Friday, February 26, 2016

White Privilege and The Oscars

First, I'm going to define what white privilege means to me. I'll let you decide whether that is a fair definition. I am white. My wife is black. My father and my wife's father have both passed away, and they both had a lot in common. My wife's father rode his bicycle across America. My father rode his bicycle across Europe. They were both old enough to remember and be affected by the Depression. Both of them worked very hard and saved money most of their lives. 

My father went to college and became a mechanical engineer. My wife's father never went to college and worked as a gardener for the City of San Diego. In the 1960s and 1970s, he also did gardening on the side for his doctor, so that the family would have healthcare. My father never had to do that.

My parents bought a house in a mostly white neighborhood. When my parents divorced in 1980, my dad bought my mom out of her half of the house and paid it off before he retired. My mom bought a condo and paid it off before she retired. My wife's parents stayed together until he passed away. They bought a house in a mostly black neighborhood and paid it off before they retired. Today, my wife's parent's house is worth about 30% to 40% of my dad's house and a little more than my mom's condo.

When it came time for me and my wife to buy a house, my father gave us the money to use for a down payment. My mom gave us a small fraction of that amount to go toward renovations. My wife's mom gave a small fraction of what my mom did, which was all she could afford.

I went to a state university, which my father paid for, and got a bachelor's degree. While I was going to college, my mom used part of the money she got from my dad for the house to pay rent for my brother and I. My brother and I both had part-time jobs in college, but it was mostly to earn spending money. My wife went to junior college and got an associate's degree. She paid for college herself partly by working a normal part-time job and a second subsidized job at the college. 

I have only touched on a couple of things here, education and wealth accumulated through real estate, the way most Americans acquire wealth. In my parents generation, my father (white) graduated college. My wife's father didn't attend college. In my generation, I (white) achieved a higher level degree, with less hardship than my wife (black). My parents (white) amassed 3 or 4 times as much wealth as my wife's parents (black). My parents were able to help my wife and I buy a house. Without them, I don't think we would have made it. Presumably, we will be able to do the same for our children someday.

Now, you may be thinking that my wife's parents could have bought in a white neighborhood. Honestly, I don't think they could have afforded it. Even if they could have, I grew up in that mostly white neighborhood. The first black family moved in across the street from us when I was about 10. As far as I know, they were the only black family for blocks around and for many years to come. There weren't any cross burnings. I was about 3 or 4 years younger than their youngest child, and while I don't remember any problems among the kids in the neighborhood, I don't remember their children ever having many close friends among the white kids, even though there were plenty their ages. And the adults, it was four or five years before they would even say, hello, when they drove up. This was San Diego in the 1970s.

Oh yeah, and speaking of cross burnings. About five years before my wife and I bought our house, we looked at another house. It seemed really low priced in a cool older neighborhood. It was a funky house and had this weird trapdoor to a basement in the living room. Very few houses in San Diego have basements. My dad suggested I talk to the neighbors. It turns out that part of town had been once a landfill. That weird basement had been the scale they weighed the trucks with. They took the scale out and built the house on top of the cement hole in the ground.

A few days later, I found out something else about the house. A co-worker lived in the neighborhood. She hemmed and hawed before she spilled it. She knew my wife was black said she remembered something about a cross burning in the neighborhood. She thought it was close to the house we were looking at. I went to the library and found a newspaper article about it. It happened in the mid-1980s. A black family moved in, and one of the neighbors didn't like it. He burned a cross on their lawn and attacked the black man who lived there with a machete. He went to prison for it. Turns out this cross burner lived three doors down the house we were looking at. The woman I worked with thought there were bikers living t
here at the time. We decided not to put in an offer.

That is white privilege to me, better and easier access to education, more resources, and not having to deal with racism, either covert (people not saying hello to the first black family in the neighborhood I grew up in) or overt (cross burning, ten years later and no more than 5 miles away). The cross burning was an aberration. Sadly, the white people refusing to speak to the first black family in the neighborhood was not.

So what does all of this have to do with the Oscars? Do you really need to ask? The lack of color among Oscar nominees is just another aspect of white privilege. The best opposing explanation I've heard is for the lack of color at the Oscars this year, there weren't outstanding performances by people of color. And maybe there weren't, ignoring Straight Outta Compton, Concussion, Beasts of No Nation, and Creed. Oh wait, the Academy already did ignore those. That's why we're here.

I did a little informal unscientific study on actors/actresses. I did two google searches, top actors today and top actresses today, and looked for people with ethnic backgrounds other than white in the first five results for each search. Most of these links are some IMDB user's list, so possibly not the best source of information. But these are the links that display first when you google those two phrases. Also they seem to be fairly consistent. For example, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman were usually the first listed among black actors. Note that I included both Indian (country of India) and Pacific Islanders as Asian. For mixed race actor/actresses, often they were counted twice. For example, Dwayne Johnson, The Rock, is a mix of black (father Canadian of African American descent) and mother Samoan. Since I counted Pacific Islander as Asian, I counted Dwayne Johnson as both black and Asian. Here are the results:
  • Actors: 340
    • Asian (4 of 340), 1.2%
    • Black (30 of 340), 9%
    • Latino (2 of 340), 0.6%
  • Actresses: 255
    • Asian (3 of 255), 1.2%
    • Black (5 of 255), 2%
    • Latino (6 of 255), 2.4%
    • Native American (4 of 255) 1.6%
  • Actors and actresses combined: 595
    • Asian (7 of 595), 1.2%
    • Black (35 of 595), 5.9%
    • Latino (8 of 595), 1.3%
    • Native American (4 of 595), 0.7%
  • American population (Source: Wikipedia: Race and ethnicity in the United States)
    • Asian (my numbers include country of India and Pacific Islander descent) 6.1% vs. 1.2% top actors and actresses
    • Black 13.2% vs. 5.9% top actors and actresses
    • Latino 17.1% vs. 1.3% top actors and actresses
    • Native American 0.8% vs. 0.7% top actors and actresses*
*This is a little deceiving. At a glance, this seems close to parity. According to Wikipedia. 0.8% of  the American population is Native American/Native Alaskan (2.4 million people in 2008); however, almost an equal number (2.3 million in 2008) reported being part Native American/Native Alaskan, so if you add those in, you can almost double that 0.8%. Also there were no male Native American actors given, and all of the Native American actresses were mixed race.

