Archive for 2007

Cites & Insights 6 now available in book form

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

At one point, a few of you (well, one) expressed interest in a book version of Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0”, presumably including the followup Finding a Balance: Libraries and Librarian. I started on that project but didn’t finish it: Adding the perfect, fully-vetted, Chicago-style citations and bibliography for all of the blog quotes and reindexing the essays just seemed like more work than it was worth.

But you can get both those essays in book form now, indexed and everything–together with another 330+ pages of great content, including Looking at Liblogs: The Great Middle, my study of 213 liblogs. And for the same price as I would have charged for the Library 2.0 material alone: $29.50, the (so far) standard price for Cites & Insights Books. Just go to Lulu and pick it up. (It’s only available from Lulu: CreateSpace doesn’t do 8.5×11″ books.)

Volume 6 had more “regular” pages than Volume 7, but the bound volume’s slightly shorter (388 pages instead of 405 pages), thanks to the extra phantom issue in 2007.

Extra: There’s something extra for buyers of the bound volume, in addition to a great wraparound cover picture (the Golden Gate Bridge from the deck of the Crystal Harmony, passing through on our way to Alaska in, I think, 2001…or 2003…or 2005). A four-page preface offers a few notes about Volume 6, but mostly offers an update on the liblogs covered in the 2005 and 2006 studies–which ones have moved and which appear to be gone.

The short version: of the 60 blogs in 2005, 10% may have shut down and 17% have changed URLs and/or names. Of the 213 blogs in 2006 (there’s a little overlap), 21% may have shut down and another 12% changed URLs and/or names, sometimes more than once (hi, Mermaid!) The preface details all of the changes I know about as of December 22, 2007–and clarifies what “may have shut down” means, giving the last post date when it’s even possible to get to the blog.

Yes, I’m still planning to do a new and much larger study that takes a “lateral look” at liblogs–but that won’t happen until next summer (and then only if things calm down). Until then, the only way to get the details on what happened to 86 liblogs since the summer of 2006 is to buy the book.

Will I do bound versions of Volumes 1-5? I’m not sure. It depends partly on whether Word will open issues before I changed typefaces without modifying them in a way that changes pagination; it depends partly on finishing the Academic Library Blogs book and getting other things on an even keel. Update, later in the afternoon: Doing a checktest, it’s clear that opening issues prior to 5:2 is a mess–some of the text reverts to the older typeface, most doesn’t. Therefore, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll do any more bound versions: It’s possible but not easy. (No, I can’t just put together the existing PDFs–they don’t embed some typefaces, so Lulu can’t accept the result.)

Meanwhile, Volume 6 is a keeper, and I can’t think of a better way to keep it (and to show your support for Cites & Insights).

Hmm. The combination of Cites & Insights 6: 2006 and Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change make a great package on Library 2.0. No package price yet, though (unless I can figure out how to offer a discounted bundle at Lulu).
Here’s the cover.

Cites & Insights 6: 2006

Ho ho ho: Seasonal miscellany

Monday, December 24th, 2007

If I do a “year in review,” it would come a week or so from now–but I’m unlikely to do one anyway. You’ve already heard enough here and in Cites & Insights. Meanwhile, a few random notes…

