Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Batgirl Hangs Up Her Cowl

This is very sad news, coming from The Catacombs:
On Monday actress Yvonne Craig lost her grueling two-year battle with breast cancer. Of course everyone knew her as “Batgirl” from the classic 1960s television series, but she made memorable impressions on other well-loved series such as Star Trek, The Mod Squad, 77 Sunset Strip, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, and many others. She appeared twice on film with Elvis Presley. Her trained dancer’s figure made her a popular glamour, pin-up and ad model during her heyday, and her long film and television resume belies the fact that she did not originally pursue an acting career.
READ MORE:Yvonne Craig, TV’s Sexy Batgirl of the 1960s, Dies at 78,” by Mike Barnes (The Hollywood Reporter); “Yvonne Craig, TV’s Batgirl, Dies at 78,” by Bill Koenig (The Spy Command); “The Late Great Yvonne Craig,” by Terence Towles Canote (A Shroud of Thoughts); “Yvonne Craig, 1937-2015” (; “Yvonne Craig, R.I.P.,” by Mitchell Hadley (It’s About TV!).

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

GOPers Fear the Monster They Made

In a piece posted today on the Washington Post Web site, columnist Paul Waldman nicely sums up the nightmare Republicans face as they try desperately to figure out what they can do to prevent off-the-rails presidential candidate Donald Trump from further damaging the GOP’s chances with America’s minority and mainstream voters:
I think there’s something going on here that goes beyond Trump, and beyond the issue of immigration (on which all the Republican candidates have essentially the same position). It’s been said before that Democrats hate their base while Republicans fear their base, and the second part seems to be more true now than ever. The Tea Party experience of the last six years, which helped them win off-year elections and also produced rebellions against incumbent Republicans, has left them living in abject terror of their own voters.

It’s as though the GOP got itself a vicious dog because it was having an argument with its neighbor, only to find that the dog kept biting members of its own family. And now it finds itself tiptoeing around the house, paralyzed by the fear that it might startle the dog and get a set of jaws clamped around its ankle.
READ MORE:Why Trump’s Surge Among GOP Voters Matters,” by Steve Benen (The Maddow Blog); “How Did This Monster Get Created? The Decades of GOP Lies that Brought Us Donald Trump, Republican Frontrunner,” by Heather Cox Richardson (Salon).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Good Gaul-ly!

Today is of course Bastille Day, marking the 136th anniversary of the public storming of Paris’ Bastille Saint-Antoine and the start of the French Revolution. By way of celebrating this occasion, I’ve put together--in my Killer Covers blog--what I think is a rather handsome selection of more than 50 book fronts that owe their inspiration to France or, specifically, Paris. Click here to enjoy the whole set.

READ MORE:Bastille Day: Mysteries Set in France,” by Janet Rudolph (Mystery Fanfare).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ah, the Beauty and Power of Words


“Obamacare” Wins Again!

This will undoubtedly be the best news I hear all this week. As reported by The Huffington Post:
The latest and possibly the last serious effort to cripple Obamacare through the courts has just failed.

On Thursday, for the second time in three years, the Supreme Court rejected a major lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act--thereby preserving the largest expansion in health coverage since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid half a century ago.

The stakes of the case,
King v. Burwell, were enormous. Had the plaintiffs prevailed, millions of people who depend upon the Affordable Care Act for insurance would have lost financial assistance from the federal government. Without that money, most of them would have had to give up coverage altogether. But two of the court’s conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined the court’s four liberals in rejecting the lawsuit in a 6-3 decision. Roberts delivered the opinion for the majority.

The decision is a major defeat for conservatives, who have been trying to wipe Obamacare off the books ever since its enactment in 2010. The sweeping reform law, a key component of President Barack Obama’s legacy, now appears to be secure at least through the 2016 elections. Its fate beyond that will depend on who becomes president next year--and whether Republicans in Congress are willing to keep fighting for repeal.
Republicans on Capitol Hill and in red states nationwide were so sure that their right-wing allies on the U.S. Supreme Court would do whatever it took to undermine and destroy the Affordable Care Act, even if it meant damaging the Court’s reputation. Yet … that didn’t happen. Justice and progressive values won the day. The U.S. economy won’t have to suffer again under ever-escalating health-care costs and Americans won’t be forced once more to sell off their futures in order to obtain health insurance. It’s a good day, indeed.

