eliminates 47 "unneccesary" education programs and scales back on 151 more.

The nice thing is that Bush has been trying to do similar stuff already, and he can't get the votes to approve his out-of-control spending and warmongering. And since the recession is inevitable (or as some might point out, already here), asking for this kind of magic grant for money that won't exist is particularly reckless and irresponsible.

I've been looking at the causes of the Great Depression lately to see how recognizable it all is. I've been thinking about this especially since the near collapse of the real estate market, because it does closely resemble the crash of the stock market in 1929. You know, back in the mid-nineties I said the economy was going to be hurt by people trading stocks on the internet. It was the ultimate get-rich-quick scheme in 1996 or so: get on the internet, invest in tech stocks, then get out early and make a thousand bucks in a day. That sounded dangerous to me and, lo and behold, the tech stock bubble burst. That's what bubbles do. Their entire nature is to get bigger and bigger and then collapse in on themselves. After the tech stock wipeout ruined people, they went to another market that was booming and supposedly safe: real estate. And now the same thing is happening. And, like in 1929, consumers who've suffered severe losses are cutting back their expenditures, either out of caution or because they just don't have the money. And because there's less money entering on the goods and services side, creditors and banks are trying their damnedest to call in all the money we owe them. And if money does get spent on personal debt, it doesn't go into the economoy.

This has all happened before.

In the 1920s, America had an economic boom that was spurred along by a credit expansion and an increase in industry. A basic grasp of economics tells us that wealth is produced when mass production is met by mass consumption; when people buy more, companies sell more, they pay more wages, and everyone makes enough money to meet the cost of goods and services being offered. That's the theory, anyway. But in the Roaring Twenties, there was a wide gap between rich and poor, and the uneven distribution of wealth put most of the economic power into the hands of only a few. And they were accumulating far more than they spent. Consumers had less buying power because there was less money in the economy overall because the wealthy were not spending in proportion to their capital. Consumers had to borrow more just to stay afloat, and the size of their debt increased. This debt expansion (at high interest rates) was mostly, by the way, in mortgages and bank loans. And the money for the mortgages and loans was coming from the money in the bank, which came mainly from business and rich people.

The economic stimulation (words chosen on purpose) created by the borrowing increase was amazingly short-lived. There was no way it could be maintained; eventually real money is going to have to come from somewhere. Stock market speculation accounted for $6 billion, and none of that money was trickling down into reality. The average worker was supposed to have lower prices and higher wages; instead, the average worker had mounting debt and less money to spend on goods and services. This was, by the way, predicted by a number of Austrian bankers in 1929. They were ignored.

Here's where things get tricky.

Pretty soon, there was no more credit available. So consumers had to stop consuming in order to repay their debts. They simply had to stop buying so much. Industries were now producing goods that were no longer in demand. They were overproducing. They had to cut prices to compete, and price decline led to a cut in wages. Deflation and massive layoffs resulted. Commodities prices fell. A cycle had begun that perpetuated itself: more unemployment led to less consumption which led to more unemployment, etc. Deflation became more rapid, but fixed charges and debt remained the same. Soon, prices and incomes had fallen by as much as 50%.

With no future profit in sight, capital investment and construction slowed or stopped. A number of businesses failed, and they couldn't pay back their credit. Because of this, the stock market crashed and took the economy into a sharp recession. There were massive defaults on those loans and mortgages, and fear began to mount that the banks would fail. People were worried about their bank deposits, and massive withdrawals occured. So much money was pulled out of the banks in the first year after the stock market crash that 744 banks failed. There was no money left to finance the bank assets. Billions of dollars, nearly 40% of the available money supply, was simply pulled out of the American economy. Deflation worsened. Many banks became unwilling or unable to lend, building up their reserves instead of perpetuating the economy. Deflation intensified. The cycle continued.

Making things worse was a weather crisis in 1930: a major draught strangled agriculture, ruining viable farmland and creating a giant wasteland (the Dust Bowl). Some people had even predicted this would happen, worried that major agri-business farming would ruin the land in such a way that it wouldn't be able to bounce back quickly in the case of a draught or similar disaster. They were ignored because of high demand. With many farms destroyed, food became costlier. America was already ravaged by overproduction, unemployment, and bank failure when this happened.

