Friday, May 03, 2002

More useless knowledge to fill your brain

To carry on the theme of the day, a small piece of LOTG trivia--reader Bill Dollinger writes to inform me that the actress who played Valerie, Deanna Lund (in the bikini, below, posing for a postcard that was sent out to fans, complete with pre-printed, groovy late-sixties catchphrase and autograph) later went on to be one of Larry King's ex-wives...or at least came close--a quick web search confirms that they were engaged in 1995 but it looks like one of them may have gotten cold feet...

The giants have captured Valerie!

Today, we shift into obscure pop culture mood, with a brief stop along the way to note that Otto Reich has now, god help us, been appointed to the board which oversees the School of the Americas, aka the School of the Assassins, a board whose task it is to ensure that the school's curriculum emphasizes "human rights, the rule of law, due process, civilian control of the military, and the role of the military in a democratic society"--but this train is only pausing at that station long enough to discharge those passengers who would prefer to stay there, before the doors slide shut with a pneumatic whooosh! and we chug on down the tracks toward our destination--obscure science fiction shows of the late 1960's please, Alex!

Essentially, this post is for those of you whose demographic profile is indistinguishable from mine, because absolutely no one else is going to care. (You have been warned.) Anyone older at the time would have found this show unwatchable, and anyone younger has probably never heard of it. But if you were an eight year old boy in 1969, if your parents ever dragged you sleepy out of bed in the morning to watch an Apollo launch or if you ever stayed up past your bedtime to watch men take their first hesitant steps on the surface of the moon, then there's a good chance you retain a vestigal fondness for...(booming announcer voice) Irwin Allen's Land of the Giants!

Irwin Allen was better known during the seventies as the man behind disaster films such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, but during the sixties he produced some of the most astonishingly terrible serial science fiction of all time. Lost in Space is probably being the best remembered of these, largely due to that lovable Robot ("Danger Will Robinson! Danger!"), which was, incidentally, designed by the same man who designed the other classic robot of all time, Robby from Forbidden Planet. (Which, for those of you woefully ignorant on these topics--public education being what it is these days--is essentially Shakespeare's Tempest, except with a robot, and features a young Leslie Nielsen, later of Naked Gun fame, in a serious role as a sort of proto-Captain Kirk.) But screw Lost in Space, I say! Did they fashion grappelling hooks out of giant safety pins? I don't think so!

Land of the Giants was the story of seven castaways (think Gilligan's Island in space), whose routine sub-orbital flight from New York to London on a fateful day in 1984 was interrupted by a big blue space blob, which somehow sucked them in and deposited them on a planet of, you guessed it, giants, on which they were the approximate size of action figures. The crew consisted of handsome and dashing Captain Steve Burton, whose bright red uniform was presumably designed with the novelty of color television in mind, but was probably not the best thing to wear when you're spending most of your time trying to hide from giants; his African-American former Olympic champion co-pilot Dan Erickson; Betty the stewardess; and the passengers--Mark the rich industrialist/engineer, Valerie the spoiled rich jetsetter, young Barry the orphan (on his way to live with relatives in London, along with his little dog Chipper, when the doomed flight veered so badly off course), and Fitzhugh, the troublemaking scam artist (roughly the equivalent of Dr. Smith from Lost in Space), played by wonderful character actor Kurt Kaznar.

So essentially, you had three cardboard cutout male heroes, two damsels in distress, a conniving con artist and a little boy who either refused to see the truth about the con artist, or understood the deeper goodness which lay buried within him. And little Chipper, who was constantly running off, causing young Barry to follow, and inevitably get captured, and eventually rescued. And there you have the basic story arc of any given episode in a nutshell: someone would get captured by a giant--probably a scientist intent on dissection, because of course when you discover a living ten-inch-tall human being, your first natural impulse is to tape them down and have at them with a scalpel--and then rescued by the other castaways, a process which invariably involved the aforementioned giant safety pin, which could be tossed up onto a table where it would stick securely, allowing the little people to climb up and free their comrades (alternately, a nearby electrical cord leading up to the table could be used in a pinch) who, once free, would scamper back down to the ground and escape through a handy heating duct. (The characters also spent a lot of time hiding in giant cameras and dialing giant telephones with giant pencils, and generally thrashing around pretending to be unable to escape from giant, strangely immobile hands.)

