Thursday, December 29, 2011

Iron Lady Review Up at F.O.G.

Your Write Enough host bemoans all the politics that clutter up The Iron Lady and interfere with a good ghost tale.

Burn away some silly political material and you’re left with the meat of this film— a former British Prime Minister finds herself haunted by a ghost.

This peek at the later years of Margaret Thatcher blurs the line in a mirthful way between living and dead, objective reality and the spectral.

We’re invited to ponder universal questions such as whether we’ll see ghosts if we make it to our 80s—and will our ghosts be as puckish as Mrs. Thatcher’s translucent visitor.

Read more at this particular spot.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Drunks are mangling Karaoke across the street. It's not the same as a choir of angels, but it might be louder. None the less, a most blessed and joyful Christmas to all my family, friends, and social media chums. May the coming year be filled with good fortune for you and bad fortune for Mayan calendar doom-sayers. In the meantime, enjoy the worst Christmas tear-jerker ever.

h/t: theartofmancraft

Thursday, December 22, 2011

We Bought A Zoo Review Up at F.O.G.

This week's look at a new release.

A sentimental tale of a family purchasing a zoo, this film swung and missed for our hearts by ignoring CGI and 3D.

Opportunities for an epic scale were jettisoned in favor of old-fashioned story and acting rendered entirely on film.

What could’ve have been the adventure of a lifetime was compressed to an ordinary heart-warming tale about living life and reaching out to others. (As if reaching out to others wouldn’t have been infinitely cooler in 3D.)

More to be read here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Hobbit Trailer

I almost wish they would release the whole film in trailer-sized bites so I didn't have to wait until Dec. 2012. Hopefully the Mayans won't destroy the world before the movie comes out. Damn Mayans. Selfish, self-centered people with a stupid calender. No pretty girl pictures on it—anywhere. Did you notice?

h/t: Thissitehere

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Paul Rugg - Shed Master

For those of you wondering about the reclusive Paul Rugg, he is in the process of being evicted from his man cave. Resourceful as a fat man outside a locked bakery, Paul staked out a portion of back yard and is having a large shed erected with electric power and a window made of real glass. From here, he will pour out mirth upon the world in a manner and time of his choosing.

See a picture of the shed rising.
Image: behindthevoiceactors

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tom Ruegger's Wonderful Life

Cartoonatics takes a personal look back at Frank Capra's Christmas classic, It's A Wonderful Life. A great film and one I can identify with as a guy who once thought life really cranked up someplace other than where I was. Go read and remember.

Image: downtherabbithole

Thursday, December 15, 2011

'Chipwrecked' Review Up at F.O.G.

(Forces of Geek once again hosts my cinematic take on an upcoming release.)

Not since Goin’ Coconuts has a tropical movie misfired on so many cylinders. No amount of witty lines can lighten arson, murder, and a descent into barbarism.

And that’s what awaits in Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.

Read the rest here.

Sea Dentist

(Part one of a Write Enough series on TV animated shows that never quite made it to air.)

With the growing success of "SpongeBob" in 2000, the TV animation industry sought out a nautical-themed show that hopefully would absorb success vapors from the popular Nickelodeon series. The race was on and Cartoon Network appeared to be leading after staff artist Cleve Metapontum pitched a series idea revolving around a rude veterinary dentist who lived aboard ship and serviced various sea creatures—willing and unwilling.

Metapontum had been working as a background artist on I Am Weasel and conceived the idea after an unstable Burbank dentist flung salt water in his face. (There was a law suit, later settled.)

Cartoon Network executive Laudi Krate quickly spotted the potential of "Dentist" and wasted no time calling Atlanta for instructions. A pilot was ordered and Krate told to 'hustle this one along.'

Under pressure, Krate promoted character designer Higgins Benzine to produce. Benzine was controversial. Despite many years in animation, he could not draw an oval head. Worse, he despised Metapontum whom he considered a 'cubicle ape,' lacking the skill to 'draw a game of Hang Man.'

Often great art emerges from a clash of personalities but not this time. After a series of loud arguments and flung pencils, an angry Metapontum produced a dark 22-minute script in which Sea Dentist extracts the teeth of a tiger shark and cements them into the mouth of a harbor seal who then proceeds to kill and eat a wind surfer. Sea Dentist, employed by "The United Nations Sea Counsel," denies having anything to do with the incident and sails to Panama.

Krate was horrified. The script lacked several key elements considered necessary in children's animation. Among them were likable characters, humor, and no wind surfers slashed to pieces. Metapontum defended his script, claiming, "Dentists are really like that. Seriously." More drafts were ordered and eventually the story acquired a child character while deaths were changed to prat falls, and Sea Dentist became 'crusty but lovable.'

Nevertheless, the caustic chemistry between Benzine and Metapontum poisoned the production. Factions formed and artists would lunch with either producer or show creator. So intense was the hatred that artists in the Benzine camp began losing the ability to draw oval heads. Meanwhile, Metapontum supporters voiced a hatred for dentists and oral hygiene in general.

After several contentious months, an episode was completed in which an acerbic but kindly Sea Dentist aids a killer whale by installing a fixed partial denture (or bridge). Later, in a battle with anti-aquatic dental forces, Sea Dentist falls overboard and is saved by the very whale whom he earlier helped. The story and artwork were a compromise enforced by Krate. Metapontum hated having a dentist portrayed in a positive light while Benzine loathed the art work, claiming the oval heads "looked all wrong."

By now, Atlanta was demanding the pilot. In a frenzy, layouts, model sheets, etc. were shipped to a Korean animation house. But no one figured on Benzine. At his own expense, he flew into Seoul and tinkered with the models. As a result, the human characters lacked oval heads. Sea Dentist had a head that was pumpkin-round with what appeared to be a ramp extending out above his right ear.

Krate and Metapontum went ballistic when they saw the footage, but there was no time or budget for retakes. Krate shipped the program to her Cartoon Network bosses with a cover note praising the 'quirky animation that is also iconic in an unspecified way.'

Despite a compelling all-lute music track, the project was mercifully put down. Like The Day the Clown Cried, grainy copies of Sea Dentist circulated quietly throughout the animation world and became the stuff of dystopian legend.