  • We’d always been ones to get stuff done at work over the “missing week” (between Christmas and New Year’s). With no place of work to go to in any case, that’s gotten a little stranger. Still, we’ll go spend the day with my immediate family tomorrow and go celebrate the new year (and our 30th anniversary) a week from tomorrow with an old and dear friend…and in between, well, carry on.
  • One or two of you might be surprised that the first 2008 Cites & Insights isn’t out yet, given past history. It’s mostly written (and an odd one it is), with one probable exception (see next bullet). My current plan is to publish it very early in the new year–say January 1 or 2. After all, most of you aren’t around anyway, and if you are, the last thing you want to do is read a 15,000-word retrospective and commentary on Google Book Search and the Open Content Alliance (and a couple of shorter essays). Right?
  • The exception: I’m almost certainly going to do a book version of Cites & Insights 6: 2006; I really like having a paperback instead of a Velobound cumulation, even if nobody else buys it. There will be something extra for those who do buy it, though. With Volume 7, it’s the phantom issue. With Volume 6, it’s a prefatory essay that I’ll start writing today, and which will include some details on losses and major changes among the liblogs profiled in 2005 and 2006. I’ll probably do a summary post, but the details will only be in the book. Of course, it’s also a neat packaged way to get both of my major essays on Library 2.0, and it will cost the same as (or less than) that separate package would have, if I’d had the will to do all the footnotes and bibliography/index needed to make it a book. (Which is to say: $29.50, only from Lulu. I’ll post an announcement when it is available.) If I do the book version, I’ll probably open C&I 8:1 with an announcement for both book versions…and, as time permits, see whether it’s feasible to do earlier volumes in book form.
  • I am going to Midwinter, and other than Saturday evening and Sunday early evening, my schedule’s still pretty much open. If you’d like to get together for something, send me a note. Given that I didn’t have a big network of local friends, telecommuting can be a trifle isolating–Midwinter will be a nice chance to spend some face-to-face time with people.
  • If you’re wondering about the Academic Library Blogs project (is anyone?): The research portion is done. Now it’s a matter of crunching numbers, writing the first few chapters, editing the blog-based chapters, choosing a cover image…possibly sometime in January. Possibly later.
  • You’re still invited to join the PALINET Leadership Network; go to PLN and click on “Log in/Create account” and create an account. Good stuff!

Have a good whatever it is you have. Enjoy; life’s too short not to.

At least it’s the right platform

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Interesting. Just today, doing a followup scan of blogs, I saw two cases where bloggers were bemoaning problems with their blogs–and in each case said

“As soon as this blog moves to WordPress…”

Oops. Make that three. Just today.

You know what I almost never see? Let me refine that: I don’t remember ever seeing this, although I’m sure it’s been said:

“As soon as this blog moves away from WordPress…”

Yes, I’ve seen cases where people want to move off WordPress’ free hosting service–but in every case, they want to start a WordPress blog hosted elsewhere.

Do I love everything about WordPress? No. I wish it wasn’t quite so good at swallowing clearly-marked paragraph breaks–sometimes even when they’re marked as such in HTML. (I’ve heard this called a problem with the WYSIWYG editor. I’m not sure that’s true.)

Other than that… Let’s see:

  • It’s open source. Check.
  • There are many, many first-rate templates–and it’s not hard to modify templates, even for an HTML dummy like me.
  • As far as I can tell, most templates default to a “printer style” that’s clean, free of cruft, works right in FireFox and is generally admirable.
  • Add-ins. Lots of add-ins. Several different ways to control spam and other garbage–none of them perfect, but Spam Karma 2 (and, I suspect, Akismet) is pretty good. Even without using Capcha, which I’d rather not do.
  • It works. It works well.

I haven’t tried lots of other blogging software. I do have a Blogger/blogspot blog to announce new issues of Cites & Insights–and, if you look at those posts (which use exactly the same HTML as the W.a.r. equivalent), you see that Blogger seems to be having trouble with vertical spacing…way too much of it. I’m sure that’s fixable, but as far as I can tell it used to be better and is getting progressively worse.

I have no real opinion about SixApart software (TypePad, LiveJournal, Movable Type) except that a very high percentage of SixApart blogs yield defective printouts in FireFox, defective in a consistently awful manner that suggests an issue in the software or its defaults.

But if someone asks me, I’d say “I don’t know all the platforms, but isn’t it interesting that people are so anxious to move to WordPress…and you don’t hear much about people moving away from WordPress.”

Doesn’t make my words any clearer or more elegant, but at least it’s the right platform.

Oh, if you’re wondering: PALINET uses WordPress for its blogs.

