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PCR Archives 2002
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Nolan's Pop Culture Review, 2002!

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Established A.D. 2000, March 19.  Now in our third calendar year!
   Number 109 (Vol. 3, No. 17). This edition is for the week of April 22--28, 2002.
The Weird Deaths of Hollywood

As I write these words (Monday, 4-22-02, just before this week's PCR comes out) word came in on the news that actor Robert Blake has pleaded "not guilty" to the murder of his wife Bonny Lee Bakley who died nearly a year ago. Blake's arrest last week at the home of his sister capped off that nearly year-long investigation by the LAPD, who said they had accumulated 900 pieces of evidence and a lot of "compelling" circumstantial evidence.

According to friends and family (and Blake himself, I think), Bonny Bakely had what could at best be called a dark and checkered past marked by scams and grifting. One of her latest was bilking lonely guys out of money after corresponding with them through lonely hearts columns. The list of folks who would like to see her dead was growing longer by the month.

And yet, in the end, the official finger of accusation points squarely at her husband, Robert Blake. Most notable at playing '70s TV-detective "Baretta", Blake was also one of the "Our Gang" staples among the last years the series was produced. Like many child actors he made a difficult transition to adulthood and while more succesful than other former child stars, some say he never really did shake off the memories. Many in the industry (and out) saw him as a loose cannon. The official charges say that with a gun brought by his bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, Robert Blake "lying in wait" outside a nightclub near LA, took the opportunity to shoot and kill his wife, who was waiting in their car. Blake and his attorney maintain his innocence and say the true killer is still at large.

This strange case reminded me of so many other bizarre cases in weird Hollywood. I suppose what's so weird is that we tend to think of Hollwwod stars as living in the lap of luxury, surrounded by material wealth, isolated from the "real" world---not at all the kind of people prone to early, violent deaths---or capable of murder.

Following below is a short list of the most notable cases involving violent celebrity deaths during my lifetime. As far as I know there is only one other case--O.J. Simpson--where a famous Hollywood actor/personality is actually accused of murder. The rest all suffered at the hands of others--or themselves. We start out with one of the saddest and underappreciated child stars of all time, who coincidentally, like Robert Blake, started out in the "Our Gang/Little Rascals" movies...

Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer
1959.
Born in 1926, "Alfalfa" Switzer, co-starred with George "Spanky" McFarland in countless "Our Gang" comedies of the 30s and 40s. (Robert Blake appeared toward the end of this reign.) Switzer's signature hair-parted-down-the-middle, pronounced cowlick, and off-key singing were instantly identifiable to several generations of moviegoers. After the series ended, Switzer went from one job to the next, barely getting by, until finally he was near-destitute.
   There are several versions as to Alfalfa's last days, but as near as I can tell: early in 1959, the now 32-year-old former child star and actor-friend Jack Piott went to collect $50 from a former bodyguard named "Bud" Stiltz. This debt had been argued over for months, stemming from a reward for Stiltz's lost dog that Switzer had to cough up and now wanted restitution for. During the confrontation, a drunken Switzer apparently threatened to beat Stiltz (ridiculous considering their size differences). Stiltz responded to the diatribe by brandishing a .38-caliber revolver. Then it gets a little fuzzy. According to Stiltz, Alfalfa attacked him with a knife, so he shot back in self-defense. According to a child witness present, but who police did not question, there were two shots and the second hit Switzer...in the groin (the newspapers reported "abdomen"). A closed pocket-knife fell from his hand as he collapsed to the floor. Stiltz claimed Switzer closed it on the way to the floor, which sounds patently absurd, but the police bought it. "Bud" Stiltz's murder of Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer was officially ruled self-defense.
George "Superman" Reeves
1959.
Sometime during a late-night casual gathering/party at his home, TV's Superman, George Reeves, complained of a headache, excused himself and went upstairs to his bedroom. Moments later, a shot rang out. The horrified party-goers discovered Reeves dead of a gunshot wound to the head, apparently self-inflicted---but that made no sense to anyone. Yet, with no one else to blame the police wrote it off as Reeves' despair at being typecast as "Superman". His friends and family say that's not true and there were and are too many questions remaining to be satisfied with the suicide explanation. There was never a thorough, official investigation of the death and the case was dropped.
   Many books and articles have been written on the subject and I think I have all of 'em. The police's recollection of the crime scene and the party-goers different attitudes and versions of what happened is truly unnerving. To say nothing of the lack of investigative follow-up.
   To me, the likeliest explanation is the jealous rage of his ex-lover of many years, Toni Mannix (wife of a mobster who liked George!), over Reeves' sudden announcement of his engagement to actress/dancer Lenore Lemmon, who he'd only known about six months, resulted in, well, a mob hit, basically. One or more present at the scene were probably in on it. And the police were likely ...er... discouraged...from digging any deeper.
Sal Mineo
1976.
Frustratingly hard to find info on this case. Among many of Sal Mineo's most notable roles, one that frequently springs to mind is the part of James Dean's gay friend in "Rebel Without a Cause". Dealing with his real-life homosexuality was difficult for Mineo, but he eventually adjusted to it. In fact, there was a scene shot for "Rebel" where he and James Dean kiss---but it was cut before release.
   Sal Mineo was killed by an an assailant behind his LA apartment in 1976. There was an explosion of speculation that it had something to do with jilted lovers, but his murder remains unsolved to this day.
   UPDATE 4-25-02. A tip of the hat to Mike Smith for alerting me to the fact that Sal Mineo's killer was caught. His name is Lionel Ray Williams and he was sentenced to life in prison in 1979.
Bob "Hogan's Heroes" Crane
1978.
This is definitely one of the saddest and most needless, and is also frustratingly unsolved. TV's "Col. Hogan" of "Hogan's Heroes" was a featured player in countless sitcoms, dramas and talk shows of the 70s and 80s. In 1978, after a brief career slow-down, Bob decided to do dinner theater. He got the lead in the play "Beginner's Luck" in Scottsdale, AZ. In the early morning hours of June 29, 1978, just a month after he started the play, Bob Crane was brutally murdered in his rented apartment/hotel room. He was beaten to death while he slept, and strangled with an electrical cord. He was 49 years old. The future had looked bright for Bob Crane. He was set to star in "Crash", a TV movie for ABC. Crane had one son and was separated from his second wife, Sigrid Valdis. To this day, the case remains unsolved.
O. J. Simpson/Brown/Goldman
1994.
One of the most onerous murder cases of all time. The one-time football star who had starred in several movies still maintains his innocence. On July 12th, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson, 35, and Ron Lyle Goldman, 25, were brutally murdered at Simpson's home in LA. Simpson and Nicole Brown had been married since February 1995 and Goldman was her friend. All evidence at the time seemed to point to Simpson attacking Nicole during some type of jealous rage. After a year of a badly-handled investigation (why does that happen in Hollywood so often), followed by the "Trial of the Century" attended by nearly every name/celebrity lawyer in Hollwood, a jury found Simpson not guilty. The public has never been satisfied with the verdict, considering it bought with high-dollar attornies unavailable to anyone lesser. Simpson has not worked in films or TV since. (Note: Simpson did lose the subsequent civil trial where the Goldmans sued for "wrongful death". While they were awarded many millions, as near as I can tell, they haven't been able to collect due to clever money-managing/hiding by Simpson.)
Selena
1995.
A rising Latin singer/dancer pop star whose rise to fame and very life was cut short by someone close to her, someone she trusted. It was Selena's own manager. Best as I remember she had just finished a concert at the Houston Astrodome in front of 61,000 fans. Someone brought word that Selena's manager, Yolanda Saldivar, had embezzled a lot of money from a chain of boutiques they owned. There was a confrontation that escalated. A gunshot rang out. Selena managed to make it to the hotel lobby for help, bleeding nearly to death. At 1:05pm, March 31, 1995, she was officially pronounced dead. Saldivar was taken into custody. She is currently serving a life sentence.
   While some might say this is not in the category of Hollwood/actor-type, more a musician-type, I'm making an exception because its high profile, its violence, and the movie based on her life makes it very Hollywood to me.
Phil Hartman
1998.
Star of Saturday Night Live and later, NewsRadio. Also did voices for "The Simpsons", most notably fallen actor Troy McClure and the weasley lawyer.
   The prescription anti-depressant Zoloft is blamed for triggering Phil Hartman's wife, Brynn, to shoot and kill him then kill herself (even tho post-mortem tests showed the presence of cocaine and alcohol in her system as well). There had been reports of the couple fighting, but also that she was prone to wild mood swings. Then suddenly--boom--it was over.
William Shatner's wife, Nerine.
1999.
This is neither a murder nor a suicide, but tragic and just plain weird. William Shatner had spent the day in Orange County until 9:00pm. When he returned to his LA home around 10:00pm he discovered his 40-year-old wife Nerine, to whom he'd ony been married 2 years, face down in the deep-end of their swimming pool, apparently having drowned while swimming.
   What the heck causes an otherwise healthy and attractive 40-year-old woman--married to Star Trek/Barbary Coast/Hooker/911 star William Shatner---to just die?? Say what you want about Shatner, but I felt really bad for him. I can't imagine what the suddeness of that must've felt like. Anyway, the coroner's report said she had a blood-alcohol level of .27 (3 times the legal driving limit) and Valium in her system when she entered the pool that August 8th. She apparently suffered a fractured neck and drowned.
Notable mentions...
It was my intention to cover the most famous murder/suicides of all time as they happened in and around the Hollwood scene. I did not include drug-overdose-induced deaths, even though a case could possibly be made that they are suicides. Along those lines would be John Belushi and Chris Farley, both overweight and tortured SNL alumnus.
   If I included rock stars' violent deaths, the first that comes to mind is John Lennon shot by a crazed fan outside the Dakota apartments in New York. I am not a rap music fan, but I understand there is an almost mob-like mentality regarding assassinations in that group, and The Notorious B.I.G. was something like a "rap-mob" hit.
   If we talk about drug overdose/possible suicides among musicians/rock stars, well, we'd be here all night. Some other time.


