Sunday, October 28, 2018

You Don't Own Me: How Mattel v. MGA Entertainment Exposed Barbie's Dark Side by Orly Lobel

Someone once asked, "Why do we go from one, to two, to fourteen birds?"

I thought that was funny.  Now I have five birds.  I got two more to keep Lts. Foyle and Columbo company.  They are two little girls and so pretty.  I've named them Mrs. Oliver and Miss Lemon, both women characters in the Hercule Poirot series.

You Don't Own Me: How Mattel v. MGA Entertainment Exposed Barbie's Dark SideYou Don't Own Me: How Mattel v. MGA Entertainment Exposed Barbie's Dark Side by Orly Lobel

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I noticed that many people gave this book glowing reviews. I'm afraid I can't.

The book promised a lot but simply did not follow through.

I thought I was going to get a step by step account of how one man who worked for Mattel developed his own ideas for a doll, different from Barbie, then sold his idea to a competing toy company, and the ensuing lawsuit.

Instead, the author wanders all over the place, backing up with history of Lille, the original Barbie, which was actually a sex toy for post-war German men.

Then we learn about the history of Mattel and its founders, the founders of MGA the company that sold the Bratz dolls, and a smidgeon of Carter Bryant, the man who came up with the idea for Bratz.

We get quite a bit of Orly Lobel's opinion. She clearly hates Mattel. They are the big bad wolf in this story, and maybe deservedly so, but I can't say I feel sorry for anyone else, either.

Carter Bryant did develop Bratz and sell it to a competing company while he was still working at Mattel. He even paid other Mattel workers to help, including poor Mexican workers who later got fired for breaking their contract. Bryant is portrayed as the sacrificial lamb whose life is ruined at the hands of Mattel. Maybe, but a more even account would have listed possible alternate routes Bryant might have had recourse to.

I do agree that laws need to be changed about patents. Many brilliant professional designers and engineers have invented and developed incredible things and not made a cent because they were on salary. The company they worked for automatically owns the patent and makes billions. The people who actually did the thinking and making should at least get a royalty. It seems to me that would encourage greater creativity.

Much of the book is devoted to "exposing" just how big and bad a wolf Mattel is. We learn that Barbie is losing sales and Mattel doesn't seem to have the brains to change the trend by expanding or innovating. Instead they use "predator litigation".

When the band, Aqua, recorded the song, "Barbie Girl", Mattel sued them for copyright infringement. The court ruled in the band's favor because it is legal to parody a famous brand (or person or anything) in a song or any medium as long as you're not trying to sell the brand as your own.

Interestingly, it is not legal to satire a brand name, Lobel explains the difference at length and, frankly, the delineation was lost on me. Not that she didn't try, she took up several pages, repeating herself as she wrote on the two sides to the, in my opinion, same coin.

Especially since there were a couple of artists who made obscene art using Barbie. One made photos of Barbie naked and covered in meat, placed in lurid positions. Another created a "Dungeon Dominatrix" Barbie; but somehow these sleazeballs' right to expression of free speech trumped Mattel not wanting their children's doll to be used in perverted ways. Lobel, writes with glee how these "underdogs" won over the horrible Big Boss of toy merchandise.

Right. As if the law suit didn't help these previous nonentities sell their product through notoriety and publicity.

I would have appreciated the book more if the author could have left her slanted opinion out of it.

A lot of what she said was silly. She constantly referred to Barbie as the "Ice Queen". She expounds on how children were tired of Barbie and wanted something they could identify with. They wanted more ethnic diversity, something that spoke to where they were at in life.

Really? Teenagers aren't playing with dolls, little girls are. I doubt if children under the age of ten possess that kind of discernment. And as far as being tired of Barbie, how could they be when every ten years there's a whole new crop of young children who are being introduced to her?

I won't say the book is without merit. I learned a few things about our legal system and copyright infringement. But I just can't stand reading such an obviously biased account. And she took so long to get to the actual court case. She must have had a contract that stipulated how many chapters she had to have so she generously puffed her page numbers with barely related material.

If you want a really riveting account, well written about a tyrant using and abusing her company and employees, I recommend Bad Blood, the account of the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her bogus blood testing device.