Fewer actors/actresses of color among the top means fewer roles and fewer Oscar nominations. I can't believe we still need to have this conversation in 2016. Things are not going to change until Hollywood changes and stops casting according color. There are no black roles or white roles, just roles. Actors make their living playing people they are not. Let them do it. An alcoholic lawyer trying to rebuild his life is not necessarily white anymore than a tough street cop is black. 

Sure, sometimes race is important. Doing a movie about Che Guevara, you might want to get a Latino to play him. Beyond that, what does it matter whether 007 is white or black? It doesn't to me. I had this conversation with my wife. She thought James Bond should be white, but suggested, why not have Daniel Craig as 007 team up with Idris Elba as 008. Then the next movie in the series could be Elba's. Sure, I could live with that. 

A stormtrooper can't be black, says who? Fox News? Does it really matter what race Spider-Man is? Do radioactive spiders only bite white people. Would it be wrong to have a black Batman. Well, technically Batman's alter ego is a billionaire. Maybe, we need to keep him white a little longer and respect the privilege.

Monday, February 22, 2016

TCMFF Sidetrips, No. 2 – Musso & Frank Grill

Have a little extra time to kill in Hollywood at the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), this series covers a handful of my favorite destinations. 


Musso & Frank Grill 
6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028
Mon–Sat 10:30 am–11 pm, Sun 4 pm–9 pm
(323) 467-7788
Can also make reservations online at:

Getting there from the Festival

Walking (about a 7-minute walk from The Hollywood Roosevelt). Go east on Hollywood Blvd. about 6 blocks, a block east of the Egyptian Theatre. 

Musso & Frank Grill is as much history as you're going to find in current Hollywood, at least, if you're planning to have a good meal at the same time. Opened in 1919 and operating at its current location since 1927 (it started next door), the list of regulars reads classic film royalty, from Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, and Douglas Fairbanks, to Greta Garbo, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, and James Stewart to Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Steve McQueen. The restaurant also served as a hangout for great writers of the era. F. Scott Fitzgerald proofread his novels from a booth at Musso’s. William Faulkner used to get behind the bar to mix his own mint juleps, and Raymond Chandler wrote part of The Big Sleep in the back room.

Musso & Frank Grill is bit on the pricey side (Yelp gives the range as $31-$60). We were there for a late lunch, and my Pastrami sandwich was the best I'd ever had. The place was almost empty when we were there. One of the main things I remember was the service. While we looked over the menu, the waiter stood about four feet away facing the other direction. As soon as we put down our menus, he turned and took our orders. That's what I call service.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Movie Scientist Blogathon: Ghostbusters

This post is part of the Movie Scientist Blogathon: The Good The Bad and the Lonely hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings.

I got into this blogathon without really thinking about it too much. When it came to movie scientists, what could be better than Ghostbusters. Then again, what could I say about a film that most people have seen so many times that they quote bits and pieces in everyday life. Then it dawned on me, maybe the key to saying something fresh about Ghostbusters was to embrace the topic of this blogathon, not the film itself, but the scientists in the film.

At it's heart, Ghostbusters is the story of a team of scientists, Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) who make a great discovery and then use it to save the world. Whenever you deal with science, even pseudo-science, there's an issue, where the scientists can't relate to ordinary people. One of the things that makes Ghostbusters work is how they play with this idea.

Let's look at these scientists in reverse order:

Ray, when someone asks you if you
are a god, you say, 'Yes!'

