Friday, January 31, 2003

No Media Res(t) for the Weary Traveler III
While I neglected to read any newspapers yesterday, I just finished flipping through today's San Francisco Chronicle and this week's SF Weekly and San Francisco Bay Guardian. The Guardian yielded some interesting tidbits.

Former publisher of Factsheet 5, Seth Friedman, now works as the Guardian's IT manager. Also from the masthead, Bay Area improv guitarist John Shiurba works as the paper's office manager. I first encountered Shiurba through the Boss Improv mailing list that I founded. Small world.

The Guardian includes several interesting media-related pieces this week. Savannah Blackwell's article on the recent antitrust case filed against New Times Media -- the parent company of the Guardian's closest competitor SF Weekly -- and Village Voice Media, is a clear exposure of the companies' attempts to collude and avoid regional competition.

Jeff Chang looks at Clear Channel's purchase of KMEL -- and former listeners' attempts to take back the urban radio station. And Camille Taiara's consideration of corporate media organizations' contributions to politicians -- and FCC chair Michael Powell's openness to big business -- offers a nice companion read addressing the evils of conglomerization.

All in all, an impressively solid edition of the Guardian. Right on, Bruce Brugmann. Alt.weeklies everywhere could learn from you.
Among the Literati XXV
In the Jan. 29 edition of the SF Weekly, Tommy Craggs takes the San Francisco Chronicle to task for publishing a thinly veiled news release for 826 Valencia's October 2002 teacher of the month -- penned by Dave Eggers.

What starts as a query why Eggers would contribute to the Chronic ends up as criticism that the paper gave 826 Valencia -- quite a worthy learning center -- any ink and a snarky dismissal of Eggers as "stumbling." Give the guy a break.
Corollary: Signs of the Times
Just talked some more with the security guard at 601 Montgomery. He says he's been changing the sign near the security desk for six or seven years. "I have three sets of letters now," he says. "I used to be restricted."

Word is that a friend interviewed him and wrote an article for a class she took. If she gives the OK, I hope to publish her piece here.
Event-O-Dex XXXIV
Sunday, Feb. 2: The Tardy, the Pee Wee Fist, and Rachel McCartney at the Washington Street Arts Center, 321 Washington St., Somerville. The action starts at 7:30 p.m.
Signs of the Times
Every day, the security guard at 601 Montgomery St. in San Francisco changes this sign.

He says that as long as it makes people laugh, he can "keep his laugh on the job."
Media Diet Eat Up
I'm meeting some friends for dinner tonight at 7:30 at Zeitgeist, 199 Valencia, in San Francisco. If you're a Media Dietician and want to join us, consider the invitation open. I've got messy hair and small glasses, and I'll be wearing a blue workshirt. Cory Doctorow from Boing Boing will be there, too, but Dr. Frank of the Mr. T Experience is on his way to LA for a solo show. He sends his regards.
Corollary: Comics and Community IV
Christopher Baldwin, creator of the Bruno Daily Times is going to be at APE. I read Bruno every day!
Dead Technology
You know how folks say that Betamax was vastly superior to VHS but VHS won out because of better distribution? Might be a myth.

Thanks to Through the Wire.
Among the Literati XXIV
Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow are kicking up some dust in the Well's Inkwell forum.

Thanks to Weblogsky.
Blogging About Blogging XLVIII
Ross Mayfield's Blogmap project is now online. Looks like he's upping the ante on the social network map he created of the Ryze Blog tribe. Neat stuff.

And Corante's got a new blog rolling. Amateur Hour looks at the democratization of media, digital tools, and media making. It's the "me" in "media." Jan. 24's entry touches on how cable TV and the net are changing traditional journalism.
Everything's Coming Out, Rosie II
The Rosie end-of-days drama continues.
Born to Run Away
Bruce Springsteen was slated to play a benefit performance for DoubleTake magazine at the Somerville Theater in Somerville near the end of February. The deal was that for something like a $1,000 ticket, you could see the small, intimate, acoustic performance. And for $5,000 you could share time and table with the Boss and his wife at a special dinner. The whole idea was to raise money for the ever-struggling Davis Square-based magazine.

