Monday, December 31, 2012

Song of the Week: What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

I'm more familiar with Diana Krall's version of this song, but you can't go wrong with some classic Ella.  Happy New Year, everybody!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gone, Baby, Gone by, Dennis Lehane


Four-year-old Amanda McCready has gone missing from her Dorchester home. Her aunt, Beatrice, has called every law enforcement agency in town, hung flyers, and organized neighbors in a city-wide manhunt for little Amanda. At the end of her rope, she hires private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro to provide extra assistance.

Gone, Baby, Gone, the fourth book in Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie/Gennaro series, is considered one of his best, and it’s hard to disagree. The story is multi-layered, the characters are vivid, and the questions are big.

Four books in, Kenzie and Gennaro are starting to get tired. Not in the sense of being played out (hell, no!), but in the sense that all the stuff they’ve seen and done is starting to pile up. They are reluctant to take the case because they don’t want to find a four-year-old dead in a dumpster. Lehane packs in a lot of references to their encounter with Gerry Glynn (Darkness, Take My Hand). One of the cops they work with also tells Kenzie to keep his mouth shut or risk people finding out what really happened to Marion Socia (A Drink Before the War).

Going to enter into spoiler territory for a bit, so if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, you might want to bail on the next paragraph.

One of the big questions asked is about which is more important: the biological family or a loving family? Eventually, Patrick and Angie discover that Amanda is still alive and that the kidnappers are raising her as their own daughter. Amanda’s mother, Helene, is a poor parent and a sorry excuse of a human being. On the night Amanda was kidnapped, Helene was at a local bar with her friend while Amanda was home alone, asleep in an unlocked house. Angie argues that Amanda is better off with the kidnappers and that living with Helene will suck the life out of her. Patrick concedes that Amanda might be better off, but what the kidnappers did was wrong and it’s not their place to say Helene is an unfit parent. The disagreement causes a rift between them and they dissolve their partnership at the end of the book. Lehane gives both sides of the argument equal weight and allows the reader to decide which side they come down on.


A quick word on the movie: it’s a must see. It’s extremely faithful to the book, with some changes that make it work on the screen. Even though I’ve seen the movie a bunch of times and knew how things would turn out, the novel was still heart wrenching and extremely powerful.

One of the best reads of the year.

Highly recommended.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Song of the Week: Hey Santa Claus

If you're a fan of Christmas Vacation, you should recognize this tune.  If not, you better go watch that movie again.

There are The Moonglows with "Hey Santa Claus":

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaudete

The third Sunday in Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday.  I stumbled across the following clip last year and decided I must share it.  If you wade into the comments you'll see complaints about the temp and the Latin pronunciation (hey, it's YouTube, people have to kvetch about something), but I think it's gorgeously arranged.

Friday, December 14, 2012

MST3K Friday: 10 Best Clips

"There goes the last shred of dignity, folks."
"Now that I'm driving those caribou don't stand a chance."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Song of the Week: Jingle Bells

I've spoken about Tony DeSare a couple times on this blog already.  Every year he posts a video Christmas card of him playing/singing a holiday tune.  This year, he gives us "17 Funny Versions of Jingle Bells".  I was able to tell who he imitates at 2:40 after the first two chords.

Friday, December 7, 2012

MST3K Friday: Turkey Day '94

I know Thanksgiving was two weeks ago, but IT'S ADAM WEST!  Batman is your "Cheeesy Gormet".  Of the 14 movies shown in 1994, I've seen four (Mitchell, The Killer Shrews, Gunsligner, Zombie Nightmare).  I need to get watching.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Brubeck Tributes


The New York Times, as always, has a very good obituary.

WBGO has a post on their blog with links to a couple interviews Brubeck did with Michael Bourne. I remember hearing the first one when it aired back in 2003.

WKCR is having a memorial broadcast until 9pm tonight.

I'm sure there will be others.

If only we could get PBS or somebody to rebroadcast "Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way" or "Rediscovering Dave Brubeck".

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

RIP Dave Brubeck

My favorite jazz pianist David Warren Brubeck died today, one day short of his 92nd birthday (December 6, 1920 - December 5, 2012). He died of heart failure, en route to a regular treatment with his cardiologist. When your heroes start getting around 90, you begin to expect these things, but it doesn't make the news any less sad.  Like I said on Monday, I'm glad I got the chance to see him in 2007.

Around this time last year, he wrote a brief letter on his website talking about his retirement from touring.  He was known as a prolific traveler and the move to retire from touring must have hurt him.  Here is the opening to the letter dated December 20, 2011:

Dear Friends,
I celebrated my 91st birthday just two weeks ago today.  As Eubie Blake remarked on his 100th birthday, "If I'd known I was gonna live this long I would have taken better care of myself".  Although I have retired from touring, I'm still at the piano ever day and am thinking about doing another piano album of wonderful old tunes that most people have forgotten.  It seems I'm about the only one left who still remembers them.
[...]
I am so grateful to all of you who have followed my music through the years and surprised and happy when young listeners tell me they have discovered and like my music.  I hope this will lead them to explore more of the great jazz legacy.
Iola joins me in sending your way a warm wish for HAPPY HOLIDAYS and a blessed Christmas.
Dave

I'm sure he continued playing every day until his death.  Maybe we'll get that solo album, but in the meantime we can listen to the fabulous music he's given us over the decades.

I think his tribute song to Audrey Hepburn is fitting to post today:

He did things in his own sweet way.

Book Review: Harry Turtledove's American Empire series

During my senior year at college, a friend introduced me to Harry Turtledove. He had 2 books of the Great War series and I asked him about them because they looked interesting. For anyone who doesn't know, Turtledove is one of the premier writers of alternate history. The Great War and American Empire trilogies are based in a universe he created for a one-shot book called How Few Remain. In HFR, Lincoln was pressed to stop the fighting during the Civil War and recognized the Confederacy as a sovereign, independent nation. Flash forward to the early 20th Century (for the Great War series) and the United States of America and the Confederate States of America co-exist on North America, but not peacefully. The CSA has been riding high since seceding from The Union, while the US as never recovered from defeat. Lincoln's Republican Party has all but completely vanished; with the Democrats (lead by President Theodore Roosevelt) occupy the familiar position of pro-capitalism and strong defense. Their counterpart is the Socialist Party: pushing a progressive agenda similar to that of Democrats of the Wilson era. The long animosity between the two nations, and the fact that their loyalties are on different sides of WWI (US with Germany and CSA with England, France, and Canada), creates the unusual circumstance of battles being fought on the continent of North America.

Turtledove does an exceptional job telling the story, but there were always a few things about his style that didn't sit right with me. While engrossing, the books tended to be a slow read. One major complaint (shared by some other fans) is the sheer number of major characters. I've read books in the past with a lot of characters, but Turtledove has at least a dozen major story lines running through his works which hardly ever intersect. Not that its a real problem, but they're not exactly novels that you can put down for a week or two and pick up right where you left off.

With the American Empire series, the problems aren't quite as noticeable (unless I was expecting them and ignored them). There are still multiple threads of the narrative, but they seem to be more manageable. The AE series continues in the same universe mentioned above. In fact, most of the major characters from the WWI series return as major characters in this one (or their families in the case of characters who died). Empire takes place in the period between WWI and WWII and deals with many of the problems that the world faced in those years: treatment of minorities, suffrage, stock market decline, etc. One of the major themes is the rise of a Nazi-type party in the Confederacy, complete with a southern Hitler.

As with his previous trilogy, Turtledove weaves real-life historical figures into his books in fascinating ways. You'll find both Roosevelt presidents, Woodrow Wilson, Upton Sinclair, Joe Kennedy, George Armstrong Custer, and others. His characters are (of course) aging and it would be unreasonable to expect them to carry on into further books, but he manages to transition many of the storylines to future generations in very interesting ways. When a major character dies, their story is usually picked up by a son/daughter, their spouse, or in-laws. One story skipped an entire generation to the character's grandchild. All the events in this trilogy deal with the effects of WWI while building to WWII (Turtledove's Settling Accounts series currently in progress).

If you're interested in reading some good alternate history, I suggest you start with the Great War series (or How Few Remain if you can find it). To quote Larry Bond, "Anyone who loves history will love what Harry Turtledove can do with it."

Highly Recommended.

Great War: American Front, Walk in Hell, Breakthroughs
American Empire: Blood and Iron, The Center Cannot Hold, Victorious Opposition

Posted on the old blog 12/11/2004.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Song of the Week: Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

It's time to kick off the tradition of Christmas Song of the Week!  Thursday, December 6th is the 92nd birthday of my favorite jazz musician, Dave Brubeck.  He's one of the most prolific and most well-traveled musicians of our time.  Even in his 80's, he was on the road over 200 days of the year; more that a lot of musicians a quarter of his age.  It was only at age 91 that his doctors told him to stop accepting dates so far from his house in Connecticut.  I'm so glad that I got to see him in May 2007 in Morristown, NJ when he was at the positively young age of 86.

This week's song features the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet with Dave on piano, Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums.  "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town".


Friday, November 30, 2012

MST3K Friday: Turkey Day '92

OK, so I know Thanksgiving was last week, but there was no MST3K Friday last week.  When Mystery Science Theater 3000 was on Comedy Central, they had Thanksgiving marathons of the show.  The brains behind the show created bumpers to show between the movies and during commercial breaks.  Here are the bumpers for 1992's marathon.  Some of the movies shown in 1992 have appeared on previous installments of MST3K Friday.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

2004 In Books

Author's Note:  This is one of the earliest Year in Books posts I did on the old blog.  Anyone care to read what I thought of books back in 2004?

At the end of the year a lot of people put together their 10 best lists of the year (books, movies, music). Instead of doing that, I'm just going to give a blurb about each of the books I read during the past year. I still may try to put out full reviews of each book, but at least I can get my quick thoughts out. This may not be a complete list, but it has every book I've read since May 1st (I can't really remember what I read before that).

Personal Memoirs – Ulysses S. Grant: Grant wrote what some people call the benchmark that all presidential memoirs should be judged by. His style was very crisp and readable, which makes this a quick and informative read.

The Last Jihad – Joel C. Rosenberg: A geo-political thriller in the style of Tom Clancy (but without the military techno-speak). It had a very interesting premise and was well executed by the author. But there are some parts of this style that were a little distracting. He could go page after page of just dialog with no narrative whatsoever. Some parts (like his characters telling jokes) were kind of painful to read. With that being said, I’m still going to read his next book.

Theodore Rex – Edmund Morris: Biography of the presidential years of Theodore Roosevelt. I learned a lot I didn’t know about Roosevelt. Morris’s style is almost novel-like.

American Empire Trilogy – Harry Turtledove: see my review below. [SD: I'll post this review next week]

People Die – Kevin Wignall: a friend recommended this to me. It’s about a hit man who has the tables turned on him. The concept sounds like a typical action potboiler, but it’s mostly about character development with a few action scenes thrown in. I’m not sure if I liked it, but I’m going to check out Wignall’s next book before I make a final decision on him.

The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett: The classic noir novel. I was somewhat disappointed by this one. I love the Bogart movie and that’s what you get with this novel. Hammett’s prose is very tight and masculine and the movie is almost a direct translation of the novel. Not that that’s a bad thing, but reading the novel doesn’t add anything new.

The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler: Another one of the classic noir novels. Like The Maltese Falcon, the Bogart movie is a strict interpretation of the novel only diverging in a couple places. Chandler’s prose, however, is nothing short of genius. If I could write half as well has he could, I’d quit my job and write novel after novel.

Out of Sight – Elmore Leonard: The inspiration for the movie Out of Sight and the ABC show Karen Sisco. I was a fan show and had always heard about how good an author Leonard was. The dialog was very natural and Leonard has a very distinctive voice. There was just something about this book that I couldn’t get into. I didn’t connect with the characters while I was reading it. Even so, there were times weeks later that I couldn’t stop thinking about certain scenes in the book. I had to go out and buy a couple more Leonard novels.

The Mike Hammer Collection Vols. 1 & 2 – Mickey Spillane: very gritty, very noir. Spillane is the opposite of Chandler. Chandler’s prose has an almost literary style to it, while Spillane is more like a comic book. All the stories are pretty much the same: Hammer out for revenge. Spillane’s frankness toward violence and sexuality seem commonplace (and sometimes antiquated) today, but in the early 1950’s it was shocking. I found the stories entertaining, but definitely not for everyone.

Farewell, My Lovely – Raymond Chandler: another genius Marlowe novel by Chandler. He’s quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.

Get Shorty – Elmore Leonard: the basis of the movie. It’s not as funny as the movie, but still entertaining.

The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett: another disappointment by Hammett. The stories are interesting, but there’s something about his style that I can’t get into. I’m still going to read more of him.

High Window – Raymond Chandler: another good one by Chandler. He can just sweep you away with language. If you watch any noir picture of the ‘40’s and they say something like “he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food”, that was inspired by Chandler.

LA Confidential – James Ellroy: another good detective story. I seem to have read a lot of those over the summer. There is a lot more to the story than what was in the movie.

The Bushes: see review here.

Never Dream of Dying – Raymond Benson: a James Bond novel. It reads just like one of the movies. The giant set pieces come at the exact same intervals as they do in the movie. Very entertaining, but not high art.

Executive Power – Vince Flynn: the fourth in Flynn’s series about spy Mitch Rapp. Not highbrow stuff, but very entertaining action that rivals the best Clancy. I don’t think it was Flynn’s best work, but it was better than his previous effort: Separation of Power.

Hitchhiker's Guide Trilogy – Douglas Adams: the classic zany British comedy. I haven’t read these in about a decade. If you don’t know anything about it, you’ve been living under a rock for the last 30 years.

The Big Nowhere – James Ellroy: another part of Ellroy’s LA Quartet. The style is a lot more readable than the 2nd half of Confidential. Haven’t finished it yet, but I’m enjoying it so far.

Posted on the old blog 12/31/2004.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Song of the Week: Dance Me to the End of Love

It's become a cliche to compare Madeline Peyroux to Billie Holliday, but it is an apt description.  Billie is more raw and more heartbreaking, but both have a throaty quality you rarely hear with female singers.

From 2004, here is "Dance Me to the End of Love".

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty by Peter Schweizer and Rochelle Schweizer

Author's Note:  A very close friend and I have talked politics with each other since we were freshmen in high school.  We're on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but we've always had lively debates and have never gone to the "Bush is evil"/"Obama is a socialist" level of discourse that stains our politics today.  Quite often, he and I exchange political books as birthday/Christmas gifts.  This is a book he gave me back in 2004 and I reviewed on the old blog.

