Monday, August 31, 2020

August Words of Wisdom

Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don't wish it were easier; wish you were better. --Jim Rohn

Discontent, blaming, complaining, self-pity cannot serve as a foundation for a good future, no matter how much effort you make. --Eckhart Tolle

If it is not right, do not do it. If it is not true, do not say it. --Marcus Aurelius

Any person capable of angering you becomes your master. --Epictetus

We are all equal in the eyes of the stove. --Jacques Pepin

A mistake repeated more than once is a decision. --Paulo Coelho

The deeds you do may be the only sermon some people will hear today.
--St. Francis of Assisi

You must not abandon the ship in a storm because you cannot control the winds...What you cannot turn to good, you must at least make as little bad as you can. --St. Thomas More

To live a life of virtue, you have to become consistent, even when it isn't convenient, comfortable, or easy. --Epictetus

If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old. --Peter Drucker

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.
--Marcus Aurelius

Her soul belongs to summertime;
Graceful footsteps on warm sands.
A heart that leaps in ocean waves;
Sea salt memory in her hands.
--Angie Weiland-Crosby

Some Americans will never appreciate America, until after they have helped destroy it, and have then begun to suffer the consequences. --Thomas Sowell

Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy. Its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery. --Winston Churchill

The little things? The little moments? They aren't little. --John Zabat-Zinn

Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people that you are, you aren't. --Margaret Thatcher

Pay attention to your insecurities. They are not there to taunt you but to show you where to heal. --Unknown

In a world full of trends, I want to be a classic. --Iman

It's your obligation to speak the truth, and everyone can either take it or leave it. But truth must be in us. We live in such a poverty of truth today. --Mother Angelica

The fascists of the future will call themselves anti-fascists. --Sir Winston Churchill

Feel what you need to feel and then let it go. Do not let it consume you.
--Dhiman

We don't need to look like men or talk like men to be powerful. We can be powerful in our own way, our own feminine way. --Zooey Deschanel

Just that you do the right thing. --Marcus Aurelius

Capitalism was the only system in history where wealth was not acquired by looting, but by production, not be force, but by trade, the only system that stood for man's right to his own mind, to his work, to his life, to his happiness, to himself. --Ayn Rand

Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide. --D.W. Winnicott

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Recent reading: "High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess"


by Charles Fleming

Don Simpson was one of the most successful movie producers of the 1980's and 1990's. Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, his producing partner, were responsible for wildly popular films including Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Bad Boys, Crimson Tide and The Rock, scoring with what became known as "high concept" films. Despised by most critics but loved by paying audiences, this approach propelled Simpson to the highest level of Hollywood. But his success also allowed him to indulge in behavior that was incredibly self-destructive and that would kill him at the age of fifty-two.

Simpson's demons are all the more sad because of his immense talent. He was a scholar of the golden era of Hollywood. He had a gift for analyzing scripts, an instinct for what audiences wanted to both see and feel, and a keen grasp of pop culture. For Flashdance, he utilized the then-fledgling MTV to help promote the film, which spawned two hits songs. It was a win-win - MTV needed the content and every time a Flashdance video aired on the channel it was a free ad for the movie.

Despite his hit-making gifts, Simpson also embodied the worst cliches of Hollywood power players. He once greeted a reporter by asking him what time it was, then following that with, "Four o'clock. You know what I like to do at four o'clock? I like to pour myself a big drink, lay out a few lines and abuse a screenwriter. Have a seat."  The reporter sat and watched Simpson do just that. In that order.

Simpson's alcohol use almost derailed his career when he was only in his thirties. A successful Paramount executive at the time, his drinking became such an issue with his superiors that they fired him, offering the traditional producer deal in return for him leaving quietly. That's when he hooked up with Bruckheimer and the box-office bonanza commenced.

Simpson also developed an affinity for hookers. He forged relationships with Madame Alex and Heidi Fleiss, two of the most notorious madams in Los Angeles. His drug and alcohol use became legendary even by Hollywood standards. The list of prescriptions he held at the time of his death is staggering - roughly twenty different drugs. One post-mortem investigation found that his monthly expenditure for prescription drugs was over $60,000...and that's in mid-nineties dollars. It's almost as if his death at a relatively young age wasn't so much a tragedy, but a miracle that he survived that long.

