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October 25, 2010

Marketing the World Series

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Readers of this blog know that I like baseball better than football. Sure, I'll watch the Vikings and big games between exciting teams, but I enjoy baseball more, am more invested in how the Twins do than the Vikings. This doesn't mean that I can't acknowledge that professional football is more popular than baseball. It's an unfortunate but given fact.

Some have said that football is the perfect TV sport. A few seconds of action punctuated by delays so that TV can go over what happened and get ready for the next action. However you can say that about baseball too (but without the violence). I think the main difference is that the NFL long ago learned to market the entire league to the American public. Sure there are glamour teams but all teams are created and marketed equally. Compare that to baseball where the Yankees and Red Sox get most of the attention, followed by the Mets, maybe the Cubs and Dodgers, then all the rest. It can be maddening if you're not a fan of those few teams. Unfortunately MLB perpetuates this focus as well.

No better example is last year's Super Bowl vs. this year's World Series. This past Super Bowl had two very small market teams (New Orleans and Indianapolis) playing for the championship. Sure you had a nice story with New Orleans and its 40 plus years of futility and the issues related to Katrina, but still two pretty unglamorous markets as far as sports go. But it doesn't matter for the NFL, the game got monster ratings, some of the highest ever.

Now compare that with this year's World Series, which is already getting slagged as boring because there's not a big market involved. Fact is there are two huge markets involved. Dallas-Fort Worth is the 5th largest market in the U.S. behind NYC, LA, Chicago, and Philly. San Francisco/Oakland is sixth. So we are talking big markets here. Also California and Texas are the two biggest states in the union, and undoubtedly there will be folks from Houston, Austin, LA, San Diego, etc., tuning in. In short these are two large market teams, vying for their first Championship and MLB has focused so long on Boston-NYC that it can't figure out how to get people excited about any other team or match-up.

Unfortunately, the non-ESPN media has bought into the Yankee-Red Sox as well, even to their detriment. I was in Chicago this weekend, and some of the local sports talk shows were discussing "worst World Series ever?" topic. Chicago! If there ever was a market that would want to break out of the eastern seaboard mentality of ESPN and Fox Sports you would think it would be Chicago.

Now I don't know how to fix this. Sorry. But I know I will be watching, I'll be excited even if my sports media overlords aren't. And when the poor ratings come in, instead of thinking of ways to increased the likelihood of a Yankees-Red Sox World Series, perhaps MLB should think of ways to market 30 teams across the country. Ask the NFL how they do it.

September 29, 2010

American Relations with Indians 1621-1876 (Three Book Review)

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I just finished a trio of books about American History and the building of the nation that, although somewhat unrelated, have many common threads running through them.

The books were Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, which of course is about the Pilgrims who settled Plymouth Colony in the 1620s. It also about the Indian wars that occurred fifty years after the landing at Plymouth Rock. The next was Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose and is the story of Lewis and Clark and their mission along the Missouri to find to find a navigable waterway to the Pacific Ocean. The third was The Last Stand, again by Nathaniel Philbrick and is about George Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Big Horn where Custer and over 200 of his men were completely annihilated by a large army of plains Indians.

All three are very well written, engaging history books -- although the last third of Mayflower, about the Prince Philip's war, got to be a little tedious and can't compare to the story of the Pilgrims and their trials settling at Plymouth. Undaunted Courage is the book about the Lewis and Clark trek and if you want to read one book about Lewis and Clark, this is the one. The Last Stand doesn't bring any new research to a subject covered heavily by many authors, but it is quite engaging, especially once Custer and his men begin to look for Sitting Bull's village.

Mayflower and The Last Stand are interesting bookends to America's dealings with Native Indians. The Plymouth Colony pilgrims were completely reliant on the natives the first few years after they arrived and the Indians could have easily wiped them out but they didn't. Eventually the natives begun to feel threatened by the hordes of Europeans settling in the area from Manhattan to Boston and begun to fight back, often with disastrous results to both whites and Indians. Fast forward 200 years later to 1876 and even though the Battle of the Big Horn was a great victory for Sitting Bull and a huge embarrassment to the U.S. Army, within a few years after the battle all native Americans had been brought unto reservations and the Indian wars were essentially over. Undaunted Courage describes the point between these two books, when the United States first ventured into the area west of the Mississippi and unknowingly set off a chain of events that eventually led to the Little Big Horn.

As kids we are taught a few details about the Mayflower Pilgrims, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and Custer's Last Stand. However if you want to read more about these events and how they impacted the creation of the United States, I would strongly recommend either or all three of these books.

May 27, 2010

Blitzkrieg Bop

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This morning on my bike ride into work on a glorious morning the song Blitzkrieg Bop came on the I-pod. Nearly 35 years after it was released Blitzkrieg Bop is everywhere. You hear "hey ho... let's go" at the ballpark when the home team is in need of a rally. You hear it on commercials for video games and in movie trailers. Eight year olds and 60-something grandma's could probably hum a few bars or would admit that they are familiar with the song.

Of course it wasn't always that way. Being a teenager in the suburban hinterlands in the late 70's one heard of the Ramones and punk rock but it was some scary, forbidden music played only in New York City or Los Angeles. Sure you'd see a picture of a punk rocker in the back pages of Rolling Stone or Creem but there was really no way to hear the music. It's a very different world now where the internet allows someone to easily call up a song and at least hear a snippet of the song, if not its entirety.

Hearing Blitzkrieg Bop this morning reminded me of the first time I think I actually heard the song. It was in 1981 (5 years after it was released! I'm telling you it was a different time). I was listening to the radio show Progressions on NPR. Now Progressions was a way for new music to get out to the rest of the country. I think it was produced in San Francisco (sorry I couldn't find anything on the interwebs about Progressions) and was played late at night on some NPR stations. It had an early 70's FM radio vibe with a mellow, educated DJ who would spin the latest and classic punk, new wave, and other unplayed music on the radio from London, Manchester, NYC, and Los Angeles. Sometimes Progressions came across as a music professor playing music as some sort of anthropological study, showcasing this weird music for those intrigued by what was going on in the music meccas of the world. But for an 18 year old, it was just fun listening to music one never heard before.

I was completely enthralled when I first heard Blitzkrieg Bop. It was loud, short, but it wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. It was actually fun rock and roll, just sped up a little. It was definitely a marker in my realization that what was passing as popular music was actually quite lame and that there was a whole wide world of music that I was missing, and not only was it good, but it was quite accessible. For that reason I have mixed feelings when I hear Blitzkrieg Bop on a video game commercial. Sure it's nice to see that our culture has changed so that music like this is now considered mainstream (and believe me it would never be played at the ballpark if it wasn't mainstream). But on the other hand there's just a small part of me who wishes there that songs like Blitzkrieg Bop were left undiscovered by the mass marketers and instead were shared only by those who truly love the music and are willing to go out and listen to something new, different, and a little off the beaten track (even if it takes them five years to discover it).

May 25, 2010

Book Review -- Hellhound on his Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King

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Having read a number of Martin Luther King biographies, including the three-part biography from Taylor Branch and two tightly researched books by David Garrow, I was always frustrated by the lack of information these books provided on King's killer James Earl Ray. It was as though the authors didn't want to spend any time on the "ten-cent white boy (who) could develop a plan to kill a million-dollar black man." For that reason I was eager to read Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin a new book by Hampton Sides.

Sides takes a true crime approach to his subject as we follow Ray from his Missouri Prison escape in 1967 to his time spent in Mexico, Los Angeles, and eventually Memphis. Ray, who is not even identified by name until the last line of the 40th chapter, came from a long line of losers, criminals, and drug addicts and Ray's time in Los Angeles and Memphis comes across more like a James Ellroy novel than a history book.

Sides interweaves a number of stories here. Ray of course, but also Martin Luther King and his effort to organize garbage workers in Memphis and publicize his Poor People's campaign in Washington, DC. In addition, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI plays a large part in the story too. First as King's harasser, then after the assassination, engaged in a full-throated effort to solve the crime and apprehend Ray. Having read a number of King biographies, the sections on MLK's efforts were not as interesting nor broke any new ground.

The main reason to read this book, however, is James Earl Ray. At times exceedingly crafty (not only did he escape a small prison in Missouri, in 1977 he escaped for nearly a week from a maximum security prison), other times Ray is outlandishly stupid (once caught he claims he's not James Earl Ray but asks to speak with his brother John Ray). Ray is skeevy to the extreme as Sides states that "No matter where he was in the world, his radar for sleaze remained remarkably acute." After his escape from prison in 1967, Ray hangs out in flophouses, engages in low level drug deals and robberies, associates with prostitutes and strippers while talking correspondence courses in bartending and locksmithing.

Sides is at his best when describing Ray's efforts in the 24 hours before and after King's assassination. Sides provides a literal minute-by-minute account of King's and Ray's movements up to and past the time the bullet enters Kings jaw, cuts through his throat, and ends up lodged in his shoulder blade. What is amazing is that Ray literally spent eight hours in Memphis and just happens to find a flophouse that has a bathroom overlooking the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

After the assassination, the FBI takes center stage as they use all the investigative powers at their disposal to identify and track James Earl Ray. (Helped immensely by Ray's leaving the rifle and other personal belongings behind as he was worried he'd be seen by the local cops). Ray was able to get into Canada, create another identity and go to England on a fake passport, all with the intent of getting to then racist Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where Ray thought he'd be welcomed as a hero. An attentive Scotland Yard detective noticed Ray trying to get on a plane to Brussels and immediately detained him.

Although ostensibly a book about an historic event, Sides creates a true crime narrative that at times is literally a thrilling page turner. If at all unclear about this pivotal moment in our nation's history I fully recommend Hellhound on His Trail.

May 4, 2010

Happy Star Wars Day

Since it is Stars War Day (May the Fourth be with you). I thought I celebrate by sharing the most awesome Star Wars Lego Video ever. Watch to the end. Enjoy.

March 31, 2010

Confirmed! Matt's Has Best Jucy Lucy

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About a year ago I talked about how I thought Matt's Bar Jucy Lucy was the best and only Jucy Lucy in Minneapolis. Some still claim that the 5-8 Club has a better Jucy Lucy. In my mind it really comes down to style. Matt's is old school. There is only one version of a Jucy Lucy and you can order with or without onions, either raw or cooked. So basically you have three versions of the Jucy Lucy. The 5-8 Club has all kinds of Juicy Lucies, with different cheeses and different add-ons. Now this may appeal to some folks, but it isn't a true Jucy Lucy.

Finally the debate has been settled. Last night on the Travel Channel's Food Wars show, Matt's went head to head with the 5-8 Club and after a blind test taste, Matt's won. So there you have it. A reality show on a lower tier cable channel proves that Matt's Jucy Lucy is the best. Can we now end this debate.

March 22, 2010

Oh What a Weekend

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Lots going on over the last few days, let's review:

Twins sign Joe Mauer.
Eight years at $23M per year. Probably not a hometown discount but a fair deal nonetheless. Twins have proven that with their glorious new ballpark, they are willing to spend money, which some dunderheads thought wouldn't happen. After a slow start, gotta give Twins GM an A- for his off-season efforts to improve the Twins. Also open houses at Target Field have people jacked up for the Twins. Given that Wild, Twolves, Gophers are done, the field is wide open for a lot of Twins love.

Health Care. Obama has done something that has eluded Presidents since Teddy Roosevelt. In a couple of years we are going to be asking what the sturm and drang was all about regarding this debate. Fascinating politics and policy discussion for those interested in watching.

March Madness. My bracket is blown up as I had Kansas winning it all. However even before that I was in deep trouble. My upsets didn't come through and I missed the upsets that did happen. Big Ten has three teams in sweet 16 so let's put to rest the discussion that Big Ten basketball somehow isn't as good as other conferences. Also can we start calling the Big East the Big Least? Tubby went one and done again although Xavier looks like a team that could do some more damage. I was disappointed in the Gopher's season and although respect Tubby as a program coach, have some serious questions about his in game coaching decisions.

Video Stores. Our local Hollywood Video is going out of business which means we have to join the world of Netflix. It is sad because the loss of the local video store means one less place for human interaction. Invariably we would run into friends and colleagues at the Video store, can't do that on-line ordering a movie. Pretty soon the only time you come across a human will be at their funeral.

Alex Chilton. Lots of good articles if you want to search. Paul Westerberg had a nice remembrance in the New York Times. You can read it here.

March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton 1950-2010

Forty-something hipster dudes with black plastic framed glasses (ahem) everywhere are mourning the death of Alex Chilton today. Seems appropriate that in 2010 I hear about his death through a tweet on my cell phone. A great songwriter who inspired many of the bands that are scattered throughout my i-pod, Alex Chilton's death is another one of those markers that remind us that life marches on inexorably toward death.

I can't think of a better tribute than the video above of Paul Westerberg singing Alex
Chilton
.

Also here's a nice article about Alex Chilton.

February 25, 2010

Book Review -- Descartes' Bones

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Russell Shorto's Descartes' Bones is a smart and informative book about the philosopher Rene Descartes and the interesting story behind his remains and specifically his skull in the 360 years since his death. Most people have run across Rene Descartes in a college philosophy class as he is mostly known for the phrase "I think therefore I am" (cogito ergo sum). Which basically means that the mind (and the act of thinking) is separate from the body. This mind-body dualism was radical stuff back in the 17th Century as the Church felt that God held dominion over the entire human experience. If one could think independently of the body, then one could think independently of God. Shorto describes it as "the mind and its thoughts exist in a different category or somehow on a different plane from the physical world."

Shorto argues that this declaration was actually the start of rationale, modern thinking and was the crux behind the Enlightenment as well as the use of evidence and experimentation in the scientific method. Shorto describes how followers of Cartersian thinking were those who created the chemical Periodic Table of Elements, the metric system, and Genus-Species classification system we still use today. All of which are foundations to the modern, scientific way of looking at the world.

Rene Descartes actually dies about 40 pages into the book and the remaining 200 plus pages deal with what happens to his remains. Descartes died in Sweden and was buried in a modest grave in 1650. Sixteen years later the French felt that their greatest thinker deserved a grander burial and moved to have his remains transferred to Paris. Along the way a Swedish officer took Descartes' skull as he felt that Sweden should have a piece of the great thinker. He basically kept at in his home and it was passed down generation to generation. Officials in France didn't take a good inventory of the remains and he was reburied at a Paris church without a skull.

Fast forward to 1789 and the French Revolution. Roving bands of thugs were marauding through the streets of Paris and destroying and looting relics of the French past. French officials worked to move some of France's greatest treasures to a safe place, including Descartes' remains. Later in the mid-19th Century, a French official comes across someone selling Descartes' skull. After much inquiry and research, the French Academy authenticates the skull as genuine. Shorto also makes a pretty compelling case that Descartes other remains never survived the French revolution and were either looted or demolished in a church renovation.

Shorto is intrigued by the ironic and macabre fact that the man who first postulated the mind-body dualism actually had his skull removed from the rest of his body. It is this desire to re-combine Descartes' head to his body that drives the story and Shorto's detective work. (Much of which was not known to the public until Shorto started digging around).

Descartes' Bones is really a fascinating book that is a detective story, philosophical treatise, and a decent history of the forces and thinking behind modern thought. If interested in any of these topics I recommend this book wholeheartedly.

February 15, 2010

Devo - Satisfaction SNL 10/14/78

A lot of younger people don't realize how polarizing this version of Satisfaction was, especially when it was played on Saturday Night Live in the Fall of 1978. I was in 10th Grade and I still remember the school bus on Monday morning literally buzzing with a reaction as lines were drawn pretty stark between those who thought it was terrible, those who thought it was incredible, and those who didn't know what the fuss was all about. Although the later group didn't really participate in the on-bus discussion.

By 1978 classic rock and roll had a stranglehold on popular music. Sure here in the hinterlands we had maybe heard of The Ramones or Sex Pistols, but hadn't really heard them. To see this weird band take such an integral part of the rock and roll canon like Satisfaction and turn it into some sort of robotic freak music was unheard of and it was hard to get your mind around what it meant.

I just love this performance. The yellow suit, the eyeglass, but especially the herk-jerky movements that remind me of Disney animatronics such as The Country Bear Jamboree. Pay particular attention to the end as the guitar player drops his guitar, lifts his hand...holds it... then bows. Like a robot that just got turned off.

I think the reaction was so strong on that bus because kids realized that if you could do that to such an iconic song, then anything was possible musically and some were terrified of that notion while others thought it liberating. That we could actually see it on our TVs, that it was happening in our rec rooms and not in some dank club in NYC meant that it could happen here too. And it was. Unbeknownst to probably everyone on that bus is that just 25 miles to the east bands such as The Suicide Commandos and Suburbs were just beginning to take the same attitude toward their music, while others such as Paul Westerberg and Bob Stinson were still listening to the Beatles and the Stones, but were playing and writing different kind of songs of their own in their bedrooms.

Kids kind of hated this version but were excited by the opportunities it presented. The old ways making music were crumbling and not everything that was rock and roll meant listening to acts that played at Woodstock or were part of the 60s. The door was wide open for interpretation and although it took me a few more years, I would end up running through it at full throttle.

February 11, 2010

MLB10 -- The Show

Most Twins fans know that Joe Mauer will be on the cover of the next MLB10 video game (Baseball's equivalent to Madden). It's release date is in early March and most video guys are really geeking out over it.

Besides Mauer on the cover, Minnesota fans are excited because we get to see some good first views of Target Field in play. Take at look at the video above, lots of shots of Target Field (and a Mauer homerun to boot). Also click here for a longer clip that includes some shots of the Minneapolis skyline (and Jim Thome in uniform).

From all reports this game is going to be awesome and the game playing fun. I can't wait.

February 9, 2010

Guthrie Theater's Macbeth

I first came upon Shakespeare's Macbeth in a 9th Grade English class and was instantly enthralled. And why not? It has everything a 15 year old boy would love: Violence, creepy witches, war scenes, sexy ladies who talk smack (screw your courage to the sticky place), and pathos galore. I have read the play many times and seen numerous performances, from Shakespeare in the Park to full blown productions. That is why when I heard that The Guthrie Theater was putting on Macbeth, I had to get tickets. And good ones too. We had 4th row seats located dead center of the thrust stage. I was going to take in Macbeth in all its glory.

Joe Dowling's direction of Macbeth also promised to be lean and mean. No intermission for this Macbeth; just 125 minutes of straight action with the drama ramped up to the final battle between Macbeth and Macduff. However, Dowling starts the play off with an added scene: The Guthrie's production begins with a battle scene full of soldiers repelling down to the stage, the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire, and Macbeth dispatching of King Duncan's enemies in ninja-like fashion. We get the idea right away that this Macbeth is no stranger to violence or killing.

The set design was spare with Inverness portrayed as somewhat down on its heels. Cracks in the roof only allow lightning, no sun, and the columns were gritty and dirty. Detritus of the previous battles lay strewn across the stage and the décor appeared to be from the early 20th Century. Costuming didn't give away the play's setting as military men wore uniforms from the perhaps the 1930's, politicians wore suits and ties, while other trappings of medieval times were also present. Dowling uses these various costumes to take us away from placing the play in context in time and to focus on the story in front of us.

Lady Macbeth was sexy in her flowing red hair and gave a visceral performance. She is the driver of Macbeth's actions and when she says she would rip a suckling babe from her breast and bash its head in if that what it takes to be king, you believe her. Macbeth is played as a hunky warrior who is driven by fate, even though he knows his actions will lead to doom. Being told that he will come to no harm by man "woman born" finally gives him the confidence to "be bloody, bold, and resolute" as Lady Macbeth implores.

The famous set pieces such as Banquo's ghost appearing at the dinner are played superbly (my wife gasped at Banquo's appearance) and the butchering of Macduff's family is both creepy and terrifying, especially as the three henchmen approach Macduff's daughter and the lights go down, leaving the awful deed to your own imagination. Finally the final battle between Macduff and Macbeth mirrors the opening fight scene with Macbeth's ultimate demise given a bloody and ruthless presentation.

The Guthrie's Macbeth is intense, bloody, visceral. It's probably one of the most physical performances I have seen. If you are a fan of Shakespeare or Macbeth, it is a must see. If you like good theater or haven't been to the new Guthrie, Macbeth is an excellent way to score some culture cred. Finally Macbeth is a warning to all who claim that God has told them to lead. The Fates are strange things and may have ulterior motives than passing out glory and power.

January 25, 2010

The Vikings and Neil Young

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Lover,

there will be another one
Who'll hover
over you beneath the sun
Tomorrow
see the things
that never come
Today

When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It's over, it's over.

Nestled
in your wings my little one
This special
morning brings another sun
Tomorrow
see the things
that never come
Today

When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It's over, it's over.


This past week I picked up two excellent Neil Young releases: Live at Massey Hall, 1971 and Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury Hall, 1968. Both are acoustic shows with Neil Young early in his career. They are melancholy and utterly compelling as Young, especially in the Canterbury release, completely overwhelmed me with their emotional impact. I listened to both releases all weekend and they kept my nerves calm as the Viking game approached Sunday evening.

Unfortunately the Vikings game was perfectly predictable. They were the better team on the field last night but the Vikings are fated to lose tragically in the playoffs. Now we have AP's fumbles, Favre's interception, bad calls by the ref, and a 12th man in the huddle to add to the canon of The Pushoff, 41-doughnut, Darrin Nelson's dropped pass, and Gary Anderson's missed field goal. I truly believe that the 12 man in the huddle was the ghost of Vikings playoff futility past.

I've been predicting something like this all season and realize that it's the fate of the Vikings to lose in such a manner. Unfortunately for many teenagers and pre-teenagers, this was their first experience of being let down by the Vikings. Congratulations. It's a rite of passage. You have taken another step on your journey of being considered a "real" Minnesotan.

Which brings me back to Neil Young. Right after the game I went upstairs and was cleaning the kitchen. I turned on the I-Pod and Neil Young's Birds came on immediately. What an appropriate song as it is a message (lyrics above) from someone who has either died or left a loved one. It is very sad and quite appropriate. If I had the time and ability, I'd put together highlights of last night's game and this song. Listening to it made me smile. Neil knows and so do I: It is the Vikings fate, embrace it, accept it.

Oh and don't fret, Joe Mauer will be signed this week.

January 18, 2010

Dylan at the March on Washington

I'm going to have a couple of Dylan clips the next few weeks and I thought since it is Martin Luther King Day, that I would start with Dylan at the March on Washington.

This was one of Dylan's first time in the spotlight and was due to Joan Baez, who insisted that he be part of the pre-speech entertainment. It's early in the event so MLK is no where to be seen and I don't know if there is any record of his thoughts on Dylan or his performance.

Dylan sings When the Ship Comes In which I think is perfectly appropriate for the day. The is basically saying that those standing in our way will get bulled over and will get their commeuppance. The songs sentiments fit in quite well with the thinking of that day and of course articulated later by MLK.

