Tuesday, December 11, 2007

MONSANTO_WESTINGHOUSE'S Pre-Christmas Sneak Attack: NY TIMES LA TIMES RECAP for early Dec. 2007

Merry Christmas. You Too, Satan!
from All of Us, here, @internetjockeys.com
Merry Christmas. You Too, Satan!
Friday, December 7, 2007
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The playwright and director Conor McPherson, left, with Ciaran Hinds, who plays Mr. Lockhart in “The Seafarer.”
Conor McPherson’s new play revolves around a bunch of drunk poker-playing guys holed up in a house in Dublin on Christmas Eve with none other than Satan himself. “As unlikely as it sounds,” writes Ben Brantley, “‘The Seafarer’ may just be the pick-me-up play of the season.” Heavier on the sauce and lighter on the syrup, it “turns out to be a thinking-person’s alternative to ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ as a flagon of Christmas cheer.” And the far-fetched plot is easy to believe, thanks to the appropriately shabby costumes and set, stellar acting and “the liveliest, funniest dialogue yet written by Mr. McPherson, who usually specializes in reflective arias.” (For example, “Shining City.”) The ending does have a dose of Capra cheer, but, Brantley writes, “you don’t have to believe in it to be moved by it. Besides, transporting acting like this has an amazing grace all its own.”
“The Devil Went Down to Broadway,” by Matthew Gurewitsch
“A Devil of a Christmas,” by Ben Brantley

The 7th Annual Year in Ideas

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Published: December 9, 2007

For the seventh consecutive December, the magazine looks back on the passing year through a special lens: ideas. Editors and writers trawl the oceans of ingenuity, hoping to snag in our nets the many curious, inspired, perplexing and sometimes outright illegal innovations of the past 12 months. Then we lay them out on the dock, flipping and flopping and gasping for air, and toss back all but those that are fresh enough for our particular cut of intellectual sushi. For better or worse, these are 70 of the ideas that helped make 2007 what it was. Enjoy.
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Photograph by Reinhard Hunger for The New York Times. Model makers: Ulrich Genth and Arndt von Hoff.

Airborne Wind Turbines

Alzheimer’s Telephone Screening

Ambiguity Promotes Liking

Appendix Rationale, The

Best Way to Deflect an Asteroid, The

Biodegradable Coffins

Biofuel Race, The

Braille Tattoo, The

Cardboard Bridge, The

‘Cat Lady’ Conundrum, The

Climate Conflicts

Community Urinalysis

Craigslist Vengeance

Criminal Recycling


Culinary Orientalism

Death of Checkers, The

Digital Search Parties

Edible Cocktail, The

Electric Hockey Skate, The

Faces Decide Elections

Fake Tilt-Shift Photography

Fish-Flavored Fish

God Effect, The

Handshake Sex Appeal

Height Tax, The

Honeycomb Vase, The

Hope Can Be Worse Than Hopelessness

Iconic-Performance-Network Player, The

Indie-Rock Musicals

Interstellar Ramadan

Jogging Politique

Knot Physics

Lap-Dance Science

Left-Hand-Turn Elimination

Lightning Farms

Lite-Brite Fashion

Marijuana Mansions

Mindful Exercise

Minimal Chair, The

Mob Jurisprudence

Murphy Balcony, The


Next Violin, The

Office-Chair Exercise (for Men and Women)

Pixelated Stained Glass

Pop Fecundity

Posthumous E-Mail

Postnuptial Agreements

Prison Poker

Quitting Can Be Good for You

Radiohead Payment Model, The

Right to Medical Self-Defense, The

Rock-Paper-Scissors Is Universal

Second-World Solidarity

Self-Righting Object, The

Smog-Eating Cement

Starch Made Us Human

Suing God

Telltale Food Wrapping

24/7 Alibi, The

Two-Birds-With-One-Stone Resistance

Unadapted Theatrical Adaptation, The


Wave Energy

Weapon-Proof School Gear


Wireless Energy

Youtube (Accidental) Audition, The

Zygotic Social Networking

A guerrilla 'Project Runway'
By Shana Ting Lipton
In Style Wars, designers get four minutes to repurpose old clothes, or maybe a computer keyboard . . . and they're off!

“Hey Mr. D.J., Follow Those Rock Star Dreams,” by Melena Ryzik

Pay What You Want for This Article
How Radiohead took the online gamble that could change the record business.
Stereo Sanctuaries
Men’s personal retreats may be increasingly wired, but they’re still about solitary pleasures.

Twain Again
Drag makes the show, to mangle Mark Twain. (As in: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”) The newly-unearthed Twain play “Is He Dead?” a farce about a starving French painter who starts cross-dressing for work (shades of “Tootsie”), “has a remarkably sprightly step,” writes Ben Brantley, mostly thanks to the team of resurrectionists behind it: the director Michael Blakemore (“Copenhagen,” “Noises Off”), the playwright David Ives and especially the actor Norbert Leo Butz (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”). “Looking like a cross between Kirsten Dunst and Joan Sutherland in ‘La Traviata,’ Mr. Butz in drag is a minor miracle, both honoring the conventions of a hoary elbow-ribbing type and making them feel brand new,” Mr. Brantley writes. “The whole production feels as if it’s been pumped through with nitrous oxide.”
“Rumors of this Play Were Not Exaggerated,” by Jesse Green
“It’s Not Life on the Mississippi, Jean-François Honey,” by Ben Brantley
Times Topics: David Ives
“A Dirty Job, and Nearly Naked Too,” by Lola Ogunnaike
Quick, Driver, Follow That Book!
You know that now you can pay your cab fare with your credit card, and that when you accidentally leave your suitcase in the trunk you can find it before the next passenger does. But there’s so much you don’t know: do drivers make more money on short fares or long ones? And who came up with that Manhattan map on the back of the seat? Tonight at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Melissa Plaut (author of “Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab” ), and Graham Russell and Gao Hodges (authors of “TAXI! A Social History of the New York City Cabdriver”) will answer all your cabbie questions, and possibly give you a ride home afterward.
“Take Me to Starbucks if You Can’t Amuse Me,” by David A. Kelly
City Room: Ask the Taxi Expert
“An Unwanted Passenger,” by Melissa Plaut
“Curb Job,” by Pete Hamill

The two Iranians were of opposite worlds, one secular and rich, the other pious and poor. In post-revolutionary Tehran, they built a friendship and a business.

The Claim: Don’t Eat the Mistletoe. It Can Be Deadly
Mistletoe has a legendary reputation for romance, but it is also widely considered as lethal as it is festive.

Out of tragedy came a new kind of family
By Bob Pool
Six years after four siblings lost their mom, ties with their foster dad and brother are strong.

On Dec. 8, 1941, the United States entered World War II as Congress declared war against Japan one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
On Dec. 11, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States; the U.S. responded in kind.

2 'green' technologies race for driver's seat
By Ken Bensinger
Fuel cells and plug-ins vie for funding and favor that could decide what's on the road.
"It is a very serious threat that a lot of major exporters that we count on today for international oil supply are no longer going to be net exporters any more in 5 to 10 years."
AMY MYERS JAFFE, an oil analyst at Rice University.
Save the world: stay married
By Meghan Daum
Households torn asunder use more resources than homes still aglow with marital bliss.

In Hollywood, the fade to black begins
By Rachel Abramowitz, Maria Elena Fernandez and Meg James
Like a rolling blackout, Hollywood is shutting down.

You Couldn’t Write This Stuff: TV Reality Sets In
Because of the writers’ strike, networks’ schedules will be filled with repeats or reality programs come January.

Fantasy films? There's truth in there too
'The Golden Compass
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AP / New Line Cinema
Chris Weitz’s film resembles “Narnia” with its animals and the “Potter” series with its Jordan College.
Reality is threaded throughout the most fantastic of the fantasy films, filmmakers say, and audiences are flocking to see them.
By Sam Adams, Special to The Times
December 10, 2007
Given a choice between Iraq and fairyland, it's clear where moviegoers would prefer to spend time.

Despite the glut of politically themed movies on offer this season, audiences have embraced frothier fare: "The Golden Compass," set in a parallel universe inhabited by comely witches and talking animals; fluffy musical romance "Enchanted," which brings classic Disneyana to modern-day New York; and the dark animated adventure "Beowulf," rife with decaying monsters and burnished gold dragons.

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"Compass," in fact, was No. 1 at the box office over the weekend. It pushed "Enchanted" to second place by earning an estimated $26.1 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales, New Line Cinema reported Sunday.

And all this comes on the heels of the huge success of the "Lord of the Rings" films, the "Harry Potter" franchise and 2005's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

A successful fantastic film artfully mixes the familiar and the fanciful. For all their extraordinary elements, the worlds of Harry Potter and Middle-Earth feel tactile and inhabitable, often more so than the airbrushed universe of the X-Men or Superman. Wedding childlike wonder to grown-up themes (with some teen-delighting combat along the way), the result, studios hope, is a demographic smart bomb whose revenue-generating powers never go out of style.

Fairy-tale endings aside, the fantasy world is not always a pleasant place. Harry Potter has lost one classmate and a surrogate father, and readers of the books know there's more carnage in store. Even tranquil Narnia is beset by war.

"One's always tempted to go the rather stock route of saying it's escapist fare, and we really need that now," says "Golden Compass" writer-director Chris Weitz, who adapted the film's screenplay from Philip Pullman's novel, the first installment in the author's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. "But if you look at 'Lord of the Rings' or 'His Dark Materials,' they're not really escapist inasmuch as they deal, at least in analogy, with some of the things that are going on in politics and society."

"The best fantasy films reflect what is going on today," adds David Heyman, currently producing next year's "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." "I think the Potter films reflect, in some form, issues of loyalty and trust and friendship, and of propaganda and misinformation and people not being prepared to see what is before them, wanting to see only what they want to see."

Generating authenticity

The boom in fantasy films owes its existence, in part, to the growing power of computer-generated imagery. It's hard to imagine what "Compass' " climactic polar-bear skirmish would have looked like 10 years ago, and previous attempts to film C.S. Lewis' Narnia books were doomed by the clunkiness of their animal characters.

But writer-director Guillermo del Toro thinks that the surge has less to do with technology than topicality. Del Toro, who set his violent fable "Pan's Labyrinth" against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, says that social traumas often find their most potent outlet in the world of fantasy.

"There is definitely a pressure-valve factor in the fantastic genres," he says. "All of them -- horror, fantasy, science fiction -- serve as a way to both face deeper issues and/or escape from them. But I think that the fantasy films made in a particular time are either a distorted or a faithful image of the time they were created in. They are a mirror to reality, even if you're trying to escape it."

The stories behind these epic franchises draw on many of the same archetypes, which means some redundancy. Both "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and "Golden Compass" feature friendly but imposing beasts voiced by British thespians, and "Golden Compass' " Jordan College bears more than a passing resemblance to Hogwarts.

More practically, "Compass," like the Potter and Narnia films, was shot in London, and all three draw from the same pool of London-based talent. "Luckily, you never run out of great British theater actors," Weitz says.

By and large, Weitz succeeds in establishing a distinct cast of characters, though the dueling wizards from "Lord of the Rings" turn up: Ian McKellen is the voice of the armored bear Iorek Byrnison, and Christopher Lee is a venomous high councilor.

"Lord of the Rings" was the first to demonstrate the box-office might of the fantasy genre, but producer Mark Johnson says the "Narnia" series owes its life, and particularly its fidelity to its source, to the Harry Potter films.

In the pre-Potter era, Johnson says, studios assumed that American children were unable to relate to British characters. His 1995 adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's "A Little Princess" was forcibly relocated from London to New York.

"After that, Harry Potter came along, and all those cultural or geographical lines were broken," he says. "When 'The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe' was being developed at Paramount, the imperative was to set it in the U.S., and it just doesn't hold. You can find some way to adapt it, but it's not the book."

If theater receipts are any indication, U.S. audiences prefer their fantasy with a British accent. Homegrown franchise starters like "Eragon" and "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" underperformed, and an Americanized version of Susan Cooper's "The Dark Is Rising" landed with a thud.

Pullman, like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien before him, studied at Oxford and has framed "His Dark Materials" as an attack on the covert religiosity of the "Narnia" series. But although cultural observers have been itching to parse "Compass" for Pullman's avowed atheism, the irony is that, stripped of its more pointed references to the Catholic church, "Compass" closely resembles "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe," which itself underwent a face-lift to avoid spooking secular viewers.

Trying not to insult

"Compass' " villains still sport clerical garb, but the authority they represent has been reconfigured as a collection of totalitarian moralists, more like a strict parent than a disapproving priest.

"It's there for people who want to see it, but it's not there in a way that aggressively insults that individual viewer who happens to be a religious person," Weitz says.

But Del Toro says fantasy films are inextricably bound up with spiritual issues, no matter how hard filmmakers may try to submerge them. "In the same way that no movie can be nonpolitical, these genre movies cannot avoid being somewhat spiritual. They can be a crass, failed exercise in spirituality. But no matter how much they try to avoid it, they are tackling subjects . . . rooted in spirituality."

In a world dominated by rationality, Del Toro sees fantasy as the last refuge of the unknown, a place to address questions that still elude science.

"The more we get technology into our lives and the more we demystify our beliefs, the more we create a void," he says. "As spiritual entities, we need to fill that with something, with some mythology or cosmology that allows you to believe in something beyond your next cellphone bill. . . . and the latest Nintendo game. I think that movies of the genre do that. They make the supernatural or the magical palatable to the supposedly jaded 'here, now' generation."


Editorial Observer
When Doris Lessing Meets Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

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Published: December 8, 2007

This past week, I’ve been reading two books side by side, coincidentally at first and then more and more intently. They are the letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, perhaps the most accomplished Englishwoman of the 18th century, and “Shikasta,” the first volume of Doris Lessing’s science fiction series called “Canopus in Argos: Archives.”
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These books are utterly different in genre and separated by more than two hundred years. And yet as I read, I found myself imagining that Montagu’s letters — written between 1709 and her death in 1762 — formed an extensive chapter within Ms. Lessing’s novel, which is itself made up of letters and bureaucratic reports from an Earth-like world called Shikasta. In other words, I found myself imagining that Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was writing in the future, not the past.

Certain similarities make this easier than it might seem. “Shikasta” is told largely from the perspective of Johor, a benevolent, near-divine emissary from the planet Canopus. The Canopians prompt and watch — often with horror — the development of life on Shikasta.

Johor’s detachment is essentially stoic, and that word is easily applied to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Her life was also a series of passages through foreign cultures and an effort to understand how others actually lived. She traveled with her husband to Constantinople in 1717, where he was the English ambassador, and she passed most of the rest of her life looking back at England from self-imposed exile.

It sounds like a strange comparison, and yet as I read, it sounded to me as though Montagu, like Johor, was sending home detailed reports of life on a strange planet. “Mankind is everywhere the same,” she writes to her daughter, then adds: “This observation might be carried yet further: all animals are stimulated by the same passions, and act very near alike, as far as we are capable of observing them.”

What struck me was the impact of reading Montagu as if she were writing from the future. For one thing, it helps undo an inherent chronological bias peculiar to our own time — the belief that we live on a progressive timeline of steady advancement. It’s too easy for us to assume that the past is merely precursor to the present, as if we had absorbed all its wisdoms and replaced its outmoded tools, rendering it irrelevant.

Science fiction of Ms. Lessing’s sort is the comparative study of civilizations, and that is one of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s purposes, too. Pretending that Montagu is writing from centuries in the future allows me to see her civilization in its own light, rather than as just a diminished version of ours.

In February 1717, for instance, she writes from Belgrade describing her visit to the battlefield where the Ottomans were defeated six months before. “The marks of that glorious bloody day are yet recent, the field being strewed with the skulls and carcasses of unburied men, horses and camels.” Despite the word “glorious,” these gruesome remains are, to her, evidence that “human nature is not rational, if the word reason means common sense, as I suppose it does.” Her effort to stand back from life — to appraise it unsentimentally — makes her sound as dispassionate as if she had been sent to this sorry planet to appraise its evolution.

The same is true of her efforts to understand Islamic society in Constantinople. She is as eager to expose the falseness of English assumptions about Turkish life as she is to capture the foreignness of what she witnesses there.

There is something deeply appealing to me about this mingling of Ms. Lessing and Montagu. It’s a way of unprivileging our own position as readers, reminding us, as Ms. Lessing does, that we are only one of the many sets of people who will leave traces of themselves during this planet’s existence.


Television Review
A Post-Thatcher Crime Fighter in a Pre-Thatcher England

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Published: December 11, 2007

The return of “Life on Mars” for a second season on BBC America tonight seems as good a time as any to ask why time travel has become such a popular theme on television recently. Is it that we cannot get enough of the retro aesthetic these trips backward occasion? The flesh-tone nylons, the lima-bean-green telephones with cords and dials and earpieces like coasters? Or is that writers see in bygone naïveté as dependable an opportunity for comedy as they do in a 6-year-old spouting off about deflated global currencies?
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John Simm in “Life on Mars,” beginning its second season.

Sam Tyler, a present-day cop stuck in 1970s Manchester, England, tells a colleague in “Life on Mars” that the department will be full of alcoholics by the time Margaret Thatcher becomes prime minister. If Mrs. Thatcher becomes prime minister, the colleague mutters through a Midlands accent as heavy as shipping steel, “I’ll have been doing something a lot stronger than whiskey.”

A loftier assumption would have it that the bleak events of recent history have inspired a collective will to go back and reverse course. “Heroes” operates on the doomed view that tweaking the past is what ensures a safer future. Tyler (John Simm), a forthright cop in a leather jacket, battling the benighted ways of his hot-tempered boss, Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), caters in some small way to whatever fantasies of historical reconstruction we might let taunt us.