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Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Mimic Men by V.S. Naipaul

Here is Dmitri Shostakovich's Waltz No. 2 .  Shostakovich was a complicated character.  He wrote many pieces, epic and grandiose for the "Powerful Soviet Union", however later musicologists claim that he was simply doing what he was forced to do and decided that he was going to write what he wanted to write and give it whatever title that made the government happy.  Some surmise that some of these compositions were actually meant to be ironic.

111 years since the birth of Dmitri Shostakovich

Whichever, I do really like his compositions. I met his son, Maxim, who is a conductor and a compelling person in his own right.

The Mimic MenThe Mimic Men by V.S. Naipaul

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Mimic Men is a work of fiction about a man who grew up on a Caribbean island called Isabella (not a real island). As an adult he moved to England for a while, came back to Isabella, trying to help reconstruct it after it stopped being an English colony and ultimately failing.

Ralph Singh is a man who tries to Anglicize himself. In school he changes his name to Ralph from Ranjit Kripalsingh. The story fluctuates back and forth between the two cultures as Ralph Singh tries to come to terms with his identity inside a Caribbean culture while trying to apply English attributes to his person and life. There are wheels within wheels because Singh is a man of Caribbean culture but also from Indian culture; yet he is not Indian either. He is Indian suffused with the culture of the islands.

The story has its moments. When he describes his life on the island, his family and relatives, I see glances of a vividness in his culture among Indians, whites and those of African descent, not to mention all the ones who share each race, which is quite common in the Caribbean. But these moments only occasionally flash here and there.

Singh tries to blend into the Englishness of the U.K. He marries a white woman, has affairs with many others, but he cannot warm up to the people or their way of life. However, going back to Isabella, he no longer fits in there either.

Really, I had a hard time understanding or caring about the characters of this novel. A lot that was going on was not clear to me, at least I failed to see the point. The only thing I found interesting were the different characters Singh describes as they come into his life.

The least interesting part of the novel is when Singh joins a group of Socialists in the U.K. Reading about him and his co-horts trying to promote these ideals was just plain boring. Describing people enamored with "causes" holds no interest for me.

I wish he had spent more time giving the reader better views of his characters but Naipaul has a habit of writing about people without any sense of who anyone is. Everyone is a stranger to him. It is as if the narrator suffers from some sort of emotional detachment and is incapable of caring about anyone or anything.

He gets away with it in his non-fiction, at least in the one non-fiction book of his I read (An Area of Darkness, his travelogue of his time in India), but it simply does not brighten this existentially bland account of people from either island who I know from personal experience are filled with so much personality and color.

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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Myths of Northern Lands by H. A. Guerber

 I've been fooling around with the color tools on my computer.  Here's a more vividly colored Hercule.

I thought since I was writing review a book about Northern European myths it would be appropriate to listen to a little Wagner.  Here is Ride of the Valkyries.

Myths of Northern LandsMyths of Northern Lands by H. A. Guerber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do not remember where I got this book, probably a book fair at a library. My copy is a vintage hardback published in 1895. It has old paintings to represent the various gods and goddesses.

Overall, I liked this book, it was highly informative and thorough in describing the origins of the Norse creation myth, of all the gods and goddesses, whom they married, and their individual fates, along the various stories and adventures each god and goddess took part in. It also narrates the origins of mythological figures such as giants, elves and dwarfs.

If someone wants an almost encyclopediac collection of every Norse God, this is the book for them. Guerber recounts the myths based on the ancient poetry they are derived from and includes several excerpts from those poems.

It includes the Sigurd Saga, in Germany known as the Ring Cycle, the Twilight of the Gods, which is the narration of the end of Norse myth and the dawn of Christianity, and finally a comparison between Norse and Greek mythology.

Reading the Sigurd Saga and also the origins of elves and dwarfs, one understands where Tolkien got his inspiration for his Lord of the Rings saga. The names and myths are very similar.

There may be more exciting versions of Norse myth, but this one certainly has its value, if for no other reason because of the time (the 19th century) in which it was written.

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                      Psychedelic Hercule and Lt. Foyle

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Family Affair: A Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin mystery by Rex Stout

Fooling around with my Mac photo tools.  I also have some news that I'll relate at the end of my post.

A young man who I have performed with since he was in high school, going with him to state levels in solo and ensemble juries for many years has just been appointed as principal trombonist for the Met.  I messaged him recently if he would still be willing to record a couple of duos with me.  