This was the height of Dylan's protest song period, which would last for another 15 months of so. For Dylan it was a big stage and he took full advantage, never looking back so to say.

January 11, 2010

Jack Kerouac on the Steve Allen Show

Looks like it's lining up to be Jack Kerouac week here at LFAD. Above is a classic clip of Jack Kerouac reading from On The Road as Steve Allen accompanies on piano. I like this clip because it shows what 50 plus years have done to late night television like the Tonight Show. Fifty years ago, the host would accompany a poet(!) as he reads from his most famous book. Today, we get dick jokes.

I also love this reading. Kerouac reads in the breathless, manic style in which he wrote the book. It's exhilarating. You get a sense of the excitement of the road, the carefree openness that the road symbolizes to Kerouac. Try to read the entire book in this style, it's exhausting, which I think is its intent. Also Allen's jazzy piano is spot on, a nice accompaniment to the reading.

At the time of this reading On The Road had recently been published and this was by far the most exposure Kerouac had ever received (although On The Road had been glowingly reviewed by the NY Times). Kerouac looks nervous and fidgety and is obviously sweating, either from nervousness or the bright studio lights. Once Kerouac starts reading however (about 2 minutes into the clip), he settles down and I love the way he draws out Dean Mo-ri-ar-i-ty at the end.

If you ever wondered what the big deal was about Jack Kerouac, I think this clip illustrates how cool Kerouac and On the Road was. Although Kerouac would write a number of books that were well received, none would match the energy of On The Road and unfortunately Kerouac would descend into raging alcoholism, passing away in 1969 basically from alcohol destroying his liver.

December 29, 2009

Books Read 2009

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O.k. So it's my annual review of the books I read over the past year and like 2006, 2007, and 2008 it is dominated by non-fiction. Overall I have to say this was one of my more disappointing years in books reading as I tackled more than a couple of books in which I had a hard time getting through. With that, the 2009 list:

Mountains Beyond Mountains -- Tracy Kidder
. The story of Paul Thatcher Farmer and his efforts to eliminate TB in Haiti. Great book illustrating how someone totally committed to a cause can make a difference in a bleak country.

Ten Cent Plague - David Hadju. I reviewed this book here. All about the growth and downfall of comic books from the turn of the last century to the 1950's. Nice little history, could have used more color illustrations of some of the comic book covers the book discusses.

The Wordy Shipmates - Sarah Vowell.
Quirkly history of the Puritans who settled Massachussetts Colony in the 1600s. Vowell has a nice way of making history a lot of fun. Reviewed here.

Mystery Train - Greil Marcus. The ur-text on how to do rock and roll criticism. I of course loved the chapter on Elvis but the chapter on Sly and the Family Stone is really good too.

Hitchcock's Romantic Irony - Richard Allen. A film critic's look at Hitchcock's films. A little too scholarly for my sensibilities. I was hoping for something a little more accessible. Definitely only for the film studies major.

Positively Main Street - Toby Thompson. The author goes to Hibbing to find out about Dylan's childhood and finds a whole new world called Minnesota. A must read for all Dylan fans.

In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World it Made - Norman Cantor.
This book was about the Black Plague and was wretched. Supposedly this guy is a European History professor but you'd never know it by reading this book. I could do a better job of writing this book using the Black Plague entry from Wikipedia. Stay Away!

The Cousins' Wars - Kevin Phillips. Another book that I was disappointed in. Ostensibly about English-American relations from the 1600's to World War I, seen through the lens of the English Civil War, American Revolution, and Civil War. This book was just too boring and too tedious. I am interested in the subject, I just need a better book.

Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crimewave and the Birth of the FBI - Bryan Burrough. The book which inspired the movie starring Johnny Depp. True life accounts of the gangsters who terrorized the mid-west in the early to mid-1930's. Excellent book if interested in this slice of American History.

A Walk in the Woods - Bill Bryson.
Reviewed Here. Bill Bryson is having a mid-life crises and decides to walk the 2100 mile Appalachian Trail. No word if he also had an Argentinean mistress. Great travelogue of his adventures on the trail, U.S. forest and environmental policy. A great, breezy read.

Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett. This was the only novel I read all year. Epic story of a 13th Century English town and their efforts to build a grand cathedral. Not great literature but a fun page turner nonetheless.

Wrestling with Moses - Anthony Flint. Reviewed Here. Story of the epic struggle of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses and the protection of NYC's West Village. We struggle to this day over the same urban development/protection issues these two fought over 50 some years ago although I would have to say that Jane Jacobs is winning.

The Tipping Point/Blink - Malcolm Gladwell. Tipping Point discusses the mechanics behind when something goes what we now call "viral" and what it means for advertising and cultural norms. Blink is the lesser book and discusses how we make snap judgments and first impressions, sometimes within a blink of an eye. Both are very interesting and quick reads. Tipping Point has sometimes been compared to (vastly overrated imho) Freakonomics.

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 - Tony Judt. Another big disappointment. I had high hopes for this book as it promised a vast discussion of all of European history from 1945-2005. But it was way too boring and got into more discussion of political alliances than the history of what happened. There's got to be a better book on this subject than what Judt attempted.

I also re-read two books that I have enjoyed in the past. They included Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life by John Sellers and Like a Rolling Stone: Dylan at the Crossroads by Griel Marcus. Both are quite excellent and well worth the re-reads.

That's it I think. Seventeen books, which is about average. Not sure what 2010 has in store for me yet but I do have a $25 gift card to B&N. I'll probably also try to get Gladwell's other two books as well. Any suggestions? What did you read in the past year?

December 15, 2009

Best Movies of the Decade

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Since it's the end of the decade, it's practically a blogger's obligation to make best of or worst of lists. A couple of weeks ago I listed my favorite albums of the decade. Today I'll tackle movies. As always reaction, ridicule are welcomed in the comments.

In no particular order.....

Spiderman II - Probably the best Comic Book Hero movie ever (and that includes you Dark Knight).

Juno - Wonderful script, quirky characters. Fun little movie.

Unfaithful - Diane Lane gets it on in a hallway, bathroom, floor, couch, bed... with some French dude or and she's married to Richard Gere.

Memento - By doling out the movie "backwards" the viewer experiences the story much like the main character.

Lord of the Rings - I'm including all three here although I think Fellowship is the best. Not too many people think it could be done, but a pretty good adaption of the books. Deserves all its accolades.

Shaun of the Dead - Funny, scary take on the whole zombie romantic comedy genre.

Eternal Sunrise of the Spotless Mind -- Wonderful movie, probably one of my favorites. Like Memento, great use of non-linear storytelling to get into what the characters are experiencing.

Almost Famous - Another favorite. Perfect movie about what it means to love rock and roll.

Pan's Labyrinth - Magical storytelling with an ending that will break your heart.

Into the Wild
- A great adaption of a great book. One is both horrified and completely understanding of Chris' decisions to move to Alaska.

Brokeback Mountain - Get over the homosexual themes of this movie. It is wonderfully filmed and Heath Ledger's last scene will shatter your soul.

United 93 - Intense. You know how this ends but still keeps your grabbing your seat to the very end.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - The movie that brought Asian wire work to the masses. Beautifully shot. This is the same Director who brought us The Hulk?

King of Kong
- Documentary about grown up boys pursuing video game records. Compelling characters you just can't make up.

Man on Wire - Story of how a guy was able to string a line between the Twin Towers and walk across. Fascinating story.

Diving Bell and the Butterfly
- Very interesting true story about a man who can only communicate through the blinking of his eyes. The movie brings you virtually right inside his head as he reacts to his new circumstances.

In America - Nice little story about recent immigrants to NYC.

Donnie Darko - Weird story about descending into madness or time travel? You decide. Cool soundtrack too.

Little Miss Sunshine - I love how this story portrays this down-on-its-luck family. The payoff at the end is fantastic.

Sideways - Maybe a little pretentious but some great writing. Plus I never laughed so loud at some of the antics.

American Splendor - Again one of my favorites. A great way to bring a comic book series to the big screen.

Once - A nice little movie with wonderful music and great characters. Simple, straightforward plot that is not clichéd.

Moulin Rouge - I'm a sucker for this movie. Big musical numbers, wild renditions of popular songs, glorious sets. I wish they made them like this more often.

O Brother Where Art Thou - Again the music makes this movie. Coen Brothers at their finest.

School of Rock - A perfect vehicle for Jack Black but another love letter to Rock and Roll.

Milk - Wears its heart on its sleeve, portrays the man warts and all.

Where the Wild Things Are - Kids movie for adults. Wonderful movie about the joys and frustration of being a kid.

Avatar - O.k. I haven't seen this yet but have read a lot of reviews and seen interviews. It sounds amazing. If I see it and it stinks, I will modify.

What did I miss, what above doesn't deserve to make it?

November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Weekend Cultural Wrap-up

Thanksgiving means a lot of things. Giving thanks, gorging on turkey, spending time with in-laws, watching football. Also with basically 4-1/2 days off work, there can be lots of cultural goings on too. Here's a rundown of what I saw, heard, or seen this past week:

Movies. I had the unfortunately experience of seeing Ninja Assassin this weekend. Someone had to be the parent/guardian for a couple of teenagers to see this flick and I pulled the short straw. Totally predictable, unbelievably gory, badly acted. Heck this was so bad the film "makers" could even find the energy to throw in a gratuitous naked boob shot. It was bad, so bad you have to go to confession after seeing it. I still want to see 2012 (I know another bad movie) Where the Wild Things Are, Fantastic Mr. Fox (which I had to give up to see N A) and Avatar.

DVDs. Donnie Darko and Food, Inc. Easily my 8th viewing, Donnie Darko is a classic - make sure you get the Director's Cut. If you ever wanted to know what it's about here's a pretty good wrap-up. Food, Inc. Is a great documentary about all the bad things that are done to our food. I've been moving toward taking making better choices about what I eat ever since I read The Omnivore's Dilemma. After watching this I have to double my efforts. One thing I am doing is buying my meat from a local farmer who uses both humane animal husbandry practices and no pesticides/anti-biotics. (our 22-lbThanksgiving Day turkey was fresh, locally grown, and had no preservatives, antibiotics, etc., and brought tears to your eyes it was so good).

Books. I quickly finished The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. A nice little book about how trends/fashions etc go "viral." Thing is he wrote this before the onset of Youtube so I would love to hear his thoughts on that. If you liked Freakonomics this is along the same lines, but better. I plan to read Gladwell's other books, Outliers and Blink. But next on the bedside table is a 1000 page tome on post-WWII European History. Should be a good winter read. I also have the latest Atlantic Monthly I need to slip in there.

Music. I didn't buy any new music lately but I did listen to a bunch of Pavement, Radiohead's In Rainbows, Whiskeytown, Decemberists' Crane Wife (which will be on my list of best albums of the 2000s -- if I ever make such list) and all 50 songs on Elvis Costello's Get Happy! For some reason I have a hankering for The Clash and plan to scratch that itch by listening to their first two albums.

Sports. Watched some football this weekend too but missed most of the Viking game. I like that the Vikings defense is coming around. I will definitely watch tonight's game as I am also a Patriots rube.

Well that's about it. What else is going on out there that I missed?

November 11, 2009

Katherine Kersten Hates Gay Marriage

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Responding to the Star Tribune's Katherine Kersten could easily fill a blogger's screen for a year and I typically have ignored her. But this past Sunday's screed against gay marriage is just too delicious to pass up. It's no surprise Kerstin is writing about her opposition to gay marriage. Gays probably rank right up with there with scary Muslims and the downfall of today's culture as tried and true Kersten columns.

I found it interesting that Kersten in her opening paragraph has to backtrack a little on gay marriage. She admits that if a married couple asks "how does gay marriage directly impact my own hetero-marriage?" she can't point out any good examples. Part of this is a realization that we've had gay marriage now for a number of years in some states (including next door Iowa) and all the doom and gloom predicted by the gay marriage opponents have not come to pass (much like we have yet to see a Islamic-centered agenda from Congressman Keith Ellison that KK was so worried about).

Doom and gloom won't work because we have too much evidence that gay marriage really has no impact on how we live our everyday lives. So Kersten has to fall back on philosophy. Kersten's main argument against gay marriage is that marriage is an institution needed to create families. In other words, marriage is reserved for those who can procreate. Here's the kicker quote: "Marriage channels men's and women's sexual attraction into productive ends, and harnesses the male sex drive by binding men to the mothers of their children."

No word on whether or not a couple's marriage can be revoked if for some reason they were not able to produce children or if there is some sort of contract a couple signs when getting a marriage license that states that they will produce x number of children over the course of their marriage. Just think of the possibilities! More importantly what about post-menopausal women who want to get married? Should they be refused marriage too? Under a KK world will men and women have to undergo fertility testing to make sure that they are able to procreate and thus uphold the real purpose of marriage? Does every man over the age of 55 get Viagra with their marriage license?

Of course if we talked with KK she would scoff at all of those examples. But in a nutshell these examples are at the core of her problem. The anti-gay marriage logic is so tortured, so gerrymandered to solely defend her anti-homosexual agenda that it just falls apart under the faintest of scrutiny.

Not withstanding the disappointing vote against it in Maine last week, gay marriage is more and more becoming a reality on the United States. Younger people have no issue with gay marriage and since most of the opposition lies with older people, each year that opposition becomes less and less pronounced. The states that have approved gay marriage have not become Sodom and Gomorrah, gays haven't been "recruiting" more kids to their team, and existing hetero marriages are just as strong (or weak) as ever. The fact that gay marriage opponents are left with flimsy philosophical arguments and stale anti-gay anecdotes to make their case shows how out of the mainstream they've become.

Update:
There was a hilarious parody of the Kersten column in today's strib. Read the Kersten column from the link above, then check out this. Good stuff.

November 2, 2009

H1N1 Vaccine Deniers: Deny Away!

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The H1N1 Virus under a microscope

Even though cases of H1N1 increases every week, including mounting deaths to younger people and those who have weakened immunity, there still is a small, but vocal, contingent of vaccine deniers who will refuse to take the vaccine once it becomes available. Given the fact that a Minneapolis clinic was overwhelmed with over 120,000 calls last week when it became known it had the vaccine, I do believe that vaccine deniers are a small minority of people, hyped up by 24/7 news channels looking to fill time and by (ahem) bloggers who need something to write about.

I have no issue with taking the H1N1 vaccine and will get a shot when it's available and make sure the rest of my family can get one too. The vaccine, its development, and manufacture is no different than the seasonal flu shot, and while I am sure there are some people concerned about the seasonal flu vaccine, we don't hear much about them.

I also don't have an issue with people refusing the H1N1 vaccine, even though it may cause the virus to spread further. First, more people refusing the vaccine means that I will get my vaccine that much quicker and will be easier to find vaccines for my family. But more importantly if a few of these vaccine deniers actually contract and die from the virus, we will "thin the herd" of those who obviously are of lesser intellect. Many of these vaccine deniers would be prime candidates for a Darwin Award and if they want to eliminate themselves from the gene pool, we'll mourn their passing but then feel grateful they can no longer propagate. Surely someone who takes their medical advice from some white dude rapping about H1N1 or Bill Maher instead of the CDC, gets what's coming to them.

So all you vaccine deniers out there, deny away. I'll go get my shot, stay healthy, and check out your stuff when the estate sale is held.

October 14, 2009

Book Review -- Wrestling with Moses

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As someone who has spent some time in the East and West Village and Washington Square Park, it's hard to believe that at one time New York City officials wanted to run an elevated highway right through those neighborhoods and separately turn Washington Square into basically embankments to a 4-lane, enhanced 5th Avenue. Currently those neighborhoods are quaint, highly functional urban areas that cater to a diverse (although increasingly wealthy) population. Ruining them with superinfrastructure would seem crazy now and in the 1950's and 60's that seemed crazy to one woman: Jane Jacobs.

Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City by Anthony Flint is a slim book chronicling the efforts of New York's Master Builder Robert Moses to bring highways, urban renewal, and superblock housing to the Greenwich Village area of New York and how Jane Jacobs was not only able to stop those efforts in their tracks but to change the way that people in general, and urban planners specifically, thought about how urban areas worked.

The Flint book is a fascinating retelling of Robert Moses' plans for the Greenwich Village area and how Jane Jacobs was able to use the public planning process, the press, and neighborhood activism to stop those plans. Although today we hear all the time about how neighborhood groups organize to stop some sort of huge public works project or highway project, in the 1950's this was unheard of. Any group that stops a highway from going through their neighborhood should give a tip of the hat to Jane Jacobs.

Having said that, however, Jacobs lasting legacy will be her book The Death and Life of the Great American Cities. Although it espouses concepts we take for granted today -- good urban development needs eyes on the street, a diversity of uses, places for kids to play, places to walk, work, and shop -- in the early 1960's this was a radical concept and flew in the face of the massive "urban renewal" effort that was going on throughout the country. While neighborhood groups eagerly embraced her concepts, city officials, developers, and yes urban planners, treated the book with scorn.

Although the Flint book champion's Jacobs' efforts and recognizes their impact on the urban form some 50 years later, it's not afraid to point out the negative fallout and their lasting impacts. NIMBYism is a direct descendant of what Jacobs wrought and many neighborhoods have used her writings and concepts to oppose any and all development, regardless of merit. Furthermore, although Jacobs also spoke out against gentrification, it is clear that by preserving the quaint urban elements of the West Village and SOHO, those neighborhoods have become a magnet for wealthy professionals and national chain stores, while the dock workers, shop owners, and elderly Jacobs celebrated in her book have long moved away.

One side note, In Robert Caro's book The Power Broker, which is a 1200-page magnum opus on the life and times of Robert Moses, there is nary a word on Jane Jacobs. Apparently Caro turned in a 1500 page manuscript and the editor made Caro trim it. A whole chapter on Jacobs was eliminated, as was a chapter on the Brooklyn Dodgers leaving for Los Angeles and the inner workings of the New York City Planning Commission. Oh to read those chapters! Come on Vintage, reprint The Power Broker in two volumes with the cut chapters intact.

You may not want to tackle 1200 plus pages about Robert Moses, but if you are at all interested in urban planning and the effort to transform/preserver lower Manhattan, the 200 page Wrestling Moses is highly recommended.

September 9, 2009

Fleece(d by) the Beatles

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ZOMG! It's 09-09-09, Beatles Day. Forty years after they recorded their last album, baby boomers are still trying to wrest control of popular culture by reminding us yet again that the Beatles were the. Greatest. Band. Ever! The Beatles were so great in fact they are giving us the opportunity to buy their albums yet again for only $200 (in stereo or mono). Oh and you younger kids who like to play video games instead of sitting on a bean bag chair, headphones on, listening to Abbey Road, here's a $249.00 video game where you can play Beatles songs too!!!! I'm surprised all the Beatles songs weren't released in Muzak form for Grandma, A Kidz Bop set for those too small for video games, and their catalog re-interpreted by Garth Brooks and Carrie Underwood for Country Music fans. Come on, where's the cross marketing people!

Now don't get me wrong, I like the Beatles just as much as the next guy. I've got most of their songs on the I-pod, I watched a bunch of stuff on VH-1 this past week, heck I even like that movie Across the Universe. They were a great band that basically created youth culture and the standard 2 guitars, bass, and drum set-up that most band still adhere too. Yes, they were great, baby boomers are Gods because they existed while they were growing up, and everyone else will never be as cool because they weren't there.

I guess for me, 40 years later, I'm done with it all. I don't need to buy their albums yet again. I don't need to read yet again, why the Beatles broke up in the pages of Rolling Stone, how creative George Martin was, and the importance of the Number 9 in Beatles lore. We've gone over all that we get it, lets move on already. Besides save something for the 50 year anniversaries that are coming up in the next decade. Also has an album aged any worse than Sgt Preston's Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band? Beside's the goofy costumes, there are only about 4 songs that really hold up 42 years later.

I guess marketers are trying to re-create that time when everybody (and when I say everybody I mean popular youth culture) all liked the same thing. The story is that when Sgt. Prestons Peppers came out, you could walk down the street and hear it from every window. Now days musical tastes are so stratified and divided into a specific niche or genre, that we've lost that community aspect that popular music used to bring. Does anyone even know what's in the top 10 these days? I just wish instead of bringing up some re-treads, as great as they were, that the music industry would embrace a new act or two that could move us much like the Beatles did 5 decades ago.

August 31, 2009

Avatar and the Fanboys

One movie that the fanboys have been geeked out for years now is James Cameron's Avatar. It's Cameron's first movie since Titanic and has been discussed, debated, and widely anticipated on-line for nearly 10 years. Cameron has done nothing to tamp down the discussion as he has promised eye-popping special effects and the use of I-max and 3-D technology like it's never been done in the past. He effectively delayed filming until he was comfortable that the technology was equal to the vision (or at least that's what he has said publically). Given his past track record with Terminator II and Titanic, most have been giddy with anticipation over the eye-gasm's that Avatar promised.

A release day was finally set for mid-December and 10 days ago the first trailer was made public on-line and then attached to Inglourious Basterds. Unfortunately the reaction from the fan boys was Holy Crap, that looks really lame! To be sure, the film effects look amazing. Maybe a little too CG at parts, but colors that are extremely vivid and other worldly. The problem lies with the fact that the movie itself looks like a remake of Ferngully, the Last Rainforest. Cat people and lush jungles predominate and there appears to be a strident eco-message. The movie looks like it would appeal more to 10 year old boys and girls than to a 30 year old fan boy still stuck in his teen age years. The infamous trailer is below.


Fortunately fanboys are pretty funny too and while the reaction has been overwrought, at least one person was able to capture it in this very funny spoof from the Hitler movie Downfall. Now people have been using this scene from Downfall to spoof current events for a good 18 months now (there's a nice one about Hitler's reaction to the Vikings signing Favre) but this is one of the better ones. It captures fanboy reactions to the trailer perfectly. Enjoy.


Admittedly the Avatar trailer has me a little worried too. Undoubtedly it will be amazing to see on the screen. I just hope the story can at least come close to matching the scenery. Fortunately a trailer doesn't make a movie, let's hope that James Cameron realized that amazing effect only enhance a story, it doesn't make the story. I'll be watching how this progresses as it will be a major popular culture story from here to the end of the year.

August 17, 2009

Weekend Recap

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A few thoughts from the weekend...

District 9. Saw this movie on Friday and thought it was pretty good. Was it the best sci-fi movie since Bladerunner? Well no. It really took a while to get moving, specifically the faux-documentary portion of the first 30 minutes didn't quite work. The last 30 minutes was a thrill ride however. Couple of plot holes, but definitely recommended if you are into that kind of movie.

Pillars of the Earth. I am not a big fiction reader but enough people had read this book with glowing reviews that I thought I would spend part of my summer with this sprawling book. It is an enjoyable breezy read and I got through it's 980 pages in a relatively quick two weeks. It was a little too "soap operary" for me but there were some good page-turning moments as well. Lots of good detail on the architecture of 12th century cathedrals and how they were built. Oh and Ken Follet is obviously a boob man as practically every female's breasts were described numerous times in excruciating detail.

