Titles of my 3rd Grader's Recent Essays

December 11, 2015

Origami Math

The Man without Fingernails

Sushi in School

At School We Need a Robotics Class

Deadly Kitties


Every Kid Should Have A Ball

Stop Wars

Mutations and the Disabled

Freedom for All People (Stop Racist People)

Recipe for Alien Soup

Pelican Jokes

What if I was a Penguin

Death Poem

My Little Owl Friend

Describe Your Shoe

Poseidon, Zeus, Hermes, Achilles, and Hercules (My Hermit Crabs): If they could speak

Italian Ex-votos of People Falling

May 2, 2013

I have loved ex-votos ever since I spotted a small cluster of them in the back of my abuelita's church. I was immediately fascinated with their strangeness and power. As soon as I had a paycheck I started collecting them and have studied the Mexican forms of this art in detail. That said, I've only been vaguely aware of the European ex-voto traditions that inspired the Mexican tradition. A blog called Chaudron has collected a fantastic set of Italian ex-votos of people falling (who were presumably miraculously saved).



The Weight of Objects

April 11, 2013

Photographer Ramsay de Give and editor/producer Kristen Joy Watts have a lovely project in The Weight of Objects which pairs portraits with pictures of treasured objects and text. We were lucky to have the kids photographed for this a few weeks ago. The Weight of Objects also features a super instagram feed that teases upcoming photos.

Ebert in email

April 9, 2013

RIP Rogert Ebert.

I had many email interactions with him when I was working in Hollywood, most of them pleasant. But my favorite exchange was this one which was his response to Bring It On which I was helping promote. I had not known he had seen the movie yet and had sent him a studio blurb which described the movie as a girl power flick. He did not mince words.

Roger Ebert
August 18, 2000

Girl power? Bimbo power, I'd say. Wait until you see "Girlfight."

"Bring It On" is so thin, shallow, callow, and ripe with missed opportunities! It needed to be an R so that it could have explored the material it waters down.


Related: A bad review

The Presidential Debates

October 16, 2012

The second presidential debate will be contested tonight. Included are links to historical presidential debates past as well as old ads/speeches for years with no debates. My favorite link is one of a Democratic Ronald Reagan campaigning for Truman.

2012 Obama / Romney 1

2008 Obama / McCain 1, Obama / McCain 2, Obama / McCain 3

2004 Bush / Kerry 1 (Pt 1) Bush / Kerry 1 (Pt 2) Bush / Kerry 1 (Pt 3) etc.

2000 Bush / Gore (Pt 1.), Bush / Gore (Pt 2.), Bush / Gore (Pt 3.), Bush / Gore (Pt 4.), Bush / Gore (Pt 5.), Bush / Gore (Pt 6.), Bush / Gore (Pt 7.)

1996 Clinton / Dole 1, Clinton / Dole 2

1992 Clinton / G W H Bush / Ross Perot

1988 Bush / Dukakis

1984 Reagan / Mondale

1980 Reagan / Carter

1976 Carter / Ford 3

1972 Nixon / McGovern (no debate)

1968 Nixon / Wallace /Humphrey (no debate)

1964 Johnson / Goldwater (no debate)

1960 Kennedy / Nixon

1956 Eisenhower / Stevenson (no debate)

1952 Eisenhower / Stevenson (no debate)

1948 Truman / Dewey (no debate)

1944 Roosevelt / Dewey (no debate)

1940 Roosevelt / Wendell Wilkie (no debate)

1936 Roosevelt / Landon (no debate)

1932 Roosevelt / Hoover (no debate)

1928 Hoover / Smith (no debate)

. . . . . . . . . .
Semi related: Eisenhower in Color, Inaugural Addresses Past, Abe Lincoln in Person, Teddy Roosevelt Recording

My 5 Year old on the End of the Rainbow

September 29, 2012

Gabriel: "At the end of the rainbow is an everything tree. It can make whatever you want. Cherries... Toys... Even little dogs... Just everything"

Me: "What does it look like?"

