Liquid Lake Confirmed On Titan


 

Scientists have confirmed that Saturn’s moon, Titan, does indeed have a giant lake containing liquid. According to Space.com

“This is the first observation that really pins down that Titan has a surface lake filled with liquid,” said lead researcher Robert Brown of the University of Arizona‘s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson.

Called Ontario Lacus [because it is larger than North America’s Lake Ontario]the lake extends 150 miles (235 kilometers) and covers an area of about 7,800 square miles (20,000 square kilometers). The lake structure is filled mostly with methane and ethane, hydrocarbons that are gases on Earth but liquid on the bone-chilling surface of Titan.

What does this mean? Well, what it means is that Titan could eventually show signs of life. It is also the only moon we’ve discovered to support a planet-like atmosphere. The deeper we explore the universe, the more exciting and frightening it is. Here’s one of my favorite film interpretations of the depths of space. It’s the opening sequence to the film CONTACT and one of the loneliest, most frightening, most exhilarating arguments in favor of life beyond Earth. 

Liquid Lake Confirmed On Titan

DeSisto, Old Friends, & The Angry Mob Mentality Of Chat Rooms & Forums


I was recently contacted by an old friend from High School. I should mention here that I’m not in touch with anyone from those youthful days and haven’t been for a very long time. You see, I didn’t go to High School in my home town so there’s never been anyone to fill me in on where those folks are now and what they’ve been doing since. Some of them have crept into my thoughts now and then, others I haven’t thought about in 26 years. But now that contact’s been made, I find myself flooded with memories. It’s incredible how experiences and emotions that seemed long-faded, wounds that were thought healed, can resurface in an instant and feel as new and fresh as when they first happened. It’s also a great reminder of who I am and where I come from, in what ways I’ve changed and in what ways I haven’t. I suppose many people have this experience as they get older and find themselves invited to High School reunions and such. But my school has no reunions that I know of (at least none I’ve been invited to!). You see, my school was not like most others. And it no longer exists.

As a teen, I was pretty much what you would call a “troubled kid”. Now that phrase has many different faces and many different meanings, but mine was such that I needed some real-world help that I just wasn’t getting where I was. My parents were–and still are–amazing and, thanks to them, I was able to get that help. It came in the form of a school called DeSisto. Michael DeSisto ran two schools: one in Stockbridge Massachusetts, the other in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida (yep, that’s right, Howey-in-the-Hills). I went to the latter and had the honor and privilege to arrive the day the school opened. I was among the core group that inadvertently helped sculpt what the school would become. This was in 1980 (since the school closed in ’88, maybe we didn’t do such a bang-up job). DeSisto was a “therapeutic community”; a school for kids whose troubles went, perhaps, a bit beyond the norm. Some were court ordered, some sent by their parents against their will, others, like me, chose to go. However, there were no gates or bars at DeSisto. It wasn’t a prison. The rule was always, “If you want to stay, stay. If not, there’s the road.” They knew from the get-go that you couldn’t help anyone who didn’t want to be helped.

For me, DeSisto was a life-changing experience. Some of the most difficult, exciting, dramatic, unusual and positive moments from my life took place there. And though I left the school without completing the program and was supposedly made persona non grata, I nonetheless have terrific memories and no ill will toward the school, my experiences, or the negativity I received upon deciding to move on. I was ready and I knew it. And for me, my life has shown that my choice was the proper one. I still like who I am (no small thing if you knew me when). And I consider the anger Michael DeSisto and some others felt at my leaving to be quite the compliment as I took it to be more a sign of sadness improperly dealt with, and less actual anger.

In my newfound desire to reconnect with some of these long lost friends and lovers, I stumbled on a number of sites devoted to people who had “survived” DeSisto. As I read on, I found a frightening wealth of misinformation about the schools. People raging about brainwashing, child-abuse, sexual humiliation… The list goes on. People who had gone to these schools and “escaped” talk about their experiences as if they’d been sent to POW camps and had bamboo chutes slid under their fingernails. Now maybe the schools changed dramatically since I was there, but that description bears no resemblance to my experience of the school I went to. The DeSisto of my youth was a place of understanding and acceptance, of respect; a place that allowed me to grow, not by trying to change me, but by appreciating me and, better yet, helping me to appreciate myself. Now this may sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo to some folks–and I won’t pretend that the school didn’t have its flaws (show me a school that doesn’t)–but it sure as hell was exactly what this 16 year old needed and I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.