Fortunately, if you consider the limited mobility of someone the approximate size of a GI Joe who must traverse every distance on foot, the action all seemed to take place within walking distance of their base camp--a bright orange space ship with pulsating lights, hidden from prying giant eyes by a few scattered pieces of giant foliage. ("Hey, Bill, what's that funny glowing light over there in the bushes?"--"I don't see anything but those carefully-placed leaves, Jeff!")

Of course, as anyone familiar with the Irwin Allen ouerve would anticipate--and I realize that's maybe six or seven of you--there was a little more to the show than the basic capture-and-rescue arc. Irwin Allen, you see, believed in setting up the basic science fiction premise--the castaway time travellers, the castaway space family, the castaway little people--oh, the imagination of this man!--and then throwing sheer weirdness into the blender and setting it on puree, and whatever came out of the mix, then by god, that was entertainment! Not only did they spend their time running away from giants--but they had to contend with time travellers in metallic costumes! Magicians! Witches! Miniaturized giant spies! Pills which made them grow as big as giants! The inevitable Evil Twins! As well as giant cats, giant dogs, giant gila lizards (recycled footage from Allen's earlier monster movies), and possibly a giant spider or two. (Though looking back on it, the Land of the Giants was an oddly sterile place--there was a notable lack of insects, mice, squirrels, all the various life of the forest floor that you'd think you'd have to deal with if you were somewhere between six and twelve inches tall--consistency of scale was not one of the show's strong points.)

Which is not to say the show did not address, er, larger concepts. I have almost no memory of specific episodes--which I could attribute to the fact that I haven't seen most of these episodes in more than thirty years, but then again, I have almost no memory of what I did last weekend--but this plot summary is from a LOTG website:

In an attempt to prevent the rulers of the Giant Planet's totalitarian state obtaining a list of leaders of a pro democracy subversive group, the little people must form an alliance with a giant professor. Can he be trusted, or his he a double agent bent on simply handing the little people over to authority?

Whoa! You're ten inches tall, give or take, and you're fighting to save the planet from totalitarian rule! With nothing but your wits--and your giant safety pin!

What can I say? If you were eight years old, there was nothing cooler.


Thursday, May 02, 2002

Your government at work

Troy Clark forwards this one. (And I just want to take a moment and thank everyone who sends me these links. Seriously. I know I've made sarcastic comments in the past about all the really great cartoon ideas I receive, but honestly--I'd probably miss half this stuff if you all weren't out there sending it in. So please, keep it up.)

Code named Operation Northwoods, the plans reportedly included the possible assassination of Cuban émigrés, sinking boats of Cuban refugees on the high seas, hijacking planes, blowing up a U.S. ship, and even orchestrating violent terrorism in U.S. cities.

The plans were developed as ways to trick the American public and the international community into supporting a war to oust Cuba's then new leader, communist Fidel Castro.

America's top military brass even contemplated causing U.S. military casualties, writing: "We could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba," and, "casualty lists in U.S. newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation."

These stories come out from time to time, and they're kind of a Rorschach test for the reader. Do you read this and dismiss it, consign it safely to the past? "That was a different era--they'd never consider anything like that today!"

Or do you suspect that things don't really change all that much?

I mean, we know for a fact that the U.S. Government has engineered coups and assassinations all over the globe, made secret deals with drug runners and terrorists from Nicaragua to Iran, harassed and spied on politically active U.S. citizens, knowingly exposed its citizens to radioactivity and biological agents, and even dosed them with LSD on occasion--and this is just the short list off the top of my head as I'm sitting here sipping my coffee. I'm sure most of you could come up with another couple dozen examples, without even beginning to veer into questionable conspiracy territory.

Do you really imagine the psychology of control is so different today? Do you imagine that in these days of secrecy and lies, when the ends justify the means and the administration is grabbing power like some crazed contest winner who can keep anything he can shove into his shopping cart in the space of five minutes--except it's worse because there's no time limit on this one yet--do you really think the really scary blood-curdling stuff is all over, ancient history, nothing that could ever happen today?

I envy you your serenity, but only in that passing way that I envy the serenity of the cult member or lobotomy victim.

And--how long does it take for something become safely relegated to the past? We live in a hyper-accelerated world, and the time frame for these things is constantly compressing. If, next month, we find out that civilian casualties in Afghanistan were ten times worse than anyone expected, will we shrug and say, "Oh, that was last November! People did things differently back then!"