Gabriel: "You can't see it, that's why it's at the end of the rainbow. You can never find it."

Me: "Can you draw it?"

Gabriel: "I can draw it. Maybe you can. Maybe. I don't know, but most people can't."

Me: "Why?"

Gabriel: "You know why... people get dusty in their mind."

Neil Alden Armstrong

August 27, 2012


Somewhere deep in a storage unit in Texas sits a signed photograph of Neil Armstrong, beneath it you will find a short handwritten letter from him addressed to me.

I spent my 6th grade summer biking to the library, going through Who's Who in America and writing anyone I thought famous. Most of my letters were simple and gushing (this is a draft of a letter I wrote to Dr. J). But my letters to astronauts were different. I was a space geek. A file cabinet in my bedroom bulged with pages cut from magazines and newspapers: Venera 9, Venera 10, Apollo-Soyuz, Viking, Luna 24, Voyager, Pioneer etc., were all neatly cataloged and categorized. A set of 4x6 note cards detailed all the major known objects in the solar system with a drawing of each. I had several bookshelves devoted to space literature was an avid model rocketeer. Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff had been released in January of that year. I devoured it. Worship was too small a word for what I felt about the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts. I didn't understand why Apollo had ended. Why weren't we still pushing humans deeper into the void?

The plans for the Space Shuttle (which hadn't launched yet) seemed absurd to me. I wondered, "why build a space plane when Mars beckons?" I poured all these thoughts into my astronaut fan letters. Many sent letters, but Armstrong's was memorable. It was short and simple. He told me he wouldn't have gotten to the moon if he hadn't been an engineer and that he didn't do it alone. He advised me to learn to use a slide rule, to think through problems, and to work hard. He told me to never stop looking up at the sky and imagining what was up there.

This week I've read every Armstrong obituary I've come across. Characteristically, The Economist published one of the best. They dug up this quote:

Armstrong offered the following self-portrait: “I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer, born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace and propelled by compressible flow.”

I didn't expect to be surprised anything I read this week about Armstrong and his two hours and thirteen minutes on the moon, but several little details reported in the Armstrong tribute/news river were new to me. I had not known his iconic portrait of Buzz Aldrin was doctored by NASA to correct for a bad crop and that there were few pictures of Armstrong actually on the moon. I recommend paging through the 122 shots in the unedited archive of all 122 images taken during that first moonwalk. The mistakes and the pictures normally edited out somehow bring the archive to life. They also made me wonder, did they pause at the hatch on the way back in and take one last look. What did it sound like in those suits?

A college friend's mom was a beauty queen who escorted astronauts around San Juan on their post-landing worldwide triumphal journey. She noted that the NASA guys partied hard— harder even than the Beatles who she also guided around the city, but not Armstrong, "He was cool. You hardly knew he was there."

It is easy to be nostalgic about the idea of moon landing, about a night when the whole world was united. My mother painted a picture of suburban Houston where all the television sets were flickring in unison and the streets were empty. EB White describes a more distracted scene here in NY. But was it really worldwide? I've travelled to plenty of places where people have no idea we went up there.

No man born after 1935 has walked on the moon. In a few short years the last astronaut to holding those memories will be gone. The moment is already fading from our collective experience being relegated to a deeper past... easier to mythologize, but also easier to forget.

Lydia Netzer writes in the NYTimes:

Remember Plato’s allegory of the cave. In the cave, the people look at shadows moving on the wall. They watch the shadows move, and they think that’s living. What if they could go outside and see the sun? That’s us, moving from the Earth to the Moon. That’s Neil Armstrong, who died at the age of 82 over the weekend, standing on the Moon, and looking back at Earth.

The thing about the cave is, it’s not just one cave. It’s more caves, and more, all nested within one another. The Moon was our first cave; Mars will be next. And then there will be another cave, and another.


Related: Mexican Lullaby, La Luna, Wanderers, Luna Llena,

Melba Arellano

July 4, 2012

I have a soft spot for road trip photography that traces an emotional, historical, or personal journey. Melba Arellano's Carretera National project tracing the Acapulco-Zihuatanejo highway feels as if it was made just for me.