Goodbye, Lone Gunmen (we hardly knew ye?)
Wow, speaking of sad goodbyes. Last Sunday's (4-21-02) "X-Files" was one of the last of five episodes remaining for this series. And in it we saw the brave sacrifice of our friends The Lone Gunmen: Byers, Langley and Frohike.
   Agents Reyes (Annabeth Gish) and Doggett (Robert Patrick) are asked to find a female super-soldier who is suspected of being part of a plan to release a deadly super-virus. In on the case is our old friend (not) from Area 51, super-sleazoid Morris Fletcher (Michael McKean). The down-on-their-luck and nearly broke Lone Gunmen are asked by the agents to apply their super-hacker ability to try and locate this woman. Along the way, they not only find her, but are discouraged to discover that Fletcher is her father and he is working for foreign agents, but she is acting in defiance. The man carrying the current stage of the super virus is identified and must be stopped before he can release it. Time is of the essense, because the virus is "programmed" to explode from his body and infect the population within a few hours. The only "cure" is immediate surgery to remove cartilage the virus is living in.
   The chase ensues. They find the man at a convention. He spots them and runs, hoping to stall until the virus explodes (yes he's in on it). The Lone Gunmen trap him in a hallway with less than a minute to go. Unable to summon Fletcher's daughter in time (who must perform the surgery), the Gunmen make the ultimate sacrifice--Frohike (FRO-hickey) triggers the fire alarm, which drops the emergency doors. Now no one can escape, including Mr. Virus. Fletcher's daughter arrives in time to see this but can do nothing. The virus man begins to regurgitate the bile. The Gunmen have signed their own death warrants, but have saved the world.
   Interestingly, Scully (Gillian Anderson) only appears briefly in this episode, and then it's at the Gunmen's funeral.
The Lone Gunmen are (or were ): John Byers (Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood), and Ringo Langley (Dean Haglund).   Rest in Peace.


La Floridiana This week's issue
La Floridiana by William Moriaty
Book review--"The Mangrove Coast" 1998, Randy Wayne White, 319pp., Berkely Prime Crime Mystery.
Florida fiction authors are as varied as the Florida landscape--Carl Hiassen is the spokesman for Miami and the Gold Coast; Tim Dorsey's works favor Tampa and its outlying areas, Dan Allison features Pinellas County's beach communities, and Randy Wayne White bases many of his tales in Florida's southwest coast, sometimes referred to as "the Mangrove Coast".... .......................................................Click here for more.

Movie ReviewMovie Review
This Week's Movie Review:
"THE SCORPION KING"
Universal Pictures was so high on his 15 minutes of screen time in "The Mummy Returns" that they signed WWF star The Rock to do this "prequel" before the film even openend. Did the studio get their money's worth? The film reminds me so much of a funnier version of "Conan the Barbarian," with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson a much more relaxed actor then Arnold Schwarzenegger was at that period of his career....
Review by Michael A. Smith..................................Click here for more.

Matt's Rail This week's issue
Matt's Rail by Matt Drinnenberg
DIAMOND DAVE AND RED ROCKER UNITE. As PCR scoopster Mike reported in last weeks "Rant", Van Halen frontmen David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar, are joining forces for a summer tour to be called: Song for Song: The Heavyweight Champs of Rock and Roll tour...
COURT NOT VERY "SUPREME". What is it going to take in this country before the supposed higher learned individuals sitting in the Supreme Court start holding to law instead of re-writing it.... .................................Click here for more.

The Digital Divide This week's issue
Music Review by Terence Nuzum
Layne Staley: Rest in Peace....PLUS news on Smashing Pumpkins, The Virgins, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eliott Smith, and much, much more! Album reviews: GOMEZ: In our Gun and Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot ...........................Click here for more.

Deadguy's Dementia This week's issue
Deadguy's Dementia by Michael Scott
A.D.D.---Kids on Prescriptions Drugs
A couple of elements that seem to be overlooked, or perhaps simply not addressed in discussions on this topic, seem to me, to be vital explanations of why we're at this stage, and also helps predict the future outlook upon this item. We often compare these kids with ourselves as children, and how we were disciplined for behavior that kids these days are being prescribed medicine for. It's not a fair comparison by any means..... .................................Click here for more.

Mike's Rant This week's issue
Mike's Rant by Michael A. Smith
DON'T DO THE TIME IF YOU CAN'T DO THE CRIME........VIRTUAL PORN........ PASSING ON........ .....................Click here for more.


Letters to the EditorWe welcome your feedback.
Needless to say, around here we can really stir up emotions about the weirdest things. And nothing has inspired two of our wunderkinds of late than the debate over CGI graphics versus organic. It's pure fanboy suff and it's just where I live! I now present "Deadguy's rebuttal to Terence's letter"!---Nolan

Terence, c/o Nolan:
"Art is, to me at least, a way to communicate your feelings and/or ideas. That being said art is not and never will be mainstream entertainment. "Saving Private Ryan" was entertainment, but "Apocaylspe Now" was art." (Re: Terence's letter in "Letters", last issue.---N)

That, and the rest of your article was well written, but this phrase suggests that there was nothing artistic to the way the "Saving Private Ryan" battles (especially near the end) were filmed. I would disagree due to the fact that to me, Art in films is more about taking a walk off the beaten path, and exploring new ways to portray things. Even as subtle as an unusual camera move that helps in making a viewer feel more connected to the scene or to the emotional state of it's characters, or just to assist in setting-up a general mood for the viewer.

To me, "Apocaylpse Now" used tired old ways of presenting things that really didn't feel like anyone was "reaching" to do anything new. Essentially, most elements seemed to be the same old stuff we've all seen a thousand times in other similar movies, and only the storyline (plus actors, of course) had any REAL "art" to it.

I.e.,-- I thought that in [Viddywell Productions'] "Splattered Raw" there was an artistic element to that trucking move you did when the camera paced itself to match the potential victims movement to the edge of the shed AND the movement of the killer dragging his latest victim into his lair. I thought it was great! Yes, I'll admit to having seen that move before, but at least you were trying something that deviated from the norm. In this case, obviously, it wasn't a CGI effect, but that's Art, found in a simple camera trucking move. It's what could give a director a "signature," which in my opinion, makes it art all by itself.

So, if Art is "a way to communicate your feelings and/or ideas," then how does that relate in any way to stop motion without also relating the same way to CGI? My whole point is that CGI is merely another special effects tool that get's a LOT of crap for no apparent reason other than the fact that it's new, and it's on a computer.

Yes, as I mentioned originally, it's not always of the highest caliber, but it IS capable of fooling the eye when it's done correctly. Stop-motion will always look (to me, at least) like a series of little toys being manipulated to do things. The comparison you made between Dragon Slayer, and "Dragon Heart" wasn't really a fair comparison. The "Dragon Heart" dragon was never intended to look real. If they HAD used a realistic dragon it wouldn't have fit the story due to the comedic elements of the dragon's character. Just imagine how horrible that movie would have been if they'd used the "Dragon Slayer" dragon instead! Assuming that they could animate the dragon to a similar level of animation, it would still be dramatically out of place, though the movie would have cost several millions more due to the articulation required. SO, crappier, and more expensive... art? (Imagine for example, the scenes where the dragon argues with the knight while the knight is in his jaws).

The CGI used in "Dragon Heart" was raw anyways, the technology was still in it's infancy, and the film had HUGE gaping CGI mistakes all over the damn thing.

Since CGI 3D effects are still considered to be new technology, just imagine what they'll look like in a few years. Especially since you consider this: That little CGI short that Pixar made about 5 years ago, (the one with the animated desklamp bouncing on a deflating ball) took 75 hours of rendering per second of screen time. At the end of last year, the short was remade and was rendered in REAL-TIME (i.e.- as it occurs, rather than pre-rendering it), on a system even less developed than the one I have here at home.

"My friend John Villafane (who is going to school for 3-D animation) states, it is not seamless and it rarely if ever can look convincing." (Again, "Letters"---N)

"Rarely" is the key word there, and follows what I've said thus far. I appreciate the fact that you've got an expert opinion on the matter, but it doesn't take any 3D computer knowledge to judge the quality of an effect. "Star Wars Episode One" had countless CGI effects added to it. Not all of it was flawless, but there was A LOT that I'll bet folks didn't notice. For example, only ONE battletank was ever constructed for the movie, and it was only used twice, where there were specific scenes that required close-up interaction with it, it was used still shots only. The rest were CGI.

"As for the argument about CGI versus stop-motion, well, as most everyone knows, if they had continued to develop stop-motion it would have been superior by now." (Yep, "Letters"---N)

So why did "they" stop developing stop-motion? I actually remember seeing it in a new film recently, but the movie escapes me. I actually thought of you (and Nolan) when I saw it, and meant to tell you about it, but I obviously forgot about it.

The animatronics field still shows promise, but not to a point where it can do everything that the CGI modelling can do, it's simply not a fair comparison. CGI is considered the "wave of the future" while stop motion is quickly becoming "a thing of the past." It's quickly becoming cheaper to use than miniatures, but the primary reason it's overtaken stop-motion is that directors can have more control over the finished product.

I guess a clarification should be added to Terence's text. I suspect that Terence's CGI concerns revolve around 3D-generated characters, and their realism, etc, rather than the true generic term: "CGI" which I was referring to in my article.

The thing is, under Terence's definition of art, it suggests that if something was truly realistic, it would no longer be considered Art? The definition I gave for art, in my original text, was straight from the dictionary. According to Terence, the moment art succeeds in faithful representation of the real world, it ceases to be art. I, for one, don't agree with that.

One day it's possible that we'll wonder where all the CGI-based realistic 3d hooplah went, and we'll suddenly realize that it hasn't GONE anywhere, it's merely undetectable from the rest of the movie. Stop-motion couldn't evolve to that state, because as noted above, there are limitations to the mediums being used. I say let's move forward and embrace the new mediums which are BASED on the old technologies anyways!

Ask the stop-motion genius, Ray Harryhausen, what's required for ANY adjustments to be made in stop-motion, and he'll tell you what he told us in a lecture on the subject: "Do the whole damn sequence over again, hope your models are up to it, and hope that you are fortunate enough to have an assistant director that is VERY forgiving about time constraints."

Whew! All done.. is THIS what they mean by "exhaustive"?

P.S.-- Do you think Kubrick would have enhanced Agent Orange [A Clockwork Orange-ha ha] with CGI at all if the technology we have today had been availible to him at the time it was made? You can bet yer ass he would have! That's because he's no dumbass.