READ MORE:They Won’t Admit It, but Republicans Dodged a Health Care Bullet,” by Steve Benen (The Maddow Blog).

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

So What Else Is on the Menu?

Late last week, when I published my Rap Sheet piece about Roger Kastel’s work on the Jaws film poster and paperback cover, I noted that his artistry had inspired myriad thematic imitations. Since then, I’ve come across two more posters that probably would not have existed without Kastel’s influence. Below, please enjoy an advertisement for the 2011 direct-to-video horror flick Sand Sharks and another one touting the 1981 film Piranha II: The Spawning, a sequel to 1978’s Piranha.

Interestingly, Pirahna II was one of the early motion-pictures directed by James Cameron, who later gave us Aliens, Titanic, and Avatar.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Open Wide

Today marks 40 years since the cinematic debut of Steven Speilberg’s 1975 summer blockbuster horror yarn, Jaws. To commemorate this occasion, I have posted in The Rap Sheet a gallery of book and magazine covers by Roger Kastel, the artist responsible for the 1975 paperback front of Peter Benchley’s novel as well as the iconic poster advertising Spielberg’s box-office hit. Check it out here.

READ MORE:So What Else Is on the Menu?” by J. Kingston
Pierce (Limbo).

Friday, April 24, 2015

Show Your “Cards”


If, in this second decade of the 21st century, the popularity of a TV series can be judged by the number of folks who want to try their hands at refashioning its opening title sequence, then Netflix’s often-cutthroat American political drama, House of Cards--now in its third season--is very popular indeed.

The fan-made videos below were found on YouTube. They all employ the same sort of time-lapse photography used in the original House of Cards introduction (embedded above), and every one of them features Jeff Beal’s theme music. However, the first nine imagine the series’ action being moved to other cities than Washington, D.C. (a real treat for someone like me, who enjoys traveling). Clips 10 and 11 provide an identical style of opening, but adapt it to other familiar TV programs, while the final clip reworks the House of Cards introduction in imitation of another admired political drama.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Vienna, Austria

Budapest, Hungary

Paris, France

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The Hague, The Netherlands

Pisa, Italy

Brasília, Brazil

Beijing, China

Breaking Bad TV opening, House of Cards-style

Sherlock TV opening, House of Cards-style

House of Cards TV opening, The West Wing-style

Bogie Beyond the Grave

Emma Myers has a thoughtful piece in The Dissolve that looks at Humphrey Bogart’s posthumous film roles and portrayals. “Overindulging in noir conventions,” she concludes, “the post-Bogart comedies merely set out to remind viewers of a world that was once filled with dames and bourbon, quixotic ideals, and perpetually wet pavement. This world no longer exists, and perhaps it never really did. No man will ever really be a Humphrey Bogart character. But while we can’t help but move relentlessly forward, all we want to do is look back and have him play it again.”

Friday, February 27, 2015

Good-bye, Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)

READ MORE:Leonard Nimoy, Spock of Star Trek, Dies at 83,” by Virginia Heffernan (The New York Times); “Star Trek Is Great, and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Was the Greatest Thing About It,” by Matthew Yglesias (Vox); “Leonard Nimoy, R.I.P.,” by Michael Hadley (It’s About TV!); “Mort: Mr. Spock,” by Don Herron (Up and Down These Mean Streets); “A Word About Leonard Nimoy,” by Jeri Westerson (Getting Medieval); “The Iconic ‘Live Long and Prosper’ Hand Gesture Was Originally a Jewish Sign,” by Daven Hiskey (Today I Found Out); “How Leonard Nimoy Made Spock an American Jewish Icon,” by Matthew Rozsa (Salon); “Leonard Nimoy Dies at 83, Dabbled in Spy Entertainment,” by Bill Koenig (The Spy Command); “R.I.P., Leonard Nimoy: We’ll Always Have Paris,” by Matthew Bradford/Tanner (Double O Section); “Leonard Nimoy, You Will Be Sorely Missed,” by Paul Morris (Little Things); “‘I Have Been--and Always Shall Be--Your Friend,’” by Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo); “Remembering Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015” (

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Front and Center

If you can pull yourself away for a moment from today’s revelations in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Bush-era torture techniques, click on over to The Rap Sheet, where you’ll find a poll asking readers to choose the best crime novel covers of 2014. There are 20 nominees, from both sides of the Atlantic. Feel free to pick as many covers as you think deserve praise. Just know that voting will remain open until midnight on Sunday, December 21, after which the results will be tallied and announced. So don’t wait. Vote now!

