Wednesday, September 30, 2009

2009 Chevy vs. 1959 Chevy

Excellent demonstration of how car technology has improved since the 1950s. What isn't mentioned in this video is that the Malibu also gets much better gas mileage, pollutes much less, and has a motor that, with regular maintenance, will last much longer than the Bel Air.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Monsterville Horton IV -- the best name ever!

The empty parking spaces at lunchtime are an uncanny sight, and the rumbling in the distance bodes ill.
Rice Village merchants have come to hear that sound as a harbinger of doomed sales, a menace that keeps shoppers at bay. It's the low, incessant grumble of track hoes on Kirby Drive.[...]
At Cova, a high-end wine shop, owner Monsterville Horton IV watched the confluence of three Cats gouging out the intersection of Kirby and Quenby, where traffic alternately stopped and lurched forward. (Jennifer Latson, The Houston Chronicle, 9-23-2009)
Monsterville Horton IV?! Were there three previous Monstervilles??

Monsterville Horton IV... He looks so normal. (Photo by Julio Cortez)

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Permutter $65 million, Kirby $0?

Two semi-unrelated items. First, as everyone interested in comics knows by now, Jack Kirby's heirs are asserting their rights to the characters that Jack Kirby had a major hand in creating.
The heirs to Kirby, who co-created the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America - and had a hand in creating Spider-Man, pretty much completing the set - have sent out 45 notices of copyright termination to companies including Marvel Entertainment, Disney, Paramount (distributors for Iron Man, Hulk and the next five Marvel movies), Sony (the studio behind the Spider-Man movies, 20th Century Fox (X-Men and Fantastic Four) and others, expressing intent to own copyright on Kirby's creations. The notices did not only involve comic books and movies; apparently, Hasbro and Universal also received notices, for the toy and theme park rights as well.
The Kirby estate is taking the claim seriously, hiring Marc Toberoff, the attorney who's been representing the Siegel estate in the recent Superman/Superboy lawsuits. While Marvel itself has offered no comment on the notices yet, Disney issued a statement saying, essentially, that it's not a big deal:
The notices involved are an attempt to terminate rights seven to 10 years from now, and involve claims that were fully considered in the acquisition.
(Graeme McMillan, Io9, September 21, 2009)
Likewise, all fanboys know about the Disney deal mentioned above to purchase Marvel. Yesterday Disney filed an S-4 (a form filed with the SEC by a publicly traded company disclosing any material information about a merger or acquisition).
There was also some interesting details deeper into the proxy – the part that spells out what various executives get post-deal. A quick tally for Perlmutter shows that it will add up to around $65 million, including $34 million in options that were just granted this past March. Those options were granted at around $25 a share and vest immediately and the takeout price is $50, which seems like some pretty good timing. (Michelle Leder,, September 23, 2009)
Now I am not going to try to get into legal arguments, because I am totally incompetent to do so, and don't know the details of the Kirby situation. But just on the face of it, it is hard to see why Perlmutter deserves $65 million and Jack Kirby (and since Jack is dead, his family) deserve nothing. But the point of view that the Kirby heirs deserve nothing is expressed widely (in the comments of the Io9 article and on other comics message boards). Astonishing!

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Things the World Does Not Need

One of them is a remake of Yellow Submarine.
Disney have officially announced their motion-capture CGI 3D remake of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine. [...] The official announcement was made over the weekend, and the accompanying press release quotes Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook as saying,
This is truly an inspired collaboration, and a wonderful opportunity to revisit one of the most imaginative and memorable musical fantasies of all time. To be working with the amazing folks at Apple Corps, and to have Bob [Zemeckis] helming the sub is truly as good as it gets. With all those incredible Beatles songs and imagery, the spectacular vision of Bob and his pioneering team at ImageMovers Digital, and a classic adventure full of wit and action, we're sure that moviegoers are going to have a great time on this latest trip to Pepperland. (Io9)
Io9 goes on to make the point that the original Yellow Submarine movie didn't exactly have a very memorable story, and it mainly recalled for its animation and design (by Heinz Edelmann)  "and ability to capture the then-zeitgeist." And at the very least, when the original came out, you got to hear some new Beatles songs.

Of course I'll go see it, just like I did with Across the Universe, a ridiculous farrago of 60s cliches and mostly irrelevant Beatles songs (but starring a guy, Jim Sturgess, who looks as if they somehow managed to mix the genetic material of Steve Winwood and several of the Small Faces to create the perfect psychedelic English mod). I'll see Yellow Submarine, but I still think remaking it is a dumb idea. (All this said, the only place I have heard about this is on Io9--could someone be hoaxing them? Or could Io9 be hoaxing us?)

