Saturday, July 22, 2006

I've meant to post something about our trip to Scotland Mary and I took in March, but haven't gotten around to it until one of our publications at work needed a travel piece. There's lot more I could add and I include more material for this post. The first image is yours truly at Castle Doune. The second image is from Edinburgh. Frequent readers of this blog will understand why I took it! The third is the Wallace Memorial as seen from Stirling Castle.

It's a mid-March day in Edinburgh and the snow is blowing sideways on the windshield of our taxicab.

It's springtime in Scotland.

As our cabbie negotiated the medieval streets of the capitol of Scotland, there are signs that spring is actually here - there are flowers in bloom everywhere.

This is my second trip to Scotland - my wife was born in Glasgow and raised in Paisley - and we have the advantage of having generous and hospitable relatives to put us up and give us sight-seeing advice.

Even if we didn't have this wonderful resource, Scotland would still be a relaxing destination. Scots are friendly, the mass transit is abundant and easy to use and there are tourist information centers with plenty of information.

We crammed as much as we could in the period of 12 days. If you're planning a trip to the United Kingdom, give yourself a treat and spend some time in Scotland.


The capitol of the nation is by far one of most tourist friendly spots I've ever visited. There is a tourist information center in the center of the city on Princes Street near the huge spire that is a memorial to Sir Walter Scott.

The biggest tourist spot is the Royal Mile, the street that begins on the top of a hill and the site of Edinburgh Castle and ends at the Holyrood House where the British royal family stays when they're passing through.

Undoubtedly the best known attraction in the city, Edinburgh Castle is a feast for any history, military or architecture buff. Expect to spend the better part of several hours at the castle.

Tourist Tip Number One: When at the castle, don't ask when the famed one'o'clock gun is fired.

Walking down the Royal Mile you see a wide variety of shops with their guns aimed squarely at tourists. Frankly I enjoy these kinds of shops, as they are the source for all of items you're going to bring home to family and friends.

Off the Royal Mile, on Chambers Street, are the Royal Museum and the Museum of Scotland, two museums in two joined buildings. Admission is free and the museums house wonderful exhibits on the history of the nation as well as decorative arts, archeology and the natural world.

There is a great cafe in the center of the two museums, which is an ideal place to relax after a day of walking. Keep your eyes peeled, here: Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is a regular. Our friends who were traveling with us actually had a sighting!

Tourist Tip Number Two: Always keep a 20 pence coin or two 10 pence coins with you for the pay toilets.

Across from the museums is the Greyfriars Kirkyard and the resting place of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier who watch over his master's grave for 14 years and was adopted by the city of Edinburgh.

The Greyfriars Pub is outside the gate of the cemetery and features a haggis sampler. Go ahead and try it. The national dish of Scotland - actually just a mixture of mutton, oats and spices - has a bad reputation, but is quite good, specially when eaten with the traditional mashed potatoes and turnips or tatties and neeps.

Tourist Tip Number Three: When in a Scottish pub, don't order "Scotch." In Scotland it's just whiskey. And you might not find your brand there as much of what we drink here is only available for export.

Just a quick 45-minute train ride away is the largest city on the nation. If Edinburgh is like New York - a flashy tourist destination - then Glasgow is like Chicago. It's a great city with plenty to see and do that some folks just don't think about.

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and spend most of it just walking through the bustling downtown. That's right. I did just write the word "bustling," "Saturday afternoon" and "downtown" together. In many American cities, down towns are dead on the weekend, but in Glasgow shopping malls haven't sucked the life out of urban areas.

Sauchiehall Street is a blast with great shops, restaurants and pubs. We walked into pub and found a six piece jazz band playing up a storm - something you'd never see on an afternoon in an American bar.

Tourist Tip Number Four: There is a substantial difference in language between Edinburgh and Glasgow, largely thanks to the "Glesgie patter," or slang. As long as they don't call you an "eejit" you're okay.

There are great museums in Glasgow - 13 in fact - ranging from Museum of Transport to the Burrell Collection of paintings, furniture, textile and sculpture to the magnificent Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Admission is free to the museums, which is helpful on a tight tourist budget.

Other sights

Stirling Castle, in the village of Stirling, is in Braveheart country. This is the second most important castle in the country and is well worth the scenic drive into the foothills of the Highlands.