  • Winston Zeddemore – Now, I know what you're thinking. Is Winston really a scientist? Well, I argue that if he has an unlicensed nuclear accellerator on his back, he darn well better be. Originally, the part of Winston was written for Eddie Murphy, as a former Marine with multiple degrees and a founding member of the Ghostbusters. Murphy withdrew to make another little film, Beverly Hills Cop. The part of Winston was rewritten to have him be a layman who joins the Ghostbusters about midway through the movie. As far as I'm concerned, the real issue is not whether Winston is a scientist, but what he brings to the team. He keeps them grounded and has more common sense and street smarts than the other three combined. In the DVD commentary, they say they needed Winston to explain the paranormal science to audience. As such, he's the everyman and soul of the Ghostbusters.
Well, let's say this Twinkie represents the
normal amount of psychokinetic energy...
  • Egon Spengler – Egon is the most gifted scientist of the group and as such the least relatible. He's the most detached. It's almost as if he doesn't care about ghosts themselves, but more that they are physical phonomena that can be studied and captured. His real thrill is with the discovery. There's a line where Bill Murray says that something reminds him of the time when Egon tried to drill holes in his own head. Egon's response, "That would have worked if you hadn't stopped me." Here is a man who would be willing to drill a hole is own head if he thought he could learn something from it. Clearly, Egon is the mind of the Ghostbusters.
"He's an ugly little spud isn't he?"
"I think he can hear you, Ray."
  • Ray Stantz – Of the team, Ray is the believer of the bunch. He's definitely a true scientist, not just an expert on the paranormal phenomena, but also well-versed in metallurgy and structural engineering. For him, science is a means to an end, to prove his belief that ghosts are real. The screenplay was written by Harold Ramos and Dan Aykroyd, and Aykroyd's real-life fascination with the paranormal shines through in his character. When it comes to the historical paranormal background of the film, Ray is the authority. He's also the one who inadvertently chooses the form of their destructor, the most harmless thing, something he loved from his childhood, "Something that could never ever possibly destroy us. Mr. Stay Puft!" Ray is the heart of the Ghostbusters.
    Yes, it's true.
    The man has no dick.
  • Peter Venkman – So if Winson is the soul, Egon the mind, and Ray the heart, what does that make Bill Murray's character? I was having trouble with that one myself. I think it was Harold Ramis in the DVD commentary who nailed it. If Aykroyd is the heart of the Ghostbusters, Bill Murray is the mouth. He's the front man, the Steve Jobs of the Ghostbusters. While Egon and Ray do all the scientific heavy lifting, they would never be able to get anywhere without Peter Venkman slinging the BS. Sigourney Weaver says that he doesn't act like a scientist, he's more like a game show host. Face it, it's Bill Murray's movie, but without the rest of the cast playing straight to him, it would never work. 
Together they make not just  the perfect team, but also a complete whole. But what of the science. Is the science in Ghostbusters real, even as pseudo-science? Even though I don't believe in ghosts, I have to say, yes. In some respects it's a modern update of the Horror comedies of Abbott and Costello, but at the same time, it's well-grounded in the contemporary paranormal folklore. Akroyd's father and great grandfather regularly held seances in their family home in Ontario. The scene where Dr. Venkman studies the effect on negative reinforcement on ESP, where he shocks the guy and pretends the cute girl is getting all of the answers right, is an amalgamation of actual experiments conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram, and earlier ESP experiments conducted by parapsychologist, J.B. Rhine. As pseudo-science goes, you could do a lot worse.

Ghostbusters is a fun and extremely funny movie. It has great dialog that has completely permeated popular culture. The cast is brilliant from the top all the way down. The scientists are archetypes of people we all know, so they come off as real. Who hasn't known an overly intelligent person like Egon, who hasn't a clue socially. Or a smart guy like Ray who gets so swept up by his passions that he often comes off like an idiot. Or the schmoozer Peter Venkman who slides by on how well he can capitalize on the little knowledge he does have. You want great movie scientists, who you gonna call. Yeah, you know the answer.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Confessions of a Born-Again XML/DITA Evangelist – No. 1, I See the Light

A little background, from the mid-1990s to the early-2000s, I did a lot of work in SGML/XML for a large publisher of science books and journals. Since then, I've changed jobs a couple of times, and while I continued to do documentation, until very recently, it didn't involve content markup.

Fast forward to about three years ago, our telecommunications company was looking to DITA to help with our documentation issues. I think my first exposure to DITA was one of those half-day training seminars. Because of my background, I probably knew more about the subject going in than 90% of the people there, and for me anyway, what was being covered in half a day could just as easily have been done in a hour. At least, we got lunch.

Soon after, we started having DITA meetings. I could tell we weren't moving very fast on it, when one of the project leaders did a presentation about how she had converted her glutton-free muffin recipes to DITA topics. It's surprising how infrequently gluten-free muffins come up in a telecommunications context. 

Because I had documents to get out, I was able to skip most of these meetings. I knew I could be up speed quickly once we had a plan in place. About the time I had the DITA training, I also had some minimalism training, and I'm sure the two melded together for me to a certain degree. I knew that our customers did not read documentation to learn about the technology, they read it because they want to do something with the technology, i.e., tasks.

I knew that applying this philosophy to our documents would make them better for customers, regardless of whether we ever used DITA or not. In practice, this meant focusing on the tasks. If there was conceptual information related to the task, how much was necessary to accomplish it. Maybe some of it needed to be minimized so that the user can get to what they are trying to do more quickly. If the task was too long, maybe it needed to be broken into two simpler ones. Possibly, there was info buried in the task that needed to be a prerequisite before the user even starts. While this is not DITA, taking care of these things upfront would surely make the conversion to DITA more smooth. 

About a year ago, DITA was finally starting to gather steam at our company, which of course meant another half day DITA training. Woohoo, free lunch again. This time we were supposed to bring a document we had worked on to see how DITA could be applied to it. I picked a document about a new GPS feature, that provided better performance than the previous one.

I chose this document for a number of reasons. It was pretty short only about 12 pages, so it would be relatively easy to look at in a classroom. It only had one task, but I had put a lot of work into it to make sure that it was good. I'd had a fairly long lead time on the document, so I'd put a lot of effort into reorganizing and clarifying the rest of the document. Finally, since I'd spent so much time with it, I knew the content backwards and forwards, so I could find my way around super easy.

As expected, the DITA training was pretty basic. For our purposes, we were not using generic topics, just:

  • task – How to do something
  • concept – What something is
  • reference – Information you need to look up

Going in, I could see the value the structure of the task model provided. Having to split everything else up into either concepts or references seemed a bit unwieldy to me. Still, I went in with an open mind. During the class, one of the exercises was to take our document and break it into tasks, concepts, and reference topics. We only had about 10 minutes, so it really had to be broad brush strokes. This is a task. This is a concept. This is a reference. This is another concept and so on.

I wasn't too worried about the tasks. There was only the one. The rest of the document was good shape. I just needed to put it into the proper concept and reference topic buckets. The document was in great shape, or so I thought.  I found a couple of topics that were very short and didn't say much.  One  related to a concept earlier that was also a bit spare. The two should be combined. The other concept didn't relate to anything else. I needed to go back to my engineer and do one of two things. Either flesh it out into something better or get rid of it.