Living at and with DeSisto is an experience that is not easily explained. The rules are different, the world is different. And to try and explain it properly would take both time and–more importantly–the desire on the part of the listener to understand. What I found on almost all of the sites I started reading was the same intolerant anger I’ve found on so many sites before, regardless of topic. These are not people who want to know the truth. This is a forum for people who want to vent their anger and frustration, their feelings of being victimized and not listened to, on the world at large. It’s rare, in my experience, to find an internet forum that does not suffer from this. This is why many forums have moderators, to attempt to elicit respectful, open-minded conversation, not fear-mongering and hateful accusations.

I thought at first that I would add my two-cents to some of these forums, that I would offer an insider’s perspective, my personal experience. But as I read further, the few people that attempted this before me were met with such vile hostility that it seemed clear to me that truth or reality was not what these folks were seeking; they appeared to actually WANT to be angry, they seemed to NEED it.

Nonetheless, I wanted to lend my voice to those whose experience of DeSisto was a great one. Yes, it was an imperfect place in an imperfect time. And maybe the people in charge didn’t learn from their mistakes and went down the wrong path. Or maybe the school was just trying to do something most people simply could not understand and would find easier to condemn. I truly don’t know.

All I know is I spent 2 1/2 years of my life there and who I am today is partly a reflection of the opportunities I was given there. It is as much a part of me as my liver or my heart. Even if I don’t think about it every day.

DeSisto, Old Friends, & The Angry Mob Mentality Of Chat Rooms & Forums

CASSANDRA’S DREAM & Woody Allen’s Unnoticed Heyday


Woody Allen‘s most recent release, CASSANDRA’S DREAM hit American movie theaters this past January on a mere 107 screens. To put that into perspective, it opened against CLOVERFIELD, which opened on 3,411 screens and 27 DRESSES which opened on 3,057. CLOVERFIELD ran for 12 weeks. 27 DRESSES for 19. CASSANDRA’S DREAM, 5. 

Woody Allen’s second film to be shot in England was met with relatively negative reviews. It lost a ton of money at the box office.

And it was one of the best films of his career. 

Since leaving America to make films abroad, Allen has tapped into a muse (and, no, not Scarlett Johansson as she is absent from CASSANDRA’S) that has allowed him to delve deeper into the human psyche, to return to his exploration of human nature, its struggle with morality, and his own love of film. And the best part is, he continues to do this in his own unique voice. 

Many critics (of both the professional and blogging variety) condemned CASSANDRA’S as being a weaker version of Sidney Lumet’s more successful BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD. While the films have some plot similarities, they’re concerned with very different things. Woody Allen has always had a very introspective approach to his characters’ interaction. They talk in “Allen speak”, asking questions about the universe, morality, humanity. Lumet’s film, while certainly exploring these issues as well, approaches the subject matter as more of a thriller; a heist gone bad and the repercussions of greed and desperation. Both are an intense look at downward spirals, and family issues lie at the core of each, but the focus of the storytelling in these two films is uniquely different and represents the very things that make these directors so uncommonly talented. Their characters inhabit two very different worlds. DEVIL is tough, riveting, painful and probably the best film Lumet’s made in years. CASSANDRA’S is more thoughtful, introspective, leisurely in its pace. Woody Allen’s dramas have almost never been met with great fanfare. One of his best films, ANOTHER WOMAN, is hardly ever mentioned in articles on Allen’s work, yet it is, in my opinion, one of his greatest accomplishments. Anyone even vaguely familiar with Allen’s dramatic films should know that CASSANDRA’S is a story told through Woody Allen’s eyes, in Woody Allen’s style. And that style seems to be far less adaptable to the American mainstream than the films of Lumet. This has always been the case. Perhaps that’s why some have suggested that Allen’s film should have been more like Lumet’s DEVIL, as Roger Ebert does in his review of CASSANDRA’S:

The identical premise is used in Sidney Lumet‘s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” which is like a master class in how Allen goes wrong.

To me, this is like saying Jean Luc Godard should be more like Steven Speilberg. It’s ludicrous and exposes more about the expectations of the viewer and less about the talents of the filmmakers. I can respect liking one film over the other, but one must understand that Woody Allen has made a Woody Allen film, not a Sidney Lumet film. And it is pure Allen in top form. 