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Leigh Boone Memorial

Leigh Boone Memorial

Leigh Boone was riding her bike through the pedestrian-and-bike-heavy intersection of Dunlavy and Montrose when two hot-dogging firetrucks from the same station who were racing to a call managed to collide. They killed her. This a memorial to her.

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Rice University Should Have an Art Museum

Rice University is my alma mater (classes of 1992 and 2008). Any old owl who gets repeated dunned by the university knows that Rice has been in a construction orgy. Seriously, just in the past couple of years, Rice has built two new colleges (Duncan and McMurtry--this new class is the largest freshman class in Rice history), a new gym, a new student hangout place, the "Collaborative Research Center" and I don't know what else. And more stuff is on the drawing board. I don't know what the endowment is now post-crash, but in 2007 it was $4.67 billion. And yet they keep asking alums like me for money, and like a sucker I give it to them. (I feel like I am giving charity to rich people whenever I do.) They should spend some of this money on a museum.

(Actually, Rice should first spend its money on many more need-based scholarships and living allowances, as well as spending a big sum on outreach to working class and poor students in the Houston region through mentoring and tutoring, including the construction and operation of K-12 charter schools in HISD and Aldine ISD. But once Rice has done all of those things, it should build an art museum.)

Now Rice has its gallery, where they put up lots of cool installations (like the Wayne White installation that is there now). Some of you may recall that there used to be an institution called the Rice Museum. It was in one of the two metal buildings at the corner of Stockton and University. The story I heard was that when the Menils had a falling out with the University of St. Thomas, they essentially funded Rice's art and art history department, bringing a bunch of professors over, and building these two buildings, one for media (film and photography when I was an undergrad), and one a museum. It was at the Rice Museum that Ed Kienholz had his show on campus, and that's where I met him. Apparently it held some of the Menil's collection, but this was just a holding action until they could build their own museum. Now the old Rice Museum is the Martel Center for Continuing Studies.

Rice's museum should not be the whim of some rich person. It needs to be something with the university itself as the prime mover. (Which is not to say that rich alums can't be involved.) It could be built between the Baker Institute and the Shepherd School, closing off that awkward space into a neat quadrangle (where the new James Turrell piece is going). But there are other places on campus where it could reside.

What kind of museum should it be? My first impulse is that it should not be devoted to contemporary art. Not because I have anything against contemporary art (obviously), but Houston already has a lot of venues for contemporary art (CAMH, Lawndale, Diverse Works, the Station Museum, Project Row Houses, Box 13, many commercial galleries, etc.). That said, none of these institutions is collecting contemporary art. So perhaps that could be the function of the Rice Museum. (I assume that the MFAH is collecting some contemporary art as well, but obviously that is not its primary function.) Or it could pick some very specific art--regional art, art from a particular period or in a particular style or of a particular type of artist. Like a museum of Texas art. A museum of 19th century American art. A museum of naive or "outsider" art. A museum of comics art (obviously this one would appeal to me a lot). Whatever Rice chooses, it should be something that isn't well-covered by already existing Houston museums and institutions.

Any thoughts out there about a Rice Museum?

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Monday, September 07, 2009

What I Have Been Reading

Here's some of what I have read in the past few months (excluding graphic novels--I'll give them their own post). This is in reverse order--most recently read first. The $12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark by Don Thompson. I reviewed this over on my other blog. Suffice it to say, if you are interested in economics and art, it's worth reading. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway. Highly entertaining with a rich, amusing prose style, this novel is a story of a world-wide apocalyptic disaster--how it came to happen and how folks coped with it subsequently. The event that pretty much destroys the world is the use of a weapon that separates matter and energy from the information that holds it together. But it is played primarily for laughs. In the end, this book is a comedy. But not a face--Harkaway creates characters he wants us to feel for, especially the nameless protagonist. His writing is sort of Thomas Pynchon-lite--rich and wonderful to read, digressive; occasionally a stunt sentence goes horribly wrong. But over-all, it was a pleasure to read this book.