Hunt is all for ridding Manchester of the perps and jerks; if they didn’t commit the crimes of which they have been accused, well, they must have done something. He is an Archie Bunker ripe for a dust-up with Internal Affairs, and part of the show’s tension derives from the friction between Tyler and his methodical, information-age ways and Hunt and his blustery incaution.

The larger conflict in the show is psychological. After a car accident in 2006, Tyler woke up in 1973, both conking out and reviving to David Bowie’s anthem of displacement, “Life on Mars.” He doesn’t know if he has lapsed into a coma, gone out of his mind or actually, against the odds, been redeposited in the ’70s for some greater, paranormal purpose.

In the ’70s self-help was understood as its own kind of altruism — what was good for you was good for mankind — and the structure of “Life on Mars” cleverly embodies that conflation. Tyler is excavating secrets about his past — last season he came to terms with repressed memories about his murderous father — but he is also preventing bad things from happening to decent people through the pre-emption born of his foreknowledge.

“Life on Mars” is a smarter, gloomier “Journeyman,” the NBC series about a San Francisco journalist who time-travels through the not-too-distant past to inspire moral correction, changing the course of ordinary lives and bumping into his deceased former fiancée. It is neither as hokey nor as preachy. In tonight’s episode Tyler goes after a sleazy casino owner who he knows will wreak havoc later, trying to nail him with little in the way of tangible evidence, and warns the man’s girlfriend away from the life of brutality that awaits her.

If network television ever resumes, we may get an American version of “Life on Mars.” David E. Kelley is set, apparently, to produce a pilot. One of the charms of “Life on Mars” is its reluctance to overindulge in ’70s nostalgia. You never feel as if you are watching “The Mod Squad” with tea. Hollywood likes big hair too much for us to rest assured that it will show the same restraint.


‘Life on Mars’: 2006 Cop Stuck in the 70’s
Kerry Brown/BBC

John Simm, right, as the time-traveling Detective Sam Tyler, with Philip Glenister in a scene from the BBC detective series “Life on Mars.”

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Published: July 23, 2006

ROUGHLY seven minutes into the first episode of BBC America’s new drama “Life on Mars,” the protagonist — a dedicated Manchester-based police detective named Sam Tyler (John Simm) — is hit by a speeding car. When he flies up in the air, it is 2006. When he opens his eyes, he is face down on the asphalt in 1973.
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The first clues that Detective Tyler has traveled back in time? Instead of a suit and tie, he is wearing flared pants, a black leather jacket, brown Cuban-heel boots and an open-neck shirt with huge, pointy lapels. The ugliness of 70’s apparel isn’t the only way “Life on Mars” gets its laughs. Until Detective Tyler adjusts to his situation, he will casually request tools of modern police work — speedy forensics tests, cellphones, two-way mirrors through which lineups are conducted — and receive puzzled looks.

But mostly “Life on Mars,” which has its debut on BBC America on Monday night, isn’t funny. Throughout each episode Tyler spends his days fighting crime with his colleagues and his off-hours tying himself in emotional knots, anguishing over how he landed in 1973. Then there are the beeping respirator noises that keep telling him he is also in a present-day hospital bed being ministered to by doctors hoping to snap him out of a coma.

With “Life on Mars,” it is easy to see how humor and bits of science fiction can be scattered throughout a grim, straight-ahead television cop drama. But eight years ago, when the creators of the series, Matthew Graham, Ashley Pharoah and Tony Jordan, first pitched their genre-bending idea — revisiting the unconflicted lawlessness of a testosterone-driven 70’s-style police force through the brain of a coma patient — the BBC’s reaction was not warm.

“They just looked out the window,” Mr. Graham said, adding that the series was finally given the go-ahead after a regime change in 2004. The new executives agreed to take a risk, Mr. Graham said. “They said: ‘Look, we think the idea is insane, but let’s do it, let’s show the world that the BBC leads the way with innovative dramas.’ That was it. We never looked back, really.”

“Life on Mars” became a hit when it first appeared last year on BBC1 in Britain, and many viewers watch the show with an appreciative but scouring eye. On the Internet obsessive fans have turned the search for clothing, music and production-design faux pas into a chat-room contest, citing everything post-1973 from Tyler’s digital LCD watch to the circa-1974 dashboard on a Ford Cortina Mark III that was manufactured in 1972.

“These guys pick up extraordinary things,” said Mr. Graham, who has developed a pat response to the gotcha! squad. “My line is that there are no mistakes on ‘Life on Mars,’ just clues,” he said. “But it’s not true. The fact is, we try not to make mistakes, but sometimes we just do.” Earlier this year the rights to “Life on Mars” were snapped up by the producer David E. Kelley, who will remake the show for ABC. Since then the Web site postings have shifted from nitpicking over what is or isn’t year-specific to speculating about how the American version will pale in comparison to the original.

Though the prolific Mr. Kelley is best known for creating lighthearted fare like “Ally McBeal,” “Picket Fences” and “Boston Legal,” he did try his hand once at a crime show: “Snoops,” a quirky 1999 series about a detective agency that was canceled after 10 episodes. Mr. Graham was openly enthusiastic about Mr. Kelley’s involvement but with a qualifier: “I hope he doesn’t overdo the gags. It would be great if he could keep the darkness and not try to make it too warm and comedic.”

By the end of the eighth and final episode of the first season, the mystery of what Tyler is doing 33 years in the past and how he will manage to return to the present is never solved.

Instead he continues to struggle with his predicament while everyone around him listens to his back-to-the-future ravings and eyes him nervously.

But there is an explanation, right?

“Before we started filming we sat down and plotted his truth,” said Mr. Graham, who won’t say whether a resolution will be provided in the second season, which is currently being filmed in Britain. “It’s nowhere near as outlandish as some of the Internet jockeys think it is. I got a four-page e-mail about how he actually is on Mars, and it’s all a big Martian experience. When I read that I thought, ‘I should either have an exclusion order on this man, or I should hire him’— but I wasn’t sure which.”

Screen test(osterone)
Hollywood's bursting with masculinity again, but it's not all tough hunks and retro smoothies.
By Peter Rainer, Special to The Times
December 9, 2007
HOW many ways can a man be manly in the movies these days? The film historian Robert Sklar once wrote that "each generation exaggerates its own crises of masculinity." If this is true, we must be in a doozy of a crisis right now.

There hasn't been this much industrial-strength machismo, both as cause for celebration and denunciation, since the post-Vietnam Reagan '80s superhero heyday of Rambo and Gordon Gekko. Consider, for starters, that the "Superman" and "Die Hard" franchises, long dormant, were recently revived; a sequel to "Wall Street" is being readied; a new Indiana Jones movie is in the pipeline; and that, come January, Sylvester Stallone, having already revived Rocky, will once again be wearing the Rambo muscle suit. Not one to press his luck, Rambo will be touring Myanmar, not Baghdad.

Return of the mustache
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Return of the mustache

I don't want to overplay the parallels between the Reagan and George W. Bush years, but might the backwash of a colossally unpopular war have something to do with the fact that so many of our movies are -- how can I say this politely? -- atavistic?

On the far side of the blood-and-biceps "Beowulf," consider the gallery of actors today who represent throwbacks to a relatively uncomplicated male mystique. When Russell Crowe or George Clooney are talked about or written about, the tone is often almost strenuously adulatory, as if they stood for an old-style Hollywood machismo that must be preserved at all costs. Crowe was on the cover of "Men's Journal" last month as "Our favorite S.O.B." A new Colorado magazine called Shine featured Clooney on its inaugural cover and inside announced that he "embodies the courageous John Wayne spirit of the Westerns" (which is probably the last thing Clooney wants to hear).

Still, it can be deeply satisfying to watch these actors preen. A little masculine confidence goes a long way in the movies and, in the right roles, these men remind you of what you loved about, say, Bogart or Mitchum or McQueen. Crowe can be sluggish and inchoate in a Depression-era retread like "Cinderella Man," he can be thuddingly heroic in "Gladiator," but at his best, in "L.A. Confidential" and "3:10 to Yuma" and, to a much lesser extent, in "American Gangster," he has the bully-boy insolence of male privilege down pat.

Clooney, in particular, is associated in the public imagination with Golden Age Hollywood icons. In his self-deprecating savoir-faire he is seen as a burlier version of Cary Grant, while his Danny Ocean routine has some of the Sinatra finesse. In films such as "Syriana" and "Michael Clayton," he plays the standard Bogart cynic turned do-gooder. It's easy to imagine Clooney fitting into any number of Hollywood classics, from "Casablanca" on down. (Clooney is a godsend to all those women who, during the pre-"Departed" reign of Leonardo DiCaprio, despaired of ever seeing a leading man on the screen who looked to be past the point of his first shave.)

But a retro-ness clings to Clooney that, especially for a younger generation, may ultimately work against him. He's a new movie star in an old mold as opposed to, say, Johnny Depp, who has a satyr's pansexual appeal and the shape-shifty genius to fully inhabit, even unify, mind scapes as disparate as Tim Burton's and Jerry Bruckheimer's. Depp is the most original male presence in the movies in large part because he is the most original sexual presence.

By comparison, actors such as Clooney and Crowe, or Denzel Washington, rarely get to play out their sexual dynamism. Is it because Hollywood thinks there are no women who are their match? Despite their high whammo quotients these men have starred in alarmingly few erotic dramas, let alone romances, and that's a deprivation for us all. The Golden Age icons may have been men's men, but they were overwhelmingly defined by their maddening/ornery/blissful relations with women. The sullen gravitas of Clooney, Crowe and Washington in "Michael Clayton" and "American Gangster" represents an overvaluation of the strong-and-silent mystique, and it reminds me of what Gore Vidal once wrote about the humorlessness of American society: "What other culture could have produced someone like Hemingway and not seen the joke?"

Muscle men

IF atavism is truly your meat, you'll find it most blatantly on view in the brawnfest "300," where Spartan beefcake enthusiastically disembowels wounded Iranians -- oops, Persians -- before expiring valorously at Thermopylae. It's there in "Beowulf," where, thanks to motion-capture technology, the hulky, ovoid Ray Winstone is transformed into a warrior with miracle abs. Brad Pitt must be wondering why he spent all those months buffing up to play Achilles in "Troy." No more is it necessary for an actor to put in quality time with a personal trainer. In the future, all the personal trainers in Hollywood will be CGI technicians.

These big-screen blam-pow epics tap the same market that caters to World Wrestling Federation smackdowns and male-niche TV shows such as "Lost" and "24" and all-testosterone, all-the-time cable channels like Spike TV. They appeal to men who tune out regular box- ing but tune in to extreme boxing. This he-man swagger, of course, takes in a lot more than the movies these days: It's also the preferred stance in our presidential politics, where the candidates who come out swinging get the most ink. (Now that "Invasion U.S.A" '80s action star Chuck Norris is soldered to the Huckabee campaign, who's waiting in the wings? The Rock? The Hebrew Hammer?)

The "actors" in "300" and "Beowulf" fly the banner for a movie business that may one day rate the annual Comic-Conconvention in San Diego as highly as Cannes. But they're not the only screen stars who seem like replicants these days. Matt Damon in the "Bourne" movies is a heat-seeking missile who incises his way into mayhem with an almost preternatural velocity. The new James Bond, as played by Daniel Craig, is a feral assassin who doesn't blink an eye while electroshocking himself back from the dead. Craig doesn't have the suaveness or the square-cut facial planes of his immediate predecessors (and that's a good thing). In the past, the Bond movies were never really about violence; they were about how stylish you could look while being violent. "Casino Royale" changed all that.

The nauseating uptick in carnage on display in "Saw IV" and all the rest is a low-rent manifestation of the same hyper-violent syndrome often found in big-ticket "Bourne"-style action pictures. In both instances, we are witnessing a worst-case scenario of male aggression -- maleness and murderousness are twinned. (In the case of a lurid art film like "The Brave One," Jodie Foster's Charles Bronson-ish vigilante is the Frankenstein monster created by male murderousness.)

It's easier to dismiss this scenario in the slasher cheapies, which were also quite big in the '80s, than in the more serious current fare. In many of the Iraq-themed films, the psycho soldier, so familiar from Vietnam-era movies, is once more a featured player. The traditional all-American good guy is the bad guy again. In the centerpiece to Brian De Palma's "Redacted," which is inspired by a real incident, American soldiers in Samarra rape and murder a 15-year-old girl and then kill her family. In Paul Haggis' "In the Valley of Elah," also inspired by a true story, a recently returned American soldier who served in Iraq -- the son of a Vietnam vet played by Tommy Lee Jones -- is ultimately discovered to have been murdered by men in his own unit. In both movies, the perpetrators are portrayed as hollow-eyed thugs. The implication is clear: These men were zombified by an unjust war (or conversely, an unjust war attracted zombie recruits). Instead of going after the policy makers who put these men into that war, the filmmakers demonize the soldiers themselves.

If there is a more all-American male icon than the fighting soldier, it's the Westerner, and he too has undergone an extreme makeover. Traditionally Jesse James has been touted in the movies as a mythic hero in much the same way that he once was in the dime novels. In "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," Brad Pitt's Jesse is a sociopath whose antennae are tuned to the tiniest quavers of betrayal. His murders are swift and remorseless. In one sequence, seeking vengeance, he savagely beats an innocent boy. This Jesse James is one of the very first casualties of the American fame industry and, as such, Pitt, who has a sly knowingness in the role, is perfectly cast. The legendary Westerner has been transformed into an icon deranged by his own celebrity. His murderer, Casey Affleck's Robert Ford, is ultimately also annihilated by his own notoriety.

Modern masculinity

JOEL and Ethan Coen have said that in their "No Country for Old Men" -- which is set in Texas in 1980 but feels contemporary -- the classic Westerner is split into three archetypes at war with one another. Josh Brolin's hunter Llewelyn Moss is the scruffy Everyman who makes off with somebody else's millions from a drug deal gone wrong; Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh, whose massive head looks like a carved chess piece and whose weapon of choice is a cattle stun gun, is the sagebrush Terminator who pursues him. Tommy Lee Jones' Ed Tom Bell is the local sheriff who tracks them knowing full well that a new malevolence has entered into the West that he cannot survive. Bell may be Old School, but Chigurh is Old Testament.

It's significant that even people who admire this movie feel cheated by its fatalism. They want a happy ending. (Don't they know Cormac McCarthy, who wrote the novel, doesn't do happy?) These are the same folks who complained that the killer wasn't captured at the end of "Zodiac." Without Chigurh's rampant, unpunished depravity, which is so ghoulish it's comic, the movie has no meaning. He represents the sheer animality of male aggression. His triumph in this most masculine of genres certifies his ascendancy in a terrifying modern world where we no longer feel protected.

A generation ago, in his "Eyes of Laura Mars" days, Tommy Lee Jones himself might have been well cast as Chigurh. But with this movie, and "In the Valley of Elah," he's eased into a more sanctioned tradition -- the strong-silent man of principle. In both films, his weathered antiquity is perceived as on the way out -- and more necessary to America than ever.

The comedy of the horny brigade in the Judd Apatow films, of Sacha Baron Cohen in "Borat," or even the guys in "Wedding Crashers" acts as a fizzy chaser to the heavy bourbon of the big boys. (Vince Vaughn is the opposite of the strong-silent type -- he's weak and never shuts up.) Clooney in his movies may have all the right moves, he may look like there was never a time when he didn't have them, but it is Steve Carell trying to hold on to his virginity, or the buddies from "Superbad" desperately trying to lose theirs, who capture the imagination of Geek Nation -- which, it turns out, covers a large swath of the male population. Leaving aside the raunch factor, the men and boys in these movies are innocents -- blood brothers to Tom Hanks' Josh, the 12-year-old 30-year-old in "Big," a key '80s movie about the wonders of arrested development. Not surprisingly, "Big" is being talked about for a remake.

In the end, there can't be all that much of a masculinity crisis in the movies if Clooney and Carell can co-exist in the same eco-system. There is, however, one species of movies that is largely AWOL, and it's the same one that flourished just before the primal heroics of the Reagan era took hold. Films as disparate as "Dog Day Afternoon," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "Deliverance" and "Raging Bull" didn't rubber-stamp the prevailing macho orthodoxies, they challenged and subverted and worried them. It's difficult to be a man, these films said, and by their willingness to embrace moral ambiguity, they honored that difficulty. At a time when we are at war and masculine force in the movies is being trumpeted or pilloried, I have a suggestion for Hollywood: Why not give Rambo a rest and revisit the realm of films like these instead?

Peter Rainer is the film critic for the Christian Science Monitor and DVD critic for Bloomberg News.
Onscreen Villain Makes Doctors Wince
A new movie brings anesthesia awareness, a rare phenomenon that doctors are still struggling to understand, to life.
Porn producer sues YouTube knockoff
Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times
Vivid Co-Chairman Bill Asher, left, with co-founder Steven Hirsch in their L.A. office. "We've decided to take a stand and say 'no more,' " Vivid Co-Chairman Steven Hirsch said. "We will go after all the free sites."
PornoTube and its parent firm are accused of profiting from piracy.
By Joseph Menn, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 11, 2007
A major porn producer filed a lawsuit Monday against an X-rated knockoff of YouTube, alleging that it profited from piracy by allowing its users to post videos that include copyrighted material.

Vivid Entertainment Group filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court against PornoTube and its parent, Data Conversions Inc., which does business in Charlotte, N.C., as AEBN Inc.

The suit is apparently the first of its kind in the adult film industry, which has done a better job than the major Hollywood studios in finding ways to profit from putting entertainment products on the Internet.

But in the last year or so, the rapid increase in consumption of all manner of videos on the Web has in some ways hurt the porn producers more than the mainstream companies because consumers of adult fare often get what they are looking for in clips of five minutes or less. Free short clips are easy to find on the Web, undercutting the established porn producers, which earn most of their money from long-form videos.

