Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nothing says "Happy Holidays" like a puppy!

Funniest card I've had in years, this comes from the breeder of several of my ridgebacks. (I can assure you that no puppies were harmed in the making of this card -- it is common for the big dogs to be extremely impatient, but extremely gentle, with puppies not their own. The comedy for owners is watching the frustration of the big dogs and the utterly innocent insensitivity to it of the pups.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

I like John Tenniel, I like Clay Bennett, and I really like this cartoon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What lead time does Hilary Price work with?

I'd say, given this evidence, that Rhymes with Orange has a lead time of about four weeks. (But I'm waiting for the model with the three-hour buckle.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Hero!

Why can't we have more compassionate, public-spirited guys like this in the Senate? For someone like me, laid off before I was old enough to qualify for Medicare, the cost of insurance is simply prohibitive. And we've been watching for some leader who arise who will help us. Here's what one Senator told his local paper about his views on health care reform this past September:

“When it came to Medicare I was very focused on a group — post 50, maybe more like post 55. People who have retired early, or unfortunately have been laid off early, who lose their health insurance and they’re too young to qualify for Medicare.
“What I was proposing was that they have an option to buy into Medicare early and again on the premise that that would be less expensive than the enormous cost. If you’re 55 or 60 and you’re without health insurance and you go in to try to buy it, because you’re older … you’re rated as a risk so you pay a lot of money.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

E&P folds after 125 years

My past life as a business writer makes me believe in the tortoise, not the hare. I've seen people who don't have the patience for long-term marketing efforts, preferring to make giant strides in a short time. They give great breakfast speeches and they earn a lot of plaques, but most crash and burn, or leave town in a blaze of glory just before the house of cards they've built collapses behind them.
I think it's time for our industry to decide which approach we want: Short-term numbers to prop up a hurting industry, or long-term investment in a medium that can remain vital and prosperous?

-- Mike Peterson
Editor and Publisher, January, 2005

Thursday's announcement that Editor & Publisher, long the bible of the newspaper industry, would cease publication set off a lot of pontification on What It All Means.

Never one to be left out of a good bloviation, here's What It All Means:

A magazine has gone out of business, in part because of bad decisions, in part because of the economy, in part because that's the way it goes.

Here's what Virtually None of It Means: E&P went out of business because print is dead.

Print isn't dead. It's just different than it was.  E&P didn't adapt.

In 2007, I reprinted a cartoon and news item from 1923, about the struggle to adapt the new medium of radio into a viable business model. The situation closely mirrored that which would come along three-quarters of a century later as the Internet flails to master the same transition from geek hobby to mass medium.

But there are significant differences. While radio got news out faster than newspapers, it wasn't all that much more efficient, and, certainly, newspapers continued to offer more depth. However, the bigger factor was that communities and their media continued to be tightly linked. The local paper used wire services, but was still the local paper. Local radio stations might have network news and entertainment, but they continued to maintain a strong local identity.

As chains built over the years, they continued to be chains of newspapers or radio stations. The people running them, while certainly out to make a buck, were in the business their chain was about. At the local level or at the chain level, you had newspaper people or radio people, who made decisions based in part on the idea that they were building something worth passing along at some point.

That is, of course, no longer true. Today, owners are looking to maximize profits and are neither knowledgeable about the actual business of the businesses they own, nor are they terribly interested. A company that owns newspapers can bring in a CEO from a soap manufacturer because the "job" is to look at spreadsheets and figure out how to change the numbers. You don't have to know or care about newspapers or soap.

Last month, Warren Buffett purchased Burlington Northern Railroad amid much media confetti about how it meant railroads are a wonderfully viable business. I didn't hear anyone say, "Railroads next industry to be gutted by profiteers." It would be like going to someone's fourth wedding and saying, "I wonder how long this poor bastard will last." Not exactly in the spirit of the celebration.

But why ignore the obvious? Buffett bought the railroad because it was cheap and he saw ways to increase its profit margins. There's no "til death do us part" about it. He's planning to get out before they collapse, whenever that may happen. And with his thumb in the pie, you know he'll leave with most of the plums.

Newspapers were vulnerable to takeover artists because they were in a slump. And they were in a slump because of some factors that could have been controlled -- like old owners who couldn't adapt to changes in the media universe, who continued to have their email printed out and put on their desks so they could read it. But Rupert Murdoch has his email printed out and put on his desk so he can read it. That's obviously not a fatal flaw in the news trade.

What's frustrating about the death of Editor & Publisher is that it was so unnecessary. The magazine was owned and run by Robert U. Brown for nearly half a century, until 1999. It was on the desk of every editor and senior reporter in the trade, as well as those of their bosses and all department heads at every paper. It wasn't sparkly, but it was how you kept up with the newspaper business. It was necessary to subscribe, and everyone did.

Brown picked a good time to sell, because the changes were in the air. The first nail in the coffin may have been the ability of newspaper people to communicate directly with each other. It was no longer a choice of going to a convention or reading about it in E&P. You didn't need either, because editors and ad directors and circulation managers each had their own listservs and newsgroups where they could swap ideas and keep up on trends.

Today, there are places for syndicated cartoonists to swap news, places for press operators to keep up with trends, places for editors to gather. That doesn't mean E&P couldn't still be vital and even necessary. But, as with many print vehicles, including many newspapers, it sat on the sideline and watched the erosion of its basic mission without acting to make itself necessary.

And, as with the newspapers they covered, E&P lost the classifieds. The magazine was once the primary place to look for work, to the point where, if a reporter were seen looking at E&P, it was a sign of restlessness. Better to sneak it into the bathroom or go read the copy at the library than be seen thumbing through it in the newsroom. But my last two jobs came from, not from the back pages of E&P.

There are other on-line sources for jobs, including at the web sites of the various corporations. But what really hurts is that is not free, and, while it was building itself up, E&P's on-line classifieds were being turned into a new-and-improved mishmash that was clumsy and unpleasant to try to work with. They didn't lose their franchise to the free ads. They lost to a competitor who focused on quality performance in a well-understood core business.

Conservative observers have made much of Editor Greg Mitchell's somewhat relentless flogging of leftwing politics, a very sharp contrast to the staid, three-piece-suit conservativism of Robert Brown. But it's not Mitchell's politics that created a content problem for the magazine. Rather, it was that he led the journal away from coverage of the business side and the production department and focused on the newsroom. In many ways, he duplicated what Columbia Journalism Review and American Journalism Review were doing.

On the one hand, then, he was making the magazine less interesting to a large segment of the industry, while, on the other, he pursued a type of coverage that has those two non-profit magazines seeking infusions of cash. If you're going to refocus the mission, focus it on something that can be self-sustaining.

Unfortunately, the journal became much like the rest of the industry -- being led by newsroom types who have never sold ads, never run a press, never thrown a route and don't understand what happens elsewhere in the building. At least the seven blind men each had a grasp of a different part of the elephant -- in this case, they were all grouped around the trunk, making pronouncements about the maintenance of a fire hose.

My final observation is this: For all the loss of focus, for all that people were able to get industry news elsewhere, for all the money lost to and similar sites, E&P could have survived if they had looked at the Wall Street Journal, which chugs along despite the fact than anybody with a computer can track their own portfolio in real time.