On top of his substance intake, Simpson also struggled with internal demons and insecurities that manifested in weight issues and multiple, grotesque plastic surgeries. Among these was having fat injected into his penis to increase its size, and having time-release testosterone implants in his buttocks to increase his sex drive and energy level. That last one backfired on the Days of Thunder set when the time-release aspect failed, "flooding his system with very high doses of the aggression-inducing hormone." Simpson flew into a rage while arguing with Bruckheimer, reportedly ripping a door off a production vehicle.

Fleming does a fantastic job of recreating the Hollywood of the eighties and nineties, with its big name movers and shakers, over-the-top lifestyles, the intertwined relationships, and the toll all of this took on those who lived it. And no one represented that lifestyle, era, or paid the price like Simpson.

One thing that I did find darkly humorous were statements made in the aftermath of the end of the Simpson/Bruckheimer partnership. No longer able to deal with the excesses and resulting craziness, and hoping some tough love would shock Simpson into dealing with his addictions, Bruckheimer ended their professional union in 1995. Almost everyone seemed convinced that Simpson could be successful on his own, but that Bruckheimer wouldn't. As it turned out Simpson would be dead within months, and as far as Bruckheimer is concerned...well, I think we all know how wrong the naysayers were about his post-Don Simpson accomplishments.

What Bruckheimer did not say, but what close friends and employees knew, was that he had simply had enough. Since the peak of their high-concept high in the mid-1980's, Simpson had been on an almost nonstop bender, a perpetual attempt to live his life at the very edge of every extreme. It had worn badly on his health and on his ability to function as a producer. It had also worn badly on Bruckheimer's patience.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

COVID-19 claims another victim


Last March when Left Coast Crime San Diego had to shut down on its first day, all eyes looked forward to next year's conference scheduled for April 2021 in Albuquerque. I know mine were.

Today came this news:

Hot off the press: Left Coast Crime 2021 Rescheduled to 2022

Due to the uncertainty of holding large gatherings in the spring of 2021, the Left Coast Crime 2021 convention has been rescheduled for April 7–10, 2022 – same place, same week in April, just a year later.

The Left Coast Crime national committee is making this decision now because we cannot count on having favorable government policies and the hotel's ability to provide necessary services by next spring, as well as the willingness of our Left Coast Crime community to travel with confidence. We’ve been in continual conversations with hotel personnel and sought assurances from the State of New Mexico, but no one can say when conventions can resume, even in 2021.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm sick of the new normal.

I do want to give props to the LCC organizers for the work they're doing. Hopefully by the time April 2022 rolls around we will all get to see their hard work finally reach fruition.


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Stranger than fiction

Talk about life imitating art, and not in a good way: In 2019, British student Jessica Johnson wrote a short story that earned her an Orwell Youth Prize...only to have her dystopian tale come to life, and at her own expense no less. It's pretty crazy.

I don't know much about the British education system, so I'm not exactly sure what is meant by certain terms like A-level and Sixth Form, but here is the gist of the situation:

  • In 2019, Jessica won an Orwell Youth Prize for her story "A Band Apart". Set in 2029, it envisions a future in which merit and grades are only a part of student performance assessment - another factor is an algorithm that rewards or penalizes each student depending on their background. This combination results in them being assigned to one of three "bands". Band 1 is the most advantageous because it affords these students better education and more prestigious, lucrative careers like doctor or lawyer. Band 2 provides decent jobs like teacher or administration, while Band 3 dooms those students to menial, low-paying jobs. The result is a caste system that makes it difficult for lower-class individuals to rise above their current station in life, and often penalizes smart, hard-working students.
  • Jessica needed an A in her English Literature class to qualify for a scholarship and retain her university admission. She was on her way to doing just that when classes were shut down earlier this year due to COVID-19 and final exams were canceled. For some reason, the decision was made to to add a "formula" to grades given by teachers based on work up to the point of the shutdown.
  • According to this article (bold mine), "About 40% of A-level results - published on Thursday - were downgraded from teachers' assessments by exams regulator Ofqual, which used a formula based on schools' prior grades." Johnson was one of those affected - the "formula" dropped her grade from an A to a B, which would have cost her both the scholarship and her university admission. This is exactly what happened in "A Band Apart" - despite hard work, some students were hobbled by unrelated factors out of their control.