The part of DITA that I found unwieldy in a 10-minute exercise helped me see issues that I had missed on my own. DITA shown down on me in all of its glory, and I could see the light. Okay, maybe that's a bit of a reach, but it made me realize the power of all the DITA topic models not just the one I thought most important.

Hopefully, you weren't offended by the mildly religious overtone I used just now, but I thought it justified. Keeping in that vein, next, we'll look at coding tasks as the Creators intended.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

µ-Blog – Marking Her Territory

µ-Blog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post

I have a Mercedes, older, a 2005. Great car, but expensive to maintain. It's started making funny noises, and I dread the thought of how much it is going to cost to fix. I've taken to not driving much until I can get the nerve up to take it in. I took it to get coffee yesterday. My wife asked if I wanted to park in the driveway when I got back. I said, "No, I don't want to hear you complain about people parking in front of the house." My wife is very territorial about the two parking spots on the street in front of our house.

"If I thought it would do any good," she said. "I'd pee on it."

On the way back, I thought about it. When I got back, I explained, "What you'd need to do to make it work is wait for a car to park. Then run out out and pee on the spot right as they are getting out. They'd never come back." My wife laughed. "Unless they're into that sort of thing, then you'd never get rid of them."

Monday, February 15, 2016

TCMFF Sidetrips, No. 1 – Ameoba Music

Updates to this post in Red text.

Have a little extra time to kill in Hollywood at the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), this series will cover a handful of my favorite destinations. 

Amoeba Music
6400 Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90028
Mon–Sat 10:30 am–11 pm, Sun 11 am–10 pm
(323) 245-6400

Getting there from the Festival

Located on Sunset Blvd., roughly two blocks south of Hollywood Blvd. and about 12 blocks east. Blocks are a little weird in Hollywood; your mileage may vary. Amoeba Music takes up the entire block on the south side of Sunset Blvd., between N. Cahuenga Blvd. and Ivar Ave.

Walking (about 15 to 20 minute walk from The Roosevelt)

Directions: Take one of the larger north–south streets south to Sunset Blvd. (suggest taking either North Orange Dr. or Highland Ave.). Go east on Sunset Blvd. to North Cahuenga Blvd.

Tip: If you like looking at sidewalk stars, take Hollywood Blvd. east to North Cahuenga Blvd., then south to Sunset Blvd., and you're there. After initially posting this, I stumbled on a site that covers a lot of Hollywood movie locations (links below). Going down this street, the 1600 block of North Cahuenga between Hollywood Blvd. and Selma Ave. is one of the streets Buster Keaton went down in The Cameraman:

Buster Keaton at 1612 North Cahuenga Blvd. (details below)
Metro/walking (in case you're too tired to walk)

Directions: Take the L.A. Metro from Hollywood/Highland station to Hollywood/Vine station (first stop going toward Union Station). From Hollywood/Vine station, take Hollywood Blvd. one block west to Ivar Ave. Take Ivar Ave. two blocks south to Sunset.

For me, no trip to Hollywood is complete without a trip to Amoeba Records. According to their web site, this is the world's largest independent music store. I'm inclined to believe it. This is what a really good music store used to be like back in the day, back when they had music stores. Looking for that rare out of print CD, they might have it at a decent price. How about an entire room devoted to Jazz, Blues, and Classical.

Movies more your thing? Upstairs is a loft dedicated to DVDs and Blu-Rays. Compared to the ground floor, it may seem small, but it's very well organized, and the selection of older movies is great. If you're used to video stores that are broken into Drama, Action, Comedy, Family, and so on, you'll be happy to find genres a little more geared to a classic film fan's tastes with separate sections for genres, such as Film Noir, Silent, and Pre-Code and sections devoted to directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder.

On top of all of this, if you already have too much stuff in your bag, and you don't want to carry it back, they will ship from the store for you.

Also in the area

At 1851 N. Ivar Ave. (two blocks north of Hollywood Blvd. and one block east of the Hollywood/Vine Metro Station) is the Alto-Nido Apartments. This is the location of William Holden's apartment building in Sunset Blvd.

Joe Gillis' apartment building from Sunset Blvd.
Thanks to Robby Cress at Dear Old Hollywood. Posts on Buster Keaton and Sunset Blvd. locations are:

Saturday, February 13, 2016

You Must Remember This…A Kiss Is Just a Kiss Blogathon – Bugs and Elmer

This post is part of the You Must Remember This…A Kiss Is Just a Kiss blogathon, hosted by Second Sight Cinema.

I think Leslie at Second Sight Cinema posted the Bugs and Elmer graphic above as a joke. Since I was kind of late getting on board, and I love old cartoons, it seemed like a natural for me.

Between the 1930s and 1960s, Warner Brothers produced several hundred cartoons under the Merry Melodies and Looney Tunes imprints. The most popular character of course is Bugs Bunny. According to Wikipedia, Bugs appeared in more films than any other cartoon character. While he often starred with Elmer Fudd, he also starred with Daffy Duck and Yosemite Sam in numerous films. In addition, Bugs made quite a few films, with one-off characters, like a boxer, a baseball player, and a circus lion. He starred with a mad scientist twice, including one played by a Peter Lorre parody.

My best friend has a theory that Bugs Bunny was the first gay cartoon character, and I think you can make a good case for it. Think about it, every chance he got, Bugs dressed in drag. When it came time to kiss someone, did Bugs kiss his trophy wife, Honey Bunny? No, he kissed Elmer, Yosemite Sam, or some other dude. 