The WSJ is often held up as a newspaper that has a pay wall for its core on-line information and that survives in print as well. But it's not a real newspaper. It's an industry journal, and most of its subscribers are vouchering their subscriptions, whether on-line, print or both.

Editor & Publisher was in a position to do the same. The demise of the magazine is not a failure of the medium. It's a failure of a specific magazine that didn't have to die.

But that is, sadly, a pretty good summary of the newspaper industry in general: Failing because of their own lack of vision rather than all the outside factors being cited. Most of what E&P did wrong is being echoed at newspapers throughout the country.

But I'll save that rant for another day. This is already too long.

If you'd like to see the context of the quote at the top, click on this illustration for a larger version. It's a lot of inside baseball, but if you've read this far, you've obviously got a taste for that sort of thing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Monday, December 07, 2009

A final thought, before the memories fade ...

The morning after the murders at the Ecole Polytechnique, CHOM-FM's normally jocular morning DJ had a very subdued program that ended with this song. Whatever I thought of it up to that moment, it was transformed then into a sort of recessional.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Little Murders
(This column appeared in the Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, NY, December 12, 1989)

Every time I go to Montreal, I fall in love. The girls there walk with confidence, city girls, striding to where they are going, talking and laughing, glancing in shop windows, knifing between the traffic across St. Catherine Street or Sherbrooke.

They may be rushing to classes or out on their lunch hours or simply out to see the city, but they always seem to be going somewhere. I fall in love with their youth and their smiles and their energy and their future. I wonder where they were when I was a college kid, and then I remember other energetic, pretty, enthusiastic girls from 20 years ago, and I smile and fall in love with my own memories, and I wonder whatever happened to all those girls.

That was not the scene last week at the Ecole Polytechnique. There were no smiles.

The murders were the work of a maniac, but we should not dismiss it as nothing but the work of a maniac. When this particular maniac went mad, there was, somewhere in his poor, twisted mind, a message from the real world that told him women were an acceptable target. It is paranoiac to worry about the murderer, but it is not unreasonable to worry about the message he thought justified his murders. That same message justifies little murders every day. The message itself is a little murder.

Little murders don't make international news. They don't leave blood stains. People don't come and leave flowers at the sites of little murders. Little murders come and go with barely a trace.

There was a little murder at Plattsburgh State on December 1, when comedian Chris Rock said that women don't rule the world because, even though women may be "smarter, more mature and live longer," men can still beat them up. There was another little murder a week later, when the woman who reviewed the show for the school paper repeated the joke, saying that Rock "poked fun at women ... but even I will admit it was hysterical."

There is a little murder when a husband can't walk six feet across the room to get a beer out of the refrigerator, when he doesn't volunteer to do the vacuuming or the laundry, when he hands back the baby because its diapers are soiled. There is a little murder when a woman simpers and giggles and gets a man to fill her gas tank, fix a clogged drain or change a lightbulb for her. There is a little murder at the holidays, when the men sit in the livingroom and watch football while the women do the dishes in the kitchen.

There is a little murder when a man strikes his wife, and another little murder when she tells people she fell down the stairs. There is a little murder when someone tells a vulgar joke at work, and another little murder when people laugh at it. There is a little murder when someone puts a vulgar, hostile bumpersticker on a car, and then a thousand little murders every time someone else pulls up behind that bumper and has to read it.

There are little murders all the time, little murders that kill our respect for each other, little murders that tell people we don't value our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our lovers.

Young girls deserve to smile. The world is theirs at 19, at 20, at 25. Young people have a whole future before them, a whole world to conquer, a long life to live and enjoy and revel in. In Montreal, 14 of them died the other night, and the murders made front page news around the world.

But there were many more little murders that day, carried out without blood, without headlines, with no sound at all except the death rattle of enthusiasm and hope, as their victims gradually slowed their pace and lost their smiles and lowered their sights and began to learn to live in the world we have given them, a world in which middle-aged men stand on streetcorners and watch the young girls go by and wonder whatever happened to the young girls of their own youth.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Speaking of good hosts ...

My main thing is that I'm blessed, and God has put me in a situation where I don't need for anything, where I don't want for anything, but there are a lot of people that do, and there are a lot of people in my situation who don't think about other people, and it's just something we're trying to focus on, to think about other people and make other people smile -- Dunta Robinson

There's nothing new in an NFL team showing a clip of its players doing charitable work in the community, but this one is a little different. I was struck not only by how these young men expressed their interest in helping others, and in how this activity apparently was initiated by the three players themselves and not by the team's PR department, but also in how they articulate their own gratitude and thanksgiving for the place in life they occupy.

My favorite part of the interview is the fellow at the end, who isn't associated with the team but who apparently does some pretty important coaching of young men, too.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hilary Price, hostess extraordinaire

Every year, Hilary Price, who draws the hilarious, insightful strip "Rhymes with Orange," has an open house at her studio in Florence, Mass., which is really Northampton except for lines on a map. And every year, I promise myself to go down there.

This year, I finally did, and picked up this interview among the hubbub of the open studio. Better yet, I tossed the eldest granddaughter into the car. She got a great picture-and-autograph from Hilary, while I had the pleasure of seeing the interview through the eyes of an unspoiled observer.

Well worth the trip, even if the miserable weather kept us from strolling through the Smith campus. One inspiration at a time, I guess.

And don't miss the Burger King tie-in

I've got nothing to add. Ruben Bolling speaks for me today. Except that it will be nice for parents to be able to drop their kids off at the cineplex to see this instead of actually having to sit down and play it with them.

And then the grandparents will give them the DVD for Christmas.

As someone said in the comments page at UClick, "Please don't give them any more ideas."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In our village, we stopped for things that mattered
(This column originally appeared in the Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, NY,
November 17, 1996)

Bill Clinton won re-election just as Mel Gibson got into a machine-gun fight in the middle of the highway with Gary Busey.

The programs normally seen at this time were not cancelled so that we could bring you coverage of the national elections except on the three major networks, PBS and CNN. So while those few channels carried election coverage, WPIX had “Lethal Weapon,” Nickelodeon had “The Addams Family” and “The Munsters,” and the Discovery Channel had ''Animal Cannibals.”

Comedy Central, it should be noted, did go to special programming, making fun of the electoral process throughout the evening. At least they acknowledged that something was going on.

I took particular notice because, on the way home from work that night, I had heard a clip of a comedian on NPR reminiscing about the days when there were only the three network stations, and when the President was on one channel, he was on all three channels, so all the kids moaned, “Oh no! The President is on! Now we're gonna miss 'Flipper'!”

The kids don't miss ''Flipper'' anymore. In the multi-ring circus of cable television, there is no reason to be bored and absolutely no requirement to be well-informed; Just flick past the news programs until you find some brain candy.

I don't want to lie to the younger generation: We did NOT cuddle up on the couch with Mom and Dad and watch the election returns come in. We moaned that our favorite TV shows weren't going to be on, and then we went up to our rooms and read or listened to music, and, the next morning, somebody told us who was going to be President.

But, while we didn't watch the coverage, we knew it was important, because the whole nation had come to a halt for the evening. Somewhere in the back of our minds, we got the message that, when we were older and more mature, when we weren't little children anymore, it would matter to us.

It was not the only time we got the message that something was important.

