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Nov. 17th, 2014

cake, birthday, musical

A bevy of birthdays

A very happy birthday to dear friends of long standing, orawnzva, ladymondegreen and aurelia_star! (And you thought this page was only political rants and death notices anymore...)
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Oct. 21st, 2014

television

A new Fanfic Sampler™ for all you Monk fans (c'mon, there have to be a few!)

The now-ended USA Network series Monk has been a favorite of mine almost since it began in the early Naughts, even though mystery is usually not a genre that interests me all that much in books, films or TV. This is largely because of the main character (with whom I identify probably way more than is good for me) and the amazing performance of the actor who portrayed him: Tony Shalhoub, who first came to my attention in the painfully-accurate Disney fandom spoof GalaxyQuest, and has since rightly earned an Emmy® Award for his work in this show. (And if you haven't seen it, good God almighty, go rent a DVD or stream of it somewhere already; you're missing out on some damn good viewing.)

What follows back of the cut is a short-short I wrote of a scene that never happened in the show, but damned well ought to have: the defective detective being honored at an official ceremony for his work by his city's then real-life mayor (who turned up in the show and got just as peeved at Monk as nearly every real-life celebrity he encountered, much like Dr. Sheldon Cooper later on in The Big Bang Theory...except Monk's not nearly as obnoxious). Let me know what you think.
Mr. Monk and the Medal of HonorCollapse )

Aug. 30th, 2014

headstone, tombstone, death, memorial

In Memoriam: William Joseph "Joe" Bethancourt III, 1946-2014

The filk community has lost one of its own...and the world has lost a tremendous talent. Singer, songwriter and banjoist extraordinaire Joe Bethancourt has died at 68 after being in hospital since April. According to Random Factors' Mary Creasey, Joe had had several medical issues including "a serious infection," but no details have been given out by his family as yet.

I met Joe when he was a main guest at Conterpoint III (NEFilk X) in the summer of 2000, when I was still on staff (I drew up the CD package). We almost used his parody "A White Space Suit (And A Pink Crustacean)" as the CD title, but the concom couldn't get rights to its original music in the end, so the art reflected it even though the title was completely unrelated. He was very friendly and encouraging to me then, and even though we found ourselves at loggerheads later on when he turned up on Facebook due to political disagreement, he was still respectful and courteous. And he was the only one I ever heard of to not only sing the songs from the late Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories, but actually record them on a CD. A tremendous loss to filk and music in general.

Deepest sympathies to his family (wife Cher, their four children, several siblings, and grandchildren), friends, colleagues and fans, and thanks to the man himself for a lifetime of music and good works.

Jun. 20th, 2014

headstone, tombstone, death, memorial

In Memoriam: Kemal Amin "Casey" Kasem, 1932-2014

Legendary radio/TV host Casey Kasem has died at 82 after a long, tragic and very public struggle with both family drama and debilitating illness at a hospital in Gig Harbor, WA—ironically enough, on Father's Day. Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., one of my favorite pundits, is one of the few media figures writing about Kasem's life, career and death from a perspective of personal first-hand experience, having worked for the man for two years. His remembrance is here...and you can read about the nationally syndicated radio show that made his name a household word in this book.

Casey's distinctive voice was part of the soundtrack of my childhood and adolescence from almost as far back as I was capable of listening to radio and watching TV; he recorded a plethora of voices for characters on animated cartoon TV shows in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, of which Scooby-Doo's stoner pal Shaggy was only the most famous; he also was the voice of Batman's sidekick Robin in the various incarnations of Super Friends, and even played the Hobbit Merry in Rankin-Bass' serviceable animated adaptation of Tolkien's The Return of the King (long before Peter Jackson got his mitts on it). But it was as host of the seminal radio countdown show American Top 40 that he made the largest impact on me; I listened religiously every week when I lived within broadcast range of a station carrying it to see how the day's pop and rock singles moved up and down the chart, hear Casey tell background stories about the people who sang them, and listen to his admittedly sometimes schmaltzy "Long Distance Dedications" from listeners all over the USA and around the world (his show was carried on Armed Forces Radio, so he got a lot of requests from service personnel at forward bases). For awhile I even kept written lists of the songs on each show and their movements...even after he left the show and Ryan Seacrest added hosting it to his ever-growing list of jobs. Along with the late Dick Clark, Casey kept his finger on the pulse of popular music even long after it would seem to have passed his generation by.