Allen’s lead actors, Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell both turn in great performances. Their fear is palpable, their horror real, their body language spot on, their confusion profound. I loved CASSANDRA’S DREAM. It had me from the word “go”. The look (Vilmos Zsigmond’s gorgeous cinematography), the feel, the pace, the writing.

In my opinion, Woody Allen is having a heyday. I’m just waiting for someone else to notice.

CASSANDRA’S DREAM & Woody Allen’s Unnoticed Heyday

Smilin’ Through The Blues: When Jerry’s On, The Whole World Shines


I started listening to the Grateful Dead sometime in the mid-seventies and saw them live for the first time in the fall of 1979. I saw some amazing shows, had moments of transcendent bliss, and came to understand the pure unadulterated energy of live music when played from deep within the soul. There are a lot of people who don’t like the Grateful Dead. There are a lot of people who hate the Grateful Dead. In talking to a number of those people over the years, I came to realize that most of them were so turned off by “the scene” surrounding the Dead, that considering the music was almost an afterthought. And the scene did become quite awful in later years. As the Dead’s popularity grew, so did their audience. Lost were the small venue shows. Lost was the community of respectful young Deadheads who understood that there was something more than a “freakshow” happening here. But when their song TOUCH OF GREY became a hit single, it chimed the beginning of the end for the Dead and the world they’d unintentionally created. Crowds of newcomers who thought the Dead scene was about drugs and partying infiltrated what had once felt like a familial atmosphere of daring explorers–both internally and externally–and turned it into an out-of-control mob scene. What they didn’t understand, what they never once bothered to consider, was that it was all about the music. The drugs were part of a culture that birthed the music and this band, but it in no way was meant to define them or, worse, limit them.

But it did. By then, Jerry Garcia‘s heroin addiction had seemingly taken control of both his health and the music, and we watched both decline sharply. There were moments of resurrection, fleeting pockets of optimism where it seemed something might re-ignite from the embers of what had once been fiery and bright, but it never took hold. The crowds became unwieldily. The Dead were banned from favorite venues that had inspired both their music and the crowd. Like a child who grows up to marry someone destructive and violent and finds themselves no longer welcome at family functions, the Dead could find no way to divorce themselves from the runaway train that became their following and redefined who they were to an already misguided public.

For the record, I followed the Dead around for many, many years. I danced in a skirt, had long hair, even got to hang with Jerry once. Most every Dead show I saw I saw sober. Yes, I had done a lot of drugs in my youth and even dabbled here and there while on tour and beyond, but I preferred my shows straight. The music got me high. That’s the truth. The music.

Lee Johnson, a classical music composer and someone who, until recently, was unfamiliar with the music of the Grateful Dead, chose to study their music and history in-depth for what would later become his Dead Symphony No. 6. He recently wrote these eloquent words about his newest musical discovery:

It took a mere handful of people, lead by masterful non-leader Jerry Garcia, working on a canvas thirty years long, four-hours-a-jam-every-night wide, to evolve the original sound. And what a sound it was: modest in instrumentation, no “star” vocalists among them, but offering up so richly eclectic a repertoire of American song, such a variable yet transcendent vision, that no group from the Era of Peace and Love has ever surpassed them. Like Whitman, this little band was large, it contained multitudes.

So now when I venture back to the land of the Dead–and I often do–in the comfort of my living room or through the tiny speakers of my headphones, it’s almost always to the era when I first discovered them, and sometimes into the age when I was seeing them, before the tidal wave of popular culture crashed down upon them.

To their credit, they lasted 30 years. 30 years of improvisational musical exploration. Their sound changed in many ways. Most of it great. I’ve been told by the musically challenged that the Dead were not very good musicians. This is a statement that always astounds me. You see, as a musician myself, I am still left awe-inspired by the craftsmanship and pure talent that was the Grateful Dead. Like the greatest jazz musicians, the Dead pulled off something almost alien to most other musicians. But like so much great art, it is often misunderstood by the public at large and brushed off as being a fad or, as it is in this case, having more to do with the scene around it than with the art itself.

As for the Dead’s commercial popularity, the songs that are best known to non-heads are almost always the little ditties, the more hummable tunes, fun, but rarely reflective of the depths the Dead could obtain. But once in a while, those little ditties would explode with bursts of pure energy and joy. The following clip is of one of those ditties. An encore from 1978 that in later years seemed to become somewhat of a “throwaway”. And for those who never saw the Dead as a rock and roll band or who think of Jerry as the overweight, immobile figure he became in his final, most popular years, this rendition of the still timely song, U.S. BLUES, while admittedly rough around the edges, will give you a genuine taste of the deep joy and energy that drew me in those many years ago and still has a very welcome and warm hold on me. It also shows, in no uncertain terms, that when Jerry was on, so was everyone around him.