Now Springsteen has pulled away from the deal, and the concert is canceled. Why? The Boss was upset at the steep ticket prices despite the benefit gig. And he was miffed that the magazine leaked news of the performance early to fuel ticket sales. Just goes to show: What DoubleTake can give, DoubleTake can take away.
Workaday World XV
On my way to Fast Company's Montgomery Street offices in San Francisco I saw what might very well be one of the best buskers I've ever seen. The fellow at the Montgomery Street Bart station has an extremely clear and impressive singing voice. If you come across him, give him some money.

Upon reaching the top of the exit escalator, I saw a forlorn-looking older man in a suit standing resolutely behind a sandwich board that said, "Please take my resume. I've done it all." Welcome back to San Francisco.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Anchormen, Aweigh! XV
Half the band mastered the final mixes of the songs we're including in our forthcoming CD, Nation of Interns, Tuesday, and the final songs are available online. Hopefully, the CD itself will be available in the next month or so!
Workaday World XIV
I'm in San Francisco today, camping out in Fast Company's Montgomery Street offices to catch up with the Company of Friends before the San Francisco group's event this evening.

So far today, I've had two delightful Bay Area experiences. I saw a woman on the Bart reading Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and I heard a custodian whistle "Do You Know the Way to San Jose." Welcome back to San Francisco!

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Corollary: Comics and Community IV
In another fit of good fortune -- to start balancing out all of today's bad -- Highwater Books will be tabling at APE this weekend. That's where I'll be spending much of my time, so if any Media Dieticians go to APE, look me up.
Anchormen, Aweigh! XIV
Half the band is mastering the forthcoming Anchormen CD, Nation of Interns, tonight. And we're trying to figure out what order the songs should go in. Do you like

  • Audubon Park
  • Peel Away
  • Celebrate Democracy
  • Idlewild
  • Another Gentrification Song
  • Finger Lakes
  • Unsung Heroes
  • Indecision


  • Celebrate Democracy
  • Unsung Heroes
  • Peel Away
  • Finger Lakes
  • Indecision
  • Idlewild
  • Another Gentrification Song
  • Audobon Park


  • Celebrate Democracy
  • Idlewild
  • Audobon Park
  • Another Gentrification Song
  • Finger Lakes
  • Unsung Heroes
  • Peel Away
  • Indecision

    better? You can download the rough mixes. Determining song order is much more challenging than you'd think.
  • Games People Play IV
    A co-worker of mine made a board game! Lights... Camera... Action! is a Trivial Pursuit-like game in which players try to identify the name of a movie based on quote, actor, and scene clues. It's extremely well produced and looks like a lot of fun -- 800 movie moments to consider! Fun stuff. I had no idea you could just make a board game.
    Corollary: Workaday World XIII
    Murphy's Law is in full effect. Let's just say that the relaunch isn't going exactly as planned. We'll get there, though. I'm just not very good at being ineffectual. I'm also not very good at being nostalgic. Last night, with all of the anticipation and excitement about the relaunch, I waxed romantic about a former girlfriend, even emailing her a thank-you message for her long-ago support and interest. I should not do things like that. Stupid, stupid Heath. That'll work itself out, too, I guess. All this shall pass.

    Monday, January 27, 2003

    Mention Me! XXXIII
    Adam Gaffin highlights the Boston World Explorers' Foundation's inaugural outing today in Boston Common. This is a solid site I'll have to return to.

    What is Boston Common? "Boston Weblogs are cool, interesting, funny, thought-provoking and sometimes maddening. Couple Boston Weblogs with Boston forums and Usenet newsgroups and you've got the makings of a great online magazine. This Weblog is an attempt to sift through all those postings to find stuff you might also find interesting."

    Welcome, Boston Commoners! Now you're Media Dieticians, too.
    Workaday World XIII
    Tomorrow, we launch the new online community platform for the Company of Friends, Fast Company magazine's readers' network. I founded the network back in 1997 and have spent the last five-plus years coordinating and managing it.

    Normally, when I email the 42,000 members, I get a little nervous. That's a lot of people. But tonight, having just queued up the relaunch and redesign announcement for emailing, I'm more than a little nervous. This is a good step for the network, but it's a big step. Excited, nervous, hopeful, curious.