He was also a tireless activist for a number of causes dear to my own heart, including affordable housing, environmentalism and animal rights, and against stereotyping and maltreatment of Arab-Americans in and out of show business—a cause which sadly has only gotten more important, not less, in the decade and change since 9/11. And he backed Democratic candidates from Jesse Jackson to Dennis Kuchinich in several Presidential races, with his name, his time, his wealth and his talent.

My heart broke to read stories of the dissension between members of his family as he got older and sicker, and the news of his death came almost as a mercy after all of this. Deepest sympathies nonetheless to them all, including second wife Jean and his three children; to all who knew and loved and worked with him or were colleagues; and to his many fans, in whose number Your Humble still unabashedly counts himself...and to the man himself, a heartfelt "thank you" for decades of entertainment and the hope his soul is finally at peace.
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Jun. 11th, 2014

travel, flying cat

African Journal: A birthday trip down the coast

This is one of those "catching up" entries I promised, about the trip we took recently to Durban that I mentioned in my last entry.
In which we get on the road far too late in the day, get soaked for a last-second hotel room. get splashed at the local Sea World-type park and get a taste of the pampas.Collapse )

Apr. 30th, 2014

headstone, tombstone, death, memorial

In Memoriam: Robert William "Bob" Hoskins Jr., 1942-2014

Veteran British character actor and director Bob Hoskins has died at the age of 71 of what his publicist describes as pneumonia. The poor man had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for the past three years and had only two years ago announced his retirement from acting due to the illness. CNN's website has an obit here with a wonderful picture gallery of some of Bob's best roles—including one or two about which I'd had no idea until now (example: Enemy at the Gates, in which he played the late former Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev under some amazing heavy makeup).

If he'd never done anything more than breathe life into a hard-bitten Hollywood gumshoe named Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (arguably the most amazing combo of live-action and animation since another film by the Disney studio, Fantasia, at the time), I'd consider him worth remembering. But he did so many other wonderful bits of stage, film and TV work over 3.5 decades...and no matter what his look, his accent, his lines or his behavior, when his balding mug was on screen, you just simply couldn't take your eyes off it. Even in a minor role like the obnoxious screenwriter Stanley Gould in a 1986 bit of cinematic fluff called Sweet Liberty, directed by and starring Alan Alda, Bob made the most of it, committing gleeful, shameless grand larceny on every scene he was in...and you invariably enjoyed the living daylights out of watching him do it.

Deepest sympathies to his two wives and four children, the rest of his family, friends, colleagues, co-workers and his many, many fans, in whose number Your Humble proudly counts himself. Thank you, sir, for a lifetime of hard work keeping us all entertained...and I hope your soul is at peace and free of pain at last.

Apr. 7th, 2014

headstone, tombstone, death, memorial

In Memoriam: Joseph Yule Jr. (AKA Mickey Rooney), 1920-2014

After a long life (to the ripe old age of 93!) and a career almost as long and tumultuous, multi-talented entertainer Mickey Rooney—actor, singer, dancer, voiceover man and storyteller—has died of as-yet-unspecified causes at his North Hollywood home yesterday. The Los Angeles Times has an obituary here.

From his very earliest days (literally; at 18 months he was already toddling on a vaudeville stage with his parents), Mr. Rooney entertained us all so much for so long it's not even funny (although most of the time he surely was). Even after child and then teen stardom faded and personal problems with marriages and money (he walked up the aisle no less than eight times, prompting him to joke, "My marriage license reads, 'To whom it may concern'"), he was still able to reinvent himself as a character actor and voice artist. My personal favorite perf of his is his voicing of the title character in the classic Rankin-Bass animated TV special Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town; but he had so many others you could spend at least a full day or two watching them before you ran across a single dud—and I'd bet real money you wouldn't find one.

When you have talents no less than Cary Grant, Anthony Quinn and Sir Laurence freakin' Olivier all name you as the best actor they know in Hollywood, your career has to have had something going for it besides longevity and perseverance—though the Mick had both and to spare. He passed away peacefully, from all accounts, surrounded by his family; deepest and most sincere condolences to them, as well as his many friends, colleagues and fans. And to his own eternal soul (should he or any of us turn out to actually have one), wherever it may now reside: thank you, sir, and I pray you have at last found peace.