Bugs and Elmer's first kiss from "A Wild Hare" ain't love grand
When you think of Bugs and Elmer, you think kissing. But I watched about 25 or 30 Bugs and Elmer cartoons, and less than half had them kiss. Often they were in kissing situations, but didn't actually kiss. Probably their most famous cartoon, "What's Opera Doc," where Bugs dresses in drag as a Valkyrie warrior, they do not kiss or even come close to it. One of the advantages of watching all of this is that I stumbled onto a lot of great old Hollywood stuff. For example, "Slick Hare," starring Bugs and Elmer features numerous star appearances, including Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and great gag with Ray Milland paying his bar tab with a typewriter and getting change in little tiny typewriters. Again, no kissing.

As far this blogathon is concerned, I didn't think I could pull off a full post on a 7-minute cartoon. I decided the best approach would be to watch as many Bugs and Elmer cartoons as I could find. Then I covered all of the ones that had either kissing-like situations or actual kissing, a total of 15 cartoons. I broke these into Near Kisses and Kisses and ranked them from bottom to top. 

If you care, the rest of this post does contain SPOILERS.

Near Kisses

6. "Rabbit Romeo" (directed by Robert McKimson) – Elmer Fudd gets a delivery of a Slobovenian rabbit (Millicent) from his Uncle Judd Fudd. Millicent is heavy and being kind somewhat less than pretty. She talks like Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle and is desparate for a husband. Elmer catches Bugs Bunny and introduce him to Millicent. At one point, Bugs tricks her into kissing a goldfish instead of him. The goldfish promply commits suicide. Later Millicent kisses Bugs on both cheeks and Bugs goes to great effort to avoid kissing again. Admittedly Millicent is no prize, but since Bugs goes to such lengths to avoid kissing her, it kind of makes a case for the Bugs being gay argument. At the end of the cartoon, Bugs dresses Elmer up as a rabbit. It ends with Millicent chasing after Elmer, trying to kiss him. Seems like both Bugs and Elmer would rather be kissing each other if you ask me.

5. "The Big Snooze" (directed by Bob Clampett, uncredited) – Elmer Fudd frustrated with Bugs Bunny's abuse tears up his contract with Mr. Warner and swears off hunting to go fishing. Elmer falls asleep. Bugs takes sleeping pills so he can invade Elmer's dreams. The cartoon gets very surreal at this point. Through most of the dream sequence, Elmer is almost naked wearing a wreath of leaves on his naughty bits. Bugs puts Elmer in drag, and the animators make Elmer way sexy. Bugs changes the scene to Hollywood and Vine, where several wolves chase after Elmer. There's no kissing, but with the wolves chasing after sexy drag Elmer, I think this counts as a near kiss.

4. "Hare Remover" (directed by Frank Tashlin) – Elmer Fudd plays a scientist (Dr. Jeckyl parody) and tries to turn animals into devilish fiends. He tries it on his dog first, but it doesn't work. He then sets a rabbit trap for Bugs Bunny.  He gives Bugs the formula but nothing happens. Elmer breaks down crying, and Bugs makes a tonic to make him feel better. Through a misunderstanding, Bugs thinks that a bear is Elmer (changed by his tonic to a monster). Bugs kisses the bear thinking it's Elmer. Later through a similar misunderstanding, Elmer thinks that the same bear is Bugs (changed by his tonic). Elmer kisses the bear thinking it's Bugs. Technically, Bugs and Elmer do not kiss each other, but mentally and spiritually, oh yeah.

3. "Easter Yeggs" (directed by Robert McKimson) – The Easter Bunny cons Bugs Bunny into delivering his eggs for him. The first stop is Dead End Kid, a red headed juvenile delinquent, who nearly kills Bugs. The next stop is Elmer Fudd's house, where Elmer has laid a trap for the Easter Bunny.  Later, Elmer digs a pit and covers it up. When Bugs falls in, Elmer fills it with water. Bugs floats out in a life raft and into a hollow log. Elmer follows him in. On the other side of the log is a Tunnel of Love sign. Bugs and Elmer come out in a close embrace. There's no kissing shown but I'm thinking they were making out in that tunnel. 

2. "Bugs Bonnets" (directed by Chuck Jones) – The Narrator explains that costumes can influence behavior. Even a simple hunting cap on a mild-mannered character (Elmer Fudd) immediately turns him into a hunter out for rabbit (Bugs Bunny's) blood. To explore the phenomenon further, they have a truckload of assorted hats dropped into the woods. the rest of the cartoon is Bugs and Elmer switching hats and of course acting how the hats dictate. The key comes near the end of the cartoon, when Elmer dons a bridal veil and Bugs a top hat. The wedding march plays, and Bugs carries his bride (Elmer) to their honeymoon cottage. Bugs says, "... It always helps a picture to have a romantic ending. 

1. "Rabbit of Seville" (directed by Chuck Jones) – Elmer Fudd is hunting Bugs Bunny, when Bugs takes refuge in the Hollywood Bowl (presumably) during the opera. Bugs poses as a barber to abuse Elmer.  Bugs dresses in drag in green opera-ish outfit. Bugs is very much the vamp and embraces Elmer, but doesn't kiss him. Back to the barber routine, Bugs continues to mess with Elmer with various barber implements. Ultimately, Bugs offers Elmer flowers, candy, and then a ring and tricks Elmer into marrying him. Bugs carries bride Elmer up several flights of scaffoldings to their honeymoon cottage. Bugs opens the door, carries Elmer over the threshold, and drops him off into a Marriage of Figaro wedding cake.