For example, while not everyone went to church Sundays, it was still a day when nothing much happened. Families might go for a drive, or you might watch sports on TV, or play in the neighborhood, but most stores were closed, and things were pretty quiet. Sunday was when you spent time with family or with friends, and, apparently, that mattered to the community, because everything shut down to let it happen.

We talk a lot these days about whole villages raising children, but there hasn't been a village for decades. Do you want to see a village? Go to the microfilm and look for the Press-Republican from September 24, 1946.

You won't find it, because the whole community had been out at the Plattsburgh Barracks the day before, thanking our veterans for their sacrifices during World War II, and there was nobody back at the shop to print the next day's paper. So we just didn't have one.

Stores were closed, area schools were dismissed, and the only people working in local industries were skeleton crews at places that couldn't be completely shut down. Banks and government offices were required to be open, but they were apologetic about having to mar the local holiday.

It was important to the community, and so the community shut down to concentrate on what mattered. They didn't do it to send a message because it never occurred to them. This region made up our “village,” and we already knew what we all cared about.

Today it's hard to tell what anybody really cares about. Thanksgiving and Christmas are about the only days that the village shuts down. Most of the other holidays have been converted to three-day sale events.

And even if we were to agree on something that mattered to the North Country, we would never again be able to declare a local holiday because we don't own our stores, we don't own our factories, we don't own our media, and the decision to shut down would have to be made far away in the Land of the Beancounters, where villages are considered small and inefficient.

You sometimes hear people talk of having lost control of our children, but we've lost far more than that.

We've lost control of our communities, we've lost any chance of ever becoming a village again.
We traded away our village for Sunday shopping, three-day weekends and a whole mess of cable channels.

(The photo is of an Armistice Day parade in Lancaster, Pa., in 1942.
It was held on November 11 and people had the day off.)

Monday, November 09, 2009


In King Vidor's 1928 classic, "The Crowd," a baby's father speculates to the neighbors on the grand things ahead for him, and the boy grows up with a sense that he will be special. He leaves for New York City to pursue his singular destiny and then, in a famous shot, the camera zooms in on his office at work and we see him as one in a roomful of faceless clerks, lost in the crowd.

There is a lot of Oblomov in this young man, as he dreams without planning or acting on those dreams. Still, the overarching message of the film is of futility and of the simple fact that most of us are destined to be lost in the crowd.

Having been through my midlife crisis some years ago, I'm content with my place in the cosmos. However, it has lately occurred to me to question another way of fading, faceless, voiceless and unknown into the ether, one that is, as in the case of "The Crowd's" John Sims, a great disappointment after all the promises of greatness.

The on-line world, on the one hand, has allowed people who are separated by long distances but who share certain interests or traits to find each other, which is what happens here and on the blogs listed in the rail at the right. Some have more traffic than others, but there is a community of friends who wouldn't have come together in the three-dimensional world. I think that is quite valuable.

On the other hand, there is a greater promise that is clearly not coming true, and that is the concept of a grand salon in which everyone gets to take part in the conversation.

It is, in part, a simple matter of scale. Huffington Post, as I write this, features a lead story from the Washington Post about the economy and unemployment. It was posted less than six hours ago but has already attracted 2,906 comments. On the Washington Post site itself, where the story appeared yesterday (Sunday), it has amassed 28 pages of comments.

Are the comments intelligent and constructive, or irrelevant, uninformed and toxic? What on earth difference does it make? Who is going to read it all? Who's going to read half of it?

And, even when the mass of postings is manageable, there is an issue whether people even know how to have a conversation. Venom aside -- and having to wade through vulgar, irrelevant taunts is a good reason not to bother participating -- I've got serious doubts about the amount of actual conversation that takes place on-line. Too often, it feels like Monty Python's Argument Clinic, where the fellow wants a spirited debate but finds nothing but abuse and contradiction. In too many on-line forums, participants arrive with their positions in place, ready to be defended, rather than with opinions which could be changed in an actual conversation.

Politics and religion are obvious places where you expect this. But the utter lack of meaningful exchange is everywhere. Recently, I gave up on a comic strips forum where I'd been active for more than a decade. When I first checked in, it was full of both aspiring and established cartoonists, as well as intelligent commentators on the medium. It had its ups and downs, and, over the course of a decade, nearly all the cartoonists, pro and amateur, drifted away. But the group muddled on, and there were some pleasant people there, some of whom turn up here regularly.

However, there was a frog-in-the-pot factor at work in the group's decline. Now, I know that the frog in the pot who doesn't notice the water getting hotter is a myth, and, if I were to use the metaphor in an on-line conversation, here's what would happen: The actual topic of discussion would immediately disappear under a pile of comments about the heat-sensing abilities of frogs, and would never emerge again.

But, if I may use that biologically inaccurate metaphor, the decline of conversation only struck me a few weeks ago when someone raised a question about a comic strip in which a cow was standing on a cliff. The fellow asked how, since farms are in flatland, could you have a cow on a cliff?

Several of us responded that farms are not exclusively on flat land. Two participants even posted photographs of cows on hillsides. His response was that, while he appreciated all the opinions, he realized that it was only a cartoon and that real farms are not actually found on hillsides.

Then, just a few days later, I found myself being dragged into a conversation about the newspaper industry and realized that, if multiple pictures of cows on a hillside is not enough to persuade someone that cows can be on hillsides, there was nothing to be gained in trying to offer evidence about much of anything. There was certainly no profit in pointlessly arguing over something that mattered to me more than cows.

At the same time, I stopped bothering to add comments on the massive news sites where nothing you say stays any longer than a snowflake on a griddle. It is like whispering into a hurricane, and I was wasting my time and efforts.

A month later, the sun continues to rise each morning, and, best of all, if I say that the sun rises in the morning, nobody chimes in to point out that, in fact, the sun doesn't actually move around the earth, and nobody else then argues that, in a manner of speaking, it does.

It's not a retreat into total virtual silence on my part. I still participate in some smaller, focused forums, and I speak up on Facebook, which is so ephemeral that I don't think anyone mistakes it for a real conversation.

And I speak up when it seems clear that a failure to speak up is the same as allowing toxic bigotry or harmful ignorance to triumph. Probably to no avail, but there is an issue of personal morality to be considered.

I also maintain my own small salon here, and visit those salons where the conversation is genteel, amusing and even, on occasion, elevating.

I'm sorry that the promise of the grand on-line salon has proved to be impossible to fulfill. But so has the dream of world peace. We'll all get along somehow anyway.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Speaking of a credit crisis ...

November 9 marks (more or less) the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The actual destruction of the wall was the culmination of a series of events, but the ninth is the day generally considered the anniversary, as it was the day that unrestricted travel between East and West Berlin began, a few days ahead of when it was officially supposed to.

One reason for the non-specific date is that people mistook the announcement for the fact and began to show up and it was clearly better to just let them cross than to try to tell them they had to wait for the actual date set.

In any case, I'm sure we will hear a great deal about "Tear down this wall" and Ronald Reagan, and I find that interesting, because the fall of the Wall happened not on his watch but 10 months into the presidency of George HW Bush.

How things have changed in two decades! Back then, apparently, the groundwork a president put in was credited to him, even if it didn't bear results until after he had left office. So Reagan gets credit for the fall of the Wall, largely based on a speech he made over two years prior to the event.

