Off the Top of My Head

January 15. Time goes fast, time goes slow. While things are moving along seemly at the same pace as last year, we are only entering the third week of the month. Another way of looking at it is it's the Ides of January. It's just not the same. I'll just have to remember Mick's encomium: Time is on my side. Yes it is, Maybe 2020 is the year that's going to happen.

Oscar Nominations

Well, it wouldn't be the Oscar nominations if there wasn't a bit of controversy. This year we're honoring the past. No people of color. No women nominated for Best Director. New decade, same controversies. In the same spirit of innovation that has gripped every field except movies (Motto: if one sequel is good, two are better, and five are fabulous!), I would like to offer a couple of suggestions:

  • Remember a few years ago, when the Academy caused a teapot tempest by nominating ten films for best picture? Everyone seems to have survived. Maybe the academy could do the same thing in different categories, like Directors. This year, nobody seems to be complaining about the quality of nominees, and whether or not they belong. It's just that there are no women. Maybe they could take a look, and say You know, there are really seven good directors. Maybe we should nominate all of them! Some years, there might be only three. You could do the same thing in all the major categories, including best film. Five (or ten) is not a sacred number.
  • Another way to deal with the gender issues might be to add categories for Best Female Director and Best Male Director. It makes a much sense as Best Actor and Best Actress categories.
  • And while we're at it, we might want to look at the dividing line between best actor/actress and supporting actor/actress. Now I haven't seen the film (actually, I haven't seen any nominated film since 2004), but I understand that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was pretty much universally admired. Tom Hanks, in the role of Mr. Rogers, received glowing reviews. So how, in a movie about Fred Rogers, can the actor playing Fred Rogers, if he's going to be nominated, not be nominated for Best Actor? Hanks figured out a way. He ended up with a nod for Best Supporting Actor. The expansion/contraction suggestion above would go toward fixing this. Or maybe the Academy was just having an Oh, Boomer! moment. Hanks (1956), Anthony Hopkins (1937), Al Pacino (1940), and Joe Pesci (1943) are all part of the remake of the Over the Hill Gang. Brad Pitt is the kid at 57, and being born in 1963, he's skirting the border between Boomerdom and whatever came after. Besides disco. There are many sins my generation committed. That's not one of them.


Not a Good Look

A Segway prototype wheelchair crashed during a demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. That gives a whole new meaning to Help! I've fallen and can't get up! On a totally unrelated note, Segway is now owned by a Chinese conglomerate. Mall cops the world over are in the sway of mysterious nation to the east.     Top

The Golden Age(s) of Television

I don't know if it's insomnia, going to bed earlier (I'm almost ashamed to admit some nights I'm in bed before I used to step out for the evening), or a function of age and/or bladder, but I seem to be awake more at night. Consequently, I get to watch a lot of television. After three o'clock, my choices are limited to infomercials, Hallmark Channels, ESPN, PBS, and a curious phenomenon from post-digitalization of broadcast TV–added channels. Each local channel got three or four more channels in addition to their main channels. Mostly, they filled the space with packaged programming with charming names–Antenna TV, Me TV, GetTV, Charge!, Comet. The benefit to these channels is they don't show infomercials, even in the wee-est hours in the morning.

Surfing in this neighborhood is a walk down TV-history lane. Programming, especially shows from the late 60s to the early 90s, range from tolerable to execrable. Even shows like Murphy Brown, which were lauded at the time as being cutting-edge TV, don't wear well. Looking at the various line-ups is cringe-worthy television. The problem, it seems, is formulas. They were pretty finely-honed by the this time in the TV cycle.

Every now and again, a show from the early to mid-50s, also known as television's golden age, will surface, usually in the far reaches of the time between midnight and the witching hour. Just because a show is in black and white is no guarantee of quality. Old Westerns like The Roy Rogers Show feature poor acting and lame scripts. The TV westerns of this period feature long chases by horse, and other features that are more about noise, showing the radio antecedents of these shows. For the most part, there's a reason they're on this late. Dragnet is legendary for the woodenness of the performances (as well as the legendary line, Just the facts, ma'am. You watch because you're a Dragnet junkie or, well, that's the only show not selling you anything that's the best of bad alternatives.