UPDATE: The top six winners of The Rap Sheet’s 2014 Best Crime Fiction Covers contest were announced on December 30.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Reasons to Be Thankful

Can You Dig It?

Author and sometime Rap Sheet writer Gary Phillips dropped me a note over the weekend, saying that he and David Walker--the latter of whom is writing the new Shaft comic-book series for Dynamite Entertainment--“are putting together the first-ever anthology of [John] Shaft short stories … set in the ’70s of course.” As somebody who, over the years, has developed an unexpected fondness for Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft series, I look forward to seeing that black private eye’s return in any form possible.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

“We’re Seeing the Political Equivalent of Segregation Going on in the Country”

Mark Warren has a fine (though very troubling) piece in the November edition of Esquire, titled “Help, We’re in a Living Hell and Don’t Know How to Get Out.” He reportedly talked with 90 members of the present U.S. Congress--“a third of the Senate, more than a tenth of the House”--in order to write about “what’s gone so wrong” with America’s highest legislative branch. There’s much to appreciate in Warren’s article, but the best part may be the section in which he asks these elected representatives Congress has become so incredibly partisan and dysfunctional over the last decade.
Why, if so many members believe that things have gone so wrong, can’t they just fix it? There are reasons, they say, forces brought to bear that are beyond their control, and these symptoms of their current malaise are all related in a complex syndrome. In conversation after conversation, congressmen and congresswomen opened up and talked about each of these realities, regardless of party or ideology.

“You know, if I had a magic wand, one thing I would love to change—which you can’t do unless you’re king—is the redistricting process by which our boundaries are drawn,” says Republican Aaron Schock of Illinois. “Because what has happened over the decades is he who controls the mapmaking process, you know, creates hyperpartisan districts. And you get more and more members who come out here and say, ‘Gee, I know that I want to accomplish something on this issue. I want to take action on this issue, but the base of my district is so far to the right or to the left it makes it difficult for us to negotiate to the center.’ But whether you’re the most conservative member or you’re the most liberal member, if you have half a brain, you recognize you’re not going to get everything, and that any successful legislation requires the art of negotiation.”

“With the way we draw districts, with so few competitive districts, we’ve bifurcated ourselves as a civilization,” says Republican Scott Rigell of Virginia. “We get one ticket to the State of the Union, for the gallery, and my wife attends. And this year I came home from the speech, and she said, ‘Scott, I’m just struck by this, that the Republican side is just all white. And then you look over on the Democratic side, and—and it really doesn’t look like America, either, you know? It’s disproportionately represented the other way.’”

“The Democratic conference in the House looks like America,” says Democrat John Lewis of Georgia, who left his blood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, and now regularly takes bipartisan groups to civil-rights landmarks to educate his colleagues in nonviolent conflict-resolution techniques he learned during that period of national upheaval. “The country is changing,” Lewis says, “and change makes some people uncomfortable. But our congressional districts don’t reflect that change, and there are so few competitive districts remaining that people only fight for or speak up or speak out for the narrow base of people who reelect them.”

James Clyburn of South Carolina points out, “There are seven people who make up the House delegation from South Carolina. Seven. Of that seven, one’s a Democrat, and that’s me. Of that seven, one is black, and that’s me. Forty-four percent of the electorate is Democratic, yet we get one Democrat in Congress. Twenty-nine percent of the state is black, and yet we get one black in the House.”

“When you have these one-party districts, the only election is in the primary, and the winner of the primary will be the one who is closer to the views of the narrowest base,” says Angus King, Independent senator from Maine. “You can’t be moderate. Who votes in primaries? You have a 10 percent turnout in a primary election in Georgia, and Republicans are 30 percent of the population. So 10 percent of 30 percent—that’s 3 percent of the population voting to choose the nominee, and then if it’s a multiperson race, and the winner gets 35 percent, that's one third of 3 percent—1 percent of the population chooses the nominee, who in a gerrymandered district will be the eventual member of Congress. That is bizarre, and it has completely polarized Congress. In the primary system that we have now, there is no upside for a Republican to be reasonable. I have a friend who is a very conservative senator, and he faced a primary this year, and I said, ‘Good Lord, man, what are they gonna charge you with?’ And he said: ‘Being reasonable.’”

“Our Venn diagram,” says Derek Kilmer, Democrat of Washington State, “is two circles, miles apart. Just after we got here, a group of us, Democrats and Republicans, were at a burger joint talking, and after about forty-five minutes, I said, ‘We have to be able to get our act together and figure some of these things out.’ And across the table, one of my colleagues said, ‘Derek, I like you, but you have to understand that I won my seat by defeating a Republican incumbent in my primary, and I campaigned against him for not being conservative enough. The first vote I cast when I got here was against John Boehner for Speaker, and I put out a press release that I had voted against him because he was too compromising. I like you, but I have zero interest in compromising with you or anybody else. My constituents didn’t send me here to work with you; they sent me here to stop you.’ I left there and called my wife and said, ‘Oh, my God!’

“We’re seeing the political equivalent of segregation going on in the country,” says Republican Tom Cole of Oklahoma.
You can, and should, read all of Warren’s Esquire piece here.

READ MORE:Has Gerrymandering Made It Impossible for Democrats to Win the House?,” by Sam Wang (The New Yorker); “GOP Gerrymandering: Dems Never Had a Chance” (Crooks & Liars); “The Right Makes the Case Against Governing,” by Steve Benen (The Maddow Blog); “No, Republicans Don’t Actually Need to ‘Show They Can Govern,’” by Paul Waldman (The Washington Post).

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Certainly a Step in the Right Direction

With just a week to go now before national midterm elections in the United States, former Representative Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) has penned a piece for the UK’s Guardian newspaper in which he makes the case that the best way to fix America’s recently dysfunctional Congress is to vote obstructionist Republicans out of office. “As long as the Republican Party is dominated by leaders of extreme ideological rigidity, and they escape the blame that they deserve,” Frank argues, “the dysfunctional situation in Congress will continue.” I can’t disagree.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Journalism Loses Another Vital Voice

Oh no, not this! From the blog L.A. Observed:
A media icon of progressive Northern California, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, has shut down. The staff was called in today and told the Oct. 15 issue will be its last. Just before the meeting, editors found their e-mail, Twitter and Facebook accounts deactivated. The Bay Guardian started in 1966, a year before the Summer of Love, and covered San Francisco and Berkeley through the free speech era, the anti-Vietnam War era, the emergence of gay rights and the Dan White murders, through the gentrification wars right up to the recent changes in San Francisco wrought by technology billions. The operating slogan was to “print the news and raise hell.” The Bay Guardian survived a move by rival alt weekly owners from the Phoenix New Times chain to squeeze the older paper out of business, but in 2012 founders Bruce Brugmann and Jean Dibble stepped down and agreed to be bought out by the parent company of the SF Examiner, which later bought the SF Weekly as well.
Back when I worked in the world of alternative weekly newspapers (good times!), the Bay Guardian was considered a powerhouse in the field, along with New York’s Village Voice. It’s a shame to see it collapse just at a time when we could all use more “real,” energetic journalism in the world, as opposed to the sketchy, free-for-all sort of amateur reporting now being spread by so many news blogs of one sort or another.

READ MORE:The Bay Guardian Shuts Down,” by Tim Redmond
(48 Hills).

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Inspect This!


The best news of the day (so far): The British crime drama Inspector Lewis will return to PBS-TV’s Masterpiece Mystery! series this coming Sunday night, offering the first of three new episodes. The plot of that October 5 installment, “Entry Wounds,” is described this way: “Faced with a crime that bridges the worlds of neurosurgery, blood sports and animal rights, [newly promoted Detective Inspector James] Hathaway works his first case as DI with the help of his new partner, DS Lizzie Maddox [played by Angela Griffin]. [Robbie] Lewis, struggling to adapt to retired life, jumps at the chance to rejoin the force when Chief Superintendent Innocent seeks his help.” The program will begin at 9 p.m. Word is that this is the final season for Inspector Lewis, which means fans like me must appreciate it all the more. Learn more here.