Now, 20 years later, we find that whatever policies a president pursued for years prior to leaving office are irrelevant 10 months later, and that his successor is entirely responsible for things like the economy or a pair of ongoing wars that, in another era, we might have said he had inherited.

Mind you, it could be a mere blip. After all, Reagan also got credit for freeing the Iran hostages, and they were released a mere six minutes into his administration.

Al Jazeera has an interesting teaser for a David Frost interview with GHW Bush and Gorbachev on the topic, in which one point of agreement is that the dismantling of the Berlin Wall was made easier because Bush didn't showboat over it.

Well, then, I guess somebody had to.

Or maybe the Bush family is just naturally invisible. As noted, GW Bush appears to have left no footprints at all in American history -- everything he did expired at the moment he left the White House and, 10 months later, is credited entirely to Barack Obama.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Someday, all this won't be yours

They rolled Yossarian away on a stretcher into the room with the other soldier who saw everything twice and quarantined everyone else in the ward for another fourteen days.
'I see everything twice!' the soldier who saw everything twice shouted when they rolled Yossarian in.
'I see everything twice!' Yossarian shouted back at him just as loudly, with a secret wink.
'The walls! The walls!' the other soldier cried. 'Move back the walls!'
'The walls! The walls!' Yossarian cried. 'Move back the walls!'
One of the doctors pretended to shove the walls back. 'Is that far enough?'
The soldier who saw everything twice nodded weakly and sank back on his bed. Yossarian nodded weakly too, eyeing his talented roomate with great humility and admiration. He knew he was in the presence of a master. His talented roomate was obviously a person to be studied and emulated. During the night, his talented roomate died, and Yossarian decided that he had followed him far enough.
'I see everything once!' he cried quickly.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Self-expression in a hard world

Daryl Cagle recently returned from a trip to the Middle East where he met with editorial cartoonists from Palestine. His take on the meeting is compelling at a moment when Israel is bulldozing Palestinian homes for having added unapproved extensions while allowing the expansion of entire settlements on the West Bank.

The central question of Cagle's blog posting is critical: How do you express rage without alienating those you need to bring to your side?

It is a question Americans should be able to relate to. At what point did the passive resistance of Martin Luther King need to be augmented by the rage of SNCC and the Panthers? At what point do feminists stop slapping stickers on offensive images and begin to sue for damages?

Daryl suggests that a more moderate voice will win support. I'm not sure. I'm in favor of rage, but I long ago learned through the Irish experience that there is a rage understood in your own community that strikes nothing but false notes in the greater world.

In any case, here are some examples of how I traced the issues of the Middle East in the years when I was publishing a weekly student feature on political cartoons. And I kind of miss those days, though I'm not sure if anyone was listening.

(Click on the images for a full-sized version.)

(December 28, 2005)

(February 1, 2006)

(November 1, 2006)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Nine-part story starting now!

This week has seen the start of "Tommy and the Guttersnipe," an eight-chapter story with a holiday sequel, at the Weekly Storybook. Chapter Two will post Sunday, but if you don't see this until then, it's easy to go back to Chapter One and catch up. The illustrations are by Christopher Baldwin, with whom I have collaborated on a number of serials going back nearly a decade to my first, "The Legend of Perseus," which will be featured on the web site beginning in January.

"Tommy and the Guttersnipe" originally ran in papers throughout New York State two years ago as part of a statewide reading/education initiative by the NY Newspaper Publishers Association. It made such a hit that a sequel, "Anna's Story," will be running this spring. We thought it would be worthwhile to run "Tommy" on line for the benefit of anyone who wanted to read it before the sequel appeared.

The historic fiction is set in New York in 1896 and tells of Tommy McMahon, whose father has disappeared while working out West, and of Tommy's struggles to help support his mother and baby sister without the money his father had been sending home. It is very consciously modeled on the work of Horatio Alger, but involved a fair amount of historical research, including a visit to the Tenement Museum in New York.

When we ran the story in the New York papers, we asked students to write the next chapter in the story, and I was overwhelmed by the passion they put into it. Although the story was set more than a century in the past, the sense of abandonment and helplessness that Tommy and his family experienced was very present for young readers and Christopher and I were asked to produce a holiday sequel to tie up the loose ends. Then, two years later, we were commissioned to produce an entirely new serial story to let kids spend more time with Tommy and Jake.

I hope you will give it a look, and please feel free to comment. As my blogosphere friend Jean notes, that's how we know you were here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I've mentioned Esther Garvi's blog, and the Eden Foundation which her family has established in Niger. Their goal is to assist not by providing pallets of wheat and rice to refugees in hastily-erected camps, but by helping Africans maintain self-sufficiency through the foods that are native to the area and will grow and thrive in the soil and climate of the region.

Meanwhile, Esther's blog is a delightful day-to-day record of the dogs and horses, the sunrises and sunsets, the changes in weather and the lives of those who live in the area around her home. My grandkids love to see the pictures and I probably share this blog with them more often than anything else on the web.

This particular posting, however, touched more deeply on both the mission of the Foundation and on her personal commitment, and that of her late mother. And the photos are adorable.

Esther's blog is a daily reminder that life isn't so bad after all, and that all it takes to make a difference in the world is the will to do so. On this day, she's made a difference in my world too.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Two Quarks for Muster Mike
(Adventures in the Software Trade)

The past week has been fairly quiet as I spent most of it saying bad words, according to granddaughter Samantha, despite her older sister Abigail's assurance that "piece of junk" is not a bad word. Grandpa admits that what he wasn't saying out loud, and what he was saying out loud during the day while the kids were in school, certainly qualified.

The process began about two weeks ago, when I realized that my departure from the newsroom had robbed me of some layout tools I still needed.

Most of my writing is just that: Writing. I can handle it all in Word, which is really a lousy program but so much the default that you need it because it's what your clients will be using. Even those who don't like, or want, Word will have it because other people use it.

And several years ago, I purchased Photoshop Elements, the stripped-down version of Photoshop that does nearly everything I need, and what it can't do are all things that a client would be tweaking at their end anyway.

But I've been working on a serial story that will be running in New York newspapers this coming spring, and, as I started work on the accompanying curriculum guide, I very quickly realized that Word's layout capacities end at the club newsletter level.

What to do?

There are two programs to be considered: QuarkXpress, which was the industry standard for several years, and InDesign, the up-and-comer that is taking over the top position. Now, I'm assured by friends who have used both that it is easy to learn InDesign if you know Quark and that the transition is painless. However, working alone means I don't need to deal with compatibility, and my layout needs are rudimentary enough that either program is far more than I need anyway. So I needed Quark.

Which brings us to the next point: Quark costs $799, which is a pretty big investment for a fledgling freelancer.

However, I didn't need the latest version, Quark 8. What I needed was the ability to lay out text and images, then create multipage, one-piece PDF files which would be the final product. Quark 6, which I used at my last two jobs, would be adequate, and there are (relatively) legitimate Quark 6 programs available on Ebay.

Easy enough. I found a copy of Quark 6 that had never been registered and got it at a very reasonable price. I spent the next week writing the guide, so that, when the disk showed up in the mail, while I hadn't finished the writing, I was ready to do the initial layout and then fill in the other pieces of the guide as I wrote them.