50 Movie Western Classics, Disc 5

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Close observers (if there are any) may wonder why this isn’t Disc 4 of the Hollywood Legends set. It has to do with the six-disc cumulations I run in Cites & Insights: I don’t want to have two of them in the same month, so when I’m splitting viewing between two sets, I “get ahead” on one of the two. Given the number of short flicks in this set, it was an easy choice.

American Empire, 1942, b&w. William C. McGann (dir.), Richard Dix, Leo Carrillo, Preston Foster, Frances Gifford, Jack La Rue, Guinn Williams, Cliff Edwards. 1:22.

The setup: Just after the Civil War on the Sabine River between Texas and Louisiana, with Dan Taylor and Pax Bryce running a riverboat freight company. The boat gets grounded where Dominique Beauchard is driving a “there for the taking” herd of cattle across the river from Texas to Louisiana, and offer to transport the cattle if he’ll get the boat back afloat. Beauchard stiffs them on the fee—and they take off with a bunch of the cattle, which they sell to buy Texas land, then sell all the “free for the taking” cattle on the land to buy more land, then…

Anyway, the two build an “American empire” of Texas rangeland—but lose lots of cattle to Beauchard’s continuing attitude that any cattle his men can take are his property. They believe they’ve killed Beauchard because he falls off his horse into a river after a shot: Gee, apparently nobody but Dan’l Boone ever thought of hiding underwater breathing through a straw. When thousands of cattle keep disappearing, one increasingly-arrogant partner decides it must be the other cattlemen and says they can no longer drive their herds across his range. That leads to a forced stampede and the death of the partner’s son—which is not the climax of the movie (as one IMDB reviewer claims), although it helps make the rancher more bitter and difficult to deal with. That’s just part of a fairly large and plausible plotline, with Beauchard a continuing and nearly unstoppable villain and one of the two empire-builders as, well, a horse’s ass. There’s an odd mix of tones, as Beauchard (Leo Carrillo, perhaps best known as Pancho on The Cisco Kid) seems as much comic relief as town-destroying villain.

The climax is a remarkable and extended three-way battle after the rancher (his partner’s asked to be bought out) orders up barbed-wire fence, the rest of the cattlemen decide to attack him, as Beauchard’s gang decides to destroy the town…it’s quite something. My biggest problem with this otherwise-interesting flick, other than the curious way Beauchard’s character is played and yet another sheriff too stupid to prevent a jailbreak, is something I’ve never seen in a DVD transfer before: motion ghosts, the kind you’d get on old LCD displays. They’re sometimes pretty bad, with streaks trailing behind the action. That problem (and some sound distortion early on) reduce this to $1.

Billy the Kid Trapped, 1942, b&w, Sam Newfield (dir.), Buster Crabbe, Al St. John, Bud McTaggert, Ann Jeffries, Glenn Strange, Walter McGrail, Ted Adams. 0:59 [0:55].

This one’s a little different. Billy the Kid (Buster Crabbe) is a good guy, with Crusty and another sidekick (the first sidekick’s not named Crusty—actually “Fuzzy Jones”—but he’s yet another crusty ol’ sidekick), but three real outlaws are dressing up as Billy and his cohort and running around robbing and killing. An evil mastermind who runs Mesa City, a hideout for criminals, is behind it all, of course. (Note: I usd actor’s names as credited in the film, not as in IMDB.) Enough missing frames to interfere with continuity keep this from getting more than $0.75.

Vengeance Valley, 1951, color, Richard Thorpe (dir.), Burt Lancaster, Robert Walker, Joanne Dru, Sally Forrest, John Ireland, Hugh O”Brian, Will Wright. 1:23. [1:21]

This is more like it: Full (and very good) color, some serious acting (and serious actors), cowboys who herd cattle (you know, like cows), grand scale and scenery, an interesting and adult plot. The basic plot: An aging and ailing cattle baron has a son who’s pretty much worthless—and a foster son (Lancaster) who tries to keep the bad seed in shape while acting as ranch foreman and being far too loyal for his own good. The rotten kid’s married—but also impregnated a good local woman, for which her rotten brothers blame the innocent foster son. Various treachery ensues, all of it making a lot more sense than many western plots. Good narration and more detail about (and footage of) spring and fall cattle drives than you might expect. Some damage to portions of the print, but it’s still worth $1.50.