9. "Wideo Wabbit"  (directed by Robert McKimson) – Bugs Bunny is hired to be a guest on Elmer Fudd's hunting television show, The Sportsman's Hour. They put Bugs on ladder with an electric shocker, so that Bug will jump out of the hole on cue. Bugs runs off, and Elmer chases him through the studio. At one point, Bugs impersonates Groucho Marx, in a parody of Groucho's quiz show from the 1950s, You Bet Your Life. Elmer realizes that it is Bugs, not Groucho. Bugs takes off the mustache and glasses and kisses him. Later, Bugs does a parodies of both Liberace and Art Carney. You gotta love that.

8. "What's Up Doc" (directed by Robert McKimson) – Bugs Bunny is being interviewed by Dissociated Press. He explains his life story, how he was a rabbit born into a human world. As a child, he finds he has an affinity for music and goes into vaudeville. Ultimately, Bugs has trouble making the big in show biz. Down on his luck, he hangs out in park with other show biz has-beens, Al Jolson, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, and Bing Crosby. Elmer Fudd comes up, recognizes Bugs, and asks what he is doing hanging around with these bums. "They'll never amount to anything." Bugs joins Elmer's vaudeville act. At first, Bugs plays straight man to Elmer's corny jokes, until Bugs turns the tables on Elmer. On stage at gun point, Bugs stumbles on his catch phrase, "What's Up Doc" and they become a smash hit. Hollywood beacons. In a screen test, Bugs sings a "What's Up Doc" song and dances around a passive Elmer. Bugs does kiss Elmer, but as kisses go, it's nothing special. However, the cameos make this well worth watching.

7. "The Wacky Rabbit" (directed by Bob Clampett) – Elmer Fudd's character went through several incarnations. At first, he had the body we are used to, but with a head very similar to an earlier character named, Egghead. There was a brief period in the early 1940s, where they drew him much heavier. Here, fat Elmer is a prospector looking for gold in the desert. Bugs Bunny appears under a steer skull and spends most of the first part of the cartoon wearing it like a mask. Bugs tells Elmer that they have discovered gold. He shows Elmer the gold filling in his teeth. Elmer shows Bugs that he has one too. Bugs kisses Elmer and runs off and dives into his hole. While Elmer is trying to dig him out, Bugs takes some scissors and cuts off Elmer's shirt and suspenders, revealing that Elmer is wearing a dude corset. Bugs does a wolf whistle at Elmer's undergarments. You gotta love male fetishware. Elmer catches Bugs determined to get the gold tooth. He goes after Bugs. In the ensuing fight, Elmer removes his own tooth by mistake.

6. "The Old Gray Hare" (directed by Bob Clampett) – Here we see into the future, the year 2000. Elmer Fudd is old with a white mustache and hunts an old Bugs Bunny with a Buck Rogers ray guy. Bugs kisses him and hobbles off with his cane. Elmer shoots Bugs, and Bugs pretends to be dying. Bugs pulls out photo album with them as babies. They go into a flashback with baby Elmer hunting baby Bugs with a popgun. Baby Elmer crawls after baby Bugs, and they even take a nap in the middle of their chase. Eventually baby Elmer switches to a souped up baby buggie. Baby Bugs dresses as cop and pulls baby Elmer over on a pretend motorcycle. Baby Bugs kisses baby Elmer, making him cry. Back in the year 2000, Bugs continues to die, digging his own grave, but tricks Elmer into going into to it instead. Bugs buries Elmer, and Elmer says that at least Bugs is out of his life forever. Just then, Bugs digs his way into the grave, kisses Elmer, and hands him a stick of dynamite that goes off over the closing That's all Folks credits. Three kisses, two old and one as babies, the hell with Viagra.

5. "Wabbit Twouble" (directed by Bob Clampett) – Fat Elmer Fudd goes camping at Jellostone Park. Bugs Bunny puts up a sign that says, CAMP HERE. Elmer sets up camp, and the shenanigans are on. Bugs steals his tent and ties it into knots. Bugs puts dark glasses on Elmer while he's napping to make him think it's night already, then wakes him up in a minute later making him think it's morning. Elmer gets a gun to go after Bugs, but instead runs into a bear. Reading his camping book, Elmer plays dead to be safe from the bear. When the bear leaves, Bugs snarls and growls over Elmer, who still has his eyes closed. Bugs kisses Elmer, and Elmer gets a huge smile and blushes bright red. Very cute.

4. "Rabbit Fire" (directed by Chuck Jones) – Daffy Duck wears rabbit shoes to lead Elmer Fudd to Bugs Bunny's hole. There's a great verbal gag between Bugs and Daffy, "Wabbit season," "Duck season." Ultimately, Daffy dresses as a hunting dog, and Bugs dresses in drag as a woman hunter nearly shooting Elmer. Drag Bugs apologizes and kisses Elmer to make up. Elmer turns bright red, very much smitten.

3. "Hare-Brained Hypnotist" (directed by Friz Freleng) – Elmer Fudd learns hypnotism to control dumb animals of the forest. He hypnotizes a bear to make it think it's a canary bird. He tries to hypnotize Bugs Bunny, but it doesn't take, and Bugs kisses Elmer on the forehead. Things go awry when Bugs Bunny tries to teach Elmer a lesson by hypnotizing him and convincing him he's a rabbit. From there, it's a complete roll reversal, rabbit Elmer spends the rest of the cartoon messing with Bugs, including kissing him three times.