The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty, written by Peter and Rochelle Schweizer, is not so much about the Bush presidents as it is about the remarkable family that spawned them.  Starting at the turn of the century with the stories of Samuel P. Bush and George Herbert Walker, the authors chronicle the rise of the Bush family that almost mirrors the American story of the 20th Century.  The patriarchs of the Bush and Walker families worked very hard to make their fortunes, but in very different ways. SP Bush was a cautious investor, rarely taking risks, and slowly built up his vast fortune.  Herb Walker was a gambler.  He would make and lose vast amounts of money over the course of the year, but would always wind up ahead.  Following the stories of the Bush and Walker clans, you can see how they have influenced both Bush presidents.  George H.W. Bush was a sober, responsible man: like the generations of Bushes before him.  George W. Bush is more like a Walker: brash, headstrong, and adventurous.

Apart from the fascinating story of the Bush/Walker rise, the book is sprinkled with a lot of interesting historical tidbits.  One of the amazing characteristics of the Bush family is the ability to make and keep close friends.  When George H.W. was running his oil company in Texas, he took W. on a couple business trips with him.  During one of these trips, George and W spent time at the home of Jimmy Gammell, a Scottish investor with a major stake in Bush’s Zapata oil company.  While his father spent time going over finances and discussing their contract with Kuwait Shell Petroleum Development Company, W became friends with Gammell’s son, Bill.  Several years later, Bill Gammell went off to boarding school and became good friends with future Prime Minister Tony Blair.  After the September 11th terrorist attacks, Gammell would solidify his relationship with W by convincing Blair that Bush was someone to take seriously.

The Bush family can count 17 Presidents among their members (3 in direct blood line, 14 through marriage).  They are George Washington, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Rutherford B Hayes, James Garfield, Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and both Bush presidents.

The Schweizers did a good job of balancing the book.  It is not dry and academic, but reads almost like a novel.  They don't take a pro- or anti-Bush stance, but let the narrative speak for itself.  There are some parts, to be sure, where they gloss over some of the negative details of the Bush family history. If you are a Bush basher, you will probably not enjoy this book. If you are a supporter or open-minded person, there is a lot to be gained from reading this account of one of America's most influential families.

Posted on the old blog 11/11/2004.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Song of the Week: If I Needed Someone

Despite what I always say about Paul McCartney being my favorite Beatle, I've grown to be a huge fan of George Harrison.  I've recently made it a rule that I listen to the entire Beatles catalog at least once a year and I've discovered a lot of my favorite tunes are Harrison tunes.  This week's song is "If I Needed Someone" off of Rubber Soul and it has the distinction of being the only Harrison composition played by The Beatles during any of their tours.  (Side Note:  The Hollies recorded their own version of this song about the same time as The Beatles).



Bonus:  Eric Clapton played this song during the Concert for George.  I am continually struck by how much Dhani Harrison looks like his father.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

No More Heroes by, Ray Banks

Here's the thing - I've been trying all this time to live up to that f---ing label they gave me, so I reckon maybe it's time I either live up to it or die trying.

The history of the private eye genre is replete with heroes who wax on about the corrupt system and how one man can't make a difference.  These tarnished knights still try and usually succeed in bringing about some kind of justice, even if the official line covers up some of the more egregious sins.  Ray Banks falls squarely in the new tradition of noir which fully embraces the nascent nihilism of the genre.

Private investigator Cal Innes has fallen pretty far from when we met him in Saturday's Child.  He and a fellow named Daft Frank perform evictions for slumlord Donald Plummer.  No More Heroes opens with an eviction gone wrong and Cal getting the crap kicked out of him.  The following day, Cal and Frank visit another house which promptly bursts into flames.  Cal rushes in and rescues a trapped child.  The newspapers make a hero out of him and the newfound notoriety, plus the accumulated physical abuse, makes him quit the evictions job and put up his PI shingle again.  His first client is Plummer, who wants Cal to find out who burned his property.  The search takes him back and forth between student protesters and the English National Socialists (think Aryan Nation).

From the various injuries sustained in the prior books, Cal has a bad back, a drinking problem, and a growing dependence on codeine.  Like all addicts, he things he has it under control, but the repeated beatings he suffers in No More Heroes have him upping his dose so much he's popping painkillers like breath mints.  The physical abuse takes it's toll on Cal to a devastating result.  The climax of the novel takes place during a race riot between the ENS and the local Arab immigrants.  Cal must collect evidence from a car right in the heart of the riot, but he's felled by a stroke before he can get it.

The accumulated toll of violence is one of the aspects that puts modern writers like Banks apart from his predecessors.  PI's have always been punching bags, but few carry their injures from one novel into the next.  I'm curious to see how Banks incorporates the stroke into Beast of Burden.

Another thing that sets him apart is the complete embrace of the genre's bleakness.  Like I stated in the open, the official story might not be the whole truth, but the victims usually get some kind of retribution.  Innes and a reporter found who burned down Plummer's properties, but it was easier for the reporter to blame it on the ENS.  Much to Innes's dismay, the arsonists get away with the crime.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Banks doesn't wallow in violence.  The beatings Innes takes are brutal, but they're not meant to titillate, shock, or disgust.  You feel each bone-crunching blow and sympathize with Innes.  The violence happens for a reason and is executed by people who feel they have no choice, not because they like inflicting pain.

Banks's bleak tone and stripped down prose neatly convey what working class life in various parts of Britain must be like.  He is an author who deserves much more attention than he gets on either side of the pond.  I count myself as a fan.

Banks and the Cal Innes series are recommended.  Start with the first book to get the full impact of the series.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

MST3K Friday: Best of, vol 11

"Scrubbing bubbles! Scrubbing bubbles!"
"That's always nice, Sampson. Just torch everyone."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Song of the Week: Refugee

Like most of the Garden State, my area was hit hard by "Superstorm" Sandy.  Thankfully there wasn't any major damage to my area, but there were a crapload of trees down and power, cable, and phone service suffered major disruptions.  I personally was without power from 8pm last Monday until 6:30pm yesterday; nearly a whole week.

Now that power has been restored, I "don't have to live like a refugee" anymore.

Friday, October 26, 2012

MST3K Friday: Best of Volume 10

"Me? I'd rather have a case of Bass Ale."
"Yea, for truly this is the land of Dairy Queen."
"This is where the fish lives."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Wrong Goodbye, by Chris F. Holm

I must’ve spent a half an hour sitting there, marveling at the presumption, the sheer arrogance that pervaded every grisly slice. Eventually, though, I rose and left the camp behind, plunging once more into the jungle – this time heading south.

Toward Bogotá.

Toward Danny.

The return of Chris F. Holm's Soul Collector Sam Thornton, last seen in Dead Harvest, is a welcome one.  He may have averted a war, and completely screwed up a large section of New York City, but Sam enters The Wrong Goodbye a marked man.  Like a cosmic game of whack-a-mole, the angels and demons behind the plot have their eye out for Sam; ready to bop him on the head if he shows on their radar. Sam just wants to stay out of sight, but unfortunately for him, fate and an old friend have something else in mind.

Sam's mission is to collect the soul of a particularly nasty piece of work named Varela.  When Sam makes it to Varela's jungle hideout, he finds the man dead and his soul taken.  A rival collector, and old friend of Sam's, named Danny has taken the soul and offers it back to Sam in exchange for help.  The thing is, this is only the first stage of a long plan that could inadvertently bring about the end of the world.  Along for the ride is a Vegas hitman named Gio who had his soul repossessed, but is now inhabiting the body of an overweight food mogul.  (Bonus points for naming him Abe Froman. Yes, he is the Sausage King of Chicago).

With the second Collector novel, Holm both expands and enriches the world he so vividly created in Dead Harvest.  No longer confined to New York, Sam hops from Bogota to Chicago to Los Angeles, with some scenic stops in the American Southwest along the way. We learn more of the rules of the Collection game and about a group of beings called Deliverants.  Sam's first encounter with these nasty buggers is both creepy and memorable (warning: if you're afraid of bugs, this could give you nightmares for days).  Oh, and instead of a giant-ass fight on a helicopter, this book features a car chase on an LA freeway - complete with a body hop right in the middle of it.

Like the Dead Harvest/Red Harvest connection, this book's title is an homage to Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye.  Chandler's novel is in part a meditation on the relationship between Marlowe and a drunk named Terry Lennox and the importance Marlowe puts on their friendship. Anyone who's read that novel knows what happens to this friendship.  I can't help but think Sam and Danny's relationship is more than a little inspired by The Long Goodbye, considering Holm chose it as his title inspiration.

The upcoming third book in the series is titled The Big Reap (easy money on being inspired by Chandler's The Big Sleep) and I can't wait for it.

The Collector Series is highly recommended.

Friday, October 19, 2012

MST3K Friday: Premium Cuts, Mike era

So many good ones here.

"We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese."
"Anybody notice that I'm here now?"
"You still haven't figured it out yet, have you?" "We have. Can we leave?"

Monday, October 15, 2012

Song of the Week: Tomorrow Never Dies

Inspired by last week's song, this week is another James Bond theme song.  Goldeneye is probably my favorite Pierce Brosnan Bond movie, but "Tomorrow Never Dies" is my favorite Brosnan Bond song.  This one's been in and out of my head since last Monday.

Here's Sheryl Crow with "Tomorrow Never Dies":

Friday, October 12, 2012

MST3K Friday: Quickies vol 9

"Goofy suit?"
"Think they'd mind if we all left?"
"Here's a puzzler: who of these two is worse at their art form?"

Monday, October 8, 2012

Song of the Week: Skyfall

Last week, the theme song for the next James Bond movie was released.  Continuing the trend of getting popular artists to do the themes, this movie's song is by Adele.  I have to say, I like it.  I like the opening horns and the strings in the chorus.  Those are very Bondian touches.  Take a listen and see what you think.

Friday, October 5, 2012

MST3K Friday: Quickies, vol 8

The Foley guy must really have liked his job during the fight scene at 0:30.
"I understand now, Gallagher is funny."
"I saw the little creature."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Political Slogans

My post on humor and politics from waaaaay back is still one of the ones that gets the most hits.  The problems I talked about then still exist and in some ways have gotten worse.  Did you read Krugman's reaction to this Roger Simon story?  What our Nobel laureate friend failed to realize is Simon's piece was satire.

Speaking of satire, here's a clumsy attempt of my own:

To: Romney for President
From: SCD Associates, LLC
Re: Campaign Ideas.

Given the recent kerfuffles surrounding The Candidate, we'd like to offer our services in a rebranding campaign.  We feel "Believe In America" is a nice slogan, but it doesn't help The Candidate connect with voters.  As a side note, in some of our recent polling groups have connected the slogan with the opening scene of The Godfather.

We believe that by employing a little humor, we can defuse not only the recent missteps, but also the image that The Candidate is cold, stuffy, and too "corporate".  Please review the attached proof and let us know what you think.

We look forward to working with you and The Candidate.




To: Obama for America
From: SCD Associates, LLC
Re: Campaign Ideas.

Hello and thank you for your recent interest in our company.  In response to your question, we don't think "Forward" is a good slogan for The Candidate.  It's not as catchy as "Hope and Change" was, and is much too easily mocked by The Opponent.  Already, we've heard it mischaractarized as "Forewarned" and also the repeated claims that The Candidate wants to take America "Forward" over the "debt cliff".

Given how close we are to Election Day, we don't think there's time for a rebranding effort, so we've taken a look at what you've done so far.  After reviewing The Candidate's speeches as well as those made by former President Bill Clinton, we see a theme developing.  Our advice is to embrace that theme and go all out with it in the remaining weeks.

Please review the attached proof and let us know what you think.

We look forward to working with you and The Candidate.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Song of the Week: I've Been Away For Too Long

For the first time since 1996, there's a new Soundgarden album coming out.  I was never a big fan of theirs the first time around, but I became a fan of Chris Cornell after he did the theme to "Casino Royale".  If the rest of King Animal sounds like this (or sounds like Soundgarden circa Superunknown), I'll have to give it a shot.

Here's the new Soundgarden single "Been Away Too Long":

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Moneyball, by Michael Lewis

Moneyball is a quest for something as elusive as the Holy Grail, something that money apparently can't buy: the secret of success in baseball.

If you've seen the movie Moneyball, a lot of the broad strokes of Lewis's book will seem familiar.  There's Billy Beane getting angry.  There's Billy Beane trusting numbers and his Harvard educated assistant over his scouts who say a player has a "bad body".  There's the improbable 2002 run with Scott Hatteberg at first base and a 20 game win streak.

The difference in each version is the focus.  Moneyball the movie is a dramatization of the real-life story, so it's focused on the who and when.  Moneyball the book is focused on the how and the why.

After reading the book, you start to realize that it took someone like Billy Beane to apply Sabermetrics to baseball.  Beane was a top prospect for the Mets in the early 1980s (some thought was better than Darryl Strawberry).  He had a plus arm, plus power, plus bat, plus everything.  And he looked like a ballplayer.  He tore through the minors, but ended up being a journeyman for 5 years before calling it quits and getting a front-office job in Oakland.  The "can't miss" prospect touted by all the scouts missed big time (career average .219, 66 hits, 29 RBI).  If the scouts were wrong about Billy, how could he trust their advice when he was now the guy picking players?

Enter Bill James. A baseball writer and statistician who wrote a popular series of baseball abstracts from 1977-1988, James wrote about stats and trends rather than recount the stories of great games and great plays. He wanted to quantify what separates "good" players from "bad" players.  Essentially, he wanted to know why some teams won and some lost.  When Beane assembled his team of advisers and assistant GMs, they were guys who grew up reading Bill James and ended up getting degrees in things like economics and statistics.

The book is well written and well researched.  There are a lot of colorful stories from the athletes we meet that will keep any baseball fan entertained.  Lewis's prose is clear and direct, which you would expect from an experienced reporter like him.

Moneyball, both movie and book, are recommended.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Song of the Week: Sense

This week's band looks to be another one-off like Silvertide.  Tenpenny Joke is/was an Australian band formed in 1997, released a good album in 2005, and announced a brief hiatus in touring in 2010.  I stumbled across this song over the summer and immediately had to seek these guys out.  I couldn't put my finger on one band to describe their sound.  They have bits of Stone Temple Pilots, Tool, Sponge, and then there is their own unique sound - something I've only heard in the handful of other Australian bands I've heard.

Favorite songs are "Sense" (embedded below) and "She".  The interesting thing is they're not even representative of the overall sound of their album.  Most of their tracks are available on YouTube, so if you dig their sound, I recommend listening to the others.

Friday, September 14, 2012

MST3K Friday: Quickies

Here are some random clips.

"Good God where?" "In the water."
"Time for go to bed."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Code Complete by, Steve McConnell

In this post, I'm going to break two of the rules I typically follow for this blog.  I'm going to talk about myself and I'm going to talk about work.  If you don't care about programming, you're not going to get much out of this review.

Here's a little about me to set the table.  As my bio states, I'm a senior software engineer for a smaller company (150 employees).  I have a couple Microsoft certifications and am about a decade into my career (how'd that happen?), so I'm certainly no newbie when it comes to software development. That this is the first time I've read McConnell's seminal Code Complete 2 is a travesty and a tragedy.

This book should be every professional developer's Bible.

McConnell writes about the process of development in clear, straightforward language without proselytizing a specific strategy.  What he cares about more is making developers more thoughtful and preaching the idea of developing your own software development heuristics.  For me, his advice falls in to three categories:  things that underscore things I've pieced together instinctively over my career, things that are common sense, and new ways to combat the thorny issues that arise during the development cycle of any program.

One of my favorite chapters is Chapter 9:  The Pseudocode Progrmming Process.  This process is one that I've used on many occasions for ultra-complex methods, so it was validating to see it in print.  After reading the chapter, I wanted to make photocopies and give it to all the junior devs on my team and make them read it before we start on the next big project.  The term "pseudocode" refers to an informal, English-like notation for describing how an algorithm, a routine, a class, or a program will work.  The PPP defines a specific approach to using pseudocode to streamline the creation of code within routines.  The idea is to write pseudocode at "the level of intent".  Describe the meaning of the approach rather than how the approach will be implemented in the target language. (McConnell, 218)

Other sections I'd like to call out are Chapter 18 on Table-Driven Methods (something I was unfamiliar with), Chapter 21 (especially 21.3 on Formal Inspections, something I may try to implement at my company), and Chapter 34 - Themes in Software Craftsmanship (basically a high-level review of the major topics in the book).

McConnell draws on quite a few other books and papers to buttress his ideas with hard data about how even mundane things like variable naming and commenting can improve software development and maintenance.  One of the things that shocked me, though it shouldn't have considering my experience with QA departments, is how many more defects are found though code and design reviews than are found in testing.  The idea set forth in Chapters 20-23 is that it is more cost-effective to find bugs upstream (earlier in the process) than downstream (after coding).

I've always said programming is an art; anyone can do it, but it takes a certain natural talent to be a good programmer.  McConnell's idea is that it programming is a craft - a point between art and science. (McConnell, 848)  Code Complete is about taking the steps you need to become a master craftsman.

This book belongs on any serious developer's bookshelf.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Song of the Week: Ain't No Rest for the Wicked

Tomorrow night, Sons of Anarchy begins its fifth season.  A kick-ass show, even with some of my past disappointments with it.  If you aren't watching it, you're missing out.

Here's a nice fan made video to promote the show.  The song is Cage the Elephant's "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked".

Friday, September 7, 2012

MST3K Friday: Diabolik

Danger: Diabolik was the last movie riffed by MST3K and it was always one of my favorites.  A goofy Italian spy movie from the 1960's?  What could be better?

"She's a GREAT Samaritan."
"Is that Stud coming?"

Monday, September 3, 2012

Song of the Week: Rapunzel

I was never a real big Dave Matthews Band fan.  Lots of my friends were/are.  I know some guys who eagerly anticipate each new album and have seen him in concert, no joke, 25 times.  That's not to say they don't have some great songs.  "Rapunzel" is one of my faves. The opening riff is catchy as hell and I really like the tonal shift around the 3:20 mark.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Queenpin by, Megan Abbott

I want the legs.

A young woman hired to keep the books at a seedy nightclub is taken under the wing of the infamous Gloria Denton, a mob luminary who reigned during the Golden Era of Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano.  Suddenly, the world is at her feet - as long as she doesn't take any chances, like falling for the wrong guy.

Megan Abbott's Anthony nominated 2006 short story "Policy", which appeared in the collection Damn Near Dead, was the genesis for Queenpin.  It featured the same setup, the same characters, and the same killer opening line.  A throwback to the era of pulp, Queenpin won the 2008 Edgar Award.

When you boil it down to the core elements, Queenpin is pretty standard noir, only with the gender roles reversed.  Gloria Denton schools our unnamed narrator in how to make fat stacks of cash and stay safe and alive.  The girl falls in love with a gambler in the middle of the rottenest streak of bad luck you'd ever seen who tempts her to double cross her boss.  Double and triple crosses ensue until everyone is doing what they can to stay ahead of both the gun and the law.

What makes Queenpin a whole heck of a lot of fun are the well drawn characters and Ms. Abbott's ability to echo the patois of noir without making it sound like parody.  That's a feat few modern authors can pull off.  Within mystery circles, each new book by Ms. Abbott is greeted with anticipation and ebullient praise.  I'm definitely going to check out more of her work.

Recommended.

More praise for Queenpin here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Devil May Care by, Sebastian Faulks

"What an enormous pleasure to meet you, Mr. Bond. Now, shall we play?"

Bullets, babes, and booze make the James Bond formula one of the most successful, and most copied, franchises in the whole world.  Ian Fleming's 14 novels have been followed by another 14 from John Gardner, 6 from Raymond Benson, and 23 official movies featuring the adventures of the British Secret Agent.  Ian Fleming's estate commissioned author Sebastian Faulks to write a new Bond adventure to be released on the author's centennial on May 28, 2008.  Faulks approached his novel as if it was a 15th Fleming book - placing it 1967, shortly after the events of Fleming's last novel, and doing his best approximation of Fleming's style.

The target of Bond's assignment is Dr. Julius Gorner, a power-crazed pharmaceutical magnate who has taken up an interest in opiate derivatives, both legal and illegal.  As befitting the best Bond villains, he has a physical deformity - his right hand is that of a monkey's paw.  Oh, and his top henchman has undergone a surgical procedure that makes him impervious to pain.  Gorner has a fiendish plan to topple the British Empire and turn the Cold War into a hot war by antagonizing the Soviets.

While I liked the Benson and Gardner novels I read, most of the recent Bond books read like the Bond of the movies.  For Benson's in particular, I could almost see Pierce Brosnan performing the stunts and spitting out the quips.  The words on Devil May Care's book jacket ("Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming") is more than just marketing hype; Faulks's Bond feels like Bond as he was created in the books.

Since the novel was written for Fleming's centennial, Faulks put in a lot of nods Bond's past.  There are appearances by Rene Mathis (Casino Royale) and Felix Leiter, as well as references to old Bond villains.  I think the book that got the most references was From Russia With Love.  Bond uses the alias David Somerset, thinks about Kerim Bey, and there's even an homage to the train fight with Red Grant.  Many more may be found be eagle-eyed Bond fans, so I won't spoil any more.

There are certain instances where Faulks might stick too closely to the Bond formula, but it works.  Devil May Care is a fun, exciting read that keeps you turning the pages.  I could have used a few more Bondian quips, but it was good to see 007 back in action one more time.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Song of the Week: Texas Flood

This is the last week of our place-themed Songs of the Week.  They were all going to be city names, but then I noticed the last Monday in August was the 27th - the 22nd anniversary of the premature death of Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Here's an awesome live version of his hit song "Texas Flood".

Monday, August 20, 2012

Song of the Week: St. Louis Blues

Another week, another city tune, another city in Missouri. "St. Louis Blues" is one of the fundamental songs that belongs in any jazz musician's repertoire.  Since Dave Brubeck is my favorite musician, here's a version he did live in Belgium in 1964.  This is the classic version of his Quartet with Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Song of the Week: Kansas City

Anyone who knows me would probably think I'd take The Beatles version of this tune.  Instead, I'll use Fats Domino's rendition of the classic Leiber and Stoller song.