The Sundowners, 1950, color. George Templeton (dir.), Robert Preston, Robert Sterling, Chill Wills, Cathy Downs, John Litel, Jack Elam, Don Haggerty, John Barrymore Jr. 1:23

No, not the 1960 Deborah Kerr-Robert Mitchum flick; this one came ten years earlier. Also full color, with significant star power, some well-written dialog and pretty decent acting—Robert Preston makes a great villain. Distinctly filmed on location: It starts with a screen identifying the four Texas ranches used by name and brand!

The plot, as far as I can tell, is that two guys have a cattle ranch but are under siege from their neighbors (who formerly used the land as free grazing country) and keep losing cattle to nightriders. The Wichita Kid (Preston) shows up and, with the help of the younger guy and a ranch hand, starts stealing back cattle—and also shooting people when he feels like it. The “good guy” (Robert Sterling), the older of the two ranch owners, approves of the new thefts but isn’t quite so hot for the casual shootings. There’s a deep dark secret (given away fairly well, but I won’t mention it) that prevents Sterling from gunning down Preston to save his own hide. It all leads up to a three-way gun (and whip!) battle (three groups of people) and an ending of sorts.

I have two problems with the movie, one of them specific to this print. First, there really aren’t any good guys in the flick (although one woman seems honorable enough), but there are lots of movies that set various shades of badness against one another, so that’s OK. Second, it’s a choppy print: While the color and sound are both good, there are enough missing frames and words to interfere with continuity, even though it’s not even a minute short. I’ll give it $1.00.

‘Tain’t funny. Never was.

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

I don’t think this will be a blind item for anyone on Web4Lib, and I’m not going to get into that discussion directly. After all, I’m not a Code4Lib person: Never was, and am really not likely to be now.

[Note added 12/20: I’m not a Code4Lib person because that’s not where my interests lie. That has nothing to do with the nonsense, which came from a non-Code4Lib person in any case.]

Nor, for that matter, is the Tailhook candidate who said something offensive, made a truly offensive joke of it later…and then proceeded to keep refining modifying that stupid joke. (I’m sorry, but “refining” is the wrong word. No matter how much gold leaf you apply to excrement, you’ve still got…well, you know.)

I don’t intend to apologize on behalf of my entire gender. I sure don’t intend to apologize for people of primarily Northern European ancestry. There are schmucks of all genders and all ethnicities. There are people who just don’t know when to shut the fark up.

They should, maybe, learn.

I was doing some backchannel communication as this thread went on, looking for someone who might be acquainted with the primary offender and could tell him to put a lid on it. No luck. Too bad.

I would make a comment about Neanderthal attitudes, but I see no reason to insult Neanderthals.

I will say this: Any time there is a professional gathering at which any group–whether it’s women, blacks, Jews, short people, old farts like me, or people with fashion sense–is made to feel uncomfortable for who they are (where they are), something’s wrong. “You’re not one of us“–usually not said–is a powerful and dangerous message. Steps taken to write those wrongs, particularly steps that don’t directly harm other groups, are usually good things. Objections to those steps ought to be thought about long and hard…and resorting to asinine humor is rarely the end result of long, hard thinking.Oh, and claims of indirect harm because of positive steps for others that don’t directly benefit you: You might want to think that through a little better as well. There are substantial indirect benefits when more groups receive equitable treatment and feel as though they belong–unless, of course, you’re insecure enough to need others to look down on and exclude.(Remember back when I said I couldn’t understand how my marriage to a woman could in any way be lessened by same-sex couples being able to formalize their love? Different example, but maybe the same situation. And yes, I still believe that.)