Not surprisingly, Cleve Metapontum, Higgins Benzine and Laudi Crate resurfaced at different studios. And while they would never work together again, this trio was involved with other animated TV shows that managed to miss the airwaves.

Images: and istockphoto

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Seven Things Not to Say in a Pitch Meeting

For the novice starting a TV animation career, here are seven diamond-encrusted ways to turn your big chance into a cautionary tale for others.

1. Why doesn't this studio ever buy anything I bring in here?
In the animation world, ask and you shall not receive.

2. How many dim bulbs get to make notes on the scripts?
This query ensures you won't remain around long enough to count them.

3. My agent says you have fecal incontinence.
Possibly so but a seasoned animation veteran leaves medical issues for a more relaxed time.

4. Pilots are for timid losers. Do you have the nuts to go directly to 65 half hours?
Brashness can lead to ample free time.

5. I worked hard on this pitch and all you do is smile and nod like a dog hanging out a car window.
Pithy observations are best shared with peers and not animation executives.

6. Hey, this office has a killer view. I can see the car I'm living in!
Sadly, economic prejudice is alive and well in Hollywood.

7. When I worked here before, I would lock my office door and inflate a plastic woman.
This sort of provocative anecdote demands a strong response such as 'be silent and go away now.'
Image: 50 Tips to Making It in Hollywood

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Sitter Review Up at F.O.G.

Forces of Geek hosts my latest in-depth look at cinema. This week—The Sitter:

On the surface this movie appears to be an 81-minute, R-rated version of Uncle Buck, but underneath simmers a bold statement about the price men pay for transgressing gender roles in the baby-sitting field.

Jonah Hill’s character Noah Griffith is a self-absorbed slacker, suspended from college.

Needing money, he babysits his neighbor’s three semi-feral children. When his girlfriend (Ari Graynor) invites him to a party with the promise of sex, Griffith packs up the annoying youngsters and drives into the land of unintended consequences.

A raunchy, hormone fest aimed at teenage boys?

Ah, there’s the cunning.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Ebook 'Em, Dano

There's no reason these days not to Ebook it. I'm following my own advice. As soon as I complete this particular manuscript I'm Ebooking the bastard. (I've had plenty of time to let the story simmer.)

Here's a collection of tips from a site that specializes in this fascinating electronic form of fun.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Famous Birthday Friends

Thank you very much to all who have, so far, wished me Happy Birthday. In thinking of this day, I am reminded of several famous Americans who share my date of birth. I will list three and examine their accomplishments as compared to mine.

1. Martin Van Buren - b. Dec. 5, 1782

2. George Armstrong Custer - b. Dec. 5, 1839

3. Walt Disney - b. Dec. 5, 1901

4. John P. McCann - b. Dec. 5, 1952

1. Martin Van Buren succeeded greatly in becoming the 8th President of the United States but was hardly remembered even in his own day. He had a large bull frog stuffed and used as an ink well in the White House. However President Taft later sat on it by accident and they had to throw the thing out. That's about it.

2. George Armstrong Custer succeeded greatly as a soldier in the Civil War but had a mixed record fighting Indians. (1-1-2, I think.) He is best remembered for his spectacular fail at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. At first, everything was going well; then it all fell apart under an Indian tsunami. In later years, Custer had a park named after him as well as a monument and a movie where his part was played by Errol Flynn. That's a whole lot more than Van Buren ever got.

3. Walt Disney succeeded greatly in animation, a pioneer in the filed, creator of iconic characters—but not the word 'iconic' which was invented by junior execs.—established Disney studios and Disneyland and is remembered to this day. Nonetheless his body is frozen in a vault beneath Disney's Burbank lot and should Walt be reanimated and start making decisions again it could effect his legacy.

4. John P. McCann was greatly successful as a Hollywood atmosphere player. McCann was the ship-board stand-in for a Canadian actor portraying Errol Flynn in My Wicked, Wicked Ways. In addition, he is visible from behind catching Dennis Quaid's jacket at around 1:19 in a clip from Great Balls of Fire.
More successful in animation, McCann created the non-iconic character of The Huntsman. For the next fifteen years, he piggy-backed onto as many successful shows as his friends would allow. While the record is still being written, outsiders agree that McCann will be remembered by Bank of America and several other creditors who might reasonably feel gypped should he pass from the scene within the next several months.

Images:, Parcbench, fold3

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Tuba Christmas Explained

According to regular poster—and crack euphonium player—Luke:

"Tuba Christmas is a city -wide gathering of euphonium and tuba players. Players gather in the morning and practice familiar Christmas songs, which are then performed in a public pla ce such as a local mall, or public park. The best part is, Tuba Christmas travels all over the country, allowing tuba player AND euphonium players from across the United States a chance to show off their chops. Players are encouraged to wear their best Christmas sweater, and decorate their instrument in a festive manner."

A list of cities featuring Tuba Christmas may be found here:

Luke closed by adding that the sound is "powerful, dark, and, majestic."

Behold Tuba Christmas!

h/t: the baltimorehorn

Thursday, December 01, 2011

"Fresh Ideas" Bound for Spring Reprint

A dark tale of a man who gives fate a tiny assist in order to advance in business, my short story, "Fresh Ideas," will be included in the Spring 2012 anthology Uncle John's Flush Fiction.

The Uncle John's publishing empire was founded on the belief that short, interesting and funny articles should be made available to the general public for their toilet-sitting education and amusement.

"Flush Fiction" will be a collection of flash fiction — under a thousand words or about three double-spaced pages — and I'm honored to have made the cut.

Hopefully, you'll enjoy "Fresh Ideas" very soon as mirth is said to ease tortured bowels. Or, at least, it's said by guys with stories coming out in bathroom-themed anthologies.

Image: flickr

The Artist Review Up at F.O.G.

At Forces of Geek, my insightful report on contemporary silent film, The Artist.

I almost threw up my Brie and Triscuits.

How in the world can you release a film and forget the dialogue track?

I know it’s incredible when you think of how many people must sign off on a major motion picture. And yet there were the actors speaking on screen but no voices emerged.