Wednesday, May 01, 2002

And just in case you were having a moment in which you were momentarily able to repress the terror which threatens to consume your very soul

Here's a cheery thought from Ra'anan Gissin, a senior advisor to Sharon:

"We've been fighting a war for the past 18 months, which is the harbinger of World War III. The world is going to fight, whether they like it or not..Sept. 11 was a watershed event, and things will never be the same. The battle lines have been drawn.''

Also from Sam.

Mister Softee is Satan spelled sideways

Via Sam Smith:

MATT BURGARD, HARTFORD Courant - The latest villain in the capital city's neighborhoods is the old-time ice cream truck that serves up the soft serve and cranks out the canned kiddie music. "I can't stand it anymore," said Hyacinth Yennie, a South End community activist who has helped lead the charge against Mister Softee. "Every night, it's the same songs, over and over. It drives you crazy." The repetitive strains of familiar ditties like "Turkey in the Straw" and "The Entertainer" have annoyed enough residents that, in recent weeks, Hartford police have been called to action. The man behind the beaming Mister Softee logo, owner Felix Rios of East Hartford, has been issued four citations for noise ordinance violations over the last two months.

On Friday, Mister Softee will be dragged into court. In a match up that will pit the rights of the community against the rights of commerce, Rios and his attorney, Ron Johnson of Hartford, plan to argue that the citations should be thrown out on free speech grounds. "The way the city's noise ordinance is written is unconstitutional," said Johnson. "The music coming from an ice cream truck is a time-honored tradition."

The hearing in Hartford Community Court will feature another twist when Judge Raymond Norko is expected to take a listen for himself. According to several parties involved in the dispute, Norko plans to walk outside the courthouse to a waiting Mister Softee truck and ask the truck owner to turn on the jingles at top volume. If the judge finds that the music is indeed too loud, he will likely uphold the citations and order any of a variety of penalties, including a possible fine. But if he thinks the music is played at a reasonable level, he will likely throw the citations out, sources said.

. . . On Friday afternoon, the truck pulled up to a corner near Kennelly School, its music drifting above the chattering children who lined up for Sno-Cones as they got out of school for the weekend. "I like having the ice cream man around," said Carlos Rivera, who lives a block away from the school. "Those people who don't like him, they must be pretty grumpy." (Full story.)

* * *

I had a studio for awhile on Amsterdam at 123rd Street, across from an elementary school and kitty-corner from a housing project, and every day at around three o'clock, as the kids were getting out of school, the Mister Softee truck would pull up and park essentially underneath my window and blare the tinkly toy-piano Mister Softee theme at top volume for at least an hour. Do doo do doo doo do do do do, do do do do doo do--until I thought my head would explode.

So I'm with the grumps on this one. Mister Softee must die.

More license plate fun

Jay Varner forwards this Florida plate for your perusal and edification...

...while Wil Grewe-Mullins sends along a better image of the Nevada nuke plate.

Wil also informsme that, from what he can tell from the Nevada DOT site, all you need to get a specialty plate approved is a commitment from 250 people that they will buy it. And doesn't that just make the mind reel with possibility...


Tuesday, April 30, 2002

More big TV fun with friends of Tom

My pal Bob Harris sends his thoughts on the Nevada license plate:

That's like Oklahoma doing a Trail Of Tears commemorative, or maybe Texas doing one sloganed Land Of School Book Depositories. Then again, Virginia does have several thousand postcards with pictures of Civil War re-enactments, transforming the bloodiest, deadliest tragedy in our history, one which left scars that are still healing almost 150 years later, into just another tourism commodity. Makes you half-expect to one day come across Hello From Ground Zero cards, with people pretending to flee in panic and others falling down, pretending to have jumped. It's really the same goddam thing. Maybe if I go online I can find pictures of the West Bank Jackelope or the maybe the Rwanda State Bird with a picture of a mosquito...

I post this because it's a sneaky way to segue into Bob's appearance tonight (okay, tomorrow night as I'm writing this, but probably tonight--Wednesday--as you're reading it) on the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions, or the Million Dollar Jeopardy Smackdown, or whatever it's called. Yes, in addition to his many other talents--including providing the voice of Sparky for our late, lamented online animations--Bob funds his radical troublemaking lifestyle, in part, through his winnings on television game shows.