Luckily, according to this article, her A grade has been restored. Jessica reflected on the irony of her experience:

"I've fallen into my story. It's crazy," said Jessica Johnson, a student at Ashton Sixth Form College in Greater Manchester. "I based it on the educational inequality I already saw. I just exaggerated that inequality and added the algorithm. But I really didn't think it would come true as quick as it did!"

This whole story reminded me of a quote regarding George Orwell's novel 1984. I don't remember where I saw it and I couldn't discover who originally made the statement, but it really resonates: "1984 was supposed to be a warning, not an instruction manual." There's a great piece about the quote here.

You can read "A Band Apart" here. Gotta admit, I'm impressed with her as a writer. I hope she goes far.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Sausage fest

Okay, so this picture has been making the rounds on the interwebs lately, and this morning it popped up one too many times on my social media, so of course I have to weigh in on it.


So many things come to mind:

  • First off, I'm pretty sure whoever designed this packaging is out of a job.
  • The whole idea of fake meat is off-putting to begin with. When they take on the appearance of sad wrinkly peens, that doesn't help the cause.
  • Gives new meaning to "Eat a dick." Sorry, but it was there. I had to say it.
  • One of the many things I learned in culinary school was the importance of presentation. This is a massive presentation fail.
  • Seriously, WHO DESIGNED THIS PACKAGING???
And now I'm hearing Beavis and Butthead in my head snickering over "package".  Lordy. I've gotta get my mind out of the gutter.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

A most unusual movie premiere

In all my years as a huge fan of Blazing Saddles, of Hollywood history, and of living in Hollywood just over the hill from Burbank, I had never heard the story of its very creative world premiere.

Until now, thanks to this post that popped up on my Facebook feed: Blazing Saddles had its premiere in 1974 at the Pickwick Drive-In in Burbank, where attendees viewed the film on horseback.

The drive-in was demolished in 1989 and replaced with a shopping center. Per this article, it was once a popular filming location due to its proximity to Burbank studios including Warner Bros., which produced Blazing Saddles. Unfortunately, it eventually became a victim of low attendance.

You can get a lot more history from this Los Angeles Theatres blog post, along with a bunch of photos of the theater from over the years.

I'm still boggled that this is the first I've ever heard of this story.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Okay, I needed a good laugh, and this gave it to me

The last couple of weeks or so have not exactly been, shall we say, upbeat. So this popping up on my Facebook feed was most welcome. Also, I would pay good money to see this:


As with all Babylon Bee articles, just the headline and picture are priceless, but you should still check out the whole article.

"Tremendous job," indeed!

I am such an idiot

I hate excessively hot weather. I just melt in it. I can't function in it.

With that in mind, here's my current home's forecast versus my previous home's forecast.



One of these things is not like the other. For starters, one only costs half as much...but as I'm fond of telling other people, you get what you pay for. Maybe one day I'll take that advice myself.

There's no way to say this tactfully, but if my current apartment had become available a few months later than it did...I wouldn't be here. It was 103 on the day I moved. And that was just the beginning of the move-related issues.

*Sigh*










Monday, August 10, 2020

Happy 70th Birthday, "Sunset Boulevard"!!!


The classic Sunset Boulevard was released seventy years ago today! Here's a great interview with Nancy Olson, a young UCLA student when she was picked to play Betty Schafer, and at ninety-two the last surviving major cast member. I especially love the story she tells at the end of running into William Holden in an airport.