Dinosaur Jr. - Farm. Actually I have been listening to this for a good 6 weeks or so and never did a full review. Let's just say if you like Dinosaur Jr., you're gonna like Farm. With the classic J. Mascus and Lou Barlow line-up, it feels like 1988 all over again. Great guitars, this album is a blast.

Gran Torino. We rented this movie and I thought it was excellent. I don't understand how it didn't get any love from the Academy. Definitely worth checking out.

SBG Convention. The 3rd annual SBG convention was held at Minnehaha Park this weekend and I was finally able to attend. The Twins game was a buzz kill but we did get to see Delmon Young actually walk (and take the 1st pitch in three consective at bats). It was good to meet a couple of SBG citizens and I am looking forward to future conventions.

PGA. Tiger choked. PGA might be a little worried. First at least 50 percent of its popularity is tied to Tiger Woods. If he doesn't do well then the PGA doesn't do well (ratings, attendance wise). Also while it's great to see new faces win, a South Korean who doesn't speak English can be problematic. The LPGA has suffered greatly as it has become dominated by the South Korean's who aren't able to promote the game and the LPGA is losing sponsors left and right. PGA will have to worried whether it will experience the same on the men's side.

Kind of Blue. Miles Davis' Kind of Blue was released 50 years ago today. This article describes how and why it is the greatest jazz album ever. A must read.

August 6, 2009

500 Posts and A Walk in the Woods

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This is my 500th blog post which I guess is some sort of milestone. Probably speaks more toward longevity than anything else. It does mean that I have made a post almost every other day for three years. Some of it crap, some of it well thought out. Most of it important only to me. I've long since come to grips with the fact that some of my posts that have the most critical thinking and writing get no comments, while others I blast out in 3 minutes receive a bunch of comments. I guess it's the nature of the blog beast.

I was thinking about this milestone as I finished reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. It's a true account of Bryson's attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail in the late 1990's (1996?). He starts off in Georgia with his friend Katz who is woefully unprepared. They don't quite get through Tennessee when they abandoned their efforts to walk the entire way and catch a ride up to Virginia to walk the Shenandoah Mountains. Later that year Bryson does some other side trips and the both of them attempt to walk the 100 Miles of Wilderness in Maine. They abandon that effort after a couple of days and call it quits.

The book is an easy read and quite amusing with some serious side notes about Forest Management, the Environment, history of the Trail, etc. Even though they walked approximately only 800 of the Trail's 2,200 miles, they feel successful. As Katz puts it, they walked in the south, they walked in the middle, they walked in the north. They walked in snow and oppressive heat. The book is somewhat credited for increasing interest in the Appalachian Trail and I have to admit there is some appeal to making an attempt myself.

For me I guess in a way one could consider blogging a little similar to hiking. You can prepare the best you can but the most important thing is to just put one foot in front of the other and go out there. Don't worry so much about you'll find go out and see what's there. That's what I did with my first 500 posts, let's see what the next 500 posts bring.

July 23, 2009

1100 Days

I missed noting the three year anniversary of LFAD this past Sunday July 19th so consider this post a celebration of 1100 days of spot-on analysis, probing insight, and woeful laments of early 21st Century life. I am especially proud of my recent Erin Andrews essay w/accompanying photo links. Actually three years is a long time in the blogosphere and by some accounts 95 percent of all the blogs that were started since I put down a stake in this section of cyberspace are now abandoned. You know what else is interesting? Blogosphere was not noted as a mis-spelled word when I typed it.

So with 1100 days under my belt here are a couple of thoughts on what's going on.

Bike Riding. On my way home from work later today I will cross the 600 mark on bike miles ridden since mid-April. This Saturday, if the weather cooperates, I am going to ride along the Wisconsin side of Lake Pepin. The miles won't be the much but there are some killer hills on that route. A month from now I am still planning to ride 110 miles to Siren, Wisconsin.

Twins. Ack! When your big move is calling up Jesse Crain... The Twins have three superstars and still are a middling team. A starting pitcher, 2nd basemen, and 8th inning guy are desperately needed.

Music. Besides the previously discussed Charlie Pickett and Wilco discs, I have really been grooving on the new Dinosaur Jr. release Farm. It definitely rocks and feels like those guys never left the stage. I hope J. Mascus and Lou Barlow make music together for many many years.

Books. I've had a dreadful book reading spring and summer with two wretched boring books on the black plague and English-U.S. relations since 1640. I am back on the saddle, however, with the very funny Bill Bryson book about walking on the Appalachian Trail.


Finally this site has been getting hammered by the spambots and I am trying to keep ahead of them by deleting their comments. I may have to get stronger filters on the comments section so if your comment doesn't show up, it may have been trapped. Send me a private e-mail if you don't see your comments.

July 21, 2009

Erin Andrews Peep Show Video

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O.k. the title may be a shameless attempt to goose page views but it also leads to an interesting discussion.

Apparently some creep took a video of Erin Andrews -- the uber-hot sideline reporter for ESPN -- undressing in her hotel room. The video was taken through the door peep hole. Apparently (I have not seen the video nor will attempt to find it) one gets an unfiltered view of Andrew's unclad booty. Although if taken through a door peep hole, I can't image that the image quality is really worth the effort searching for it.

Obviously this is just downright creepy. Who would even think about doing something like this? I am not sure if they know the perpetrator but I hope that if they find him (and let's all acknowledge that this is undoubtedly a guy) he goes to prison and Andrews sues his ass for all it's worth.

But I am also worried that this will have a chilling effect on women, especially attractive women, becoming involved in the media. Let's face it Erin Andrews is easy on the eyes and I definitely stand up and take notice when she is at a television sporting event. I don't want her to go away or for others who have the same qualities to not purse this line of work because they are worried about the freaks and creeps. But at the same time I don't want to see her exploited without her permission. (However, if she chooses to do a Maxim spread on her own, that's o.k. in my book)

Unfortunately someone as gorgeous as Erin Andrews gets a lot of attention, much of it piggish, and some critics think that she is only on TV because of her looks. No doubt that plays a part but she is also a pretty competent sideline reporter who takes her job seriously. Let's hope the creeps keep away and the rest of us get to enjoy her attributes from the comfort of our sofa and flat screen LCD television.

July 20, 2009

Walter Cronkite and the Death of Journalism

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Walter Cronkite died last and the accolades are coming in from all quarters of the media. A lot of focus has been on three events: When he showed emotion announcing President Kennedy's assassination, his declaring that the Vietnam War was not winnable in 1968 and his reporting and anchoring of CBS's Watergate coverage when it was obvious that Cronkite was just as appalled at the Nixon Administration as most Americans.

His words about Vietnam are the most jarring, even 40 years later:

To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.

Now this wasn't a novel concept. Many in the government and military agreed, as did a larger and larger percentage of the American public. But to have Walter Cronkite say it is considered a turning point in the war's popularity with the American public. Unbeknownst to most people, President Lyndon Johnson after seeing the news report lamented "if I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."

It's interesting that we are revisiting Walter Cronkite's career at the same time that we are learning more details about the media's behavior during South Carolina Governor's recent AWOL stint to meet his girlfriend in Argentina. The South Carolina Newspaper The State was able to obtain all the e-mails sent to the Governor's office, including those from the media requesting interviews of the governor. It isn't pretty.

Of course there are the e-mails from "friendly" media before everyone knew Sanford was in Argentina giving him support and assuring him that he will get a fair shake. These included a number of Fox News reporters. What is more troubling is that even after we knew the whole Appalachian Trail story was false, national media personalities such as Jake Tapper at ABC and David Gregory at NBC were sending Sanford's office e-mails asking for an interview and promising to allow Sanford to present his side of the story. Gregory's missive's are particularly galling:

"Left you a message. Wanted you to hear directly from me that I want to have the Gov on Sunday on Meet The Press. I think it's exactly the right forum to answer the questions about his trip as well as giving him a platform to discuss the economy/stimulus and the future of the party. You know he will get a fair shake from me and coming on MTP puts all of this to rest."

And later...

"Look, you guys have a lot of pitches .. I get it and I know this is a tough situation ... Let me just say this is the place to have a wider conversation with some context about not just the personal but also the future for him and the party ... This situation only exacerbates the issue of how the GOP recovers when another national leader suffers a setback like this. So coming on Meet The Press allows you to frame the conversation how you really want to...and then move on. You can see (sic) you have done your interview and then move on. Consider it."

So even though David Gregory knew that Sanford lied about his whereabouts for five days, and his family, staff, and security detail didn't know where he was, Gregory was willing to suck up to Governor Sanford allow him to tell his side of the story and "frame the conversation on how you really want to."

Wow! We've come a long way from Walter Cronkite in 40 years. From wanting to report the truth -- even if that meant questioning what officials were saying to actively courting public officials to change the subject and frame the issues to their advantage. Just think of our media had acted like Walter Cronkite in the lead up to the Iraq War? or took on Global Warming skeptics? Or exposed how our tax policies favor the rich over everyone else? The death of Walter Cronkite turns the final chapter on the media being the public watchdog to the media courting access and not ruffling feathers. Unfortunately our democracy flourishes on the former.

UPDATE Here is a very funny Comedy Central bit about the "journalist" e-mails:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
To Sir, With Love
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
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Political HumorJoke of the Day

July 13, 2009

Monday Music Movie Review -- The Filth and the Fury

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When Julien Temple set out to make a documentary of the Sex Pistols, he unfortunately gave final artistic control to former Sex Pistol manager Malcolm McLuran who turned the film -- The Great Rock and Roll Swindle -- into a self-aggrandizing mess, putting himself into the center of the entire Sex Pistol story. Fortunately Temple rectified the situation by taking some of the same footage, including interviews of the band, taped new interviews, and created one of the best rock and roll documentaries ever made - The Filth and the Fury.

The movie is a pretty straight forward look at the Sex Pistols, their creation, and the immediate impact they had on English popular culture from 1976-78. It also includes great footage of their (un)forgettable U.S. tour which ended with the band breaking up in after a one song concert in San Francisco. Temple however, practically creates an art film as the concert and news footage and interviews are also inter-cut with scenes from typical British television of the day, footage of dotty old Brits, and Laurence Olivier playing Richard III on stage (signifying perhaps King Richard III's quick rise and fall from power to that of the Sex Pistols?)

You get the basics here, how the band was formed, life in mid-70's London, and lots of news footage of how outrageous the hype around the band was. We forget but it was the Sex Pistols that literally created the ripped-up, safety pin look that became known as "punk." It is interesting to see some early concert footage and most of the people at the show have long feathered hair, flannel or western shirts and clean jeans. The punk look came later as the crowd responded to what the Sex Pistols were creating. We also learn that Sid Vicious invited pogoing.

Johnny Rotton's love for Sid lives to this day and you really feel for Rotten as he couldn't do anything to save Sid Vicious after he (Vicious) started shooting heroin. Rotten says in the movie, I could take on all of England but I couldn't take on a heroin addict. Rotten was truly hurt by Sid's death because he had been a live long friend. "he was one of the Johns."

The U.S. tour was a disaster and by the time they got to San Francisco, the band was done. They went on stage and played a long, rambling version of the song No Fun. Temple plays the concert footage but then uses this song as the backing while Johnny Rotten and the rest of the band explain the last days and the death of Vicious. It's quite an effective device to drive home the point that the band had reached the end. After the one song Rotten yells out to the crowd "ah ha ha ha ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" And walks off the stage. One understands immediately that the remark is directed to both the crowd and to himself.

If you are at all interested in the Sex Pistols, you should check out this movie. It moves quickly and is an interesting take on an interesting band which resonates still today.

July 2, 2009

June 2009 Recap

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Photo via of MN Daily

For some reason June just blows by. It seems like the month just starts and boom, its gone and we are making plans for the 4th. This year was a particularly memorable June, here are the highlights:

Mr. Franken goes to Washington. It took over eight months but we finally have our Senator. The writing's been on the wall with this one for a couple of months now but the slow as molasses pace and then all of a sudden it's over was breathtaking. Sure Franken is a goof but he is taking the job seriously and has some bona fide political chops. I think Republicans will be sorely mistaken if they underestimate Franken's ability to do a credible job and connect with ordinary Minnesotans.

Michael Jackson dead (and Farrah, and Ed, and Karl Malden, and Billy May, and Jay Bennett...) Wow bad month for celebrities. I can appreciate Michael's obvious musical talent with the Jackson 5 and his early solo stuff but the guy was a confirmed child molester. The crushing weight of celebrity and his own demons turned him into a freak at the end so he gained some sympathy there but don't forget: the man slept with little boys.

Timberwolves and Wild changing gears. Man I wanted Ricky Rubio and Stephen Curry together in the backcourt and was that >< close to seeing it happen. I am not sure if Rubio will play for the Wolves this year, but I think he will play eventually. This team still has a lot of holes but the excitement over Rubio should demonstrate to the Wolves "braintrust" that this is a real NBA market. Give us a team that is exciting, shows us some promise for the future, and we will come out and be there with you. Wild lose Gaborik which is no surprise. Now lets rebuild this team and get a goal scorer or two.

Twins. Aaron Gleeman has a good article describing the Twins first half of the season. Essentially Young, Tolbert, Punter, Buscher, and Gomez are a negative balance to the nice seasons Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Cuddyer are having. The starting pitching are slightly coming around as are the relievers. A nice right handed reliever is still needed but the Twins are blessed by playing in a flawed division. However can they compete in the playoffs?

New Wilco album. I really wanted to have a review ready today but just haven't been able to give Wilco (the album) a good listen or two. Reviews are mixed and the first couple of songs haven't exactly grabbed me. I love however the first single, You Never Know. If the whole album is like that, I will be raving. Look for a review next week.

No Beer at TCF Bank Stadium. The state legislature says everyone gets to buy booze or no one does. The Regents decided no one. I don't have a problem with this as virtually no college football stadium sells alcohol to the general population. Legislators get on their high horse and say they are looking out for the "common folks" who can't afford a fancy stadium suite. Too bad they don't worry about the common folks when they pass legislation that favors corporate interests over working families so spare me your faux populism.

So 2009 is halfway in the books what else happened in June that I missed?

June 29, 2009

Favorite Things -- The Wire

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For about 16 months I have been pretty religious about going on the exercise bike at least 2-4 times a week. My secret is that I have set up a portable DVD player and watch DVDs of TV series that I missed during their first runs. I have picked shows that are more serial in nature so that I am motivated to keep watching. My first show was Battlestar Galactica. Last week I finished five seasons of The Wire.

The Wire played on HBO and was an extremely gritty portrayal of Baltimore, its drug trade and police and government reaction to the drug trade. The show was very cynical as it demonstrated that our institutions are just as corrupt as the drug runners they are responding to. What was really interesting is that each season the show focused on one institution as it responded to the urban ills of the early part of this decade. Season One concentrated on the Police; Two looked at the Unions and dock workers; Three examined City Politics; Season 4 took on the Schools; and 5 focused on the Newspaper industry. All was interwoven with the drug trade in Baltimore, the guys who controlled the drugs and the thugs who sold and controlled the street.

One was drawn into the series because of the characters. Characters, whether Police, drug thug, or politician were shown warts and all and you could be sympathetic to a character even though he was a ruthless murderer, a stats-juking bureaucrat, or a cynical politician. Also there were no sacred cows. Favorite and key characters would be killed off or shown cheating on their spouse. Characters were shown as complex people with conflicting motivations who sometimes made mistakes. Just like people in real life.

Season 4 was especially devastating. It concentrated on the schools, specifically four 8th grade boys as they tried to go to a school that is underfunded and sitting literally sitting in a war zone of the drug trade. My own kid was also in 8th grade as I watched that season and believe me his life is completely different than those kids. These four were also followed in season 5 and only one made it through as anything considered safe. But one became so attached to these kids that it was a kick in the gut to see how they turned out. In fact I even uttered a sad "oh Michael" when one of the kids made his first killing (shooting a street thug who had been on the show from the beginning).

As I mentioned above, The Wire is extremely cynical and dark. Its message really is that our Cities are failing, our institutions are failing, and that we are in an endless loop. We can eliminate some drug thugs, but others are ready to rise up and take their place. We can eliminate our urban slums but the things that make those places slums, just move to someplace else. Good people may try to fix things but The System beats them down and corrupts them so that in the end nothing happens. It sound pretty sad and grim and in a sense it is. But the stories are so rich, the characters so real that I heartedly recommend anyone to seek out The Wire and dive in.

Up next for the Exercise Bike? The Sopranos

June 23, 2009

Green Day -- 21st Century Breakdown

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Being a guy in his mid-40's who sometimes borders on rock-snobbery, I realize I am not suppose to like Green Day. Sure, Green Day was "cool" back when they were East Bay punks, but now with a second album in 5 years that wears its pretentious sermonizing on its sleeve, the sentiment that Green Day speaks to anyone outside it's target market of 10-14 year old boys is usually met with eyes rolled at best, derision at worst.

Pitchfork Media, self-assigned arbiters of cool music, led the anti-Green Day charge when they gave 21st Century Breakdown only 4.8 out of 10 stars and slagged the album with the following:

21st Century Breakdown is just as pompous and dumb, but it lacks even that old misguided passion. It's a slog, but not the kind that results when a band forgets the importance of editing when in the throes of "trying to say something." Its sprawl feels entirely unearned, three men worried about meeting expectations rather than driven by urgency. The performances are blandly professional, because any major-label rock band of Green Day's abilities could shit this stuff out in their sleep, and emotionally inert. This is the crafting of a modern epic as a dreary day-job routine.

Obviously I am writing this post because I disagree. Now don't ask me what the "story" is all about, I couldn't tell you and to be honest, I couldn't care less. What I like about 21st Century Breakdown is that it rawks. Hard. Is it big dumb rock? You bet your stack of Marshall amps it is but big dumb rock has always had a place in my musical tastes, especially when it marries punk sensibilities with arena-style guitar anthems.

Classic rock grandiosity, punk rock fury, pop song hooks, this album has it all. There is a blatant rip-off of a Hives song that absolutely kills and a shout out to G..L..O..R..I..A in another song.. The last 3rd of the album thunders with a ear-crunching trio of Horseshoes and Handgrenades, The Static Age, and 21 Guns -- songs not only thrilling but bringing the album to a rousing conclusion. The Static Age is particularly fun as it combines hard rock bombast with garage rock sentimentality.

So is 21st Century Breakdown derivative? No doubt. Are the lyrics kinda dumb? Yes. Does it try to hard to be profound? Oh God Yes. But it rocks out from start to finish and is a strong antidote to all the whiny buzz bands that all the cool kids seem to like.

June 18, 2009

I've Got My Twins 2010 Twins Tickets

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We finally got our tickets selected for the inaugural year at Target Field. I will be in Section 324, row 4 for ten games next year and we will not only have an awesome view of the field, but also of the downtown skyline. See above for ticket location.

These are $12 seats but I am extremely happy. Ten games, now we gotta figure out who goes to what game. Should be fun! You better let me know pretty soon if you want to go to a game.

May 19, 2009

Movie Music Moments

Empire Magazine asked Cameron Crowe to list his 10 favorite movie music scenes and of course he comes up with 36! I thought it was an interesting concept so off the top of my head I developed my own list. With a little prompting this could be radically altered (i.e. I probably need a Scorsese film in there) so I’d love to hear of your favorite movie music moments in the comments.

It’s All Over Now Baby BlueDont Look Back. Donovan is in a London Hotel with Dylan and plays him a new song which has some maudlin Elizabethan lyrics set to a Dylan tune. Dylan pulls out a guitar and says I’ve got a new one too and proceeds to play It’s All Over Now. It’s an amazing version and right then and there Donovan knew he was never going to be the “Next Dylan.”

In DreamsBlue Velvet. Who knew such a beautiful song could be made so creepy.

Where is My MindFight Club. Crowe has this one too. The Pixies song plays as the buildings fall in the last scene. It’s a perfect song to a perfect ending of a perfect movie.

Wise-UpMagnolia. All the cast members sing parts of this song which could have easily been seen as a stunt and taken the viewer completely out of the movie. Instead it links the characters together. My mouth drops every time I see this scene.

Mad WorldDonnie Darko. Played over a montage. Fuels the overall mood of a very moody movie.

CelebrationMarie Antoinette. Much like Mad World above. This is a mood setter.

Falling SlowlyOnce. Another one that Crowe mentions. You truly see the two characters fall in love during this song, and the look on their faces is priceless.

Tiny DancerAlmost Famous. Band hates each other, brooding on the bus. Someone starts to sing Tiny Dancer, someone joins in, then another, then another. Pretty soon the whole bus is singing and everyone forgets about their problems.

Don’t Stop Me NowShaun of the Dead. Can you think of a better song to fight zombies to?

My Back PagesMasked and Anonymous. A Japanese version of the Dylan classic. The song plays over the opening credits while scenes of poverty and urban decay fill the screen.

What do you think? Give me a list in the comments.


May 11, 2009

Star Trek

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We went to see Star Trek last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. As a movie franchise reboot it hit all it markers: Interesting and compelling story for those not familiar with the back story? Check. Enough homage to previous efforts to not offend the long time fans? Check. Fun experience so that the audience is wanting more in the future? Check. The movie scored in all three aspects and ended up being a fun, summertime sci-fi flick.

Special effects were great as The Enteprise’s exterior was lovingly recreated while the interior was definitely updated for modern sensibilities. Uniforms were the familiar gold, blue, and red, while other accoutrements such as phasers were similar to old style phasers in design but updated to a look cool in the screen.

What I think most long-time fans will like is how well the characters that are so well-known and loved come across the screen. I was surprised how emotional it all was seeing Bones, Scotty, Spock et al back to being young again. Unfortunately we’ve seen these characters get old and pudgy, it was nice to seem them young and spry once again. Also the story gives the viewer a sense of how these characters came to be such a kick-ass crew. How could they not love each other and work so well together after their original baptism by fire. I can watch Star Trek “Origins” and totally believe every thing I saw in the original television series.

Was it a perfect movie? Of course not. Relying on time travel to explain away plot contrivances is a staple of sci-fi which can be a pain, no difference here. Plus I could have used a different villain, but that’s just picking nits.

Overall a fun movie-going experience, much needed in the Star Trek genre after the slow and steady decline of the franchise and one I look forward to see future chapters.

May 5, 2009

Caution 14-year old geek resides within

From my hairline to responsibilities of mortgage, kids, work, etc., I feel and look everyone one of my 46 years. Sure I'll go to the Uptown Bar on a Friday night, throwback a bunch of Summits and rock out with The 757s like the next urban hipster, but the next day I'm driving the kids all around the metro area or working in the yard. Those fun Friday's make the obligations on Saturday that much more bearable (even with a slight hangover).