George Burns and Gracie Allen

But every now and again, an interesting show that reminds you why it was the golden age pops up. Two shows stand out–The Burns and Allen Show and the The Jack Benny Program. Both are filmed before live audiences. Yes, the shows lean too heavily on their premises (Gracie is a ditz, Jack is cheap and a lousy violin player), some of Gracie's explanations are too convoluted, and Jack wears too many silly costumes. But what makes the shows interesting is how they innovatively develop in the new medium. George, for example, regularly breaks the fourth wall to address the audience directly, and regularly serves up both explanations of what's going on in the show (very meta) as well as reprising his vaudeville joke routines. Jack's shows move between the stage, his home, and sketches within the show. It doesn't hurt that the writing is better, sharper, than a lot of the competition. So ultimately to me what makes the shows fun is the way that they were adapting old forms for TV, with its shifts in timing and the need for a new visual language, among other things. You get to do cool things if nobody is sure what it is you're supposed to be doing.

Now, I'm told, we're in a new golden age of quality television (but before we get all big-headed, please remember that shows like The Explosion Show and People with Ugly Feet are debuting right now). Most of the quality action is taking place on streaming services and HBO, but AMC and FX have introduced some ground-breaking, well-received shows while maintaining the old format. Although quality of writing makes a difference, we are again in a period of technological transition. Storytellers are no longer limited to a half-hour or hour format, nor do they necessarily have to break into the story every twenty minutes to sell stuff. There's also some innovation in the structures, I believe. Plus viewers can view a part of a show, all the shows, and do it on their own time without being held to the network's schedule.

Anyway, enjoy it while you can. It won't take too many cycles before someone tries to distill the new success into a formula, and the shows that result will put the 70s to shame in redefining quality television.     Top


Fred the Flower

Fred needs his rest like the rest of us.

Fred the Flower

Fortnightly T-Shirts

Sometimes it's a mug, sometimes a meme, sometimes it's funny. But the price is always right.

T-shirts you just can't buy.

Poetry Corner

To Boil the Egg

You need, of course, the egg.

The water, the pan, the timer,

The spoon to lift the egg from hot water.

One egg will suffice, but many are better.

Eggs are not social,

There is no benefit to individual attention.

They boil well in groups,

Shells clacking together in merry harmony.

You need also those things that cannot be collected,

The time and the desire.

Provide them when needed.

The time can be spent patiently waiting

Or doing other kitchenly things

That require but a few moments to complete–

Dishes, perhaps, floor mopping,

Making muffins with blueberries or bananas

(Whichever you have),

Tackling the tasks that remain undone

In the normal ebb and flow of life,

Victims of the universal desire

To do more and be more,

To make each moment produce.

Better, though, to spend the time

In contemplation

Of transformations accomplished

By judicious application

Of heat and time.

More time or less time, more or less heat,

Do not boil better eggs.

Succumbing to desire is its own reward.

But always at the fore–

To boil the egg.

You need, of course, the egg.


A blast from the past.


Other voices

Shawn Girvan is getting some content on his website. Click on Vestiges when you go to Girvanaca

My brother-in-law Harvey's academic-politics cartoon: SNAF-U

My sister Mary Pat's occasional musings: LaBrea Rambles

Suzanne's blog: The Tabard Inn

Austin Kleon's blog

Gary Larson and The Far Side are back! Replays now, new comics to come. You might want to give that we're going to foul your browser with third party, fourth party and known bad guys' cookies disclaimer a quick read before you click I agree. And then clear your cookies.

More quirky cartoons at The Oatmeal

Last Week

January 6. Well, so far, we haven't broken any resolutions. Of course, we really didn't make any, either.

Seen & Heard

Burger King announced that its plant-based Whopper is not suitable for vegans or vegetarians. We would like to suggest that it may not be suitable for carnivores, either.

Sign: Drive like your children live here. Well, OK, but I really don't like my kids, loud, sniveling, greedy, obnoxious boozehounds all of 'em. I can't wait for them to become teenagers so at least they'll shut up, although they'll probably still hit me up for money and come in late from dates. So are you sure you want me to drive like my kids live there?

I had no choice. Popular phrase, even in classic TV shows. Yes, you had a choice. You had many choices. Only a few of them are directly related to your cruel, mean, obnoxious act that hurt someone else. Many were further upstream, in your youth and general upbringing, or when you decided to follow your selfish, greedy path. You had a choice. You had no spine. You had no honor.

Astoundingness. I ran past the store yesterday to pick up a few things. The bill was $20.20. Now I was amazed because I so rarely have a bill that comes to a magic number–rounded, whole number, or a repeater. But the fact that I had a bill for $20.20 in 2020 was truly marvelous, I thought.