Aberdeen is known as the "Granite City," and for a very good reason - most of the buildings are made from the native material. It's far from a "grey" town, though thanks to the large student population as well as a hustle and bustle from its large port.

If you love chocolate Scotland is the place to be. Here's words to look for: Cadbury's ( the real stuff...not what we get here) and Tunnock's. I'm in love with the Tunnock's line of wafers and tea cakes. Fabulous!

In Glasgow we found a non-touristy restuarant chain called Jake McPhees (pretty sure of thespellingg) where a slightly surly waitress reminded me that beans come on top of Scotch Pies. I told her I was not stranger to Glasgow and knew that. She seemed a little surprised and was then less surly! We also tried a fish and chip platter ( I know stereotypicall foods, but these you have to try in a foreign country) and it was, as the folks in Glasgow say, "magic."

We loved shopping at Govan market, an outdoors event in a very hard-core section of the city. The stalls sell everything from baked goods to carpeting and I loved watching the portable butcher shop conduct a television-style informerical– holding up various cuts of meat, describing it and talking about the price. The broken glass and dog shite on the sidewalk made me feel at home!

The underground in Glasgow is a dream for the tourist. Much cheaper than a cab, the subway line is a big cricle through the city. If you miss your station, don't worry, you'll get back to it eventually.

For film nuts such as myself, the best place to get DVDs is Fopp, a British chain that features a vast selection at the lowest prices I've seen. Get yourself an all-region player before you go to UK and then hunt down a Fopp.

For me, though, the best moment is when I could walk around Doune Castle, just minutes away from Stirling in the village of Doune. This is where Monty Python filmed much of their second film Monty Python and The Holy Grail. If you're quiet enough, you can still hear the clapping of coconut shells. We' re too late for a tour, so I walked around the castle and picked up a bit of masonry that had fallen on the pathway.

As always we are indebted to wife's Scottish relatives for their unlimited hospitality.

Tourist Tip Number Five: One trip to Scotland isn't enough.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. Yes, I used the word "shite." I take responsibility.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Sometimes what I write here helps me construct my column for the newspapers I edit. Here's an example.

You never know what is going to interest people.

In the new Superman film, the Man of Steel returns to Earth after a five-year search in space for his home world. He doesn't find it and comes back to resume his life here.

His return is met with general acceptance, but for Lois Lane the news isn't necessarily good.

You see Lois is hurt that the man she loved took off without an explanation, especially since there was a little complication: a son.

So I thought some folks would be enraged that Superman and Lois had pre-marital relations, but no one seems too upset about that.

Instead some conservative commentators have latched onto the scene in which Perry White, the editor of The Daily Planet, is talking to his staff. He wants to know everything about Superman and his return. He asks if Superman still stands for "truth, justice and all that stuff?"

Apparently the writers and the director wanted not to include the phrase "American way" because this film will play to audiences world-wide and this nation's policies are not uniformly popular.

Carol Platt Liebau writes on the web site for The American Spectator, "Certainly, Hollywood filmmakers want to distribute their films overseas. It's possible that someone felt that explicitly aligning Superman with American values and interests might alienate some foreign audiences. After all, these days, moviegoers abroad are used to seeing American films that depict the worst, rather than the best, of the American character.

"But if that were the case, the phrase 'the American way' could simply be dubbed out of the film's foreign versions, treated like other culturally inappropriate material when films are adapted for an overseas audience. As ridiculous as that arrangement would be, it could, at least, be defended as a business decision, albeit a repugnant one.

"But there's more to it than that. It's not only that the film's creators believe that non-Americans would find the phrase offensive - they themselves do, too.

"According to reports in the New York Post, the screenwriters of the film wanted to avoid 'outdated jingoism.' One of them commented, 'I don't think 'the American way' means what it meant in 1945.' The other noted, 'He's not just for Metropolis and not just for America.' Apparently, he's a new Superman for the global age."

It would be nice is Liebau actually knew something about the character and its history. The 1940s animated cartoons made by the Fleischer Studios used the phrase "truth and justice." There was no mention of the "American way" even in the cartoons produced after the start of WWII.
The early Superman was indeed a champion for the underdog as written by his co-creator Jerry Siegel. He fought mobsters, quacks and dictators and the police didn't like him very much. They considered him a vigilante.

By the time the 1950s rolled around and the production of the popular television series the character was far more establishment. In the light of the cold war, the phrase "American way" was added to the list.

