Saturday, October 21, 2006

End of the Line?

The Johnny Gosch case is in the news again, with news that the three kids featured in the photographs that turned up on the doorstep of the long-missing boy's mother have been tracked down. They're all now in their early 40's, and police have said that the man they spoke with claimed that they had been given firecrackers to pose bound for a man when they were 12 in the late 70's. Since Gosch went missing in 1982, that would seem to indicate that these photographs had nothing to do with the case in question.

Johnny Gosch's mother still claims that one particular photo, showing just one boy, is absolutely her son, and asks why the "proof" that the photos are fake hasn't been revealed to the public. At this point, I would hope that the men who posed for these photos as kids would step forward to put the matter to rest for the sake of Johnny Gosch's mother. If not, the secrecy will add yet another layer of speculation to this tragic story. If they don't step forward, even if privately to the Goschs mother, then she and the world must ask, "Why?"

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Observatory Scene Investigation

Griffith Observatory here in Los Angeles wanted a video promoting a new parking arrangement at the newly expanded and restored Observatory. I decided to have some fun. This is the result.

Friday, October 13, 2006

World Premiere!

Here it is! The World Premiere of a little animation titled, "Boy in Box."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Johnny Gosch Update II

I wasn't planning on returning to this subject immediately, but a new post appeared just this morning on his mother's website. Please be aware of disturbing imagery if you visit that site.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Status: Gosch Case

I've been resisting adding yet another post on the Johnny Gosch case, but, as the old saying goes, the silence is deafening. His mother's official website, hadn't been updated since September 22nd, and then only with a thank you and current contact information. The media has been silent. There seems to have been no apparent progress in the case. No evidence in either direction - just absolute silence.

Granted,there are more pressing, current crisis in the world that the local police and FBI are working on - but shouldn't justice demand that we discover at the very least whether or not those photos are authentic?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Wickshire School

For some mysterious reason, searches for my elementary school in New York, Wickshire School, have jumped to the top of the list as the most commonly used search term used to find my blog. Either somebody's getting nostalgic, or there's a notorious graduate in the news...


North Korea conducted an underground test of a nuclear device, despite warnings and condemnation from around the world, including Russia and China. Now, North Korea is being scolded by the world community once again. Threats and isolation didn't work earlier - I suspect they won't work now. It seems that as we attack easier targets elsewhere, we appease countries that provide a real threat.

I sometimes wonder how history will view this era. We're on a path that began in earnest with 911, and leads to an as yet unknown destination. We lurch from crisis to crisis and react with little long-term impact or long-term strategy. We can only hope that people won't have to look back on these times and ask, "Didn't they see where this was going?"

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Changing Times

Tower Records, which has sold music and movies for generations and is nothing less than a Los Angeles institution, will be closing its doors in a few weeks. It's the victim of changing times, in which music is mostly sold digitally online, and movies are coming up right behind. Most major record stores have closed up or cut back dramatically, so it really is no surprise. In fact, though I think there are many who feel a tinge of regret, the closing of these stores are being met with a collective shrug. They were cool places to go, especially for those generations that learned about music by wandering up and down those aisles - but they're not reflective of how we - and especially kids - live today. "Record" stores (true vinyl records went by the wayside a long time ago), when you can find them, will join butcher shops, dry goods stores and blacksmith shops in the category of rare historical throwbacks.

We are still in the infancy of the information ago - and still undergoing the transformations that will make this new era as removed from the recent past as we are from the 1700's.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Big Malls

Today marks the opening of a major expansion to a mall not far from here. Westfield Topanga, formerly known as Topanga Plaza, is doubling in size. It's now a massive complex of high-end stores and eateries. It's also only one of a dozen projects in the immediate area (called Warner Center because it used to be the Warner Brothers movie ranch), creating incredible density and little else. Hundreds of apartments are being built or are being built. Old apartments are being upgraded and rents raised dramatically (I'm being paid to move so mine can be overhauled).

The area's representatives have seemed to have surrendered the area to developers, and abandoned the planned growth idea that once characterized this community (if it can be called that). Moving around the area any time close to rush hours is extremely difficult and time consuming. To make matters even worse, as the City of Los Angeles expands the Metrorail system throughout the city, this area has been given a new bus line along the old train route. I can pick up the bus, take it to the closest train in North Hollywood and take that train downtown. That trip will take me 90 minutes - longer then driving during rush hour traffic! Density issues in Los Angeles, I believe, will contribute to its downfall. It's one of the reasons I'll likely move just out of the City limits - I don't believe City Government is paying much attention - or has much of a vision for the future.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Predators vs. Victims

Mark Foley, the United States Congressman who has just been uncovered as sending inappropriate (i.e. sexual) emails and instant messages to fifteen year old congressional pages, also served in Congress as Co Chair of the Missing and Exploited Childrens Caucus. There are some indications that certain members of Congress may have known about Foley's "issiues" as early as a year ago, and didn't act in order to minimize potential political damage. Foley is being portrayed as a former victim of abuse himself, and a troubled alcoholic. Apparently, some don't see him as a predator.

Meanwhile, the photos in the Johnny Gosch case have yet to be disproved - yet that investigation has fallen off the face of the earth.

Conspiracies II

I've found that many of those who believe wild conspiracy theories (and who tend to become offended and scoff at skeptics with a wave of the hand and a dismissive, 'do you believe everything the government tells you?'), believe it on the local level as well. Once again, it amazes me how much faith people tend to put in conspiracies that involve real, live, breathing human beings.

An effictive conspiracy, I believe, would directly involve as few people as possible. The more who know, the more chances that the secret can be revealed. The simpler the conspiracy, the easier to hide.

The entire idea that the government would have concocted a complicated, muddled plot like 9-11 is bizarre. IF there were such a conspiracy by the governemnt, and they wanted to create a terrorist attack and bring down the towers, why on earth bring into the picture passenger jets that would by necessity involve so many more in on the plot.....

The Human Factor will get you every time.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


The numbers of people who attach themselves to conspiracy theories never fails to amaze me. On a recent visit to the YouTube site, I came across numerous videos about the moon landing "hoax," including a country western tune about how it couldn't have possibly happened. The theory, as it's presented, is that the US knew it couldn't beat the Soviets to the moon, so it fabricated the whole thing to make it appear that we did. Theorists also suggest that it's preposterous that we could have gone that far into space, since the radiation would have killed anyone who wasn't insulated with four feet of lead. It goes on and on....but what these individuals don't take into account (like those who more recently suggested that the Twin Towers were destroyed by explosives), is that the human factor would have doomed any effort to disguise a faked moon landing effort.

The Apollo program employed literally tens of thousands of people across the country, not to mention the thousands who lived and worked in Florida during the years leading up to and during the mission. Are we to believe that, despite the governments leak-prone history, that all these thousands of people kept their mouths shut? Or that a terrifying effective Secret Police was able to instill enough fear in these people that the secret was never revealed? Or, for that matter, that the government was able to secretly stage splashdown after splashdown without ever having been caught? Before a launch, I suppose that the astronauts that were strapped into the space capsule and the door bolted shut on live television, then took a secret passageway off the spacecraft - pehaps they crawled through one of the fueling hoses?

Oh, wait....that also leads to another conspiracy - that, of course, the we never learned the so-called truth about the moon landing, since the MEDIA is completely controlled by the government, and so was able to control what we saw at all times. But then, there's that darn human factor again, and the tens of thousands of individuals in the MEDIA that were intimitely involved in the moon effort. And we know how stable all of us in the media are....

The problem with massive government conspiracies is that...well...they involve the government!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Below the Radar

The current stats related to this blog are revealing: by far, the most popular Google search leading to this page over the last few weeks has been "Johnny Gosch" In fact, I've never had a more popular search related to this site....

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Missing Reports on the Missing Boy: Johnny Gosch, Continued

I continue to be fascinated with the media disinterest surrounding recent events in the Johnny Gosch case - from all possible perspectives, it seems to be a story worth telling. If the recently surfaced photographs prove to be authentic, the questions surrounding the how and why of the case are unending. If they aren't related the case, the story still begs to be told - who were these children - and who placed those pictures at Johnny Gosch's mother's door? For six days, now, there's been no news.