Doors cover Doors: Houston Artists by Trudy Sween.  This was a show of Houston art that was put together in 1979. The theme of "doors" is rather contrived, but it does provide a snapshot of Houston art 30 years ago. Of the 54 artists, I recognized seven names--Mel Chin, Manual (Suzanne Bloom and Ed Hill), Gael Stack, Earl Staley, James Surls, and Salle Werner-Vaughn. Genesis by Bernard Beckett.  In the future, during a war between the U.S. and China, a germ weapon goes out of control and apparently kills everyone on Earth--except for the people of New Zealand, who adopt a merciless policy of destroying any airplane or boat that approaches its shores. The casual mention of the last radio broadcast from the outside world is a particularly chilling moment. After a generation of enforced isolation, combined with a totalitarian government (which resembles the one in Brave New World, but without the Soma), someone rebels against the isolation and sneaks a refugee into the nation. This is, by itself, a really great set-up for a dystopian science fiction novel. But this short novel takes an abrupt turn at this point. The young rebel, Adam Forde, is imprisoned with a prototype A.I. The intention is for him to socialize the A.I. This is all being told from the vantage of the future. A young historian, Anaximander is being grilled for admission to The Academy.

I can't really say more without revealing too much. This novel will take most readers just an hour or two to read. Engaging and philosophical, I confess I would have still liked to have learned more about the war, the disease, the weird society created to save New Zealand, etc. But the novel ultimately zeros in on a particular theme never looks back. Flood by Stephen Baxter. Flood starts as if Baxter is writing a typical Hollywood disaster movie. Indeed, I thought maybe he was trying to cash in by writing something he could sell to the movies. But Baxter is too honest not to carry his premise to a very un-Hollywood conclusion. So instead of an action-packed story of scientists battling to save the world, we have a multi-generational saga of the end of the world.

The world ends from flooding--specifically from the unexpected release of water from the Earth's mantle. The reason why it has happened is never discovered--the ability to do scientific research quickly ebbs as the coastlands, then the farmlands of the world are swallowed. The last remaining people with resources (including the remains of the United States government) start to build "arks". We follow the story of Ark 3, being build high in the Peruvian Andes. We know that the U.S. government is building Ark 1 in the Rockies. Where (or what) Ark 2 is is never disclosed (deliciously so, I thought). In the meantime, Tibet has become an organized cannibal state.

In science fiction, one is often presented with the hopefulness of science and technology. Or, one gets warnings of unintended consequences. But this book deals with a situation so overwhelming that there is no technological fix possible. It is a bleak and depressing book. Baxter is not the greatest creator of characters, and there is awkwardness here. But what is interesting here is that as the situation deteriorates, the main characters, who have an unbreakable closeness, start fraying. As humanity ends, even friendship stops having meaning. A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley.  I loved the humor and feelings of failure, the way success for Exley is measured exclusively in terms of success for the New York Giants, and how aimless his life is without them--and most of all, the rich use of the English language. Not show-off-y--just right. I can hardly explain it. Like "I told him I wished that when I was his age I had sought out some dismal creature for advice. Having gone to fast-assed 'successful' souls (making the American mistake of equating success with wisdom), I was glibly assured that "you'll get over it," and when I did not, I despised myself for what I deemed a flimsiness of heart."

Or "Young advertising men and bond salesmen, they were in their twenties and thirties, some in their forties; they wore Paul Stuart or J. Press jackets and bow ties; they puffed suavely at cigars or pipes; they sipped their scotch with a kind of Old World sang-froid; they saw themselves as the kind of tweedy squires to whom the advertisements of The New Yorker or Esquire are directed--ironically, they saw themselves as having the kind of money Bumpy had, not realizing that that kind of money gave Bumpy immunity from having to dress like them."

Or "Awakening to my body for the first time, I heard the rhythmical, occasionally syncopated, and always audible contortions of my heart, now and then hearing from beneath the monstrously hot layers of flesh the plangent and ominous rumblings of unimaginable visceral parts."

Brilliant. Lonely Days and Wasted Nights by Give Up.  This is a self-published art book by the graffiti artist who goes by the nom de mur "Give Up." There is almost no text--just page after page of black and white photographs of the posters and stencils that Give Up has put up, mostly in Houston but a few in other cities. Give Up's work shows a mordant sense of humor as well as a kind of windswept loneliness. Pollock: Veiling the Image by Donald Wigal. Very beautifully produced, but a bit incoherent. There is no logical order for the reproductions. The text, which is extensive and runs throughout the book, is bizarre. The writer seems to have absorbed every bit of information about Pollack and then spits it out, willy nilly, into this essay. I mean, he talks exhaustively about the Pollack bio-pic! I would have rather read less, or more about the pictures themselves--perhaps describing the time, place, and circumstances of the creation of each--especially if that would have given one a better concept of the arc of Pollack's career as a painter.