Olson did a wonderful job of playing the youthful and ambitious but down-to-earth Betty, a counterpoint to Gloria Swanson's lofty delusional silent screen star Norma Desmond. All four lead actors - Swanson, Holden, Olson, and Erich von Stroheim - were nominated for Oscars. They didn't win, but the film did take home awards for the script, music, and black-and-white art/set decoration.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Story fodder for us writers, nightmare fuel for the rest of you

A couple years ago at Writers' Police Academy, we were told that law enforcement is already availing themselves to DNA in the possession of companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe. After all, who doesn't want to help catch a bad guy and put them away? Plus, you really don't have a choice when presented with a warrant, which I would guess is all or most of the time.

Now comes this news: 75% of Ancestry.com has been sold to Blackstone Group, an asset management company. This includes access to Ancestry's DNA database, which probably isn't what customers had in mind when they submitted their genetic profile to the company. There's also this (from the linked article):

It (Ancestry.com) has also branched out to genomics, this month launching a screening service designed to test individuals' risk of developing inheritable health conditions such as heart disease, breast cancer and colon cancer, according to the Financial Times.

Again, I'm guessing that the people who signed up for this service did so thinking that their personal information wouldn't be shareable, much less up for grabs to the highest bidder. It's probably in the fine print, but still...

I'm wondering who will be the first to publish a novel or sell a script based on this news. I don't care how many precautions are taken, there's always a way around them if you're diabolical enough. So much potential for blackmail! So much potential for framing someone dumb enough to have thought their genetic information would be safe and private! It's kind of amazing to think that this business transaction may have just opened up a whole new sub-genre for mysteries and thrillers.

Also, imagine you're a defense lawyer whose client has used these services. Would it really be all that hard to convince a jury that the accused's DNA could have been planted, given that it can be bought and sold? Remember that they don't have persuade all twelve jurors - just one with reasonable doubt hangs the whole jury. You know it's just a matter of time before some slimeball lawyer who knows damn well his client is guilty gives it a shot. How would you write that story?

Plus, on top of the DNA aspect, you now have the genomics thing. Seriously, the idea that someone (say, someone angling to be potential heir or just someone with a big fat grudge who wants to make the victim's life miserable) could fake a notification from the company and lead someone to believe that they're dying (or at least in danger of dying) from a dreaded disease they already assume themselves to be susceptible to? People can get really paranoid about their mortality and it's just a short step from there to prey on that abject fear. As an idea, especially a story idea, it's really not that far-fetched.

I just decided to print out this post and add it to my writing notebook, because the story possibilities, they just boggle the mind. They really do.

Updated 9/15/20: Looks like I'm a little late to the party - Michael Connelly's recent best-seller Fair Warning covered that exactly and is now headed for the big screen. From Deadline:

The murder mystery is set around the rapidly evolving 'wild west' world of DNA sequence data harvesting; specifically in regard to such data being sold for profit within an industry that has no oversight. It delves into the murky moral questions raised by companies promising to show customers their ancestries, while quietly attaining the right to do whatever they desire with the acquired DNA data-and the potentially deadly ramifications of such personal information falling into the wrong hands. 

Gotta be quick, kids.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

I'm not sure how I feel about this


More animation! Comedy Central to revive Ren & Stimpy.

Obviously it will be done without problematic creator John Kricfalusi. Even during the original run, years before the recent harassment accusations, Kricfalusi had run afoul of Nickelodeon and was fired from his show. It's also no secret that the show was considered to have gone downhill after the departure of the difficult but brilliant John K. More concerning is that according to this lively conversation, Bob Camp (who was part of the team from day one and took over for Kricfalusi) will also not be involved. Longtime fans (including me) are understandably skeptical, but maybe we'll get lucky and the new show will live up to our high expectations.

The same article includes news of new Beavis & Butt-Head episodes, which I had not heard about. I'm not concerned about that one - there was a one season revival about ten years ago that was really good, so I'm looking forward to more of this show.

The Ren & Stimpy revival is going to be the big question mark. I guess we'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Recent reading: "Devil in a Blue Dress"


Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Audiobook read by Michael Boatman

I had bought the audiobook for Devil in a Blue Dress (beautifully and dramatically read by Boatman) earlier this year in anticipation of attending Bouchercon 2020 in Sacramento. The conference was supposed to take place in October, but has been canceled and replaced by a virtual event thanks to COVID-19. Mosley had been named the recipient of this year's Bouchercon lifetime achievement award.

