Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Podcast- Audio Vaudeville

As some of you know, I have been doing a podcast with my friend Ryan Shattuck since January. We have done 13 episodes and have covered topics as diverse as, the Super Bowl, Protests, the Future, Unemployment, Graphic Novels and Ira Glass. We work really hard to bring our small, but stalwart audience the best shows that we possibly can. Do me, and Ryan a favor and check us out. I wrote a similar plea a few months ago, so if you haven't listened yet- do it! If you already listen, keep it up, and tell your friends.

Here are our links-


Monday, June 27, 2011

Movie of the Week

This week,

POPEYE (1980)

Starring- Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Ray Walston, Paul Dooley

This movie was one of my trifecta of favorites as a kid. When hanging out at home on the weekends, you could safely bet that either Ghostbusters, The Great Muppet Caper or this movie was in the VCR. While some find it odd and creepy, Popeye is one of the great films of my childhood. Directed by Robert Altman, the story takes the Popeye cartoons and comics and turns them into a stylish, fun and surprisingly accurate onscreen depiction. It is hard to think of anyone else as Olive Oyl and Popeye after seeing Shelley Duvall and Robin Williams.

Washed ashore in his dinghy in the town of Sweethaven, Popeye the Sailor is on a quest to find his father- Pappyeye. He stays in the boarding house of the Oyl family, and searches the local town for his long lost dad. While there he runs afoul of Bluto, the large, brutal right hand man of the Commodore, a mysterious man who is the overseer of the seaside community. Olive Oyl is at first betrothed to Bluto, but begins to have affection for Popeye- especially when the two team up to raise an orphan baby by the name of Swee'Pea. The story culminates with a squinty eyed reunion and the final showdown between Bluto and Popeye on deadly Scab Island.

Popeye is by no means a perfect film, but it is fun and funny, with many great nods to the cartoons. Wimpy, Olive's brother Castor (get it?), Rough House and many other supporting characters from the cartoons make this a true Altman ensemble cast, rife with overlapping dialogue. The songs by Harry Nilsson are also a high point, and give yet another quirky layer to the silliness of the story. I Yam What I Yam, Everything is Food and He Needs Me are among the best tunes. See this movie if you ever watched the cartoons or if you want to see a young Robin Williams channel a corn cob pipe smoking, large armed sailor. Either way, you'll be hungry for spinach by the time the it's over.

Things to Watch For-

Dennis Franz as one of the toughs
Me Son
Oxblood Oxheart
The Tax Collector

"I ain't no doctors, but I knows when I'm losing me patience."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book of the Month

This Month,


By Paul Johnson

Unlike so many biographies of notable people, Churchill by Paul Johnson is quite short. I have seen and read many tomes about historical figures, but I sometimes feel that they are more exhausting than exhaustive. This is not the case here, as Johnson keeps the narrative light and interesting throughout.  It would be very easy to let a book about Churchill get too long and detailed because of all his many achievements, but Johnson hits all the high points and peppers in some fun anecdotes as well, while keeping things concise.

If you are looking for a very fair and even somewhat unflattering portrait of Churchill, this may not provide the best example. Johnson is very reverential in his tone, and tries hard to explain away some of the man's faults as he takes the reader through Sir Winston's life. Failures in World War I and the inter-war years are glossed over a bit, but despite this, the book does bring together some of the best stories in the Churchill legend.

I am a fan of Churchill, like Johnson, and I am aware of the shortcomings in his character, like Johnson. I also, like Johnson, choose not to dwell on the negatives too much, like Churchill's thoughts on India and Gandhi, for example. There are so many good things to be admired about him and such compelling tales in this book that the reader is instantly drawn in by one of the world's most noteworthy men. I am not at all taken in by the somewhat rosy picture painted in this book, however, but I recognize that some of the 20th Century's greatest accomplishments can be attributed to Winston Churchill. For historians who have a discerning eye and a desire to be entertained by truly engrossing stories, this book will not disappoint.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Best

Let's just call off the dogs and stop all the speculation once and for all. Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time. Period. There isn't even a close second. Kobe is a nice player with many similarities to Michael, but he won't ever be able to surpass Jordan because he won his first three rings as Shaq's sidekick. Also, Michael never had as many hiccups as a leader as Kobe has. LeBron proved in this year's NBA Finals that while he might be more gifted athletically, he has nowhere near the level of mental fortitude that Michael possessed. There's no need for any more arguing on the subject. I am not trying to say that my opinion matters more than other people's and that it is the definitive one. On the contrary, I am stating fact.

I don't want to bore you with numbers, but consider these as the irrefutable evidence.

6 NBA Championships as the featured player on his team
6 NBA Finals MVP Awards
5 Regular Season MVP Awards
14 Time All Star
10 Time Scoring Champion

I could go on, but why should I? Those credentials are more than enough. Let's also not forget that Mr. Jordan took a couple of years off to play baseball, so those numbers could actually be inflated. He might have had 8 rings and 7 MVP awards if he hadn't spent time as an outfielder. With all the talk about LeBron and his legacy, I just wanted to bring this up because the comparisons need to stop. Nothing LeBron does will get him anywhere near this level and it isn't fair to compare him to the best that ever played the game. Number one, with a bullet- Number 23.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Movie of the Week

This week,

APOLLO 13 (1995)

Starring- Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Bill Paxton

While this film has been lampooned and referenced for its now famous quote, "Houston, we have a problem," it is so much more than that one moment. Ron Howard's space drama is a riveting trip back in time that keeps you on the edge of your seat- even when you know the outcome. Despite being a bit technical, Apollo 13 gives you a great inside look at one of the pivotal moments in NASA history. Bored with moon missions, the American public only turns on their TVs when an accident puts the mission and the lives of the three main characters in danger.

Hanks is his usual steady self as mission commander, Jim Lovell. Hanks was actually so taken with his role that he went on to co-produce the series From the Earth to the Moon, an HBO series that picks up where Apollo 13 leaves off. Alongside Lovell are pilot and ladies' man Jack Swigert (Bacon) and family man Fred Haise (Paxton). The chemistry between these veteran actors is what drives the film as they try to avert disaster in their space capsule. Howard does a masterful job in giving his film pageantry, importance and tension in all the right spots. Going to the moon is a big deal, and we know it after watching this film.

What many praise the film for is its technical accuracy. Howard and the actors spent a great deal of time making sure that this film was as close to real as possible. It would have been easy to Hollywoodize this film and ratchet up the drama even more, and while there are a few liberties taken, they aren't enough to derail the real story. I can always watch this film when it comes on because it is part riveting human drama and part history lesson. It also gives anyone who has ever been interested in space a reason to hope that we will continue to explore and discover new frontiers.

Things to watch for-

Ron's brother, Clint Howard
Neil and Buzz
Ed Harris' awesome crew cut
The 'Spirit in the Sky'
Mount Marilyn

"We've never lost an American in space, we're sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Nazi Thesis- Part VII

This is part 7 in the ongoing series- for those of you who struggle with Roman numerals.

A key component to the Nazi personality, along with ambition, insecurity and intelligence, was manipulation. Hitler was the master of this trait, but others close to him were able to manipulate people and circumstances to forward their own goals as well as the party’s. Himmler and Heydrich were able to use manipulation to create a power base for themselves and get rid of their competitors in the SA. Goering too, had designs on power, and while he noticed “Himmler’s spinsterish face...concealed a ravenous ambition,” he was also secretly concerned with attaining a higher post for himself within the regime. 

While Himmler and Goebbels’ quest for power was well evidenced at the time, especially with Rohm’s execution, Goering played a significant role in implicating the SA head, and used it to vault himself higher in the Nazi pecking order. Goering, clearly seeing that Himmler and Heydrich were the men on the rise in Hitler’s eyes backed their SS consolidation of power by giving them control of the police in states which he administered. Now with Himmler firmly in power, Goering no longer had to worry about Rohm, and Himmler had to only report to Hitler himself. 

Deception was another a key element to the makeup of the ideal Nazi. Throughout the time leading up to the assassination of Rohm and his SA confederates, Himmler, Heydrich and Goering lied to Hitler to protect their own personal interests. These men were not above lying to their beloved Fuhrer to obtain their goals. Manipulation and deception went hand in hand, and the deception that went on in the Nazi regime was done to manipulate circumstances for the success of the Third Reich. During the war, the deception among the party elites was so prevalent that it led to widespread corruption. Each of the top Nazis was so good at deception and shady dealings that it crumbled the bureaucracy as time wore on. Hitler’s closest advisors were almost taught to lie by the Fuhrer himself. 

Not only was Hitler a master manipulator, he was also a great deceiver. He was able to create enough deception in Germany to convince the people of the Jewish threat, and that the only way to achieve his Aryan utopia was to get rid of the Jews. As time went on, Hitler and the SS heads lied more and more to the German people about the course of the war, and the fate of Jews and other undesirables.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I'm Glad...