    I hope people like what we've done.
    Hiking History III
    The Boston World Explorers' Foundation held its inaugural meeting Sunday afternoon, with four founding members gathering at the statue of Captain Farragut at City Point in South Boston to explore the environs of Castle Island and Fort Independence.

    Walking from Broadway station on the Red Line, Hiromi and I made our way along South Boston's main commercial street and through a decidedly industrial section before reaching City point and meeting up with Brad and Jennifer. One of the old buildings we passed on the way, just before we walked past the Edison power plant, had cryptic letters, numbers, and arrows stenciled on the building's brick corners. What are these codes for? Near Independence Square, we also passed an old factory building that's been closed down for asbestos removal.

    The island is now connected to the mainland with a walkway winding around Pleasure Bay, but the fort is still largely as it was way back when. During the tourist season, the fort is open for guided tours, but in the off season -- which is now -- the fort is closed. So are the snack bar and the public restrooms. "Seasonal!" quickly became a popular cry in response to a suggestion that was difficult or impossible.

    One of the highlights of the day was finding a Bruce Lee stencil spray painted on a corner of the fort building. Another highlight was finding an arrangement of broken shell pieces spelling out the word "love" -- using a concrete round set into the soil as the "o."

    In addition to its history as a military outpost and the numerous war memorials -- and thin spire to honor a local boatmaker -- that line its perimeter, Castle Island comes complete with a fascinating story. Rumor is that Edgar Allen Poe, who was born in Boston and served briefly as a soldier on the island, wrote "The Cask of Amontillado" based on a legend he heard while serving in the armed forces there.

    My memory may be faulty, but the general sense of the story is that an officer on the island took offense at the actions of a younger soldier. I don't recall what the action was, but it may have involved a young woman or a night watch the soldier accidentally missed. The officer challenged the soldier to a duel, and even though other people in the company protested that the young soldier's actions didn't warrant a duel, the officer insisted. The duel occurred, and the officer killed the young, innocent soldier. Some of the soldier's friends inquired about the officer's previous tours of duty and learned that in every instance, in every location, the officer had found cause to challenge someone to a duel -- killing them in that duel. The officer had found a form of officially sanctioned murder within the armed forces. The young soldier's friends ganged up on the murderous officer and sealed him into a section of brick wall, either in the fort itself or in an installation once outside the fort.

    After walking around the fort, we headed around the bay along the walkway. On the far side of the walkway was a fascinating circular concrete structure that reminded us of '70s or '50s motel design. With a ladder, you could easily carry a bicycle up top to ride around the platform. We watched the geese and seagulls and enjoyed the panoramic views of the Boston skyline -- as well as the sound of sea water lapping against the rocks.

    The walkway also afforded good views of the outer harbor, including an island that now houses globular sewage treatment facilities, an island that was once a dumping ground for dead horses and cattle -- and then an illegal casino and bar complex during the prohibition -- and an island once used to house an insane asylum, part of which is now ruins.

    Then it was back to the car, Broadway station, and home. Thanks to Hiromi, Brad, and Jennifer for their role as founding members of the Boston World Explorers' Foundation. I think we may have even decided on a slogan for the group: "I may not know where we're going, but I've read a lot about it." The adventures will continue.
    The Movie I Watched Last Night LVI
    The Blair Witch Project
    To help pass time while reading magazines on the Big Blue Couch on Friday night, I popped in The Blair Witch Project. While I wish I'd originally seen it back in 1999 without having read so much about the movie, the film holds up well to my first viewing in the theaters. Several aspects of the film resonate with me: the need to document experiences; a fascination with lost, bizarre local history; and stomping around in the woods -- or city, for that matter -- looking for things you've read about. This viewing, I felt like they gave the interview segments with locals short shrift and that, outside of the scene at coffin rock, the history was poorly presented. I also didn't connect as much with the decay of the filmmaking trio's friendships as they got lost deeper and deeper into the woods. So I was pleasantly surprised when they finally started discovering the totems, they stumbled across the abandoned house in the night, and the movie proceeded to accelerate to its relatively anticlimactic, though satisying, end. As a faux documentary, this was done pretty well. As a horror movie, I'm not so sure. Has anyone seen the sequel? Is it a waste of time, or does it build on the witch mythos and back story?

