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There is a huge difference between story and plot. Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest.

- Stephen King, "On Writing"

Escape From L.A., Pt. 1

‘(Los Angeles) is a country coming down from its trip. We are 91 days from the end of this decade, and there’s gonna be a lot of refugees. They’ll be goin’ round this town shoutin’, ‘Bring out your dead.'”

– “Withnail & I” (1987), Bruce Robinson

(this article originally appeared at screenwriting
website, Jan. 2010)

When I was 17 years old, I set off for Los Angeles to attend the Cinema-TV Production School at the University of Southern California. On the plane I read William Goldman’s  “Adventures In The Screen Trade” and planned my future.

I knew – everyone knew – that if you wanted to make movies, you had to go to LA. You also had to have a degree from a top-rate film school. A writerly alcohol and drug habit was a good idea too.

I know today – having learned through experience – that I was starting my life’s journey based on a complete pack of lies. But I was 17 years old and it was the 1980s. When you’re 17, starting a life’s journey based on a pack of lies is…well, it’s what you do, isn’t it?

I graduated from film school with a host of brilliant classmates. Some went to Portland and Seattle and actually made movies; some went back home to Texas or Connecticut. The rest of us went out into LA to seek our fortunes. Post-film school life in LA was exactly halfway between “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) and  “The Big Picture” (1989), a fantasy veering crazily from cynical gloom to sweet comedy and back.

95% of my USC classmates began their course determined to win at least one Best Directing Oscar but the attrition rate of Cherished Film School Dreams looks a bit like a casualty roster of WWI pilots. By the time of our graduation, many of my friends had traded in their ideal visions for something more bite-sized and realistic. Why? A good film school’s job should be to impress upon its students that filmmaking is a bizarre and tedious process that sane people ought to avoid. And USC has one of the best film schools in the world. Also, students began to learn that there was a massive array of supporting crafts that go into a film production and discovered that one of these fired their hearts and imaginations in a way the vague, grandiose vision of ‘Oscar-Winning Director’ could not.

There were a few emotionally-immature, mental defectives – I among them – who refused to surrender the dream (while increasingly suspecting that they were utterly unemployable in any normal work). We graduated and began to write spec screenplays – lots of them – and gave them to anyone and everyone who pretended to want to read them.

Screenwriting is hard, thankless work. Though not like digging ditches or mining coal, obviously. Digging ditches is something useful and beneficial to society. 1000 hours spent fretting over an urban melodrama about vampires hasn’t been on the Nobel Committee’s application form for some years. But because it is hard work, rather than churning out new material, a few of the devoted dreamers became obsessed with rewriting the same screenplay over and over again – infusing it with a Great New Idea with each pass – until the thing read like a transcript for the blind of a David Lynch movie written by a teenage girl on ecstasy. Thankfully, most of them gave it all up before they went mad.

In a very few years there were only a handful of us left, writing one spec screenplay after another, each waiting for his or her particular stars to align.

My stars aligned early on. One of my first sci-fi screenplays was optioned by Mario Kassar – the Old Hollywood-style movie gangster who brought us “Rambo”, “Total Recall”, “LA Story”, “Basic Instinct”, “Terminator” and  “Stargate”. It was in the twilight years of the era of script mega-sales, those days when coke-addled producers would shell out $3 million for an idea written by Joe Eszterhas on the back of a McDonald’s napkin.

I had the obligatory ‘tyro screenwriter’s mega-deal’ article in “Daily Variety” and every major director whose career started in British television advertising was on the verge of saying ‘Yes’ to the film. Then, just as quickly, it all petered out and I was left in the tragic position of living in a big house in the Hollywood Hills, with a view of Catalina on a clear day, transported into the world of an A-List screenwriter.