More here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mars Attacks Cards (or Topps of the Morning To Ye)

Topps Mars Attacks Cards here in all their glory. On the back of each card was a little nugget of story re. the front image as well an update on a Martian invasion of Earth. (In the one to your left, the Martian has a seedy attraction to women's sleep wear.)

I had high hopes for the Tim Burton film version but it turned into campy schtick. I loved these back in the day. You could buy a pack of five and they came with a flat, thin piece of bubble gum. We really did try to collect them all.

Image: Golden Age Comic Book Stories

h/t: Cartoonatics

Get Yer Turtle-Duck On

If you live in and around the LA area, animation ace Rich Arons is signing copies of his kids' book this Sunday. You've still got till tomorrow to RSVP. Go, get a signed copy or three for Christmas. Say 'hi' to Rich. Ask him to draw you something—but buy a book first.

Image: Hound Comics

Friday, November 25, 2011

Indo-Jew Bowl Results

Jewish and folks from the sub-continent square off every year in the Indo-Jew Bowl. It's played in my old hometown of Skokie, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago best known for opposing a march by Nazis who never made it off the Expressway. Observe this past contest.

h/t IllinoisNinth via Big Peace

Note: The Jews won decisively this year 19 to 6.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

So Long, Anne McCaffrey

Many years ago I was just starting out in improv comedy and worked a night job as a dispatcher for a security guard company. An improv chum lent me her collection of McCaffrey's Dragon Riders of Pern series. As mice skittered around a dirty office in downtown Los Angeles, I'd be transported to this exotic realm where everyone got around by riding a dragon. I wished I had a small dragon. I would let it roam free and eat the mice.

With her books slated for production in 2012, Anne McCaffrey passed away today at age 85.

I thank her for her dragons.

Image: Comic Related

Arthur Christmas: 'Wages of Fear' Remake Misses Mark

(My latest review is up at Forces of Geek. If time permits, please stop by and comment. In any case, a most Happy Thanksgiving!)

Set at the North Pole, Arthur Christmas is a digital 3-D holiday adventure delving into themes of futility, alienation and madness. This grim 97-minute character exploration revolves around the bumbling, failed son of Santa Claus.

In a desperate grab for attention, he takes a sleigh ride with an ex-Santa grandfather who remains trapped in a past of eggnog, candy canes and the feral scent of sweaty reindeer.

Read more at Forces of Geek.

Image: Live For Films

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One of My Two Favorite Weeks

I love the rump week of Thanksgiving. When I worked in-house, the routine was usually: drink coffee all morning, shoot the breeze, take long lunches, then leave early on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday we'd have a half-day.

My other fav is the week between Christmas and New Years. At Warner Bros. Jean MacCurdy usually gave us the time off with pay.

I notice that my two happiest weeks involved jobs with ritualized social routines but little actual labor.

That could explain much.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Munchkin Down

Then there were three as one of the last surviving Munchkins hung up his curled shoes at age 93.

h/t: moviefone

Overthought Reviews

Forces of Geek presents my weighty cinematic insights.

Outwardly a tale of large-breasted women massacred by prehistoric fish, Piranha 3DD floats atop a deeper message of environmental stewardship similar to that of Blue Planet: Seas of Life. While the French might dismiss ‘Piranha’ as “an affair of fish,” it is ever so much more subtle, nimbly darting between text and subtext like a ballerina sprinting across a freeway.

Read more here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Voice Actors on the Move

Craig Cumpton celebrated his 12th anniversary online by cyber-trekking over to toon zone. View his new website and design and learn more about whaz'sup with voice actors.


Monday, November 14, 2011

First Review A'Coming on Forces of Geek

My first review at Forces of Geek will go live on Friday, I believe. Will it be Werner Herzog's new film or Immortal or something even better? Make me look good and go find out.

Image: How to Do

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hear For Yourself

Composers Steve and Julie Bernstein have added numerous music files to their website. In fact, it's music THEY HAVE COMPOSED!! Listen, enjoy, and eat some pears and chili. (The last part is optional.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Troll Hunter Rawks!

Thanks to Paul Rugg for alerting me to 2010's The Troll Hunter. This Nordic Blair Witch threads together tense spooky scenes of young filmmakers trailing an odd mysterious man through the Norwegian back country with absolutely hilarious deadpan moments. It's a tough sell but the filmmakers stay balanced between comedy and suspense throughout and avoid the bad-good label of movies like Troll—let alone Troll 2. On Netflix. I will only say that Paul and I watched it together and laughed at certain scenes in giddy delight.

Happy Birthday USMC!

236 years of shooting people and breaking stuff on behalf of the United States of America. In 1950 10,000 men of the First Marine Division were surrounded by 120,000 Chinese troops near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Below is a trailer for a 2010 documentary detailing the Marines' fight to break free. An amazing tribute to amazing men.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Dragonfriend Fantasy Kid's Book Hits the Web

In Arthurian times, castle drudge Leonard needs a steady meal while depressed dragon Mantooth needs a reason to live. Can they help each other? Find out in Roger Eschbacher's latest book: Dragonfriend: Leonard the Great, Book One. Released today, the book is available in paperback and Kindle.

Roger is an old chum from the Warner Bros. days. He's got a brace of illustrated kid books under his belt as he slowly carves out a niche in the prose field. Give his most recent work a peek.

I Will Review at Forces of Geek

F.O.G editor-in-chief Stefan Blitz has kindly provided Write Enough a forum where I may post my inaccurate over-thought film reviews. I'll try and capture the same insight I demonstrated in last year's cinematic examinations of The Expendables and The Last Exorcism.

I'll sing out when the first post is up—should be within a week of two.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

'Let's Kill Uncle' and Other Fine Films

Imagine a filmmaker roaming the Great Plains, filming in small towns and cities across Nebraska and Kansas; filming with little thought to continuity or quality; but casting locals as actors in a melodrama shot, written and directed by the same man who demands room and board for a month while he completes his latest opus.