Friday, August 10, 2012

MST3K Friday: The Teenage Strangler

This collection is the "best" of the character Mikey from Teen-Age Strangler.  Two observations: 1) why does he have a Southern accent and his brother doesn't?  and 2) Steve Urkel could beat the crap out of this guy.

"I think we found Waldo."


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Things I Think I Think

Yesterday, I read a brief remembrance of critic Robert Hughes, long-time art critic for Time, who died this week at age 74.  I'd never heard of Hughes, but he sounds just like the sort of outsized character who used to roam newsrooms across the country.  The Daily Beast has a nice roundup of quotes from Hughes, but there's one I like most.  A former associate of his says this one "pretty much sums him up in his own words":
I am completely an elitist in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense. I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling, the aesthetically developed to the merely primitive, and full to partial consciousness. I love the spectacle of skill, whether it’s an expert gardener at work or a good carpenter chopping dovetails. I don’t think stupid or ill-read people are as good to be with as wise and fully literate ones. I would rather watch a great tennis player than a mediocre one, unless the latter is a friend or a relative. Consequently, most of the human race doesn’t matter much to me, outside the normal and necessary frame of courtesy and the obligation to respect human rights. I see no reason to squirm around apologizing for this. I am, after all, a cultural critic, and my main job is to distinguish the good from the second-rate, pretentious, sentimental, and boring stuff that saturates culture today, more (perhaps) than it ever has. I hate populist s***, no matter how much the demos love it.
Sounds about right to me.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Crime City Central

In early July, a new crime fiction podcast debuted:  Crime City Central.  Every week, they will present an audio version of a crime short story.  The first episode featured a story by Lawrence Block, so I had to check it out.  The most recent one (OK, looks like there's been one more) is Chris F. Holm's "A Simple Kindness". It's a killer story, so if you have a half hour to burn, I recommend checking it out.

Direct link to the episode here.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Song of the Week: The Sidewalks Of New York

For August, I'm going to do something a little different - a theme month!  Each week's Song of the Week will have a place name in its title.

Edward Kennedy Ellington (1899-1974) is probably the greatest composer, American or otherwise, of the 20th Century.  I've always been, and will continue to be, a big fan of Gershwin, but it's hard to compare anyone with Duke's output (over 1,000 compositions) and influence.  Though he's primarily categorized as jazz, Duke's music spanned multiple genres.

This week's tune is "The Sidewalks of New York".

Friday, August 3, 2012

MST3K Friday: The Crawling Hand

"Hey, they all have stripes in their hair." "Yeah, looks like the Land of the Skunk People."
"She needs about 150 hours of beauty sleep."

Monday, July 30, 2012

Song of the Week: She's Got the Rain

This week's song comes to us from Fastball's 2009 album Little White Lies.  I've featured the band before with "Fire Escape" and "Mono to Stereo", but I figured it was time for them again.  I listened to my Fastball CDs last week and was reminded how great an album Little White Lies is.

Here's the track "She's Got the Rain":

Friday, July 27, 2012

MSTK Friday: Monster A-Go Go

"Thank goodness my Allstate man was on the scene."
"Now there's a man outstanding in his field."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pronto by, Elmore Leonard

Miami bookmaker Harry Arno is living the good life.  He's got a great house, tons of money, a girlfriend half his age, and a plan to retire to a nice, quiet spot where no one can find him.  The Feds want Arno to slip on his boss, the overweight mobster Jimmy Cap.  When Arno refuses, they put out word that he's been skimming, so Cap puts a hit out on him.  Arno moves up his retirement schedule, gives his protective custody the slip, and hightails it to Italy.  Pretty soon he's got Jimmy Cap's button man, Tommy Bucks, and a certain Deputy U.S. Marshal on his tail.

I read Pronto because I'm a fan of Elmore Leonard and the F/X show Justified.  Wait...Justified?  Yes, the U.S. Marshal referenced above is our old pal Raylan Givens.  The pilot of the show uses the incident with Tommy Bucks, along with the short story "Fire in the Hole", as the reason Raylan is back in Harlan County, Kentucky.  I couldn't help but hear Timothy Oylphant's voice for the majority of Raylan's dialogue.

While most people would be drawn to this novel because of Raylan, the real protagonist is Harry Arno.  Harry's big problem is that his illusions keep getting burst and he doesn't know why.  He thought Jimmy Cap would dismiss the skimming rumors because he was a good earner for so many years.  He picked out a nice spot in Italy for his retirement, only to find it cold, damp, and lonely.  And (mild spoiler alert) he couldn't believe that his girlfriend would leave him for Raylan, who is closer to her own age.

As with all Leonard novels, Pronto is chocked-full of colorful characters and razor sharp dialogue.  He certainly loves to throw people in a room and watch them bounce off each other.

If you're a fan of Elmore Leonard or Justified, you should definitely pick this one up.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Song of the Week: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

How about a little Stevie Wonder for this week?  This is most likely my favorite song of his:

Friday, July 20, 2012

MST3K Friday: The Killer Shrews

The ship's captain, and our hero, is played by James Best, also known as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane from Dukes of Hazzard.  Not only is a sequel to The Killer Shrews being filmed (why?), but it brings back Best and teams him with John Schneider - Bo Duke himself!

"Robinson Crusoe can't play Dixieland jazz..."
"How big do they get?"  "How big does the music make it sound?"

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I Fought The Law...

Students of corporate law learn about the celebrated British case of Salomon v. Salomon & Co. (1897) in which a shoemaker successfully sued a corporation whose only shareholders were himself, his wife, and his children. Well, here is a fellow in Lodi, Calif., taking the principle one step further. Curtis Gokey, a Lodi city employee who drives municipal dump trucks, backed one into a private vehicle owned by . . . himself. It seemed reasonable to Mr. Gokey to sue the municipality for damage caused by Gokey (employee) to the property of Gokey (citizen). When the claim was denied, Mrs. Gokey raised the banner that had been dashed from the hands of her husband, and filed suit for an even larger amount, on the grounds that her name also appears on the insulted vehicle’s registration. A defendant who represents himself is traditionally said to have a fool for a client. What should we say about a plaintiff who sues over damages caused by himself? Only, perhaps, that the litigious vapors that permeate every aspect of modern American life have deprived him of his senses.

Posted on the old blog 3/31/2006.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Song of the Week: Negro y Azul

Last night was the season premiere of Breaking Bad's fifth season.  Great show that I recently got up to speed on.  Some of the early going is slow, but, it's all in service of building tension.  The writers and actors do fantastic work delivering not only high-stakes drama, but some wickedly funny black humor.  One of the best shows on TV these days.  I might have to write more about it one of these days.

This week's Song of the Week is the opening of Episode 7 of Season 2.  It pretty much recaps our story up to that point.  Enjoy Los Cuates De Sinaloa singing "Negro y Azul".

Friday, July 13, 2012

MST3K Friday: Giant Spider Invasion

I can't believe I haven't posted a clip from Giant Spider Invasion yet.  I thought I had, so I always skipped it when I came across a "best of" on YouTube.  This season 8 episode of MST3K features Alan Hale, Jr. - better known as The Skipper from Gilligan's Island.  We've got movie sign, little buddy.

"Disturbing the peace?"  "We can do that!"
"We can't hunt, we're not drunk enough yet."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hidden Treasures: Titus Welliver

Should I call this actor a Hidden Treasure?  Over the past 20 years Titus Welliver has appeared in nearly 100 movies and television shows, but I wonder how many people know his name.  His face, sure.  He's been in LOST, Sons of Anarchy, The Good Wife, NYPD Blue, and a lot of other high-profile television shows.  He also had a pivotal role in the movie Gone Baby Gone.  But perhaps he is most well known for his role as Silas Adams on Deadwood.

HBO's western, Deadwood, is the latest series I'm watching as part of my Great TV Catch-Up project.  Over the past couple years I caught up with a number of shows people have called "The Best TV Show ever", including The Shield, The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad.  Currently I'm in Deadwood with Battlestar Galactica probably on deck.

Welliver is known primarily as a dramatic actor, so it was a pleasant and fun surprise to come across a clip of him on the Deadwood DVDs doing impressions.  He is spot on and completely hilarious.  Here he is playing different A-List actors auditioning for the role of Al Swerengen. You've got Pacino, Christopher Walken, Robert Duvall, and Robert DeNiro.



Even better is this clip where Welliver does Al Pacino at different times in his career.  It's uncanny.  Most people do the current Al "Hoo-Hah" Pacino well, but who can do all three this well?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Song of the Week: Rocket Man

Three years ago this week was the last time I saw Billy Joel and Elton John in concert.  As always, they put on a heck of a show.  You can catch some glimpses of the trippy video behind him, and I think it may be the same one he used at Nationals Stadium.  Anyway, I think this version Elton did live at Madison Square Garden on his 60th birthday is good example of how fun he is live.

Friday, July 6, 2012

MST3K Friday: Alien From LA

This is one MST3K movie I haven't seen.  Judging by this short video, it's fairly obvious why Kathy Ireland is famous as a model and not as an actress.

"I left him by the taco stand, and now I can't find him."
"Suddenly it's the end of Highlander."



Since this montage is about half the length of the normal MST3K Fridays, here's one of the host segments from the episode.  Mike and the 'bots sing an ode to Kathy Ireland.  Consider this a DVD extra:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Savages by, Don Winslow

"F--- you."


The uncensored version of the above is the first sentence of Don Winslow's Savages.  Hell, it's the whole first chapter.  Winlsow, author of The Dawn Patrol and California Fire and Life, brings his trademark gonzo style to bear on the drug war.

Our heroes are a trio of stoners.  Chon is a former SEAL who saw action in I-Rock-and-Roll and Stanland.  He suffers from PTLOSD - that is Post-Traumatic Lack of Stress Disorder.  Ben, his super-genius best friend, has a head for business and botany.  How does he put his smarts to use?  By growing the finest weed you can possibly imagine, of course.  Rounding our our trio is their shared slacker girlfriend O (short for Ophelia).

Ben and Chonny's brand draws the attention of the Baja Cartel, who is looking to move up norte.  After being rebuffed on their takeover offer, they kidnap O and force Ben and Chon to work for them.  Talk about harshing your buzz.  Ben and Chon think this is very uncool and show the BC exactly how savage they can be.

The best word to describe this book is baditude.  Ben and Chon have it.  Winslow has it in spades.  Words spill onto the page in what sometimes looks like free verse poetry.  The short sentences and chapters propel you forward so fast that when you finally take a breath you realize you just blew through 60 pages without batting an eye.

It's no wonder Oliver Stone made a movie out of it.  (Coming to a theater near you on July 6th).

Savages is profane, violent, sexy, and, at times, uproariously funny.  I still think The Dawn Patrol is my favorite Winslow book, but, damn, is this a good one.

Highly Recommended.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Song of the Week: Driving the Last Spike

Another great tune from Genesis's We Can't Dance.  This one's been popping into my head a lot recently.

Friday, June 29, 2012

MST3K Friday: Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders

"What can we do for our young friend?"  "Show me the exit?"
"The cat was made of oily rags."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Tyranny of Cliches, by Jonah Goldberg

In 1946, George Orwell published his famous essay “Politics and the English Langugae”, decrying what he saw as sloppy writing driven by lazy thinking. His argument was the English Language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” Orwell makes it clear that he has "not been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing thought.” Despite his injunction, we can see that in the intervening seventy years, very few have heeded his advice. Chief among language's abusers have been academics and politicians.

Syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg's latest book, The Tyranny of Cliches, is a sort of spiritual successor to Orwell. After numerous speaking engagements (and, most likely, watching a lot of cable news), he started to notice a trend. People mouth all sorts of cliches (“I disagree with you, but will defend your right to say it”, “Violence never solved anything”), defending principles they haven't really thought through. These outbursts are a way to avoid arguments by not even making them. People invoke these cliches as placeholders for arguments not won or ideas not fully formed. And these are usually the same folks who denounce a truly thought-out position as “ideological”.

Anyone familiar with Goldberg's columns knows he makes his arguments with a combination of serious research and humorous pop culture references. He's a writer who is at home quoting anyone from William F. Buckley, Jr. and Thomas Sowell to Jean-Luc Picard and Ron Burgundy. In the span of two paragraphs in his chapter on ideology, Goldberg references Fredrick Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Steven Bochco's Cop Rock. We're all familiar with parents hiding medicine in applesauce to make it more palatable, well, Goldberg's writing is like hiding your medicine in a hot fudge sundae.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Song of the Week: I Don't Wanna Go

Tomorrow (6/26/12) marks the release of Blues Traveler's tenth studio album, Suzie Cracks the Whip. In anticipation of that, here's one of their new songs:  "I Don't Wanna Go".

Friday, June 22, 2012

MST3K Friday: Master Ninja

I've been going through my Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX collection recently, and just watched the two Master Ninja movies.  They're basically episodes of a failed TV show called "The Master" smushed together to form a feature.  What else can I say except it's a good example of a really bad, really cheap 1980's action television show.  It starred Lee Van Cleef (High Noon, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) and Tim Van Patten.  Van Patten's acting is horrible, and Joel and the 'bots have loads of fun with it. While his acting career went nowhere, Van Patten has had great success behind the camera, directing 20 episodes of The Sopranos, 8 episodes of Boardwalk Empire, 3 of The Wire, and one of Deadwood.  He also recieved story credit, with Terence Winter, on the beloved Sopranos episode "Pine Barrens".

One fun thing about the Master Ninja movies is how many recognizable faces show up.  The second movie features Crystal Bernard, David McCallum, and one-time Bond George Lazenby, while the first features a very, very, very young Demi Moore.

Unfortunately, there are no "Best of " clips on YouTube, but you can find the full movies (Master Ninja and Master Ninja II).  Instead, here are Joel, Servo, and Crow rapping their own version of the Master Ninja Theme Song:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Coriolanus (2011)

Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) is a great Roman leader and fearless warrior for the Republic.  When an uprising by the Volscians, led by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), threatens Rome, the Senate sends Caius Martius to dispatch the threat.  He does so, earning even greater admiration and the cognomen of "Coriolanus".  At the prompting of his mother, he accepts the nomination for consul and effortlessly wins the post.  However, two Senators plot to turn popular opinion against Coriolanus and succeed in banishing him from Rome.  Now an exile, he tracks down Tullus Anfidius, joins his army, and fights to bring Rome to its knees.

Coriolanus is based on a later play by William Shakespeare, but one that I was unfamiliar with until I saw a trailer a couple months back.  As with a lot of Shakespeare movies in the past 20 years, the filmmakers updated the setting to the modern era, but kept The Bard's famous language.  Indeed, the modern setting works well with the war theme, and the battle scenes are on par with many recent war movies (Blackhawk Down, The Hurt Locker).