    Between the Lines
    A surprisingly solid all-star cast populates this little-known 1977 movie that tells the tale of a small, scrappy alternative newspaper in Boston -- the Back Bay Mainline -- that's on the brink of being bought out by a larger, corporate publisher. Riffing on the evolution of the once-proud Real Paper into what is now the Boston Phoenix media empire, I wonder how loosely based the movie is on the alt.weekly scene in Beantown. The story, while slightly cartoony in its portrayal of the stereotypical independent journalists and the stories they pursue, is an engaging look at how a media merger affects the content of the paper, as well as the relationships among the staff. And it's the staff -- the cast -- that amazed me here. Jeff Goldblum plays a manic, down-on-his-luck rock critic who, in one scene, gives a "performance artist" who shows up at the office demanding to be interviewed a run for his money. Bruno Kirby, almost unrecognizable, plays a hapless newbie who can't quite write, and who gets stomped for trying to out a local record bootlegger. You've also got actors who went on to be in L.A. Law and Taxi. Stellar. A great, unsung media movie. If you work in journalism at all, check this out. The issues surrounding mergers remain, although the romantic portrayal of what it's like being an independent journalist is a little dated.

    Shallow Hal
    I never would have paid money to see this in a theater, much less rent it, but there it was on HBO on Saturday night, a night I was trying to stay in to read and have a quiet night at home for a change. So I watched it. I enjoy Jack Black, who I thought was relatively mellow in this movie, and I was pleased by the people he surrounded himself with in the movie. Nice to see Kyle Gass in the movie, and even Jason Alexander was quietly present in the movie. The gist of the story is that Black's character, Hal, gets trapped in an elevator with the motivational speaker Tony Robbins. After Robbins works his mojo, shallow Hal now only sees what's really inside people. Homely, good-hearted people appear beautiful. And duplicitous, beautiful people are seen as haggard and ugly. The jokes of the movie, which could have been much more aggressive and slapstick, are based on the premise that now Hal's only attracted to fat and ugly people who are good and pure inside. Enter Gwyneth Paltrow's character. Seen as a slim, shapely, beautiful woman, she's actually quite large. Chair-breaking large. They fall in love before Robbins' mojo is removed and Hal is able to see things as they really are. While I didn't buy his conversion and undying love for Paltrow's roly-poly Rosemary, I was touched by his affection for the children in the pediatric burn ward. I was also intrigued by the parallels to The Sixth Sense because I couldn't always tell whether I was seeing characters as Hal saw them or as they really were. In the end, an OK movie, but one torn between wanting to be a comedy -- and wanting to be a message movie. It doesn't quite succeed as either.

    Friday, January 24, 2003

    Hiking History II
    My pedestrian explorations of Boston's past continued today, straddling the North End and downtown. Davo and I set out in search of centers, starting at the Boston Stone embedded in a wall not far from Ye Olde Union Oyster House, which has been in operation since 1826. The Boston Stone was brought to the United States in 1700 and was used to grind paint pigments. Installed as a marker in 1737, the stone has been rumored to be the point from which all distances from Boston were measured. Sources conflict on that matter. Also, upstairs from the oyster house was the printing shop for the Massachusetts Spy, the first newspaper in America.

    Not far from the Blackstone Block, Boston's oldest commercial block, is Faneuil Hall and Quincy Marketplace. The sidewalks and courtyard in the area are marked with building and street locations circa 1819, an interesting exercise in mapping the city's past on the city itself. Nearby are several bronze statues of note, including Anne Whitney's 1873 state of Samuel Adams and Lloyd Lillie's 1989 double of Mayor James Michael Curley. Curley held his first elected office in 1904 while in jail, and in 1946, President Truman had to pardon him to serve as mayor -- an election Curley won while in prison again.

    Then we looked for the next center. And looked. And looked. According to Bizarro Boston there's a bronze plaque near Filene's and Downtown Crossing noting the exact center of the universe. The neighborhood has been rejuvenated, as marked by a stone inset near where I expected the plaque to be, so perhaps the sign has been removed or moved. Regardless, Davo and I couldn't find it.

    On the way back toward the office, we walked past the Boston Globe's original location back when Washington Street was called Newspaper Row. We also made a point of stopping by 383 Salem St., now a vacant space, but once Langone's Funeral Home where Sacco and Vanzetti were laid out following their executions in 1927. Spectators spread out the length of Hanover Street. The two were later cremated at Forest Hills Cemetery.