There you have the life of Argentinian 'Ed Wood' Daniel Burmeister, a one-man, movie-makin' machine who shows little signs of slowing down. Read more here.

h/t: WSJ; Image:

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Carmine San Diego?

Carmen San Diego may be headed once again to the big screen with the title character played by Jennifer Lopez. Maybe it's my hearing, but I always thought the character was named Carmine San Diego and was being pursued for the murder of a bookie.

h/t and artwork: The Inquistir

Monday, October 31, 2011

Turbie the Turtle-Duck

Young Richie Evans and his turtle-duck experience a day filled with cupcakes, the lost isle of Anomoxie, and a mysterious creature in Lake Deep. Let your youngster discover more in the pages of Rich Aron's new book written and illustrated by the veteran animator. (And an old Warner Bros. chum.)

Happy Ghostbusting Halloween!

A day of spooks and kooks only slightly different than most days in Los Angeles. Last night on Hollywood Boulevard 100 people in costume duked it out. They'll probably do the same next week. A pleasant Halloween to all!

h/t: scottymyshkin

Monday, October 24, 2011

South Park Not in the Clear

Via The Village Voice, South Park creators Parker and Stone were investigated five years back by the Church of Scientology. Private eyes spied on the pair and searched public records—as well as trash— for anything incriminating that might be used against the duo in retaliation for a South Park episode mocking Scientology beliefs.

Never a dull moment with the Hubbardites.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Orange You Glad You Wrote That

An NYT article mentions Warner chum Tom Sheppard as The Annoying Orange prepares to roll from Web to TV pilot to potential series. (Would it be wrong to say this proves Glee won't be the only televised home for fruit?)

And The Beasts Shall Inherit Ohio

Trouble in Zanesville (home of former Acme Comedy Theatre founder M.D. Sweeney) as all creatures great and small with big teeth bolt from the Zanesville Zoo.

Via Instapundit

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fab-oo and Amazon

Tom Ruegger reminds us who got the Emmy ball rolling at the WB.

Also, Amazon offers the Kindle edition of R. Scott McCoy's Necrotic Tissue Best of Anthology containing my short tale, "Dagon and Jill."

So there's all kind of news.

Carl Macek's Robotech Universe

There's no tech like Robotech. This '80s hit animated TV series introduced anime to America where it's taken root and grown ever since. And no one made that happen more than the late Carl Macek. Felled by a heart attack in 2010, Macek was honored last night in a documentary at Harmony Gold Theater on Sunset Blvd. (And because my wife works occasionally with the film's associate producer, we attended.)

Culled from the 25th Anniversary DVD and originally intended as a series of podcasts, the doc featured Robotech voice actors such as Tony Oliver, Richard Epcar and Reba West. From the the insane production schedule that had actors pulling overnights, to scripts being rewritten in studio, to the undreamed of success that greeted the series, to its staying power over decades, Keith H. Maxwell's documentary described producer/ story editor Macek as the turbine that kept the Robotech machinery spinning.

In addition, Macek founded Streamline Pictures with Jerry Beck and theatrically released anime giant Akira. (I've always been strangely drawn to films featuring a gang of evil clowns.) Macek also helped John Kricfalusi establish Spumco.

Following the screening, I spoke briefly with David Keith Riddick, who produced the U.S. versions of the Robotech soundtrack. (On RECORD ALBUMS—round vinyl things with music inside that came out when you stuck them with a needle.) Riddick recalled that Macek loved anime with its more adult themes, carefully crafted animation, and cinematic staging.

Clearly Macek's love grew into a drive for perfection and character depth that flowed into a series that has lived on, spawned sequels and now sits poised at Warner Bros. waiting to become a live-action feature.

Prior to last night, I knew a bit about Robotech but very little about Carl Macek. Today, I salute the guy. He had a monster career, cut a bit short, but pretty darn rich any way you slice it. Rest in anime peace, sir.

Image: and Robotechnology

Monday, October 17, 2011

Anthology Update

Per publisher R. Scott McCoy, the anthology containing "Dagon and Jill" is available on ebook at Smashwords.

Best of Necrotic Tissue Anthology for Me

Not necessarily me, but my short story "Dagon and Jill" will be featured in the Best of Necrotic Tissue Anthology to be released next week. I'll provide more info soon so that those inclined to purchase a copy may indeed do so.

I'm woefully behind in sending material out for publication because of recent disclosures in the John P. McCann writing archives. Busy closing up a storage unit, I've come across a great pile of unfinished novels, young adult books, a screenplay, a social history of the Vietnam War and a travel book on my adventures in Southeast Asia working for the State Department and Warner Bros.

Leafing through the stuff, I realize it doesn't all stink as much as I originally thought. There is material to salvage. In addition, I've uncovered over eleven years of original TV animation ideas that the industry passed on. These can be retooled into other formats.

But my first writing priority—aside from earning money—will be Tomorrow Bear. First pitched in 2007, it was shot down by Nick, Disney and Cartoon Network. Reworked with art from Valerie Tidwell, the show was pitched again last spring and I can't recall who passed on it.

But Valerie and I are slogging away in fits and starts crafting an ebook. She has sent me some very funny sketches and I have delivered her several firm promises to finish up a draft.

So I'm in the hole and need to produce and produce I shall. Next finished fiction project will be a Tomorrow Bear adventure involving ursine crime solving and California police cars that have replaced their sirens with electronic whale calls.

I may interrupt TBear to rewrite and submit "Unreasonable Doubt," my non-fiction piece on jury duty. But other that that, it's TBear or hibernation.