I always thought the phrase was redundant - is truth and justice inherently supposed to be the American way?

This is the kind of subject that some talk show hosts love because it means nothing and yet gets some people very angry.
As a piece of pop culture I found the film to be a fun but thoughtful look on the burden a real Superman would have to carry in this world. The character is not one that would lend itself to a politically charged story.

Liebau doesn't bring up that Superman is the ultimate illegal alien. He was brought into the country illegally, given a fake identity as a child, adopted a second fake identity as an adult, carries no passport and files no flight plans with the FAA.

And we expect him to help us out and no one seems upset that he doesn't get just compensation for his labors.

Perhaps she doesn't want to consider that aspect of "the American way."

©2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. Sorry if I hurt your feelings. These are my words alone.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

And Carlos was a nice guy!

The deputies of Reno 911! are back – on television and on DVD.

The fourth season of the popular comic police show has started on Comedy Central and the third season has just been released to DVD in a two-disc set.

If you’ve not seen the show, it’s a clever and raucous parody of FOX’s Cops. Set in Reno, Nevada, documentary cameras follow around a group of sheriff deputies during both their professional and personal lives.

Led by the hot pants-wearing Lt. Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon), The Reno squad includes the in your face Deputy Raineesha Williams (Niecy Nash), the flack-vest wearing depute Travis Junior (Robert Ben Garant), the deeply disturbed Deputy Trudy Weigel (Kerri Kenny), the amorous Deputy Clementine Johnson and ladies’ man Deputy S. Jones (Cedric Yarbrough), the seasoned vet and bigot Deputy James Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui) and the rookie Deputy Cheresa Kimball (Mary Birdsong).

Very politically incorrect, Reno is a show that constantly surprises and sometimes shocks. Viewers are never quite sure how far a gag will be taken. On episode in the third season DVD, Dangle and Junior go undercover at a spa to follow a suspect there for a massage. The suspect takes off in his car and Dangle and Junior rush out of the door of the spa in hot pursuit with only their socks and shoes on. The spa locks its doors behind them and they have to make their way back eight miles to the station house.

The third season opens with episodes that show how the group got kicked off the force, served time in jail and then resumed their lives but as civilians. There is some funny stuff here, especially with Dangle trying out for American Idol and Jones and Garcia relishing their new lives as mall cops.

The third season set also features two groups of extended outtakes which shows how the cast crafts the scene through trial and error. The cast provides commentaries on several episodes, which give insights into the creative process.


Carlos Alazraqui

What makes Reno unique in American television is that it’s a sit-com that is almost all improvised and after four seasons cast member Carlos Alazraqui said in an interview with Reminder Publications that the cast is now a lot better at the acting challenge than during the show’s first season.

He attributed the early success of the show to “dumb luck.”

He explained how the show is shot. The cast is given a general description of a scene and then rehearses a short length of time developing some of the dialogue. If the director likes the lines, they start filming. Alazraqui estimated that the actors improvise 70 percent of the show.

The show is not shot in Reno, Alazraqui explained. It’s filmed in the greater Los Angeles area. The sheriff’s station is a real police station in Carson, Calif., and Alazraqui said the officers generally support the show.
“Ninety-five percent really love it,” Alazraqui said.

He added that one officer in particular makes an effort to help them out by telling them about real life incidents that could be used for the comedy. He has told the cast that some of their antics are reflections of what has happened to cops in real life.

Alazraqui’s character is frequently paired off with Yarbrough’s Jones and that was because the two actors hit it off in the pilot. Alazraqui said the producers liked the physical contrast between the men as well as the fact that Garcia was an unapologetic bigot.

Alazraqui added that “the whole staff is racially prejudiced.”

Alazraqui comes to the show from a stand-up comedy background and from a very active career as a voice artist in animation. If you’ve watched Nickelodeon in the past few years, you’ve heard him on shows such as The Fairly Odd Parents (as the evil Mr. Crocker), Camp Lazlo (Lazlo and Clem) and Rocko’s Modern Life (as Rocko).

Rocko was his first animated role and he is again working with Rocko creator Joe Murray on his new show Camp Lazlo.

“I’ve come full circle with Camp Lazlo,” he said.

You also heard him as the voice of the Taco Bell Chihuahua, a commercial campaign that is still remembered six years after it ended.