So why am I geeked out like a 14 year old over two upcoming pop cultural events? Am I just immature? Denying my unstoppable agedness? Bored with "adult fare?" Probably a combination of all three to be honest.

So this weekend I'll probably be line for the latest Star Trek movie enthralled with not only a promised sci-fi epic, but having a critical eye toward how Sulu, Scotty, Bones, etc are portrayed on the screen. Does the movie re-launch Star Trek as a movie franchise or will it just be a cool movie. There is a difference.

Then a week later, I will be anticipating the new Green Day Album, 21st Century Breakdown, which according to the hype is a worthy successor to American Idiot. Will it rock out? Has Green Day finally sold out? Will "the story" make sense? These will be questions going through my mind as I listen to the album.

So that's what I have to look forward to over the next 10 days. Is it meaty stuff? Heck no, but it does have me up in a lather. I'm just happy I don't have to obssess over whether "Jenna" likes me or not.

So what are you in a geek lather about this Spring/Summer?

April 23, 2009

Monkey Fighting Snakes

O.k. I get it. You can't say mofo on TV. But "Monkey Fighting snakes on this Monday to Friday plane?" That's just inspired. Still doesn't top the edited for TV version of The Big Lebowski however. There are tons of howlers in that one.

March 18, 2009

Battlestar Galactica -- Final Episode

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Battlestar Galactica is one of those sci-fi shows that deals with and addresses “big issues” in the guise of a science fiction action drama. Religion, war, human rights, man’s purpose, and Bob Dylan have all been major undercurrents of a show that ostensibly is about a bunch of humans being chased through space by a bunch of robots. Now after 100 plus hours watching the chase, Friday night’s two hour series conclusion promises to tie up all the loose ends.

I am hoping through this blog I can generate a little discussion over the next day or so about BSG, it’s meaning, and how it will end. There are a number of open questions that will be dealt with on Friday and definitely some of what has happened can only be described as confusing. Maybe we can help clarify for all.

A couple of thoughts. First I am a little disappointed how the whole final five cylons thing has played out. Now, except for Anders, there appears to be little role left for the Final Five. They were built up so much and now that we know who they are (and what they are) there’s nothing left for them to do. Do others agree? Am I missing something?

Also I am a little disappointed that the religious aspect has gone been downplayed as well. It was a stroke of genius to have the humans be polytheists and the Cylons be monotheists. Those ideas could have gone a lot further than they ended up going.

Although Season 4.5 has been a little rough, I think I like it. Let’s face it after 4 years of being chased through space and finding Earth as a smoldering heap, people would start to go a little bat shit insane. I thought the show has captured the fracturing of people’s nerves quite nicely. Having said that, last week’s episode was lame. The last 15 minutes should have been the first 15 minutes and gone on from there.

So with Friday’s final episode soon upon us here are some questions:

What/Who is Kara Thrace? (remember last Friday Baltar said she had human blood)
What role does Hera play? Baltar?
After Earth was discovered as inhabitable, why didn’t they go back to New Caprica?
It seems that humans and Cylons are becoming more integrated? Will that continue?
Are the characters on the show our ancestors or our future?
Favorite/Least Favorite Character?

Use the comments section to discuss…

March 16, 2009

My Favorite Things -- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Sure Jon Stewart and the Daily Show got lots of press last week for his "feud" with CNBC, culminating in the interview with Jim Cramer last Thursday, but Jon Stewart has been a 10:00p fixture on my television for over 9 years and besides sports and movies, the only reason I watch television these days.

Thursday's compelling interview is why the Daily Show is so good. Jon Stewart went right at Jim Cramer, using his own words against him, not allowing Cramer to make a statement unchallenged. The last eight years of the Bush Administration have been good for Jon Stewart -- the incompetency of George Bush was easy pickin's for a comedian as deft as Stewart. However, Jon Stewart has been at his best when skewering the media and its approach to politicians than when he has been attacking the latest goof ball offerings of an elected official.

The first 10 minutes of the show is usually the best. That's when Stewart and his team of "news correspondents" react to the daily news and point out the bullshit of what is being said. As with the Cramer interview, there is heavy use of footage from the past that puts into question what is being said today. Again, politicians take the hit, but beneath the surface, it's really the media that is being attacked.

The interview section is usually hit or miss. Sometimes there is a real interesting author or a politician who really engages with Stewart. And Stewart is smart, the interviewee better be prepared, especially if it's a subject that is dear to Jon Stewart's heart. An interview similar to Jim Cramer's was with Douglas Feith, one of the "architects" of the Bush Iraq war policy. There's a reason why Stewart has won Peabody Awards for news reporting on a show that ostensibly is a comedy show.

Many people thought, "oh now with Obama as President, the Daily Show would become irrelevant." One the Cramer interview proved that wrong, two, as mentioned above, The Daily Show is more about the media than politicians (Now if Fox News ever went belly up, Jon Stewart would be hurting), and three, Stewart has gone after Obama a couple of times already and I have a feeling there are no sacred cows for Jon Stewart.

So if you don't watch the Daily Show, I strongly encourage you to do so. It's much more entertaining than an old comedy re-run or the crap they pass off as local news. Also the Daily Show has ALL of it's episodes on the web, you can sort by day, subject, or person. The Daily Show has demonstrated that you can have a point of view, be entertaining, and provide actual news analysis and will be reason why you will always find me in front of the television at 10:00p Monday through Thursday.

March 9, 2009

Favorite Things -- Watchmen

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After much anticipation, I saw Watchmen this weekend. As mentioned last week I decided to see it on the I-max screen to get the full visual effect. Reviews have blown hot and cold all weekend as it seems that either the reviewer loved it or hated it. Put me down in the enjoyed (not loved) it camp.

I've been debating to myself if you need to read the book to "get" the movie and I don't think you do. Obviously it would help with some of the continuity but I think the film makers did a good job of telling the story to newcomers. If you've read the book I think the movie experience will be that much richer as there are literal panel-by-panel re-creations straight from the book seen on the screen. Another controversy is that the film tweaks the ending. The basic idea of the ending is the same, it's how it was implemented that was changed. To me I think the movie ending is better. For one it makes more sense and two it seem quite plausible and is loyal to the story attempting to be told.

Visually the movie is stunning but still "looks" like the real world. I was a little worried as Director Zach Snyder's work sometimes borders on the unworldly (300, ahem). I also liked the use of music, especially the opening credits as Dylan's Times They are a Changin' is playing, we get to see the creation of the Minutemen, their downfall and rise and downfall of the Watchmen. A lot of backstory was presented in a few minutes, with the Dylan providing the backdrop. A brutal murder while Nat King Cole's Unforgettable was playing was also a nice touch. I could have, however, done without the sex scene with Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah as the background music, that was a little too much (not the sex scene mind you, just the choice of song).

The movie is insanely brutal and earns every inch of it's R rating. There were a couple of scenes where I had to turn my head. But other than that Watchmen was a fun movie experience, what I wanted to see on the screen some 20 years after I first picked up the graphic novel. Watchmen presents a world that easily could be imagined as "might have been" and gives us characters we care for and sympathize with, even if they are psychopathic vigilantes.

What did you think of Watchmen?

March 4, 2009

Watchmen are Coming!!!!

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I could easily take these next few days to do a Watchmen count down, expound on The. Greatest. Comic. Book. Ever., discuss my fears for the movie, what I will be looking for, blah, blah, blah. But I won’t. I’ll keep my inner geek at bay. I am going to see the movie this weekend but probably not until Sunday. However I am going to see at the I-max to get the full visual and aural experience. One thing I will say is that the University of Minnesota’s own James Kakalios was a consultant to the movie, making sure that they got the physics right. Or as right as a blockbuster movie can be. There was an interesting article in the Minnesota Daily a month or so ago about his role, I heartedly recommend it.

So who else is geeked out for Watchmen?

March 2, 2009

My Favorite Things -- Matt's Bar

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Matt's Bar - Home of the Jucy Lucy. There's a long-standing debate in Minneapolis over what restaurant has the best Jucy Lucy: Matt's or the 5.8 Club. I fall squarely in Matt's Bar camp. For a variety of reasons. One Matt's is an authentic neighborhood bar whereas the 5.8 is more of a restaurant. Also there is only one Jucy Lucy at Matt's and you can order with or without fried onions. The 5.8 has a variety of Jucy Lucy's, with different cheeses etc. Also Matt's fries are awesome and the wait staff, bartender and cook have been the same for years. Matt's even has a decent jukebox, although it isn't used very often.

Matt's plain and simple is a Minneapolis institution. It's home to drunks, hipster dudes, frat boys, Abbott Northwestern nurses, and South Minneapolis families. The Grain Belt Premium flows freely and you can buy a pitcher of Coke for the kids. Prices are right too. A Jucy Lucy is still under $5.00. But the reason you go the Matt's is the Jucy Lucy, there is nothing like piping hot goo of cheese squirting out of your burger and burning your lips as you grab your beer to cool off your mouth. Fried onions and coagulating cheese drip on the fries and the wait staff is that perfect combination of world weary and wise-crackin'. The regulars don't mind that the new-to-the-scene are honing in on their turf and for the most part the rookies are respectful to those who have gone forever.

The best thing about Matt's however is that it is timeless. I have a feeling that it's pretty much the same as it was 40 years ago. In these days where everything has be to New and Improved! (and especially in Minneapolis where everything old seems to have been replaced) its comforting to know that there are still places that are cozy, where it's o.k. to have a burger with oozing cheese washed down with a cold beer. There are too few of those places left in this City and we should celebrate and embrace those that still exist.

February 23, 2009

My favorite Things -- Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, is by far my favorite ballpark. Everyone knows its charms: the ivy-strewn walls, the hand-operated scoreboard, its intimacy, the 100 years of Cubs ineptitude, etc.

I especially love the way the ballpark is settled into the urban fabric of Chicago's northside. It doesn't overwhelm the neighborhood but is part of it. Although it owns its name as a "field" it is truly an urban ballpark, with downtown Chicago peeking over the right field fence and apartment buildings providing vantage points over centerfield. The el rumbles by during the game and fans fill the bars and restaurants of Wrigley-ville before and after the game. Rural meets city, men play a boys game, and the fan isn't assaulted with crazy fireworks, loud video commercials or post-modern theme park entertainment features. I have a friend who lived in Wrigleyville and his kitchen window was situated so that he could see the ballpark clock from his table and that is what he used as his kitchen clock. That is the definition of an urban ballpark.

I've gone to occasional games at Wrigley since the early 80's, before they became trendy. The first game I went to we bought tickets the day of the game in the lower level along the 3rd base line. For about 10 bucks if I remember. It was a glorious May afternoon and the sun was shining and the Cubs, of course, were losing. I remember ordering my first beer and the beer guy doesn't pull out a $8.00 beer in a plastic bottle. No he pulls out an ice cold 16 ounce can of Budweiser, cracks it open right in front of me and pours it into a paper cup and hands it to me. "That'll be $2.50." I was smitten.

Now that was over 25 years ago and there are lights at Wrigley, those tickets I sat in are probably $75.00 and you have to buy them months in advance. But the park retains its charms. The ivy is still bare in the spring and green in the summer. Kids scramble up down Waveland to catch a home run ball, and there still is hardly a bad seat in the house.

The Twins play the Cubs in Wrigley this summer and I am planning to go. Hopefully someday I will have the same feelings for Target Field.

February 15, 2009

Favorite Things -- Counting Crows on Letterman

I've never been a big Counting Crows fan. Their first album was good and I listen to it every so often but I don't think I could even recognize a song they've released in the 15 years since their debut came out.

However I've always loved this performance of 'Round Here from the David Letterman show. You have to remember that this is the infamous Madonna show on Letterman where basically she swore throughout the interview, was difficult, wouldn't leave, said Charles Barkley was huge where it counts, etc. Like most train wrecks, it was hard to look away and clearly Dave was uncomfortable while also knowing that this was pretty compelling TV. Anyway Madonna finally leaves and The Counting Crows get to wrap up the show and they sing 'Round Here which was their second single after Mr. Jones.

The song is about a guy leaving everything behind and by doing so, that which is left behind is taken away from him. The reason I love this version is because Adam Duritz sings with such emotion it really draws you in. He's really believes in the words, has lived its sentiment. It's much more than a performance than an inhabitation of the song. Maybe it's the contrast with Madonna who is all about the performance and nothing is real. Maybe it's because the band really rocks out at the end. Maybe because it's a real good song with a real good performance. Whatever it was, it has haunted me ever since and it's one of my favorite performances of a single song I have ever witnessed.

February 9, 2009

My Favorite Things -- Rock and Roll High School

I want to take Mondays to regularly look back and review some of my favorite movies, books, albums, vacations, concerts, etc. I will generally stay away from my 30 best loved albums, since I discussed those in depth already. What a better way to kick this off then by talking about Rock and Roll High School.

Rock and Roll High School came out in 1979 and was filmed basically to become a cult classic. The story is pretty simple as a new hard-ass principle comes to the school and wants to exercise her authority by banning rock and roll. Riff Radley, a girl who loves the Ramones, rallies the students and takes over the school and in every high schooler's fantasy, blow it up.

The movie takes place in January 1980 which would have been my Junior year. Looking back 30 years brings back a lot of high school memories: Smoking in the boys restroom, the stacked chick with the feathered hair, tripped-out conversion vans, standing in line for concert tickets.

Of course the reason why the movies is so cool is the Ramones. The Ramones have one of the Greatest. Movie. Entrances. Ever. when they pull up in a convertible playing Tonight and then march down the street still playing their instruments as they walk past the concert goers standing in line for tickets. Another set piece in Riff's bedroom as Joey croons "I want you ah-ro-und" is another classic.

The movie also has a great actual concert footage with the Ramones playing about 5 songs. No intercutting the songs here, they are all filmed and showed in total. After the concert we get to go backstage with the Ramones and it gets really goofy. Joey has a couple of lines that he is obviously reading. The lines are rushed and it so bad that it is endearingly funny. Finally the Ramones show up at the high school and have a blast while the kids destroy the school.

The movie was done on the cheap and the acting is pretty bad, the dialogue is lame, etc. But you're not watching Rock and Roll High School for its cinematic qualities. You're watching Rock and Roll High School for the Ramones and they deliver the goods. Highly recommended.

February 3, 2009

January Books Read

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I started off my 2009 book reading project by reading two off-beat history books by authors who’s previous efforts I really enjoyed. Unfortunately their latest efforts, while decent, were not nearly as compelling nor as fun to read as the earlier books.

A couple of years ago David Hajdu wrote a great book about the early Dylan days in NYC; his relationship with Joan Baez and her sister Mimi, all the way up to Dylan’s motorcycle accident in 1966. It was called Positively 4th Street and I heartedly recommend that book to anyone interested in that particular period of pop culture history.

Hadju’s latest entry, The Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How it Changed America is about the rise of comic books and the intense political pressure they came under in the 1920s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. The 1950s witch hunt lead to the Comic Book Code, essentially eviscerating comic books of any relevance, critical, or artistic merit. Hadju gives a good accounting of the players involved and he interviewed a lot of guys (mostly) who went through that period in the 1950s. Maybe it was the subject matter but I found the book a little dry. The worst thing is that there were few pictures, only a small smattering of b&w photos. Given the fact that the horror and weird comic book covers of the time played a large part in political leaders trying to ban comic books, it would have been nice to see some full-color examples of the covers or pages from the comic books he was describing. (to be fair, I noticed on Amazon that there is now a “fully illustrated? version of The 10 Cent Plague. I’m not surprised, the book really needs those comic book examples to make it work).

It is decent book about a time when the governments were seriously considering putting restrictions on freedom of speech and essentially forced the comic book industry to self-regulate itself. However the book could have used a little more spark and liveliness. I am guessing that the new illustrated version is a lot more satisfying.

Sarah Vowell is a regular contributor to This American Life on NPR and a few years ago wrote an amazingly informative and funny book about presidential assassinations called Assassination Vacation. Again highly recommended. Her latest, The Wordy Shipmates, covers the time between 1630 and 1690 and the English Puritans who settled New England, specifically Boston, and eventually Providence and Connecticut.

Vowell uses John Winthrop’s City on the Hill sermon as a jumping off point and thoroughly examines the writings and letters (and these guys wrote a whole lot, thus the title) to give insight to our first settlers and the development of some of the “American? ideals that we still hold dear some 350 years later. Winthrop is contrasted with John Williams who argued for a lot more religious freedom than Winthrop and the Puritans were willing to tolerate. Williams was banished from Boston and he found the City of Providence. Vowell makes a great point: "Winthrop is Pete Seeger, gathering a generation around the campfire to sing their shared folk songs. Williams is Bob Dylan plugging in at Newport, making his own noise."

As you can tell from that last line, Vowell brings attitude to this subject much like she did with Assassination Vacation, it’s just not as page turningly funny. The book is informative and a nice little history of John Winthrop and the first Bostonians, but again the spark is missing. Maybe it’s the dour nature of her subjects, maybe its hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice, or maybe I need more to be impressed, but while I enjoyed the book, instead of urging everyone to read it, like I did AssVac, I would urge caution, suggesting that if you’re looking for a fun, funny read, this book won’t really bring it.

There’s some obvious themes here, the first being that its no wonder that freedom of speech and freedom of religion are in the first amendment to the Constitution (in fact Williams’ Rhode Island progeny insisted on the freedom of religion clause in the 1st Amendment). We have fought for these rights for over 350 years, and sometimes, like with Comic Books in the 1950’s, our ideals are compromised. In the end freedom does win out and we continue to strive for that shining city on the hill.

So that’s it, lots of off-beat history for January. A scholarly look at Alfred Hitchcock’s films is now on top of the bookstand with books about Dylan and Hibbing, Allen Ginsburg, and Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train still to come.

What are you reading?

February 2, 2009

Will.I.am Shilling Pepsi!?!

I don't pay much attention to the Superbowl Ad-hype so I was surprised when all of a sudden there's a picture of old-school Bob Dylan on my Hi-Def TV screen singing an off-version of Forever Young during the Superbowl.

The ad was cute and all comparing one generation to another and I don't have a problem with Dylan selling his songs for a commercial. (Using the Mats' Gary's Got a Boner to sell Levitra -- sacreligious!!) But Will.I.am? Couldn't Pepsi have done better than that? The obvious choice would have been Bono of course. I asked my kids, Is Will.I.am the voice of your generation? They just looked at me like I was weird.

Heck maybe that's the root of our problems these days. We don't have an obvious voice of the generation, and when admen have to come up with one, Will.I.am rises to the top. Maybe that's why Obama is so popular, he fits that voice of a generation slot so nicely. Now Dylan and Obama in a Pepsi commercial. That would be cool.

January 6, 2009

I Got Older, Carl Pohlad Didn't

Quick, name one other famous person who died on January 5th, no fair looking at Wikipedia. One hint, it was on the day I was born and there is a slight relation to tobacco.

I have a birthday, go to California for a little more than a day and big stuff happens….

Vikings Lose a Playoff Game. Sorry, that’s not a surprise or big news. But to some folks it’s a big deal. As someone who was a kid when the Vikings lost four superbowls; was in my 20’s when Darrin Nelson dropped a NFC Championship-clinching pass in the endzone; and my 30’s when the ’98 Vikings choked, I just can’t get that worked up about another disappointing season. I’m not impressed by Brad Childress’ game planning, QB developing, or game management skills so don’t look for a huge improvement next year either. Sorry.

Carl Pohlad Dies. He was worth $3.8 billion, lived to 93, sired Madonna and Bono… dude lived a long, successful, and productive life. He saved the Twins from perennial cheapness of the Griffith years (for which I am eternally grateful) only to employ his own brand of cheapness (for which I am not). His efforts to contract the Twins, while probably a stunt, forever harmed my opinion of what he meant to the Twins, but the guy could sure make money. And unlike the bandits who fashion themselves as businessmen today, he did it the old fashioned way -- by outworking everyone else in the room.

Al Franken U.S. Senator. Thank God, I am not sure we could have handled another 6 years of Norm Coleman and his smile that was more fake than his principles. Al Franken might surprise some people about the seriousness he will bring to his new job. In one way it will be easy as his standing among most Minnesotans is pretty low. On the other hand a lot of people are just going to be ready to pounce on any Franken screw up.

December 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008!

As 2008 wraps up I am already looking forward to 2009. Here are some of what I am looking forward to in 2009:

My mission trip to Haiti
Battlestar Gallactica final Episodes
Obama as President
The Opening of TCF Bank Stadium
The Watchmen Movie
The Minneapolis Mayoral race
My 401K going in the right direction

However we can’t forget about 2008. An historic election, another NYC trip for the family, new car, LFAD becoming a place for lost fans of the Urban Guerrillas to check in, lots of bike riding… Below are my favorite LFAD posts of 2008

Drunken Bodeans Concert
U2 in 3D
The Apple Orchard
The Mekons and Griel Marcus!
Vatican Believes in ET
Why I support Obama
The Feelies in Concert
Goodbye Jessie Helms
Welcome RNCers!
Twins lose to Black Sox
Dylan and Obama
Elvis Comeback Special

Also my favorite and least favorite concerts were fun to write about.


Finally I can’t leave 2008 without two other referencing two other pieces of writing that I thought were really excellent. First is a Ryan Adams review that I thought was just sublime. Click Here.

Finally something from Bill Simmons ESPN mailbag. If you don’t know about Bill Simmons Mailbag you should check it out, it is usually absolutely hilarious. Below is a letter that made me spew coffee all over my computer screen:

I was with a lady friend and we decided to pop in a movie. She had never seen "Hoosiers," so naturally we put that in. But 10 minutes into the movie, it was obvious that she wasn't into the movie, and instead was getting a little frisky. So with the movie in the background, we entertained ourselves. The best part was there was a slight pause in the action and I turned to see the movie, and it was right when Ollie hits the free throws, and I thought, "This is awesome!"

With that, have a Happy New Year!

December 29, 2008

Movies in Review 2008

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Here is my 2007 Review
Here is my 2006 Review


Another so-so year for movies in my humble opinion. Here were some of my faves:

Cloverfield. Classic monster movie with the monster representing fear of terrorism. Interesting concept filming from the perspective of those on the street. If you want to read a 10 page treatise I wrote on Cloverfield and terrorism, click here:Download file.

Mongol. Stunning movie about the childhood and rise of Genghis Khan. Filmed on location in the Mongolian Steppes where Khan ruled, this bloody gloriously shot movie is the first of a promised trilogy of the story of Genghis Khan. I can’t wait for the next two.

Tropic Thunder. Funniest movie I saw this year. Great send-up of action flicks. Now you can actually buy Booty Sweat at gift/gag stores.

Batman the Dark Knight. Very dark disturbing film. This isn’t Batman with prosthetic nipples and Schwarzenegger goofing on stupid one-liners. Of course Heath Ledger’s performance was amazing.