Granted, this is a 24 year old case. It occured to me, however, that this is only one of numerous examples of how the United States as a country is sorely lacking in the sense of moral outrage which has shaped our nation from the very beginning. Perhaps it's hard to be angered at injustice when engulfed in the ongoing state of fear we've lived under since September 11th, 2001.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

My Tasty Little Bit of Pitcairn Island

I've had an interest for a while in the story of Pitcairn Island, the small mid-Atlantic (between New Zealand and South America) island that served as home to the mutineers from the HMS Bounty. After sending Captain Bligh and his loyalists off on a small rowboat in the late 1700's (and into their own extraordinary journey to civilization), the mutineers returned to Tahiti, from which they had recently departed, picked up a number of women (and men as slaves) and headed back out to sea. They happened up on the tiny, inhospitable island that would serve as their home. Shortly thereafter, the bounty burned, and any idea of leaving was gone. Thus began a settlement which still exists to this day, consisting primarily of descendents of the mutineers and their Tahitian brides (it's important to note that within a few years, most of the original Bounty mutineers had been murdered by some of those they has forcibly taken from Tahiti. Thus ended slavery on Pitcairn Island...

Today's Pitcairn population is about 50, with many more scattered throughout the world.

After a scandal a couple of years ago which involved a brand of sexual abuse of minors that perhaps can be partically blamed on the island's isolation (visits each year are infrequent), the British government, which many years ago accepted Pitcairn under its jurisdiction, has begun to help the island achieve a more robust ability to develop a small economy and, perhaps, even a tiny tourism industry (by necessity - Pitcairn is just a few square miles).

Before I heard of the scandal, and the extended trial that resulted, I had tried to order one of Pitcairn's few exports - honey, bred by tropical bees (and thus particulary good). For obvious reasons (the entire workforce was on trial), it was never charged to my credit card, and it never arrived.

I tried again this August, and now, judging by a charge which just showed up on my credit card, I might soon be seeing my uniquely exotic souvenir.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

India Videos

I've now made available for download videos related to our recent India trip.
There are two files - one is the video the kids produced. The other combines that with a four and a half minute mini-documentary about the making of the video, and includes personal greetings to the kids they'll be working with here in America.

You can find the videos in a page off of my website. Just look for the "See India Video" link just under the group portrait of the kids and teachers at the center of the page.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Notes Left

When I went out to my car this morning, I found a printout left on my windshield (and i assume those of my neighbors) from the Superior Court of California, indicating that a particular individual was a convicted child molester - his apartment number was notated by hand on the page.

Important information - especially in an apartment complex with plenty of children. Obviously this isn't the kind of person anyone would want to live down the hall from.

My only concern would be that this doesn't degenerate into any sort of vigilante (i.e. violent) activity. We'd save the kids from one kind of horror, and inflict another.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Gosch Confusion

I continue to be fascinated with the Gosch case, and the low-profile drama surrounding the photos that surfaced a few weeks ago (see earlier posts). It seems now that the files that we purported to prove that the photographs were a hoax are missing - so verification of that claim can't be proved. Johnny Gosch's mother claims one particular photo is undeniably her son. She also claims on her website that she has also received death threats because she is close to the answer to the mystery of her son's fate.

It's becoming harder and harder to determine where wild speculation and true evidence begin and end. This story, a major headline story when Gosch disappeared in 1982, is virtually ignored today. There's been very little attention paid to this story by the media - it's old, it's disturbing, and, as I'm discovering, Americans are just too overwhlemed with fear to care about a 24 year-old crime- even if it involved horrendous crimes.

This is one story, however, where media attention could do some good, and force the truth, whatever it may be, out into the open.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

India Afterthoughts: The Streets

It's been almost a couple of weeks now since we returned from India. It's taken me this long to begin to absorb the experience.

India is a society that's both heading headlong into the 21st century, and retains a feel for its long and complicated past. I felt at times that the streets of Delhi, at least from my western point of view, seemed to be a chaotic mixture of several centuries of tradition and technology. Masses of people along with animals, bicycle pedicabs, motorized pedicabs, and modern vehicles (not to mention wild animals in the form of cows, yaks and assorted smaller creatures) form a constantly moving tapestry regardless of painted traffic lanes or any attempt at organizaiton. The roads are chaotic, but new flyover roads are being built to rise above the chaos. The wildly divergent architecture also ranged from the ancient to slick, futuristic office buildings. Malls are rising to serve the rapidly expanding middle class. I suspect that by mid-century the streets of Delhi could be largely unrecognizeable.

I think of the kids we worked with - next to indendence, this has to be the most exciting, promising time in their country's history - what a great time in which to grow up!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Who We Are

In yesterday's New York Times, Bob Herbert wrote an editorial entitled, "The Stranger in the Mirror," in which he suggests that "the very character of the United States is changing, and not for the better." Our collective reaction to 9-11, beginning with the invasion of Iraq, has changed the nature of who we are as a people:

There was a time, I thought, when there was general agreement among Americans that torture was beyond the pale. But when people are frightened enough, nothing is beyond the pale. And we're in an ara in which the highest leaders in the land stoke - rather than attempt to allay - the fears of ordinary citizens. Islamic terrorists are quated with Nazi Germany. We're told that we're in a clash of civilizations.
If, as President Bush says, we're engaged in 'the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century,' why isn't the entire nation moblizing to meet that dire threat?"

Herbert goes on to conclude:

The character of the U.S. has changed. We're in danger of being completely ruled by fear. Most Americans have not shared the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Very few Americans
are aware, as the Center for Constitutional Rights tells us, that of the hundreds of men held by the U.S. in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, many "have never been charged and will never be charged because there is no evidence justifying their detention."
Even fewer care.
We could benefit from looking in a mirror, and absorbing the shock of not recognizing what we're become.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Gosch Again

The Gosch claims seem to be unraveling. Though the news media has yet to report this, a simple Google search brought me to a public message board discussing the case on the CourtTV (cable network) site. It links to the very photographs in question on a photo site where they were posted quite some time ago (check messages from September 14th).

The primary photograph in question, a black and white image which supposedly shows Johnny Gosch tied and gagged with some kind of a brand on his arm, appears on the linked site in color, and there is no such brand. It also seems to have been posted in April, a full four months before it was delivered to his mother's house. This was the photo that his mother swore was her son.

I have to wonder why law enforcement, particularly those involved in cases like this, didn't discover this link earlier. And, once again, where is the media on this?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Johnny Gosch - Update

The latest news relating to the recent photos the surfaced in regards to the 1982 disappearance of 12 year-old newsboy Johnny Gosch suggest that at least one of the photos may relate to a Florida case in the late 1970's - several years before Gosch's disappearance. A former investigator believes that he recalls the photo, and authorities are searching through old microfilm to make certain that's the case. On her website, Johnny Gosch's mother insists in response that at least one of the photos is certainly her son.

If these photos are proven to be unconnected to the Gosch case, this would only be the latest turn in a case that has been surrounded by false rumors, wild accusations, unsubstantiated stories and little or no solid evidence of Johnny Gosch's fate. As with the other kids of his time that also remain missing, justice remains elusive.

New Pix

I've begun to post photos from our trip to India. They were taken by David Guerrero and Nancy Troxell, two of my fellow travelers.

You can find the photos at:

More to come shortly!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Simple Things: Letters From Juvenile Hall

Here's a scene from my 1990's documentary, "Simple Things: Letters From Juvenile Hall," featuring a glimpse at the story (but by no means the whole story) of "Small Fry," whose story I'll be updating in an upcoming documentary.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


With tomorrow's 5th anniversary of 9/11, there's a great deal of political posturing on both side of the (political) aisle. Democrats and Republicans are using the anniversary for political gain. That's to be expected, given the impact of the event on our national psyche and very character as Americans.

The single greatest lesson of 9/11 is reinforcing the adege that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilence." The single most damaging impact is the varied ways in which that same adege has been interpreted and used for personal and political gain. True visionary leadership on the federal level is lacking everywhere in our polical system. The terrorist threats we now face will not be solved either by retreat or by arms alone. The United States, for all its power, doesn't seem to know what kind of world it wants, or what kind of standard it wants to set. We live, then, in overwhlelming fear and uncertainty about the future.