Image: Clipartoday

Friday, October 07, 2011

Hit the Road, Mac Classic

Sweeney talking to a salesman at the Honda dealership.
Cleaning out a storage facility last week, I found a box containing my old Mac Classic, just in time for the passing of Steve Jobs. Back in 1991, M.D. Sweeney accompanied me to the Westwood Mac store and negotiated on my behalf for the computer and a printer. Sweeney is a phenomenal dealer with a deadpan expression like an Olmec mask. Sales reps flash their easy smiles, grow uncomfortable and sometimes offer things at a lower price. (They didn't this time, but even A-Rod strikes out occasionally.) On that computer I wrote many Acme Comedy Theatre sketches as well as my first Animaniacs script, "Dracu-lee, Dracu-la." But it's doing no one any good anymore and is destined for the green waste facility. Farewell, Mac Classic and rest in piece, Mr. Jobs. And if you're ever in Los Angeles, stop by Amalfi Restaurant and see if you can talk the owner (Sweeney) into a free dessert. Let me know how it goes.
Image: antique trader

Friday, September 30, 2011

Unreasonable Doubt VI: Count Down

Over the weekend my mother-in-law moved into a nearby apartment. Saturday and Sunday were spent helping her settle in, going out to dinner, and using her presence as a general excuse to avoid writing anything. For the most part I left the trial downtown. However I did dream Sunday night that I tried to buy a movie ticket in a suit minus socks.

On Monday I carpooled to court with a fellow juror. He worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratories installing microwave electrical smart things into a probe that’s Jupiter bound in a few years. As he explained the project I prompted him with incisive questions such as, “Will your probe deploy a ray of some kind to defend against moon people?”

In turn, he asked me about TV animation and working on Animaniacs. I mentioned that most of our staff writers as well as the senior producer and his assistants smoked cigarettes back then. It was like writing a cartoon under a Vegas crap table—fun, exciting with sudden outbursts of yelling, but smoke really does get in your eyes.

Disney Center where they really know how to park cars.
Downtown in the Disney Center parking lot we ran into one of our alternate jurors—the actress/model. Together, the three of us walked north on Grand Avenue past German tourists snapping photos of a magazine photo shoot busy using the Disney Center as backdrop.

Along with the other alternate—the financial planner—the actress had sat through the whole muttered Korean trial. Now the pair was shutout of deliberations. Banished to the marble benches outside Department 46, our alternates were compelled to wait for the chosen 12 to stitch together decisions on seven counts. To be an alternate was to have dinner without dessert; fore play minus carnal festivities. They were the extras of the legal system.

At the Criminal Court's Building we passed through security, waited for elevators, wriggled our way into a car and arrived finally at the 7thFloor. Counts 4, 6 and 7 waited ahead like crows on a telephone wire.

In the jury room, the Friday frenzy had evaporated. If showing up on Monday would wreck plans, then those plans were already wrecked. We were here and there was nothing else to do but finish.

Our foreman got the ball rolling. She’d thought matters through over the weekend. Having considered both stories, she’d come to accept the wife’s version of events. In her view, Mr. Pak was guilty on all three remaining counts.

“Would anyone else care to comment?”

Here was an encouraging start. I pointed out that Mr. Pak had demonstrated in count 3 that he wasn’t keen on having cops called. He stood accused of nothing in count 4 that was out of character. I believed him guilty.

One of the psychologists was skeptical, feeling there were elements unsaid about the wife that made her culpable in unknown ways.

Back and forth volleyed rationalists and psychologists with the occasional remark thrown in from the silent minority. (“I think there are crickets outside my bedroom window.”)

Twenty minutes passed. Sensing discussion tapering off, the foreman called for a vote on count 4.

Once again, the count was 11 to 1—

—this time for conviction.

Holding out for acquittal was the regular businessman.

Here was headline news. He'd been a rationalist stalwart, the man who’d eased the pressure when I was a hold out. Now he’d flipped utterly to the psychologists.

"I'm just not sure the husband can be guilty of intimidating her, especially when she already said she wouldn't call the police."

Unreasonable doubt.

A rationalist countered, “The guy just beat and smothered the woman. Then he kicked open the bathroom door and snatched her phone. That’s kinda freaking intimidating.”

“Also she testified as to confusion over who she’d call,”said a psychologist, adding, “if you believe her.”

“Let’s get the transcript,” said another rationalist a bit too helpfully.

That would be like having a fighter on the ropes then pausing to call for a reading of the rulebook. Rationalists and psychologists spoke up, claiming a general sense that the wife wasn’t sure who’d she call.

An impatient psychologist blurted out, “Can we vote again?"

"I believe more time is needed," said the foreman.

Good call. The regular businessman was wavering but might dig in like a badger if he thought we were high-pressuring him.

A few more minutes passed with rationalists and psychologists, respectfully but persistently, double-teaming the holdout.

Finally, the point was made once again that events in the bathroom had nothing to do with anything the wife thought and everything to do with the husband’s actions.

Sensing an opening, the foreman called for another vote on count 4.

12 – 0—guilty.

Two more counts remained.

Count six involved damaging the wife’s cell phone. Count seven dealt somehow with crime and cell phones. The way the counts were worded, it seemed that if you’d sunk Mr. Pak on 4, then 6 and 7 pretty much rolled into the pocket on their own.

There was light deliberation. You sensed that, as a jury, our flag-planting moments had passed.

On the first vote we found the defendant guilty on count 6.

Same procedure and outcome for count 7.

We were almost finished.

The bailiff was summoned by pressing the little button on the wall twice. The foreman filled out her paperwork while the court sent out word for attorneys and clients to reassemble back in Department 46.

I'd seen it on a thousand courtroom dramas, but now I was a member of the jury filing into the courtroom. Last in line, I fumbled around turning off my cell phone before sitting. We had guests today—two men and a woman in suits; lawyers I guessed because they had those wheeled briefcases that looked like carry-on luggage. There was also a young Korean guy wearing a ball cap, which he never removed, slouched on a backbench. In addition, a well-muscled sheriff’s deputy stood near the bailiff, eyes on the defendant.

All our regulars were present. The city attorney had a sheet of paper on the table before her, fingers clasped around a pen as if primed to record the box score.

Moments later: “We the People in the above entitled action find the defendant…”

Unlike the movies, the defendant didn't stand. He took his half-dozen guilties and one acquittal without visible emotion. However his attorney seemed devastated, shoulders hunched, hands clasped, staring straight ahead as if he’d bet his own fingers and toes on the outcome.

Head down, the city attorney quietly marked her paper after every count.

And then it was over.

No one wanted to poll the jury. The judge thanked us for our service and we headed off to the 5th floor to sign out. I wondered what would happen to the defendant. Oddly enough, time in county jail was a fitting punishment for spousal abuse since you’d spend your waking hours in fear of physical violence.