Ray Bradbury

June 7, 2012


How important has your sense of optimism been to your career?


I don’t believe in optimism. I believe in optimal behavior. That’s a different thing. If you behave every day of your life to the top of your genetics, what can you do? Test it. Find out. You don’t know—you haven’t done it yet. You must live life at the top of your voice! At the top of your lungs shout and listen to the echoes. I learned a lesson years ago. I had some wonderful Swedish meatballs at my mother’s table with my dad and my brother and when I finished I pushed back from the table and said, God! That was beautiful. And my brother said, No, it was good. See the difference?

Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.

Read the entire Ray Bradbury interview at the Paris Review.

Found Poem

May 23, 2012

Found at my kid's school:


Misery by Kyle Takuru

It was a nice spring day and I was


I had nothing to do

my brother had the


my dad had the


the cable was broken

my mom was texting

The day was


the next day was the playdate

and I woke up on the


Night Sounds

May 8, 2012

When I was a kid I imagined the sound of night to be wind in the branches and the beat of firefly wings.

As a teen I imagined it to be the breath of the sleeping.

Night in New York where the quiet hours were never so quiet, was always a conversation, muffled and rich.

In LA it was the tinkle and chime of a distant party.

Today, if I close my eyes after 2 or so, wherever I am, night is always full of keyboards... clicking away, endlessly, out there in the dark.

I-Hsuen Chen

March 7, 2012

I'm a fan of images of inbetween places so I-Hsuen Chen's project "Nowhere in Taiwan" is tailor made for my taste. The project which was just featured on Culture Hall is part of a series of projects all centered around finding moments of intimacy.

In addition to her professional site, I-Hsuen posts regularly to a photo blog.

E B White's Voice

February 4, 2012

On Friday Jason Kottke recommended the audio version of Charlotte's Web read by EB White himself. We happened to have a long drive that night and took it for a listen. The audiobook is simply produced without fussy music or sound effects, it's just White reading and it's wonderful.

To get a sense of White's voice, you can check out this Academy award nominated short The Family That Dwelt Apart; it's an adaptation of one of his New Yorker short stories and is also self-narrated.

And since we're on a White kick, fans might also enjoy this 1970's era form letter to his young readers.

Dear Reader:

I receive many letters from children and can't answer them all -- there wouldn't be time enough in a day. That is why I am sending you this printed reply to your letter. I'll try to answer some of the questions that are commonly asked.

Where did I get the idea for Stuart Little and for Charlotte's Web? Well, many years ago I went to bed one night in a railway sleeping car, and during the night I dreamed about a tiny boy who acted rather like a mouse. That's how the story of Stuart Little got started.

As for Charlotte's Web, I like animals and my barn is a very pleasant place to be, at all hours. One day when I was on my way to feed the pig, I began feeling sorry for the pig because, like most pigs, he was doomed to die. This made me sad. So I started thinking of ways to save a pig's life. I had been watching a big grey spider at her work and was impressed by how clever she was at weaving. Gradually I worked the spider into the story that you know, a story of friendship and salvation on a farm. Three years after I started writing it, it was published. (I am not a fast worker, as you can see.)

Sometimes I'm asked how old I was when I started to write, and what made me want to write. I started early -- as soon as I could spell. In fact, I can't remember any time in my life when I wasn't busy writing. I don't know what caused me to do it, or why I enjoyed it, but I think children often find pleasure and satisfaction is trying to set their thoughts down on paper, either in words or in pictures. I was no good at drawing, so I used words instead. As I grew older, I found that writing can be a way of earning a living.

Some of my readers want me to visit their school. Some want me to send a picture, or an autograph, or a book. And some ask questions about my family and my animals and my pets. Much as I'd like to, I can't go visiting. I can't send books, either -- you can find them in a bookstore or a library. Many children assume that a writer owns (or even makes) his own books. This is not true -- books are made by the publisher. If a writer wants a copy, he must buy it. That's why I can't send books. And I do not send autographs -- I leave that to the movie stars. I live most of the year in the country, in New England. From our windows we can look out at the sea and the mountains. I live near my married son and three grandchildren.