I'm glad for many things, but here are a few that I am especially glad about at the current time.

I'm glad that my last name isn't Weiner, and that I'm not dumb enough to Tweet pictures of my man bulge to girls to whom I am not married. And I'm glad that I'm not dumb enough to deny it and then retract my denial.

I'm glad that I'm not graduating college right now. This is a tough job market for our 22 year olds. Hang in there, kids.

I'm glad Donald Trump isn't running for president. He would have just continued to piss me off.

I'm glad we got three free months of Starz from DirecTV when we moved and upgraded our service. Now I can watch Zombieland every day.

I'm glad my dog has a big backyard to play in.

I'm glad for the fact that John Edwards didn't end up as our president. His transgressions make Bill Clinton look like a monk.

I'm glad it's golf season. Maybe I'll recant this one after I play a few more rounds.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Movie of the Week

This Week,


Starring- James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, January Jones

Thank the mutant gods for this solid reboot of the X-Men franchise. After the grave disappointments of X-Men 3 and Wolverine, the series gets back to its roots with an origin story that focuses on the early careers of Professor Xavier and Erik Lensherr (aka Magneto). The reason why this film is so much better than the last two installments, and much more like the first two, is because of the involvement of the great Bryan Singer, who supplied the story for First Class.

It is 1962, and amid the rising tension of the Cold War, the stories of many a young mutant are unfolding. A young telepathic professor named Charles Xavier (McAvoy) is being charged with helping the U.S. government hunt down a group of mutants led by the sinister Sebastian Shaw (Bacon). At the same time, a Holocaust survivor named Erik (Fassbender), who can manipulate metal, is hunting Shaw to avenge his mother. The two young men meet and join forces to form a mutant team that will help avert World War III. On this team are Xavier's "sister" Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence, a kid with a killer scream named Banshee, Cyclops' brother, Havoc, and the scientist turned Beast- Hank McCoy. Shaw is not without support, and boasts a team of dark mutants led by his own telepath, Emma Frost (Jones).

I don't wish to spoil this film, so I won't get too far into the plot, but let's just say that a lot of stuff that is alluded to in the earlier films gets explained and fleshed out here. The film is stylishly retro with a nice Mad Men/James Bondish feel to it. It also boasts strong acting with the Charles/Erik relationship, portrayed by McAvoy and Fassbender, as the centerpiece. It isn't hard to believe that those two turn into Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. Also, Kevin Bacon is a first class villain- no pun intended.

If you enjoy the X-Men, this film will shed new light on what is a very compelling comic book saga. It also draws on parallels from the Cold War and Civil Rights movement that enrich the plot. Mutants are the future, and it looks like a bright one for the franchise.

Things to watch for-

An old friend at the bar
The coin
The X plane
Xavier's "groovy" pick up lines

"A new species is being born. Help me guide it, shape it... lead it."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Top Ten Things I Love About NPR

For years I wrongly poo-pooed NPR as being radio for old people. Even though I am older now, I was wrong. NPR is a source of interesting, thought provoking and entertaining information that makes me feel more knowledgeable about and connected to the world around me. Here now are my Top Ten favorite things about NPR.

10. The Political Junkie- Every Wednesday Ken Rudin comes on Talk of the Nation and spews his vast knowledge of US politics for 35 minutes. It's very informative.

9. NPR.com- The website is chalk full of articles and audio clips from all the NPR contributors and programs.

8. Dori Anisman- The lady who answers the phones on The Diane Rehm Show- you my girl, Dori!

7. Frank Deford- Every Wednesday on Morning Edition, sports writer Frank DeFord gives a great 3-5 minute commentary on a pertinent sports topic. He's been doing this a long time, and it shows.

6. Salt Lake's local NPR stations- KUER and KCPW

5. Lakshmi Singh- She is easily one of my top three favorite Sikh reporters.

4. Science Friday- Ira Flato is a science master, and he sounds exactly like Alan Alda.

3. Diane Rehm's Friday News Roundup- A nice capper to the week that was. I always feel very smart and connected after both the international and domestic hours.

2. Ira Glass- Even though he isn't actually employed by NPR, his immensely popular show, This American Life, is featured on many NPR affiliates. He's coming to Salt Lake later this month, and I intend to see him.

1. RadioLab- I've already sung the praises of this show in an earlier post, but I don't care because it is that good.

Support for this blog entry came from NPR listeners, like you.