The great tragedy is the lack of outrage for social injustices within our own country. We're no longer trying to improve our country and move it forward - we're trying desperately to hold on to what we have.

For me, an accident of timing has aligned the Gosch story (see previous post) with the 9/11 anniversary. I don't doubt for a moment that while we struggle to understand the external threats we face, a collective exhaustion dooms the inheritors of Johnny Gosch's fate.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Johnny Gosch

Upon my return from India, I learned that a recently breaking story invovled new evidence in the story of Johnny Gosch, a 12 year-old boy who disappeared in 1982, never to be seen again. His case was the first to draw attention to the phenomena of child disappearances - in fact, his was the first face to appear on milk cartons (for a time the most common method to publicize missing children. He story was spread throughout the media - to no avail.

Ten years ago, his mother claimed that her son came to visit her briefly, claiming that he had been kidnapped and brought into a huge pedophile network, and was now afraid for his life. He left after a couple of hours, and she never heard from him again. Her story was doubted by some, and no evidence existed to prove it had happened.

In late August a couple of weeks ago, Johnny Gosch's mother found a package at her front door. Inside, she found two old photographs showing her son bound and gagged, one by himself, and one with two other still-unidentified boys, also bound and gagged. Where these pictures came from, why they're being revealed now, and who they actually mean is still unknown.

It's curious to me that such a horrific story, in today's post-9/11 climate of constant crisis, is just another news story...immediately disappearing from the front page - if it was ever there at all. I hope that the relevant authorities can find the time in their domestic spying programs to find justice for Johnny Gosch and the boys who suffered with him.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

India Conclusion

Our finally day in India was fairly quiet, as we packed and prepared for the grueling journey home. Our host Reyka Mody, met us for dinner at the hotel. We were also treated to a visit from two of the boys in our workshop, one with his entire family, to thank us and wish us well on our trip home. It was a very special ending to a very special trip.

It looks like we'll be heading back to India well within the year. India, it seems, is one of those places that takes a lot out of you, but gives you so much more. I'll be looking forward to returning.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

India Day Six and Seven

Our stay in India is winding down - we've said a lot of goodbyes in the last couple of days - some of them to the same people several times.

Day Six began early , as we headed to the kids' school so that we could work with them to finish their film - we were scheduled to present the film at a special lunch mid-day, so the project had to get done. Final touches including naming the film ("Back to the Roots") and re-recording some audio that wasn't clear on the original video. We also had to create a DVD for presentation after the luncheon. Working together, the kids made the deadline, and we all headed across the street to celebrate with officials from the school and the Trust that has been hosting us here in India. Both kids and adults were treated to a first-class lunch (we've been having many, many traditional Indian foods). They've been aware of our every comment, so when one of our party commented a couple of days ago that she was taking a little break from Indian food, they were extra careful to ask us repeatedly if the food was okay - was it too spicy, do we want a sandwhich, etc.

After the lunch, we went to the principal's office to present to the same crowd the story of our program, and present the finished video. We then asked the kids to come in, so that we could present them with certificates celebrating the success of the workshop. By now, we've gotten to know most of the kids, so we were each able to add a bit of a personal comment about each kid. The audience there responded very well to the video, and to the concept of bringing young filmmaking to the poor of India. These kids, who are more priveliged, will now be teaching what they have learned with us to poor children.

Finally, it was time to leave the school, and our young friends. They shook our hands, took pictures and finally hugged us goodbye. It's quite possible that we might return in a few months, so the sadness in parting was tempered in part by the promise of the future.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped off at a little cyber cafe in the Indian version of a strip mall, where we need to prepare for a press conference the next day. This is, unfortunately, also where I lost a cap I bought at the Twin Towers in Kuala Lubpur. Easy come, easy go....

Day Seven featured the press conference, where we explained what we had been doing with the kids, the concept of the program, and presented the video. A few of the kids were also there to demonstrate for the press how the camera and software worked and tell them of their experience with our workshop - and also, yet again, shake our hands and hug us goodbye.

We've been fortunate to be working with such a great group of kids, and to have hosts that have made our stay an exciting experience in every way. I told the kids as we presented them certificates that I will always see their faces whenever I think of India.

Tomorrow, Sunday, is our final day in India - late that night we take off for the long journey home....

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

India Days Four and Five

That last couple of days have been incredibly hectic, so I haven't had a chance to write until now, on the morning of our sixth day.

Day Four had us starting the day by visiting the school our young filmmakers attend - a private school with a student body of about 2,000 kids from pre-school to 12th grade. It's a huge, modern looking school, though with little air conditioning save for the computer labsand some offices. We were treated to a tour of the campus, where we were at times mobbed by crowds of excited kids. We felt like rock stars. The school, by the way, is not religious, so the kids represented a cross section of India's (more weathy) population.

From the school, we returned to the community center, where our kids joined us. We began shooting their film in the blazing hot India sun. Sun block, at least for us, is critical here - as it bug-spray. The kids are working on a short film about a girl who returns to India after having been gone for eight years, and finds that much has changed. The first scene had her walking along a road with her bag, having just gotten off a plane. At first, she's disgusted when a small group of beggar children (whom they recruited from a poor family living in a shack nearby) surround her, asking for money. She then finds another kid and aks for help finding a pedicab - He tells her that she doesn't need a cab - there's a metro (train) now. She's shocked. It took a couple of hours to shoot the scene, including extensive debates, usually in Hindi, among the young filmmakers. I often had to interrupt and ask for clarification on what precisely they were debating...bottom line - they got the job done. We're hoping they're finish shooting today. After a full day with the kids, we returned to the hotel (early, for a change) for a nice, leisurely dinner.

On Day Five, we met the kids again, and hopped on a bus for a three-hour ride to a rural school located just by a beautiful ancient temple, set on a great pool of water. We were treated like honored guests, and presented with traditional costumed dance and music performed by the children. The kids at this school were even more excited, and eager to shake our hands and wave excitedly at the camera. After about an hour at that location, we seperated from our film kids, hopped in a care, and took a three-four hour drive to Agra, to visit the Taj Mahal. We've discovered that there are no highways in India, at least not in the way we understand them. Most are two-lane highways, some badly maintained, and none set apart from people and less advanced transportation. It's a rough, sometimes frightening journey.

When we reached the outer reaches of the Taj Mahal grounds (it's about a mile or so from the parking lot to the Taj Mahal itself), we were immediately accosted by an army of kids sellling postcards, t-shirts, and the like - they were constantly begging us to buy from them, no matter how many times we told them we weren't interested. Finally inside, we passed through a gateway building - and there it was - the famous gleaming monument to love, featuring incredible detail and handicraft at the closest inspection. The Taj is simple a tomb - it never was anything but a tribute to a lost love.

The trip back from Agra to our hotel in Delhi took 5-6 hours - including about 30-45 minutes wasted when our driver headed in the wrong direction. As frightening as the roads are, they are positively terrifying at night. We wondered whether we would make it back in one piece. As I've written before, we are constantly bombarded with images as we drive though Delhi and the surrounding area. I remain amazed.

Today, we work with the kids in the morning and travel to visit another (closer) school, and meet the mayor of Delhi in the afternoon. We'll then be treated to dinner at our host's home. All in all, it will be a less grueling experience then yesterday. It's good to be "home."

Monday, August 28, 2006

India Day Three

Today was our first day working on moviemaking with the kids - 18 disciplined, bright and creative kids who believe in their country and its promise in the future. There has been so much change in India in just the last few years that even kids that are fourteen or sixteen years old can recognize the transformation: the construction of highways, the development and expansion of a new metro system, and goverment's continuing efforts to help India's desperate poor. That hasn't lessened the sheer desperation we see everyday in the poor - and in old sections of Delhi, buildings seemed almost draped in haphazardly hung power lines. Still, the kids believe that things can and will change.

We developed with them the plans for short video about an Indian who returns to the country after several years, and is shocked at some of the changes that have occurred - and wonders why she has stayed away for so long. On Tuesday, we begin shooting.