(Note: Now that I think of it, jail time is unlikely. Due to a Supreme Court ruling, California is decanting convicts from state prisons into county jails to relieve overcrowding. At the same time, the state is granting early release to county inmates. Unfortunately, they’re not releasing them into the neighborhoods of the Supreme Court justices who voted for this game of criminal musical chairs.)

The following week, I received my jury pay of $15 a day plus gas mileage. Seeing the County of Los Angeles move that quickly was like witnessing a glacier sprint a hundred meters. In addition, the judge sent a hand-written letter thanking me for my time in People vs. Pak, noting that the system only worked because people such as myself honored their commitment to serve.

It had been tedious, a time-suck, with tense moments spent coming to agreement with total strangers on the fate of another stranger. On Friday, our desire to resume our lives had clashed with the job at hand. We’d found Mr. Pak guilty on three biggies, so how much justice was necessary?

I believe the weekend arrived just in time. On Monday we were ready to properly see matters out. Calmer, our deliberations went faster and we finished much quicker than many of us had hoped. Six guilty counts seemed about right.

So back to my life.

Perhaps in a year or so I’ll get another summons. Maybe next time, instead of a library book, I’ll carry a Kindle. And if I’m called for a panel, I’ll report knowing what lies ahead in the jury room, neither fearing nor regretting an opportunity to be of service to my city.

Unless the case requires muttering translators.

Then forget it. I'm faking a heart attack.

In the Beginning: Unreasonable Doubt I of VI &

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Silencing Your Inner Critic: Five Ways

When I worked at a magazine my editor once labeled writer's block as "paralysis due to endless possibilities." And nothing jams up the flow like our inner critic telling us our prose is dull, treacly and weak. Writer and publishing coach Daphne Gray-Grant offers scribes a few tips on how to shut up that silent scold and crank copy out onto the screen where it properly belongs.

I've reprinted Daphne's free weekly email (giving credit below, for it is due.)

 5 ways to get your inner critic to shut up
One of my 17-year-old daughters sometimes slaps the side of her own head and says, "stupid, stupid." I don't think anyone -- particularly not one of my kids -- should ever call themselves stupid. But I see writers doing it all the time.

Admit it. You're probably your own harshest critic. By your standards, your writing is never interesting enough. Or persuasive enough. Or well organized enough. In fact, while you're in the middle of the act of writing a voice inside your head is often saying things like: "My boss is going to go crazy when seeing this article." Or, "why would anyone want to read this piece of dreck?" Or, "my sources are going to be so pissed off when they find out which quotes I've used."

Don't you think it's time to tell you inner critic to shut up? Here are five tips for quietening that supremely unhelpful voice:

1) Stop thinking about HOW your work is going to turn out and focus instead on WHAT you are writing. Your job as a writer is to write. When you write, write. When you edit, edit. Don't ever mix up these two entirely separate tasks or you are dooming yourself to remain a slow, pained writer.

2) If, like many people, including me, you have a hard time stopping yourself from editing while you write, resolve to make writing without editing your next project. (I stopped editing while I wrote about 10 years ago and it changed my life.) Try turning off your monitor (or, hanging a dishtowel over it) so you can't see what you're writing. If that seems too drastic, here's a trick I found on Richard Shackcloth's blog (which, sadly, seems to be dormant now): use a hashtag # whenever you spot something you want to fix later. (I love that he describes this as a promissory note!) Furthermore, if something specific occurs to you that you're afraid of forgetting about then write #note: and explain what you want to remember. For example: #note: make sure the VP is really okay with this. Or #note: check spelling. By making this promise to your inner critic you should be able to persuade him or her to become silent.

3) Write with a loud timer clicking in the background. This advice initially seemed counterintuitive to me and I always did my pomodoros with a silent digital timer tracking the minutes. But recently I've discovered the joy of what a friend of mine likes to call "the wall of sound." Something about the ticking not only serves to remind me that I need to be writing (this keeps me off email and the Internet) but it also serves to distract part of my brain so that I simply don't have the mental RAM for self-criticism. You can find "noisy" timers on the Internet or get a kitchen timer from a dollar store.

4) Use Write or Die. I've written about this website before  and urge you again to try it. Simply enter your desired word count, and your self-imposed time limit into the fr/ee software and when you stop writing for more than 10 seconds you'll be "punished" with a screen that changes colour and, following that, by a loud, unpleasant noise. This turns writing into a game, which is a great way of silencing your inner critic. (Critics abhor games.)

5) Put an elastic band on your wrist and snap it every time a self-critical thought goes through your head. For a split second you will have left behind  worries about your writing and shifted them to the (mild) pain on your wrist. This creates the space for you to refocus on your writing.

Remember, your inner critic will have plenty of time to comment when you begin to edit. And at that point those comments may even be useful. But when you are writing, you inner critic should shut the heck up.  
Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a brief and free weekly newsletter on her website. Subscribe by going to the Publication Coach.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Unreasonable Doubt V: Lather, Repeat, Rinse

(Deliberations get sloppy after I hang the jury on count 4.)

Twenty-two pairs of eyes watched to see what inane, bumbling excuse I would present.

"Lots of things were said about the wife," I began, "but isn't the count of intimidation about the husband?"

Nothing for a moment. I glanced down at the table, wondering if I'd fold like the Red Sox in September.

"Oh, maybe it is," said the regular businessman.

I wanted to give him a big man hug.

"Okay, then let's discuss this," said the foreman.

Just as we got underway, the bailiff strolled back in. "Judge says you've got 20 more minutes."

With four counts remaining that worked out to five minutes a count. This set off a frenzy of deliberation and cross-talk with an irate foreman finally yelling for order. A system of raising hands was quickly instituted. However the system was misunderstood to mean that as long as you raised your hand and kept it up you could begin speaking immediately.

Nevertheless, deliberations inched ahead between rationalists and psychologists. Occasionally, a member of the Silent Minority interjected something along the lines of, "If the defendant was a musician, how come they never showed a photograph of him playing music? I think that would've helped."