I pitched ideas to every company of note in LA. I joined the long queues of writers brought in to give a fresh perspective on whatever proposed sci-fi/action/fantasy property Company X was developing. A few of those projects, after years in development purgatory, finally did escape and audiences seemed to like them. They usually ended up with a single writer’s name on them but I’m sure all of us who sat there saying to execs “The villain in Blade must under no circumstances be Count Dracula” feel a certain attachment to those projects, like when you receive news that someone you had a fling with has become married to a jerk not nearly as attractive and talented as you.

With growing dread, I came to understand that the tedium I was experiencing is the bulk of the work in a booming Hollywood career. Get your latest brilliant spec read, get a meeting, hear about their project, pitch them your take on their project, wait by the phone for your agent to call, repeat ad infinitum. Ad infinitum. If you are very lucky, someone will accidentally pay you a great deal of money to pour your heart and soul into their project when everyone involved knows but never mentions that the project will almost certainly never be produced.

I was pitching a television series idea to the production company of a woman who has made at least one of your favourite sci-fi movies, had an arsenal of good writing samples to show and not the worst track record, and I felt like I was no closer to making movies than when I was on the plane to LA at age 17.

Then it occurred to me that movies are made by people who are making movies. You know what I mean? Marathons are run by people who are running marathons, cakes are baked by people who are baking cakes. Am I making sense? It’s the simple and obvious that has always eluded me. The Hollywood studio system is about not losing money first and making movies second. That is how many successful businesses operate. It’s how NASA operates. NASA’s primary purpose is not to send stuff into space, it’s to allocate resources and personnel in such a way that everyone at NASA still has a job next year. Imagine my surprise when I realised my entire career – and the careers of many successful writers I know – had been a case of shaking an apple tree year after year, waiting for oranges to start dropping.

I hope I don’t seem a complete ingrate – I do like apples – but I just didn’t want to spend any more time eating apples, wishing they were oranges.

So I moved to London…

Waiting for Movie Stars 2

(end of part 1)

– Read Part 2 of “Escape From L.A.”

Brussels, Comics Capital of Europe

A couple months ago, I took my first trip to Brussels. I went there to ride in a helicopter and to write a piece on Wim Robberechts & Co., one of the preeminent aerial cinematography outfits this side of the Azores.

I’d never been to Brussels before. It struck me as a sensible, serious city. The home of NATO and the European Union and quality chocolate. The city’s slogan ought to be: “Brussels: We do things properly.”

But did you know – and if you’re an American, you probably didn’t know – Brussels is one of the world’s great capitals for illustration and comics?
Actually, if you’re an American, you probably didn’t know that NATO and the EU are headquartered in Brussels either, did you? In fact, you probably don’t even know what NATO is. And you’re understanding of the EU is that there are French people somehow involved and it’s where they have Euros. You know, it’s true. Of course you do. You wouldn’t be so mad at me if you didn’t think it was true.
What was I on about?
Right. Brussels – one of the world’s great centers of illustration and comic art. The other centers would be, I suppose, Tokyo and New York. Los Angeles too, possibly, but I think there are actually fewer comic stores per capita in L.A. than people suppose.

Dalai Lama w/Tin Tin

Brussels not only has murals of Tin Tin on the side of every building – or so it seemed to me – but in some areas there are comic stores on every block. They carry the usual American fare – high concept stories about physically powerful beings and character stories about physically powerless beings. And Asian comics too. But the third part of the inventory – the one rarely seen, or heard of, in most North American stores – is the Franco-Belgian comics, traditionally dubbed bande dessinée (“drawn strip”). In general, these comics feature high-quality illustration and more … subtle? … meaty? … rich? … stories. 
As I browsed the comic shops of Brussels I found myself again and again picking up comics that could very well be adaptations of high-end movies – usually of the kind I write myself. Medieval adventures. Strange and hallucinatory stories of suspense. Sexy science fiction dramas emphasizing emotion over explosions. 
Franco-Belgian comics world are rooted in a French illustration tradition, but also feature a strong Dutch bloodline. Brussels is the geographical and cultural meeting point of Dutch and French culture, and the comics landscape of the city is enriched exponentially by this intersection.
The main reason English speaking readers know little of the Franco-Belgian comics / graphic novels / sequential art world is that relatively few of the titles are ever translated into English. The profit margin on the most successful American comics can be relatively small, for European comics, the profit margin may be nonexistent. Unless some enterprising publisher makes it a priority to translate and distribute American versions of Franco-Belgian comics en masse, it’s likely the U.S. will continue to miss out on a whole universe of dynamite storytellers, illustrators, colorists, printers.
I only had a morning to tour around the comic stores of Brussels. But the highlights were:

HET B-GEVAAR (all Dutch comics, all the time)

Greepstraat 15
1000 Bruxelles
tel: 02 513 14 86


122-124 boulevard Anspach
B-1000 Bruxelles
tel / fax: 02 513 72 35


126-128 Boulevard Anspach
B-1000 Bruxelles
tel / fax: 02 513 01 86

DONG CO (specialist in Japanimation)

33, Rue di Midi
1000 Bruxelles


39, Rue di Midi
1000 Bruxelles

Heathrow Animal Reception Centre (HARC): The UK’s Ambassador To The Ornamental Fish Trade

People all the time are saying to me: “Always you are writing about the arts and the creative lives of people and sometimes you write semi-amusing haiku about cats or dinosaurs. Often we notice that you write an awful lot of things that are untrue and we fear for your moral and spiritual health. But what we want to know is why you don’t write more about tropical fish.”

Indeed, why don’t I write more about tropical fish? Why don’t?

So, in this month’s issue of “Practical Fishkeeping” magazine, the widest circulating publication for aquarium enthusiasts in Britain:


Heathrow Animal Reception Centre:
The UK’s Ambassador To The World Ornamental Fish Trade 


Neal Romanek

Unless your aquarium stock are restricted to animals bred and raised in the United Kingdom, the odds are near certain that they spent a few hours of their lives inside a warehouse on Beacon Road, just outside the southern boundary of Heathrow Airport at the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre (HARC).

forklift driver removing aquarium stock from large truckThe Animal Reception Centre is the principle entry point for all live animals entering the United Kingdom by air. The Centre’s mandate is to enforce the statutory requirements of UK and EU legislation with regard to importation of animals via air transport. This legislation incorporates Rabies Control – hence the Centre’s previous designation as the Animal Quarantine Station – and the welfare of animals during transport.

The only other entry facilities in the EU of comparable scale to HARC are centres at the airports of Amsterdam and Frankfurt. The Amsterdam and Frankfurt centres tend to specialize in larger animals – horses and substantial mammals. Despite the fact that most of the invertebrates and fish in our aquaria pass through this surprisingly humble cluster of buildings, few are aware of HARC’s importance to British fishkeeping, both as hobby and trade.

The City Of London’s website observes that the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre receives all types of animals “from cats and dogs, to baby elephants, to reptiles and spiders.” What they do not say is that in sheer numbers, volume, weight – just about any way you measure it – the bulk of livestock passing through their doors, and probably outweighing all the rest combined, is made up of fish and aquatic invertebrates.

It is difficult to appreciate the magnitude of the operation at the Centre until you observe it first-hand, as we did, escorted by HARC manager, Robert Quest. Lorry after lorry, chock-a-block with fully-loaded pallets, stands by to unload the shipments ferried over from the Heathrow terminals, each hauling a total volume of water and livestock that might fill a petrol truck. Mr. Quest explained that, on average, 35,000,000 fish pass through the Animal Reception Centre each year – sometimes fewer (in the slowest year on recent record, over 28,000,000 were admitted), sometimes many more.
Most flights carrying fish and aquatic invertebrates usually land on Mondays and Tuesdays. This is part of a shipping cycle that allows them to be transported throughout the UK and received by dealers during the week, to be ready for sale by the weekend.