2. "A Wild Hare" (Directed by Tex Avery) – This is regarded as the first real Bug Bunny cartoon. Earlier films featured a cartoon rabbit that shared many features as Bugs, but this is where it all came together. Elmer Fudd is hunting wabbits. He find Bugs' hole and tries to lure him out with a carrot. While he is trying to get at Bugs. Bugs come out of a different hole and starts talking to Elmer who doesn't recognize him as a rabbit. Bugs come up behind Elmer puts his hands over his eyes and says, "Guess who?" Elmer guesses several actresses, Hedy Lamarr, Carole Lombard, and so on. Eventually Elmer realizes that it might be the rabbit. Bugs says, "Ummm, could be." He gives Elmer a big kiss and jumps in his hole. Elmer sticks his head down the hole, and Bugs gives him another  big kiss. Elmer sets a trap, but when he pulls out his quarry, it is a skunk. Elmer continues to talk to Bugs, bragging about how he caught him while holding the skunk. Bugs kisses him again. This is more or less the quintessential Bugs Bunny Elmer Fudd kissing cartoon. It has many of the gags that they would come back to over and over again when depicting Bugs and Elmer. As kisses go, not the greatest, but it set the standard.

1. "Rabbit Seasoning" (directed by Chuck Jones) – The cartoon opens with a play on Burma Shave advertising signs, indicating that it's Rabbit Season. As we move into to the woods we see more and more signs for Rabbit Season, including ones that lead Elmer Fudd right to Bugs Bunny's hole. Daffy Duck has put them up (it's really Duck Season). This has probably the best of the Bugs/Daffy verbal gags, pronoun trouble. The kiss comes toward the end. Bugs dresses in drag in a tight pink sweater and blond wig. Daffy asks whether Bugs has anything to say, "... out of sheer honestly." Bugs in a woman's voices says, "I would just love a duck dinner." Bugs kisses Elmer. Elmer's  eyes turn into stars, and he prances over to Daffy and shoots. Bugs, Daffy, and Elmer at their very best.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Gold Diggers of 1933

Musicals don't get any better than Busby Berkeley, and if you ask me, Busby Berkeley doesn't get any better than his early work in the Pre-Code era. Berkeley created moving artwork with the human form and Gold Diggers of 1933 is one of his finest. He uses the female body in the same way a great painter uses canvas and oils.

The film has a great cast including Warren William, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee, and Ned Sparks, as well as cool uncredited rolls for Sterling Holloway and Charles Lane. It's a formulaic plot but clever dialogue and great delivery by all the principals help it rise above.To be honest how much plot do you need in a musical anyway. 

The musical numbers are simply spectacular. Gold Diggers of 1933 opens with Ginger Rogers singing "We're in the Money" with both costumes and giant set pieces made of silver dollars. She even sings a verse in Pig Latin. How cool is that? The musical numbers shine throughout. Dick Powell sings two songs solo, "Shadow Waltz" and "I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song."  "Shadow Waltz" appears later as a production number.

The "Pettin’ in the Park" number is is a fun and even by today's standards a little bit dirty. The silhouette scenes would never have made it just a little over a year after the film was released. The Hays code expressly forbid that sort of thing. "The Shadow Waltz" number with neon lighted violins and reflections of the dancers using both water from a pond on stage and the black lacquer floor is a masterpiece.

Gold Diggers of 1933 climaxes with "Remember My Forgotten Man."  With sets reminiscent of German expressionist film, the number portrays the plight of the ordinary man during the Depression. The marching beat and military theme make it seem instantly patriotic, but the lyrics about how society failed to support its own undercut that. It goes someplace you'd never expected in a film like this.

Finally, any film with a young Joan Blondell is worth watching for me. She is absolutely gorgeous. I often joke that if I had a time machine, I wouldn't go back and kill Hitler. I'd go back and try to seduce young Joan Blondell. The way she twists William Warren around her finger is awesome.

Pre-Code films were free to show things in a way that a short time later, censors would never allow. They also pushed the envelope with both racy dialog and subject matter. Gold Diggers of 1933 takes advantage in the most wonderful way.

Monday, February 8, 2016

µ-Blog – Really Short

µ-Blog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post

I was in a shopping mall the other day, a rarity for me. If you don't count going to see a movie, I can't even guess at the last time I was in a mall. As I was walking along, I saw a young woman late teens/early twenties with a couple in their forties, presumably her parents. I caught just a snip of their conversation.

Young woman: Yeah, he works out at the gym, like four and a half hours a day.

[Both of the parents got a slightly odd look on their faces] 

Father: Four and a half hours a day?

Young woman: He's really short.

I tried to put my head around that answer. Why would being short have any bearing on how long he works out? Does he have trouble reaching the machines? Does he have to wait for all of the normal-size people to finish?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Review

The Bennett sisters
I have something of an odd relationship with Jane Austen. My wife is a huge fan of the film and TV adaptations of her novels, though I don't think she has read any of them. There was a period of several months where my wife watched the 1995 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcey, every night as I was going to bed.  She played it over and over again night after night as I drifted in and out of sleep. 

My wife likes all of the adaptations of Austen's work, so I've seen all of them multiple times. The weird part is that I know mostly that 1995 Colin Firth TV version, but in weird disjointed half hour segments. As a result, all of the adaptations seem somewhat disjointed and have a dream-like quality for me and I have a lot of trouble keep one story straight from the next. So when I sat down to watch Pride and Prejudice and Zombies this morning, the first thing I asked myself was, is this the one with Mr. Darcey?  Fortunately, I got my answer fairly quickly. One of the first, lines of dialog in the film is, "Colonel Darcey."

I haven't read the novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, though I have heard nothing but good things about it. I can't say whether it is a great adaptation or a hatchet job. I can only say that the movie really works. Having seen so many versions of Pride and Prejudice, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies seems to follow the story of the original work, just with the addition of a 19th Century zombie apocalypse. 