Except that Quark 6 is not compatible with Vista, the operating system on my new laptop. I was able to install it, but it constantly crashed, froze up, lost my files or saved them in a format it then couldn't open. (This accounted for most of the bad words as I kept reinstalling it in hopes that it would magically begin to work properly.)

No problem: I still have my desktop, which doesn't have the power of the laptop but runs the XP operating system, consistent with Quark 6. I unpacked it, set it up and installed Quark 6.

Quark is kind of a memory hog, but if I stripped everything but Photoshop Elements and a couple of browsers, there was enough to run Quark, as long as I was willing to switch it on and then go make coffee or something while it mounted and then go make another cup of coffee any time I asked it to do something complex.


Except it turns out that Quark 6 can't export PDFs unless you have a particular type of printer installed. A particularly expensive kind, common in newsrooms but not so common in home offices. Not that you even want to print the PDFs, but ... well, that's the way they set it up. And, while you can lie to Quark 7 and pretend you have such a printer, you can't lie to Quark 6.

In other words, it would allow me to lay out the guide, but then I couldn't turn it into something my clients could use.

What to do?

Well, now that I had Quark 6, I could register it and then buy an upgrade to Quark 8. Which I did, and which I was able to install on my laptop, where it runs smoothly and swiftly on Vista.

Somehow, I still managed to emerge some $300 ahead of having bought it straight out in the first place. Yesterday, I sailed through a large portion of the layout and am nearly to the point where I have to start writing again.

And next week, when Windows 7 is available for free to all of us who bought computers with Vista in the last six months or so, I will pass, thank you. We do not plan to fix that which is not broke.

Here's a 10-minute video extolling the virtues of QuarkXpress 8. I feel like I bought a Maserati to take to the grocery store. Those who understand this stuff will be able to see how wonderful Quark 8 is. Those who don't will really enjoy the pretty pictures.

For my part, I liked the pretty pictures and didn't understand more than about 20% of what she was saying. It was kind of like watching a film in a language you studied in high school -- every few minutes, a familiar phrase flies by and gives me the impression that I can understand it, but I really couldn't.

What I did know is that it will do what I need done and that, while I've just lost a week or two of productivity wrestling with it, I certainly won't feel like I should have bought something with more horsepower down the road sometime.

And I like owning a Maserati, even if I keep putting the key inside the wrong little hole. (See below)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Amid all the exploding heads, wisecracks and misinformed commentary, let's at least listen to what the man has to say about it.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Grand au Pere

Above are Charlie Ruggles and Debbie Reynolds in "The Pleasure of His Company," one of my favorite movies, in which they play grandfather and granddaughter. To appreciate my current situation, there should be two more granddaughters sliding down that bannister.

The last time I provided a career update, I had found work with a fellow who had obtained funding to begin an on-line project. Well, he hadn't entirely obtained it, and, when it came time to put the name on the old parchmentoroonie, the venture capitalists were hard to find. Something may yet come of it -- he got enough funding to go into business. But my part of it didn't happen, at least yet. And I'm old enough that I place promises in the drawer marked "nonessentials."

Meanwhile, I've sold a few serials to newspapers here and there (the marketer in me says "from the Rio Grande Valley to Newfoundland!"). It's not a lot of money, but it's money and we like money. And I have a project going on with the New York Newspaper Publishers Association, and the possibility of another and the potential for a third. And I've got a few other possibilities out there.

Somehow, as all of this was coming down, I ended up crashing at my son Jed's house, with his wife and three daughters (12, 8 and 5). They -- the parents -- recently moved down here to begin work as nurses at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, which is a very good place to work. And the kids are in good schools.

But there are some disconnects involved in the oddball schedules of nurses and the unmoveable schedules of school, soccer, horseback riding, piano lessons and suchlike.

Enter Grand au Pere.

I moved in here with a great deal of trepidation. The kids (that is, my kids) deserve to have autonomy at this stage in their lives. In fact, they deserve autonomy at any stage in their lives after they turn 18, because that's how we've set up this family. But certainly, they deserve to run their own lives after they have children and careers.

But somehow, it's working. As grandpere, I'm here to listen to eldest daughter, Elizabeth, and to tickle the younger two, Abbie and Sammie. As au pair, I walk them to the bus in the morning, meet them in the afternoon, help them with their homework and generally fill in when Mom and Dad are working or sleeping after a night shift, including doing some of the cooking and the dishes and just generally filling in the missing pieces.

It is a blast. The girls are learning that Grandpa isn't a pushover, but he does listen. And Jed and Courtney are well aware that free childcare is a bargain, and that free childcare that adapts to their insane, ever-shifting schedules is a real bargain. And getting to walk the girls to the bus, go to their soccer games and generally hang around being the cool guy is a bargain for me, too.

Not to mention the free rent. I chip in for groceries and it's my gas on all the pickups and dropoffs that are involved, but that's chickenfeed. I couldn't afford to rebuild a freelance career without this little cut in expenses.

Did I mention that it's a blast?

So the other night, Abigail said, "I like having you here, Grandpa. How long are you staying? I hope you stay a long time!"

And I said, "Well, I think I'll probably stay here at least through the cold weather."

And Jed said, "You have to stay here through the cold weather."

Apparently, Grand Au Pere has succeeded in making himself indispensable.

Good. Whatever is going on in the economy at large, I can't think of a better organization in which to be indispensable.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Among my souvenirs
(Click for a larger version)

David Gustafson, my former publisher, remarked on Facebook last night that he once forced me to go interview a possible murderer. I'll give him this: I didn't think I'd get anything but grief, driving up to the guy's place and asking him a bunch of questions. As it was, I got a very good story, as well as one helluva souvenir.

As I have often told students, it's important to ask the questions, even if they are rude or seem pointless, because you never know when someone is going to screw up and answer one.

In this case, a woman had been murdered at the flooring mill which she owned and where she also lived. A rival paper wrote that the police were looking at a former employee as a possible suspect. They identified him, and David suggested I drive up there and try to talk to him.

(I should note here that he said he didn't think I'd have any trouble, but then told me to call when I arrived and again as soon as I left. And to be careful. It's good to be publisher.)

The fellow was living over an out-of-business diner on a country road not far from the flooring mill. I parked and walked around the place, trying to sort out the various diner entrances from the upstairs apartment entrance. I found a likely door and knocked, and heard a window open upstairs. I expected "Get the hell out of here," but the young fellow came on down, we talked for a few minutes and he invited me in.

We sat at the kitchen table and talked for well over an hour, while his girlfriend tried to keep the pets and kids out of our hair. He laid out his life and his side of the story, protesting his innocence but not sugar-coating a past that included a couple of stretches for burglary, arson and domestic violence. He said he had cooperated with the police up to a point, but now felt he had to stop talking to them and get a lawyer. (Yes, it occurred to me that, if he intended to stop talking, right now would be a good time to start, but I didn't suggest it to him.)

Aside from his accusation that they were putting words in his mouth, he was also upset that the police had taken all his shoes and both of their vehicles. I said, "Did they have a search warrant?" and he said they did, and I said, "Did they give you a copy?" and he said they did, and I said, "Could I see it?" And he brought it out and I photographed it, which is much quicker than taking notes.