There are extensive reproductions of Pollack's early work, where you can see him working through the influences of Siqueros and Thomas Hart Benton and even Paul Klee. When he starts doing his Jungian surreal works, his genius really flowers--and this is well before "Mural" and before the drip paintings. Great artist, one of my favorites. Live at the Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley by Brendan Mullin and Roger Gastman. As far as I can tell, Brendan Mullin was at the center of one really interesting cultural happening in his life, and has spent the rest of his life writing about it. I am not judging him--one interesting cultural happening is one more than most people get to experience first hand. His club, the Masque, gave a lot of great bands a platform and helped incubate the L.A. punk scene. He compiled the excellent oral history, We Got the Neutron Bomb, and wrote a biography of the Germs singer Darby Crash, and now this oversized coffee-table book of photos. It's a pretty good visual record of the scene, although the format is a bit overkill. It reflects that punks are now old and have jobs and money to spend on nostalgic luxury items. Ironic, huh? We've come a long way form "We're Desperate." The Myth of the Rational Market by Justin Fox. I wrote about this book here.Good book. Un Lun Dun by China Mieville. Not likely to become a classic of children's literature, this is still quite an enjoyable read. Like all of Mieville's other books, the city is the star of this novel. The city in this case is unLondon, a city that is kind of an inverted, magical form of London. Mieville allows his imagination to run riot, filling his city with bizarre people and places, often with punning names. In this regard, it's like The Phantom Tollbooth, but supersized Harry Potter style. Mieville delights in taking common fantasy tropes, setting them up so that you think the story is going to follow a traditional path, then smashing them to bits. I won't say which fantasy cliches get this treatment--that would spoil the fun. But if you are familiar with the genre, you will recognize them (and laugh at their destruction by Mieville). Mieville also sneaks in his lefty, power-to-the-people, down-with-governments-and-the-rich themes. They aren't too overt--indeed you might only notice them if you were familiar with his some of his earlier books. Turn Out the Lights: Chronicles of Texas During the 80s and 90s by Gary Cartwright. Gary Cartwright is one of the three great writers who came out of the Dallas-Fort Worth sportswriting scene in the early 60s (along with Bud Shrake and Dan Jenkins). While Shrake and Jenkins made their marks with novels and screenplays, Cartwright has remained true to his journalistic roots, doing the classic sort of long-form magazine journalism that one associates with Willie Morris's Harpers or the early New York Magazine. These pieces are mostly from Texas Monthly, a magazine formed essentially as a Texas version of New York, and certainly one of the few magazines that continues its tradition of first-person long-form magazine journalism to this day.

The pieces here are all very good and very readable. Cartwright dwells a bit much on his memories of the Kennedy assassination (he, by totally bizarre circumstance, happened to be rather close to the events and some of the personalities involved). Even though he is from Fort Worth and based in Dallas, these pieces come from all over the state (and beyond in a couple of places). Cartwright is great at creating a setting that feels real. The Houston he describes in his story about the Foreman-Holyfield fight is right on. Other outstanding stories are "The Innocent and the Damned," a chilling story of when "satanic ritual abuse" panic struck Auston, and "The Longest Ride of His Life" about the Randall Adams case (subject of the film Thin Blue Line, and the first of many exonerations of falsely convicted men from the era of Henry Wade, a law-and-order DA in Dallas who we now know cut corners repeatedly to get convictions).

Kienholz Tableau Drawings. Sorry I don't have a cover image for this book. Too lazy to scan one in. This book was published in conjunction with a 2001 show of work by Ed and Nancy Kienholz. Ed Kienholz was one of the artist to emerge in L.A. in the 60s doing large scale assemblages, often with political and social satirical content. Kienholz's use of junk and salvage, the detritus of America, combined with his ability to create startling, surreal visual metaphors, made these tableaux some of the finest, most striking artworks of the past 40 years, in my opinion. As he was constructing a tableau, he would gather much more "junk" than he would eventually use. For example, he might need one clothing store dummy's hand, but have two available. So with the left-over junk, he would try to make smaller pieces that could be hung on a wall like a painting. They were still assemblages, but he called them "drawings."

This book collects all of them, and relates them to the larger tableaux that were created at the same time. They are just as moving, striking, grungy yet beautiful as the larger pieces.

In the early 70s, Kienholz began to collaborate with his wife on all his pieces. Until his death, all the pieces are by Ed and Nancy Kienholz. Some of the 70s pieces that Nancy worked on are kind of awkward like "The Bronze Pinball Machine With Woman Affixed Also" but most are just as good as his solo work from the 60s, particularly "Sollie 17" and "Pedicord Apts."