He said yes, but it had to be during the summer.  So here's hoping he will be able to work with me in a year.  Luckily I live in the same town as his parents.

One of the works I want us to record is John Davison's Sonata for Trombone and Piano.  Here is the first movement called, Fantasia.

A Family Affair (Nero Wolfe, #46)A Family Affair by Rex Stout

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the last novel Stout wrote. He wrote around seventy novels and short stories all starring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Stout died around six months after A Family Affair was published.

Plot: Pierre, a waiter at the restaurant Rusterman's has come to Nero Wolfe's Brownstone at night. Pierre is familiar to the Wolfe household because Rusterman's is not only a favorite restaurant, Wolfe is a trustee.

Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's leg man answers the door (for those of you unfamiliar with the story, Nero Wolfe rarely leaves his home, yet has the uncanny ability to be on top of information and solve mysteries. Suspects are brought to the Brownstone to be questioned). Pierre begs to be let in because he needs to talk to Wolfe. He refuses to divulge any information to Archie except that his life is threatened.

Wolfe has already gone to bed and as fans of our portly detective know, Wolfe does not have a flexible schedule. His bedtime, dinner times, and time spent on the roof in his green house with his orchids are not flexible. In fact, there is practically nothing about Wolfe that is flexible .

So Pierre cannot talk to Wolfe that night and he won't talk to Archie but refuses to leave because he fears for his life. Archie puts him in a free room, opposite his own.

After seeing Pierre to the room, Archie crosses the hall to his own room and proceeds to undress and go to bed. Before he half way gets his trousers off an explosion shakes the entire Brownstone. Archie, re-adjusts his pants and runs back across the hall.

The windows have been blasted out, but from the inside. Pierre is lying down, quite dead, and with no face. A little investigating reveals that Pierre was opening a small tube containing a cigar which detonated the bomb.

Who did this and why? That is what the rest of the book will tell you. Wolfe is livid this happened in his own house and takes it personally.

This book was written in 1975 which is about forty years after the first Wolfe mystery was written. However, the characters have not aged, which makes it difficult to imagine them since I still see them dressed for the 1930s.

There are a few differences, some of them not positive. Trying to be relevant and current (I suppose) Stout entangles the current crisis of the day, Watergate, into the story. So as Archie imparts his discoveries to us, we are to wonder, as he does, if the murder is in anyway connected to the national scandal.

I don't want to spoil the mystery in case anyone has not read the story, but I found one aspect of the conclusion unsatisfying and I don't know how to say without giving the culprit away, so I won't say anything, only to say, I disagree with authors employing this method.

Something else occurred to me as I read this story. Murders must be interesting on every level. Not only must finding the guilty party be interesting, but the murder has to be committed for an interesting reason. A number of mysteries, even by my favorite authors often fail at this end.

Whether anyone out there will find the motive for the murder to be interesting or not will be a matter of opinion.

Now a couple of things I liked was how, while keeping the witty banter that bounces back and forth between the main characters, Stout has added in a streak of darkness. Wolfe is not so arrogant or omniscient as previous stories have him; he shows vulnerability. The police are shown greater respect, this is a great improvement from the almost Keystone Cop cartoons, especially Inspector Cramer, in his earlier stories.

There is an overtone of sadness as though things were coming to an end. Perhaps Stout knew that this would be his last story and he would be telling Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin, their detectives Saul Panzer, Fred Derkin, Orrie Cather, and Inspecter Cramer good bye.

Luckily, we don't have to since they stay alive between the pages of our books.

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And here is a small bonus review:

rouault les maitresrouault les maitres by Rouault

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A tiny gem written in French, German and English. Gives a brief overview of the French artist, Georges Rouault's life and work.

Rouault belonged to the Fauvist school, which took place in the early years of the 20th century, with Henri Matisse who is considered the leader of this movement. His paintings of clowns and prostitutes are considered social and moral commentaries.

Later his paintings became increasingly spiritual and existential.

There are about 60 prints in black and white of his paintings. His work shows his deep commitment to his Christian faith and also his compassion for the people he saw in his native Paris.

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And now I would like to introduce you to Lt. Columbo:

 Hercule was not being very nice to Lt. Foyle and Foyle very much wanted to be buddies with Hercule.  We did not want him to be lonely so we got him a friend his own size.  This is Lt. Columbo.  Isn't he pretty?  I've not seen a tri-colored parakeet before.