The year in sentences

Monday, December 17th, 2007

I have mixed feelings about chain letters memes (OK, actually, these “do what I do” blog thingies are neither chain letters nor real memes), but once in a while, particularly on a typical Monday where I don’t feel like writing the “serious post” or Cites & Insights essay I should be writing…

I picked this up from CW at Ruminations–and at least it’s straightforward: The first sentence of the first post in each month of this year.

So, here we go…and, unlike CW, I’m doing mine in chronological order instead of latest-first.

January: Quoting myself from this here pile o’ randomness: I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions (and was mildly fond of the “No year’s resolutions” heading in the current Cites & Insights, but sometimes an exception is in order.

February: Running out of, that is. [Post title: “Steam”]

March: Second Chorus, 1940, b&w, H.C. Potter (dir.), Fred Astaire, Paulette Goddard, Artie Shaw, Charles Butterworth, Burgess Meredith.

April: Walt at Random began on April 1, 2005, a day chosen with some care.

May: It was almost exactly a month ago that I tossed out a few ideas for posts, The things I didn’t say.

June: I noticed that the Archive links in the sidebar were getting to take up a lot of space–as they do on most blogs that have been around for a while.

July: Good things about going to ALA Annual this year (partial): Another chance to see people I only see twice a year–and a few I’ve never met face-to-face before…

August: What’s your “real age”?

September: Or, “what I did for fun over Labor Day weekend.” [Post title: Emma, the musical]

October: Apparently my previous posts regarding “what I’ll be doing next” weren’t quite clear enough about the level of uncertainty.

November: It could be Bloglines–well, no, probably not.

December: I tried hard to look for silver linings in this group of films…and it wasn’t easy.

Do note the name of this blog. I think that set of 12 sentences justifies the blog title–and makes it pretty clear that I don’t have a great future as a newspaper lede writer.More interesting, in some ways: The post number intervals (noting that some numbers are for drafts that were never posted, although not many): 18, 19, 35 (some April!), 17, 18, 18, 16, 21, 21, 18, 11 (some November!).

Two minor milestones in the past two days, by the way:

Maybe tomorrow I’ll be more inspired–in which case I might be writing C&I material, not blogging.

Buying a general-purpose PC: Quick advice?

Monday, December 10th, 2007

So let’s say someone I know (ahem) is ready to buy a Vista Home Premium system, to use for telecommuting (mostly browser-based), lots of Word and Excel, various other nonsense, and a fair amount of multiscreen work for various reasons. Probably no gaming. Some music, some photo-editing.

Let’s also say this person has a great 19″ LCD display and some great 7-year-old speakers and a wonderful wireless keyboard and mouse.

So now let’s say there are two systems on special at two different stores–both from the same maker (a brand this person likes), both with 400GB hard disks, both with DVD burners…

  • System 1: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 4-core processor, 2GB RAM, no display, $650, from a chain this person gets along with very well.
  • System 2: AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ dual-core processor, 3GB RAM, nVidia GeForce 8300 GS graphics with 256MB display RAM, 19″ widescreen HD LCD display–which this person might use to make a two-display system. $780, from a chain this person can deal with but isn’t as fond of.

It’s already clear that the GeForce 8300 GS is low-end nVidia graphics–but System 1 is presumably Intel integrated graphics, of the Viiv persuasion.

So: Which would you buy? Why?

This person will probably make a decision in the next day or two. I’ll pass along any good advice. No, “get a Mac” is not useful advice.

Followup “in a day or two”: I passed along what I got here and the checking I did myself–which reveals that System 1 has room for more RAM (up to 8GB, and DDR2 PC2-5300 SDRAM goes for around $30/GB name brand at Fry’s) and a PCI-Express 16x graphics slot. I found it interesting that nobody thought a near-state-of-the-art quad-core Intel CPU was more valuable than a year-old dual-core AMD CPU.

The person was more-or-less convinced to buy System 1 and add 1GB or 2GB more RAM (experience with the person’s spouse’s notebook, with 2GB RAM and integrated graphics, suggested that graphics speed wasn’t going to be a problem–and, of course, the GPU cards keep getting cheaper)…but didn’t.