After we finished for the day, we were invited to visit with Mr. Singh, a trustee of the community center where we're working. He spends a good portion of his time living in Calabasas in the San Fernando Valley, near whilch most of his children live. He's a true American success story, having begun small distribution company seling just cigarettes to a diverse company with an enormous warehouse. He's retired now, and can afford to keep homes going in both countries. At the insistance of his children, he gave up wearing the turban that Sikhs are known for. After 9-11, it became dangerous for a while to wear turbans in public - though Sikhs were not involved in any way with the attacks. Most less-educated people assoicated the turban with Osama Ben Laden. Several Sikhs, in fact, were attacked or killed for just that reason.

I continue to marvel at the wild cows and yaks that wander aimlessly throughout the city, and glimpses of child labor that also seems fairly common in some areas. Last night, we saw a team of young children helping to pave a road at 11:30 at night.

It's been a long day - I write again tomorrow.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

India Day Two

We're back from our second day in India - a day full of history, and more and more of the drama of everyday life here.

Our first stop was at the mansion, now a museum, which was the home of India's first prime minister, Nehru, followed by a visit to a museum about Gandhi - India's legendary hero of the fight for independence (and the proponent of fighting for change through non-violence. Gandhi's museum featured a state-of-the-art multimedia presentation - while Nehru's was somewhat ragged at the edges - like most of India's infrastructure.

We also spent a couple of hours at a religious festival featuring dozens of craft booths - we all came home with a load of goodies....the dollar goes incredibly far here. We had dinner tonight for five people for ten dollars - and it was a lot of food. We ended the day at a fairly primitve, but nonetheless interesting sound at light show at the Red Fort, a huge, ancient military fort that has been the center of several critical events in India's long history, including the announcement of India's indepence in the 1940's.

Some of India's infrastructure seems like it's crumbling, while there's numerous improvements road improvements underway.

Still, the streets are teeming with people, and we are constantly pursued by beggers.

Tomorrow, we begin what we came here for - teaching teens filmmaking, and taking the first steps in creating an international connection with young filmmakers in America.

More tomorrow!! I'm offf to sleep.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

India Day One

It's 1 am after our first full day in India. We had a fantastic breakfast buffet at the hotel, followed by a trip to a beautiful, modern government cultural center, lunch at one of the finest Indian restaurants in town. From there, we went sightseeing around town, driving through diverse areas, from the governemnt center (with the imposing colonial-era architecture), to the desperate poverty we've heard about - numerous people, seeing our caucasion faces, have come knocking on our car windows, or followed us arouind marketplaces - children, women with babies in their arms. A filthy little boy banged a drum and his sister did cartwheels outside our car as were stuck in traffic, then came knocking. It's very awkward, of course - we really don't know how to react other then to ignore them - the Indian people must practice a real mental disconnect from the world around them.

The sights we see as we drive around really enforce the description we've heard that India is a nation of contrast. We've seen gleaming new corporate skyscrapers contrasted with numerous bulls and goats and such roaming free on the steets, pedal and the occasion horse-drawn pedicabs sharing the road with all kinds of vehicles in a constantly mad, chaotic race.

Our final sightseeing stop was at an ancient Islamic shrine (I don't recall the name at the moment), which lies in ruins, except for a huge tower (I've seen pictures of this before). The ruins were spectacular - the mosque had to have been huge. The ruins have all the scale and majesty of Roman ruins - there's so much of the world that we, as Westerners, are ignorant.

From the ruins we went to visit "Spice World," an entertainment and shopping center that opened in the last few years (and may be opening a branch in Los Angeles soon). The multiplex there includes a 35 seat theatre that features fully operational reclining chairs, and food service direct to your chair. Finally, we had dinner at a brand new restaurant that's opening soon in that complex. We had a special preview, and all seven of us were attended to by the entire staff. The food never stopped coming. The English, incidentally, is a bit difficult to understand - most of us pick up only about 50-70% of what even our hosts are saying. We're doing a lot of nodding knowingly - though we're sometimes clueless!

Now, we're back "home." We're going to take it easy tomorrow morning, and then continue our adventure in the afternoon.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


A few weeks back, I was at a party being given by the father of one of the teens in the summer filmmaking workship (see earlier blog). I became aware of an unusual CD playing in the background. It turned out to be "Visions" by a group called Libera - a boys' choir, no less, with a modern twist. It's generally found in the "New Age" section. From what I understand, Libera mixes the tradition boys' choir with modern compositions and instrumentals (i.e. rock influenced).

I find the music haunting at times, and generally fascinating. I've never listened that closely to a boys choir - this makes it accessible. Though I'm new to Libera, they've been around for over ten years. They have a modest following around the world, though their particularly popular in Japan.

Here's the album I just purchased:"

There are three selections I recommend in particular: "Always With You," "Libera" and "We are the Lost."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A New YouTube Star...

Over the last couple of weeks, a new star has emerged on the YouTube video site. YouTube, for those of you who don't know, is a place where almost anyone can post a video (except pornography). Content ranges from teen skateboarders, practical jokes, excerpts from favorite televsion shows, animation and assorted humor, to video blogs.

In that last category, a 78 year-old widower living alone in England has become one of the top attractions on the site. He's not outrageous or shocking - he's simply honest - and that's what's attracting people of all ages to watch his five minute musings on both his own life, and the world at large.

YouTube allows the viewer to subscribe to a particular individual's videos, so that their latest creation will allows appear when the subscriber signs on to YouTube.

As of this writing, "geriatric1927" has 5,821 subscribers - and he only posted his first video on August 5th! To put that in perspective, he's already the 11th most subscribed "channel" of all time - #1 for this week, and already #1 for the month. His August 5th video has been viewed 254,694 times.

Take a look at his latest - you're almost certain to hear about him on the news fairly soon. In less than a week, he's become a legend:

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Later this month, I'll be traveling with my associates at Roads End Enterainment to New Delhi, India, where I'll be continuing the "FreshiFilx" program that began this spring in Los Angeles Unfied School District (and also encompassed the film camp I discussed in a previous blog). We'll be teaching filmmaking to middle-school age kids for about a week - and exploring New Delhi, a city of which I which I currently know little. This is the sort of traveling that I think is particularly worthwhile. I'm generally not satisfied with seeing landscape or landmarks. Why travel anywhere if all you seek is a postcard image?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Apple Reborn

I finally got my Mac Back this past Friday - so far, so good - it seems to be working. I'm crossing my fingers. Of course, now one of my external drives is making a strange noise....

Monday, July 31, 2006

Old Friends

This past weekend, I had the chance to see a friend I hadn't seen since we were kids in New York. He and his family were visiting from Minnesota. We spent a day and half together, exploring the traditional L.A. tourist destinations (which most of us locals hardly ever get to see).

The experience, like my reunion last year with two of our mutual friends in New York, underscored my belief that thte nature of certain childhood friendships is fundamentally different than teen or adult friendships. Those first independent "pre-teen" friendships aren't so much based on future dreams or work. Friendships at that age may not even be based as strongly on common interests. I believe that strong connections at that age are forged by a common perception of the world - as elementary as that might be. Those first friends are really our first comrades.

We still felt like comrades over three decades later.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Apple 2

Apparently, my Apple commentary hit a nerve with several readers. I'll provide an update when my system returns from the independent (non-Apple owned) Apple service center.

One reader commented on those who believe that one needs to be using a Mac in creative work. Apple, in fact, likes to suggest as much. Computers facilitate creativity - they don't cause it. A bad editor using Final Cut Pro on the most advanced Mac on the market is still a bad editor. Likewise, a great editor will do great work with the most primitive editing system. It may not be as easy as using a more advanced system, but the individual's talent and instinct will still shine through.

Macs (when they work) are, no doubt, exemplory in facilitating creative work, but they don't ensure success. Once my system works again (hopefull), I'll swear by it. Final Cut is a great, accesssible program that helps make my creative process. It's not, however, the only route to success. After all, almost all of the awards I've won for my work had nothing to do with Apple Computers....

Friday, July 28, 2006

Fruit Myths (or: Apples don't keep the doctors away)

Most of you have seen the Apple Computer commericals promoting the virtues of Apple Computers over PC's. Many of you have also heard the somewhat boastful claims of Mac owners of just how their systems are much more dependable.