“That was a bizarre thing to land,” Alazraqui said.

He’s a cast member of the new animated film Happy Feet due for release in November and plays a Latino penguin named Nestor. The voice cast also includes Robin Williams.

That feature film release will be following in January 2007 with the premiere of Reno 911!: Miami. Alazraqui explained that in the movie the Reno deputies travel to Miami to attend a law enforcement convention in Miami. They lack the proper credentials and are not allowed in.

But when a biohazard forced the quarantine of the officer in the convention hall, the Reno deputies takes to the streets of Miami to keep the peace.

The film was shot in the same improv style, although Alazraqui said the cast had to pay much closer attention to creating dialogue and situation that matched the movie’s plot.

Alazraqui still performs stand-up and he said he favors no one aspect of his career.

“It’s so relative to the situation,” he explained. “There is nothing like the live response [to stand-up] when they love you. I get paid to do goofy voices. That’s another high.”

“The benefits of a multi-pronged career is that I get to do different jobs,” he said.

© Gordon Michael Dobbs 2006. My words alone.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

My wife and I have been on vacation this week and have been out of the state and away from computers for part of that time. Here are some observations from the road.

We were in Virginia to visit my mom and we hate taking I 95 all the way to the Richmond area. So, for years, we have been using US 301 for part of the trip to avoid the headaches of traffic around Washington DC. For a long time the route was a joy to drive: mostly small towns and farming areas.

Not any more.

It was astonishing to see just how built-up these one-time sleepy areas are now. Outside of Wilmington, Delaware, there are scores of new houses and big box stores to obviously fill the need of folks escaping from city life and waiting to create suburbs out of the country.

The traffic was horrendous in areas where it was once smooth-sailing.

Now I will admit that I generally despise the 'burbs. They have all of the disadvantages of living in a city (closeness to your neighbors,etc) and none of the fun of country life. The creation of more developments on one-time farmland is a mortal sin in my book.

I'd rather see our cities re-need than our rural areas taken away.

That's just me. But I would also like to see more mass transportation, the development of electric cars, more urban gardening projects and an emphasis on renovation of existing buildings.


Seen along the road: crabs fro $99 a bushel basket. You've got to be committed to seafood to pay a hundred bucks to some guy for a big basket of crabs that need to stay alive until you cook them.


We love Wa-Wa, a chain of uber-gas stations with a fantastic selection of food items for folks on the move and clean rest rooms.

A word on rest rooms: people can't be trusted.

Step into any public facility today and the odds are the toilets and urinals will flush themselves. The faucets and soap dispensers will be automatic as will the paper towels.

Obviously we can be trusted to flush things, turn off the water and tear off the right amount of towels.

Now I know these things are done in the name of cleanliness and thrift, but it goes to the heart of the matter that people are pigs when it comes to the use of public restrooms.

As someone who has had to maintain rest rooms for the public I will never understand the psychology of walking into someplace that will be used by another people and urinating all over it.

Is this our instinctive marking of territory manifesting itself?

Oh, well... Just know that in the South, Wa Wa has clean restrooms. Thank all that is holy!

©Gordon Michael Dobbs 2006. My words alone.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Curse of Superman?

Believe it or not, some of the TV entertainment shows are bringing up the old chestnut that there is a curse assigned to playing Superman. Kirk Alyn lived to a ripe old age and Bud Collier seemed to do all right himself. I'm sorry about George Reeves and Christopher Reeve and this story belittles their lives.

More much ado about nothing; typical TV.

However there is a great lesson about Superman: creators need to own their creations.

Now I'm entering my close friend Steve Bissette's territory here. He's been talking and writing about this subject for years. Hell, even Mark Martin ( the great comix artist NOT the race car driver) even will write about creator rights. He's another close friend. So I guess I'm caving in to peer pressure!

The photo above is from that June 21, 1941 article on Superman. As you can see, Siegel and Shuster are shown as living now in relative luxury. We all know now that in just a few years they were screwed in ways by DC Comics that affected the rest of their lives.

Max Fleischer did not benefit from his experience with Superman. He didn't own the character. He didn't own his most popular character, Popeye, either. He did eventually own Betty Boop, but only after a court battle and wound up not owning a single one of the films he produced. His heirs, though, have greatly benefited from the court case and have made a ton of dough in merchandising. Too late for Max, though.