One the most haunting image in the film
For me, it worked on both levels, as a period movie and adaptation of Jane Austen, it was excellent. All or at least most of the social intrigue of the original is there. Then it also works as a zombie movie. The opening montage is sort of like a combination of a popup book and a magic lantern show, but it serves the purpose of giving enough information about the zombies, so you can jump right in and not feel lost.

I actually cried at the end when Mr. Darcey and... well, you know, or would know if you've ever seen or read it before. As a zombie movie, it's a lot of fun. It's two things that you could never imagine would go together but captures the spirit of both in the most incredible way.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

PowerPoint and Time Travel

If I had a time machine, I think would go back to about 1987, infiltrate Microsoft, and do my very best to prevent PowerPoint from being invented, in much the same way as the Terminator going back to prevent John Connor from being born. I think this would the world a much better place. 

To be honest, there is really nothing wrong with PowerPoint. If you have to train a group of people in a short amount of time and just want to cover the highlights, PowerPoint is the way to go. The problem is when you try to use it for something it is not intended, namely technical documentation. At my old company, we had thousands of technical documents in PowerPoint. 

The Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) assured us the customers liked it, but the truth of the matter is that the SMEs liked it. They liked to think in bullet points. What I discovered when I would sit in on customer training sessions with these PowerPoint decks was that much was lost in the translation. Often the SMEs would skip over certain slides and spend 10 minutes explaining the bullets on others. 

Looking at the material, we knew it was lacking and set out to get rid of PowerPoint or at least limit it to training sessions where someone would be going over the material in a classroom setting. If it wasn't intended for training, we would convert to them documents. Simple, right? Not if you care about your information. 

The simple approach to converting PowerPoint decks into documents is to take all of the section title slides and make those chapter headings. Then turn all of the slide titles into headings and all of the bullets into complete sentences and you're done, right? Well, yes. You will have something that looks like a real document. It will have chapters and section headings, and you can make a table of contents.

At a glance, it will look like a real document, but when you read it, it doesn't say very much. It has lots of little one-paragraph sections. If the section title slides were done well, at least. it's organized, but likely they weren't, and it's not. Well, what are you going to do? Hopefully, a whole lot better.

Your first and best option is to find your SME and have them give you the training like for a customer. Record it. Note any spots, where slides are skipped. Possibly these can be eliminated or at least severely edited. And those ten minutes that the SME spends on one slide, you now can transcribe and try to make sense of it. 

Of course, that may not be possible. SMEs are busy people. Besides, that's why they have technical writers, right? Well, yeah. That's why we make the big bucks. Whether or not, you have access to the SME, the real work is still ahead.

Save a copy of the original file, you might need to refer to it after you start. Avoid the temptation of turning all of the bullets into complete sentences. Some of them might really be bullets. Also don't make the section title slides in chapters just yet. It might send you down a bad road and make it harder to see the structure you're looking for. Your best bet is just read it as it is. Then read it again. You probably need to read it four or five times. Fortunately, with PowerPoint, it shouldn't take that long to read, even several times.

Eventually, the structure will emerge. You'll notice groups of slides that discuss the same topic. That's where your sections come from. Maybe you need to create new headings to encompass them. Those slide titles that at a glance look like headings will often turn into the topic sentences for paragraphs made out of bullets that fall under them. Now is the time to turn those bullets into sentences and figure out which ones really should still be bullets.

You might end up with a lot of sections and no chapters, but look at it again. Maybe the sections are just in the wrong order and moving them around will show you where the larger groupings should be. Maybe, looking at the original file and the section title slides will help. Keep going until you find chapters for your sections. What you end up with may not be perfect, but it will be way better than where you started. Going forward, you have something to build on.

And the time machine, well, it would probably make a lot more sense to bring back something of value that I could sell in 1987 and use the money to buy as much Microsoft stock as possible at 1987 prices. Then I could just retire and never have to worry about PowerPoint again. Maybe somewhere out there is a PowerPoint deck waiting to be turned into a something useful that will unlock the secrets of time travel. I can dream, can't I.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


With yesterday's announcement from TCM, we now have a total of 13 films announced for the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), April 28-May 1 in Hollywood. At this point, I thought I should do my top 5 picks of what's been announced so far. I did this last year as well, but kept revising it as more and more films were announced. I promise I won't be as bad this year.

No. 5. The King and I (1956). Me, I'm not a musical fan. That said, there are about a dozen of them that I really love. The King and I falls pretty high on that list.

No. 4. Horse Feathers (1932). The Marx Brothers on the big screen at TCMFF. Do I need to say more?

No. 3. Trapeze (1956). It seem like one time every year at TCMFF, there is one screening I go to because of the celebrity announcing it. Trapeze with Gina Lollobrigida introducing the film, that will probably be it. Maybe, I just have a thing for hot Italian, women.... In their 80s. You have no right to judge me.

No. 2. The Kid (1921). I love Charlie Chaplin, and a new restoration of The Kid, that's gotta be a must see. At least, until the full schedule drops and all of this speculation goes out the window.

No. 1. The Endless Summer (1966). If you were only to see one movie about surfing your whole life, Bruce Brown's The Endless Summer should be it. Getting to see it on the big screen with Bruce Brown introducing is gonna be a treat. Brown's low key narration provides humor and turns this from a great collection of surf footage into an adventure story about a couple of young surfers sharing their love of surfing with the world. Brown said that early on, everyone told him that the film would never play 50 miles from the ocean. To prove them wrong, he took the film to Witchita, Kansas, where lined up in the snow and sold out shows for weeks.