As someone who bought a top-of-the-line Apple Powermac G5 Quad-Core (4 processor) Computer in mid-March, I can say Apple claims, and those commercials, are false. I've had numerous computers over the years - I have never had the problems I've had with this computer - nor have I had the difficulties with any customer service organization as I have had with Apple. Since April, my Mac has been randomly shutting down.

Twice, I've brought the system to an Apple store. The first time, they wouldn't accept the machine because it wouldn't randomly shut down as they watched. The second time, a month later (and after hours on the internet researching the problem myself), they saw the system shut down, and accepted the system for repair. Despite legions of people on numerous online forums describing the common fix as replacing a faulty power supply or "logic board," the Woodland Hills Apple Store replaced my video card, and pronounced the problem fixed after keeping the system for a week. The problem returned a week later. A call to "Applecare," Apple's customer service unit, proved just as frustrating. The agent to whom I was speaking wanted me to perform a series of tests of the phone with him, involving my opening my computer, removing components, etc. I'm not a "techie," and I certainly don't have the time to spend poking at my computer, especially after the time I've wasted researching the problem and dragging my expensive G5 to the Apple Store (twice) - AND the expense I've incurred not being able to use this system for its intended business purposes. I'm about to try a recommended non-Apple warranty service center some thirty miles away...hopefully, that will do the trick. Apparently, depending upon Apple is not a wise choice.

Incidentally, I posted a similar message on the G5 discussion board on the Apple website. Apple deleted it. I guess they didn't appreicate my refering to my system as a doorstop.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Kreepy Kid

After yesterday's blog, I did a bit of research. I discovered that the photographer of "Young Boy 1938," Erna Lendvai-Dircksen, was quite popular in Nazi Germany for her portraits of the German people. So, it's quite possible that the boy, if not creepy at the time, became creepy in the Hitler Youth - proving my point. Sort of.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


It's about 110 degrees here in Woodland Hills - a good opportunity for me to get back to my blog, which hasn't yet returned to the regular entries of a few months back.
Perhaps I need my favorite "Kreeepy Kid:"

This picture, entitled "Young Boy, 1938" and taken by photographer
Erna Lendvai Dircksen, has become somewhat my blog mascot. It's also generated quite a few comments relating to my dubbing this depression-era boy "creepy." I suppose the definition might depend on where your imagination leads you....also, "Serious Kid" isn't half as fun.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Road Trip Observations

My nephew and I just returned from a mini-roadtrip to Clear Lake, California - a small, somewhat depressed resort destination we've been visiting on and off since 1998. Of the several towns surrounding the lake, Lakeport appears to be the oldest, and most prosperous, of the bunch. We were staying in Clearlake, which had more than its share of abandoned businessses and assorted storefronts. The motel (a Best Western) seemed okay - if unusually empty for the heart of the tourist season.

Normally we camp up the mountains above the lake during our visits, at a particularly remote campsite, returning to town for supplies, or if the heat is unusually oppressive. This time, we spent all of our time down on the lake. We had planned to go kayaking, but discovered our favoirtie kayak vendor was nowhere to be seen. We did, however, visit some of our "traditional" haunts: "Renee's," a local restaurant, assorted retail stores (including a K-Mart and the local variation on a 99 Cent store). We also went to Radio Shack, where I bought two radio control vehicles on close-out for $10 a piece. One vehicle lasted just about 10 minutes. There were fun for the time it lasted, though. And we started to gather a crowd of interested onlookers. Radio control tends to fascinate people. For Ten Minutes. We made our brief, ever so slight impact on Clear Lake, and hit the road.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


At the moment, I'm up in Sacramento, and just read the headlines in the San Francisco Chronicle. The lead headline refers to Barry Bonds' trainer being jailed in relation to the steroid scandal - on a day when the major issues in the world include North Korea test-firing seven missles, Ken Lay, who exploited millions of Californians through the Enron scheme, dying before having to face years in prison at the age of sicty-four, and the continued carnage in Iraq. In comparison, the steriod case doesn't even seem worthy of being on page. I suppose the Chronicle, like every newspaper, is in the business of selling newspapers. Iraq and National Security just don't cut it.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Film Camp, Part 2

One of the reasons I enjoyed last week's experience was the opportunity to work with these bright, artistic kids. Schools in general don't provide a great deal of opportunity for creative kids to express themselves, so when they're exposed to programs like this, it's sometimes a life changing experience. I can't say whether that's the case here, but my fellow mentors and I had the chance to see amazing examples of young talents in action: A born leader, a talented editor, young but nevertheless veteran filmmakers, gifted actors - and the results of all of these kids teaming together in artistic collaboration. That's one of the reasons I've taken to teaching - it's incredibly exciting and satisfying to have the chance to meet - and possibly have an impact - on talented kids - whether they're fresh out of juvenile hall and struggling to put their lives back together, or from privleged backgrounds and just trying to figure out their place in the world.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

What IFFF? Kids Film Camp

Several months ago, I began working with Roads End Entertainment (they also put on the International Family Film Festival - IFFF) in a pilot program teaching filmmaking to kids at elementary and middle schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The pilot program was a great success, and we followed up that initial semester with a week-long Film Camp at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood. We just finished yesterday.

I had the opportunity to work with kids that were more advanced in their passion for filmmaking - a group of six very creative young filmmakers from 13 to 17 that brought to the task at hand (making a 3-5 minute film on the theme of "tolerance") unique skills and experience that resulted in a great film.

Having made films since I was eleven years old, I had a great deal of fun watching the process, as these kids - who began the week as strangers - learn to work with each other to develop, shoot and edit their film. As a boy, I enjoyed the opportunity to create a team, and lead my friends through the experience. The Film Camp gave these teens the chance to appreaciate and benefit from each other. For some kids, it was a rare opportunity to work with other like-minded people. Often, creative kids are surrounded by people who don't understand them - at the Film Camp, both mentors (all of us are filmmakers) and kids understand.

I have to admit, I had at least as much fun as the kids. And it probably meant as much to me, as well. As Oscar Hammerstein wrote in The King and I, "If you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught."

More later.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Updates, Updates, Who's got the Updates?

There's so much going on, it's hard to know where to begin. Several Productions and my teaching activities are underway or about to get underway. I'll try to outline some of these projects over the next few entries.

I'm working with the kids in the Documentary Studies class at San Pedro High School as they rush to complete their spring projects. This is the second year I've served as "Artist in Residence" there through the International Documentary Association's "Docs Rock!" program. Aside from a arduous 45-mile commute to San Pedro a couple of times a week, it's great fun. The projects that are coming down the line in the next week include a project exploring why people are fascinated with violence, another on a student's father as he retires from the military after 30 years of service. Still another explores drug usage and the somewhat closed society that characterizes the San Pedro area.

I work with the young filmmakers from story develoment to editing their documentaries on Final Cut Pro editing systems.

Next, my work with Roads End Entertainment and their:

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Let's Try This Again

Okay, false start last time....Let's start this again!

Monday, April 24, 2006


It's been over a month since I last posted here - a month in which, unfortunately, my father became seriously ill and passed away on March 28th. Life has been a little off-track for me during the last few weeks, but I think it's time to return to the blog and continue my ongoing saga. There's been a great deal going on in a number of different areas, so it's going to take a bit of time to catch up with it all.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


We're in the midst of packing up my parent's home, from which my parents moved late last August. The house contains the accumulation of fifty-eight years of marriage, three childhoods, and assorted refuse. The trick is to appropriately sort through all of that, dispose of items with no sentimental or practical value, and get out of there in a reasonable time. The number of boxes that comprise the evidence of my life is staggering, and includes "historical" records, creative efforts back to my first short story in 4th grade, and assorted little items, some shoved in drawers and not thought of in decades, perhaps. Do they have any sort of value. What sort of sentimental value can be assigned to the thousands of items that sweep through our lives?