    Source: Greg and Katherine Letterman, Walking Boston
    The Movie I Watched Last Night LV
    Johnny Mnemonic
    I so wanted this movie to be good. Based on a short story by William Gibson, this is one of the most important cyberpunk pieces to date. Robert Longo's screen adaptation, despite a screenplay by Gibson himself, falls far short of what the movie could have been. Keanu Reeves performs at his wooden, mangling most of the dramatically necessary dialogue with a ham-handed delivery. Henry Rollins is similarly doltish, failing entirely as the heroic, principled medico. Udo Kier's Ralfi is satisfyingly creepy, although I could easily see Dean Stockwell or Dennis Hopper in that role. Of the cast, Ice-T stands out far above the others regardless of an underused presence until the end of the movie. His Low-tech parallel society with a media network in an elevated city state constructed out of garbage emerges as the most successful meme in the film. Stronger than the uber-dolphin, and stronger than Dolph Lundgren's street preacher. Lastly, compared to the graphic representations of the net in The Net and Hackers, the animations developed by Braid Media Arts shine quite brightly. Read the story. The movie is merely a curiosity.

    The Lawnmower Man
    Not that there have been many successful TV or movie adaptations of Stephen King's writing, but you know a movie is bad if the original author takes legal action to stop the filmmakers from associating his name with the movie and its promotion. "The Lawnmower Man" is one of King's most delightfully dark short stories, and the movie, while drawing lightly on some scenes and images from the story, adds and reworks so much, that the lineage is hardly direct. The King connection aside, this is a forward-thinking look at how virtual reality could be used to improve and augment human cognition. Pierce Brosnan's researcher improves the intelligence of an abused, developmentally disabled man, who rises up as a superhuman in the end, able to tap into the VR space while still in the real world. Jeff Fahey's Jobe Smith develops well -- intellectually and physically -- throughout the film, and the representations of VR aren't that bad. But in the end, the ethical quandary of messing with the human psyche gets short shrift, the director resorts to special effects, and the plot is left hanging, ripe for a sequel. The film doesn't capture King's original vision, and the resulting vision is so far removed -- and so unsatisyfing -- that The Lawnmower Man ends up as so much mulch.
    Among the Literati XXIII
    The Austin Chronicle recently profiled Jessa Crispin, the blogger behind Bookslut. It's a good look at the woman behind the screen, how Bookslut works, and the effects blogs can have on the worlds they choose to cover.
    Products I Love VI
    Just as I re-sleeve my CD's in space-saving slip cases from Univenture, I've started thinking that my DVD's are starting to take up too much room, too. So I recently ordered a couple of DVD albums from Case Logic.

    While I certainly don't need to retain the bulky plastic packaging DVD's come with, I was wondering what I'd do with the jacket inserts -- if they were worth keeping at all. A pleasant surprise: Case Logic's DVD albums (I opted for the 40-count case) come with pages outfitted to hold the DVD's as well as the jacket inserts -- so there's no loss of content or art, and the DVD's are more easily found. Good call, Case Logic.

    Case Logic also offers DVD storage trays and other products, but I think these DVD albums are spot on. Space saved!
    Comic Strip Crossover
    Courtesy of OzComics:

    This coming Tuesday, January 28, will bring a special post-holiday treat to fans of the alternative weekly comics genre. Ted Rall, whose controversial, politically-themed strip "Seach & Destroy" is published weekly in over 100 newspapers in the US and abroad) will for one week take the reigns of Tony Millionaire's popular weekly strip "Maakies", (three-time Eisner award winner Millionaire is also the creator of the acclaimed Fantagraphics book "The House at Maakies Corner"; also Dark Horse's "Sock Monkey).

    Both cartoonists had exchanged harsh words in the wake of a 1999 lawsuit concerning a critical article Rall wrote about Pulitzer Prize-winning "MAUS" creator Art Spiegelman; thankfully, Rall and Millionaire have chosen to holster their guns in the interest of creating great comics, for the benefit of fans worldwide.