Still, many economists today see this as a recession. An economic crisis, yes, but not a depression. There are a lot of people today who say that the recession might have been recovered from within a year and a half if it hadn't been for government intervention. President Hoover, who had pledged to help farmers when elected in 1928, signed the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act into law on 17 June 1930. It raised the duties on over 20,000 imported goods to record levels. And it made things worse. Again, there were warnings. Before the tariff increase was enacted, 34 foreign countries lodged formal protests with the State Department. 1,028 prominent American economists signed a petition begging Hoover not to sign the law. They were ignored. He did it, and practically destroyed foreign trade. Many countries (Canada was the first to do so) retaliated with new tariffs of their own; some just boycotted American goods altogether. Because of the radical decrease in trade, unemployment more than doubled in just a year. Imports fell by two-thirds; exports fell by nearly $4 billion. And unemployment spread rapidly in other countries, also, hurting their economies. Farms failed and were lost. By March 1933, over a quarter of Americans were unemployed, almost 9000 banks had failed, and $140 billion of depositor money was lost. The bottom had fallen out.

Most economists regard the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act as the greatest policy blunder in US history.

That's all a giant simplification, by the way. The really scary part is that, even today, no one's really sure of the exact causes of the Great Depression. No one's sure of warning signs that could help us to prevent another one. Was it a failure of the free markets? A failure of the governments to prevent bank failures? The imbalance of wealth distribution? Underconsumption and overinvestment? Incompetent leadership? No one agrees on the exact root causes of it all.

Franklin D. Roosevelt blamed big business excess for making the economy unstable. In his view, a view many Democrats shared, business had far too much power. The New Deal was meant to raise corporate taxes in order to empower labor unions and farmers, and to create jobs. By regulating the economy, Roosevelt sought to limit corporate power, create fair competition, support prices, and stimulate the economy. The National Recovery Act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1935; most New Deal regulations, with the notable exceptions of the SEC, Social Security, and the National Labor Board, were abolished or heavily scaled back in the 1970s and 1980s.

Now think about any parallels with today, when the American economy is tied with much more of the world than it was in 1930. We weren't the major economic superpower then. Conditions are, on the face of it, strikingly similar. We're overproducing, but we're overproducing by using cheaper labor in other nations. Corporations save themselves a lot of money with this unethical practice (which is a common feature of capitalism, a system I think Americans have far too much faith in because they don't really understand the reality that capitalism looks out for itself, not for them), but it also allows them to lower wages, eliminate benefits, eliminate jobs, and close production centers. That means less people with disposable income, which means people can't buy all of these goods which are being overproduced. Which, as we see historically, will lead to price decline and wage cutbacks and widespread unemployment. Overproduction lessens demand, loss of demand makes goods worthless, and worthless goods make jobs expendable.

And we've been in another credit boom. The last 10 years especially have been a field day for the credit industry. The average debt of a single person is a hell of a lot more than it was in 1930. And creditors are monstrous when it comes to trying to get that money back. But, because services cost so much and our taxes are going to fight a pointless war that, they keep telling us, is going to pay for itself, we have to borrow and buy cheap goods just to keep our families alive and, in the relative way many Americans are, healthy. And that leads to stress which leads to heart problems and nervous disorders which leads to spending more on health care. It's a vicious cycle, and it will try to drain you of absolutely everything because that's what capitalism is: making money no matter who gets hurt.

And the weather crisis of 1930 is only intensified today through global climate change. We're dealing with one weather crisis on top of another. We've got draughts, floods, heatwaves, super hurricanes, freak tornadoes. They're all killing our ability to maintain crops and feed ourselves. The price of corn is already going up; so are the prices for dairy products. And much of the food we do grow is going out of the country.

And keep in mind that the Great Depression ravaged the entire world. Other economies were destroyed all over, from Australia to Canada to Europe and Africa. In many places, civil unrest was common, even civil war (as in Spain), and the need to gain control led to a rise in fascist demonstration and, in some places, notably Spain and Germany, fascist governments.

Now, I'm not an economist, but I am a history scholar. And I don't want to be an alarmist, but it seems to me that things are looking pretty 1929 around America these days. Does that make Bush another Hoover? Or are the elections soon enough to stop it from happening again?