"We've decided to take a stand and say 'no more,' " Vivid co-Chairman Steven Hirsch said. "We will go after all the free sites."

In legal terms, the Vivid suit echoes the claims of a lawsuit Viacom Inc. filed this year against YouTube, which is owned by Google Inc. The question at the heart of both cases is just how hard a website must work to ensure that users don't post videos belonging to someone else.

The law on that matter is unsettled, attorneys said. YouTube and other sites have compromised with some mainstream producers, agreeing to split ad revenue generated while their clips are played.

Hirsch said he wasn't interested in negotiating a similar deal or in constantly keeping watch for Vivid material popping up without the company's permission.

"I can't be a policeman, and I don't intend to be," Hirsch said.

Vivid has an additional beef with PornoTube. Although Vivid is required by law to record the ages and birth names of its performers, PornoTube has an unfair competitive advantage because it doesn't always comply, according to the lawsuit.

An AEBN executive didn't respond to a request for comment.

The suit accuses PornoTube of hosting excerpts of tapes that include such Vivid titles as "Night Nurses," "Where the Boys Aren't 7" and the private work of TV personality Kim Kardashian. The suit seeks damages of $150,000 per infringed work.

Other porn companies also are upset by the explosion in Web video sites, many of which rely on user submissions that borrow heavily from copyrighted material.

"What's happening in the industry is an unacceptable amount of theft," said Jon B., a vice president at Red Light District who asked that his full name not be used because family members don't know what he does.

He said Internet piracy might be reducing his company's profit 35%.

The executive said suing websites was likely to prove futile because so many existed and because file-trading occurred over decentralized networks, leaving no single party to sue.

Instead, he said Red Light was considering suing individual downloaders for pirating copyrighted material, as the music industry is doing.

"If it scares them enough, if it can take away 20% of the illegal downloads, we'll be doing the best that we can," he said.

Hirsch said the Internet remained a positive overall for Vivid, helping to provide new ways to generate revenue to make up for declining DVD sales.

Piracy has always existed, but it's more detrimental for the company as it tries to sell more of its content over the Web, Hirsch said. Competing with free Internet videos is bad enough, but competing with free versions of Vivid's material is maddening, he said.

Industry revenue as a whole is up, but it is getting split into more pieces, said Farley Cahen, publisher of Adult Video News Online magazine.

"In the past, it was peer-to-peer networks" that took a modest amount of technical ability to use, Cahen said. "Now, there's PornoTube, XTube, RedTube -- any kind of -Tube you can think of."

"There are longer and longer clips that are free, and the companies are at a loss over what to do."



Homemade YouTube Video Lands Singer in a Web Ad
Becoming an Internet phenomenon after posting a no-frills music video on YouTube, Tay Zonday has followed up with an advertisement for Dr Pepper.
Homemade YouTube Video Lands Singer in a Web Ad

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Published: December 10, 2007

If, as the song goes, video killed the radio star, then homemade YouTube heroes like Tay Zonday have put a hit out on traditional advertising.
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"Cherry Chocolate Rain," a video for Dr Pepper (youtube.com)

In April, Mr. Zonday became an Internet phenomenon after he posted a no-frills video for the song “Chocolate Rain” on YouTube featuring his earnest delivery and his deep voice, which he likens to that of Paul Robeson and Barry White.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Zonday, a 25-year-old graduate student in American studies at the University of Minnesota whose real name is Adam Bahner, posted a follow-up called “Cherry Chocolate Rain.” But in this case, the flashier video was an ad. With a little help from the rapper Mista Johnson, Mr. Zonday extols the virtues of Cherry Chocolate Diet Dr Pepper, a soft drink that will be available nationally from January through April. (Since November, it has had limited marketing in four states.)

Soft drink companies have often based ad campaigns around pop singers, but they are usually mainstream acts like Michael Jackson or Britney Spears, not an online curiosity like Mr. Zonday, who does not have a record contract.

“We’re doing this to try to do something fun and different and connect with consumers who might not see more traditional media,” said Jaxie Alt, the director for marketing at Dr Pepper, which worked with True Entertainment, a production company, in August to approach Mr. Zonday about reworking “Chocolate Rain.” Neither Mr. Zonday nor Dr Pepper would disclose how much Mr. Zonday received for the "Cherry Chocolate Rain" video.

In the months since it has been up, the video for “Chocolate Rain” has had roughly 12 million hits. “I probably posted it like millions of other people upload themselves singing or doing ordinary things in their lives, and I think that’s very much part of our time, part of our culture,” said Mr. Zonday. “It’s not something one gives a whole lot of more thought to than sending an e-mail or making a phone call,” added Mr. Zonday, who has also landed a television commercial for Comedy Central.

The newer video, for “Cherry Chocolate Rain,” has more than one million hits so far. The newer song has the same melody as the original but different lyrics. The viral approach “was very, very deliberate from a marketing standpoint,” said Shari Solomon Cedar, True Entertainment’s vice president for programming. “Our task was to get something in front of a tech savvy, younger audience, to break through and bring awareness that way. That’s what we achieved.”


E-Commerce Report
Small Merchants Gain Large Presence on Web

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Published: December 3, 2007

MOM-AND-POP retailers have helplessly stood by over the last decade as big-box merchants steamrolled over them. Online, though, small merchants are not going down without a fight.
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Michael Houghton for The New York Times

Lisa Mathisen, owner of RealmDekor.com, a retailer of home goods, has been able to compete with larger companies.

The number of small- and medium-size retailers selling online has swelled in the last two years, from 21 percent to 32 percent, according to a survey by IDC, a consulting firm. Aided by less expensive and more sophisticated technology, stores like RealmDekor.com, CleanAirGardening.com and SitStay.com are competing with retailers as well as bigger sites like Amazon.

These businesses lack the huge marketing budgets of their bigger peers, of course, but they are unearthing cheap advertising methods that, in some cases, help them compete with million-dollar promotions.

The retailer of quirky home goods, RealmDekor.com, has experienced occasional sales increases not because of catalog shipments or television commercials, but because it formed relationships with bloggers and posted its products on new “social shopping sites” like ThisNext.com and StyleHive.com.

“People started posting about my goods and it snowballed from there,” said Lisa Mathisen, RealmDekor’s owner. “I know people think these sites are new and underground, but they’re becoming more mainstream. Even my mother checks them out to find gifts.”

Social shopping sites emerged last year as places for dedicated shoppers to exchange tips on popular items or designers. Tens of thousands of users list their raves and vie for trendsetter supremacy, while the site owners collect dollars for referring customers to retailers.

Gordon Gould, chief executive of ThisNext.com, said the site features more than one hundred thousand products, with a majority of the items coming from smaller retailers. “Social shopping sites help the smaller retailers surface their products and open people up to their specific point of view,” he said.

CleanAirGardening.com, an online retailer of environmentally friendly gardening supplies based in Dallas, recently began posting product demonstration videos on YouTube and other sites, along with links to the site. According to Lars Hundley, the company’s owner, visitors who arrive from video-sharing sites purchase goods 20 percent more often than those who come from elsewhere.

Most online shoppers are so experienced that they feel safer venturing away from Amazon to buy from lesser-known sites, said Ray Boggs, an IDC analyst. Part of the reason, perhaps, is that the Web sites now built by many small merchants lack the amateurish feel of a few years ago.

Companies like Yahoo, Amazon and thousands of independent Web developers have become considerably better at building slick sites for merchants, sometimes within a few minutes, for less than $100. Yahoo Store merchants, for instance, pay $40 to $300 a month, and a commission of 0.75 percent to 1 percent on each sale. Merchants on the Amazon WebStore pay $60 monthly, along with a 7 percent commission.

Jimmy Duvall, who oversees the Yahoo Stores service for Yahoo’s small business division, said the company recently introduced a series of enhancements, intended to simplify the site-building process and improve merchandising.

For instance, Yahoo merchants can now automatically offer a shirt to match a pair of slacks a customer bought previously, or a tablecloth to complement silverware a customer placed into the shopping cart. (In retail parlance, these techniques are called cross-selling or up-selling.)

“They can do some pretty advanced merchandising now, without having to dedicate staff to picking items,” Mr. Duvall said.

In some respects, Yahoo’s cross-selling improvements are a response to Amazon’s entry into the market last year. The Amazon WebStore service began with technology that mimics Amazon.com’s recommendation feature, which displays the purchases of customers who searched for items similar to those on a given page.

In Amazon’s latest quarterly results, 32 percent of the goods sold on Amazon’s sites were offered by other merchants.

Those numbers could climb after a technology failure by Yahoo last week left its 45,000 merchants without functioning Web sites for much of the big Cyber Monday holiday shopping day. Matt Williams, who oversees the Amazon WebStore division, said his company had calls from Yahoo clients who were looking to transfer their stores quickly to his service.

Like Yahoo, Amazon helps its clients attract customers by listing its products on the site, and by helping ensure the stores appear on search engines. Such help is critical for beginners, but for more seasoned merchants hoping to reach the upper tiers of online retailing, it is not enough.

SitStay.com, an online retailer of goods for dog owners, grew steadily since its began in 1996. It now operates from a 20,000-square-foot facility in Lincoln, Neb. The owners of the 13-employee company, Darcie and Kent Krueger, invested slightly less than $100,000 in new Web site technology from I.B.M. that, starting last month, allowed them to more quickly post sales and product recommendations, among other things.

But because the new technology required SitStay to replace all of its old Web pages with new ones, search engines no longer rank the site’s products near the top of the results. Because few consumers click to the second or third page of search results, the effect was significant. Bigger merchants like Petco and Petsmart, meanwhile, can easily outbid SitStay for prominent ads.

“And more and more sites are coming out all the time, some with a lot of money they can invest in their search ads,” Mr. Krueger said. “So we’ve got everything in place to handle a lot more customers. Now, we’ve just got to find ways to bring them to us.”


E-COMMERCE REPORT; A Gimmick Becomes a Real Trend (November 2007)


Publisher Gets Web Readers to Fill the Pages of Its Magazines
Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Paul Cloutier with the magazines JPG and Everywhere from his company.

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Published: November 24, 2007

Correction Appended

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 21 — A funny thing happened while Halsey Minor was trying to kill print journalism. He ended up publishing magazines — big, heavy magazines, with beautiful pictures on quality paper — the kind he and others had declared obsolete.

The founder of the technology news site CNet.com readily admits to an about-face. “I spent my time at CNet talking about how print was going to be challenged by the Internet and specifically how we were going to make magazines go away,” he said. “But two years ago I realized I was still reading over 100 magazines a month. I like holding them and turning the pages. And the images are better than on the Internet.”

Amid the YouTube-fueled craze for user-generated content, he wondered why readers, instead of writers and editors whom he would have to pay, could not do most of the heavy lifting. He also pondered how he might get rid of, or at least reduce, the large ad sales staff. He just was not sure how to pull it off.

Then in 2006 he met Paul Cloutier and Derek Powazek, Web-publishing veterans who were publishing a user-generated on-demand photo magazine called JPG. One early issue took e-mail submissions and used a self-publishing service to sell downloads or print copies with Cloutier’s and Powazek's favorites.

They wanted to expand. Mr. Minor, who has backed a number of successful ventures since CNet — including Salesforce.com, which went public, and Grand Central, which was sold to Google — had money to invest. A few weeks later, in June, 8020 Publishing was born. It was named after the proverbial ratio of passive Web users (sometimes called lurkers) to those who actually write and contribute. Mr. Minor wants to build the company into an empire of Web-generated print magazines.

“Dan Rather was a pivotal moment for me,” he said, referring to the way bloggers discovered inconsistencies in the anchorman’s 2004 “60 Minutes” story about President Bush’s military service. “You can be an ‘expert,’ but the collective way is so much richer and deeper that it’s almost impossible to compete with.”

He is hardly the only one with the idea of using user-generated content to make money. Many Web sites, like YouTube or Yelp, thrive on content that users donate. The Al Gore venture CurrentTV is a cable channel devoted to videos submitted by the general public. Google recently filed a patent for user-generated content publications.

But 8020 is different because Mr. Minor thinks he can also make money from old-fashioned print.

Online readers vote on their favorite submissions appearing at JPGmag.com. Then a tiny staff of 10 designs a layout for the winners and about 50,000 high-quality slick-looking magazines are printed six times a year. They are sold through $25 annual subscriptions and on newsstands for $6 each.

The online version is free. Readers can also download and print a PDF file of the entire magazine free, because the publishers assume that physically holding a high-quality magazine is more satisfying than viewing it online and therefore will not cannibalize newsstand sales.

Even with that freebie, Mr. Minor says that 70 percent of his magazines on newsstands are purchased, a surprisingly high “sell-through” rate; most magazine publishers would be thrilled with 50 percent.

The start-up was not without turmoil. Mr. Powazek (along with his wife, Heather Powazek Champ, also at the magazine since its founding) left 8020 in May, saying that a power-hungry Mr. Cloutier had pushed him out. On his blog, Powazek.com, he accused Mr. Cloutier and Mr. Minor of minimizing his contributions to the new and old versions of JPG. He was particularly upset that the earliest issues had been taken off the site.

Mr. Powazek said he did not realize his influence would be diminished so severely when he agreed that Mr. Cloutier should run 8020. He also laid claim to the idea for 8020, pointing out that he and his wife put together the first e-mail-driven version of JPG without Mr. Cloutier.

While he no longer has a role at 8020, Mr. Powazek still owns a small percentage of the company. Mr. Cloutier does not dispute that the partnership ended badly or that the first issues were taken off the Web site. But he said it was necessary to distinguish between the incarnations of the magazine, since the new one was so different. And he said Mr. Powazek obstructed the introduction of the new company and magazine and alienated the staff members by refusing to let newcomers contribute to what he saw as his baby.

Nevertheless, Mr. Minor and company are so happy with the business model that they have produced a second user-generated magazine called Everywhere, devoted to travel. It went on sale last week.

“You’re going to see more of this,” said Samir Husni, who is chairman of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi and writes the well-known magazine business blog Mrmagazine.com. “I don’t think it’s just about getting cheap content into a magazine. Seeing their own work in print makes people feel like part of a community.”

Community is a mantra Mr. Minor and Mr. Cloutier, now chief executive of 8020, repeat often. The JPG and Everywhere sites have lots of what the staff calls “easy jumping-in points” — features meant to get users involved without intimidating them.

“Ask someone to write a magazine story and they freeze up,” said Mr. Cloutier, who has designed magazine Web sites and helped start CurrentTV. “But say ‘send us a postcard’ and it becomes easy.”

Users can submit photos, writing and travel recommendations to Everywhere and comment on everything. If a comment is popular enough, it might end up in print under someone else’s photo.

8020 tries to make the magazine more readable by limiting advertising. Web ads are subtle — no pop-ups. The dozen or so advertisers in the print issues are limited to the first few pages, the back, and sponsorships of special sections. Adobe Systems, Sony, Epson, Audi and Virgin America have bought ads. 8020 can afford to limit advertising because, Mr. Minor said, it does not need it to make a profit from them. It says it makes money on each subscription and newsstand sale — the opposite of the traditional magazine business.

And while JPG’s circulation is only 18,000 subscriptions, the company said it needed to sell just 30,000 to break even on each issue. The small print runs and low overhead leave money for quality paper, an increasing rarity among magazines. It is also reflected in the content. Data, like hotel phone numbers and addresses, is likely to be on the Web but not in a print version of Everywhere. Longer stories and photo essays might be featured solely in print.

Now they will see whether users share their vision. In the meantime, Mr. Minor and the 8020 staff are kicking around ideas for the next magazine. Mr. Minor said he was in the venture for the long haul. “I would be really upset if it didn’t work because it should work,” he said. “We should be able to build a large media company based on people publishing for themselves.”

Correction: December 6, 2007

Because of an editing error, an article in Business Day on Nov. 24 about a group of Web publishers who started 8020 Publishing to produce user-generated print magazines referred imprecisely to the contributions of Paul Cloutier, 8020’s chief executive, to one such publication, JPG magazine. He joined after the first issue; he was not involved in starting the magazine. Also because of an editing error, the article referred imprecisely to the magazine’s content. Only one early issue accepted direct e-mail submissions; subsequent submissions have been taken from JPGmag.com. The article also misstated the current ownership status of Derek Powazek, a founder of the online magazine. He still owns a small percentage of 8020 Publishing, not JPG.com.


The ’60s as the Good Old Days
A new trend in advertising presents many of the contentious aspects of the ’60s — the protests, the hippies, the challenge to authority — in a positive, even romanticized light.
The ’60s as the Good Old Days

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Published: December 10, 2007

IF you remember the ’60s, as a popular saying goes, you probably weren’t there. No matter. Madison Avenue is taking you back with a skein of campaigns celebrating sights and sounds of the decade.
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A Volkswagen Microbus symbolizing the 1960s. Other ads present many aspects of the ’60s that were contentious at the time — the protests, the hippies, the challenge to authority — in a positive or even a romanticized light.
Geico TV SpotVideo
Geico TV Spot
Total Cereal TV SpotVideo
Total Cereal TV Spot
US Trust TV SpotVideo
US Trust TV Spot
Addenda: People and Accounts in Advertising (December 10, 2007)

The ads are filled with images like Volkswagen buses festooned with groovy graffiti, daisies and other power flowers, peace signs, psychedelic drawings in DayGlo colors and hair, long beautiful hair, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen (to quote a lyric from the era).

Music, too, is being used to invoke the 1960s. Commercials on television, radio and the Internet play tunes like “Daydream” by the Lovin’ Spoonful (1966), “Gimme Some Lovin’ ” by the Spencer Davis Group (1967) and “On the Road Again” by Canned Heat (1968).

The trend may have started in summer 2006 when Ameriprise Financial introduced a campaign with Dennis Hopper, a symbol of the counterculture for his roles in films like “Easy Rider.” It has since expanded to brands like Geico insurance, Lucky jeans, Total cereal and U. S. Trust.