    I know I could be slow on the uptake, but am I learning about this from Australia? Fun stuff.
    Making Radio Waves
    From Bob Dubrow, proprietor of Kimchee Records and now-former host of WMBR-FM's Pipeline:

    Bob Dubrow is leaving WMBR's Pipeline! show after 9 years as host.
    He will be passing the reigns to Jeff Breeze, editor of the Northeast Performer magazine.
    Bob's final show is on Tuesday, February 11.  It will be extended to 4 hours, from 8:00 pm to midnight.
    To celebrate, Robin Lane & The Chartbusters will be playing a full live electric set during the show .  4/5s of her original band has reformed after 20 years and they've added a fifth member.  They have a new album entitled Piece of Mind due for release on February 15, coinciding with the day of their release party at the Middle East.
    In addition to the Chartbusters, many guests have been invited to take to the mics and play a tune or two throughout the show's 4-hour span.  Verified guests include:
  • Charlie Chesterman
  • Chris Brokaw
  • Thalia Zedek
  • John Dragonetti and Blake Hazard
  • 27
  • and possibly some by Big Dipper folk.
    Plus there will be more to be announced.  (Inquiries are out to Roger Miller, Nat Freedburg, Robert Fisher, and more...)
    We especially want to make you press folk aware so such a fun night of live music doesn't get lost in the air...
    There will be updates sent out to you on additional live guests or changes as the show approaches.  We hope to have the final line-up by the end of the month...
    Bob will be moving on to host Lost & Found on WMBR alternate Mondays from noon-2:00.  Lost & Found airs every weekday at that time and features mostly non-commercial music (and an occassional hit) from the '60s-early '70s.

  • Wow. Nine years hosting Pipeline. Thanks for all you've done, Bob, and may you continue to do even more!

    Thursday, January 23, 2003

    Games People Play III
    A co-worker developed an Unreal Tournament mod of the Fast Company offices. In fact, right now, colleagues of mine are "running" around the space "killing" each other. Pretty weird seeing the game taking place in the office!
    Mention Me! XXXII
    This made me laugh. Tim Bauer, whom I mentioned in Media Diet way back in May, hasn't updated his blog NewsWrap since July last year. Yet in the referral logs today, there was some traffic from his site. Just goes to show that the Web can be a ghost town.

    Bauer linked to Media Diet in his Blogs roundup, and his page features the following item in a little "About NewsWrap with Tim Bauer" Q&A:

    Has he ever been mentioned in Heath Row's "Media Diet"?

    Ha! A claim to fame, to be sure. And now he's been mentioned twice.
    Among the Literati XXII
    Glenn Gaslin doesn't update his site Scrawlings often, but when he does, he says things like, "You can pre-order my novel!"

    Good news, Glenn. Good news.
    Corollary: Blogging About Blogging XXXII
    While my LiveJournal lasted about as long as Neil's chocolate chip cookies, I'm still intrigued by the different content tactics and strategies used in journals as compared to blogs. Ross Mayfield recently shared some preliminary anecdotal findings based on a survey of bloggers' perceptions of journals. His comments on the insular nature of LiveJournal's community and communication -- you can even link to people's sites via their LiveJournal usernames, which introduces an interesting social network dynamic and user-navigated content vetting -- are interesting.
    Comics and Calamity III
    Rob G., artist of the comic TFM and the upcoming Couriers graphic novel with Brian Wood, recently lost everything he owned outside of the clothes on his back in a fire. While Rob, his roommate, and his cat are safe and OK, their apartment building and everything they own -- including his art for TFM, Couriers, and a Batman story -- is gone. You can help.
    Rock Shows of Note LIII
    Around 10 last night, and with a last-minute invitation to Hiromi, I went to the Middle East Upstairs to see Choo Choo La Rouge. I arrived just as they were finishing their set, unfortunately, but Hiromi and several friends were in the audience, so we stuck around to see the other bands.

    Hailing from Providence, the Eyesores were amazing. Led by accordionist Alex K. Redfearn, the band featured an interesting mix of instruments: cello, upright bass, violin, accordion, and drum kit. Their set was a rollicking, high-energy assortment of Elephant Six by way of Slim Cessna's Auto Club-style pop. Not quite, but on the edge. I couldn't help bouncing on my heels and swaying back and forth. The violinist was a lot of fun to watch, and my only complaint was that Alex was sitting, so I couldn't really see him. Had to pick up a couple of their CD's.