It's going to be a good year, I think.    Top

Bits and Pieces

Living the Job: Apple's privacy chief Jane Horvath is making a rare public appearance [at CES]. (Aside: It seems odd that a group that contains some of the best design brains/hands on the planet would have such unattractive graphics on the website.)

Good News. My wife was recently named Official Sweetie of the New Millennium for the third consecutive decade. It is unprecedented for one person to hold the office so long, but Ann has handled her duties well and is more than deserving of the honor. Congratulations, Sweetie!

Critics note that the millennium is no longer new. We say that we're starting year 20 of 1000, meaning we're 2 percent in. We think that still qualifies as new. Get back to us in oh, say, 2250, and we'll talk.

In the news With escalations in Iran-US tensions, just how ticked off do you think John Bolton is that he's not at the center of everything? The Conspiracy Theorist wonders if Bolton's resignation wasn't a red herring, that he's still pulling strings, and finally got to start the war he so desperately wanted? Thinking that Trump ordered the strike to simply divert attention from the impeachment surely isn't even a remote possibility.

Golden Globes. I had no idea how many stars are in bad financial shape, especially women. There can be no other explanation for the number of stars who did not have blouses or shirts under their jackets. Inability to pay for them can be the only explanation. I can't imagine that they would risk a bad chest cold or pneumonia just to make a fashion statement. I almost started a Go Fund Me page for them. Almost.     Top

Internet Curiosities

I started reading Because Internet a while ago. Excellent premise, insightful writing. It's been a a little slow, though–interruptions, holidays and I spend a lot of time sayinghaven't I read this already? It's a little loopy, or maybe more accurately recursive. Any way, she spends a lot of time developing how the alternate languages of the internet came to be, things like emoticons, emoji, memes and acronyms. She (Gretchen McCullough) discusses their rise and fall, and along the way points out how they are a form of shorthand that may require some training. Acronyms, for example, may be in limited use or have shifting meanings. LOL has apparently gone through some of this. I know I have trouble sometimes remembering some of the acronyms. I have one friend who uses idk frequently. Sometimes I get it right away. As often as not, I have to think about it, or look it up. Either way, it's not the time saver I think it's supposed to be.

I'm guilty of obscurity, too. If you read this regularly, you've seen dk;dc (don't know, don't care) when I don't want to bother looking things up. You should thank me–it eliminates a lot of unnecessary links so you don't have to go chasing around after them.

One particular acronym has me a little puzzled–TL;DR (too long; don't read). I get it, I like it, and it makes perfect sense when a reviewer or on-line poster says that about a piece (like Gretchen's). They're warning other readers away from a potentially dense piece, or one that follows every detour it can.

What's new and confusing, though, is writers applying TL;DR to their own work. It may be the first time in recorded history that a writer says don't read my stuff.

I have a question, too. What is too long? In school, English teachers will often talk about an essay being disorganized, or more accurately, put org in the margin and let it go at that. I don't think there's a student alive (or dead) that would say, I intentionally submitted an intentionally disorganized essay. most of the writers I know are paranoid about length, about too many words. Same with too long? What makes it too long? Is there a disconnect between intention and product, or the amount of time it takes a reader to read? Why is the writer declaring it too long? So many questions, but really, at the end of the day, dk;dc.     Top


I don't know how you feel about deadlines, but I can take them or leave them. Sometimes I do good things under pressure. Other times, I skip a step. That seems to be what happened last week. I wrote a piece called Resolve(d), in which under the pressure of a deadline (which had slipped by a couple of days as it was), I sort of forgot to mention a couple of the things that prompted the piece in the first place..

Mostly, I wanted to talk about the the word resolve, its meaning variations, and how they play into resolutions. I was most interested in having resolve, which you need to keep a resolution (maybe) a resolution in the sense of a formal declaration (be it resolved), and resolution in the sense of bringing something to a close (the lawsuit was resolved without going to trial). They all tell us something about making life-changing resolutions. I believe that those last two don't get enough emphasis, the saying out loud and the bringing something to a satisfactory conclusion. Which, if we're making life-changing pronouncements, there's something being left behind. We should recognize that and factor it into the whole making resolutions thing. How often do we make a resolution, and it keeps dragging on and on? Resolutions have a life span. We should let them go when it's time, and make a point of replacing them.

Probably still not what I wanted to say, but closer.     Top

TomatoPlanet!! is a random collection of writing, cartoons, and things that strike my fancy. © 2003-2020, John McCarthy

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You've probably noticed that each page has a different background color. They're the Pantone Colors of the Year from the last decade. This page is Classic Blue, the 2020 Color of the Year.