My wife and I went to the taping of this show, about a month ago at Radio City Music Hall. I won't spoil the suspense, except to say that while I may hit Bob up for a loan some day, I won't hit him up for a really, really big loan. (And if you have kids, you might not want them in the room--I don't know how much they'll edit out, but that business with Alec Trebek forcing Bob and the other contestants to cavort naked with him in a hot tub filled with whipped cream and maraschino cherries--all the while shouting, "I'm in New York, goddammit! I can do anything I want!"--well, I'm still having nightmares.)

Oh, how I wish I lived in Nevada

If I did, you can believe I'd have one of these babies on my car.

(I stole this one from Xoverboard. Complete story here.)

Once again, our friends the Saudis

For some crazy reason, possibly having something to do with the fact that they are a repressive monarchy which reportedly helps to finance Al Qaeda, the Saudis have been having something of an image problem since last September. To help give them an image makeover, they are paying $3 million to Qorvis Communications....

...a powerhouse Washington PR firm with close ties to the Bush White House. Among the firm’s partners is Judy Smith, a former deputy press secretary to the first President Bush. Another principal is Chris Wilson, a former executive director of the Texas Republican Party and veteran GOP pollster who has worked closely in the past with White House political director Karl Rove.

Complete story here. Qorvis (a classic example of the new corporate nomenclature, a name designed to sound like something without actually being anything--like Cingular, or Verizon) had to drop a $4 million dollar contract from Arctic Power, an association of energy producers who were pushing to drill ANWR, accodrding to O'Dwyer's PR Daily. (This was before ANWR drilling was voted down, so it worked out all right for Qorvis in the end, but the numbers do seem a little odd.)

(A side note: O'Dwyer's is also reporting that PR mega-firm Burson-Marsteller will soon be working its magic on behalf of the troubled Indian Point nuclear plant, which is said to be highly vulnerable to terrorist attack--and which lies a scant fifty miles from one of the most heavily populated urban areas on the planet.)

Unfortunately for the Saudis, at least nine cable networks have turned down the ads, which feature the tagline (try not to snort your coffee into your nose as you laugh out loud, you know how that stings)..."The People of Saudi Arabia--Allies Against Terrorism."

Fox News, meanwhile, is reporting that the Saudis have paid $5,000 each to the families of 102 suicide bombers, while the Weekly Standard notes that the Saudis have also reportedly set aside an additional $400 million for further such payments (which, at $5,000 per bomber, works out to about one suicide bombing a day for the next two hundred years).

(And, another side note, because I have been getting letters and email from readers for so many years that I can pretty much predict exactly what response almost any reference I make will generate: I know that Fox and the Weekly Standard are each problematic in their own way. Honest. There's no need to point this out to me. I also think the New York Times and Time magazine are skewed so heavily in favor of the status quo at any given moment in history that reading them is like reading Pravda in the old Soviet Union--but that doesn't mean I don't read them. The point is, you have to seek out what nuggets of information you can, wherever you can find them.)

Finally: the dead-on satire site has its own version of the President's remarks on his meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah:

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Thank you for joining me here in Crawford. As you know, I spent a good portion of yesterday in the company of Saudi Arabiac Crown Prince Abdullah. And while he departed hastily to return to his beloved sand people, I am pleased to claim that our meetings were very productive and friendly. I gave him the nickname of Prince Picnic Basket, on account of how that tablecloth he wears on his head looks like the one my mother used to spread out for fried chicken picnics under the oil wells back in Midland - and he called me Captain Zionist Pigboy. It was all very positive.

Laura and I were honored that the Prince came to our humble Texas home. Over the years, the Saudi royal family has played gracious host to the Bush family on dozens and dozens of occasions while we negotiated private and fabulously lucrative oil deals, so it really was a pleasure to finally return the hospitality. Of course, I was sad to be unable to entertain the Prince with the wonderful after-dinner beheadings I know he and King Fahd enjoy so much, but I did assure him that on his next visit, we would go down to the prison and electrocute a mongoloid or two. He seemed to like that.

More here. And, as is often the case, several of the links above are by way of Cursor, the site where Tom Tomorrow usually starts his morning, at least after he makes the bed and walks the dog and takes a shower and drinks some coffee.


Sunday, April 28, 2002

If you're reading this Sunday night...

...then quick, turn off the computer and turn on the TV. Saddle Rash, the show my friends at Flickerlab animated, will be on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block at 10:30.

If you're reading this Monday morning--well, never mind. But it's a new week, full of hope and promise, and there might actually be something worth reading here within a day or two.


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