I have literally hundreds of artifacts, each bringing with it a small snippet of memory - each preserving a brief slice of my life. Each represents an emotion, a feeling, and an era. a Matchbox car I used to play with - the leg of a GI Joe, a promotional pen from the New York Mets, a video tape feature work I completed very early in my career. All have value largely with me. Without me, they're worthless. To anyone else, they're worthless. For me, they represent a connection and a continuity to my past. A critical connection? Hardly. We are the sum total of our life experiences, not of our possessions. But our memories remind us of the texture of our lives - the subtle detail that accompanies and colors those experiences. Perhaps those small items help all of us remember in intimate detail who we are.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Embarrassed Dog

When I was a kid, we had a poodle named Pete. Poodles are pretty smart, and with smart goes sneaky.

Now, there was one place Pete knew he should never go: my parent's bed. He never even tried to violate that rule - it was as sacred as being housebroken.

Or so we thought.

On one particular evening, as the family gathered for dinner in the kitchen, we became aware that Pete was conspiciously absent. When the family gathered, it meant for Pete numerous opportunities for handouts. I walked out of the kitchen into the main hallway of our two story home, and caught just a glimpse of Pete as he reached the top of the stares, and walked slowly into my parents bedroom. He was the sort of dog that walked around with the self assured swagger of a dog secure on him home territory - but there was something too cautious in his step as he disappeared from my view.

I decided to investigate. I crept up the fifteen steps, and paused just by my parent's bedroom door. Slowly, I peered around the corner. There, in the middle of my parent's bed lay Pete on his back, waving all four legs back and forth in some sort of hyper ecstasy. I watched for a few seconds, still undetected.

"PETE!" I suddenly yelled, startling my dog and snapping him out of his dreamworld. Immediately he flipped over onto his feet. He stood on the bed staring at me for a second, then leaped off the bed barking, dashed by me and leaped again down the stairs. For the next five minutes, he ran around the house in a frenzy, barking non-stop, overwhelmed in doggie humiliation.

Pete made himself scarce. He couldn't stand to face us until the next day. We pretended it had never happened.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Love of Violence

I act as an "artist in residence" in the "Documentary Studies" classs as San Pedro High School. At the moment, students are in the process of choosing the four documentaries that will be produced this semester. One of the most thought-provoking concepts proposed by the students asks why human beings - and in particular young people - are attracted by violence. Why are violent video games and gory movies popular? Why do kids gather in droves to watch a voilent fight, yet rarely interfere? The classroom discussion today explored some of the possible factors: family life, society, and the media's influence. Is our attraction to violence something that is a symptomatic of modern society - or basic human nature?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Driving Blind

If you live and drive in Los Angeles, you're no stranger to the seemingly neverending rush hour traffic that has taken hold of our freeways. Unless you can be off the roads by 6:30am, and back on by about 8:30 pm, you'll run into jams during at least a portion of your route.

I've been in my car at 11:30 am, running what I think is a quick errand - instead, I found myself crawling along the freeway at 10 miles per hour. A twenty minute trip becomes a forty-five minute trip. This madness quite often extends to major thoroughfares. There's no avoiding it; there's no real effort among our politicos to address the problem. The mayor recently proposed an extension of one of the Metrorail subway lines all the way to the ocean. If the funding's found, it wouldn't be complete until nearly 2020. It's an expensive partial solution to a huge and growing problem. By the time that line is complete, the rest of the city will be in near gridlock.

During the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, there was a widespread effort to encourage businesses to stagger work hours so that the freeways wouldn't be overburdened with rush hour and Olympic event traffic. It worked - the freeways didn't get overwhlemed - in fact, they were better than normal.

As I sit in my car, listening to my old recordings of Jean Shepherd on my IPOD, I wonder why true vision is missing among the leaders of Los Angeles. In time, their negligence will drive people away from L.A. in droves.

Monday, February 20, 2006

New Ebay Victories

My recent Ebay purchases include two items in particular:

1 - A commemorative polo shirt issued on the occasion of the opening of the "Jean Shepherd Community Center" in Hammond, Indiana. Finally Jean Shepherd was honored in his home town. I thought this was a unique Shepherd artifact related for my collection (which really only includes records of his old radio shows and a few books).

2 - This HO scale (1/87) model kit:

As a kid, I built a model just like this (it's probably still around somewhere) for my model train layout. There are still very few models of modern-looking homes like this, which was manufactured in the 60's. With the skills (and patience) I have now, I'll super-detail this new home with the tiny details and lighting that make it seem authentic. I'm in the very early stages of developing another layout, for which I've purchased a number of structure kids already (I'm finishing work on the first of them now). More on that later.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Charles Dickens

Another creative inspiration is Charles Dickens, author of such classics as "Oliver Twist," "David Copperfield," "Great Expectations," "Tale of Two Cities," and "A Christmas Carol." Dickens is sometimes referred to as the first "cinematic" author. Rich characters, entertaining plotting, and clear detail have made have made his work perrenial favorites since they were written in the mid-1800's.

Dickens was also a social activist, as well. "Oliver Twist," for example, was a condemnation of the treatment of children in 19th century England. The hardships that Oliver Twist experienced reflect in essence Dickens' traumatic childhood; he wrote what he knew about. He wrote out of passion and strong beliefs of the good and eveil in his society.

Dickens isn't an easy read. 18th Century prose tends to be verbose and sometimes melodramatic. Much (but not all) of Dickens work requires serious dedication to complete - but for examples of memorable characterization and masterly plotwork, Dickens is a brilliant choice.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Jean Shepherd

If you're familiar with "A Christmas Story," the early 80's film about a boy in the 1930's wishing for a BB gun for Christmas, you would recognize the voice of Jean Shepherd, who narrated the film. "A Christmas Story" is based on his writing. His true legacy, however, extends far beyond that one film. He was a prolific author, he's been called the man who created "talk radio," he's been responsible for numerous other televsion and movie projects, and was even the inspriation for several other films.

Shepherd's greatest body of work was his radio program: from the 1950's to the late 1970's, he entertained New Yorkers and other easterners with nightly commentary on everyday life and stories that stretched back to his childhood. He was a master storyteller - "Christmas Story," as great as it is, only hints at his skill. I include him among my major creative influences.

If you want to hear some great storytelling, you can find recordings of his programs both at, a tribute site created in his honor, and the Jean Shepherd Archives, which includes hundreds of recordings of his radio program.


I just saw a commercial that gives new meaning to my initials, RLS. It seems those letters also represent an afflication called, "Restless Leg Syndrome." It sounds pretty annoying to me. The good news - there's a new medication available to help battle the dreaded RLS. In fact, the commercial ends with a plea for the viewer to "help put RLS to rest."

I think I just felt a chill in the air....

Monday, February 06, 2006

Westfield Los Angeles

It seems that in the last few years most shopping malls in the Los Angeles area have been acquired by a company called "Westfield.." In this area alone, Topanga Plaza has become Westfield Topanga, the Woodland Hills Promenade has become Westfield Promenade, and the Sherman Oaks Fashion Square has become - you guessed it - Westfield Fashion Square. With the Westield name comes a Westfield overhaul, a transformation that makes every mall a beige, upscale clone, down to the vertically mounted flat screen video screens mounted in strategic locations continuously advertising the latest movies and assorted mall products...

To be fair, Westfield has taken some tired-looking malls and made them more attractive, but when they hold so many mall properties in such a close geographical area, I think they're taking their mall formula a bit too far. There's no creativity, no tweaking of the Westfield experience to provide the visitor anything unique. Visit a Westfield mall anywhere, and experience the same look and the same stores. There doesn't seem to be even the least acknowledgement of the indivdual areas each mall reflects.

I'd hate to imagine a pre-planned community managed by Westfield - a true homogenized American community.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


What I was a boy and we moved to California from New York, my old friends soon became just a memory. Writing letters or even occasional phone calls aren't that easy for eleven year old kids, and I soon lost touch.

Future generations, from here on out, won't lose touch in the same way. For years, we've heard about an online "community." Today, that community really exists. More often than not, it's an extension and expansion of social contacts in the real world. "MySpace" is one of the most popular communities. It offers a customizeable "home page," on which users can maintain their profiles, favorite music, video, and personal blogs. Just as important, other users can add public comments to their friend's "myspace" sites. Friends have an opportunity to learn more about their current friends and keep up relationships with their old friends. With the arrivial of real-time video and audio, some childhood connections may never be broken.