Why? Too much else going on. The person concluded that they didn’t have time for the two to four days of screwing around involved with moving files, restoring programs, etc., etc. between now and mid-January.

Anyway, thanks for your advice.

Looking good: C&I 7 arrives

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

When I posted C&I Volume 7: Buy the book!” it was partly a leap of faith. Given past experience (and that I expected/expect fairly low sales, but thought a few libraries and people might spring for it), I didn’t wait for my own copy to arrive before opening it up for sale.

My copy arrived today. It looks great–with a couple mild caveats:

  • As you can sort-of see if you look really closely at the small cover illustration, my attempt to blend the rest of the cover in with the sky color in the photo didn’t entirely work. There’s a band just above the picture and at the very top of the page that’s a little less greenish than either the sky in the picture or most of the upper part. Not sure how that happened, but I’m certainly not a CorelDraw expert (or Gimp expert, and don’t have enough use for photo-editing to spring for Adobe Elements). Let’s call it a feature rather than a flaw: A slight difference in decorative bands. (Hey, there’s still a little programmer/analyst in me…) On the other hand, the spine (type on that same background color) and back cover look great–the sign in front of Molokai Public Library against a partly-cloudy deep-blue and light-blue sky is, I think, a great shot.
  • The book cover photos on page 1 of the April and October issues are grayscale because they had to be (I changed them before packaging up all the PDFs): You can’t have two color pages without having everything in color, which would be prohibitively expensive. The grayscale versions turn out very well, though.
  • On my copy–but not necessarily anyone else’s–there are occasional signs that this is laser printing, that is, slightly irregular darkness at points. Not enough to be troublesome, or I’d ask for a replacement.

On the other hand: It is indeed bright-white 60lb. paper, the print is quite crisp, the margins are enough for the binding–and it makes the four Velobound and two tape-bound volumes look pretty sad by comparison. If there was any plausible reason to do so, I’d be tempted to try to put previous volumes out as paperbound books–they’re considerably easier to handle this way.

But given that zero sales volume, I can’t see any way to justify doing the work… Of course, it’s early yet.

Meanwhile, it looks great. And, to be sure, it’s the only way to get Cites on a Plane…

If you want it, it’s still $35, exclusively from Lulu.

Cites & Insights 7, 2007

Dear [name of nonprofit/charity goes here]:

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

Dear [name of nonprofit/charity goes here]:

Oh, goodie, another request for money. Maybe it’s the fourth reminder about “membership renewal” I’ve received in the past six weeks…roughly one every two weeks since I actually sent in a check that was intended to cover “membership.” Those letters seem to come a lot more often in November and December–but it’s really a year-round plague.

Maybe it’s another tchotchke, most likely something made of outgassing/stinky plastic that winds up in the garage (with or without a “b” after the “r”), followed by repeat letters reminding us how lovely your advertising gimmick is and why we should send you ($300? $200? $150? More?) out of sheer gratitude.

Maybe it’s a letter saying that you’d really appreciate it if we upped our contribution by (50%? $100?), and not-so-subtly implying that we’re cheapskates if we don’t come through.

Now, this time around I’m only talking to/about some of the groups that we do support…or at least have supported. And I can tell you that we’re getting more than a little tired of it.

Somehow, Second Harvest (which gets incredible value for every dollar contributed) manages to get by with one or at most two mailings a year. No unwanted crap. No real guilt trip: They lay out what our money can buy, they lay out–succinctly, without horror stories or grotesque photos–what the problem is. It’s a pleasure to write a good-size check.

Somehow, Recordings for the Blind & Dyslexic manages to raise funds without driving us crazy with repeat mailings. The same is true for Doctors Without Borders and a couple of others.

Oh, and it’s a funny thing: We’re not “members” of Second Harvest or Recordings for the Blind or Doctors Without Borders. We’re just contributors. So we can’t possibly forget to renew our membership.

Nature Conservancy–well, they’re not bad, although they could be better. The quarterly magazine really is informative. They’ve gotten the message that offering tchotchkes is one thing, but sending them unrequested is offensive litter. I think we average four fundraising requests from them a year, two from the Northern California chapter, two from national. We can live with that, although two would be even better.

But for some of you…actually most of you, though tchotchkes aren’t the problem they used to be (with one awful exception, a society I’m feeling less humane towards all the time, not to give any clues)…

Well, here’s the truth. We give to causes we care about, where we’re reasonably certain our money is well spent and where we don’t see a huge philosophical difference with the organization.

We don’t like being annoyed with repeated mailings. We really don’t care whether our “member” status is on the line. And we really, truly aren’t fond either of unrequested merchandise (we’ll make an exception for a really good calendar) or the guilting of sending stamped return envelopes.

Yes, it would be nice for you if we increased our giving by $100 or 25% of whatever each year. Fact is, though, that our income’s heading in the opposite direction. For us to even maintain giving levels next year will be a considerable stretch. That’s not your problem, of course, but it makes us a little less tolerant of heavy-handed fundraising efforts.

For every nonprofit/charity we support now, there’s another within the same general sphere that we could substitute. Given some of the examples we see now, we’re inclined to suspect that some of those will nag us a whole lot less–and most of those will spare us the trinkets.

Maybe it’s time to do what we thought about last year. Just a simple spreadsheet (or another page on the donations spreadsheet we already have). One number per group. Add one for each mailing we receive. Add five for each unrequested trinket we receive. When giving time comes around, subtract two from the total, multiply by five, and modify last year’s donation by the resulting percentage. In other words: Send us three letters, lose 5%. Send us six letters and two trinkets, lose 70% of this year’s contribution. (Send us just one letter a year…and the contribution goes up 5%.) There are always worthwhile places to send that freed-up money.

Sounds like a plan.

Of course, this is just idle musing. We’re really not ready to take such a drastic step. Yet. Or are we? Writing a group of checks last week was fun. Recycling stacks of repeated requests, typically for ever-larger amounts: Less fun.

50 Movie Western Classics, Disc 4

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

I tried hard to look for silver linings in this group of films…and it wasn’t easy.
Paroled—To Die!, 1938, b&w. Sam Newfield (dir.), Bob Steele, Kathleen Eliot, Karl Hackett, Horace Murphy, Steve Clark. 0:55.

The title covers the last five or ten minutes of a short oater that could have been shorter, in a timeless West with telephones but without cars, in an unnamed state where a small-town banker would be the wealthiest man in the state if he managed to finish drilling an oil well. (I did say “without cars,” didn’t I?)

Seems like there’s a lot of footage of one man or another man or three men on horses galloping full tilt; much of it’s close-up, so it’s not clear whether they’re simply using five seconds of footage over and over. And, of course, it follows typical one-hour-oater habits: Lots of badly-staged fistfights, the villain is also the most respected man in town (and runs the town), even though he bears a striking resemblance to Snidely Whiplash, the hero gets framed—except this time he gets sent off to prison (framed because the banker’s looting his own bank to pay for the oil well, and the banker and hero are after the same girl) for 21 years, but immediately paroled by the governor because…well, if I include that, I’d be giving you pretty much the whole screenplay.

Not terrible but not very good. Bob Steele isn’t much of an actor (and neither is anyone else), but makes up for it by not doing trick shooting or trick riding either. Generously (it’s a decent print), $0.75

The Oklahoma Cyclone, 1930, b&w. John P. McCarthy (dir.), Bob Steele, Rita Rey, Al St. John, Charles King, Slim Whitaker, N. E. Hendrix, Hector Sarno. 1:06 [1:03].

This time, Bob Steele does sing (a lot)—and preens, and makes much of himself, and generally behaves in such a manner that he seems like a pretty good villain. That’s not how things turn out, but for most of the movie he’s playing a thief on the run (the Oklahoma Cyclone), holing up with a gang of thieves who also play ranchers at Santa Maria.

If anyone plans to see this (and I surely don’t recommend it), I won’t give the plot away; it’s no sillier than most other early Westerns. The big problem here, other than sheer implausibility and the likelihood that anyone who’s as much of a jerk as Steele plays would have been gotten rid of somehow long before the end of the flick, is that the first portion of the print’s dark and difficult to watch. It improves, but it’s never very good and there are enough bad cuts to be annoying. Generously (again), $0.75.

Daniel Boone, Trail Blazer, 1956, color. Albert C. Gannaway and Ismael Rodriguez (dirs.), Bruce Bennett, Lon Chaney, Faron Young, Kem Dibbs, Jaqueline Evans. 1:16 [1:14].

Color! (Well, sort of—sometimes the scenery fades to grayscale, but people and foreground items are always in color.) Singing! (Four songs, odd for a movie that’s definitely not a cheery musical.) Notably, the Shawnee protagonist Chief Blackfish (played by Lon Chaney!) sees Boone and his ilk as “white men,” but doesn’t seem to treat the villainous French renegade or a whole bunch of uniformed British Redcoats as white men, particularly when he’s declaring war on the white men. (Although Daniel Boone really did have dealings with Chief Blackfish, there’s not much in common between the real history and what’s portrayed in this flick.)
Naturally, Daniel Boone tries to convince the Shawnee that the French villain is lying to them when he says the settlers are out to run them off their land. That may not have been true in 1775, when the movie’s set, but down the road a bit… Anyway, lots of action and, of course, the hero eventually saves the day. One remarkable scene near the end…but I won’t give it away, as it’s almost plausible that you might watch this one if there’s nothing better to do. $1.00.

Kentucky Rifle, 1956, color. Carl K. Hittleman (dir.), Chill Wills, Lance Fuller, Cathy Downs, Sterling Holloway, Henry Hull, Jeanne Cagney. 1:24.

So there’s a Conestoga wagon train headed west—with a hundred Kentucky rifles in one wagon, along with their owner (and would-be gunsmith/gun shop owner), who’s hitched a ride with a wealthy settler who distrusts him. With good reason: The wealthy guy’s fiancée decides she prefers the handsome young gunsmith to the annoying “money settles everything” not-much-older businessman. This particular wagon keeps breaking spokes on one wheel and finally breaks the rear axle—in Comanche territory. The rest of the wagon train proceeds; the group left behind (including one very pregnant settler) tries to find a tree for a replacement axle while coping with Comanches who demand tribute. The wealthy guy wants to give them everything—specifically including the rifles—in return for safe passage. The gunsmith (and his crusty old sidekick) don’t trust the deal.

Various stuff ensues (based on this movie, it was nigh impossible to miss with a Kentucky rifle). You won’t be surprised to learn that the rifles finally stay on the wagon, which eventually gets moving. You probably also won’t be surprised that the Comanches are portrayed as double-dealers, whereas the settler’s attitude (“this is public land, no matter how long you’ve been here or what you might say about it”) is of course honorable. Lance Fuller makes an interesting hero/gunsmith, given that he was part Cherokee. Sterling Holloway does a cute job as a nervous young settler (who keeps a still on the side).

I’ve always thought “your money or your life”—the deal offered here, although this time it’s “all your goods including those rifles, or your lives”—was a stupid offer. Choose “my money” and the enemy winds up with both; choose “my life” and you’re trusting that someone willing to kill you will choose not to. In this case, it eventually becomes clear that “your guns” is the wrong choice–and according to the “good guys” it’s apparently OK to shoot Comanches in the back as they’re fleeing.

The picture’s sort of in color, fading to gray in some (not all) nature shots. It has a problem with nighttime action, in that it sometimes suddenly turns to full daylight when we need to see what’s going on. Ah well. Chill Wills makes an amusing crusty old coot, going a little (well, a lot) overboard about the virtues of Kentucky rifles and singing a mean “Sweet Betsy from Pike,” accompanying himself on a zither. It’s a mess, but I’ve seen worse. I’ll give it $0.75, mostly as a (pseudo)historical document.