U2-3D. Saw this at the I-max and had to see it twice. Great concert show with the 3-D bringing Bono right into your lap.

Butterfly and the Diving Bell. Wow what a film. True story of a man who could only communicate by blinking his one good eye. Filmed beautifully.

Man on Wire. Documentary about the guy who strung a wire between the Twin Towers and walked back and forth for over 45 minutes. Very interesting and you come away with the sense that this guy was both crazy, egotistic, and extremely brave.

Biggest Disappointments: No Country for Old Men was vastly overrated with an ending that was just stupid. Indiana Jones wasn’t a surprise that it wasn’t that great, but aliens? C'mon Spielberg! The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons tried to be great but came up short, thus revealing all of its warts and flaws.

What movies did you like this year?

December 22, 2008

Books Read 2008

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Below is are the books I read in 2008. I think this list covers all of them although I have a feeling I’m missing one or two. If I can’t remember them, they must not have been that important! Many of these books I’ve reviewed in this blog, but not all. As usual, non-fiction predominates the list.

Here is my list from 2007

Here is my list from 2006.

Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and his American Cosmic Music
– David Meyer. I sorta reviewed this book here and is a fascinating read about Gram Parsons, his life and weird death. If you’re interested in Parsons or his music this is a must read. Doesn’t pull any punches and you can tell that the author was disappointed in Parson’s drug use and the potential that was basically tossed away.

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley. I read this as part of my class Monster, Robots, and Cyborgs and found it an interesting and a page turner even though it was written nearly 200 years ago. If you only know Frankenstein through the movie, you should read this book. The original science-gone-amok story.

Beowulf – Translated by Seamus Haney. Again from my class. The original monster story in written form. I also found this book fascinating. Beowulf kicked some series ass in his day. This translation is particularly well done.

Dracula – Bram Stoker. One more from my class. Much like Frankenstein, if you only know the story from the movie you’ll be surprised how much more there is to the story. Very creepy and exciting.

A World Lit Only By Fire – William Manchester. Story of the Middle Ages with a concentration on Magellan’s trip around the world and Luther’s protest against the Catholic church. I’ve read better Middle Age histories including A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman. Manchester’s narrative was all over the place but you could really tell the author’s fascination and enthusiasm over Magellan. He should have stuck to that topic only.

Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister
– Scott Plagenhoef. Part of the 33-1/3 series which has different authors write a short book about a particular album. Even though this one is about Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister it has a lot about Tigermilk as well. A must read for any B&S fan.

Perfect From Now On – John Sellers. Reviewed this book here and is the story of a mid-western guy growing up on AC-DC and Duran Duran who goes to college, discovers U2 and New Order and eventually befriends the guys from Guided by Voices. Very funny, full of lists ala High Fidelity. If you like Guided by Voices or discovered music in the 80’s, this book is for you.

Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus
– Rick Perlstein. The rise of conservatism in America in the late 1950s and early 60’s culminating in the 1964 election and LBJ’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater. Great book about a particular period of American history.

Canoeing with the Cree – Eric Severiad. Teenage Eric Severiad and a friend canoe from Minneapolis to the Hudson Bay in the 1930s. A Minnesota classic that is just as thrilling some 70 years after the trip.

Peace Like a River – Leif Enger. Lovely book about faith and love. Enger is a gifted writer. However I have a feeling he had one passage in mind and pre-written when he tackled the book. He then had to build a book around this one scene. Don’t get me wrong, it works and the one scene I’m talking about is beautifully written, enthralling even, but it stands out so much from the rest of the book, I was left thinking it was completely separate from the rest of the book.

Nixonland – Rick Perlstein. I reviewed this book here. Great book about American history from 1965-1973. We are still living the political lessons Nixon taught us in 1968. Hopefully Obama’s election finally wiped away fear and division as a political tactic.

Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollard. Reviewed this book here. This book had a profound impact on the way I look at food. Not as polemic as Fast Food Nation but packs a punch nonetheless.

The Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Back Hollywood
– James Mottram. Story of how “indie? directors such as Steven Soderbergh, David Pincher, Quentin Tarantino, P.T Anderson, etc went from directing quirky little films to Oscar winning films and box office blockbusters.

Bitter Harvest: The Rise of Gordon Kahl and the Rise of the Posse Comitatus in the Heartland – James Corcoran. Story of the rise of the virulent anti-jewish, anti-federal government movement of the 1970s and 80s and its most famous martyr Gordon Kahl. Written by a reporter and you can tell, the book is like a long-form newspaper article. Interesting, not totally unsympathetic to Kahl either.

Children of Men – P.D. James. If you only know this story from the movie, warning: the two stories diverge completely about halfway through. Nice set-up where no children have been born for nearly 25 years. This book however, reminded me why I like non-fiction better than fiction. There were so many other story lines James could have expanded upon I kinda wish it was a different book. Nice ending though.

That’s it what did you read this year?

Books on the bedside table:

The Ten Cent Plague
Hitchcock's Romantic Irony
Mountains Beyond Mountains

December 16, 2008

The Death of Bettie Page

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Even if you haven’t heard of Bettie Page, you’ve seen her picture. The raven-haired vixen with the killer bangs exemplified 50s era pin-ups and is an iconic look that can still be seen in sluttish models today, especially those with an S-M theme.

But why do we remember Bettie Page? Surely there were hundreds of pin-ups from that era, most of which have been long forgotten. I think its because Page just nailed that naughty but nice look that all men crave. You know, someone who’s freaky in the bedroom but still nice enough to bring home to mother on a Sunday afternoon. Bettie Page had that in spades. Another reason is that Page left at the top of her game. Basically she modeled from 1950 to 1957 and then disappeared. We were left with the Bettie Page that everyone remembered, not a Bettie Page that got old, grey, fat, drunk on Bob Hope specials, etc. Page was “re-discovered? a couple of years back but she refused to have her photo taken or show her face on camera. She wanted to everyone to remember “Bettie Page? the pin-up. Not Bettie Page, the regular women who resided in California.

Page died over the weekend at the age of 85. We never did get to see her face again but I am glad to know that she lived a ripe old age with a normal life. Too bad many of our current celebrities can’t learn the same lesson.

If you want to read a spectacular and long article about Betty Page, her life, and cultural impact, click here.

October 8, 2008

Book Review -- Nixonland

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Nixonland by Rick Perlstein covers the time in American history when it really seemed that the country was about to collapse. The book covers the time period from 1964 to 1972 when urban riots, assassinations, war, massive protests, and campus unrest were constantly being broadcast into people’s home via the nightly news and on American’s doorstop via their daily newspaper. It was also the time that Richard Nixon exploited this unrest and the fears it brought to win two terms as president.

If the past few elections have gotten you down because they seem to have played on the people’s fears rather than issues and positions, blame Richard Nixon. He was the first candidate to really exploit middle class fears, resentments even, about changes in the culture, fears about crime, fears about blacks moving into white neighborhoods, and college students who were not respectful of their elders. People who had never voted for a Republican candidate in the past were scared and mad and confused about what was happening in the world and Richard Nixon spoke to these people like a politician never spoke to someone in the past. And even though he was never well liked, he won two terms as president.

The book is a fascinating read and it really takes you through all the momentous events of the era. The riots in Watts, Detroit, and Newark, the escalation of the Vietnam War, Civil Rights struggles, MLK and RFK assassinations, the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, rising urban crime, Woodstock, Nixon going to China, Kent State, the first inklings of Watergate, and much, much more.

It’s especially interesting because it seems that, 44 years after it was first used as a campaign tactic, fear and resentment is losing steam as an effective political tool. First Hilary Clinton and now John McCain have tied to use fear and wedge issues against Barack Obama with diminishing results. Of course there are pockets of the population that still respond to these tactics as the ugly crowds that have been showing up at Palin rallies can attest (cries of “kill him? were heard on Monday, referring to Barack Obama). However people who feel this way seem to be more and more isolated as the cranky old coots they really are.

So if you like recent American history, interested in how we got to where we are today politically, I strongly recommend reading Nixonland. It should be a must read for all students of American history.

UPDATE:
Ezra Klein states much better what I was trying to say above:

Similarly, attacks that should have shuttered Obama's campaign did not. In 1988, the Willie Horton ads managed to make Michael Dukakis seem too black. In 2008, Reverend Wright couldn't derail Obama. Indeed, to assert Obama's otherness, they've need to stack racial attacks atop insinuations of Muslim heritage atop cries of political radicalism. In 1984, Ayers would have been enough. In 1988, Wright would have been enough. In 2004, his Arab name would have been enough. In 2008, it seems likely that all three combined won't keep Obama from the White House. Which suggests that the traditional sore spots of American politics are becoming quite a bit duller.

We may be entering a time when attacks like this don't work anymore. If you want to read about when these kind of attacks first began, and how effective they were, read Nixonland

September 17, 2008

Favorite Coen Brothers Film

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Since the Coen Brothers have come out with a new movie and are currently filming their next movie in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, I thought it was a good time to discuss your favorite Coen Brother’s film. Below is my list ranked from favorite to least favorite. I’ll discuss below.

1. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
2. Fargo
3. Raising Arizona
4. Blood Simple
5. The Hudsucker Proxy
6. The Big Lebowski
7. Burn After Reading
8. No Country for Old Men
9. Miller's Crossing
10. Barton Fink
11. The Man Who Wasn't There
12. Intolerable Cruelty
13. The Ladykillers

From the bottom, forget about 11-13. None of them are that good and if I could rank 25 Coen Brothers films, Ladykillers would come in at number 25th. I never thought Barton Fink was that great but I had friends who loved it. I saw Miller’s Crossing so long ago it might rank it higher if I saw it again. No Country for Old Men’s ending really dropped this film down. I thought it was over rated. Burn After Reading may go up in time.

Big surprise for Big Lebowski at number 6. While I can appreciate it, it’s randomness left me a little off, some great scenes and characters but over all not as good as the top 5. Also a big surprise for Hudsucker Proxy but I loved that movie, acknowledging that many didn’t. Blood Simple was a great little thriller, that bathroom scene is just awful (in a good way). Raising Arizona is hilarious and of course Fargo is a cultural touchstone in these parts.

That means O’ Brother is my favorite. First the music is great but I just loved how they intertwined some real life happenings such as Governor Pappy and Robert Johnson into the film. Throw in an homage to the Wizard of Oz, and a great payoff when the Soggy Mountain Boys are finally discovered and you have a great, fun film.

What’s your favorite Coen Brothers film(s)?

September 8, 2008

Book Review - The Omnivore's Dilemma

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Since we, as humans, can eat just about anything we want to eat (within reason of course), our main concern with feeding is “what do we eat.? Just think if you were a Koala. Are those Eucalyptus Leaves? Yes. Let’s eat. No they're not? I’ll pass. Humans have the ability to choose between many types of meat, fruits, vegetables, fungi, and grain. All of which are pleasing to the palate, nutritious, and digestible. This question of what to eat is explored at great depth by Michael Pollan in his engaging book The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Pollan traces the food that we eat every day right down to the farm. He visits a large farm in Iowa and describes how corn has become the king of all crops. Farmers have become so productive in growing corn that food processors had to come up with new ways use it. That is why our Cokes are sweetened with corn syrup and not cane sugar and corn is the main feed for cows even though their stomachs are made for digesting grass. In addition, Pollan buys a cow that is being bred for slaughter and is able to follow its life right up the point it enters the slaughter house. This monoculture farming means that farmers have to consistently spray their fields with fertilizer to maintain the health of the soil. Animals are given a whole slew of antibiotics because their bodies were never meant to consume that much corn. The farmers have it easy. The Iowa corn farmer barely needs to tend to his fields except to plant, spray and harvest, but at what cost? At the end of this section, Pollan and his family buy a meal at McDonald’s for less than $15.00 and consume it while riding down the highway going 65 miles per hour. Unfortunately the real cost of that meal is passed on to the general population through environmental degradation and increased dependency on fossil fuels.

In addition, Pollan examines the growth of the organic farming industry in this country. From its roots as way for hippies to get back to nature even though they didn’t know how to farm organically (thus organic’s original reputation as bad tasting and expensive) to today as a multi-billion dollar industry that is basically dominated by two large, industrial organic farming operations (one owned by General Mills). Those “free range? chickens you are buying at Whole Foods? Sorry to say they are raised primarily in large hen houses and only get a few days of sunshine at the end of their life. They are so used to the chicken coop, that they don’t want to go outside and after being physically forced to go outside, don’t know what to do once out there.

Pollan also visits a small organic farm that raises beef, pork, chickens, and vegetables. Nothing is wasted on this farm as the waste from the animals fertilizes the plants, cows eat the grasses, chickens root through the cow pies for grubs, etc. It’s time intensive but no pesticides and herbicides are used. Animals don’t need a lot of antibiotics because they are eating what they are suppose to be eating. The farmer sure works a lot harder than the Iowa corn farmer or the South Dakota rancher. But the food he produces is a lot closer to the food that nature intended to provide.

Finally Pollan decides to hunt and gather for a meal, including hunting and shooting a wild boar. There’s a lengthy section on the ethics of killing animals for food but Pollan provides ample examination to both sides of the issue. Pollan does feel a little guilty about shooting the boar but decides that in the end it is best to honor the animal (now dead) by serving it in a scrumptious meal.

Pollan is an engaging writer and puts his heart and soul into his story and the book affected me profoundly. This isn’t a polemic like Fast Food Nation but it is powerful nonetheless. Clearly it is healthier for ourselves and the planet if we can eat more food that is produced locally using sustainable farming practices and eat only foods that are in season (understanding this is difficult in a place like Minnesota). It’s not easy but not impossible either. Being surrounded by a largely agricultural area there are numerous local farmer’s markets from which one in Minneapolis-St. Paul can select locally grown produce that is farmed in a sustainable manner (alas very little fruit). Just this weekend I was able to purchase a number of cuts of meat from local farms, for a price that was not much more than one finds at the supermarket. This includes a chicken that was quite tasty (and juicy) after grilling.

I strongly encourage you to read this book, even if you don’t ever plan to “go organic? or start up your own slow-food chapter. As is pointed out in the book, it is amazing how little time we Americans actually spend thinking about what kind of food we buy and eat, even though grocery purchases make up a large part of a family's budget and has a huge impact on everyone's health and well-being. This book will help you think more about what you put in your grocery cart whether you shop at Cub, Whole Foods, or the local farmer’s market.


August 18, 2008

Tropic Thunder

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I have to admit when I first saw the trailers for the movie Tropic Thunder I was uninterested. The movie looked kinda dumb and the premise -- a movie crew is stuck in the jungle and don’t realize that they are in real trouble and not filming a move – seemed a little far fetched. Then I saw a new trailer in front of The Dark Knight and the movie looked a lot more interesting. Finally the reviews came out very positively so I had to see it.

Well no disappointments here. Tropic Thunder is hilarious. The movie is really a big spoof on Hollywood and self-important actors, cheesy action movies, and cliché that pass for dialogue in today’s “event? movies. The opening, a war scene that practically rivals Saving Private Ryan, would be horrifying if it wasn’t so over the top, including fountains of blood that can only be described as Pythonesque. Tom Cruise is amazing as an out of shape, balding studio producer, and there are numerous cameos from Alicia Silverstone to Jon Voight.

The jokes come fast and furious and the movie can tend to be a bit silly at times but the movie is fast paced and doesn’t get bogged down. If you ever wanted Ben Stiller to extend one of his MTV Movie Awards skits to a full length feature – and pull it off – this movie is a must see. This is definitely a "guy movie" as there are practically no women, save for a few cameos, in the entire film. It also has humour more geared toward a guy's sensibility. Fun to go to with your teenage son (like I did) or with a bunch of buds to get away from the gymnastics competitions on TV.


July 22, 2008

Watchman Trailer

If you saw The Dark Knight this weekend (I did not, maybe in the next couple of days) you saw something that every fanboy has been jonesing for since 1986: A trailer for the movie version of the graphic novel The Watchmen.

The Watchmen is considered the greatest graphic novel (comic book) of all time. Heck even Time Magazine listed it as one of the 100 greatest literary achievements of the 20th Century. So naturally we gotta have a movie version.

The trailer (and a few other things that have been released from the film) portend to good things. Many of the scenes in the trailer are shot-for-shot the same as can be found in the book. The costumes look the same as does the vibe. Now of course these trailers are to get the true fans excited so they aren't going to show deviations from the story just yet.

If you aren't familiar with The Watchmen, be prepared for the hype machine to go into overdrive these next 9 months. I would suggest getting a copy, read it. Put it down for a month or so and then read it again. It is truly an amazing story and could be an incredible movie.

July 10, 2008

Mongol

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I must be getting old. I have really no desire to see the tired comic book hero movies and lame-ass comedies being pushed off on the movie-going public this Summer. And don’t even talk to me about Sex in the City or Mamma Mia. While some of the animated children’s movies seem to be well made, I want a little more substance for my $9.00 ticket.

Finally I got my wish as last night we went to see the film Mongol. It is the story of the rise of Genghis Khan from that of a hunted boy to the ruler of Mongolia. Further films are promised that will cover Khan’s eventual rule from China to central Europe. Although the film falls squarely in the “art film? category, it has plenty of blood and guts to satisfy anyone’s summer testosterone fix.

The star of the film is its epically filmed grand scale. Filmed on location in Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan, one is overwhelmed by the beauty, scale, and nature that gave rise to the Mongol horde that at one time ruled nearly half world under Genghis Khan and his children. The acting is understated but there is an intensity that boils just under the surface in both Temirdgen (Khan when he was a boy/young man) and Borte his wife and life-long partner.

Although slow at times, the grandeur of what is one the screen overwhelms and propels the story along. The battle scenes are gloriously filmed with a blood-spurting budget that would rival Kill Bill 1. Through Mongol, one gets a better sense of the forces that shaped Genghis Khan how he eventually became a great warrior and leader of men.

June 25, 2008

Worried About Gas Prices? Ride Your Bike!!

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With gas prices firmly planting its flag above the $4.00 mark for the foreseeable future, everyone is looking at ways to save money on gas. Of course you could buy a Hybrid. Others are thinking the moped route.

Luckily in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area we are also blessed with a pretty extensive bike trail system. In fact Forbes Magazine recently listed Minneapolis as the 9th best City to ride your bike to work, school, places to shop and/or visit. Other reports have shown that Minneapolis ranks behind only Portland with the most bike commuters. Which is crazy considering that four months of the year (Nov-Feb) are downright brutal for bike riding and two additional months (Oct, March) can be pretty tough as well.

I am lucky enough to have a pretty good route to ride my bike to the University and have been riding around 2-3 times a week lately. Of my six mile trip, I would estimate that four are on dedicated (no car) bike routes. Relatively flat, 25 minutes, and only a couple of bike/car conflict points, I usually put something loud on the I-Pod (yesterday the Ramones in the morning, The Cult on the way home) and pedal away. Of course weather and schedule determine when I can ride, but it’s good to know that the opportunity is there.

Of course the environmental and health related benefits go without saying and there’s nothing better than pedaling over I-94 on a Friday afternoon and looking down at hundreds of cars sitting in traffic not moving while I’m enjoying the sun in my face and the Replacements in my ears. So tune up your bike, buy a bike helmet, and check the best route to work. You’ll find getting out of the car even one day a week will not only help your wallet, but it will help your overall well being as well.

What’s your bike route to work?

June 10, 2008

Summer Moview Review

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This summer has finally gotten me to think that Hollywood doesn’t make movies for someone my age anymore. I just haven’t been that excited about this year’s slate of Summer Movies. In fact I didn’t see a single movie at a theater from about February to Memorial Day. What’s worse is that few movies coming out are getting me excited. I’ll probably see the new Batman movie out of habit but not because I need to see it. The Love Guru looks absolutely execrable and no way are you going to get me in the theater to see The Incredible Hulk or Hellboy II. Thank God my wife wasn’t a big Sex and the City fan so I wasn’t dragged to that either.

I have seen two movies in the last 2 weeks that were enjoyable but won’t make any top 10 lists. I make no recommendation to get out and see these but if you want to blow a couple of hours on a rainy day, go ahead. With that ringing endorsement, here are my summer movie reviews so far.

Iron Man. This was fun. What I think a lot of comic book movies have missed out on lately is that they should be fun, they don’t have to be so serious (I’m looking at you Dark Night). Iron Man gets it and that’s why it’s selling so many tickets. Tony Stark is a smart ass who is as impressed with his new found powers as we are. The final battle with a larger Iron Man is kind of dumb, but doesn’t detract from a good time at the movies.

Indiana Jones. Not spectacular but in the spirit of the other Indy movies. Couple of nice homage’s to previous movies and a couple of nice set pieces. As typical in these movies an overly long fist fight scene and way to many machine guns that miss their target at point blank range. I didn’t lose any sleep over the fact that we had to wait 19 years for an Indiana Jones movie and I won’t be heartbroken if they don’t make another one. How’s that for a tepid response?

What about it. Any good summer movies out there? Anything you are looking forward to seeing?

May 5, 2008

Book Review: Perfect From Now On

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Guy grows up in a mid-size Midwestern city listening to radio stations that play Journey, Bad Company, and Styx, is introduced to “new? music through U2 and in college discovers such English bands as New Order and Joy Division and later champions “indie? band such as Pavement, My Bloody Valentine, and The Replacements. Finally the guy later discovers Guided By Voices years after their best albums comes out and is infatuated to the point that he collects everything they’ve ever recorded. Big deal, my life story right? Except that it isn’t me, it’s the story of John Sellers and he writes about it in the engaging book: Perfect From Now On, How Indie Rock Saved My Life.

If any of the above sounds familiar to you (and I know it does for many of this blog’s readers) then I suggest you either buy or get this book from the library. Besides being pretty funny, it is nice to read something that you yourself have lived. I remember those days in the 70’s when Styx was the high point of rock, and I knew, just knew, there were better bands out there. Also the excitement of being infatuated with a band that few knew about is downright palpable.

The books also has a number of quirks, like numerous asides in footnotes, including a 10-page(!) footnote, describing what Sellers did to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of Ian Curtis’ suicide, numerous lists, a la High Fidelity, and an intricate formula you can use to determine how good a band is.

For me the highlight was the last third of the book where Sellers describes his discovery of Guided By Voices and through dumb luck and strategic friendships, is able to meet the band and Robert Pollard, gets to drink with them, and was able to attend their last shows. Also because he wrote about his experience, was ostracized by the GbV community and almost excommunicated by Pollard. As someone likewise infatuated with GBV, this part of the book was great. In fact I re-read these passages while listening to GBV, I think Sellers would understand.

April 30, 2008

Why I Buy Books

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I have had friendly debates with Shane over at Greet Machine about buying books versus taking them out from the library. Shane works for the Library and as you can imagine, is a strong advocate for using libraries to fulfill your book reading needs. His argument, and it’s a good one, is why pay for a book when you can easily get it from a library? Furthermore, given the ease by which you can now look for library books on-line and have them delivered to your nearest library, the days of rifling through musty old stacks is long gone.