The much heralded "online community" is in large part an enhancement of real-world friendships. Each online teen today is developing what will evolve into a vast network of near-permanent relationships that will impact his or her life and career in ways we can't possibly anticipate. The internet as a widely used resource is still less than twenty years old. It's impact on the social fabric of this country won't be understood for a generation.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

King Kong - Review by Request

I've been asked to provode my opinion of yet another remake, "King Kong." Once again, I feel that this remake missed the mark. Filmmaking's hottest director, Peter Jackson, created this film as an homage to the original film, which he credits with inspiring him to become a filmmaker.

The new "King Kong" is a beautifully shot production, with visual effects that are, in many cases, nothing short of astounding (I thought the skyline of 1930's New York was especially effective). Everything, including the acting style, was presented to recall the filmmaking style of that era, as combined with the mega-budgets of the early 21st century.

What hurts this new "Kong" the most is it's length. At 187 minutes (over 3 hours), it feels overly long. This epic film also becomes an epic test of endurance. An adventure film should never drag. This does during the first half as the audience awaits the Big Show.

Consider "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which was, in a way, also an homage to thrillers of the same era. That film, according to the Internet Movie Database, was only 115 minutes long, and kept the audience on the edge of their seats throughout the entire film. Most three hour films would be vastly more entertaining at two hours. The new "King Kong," I believe, might have been a better tribute to the original at two hours - or, like the original, at an hour and 44 minutes.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

2005 Remakes That Miss The Mark #2

Another film that missed the mark in some respects as compared to the original version was "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," Tim Burton's new interpretation of Roald Dahl's classic children's book. This version was very much a Tim Burton film in style and look, but it lacked the same sort of character touches that made the fist film.

Early in 1971's "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," Charlie shows his frustration at not finding Willy Wonka's "golden ticket" by mouthing off to his grandparents. He over-reacted in disappointment as kids sometimes do, and that's one of the touches that gave this fantasy a touch of authenticity.

In contrast, 2005's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" lacked any such touches. Charlie is sad and disappointed when he fails to win the golden ticket, but he doesn't over-react or act otherwise inappropriately. Like the kids in the remake of "Bad News Bears," Charlie lacks some of the depth he had in the first film, and so leaves the audience less engaged in his life and his adventures. Kids, in particular, will identify more closely with characters of their age that are less than perfect.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

2005 Remakes That Miss The Mark #1

2005 saw the release of a number of remakes of films that are now considered classics. Many of these remakes were well made, but few seemed as honest as the original versions of decades past.

Take, for example "The Bad News Bears." The original 1976 film was wildly successful and unusually honest in portraying a little league team of outcast kids and their drunken coach (Walter Mathau). The kids were real: they cursed, one smoked, one even threw out racial slurs. But like real kids, we occasionally saw beyond who they tried to be and learned who they really were. Early in the film, when the Bears have been humiliated in yet another defeat, the team tells the coach that they can't take the humiliation anymore, and they want to quit. The coach asks each of the boys how they feel, and almost everyone agrees. Finally, he asks Tanner, the smallest kid and the biggest loudmouth in the group, if he wants to quit. Despite his seemingly cynical attitude, he responds quitetly to the coach, "Hell no, I want to play." It was a moment when Tanner's true personality came through - and it made him seem real.

The 2005 version, in some ways, was faithful to the original, leaving intact the basic characters and plotline, with some adjustments to reflect the world we live in 30 years later. Billy Bob Thornton takes over the Walter Mathau role, still a drunk, but now an exterminator instead of a pool man. Most of the kids on the team are the same, and some even look eerily like their predecessors. Overall, however, the film simply didn't feel as authentic as the original. The young actors seemed to be impersonating the actors that came before them, and the script missed those moments that made the original work so well. In this film's version of the quitting scene I decscribed, Tanner's heartfelt response, and the reaction it elicits from the coach and his teammates, is missing. He's reduced to a one-dimensional approximation of the original Tanner. It's a pattern repeated throughout the film. All the Bears become stereotypes. This remake is like so many of the films that followed in the genre the original created: It lacks heart.

Monday, January 23, 2006

First they came...

This quote, by a German clergyman who lived through World War II, is particularly important advice to keep in mind in a world of prejudice and susupicion. In the days and months after 9-11, otherwise intelligent people were filled with suspicion at others strictly on the basis of their appearance. I know of some people who today make it their business to stalk and spy on indivuduals for no other reason but mistrust based on ethnic origin:

“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Pastor Martin Niemöller.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Google vs. the US Government

You may have heard about the refusal of Google to turn over search statistics to the US Government, which is demanding the information supposedly as part of an investigation into internet pornography. Already, Yahoo and Microsoft have turned over their stats. The government claims it is only searching out stats to help argue their case for further protections for children on the internet, but I believe this is simply a smokescreen.

Since 9-11, the government has violated privacy laws extensively in the name of National Security. Holding people without charge, searching library records for unusual borrowing habits, tapping phone calls and even questioning what we search for on the internet is increasingly seen as acceptable. This isn't about internet pornography and children - which most everyone would agreee is a serious concern - this is about using fear against the American people.

Uncontrolled access to even more private information of every American citizen is dangerous. In times of crisis, this government has violated the privacy of individuals dissenting from the norm. For forty years, J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI had his agents spy on those in power, from FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt, to Martin Luther King, JFK, and any of the major players in the protest movements of the 1960's. They were all seen as threats for their independent perspectives, or manipulated lest Hoover reveal their personal lives to the public. With today's technology, it is possible to put tens of thousands or even more on a "watch list" simply for political views contrary to those in power. The definition of a "threat" to national security can be changed at will. In fact, both Republicans and Democrats have in the past accused their opponents as being threats to national security.

I applaud Google for recognizing that this is not simply about creating stats about pornography. Would the government then subpeona further information on those searches it deems suspicious in relation to national security?

This is about preventing the creation of an unrestrained, secretive government that will keep us "safe" by creating an atmosphere of fear. If that occurs, freedom of expression disappears.

The Votes are In!

The votes have all been tabulated, and the kid is Kreepy, by a vote of 2 to 1!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Kreepy Kid

It has been brought to my attention that this kid isn't really creepy. If you haven't met him before, he is my official blog mascot. I found him on the internet. The pic dates back to 1938 - you can find the specific info in an early blog.

Is he creepy? Or is his STARE creepy? Or is he just misunderstood? Click on comment and submit your vote.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

News of the Day

Here are some instant reactions to the lead stories on the first page of today's Los Angeles Times, presented without having read much more than the headlines and perhaps a few paragraphs.

1- "Supreme Court Upholds Oregon Right-To-Die Law"
A complicated and contentious issue. With proper safeguards, it may very well be a compassionate option in some cases. In this case, the then-US Attorney General John Ashcroft attempted to define what is proper medical care - which was beyond his authority. A good decision. One of the three dissenters, by the way, is the new Chief Justice, John Roberts.

2 - "Is California Next in Line?"
A sidebar to the first story, this explores the chances of passing an assisted suicide law here in California. Again, the validity of this law depends upon the safeguards written into the law itself (whatever that may be).

3 - "'Tomato King' Has a Few Hurled at Him"
A successful tomato farmer in California returns to his hometown in Mexico and wins the race for mayor. His opponents keep up their attacks even after the election. Is he corrupt as they say, or the victim of prejudice because of his success in America? Either way, this focuses on the cultural divide between the US and Mexico. Mr. Bermudez, the 'Tomato King' learned how to succeed in America over three decades. He learned, in fact, the American Dream. Apparently this does not neccessarily translate. Either his tactics are being misunderstood, or he hasn't learned to adjust the lessons of success in America to the cultural subtlties of Mexican society.

4 - "SF Airport Set for the Big One"
No, not the earthquake, but the Airbus A380, the huge new passenger. San Francisco has built an entirely new terminal to accomadate the jet and its 555 passengers. Meanwhile LAX is stuck in ongoing intertia. Two gates at the already cramped international terminal at LAX will be altered for the jet, but it may not be enough. This story points out for me an ongoing lack of forward thinking by many of our elected officials. Some of our infrastructure is at risk here, with few solutions in sight. Our quality of life in Los Angeles, I believe, is beginning to slide ever more rapidly. We'll leave that topic for an upcoming blog (very soon).