Mar. 21st, 2014

headstone, tombstone, death, memorial

In Memoriam: Rev. Frederick Waldron Phelps Sr., 1929-2014

Your Humble Correspondent, like many who care about social justice and equality for all under the law, has been of two minds in rather bitter conflict about the news of the passing of Rev. Fred Phelps, notorious founder, pastor and paterfamilias of Topeka, Kansas' Westboro Baptist Church, at the age of 84 of what so far has only been described as "natural causes" after a long illness and hospitalization.

Cut to save your f-page space (and possibly your blood pressure).Collapse )

Mar. 18th, 2014

headdesk

Christie shoots himself in the foot he can't even see (again) on Tesla Motors

"There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law."
- Robt. A. Heinlein, "Life-Line," short story first published in Astounding Stories of Super-Science magazine (now Analog), 1939

New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine thinks Gov. Chris Christie has torpedoed any hopes he might have had of winning the Republican presidential nod two years hence with the latest decision of his puppets appointees on the state Motor Vehicle Commission in regard to Tesla Motors' sales of electric cars in the Garden State. He explains why here.

In fairness, two points:

  • Strictly speaking, NJ isn't banning the sale of Tesla cars (or any electric cars) at all, despite all the hysterical "Tesla Banned in NJ" headlines; they're just insisting that e-car makers play by the same rules old-line carmakers have to follow in the state. There is a legit "level playing field" and "unfair advantage" argument to be made here...but as the political consultants say, the optics are very bad for the "17 millionaires in each legislative district" NJCAR has in the state...especially considering that every last red cent of the lobbying cash on this issue has been from their side. They're also very bad for Christie, both as governor and as a prospective candidate for the White House in 2016, since he gives every appearance of (a) having been bought and paid for by NJCAR and (b) standing in the way of business innovation, usually anathema in the GOP.

  • Personally, I do think buying a car (or a house, for that matter) shouldn't be the same as buying an iPad; this is a way more major purchase, and there's something to be said for physically going to a brick-and-mortar store, kicking the tires and test-driving the merchandise before signing on the proverbial dotted line. But as the article notes, there's also something to be said for the (significant) cost savings of cutting out the middleman...and again, it sure as hell looks like the old guard is trying to stifle progress and competition for its own self-interest, with help from the current administration in Trenton.

What do you think? Should Tesla have to franchise its sales to dealers to keep selling cars without running afoul of industry incumbents? Several states have passed similar laws and regs at the behest of their own franchisee lobbies. Or is this just a hopeless rear-guard action against the inevitable wave of the future in car sales?

Mar. 17th, 2014

television

On looking into Tyson's Cosmos: A great start, BUT...

Okay, I admit: I was trepidatious at first upon learning that the late, great and sadly missed Dr. Carl Sagan's groundbreaking old 1980s PBS television series Cosmos was going to be "updated" (or "remade," "rebooted," "reimagined," or pick your current TV-industry verb) for the new millennium. Your Humble tends to have a knee-jerk reaction about remakes in general, especially of old and classic shows and films that were unquestionably done right the first time. All too often, the intent of those doing the remake is a cynical attempt to cash in on an existing "brand" rather than any actual need or artistic impulse to improve on the original.

But given that so much has been discovered about the universe and our place in it during the intervening decades, there is certainly at least some justification for an update in this case. And I felt more sanguine about the news once I learned three things that greatly lessened the likelihood of the new show being a desecration of the original: 1) famed astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson (arguably the new Sagan of his generation, and a protegé of his) would be hosting and producing; 2) Sagan's widow Ann Druyan, who co-produced the original, is also heavily involved; and 3) cable's National Geographic Channel would be airing it, along with the Fox broadcast network. (And isn't that a step up? I can remember when nobody but PBS would go near this sort of material for fear of ratings disaster. Yes, I know, I'm showing my age. Now you kids get offa my lawn.)

Even better for us over here on the Dark Continent, NGC's African channel Nat Geo Wild gets the show about a week after its US airing, and is airing it here as well. Now we've finally seen the first episode, and it does seem a promising start, maintaining the spirit of the original while incorporating new data and material (Tyson's recollection of his own visit to Sagan in his Ithaca, NY home is especially apt and moving)—not to mention fabulously updated graphics and special effects. However....
Long angry nerd nitpicking rant back of the cut. Don't say you weren't warned.Collapse )

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