This book is beautifully produced. Nancy Reddin Kienholz was interviewed about the pieces, and snippets of the interview appear with photos of the pieces throughout the book. They are great--describing the circumstances of their making. One thing that is surprising is how many of them were inspired by a lucky "find" of just the right salvage. The "Pedicord Apts." were ispired when a friend of theirs in the demolition business (you'd expect that they'd have such friends!) told them he was tearing down a hotel in Spokane called "The Pedicord." Using materials from the hotel, they created this great tableau--and some drawings as well. The City & The City by China Mieville. While Perdido Street Station and The Scar featured cities where bizarre things and people were thrown at the reader continuously, The City & The City features two cities that share one bizarre feature, the implications of which are thoroughly investigated. The old Eastern European city of Beszel exist in the same place as the somewhat Turkish city of Ul Qoma. When I say the same place, I don't mean that the cities are separated through some magical force--rather the residents of each city are trained from birth to not see the buildings and people of the other city. You may live next door to a house in the other city--but even though it is physically there, you can't see it. This separation is enforced by a mysterious group of enforcers called "Breach".

The story allows itself to be told through the investigation of a murder. Mieville, a lover of cities, must have realized that one of the best genres for telling a city's story is the crime novel. His is a police procedural that leads its detective to both cities. There are hint of a secret 3rd city that secretly rules, and the mystery of the Breach is always hovering above. The solution is small-scale, though. The conspiracy is petty and somewhat tawdry. This works better than having it turn into some grand magical conspiracy. Mieville suggests, I think, that cities have ther hidden sides--that are fascinating and even frightening, that we train ourselves not to see. And this quality of cities is not the result of a grand conspiracy of the powerful, but how cities evolve.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Cartoon by Marc Murphy. (Hat tip to Crooks and Liars.)

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Everything Sounds Better Auto-Tuned

I make no excuses. I think this is funny.


Disco Bank Robber from Outer Space!

Jeezus, it's September already, but people got a few excellent crimes in the last days of  August! The latest bank robber to hit Houston wants to out-weird the Reckless Robber (hero to bicyclists everywhere).
Authorities are searching for a man they say robbed two banks in less than a hour while wearing a silver sweat-inducing jogging suit and toting a pistol.
The first robbery occurred about 11:30 a.m. last Friday at a Wachovia branch at 5650 Memorial Drive, according to the FBI. The second heist occurred about 45 minutes later and 25 miles away at a Bank of America branch at 1550 West Bay Area Boulevard, officials said.
Because of his distinctive get-up, which included sunglasses, the FBI has labeled him the “Sweatin' to the Oldies” robber. (Dale Lezon, The Houston Chronicle, Sept. 3, 2009)
What the fuck? Is it the official policy of the FBI to give ridiculous names to robbery suspects? 
Over at B.S. Houston Art Blog, it is suggested he looks like Frank Black. But I think he looks more like David Thomas of Pere Ubu. What's your opinion, readers?
 Frank Black
David Thomas

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Great God Pan is Still Dead

I have been seeing some activity from art-lovers over at my other blog, The Great God Pan Is Dead--but I just want to remind you Wha'Happen readers it exists, particularly as last week has been pretty fruitful for me over there.

Combining Crap With Crap -- a meditation on the art of assemblage.
Jason Villegas/The Art Guys at McClain Gallery -- Yippee-Ki-Yay, artlovers!
My Favorite Bits of Lawndale's 30th Anniversary Show -- Includes the immortal "Tits in a Window"
The Candy Colored Geometries of Jonathan Leach
Super-Deformed Medieval Dudes -- Mark Greenwalt's art at UH Downtown.
Way Too Much Art at Betz Gallery -- The flea market approach to selling art.
The Curious Case of the Devin Berden Hiram Butler Gallery -- Seriously, what's up with this place?
Where Does Art Get It's Value? -- Specifically, how can a seller ask $175,000 for a Chester Gould original when they usually go for $1000?
Lawn Art -- A post about art. That's on the lawn.



More Crime in Sugar Land

Man, what is it about that place--people can't stop doing crimes! Chron crime-beat reporter Dale Lezon has the scoop.
A Sugar Land woman is accused of bilking millions of dollars from the chemical company where she previously worked to buy a luxury home and bankroll trips to Las Vegas, according to federal authorities.
Diana Simon, 49, pleaded not guilty today to one wire fraud, which, authorities say, arose in her alleged scheme to steal more than $3.6 million for Kaneka Texas, a subsidiary of a Japanese chemicals firm with U.S. headquarters in Pasadena. (Dale Lezon, The Houston Chronicle, September 2, 2009)
I'll say one thing for Sugar Land criminals--when they steal, they steal big.

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