The trucks begin arriving by nine in the morning. HARC forklift operators work at a steady pace emptying the trucks, shuttling their cargo into the “Fish Border Inspection Post”, a long, green-painted warehouse across from HARC’s main administrative building. In cold weather, ceiling-mounted heaters keep the temperature in the warehouse within an acceptable range until the shipments are cleared by the Centre’s staff and ready to be picked up by domestic shippers.

Most fish cargo arrives on flights from Asia, the majority via Singapore. “Any flight that passes through Singapore on a Tuesday is going to have a belly hold full of fish,” Quest said, “and the only thing that limits the number is the number of flights coming in.” A single plane might contain up to 300 boxes of polystyrene fish containers. The next time you’re on a long-haul trip from Asia and get hassled for being over the baggage weight limit, just tell yourself: “I’m doing it for the fish.”

One might suspect that endless crates of fish and plants would make ideal carriers for smuggling, but only rarely have there been such problems. In the 1990’s, the Centre did find a transit consignment of fish containing a roll of microfilm. In that case, customs officials were phoned, and the consignment was carried off and never seen again. Today items are x-rayed multiple times during the transit process, so smuggled materials are caught early on, and since fish in water do not x-ray well, any inorganic material inside a container is easily spotted.

The biggest smuggling concern is the attempted importing of banned species – particularly corals. The Centre works in tandem CEFAS, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science. CEFAS, an aquatic scientific research and consultancy centre, is an executive agency of DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs. CEFAS’s stated purview is:

assessment and advice for managing and conserving fisheries, and for the conservation of marine and freshwater ecosystems environmental monitoring and assessment of nutrients, radionuclides, chemicals and other contaminants in the environment advice on aquaculture, disease control and hygiene of fish and shellfish incidents and emergency response service research and project management in support of the services above

After shipments are offloaded at HARC, there are three separate inspection phases before the loads are cleared to be carried away. There is a documentation check to make sure the appropriate paperwork, identification, and clearances are is attached. Secondly, an identity check ensures that the documentation agrees with and accurately describes the shipment received. Bans of animals that may pose a disease risk – as, for example, in the case of some ornamental carp or koi – might be specific only to animals with origin in a specific prefecture or province, rather than from an entire country. Thus scrupulous attention to paperwork is therefore essential to properly enforcing the regulations.

The final phase of inspection is the physical check, conducted by the CEFAS animal health team. CEFAS inspectors open, and visually and physically inspect, 10% of the containers coming in. The condition of animals is assessed. Water samples are taken and tested for diseases and parasites.

The inspections are performed inside an enclosed room at one end of the Fish Border Inspection Post warehouse. The room features stainless steel countertops and deep stainless steel sinks and several heavy steel shelving units for storing heavy, water-filled containers. On one end of the room are rows of large, tapped tanks – like some massive cold drinks arrangement for a tremendous barbeque. These containers store both fresh and salt water. The facilities do not allow for the long-term housing of species, but the water stores – with the help of pure oxygen available – are sufficient to top up water and oxygen lost in the inspection, or to rescue animals that have fallen victim to shoddy packing or handling. As in a darkroom, an overhead red light is used for initial inspection of the fish, to avoid shock that a sudden flood of white light would cause. Once the fish pass this inspection procedure, clearance is faxed to HM Revenue & Customs in Salford who then declare the shipment ready to be transported.

Despite the exhaustive checking, a shipment rarely spends more than four hours – more often closer to two – at the Centre before it is on a lorry and off to its destination.

Fish are banned entry into the UK for two reasons. Either the animals are endangered and the UK, or EU, is signatory to the legislation recognizing the animal’s status. Or the animal poses a health risk for the indigenous ecosystem – either to naturally occurring animals and plants or to commercially bred species.