While acknowledging that Shane makes a strong case, (in fact I currently have 5 books out from three different libraries) I am still a book buyer. One, I am a notorious book re-reader and I love to go back to books I’ve read to re-read them whole or just chapters, passages even. Many times I will come across an item that reminded me of something I’ve read in a book I own and I need to revisit. Also, let’s face it, books in a book case look good in your living room and nothing says “hey look how smart I am? than bookcases overflowing with books. Finally there is something about pulling out a book to make your point in a discussion or argument or handing a book over to some one to enlighten them on a subject they are interested in.

I am reminded of this lately by a series of Nick Coleman articles in the Star Tribune. Last week, Nick Coleman wrote an article about Eric Sevareid, a Minnesota native who was recently commemorated by a stamp. Although a famous journalist, Sevareid first became known to Minnesotans as a teenager who, with a friend, paddled a canoe over 2000 miles from Fort Snelling to the Hudson Bay in 1930. He wrote about the trip in a book called Canoeing with the Cree and this book is the touchstone for any Minnesotan who is interested in canoeing, camping or roughing it in the great north woods. As Coleman wrote in his column, the book can be found “on the bookshelf in a lot of cabins and in the imaginations of Minnesotans.? This book and Sevareid’s adventures have literally thrilled boys (and girls) for generations. What is really interesting is that the book clearly still resonates today as Coleman followed up the original column with one this week about two boys who, having read the book in 7th grade, decided to recreate the trip. They graduated early from high school and started their journey this past Monday.

Canoeing with the Cree’s place in Minnesota life represents the greatest reason for owning books: The ability to say to your mom/dad/sister/ brother/son/daughter/spouse/friend “I loved this book and I think you will too, here’s a copy.? It’s that shared experience that binds us tighter, says to us, “we may have differences but we have a lot in common too.? Sure you can do that with a library book but a library book lacks that permanence, it limits the ability of the book recipient to one day pass the book on to another, to further the connection.

April 28, 2008

Depressing

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Let’s review:

The Weather has been horrible. Cold, wet, cold, cloudy, miserable, cold. Except for a few days April has been an extension of March and March was an extension of February. When or when are going to have a proper Spring?

Road Construction. With bridges closing daily, Interstate 35 under construction, Lyndale Avenue soon to be torn up, residents of SW Minneapolis will soon need helicopters to get around. With gas at around $3.50 why are we driving anyway?

Twins. Even worse than expected. Losing 10-0 to the Rangers!?! Pitching is becoming more and more disappointing, Liriano is no way ready. Except for a Morneau, hitting has been lousy, defense too. I was hoping for 78 wins, I’m thinking that 70 wins might be more likely.

Movies and Music. When was the last time a decent movie came out or a good album? I don’t think I’ve seen a movie since February. I don’t think I have heard anything released in 2008 that is worth keeping, haven’t seen a show all year either.

Politics. Obama can’t seem to seal the deal and Clinton is more than willing to tear down Obama to get elected this year or in 2012. Voter fatigue has officially set in.

Anything good happening out there? I need to know.

April 21, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI Visit

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Three years ago Catholics were heartbroken when “The People’s Pope? John Paul II died after a long and successful Papacy and was a few weeks later replaced by Bavaria’s Cardinal Ratzinger. Elderly, conservative, dour, the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI promised to be short and uninspiring. Modern Catholics hoped that Pope Benedict XVI would be a transitory figure slotted between the populist John Paul II and some future, younger, worldly (hopefully liberal) Pope.

In those three years, however, Pope Benedict XVI has proven not to be at least not so dour. Of course he is still elderly, and basically conservative, but his genuinely pleasant demeanor has come through in spades. This was particularly evident in Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to the United States where Benedict won over the faithful with public masses at Nationals and Yankee Stadiums, visits with Church sexual abuse and 9/11 victims, and visits to a Synagogue and Mosque.

The Press even tried to get the Pope to weigh in on such hot-to-trot social issues such as homosexuality, but Benedict wouldn’t take the bait, claiming to only want to talk about the sins related to the Priest sexual abuse scandal, but not linking the issue to homosexuality as some anti-Church conservatives always like to do.

All-in-all a successful visit, and probably the only one we’ll get during this Pope’s lifetime. I think most Catholics were impressed with what they saw and probably have a gentler attitude about Pope Benedict XVI and his Papacy.

April 17, 2008

AndyYou thought the McCain Girls were bad....

Just think, what if you were a Microsoft Sales Rep with the task of trying to get your customers to "upgrade" to Vista. Sales, kinda slow aren't they? We'll maybe you need a motivational video. Not only a motivational video but one with by a Bruce Springsteen imitator. Think that would help you move Vista off the shelves? Well then, straight from the Microsoft Corporate office... Mr Microsoft Vista Sales Rep this one is for you...

April 9, 2008

Frack' ya! BSG Rocks!

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Tell someone you’re into Battlestar Gallactica and you get one of three responses:

1. Geez, what a geek!
2. Cool, I loved that show in the 70’s!
3. A knowing nod and then a 20-minute discussion on the nature of the Cylon’s.

If you’re in the second group, I am sorry but we’re not talking about the cheesy 70’s show starring Lorne Green that tried to piggy back on all things Star Wars. We talking about the current series on the Sci-Fi channel that is smart, sexy, with plenty of whiz-bang for geeks and heady philosophy for… I guess geeks.

As with any good sci-fi, BSG works because it’s more than just a bunch a guys flying around space fighting robots. When I told my son that it’s about humans who created a race of robots that turned around and tried to eliminate mankind he said “oh that’s original.? But it is original. Even though they all but wiped out mankind, the Cylons are by no means evil in a black and white sense and many times as compared to the humans, they are down right sympathetic.

The robots are monotheists who believe in a God quite similar to our own and the humans are Greek and Roman-like polytheists. There is a lot of religious back and forth between the two races. Think of the Cylons as religious fundamentalists, worshiping a definitely Old Testament God. In addition, Season 3 had many parallels to this Country’s situation in Iraq with again the Cylon’s playing the part of the Americans and humans the suicide-bombing insurgents. Don’t get me wrong, not all humans are bad and not all Cylons are well-intentioned, they are all multi-faceted. Oh and some of the Cylons are in humanoid form so you (and them) don't necessarily know they are/were Cylons.

Season 4, which started last week, is promised to be the last season and we are told that all the story lines will be wrapped-up. Unlike say The X Files where the mythological back story got so convoluted that the writers could never tie up the loose ends, BSG’s mythology is relatively simple: The Gods that the humans worship have been scattered from an Eden called “Earth? and the humans are desperately trying to find it before they are destroyed by the Cylons. So yes, the BSG humans are our ancestors. Of course that’s a gross simiplification, but it will do for now.

So anyway if you like sci-fi or just plain good story-telling with that makes you think a little bit, BSG might be for you. Plus you have lots of eye candy to look at regardless if you fancy the guys or gals. Finally any tv show that can introduce a new swear word – frack – and use it just like you think it should be used, is ok in my book.

Anyone else watch BSG? What do you think?

Here’s a link to Entertainment Weekly’s all things BSG, Be sure to check out the 15 things you have to know about BSG. That will get you caught up real fast.

March 13, 2008

TV on the Internet

With the rise of You Tube, TV broadcasters have struggled mightily to control their content on the internet. They obviously don’t want to follow in the footsteps of the music industry which has fought (fights) tooth and nail against the distribution of music over the internet only to see literally billions of songs being transferred illegally from thousands of peer-to-peer sites. The music industry’s response to the internet has even passed Decca Records not signing The Beatles as the biggest bonehead move in the music industry.

Recently there have been a number of “TV on the internet? efforts by broadcasters and they’re actually pretty good. For a couple of months now Comedy Central has put all of its The Daily Show episodes on its web site and its great. You can easily search and view any The Daily Show item. Want to view all of Lewis Black’s rants? Easily found.

Now NBC and Fox have come out with their own version of You Tube call Hulu. Unlike You Tube, it doesn’t accept videos from the masses. Instead it has episodes from over 200 TV series, movies and sporting events. This includes series currently on the air like The Office and SNL as well as long ago episodes like The A-Team. It’s easy to use and commercials are at a minimum. There is another service called Joost that has similar TV episodes, but not as many current ones (but does have Star Trek!). If only the BBC would do something similar so that we could view old Monty Python’s or the Young Ones from our computers

Now of course watching TV on your desktop or notebook computer doesn’t match watching TV from the barcalounger but it is good deal if you have a few minutes to kill and want to see something that you recently missed. Want to check out the Hilary-Obama debate skit from SNL a couple of weeks ago? Hulu will get you there.

However the melding of your computer, internet access and television is only getting closer. We have been looking at new HDTV’s for our home and a couple of sets do include a way to connect your computer to the TV. I’m guessing that this will be a standard feature soon and we will have yet another reason to stay inside away from all human contact.

February 27, 2008

Pawlenty Gets Vetoed

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So finally after three tries the State Legislature finally overrides Governor Pawlenty’s veto of a transportation funding bill. Funny how the deaths of 13 people and the need for one 300 million dollar bridge can shake up party loyalties.

Word from St. Paul is that the Governor is pissed and I’ve heard a lot from Republicans about their “concern? for hard workin’ families and how the gas tax will impact their wallets. Funny no concern about how hard working families are stuck in inadequate roads, having to spend more and more time in their cars or buses to get to and from work. Where’s that concern? Where’s the concern that we are falling behind economically (read jobs) because our infrastructure is literally collapsing?

Actually I think T-Paw’s peevishness is related to two items. First is his Veep standing. One of his positives in the eyes of Republicans is that he had controlled spending and taxes in a pretty Democratic state. It’s one thing to do it in Oklahoma but to do that in Minnesota. Looks good on the GOP resume.

But more importantly I think the Republicans know that in the end an extra $50 or so a year for gas is not really that big of deal for most if not all families and if we get a better infrastructure system out of it, all the better. That really goes against what the Republicans are trying to sell us. People ARE willing to spend more as long as they get something out of it. If the Republicans lose that argument, they have very, very little to run on.

Finally I think a shout out is deserved for the Twins ballpark funding plan. First, how come no one is complaining that there is no referendum for the increase in the sales tax to pay for transportation improvements? I thought that was a big deal? Second the ballpark deal demonstrated that politicians could raise the sales tax with no blowback at the ballot box. No surprise a year or so after the Twins were able to raise $$$ through the sale tax that politicians are coming back to the sales tax to pay for transportation and open space improvements.

February 25, 2008

Academy Award Thoughts

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I was quite happy that Diablo Cody won for best screenplay. Michael Clayton was good but Juno was great. It was all screenplay. Plus not too many times you see an Academy Award winner with a smoking tattoo. Finally I thought her opening line "What is happening?" was about as honest a statement that was stated all night.

Those three nominated songs from Enchanted were just wretched. I would have barfed if one of those won. I am very happy that Falling Slowly won. The way that song was presented and filmed in Once is very well done. You just see Glen Hansard’s soul opening up as they play that song. One of the great movie scenes from the past year.

No surprise about Daniel Day Lewis. Although I thought his role was just Bill the Butcher moved forward in time 50 years. The last two minutes of that movie were such a buzz kill although “I drink your milkshake? is a line that will life in infamy.

I haven’t seen No Country for Old Men because I’m not sure I want to deal with all that violence plus I heard it’s another movie with a non-ending. It sounds like the Coen’s were deserving of their awards and Ethan Coen's acceptance "speeches" were just hilarious.

That French woman who won for Best Actress was absolutely stunning. Tilda Swinton was very funny and that red hair was just shocking. Not sure if there was anything else that really stood out.

What did you think of the Oscars?

February 14, 2008

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

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Nothing brightens up the dregs of Winter in February like the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Guys can take their favorite sports magazine and check out the latest swimsuit fashions and exotic travel locations and dream of warmer weather that is at least three months away. The fact that there are shapely models in the swimsuits is an added bonus.

This year Sports Illustrated placed all of its Swimsuit issue photos online with easy-to-navigate links to photos by model and local. In addition there are videos and content that is not available in the magazine. These photos are available to all, no need to subscribe to SI, sign-up for anything, etc.

It’s obvious that Sports Illustrated gets the internet. Many magazines and some newspapers still try to limit their online content to subscribers and “premium service? payers. Obviously they are worried that if it’s on the internets for free, no one will buy their magazine. This is short sighted and foolish. First magazines have what is called portability: you can bring it anywhere. Although it is becoming much easier to lug notebook computers around, it will never be as convenient as a magazine. More importantly, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue will be on newsstands for a month, the online content for much longer than that. If you check out the SI link, there is a lot of advertisement on the site as well. By not charging for the content, Sports Illustrated is ensuring that a lot more eyes will see those ads, and that is where the money is on the web.

The lesson here is that the internet is not going anywhere and is only going to be more omnipresent in the future. Content providers need to embrace the internet, use it to increase brand awareness of their publication and to drive eyeballs to their site and on-line advertisers. If you fight digital distribution of your product, you will end up like the music industry, becoming irrelevant to a large part of the culture-consuming population.

February 11, 2008

U2 is Everywhere

Last week I posted a review of the U2-3D movie which I thought was really cool. I didn't mention that I went to the movie with Shane of Greet Machine and after the movie we heard the song Zooropa on The Current.

This past weekend I went to the movie again with the family. We all thought it was a blast. Also on Cities 97 on the way home we heard One Tree Hill by U2. Shane ended up going to the movie again on Sunday with his family and he tells me he heard Pride (In the Name of Love) by U2 on the radio on his way home.

Now I think that is pretty freaky. I see three possibilities:

U2 is so radio-friendly that you are bound to hear them on at least one radio station in any 30-minute period. We could have been going to see Meet the Spartans three different times and would have heard a U2 song on the way home.

Radio stations know when the movie lets out and purposefully program a U2 song 10-30 minutes after the show to cement a bond between the movie goer and the radio station.

Movie goers are so full of the Holy Bono Spirit that the psycho-spitural energy generated causes radio DJ's to unthinkingly program a U2 song.

What's your theory?

January 29, 2008

Gopher Stadium Rising

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Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, a resurrection of biblical proportions is happening just north of University Avenue in Stadium Village. Blink twice and you see ghostly images of the band marching down University Avenue. If you listen carefully you can hear Ray Christianson announcing the names of Bronko Nagurski, Carl Eller, Tony Dungy swirling in the wind and a loud roar fills the air as the Golden Gophers enter the sun-drenched field ready to play football the way it was meant to be played: Under a fall sky.

January 28, 2008

Weekend Movie Review

So who would win in a fight between Daniel Plainview, the protagonist in There Will Be Blood, and the Cloverfield Monster? Both characters are singularly focused on their goal of defeating all opponents. Both apparently hate people (Plainview says as much; the Cloverfield Monster’s actions speak louder than words). Both characters leave their mark on the landscape that may take centuries to overturn. Finally, although the stories are a century and a continent apart, they both try to relate their stories to modern day concerns. All-in-all a pretty fair fight. This weekend I went to both movies to find out for myself.

Critically, it’s no contest with There Will Be Blood garnering 8 Oscar nominations and Daniel Day-Lewis the hands down favorite for the Best Actor award. Cloverfield, while receiving some nice reviews, is generally consigned to the cheesy monster movie category and most critical reviews are reserved for its creative marketing campaign as much as what is seen on the screen.

There Will Be Blood sucks you into its story as Daniel Plainfield’s oil man is mesmerizing as he works over a small, desolate California town to get its oil. In addition, the movie's fascinating score (by Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead) sounds as if it were played by a field of recently hatched cicadas. The problem with There Will Be Blood is that it presents all these “big? ideas but then doesn’t answer them, it strives to be bold without actually being bold. The end is almost farcical and ultimately the movie leaves you wanting more.

Cloverfield, on the other hand, pulls no punches on what it is or what it’s trying to say. The only question we have is what kind of monster is attacking the City: sea monster? government experiment gone awry? Rosie O’Donnell? The movie is a roller coaster ride experienced through a hand-held camera as NYC is being attacked by the monster and defended by generic army troops. There is no omni-present government agency watching the proceedings from afar, no scientist explaining everything that is happening. The only outside news we get is from random TV sets our heroes happen across.

I thought the movie did a good job of showing the street level view of a City under monster-siege. It’s loud, it’s dirty, it’s confusing. We get glimpses of the monster here and there but rarely a whole picture. The movie is also helped in that it is populated by unknown actors. We don’t know who is going to be the hero and who’s going to be monster meat. (much like the first Alien movie). The movie ends like you think it should. With no reason for sequels or spin-offs. An overall very scary, thrilling, monster movie.

Did you see There Will Be Blood or Cloverfield? What did you think?

January 24, 2008

Newpapers in Trouble

David Brauer over at Minnpost.com has an interesting article about the latest grim news over at the StarTribune. According to a leaked memo, the Strib is still hemorrhaging money ($75M), even with its recent staff cuts and reorganization.

It seems that the biggest culprit is the collapse of classified ad revenue. It’s dropped by nearly 50 percent and is below levels from eight years ago. While these trends are industry wide, apparently they are a little more stark at the Strib. The newspaper business seems to be on a death watch. Will we even have morning papers in 5 or 10 years.

I’m not really surprised by this situation. Over the last six months I’ve sold some concert tickets and tried to sell my sister-in-laws car. I didn’t even consider newspaper classifieds. Craigslist, E-Bay, Carsoup, and other web based sites are what I considered. Same goes when I’m looking to buy stuff. I never check the classified. Doesn’t even cross my mind.

We subscribe to the Strib but it’s somewhat out of habit. I get most of my news from the web and I religiously check a number of sites, some of which are newspaper sites. Also with up-and-coming news sites like Minnpost.com and dailymole.com, I’m getting a lot more local news from the web. My wife is pretty much a techno-phobe so I don’t see us anytime soon dropping our subscription. Plus I’ve never been satisfied doing the soduko and crossword puzzle on-line.

So if newpapers went away, I would still get my news. Who knows, maybe I could even teach my wife to go online too! It would be the end of an era but we’ve survived other ends of the era too like the death of picture magazines such as Life and Look and the death of sheet music.

What about you, do you still subscribe to a newspaper?

UPDATE:
Brian Lambert over at MSPMag.com has another take on the issues facing the Strib in light of the memo. Very interesting. His take: Look for the St. Paul and Strib to merge into one paper.

January 8, 2008

Walk Hard - The Dewey Cox Story

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So, I dragged the Misses to Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. I thought it was funny with some dumb parts, she thought it was dumb with some funny parts.

If you've seen Ray, I Walk the Line, The Buddy Holly Story, La Bamba, etc. You know this movie: Young singer from a small town uses his music to get out of town. Soon fame and fortune bring him far away from what he grew up as. Drugs, women, etc are readily available. After the inevitable downfall it's the love of a woman and his family that bring him back up.

It's got all the cliches, except they are spoofs and it's hilarious. When Dewey sings at his first dance, girls are literally ripping their dresses off and the dance soon turns into a melee. Dewey accidently cuts his brother in half with a machete, after which Dewey loses his sense of smell. You get the idea.

Besides music biopic cliches there are hilarious spoofs on Elvis, the Beatles in India, Bob Dylan, and Brian Wilson during his acid-drenched, bearded Pet Sound and Smile days. In the end Dewey is sampled by some gangsta rappers and is re-descovered. At his lifetime achievement award banquet, Jewel, Jackson Browne, and Lyle Lovett sing his famous song Walk Hard and Eddie Veddar gives a speech. (The real singers btw).

The movie ends as a 71 year old Dewey sings a new song that sums up as entire life as his life passes by on the screen. I was literally in tears. When Dewey hits that final high note and the camera switches back and forth between modern day Dewey and 50's Dewey, while I was blubbering.

Jenna Fischer from The Office is great in this movie, she just lights up the screen. You forget how hot she is when she is in The Office.

Anyway a funny movie, probably not Oscar caliber but definitely a rental when it comes out soon on DVD.

Any one else see Walk Hard? What did you think?

December 27, 2007

Movies 2007

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Here are my favorite movies of 2007...

I’m Not There. Movie of the year hands down. If you know the story behind Dylan, seen Don’t Look Back, read the David Hadju book, etc., the movie may have more meaning, but it is glorious nonetheless. Great film making from a Director who truly loves the subject matter. A must see.

Juno. Very arch, but with a heart of gold. I felt at times that the 16-year old Juno was witty and composed way beyond her years but we do see some vulnerability come through at the end. I saw this movie with my teen kids, including my daughter who is adopted and whose birthmother was 13 at the time of her pregnancy.

Superbad. Raunchy, profane fun. The thing is, guys think, act and talk just like the characters in this movie. I thought the ending was great as it laid out exactly the emotions guys go through when deciding when to leave their pals for regular sex with a girlfriend.

Across the Universe. Great vision, great music. On par with Moulin Rouge but without the choreography.

Into the Wild. Beautifully shot, emotional, thought provoking. Sympathetic to Chris McCandless while also showing the hurt he created in those who loved him.

Once. Nice, quiet little movie with characters you absolutely adore. Simple story, simply told. No big surprise at the end, stupid subplots, or unneeded characters. Great music that is integral to the story.

Pan’s Labyrinth. I think this movie was officially released in 2006 but didn't make it to Mill City until 2007. Great vision, set pieces, and acting. Very dream like, you wish it were a fantasy story.

Biggest Disappointment: I Am Legend. It had potential but it turned out to be a big zombie chase movie. Definitely wait for the DVD.

What were your favorite movies?

December 22, 2007

Books Read 2007

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Here’s my annual review of Books read this past year. Mostly non-fiction because that’s what I like!

Gettysburg Gospel – Gabor Boritt
Although only 2 plus minutes long, the Gettysburg Address is arguably the most famous speech ever given. Not well received or understood when it was spoken at the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery, it grew in esteem over the decades. Abraham Lincoln is easily our most fascinating president.

Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice – Griel Marcus
Another dense and oblique treatise from Griel Marcus on the meaning of America: From its glorious founding as the bright City on the Hill, America was constructed on a promise that that was so vast it could only be betrayed by its citizens. However through that betrayal American gained its voice. Griel uses popular culture to show us the connections between this ideal and the betrayal. Like I said it’s dense and complicated. Think of Bruce Springsteen’s album Nebraska and that’s what Griel is trying to describe only he takes 350 plus pages to say it.

In the Trees – Richard Preston
A fun and compelling story of a bunch of scientists who actually climb into 350 foot redwood trees to study them, creating a new science as they go. Absolutely fascinating and amazing. Highly recommended to all.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling
The 7th and final book of the Potter series and Rowling actually pulls it off. As usual, a gripping page turner except for a slow “camping trip? in the middle. A fun end to a great series.

Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light – Patrick McGilligan
Biography of the great director. Great insight into the movie making process, Hitch’s life and the golden age of Hollywood. Covers a lot of the same ground as the Spoto book but if you like Hitchcock, you want to read this book.