This is where the part about the subpoena begins. For the nearly three weeks since the murder, I had been trying to get the police to say whether it appeared to be a robbery or a sex crime. This wasn't a matter of prurient interest. It was a matter of letting the people in this very small town know whether they had Jack the Ripper running around or someone who had needed money. In terms of their personal safety and security, that's a very large difference.

But the police wouldn't budge. The lead investigator said that people should lock their doors no matter whether they lived in the big city or out in the country. One resident of New Portland laughed at that and said to me that, if he locked his door, he wouldn't be able to get back in because he hadn't seen his house keys in years and didn't know where they were. But people who hadn't kept track of their keys were digging out their guns and it was becoming a potentially uncool situation. I recognized the importance of not compromising the investigation, but it was, I felt, in the public interest to let people know the basic nature of the crime.

Looking at the search warrant provided some insight into the matter, and I wrote up the interview, including the observation that the items on the search warrant strongly suggested that Louise Brochu had been murdered as part of a robbery. The police declined to comment for the story, despite my assurance that I wasn't trying to reveal important information and would respect the integrity of the investigation as long as I could tell readers what was going on.

And to make my point, I said there were all sorts of rumors flying around, some ridiculous, some credible, including ... and here I mentioned a few things I had heard and wasn't going to publish, but that indicated both the level of speculation going on and the futility of keeping everything under wraps. I suggested, once more, that it would be better for them to reveal a small amount of non-critical information to reassure residents and to keep the rumor mill within bounds. No dice.

A month after the story ran, I was visited by a detective. We spoke for a time, I declined to reveal anything not in the story and, in response to a request, told him I didn't know where my notes were and that there was a good chance I had already thrown them out. And that, in any case and with all due respect, it is a point of First Amendment ethics that reporters do not testify about unpublished information they have gathered in the course of researching a story.

And so he presented me with the above subpoena. And reminded me that the state of Maine does not recognize the aforementioned ethical point. With all due respect.

This sort of story only has teeth if you end up going to jail to protect your integrity, but, alas for the storyteller in me, it didn't come to that. There were some more discussions between me and the lead investigator, in the course of which I realized what they were hoping Jeffrey LaGasse had said to me. It was one of those rumors I had listed in my conversation about things I had heard but wasn't going to publish, a specific detail that I knew they would not like to see in print having to do with the disposition of the body. I hadn't gotten it from LaGasse, however, but from someone in town.

Now, a purist would have refused to offer any information, but I'm not a purist, I'm a pragmatist. I did not tell the investigator where I had heard it, but I did tell him I didn't get it from LaGasse. Which probably robbed me of my chance to be a First Amendment martyr, but since martyrdom wasn't the point of the exercise, I'm not too bent out of shape over it.

I did not intend to testify except to confirm the accuracy of what I had written, and I was not sure how far my employer was willing to back me up, since David had left and our ownership had changed since the subpoena was issued.

But I knew I could find someone to feed the dogs, and that pretty much covered my bases.

Then, the day before the grand jury was to convene, I called to confirm that I was still on the agenda and was told my presence was no longer required. It was an interesting combination of relief and disappointment.

A few weeks later, Louise Brochu's family held a news conference to announce a reward for information about the murder. In the course of things, the lead investigator and I were standing at one side and he said he knew I was just doing my job. Then he asked, "So, what did you think of him?"

I replied that I've known a number of cons in my life. Some of them are very scary people, others you would invite to your kid's birthday party. Jeffrey LaGasse was a friendly, personable young man. That had nothing to do with his guilt or innocence.

And some months after, I ran into a trooper at something else entirely, and took him aside. "By the way," I said, "are you aware that our friend Jeffrey LaGasse has moved out of that apartment and is living in Kingfield?"

He chuckled and said, "Oh, we're keeping a close eye on Mr. LaGasse."

And apparently they were.

Without my testimony, you will note. But I got to keep the subpoena.

* * *
(For the curious, here's the story. You'll certainly have to click on it to read it.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What did you expect? "Welcome, sonny"? "Make yourself at home"? "Marry my daughter"? You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A few minutes with Jef Mallett
"You can't have the blank page -- that's just not an option."

I was in Lansing, Michigan, this past week, visiting my two youngest grandchildren, and took the opportunity to finally meet Frazz creator Jef Mallett face-to-face. Jef and I have known each other since I interviewed him by phone for a series of cartoonist interviews I did about six years ago, but we had never been in the same room.

And now we were. This was quite impromptu -- I had the camera with me and wanted to have a look around anyway, so it made sense to ask questions and get the answers recorded. I also knew that Jef was under some serious deadline pressure (as he alludes to), so this was basically a very quick hello with the chance of a more leisurely visit the next time I was in town, assuming he doesn't get himself into another book contract and that I avoid showing up during triathlon season.

For those unfamiliar with Jef's work, I attach a trio of favorite Frazz strips below. (Click to enlarge)

This first example is included because I went unshaven throughout the trip, mostly to see what my beard looks like these days, having shaved my last one off in 1978. I learned that, while my ears, nose and back have all learned to grow hair much better in the intervening years, I still have some shortcomings in that department along my jawline. I could grow a goatee, of course, but ... no. Shaved it off at a Travelodge in Batavia, NY.

And, of course, the start of football season brings this one to mind:
Several years ago, Jef gave me the original of this third one, which remains my favorite Frazz ever, mostly because of the way he structures a three-shot gag and makes serious demands of his readership.

There's nothing wrong with making demands of your audience, as long as you're making demands of yourself as well.

Incidentally, Jef's book, Trizophrenia: Inside the Minds of a Triathlete, is already listed on Amazon and will be released in time for Christmas giving. I say that with a sense of awe since he was finishing up the illustrations as I interrupted him Wednesday. If you hit the link on the title, you'll see that he had apparently already done the illustration for the cover, but the rest had to be completed that day. And then there was a Sunday Frazz that had to be done Thursday.

Apparently, running, swimming and biking aren't the only of his activities in which speed is a factor.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Moving Day

Getting ready to vacate the apartment this weekend.

I think I've got most of the important stuff boxed up ...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sadder but wiser

Forty years ago, at the age of 19, I became sadder but wiser. My first serious romance, an astonishingly beautiful woman, revealed that she had taken up with my best friend, my roommate. It was a soul-crushing moment.

But that's not what I'm writing about today. My first love exploded in a drunken rant of recriminations and words that flew out my mouth faster than my brain could call them back and so it ended. Three people behaved very, very badly and nobody came out unstained. A story you have all heard a hundred times.

So, not wanting to encounter my best friend or my ex-girlfriend, I spent a few days on a couch at the house of some friends, then found an apartment within walking distance of campus. It was a hole, but I was feeling very low and that was what I felt I deserved. I cleaned it up as best I could, and also packed up my stuff at the apartment, working quickly to avoid running into the new young couple of our social group.

It was a very low moment in my young life.

But one Sunday morning, I was down on campus. The school year had not yet begun, but the football players were back, doing two-a-days, as were the student government members, setting up their system for the coming year. The freshmen would not arrive on campus for another week.

As I walked across campus, I saw a rather spectacularly attractive young woman, at a moment in my life when such things mattered more than normally. Not only did I see her, but she saw me and said, "Excuse me, but is there some place around here where I can get some breakfast?"

"Well, the pay caff is right down there," I began, but she interrupted me.

"Yes, I went in there, but it didn't look very good," she said. "I was wondering if there was some place nearby where I could get some eggs and pancakes."

"There's a Pancake House," I said, and began to explain how to find it, but then said, "Tell you what, I haven't had breakfast, either. You want to grab some food?"

So we went out to the parking lot, got into her VW bug and went to the Pancake House. Along the way, she explained that she was in town to visit her little sister, who was one of the student government types. And she told me who it was.

And I said oh, yes, I knew her sister. But I didn't say more because her sister was a kind of a pain in the ass type. She was wonderfully bright, a little overweight, possessed of acceptable but not extravagant good looks, and would have been a nice person to know except that she wasn't a nice person.

She was a bitch.

Her circle of friends were the Social Lionesses, but I could never figure out how she was one of them. She wasn't cute enough, she wasn't socially poised enough, she just wasn't really one of them. And yet she was. She only went out with football players or similar types, and she sneered at those who didn't fit the mold. And I could never figure out what gave her the power to sneer at much of anybody.

I wasn't a popular guy, but I wasn't a schlump either. I never dated a cheerleader seriously, but a couple of them were real friends and I went out with almost all of them on the level of "let's grab a pizza." The one I never went out with was also a Social Lioness, and would have refused to go out with me, had I asked her. Which I didn't. And I also never asked this Little Sister out for the same reason.

So anyway, this Big Sister and I went down to the Pancake House and had some pancakes and sausages and eggs, and she told me about her job as a stewardess for Eastern Airlines and how that worked. This was before stewardesses became flight attendants and protective of their dignity, but she had no problems about her dignity. She was a wonderfully smart, articulate, beautiful woman who was having the time of her life flying all around the country serving drinks and seeing the country.

Since she didn't take life seriously, she didn't seem to care if anyone else did, either.

And we ate and talked and laughed and, as we finished up and paid our tab, I suddenly realized something about this gorgeous woman: She had a car.

So I asked if she'd mind swinging by my apartment. Which was fine with her. We went to the apartment and she helped me lug a large trunk of stuff down to her car and then we hauled down some boxes and she ran me over to my new place and helped me haul it all back in there, and then it was time for her to get back to campus and meet her little sister.

We drove back to campus, found a parking space and starting walking. And as we're walking and talking and laughing and enjoying the sunshine, down the sidewalk comes Little Sister.

And my grasp of the world changed.

Because, when Little Sister saw us together, she actually, physically recoiled, and I saw in her face a look of consternation and horror. And I suddenly understood why she was such a despicable little bitch.

Here I was, a long-haired, geeky guitar-slinging hipster, walking up the quad with her older sister, a beautiful scholar who flew for Eastern Airlines and had everything a woman could possibly want in life.

I realized her big sister had almost certainly been Prom Queen, and was probably National Honor Society as well. She was the Sibling It Was Completely Impossible To Live Up To.

Now Little Sister was at a prestigious college and was a Student Leader. She was on campus early to set up programs, she was a friend of the Social Lionesses, she only went out with football players and other appropriate young men ...

... and here was her goddamn perfect, unattainable Big Sister walking up the quad of HER COLLEGE laughing and joking with a goddam longhaired guitarslinging hippie asshole.

She didn't get it.

She just didn't get it.

She had punched all the right buttons, but the bottom line was that her Unattainable Big Sister was comfortable enough that she didn't give a damn who she was seen with, who she had breakfast with, who she walked laughing up the quad with ... and that there was no way she could ever, ever compete with her Unattainable Big Sister, and that it had nothing to do with anything she could quantify.

I guess I should have laughed in her face, but I didn't.

I stopped thinking of what a bitch she was and started thinking about how much of her life she had wasted chasing something she didn't even understand.

The advantage her sister had was not looks, or brains, or even poise, but self-confidence.

Big Sister could do whatever she wanted to do, hang out with whoever she wanted to hang out with, go wherever she wanted to go, and never fret over what it said about her.

How can you compete with someone who is completely comfortable in her own skin?

"Sadder but wiser"? Oh, yes. I was sadder but wiser.

Because now I had to view this contemptible little bitch with sympathy, and compassion, and I had to understand her insecurities and her weaknesses.

Damn. Who knew that breakfast with a stewardess could turn into something so complex???

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ten (plus 30) Years After
A warm thank you for Ten Years After!

A few posts ago, I alluded to an article I had written on Woodstock 10 years after the fact, but couldn't find. Well, it just turned up and, as you will see, it wasn't just about Woodstock but about the year 1969 in general. So I should save it for December, which is when it ran in Boulder Monthly Magazine, but my suspicion is that I'd just lose it again. So here it is, with my 1979 analysis untouched and only one or two minor misprints corrected. And, as you see by the illustration, we had already begun to be snarky about the era well before the current 20-pluses came along and invented the idea.

We're all supposed to cast an eye backward at this time of year and think about the year that is just passing. Done it? Not much to get nostalgic about, was there? Now let's look at a decade-ending year that had some substance to it, 1969, that marvelous year in which the above words were spoken in a pasture outside of Bethel, New York. How much more do you remember about 1969?

1. The owner of the farm at which the Woodstock Festival took place was
a. Hugh Romney
b. George Romney
c. Max Yasgur
d. Peter Max.

2. 1969 saw the death of a charismatic Communist leader. Who was it?
a. Ernesto 'Che' Guevara
b. Leon Trotsky
c. Ho Chi Minh
d. Patrice Lumumba.

3. Norman Mailer won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1969 book, Armies of the Night. In what city is the book set?
a. Washington
b. Saigon
c. Chicago
d. Miami.

4. Abbie Hoffman did not receive a Pulitzer Prize for his 1969 literary effort, perhaps because he wrote under the pseudonym "Free." Name the book.
a. Butterflies Are Free
b. We Are Everywhere
c. Revolution for the Hell of it.
d. The Whole World is Watching.

5. The Iseley Brothers released a record in 1969 that won them a Grammy. Complete this line: "It's your thing,do what you want to do, I can't tell you ... "
a. "When to sing the blues."
b. "How to tie your shoe."
c. "Who to sock it to."
d. "What you got to do."

6. Terry Southern's immortal masterpiece, Candy, became one of 1969's silliest and dirtiest movies. Who played the gardener who ended up on the pool table?
a. Ringo Starr
b. Paul Williams
c. Buck Henry
d. Art Gardener.

7. Heavy thinkers claim that the last line in 1969's classic road movie, Easy Rider, was "We blew it." Nonsense. The final line was
a. "Give me another hit, Billy."
b. "We better go back."
c. "Goodnight, man."
d. "Welcome to nowhere, Cap."

8. In 1969, Duke Wayne beat out Joe Buck and Butch Cassidy to win an Oscar for his role in True Grit. Who won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1969?
a. Vanessa Redgrave for 'Loves of Isadora'
b. Ali McGraw for 'Goodbye Columbus'
c. Maggie Smith for 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie'
d. Lena Nyman for 'I Am Curious (Yellow)'.

9. Sharon Tate was murdered in 1969, together with five other persons, in the famous "Helter Skelter" murders. Which of the following names never came up in subsequent investigations?
a. Doris Day
b. The Beach Boys
c. Robert Heinlein
d. Gertrude Ederle.

10. In 1969, President Nixon ordered the implementation of Operation Intercept. What was its target?
a. Draft dodgers
b. Grass smugglers
c. Dirty record lyrics
d. The Chicago Seven.

11. Which album was not released in 1969?
a. Abbey Road
b. Nashville Skyline
c. Strange Days
d. Crosby, Stills and Nash.

12. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969; Buzz Aldrin was the second man out of the lunar module. Who was piloting the command module during that famous small step?
a. Michael Collins
b. Deke Slayton
c. Chris Craft
d. Phil Ochs.

13. Which Apollo flight was that famous touchdown part of?
a. X
b. XI
c. XII
d. XIII.

14. On February 7, 1969, a tradition fell at Miami's Hialeah Park. What was the innovation?
a. First woman jockey
b. First entry by Communist China
c. First win by an unregistered quarterhorse
d. First time for legal off-track betting in the continental United States.

15. Four new major league baseball franchises got their start in 1969. Which of the following does not belong in that group?
a. Seattle
b. Kansas City
c. Toronto
d. Montreal.

16. A famous twenty-one year old spoke in the British Parliament on April 22, 1969. Who was it?
a. Bernadette Devlin
b. Prince Charles
c. John Lennon
d. David Eisenhower.

17. In a speech on Vietnam, President Nixon called for support from the "Silent Majority." What did he ask them to do to show their support for the war?
a. Write to Ho Chi Minh
b. Honk their car horns when passing the flag
c. Turn on their porch lights at night
d. Get a haircut.

18. Spiro Agnew also made a famous speech that year, in Des Moines, attacking the press. What did he call them?
a. An elite corps of impudent snobs
b. An effete corps of impudent snobs
c. An elite corps of imprudent snobs
d. A complete source of ebullient slobs.

19. Who of the following was not a member of the Chicago Seven?
a. Abbie Hoffman
b. Rennie Davis
c. Tom Hayden
d. Bobby Seale.

20. The Christmas card of the year was a full page ad in the New York Times that stated, simply, "War Is Over, If You Want It." Who sent that holiday greeting?
a. The Chicago Seven
b. John Lennon and Yoko Ono
c. Vanessa Redgrave
d. Phillip Berrigan.

ANSWERS (no peeking)

1. c. Max Yasgur, who claimed that he didn't know how to speak to a half a dozen people, let alone a crowd like this. Hugh Romney, a.k.a. Wavy Gravy, was there with the Hog Farm. George Romney and Peter Max weren't.

2. c. Che had been dead for a couple of years, although the movie of his life that came out in 1969, with Jack Palance as Fidel Castro and Omar Sharif as Dr. Guevara, would probably have killed him if the CIA and Bolivian Army hadn't gotten to him first. It was Ho Chi Minh who died on September 3 at the age of 79.

3. a. Mailer's book on the march on the Pentagon in 1967 was a good look at what had happened for anyone who couldn't be there. For those who had been there, it was less impressive.

4. c. Another reason Hoffman didn't win a prize was that, unlike Mailer, he didn't claim to know what was going on or to speak for an entire generation.

5. c. Not to be confused with the other deep, meaningful lyric, "Sock it to me, baby, sock it to the Judge."

6. a. Ringo found love on the pool table. Swedish star Ewa Aulin also attracted the lascivious attentions of Richard Burton, Marion Brando, James Coburn, and the bulk of the male audience. At the time, the movie was deliberate bad taste and was condemned for using sex to make money, which may have given some television executives big ideas.

7. b. The redneck says it after they shoot Billy. There may be arguments that Captain America does some incoherent blubbering over Billy's body, but that hardly counts. "We blew it" may have been the last line before Columbia made Fonda and Hopper reshoot the ending, but such is the price of glory when you play with the big boys.

8. c. Ali McGraw made her screen debut to yawns and suppressed giggles in Goodbye Columbus. Vanessa Redgrave gave a sterling performance for much of The Loves of Isadora, and might have won the Oscar, but most critics agreed that she choked at the end.

9. d. Miss Ederle swam the English Channel long before 1969. Doris Day's son, Terry Melcher, was an acquaintance of Charles Manson, and had lived in the house where the murders took place. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was also a Manson acquaintance and had put him up for a time at his house. Robert Heinlein wrote the pretentious and naive but essentially innocuous Stranger in a Strange Land, which Manson used as a guide for setting up his "family."

10. b. Operation Intercept cut off the supply of street grass, putting the casual collegiate smuggler out of business and turning the job over to the Mafia, who were better equipped to deal with such things. It made for an upsurge in heroin, "bad" acid, cocaine, and other harder drugs, as well as swelling the coffers of organized crime.

11. c. Strange Days was an established classic by 1969. All four albums are still good listening, though not suitable for disco dancing. Pity.

12. a. Michael Collins will never forget the experience of standing on the deck of the carrier while Armstrong and Aldrin haggled over who should tip the driver.

13. b. Apollo XIII, incidentally, was the one which blew off a panel in deep space and had to return, which may interest any treskadecaphobes who didn't pass over this question automatically. It is also interesting to note that President Nixon had the landing of Apollo XI's lunar module shifted to a weekend and the first step delayed until the end of prime time. Abbie Hoffman wasn't the only person in 1969 who knew how to use the media.

14. a. Diane Crump was the first woman jockey, and she brought home her first winner in her seventh race.

15. c. Tricky question. Seattle was awarded a franchise that folded almost immediately to become the Toronto Blue Jays, but not in 1969. Kansas City had long been the site of major league baseball, but the A's moved to Oakland and the Royals were a new franchise in 1969. Montreal is the home of the Expos, a team made up of ex-Denver Bears. Denver, you may note, still does not have a franchise. (Editor's note: All true in 1979)

16. a. Bernadette Devlin made her maiden speech after being the youngest person ever elected to Parliament. She attended sessions in blue jeans, entertained Jerry Rubin and friends in the private members-and-guests cocktail lounge and ended up serving a term in prison for inciting a riot, after which she went back to Northern Ireland and gave birth to an illegitimate baby. Not your typical British MP.

17. c. A lot of pacificists ended up falling down the stairs at night. In a countermove, a Yippie leader urged motorists to drive with their headlights on at night if they supported the legalization of marijuana.

18. b. A lot of people thought "effete" had something to do with being a sissy, but it actually means unable to bear offspring, which came as a great relief to many of the free spirits to whom it was applied.

19. d. Bobby Seale was a member of the Chicago Eight, but insisted on having his own lawyer, Charles Carry. Denied this right, he proceeded to become abusive and was bound and gagged. When he continued to mumble what might have been obscenities through his gag, he was found in contempt and sentenced to four years by Judge Julius Hoffman and ordered to stand trial separately. The remaining defendants, then, became the Chicago Seven. Name them without counting on your fingers.

20. b. John and Yoko ended the year with a touch of taste. After 1969, the war was basically over and it only remained to stop the killing, which no longer had any support from the people of the United States, most of whom had given up on ever hearing the "Secret Plan" that President Nixon had promised to reveal after his inauguration in January of 1969.

HOW TO SCORE: Where were you then? Where are you now? Give yourself the score you think you deserve.