If there are banned animals in the shipment, the consignment is removed, and the banned animals – which have included freshwater crayfish, corals, and most recently seahorses – are destroyed

Of the fifty or so prosecutions a year by the Centre, Quest says that only a very few ever involve fish shipments. Most of the legal action the Centre had to employ has been against cases involving larger vertebrates – cats shipped in too-small carriers for example. In the case of the aquarium stock shipments, most prosecutions are due to improper handling and packing. “Fish disasters are usually because of massive delay somewhere, bad stowage – we had one consignment that got put on the hot water pipes in the aircraft, so the bottom layer was too hot to say the least –and then handling. And that’s handling not so much on the aircraft but between the aircraft and here.” In such cases it is the airline that gets prosecuted, since they are liable for the safety of the shipment.

Its easy to forget that HARC is an organization driven by legislation and not charity or science. This is nowhere more apparent than the definitions of coldwater fish vs. tropical fish, which have recently been adopted.

All ornamental fish imported are classified as either “cold-water ornamental fish” or “tropical ornamental fish”.

Previously, those separations of type have been determined by a species’ ability to survive certain temperature ranges. A “tropical fish” was defined as one which could not naturally survive in British waters. No more – at least not according to the law.

As of 1 April 2007, cold-water ornamental fish are “ornamental fish of species susceptible to one or more of the following diseases: Epizootic Haematopoietic Necrosis (EHN), Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA), Viral Haemorraghic Septicaemia (VHS), Infectious Haematopoietic Necrosis (IHN), Spring Viraemia of Carp (SVC), Bacterial Kidney Disease (BKD), Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN), Koi Herpes Virus (KHV), and infection with Gyrodactylus Salaris”.

So if that is a “cold water fish”, then what is a “tropical fish”?

A tropical fish is “any ornamental fish other than cold-water ornamental fish”.

So theoretically, a Tanzanian cichlid that inexplicably acquired one of these diseases would be classified as, according to EU regulations, a cold-water fish.

Even experienced importers and distributors would do well to review the regulations on a regular basis. The languages of the law and of science may not overlap as much as common sense might dictate. David Mullin, a principle policymaker for DEFRA, explains that the change in definition is made necessary by the fact that the law must now be applicable to all of the EU. An animal’s viability within a given environment is no longer a practical rule of thumb to use across the wide variety of climates and conditions in EU countries. The purpose of the law is to preserve the health and welfare of native stocks – and the principle threat is disease. Hence, the disease-centric nature of the wording.

It is easy to become paranoid about the “foreign threat” of disease and infection. Sensible observation of the laws and good communication can prevent problems from arising.

Viral Haemorraghic Septicaemia (VHS) was just discovered this spring in coldwater fish of the US Great Lakes. Though there is no danger of VHS passing to humans, there are fears that the disease could decimate the native stock. It is thought that the disease might have been introduced into Great Lakes area via contaminated ballast water, or by bait fish, or by foreign stocks introduced to the waters.

If Robert Quest’s assessment is anything to go by, then there is a good chance that a similar disaster in the EU would not be the fault of the fish industry. Quest has seen dogfish and dogs, octopus and ocelots come through the Heathrow and he insists: “The fish industry is the most organized going without a shadow of a doubt. I think the volume is part of it. It’s a big trade. It’s got its own trade organizations and has had so for years, and it leaves the reptile and bird trade for dead in that respect. The fish industry has always seemed to be looking after itself. And it’s well-packed.”

L.A. Dreams Goodbyes

When I came to Los Angeles in Sept. 1985, I had hopes and dreams.

I was beginning my college days, attending a university with the most respected cinema program in the world. I had a couple scholarships to help defer the hefty tuition, including a National Merit Scholarship. I wanted to be a famous film director – or a poet, if the film director thing didn’t pay off. Self-esteem had never been a strong suit of mine, and despite people telling me the contrary, I always felt dumb as post. Still, since I was in 6th grade, I had a firm conviction that not only did film directors actually exist somewhere in the world, but that I could very easily be one of them. The more I studied, the more I learned, the more I began to see that undertaking such an occupation was a very real option. When film school professors whispered praises in my ears, my certain success was confirmed.