Worst Hard Times – Timothy Egan
Fascinating book about the families that stayed in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas during the dust bowl years. One of the greatest man-made disasters ever created and we hardly know anything about it. A must read if you like recent American History

A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles – Mark Hertsgaard
Focusing on the creation of the music that we all love, this book provided a great insight into the Beatles and their songbook. If you want to learn about the songs, their inspiration and their creation, this book is a must.

The Replacements: All Over But The Shouting – Jim Walsh
Oral History of the Replacements that I reviewed here. I find myself going back and re-reading passages. The oral history style can be limiting at times but still a great read.

The Natural – Bernard Malamud
Baseball as great literature. Although an effete, urban intellectual, Malamud perfectly describes the sights, sounds, smells, and characters of pre-WWII baseball. If you’ve only seen the movie, you also need to read this book, but be careful, the story isn’t wrapped up in mom and apple pie at the end. Third time I read this book.

Cool of the Evening: The 1965 Twins – Jim Theilman
Story of the 1965 American League Champion Minnesota Twins. Now over 40 years since their historic run, it was fun to read how much of an interesting team this really was. Only a Herculean effort by Sandy Koufax stood in the way of the Twins first World Series Championship.

Chimes of Freedom – The Art of Bob Dylan’s Art – Mike Marqusee
Second time I read this book. If you want to discover how Bob Dylan’s early work reflected and shaped the politics of the early 1960’s this book is for you. A great companion to A Day in the Life reviewed above.

Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
I read this book when it first came out and re-read it after I saw the movie. The movie is great, the book is better. Fascinating tale of Chris McCandless and his journey to find himself. The book and movie may be sympathetic to Chris but both don’t shy away from describing the emotional damage he left behind to those who loved him.

Never Mind the Pollacks – Neal Pollack
About the third or fourth time I read this book. Side-splitting funny, vile, disgusting, and oh so right on. The adventures of Neal Pollack -- world ‘s greatest rock critic who, in Zelig-like fashion, finds himself discovering all of the rock’s greats. Neal’s father was killed by Elvis Presley, cried “Judas? when Dylan played his second acoustic set at Freeport, gave Lou Reed his first blow job and shot of heroin, turned Iggy Pop into what he is now, was an amnesiac roady for Bruce Springsteen, and discovered Kurt Cobain under a bridge and introduced him to “she who shall not be named.? If you like Rock and Roll you must read this book.

What did you read this year?

December 19, 2007

Cloverfield!

O.k. I'm officially geeked out on the movie Cloverfield. If you've been to a movie theater you've seen the poster of a headless Statue of Liberty and a swath of destruction through lower Manhatten. Besides that poster there's been little publicity...until now.

Below is an extended clip from the movie. Apparently the entire film is like this -- shot from a video camera of someone who was witnessing the events presented in the movie. If this extended clip doesn't suck you in, I don't know what would.

I actually found one review and it's pretty damn funny. If you've ever checked out Aint-it-cool-news you might have run into Neil Cumpston and his reviews. This one doesn't disappoint. Here's the review. By the way, the language is pretty raw, no images so I guess it's semi-safe for work. Definitely don't read it if you have a nine year old looking over your shoulder.

Also I plan to check out a bunch of movies between now and New Years. I'll review them as I see themr. However, I Am Legend is just so so. Decent premise, intense as all hell, but kinda dumb. I plan to see I'm Not There, Juno, Walk Hard, maybe Golden Compass, and a few others so I'll have a good list to review. Check back soon!

Check the clip above and let me know what you think in the comments. Like I said, I'm salivating over Cloverfield right now.

December 18, 2007

The Hobbit is Coming to a Theater Near You!

Besides getting an I-Pod Touch, if this doesn't make your Holidays brighter, nothing will...

ACADEMY AWARD-WINNER PETER JACKSON AND NEW LINE CINEMA JOIN WITH MGM TO PRODUCE “THE HOBBIT?...

Los Angeles, CA (Tuesday, December 18, 2007) Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson; Harry Sloan, Chairman and CEO, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (MGM); Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne, Co-Chairmen and Co-CEOs of New Line Cinema have jointly announced today that they have entered into the following series of agreements:

* MGM and New Line will co-finance and co-distribute two films, “The Hobbit? and a sequel to “The Hobbit.? New Line will distribute in North America and MGM will distribute internationally. Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh will serve as Executive Producers of two films based on “The Hobbit.? New Line will manage the production of the films, which will be shot simultaneously.

The two “Hobbit? films – “The Hobbit? and its sequel – are scheduled to be shot simultaneously, with pre-production beginning as soon as possible. Principal photography is tentatively set for a 2009 start, with the intention of “The Hobbit? release slated for 2010 and its sequel the following year, in 2011.... For more information about “The Hobbit? films, please visit www.TheHobbitBlog.com.

November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving Weekend Round-up

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Torii goes to Anaheim. Five years for $90 million. The Twins never had a chance. I’m happy for Torii, he gets the big payday and gets to play for a winner. If I were the Angels I would be worried about years 4 and 5 of that contract. Which is probably the attitude the Twins have. Angels may think it’s worth it if they get a World Series ring or two out of it. The Twins HAVE to get a big bat at 3rd base and a decent Centerfielder if they even want to compete with K.C. Santana trades for 3 or 4 good players would work for me.

The Klaxons. I’ve been rockin’ to the Klaxon’s Myth of the Near Future lately. Fun, arty, punky rock and roll. Definitely one of the better albums of the year.

Beowulf in 3-D. The boys like to go to a guy movie every Friday after Thanksgiving. Since we still have teens and pre-teens R movies are out. Beowulf was the only movie that kind of appealed to everyone. We saw it at an I-max in 3D. Stupid movie, some interesting stuff with the 3-D including Angela Jolie’s near naked breasts. Kind of like watching a video game. Don’t go unless you absolutely have to.

Battlestar Galactica Razor. Two hour movie on Sci-Fi channel that fills us in on the history of Battlestar Pegasus and some interesting preview of season 4 (coming in March!) Loved seeing some of the scenes on Pegasus we only heard about. I didn’t like the whole Admiral Cain and Cylon babe Gina were lesbian lovers. Not that I have anything wrong with that but it sort of lessened the hard as nails, fascist tendencies of Admiral Cain. Was she a hardass because she was a lesbian? A heterosexual Admiral Cain is a more compelling character IMHO.

BCS. LSU and Kansas lose. Missouri could very well lose to Oklahoma. The BCS is a being blown up and it’s great. It won’t happen, but this year demonstrates why we need a play off in Division I football.

Prep Bowl. Eden Prairie crushes. Totino Grace wins on a prayer. We are friends of the family of one of the players who tipped that ball for Totino Grace. He’s played on three championships teams in 4 years and may get a free ride scholarship to play football for Princeton.

October 17, 2007

Movies - Across The Universe/Into The Wild

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Although the movie pickings have been pretty slim lately, I have seen a couple of flicks that are worth bringing up…

Across the Universe. Ever since Momma Mia became a touring smash, any band with a whiff of popularity has had its back catalogue mined for a potential play/movie. The set up is pretty much the same: Use popular songs that everyone knows and loves as a skeleton from which to construct a (usually thin) story. Given that we love the songs so much it is hoped that we don’t notice things like plot holes and lousy acting. Across the Universe is the Beatles version of this trend.

Now Across the Universe is going to affect people either one of two ways: either you’re gonna love it or hate it. I fall in the kind of love it camp. I thought the use of some directions in the plot were a huge stretch just so the filmmakers could include an iconic Beatles song and some of the one liners that referenced a Beatle song were mostly groaners: “Where did she come from?? “She come from the bathroom window.? Plus there was one stretch in the middle of the movie that was completely unneeded as Bono played Dr. Robert, a Timothy Leary type character. The whole scene was only in the movie so that we could get our psychedelica on. It played really no other part of the movie.

However the movie was a winner in many ways. Of course any movie with Beatles songs is going to be fun to watch and Across the Universe was no different. There were a number of set pieces that were just stunning with creative choreography. Great scenes were Max at the draft review board and a football cheerleader singing I want to hold your hand as a lesbian tear jerker. One of my favorite scenes was early in the movie as we saw two dances, one in New Jersey and one in Liverpool using the same song (Hold Me Tight) as the Americans were all dressed up in poodle skirts and chinos while the Brits were in rolled up jeans and leather jackets. A great way to open the movie. If you like the Beatles you’re probably going to dig this movie and I would recommend going.

Into the Wild. Moving across the cinematic universe (sorry) we come to Into the Wild. Based on a true story and a beloved book of the same name, it’s the story about an upper-middle class kid who gives all his money to Oxfam and goes out looking for “reality.? After two years of travels he finds himself in the Alaskan wilderness where he lasts for nearly 4 months before dying of starvation due to ingesting the seeds of a poisonous plant.

Directed by Sean Penn who waited nearly 15 years to make the film before receiving the blessings of the McCandless family, the movie is both sympathetic to Chris/Alex while not deifying him. The movie holds pretty close to the book and is shot on location, including South Dakota, Nevada, and Alaska. I think we get a pretty good picture of where Chris/Alex was coming from while at the same time seeing that he had a lot to live for. One of the paradoxes of the entire story is that Chris/Alex was so alienated from modern society that he had to find reality living off the land in the Alaskan wilderness while at the same time was such an engaging character that he was able to befriend and positively impact just about anyone he came across. A great movie that is stunning to watch and thought provoking as well. Go. Now.

What did you think of these movies?

September 13, 2007

Once - The Movie

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I’m just as mindless a sucker for the big budget summer movie as the next rube. As you can see from reviews here, here, and here. I pretty much took in all the “major? movies this past summer. Most of them are a lot of fun and the ones that aren’t at least provide a way to keep cool during a hot summer night. Unfortunately a lot of these movies are like cotton candy: tasty, but gone quickly and ultimately providing empty calories, something forgotten before you find your car in the parking lot.

Fortunately I also like to keep an eye out for “smaller? movies, as well. Quirky or grown-up movies that are little more challenging can be much more satisfying and stick with you for days if not weeks later. One such movie comes out of Ireland and it’s called Once. It’s a low budget movie (apparently shot for about $200k) about a going-through-the-motions singer/songwriter/vacuum repair man in Dublin who meets a young female Czech immigrant piano player and through their friendship, gets back on his feet and starts living life again.

Its low production values actually adds to the charm as the camera work and sound editing give the movie a more realistic feel. The two main characters are not professional actors but do a wonderful job, these are completely believable characters and part of the reason is that they have lived the lives they are portraying. The plot is simple and the ending is not clichéd nor is it shocking or unbelievable either.

What really sets this movie apart is the music. The music is actually what movie snobs call diagetic which means that the music comes from the world of the movie and not a soundtrack placed over the dialogue from somewhere outside of the movie world (it’s not 100% diagetic as one song is repeated at the end of movie in a montage that shows how the characters move on in their lives). The performance of the songs was done live and typically in one take with only one or two cameras. The songs are absolutely mesmerizing and will haunt you for days afterward. Also since they songs are performed live within the movie the viewer gets to enjoy the song in its entirety and not a snippet or one chorus as is typical in movies.

I don’t want to give a whole lot of the plot away as it is more fun to watch these two characters grow and make their life decisions without preconceived notions. It is a joy to watch and I encourage anyone who is sick of the big blockbuster to check it out either in the theater or when it is released on DVD.

August 1, 2007

Summer 2007 Round-up

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Well July is in the books so it’s time to take a look at all that I’ve been enjoying or not this summer.

Movies. I’ve previously reviewed the movies I’ve seen here and here. Since that time I’ve seen Transformers, Harry Potter 5, Hairspray and The Simpson’s Movie. The Transformers movie trailer had me drooling in my seat so of course it couldn’t live up to my expectations. While stunning to watch, the movie was too much like a cartoon. If you’re a 12 year old boy you’re gonna love this movie. Simpson’s was an extended TV show – very funny with biting satire. The first 40 minutes are so chock full of jokes, you can hardly keep up. If you’re a Simpson’s fan you can’t miss this movie. Harry Potter 5 was good. The darkest, and I thought best, Potter movie thus far. The story has moved beyond a magical children’s story and the movie reflects that change. That leaves me with Hairspray. I was a big fan of the original movie and thought it was hilarious if a little silly. The current version is also great. From the opening song Good Morning Baltimore (with a wonderful cameo by John Waters), you know you are in for a treat. The movie was a blast, fun to look at and the set musical pieces were stunning. The one movie so far that I would go back to see again (although I could be dragged to the Simpson’s just to catch some of the jokes I missed).

Books. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I thought it was a good ending to the story. A surprising amount of sub plots were wrapped up and a large number of known characters were killed (nine at my count). The ending is a little confusing but with a little research I’m pretty sure I get it. Rowling can write some great set pieces and there are definitely parts that are absolute page turners. Wild Trees: This is a fascinating little book about researchers of Redwood trees who climb up to the top of 350 foot redwoods to find out what’s going up in the canopy. Fun characters that you care about and what would seem like a boring story – tree researchers – is actually quite interesting. Written by the author of Hot Zone. Also check out my review of The Natural at Stick and Ball Guy.

Music. I haven’t listened to a whole lot of new music this summer. Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky is a nice addition to the Wilco canon. It definitely has a 70’s vibe and the guitar work is stellar. Not as experimental as Yankee Foxtrot Hotel or a Ghost is Born but compelling and worthy of multiple listenings nonetheless. Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible is good but not the second coming of the Lord as it was described by some reviewers.

TV. I haven’t watched a lot of TV other than the Daily Show or Twins baseball games. ESPN’s The Bronx is Burning has been good. Based on a book that I read last year it tells the story of 1977 NYC including the Yankees (Billy Martin v. Reggie Jackson), the Son of Sam killings, the mayors race, and eventually the blackout. Since it’s on ESPN the series is focusing on the Yankees angle but is actually done quite well.

Sports. Twins have been maddenly inconsistent but weren’t able to add that one bat or two to get them over the hump. Wolves trade Garnett, Michael Vick sponsored dog fights, doping epidemic at the Tour de France, Freddy Adu goes to Portugal, Barry Bonds will break Aaron’s record any day now, and the Vikings promise to wallow in NFL mediocrity once again. Summer 2007 will not go down as a shining sports era under anyone’s measure.

What have you been doing this summer? What have you liked or not liked?

July 19, 2007

It's Potter Time

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Unless you have been living under a rock these past few months you know that Friday at Midnight is hour zero for Harry Potter fans as the last(?) Harry Potter book comes out and after 10 years, seven books, and nearly 4,000 pages we learn what finally happens between Harry and Voldemort. In addition, the movie version of the 5th book – The Order of the Phoenix – is in the theaters entertaining Harry fans young and old alike.

Our family got the Harry Potter books early on and began by reading them to our kids. Actually my wife read them, although I filled in from time to time. I never fully read the books until the summer of 2005 when the penultimate book – The Half-Blood Prince – came out. I spent a large chunk of that summer reading books one through six in order, over 3,000 pages, to get caught up. Although not necessarily my favorite type of book, I have to admit Rowling can tell a good story and I whipped through them pretty quickly. I’d say Goblet of Fire was my favorite book.

I also went to all the movies and although not great art, have appreciated that they have stuck close to the books and have brought the movie public along for the ride pretty well. That blasé attitude changed with Order of the Phoenix which I think is by far the best Potter movie so far. The book’s new characters, Luna Lovegood and Dolores Umbridge, were perfectly cast and the movie captures quite well the darkness of the story and Harry’s teenage angst. This is not a kiddie movie but a struggle between good and evil. The stakes are much higher here and you feel in it this movie.

As for the final book – The Deathly Hallows – we have a copy on reserve at Barnes and Noble and I am sure we will pick it up sometime on Saturday or Sunday. However I can’t wait and I took a look at the .pdf file that someone put on the web where they took a picture of each page in the book. I of course didn’t read every page but I checked in on a few characters. Don’t worry no spoilers here, although I am sure by Monday or Tuesday that everyone will know what happens. I will say that the book DOESN’T end with Harry, Ron, and Hermione at Hogsmeade, Hermione putting a coin in the jukebox and then you turn the page and its nothing but white. However if you don’t believe that I saw the ending of the book, I’ll give you this non-spoiler: The second to last word in the book is the word “was.?
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What are your Potter predictions?

UPDATE: nytimes.com has a review of Deathly Hallows. Slate.com has a nice book club discussion going on regarding the book.

June 26, 2007

Summer Movie Review - June

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Well having survived the May threequels, I have continued to take in a bunch of Summer movies. Except for one standout, the movies have been so-so this summer.

Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer I actually liked the original Fantastic 4, I thought it was a fun thrill ride and good way to kick-off these characters. Rise of the Silver Surfer was a tad disappointing. Reid and Sue Storm have virtually no chemistry and no way would they be getting married. There were a couple of nice moments in this movie but nothing to write home about. The Silver Surfer was cool but I would check this out only if you're bringing a pre-teen boy (who's gonna love it).

Ocean's 13 A light breezy movie more in character with O11 and not O12 (thank God!) Danny and the Boys are up to their old tricks and it's just as fun to see the witty banner than how they pull off the caper. Enjoyable but slight. Unless you have nothing else to do, can easily be classified as a renter.

Knocked Up Hands down the best movie I've seen this Summer. There are parts that are gut busting funny, Katherine Heigl is very easy on the eyes, and Seth Rogan and his stoner buddies are outragous. Although rated R for language, lots of sexual banter, drug use (and slight nudity), it would be a great movie to bring teens to because it doesn't sugar coat the impact pregnancy has on a woman's body, relationships, etc. The comedy doesn't undercut the message that having children is a great life changing event and has many responsibilities associated with it. Besides being really funny, the movie has keen insight on man-woman telationships and the joys/frustrations of raising a family. A great date movie with your new girlfriend or wife of 17 years.

Movies looking forward to:

Simpsons
Transformers
Harry Potter

June 6, 2007

Summer Movies

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Well the three big “3? movies have now come out (Pirates, Shrek, Spiderman) and I’m assuming most people have seen them. As expected each movie is making oodles of money but after huge opening weekends, there has been steep drop-offs in ticket sales. Although none of the movies can remotely be considered a bomb, each movie will probably fall well short of the box office efforts of their sibling releases.

I came out of each movie entertained but somewhat disappointed. What’s interesting is that I found the same fault with all three movies in that the filmmakers tried to shoehorn too much stuff into each movie. I can just hear the director of Spiderman saying, what’s better than having one villain? How about two? Then someone pipes in “hey let’s have three villains!? Sure three villains may sound cooler but it muddied the movie. Spiderman v. Sandman would have made a taut, thrilling movie. Spiderman 3 couldn’t explore deeper the whole Sandman character because it also had to deal with Venom and the Goblin. The end result being that all three villains were given short shrift.

The same could be said for Shrek and Pirates. There were so many characters having so many issues to resolve that each individual character wasn’t fully realized. This was an acute problem with Shrek, especially since it clocks in at a tidy 85 minutes. An additional 10 minutes may have actually helped. In the end it was the same old jokes and wry commentary on pop culture and fairy tales. Much like cotton candy, it just kinda melted away and was forgotten about by the time I got to the parking lot. The final battle in Pirates was awesome to behold, the effects were stunning and there was little there to suggest that most of it was CGI. However what was the deal with Calypso? It made no sense, added nothing to the picture and was a distraction. At 2 hours and 45 minutes plus, Pirates could have easily been cut down to a more manageable 130 or 140 minutes. Again too many characters, too many subplots to explore and try to resolve, and not enough selective culling. Was it better than Pirates 2? Absolutely, hands down. Was it as good as Pirates 1? Not even close.

It seems that the makers of the blockbusters are so worried that they have to amp up the WOW! factor that they add characters, sub plots, and set pieces at the expense of storytelling and identifiable characters. A few, well directed, incredible scenes are all we need, more than that just waters down the whole movie. Spiderman 3, Shrek 3 and Pirates 3 are good counter-examples of why sometimes less is more.

Summer Movies planning to see:

Knocked up
Transformers (looks absolutely amazing)
Harry Potter
Simpsons Movie
Fantastic 4 (good mindless fun)

What do you think of the movies thus far? What movies are you looking forward to seeing?


May 30, 2007

The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock

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One of the perks of working for the University of Minnesota is that you can take college-credit courses for free. This past Spring term I decided to take a class for the first time since I didn’t finish my Masters Degree in 1990.

My first venture back to school was an Art History film class: The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. It met one day a week and we got to watch Hitchcock films and discuss them in class. I thoroughly enjoyed the class, got an A, and learned a lot about Hitchcock and filmmaking. So all and all, a pretty successful foray. I thought I would discuss a couple of things I learned about Hitchcock and his films:

The camera tells the story. Alfred Hitchcock started his career in the silent film era and it showed throughout his films. Hitchcock was very cognizant of what was seen on the screen and how that propelled the story or added texture to the characters. If you watch Hitchcock’s films carefully, you’ll find that there will be long passages of no dialogue, in essence, silent film making. There is one amazing sequence in Vertigo where there is no dialogue for nearly 20 minutes! However the viewer knows exactly what is happening, and is actually caught up in the actions of the characters.

Suspense is built by informing the viewer, not the actors. Besides Psycho, Hitchcock typically let the viewers in on the evil/bad things that were about to happen to the characters on the screen. It is described as such: Which is scarier, showing the viewer the bomb under the table with the clock counting down to zero while the some of the characters are unaware of the bomb, or surprising the viewers by having a hidden bomb suddenly blow up under a table? Certainly the later is more shocking but the former is more suspenseful.

There are a lot of good Hitchcock Films out there. Sure everyone knows about Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window, etc. But there are a number of other less known, forgotten classics, most of are available at your local video store/Netflicks. Films you may not be aware of but are great include: Strangers on a Train (a must see!), Rebecca, Shadow of Doubt, Notorious, the 1934 version of the Man Who Knew Too Much (better than the 1950’s version) and the 39 Steps. The last two films were from Hitchcock’s “English? film career and are harder to come by at your local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. All these films are in Black in White by the way.

Finally I have to put a word in on Vertigo. I’d seen the film before but didn’t think it deserved all the accolades. Having watched the film with a critical eye and discussing it afterward changed my opinion greatly. Besides the aforementioned no dialogue for 20 minutes, the film really is a wonderful example of great filmmaking. From the wonderful cinematography, to the classic scenes of 1950’s San Francisco, to the obsession of Jimmy Stewart, the film is quite enjoyable, even with its rather bleak ending.

Also as an added treat, here is a link that discusses some the best long tracking shots in movie history, some with YouTube videos. A technique that Hitchcock virtually invented in his film Rope.

What’s your favorite Hitchcock film?