Turn it up and enjoy.

Smilin’ Through The Blues: When Jerry’s On, The Whole World Shines

Dog Heaven: Huntington Dog Beach & The Saving Of An American Dream



There are certain images that for me are just, well… American. One of them is the image of dogs playing on a beach. From catching frisbees to pulling on the bathing suit of the Coppertone Girl. But like that Coppertone ad, those images have faded into obscurity, no longer part of America as it exists today, but of some bygone era, a more innocent age. And I have to tell you, I miss it. As a dog owner and animal lover, I resent the fact that if I want to jump in my car and head down to the beach here in Los Angeles County with my dog and a frisbee, I can be assured to not only get kicked off the beach, but to take home a ticket with a several hundred dollar price tag. I don’t know what it’s like in other places, but I’ll tell you right now, Los Angeles is not the place to enact that particular aspect of the American Dream. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that not all dogs are friendly. Nor do all dogs play well with other dogs. And some dog owners simply don’t care enough to control their dog or, worse, clean up after them. And I respect people who are afraid of dogs. I’m sure they have their reasons and who am I to tell them they shouldn’t be afraid? But for the love of God, I just want to let my dog run free on the beach, splash around in the water, catch a frisbee and simply frolic in the sunshine!

Gus and Oliver rest after a long day at the beach

Well, now he can. My dog, Gus, along with our friends Stacy and Oliver (Oliver is the canine half of that team), took a trip down to Huntington Beach to what is officially known as the Huntington Dog Beach. And I’m here to tell you, it’s heaven on Earth. As an east-coaster originally, I have to confess to not being crazy about the public beaches near my home here in L.A.. Santa Monica, Venice… They just don’t do it for me. But the Huntington Dog Beach felt just like the beaches of my youth. And Gus and Oliver and all the other dogs got to do what they do best. Run and play. And anyone who thinks a dog can’t smile just need visit this beach one sunny afternoon to know they can and they do. I’ve known about this beach for a long time and always found one reason or another not to make the trek (it’s almost an hour’s drive), but now that I know this kind of joy awaits us… I have a feeling this is about to become a very familiar routine. 

If you own a dog and have been mourning the loss of a more innocent time when dogs and people frolicked together on a soft sandy beach with the waves crashing all around you and the sounds of happy, playful barks mixed with laughing adults and children, then make your way down to Huntington Beach where America is still alive and well. 

Check out this little video. It’s a tad saccharine, but accurate. 

Dog Heaven: Huntington Dog Beach & The Saving Of An American Dream

A Trip To The Movies – THE WACKNESS, HELLBOY II & The Theaters We See Them In


There was a time when my favorite way to spend a weekend or a day or night off was going to the movies. Though my love of film has in no way diminished, my love of the theater-going experience has. I still believe there is no better way to see a film than projected in 35mm (or better yet, 70mm) on a big screen with great sound. But too often, I find audiences to be loud, obnoxious, distracting and disrespectful. Maybe it’s always been that way. Or maybe it’s just since the advent of home video that people are having a harder time distinguishing that there is (or in my opinion should be) a difference between your living room and a movie theater. Plus, many of the great single-screen theaters are gone. They’ve been cut up, closed down, or simply replaced by the multiplex. That alone greatly diminishes the experience for me. So many movie theaters now require you to plow through throngs of shoppers in malls just to get to your medium size theater to watch slide-shows for local restaurants, play movie-themed word scrambles or answer annoying pop-culture trivia. Almost entirely gone are the days of never showing the screen before there’s a moving image on it. Gone are the giant curtains parting like the red sea to reveal the magic lurking just behind. It used to be that for me, just sitting in a movie theater was exciting. Today, that experience is rare. 

I’ve found that I actually prefer watching a movie at home. I’ve put enough time and money into my home theater (however probably less than I would have spent buying high-priced tickets for the same number of movies) that now my home feels closer to honoring the films I watch than most local movie theaters. And though I sometimes show a trailer or two, no one in my home is assaulted by slide-shows, dozens of trailers for films I would never want to see (and that have a bad tendency to give away entire plots to those I would), or numerous fast-paced commercials that may actually induce PTSD on unsuspecting audience members. Yes, a man’s home may indeed be his castle. And a man’s home theater may indeed be his movie palace. 