A couple years ago when I was doing a lot of driving between my old place in Marina del Rey and here in Arcadia, I went on quite the audiobook kick. Since I'm not doing much long distance driving these days my audiobook consumption has slowed way down. When I originally bought this, I was considering driving to Sacramento and figured this would be a good soundtrack for the trip.

One of the highlights of a previous Bouchercon was seeing Mosley walking through the hallway between panels. For me it was like spotting a celebrity. I can now check him off my list of legendary must-read L.A. writers, which includes Chandler, Connelly, Ellroy and Wambaugh.

The story is set in post-World War II Los Angeles, where war vet Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins finds himself in his friend Joppy's bar musing over the loss of his job. It's not the loss of the job itself that pains him - his biggest concern is paying the mortgage on his beloved home. In addition to taking a great deal of pride in being a homeowner, Easy genuinely loves the place. In a striking passage he talks about his home the way a man expresses his love for the woman who is the great love of his life.

One of the things that struck me early on about Devil in a Blue Dress is that it could serve as a master class on getting right into the action. Before we ever learn about Easy's financial predicament, an imposing white man clad in a white linen suit, white shirt, white socks, and white shoes topped by a Panama straw hat has entered the bar, an establishment that does not see a lot of white customers, and is promptly introduced to Easy by Joppy. Turns out the man, Dewitt Albright, is looking to hire someone for a job and Joppy, who vouches for the guy, has offered up Easy because Joppy knows he could use the money.

Although put forward in a convoluted way that leaves no doubt that there is a certain amount of danger inherent, the job itself seems relatively simple. Albright is looking for a young white woman with a penchant for hanging out at black clubs around the city, and he needs someone who knows these places and the people who inhabit them to track her down. The job pays well and despite some misgivings, Easy, visions of mortgages dancing in his head, decides to accept.

This sets into motion a series of events that include murder, corruption, pedophilia, and unrequited love. Easy eventually realizes that he's bitten off way more than he intended, but although he occasionally considers walking away he is always compelled to see it through, especially where his mesmerizing quarry Daphne Monet is concerned. There is also a truly golden moment where Easy, seemingly in over his head, begins to admit that he's getting to like the whole private investigator thing, a combination of the exhilaration of the chase, not being beholden to a set schedule or the whims of an employer, and at least partially feeling like he's his own boss. The money isn't bad either.

With help from "Mouse" Alexander, an old and dangerous friend from his native Houston, Easy navigates the complex set of circumstances that have led a number of men to pursue Daphne Monet for a number of reasons. Easy's eventual hard won survival and success is the perfect setup for him to continue work as a private eye.

Devil in a Blue Dress was made into a 1995 film starring Denzel Washington as Easy Rawlins, Jennifer Beals as Daphne, Tom Sizemore as Albright, and Don Cheadle as Mouse.

I drove back to my house thinking about money and how much I needed to have some. I loved going home. Maybe it was that I was raised on a sharecropper's farm, or that I never owned anything until I bought that house, but I loved my little home. There was an apple tree, and an avocado in the front yard, surrounded by thick St. Augustine grass. At the side of the house I had a pomegranate tree that bore more than thirty fruit every season, and a banana tree that never produced a thing. There were dahlias and wild roses in beds around the fence, and African violets that I kept in a big jar on the front porch. 

The house itself was small, just a living room, a bedroom, and a kitchen. The bathroom didn't even have a shower, and the backyard was no larger than a child's rubber pool, but that house meant more to me than any woman I ever knew. I loved her, and I was jealous of her, and if the bank sent the county marshal to take her from me I might have come at him with a rifle rather than to give her up. Working for Joppy's friend was the only way I saw to keep my house. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Ed

I've been a huge fan of The Far Side forever. So how is it I've never seen this one?

A horse is a...horse???

H/T to Jay Stull on The Far Side: A Tribute on FB.