The intimidation count was now deadlocked with rationalists leaning toward guilt and psychologists inclined toward acquittal. With time ticking away, it was decided to jump ahead to another count as if these were multiple choice exam questions.

But counts 4, 6 and 7 were linked by time and place involving actions that took place in the bathroom following the beating. You couldn't really pry them apart, though we tried briefly, ending in split decisions.

(Count five had been dropped in pre-trial. I think it involved making a false charge of glottal wailing.)

Ah, but count 8 dealt with the temporary restraining order allegedly violated by Mr. Pak. Here was a stand-alone count; one we could sink our teeth into.

I knew Mr. Pak spoke acceptable Quisnos English. I believed the Korean-speaking detective who testified he'd explained the restraining order to Mr. Pak. I believed another cop who testified that Mr. Pak had blurted out in English, 'Why should I leave the apartment? It's my place.' I believed Mr. Pak was guilty of violating the restraining order.

So when the time came to raise our hands...I voted to acquit along with everyone else.

There was a sense that Mr. Pak had eventually left the apartment without the cops being called. Besides, we'd found him guilty on all the big stuff like hitting his wife. Besides, everyone wanted to go home. Besides, I'd already hung a count and wasn't ready to hang another.

Our rush to judgement was suddenly ended by the bailiff.

We'd have to return Monday and finish up.

A quick verdict didn't seem promising.

I wanted to ululate.

Next and Last: Count Down

Images: Xavier School &

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Unreasonable Doubt IV: Judge Not and Ye Shall Not Go Home

As deliberations began, my fellow jurors divided roughly into three categories:

Rationalists—"Let's stick to the evidence and testimony."

Psychologists—"But what if she were thinking something other than what she said?"

The Silent Minority—"Call me when we're voting."

Of the twelve jurors, seven actively deliberated; one or two shifting between rationalist and psychologist depending on the count. (I tended to vote rationalist.) And while the Silent Minority wasn't mute, they mostly spoke of peripheral matters. ("Remember when Robert Downey Junior used to get arrested a lot?")

With a table full of evidence (plus a small basket of glazed doughnut holes left for us by the judge), we rolled up our sleeves on Friday afternoon.

Count one involved spousal abuse and the alleged beating. For this we had the strongest evidence—victim photos taken by the cops, testimony of the victim's friend, testimony of the cops and a paramedic. In addition, the paramedic testified that Mrs. Pak was not coked up based on his examination and years of experience dealing with the citizens of Los Angeles.

On the defendant's side, we had Mr. Pak's testimony that his wife was a whacked out druggie, a manic muffin head, thrashing on their bed and wailing like some Georgia snake handler. His attempts  to either comfort or restrain her had inadvertently resulted in Mrs. Pak's facial injuries. If anything, he was acting in self-defense.

The foreman asked for pros and cons. There was some back and forth that tended to focus on the more fantastic claims of the defendant. There was a sense that Mr. Pak wasn't a very believable witness. Rationalists and psychologists seemed in general agreement.

The foreman called for a vote, "All those who believe the defendant is guilty of spousal abuse, please raise your hands."

I raised my hand, already planning my route home out of downtown. (A drive north up Hill Street through Chinatown to the 110 freeway, north to the 5 Freeway, then a short hop to the television and either the Military Channel or something involving midgets and pit bulls.)

Many hands shot up.

An old guy of the Silent Minority—the retiree—held out.

We were hung 11 to 1 to convict.

 Energy seeped from the room like air from a ruptured scuba tank. No one had anticipated this on the first count. It was as if a guest at a birthday party had suddenly dropped a flagstone on the cake.

The foreman maintained a neutral politeness,"And, uh, what is your opinion of that count?"

"Well, I think we're all rushing to railroad the guy."

"How's that?" asked the former music industry business man.

"What was he supposed to do? His wife was all coked up."

(Are you freaking kidding me ! Where were you during the trial? The first count is a gimme; a slam dunk; a tap in. You must have a brain full of Snapple.)

"Listen, I spent ten years in the music industry. I've seen my share of coke freaks. It doesn't just wear off. You're sweaty, your system's all jacked up."

The photographer chimed in, "And the paramedic said the wife didn't show any symptoms of cocaine. So she probably wasn't high."

(Believe him, old man. I implore you to believe him. I will you!)

The government worker— from whom I'd learned to draw thick arrows—suggested we get the transcript and read back relevant parts. You may've seen this done in courtroom dramas. It's fast and never a problem on TV.

In reality, it's a big hassle. The foreman must request specifically which parts of the massive transcript are needed. Both attorneys must then be summoned. The judge has to Okay the whole thing.

We ended up not doing it.

The retiree backed up a bit on the wife being coked, but still held to the defendant's need to restrain her. If count one ended up hung, then so would the next two since they all were alleged to have happened at the same time in the same location— the Pak's bedroom.

A rationalist remembered the defendant testifying that he had been standing away from the bed, but had returned to restrain his wife, admitting he may have injured her in self defense.

A psychologist suggested, "He didn't have to grab her. He could have left the apartment or called for paramedics,"

The retiree wavered.

Another rationalist read back a legal definition from the jury instructions. The definition roughly stated that you can't rush into a situation and claim self-defense. Old Man Trouble must come to you.

There was the out.

"Well, based on that definition, I might see it differently."

(Oh, thank God! You charming old duffer. How good and noble and intelligent you are when you agree with me.)

"Why don't we vote again?" said the foreman quickly.

12 - 0 for conviction. Count one was a wrap.

The next two counts involving bruising the wife's wrist and smothering her with a pillow until she stopped screaming—along with her promise not to call the cops—went 12 - 0 for conviction on the first vote. We were picking up steam.

The bailiff strolled in. "How you guys doing?"

"We have three so far," said the foreman.

"The court's gonna close early today. You'll have to come back on Monday."

There was pleading from all around the table. Jurors had put off projects and clients or were only being paid for a single week. Going another day would complicate a lot of plans. We needed more time.

"Let me talk to the judge," said the bailiff and strolled out.