April 24, 2007

David Halberstam

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I heard with great sadness that David Halberstam was killed yesterday in a car accident. A lot of today's eulogies talk about the fact that Halberstam was a great journalist who knew that his job was to get the story, regardless if it ruffled the feathers of those in power. That mindset is in sharp contrast with today's journalists who seem to think that maintaining their insider contacts is what their job is all about. For decent write ups on David Halberstam click here or here or here.

I want to give a shout out to three Halberstam books that I thought were fascinating. Even thought I've probably read a good 1/2 dozen of his books, these really stood out.

The Best and Brightest. Halberstam's greatest book. The story of how the Kennedy Administration got us into the Vietnam war. It's a fascinating read on how this country's smartest men -- literally bred and educated to govern -- stumbled into Vietnam and couldn't get out. For some reason I don't think there will be a book called The Best and Brightest II about the Bush Administration and their debacle in Iraq.

The Powers That Be. A book about how the NY TImes, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Post became the preeminent newspapers during the 20th Century. I think this book was written in the early 1980's so it would have been interesting to see Halberstam's take on today's newspaper business.

Summer of 1949. Yankees and Joe Dimaggio. Red Sox and Ted Williams. Both teams fight it out all season long for the American League Pennant. Also this was the year the Brooklyn Dodgers finally made it to the World Series. Fascinating book, you can literally smell the sweat coming of those old wool uniforms in the hot St. Louis sun.

April 5, 2007

Books I've Read

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Shane over at Greet Machine Tagged me on the following book related questions. Here is my responses.

Book That Changed My Life: This is tough but I think it would have to be Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch. Before I read this book I really had no idea of the Civil Rights Movement, the conditions blacks lived in under segregation, and how hard people fought to enact and/or resist the Voting Rights Act. This book also kindled my love of non-fiction. Before I read this book, I mostly read fiction, now I mostly read non-fiction.

One Book I Have Read More Than Once: I am a notorious book re-reader. In fact almost every book in this post I’ve read more than once. I love going back to books and seeing them in a different light, enjoying them over again, or in the case of Griel Marcus books, try to figure out what’s being said. I’ve read the Lord of the Rings 7 times, East of Eden 5 times, and many, many books at 2-3 times.

Book to Bring on a Deserted Island: I would have to say Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. The book (and appendices) is way over 1000 pages. Plus I get something new out of this book every time I read it.

Book that Made You Laugh: Never Mind the Pollacks by Neil Pollack. God this book is funny, as it makes fun of rock critics and rock and roll stars. The protagonist is Zelig-like in influencing all the key scenes in rock history, from living next door to a young Elvis in Memphis to making Bob Dylan go electric at Freeport to introducing Courtney Love to Kurt Cobain.

Books that Made You Cry: East of Eden by John Steinbeck . At the end of the story when Adam has his stroke and releases Cal from responsibility of Aron’s death gets me everytime. Also if you don’t at least tear up when Frodo and Sam struggle on the side of Mount Doom both before and after destruction of the ring than you are just cold.

Book You Wish You had Written: Chimes of Freedom: The Politics of Bob Dylan’s Art by Mark Marqusee. This book is both a musical and political analysis of Bob Dylan’s early work. It’s hard enough to analyze one aspect but to do both in a smart and readable manner… man I wish I would have done that.

Book You Wish Had Never Been Written: Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas Ricks. Outlines the criminally shoddy political and military planning of the current Iraq War. If the Bush Administration and the Pentagon had been minimally competent we wouldn’t still be in this lousy war and Ricks wouldn’t have had to write this book.

Book Currently reading: Actually two books. Alfred Hitchcock a Life in Darkness and Light which is a pretty good biography of Alfred Hitchcock and The Gettysburg Gospel by Gabor Barrit which is a detailed analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettsyburg Address. It’s pretty amazing the myths different interpretations of this 272 word speech.

Book Meaning to Read: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. About 20 years ago I got this book from a used book store for about $10. It’s a great edition with pull out maps, and cast of characters etc. I just never have been able to read more than a few pages before I have to put it down.

What’s on your list?

March 6, 2007

John Belushi - 25 Years

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O.k. so I’m a day late but March 5th was the 25th anniversary of John Belushi’s death. For a freshman in college it had the same impact on me as did the celebrity deaths of John Lennon, Kurt Cobain or Kirby Puckett. At the time of his death, Belushi hadn’t been on Saturday Night Live for a couple of years but he was still a huge movie star and an idol to shiftless proto-adult boys everywhere. Even though you knew he took lots of drugs -- and there were plenty of rock stars who died via drugs way too early -- there was still the feeling that guys like John Belushi weren’t suppose to die. It really cut my 19-year old soul to the core.

The day he died happened to be a Friday and I remember that my friend Tim and I ended up drinking a lot of alcohol (and more) after we learned of his death. We then went “looking for John Belushi? in Cedar Rapids, IA. We’d ask everyone we came across if they had seen him. At the time we were just drunken college kids but looking back it is clear that our “search? was also a way to act out our denial of what happened to one of our idols. It was one of those touchstones you must come across to remind you that yes, you too are mortal.

Alas we didn’t find John Belushi that night but I think that’s the night Tim and Pat got in a big fight on the quad. (Tim, fill in the blanks in the comments section). Boys being boys, forcibly being pushed along toward adulthood and the men we now are. It seems strange that it’s been 25 years -- John Belushi has been dead for longer than I was alive when he died. On the surface one would think that his life and death has no direct bearing on my own life, but somehow I think his death did. It was one of those beacons you have to pass in order to grow up and to live your own life, not like some movie or TV star but on your own terms.

February 27, 2007

Police on my Back (and in my Wallet)

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I am unfortunately at that age where the rock band heroes of my 20’s are now in the sellout stage of their career. Nothing says “God am I old? than hearing the opening riff to Blister in the Sun in a Wendy’s hamburger ad.

Besides selling their songs to Madison Avenue to shill for cars and soap, the easiest way for a band to make money off its legacy is to go on a “reunion tour.? Although the nostalgia acts of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s have been doing this for years, the practice has now infected so called “alternative/punk? bands.

The Pixies really jumped-started this trend with their wildly popular tour of 2005-06. Now it’s hard to really blame the Pixies as they were criminally overlooked during the time that they were putting one amazing album out after another. Since they didn’t make a whole lot of money then, it’s only appropriate that they collect a premium from those not cool or old enough to get them the first time around.

The Police are the latest to suck lucre from the nostalgia teat. Now of course the Police were MTV stars in the early- to mid-80’s and their albums sold well and were critically acclaimed (Outlandos d’Amour still plays a prominent place on my I-Pod). Plus Sting has been a mega-star for years and Andy Summers and Stuart Copeland have had nice careers. But after a performance at the Grammys that didn’t even come close to meeting the anticipation, they have decided to go on tour.

Of course no big rock star tour these days can move forward without corporate sponsorship. The Police have teamed up with Best Buy and if you are a Reward Zone enrollee, you even get a day or two head start in buying tickets. Again a practice that is not new but has been usually limited to fan club members. Don’t worry, the Police have that angle too, once you pay $100 for the privilege of being a fun club member.

Now I’m fine with the whole corporate sponsor thing -- if the bands or teams I like can keep ticket prices down because they are also getting some $$$ from Bud Light, no big deal. The Police, however, are still charging a premium for their tickets, even with the Best Buy Sponsorship. For a mere $52 (plus service charges) you can get a nosebleed seat at the X to see the Police. Want to get on the floor? oh that will cost you $92 (plus service charges). Want to get close to see Sting’s finely toned abs? That will be $227 (plus service charges) please.

Thankfully I’ve moved on. I am sure The Police will clean up just fine without me and Sting can pay for a new fitness regime. However when Andy and Stewart begin that reggae rhythm and Sting starts singing Raaaaaaahhhhhxxxxxaaaaaannnne, you don’t have to put on that red light… do you think they’ll get the irony?

February 19, 2007

What Can Britney Spears Learn from Bob Dylan?

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So where were you when you heard Britney Spears shaved her head? That thought crossed my mind as I was thinking about the Weisman Art Museum’s cool new exhibit: Bob Dylan’s American Journey 1956-1966. The exhibition was originally organized by the Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle with Bob Dylan’s cooperation, but has an additional Minnesota bent as the Weisman beefed up Dylan’s Hibbing background, including the theatre marquee owned by the Zimmerman family. The exhibit follows Dylan from Hibbing to the University of Minnesota and on to the Greenwich Village folk scene where Dylan threw himself into one of popular music’s most fascinating intersections of art, politics, and lifestyle. There he eventually found himself massively famous as one of the first true rock stars and the man who “electrified? contemporary songwriting. The exhibit ends with the making of three of the rock canon’s greatest works: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde.

If you’re a Dylan fan, there’s not a lot new here. There’s the obligatory yearbook picture, beat-up guitars and autographed album covers. Screens show Dylan in concert and in interview, most of which can be seen on Dont Look Back or No Direction Home. For the uninitiated, there are kiosks describing each of Dylan’s albums through Blonde on Blonde with a short review and an analysis on the album’s importance. Listening booths allow one to hear from the album and other songs recorded at the same time. There are also a couple of rare early recordings available for listening. I particularly was interested in some of the original typed-up or handwritten song lyrics, with edits. Also there was a Greystone Hospital t-shirt of Woody Guthrie’s. I thought that was kinda cool. There is also a hilarious review of Dont Look Back by the Cleveland Plain Dealer that was obviously written by someone way too old to “get? Dylan.

The exhibit ends, as does Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home, with Dylan’s motorcycle accident of 1966 and his subsequent withdrawal from the public spotlight. Dylan disappears literally at the apex of his art and fame. Of course we all know Bob Dylan did return to the public spotlight, perhaps not the cultural touchstone of the mid-60’s but someone who still makes pretty important contributions musically some 40 years later.

This brings me back to Britney Spears’ shaved head. Clearly I won’t argue that artistically or culturally Dylan and Britney Spears belong in the same discussion. Britney Spears parlayed an above-average rack and a come-hither personae into a vehicle to become world famous and to sell crappy dance music to pre-teen girls. Dylan is Dylan. However, it is clear from both that fame can be soul crushing. In No Direction Home, you can see it in Dylan’s eyes. The inane questions, the burden of being the “conscience of a generation,? the ever increasing expectations of an adoring public, the need to feed the media blast furnace. Dylan’s motorcycle accident was a means by which he could get away from all that. Start anew. The fact that we are still talking about Dylan, going to museum exhibits, buying his music and attending his concerts 40 years later is proof he made the right choice.

So where were you when you heard Britney Spears shaved her head? I wonder if Bob Dylan, when he heard, thought back to that motorcycle accident and how he dealt with overwhelming fame. Do you think Britney Spears will do the same?

February 7, 2007

Prince at the Super Bowl

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O.k. admit it. When you heard Prince was playing at the Super Bowl halftime show, your shoulders kind of sagged didn’t they? You thought “here’s another lame halftime show by a performer past his prime, just another nostalgia act who’s gonna ride his hits in order to pimp his I-tunes sales figures.? You know that was your reaction. It was my reaction.

Then something wonderful happened. Prince rocked the house in the Miami rain! No surprise that he started off with Let’s go Crazy. Pretty predictable opener. But then Prince started to rip it up on guitar and all of a sudden its was damn, that’s right Prince plays a mean-ass guitar. Now here comes the medley, but it’s all covers… was that Prince channeling Hendrix covering Dylan on All Along the Watchtower? The Foo Fighters’ Best of You? Now it’s a version of Proud Mary that would do Ike and Tina proud. What’s that marching band doing there? My Lord they’re kicking ass too!!

You know what’s coming next but it still blows you away: Purple Rain, in the rain with the stage and rain bathed in purple light, the marching band in some sort of Tron outfits and Prince laying it down like it’s no one’s business with guitar work that would put Eddie Van Halen to shame all happening behind some sheet and his shadow is ten feet tall looking like he is stroking his guitar/giant phallus all while the background singers are crying “purple rain, purple rain? and if you’re a Vikings fan you mist up because all those bottled-up emotions from years of Super Bowl futility are being exorcised by a 5’4? singing imp with a funny-looking guitar. Finally the performance ends, you’re thrilled that you’ve just seen a Super Bowl halftime show that rivals U2 as the best ever and man are you now ready for some football.

Here is a another review of Prince’s performance that is way over the top. If you wondered why Prince wasn’t electrocuted on that wet stage, this article will be of interest.

What did you think of the show?

January 28, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

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What do you get when you mix a 12-year old girl with a spirited fantasy life, a bed-ridden pregnant mother, the Spanish resistance, and a sadistic Army Captain with daddy issues? You get a magical movie that is beautifully shot, thought provoking, and shifts so seamlessly between fantasy and the brutality of war, that you forget to notice which is which.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale about a lonely bookwormish 12-year old girl Ofelia who creates a fantasy life just as harrowing as her real life… a life which consists of living in a Spanish military outpost with her nasty-mean stepfather who is charged with murdering Spanish resistance fighters living in the woods. Between a throwing up giant toad, a Faun that would scare the pants off of Mr. Tumnus, shape shifting tinker bells, and the “pale man? who screws his eyeballs into his palms in order to see, Ofelia must complete a set of tasks in order to become a princess and preside over the underworld. However in the end, it’s Ofelia’s choices in the real world that decide her fate.

A truly glorious movie that deals with the real world issue of the morality of obeying a direct order while simultaneously asking otherly-world questions regarding the afterlife. A must see!

January 2, 2007

Holidays 2006

Here are a couple of highlights from the past Holiday season.

Gear Daddies at the Fine Line. The Gear Daddies were in fine (line) form Saturday night as they played their annual holiday show. It’s a great gig as the band plays all their old favorites and the crowd drinks a lot and relives old times. The crowd is easily 60-40 women to men with lots of unattached 30 and 40 somethings on the prowl at a last chance of snagging "just the right guy." Thankfully I went with my wife!

Guitar Hero II. This has got to be the gift of the year. Use your PS2 as a way to play guitar to a bunch of classic rock songs! It’s as addictive as it sounds. The selection of songs is great… everything from Kiss and Cheap Trick to The Allman Brothers Band to Rage Against the Machine and the Butthole Surfers. Some awesome encore songs too, including Black Sabbath’s War Pigs. A cool, cool video game.

Glen Mason Fired. Like coach Monson, a decision that was probably made a year too late, but a good decision nonetheless. The Gophers have actually had decent talent the last couple of years, at least on the offensive side of the ball and have woefully underachieved. The collapse against Texas Tech was just plain embarrassing.

Apocaplyto. A beautifully shot, intense movie that was quite violent but wasn’t gratuitously so. Sends a pretty modern message about the arrogance of a tribe that believes it has the God-given right to exploit its natural resources and rule over those less fortunate and less powerful than itself.

Reds. The story about John Reed and the leftist/socialist movement in WWI-era United States. When we were in New York this past summer we stayed on the same little block where, some 85 years earlier, Reed wrote 10 Days That Changed the World.

How was your holidays?

December 27, 2006

Movies 2006

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Let’s face it, 2006 was a not a good year for movies. I’ve already discussed here how bad the summer movie season was. In fact movies that were much anticipated (DaVinci Code, Superman, Pirates of the Caribbean) were at best lackluster.

The bad movie year has even caused me to be not as interested in movies in general, e.g.web sites that I used to regularly view, such as Aint it Cool News, are now only checked out once in a while. Also movies that did look interesting went unwatched as I will wait for the DVD. This includes Lucky Number Sleven, The Departed, The Fountain, Prairie Home Companion, and Fast Food Nation.

Having said that here’s a couple of movies that I enjoyed this year:

Sweetland. Hands down the best movie I saw this year. Well crafted, well acted, nice little story. Hopefully this movie gets some attention at Oscar season. You can really see the love the director brought to the story.

Borat. Outrageously funny. Gutsy, funny performance. Not for the faint of heart.

Snakes on a Plane. Couldn’t live up to the hype of its title, but still a good old fashioned fun time at the movies.

V for Vendetta. Some lost opportunities here, but still a decent movie.

An Inconvenient Truth. Who knew you could pair Al Gore and a Powerpoint Presentation and make a compelling, interesting movie? Actually 2006 had a number of great documentaries: The Smartest Men in the Room (was this 2006?), US vs. John Lennon, Neil Young-Heart of Gold, are just a few that were much more entertaining then most “mainstream? movies that were released this year.

Other decent movies I saw this year that are at least worthy of renting: Little Miss Sunshine, Thank You for Smoking, and Marie Antionette.

What movies did you like this year?

December 13, 2006

Books Read 2006

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December brings to end another year of book reading. Below is a short review of the books I read over the past year. Some of these books were not published in 2006 so it isn’t a review of the best books of 2006 but what I took the time to read.

At Canaan’s Edge – Taylor Branch. The 3rd in Branch’s trilogy of the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr. I had read the first two: Parting the Waters and Pillar of Fire and was absolutely enthralled. So I re-read these two books before I started Canaan’s Edge. It was a three book, ten week, 2,500 page commitment that I was happy to make as these books go through the life and times of MLK and the Civil Rights movement. As someone who was alive during many of the events described in these books -- but too young to remember them -- it is amazing what people went through to get what we now consider basic civil rights. And to think it happened in my lifetime! Strongly suggest checking these out.

Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis. I read all seven books in the order Lewis intended. As everyone knows these books can be read as an allegory for Christianity, but they are much richer than that. Paradise, as described in the last book, rivals that of Tolkien’s description of the Grey Havens in LOTR.

Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone – Mark Zwonitzer. Biography of the Carter Family from their early roots in the Virginny mountain back-country to their reign as the "First Family of Country Music" at the Grand Ol’ Opry. Fascinating book even if you're not into country music.

Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – John Weatherford. No it's not Representative Phyllis Kahn's autobiography. This engaging book is about how Ghengis Khan and his offspring conquered Asia, the Middle East, and Central Europe. I spent a couple of weeks in Warsaw in 1987 and wondered why a small but noticable portion of the population had faint Asian features. Now I know.

Walk-On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 - Steve Stockman. Biography of U2 and how their (now) overlooked Christianity influences this great band.

Rip it Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84 - Simon Reynolds. History of the (mostly) British punk bands that came after the punk explosion of the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Good for its history and to (re)introduce you to this cool, cool music. I ended up buying a lot of CD's after reading this book.

Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Post-Industrial City - Richard Lloyd. A very scholarly book about how the down-in-the-dumps industrial neighborhood of Wicker Park in Chicago was turned into a very hip and cool place by artists and punks looking for a cheap place to live. As with most scholarly tomes, it drives home its thesis over and over again. Only for the urban studies major.

Candy Girl - Diablo Cody. Story about a woman living in Minneapolis who became a stripper for a year. Since I'm not a "strib club guy" this story was an eye opener. Although the book takes a breezy tone, there are no happy lights shone on the stripping industry. Stripping sounds like the degrading, soul-crushing job you think it would be. A fun and disturbing read (if that is possible).

Ladies and Gentlement, The Bronx is Burning - Jonathan Mahler. A great story of NYC and 1977 – a vital year that saw the emergence of Reggie Jackson as a Yankee, the serial crimes of Son of Sam, a hotly contested mayoral race, and a devastating blackout. This was the NYC of yore – falling apart, gritty, crime-ridden. Great story, I would read it for the description of the 1977 blackout alone.

The Mother Tongue – Bill Bryson. A look at the English language and how it developed into the language we read, speak, and write today. Very engaging if you are at all interested in the English language.

The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 – Lawrence Wright. The story of the rise of al Qaeda and Radical Islam. Quite fascinating and a little scary. Really points out how easily the government could have stopped the 9/11 attacks with just a little bit of imagination.

Smartest Guys in the Room – Bethany McLean. The story about the rise and fall of Enron. Amazing story of how Enron’s stock was manipulated and how it all crashed in just a few short months. If you have a finance or accounting degree you will probably enjoy this book as there are detailed descriptions of the financial games Enron played. But even if you have a passing knowledge of business you will be outraged at Enron's shenanigans while scratching your head wondering how did Enron ever think they could get away with all they did.

The Day the Universe Changed - James Burke. A history of science and how discoveries propelled the human race. Not the best book in the world and somewhat rambling. I would suggest A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson if interested in this subject.

What did you read this year?

November 2, 2006

What Would Alex Keaton Do?!?

Want to know how far today's media has fallen in regards to real journalism?

Check out this article from CNN: How would Alex P. Keaton react to the Michael J. Fox Stem Cell ad?

What about Marty McFly or better yet Teen Wolf, I'm sure they'd like to weigh in too!

October 23, 2006

Happy Birthday Weekly Freak!

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Well lo and behold the 83rd edition of The Weekly Freak is now at your favorite record store or head shop and with this issue the Freak celebrates its 19th year as the place to find out what's happening with your favorite freak band. Just think in two more years The Weekly Freak will be old enough to drink legally!

Most music 'zines are a labor of love and the energy, inspiration, and desire to keep on publishing usually wanes after a few years. Not the Freak! Timmy the Freak has been celebrating jam bands and general music freakishness from California to the Twin Cities to Nova Scotia since 1987. The list of bands he has interviewed for The Freak is mind blowing.

It's been my pleasure to know The Timmy the Freak before he was "The Freak" and I try not to miss an issue. I also appreciate his frequent comments to this blog. So if you've never seen The Weekly Freak, go seek one out. Also check the web site at the Weeklyfreek.com. Here's hoping for another 19 years of freakishness!

September 5, 2006

Worst. Summer. Movie. Season. Ever!

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Labor Day marks the official end of the summer movie season and I say good riddance! You know it's a bad movie season when the two movies that that provided any entertainment was Al Gore giving a powerpoint presentation and a movie about some motherf*%!king snakes on a motherf*%!king plane. The trailer for The Devil Wears Prada was more entertaining than most of the movies I saw.

Movies were so bad this year that I only went to a few (see list below) but I have to direct my ire at the undisputed box office champ: Pirates of the Caribbean. Now I liked the first POTC, it was a fun, rollercoaster of a ride. But this year's version was a big pile of stinking dog crap. It was so bad that it makes that other bad 2nd movie, Matrix: Rebloated, look like The Empire Strikes Back. So here is a short review of the movies I saw this summer.

Mission Impossible 3 - Not a bad way to burn a crappy May evening. Don't think too hard about the plot.
Nacho Libre - Why Jack Black why? One funny scene that I can't remember now
Pirates of the Caribbean - See above. Bad, stupendously bad, Green Bay Packer offensive line bad.
Superman - It's a Superman movie. You get what you pay for.
Prairie Home Companion - Saw only the first half, then the Lagoon Theater lost power. Will rent to see what happens.
My Super ex-Girlfriend - Better than I expected, moderately funny
An Inconvienent Truth - Actually enjoyable and thought provoking, well worth the $8.00
Snakes on a Plane - The only movie this summer that made me laugh, made me jump out of my seat, made my heart pound.

What movies did you see this summer?


UPDATE!! How could I forget The Davinci Code. Maybe the fact that I did forget about it tells you something.