Of course perhaps he wouldn't use it the way Lucas would. heh heh

--Mike


And this came in a day later---Nolan

Where's the Art?
Nolan, you're right (re: your 2 cents in the Matt's article), that's why my original article begins with the fact that people are using arguments against CGI which don't make any sense to me. (ie- people saying they hate CGI because it of lack of realism, yet that appears to be what they like about stop-motion.")

It's not about liking, or disliking CGI, it's about admiting that it is a valid special effect method that is not invalidated by the concepts I started the article with.

In other words, stop motion is not superior to CGI, it's different, yet essentially equal. I've seen good and bad of both, and I agree that CGI at it's worst can definately be "uglier" than Stop-motion, but I've also seen that stop-motion can be pretty damn ugly too.

"Faceless geeks behind a computer..." that kills me (Re: my barb, in "Matt's Rail".---N) . What about faceless geeks behind their playdough? Or was Ray Harryhausen automatically famous when he started? gimme' a break.. why can't folks seem to understand that 3d-art IS art? The computer programs and hardware are the tool that the 3d artist uses to create art. A program may influence the eventual outcome, just like canvas quality may influence a painter's work, but it's still guided and directed by the artist himself, until it reflects the vision the artist desired to portray.

I guess people have the impression that since it cannot be viewed without a computer, or held, or licked, or whatever it is that you folks think you do to Art masterpieces in art galleries, it cant possibly be art.

Computers don't make art by themselves, unless you count the randomizer programs that can be used to make that random line art, or the Mandelbrot Set Artwork which is actually created by a single math equation (made by a filthy human, no doubt, though I still consider it to be computer driven-art). They CAN'T create art because there currently aren't any computers that are capable of initiating it's own internal desires or wishes.

To say that computers originate CGI effects is similar to suggesting that your pocket calculator can size the lumber required for a home add-on ALL BY ITSELF, without anyone doing more than explaining what the project was. I don't think your pocket calculator gives a crap about your house, let alone how much wood will be used an an extension of it. It certainly can't listen to you ask for the wood, so it certainly can't be asked to do the work. Does the SHOVEL dig the hole? or does the construction worker. Does a wrecking ball demolish buildings? or does the ball operator.

Most importantly, and I think this is proof positive of my point, and will hopefully let folks re-evaluate their stances and seek the psychiatric counseling they OH SO OBVIOUSLY need! (lol!)

If The Mona Lisa were originally painted on a computer, Who's vision would it be in the final work, the artist? or the computer? Who's perspective would it be, Who would select the colors, who would design the forms, who would determine the lay-out? who would use a mouse to pull and shape the resulting picture? who would determine the lift of the subject's chin, the "feel" given by the overall expression of the subject?

Or is the point of what you're saying suggesting that the resulting image would simply be a non-photorealistic computer output, rather than art, because the artist was obviously a faceless computer geek?

Would he have been better-served by simply scanning-in a photo of her face, or is the DIFFERENCE where "Art" is located? If so, then I guess art CAN be made on a computer... huh? wow, whoEVER would have guessed?

So.. does that suggest that a photograph cannot be artistic? (sigh..you people are hopeless!) ;)

Love ya'll.. I'm done with the subject, I've said what I could, and I'd love to hear a response on it, but unless directly asked, I'm not throwing anymore rebuttals out on this topic..

It's fun to see valid points coming up all over the place. It's been great but I have work I'd better attend to.

--Mike


To send an email to Letters to the Editor write to: Crazedfanboy1@aol.com.  Any emails sent to this address will be assumed intended for publication unless you specifically instruct me not to. I can and do respond privately, if that is your preference. Frequently, it's both ways.---Nolan


"Mike's Rant" is ©2002 by Michael A. Smith    "Matt's Rail" is ©2002 by Matt Drinnenberg    "La Floridiana" is ©2002 by William Moriaty    The movie review of "The Scorpion King" is ©2002 by Michael A. Smith    "Deadguy's Dementia" is ©2002 by Michael Scott    All contents of this issue's "Digital Divide" are ©2002 by Terence Nuzum    Add'l thanks to Mike "Deadguy" Scott for his input in "Letters"       All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova

Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of  Nolan B. Canova ©2002; all rights reserved.