Are my stories true, you ask? No, they are imaginary tales, containing fantastic characters and events. In real life, a family doesn't have a child who looks like a mouse; in real life, a spider doesn't spin words in her web. In real life, a swan doesn't blow a trumpet. But real life is only one kind of life -- there is also the life of the imagination. And although my stories are imaginary, I like to think that there is some truth in them, too -- truth about the way people and animals feel and think and act.

Yours sincerely,

E.B. White

My 4 Year Old On What Makes a Good Shoe

January 30, 2012

1. "They should be fast."
2. "They should have something on them. Something pretty cool like rocket boosters or fire or bush babies or something."
3. "Maybe they should glow in the dark so you can see them when it is night... or you could have a light on them and a remote control."
4. "They should be faster than regular shoes."
5. "When your feet are in them, your legs should be really fast."
6. "They should not make sounds when you walk. I like to scare people."
7. "You have to make sure they are fast shoes. SUPER FAST!"
8. "They should be soft."
9. "They should never smell like feet."
10. "When you run in fast shoes you should always win."

Transcribed January 18, 2011

Carl Van Vechten

January 30, 2012

1093901.jpgJames Earl Jones

1094109.jpgEartha Kitt

Carl Van Vechten, and Iowan, was a music critic, photographer, and patron of the Harlem Renaissance. He's best known for his studio portraits of artists, writers, actors, and musicians. Yale's Beinecke Library holds a large Van Vechten's kodachrome cache full of unusual images of well known African American performers (this tough and intimate Billie Holiday portrait was new to me). More images from Yale's collection can be found here. (found via It's never summer)

Note: The Library server seems to fail regularly, so browse

Rokuro Taniuchi

December 21, 2011




Dear Santa,

This Christmas I would like an exhaustive English language monograph featuring the work of Rokuro Taniuchi.

Thanks in advance!


. . . . . . . . . . .
Editor's note: Taniuchi was a Japanese artist/illustrator who known for his illustrations in comic books, children's books, and magazines (he painted over 1000 magazine covers.) Five galleries of Rokuro's work can be found on Will Schofield's completely excellent book illustration blog 50 Watts. An overview of Rokuro's work can be found on Amazon Japan.

Also please check out 50 Watt's fantastic book illustration collections on flickr. But beware, they will kill your afternoon.

Livia Corona

December 14, 2011

I'm a big fan of Mexican photographer Livia Corona. Her most recent project titled "Two Million Homes for Mexico" was just featured on Culturehall. The project name comes from a promise that Mexican president Vincent Fox made in 2000 to build two million homes during his term. The homes were indeed built at a rate of 2500 per day, and now a decade later Corona explores what they've become.

Ahmad Hosni

December 5, 2011


I'm intrigued by Cairo based Ahmad Hosni's project Go Down Moses on South Sinai in which he tackles "eco-tourism and self-perception of ethnicity". He talks more about this project in this interview.

MFK Fisher's Chapter Headings

December 5, 2011

My wife is a great champion of the food writer and memoirist MKF Fischer and often reads me excerpts. I've become a fan myself as Fischer's writing is spare, modern, dark and amusing.

These are Fischer's chapter headings (always great) from How to Cook a Wolf, a book published in 1942.

3 How to Be Sage Without Hemlock
10 How to Catch the Wolf
14 How to Distribute Your Virtue
26 How to Boil Water
46 How to Greet the Spring
53 How Not to Boil an Egg
66 How to Keep Alive
72 How to Rise Up Like New Bread
80 How to be Cheerful Through Starving
86 How to Make a Pigeon Cry
121 How to Pray for Peace
133 How to Be Content with a Vegetable Love
138 How to Make a Great Show
145 How to Have a Sleek Pelt
151 How to Comfort Sorrow
163 How to Be a Wise Man
167 How to Lure the Wolf

If you don't know Fischer's writing, I recommend this small except from The Gastronomical Me on the moment she discovered food. The passage also happens to be a nice piece on fatherhood.