It is years later. I have been a paid screenwriter. I have made heaps of cash in the Spec Sale 1990’s. I have had a house in the Hollywood Hills. I have been arrested on Sunset Boulevard for drunk driving.

Somewhere along the way, the one thing that I came here for, the directing part, has escaped me.

Or, to be more honest, I have escaped it.

Yes, try as the gods might to hand me opportunities, I have evaded them at every turn.

One of my favorites was when a notable production company began talks with me about directing The Common Vampire – my low-budge, Scorsese-esque vampire script (I know, you also have your own low-budge, Scorsese-esque vampire script – tough luck, I got in first). I did everything I could, short of shitting on the producer’s desk, to avoid following through with that offer.

As John Cassavetes said to Martin Scorsese: “In order to catch the ball, you have to want to catch the ball.”

I have had so much blind faith – or stupidity, one might call it (and a healthy dose of stupidity is an asset for long-term success in any artistic enterprise) – during my time here in L.A. It is galling to see how much utter dread and fear have been lurking beneath it, taking a secret step back for every step I appear to take forward. When I have visited friends from my Ohio high school years, they always remark: “Wow. You always said you were going to go to L.A. and get into movies. And then you really did it! Wow.” And I stare back at them, a little baffled, and think: “Of course, I did it. Did you think I was kidding?” and I feel my heart sag a little when I realize that when they were articulating their big dreams back in the 1980’s, they were only kidding.

I have made films with the Alpha 60 collective, done the video podcasts here on the blog, experimented with moving images on my own. But this is still sketching, training, exercising. It is not what I came here to do. Asked a couple decades ago what the status of my motion picture career would be in 2006, the projected future would not have been a question of whether or not I had directed a film, but whether I had received Academy Awards for Directing AND Writing yet (having become most familiar with our beloved Academy over the past few years, and having attended a number of the shows, the prospect of winning an Oscar has become increasingly less interesting to me however)(I don’t think that’s sour grapes)(or is it?).

So, I’d better get on it, huh? Better roll up my sleeves and get on that sucker?

The irritating thing I’ve noticed – and to my chagrin, continue to notice – is that my life here in Los Angeles seems to have had some kind of subtle guiding principle behind it – that is, I seem to have been led and guided in spite of my ambitions. And I believe more and more – and this too is irritating – that my ambitions are sometimes a road to misery and chaos and death – a roadmap for taking me directly to the places I’d rather not go. So I’ve learned then to soften my grip on the reins, to trust that the horse has traveled this path more often than I and that he may not need second-by-second guidance to get me to the destination. In fact, my constant commands will probably end with him bucking me into the ditch and spoiling what might have been an enjoyable ride.

On Saturday, my wife and I will be moving to London – which is in England.

For years and years I have said that I would like to live in London – home of my foremothers and grandsires – but couldn’t tell you exactly how that would come about. Now, here we are, about to leave this L.A. that I’ve become very cozy-comfy with over the past 20 years, and I couldn’t really tell you exactly how it happened. It just…happened. Step by step, revelation by revelation. This thing that seems to always be taking care of the big picture – cagey bastard that it is – is subtle and quiet, and not to be denied.

I am very, very, very blessed. And I am very, very, very ordinary.

So the future? My future? Our future? On Saturday, we will get on the plane at LAX. When we land at Heathrow, we will get off the plane. That’s about as far as I’m willing to plan ahead these days.

Still, as I leave Los Angeles, in Sept. 2006, I have hopes and dreams.

Hot Soak, Dead Hog

My wife gave me my belated birthday present – a long weekend in Desert Hot Springs.

All this time in Los Angeles and I had never been to Palm Springs, or the nearby Desert Hot Springs, or the slightly nearby Joshua Tree National Park. Now I have done these things. These things have been done by me.