    Then Soltero played. The show was a CD release party for their new recording "Defrocked and Kicking the Habit," so they were in fine form. Hiromi and I left after several songs, so I didn't hear too much, but I've been listening to MP3's today, and they, too, have an impressive blend of and slightly off-kilter pop. Tim Howard's voice is a sleepy Sunday treat.

    What a good show. One of those nights I probably shouldn't have gone out (sleepy today), but I'm glad I did.
    Pushing Up Pencils
    It's a bad week for cartoonists. First Al Hirschfield. Now Bill Mauldin. The world's a little more empty today.
    Comics and Community IV
    Well, what do you know? I'll be in San Francisco for work late next week, and I'm sticking around for the weekend. APE is that weekend. I am so there.

    Wednesday, January 22, 2003

    The Movie I Watched Last Night LIV
    The A-Team: "The Children of Jamestown"
    Originally airing Jan. 30, 1983, this is the first hour-long episode of the show -- and the first starring Dirk Benedict as Faceman. The title sequence better captures the A-Team's origin than the pilot movie did, but the episode is little more than a watered down riff on the Jonestown massacre. John Saxon's Martin James, the erstwhile leader of a religious cult, is shallow and cartoony, little more than sunglasses and pseudo-religious blather. The team enters the cult's compound to rescue a girl held hostage, gets captured themselves, outwits the cult faithful in a death hunt, construct weapons at a nearby farmhouse, and in the end, win the day. The scene in which Faceman tries to woo a woman by explaining the adrenalin rush of their adventures, describing what he calls the "jazz" is silly but enjoyable. And in the end, this episode establishes what might be the formula for future shows: get hired, get captured, escape, construct new weapons or a vehicle, succeed against the odds, crack wise. Repeat.

    Soundtrack: Meshuggah, "Nothing"
    Corollary: Comics Crackdown II
    From the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund:

    After a year of legal maneuvers, Kraft has settled its trademark dilution suit against CBLDF defendant Stuart Helm. The settlement agreement forms a permanent injunction that prohibits Helm from using the name "King VelVeeda" on any future web, comics, or illustration work. Helm is allowed five years to sell all existing work using the censored name. Kraft is also donating $10,000 to the American Library Association's Freedom to Read Foundation, Kraft's recognized charity of Helm's choice. Each side will bear its own legal fees.

    The CBLDF spent over $14,000 on the case. Those costs were borne with membership and convention contributions. The Freedom to Read Foundation will also contribute a portion of Kraft's settlement donation to offset the Fund's legal fees.

    Kraft first contacted Helm in January of 2002, sending him a letter requesting he cease and desist the use of his nickname "King VelVeeda." Helm had been signing work using the pseudonym for more than a decade and maintained that because he was not directly competing with Kraft that he was within his rights using the name. Kraft differed, and sued him for Trademark Dilution and Infringement, and followed that suit with a request for Preliminary Injunction. In addition to suing Helm to cease use of the name, Kraft also sued for legal fees and punitive damages.

    Helm represented himself for the first months of his case. Later he procured the help of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund after being deposed by Kraft's lawyers. The Fund's Board of Directors voted to take the case, believing that because the trademark laws involved in Helm's case are in flux until this term's Supreme Court decision in Mosely v. Secret Catalogs, Inc. comes down, that his First Amendment rights were in need of defense.

    CBLDF retained counsel Burton Joseph, James Joseph, and Ken Levinson took over Helm's case in April. They deposed Kraft's executives and argued his case before Magistrate Arlander Keys' court in the Preliminary Injunction hearing. Keys granted Kraft's request for preliminary injuction last July. His decision required the artist to remove the nickname from all web pages, metatags, and search engines.

    Helm complied with the Magistrate's decision while the Fund's lawyers filed an appeal. In September, Kraft approached the Fund's lawyers about arriving at a settlement.

    "We were passing settlement proposals back and forth in October and the settlement was actually reached by the end of November," Helm reveals. "They took a hard line on everything, saying they were prepared to go back to court no matter how much it cost, but at the same time harassing Burton to settle and being really stingy with the settlement money. I asked them to give the money to the CBLDF, but they refused to do that, so eventually we agreed to give it to the Freedom to Read Foundation," Helm adds.