Caius Martius is one of the less chatty Shakespearean heroes you'll come across.  He's not given to soliloquy like Macbeth or Hamlet, and he rarely speaks to his motives.  One aspect of his character that fascinated me was he couldn't accept praise from others (he left the Senate chamber when Menenius recounted tales of his brave deeds against the Volscians), but his pride is his downfall.  After the public turns on him, he launches into a diatribe against popular rule. He compares allowing plebeians to have power over the patricians to allowing "crows to peck the eagles". Coriolanus is condemned as a traitor for his words, and is ordered to be banished. Coriolanus retorts that it is he who banishes Rome from his presence.

Like I said, the war scenes are well done.  There are some fabulous performances by Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave (as Coriolanus's mother), and the ever smarmy Brian Cox as Menenius. Butler doesn't get much to do besides be physical, which he does well.

Not the greatest Shakespeare adaptation, but not a bad little movie.  Check out the IMDB link above and watch the trailer.  If it looks like something that would strike your fancy, check it out.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Song of the Week: Love You Like Mad

When you've been a successful band for thirty-odd years it means you've written a whole bunch of songs.  Some are hits, some are flops, and some go unreleased.  As fans, we're always hungry for more, so we pounce on any fresh music from our beloved bands.  Often we wonder why a song went unfinished.  There are quite a number of unreleased and B-Side Billy Joel tunes that I felt would've been massive hits.  Same goes for the band U2.  There are three U2 songs that easily pop into my head that I'd rather have on a record than some of the tunes that actually made it.  This week's Song of the Week is one of them.

It's hard to figure out why "Love You Like Mad" was cast off.  Recorded in 2000 as part of the All That You Can't Leave Behind session, this song was finally released in the fan exclusive compilation Medium, Rare & Remastered.  Maybe it didn't fit thematically with the rest of ATYCLB (there are a couple riffs that feel more at home with 2009's No Line on the Horizon).  Whatever the reason, I think it's better than the majority of their output from the 1990's.

Here is U2's "Love You Like Mad":

Friday, June 15, 2012

MST3K Friday: Rocket Attack USA

"You guys still sure Lucas was the first one to do this?"
"Everything went boom."  "Uh, can you put that into layman's terms, please?"

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Presidents' Club

For political junkies, this kind of thing is like catnip.  The President's Club is the story of how the former chief executives of the US interact with each other and with the sitting President.  I saw an interview with authors Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy last week and the book sounds like it's filled with scores of interesting anecdotes.  Dwight Eisenhower telling LBJ to push through Kennedy's agenda?  Bill Clinton and Bush 43 becoming best of friends?  Those sound highly unlikely, but Gibbs and Duffy show exactly how and why these things happened.  And, of course, nobody in the fraternity seems to like Jimmy Carter.

Given the diverse backgrounds and interests of the men who served as President, you realize that the only club that would have all of them as members would be the one they formed themselves.

As with all the best interviews, this one makes me want to read the book.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Song of the Week: Twist & Shout

Ah, if only we could follow Ferris Bueller's lead once in a while.  Life would be better lived if we could pull off more Bueller Days.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sacred by, Dennis Lehane

A piece of advice:  if you ever follow someone in my neighborhood, don't wear pink.

A beautiful, grief-stricken woman has vanished without a trace.  So has the detective hired to find her.  The woman's father, a dying billionaire, hires Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro to find his daughter.  What first appears to be a missing persons case soon turns out to be much more complex and twisted than either Patrick or Angie had ever imagined.

Sacred is the third book in Dennis Lehane's Kenzie & Gennaro private detective series. (My reviews for the first two are here and here).  What I've said about Lehane's other books still applies.  The world of Kenzie & Gennaro is rich with fully realized characters who leap off the page.  The protagonists themselves are deep, interesting people with whom you'd like to share a beer.  And Lehane's lyrical prose just keeps getting more vivid and more powerful.  I don't think I could stop myself if I wanted to print some quotable lines, there are just that many.

One of the most talked about aspects of Lehane's work is how deftly he weaves social commentary into what could be run of the mill genre stories.  Though I'm not sure what the theme of this book would be (except perhaps as a diatribe against the corrupting power of wealth).  The plot is littered with twists and reversals and untrustworthy people.  Nobody, except perhaps Patrick's mentor Jay, tells our heroes the truth.  In this way, it's a throwback to the earlier novels of Raymond Chandler or Ross Macdonald.

The real selling point of Sacred is the relationship between Patrick and Angie.  They had a fling when they were 16, but it didn't go anywhere.  In A Drink Before the War, they maintained a platonic, if flirty, relationship.  After the horrific events in Darkness, Take My Hand, they start to come together, but there is a wall between them because of Angie's grief over her lost husband.  When they finally accept their feelings for each other, the sparks fly off the page.  Fans of the novels probably feel the same sense of relief as Patrick does when he recognizes that he's always loved Angie.

I'll indulge myself with quoting a couple paragraphs here.  This scene takes place in the latter third of the book, after our heroes had been beaten, deceived, and had their expectations turned upside down:
[Angie] fell asleep curled on my chest as my own eyelids fluttered.  And I found myself wondering, just before I lost consciousness, how I could have thought - even for a second - that Desiree was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen.
I looked down at Angie sleeping naked on my chest, at the scratches and swollen flesh on her face, and I knew that only now, at this exact moment and for the first time in my life, did I understand anything about beauty.
I can't recommend the Kenzie & Gennaro series highly enough.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Song of the Week: Vertigo (theme)

Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) was one of the most popular and prolific composers of the mid-20th Century.  His early work in radio was mostly for Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre, and he moved to Hollywood to score Welles's debut Citizen Kane.  But perhaps his most famous collaborations were with Alfred Hitchcock. he nearly scored all of Hitchcock's films between 1955 and 1964, including The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest, and Psycho.  Some of the other films he worked on were Cape Fear and Taxi Driver.

One of my favorite scores, and also a great movie, is for Vertigo.  I took the time to re-watch Vertigo the other week, and couldn't help but notice how Herrmann's theme played up the dreamlike nature of the film.  A hard film to classify, I think everyone should see Vertigo at least once.

Here is Herrmann's main theme for Vertigo:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

2012 Stanley Cup Finals


This is what it's all about.  The last two months of grueling hockey will soon come to an end.  One team will go home a winner and one team will just go home.

Playoff hockey is The Save.
Playoff hockey is The Save, Part II.
Playoff hockey is not quite enough.
Playoff hockey is Finally.

Tonight Los Angeles (8) faces off against New Jersey (6).  Is it possible to have to Cinderellas?  Los Angeles is a good pick because they were the eight seed in the West, but they have steamrolled all opposition, losing only two games in the whole tournament.  Many people (including me) wrote off New Jersey in nearly every round, but they keep proving us wrong.

Whatever way it goes, it's going to be fun.

My pick:  Los Angeles Kings.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Song of the Week: But Not For Me

"But Not For Me" was composed by George and Ira Gershwin in 1930 for the Broadway musical Girl Crazy. This version was recorded in 1959 by Ella Fitzgerald with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. Ira Gershwin, still alive at the time of this recording, remarked after hearing Ella sing, "I didn't realize how great some of the music George and I wrote was until I heard her sing it".

Friday, May 25, 2012

MST3K Friday: Hamlet

Yup, Hamlet, my favorite Shakespeare play (though my appreciation for Othello has grown recently).  No, this isn't the Mel Gibson version.  It a 1960 made for German TV version.  Probably the best thing about it is Claudius's voice is dubbed by  Ricardo Montalban!

"Hey, any Danish left?"
"Why were you looking at his like?"
"Hail, Queen Dilbert's Boss."