I mourn the loss of the movie-going experience of my youth. And like any old fart, I complain about it and wax poetic as I reminisce about the great days of yesteryear. But God help me, even the FILMS were better back then. 

Writers Guild Theater

If I do venture out to see a movie, it’s either at the Arclight in Hollywood or the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. That’s it. The Writers Guild is free of the youthful banter of disinterested delinquents (though the occasional mumbling of an elderly writer with hearing loss can distract from time to time). There are no trailers, no slide-shows and NO commercials. Just the movie. Good or bad. And people watch it. Applaud it. Talk about it. AFTER the film. It’s unfortunate that there’s no stadium seating as it’s one of the few additions to new theaters that I actually like. But the pros far outweigh the cons and so I go. 

Arclight Hollywood

The Arclight prides itself in presenting a movie in a respectable atmosphere free of rude interruptions or incompetent projectionists. There’s no curtain, but there’s also no slide-show and no commercials so, again, the pros outweigh the cons. The price is a bit steep, but all movies are these days so what’s an extra buck or two more to guarantee an above-average experience?

And to think, I actually sat down to write about two films I recently saw in theaters. The first was THE WACKNESS. I knew nothing of the film beyond that it starred Ben Kingsley, an actor whose work I greatly enjoy and admire. This small film, deceptively simple at first glance, slyly wormed its way under my skin. Kingsley’s performance walks a fine line between humor and pathos and he ultimately offers us a very moving human portrait. The same should be said for Famke Janssen who plays Kingsley’s distant wife. It’s an amazing piece of acting that translates a world of emotion and history in a relatively small amount of screen time. 

And Josh Peck won me over with his mouth-breathing charm and bittersweet journey into first love. Unless you’re dead and buried, this performance is certain to disrupt a couple of swept-under-the-carpet memories from your youthful romantic past. And Olivia Thirlby (of recent JUNO fame) embodies the beauty and danger of first love perfectly (for this guy, anyway). 

The other film I saw was HELLBOY II: ELECTRIC BUGALOO. Er… I mean, HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY. I wanted to like this film. I enjoyed the first installment and think Ron Perlman is perfect casting. Really inspired and charismatic. And Guillermo Del Toro‘s direction creates an interesting and visually stunning world, but in the end there’s too little character and simply too much “stuff” going on. Simply put, the effects–though extremely well done–take center stage away from the performances and story and bog the film down until there’s very little memorable about the whole experience. Except maybe Perlman, who manages to poke his head slightly above all the effects just long enough to not be entirely forgotten. But just barely. That said, there is a wonderful animated “story” in the beginning of the film that I thought was just great.

Though HELLBOY II felt like more style than substance to me, I did nonetheless walk away sensing that when Del Toro directs THE HOBBIT movies, if he sticks to the scripts written by Jackson, Walsh and Boyens, his visual style may be the perfect match. That is, if he doesn’t get too excited by all the toys at his disposal. 

And I already know that I’ll be venturing out to a movie theater to see those two HOBBIT films as they do hold the potential for spectacle and excitement I remember from the films of my youth. However, I’ll be choosing which theater to see them in VERY carefully.

A Trip To The Movies – THE WACKNESS, HELLBOY II & The Theaters We See Them In

Danny Strong Lands Well-Deserved Emmy Nom!


Writer/Actor Danny Strong has been nominated for his brilliant script about the 2000 Gore/Bush election debacle which was made into the captivating (and often appropriately frustrating) HBO film RECOUNT. I will say right now, in no uncertain terms, that RECOUNT was the single best experience I’ve ever had reading a script. Though fully aware of the story’s outcome (hello?), I was nonetheless on the edge of my seat the entire time. Danny managed to tell this story in such vivid detail and with such passion, understanding and humanity, that I found myself believing the Gore campaign might actually pull it off!

But alas, that history was already written. Danny just gave it a face, a heart, an emotional center. As a writer myself, I can tell you this is no easy task, but Danny pulls it off and the result far exceeds expectation. 

Here’s to Danny and all the other people responsible for turning this fantastic script into a fantastic film. To those nominated and those not. Thank you. You are all winners in my book.

Danny Strong Lands Well-Deserved Emmy Nom!