The writers of the Mutual radio series, which introduced us to kryptonite and Jimmy Olson and other conventions which the comic adopted, got paid for their efforts and that was that.

Over 60 years later, creators are still fighting this corporate battle and in a way you can't blame the corporations. Corporations that publish or produce want something in exchange for the risk they take. Anticipating a success, they want some sort of long-term participation in the property.

It is always a balancing act between the two parties. Creators must always know what they are willing to give up in order to get their product out to the public.

One of the great "geniuses" in comics (insert sarcastic tone here; in fact probably the only "genius") talked about how the Internet was going to liberate many creative types from corporate bondage by setting up a new economic model. You create something, put it on your web site and people will pay for it. You eliminate the middle man.

Perhaps with music, we've see the beginnings of that kind of commerce. You notice though that most of the attention is generated by big recording companies partnering with other big Internet companies. And that success has come about because of a device that allows you to download the music and carry it everywhere.

Considering that many people don't have high speed connections, downloading a comic book, a novel or a poster is out of the question. Many people would not want to print a 24 page color comic on their home printer.

The web is still years away from being that direct pipeline from creator to consumer when it comes to a viable economic model, despite what "geniuses" say.

Today many creative types can learn a lot from Siegel and Shuster. They can avoid some of the landmines in the creative process that these two stumbled upon. Most importantly, they should learn not to give up on their dreams.

©2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. You know the drill.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Here is a Superman model sheet to instruct artist how to draw his face ( in two images)

I think the thing people forget is just how much a departure the Superman shorts were to everything being produced in commercial animation at the time.

With the exeptions of Bob Clampett's attempt to bring Eedgar Rice Burrough's John Carter of Mars to the screen, no one had thought of using animation for non-humorous subjects.

And although the funny comic strips were raided for characters to bring to the big screen, no one thought of bringing the adventure strips to animation. If advenrure strips were adapted, it was always with live action.

Imagine some one bringing Terry and the Pirates or Flash Gordon to animation and preserving the style and tone of the strip?

And the Fleischers only did it because they were forced to by Paramount. Granted, they did a great job and the series is outstanding, however they obviously did not see animation as a vehicle for adventure, fantasy (except fairy tales) or science fiction.

Animation was worthy of humor and sentiment and that was about it.

I once had an exchange of critical letters with the late animation director Shamus Culhane. He charged the Superman shorts were failures because they didn't start a trend in the industry. Culhane was incorrect in his anaylsis.

The shorts made money and were popular. But they were expensive and a big risk. It was easier for the studios to take the easy path and keep producing humorous shorts.

© 2006 Gordon Michael Dobbs. These are my words alone.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Marky Mark asked what I thought of the controversy over the deletion of the words "American way" from a description of what Superman stands for. I've not seen the movie yet but apparently Perry White says something like "truth, justice and all that stuff."

The Fleischer cartoons only had "truth and justice. There's a good piece at the New York Times site ( about the history of the phrase.

Trivial pursuit is the name of the political game today. Major real issues from the cost of gas to the out-sourcing of jobs to how they hell we are going to get out of Iraq seem to get less political traction than something like this with too many people.

Now there is a debate over whether or not Superman is an American! Okay fan boys and girls, Superman is a classic illegal. He entered this country illegally and Pa and Ma Kent hid his real identity. He's suspect because he has two identities! But we are willing to overlook his illegal status because of the work he does for us! Think Superman has a passport? He comes in and out of this nation without papers. He doesn't go through customs. No one wands him at an airport. He doesn't file flight plans with the FAA. In effect he is a licensed pilot.

Hey picking fruit, watching our kids, sewing clothes and saving the planet: it's all the same!

I spent five years in talk radio and I understand this is exactly the kind of fluff issues that some talk show hosts love to present . It doesn't mean a damn thing, but it gets people angry and calling: Another example of the godless liberals who run Hollywood! They've taken Superman from us!

In the current press environment when the popular morning "news" show can feature hatemonger Ann Coulter spewing her filth and packaging it as "news," what can you expect about something nonsensical as this?

If Superman were actually real, don't you think he either be the dictator of the planet or the most apolitical person in the world? I figure for his own sanity he'd either have to one or the other.

More stuff on real things....the Fleischer Superman shorts tomorrow!

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. My word alone here.