This brought us to count 4: intimidation. According to the charge, the wife had run into the bathroom stating she wanted to call a friend, maybe the cops, she wasn't sure. The husband followed, kicked open the door, slapped the cell phone out of her hand, held it away from the wife, and extracted another promise not to call the cops.

According to the defendant, he went into the bathroom to continue his perpetual wife-comforting but that nothing had happened with the cell phone. After all, hadn't she used it later to call her friend and the cops?
The psychologists jumped all over this count, quickly shifting the focus to the wife's actions and thoughts.

"She never actually said she was going to call the cops."

"How could she be intimidated if she wasn't going to call anyway?"

"Remember the cell phone they passed around? I didn't see any damage."

"Me either."

"I dropped my cell phone at the beach once and it broke to pieces. I don't believe the husband threw her cell phone."

"I don't think there's enough evidence to convict."

"Me either."
"Why don't we vote on this one?"

Many hands rose but we hung again.

11 to 1 for acquittal.

I was the hold out.

I could hear my fellow jurors thinking: Thanks a lot, you four-eyed bookworm.
The foreman maintained a neutral politeness as she addressed me,"We have a difference of opinion here. What do you think of the count?"

Coming Up: Lather, Repeat, Rinse

Images: Arthur's Clip Art & All-Free

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ten Unmade Star Trek Episodes

They could've been compelled to do even stranger things.

Sometimes flowers grow from manure. Other times the manure just reeks. The latter case is presented here in the form of ten episodes that never saw daylight. Think of it as No Cash for Clunkers.
i09 via Instapundit

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Unreasonable Doubt III: Pak Up Your Worries

For Mr. Pak to avoid conviction, he needed to fling offal on his soon-to-be-ex-wife's version of events.  (I'm jumping around a bit here.) Thus at one point on a long Thursday afternoon the defendant took another swipe at the Mrs.

Note: This is not Mr. Pak's hand but only a representation.
He described how his loon wife had run into the master bedroom one night and locked the door so as to freely smoke cigarettes and ululate. Concerned, as always, Mr. Pak attempted to open the bedroom door. When it wouldn't yield, he used a chopstick to try and pick the lock.

I glanced at the judge. She had been growing steadily peeved at Mr. Pak's rambling testimony coupled with the inability of his attorney to break up the narrative by asking a question every so often. Something about the chopstick testimony made the judge appear ready to unleash an epic facepalm. In a voice tighter than old slacks, she called for a sidebar.

Standing up to stretch, I realized my instincts over the years had been correct. Jury duty was a thankless snore-fest to be avoided. How did I end up here? I'd served my country in time of war. I was honorably discharged. I paid more taxes than G.E. I'd even reported for jury duty. Many people don't even do that.

And this was my thanks.

Whatever was said in the side-bar seemed to work. The defense hustled up, the city attorney cross-examined and suddenly it was time to go home. Outside Dept. 46, we the jury talked about Friday; how this could all be wrapped up by tomorrow afternoon; how no one wanted to return on Monday. There was confidence that we could zip through seven counts using reason and the evidence and testimony presented in court.

But mostly there was the fervent desire to avoid deliberating Monday.

Back in 1987 on my very first jury panel there were three primary types of jurors: the unemployed (me), retirees and postal workers. (The postal workers were jovial, delighted to be there on full pay.)  It was easy for most people to get out of jury duty and that's what most people did.

All that changed after O.J.

Following Mr. Simpson's 1995 acquittal,  the courts became a lot more fussy. You couldn't shine them on so easily. They cast a wide net and drew in people who'd have skipped service years ago such as independent contractors who weren't paid for jury duty.

Not really our jury or even close.
 Among our 12 jurors and two alternates were:

A Hollywood crime scene tour guide.

Financial planner.

Model as well as commercial and voice actress.

Actress who worked a day job at a spiritual book shop.

Photographer and video director.

Government worker who wanted to break into the music industry.


Personal assistant to a big star (unnamed.)

Banquet planner for an expensive Santa Monica hotel.

Microwave electrical specialist at Jet Propulsion Labs.

Former music industry guy who now worked in business.

Regular guy who worked in business.

Underemployed writer. (me)

A very quiet woman.

 Friday morning, there was a Korean-speaking detective who rebutted Mr. Pak's statement that no one in LAPD explained anything to him in Korean. Mr. Pak was cross-examined more by the city attorney. Then there were closing statements.

The city attorney went first and...talked...very...slowly...and deliberately as if speaking to special needs children or state senators. I figured she was putting on the verbal brakes so the translator could more easily mutter in Korean. She spoke of the victim's straight-forward testimony coupled with physical evidence and witnesses that supported Mrs. Pak's contention that she had been beaten, smothered and intimidated by her husband. But the slowed down speech wasn't winning the People any jury points.

After lunch, the defense attorney summed up his case—the sockless Mr. Pak was the victim of a cocaine-crazed wild woman, an ululator of the first rank. Displaying fire and passion, the attorney might have made a greater impact had he fluidly completed his sentences. The spirit was willing but the diction was weak.

Then came jury instructions. We were given copies but the judge read them anyway. Each count contained certain elements that had to be met for a guilty verdict. Otherwise, acquit. All verdicts had to be unanimous. I jotted a few notes on my form, confident we'd wrap this baby up and maybe—just maybe—get a jump on Friday traffic.

Finally we were ordered forth into the jury room to deliberate. There were two heavy wooden tables placed together so that all twelve of us could fit around. The bailiff deposited the evidence in the center of the tables. Out the window behind us we had a view of the old Hall of Justice, empty now because it needed earthquake retrofitting or else tearing down so that a friend of the mayor could build something.

On the wall was a buzzer and instructions:

Buzz Once - Summon the bailiff.

Buzz Twice - Verdict.

Buzz Thrice - Door Jammed Due to Chopstick in Lock. (Actually, it was for emergencies.)

Several jurors nominated the banquet planner as foreman. She was quickly elected. A bright, friendly woman, I believe she got the job because she knew every one's first name.

Selecting the foreman proved the easiest vote we'd take.

Next: Judge Not and Ye Shall Not Go Home

Images: Learner's Dictionary & Pro Commerce