    Helm continues, "I had a couple of reasons for settling. After losing the Preliminary Injunction trial I had lost some faith in the justice system. I didn't want to risk going all the way through the trial and losing because I didn't want to set a bad precedent. But more than that, I was physically tired of the case. I was tired of going to court, I was tired of being harassed by them, and I wanted to move on. The preliminary injunction already forced me to do a lot of work that made me want to move on. It's hard enough to stay energized and do art and then also deal with this court stuff. And also, I've been doing some activism because of the war on terror and I want to focus my political energy on those issues rather than spending that energy going to court fighting over my nickname."

    In the end, Kraft successfully censored Helm, but they didn't crush him. "It could have been much worse," Helm says. "When they started, they gave me 30 days to cease and desist doing anything with the nickname. Now one year later I have five years to sell my artwork, I don't owe them any money, and a good cause is getting paid."

    "I owe a lot to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund because they came in and rescued me at my lowest ebb. If they hadn't supported my case, I probably would have caved. But the Fund gave me the chance to fight when I needed it and I couldn't have done it without their support," Helm admits.

    Fund Board Member Louise Nemschoff says, "This case highlights some of the ways in which trademark law poses serious traps for the unwary artist. Branding is becoming a more important part of American life and this case is another example of how First Amendment rights are at risk. In this climate, it's important for the Fund to defend the First Amendment rights of cartoonists to comment on the commercial icons of pop culture."

    CBLDF Director Charles Brownstein says, "Stu needed a strong defense against Kraft's legal bullying and we were able to provide that. We responded quickly, we put up a good fight, and we helped him arrive at a settlement that enables him to go on with his life and art. In the end, this case is another example of how artists' First Amendment rights are in need of constant vigilance and protection. Trademark and Copyright laws are volatile and constantly changing; in that climate, it's important the Fund continue to fight on behalf of artists so as to protect the rights the First Amendment affords them."
    Hiking History
    This noon I braved the North End's 17 degrees and wind to track down a couple of interesting historical locations near the Scotch & Sirloin building. First stop, Copp's Hill Burial Ground, the North End's oldest cemetery and Boston's second, which has been in use since 1660. In the late 18th century, the northeastern base of Copp's Hill was called "New Guinea" because it housed most of the African-Americans in Boston. Of the 10,000-plus people buried in the burial ground, 1,000 are African-Americans. Ironically, they're segregated into their own section of the graveyard.

    Prince Hall, whose grave marker is pictured above, was an African-born Revolutionary soldier who was an active leader of Boston's African-American community and founded the black Masonic order. Increase, Cotton, and Samuel Mather are also buried on Copp's Hill (pictured below). Cotton, who started school at Harvard when he was 12, once claimed that Satan spoke English, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew -- but not the "Indian language."

    At the edge of the burial ground, bordered by Charter Street, is Copp's Hill Terrace. Not far from here, on Jan. 15, 1919 -- just a week ago today! -- a storage tank holding 2.5 million gallons of liquid molasses burst. (Reports also suggest that the tank may have been located closer to Faneuil Hall or the New England Aquarium.) A 15-foot-high flood of molasses destroyed buildings and the elevated railway along what is now Commercial Street. More than 20 people and many horses were killed, and more than 50 people were injured as a result. I don't know exactly where the flood started, but supposedly, you can track its progress from Copp's Hill along Commercial.

    I also walked by the Old North Church, Boston's oldest church, and one possible place that the lanterns that alerted Paul Revere that the British were coming might have been hung. (Folks also think Second Church might have been the place, but descendants of Revere hang lanterns in this spire every April 18 to assert its claim.) And I made my way back past 44 Hull St., the narrowest house in Boston. 44 Hull is 9.5 feet wide and was built to ruin the view of a neighbor who lived in the lot behind it. Talk about spite!

    On the way back to the office from Hull Street, I came across several sad-looking chairs neatly ordered along a chain-link fenced parking lot. When the weather is warm, elderly men and women often sit in lawn chairs along the sidewalks and streets of the North End. Perhaps these chairs are waiting for the warmth and welcome of their owners come spring.

    Source: Greg and Katherine Letterman, Walking Boston
    Soundtrack: The Postman Syndrome, "Terraforming"