You can do lots of soaking at Desert Hot Springs. We did soaking. We soaked in boiling water. We soaked in 98.6 degree water (37 celsius). We soaked in room temperature water. We soaked and soaked. We soaked well. We were happy to soak. We soaked at night, with a spotlight gibbous moon overhead, and cool desert air on our faces. We soaked with the soaking plaza all to ourselves…

…except for the Black Widow spider taking an evening constitutional around the edge of our soaking pool.

We shouted. We threatened. We splashed.

And the Black Widow slunk back into its crevice to bide its time till a less canny pair of victims came along. We were too strong, too mighty. We fled to the next pool.

One evening we drove through Joshua Tree National Park, where you can see many Joshua Trees, as well as rock formations that are – literally – older than your grandmother. I think I saw Bono lurking in a dry river bed. As night fell, we pulled to the side of the road and we stood staring up into a sky gray with stars, surrounded by deafening desert silence.

As we drove out of the park, a Kangaroo Rat hopped out of the desert and into our headlights.


My wife shrieked. She insisted we go back to see if we had killed it.

We went back. We saw. We had killed it.

We confessed our crime to the Park Ranger at the gate. We apologized. She said, “Well, the coyotes have gotta eat too.” – which made us feel better.

That night I dozed off watching my favorite tv show. In this episode, young Kumiko Kobayashi, the only Japanese woman to have been admitted to a certain famous French culinary school (the name of which I’ve forgotten) challenged Iron Chef French, Hiroyuki Sakai. The ingredient was Mishima Beef. Kobayashi lost, 3 to 1.

We departed Desert Hot Springs, rested, cheerful, groggy, happy, dry-lipped, me with a belly full of pork products injested at the hotel’s breakfast buffet.

As we headed up a supernaturally straight stretch of barren road, my wife proudly proclaimed her sighting of a dead hog.

She insisted we go back, so I could see it. We went back. I saw it.

Big hog. White hog. Dead hog. Many many flies. No evidence of blood.

Had the hog been left as a sign by one of San Bernardino County’s many bizarre religious cults? Or had it leaped from a passing truck in an eleventh-hour attempt to escape the carniceria? Or were one of the local white supremacist terrorist organizations interrupted while preparing for a midnight trip to the local mosque?

We would never know.

We decided to agree that seeing a dead white hog in the desert was a sign of good luck. And I added an amendment that the amount of good luck increased, somehow or other, with the number of flies that could be counted on the corpse. We would be very lucky indeed!

A luxurious drive back to L.A., via Joshua Tree, me gawking at gigantic nature and veering dangerously, while my wife read aloud interesting passages from a book about the geologies and ecologies of the park.

Arriving home, we were shunned by resentful cats.

Guide To World Culture

I mentioned in my post entitled “SIGGRAPH Next Week!” that everybody in Japan flies around with jet-packs, each with their own personal Giant Robot servant controlled via 2-way wrist radio. It turns out that I was not entirely correct. I was set straight by the following response sent by an offended Japanese person:

Dear Mr. Romanek,

I took offense at your sweeping generalization of Japanese people in your post called “SIGGRAPH Next Week!”. Not all of us are technology whizzes. In fact, some of us can barely use a matchbook correctly. And not all of us are smart and live in comfortable, supermodern apartments, taking three baths a day. Some of us live in ditches and are very stupid. I, for example, collect filth for money and have bathed only one time.

You should do some research before you start painting a 1500 year old culture with such broad strokes.



