Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book of the Month

This Month,


By James Herriot

I am not what you would call an animal lover, and yet I love this book about an English vet who tells charming vignettes about his life and work in the Yorkshire Dales. James Herriot is the vet in question, and his life story is full of fun, touching and enthralling stories that make you keep turning the pages. This is actually just the first in a series of books about by Herriott and each one builds upon the narrative of his provincial life.

In addition to many great animal characters like Tricki Woo, the main focus is on Herriot and his two vet colleagues- Sigfried Farnon and his brother, Tristan. All three men are compelling and quirky characters that add to the richness of the book. Sigfried is an eccentric man who is always contradicting himself and making James laugh at his foibles. Tristan is a lazy prankster who sometimes allows his cavalier attitude impede his work. James functions as the everyman in the book and as the narrator he gives us good insights into what it was like to be a young vet during the 1930's in Darrowby.

This book, and its many sequels, are some of my favorites because they are so full of life and great characters. All the farmers and villagers are one of a kind people that Herriot truly relishes recounting. If you enjoy this book, I highly recommend the T.V. series of the same name that played on the BBC in the 1970's and 80's. It starred Christopher Timothy as James and Robert Hardy as Sigfried. I've been watching them on Netflix lately, so they're still available. Here's a photo of Timothy and Hardy from the show.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Movie of the Week

This week,


Starring- Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei, Ralph Macchio, Fred Gwynne

If you are looking for a hard-core, suspenseful courtroom drama- this isn't it. It is a very funny, somewhat suspenseful courtroom comedy that won Marisa Tomei a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Mona Lisa Vito, fiance of the main character, Vincent LaGuardia Gambini (Pesci). Ms. Vito and her lawyer beau, Vinny are sent to rural Alabama to get Vinny's cousin and his friend off for a murder that they didn't commit.

This movie showcases the talents of Pesci, as he blends his wiseguy persona with a touch of heart and humor in a true fish out of water story. Vinny has no background in trial law and is up against damning evidence, a solid prosecutor and a judge with a grudge against him. The judge is portrayed by T.V.'s Herman Munster, Fred Gwynne, in a rare, but hilarious film role. Gwynne and Pesci's scenes are some of the best in the film, as Vinny tries to sidestep the judge's no-nonsense demeanor with his Brooklyn bullshit.

While the entire cast is very solid, the real kudos go to Tomei who steals every scene she is in. Her best and most memorable scene is on the witness stand, as she rattles off her vast knowledge of cars. She is all at once cute, charming, crass and trashy. The story unfolds somewhat predictably, but it doesn't matter because the audience is having so much fun and enjoying the jokes that are mixed in with a few sweet moments. My Cousin Vinny is Twelve Angry Men meets Goodfellas meets Night Court. If you see it, you'll know what I mean.

Things to watch for-

The Sac-O-Suds
Bruce McGill as the Sheriff
Lisa's pink camera
2 Utes

"Dead on balls accurate?"
"It's an industry term."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Top 10 Rolling Stones Songs

The Beatles are hands down my favorite band, but not too far off in second place are the Rolling Stones. Mick, Keith and the boys are masters and have contributed so many great songs to the rock and roll genre over their almost 50 years in the business. Here now, in no particular order are my picks for their 10 best songs. It was hard to pick only 10, kids.

GIMME SHELTER- This dark rock anthem from the Let it Bleed album is not only a staple in Martin Scorsese films, but it signaled the end of the flower power sixties and commented on the growing violence in the world, namely the Vietnam War. Of note in this song is the great complimentary vocals by Merry Clayton.

BROWN SUGAR- This has always been one of my favorite Stones songs. The song opens with one of the great guitar riffs of all time and has some of Mick's most suggestive lyrics- alluding to drug use and interracial sex. In addition to the killer guitar by Keith and Mick Taylor, the song also boasts some sweet saxophone action.

HONKY TONK WOMEN- Another song that benefits from a strong horn section, Honky Tonk Women has two versions, but the more sparse Country Honk is not as good as the more rock inspired version. Mick gets off one of the best rock lyrics of all time in this song- "She blew my nose, and the she blew my mind." The bluesy guitar, horns and vocals compliment each other perfectly.

MONKEY MAN- Not as well known as some Stones songs, this song is said to be about a bad heroin trip. Whether that is true or not, this song flat out rocks. It begins with Stones' contributer Nicky Hopkins playing tinkly piano and a guitar riff from Keith that gets progressively more aggressive as the song moves along. This song also appears in one of my all time favorite movies- Goodfellas.

JUMPIN' JACK FLASH- One of the most recognizable opening riffs of all time begins this classic tune. Mick and Keith were trying to get back to their rock and roll roots with this song, after completing the psychedelic Satanic Majesty's Request. I'll never forget the first time I heard Mick sing the opening line- "I was born in a crossfire hurricane." This is absolutely one of the best rock songs ever written.

TUMBLING DICE- Recorded during the Stones exile in France, this song has a great classic bluesy feel to it. The subject matter for the song is also very old school blues- love and gambling. While this song has the kind of impromptu feel of a blues song, it took over 150 takes to get the basic track. It was worth all the work because it is the best song on Exile on Main Street.

LET'S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER- Controversial because of the lyrics, this song almost got the Stones banned from an appearance on Ed Sullivan. It was only after they changed it to "Let's spend some time together" that Sullivan allowed them to play it. The piano and guitar drive the song and give it a fun tone while the vocals have a nice combination of blues and do-wop that I feel gloss over anything tawdry in the lyrics.

SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL- Another song that sparked controversy because of the lyrics, Sympathy For the Devil is a first person narrative from Lucifer as he comments on violence and atrocities committed by mankind. It is notable for the piano riff and the opening that begins with various percussion and Mick screaming. I find it hard to dislike any song that rocks hard and has social commentary in it at the same time.

MIDNIGHT RAMBLER- This song used to be my cell phone ring, but it hardly did this hard driving blues song justice. The lyrics are a bit dark as is the very fuzzy guitar riff played by Keith. Mick gets off some good old blues lyrics while also playing harmonica. My favorite part of the song is how it changes tempo several times from fast paced to almost snail-like before coming back more aggressively at the very end.

(I CAN'T GET NO) SATISFACTION- No Stones list would be complete without this classic rock anthem. Their first big hit, Satisfaction is a great treatise on celebrity and how it can affect people caught up in it. Again, the song begins with a great guitar riff that gives way to some of the truest words ever written about rock and roll.


These songs very nearly could have made the list.

PAINT IT BLACK (Sorry Emily)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Things I Think

I used to do this type of post a lot on this blog, but I stole the idea and have been using it in my podcast, Audio Vaudeville. Here now are some of the best ones from my 16 episodes of Audio Vaudeville.

I think the Jazz should hire Karl Malone as assistant coach in charge of referring to yourself in the third person.

I think that Tufts University’s mascot should be two clumps of hair instead of an elephant.

I think I’m going to write a memoir about my experiences in an Arab country. I think I’ll call it, Three Cups of Lies.

I think there aren’t enough movies based on T.V. shows. I’m still waiting for the Judge Judy movie, starring Cate Blanchett as Judge Judy.

I think the new X-Men movie is really good, but I thought they missed an opportunity by not having Kevin Bacon’s mutant power be the ability to figure out how he was connected to all the other mutants in less than six moves.

I think if James Bond actually existed in real life he would probably have serious liver problems, several STDs and tons of unclaimed bastard children.

I think Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ is probably thinking about where he left his car keys.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Movie of the Week

This week,


Starring- Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Julian Glover, Denholm Elliott

Even though Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favorite Indy film, this one holds a very special place in my heart, and is a very close second. Indy creators, George "childhood ruiner" Lucas and Steven Speilberg sought to bring a lighter touch to the series after the dark and monkey brain filled Temple of Doom. The suggestion was made to have Indiana Jones team up with his father in the search for the Holy Grail, but it was difficult to figure out who would play Henry Jones, Sr. It made sense that James Bond would be the only one who could give birth to an adventure star like Jones, so who better than Sean Connery?

The rapport between Connery and Harrison Ford is absolutely sparkling and it drives the story of the film. The movie opens with an action packed look at Indy as a kid (played by River Phoenix) as he evades tomb robbers in the red rocks of Utah. I always liked this part because of the fun chase on the train, and the fact that Indiana Jones, like me, was from Utah. The story then jumps ahead to 1938 where Indy is charged with finding his father who has gone missing in the search for the Holy Grail. Prof. Jones' trail leads to the Nazis who are also looking for the Grail and will do whatever it takes to get it, even if it means declaring war on the Joneses.

Julian Glover, John Rhys-Davies and Denholm Elliott round out a sterling cast and help give weight to the most comedic entry in the Jones series. Alison Doody is decent as the Nazi hottie, Elsa, but she isn't as strong as Karen Allen in Raiders. Among the best parts of the film are the motorcycle chase, Indy and his father's many arguments and the final battle aboard the tank. Very few action films boast as strong a cast, as engrossing a plot and as much fun as this one. Go watch Junior, I mean, Indiana again. You won't be sorry.

Things to watch for-

How Austrians say 'goodbye'
The Canyon of the Crescent Moon
Hitler's autograph
Lord Clarence McDonald
Ah, Venice

"Nazis, I hate these guys."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

NFL Season Preview

Well kids, despite the squabbles between owners and players, the NFL will have a season in 2011 after all. You can look no further than this blog for the correct predictions for this season's outcome. Here now are my well informed picks for how the teams will finish this season.

*Denotes playoff teams


1. Eagles* (Vick and all of his new flashy teammates take time to get on the same page, but when they do, look out)
2. Cowboys (Year two under Jason Garrett is good, but there's still something preventing this team from going all the way, could it be all the lofty expectations?)
3. Giants (G-Men have some good games and threaten to make the playoffs, but can't get it done in a very tough division)
4. Redskins (Shanahan is a long way removed from his Super Bowl wins, and it shows as his team struggles again with no franchise players)

1. Falcons* (They unseat the Saints as the class of this division with strong Matty Ice and his very talented Offensive crew)
2. Saints* (Drew and Co. still have some gas left in the tank and will be dangerous as a hungry Wild Card team)
3. Buccaneers (It's too bad they are in this division because they have all the elements of a playoff contender, unlike anybody in the NFC West)
4. Panthers (Cam Newton or Jimmy Clausen? That's just one of many problems that this rebuilding team will have to deal with this year)

1. Packers* (I hate to be a homer, but the Super Bowl champs look just as good, if not better than last year as they welcome back some good players who spent last year on IR)
2. Bears* (With a flurry of off season moves, the Bears take time to get rolling, but finish strong and snag the Wild Card)
3. Lions (Detroit is finally moving in the right direction, and they will brutalize opponents with their D-line of Suh and Fairley)
4. Vikings (There's work to be done in Minnesota where a lot of new pieces need to be put in place including at QB with a rookie vs. a veteran)

1. Cardinals* (After a sub-par 2010, Kevin Kolb and Larry Fitzgeral lead the red birds back to the playoffs)
2. Seahawks (A lot of new players show promise for the future, but not the immediate future)
3. Rams (Stafford keeps his team moving in the right direction with some impressive wins, but just not enough of them)
4. 49ers (Jim Harbaugh's first year will be rocky, but his boy Andrew Luck might await in the 2012 draft)


1. Patriots* (Brady likes playing with his new teammates and gets back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 18-1)
2. Jets* (The Jets do all they can to get to the big game, but they just don't have enough offense when it counts against the team above them)
3. Dolphins (They have some talent, but not enough at the skill positions to unseat the Pats or Jets)
4. Bills (They show flashes of greatness, but they are basically the JV team in this high powered division)

1. Colts* (It must be getting old for the other teams in this division because all Manning and the Colts do is win every single year)
2. Jaguars (Once again, the Jags threaten and almost unseat the Colts, but they lack a QB to put them over the top)
3. Texans (They will also play the role of bridesmaid in the South, as Arian Foster has another season of over 1,000 yards)
4. Titans (Matt Hasselbeck comes in to help groom their QB of the future in a rebuilding year for Tennessee)

1. Ravens* (My pick to win the AFC last year will be strong again with a bruising D and solid O led by Joe Flacco)
2. Browns* (I'm going rogue and picking everyone's favorite losers to make the playoffs for the first time since they came back to the league- Payton Hillis is my boy!)
3. Steelers (Losing the Super Bowl takes its toll on Pittsburgh and they just barely miss out on the playoffs)
4. Bengals (Controversy hurts this already struggling club like it always does- despite some talent at a few positions)

1. Chiefs* (I picked them last year and they didn't disappoint, so maybe they'll get even farther this year, eh?)
2. Chargers (Despite a few showy free agent signings, the Bolts can't quite get past their slightly more efficient rivals in KC)
3. Raiders (New coach, same average team. Maybe they'll surprise us and scare the teams above them, but I doubt it)
4. Broncos (Tebow or Orton? It can't be easy for new coach John Fox, and it won't be. This team won't do much)

AFC Championship- PATRIOTS over RAVENS
NFC Championship- PACKERS over EAGLES

I'm picking my boys from Green Bay to repeat. I know that seems lame, but I didn't pick them last year, so I feel okay picking them this year. GO PACK GO!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Nazi Thesis- Part IX

Here is the ninth part in my continuing series.

Himmler and Heydrich bear much of the blame for the Final Solution, but every wing of the Nazi party became a cog in the machine to rid the world of Jews. Even though there were differences in opinion among the top Nazis, each man did believe that Jews were a pathogenic race. Hatred of Jews bonded the top Nazis together, and masked by the legitimacy of Hitler’s leadership they used their departments in cooperation with each other. Goebbels, for instance, raided Jewish factories and neighborhoods in order to rid Berlin of its Jewish population. Even the propaganda minister was not above rounding up Jews for his Fuhrer. 

The most telling bit of evidence of the existence of a Nazi personality, is to what lengths each man was willing to go for Nazism and Hitler. Hitler’s love of Germany during World War I was recreated in his own men and directed back at him during World War II. Unwavering devotion to the movement was what made it successful and popular, but this would also be its undoing, just as German defeat in 1918 had been Hitler’s.

Fragile. That is a word that can easily describe any one of the top Nazis. Hitler and all of his inner circle were men who had very little strength. Most of them only had success after joining the party, and the thought of living without it was unbearable. Not one of the top Nazi leaders was able to escape their role in the war because they were all so wrapped up in the party. Speer got the least amount of punishment, but as a high official he still received his due. 

Speer, with Hitler

Going into the movement, these men were already on the margins, and at any given time a twist of fate could have plunged them into grave misfortune. Nazism was what brought them back into the mainstream, and perhaps in gratitude they poured every ounce of their being into the ideology of National Socialism. Many men had given so much to party in its early years that they were glorified by the other members, and this in turn made men who were new to the party want to give as much as they could. Hitler, of course, set the example and began to use his power to create martyrs of certain party members who had been killed, always in the service of the party. Service of the party was what usually came first to the top Nazis, and life was forced to assume a back seat.