Continue reading "MFK Fisher's Chapter Headings" →

Bad Habits

November 29, 2011

I've always loved the classic Indian educational posters of the Indian Book Depot, Map House. Today I discovered The Indian Book Depot is now online! The site features a fairly comprehensive collection of their classic posters and maps.

You can also find the charts in a beautiful oversized (and now out of print) book called An Ideal Boy.

p.s. How many of you had the Monks 'Bad Habits' start playing in your mind when you saw the title for this post?

Ken Russell

November 28, 2011


The British director Ken Russell died yesterday. I never cared much for the films that gave him notoriety, but always found his photography striking. Like Kubrick he started as a photographer and made many notable images before turning to directing. He aspired to be a fashion photographer, but his documentary images are the ones with real meat. Only a few of this type of image can be found online (I've seen book of his work somewhere, but can't find a link),

A few image galleries: Ken Russell a Retrospective, Images for Sale, Ken Russell's Fabulous 50's.

Related: Kubrick's Photography: Overview, Chicago, New York.

Georges Melies

November 22, 2011

With Scorsese's Hugo coming out soon I thought it would be a good time to revisit some of Georges Melies' early films (Hugo features a fictional Melies). Melies was a magician who originally used his films in his act, but the films quickly took over and by 1898 he was the largest producer of staged films in France.

Melies was one of the first filmmakers to use film to tell a story with sets, he created the first proper movie studio (with moving sets, and glass walls to let in the maximum amount of light), he was one of the first filmmakers to experiment with long form film, and he shot the first erotic film (After the Ball) and of course the special effects techniques he perfected still underly most modern effects. Melies' special effects techniques are even more impressive if you consider that most were created in-camera by rewinding and re-filming various parts of the scene. He made hundreds of popular films, but never made much money from them. Distribution was expensive and he had problems with counterfeiters. (Thomas Edison copied and distributed Melies' films in the US and never paid Melies a dime.) By 1913 his film was failing and he sold what remained of it. Most of Melies' archives were destroyed (the majority of his cellulose film stock was melted down by the French Army to make boot heels). His wife died and he married his mistress. For many years he was a toy salesman at a kiosk in Montparnasse station. His plight was discovered by a writer in a French film journal and soon after some of his films were discovered, restored and exhibited. A group of filmmakers put together a pension fund for him and he spent his last years in a home for cinema veterans.

Thanks to web, Melies' existing films are very easy to find. I've included a few below (my favcorites are starred).
Note most of these films include bad modern soundtracks and are better watched silent.

1896 - The Haunted Castle
1896 - A Nightmare
1896 - The Vanishing Lady
1897 - The Haunted Castle (tinted)
1898 - Un Homme de Têtes
1898 - The Astronomer's Dream
1898 - The Magician
1899 - Man With a Rubber Head
1899 - The Mysterious Portrait
1899 - Evoking the Spirits
1899 - Cinderella
1900 - The Magic Book
1900 - One Man Band
1902 - The Devil and the Statue
1902 - The Eruption in Martinique
1902 - Gulliver's Travels
1902 - A Trip to the Moon
1903 - The Melomaniac
1903 - The Infernal Cauldron
1903 - The Infernal Cakewalk
1904 - Untamable Whiskers
1904 - Le voyage a travers l'impossible"
1904 - The Mermaid
1905 - The Black Devil
1905 - The Fantastic Dirigible
1905 - Living Playing Cards
1905 - The Gambler's Paradise
1906 - The Merry Frolics of Satan
1907 - Satan in Prison
1907 - Hilarious Posters
1909 - Le Locataire Diabolique
1908 - La Photographie electrique a distance
1912 - The Conquest of the Pole

A more complete list of Goerges Melies films.

For decent copies of these films you should splurge and get the Melies 5 DVD set. It features 170! shorts.

Related: Multiple Sidosis

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