So I did some research – on the Internet and using television programs and spending time sitting trying to remember what I figured I must already know, as well as employing good old common sense. I want to educate people, not further the prejudices that already exist amongst us. I am blessed with so many resources, living as I do in a large American metropolis, I have no excuse for not getting the facts straight and passing them on to all who would here them. My research has blossomed into the following:


(couldn’t decide whether to say “WORLD CULTURE” or “WORLD CULTURES”. “CULTURES” sounds a lot more educated, but also reminds me of yeast and bacteria)

AFRICANS – They live either in the jungle or in big tent cities. Eat the hands of mountain gorillas. Dying of AIDS because of a lack of moral fiber. Colorful head gear.

AMERICANS– Residents of the continental USA. Devotion to freedom and rights of the individual allows them to vote for either a republican or a democrat every leap year. Pizza deliverable to every home. World’s best health care system. Internationally renowned for their kindness and generosity and their empathy for the plight of oppressed nations. Often hated because of their goodness.

AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINALS – Wear cowboy hats. Admire white Australians and help them out whenever possible. Can turn into animals at will. Religion involves “Dreamworks”.

BRITISH – Easily pushed around. Love Americans. Would never have had a Global Empire in the 19th century if it weren’t for America. Have stiff upper lips. 85% of men homosexual.

CANADIANS – Irritating little bastards with great social services, brilliant comedians and a low crime rate.

CHECHNYANS – Doubtful that a country called “Chechnya” actually exists.

CHINESE – No blue jeans. Lousy cigarettes. Can’t turn around for Chinese. Slightly irritated at responsibility of having to rule the world in the 21st century.

EGYPTIANS – Big mustaches. Big gray suits in 100 degree heat. Hats made out of pure gold.

FRENCH – Enjoy coffee, art, sex, language, film, and fine food. Naturally, they are to be hated and despised.

HAITIANS – Refuse to behave sensibly. 12% of population zombies. Can turn into animals at will.

INDIANS – Amusing accent. Geniuses with thin bones and big feet. It’s OK if they have nukes because they have a cool Elephant God. Embroiled in long-standing trade dispute with Pakistan over materials used to make fluffy sweaters.

IRAQIS – Best not go there.

IRANIANS – Big beards. Have outlawed color. Evil Arabs.

IRISH – Kind of like Bostoners who have moved to Arkansas and acquired a crazy accent.

ISRAELIS – All secretly working for Mossad. Fly around in F-15’s and Apaches. Know what Krav Maga is. Resent proximity to Iran, Iraq and Ireland in alphabetical lists.

KOREANS – The Mexicans of Asia. Have a north and a south.

KURDS – Like Turks but with no money.

NATIVE AMERICANS – Alcoholic, but very, very wise. Can turn into animals at will. Lots of blue flannel shirts.

PAKISTANIS – Indistinguishable from Indians. Not OK if they have nukes because they worship a strange and mysterious monotheistic deity that hates Americans. Embroiled in long-standing trade dispute with India over materials used to make fluffy sweaters.

RUSSIANS – Gangsters. Stunningly beautiful women with bad teeth. Like to weep while singing loudly. Have produced very few great jugglers.

SAUDIS – Still dress like the characters in “Lawrence Of Arabia”. People live either in large hotels or in tents. Almost as many F-15’s as Israel. Unlike the extremist countries, they understand that the USA is only trying to help.

SOUTH AFRICANS – Primarily white people with upsetting accents. Some not-white people there also. Great sharks!

SPANISH – Don’t eat as many burritos as Mexicans. Fight bulls.

SWEDES – Both males and females are 6’+ tall. Elimination of war, poverty and violent crime has driven them to alcoholism and sex addiction.

TAIWANESE – Blue jeans. Really good cigarettes. All women look like Faye Wong, all men look like Tony Leung or Michael Caine.

TURKS – Like Kurds, but with money.

UZBEKISTANIS – It’s true that there is a country called Uzbekistan, but it seems unlikely that people actually live there.

And so, in conclusion, I hope this has cleared up questions you may have had about world cultures. If you have any further questions about world cultures and what they are for, refer to your local television stations. If you don’t live in a country that has television stations, just ask around. People will be happy to set you straight.