5 - "If You Want It, Forget It"
This column analyzes the process by which the United Nations will choose the next secretary-general next year. Like the Pope, the potential candidate should not be seen as coveting the job, or they will likely not be elected. The article points out the intense secrecy by which a candidate is chosen (again, like the Pope). The United Nations isn't the Vatican, however, in that it can be said to represent the interest of every human being on earth. Taking that into consideration, I tend to understand the importance of keeping this process secret. This is an international decision that is being made off the international stage.

6 - "Lawmakers May Have to Fund Own Trips"
With a Lobbying scandal spreading across Washington, both parties are jockeying for position. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican, is proposing doing away with all travel paid for my private groups. It's a very popular perk - and one that shouldn't have ever been allowed. He's also proposing that limits be put on gifts lawmakers may accept, and how long a former lawmaker or staffer must wait before they can take the role of a lobbyist. These are all the sorts of things that should never have been allowed, and I suspect that such bans will never be encacted, or else will be gutted and made easy to circumvent. This isn't something to place on Rupublicans or Democrats - it's been around for a long time. I find it offensive and hypocritical that the same politicians who benefited from these quirks have suddenly seen the light. Where were they while Congress was being highjacked? By the racket they're making about reform, I suspect they were conspriing with the highjackers.

7 - "City Can't Bar Cell Towers on Looks Only, Court Says"
Looks vs. progress. Cell Phone towers are ugly. Convenience of service is important for cell phone users, and is important for business. La Canada Flintridge has been told by the US 9th Cicuit Court of Appeals that it can't deny building permits on public rights of way for purely aestheitc reasons. I can't entirely agree, in this case. I think that they should have that right. I also think that they should have presented a compromise to the cell phone companies, challenging them to create more visually unobtrusive cell phone towers. Again, my initial reaction is to wonder where the forward-thinking, visionary leadership was in that city. I would hope that the cell phone companies will take into account the sensitivity of this particular city and work with them to create acceptable towers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


This was it, headquarters for all my Country Village Lane exploits.
1 - That's me, at seven years old, claiming my territory. You can't see it, but I was wearing my proudest piece of clothing, a v-neck shirt I called my "Lost in Space" shirt for its similarity to the costume worn on the televsion show.
2 - This is the infamous crabapple tree. In an earlier post, I've told about it's role in one of my strange little experiments. Crabapples were also handy to use as weaponry against enemies and annoying friends.
3 - This is the antenna that brought in those great images on our black and white television set. My father consistantly refused to buy a color television set until the technology improved (it would be years until it was advanced enough for him to finally relent). This house never saw a color television set during our stay.
4 - This was the side of the garage that was full of "stuff" (the car parked on the other side. This is where my Schwinn Stingray bike lived until it was stolen at the Pond.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Chronicles of Good and Evil

I saw "The Chronicles of Narnia" last night. It was a well-produced film, if overly long. It also was no more a "Christian allegory," as numerous excited little groups have claimed, than any other piece of fictional literature that reflects the culture in which it was written. Perhaps "Narnia" draws upon those traditions, but its basis lies in the struggle between good and evil. "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" all feature a battle between good and evil. You may call it "Heaven and Hell" if you wish, but Good and Evil are concepts that extend beyond one particular religion. The search for understanding of just what "Good and Evil" means may, in fact, have led to the development of religion.


It occured to me during a visit to the bookstore last night that I can't recall the last time I was "astonished." I've been surprised, flabbergasted, befuddled and shocked, but I don't recall my last episode of astonishment.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Dark Side of Country Village Lane

(I get all these images from:)Oh, sure, life on Country Village Lane seemed ideal as I grew up, but it held dark secrets. Sort of.

1 - This is where I buried several successive "time capsules," allowing me to preserve Country Village Lane as it existed only 2 or 3 months before. I held those month-old newspapers in awe as I read old news. That is, if I tightened the lid of the milk bottle tight enough so that water didn't seep in and ruin all the contents. This is also about where we buried "Charlie," the last in a line of parakeets my sister raised over the years. We gave him a proper burial here in my favorite cigar box, which I had painted with glow-in-the-dark paint. I may have left a time capsule there when we moved, so there could be some early 70's artifacts buried there to this day. It's private property, though, so I wouldn't recomment an expedition!

2- This was where we waited for the school bus to Wickshire School, the elementary school I attended until we moved after 5th grade. When I returned to the communty after an 18 year absence, I discovered that the aluminum light pole here still had the etched graffiti some kid has scrawled on it when I was a kid. Without going into too much detail, the now-forgotten kid had attempted to include every bad word he knew into one bizarre nonsensical phrase. This is also the location where one of the local kids, finished with his baseball cards, dumped them all here one morning for all of us to fight over. For a few seconds, I had most of them gathered around me, but Chris noticed my advantage and sounded the alarm before I could get them to safety. I was mobbed by half a dozen boys and was left with just a few.

3 - This is Chris's backyard, where his St. Bernard, appropriately named "Nard," spent his days. This is also where Chris and I played baseball (I was the pitcher, and he was the catcher). This is also where he and his dad launched a model rocket (as we watched from inside the back door of their house). It's also where we dug up a huge ant colony, and I became so fascinated with all the activity within that I didn't notice half of the ants were all over me.

4 - Our school bus stop moved to here in later years, for reasons that will forever remain forgotten. The move across the street made it seem somehow less our own bus stop. It was on the corner of another street, and not purely Country Village Lane. The magic was gone. One day, as we waited for the bus one morning in 5th grade, I gave a 2nd grade neighbor kid a "Vulcan nerve pinch" (that's when Spock on Star Trek pinched some bad guy on the back of the neck to knock them out). Well, the kid didn't like getting his neck pinched for some reason, and ran crying home to his mother.

5 - I hid behind a bush here, knowing the kid's mother would be at the bus stop to scream at me. I could only hope that the bus would come before she did. She didn't, and I got screamed at while I sat in my not-very-effective hiding place. The kid calmed down, and we went on to school. Later that morning I was summoned from my fifth grade class to my former second grade class (I was escorted by Country Village Lane's own twin boys). My former second grade teacher then informed me how disappointed she was to learn that I tried to strangle the very same kid, who now had magically begun to cry again. Some kids learn revenge early.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

You Have to Wonder....

I read in the paper today about a couple who left their five and nine year-olds alone at home for four days while they went to vacation in Las Vegas. Every once in a while, these sorts of stories pop up, which naturally means that it happens a lot more frequently than we know. That being the case, what does the phrase, "common sense" really mean? How often do all of us see people lacking in "common sense?"

Common Sense, as I understand it, represents the basic unwritten rules of behavior that define so-called "civilized" society: Protect your kids, wear clothes in public, don't walk in front of a speeding semi-truck. How could a couple be so lacking in common sense that they believe that there would be no problem leaving their small children alone for days? Perhaps they believed the nine year old was brilliant and gifted, and would know exactly what to do in an emergency. Of course, if I had such a talented kid, I would want to make sure he and his talents were carefully protected. It would seem to be common sense that even the most brilliant child isn't emotionally mature. Regardless of his intellectual abilities, that nine year-old's repsonse in an emergency situation is unpredictable. All this assumes, of course, that the nine year-old is brilliant. If he's of average intelliegence, the dangers are even greater. Either way, it's impossible to understand how two parents could convince themselves that they were doing the right thing. Let's consider thier possible reasons:

1 - The kids will learn valuable lessons in independence.
2 - They play with their XBOX all the time anyway; they won't know we're gone.
3 - They know how to use the microwave.
4 - It's a good opportunity for the kids to build their problem-solving skills
5 - There hasn't been a fire here for ages.

Police are investigating. Nobody has been arrested. After all, you don't need a license....

Monday, January 02, 2006

More Random Video Adventures: is another video site, offering a bit more personalization, and the same slice-of-life videos. It's been a while since I've posted, so here's just a couple of selections:

Jack's Can Of Whoop - ASS
Once again, real kids at play the way real kids play. I remember kids like who volunteered for abuse. Don't watch if you're offended by bad language.

Security Forces Ambush

There are numerous videos this one: video of an attempted ambush of American troops in Iraq. It really gives you a sense of the sudden terror our troops face every day: