I was watching "Saving Private Ryan" last night, and noticed something about the horrible scenes of terror and death: the picture was fuzzy. It seems an ungrateful complaint, but let's just admit that it happened. I was watching a DVD. A Blu-Ray would have been much sharper, of course, and I realized I've come to expect such clarity, either from a disk - such old, old storage technology! - or streaming. To watch a DVD is to move backwards, but when DVDs came out we couldn't BELIEVE how good they looked. (On our old CRT TV sets with limited resolution.) If you made someone watch a VHS tape on a 1994 TV today they'd think they were looking at The Fog Channel with Vaseline smeared on the inch-thick glass.

If you watch the early "Twilight Zone" shows on Netflix, you may be surprised at the clarity of the picture. I'm sorry, stunned, that's the word. Visual effects are always stunning these days. They were shot on film, unlike some of the later efforts, and I doubt the TVs of the era could capture all the details. BTW, you know how everyone calls "The Monsters Are Coming to Maple Street" one of the great sci-fi stories on TV, because in the end - wait for it - the monsters are us! What a twist. Our own failings are our greatest enemies; see how we turn against each other when the power goes out for an hour. Granted, it's a big strange outage, more of an EMP - cars don't work. But the reason everyone gets crazy and starts suspecting everyone else of being a COMMUNIST - sorry, an alien - is because one kid said he read a science fiction story about this sort of thing, and the neighbors all stroke their chins and say "you know, he could be on to something."

As a metaphor for the Red Scare, it falls apart at the end, since there actually were aliens who shut off the power. It was a plan to make everyone turn against everyone else and make us ripe for conquest.

It might have been more impressive if it had been filmed in East Germany or the USSR, where people informed on neighbors and accused them of treason because they had a little bit more than someone else.

After I picked up Daughter from music lessons we went to eat, and had a wide-ranging conversation in which she gave me all manner of tweaks and shots and elbows to the ribs. Good. We were talking about the need some have to be constantly entertained, the difference between passive absorption of social media streams and intellectual stimulation, the occasional necessity of boredom and the personal responsibility to overcome it. She likes physical books; I like the iPad. I mentioned I was reading this great book on Rome -

"You knowwww," she said, "there are other cultures to read about than Rome. I'm just saying."

I agreed, BUT. The story is fascinating, this account is delightful, and other cultures lack what Roman history provides: a broad narrative that just isn't king #1 followed by king #2. Rome was a Republic, and as such the writers did not write solely about politics, since the the Citizen was nominally as important as the Counsel, in some abstract and constantly violated sense. What do we know of the life of the Toltecs or Mayans? Nothing like this. Then it spun off into Japanese art vs. Medieval art, and while that sounds like a sprightly, erudite conversation, it was really a perfect example of me being Mr. Well Actually, but that's another story.

What mattered was the dragonfruit lesson. We went to the grocery store afterwards, and she saw some dragonfruit. She'd never seen them in Real Life, just in pictures, and found them amazing. Can we get one? I looked at the price:



She made an argument for its aesthetic appeal, and I said that was irrelevant, since the point was eating them. What did they taste like, anyway? She googled; the phrase "mostly tasteless" appeared, and she sagged a bit, but pointed out how interesting the interior was. Like a Snowy Owl.

"I wouldn't buy Snowy Owl meat either."

"FINE," said with a parody of teen impatience intended to communicate actual teen impatience. On the way out of the store I asked her what she made per hour at her coffeeshop job. Eight dollars. Earlier that day she had almost bought a latte at Panera that was $4.29, and I had steered her away from that because it's ridiculous. I pointed out that the two items were almost the cost of two hours of her labor.

"AND THAT WOULD BE WORTH IT," she proclaimed, playing along.

No seriously. The cost of the dragonfruit was the cost of a bag of coffee that lasts three days, maybe four. Would you wash dishes for an hour to afford one dragonfruit?


Okay okay, but -

"And when I have an apartment of my own it's going to be a place where there's always dragonfruit, because they're beautiful." Mind you, she's playing a character here, but the exaggeration masks something real.

"No, you won't. Because you'll have to pay rent. The point is to stand on your own, be frugal, become secure, exploit your opportunities, and get to the point in life where you can afford a dragonfruit but YOU DON'T BUY IT BECAUSE IT'S SEVEN DOLLARS."

That's the point?

THAT'S THE POINT. NEVER BUY DRAGONFRUIT. Unless you can afford it, in the sense that seven dollars is like seven pennies. Even then, though. Jeez.

"My apartment will have dragonfruit," she said, and I thought: it probably will. Once.

I have two traditional Dad imperatives when we're shopping, which I'm sure are boring stupid eye-rollingly predictable tropes, but it's A) avoid sugar, and B) keep your eye on your pocketbook. Don't be cheap for cheapness' sake; that cramps life. Don't confuse monkish rejection of the World and All Its Pleasures with frugality. Indulgence is made sweeter by its rarity.

To this day her delight when I say "sure, let's try that" and something fun or new gets tossed in the cart just lights up my heart, because it's the same happy face I saw ten years ago when I gave in to Hello Kitty Fruit Snacks. The difference being that the modern version of Gnat is hilariously sarcastic and a keen observer of the commercial world. Plus, she has my number. She actually made a pitch for buying something because the label was awesome and it would look good in the pantry.

I said yes. She was right, after all. And it was on sale.


From a Western stories magazine c. 1934, some of those plaintive messages sent out into the great American void. Where did you go? Why won't you come back?

Before Facebook, there was the back of pulp magazines.

Peter was one D short of a great martial name:


You'd think a name that distinct would have made some impact in the Googlesphere. But no.

Sorry for the unsatisfying entry. Can I make up for it tomorrow?

Just you wait.






We're zipping through "The Ghost of Zorro," aka Grandpa was Zorro Even Though I'm Not Remotely Spanish.

Last week Rita, the Spunky Cowgirl, was knocked unconscious in a wagon heading down a road at high velocity, despite the absence of any horses.

Well, Rita bought a faceful of gravel.

I love the cheerful theme and big celebratory boom.

Let's go straight to the fistfight, where hats of course remain on throughout the session. Rita is tied up, watching a fuse burn on some dynamite attached to the bank vault door.

The pacing just isn't breakneck here.


The ol' throw-a-wastebasket at the fleeing bad guy trick. Confuses 'em every time.

But of course, this.

I'm not going to tell you what really happened.


Oh, er, ahem:


The 40s update is an overhauled version with nine pages more content - Billboard magazine ads from the start of the war. Your dimes will beat the Axis!




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