What is most intriguing about the trend is that the ads present many of the contentious aspects of the ’60s — the protests, the hippies, the challenge to authority — in a positive, even romanticized light.

For instance, a trippy-looking commercial for Total, sold by General Mills, begins, “The ’60s were about change, defying convention,” and ends by proclaiming the cereal as the best breakfast “for mind and body.”

During the ’60s, mass marketers avoided such language, fearful of alienating mainstream consumers. The approach is also a far cry from the demonization of the decade that still pervades political advertising, as evidenced by recent commercials for Senator John McCain that attacked Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as a product of the ’60s culture.

“There are a lot of good things that came out of the ’60s,” said Larry Meli, president and chief operating officer at the AmericanLife TV Network in Washington. “It’s time to point them out.”

AmericanLife TV, which offers reruns of ’60s series like “Lost in Space” and “Mission: Impossible,” is changing its logo to a daisy from a star. The switch is meant to remind baby boomers of the “flower power” slogan as well as a commercial from the 1964 presidential campaign, titled “Daisy,” that portrayed Barry M. Goldwater, who ran against Lyndon B. Johnson, as a warmonger.

“Being more precisely relevant to the audience you’re trying to address is a good thing,” said Ted Ward, vice president for marketing at Geico in Washington, part of Berkshire Hathaway. “There’s a huge opportunity in the baby-boomer group for us to continue to grow our business.”

Geico is running a commercial and a print ad depicting a VW bus decorated with phrases like “right on” and “far out.” The ads are created by the Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., part of the Interpublic Group of Companies.

“Having been from that era, I can relate,” Mr. Ward said, although, he joked, “I never owned that bus.” His Volkswagens of choice, he recalled, were two Beetles and a Karmann Ghia.

U. S. Trust, part of Bank of America, also displays a VW bus in a campaign by another Interpublic agency, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston. The ads depict a wealthy man today and flash back to show him decades ago, surrounded by friends, inside a bus on a beach.

“The most valuable car in his collection isn’t the Ferrari, the Cobra or the Aston Martin,” a headline declares, “but a 1968 bus.” (Actually, the owner seems to have borrowed parts from models from other years.)

For people in U. S. Trust’s intended audience, “the ’60s “was a formative time in their lives, their wonder years,” said Anne Finucane, chief marketing officer at Bank of America in Boston.

The bus is a symbol “of the values you grew up with, the values that made you successful and the values you want to pass on to your children,” she added.

Indeed, the children of the baby boomers are another reason it is suddenly the time of the season for the ’60s.

“The kids are realizing what that generation was all about and what their fathers and mothers contributed,” said George Lois, who with his son, Luke, is creating a campaign for AmericanLife TV that carries the theme “For baby boomers and their babies.”

The campaign, from an agency in New York aptly named Good Karma Creative, pairs parents and offspring, like the actress Susan Sarandon and her daughter, Eva Amurri; Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair magazine, and his son, Ash; and the artist James Rosenquist and his daughter, Lily.

Ms. Amurri, for example, praises the way her mother’s generation worked to “change the world” by supporting women’s liberation and opposing the Vietnam War. And Ash Carter describes how his father took part in the movements for racial equality and against the war.

The echo effect from an unpopular conflict that polarized a nation four decades ago has not gone unnoticed.

“I’d like to think that the recent trend of using hippie and flower-power songs and tracks is actually a subliminally subversive tactic,” said Josh Rabinowitz, senior vice president and director for music at the Grey Group in New York, part of the WPP Group, “tapping into a subtle yet palpable collective consumer dissent with the Iraq war.”

For those who may dispute such a political perspective, Mr. Rabinowitz offered another rationale for the music’s comeback: It sounds good.

The songs appeal to a younger demographic as much as they do to boomers, he said, because they are reminiscent of the “indie-inflected” songs heard on TV series like “Grey’s Anatomy” and in films like “Garden State.”

Reactions to the ads are so far predominantly positive, the executives say.

“A lot of people are noticing” the Total campaign, said Ann Hayden, worldwide creative director on the General Mills account at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, part of the Publicis Groupe.

“It gives us a starting point for getting people to rethink the brand,” she added.

At Geico, which closely tracks the response to its campaigns, Mr. Ward said the VW bus ads “are working.”

For U. S. Trust, Ms. Finucane said, there will be “more ads coming” with a ’60s vibe because “many of our customers identify with it.”

There may also be ads aimed at wealthy investors who fondly recall the ’70s. Asked if they will use symbols of that decade, like spinning disco balls, Ms. Finucane replied, “I hope not.”


Smoke This Book
Lars Klove for The New York Times

Quest for the consumer: Advertising inserted into a 1972 science-fiction paperback by A. E. Van Vogt.

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Published: December 2, 2007

If the mark of a classic is that every time you read it you discover something new, then the 1972 paperback of A. E. Van Vogt’s science-fiction novel “Quest for the Future” just might be a classic. Those who read the book when it was first published in hardcover in 1970 certainly won’t recognize this passage from Chapter 15: “A large gleaming machine with an opening at one end was wheeled in, and once again the cycle ran its Micronite Filter. Mild, Smooth Taste. For All the Right Reasons. Kent. America’s Quality Cigarette. King Size or Deluxe 100s.”
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Lars Klove for The New York Times

Advertising inserted into a 1972 science-fiction paperback by A. E. Van Vogt.

A full-color advertising insert, bound directly into the book, brings “Quest for the Future” crashing into the mundane present. And this whiplash effect isn’t unique to Van Vogt’s book. A familiar if puzzling sight to flea market devotees, ad-stuffed paperbacks from the 1960s and ’70s now have a paper trail hidden among more than 40 million pages of internal tobacco industry documents archived online in the University of California, San Francisco’s Legacy Tobacco Documents Library (legacy.library.ucsf.edu). Read the memorandums and you’ll want a shower afterward — or perhaps a cigarette.

The story of paperback advertising started innocently enough: with babies, in fact. In 1958, the Madison Avenue adman Roy Benjamin founded the Quality Book Group, a consortium of the paperback industry heavyweights Bantam Books, Pocket Books and the New American Library. Despite the lofty name, the group’s real purpose was to sell advertisements in paperbacks, and its first target was the biggest success of them all: Dr. Benjamin Spock’s “Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care.” A 1959 Pocket Books print run of 500,000 included advertisements by Q-Tips, Carnation and Procter & Gamble. By 1963, a 26-page insert in Spock was commanding $6,500 to $7,500 per page, and ads were spreading into mysteries and other pulps as well.

It was a windfall for everyone — everyone, that is, except the authors. “Authors were horrified by these ads,” Paul Aiken, the executive director of the Authors Guild, said in a recent interview, adding jokingly, “And doubly horrified that they weren’t paid for them.”

Stung by criticism that he’d broken the endorsement guidelines of the American Medical Association, Spock sued his publisher in New York State Supreme Court, claiming he had been misled into signing permission for the ads by publishers who assured him it was common practice. In its defense, Pocket Books argued that advertising in books dated to the Victorian era: examine a serialized 1849 edition of Dickens’s “David Copperfield” and you’ll find advertisements for Freeman’s Spermazine Wax Lights and Dr. Lucock’s Pulmonic Wafers jostling with those for Arrowsmith’s Pianoforte and Toilet Covers. The judge sided with Spock’s publisher, and the floodgates were opened. Weeks later the ad agency BBDO informed clients that now “the medium” — paperback books — “has been offered on a large scale.”

“If you’re getting enough stimulation from this book, you don’t need it from your coffee,” a Sanka ad announces in a 1971 copy of Elizabeth Longford’s “Queen Victoria: Born to Succeed,” which also contains pitches for Kotex, Palmolive and Canadian Club. The practice had its critics. “We will see the day,” the syndicated columnist John Keasler lamented, “when we turn a page of Hemingway or Wolfe ... and the next page will say Are Your Underarms Really With It?” But research suggested the ads were working. A 1972 study of paperback advertising found that although readers professed to dislike the idea of ads in books, after actual exposure their negative responses to the practice slid while brand awareness climbed.

The bulk of paperback advertising came from tobacco companies, which were looking for new places to push their products after a federal ban on cigarette advertising on television and radio passed in 1969. Beginning in 1971, the Lorillard Tobacco Company began buying into print runs of tens and even hundreds of thousands of copies apiece at the astounding rate of 125 titles a month, often in pulpy volumes like “Purr, Baby, Purr” and “The Executioner #8: Chicago Wipeout” — not to mention the poetically if unintentionally matched “I Come to Kill You” and “Unless They Kill Me First.” True to the era, Lorillard placed advertisements in 150,000 copies of “Group Sex,” as well as in “Heloise’s Kitchen Hints.” By 1975, the company had spent $3 million for advertisements in a staggering 540 million paperbacks.

Some accused cigarette manufacturers of aiming at children. “I would appreciate it if your Institute could attempt to persuade the manufacturers of Kent and True cigarettes to withdraw their ads from the ‘Avenger’ series and any other books which are aimed primarily at teen or sub-teen audiences,” one Robert Lee of Alexandria, Va., complained in a 1974 letter to the Tobacco Institute. Lorillard denied any nefarious intentions, responding, “We hope your children will continue to enjoy their reading adventures.”

But it wasn’t just pulp fiction that was singled out. Lorillard ordered advertisements in 74,000 copies of Toni Morrison’s novel “The Bluest Eye,” while other cigarette ads turned up in books assigned in schools. The authors themselves were sometimes the last to know. In a recent interview, Michael Frayn said it was “particularly depressing” to learn 35 years later that the American edition of his comic novel “Against Entropy” hawked True cigarettes, calling the ads “a barbarous practice.”

The rock critic Dave Marsh was able to block advertising requests for his 1983 book “Before I Get Old: The Story of the Who” after conferring with Pete Townshend, whose publishing company, Eel Pie, had acquired it. “I had a relationship with the publisher that allowed me to argue,” Marsh said by telephone from his home in Connecticut. “I didn’t feel like pimping cigarettes.” By then, the practice was fading anyway, thanks in part to an Authors Guild model contract banning unauthorized ads. The demographics of smoking were also changing, with smokers becoming less educated. An internal 1983 study for a “Salem Spirit” cigarette campaign found that “most had no compunction admitting they read very little.” One respondent had read only one book in his life: “The Amityville Horror.” The little that male Salem smokers in 1983 did read, the researchers noted dryly, included “sports news, the want ads” and “manuals on pot growing.”

Today, paperback advertisements live on in moldering attic boxes of pulps and in the nicotine addictions they fostered. But finding an ad in his own book did manage to drive away at least one customer.

“At the time, I was a smoker,” said Jerry Hopkins, the author of “Elvis: The Biography,” published as a Warner paperback in 1972. “I quit the following year.”

Paul Collins teaches creative writing at Portland State University and is the author of “The Trouble With Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine.”


Marketing to Women



Marketing Strategies


Related Resources

Popular Documents: Industry Activity

Multimedia Collection

Tobacco Documents Bibliography

Questions or Comments?

The documents below provide a starting point for exploration of marketing and advertising strategies used by the tobacco companies to create cigarette brands specifically for women.

Marketing Strategies

Papers from the A.A.A.A. Region Conventions: How An Agency Builds a Brand -- The Virginia Slims Story (1970)

Presentation describing the famous PM marketing campaign for Virginia Slims. Of particular note are slides of advertising slogans and storyboards rejected in favor of the well-known tagline: "You've come a long way, baby."


Segmenting the Women's Market by Women's Role, Women's Lib and Other Social Forces (1973)

Report dividing women into categories, from "emotional bra-burning extremists" to "anti-libbers," to facilitate development of a cigarette that appeals to women with more "powerful sets of opinions and feelings."


The Female Smoker Market (1973)

Lorillard report exploring the growing importance of the female smoker. The report investigates motivations for smoking, lower success rates in quitting smoking, and an increase in cigarette consumption by adolescent girls.


Images that Positively Motivate Women: An Initial, Qualitative Exploration (1980)

RJ Reynolds study investigating imagery with a broad-based appeal for women in an effort to provide "strong positive image(s)" which "may help to offset some of the negative feelings about smoking in general and/or a brand in particular (e.g. a high tar, high nicotine cigarette)."


A Historical Perspective on Female-Oriented Brands (1981)

Provides a brief overview of female-targeted brands since the 1960s with a focus on the success of Virginia Slims.


New Business Research and Development Report: Project AA, Analysis of Female Smokers (1983)

RJ Reynolds analysis of types of cigarettes women are more likely to smoke and of the social values of women from specific age brackets that influence attraction to a specific brand.


V.F. Year 1: Promotion Recommendations (1989)

RJ Reynolds marketing strategy that targeted young women, age 18-20, with very specific demographic characteristics. Report outlines the attitudes and interests of this target population and details plans to develop high impact retail promotions to build brand awareness and image.


Female Brand (1993)

American Tobacco report on existing brands developed for female smokers as well as market share of "female only" brands. This report suggests a more contemporary and relevant "lifestyle-based approach" to developing a brand targeted specifically toward young adult female smokers.


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To Keep a Slender Figure No One Can Deny.... Reach For a Lucky Instead of a Sweet (n.d.)

Early tobacco advertisement appealing to issues of weight and beauty.


Silva Thins - Cigarettes & Women (n.d.)

Advertisement comparing "the best women" to "thin and rich" cigarettes.


"Watch Adeline Gray Try Uncle Sam's New Nylon 'Chute..." (1942)

WWII-era advertisement for Camel cigarettes featured a female parachutist as a spokesperson.


Virginia Slims - "You've Come a Long Way, Baby" (1969)

Advertisement comparing the women's liberation movement and the right to vote to being able to smoke a cigarette made just for women.


For More of a Women, More of a Salem (1974)

Lorillard advertisement equating style and fashion with the Salem brand.


If Women Ran a Tobacco Company, What Would it be Like? (1996)

RJ Reynolds advertisement introducing the company's female president.



Imitation Hits the Marketing Business. Again.

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Published: November 20, 2007

THEY say that imitation is the sincerest form of advertising, and once again a skein of look-alike, sound-alike, seem-alike campaigns is raising eyebrows along Madison Avenue.
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NOW YOU SEE IT If you want to visit the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore and the Golden Gate Bridge, watch the AT&T ad.
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NOW YOU SEE IT, AGAIN But if New York and Tokyo are your desired destinations, head for the ad for Riverbed Technologies.

Television commercials for American Honda Motor and Subway restaurants, for instance, both use the theme song from the vintage sitcom “The Odd Couple.”

Here are some other examples that have consumers doing double — and in some cases, triple — takes:

¶Campaigns for AT&T and a company called Riverbed Technology are both based on the concept of “mashing up” the names of cities to produce fanciful amalgams like “Japaridelphia” and “New Yorkyo.”

¶A television commercial for Visa, set in a toy store, and a trailer promoting “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” a movie about a magical toy store, both feature the same upbeat instrumental tune, “Breakfast Machine,” which was featured in the 1985 film “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.”

¶TV spots for Aflac and Alltel use the venerable special-effects tool known as stop-motion animation to bring to life Santa Claus, among other characters. On the USA cable network on Sunday night, the two spots ran within minutes of each other in a commercial break during an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Also, shoppers can see ads from three marketers — Dell, Sears and Wal-Mart — that all promote the idea of making holiday wishes come true.

For Dell, the thought is expressed with themes like “Wish for the holidays” and “Wish for anywhere.” For Sears, the themes include “This year, don’t just give a gift, grant a wish” and “Where wishes begin.” For Wal-Mart, there is a single wishful theme, “For every wish.”

The issue of what constitutes originality in ads — and what might instead be homage, borrowing, mimicry, copycatting or plagiarism — has been vexing industry professionals for decades. Generally, although an idea cannot be copyrighted, in some instances a specific expression of the idea may be protected.

The Internet has made it easier to find and widely publicize perceived similarities in campaigns. Now, even when ads appear thousands of miles apart, comments can be made about their apparent commonalities.

For instance, the blog Adfreak (adweek.blogs.com/adfreak/) noted recently that a billboard for an electric utility in South Africa was reminiscent of a billboard for a water utility in Denver. Each used a small portion of a big billboard for a visual pun: a message promoting conservation.

Adfreak, written by editors of the trade publication Adweek, is among scores of blogs devoted to advertising and marketing. Many of their authors devote posts to ads that they believe too closely resemble other ads. As the ranks of the ad detectives grow, the number of incidents may seem to proliferate.

A blog called FX Rant (fxrant.blogspot.com) even devotes a section, titled “Movie Marketing Is Hard,” to “illustrating the lack of creativity” among campaigns from film studios. The most recent post pointed out similarities between the campaigns for “Beowulf,” which opened on Friday, and the 2006 film “300.”

How did the Visa commercial come to use the same song and the same toy-shop setting as the trailer for “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” which opened on Friday?

Any coincidences between the spot and the movie “are just that, coincidences,” said Jeremy Miller, a spokesman for the Visa agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day, part of the TBWA Worldwide division of the Omnicom Group.

“This is not the first time Visa has highlighted a toy store in its advertising,” Mr. Miller said, and depicting a “busy toy store during the holiday period is completely in character for Visa as the fourth quarter is a very busy time with all retailers.”

The idea for the commercial was submitted last February, he added, before the movie trailer began to appear.

Speaking of the holiday, what could account for three campaigns all using variations of “wish”? “Wishing is something that’s pretty common at holiday time,” said David Clifton, director for global marketing communications at Dell, and as a result, he added, “I don’t see a problem” with the echo effect.

“One thing we looked at was how do we differentiate our campaign,” Mr. Clifton said, “so we added some texture to it” with a theme, “Yours is here,” that is also the address for a special Web site (yoursishere.com) featuring celebrities like Burt Reynolds. The campaign is created by the New York office of Mother.

At Sears, Roebuck, part of Sears Holdings, Richard Gerstein, chief marketing officer, said: “It would be tough to ‘own’ wishes. Wishes are part of the holiday.” The Sears campaign is created by the Chicago office of Y&R, part of the Young & Rubicam Brands unit of the WPP Group.

Still, Sears has ties to wishing that go back further than Dell’s or Wal-Mart’s: The Wish Book was the name for the Sears holiday catalogs published from 1963 to 1993.

The onset of the holiday shopping season is also the likely reason for the simultaneous appearances of the stop-action Santas in the Alltel Wireless commercials, from Campbell-Ewald in Warren, Mich., part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, and the Aflac commercial, from the Kaplan Thaler Group in New York, part of the Publicis Groupe. The spots pay affectionate tribute to holiday TV specials from the 1960s, like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Still, some marketers have a less laissez-faire attitude about similarities in campaigns than Mr. Gerstein at Sears and Mr. Clifton at Dell.

In September, as executives at RPA, the agency for the American Honda Motor Company, were completing a commercial for the Civic Hybrid using the theme from “The Odd Couple,” they learned that a Subway spot, finishing production at about the same, was using the same music.


* E-COMMERCE REPORT; Web Sites Go Fishing in TV’s Advertising Revenue Stream (November 19, 2007)
* ADVERTISING; Web Videos Stealing TV Viewers, and Marketers (November 16, 2007)


No Longer the City of ‘Bonfire’ in Flames
Twenty years after the publication of “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” the milestone provides a moment to consider how the city’s own narrative has (so far) turned out.

When Part-Time Work Isn’t Enough to Pay the Rent
Some days, Adelle Doulin feels as if she is on a treadmill when it comes to meeting her basic expenses.

Metropolitan Diary
While standing on a corner waiting to cross a street, I found myself next to a toddler in a stroller jabbering to himself. Then I noticed that the little boy was actually playing with a colorful toy cellphone.

Op-Ed Columnist
Mitt’s No J.F.K.

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Published: December 9, 2007

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Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Maureen Dowd
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Blogrunner: Reactions From Around the Web

When I was a kid, we used to drive on the Beltway past the big Mormon temple outside Washington. The spires rose up like a white Oz, and some wag had spray-painted the message on a bridge beneath: “Surrender Dorothy!”

It did seem like an alien world, an impression that was enhanced when we took a tour of the temple and saw all the women wearing white outfits and light pink lipstick.

Of course, it was no more scary than scowling nuns with long rulers preaching about the virgin birth, the Holy Ghost and the hideous fates that would befall girls who wore too much makeup or French-kissed.

You’d think Catholics, who watched with trepidation as J.F.K. battled prejudice, would be sympathetic to Mitt Romney.

But even for those of us in religions that were once considered cults by other religions — my mom and another Catholic girlfriend actually had Southern Protestants ask them to lift up their hair so they could see the mark of the devil or the horns — Mormonism is opaque.

Now in addition to asking candidates about boxers or briefs, we have reporters asking Mitt Romney if he wears The Garment, the sacred one-piece, knee-length underwear with Mormon markings and strict disposal rules.

“I’ll just say those sorts of things I’ll keep private,” he told The Atlantic.

One of my Republican brothers told me he wished he could vote for “a Protestant Mitt Romney.”

The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, who ran for president the year before he died, was a lusty, charismatic Prospero. In “Under the Banner of Heaven,” a best seller about the Mormon faith, Jon Krakauer wrote that Smith was so full of charm, enthusiasm and imagination that “he could sell a muzzle to a dog.”

Not wanting to be a debt-ridden farmer like his dad, young Joseph came of age in Palmyra, in western New York. He was, Mr. Krakauer wrote, “attempting to divine the location of buried treasure by means of black magic and crystal gazing.”

When he was 17, Joseph said, an angel named Moroni came to his bedroom to tell him about some gold tablets that had been buried 1,400 years earlier under a nearby rock. Joseph said he translated hieroglyphics on the tablets using special glasses provided by Moroni, and this became the Book of Mormon.

After marrying a passel of women, some as young as 14, he had a divine revelation about polygamy that steamed his original wife, Emma.

“Emma harangued Joseph so relentlessly about his philandering,” Mr. Krakauer wrote, “that the original intent of the revelation canonized as Section 132 seems to have been simply to persuade Emma to shut up and accept his plural wives — while at the same time compelling her to refrain from indulging in any extracurricular sex herself.”

I called Mr. Krakauer — who also wrote the best sellers “Into Thin Air” and “Into the Wild” — to get his opinion of Mitt’s religion speech.

Mormons see themselves as the one true religion, and don’t buy all of the New Testament, he said, “which makes it curious why Mitt thinks evangelical Christians are his allies.”

Asked Thursday by Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America” if he thought Mormons were Christians, Richard Land, an official of the Southern Baptist Convention, replied, “No, I do not.”

Mr. Krakauer can envision a Mormon making an “excellent president.”

“The Mormon approach to family life is amazing, and there are a lot of good things about the faith,” he said. But he worries that “the Mormon Church, while more welcoming, is still not a place that grants women and blacks equal status, and it’s a terrible place to be gay. The leadership is authoritarian, male, white and absolutely intolerant of dissent.”

The problem with Mitt is not his religion; it is his overeager policy shape-shifting. He did not give a brave speech, but a pandering one. Disguised as a courageous, Kennedyesque statement of principle, the talk was really just an attempt to compete with the evolution-disdaining, religion-baiting Huckabee and get Baptists to concede that Mormons are Christians.

“J.F.K.’s speech was to reassure Americans that he wasn’t a religious fanatic,” Mr. Krakauer agreed. “Mitt’s was to tell evangelical Christians, ‘I’m a religious fanatic just like you.’”

The backdrop, he said, is “the wickedly fierce competition between Mormons and Southern evangelicals to convert people.”

The world is globalizing, nuclear weapons are proliferating, the Middle East is seething, but Republicans are still arguing the Scopes trial.

Mitt was right when he said that “Americans do not respect believers of convenience.” Now if he would only admit he’s describing himself.


Showdown in Arizona, Where Mariachis and Minutemen Collide
A weekly confrontation at a parking lot in Phoenix perfectly mimics the national debate over immigration.

Don Cheto is talk of the town
By Agustin Gurza
The cranky old on-air character at Spanish-language station KBUE-FM is actually played by a 27-year-old immigrant who's got his competition in a sweat.

Lessons From the Pits of Travel and Investment
The benefits of wide-body planes and stock index funds.
Emergency Antidote, Direct to Addicts
Naloxone has lately become a tool for states and cities struggling to reduce stubbornly high death rates among opiate users.

All Brains Are the Same Color
Interventions at every age from infancy to college can reduce racial gaps in I.Q., sometimes by substantial amounts in surprisingly little time.

A Knack for Being the Bad Boy
The British actor Ian McShane opens next week as the patriarch Max in Harold Pinter’s “Homecoming,” a man-monster of diminishing powers and, of course, many vulgarities.

TV Weekend
Charming, Cunning and Ready for a Con

Julia Jentsch plays a religious college activist arrested for disseminating anti-Nazi leaflets in "Sophie Scholl."

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Published: February 17, 2006

AMERICANS always seem to fantasize upwards. The British prefer to revel in decline. And that's what makes most British television shows so different and disconcerting.
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"Hustle," a BBC series on AMC, about a gang of high-stakes con artists, is the exception, a refreshing throwback to 1960's caper movies and series like "The Avengers." It's slick, clever and playful: it offers a Cool Britannia that doesn't exist in real life in Britain or on television on either side of the Atlantic.

The theme song is a tip-off: sprightly, mischievous and retro. So is the casting of Robert Vaughn, formerly of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," a series that was influenced by early James Bond movies as well as "The Avengers," which began in Britain a few years earlier. Mr. Vaughn plays Albert Stroller, a genteel con man and gambler who is the gang's father figure and mentor.

This Saturday, AMC will hold a "Hustle" marathon, showing reprises of the first six episodes and the premiere of the seventh; it's a chance to see how the series portrays crime as an art with a strict code of conduct. There is loyalty, and even abiding affection, among the five thieves. Most important, the marks have to be rich enough to afford a fleecing, and not because the con artists have a conscience. Mostly they are superstitious. The gang leader, Mickey Stone (Adrian Lester) believes in karma and jinxes. When one in the group unwittingly robs a small businessman of his entire fortune, Mickey explains that "bad behavior makes bad luck." On this series, greed is secondary to the sport of swindling, particularly the elaborate planning and execution of a "long con," a multi-tiered snow job like the ones in "The Sting" or "Ocean's Eleven."

The writers share their characters' love of trickery. Each episode is layered with feints and red herrings — sometimes literally. In the first episode, Mickey is first seen standing outside an upscale restaurant called the Red Herring. There are crosses and double-crosses, but in almost every episode, there is a moment when the action freezes, and the characters address the audience or the moment in a playful display of self-consciousness — more Stoppard than Mamet.

"Hustle" doesn't dwell on class or race or the grubbiness of real life in a declining empire. (The sun always seems to be shining in this glossy, glamorous version of London.) It's all pretend and it's all for fun, even when some characters get tripped up by their personal lives. Mickey still pines for his estranged wife, while Stacie (Jaime Murray), the cool, sexy girl grifter, pines for him. Outwardly, however, they maintain a bantering camaraderie. "Hustle" stands out from the gloomy, moralizing mood of American crime shows. Here, the law is in disorder, and the criminals always get the last word.

And it couldn't be more different from "Footballers Wive$," an ITV series that begins its third season on BBC America on Sunday. The nighttime soap opera is a "Dynasty" or "Desperate Housewives" for the post-aspirational: there is not much make-believe glamour to their lives. Even their vacations in luxury resorts in Thailand look tacky. These shameless, scheming wives of soccer stars are sordid, their class — or lack of it — as much a part of their identity as their designer suits and platinum blond hairdos. The series is a huge cult hit in Britain, perhaps because the satire is over the top, and also a bit snobbish.

Class doesn't tell much of anything back home on "Desperate Housewives" — the characters are rich and good-looking, and that's all American viewers care to know. Characters are defined by their bad behavior, not by their accents or excessive use of blue eye shadow.

There are other new British imports that have the same cold-blooded approach to comedy. "Ladette to Lady," on the Sundance Channel, is a makeover reality show without much of a happy ending; slatternly, hard-drinking British girls, are sent to Eggleston Hall, a finishing school, to lose their working-class accents and vile manners. Mostly, they squabble and drive their snooty instructresses up the wall. Even the most brutish makeover shows on Fox have a sentimental streak, albeit strained and artificial. The British version is much more deadpan and realistic, a documentary version of "My Fair Lady."

The closest thing to compassion is "Bad Girls," a drama about a women's correctional facility on BBC America. It's more soap opera than satire, but it is nevertheless veined by a bleak, decidedly unromantic sensibility that is very British — even HBO's "Oz" found some grandeur in the sheer horror of prison life.

"Hustle" is the best of this bunch — escapism with an old-fashioned twist: a playful, engaging crime series that cares less about whodunit than how.


AMC, Saturday nights at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.

Footballers Wive$

BBC America, Sunday nights at 10, Eastern time; 9, Pacific time; 9 and midnight, Central time.

Ladette to Lady

Sundance Channel, Thursday nights at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.

Bad Girls

BBC America, Tuesday nights at 9, Eastern time; 10, Pacific time; 8 and midnight, Central time.

December 10, 2007, 10:45 pm
Primae Objectiones Et Responsio Auctoris Ad Primas Objectiones (Part One)

By About Errol Morris

Errol Morris is a documentary filmmaker whose movie The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara won the Academy Award for best documentary feature in 2004. He also directed Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line, Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control and A Brief History of Time, among other films. His new film, "Standard Operating Procedure," will be released next year. A companion book, co-written with Philip Gourevitch, will also appear in 2008. He lives in Cambridge, Mass.

There have been almost 1,400 responses to my previous essays here. The quantity has been extraordinary and so has the quality. Letters in The New York Review of Books or The Times Book Review can be acrimonious — authors defending themselves from real or imagined insults, slurs and attacks. I am delighted that most of the comments have not been adversarial, and I have learned from reading them. I can’t respond all at once, and I have passed by many, fully intending to go back to them in a subsequent round. I ask for the readers’ patience.

A number of readers have claimed that I am not producing a blog — that I am producing a series of essays. Nomenclature aside, the idea of publishing the responses of readers to a given text (and even to including an author’s responses to those responses) goes back at least to the 17th century.

I recently read an account of this in A.C. Grayling’s biography of Descartes:

The great interest generated by the Discourse persuaded Descartes of two things, that he had to leave mathematics behind him, and that he needed to write a more careful and thorough account of his philosophy… The writing of the Meditations on First Philosophy — began to occupy him. And he made a strategic decision: that he would circulate the Meditations before publication, soliciting objections; and that he would publish the objections, together with his replies, along with the text of the Meditations itself.

A.C. Grayling, “Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius”

This is from the 1685 edition of the “Meditations” in the Library of Congress. It is arranged in three sections: the meditations are first, then the first objection and Descartes’ reply, followed by a second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth round of objections and replies.

So what is going on here? I believe it should appropriately be called … “Cartesian Blogging.”

Reply to comment No. 8, “Will the Real Hooded Man Please Stand Up.” The claim that it’s hard to believe I failed to cite Antonioni’s “Blow-Up” or Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”

[It’s] hard to believe a filmmaker wouldn’t cite “Blow Up.” Or anyone not to have referenced Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” etc.

Well, you can’t mention everything. At the end of “Which Came First? (Part 3),” I discuss why I don’t believe “Blow-Up” is about the subjectivity of truth. I hope it is somewhat convincing.

I was a student of Thomas Kuhn in the early 1970s. I plan to discuss “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” in a future essay on photography, meaning and reference. About 15 years ago, a friend of mine, Richard Saum, sent me a picture of a bumper-sticker he had seen in San Diego: “Shifts Happen.” I wish I could find the picture. Tragically, Richard died some years ago.

Reply to comment No. 25, “Hooded Man.” The claim that language can breed error — just like photographs.

…the critic is attributing to photography what is true of all representation, verbal as well as visual. Think about it: can you depend any more on written accounts of reality? If so, I have a bridge to sell. You don’t have to spend more than ten minutes in a court of law to see that writing is highly suspect.

Think about it? I have thought about it.

And I’m not sure I understand your point. Is the point that writing can be false or misleading? Who would argue? What I am writing here could be false or misleading. (I will let readers decide for themselves.)

Here is the problem as I see it.

Photographs are neither true nor false.

Consider this picture of John Kerry and Jane Fonda. It is a well-known fake image that was passed off as an Associated Press photo. Is the photograph true or false?

I would say: neither.

The text surrounding the photograph makes a number of misleading and false claims. The picture is not an A.P. photo, and the captions are worded to encourage the viewer to conclude falsely that John Kerry and Jane Fonda appeared together at the antiwar rally depicted in the photograph. However, this rally never happened.

Fonda and Kerry did attend the same antiwar rally, but these images of the two (which were combined in one fake photograph) were taken at different rallies. Kerry’s was taken in 1971, Fonda’s in 1972.

But what is true or false? Is it the photograph itself or the text surrounding it? I would say it is the text surrounding it.

Here’s the same picture again.

True or false?

Reply to comment No. 43, “Hooded Man.” The claim that we don’t really have to understand the underlying reality of photographs.

“All we could do was to define our own reality and in that quest hope to define a larger truth. Clawman and Vietcong Man both do that. Relatively few people know who the real men are — and it doesn’t matter because the mental and unexplained power of the visual image is a far greater force upon our minds than any amount of words and real identities.”

This shares several underlying themes with No. 25. I still don’t agree.

The “larger truth” is that we all live in the real world.

“Relatively few people know who the real men are — and it doesn’t matter…” But it does matter. If it doesn’t, how do you explain our preoccupation — even obsession — with the identity of people in iconic photographs? The soldiers in Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi, the young Vietnamese girl running down the road in Nick Ut’s photograph, the migrant mother in Dorothea Lange’s photograph.

I agree: “the mental and unexplained power of the visual image is a far greater force…” But is this a good thing? There remains the question: what are images stripped of context? Are they nothing more than propaganda — or if not propaganda, are they simply a mirror that we hold up to our own prejudices and predispositions?

Reply to comment No. 49, “Hooded Man.” The claim that I retread work done by Ames, Akutagawa and Kurosawa.

Your article retreads work done by Adelbert Ames at Dartmouth from 1920-1947. He created aberrations in the visual world, and then tested subjects. He concluded that what we “see” is determined by what we want to see, what we expect to see, and what we have been trained to see. To go back further, the Japanese story “Rashomon” … has the same theme.

I should have mentioned Ames. I am an unabashed Adelbert Ames fan. I include file footage of the Ames Distorted Room and the Ames Revolving Window in a short film (”Stairway to Heaven”) about Temple Grandin, an autistic designer of humane slaughterhouses. Temple Grandin quite brilliantly developed a slaughterhouse ramp based on various optical distortions pioneered by Ames.

Subsequently, I built an Ames Distorted Room for a series of commercials I directed for Quaker Oats. (My reasoning was as follows: I was advertising a weight-loss product. What better way to illustrate weight-loss than to show someone shrinking in size as they walk across a room?)

Ames’s idea is an important one — how we see the world is conditioned by our expectations, cultural and otherwise. Ames’s conclusion: vision is not “stimulus bound.” It is not solely determined by the image on the retina.[1]

And yes, I could have also mentioned Kurosawa’s “Rashomon.”

But “Rashomon” has always given me a little bit of trouble. I thought I understood it. I wanted to understand it, but then I watched the film again, reread the stories on which it is based by Akutagawa (”Rashomon” and “In the Bamboo Grove”) and then changed my view about what “Rashomon” is really about. Here’s my “Rashomon”-like quandary. Is “Rashomon” about the absence of absolute truth or is it about how our vested interests prevent us from acknowledging the truth, admitting to the truth — seeing the truth?

Furthermore, what does it say about the real world rather than just the fictional world of the story? In the real world evidence can coalesce to produce a picture of what really happened. In “Rashomon,” we have a combination of first-person eyewitness testimony and physical evidence, but do they fit together to portray an actual crime, or has the story been deliberately engineered to create unresolvable ambiguity?

In the real world new evidence can be uncovered, but in a fictional world, we have to imagine new evidence. In the real world, we could ask a question: does the policeman eat his soup with his left hand? We can send out a surveillance team and quietly observe the policeman and come to some sort of conclusion. In “Rashomon” there is no soup-eating scene and, for all intents and purposes, the policeman could be ambidextrous.

Early in the movie — about 13 minutes into it — the policeman provides an account of how he captured the bandit (Toshiro Mifune):

To add to our difficulties — compounded by my lack of Japanese — the English subtitles in the Criterion Collection version are different from the Google Public Domain version on the Internet.

He was dressed as you see him now. Carrying that Korean sword. (Google)

The last time I almost caught him, he looked the same and he carried that same sword. (Criterion)

We see the policeman testifying. And there is a cut to a portrayal of what the policeman is describing. We see him running along a riverbank. He sees the bandit, who has collapsed at the water’s edge. Three arrows are sticking in his back. The horse stolen from the samurai grazes nearby. The narration continues:

There was a black lacquered quiver holding seventeen arrows.[2] And a bow. They all belonged to the murdered man. (Google)

We are asked to assess whether the policeman is lying or telling the truth, and if he is lying, his reasons for lying. But why would the policeman lie? What does he have to hide? Furthermore, the account he provides is not heroic. It is not a story of incredible derring-do, and it has the flatness of reportage.

Then there are the arrows. What is the meaning of this physical evidence? Who shot the arrows? And there is a further complication. Is the image to be believed, or is it an illustration of how the policeman confabulated — or even manufactured — a narrative out of unrelated details? What is the significance of the 17 arrows in the quiver or of the three arrows sticking out of the bandit’s back?

Is it so surprising that a story about alternative meanings could have alternative meanings?

So which “Rashomon” are we discussing?[3]

Reply to comment No. 57, “Hooded Man.” The claim that postmodernism should be given a chance.

“So as not to give a leg up to those post-modernist theoreticians who would throw truth out the window along with objectivity, let’s be clear: this is not an assault on truth.” I’m surprised you would dismiss postmodern theorists so quickly, given that your arguments overlap so much with theirs. If you read Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze, Foucault and others, not one of them denies a physical reality. Quite the opposite: they all argue rigorously for empirical investigation over universal abstractions. They argue the exact, same thing that you do—that what we see is shaped by what we believe. But they take it one step further: there is no way to describe or talk about the event in the photograph outside of each of our socially constructed perceptions… I would suggest giving ‘post-modernist theoreticians’ the benefit of the doubt — they would strengthen your arguments immensely.

Herein lies the problem.

I have not dismissed postmodern theorists so quickly, but I have dismissed their views on truth.

You state, “they argue the exact same thing that you do… But they take it one step further…”

Yes. “They take it one step further.” It reminds me of an article that I read years ago in The New York Review of Books about an East German doctor who had been indicted for conducting tuberculosis experiments on children during the Third Reich. In defending himself, he said something to the effect, but I’ve lived an exemplary life, if you don’t include the tuberculosis experiments I performed on children.

That “step further” you refer to is a significant difference. I do not believe — contra the postmodernists — that truth is socially constructed. There are big differences between each of the following claims:

(1) Truth is socially constructed or, worse yet, subjective;

(2) Truth is in principle absolute but we cannot know it; and

(3) Truth is knowable, but there are endless impediments to knowing it. (One of the greatest impediments is that people tend to ignore it or reject it even when presented with it.)

I am a proponent of the third view.

Reply to comment No. 166, “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg? (Part 1).” The claim that it is not clear “why the posing of old photographs is such a big issue.”

It is not clear to me why the posing of old photographs is such a big issue. Later war photographers with their Leicas could make action picture but the old timers had to contend with bulky cameras and horse drawn darkrooms. They could not get into the thick of the action had they wanted to. So, they had to adopt other methods to achieve their effects. All early photographs were “posed” to some extent because there was no other choice in most cases — unless you just wanted to photograph a dovecote. While it seems unlikely to me that Fenton would lug around that many cannon balls, it does not bother me if he did. Remember he was a pioneer. He was not working in an established tradition. All pioneers fumble around at first.

I agree. But I believe there is something important here, even if it isn’t clearly stated. Susan Sontag suggests that there is a “continuum” of posing from the past to the present — from more posed to less posed — particularly in war photographs. Here’s her argument: old photographs are more often posed; modern photographs, less so.

Cameras in the 1860s were bulky and cumbersome. The photographic processes of the times — daguerreotype, wet-plate collodion photography, albumen prints, etc. — involve complex procedures and long exposure times. You just didn’t take photographs off-the-cuff. A photographer had to make calculations, pose people and situations, and manipulate settings to make picture taking even possible. Picture taking was conscious picture taking.

I came across a little known fact about 19th century photography. The albumen for albumen prints — at least some of it — came from albatross (or gooney bird) eggs harvested on Laysan, a remote island in the Hawaiian Island Archipelago. Presumably, to take a picture you had to trick an albatross into giving up her egg — the singular of “eggs” because a Laysan albatross lays at best only one per year.

I first read about the albatross eggs and Laysan Island in a recent book about egg collecting.[4] There was one small photograph. Strange, indistinct, hard to decipher, it was also old — probably 19th century. I found some contemporary pictures (NOAA photographs) of Laysan Island, but they failed to provide much information.

And then Ann Petrone, one of my researchers, found the photograph from the book in the Bancroft Library at the University of California.

But here comes the surprising part, she found that the photograph, ca. 1890, was part of a pair of photographs taken from the same camera position. To call this discovery “surreal” profoundly underestimates it. I would call it “insane.” When I first studied the Fenton photographs from the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I imagined it was highly unusual to find multiple pictures taken from the same tripod position. Maybe I was wrong. Like twin primes, maybe there is an infinitude of such twins. (Well, maybe not an infinitude but a large number of them.)

And then there are the images themselves. A multitude of eggs stretching out towards the horizon. Eggs everywhere. A landscape of eggs. Wheelbarrows laden with eggs, a series of hopper cars filled with still more eggs on narrow-gauge train tracks, and a donkey. Clearly, the albatross paid dearly for our obsession with graven images and our facile attempts at immortality — that is, for our interest in photography. [The twin photographs and a more detailed description of Laysan will appear in a forthcoming article, “Which Came First, The Albatross or the Egg?”]

Fifty years (or so) later, albumen prints were no longer in use and picture taking had been revolutionized by lighter cameras and faster lenses. One camera that particularly fascinates me is the Ermanox, introduced in 1924 and equipped with an f1.8 lens by 1925. Using the Ermanox, Erich Salomon was able to sneak up on sleeping dignitaries and take their pictures. It was no longer necessary to have a subject’s compliance with picture taking. Subjects could remain woefully unaware of the fact that their recumbent images are preserved as if in aspic. The picture is of a meeting of the second Hague Reparations Conference in 1930. The German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julius Curtius, partially obscured in the photograph, is possibly arguing that the demanded reparations payments are unreasonable. If you look carefully, you can see the origins of World War II.

About 100 years later, cameras had become relatively lightweight, they had interchangeable lenses and prints could be readily made and reproduced. You could take a photograph without really thinking about it. All it took was an ill-considered, possibly even inadvertent twitch of a finger.

The family camera when I was growing up in the ’50s was the Argus C3. I can still see the camera in its leather case, even though the camera and many of the pictures taken with it have vanished.

A hundred and fifty years later, cameras, photographs and prints had become digital, and the means of producing and distributing a photograph had changed radically once again. Not only could a photograph be taken with the twitch of a finger, it could be sent around the world and replicated on a 100 million computer screens with the twitch of a finger. It wasn’t necessary anymore to even print a photograph. All you needed was a digital file and a computer screen.

But what does this mean for posing? Does it mean that because of changing technology that images have become more truthful? More candid? Less posed? More true?

According to Sontag, yes.

According to me, no.

Photographs are neither true nor false. Sentences can be true or false, but the truthfulness of a sentence does not depend on whether it is reproduced on a wet-collodion plate or in a digital file.

Is a sentence in color more truthful than a sentence in black & white?

Reply to comment No. 710, “Which Came First? (Part 1).” The claim that some posing is “more authentic.”

Whether one image is more authentic than the other depends on what your motives are as the image maker. In this case if all he is trying to do is record some of what the conflict looked like. I don’t think he can be faulted for recreating something that he and others had already witnessed. On the other hand if he was trying to cultivate an aura of danger in his work then the first scenario that I describe would be backed up by the image, the second would be contrived and a lie.

The issue of authenticity is a troubling one. Sontag does make repeated use of the term “authentic.” On page 27 of “On Regarding the Pain of Others”: “Pictures of hellish events seem more authentic when they don’t have the look that comes from being ‘properly’ lighted and composed…” Followed a couple of sentences later by: “The less polished pictures are … welcomed as possessing a special kind of authenticity.”

More authentic? More true?

This is followed by a distinction between painting and photography:

A painting or drawing is judged a fake when it turns out not to be by the artist to whom it had been attributed. A photograph…is judged a fake when it turns out to be deceiving the viewer about the scene it purports to depict.

But who is doing the deceiving? The photograph?[5] The photographer? The photo-editor? How many viewers have to be deceived? One? Two? 100,000? What if the photographer had no intention of deceiving anyone, but people take the photograph to be deceptive and infer that the photographer intended to deceive? Joe Rosenthal’s picture of the Iwo Jima flag raising is a perfect example. Two flags were raised over Mt. Suribachi. The second flag went up as the first flag went down.

Rosenthal took a picture of the second flag raising. He hadn’t even looked through the viewfinder of this camera. The negative was sent to Guam for development. An article from the A.P. on the 50th anniversary of the Rosenthal photograph attempted to sort things out:

On the caption, Rosenthal had written: “Atop 550-foot Suribachi Yama, the volcano at the southwest tip of Iwo Jima, Marines of the Second Battalion, 28th Regiment, Fifth Division, hoist the Stars and Stripes, signaling the capture of this key position.”

At the same time, he told an A.P. correspondent, Hamilton Feron, that he had shot the second of two flag raisings that day. Feron wrote a story mentioning the two flags.

The flag-raising picture was an immediate sensation back in the States. It arrived in time to be on the front pages of Sunday newspapers across the country on Feb. 25. Rosenthal was quickly wired a congratulatory note from AP headquarters in New York. But he had no idea which picture they were congratulating him for.” (Associated Press, February 12, 1995)

Yet the picture was deemed a fake because others looking at it felt deceived. Evidently, Rosenthal hadn’t pointed out to his future audience that his photograph was of the second flag-raising. He hadn’t provided a detailed enough caption. And the A.P. photo editors hadn’t pointed it out to prospective readers. Feeling tricked, some newspaper editors and readers blamed Rosenthal. They imagined what Rosenthal was thinking, what his intentions were — but what they imagined was not based on knowledge but on conjecture, on supposition.

If our feeling that we are deceived is at issue, then we could easily argue that all photographs potentially deceive the viewer. Who knows which photograph I will be deceived by? I could be deceived by anything. How gullible am I?

So exactly what is fake about Rosenthal’s iconic photograph?

After Rosenthal had taken his iconic picture, he asked the soldiers who raised the second flag if he could take a picture of them posed around the flag. The posed photograph of the second flag-raisers is not fake. It’s a photograph in which the assembled soldiers are posing in front of the flag. Even though Rosenthal has asked them to pose, and has posed the photograph after having asked them to pose for it, it still isn’t fake. It is simply a posed picture of soldiers posing. Rosenthal was worried that he had no photograph of the second flag-raising and asked the soldiers to pose so that he wouldn’t came back empty-handed.

The second flag raising produced a tragicomedy of errors and confusion. It has been conjectured that some of the claims of fraudulence came not just from a misunderstanding of the circumstances under which the iconic photograph was taken, but a confusion between the iconic picture and the posed photograph taken shortly after. Rosenthal, asked if his iconic picture was posed, thought that he was being questioned about the posed photograph (see below), and replied: Yes. And so, it was often claimed that Rosenthal had admitted to posing the first picture when he had admitted to no such thing.

Rosenthal was 33 in 1945. In 1995, at age 83, he was interviewed about his famous photograph in that same A.P. article quoted above: “I don’t have it in me to do much more of this sort of thing… I don’t know how to get across to anybody what 50 years of constant repetition means.” Rosenthal, who died last year at the age of 95, lamented that he had spent a good part of his life defending himself against the claim that he had posed the photograph.

But Rosenthal was right. His iconic photograph was not posed. Even his posed photograph was not a fake. Clearly a photograph can be posed without being fake and vice versa.


And then there are the questions about “authenticity.” When Sontag talks about “authenticity,” is she asking in a roundabout fashion whether the photograph is true or false or is something different involved?

I looked up “authentic” in the Oxford English Dictionary. As usual there are more definitions that you can usefully assimilate. Cherry-picking is unavoidable. But here’s what I came up with:

3. a. Entitled to acceptance or belief, as being in accordance with fact, or as stating fact; reliable, trustworthy, of established credit.

…1739 CHESTERFIELD Lett. 35 I. 117 Authentic means true; something that may be depended upon, as coming from good authority.

…1796 BP. WATSON Apol. Bible ii. 183 A genuine book is that which was written by the person whose name it bears as the author of it. An authentic book is that which relates matters of fact as they really happened.

Chesterfield tells us: yes, “authentic” means true, but then undermines his argument with that last phrase, “…coming from good authority.” I’m not sure “authentic means true,” but even if it does, shouldn’t we wish to have that truth established by something more compelling than “good authority?”

Bishop Watson provides a more congenial — although somewhat bloviated — example[6]. The full title of the work is “An Apology for the Bible, In a series of letters, Addressed to Thomas Paine, Author of a Book Entitled ‘The Age of Reason, Part the Second, Being an Investigation of True and of Fabulous Theology.’” As such it could be imagined as a contemporary exchange between, say, Christopher Hitchens and Pat Robertson (or for a previous generation or so, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan). It seems that every age has a pair of this sort going at each other with hammer and tongs. Paine is the skeptic; Watson, the believer, the staunch defender of Biblical prophesy. Watson is responding to Paine’s question:

Whether there is sufficient authority for believing the Bible to be the Word of God?

Watson’s first letter in the “Apology” starts off with a veiled threat. Always a terrific way of getting someone’s attention.

I begin with your preface. You therein state — that you had long had an intention of publishing your thoughts upon religion, but that you had originally reserved it to a later period in life. — I hope there is no want to charity in saying, that it would have been fortunate for the Christian world, had your life been terminated before you had fulfilled your intention. In accomplishing your purpose, you will have unsettled the faith of thousands; rooted from the minds of the unhappy virtuous all their comfortable assurance of a future recompense; have annihilated in the minds of the flagitious all their fears of future punishment…

Watson knows the stakes.

I have thought fit to make this remark, with a view of suggesting to you a consideration of great importance — whether you have examined calmly and according to the best of your ability, the arguments by which the truth of revealed religion may, in the judgment of learned and impartial men, be established? You will allow, that thousands of learned and impartial men … in all ages have embraced revealed religion as true.

Reading on in “An Apology,” I got to Watson’s second letter and the quote from the O.E.D.

A genuine book is that which was written by the person whose name it bears as the author of it. An authentic book is that which relates matters of fact as they really happened. A book may be genuine without being authentic; and a book may be authentic without being genuine. [my emphasis]

The distinction is particularly important to Watson because it is about the truthfulness of the Bible, and as such, it is at the heart of his disagreement with Paine. Paine argues that Moses probably didn’t write the first five books of the Bible. Using Watson’s nomenclature, Paine is alleging that the first five books of the Bible may not be genuine. Watson, deeply offended, replies, even if Moses didn’t write the first five books of the Bible, that doesn’t mean that the Bible is false. It is still authentic. The argument seems a little ridiculous, save that something immensely important is at stake. Is the Bible true or false?

How could it be anything other than truthful? Do we want to call God a liar?

The Bible has been endlessly tested for consistency and accuracy[7], and many of our current ideas about truth come from just these sorts of discussions. The problem is that at the end of over 100 pages of tortured argument, Watson ends up saying that the Bible is true because it’s true. You have to accept it on faith. Clearly, no argument that Paine can provide can challenge this basic assumption.

Sontag, like Watson, is looking for authenticity and truth. A photograph — employing Watson’s phrase — relates matters of fact as they really happened. As long as a photographer doesn’t falsify a photograph by intending to deceive, then a photograph is the truth. Sontag (on page 46 of her book) writes: “Unless there’s been some tampering or misrepresenting, [the photograph] is the truth.” [my emphasis]. And (page 26), “[Photographs] were a record of the real — incontrovertible, as no verbal account, however impartial, could be — since a machine was doing the recording.”

There are a number of problems here. I quote various passages from Sontag supporting her view that photographs provide an accurate or authentic account of reality, but I could also do the opposite. She often wants to have it both ways — to preserve the idea of photographs as truth-bearing documents versus photographs as cultural artifacts. She tells us (on page 26) that photographs “are objective record and personal testimony, both a faithful copy or transcription of a moment of reality and an interpretation of that reality…” I agree with the second part of her description but not with the first. [emphasis mine]

Sometimes she is in a descriptive mode and then changes without warning to the normative (telling photographers how they should take photographs or viewers how they should look at them). She often does not tell us what she thinks, but what something seems like or what someone else might think.

Still, the idea that photographs can provide the truth appears again in again in her writing. The problem, I guess, is us. Photographs could — even would — be the truth, except for us, our tergiversations, elisions and misrepresentations — our endless need to dissemble. There is a “tsk-tsk” deeply embedded in it.

But herein lies the rub. There is no argument. Why should we believe that a photograph is “a faithful transcription of a moment of reality” or that a photograph is “the truth?” Watson is looking for authenticity and truth in the Bible; Sontag, in photography. Sontag’s premise — that the photograph is the truth — has to be accepted on faith. No further proof is offered.

Every generation has had the dream of some easy solution to the Cartesian riddle — the riddle of what the word is really like, of what is true and what is false, of what we can know with certainty. For a while photography provided that dream, but it is a dream — nothing more.

Reply to comment No. 10, “Which Came First? (Part 3).” The claim that I might be crazy.

You said: “And then came the epiphany: I should respond to all 1,000+ — in detail.” Are you crazy?


Reply to comment No, 15, “Which Came First? (Part 3).” The claim that Arthur Rothstein posed photographs.

Talking about posed… What about the famous 1936 Arthur Rothstein photo of the farmer and his two children running for the shelter of their house during an Oklahoma Dust Bowl sand storm? Apparently it was a staged photo, from what I’ve read. For instance, the younger child running to catch up with his father has his arms up over his face. The child was asked to do that so he would not look at the camera. Hummm. The Dust Bowl was real, but what do we make of that? Rothstein would also, I read, keep a cow’s skull in his car trunk for strategic placement in some shots to emphasize the very real predicament of farmers and ranchers. Hummm.

Thanks for mentioning this.

I am writing about Rothstein in my forthcoming essay on posing, “Say Cheese.”

The problem is exacerbated by the many different forms of the verb “to pose,” transitive, intransitive, etc. and by conflating the verbs “to pose” and “to fake,” but this requires more discussion. And be warned, it is a discussion that, in my experience, can induce headaches.

When we attack a picture for being posed — often an ad hominem argument based on little or no knowledge — we are claiming the photographer has taken advantage of our credulity and tried to make us think something which the photographer knows to be false. He has tried to trick us. This invariably is based not on the photograph, itself, but on our beliefs about the circumstances under which the photograph was taken[8].

Reply to comment No. 49, “Which Came First? (Part 3).” The claim that I have been “unfair” to Sontag.

“And so, it turns out that Keller, Haworth-Booth and Sontag are right.” I think you mean that, thousands of your words and tens of thousands by those CSI-types eager to support you notwithstanding, you were wrong. I felt even in the first verbose go-round that you were being unfair to Sontag’s actually quite subtle argument in “Regarding the Pain of Others”: you left out entirely the ethical implications of her argument concerning how we digest images of pain, implying there and above that she’s some sort of “conspiracy” monger.

I admire Sontag’s writings. Her essay on the Abu Ghraib photographs (”On Regarding the Torture of Others”) in The Times Sunday Magazine is an important piece of writing and endlessly fascinating. However, simply because I admire her and have been influenced by her, doesn’t mean I should slavishly accept everything she says.

Since we have been talking about posing, let me give you an example from her Abu Ghraib essay. Despite her diatribes against posing (in “On Regarding the Pain of Others”), she clearly points to one of the most disturbing aspects of the Abu Ghraib photographs: many of the pictures were posed for the camera and many of the events depicted in the photographs would not have happened if cameras had not been present:

“The events are in part designed to be photographed. The grin is a grin for the camera. There would be something missing if, after stacking the naked men, you couldn’t take a picture of them.”

Far from invalidating the photographs, the posing makes them far stranger, more disturbing, more powerful. Posing doesn’t invalidate a picture. It doesn’t make it less true. But if we believe a picture is posed, it changes our beliefs about the picture, and possibly what the picture means.

In my first essay for this column (”Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire“), I was concerned with truth and photography. Are photographs true or false? I argued they are neither. I also believe that there are no hierarchies of truth in photographs. No one photograph is more truthful or less truthful than any other. They all have the same amount of truth-value.


Reply to comment No. 115, “Which Came First? (Part 3).” The claim that I have been addressing two questions rather than one.

There was not one, but TWO questions that you were trying to ask:

1. Which photograph was first, the one titled OFF, or the one titled ON?

2. In ON, how did the cannonballs end up on the road? Or conversely, why are there no cannonballs in the road in the OFF photograph?

Thank you. Yes, I felt that the end of Part 3 should have clarified this. It did not.

I would phrase it somewhat differently. Or at least describe the two questions somewhat differently. But I hope I have grasped the distinction that you made. Here are the two questions:

1. Which came first?

2. Which one was posed?

The question of posing is for me independent of the question of which came first. You can imagine ON before OFF — or OFF before ON — and still imagine four distinct possibilities — that neither is posed, both are posed, OFF is posed, or ON is posed. We are constructing narratives about the event. Extrapolating from a few points of contact — the two photographs, the letters to his wife, and a compote of assorted historical materials.

It was endlessly fascinating and instructive to read various attempts to grapple with narrative. Attempts I should add that are not unlike my own. I hesitated to take the plunge into the issue of posing. Why? Because it deserves a separate essay or even series of essays. What does Sontag mean when she says ON is posed? That the landscape has been altered to create a false impression?

It suggests that Fenton was trying to pull a fast one. I’ll alter the landscape and make people think I was in great danger. Cannonballs to the right of me, cannonballs to the left of me, into the Valley of the Shadow of Death rode Fenton and Sparling.

But that conclusion — that Fenton was trying to deceive the viewer — seems unwarranted. So many readers asked the simple question: If the second photograph [ON] was an attempt to deceive, why bring both glass negatives home? Why print both photographs? Why include both photographs in his portfolio of the Crimean War? Why mention the two photographs in the letter home to his wife? The simple answer is: there was no attempt to deceive.

And yet, even in the absence of an attempt to deceive, my guess is that some people — maybe even Sontag herself — would think ON is posed. Just exactly what is needed for posing? An intention to deceive, or is just moving the cannonballs enough? For this reason, alone I tried to steer a course away from questions about posing. I tried to focus on the first the question, Could I determine the order of the photographs independent of Fenton’s intentions? And the answer is: Yes. Sontag and Keller use Fenton’s supposed intentions to order the photographs. I do not.

I don’t think the question of posing — certainly not the question of posing with malicious intent — can be answered without discussing intentions. It speaks directly to the question: what was Fenton thinking?

Reply to comment No. 114, “Which Came First? (Part 3).” The claim that I should have also considered “the intentional fallacy.”

The pathetic fallacy isn’t the only fallacy that might be useful here. There’s also the one literary critics W.K. Wimsatt, Jr. and Monroe C. Beardsley proposed in the Summer 1946 issue of the Sewanee Review—the intentional fallacy. It’s usual distillation is this: “the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art.” They were, of course, concerned with writing (specifically poetry), but their approach to literary interpretation mirrors Morris’ attempt to look at these photographs without referring to Fenton’s psychology: “External,” or biographical evidence, they write, “is private or idiosyncratic; not a part of the work as a linguistic fact: it consists of revelations…about how or why the poet wrote the poem.”

Thank you. It is an important point. I was aware of the intentional fallacy but chose not to mention it. Here’s the reason.

Wimsatt and Beardsley are concerned about “bracketing off” poetry and literature from biographical concerns, from psychological concerns, etc. They are not only giving us permission to read poetry and literature without having to know anything about the writer or the poet, they are insisting we do so. I don’t like this idea very much. Am I really supposed to look at “Wheat Field with Crows” independent of the fact that van Gogh shortly afterwards stuck a gun in his chest and pulled the trigger? Or to read “The Hunger Artist” oblivious to the fact that Kafka asked Max Brod to destroy it and then succumbed to tuberculosis. And to make him even more like his fictional character — in this instance, a professional faster — he may have died of starvation caused by his tuberculosis.

Sorry. I can’t do it. Someone tells you: don’t think of an elephant. Are you going to be able do honor the request? Or someone else points out that Italy is in the shape of a boot. Can you guarantee you’ll never see Italy as a boot again?

I’m not saying that intentions don’t count. Or that we should ignore intentions. But intentions cannot be simply “read” off a photographic emulsion. A photograph provides no shortcut to figuring out what’s inside a photographer’s or photographic subject’s brain.

I was happy to use biographical information in my attempts to order the two Fenton photographs. If in Fenton’s letters to his wife, he had mentioned the order or what transpired between the taking of the photographs, I would have been happy to use it. I would have jumped at the opportunity. If Fenton had written in one of his letters that he “oversaw the scattering of the balls” to make people believe he was in great danger, I would have taken his comments as evidence of his intentions. And I would have used it in my essay. However, no such biographical material exists — to the best of my knowledge. We could try to order the photographs by guessing at Fenton’s intentions, but the disparate responses from the five curators I talked to in “Which Came First? (Part 1) suggest that that approach is less than reliable. Notwithstanding, by thinking about Fenton’s possible motivations, we are taken deeper into the meaning of these two photographs. Evidence shouldn’t be rejected at the outset. It should be examined and judged.

The writers of the intentional fallacy are suggesting that we shouldn’t take certain things into account when we look at pictures or read poetry. Who says?

I have my own version of “the intentional fallacy.” We should not leap to an analysis of intentions when we know little or nothing about what is in someone’s mind.

So many fallacies, so little time.

Postscript: Later this week I plan to post a statistical analysis of the first 910 replies. And there will be more responses to come. I also am working on an additional series of essays. Contrary to the many people who suggested (or stated) that the contemplation of images might be pure self-indulgence and a waste of time, I would like to offer the following argument: It is much better in a free society to be aware of the role that propaganda and images play in how we see the world, than to remain oblivious to it.


[1] This and many other observations have been taken from the excellent book by W.C. Bamberger, “Adelbert Ames, Jr.: A Life of Vision and Becomingness.”

[2] The 17 arrows is a detail that comes directly from Akutagawa’s “In the Bamboo Grove,” but it’s hard for me to see either in Akutagawa’s original story or in Kurosawa’s movie whether the number of arrows has any particular significance.

[3] I have been thinking of writing an essay to be called “The Rashomon of ‘Rashomon.’”

[4] Carrol L. Henderson, “Oology and Ralph’s Talking Eggs: Bird Conservation Comes Out of Its Shell” (Mildred Wyatt-Wold Series in Ornithology)

[5] I thought that a photograph is an inanimate object. How can a photograph “purport” to do anything? Can rocks purport? How about a photograph of a rock?

[6] Although I have access to a good library, Google has been doing an extraordinary job of making many 18th and 19th century texts available. Both Bishop Watson’s “Apology” and Thomas Paine’s reply can be found online.

[7] Isn’t that what many commentators are doing?

[8] Beliefs that may be false.

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October 23, 2007, 11:42 pm
Which Came First? (Part Three): Can George, Lionel and Marmaduke Help Us Order the Fenton Photographs?

By Errol Morris

(To see Part One of this article, click here. To see Part Two, click here.)

“Too bad, it was a cloudy day. You really can’t see any shadows.”

My friend, the inventor Dennis Purcell, corrected me: “I don’t think it was cloudy. It was a bright, sunny day. Or perhaps cloudy-bright.”

Dennis explained that most 19th century photographic emulsions are blue-sensitive and hence cannot record the sky – overcast, partially cloudy and sunny skies are all overexposed. The sky is a featureless white, but the “whiteness” of the sky is unrelated to the question of whether there are clouds or whether you can see shadows. It was only much later that panchromatic film was developed. (This accounts for what I would call The Wisconsin Death-Trip Effect, after the book by the same name. Scandinavian immigrants in turn-of-the-century Wisconsin might not be insane, but they look insane because their blue eyes are white in the pre-panchromatic emulsions used to produce the photographs.)

In both ON and OFF the sky may look overcast, but you can see shadows. You have to look at the shadows on the cannonballs and from those shadows it may be possible to calculate the height of the sun in the sky.
Read more …

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October 4, 2007, 11:21 pm
Which Came First? (Part Two)

By Errol Morris

(To see Part One of this article, click here. To see Part Three, click here.)

It was an historic occasion. I arrived with my cameraman, Bob Chappell, and his first assistant, Eric Zimmerman, within a few days of the 150th anniversary of the fall of Sebastopol on September 8, 1855. The airport at Simferopol — the Crimea’s capital — was clotted with dozens of elderly British tourists arrived on the afternoon flight from Istanbul. For a brief moment I had this fantasy that I would make a movie about people at the end of their lives reaching back into some unknowable past, trying to recover something perhaps unknowable about their own past. I would follow them about. Record their attempts to reconnect with history.

Because of the anniversary, it was difficult to locate an available guide, but eventually we found the often disgruntled Olga Makarova – the guide of guides. When I told her about the “Valley of the Shadow of Death,” she assumed that I wanted to go to the Valley of Death, the site of the charge of the Light Brigade. Susan Sontag herself points out the difference – to disabuse us, her readers, of the possibility of such confusion.[1] There is even the suggestion in Sontag that Fenton might have deliberately fostered such confusion. She writes, “…in the first version of the celebrated photo he was to call ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Death’ (despite the title, it was not across this landscape that the Light Brigade made its doomed charge).”[2] Tennyson, in his poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” writes about “the valley of death,” not “the valley of the shadow of death”:
Read more …

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September 28, 2007, 4:20 pm
Additional Resources

By Errol Morris

Here are some additional links and resources related to Roger Fenton’s photographs of the Crimean War:

Both of the images below are here courtesy of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and were digitally cleaned and enlarged by Dennis Purcell.

Higher resolution version of Fenton’s OFF photo.

Higher resolution version of Fenton’s ON photo.

The Roger Fenton Crimean War Photographs collection of at the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs Reading Room has historical and biographical information along with 263 images. (The ON photograph is viewable here, but the OFF is not.)

The Web site for “All the Mighty World: The Photographs of Roger Fenton, 1852-1860,” has an overview of the National Gallery of Art’s exhibition, which ran in 2004-2005.

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September 25, 2007, 6:48 pm
Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg? (Part One)

By Errol Morris

(To see Part Two of this article, click here. To see Part Three, click here.)

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow…
— T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

“You mean to tell me that you went all the way to the Crimea because of one sentence written by Susan Sontag?” My friend Ron Rosenbaum seemed incredulous. I told him, “No, it was actually two sentences.”

The sentences are from Sontag’s “Regarding the Pain of Others,” her last published book.

Here are the two sentences:

Not surprisingly many of the canonical images of early war photography turn out to have been staged, or to have had their subjects tampered with. After reaching the much shelled valley approaching Sebastopol in his horse-drawn darkroom, [Roger] Fenton made two exposures from the same tripod position: in the first version of the celebrated photo he was to call “The Valley of the Shadow of Death”(despite the title, it was not across this landscape, that the Light Brigade made its doomed charge), the cannonballs are thick on the ground to the left of the road, but before taking the second picture – the one that is always reproduced – he oversaw the scattering of the cannonballs on the road itself.

Read more …

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August 15, 2007, 6:13 pm
Will the Real Hooded Man Please Stand Up

By Errol Morris

Every human being has his own particular web of associations for identifying and interpreting reality, which, most often, instinctively and unthinkingly, he superimposes on every set of circumstances. Frequently, however, those external circumstances do not conform with, or fit, the structure of our webs, and then we can misread the unfamiliar reality, and interpret its elements incorrectly…
— Ryszard Kapuscinski, “Travels with Herodotus” (2007)

It was arguably one of the least newsworthy pictures in the world, if only because it had already been seen by everybody. And yet, on March 11, 2006, The New York Times published on the front page of the first section, upper left-hand corner, a photograph of a man holding the photograph that had been seen around the world. Ali Shalal Qaissi, the man in the Times photograph (below) had told a group of human rights workers that he was “The Hooded Man” or “The Man on the Box.”

The no longer anonymous Hooded Man became a national news story – not because he was a victim of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib but because he was in a famous photograph – a photograph which in all likelihood will become the iconic photograph of the Iraq war. Read more …

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July 10, 2007, 2:14 pm
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Trucks Power China’s Economy, at a Suffocating Cost
Every night, columns of hulking freight trucks invade China’s major cities with a reverberating roar and dark clouds of diesel exhaust so thick it dims headlights.

From Russia With Luxe
Few cities have sloughed off as much leaden history to reinvent themselves. But the Russian taste for Old World opulence clearly didn’t perish with the Romanovs.

By Errol Morris

Pictures are supposed to be worth a thousand words. But a picture unaccompanied by words may not mean anything at all. Do pictures provide evidence? And if so, evidence of what? And, of course, the underlying question: do they tell the truth?

I have beliefs about the photographs I see. Often – when they appear in books or newspapers – there are captions below them, or they are embedded in explanatory text. And even where there are no explicit captions on the page, there are captions in my mind. What I think I’m looking at. What I think the photograph is about.

I have often wondered: would it be possible to look at a photograph shorn of all its context, caption-less, unconnected to current thought and ideas? It would be like stumbling on a collection of photographs in a curiosity shop – pictures of people and places that we do not recognize and know nothing about. I might imagine things about the people and places in the photographs but know nothing about them. Nothing.

Folder THE PANEL GUTTERS: PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE - Pictures of forum members

From: William Hell (WILLMARSHALL) 7 Dec 1:03
To: ALL 451 of 492
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
This is me. You may point, laugh, or otherwise... Edited for hyooj size(!)

-- -- -- -- -- -- --
They live in my head
They have a life of their own
I only write this shit down.

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From: Josh Hechinger (JOSHHECHINGER) 7 Dec 2:59
To: ALL 452 of 492

This is my thinking face. And special thinking glasses. And special thinking headphones.

Ceci n'est nas mon pipe.

Elephant Words - Work/BS blog - Ning - ComicSpace
Email: MidvalleysSax@aol.com
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From: Great Scott! (SCOTTBIESER) 7 Dec 3:24
To: Tony Lee (TONYLEE) 7 Dec 10:04 453 of 492
35.453 In reply to 35.428
There have been many a time I've thought of getting some body-art done, and one thing always stops me -- why give the cops any "distinguishing marks" to go on?
Scott Bieser
Annoying my betters since 1957..
Gallery: ScottBieser.Com
My Online Graphic Novel: Roswell, Texas
Publisher: Big Head Press
blog: Living On Mars
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From: Four-color masochist (RANTZ HOSELEY) 7 Dec 3:28
To: Josh Hechinger (JOSHHECHINGER) 7 Dec 3:38 454 of 492
35.454 In reply to 35.452

Rantz Hoseley
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From: Josh Hechinger (JOSHHECHINGER) 7 Dec 3:44
To: Four-color masochist (RANTZ HOSELEY) 7 Dec 6:44 455 of 492
35.455 In reply to 35.454
Seriously, man. You smoke a little Snorlax with some friends, next thing you know you're in a filthy gym somewhere doing lines of ground Geodude off a gym leader's ass and thinking that Team Rocket cat is fucking talking to you.

Elephant Words - Work/BS blog - Ning - ComicSpace
Email: MidvalleysSax@aol.com
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From: Jason A. Quest (JAQ) 7 Dec 5:13
To: Bevis Musson (BEVIS) 7 Dec 8:21 456 of 492
35.456 In reply to 35.438
Yeah, double rainbows are real. Notice that the colors go in the opposite direction on the fainter one; that one's caused by the light bouncing off the other side of the droplets (or something like that), so it's "backwards".

Jason A. Quest
JAQrabbit / Holy Comics! / MySpace / ComicSpace read
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From: Eric Palicki (ERICPALICKI) 7 Dec 18:48
To: Josh Hechinger (JOSHHECHINGER) 8 Dec 1:38 457 of 492
35.457 In reply to 35.452

What's streaming through those headphones?

I would assume it's made of awesome.
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From: Future (JESSICA) 7 Dec 18:53
To: ALL 458 of 492

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From: Four-color masochist (RANTZ HOSELEY) 7 Dec 21:02
To: Future (JESSICA) 7 Dec 21:06 459 of 492
35.459 In reply to 35.458
I envy your tidy work area/bookshelves.

Rantz Hoseley
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From: Future (JESSICA) 7 Dec 21:08
To: Four-color masochist (RANTZ HOSELEY) 7 Dec 22:28 460 of 492
35.460 In reply to 35.459

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From: Chrismidweeker (CHRISRICE) 7 Dec 21:12
To: Future (JESSICA) 7 Dec 21:13 461 of 492
35.461 In reply to 35.441

Is that a variant cover I see there?

That's blown your indie cool... :D

Chris Rice

Lackey For The Evil Empire
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From: Future (JESSICA) 7 Dec 21:14
To: Chrismidweeker (CHRISRICE) 8 Dec 16:26 462 of 492
35.462 In reply to 35.461
if mike allred is uncool, i don't want to be cool.

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From: Josh Hechinger (JOSHHECHINGER) 8 Dec 1:57
To: Eric Palicki (ERICPALICKI) 8 Dec 3:32 463 of 492
35.463 In reply to 35.457
They're...not actually plugged in there. I'm a sham.

Elephant Words - Work/BS blog - Ning - ComicSpace
Email: MidvalleysSax@aol.com
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From: ShawnJDouglas 8 Dec 7:55
To: Future (JESSICA) 8 Dec 14:44 464 of 492
35.464 In reply to 35.458

I love your hair. And, you know, the rest as well. ;P

Rantz, did you really, really look at that picture and notice.....the shelves?

I think the very idea blew my mind.

new me_edited My Livejournal
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From: Four-color masochist (RANTZ HOSELEY) 8 Dec 9:23
To: ShawnJDouglas 8 Dec 16:21 465 of 492
35.465 In reply to 35.464
I'm an anal-retentive artist with OCD and a collecting disorder. I notice things like full bookshelves that go beyond orderly to actually being elements of decor as well as monuments to tales and stories.

Rantz Hoseley
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From: Future (JESSICA) 8 Dec 14:46
To: ShawnJDouglas 8 Dec 16:21 466 of 492
35.466 In reply to 35.464
thank you!

p.s. bookshelves full of books are magic

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From: ShawnJDouglas 8 Dec 16:23
To: Four-color masochist (RANTZ HOSELEY) 8 Dec 19:50 467 of 492
35.467 In reply to 35.465
I'm an anal-retentive artist with OCD and a collecting disorder.

This should totally be the opening line of a story.

Promise you'll use it one day, or I may have to Bogart. ;P

Besides, I was totally being a smart ass.


new me_edited My Livejournal
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From: ShawnJDouglas 8 Dec 16:26
To: Future (JESSICA) 8 Dec 18:17 468 of 492
35.468 In reply to 35.466
p.s. bookshelves full of books are magic

Oh I agree with you. I cannot walk into a bookstore and walk out empty handed. I tell everyone I have a "book" problem.

But when you see a shooting star you tend to not pay attention to the richness of the black of space beyond.

Just saying...

new me_edited My Livejournal
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From: Solario (CHRISTIANOTHOLM) 8 Dec 17:24
To: ShawnJDouglas 8 Dec 20:49 469 of 492
35.469 In reply to 35.468
I have the same disease. I went into a bookstore two days ago, just to browse and general book philandering and despite being close to Christmas, and having no money whatsoever, I went out with a book about Egon Schiele and one about Art Noveau. And I'm thinking about going back and getting the Alphonse Mucha collection as well.
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From: Steven Huls (LOKIZERO) 8 Dec 18:55
To: ALL 470 of 492


Steven Huls
Ning Profile

From: ShawnJDouglas 8 Dec 20:50
To: Four-color masochist (RANTZ HOSELEY) 8 Dec 22:36 472 of 492
35.472 In reply to 35.471


Right on.

No more book-looking when pretty ladies present. You hear?


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From: ShawnJDouglas 8 Dec 20:52
To: Solario (CHRISTIANOTHOLM) 8 Dec 21:25 473 of 492
35.473 In reply to 35.469
It's an expensive and time consuming disease, tis true.

I've gone to a book store for a "few minutes" and stayed for many, many hours.

Maybe the perfect girl for me is one who will do the same and instead of coming to me saying I'm taking forever, I actually have to get done and start looking for her.

I wonder how many of us there are....

new me_edited My Livejournal
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From: James A. Owen (COPPERVALE) 9 Dec 3:55
To: ShawnJDouglas 9 Dec 4:31 474 of 492
35.474 In reply to 35.473
Answering your post and servicing the thread at the same time...

This is one of the exterior shots of the building that just this Summer became Crossroads Books.

Children's and YA, NEW and used SF, Fantasy, Comics, and Graphic novels.

I'd been buying enough books already for the Studio AND enough people were looking for my novels locally AND there was no good general bookstore around - that it made more sense to build one, so I built one.

James A. Owen
The Coppervale Studio

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From: ShawnJDouglas 9 Dec 4:33
To: James A. Owen (COPPERVALE) 9 Dec 4:39 475 of 492
35.475 In reply to 35.474

That's really cool.

It looks like a place of wonder and magic.

new me_edited My Livejournal
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From: James A. Owen (COPPERVALE) 9 Dec 4:46
To: ShawnJDouglas 9 Dec 5:39 476 of 492
35.476 In reply to 35.475
It's a block from my house one direction, and little more than a block from my studio in the other.

Nothing beats dropping in to your own bookstore on the way home from work.

It's filled up a lot since these were taken, but this is what one part of the Kids' area looked like opening day:

We opened it when we did (in a hurry!) for two reasons: my pirate book, and Harry Potter 7. And it turned out to be too small for the Potter event (which I also signed at) so we moved THAT down the street to the soundstage at the Studio:

James A. Owen
The Coppervale Studio
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From: ShawnJDouglas 9 Dec 5:41
To: James A. Owen (COPPERVALE) 9 Dec 15:08 477 of 492
35.477 In reply to 35.476


I'm totally digging your bookstore pics.

So do you have someone running it? I can't imagine that you have time to do so.

Very freaking cool man.

new me_edited My Livejournal
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From: Four-color masochist (RANTZ HOSELEY) 9 Dec 5:58
To: James A. Owen (COPPERVALE) 9 Dec 15:08 478 of 492
35.478 In reply to 35.476
I can see I need to make a trip to Arizona...

Rantz Hoseley
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From: Future (JESSICA) 9 Dec 15:28
To: James A. Owen (COPPERVALE) 10 Dec 3:32 479 of 492
35.479 In reply to 35.474
i love it

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From: Max Douglas <~> (SALGOOD_SAM) 9 Dec 22:30
To: ShawnJDouglas 10 Dec 4:08 480 of 492
35.480 In reply to 35.473
oh their out there - that description fits at least two of my ex-girlfriends and my current partner.

max - aka Salgood Sam
Therefore Repent!
Sequential * flickr * ComicSpace
RevolveR * Sea of Red * Planet of the Apes

EDITED: 9 Dec 22:36 by SALGOOD_SAM
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From: Max Douglas <~> (SALGOOD_SAM) 9 Dec 22:35
To: James A. Owen (COPPERVALE) 10 Dec 3:32 481 of 492
35.481 In reply to 35.474
Nice little building! is that an old place? the Trims inside are classic, nice details in the corner, looks kind of art deco ish?

Being such an urbanite i wonder how that works, your shop is in a house with what looks like not much of a commercial area around it - do you get much walk by traffic there?

max - aka Salgood Sam
Therefore Repent!
Sequential * flickr * ComicSpace
RevolveR * Sea of Red * Planet of the Apes
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From: James A. Owen (COPPERVALE) 10 Dec 3:34
To: Max Douglas <~> (SALGOOD_SAM) 10 Dec 3:49 482 of 492
35.482 In reply to 35.481

The address is 1 Main Street. It's next to the historic country restaurant that's a huge draw, and across the street from the town museum.

I have great parking, and a lawn big enough that we're putting in a low topiary maze.

The rocket is going in the back.

James A. Owen
The Coppervale Studio
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From: ShawnJDouglas 10 Dec 4:10
To: Max Douglas <~> (SALGOOD_SAM) 10 Dec 4:14 483 of 492
35.483 In reply to 35.480



I only say this because I am jealous and playing this game under protest!

new me_edited My Livejournal
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From: Max Douglas <~> (SALGOOD_SAM) 10 Dec 4:33
To: ShawnJDouglas 10 Dec 17:35 484 of 492
35.484 In reply to 35.483

trimmed the beard for the launch, no more hairy neck! isn't that lovely? - keeping on theme at least in part for the thread! :)

game? joke or did i walk in on something i missed? :O

It's always amused me that i am technically a bastard, so ....


luck had only a little to do with it - in general it helps to hang out with smart creative bookish folk a lot. Surprisingly enough some of them are women you know!? :) Crazy sure, but just about the same crazy as me i find.

But my current parter is a poet and performance artist, who i met when i walked into the cafe bar just after the show she had been MC'ing and performing in - had been looking for a loft in the area for a party where a band i new was supposed to be playing, but couldn't find a way into the building so i gave up and walked over to a place i knew was good for a hot drink. Was sitting talking with some of her friends and she flashed me one of those smiles that makes you stop in your tracks. She invited me to join them at a party and the rest is history. :>

on a completely different idle subject: hey, so are you a real Douglas? Scott?

i wonder sometimes about the family name - in my case it's a gentrification of a Russian Jewish name, not the original clan name.

max - aka Salgood Sam
Therefore Repent!
Sequential * flickr * ComicSpace
RevolveR * Sea of Red * Planet of the Apes
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From: ShawnJDouglas 10 Dec 17:45
To: Max Douglas <~> (SALGOOD_SAM) 10 Dec 21:08 485 of 492
35.485 In reply to 35.484

I always refer to the game of life. Anytime something cool is going on and I am not a part of it, I explain to God or Fate or whatever that I'm playing this game under protest.

Sorry. Inside psychosis.

Every girl I meet that is as insane about books tends to be taken or married or gay. I always have great conversations with them and retain a few as friends, but there will never be forward momentum towards something I would be looking for.

I've thought about staking out book stores to meet one, but am afraid without alcohol present I'd lose my nerve.

Douglas is indeed my last name and the way from Grandfather tells it we came from Scotland, moved to Ireland for a spell, and then his parents came to the U.S.

He jokes with me often that we were kicked out of Scotland for being horse thieves, because his brother used to say it all the time. I know it's done in jest but I cannot help but wonder if it is not part of a larger story that isn't as funny and is true.

When I graduated highschool I went on one of those 10 quick day trips to Ireland, Scotland, and London. I thought Scotland was the most beautiful place ever. (Maybe it's just where we went specifically.) And I wished I had ages in London to do everything the city had to offer.

I plan on going back one day.

So what about you there Max Douglas?


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From: Max Douglas <~> (SALGOOD_SAM) 11 Dec 7:41
To: ShawnJDouglas 11 Dec 13:41 486 of 492
35.486 In reply to 35.485
Oh that game!

Horse Thieves eh? Probably is a good story in that :-)
If he’s still around you should ply him to get it! Wish I had.

So what about you there Max Douglas?

I don’t know a lot about the paternal family tree. Our family name was Dolgenas originally, and came from somewhere in the Belarus region. The story I was told is that my grandfather Harry snuck out some time before the war when he was young for fear of the Pogroms. I’m not sure of the details as to why, but he and his bunkmate from military school did it dressed as a couple [he wore the dress so I’m told], with a pig as a baby part of the way, and the rest they hid in a cattle car.

He was a bit of a shady character or at least that’s the impression my grandmother and father left me with, but then he wasn’t so popular with them so I take that with a grain of salt. I don’t know about horse theft, but I do know he liked to slum around the Jockey Club and hang out with rich wasps in Toronto after the War.

The rest of the family is mostly Russian Jewish with a pinch of Turk. Moved to Canada in the first early eastern European waves of immigrants after WW1 mostly, some before. Lot of entertainment folk, movies, art and of course a fair slew of doctors and lawyers. My mother’s family name is probably familiar to any film buff, Selznick.

Every girl I meet that is as insane about books tends to be taken or married or gay. I always have great conversations with them and retain a few as friends, but there will never be forward momentum towards something I would be looking for.

Well, they were all not once - taken that is - and if you buy the stats at least half will be again. Hate to sound all psychology 101 on you but thinking “There will never be forward momentum” pretty much means there won’t be. You’ll be too cretin of your own fate to see and take up the inevitable opportunities that always come along. Not from a book, my own life exp. Soon as I allowed for the possibility that someone might like me I started to notice when they did.

That being said, while I assume you jest it would be advisable not to stake out bookstores with that goal in mind you know. Creepy all over that would be! :) I bet you'd meet a lot of gay girls that way in fact.

I have never successfully met and connected with anyone while thinking that's what i wanted to do. Only have one one night stand to show for that tactic and frankly i wish i hadn't - ick!

I make no Don Juan promises, but my winning game plan is to not try. Rule 1# the ladies pick the dance, they will let you know when they are interested, don't worry about it. Will want you to lead sometimes once they tap you in, but they set the pace.

So don’t hang out looking to meet them, just go about living a rich and interesting life and someone will notice and want to join in. That’s my thinking anyway, seems to work very well.

max - aka Salgood Sam
Therefore Repent!
Sequential * flickr * ComicSpace
RevolveR * Sea of Red * Planet of the Apes

EDITED: 11 Dec 7:43 by SALGOOD_SAM
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From: ShawnJDouglas 11 Dec 13:47
To: Max Douglas <~> (SALGOOD_SAM) 11 Dec 19:31 487 of 492
35.487 In reply to 35.486

Oh I've given up.

Those are old ideas for a time that never came.

None of the girls I've ever been with were planned nor something that was a result of me searching.

Books just get me hot and get the blood pumping.


I just said that, didn't I?

As for your family, the dressing up and pig as a baby is full of WIN as far as a story goes.

Maybe I need to go snap my favorite book store for this thread.


new me_edited My Livejournal
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From: jock 11 Dec 16:40
To: ALL 488 of 492
me, yesterday.
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From: Max Douglas <~> (SALGOOD_SAM) 11 Dec 19:37
To: ShawnJDouglas unread 489 of 492
35.489 In reply to 35.487
Books just get me hot and get the blood pumping.


I just said that, didn't I?

My partner says that sounds hot.

she also says go with that, and "make like your not interested in sex, but rather just interested in her" and you'll drive them nuts!


As for your family, the dressing up and pig as a baby is full of WIN as far as a story goes.

Yeah, sometimes i think maybe too much so, sounds like such a classic urban legend, and Harry was a renowned fish tale teller...But some day i'll find a way to do the family story i think, at least part of it. Just not sure how i want to do it yet so....

max - aka Salgood Sam
Therefore Repent!
Sequential * flickr * ComicSpace
RevolveR * Sea of Red * Planet of the Apes

EDITED: 11 Dec 19:45 by SALGOOD_SAM
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From: kristinag (KRISTINAGAVHED) 11 Dec 20:26
To: James A. Owen (COPPERVALE) unread 490 of 492
35.490 In reply to 35.474

This house looks almost like I pictured the house in Thief of Always. :D
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From: Max Douglas <~> (SALGOOD_SAM) 11 Dec 21:36
To: jock unread 491 of 492
35.491 In reply to 35.488
you reverted?

max - aka Salgood Sam
Therefore Repent!
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RevolveR * Sea of Red * Planet of the Apes
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From: Future (JESSICA) 0:07
To: jock unread 492 of 492
35.492 In reply to 35.488


Pre-Christmas Sneak Attack Sale on ebay:
NY TIMES LA TIMES RECAP for early Dec. 2007


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