Summer's almost over... dive into a beer and a book

Summer's almost over... dive into a beer and a book

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

So true

A cute bumper sticker I spotted the other day:

Money talks...but all mine ever says is "good-bye".

A super team-up


While not as ambitious and sure-footed as his novel about Superman's home planet, The Last Days of Krypton, Kevin Anderson's Enemies & Allies is a fun little read about Superman and Batman taking on Lex Luthor in the 1950's. And "fun" is the key word here: encompassing the arms race, the flying saucer craze, a giant Kryptonite meteor, evil Soviet generals, mutant monsters, a megalomanical plan for world domination, and a host of other real-world and fantastical elements, the book's aim is to emulate classic comic-book story telling at its best. And it largely succeeds.

While Enemies & Allies might have been a bit more fun if Superman and Batman had established their famous alliance much earlier in the book, I recognize that this is basically Kevin Anderson's take on the origin of that fabled team. So he needed to show all the steps: how these very different personalities initially distrusted one another; then reluctantly worked together on an occasion or two; and, finally, established mutual trust and cameraderie. So, even though I was five steps ahead of these characters and knew that they'd eventually become friends and allies, it was still fun to see the individual steps occur.

Pop culture fans will also enjoy Mr. Anderson's little nods to previous Batman and Superman stories in other media. For instance, Superman's crystal-shard Fortress of Solitude is right out of the 1978 Richard Donner movie, and Batman actually uses the famous preparing-the-Batmobile spiel from the character's 1960's TV series: "Turbines to power! Atomic batteries to speed!" It's also kind of neat that Bruce Wayne enjoys Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, and uses many of Fleming's ideas in the gadgets he constructs.

While maybe not the be-all-and-end-all Superman/Batman team-up novel, I can't imagine fans of these two characters' various TV, film, and comic book incarnations not having at least a pretty good time with this story. The relentlessly upbeat Superman and the eternally cynical Batman always make a fascinating team, and that's no exception here.

Enemies & Allies is available on Kindle for $7.99.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Silver bells


Here's a special Christmas night wish for all readers of Kindle Taproom: I hope you had a wonderful Christmas day and are having a relaxing Christmas night. And a very special welcome to any new Kindle Taproom readers who have discovered this blog via the new Kindle waiting for you under the Christmas tree this morning! I don't think that's too farfetched a notion... with undoubtedly tens of thousands of new Kindles being unwrapped this morning and tried out over the course of the day, maybe one or two of you new Kindlers have found your way here to this eccentric little Kindle blog. If so... once again, welcome!

To the rest of you, enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend. And thanks for being part of the Kindle Taproom family!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A thoughtful look back


Were the 1960's really the years when everything flew in the face of the past? 1959: The Year Everything Changed is a smart, engaging book that posits that it was the late 1950's, and especially the pivotal year 1959, that ushered in new ways of thinking and behaving that ultimately shook the nation to its core. As demonstrated by writer Fred Kaplan, things may have exploded in the 60's, but the seeds were planted in '59.

I enjoyed the mix of heavier and lighter topics covered in the book's essay-like chapters: the arms race; innovations in jazz; the civil rights movement; the development of artificial birth control; the rise of Motown; the last gasp of censorship; the embracing of youthful politicians over comfortably old and seasoned ones, etc. So don't worry, if reading about the US/Russia arms race isn't your cup of tea, you'll soon be immersed in the jazz clubs of Harlem.

While some of Mr. Kaplan's assertions are stronger than others, in general he argues his case well, and I think most readers will walk away from this book with a new appreciation of an era that most of us have regarded as perhaps not the most vibrant time in our modern history. I'm grateful for Mr. Kaplan for providing the opportunity to give this period a second look.

I listened to an audio version of 1959: The Year Everything Changed, nicely read by Joe Barrett, that I downloaded from Audible.com. The book is also available on Kindle for $9.77.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cute

From California writer Mark Evanier:

The three most dangerous jobs in America are 1) defusing bombs, 2) disposing of hazardous waste, and 3) playing Spider-Man.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Poor Bob


Bob works hard at the office but does arrange for some downtime, telling his wife that all he needs to relax is a little bowling two nights a week, and a round of golf every Saturday.

Bob's wife is fine with this, but still thinks he's pushing himself too hard. So, for Bob's birthday, she decides to take him to the local strip club, figuring he'd be tickled and surprised by the somewhat naughty birthday gift.

Upon arriving, however, the doorman at the club greets the couple and says, "Hey, Bob! How ya doing?"

His wife is puzzled and asks if he's been to this club before.

"Oh no," says Bob. "He's in my bowling league."

When they are seated, a waitress comes over to Bob with a bottle of Budweiser, and says with a smile, "Figured you'd like your usual."

Bob's wife is becoming increasingly uncomfortable and says, "How did she know that you drink Budweiser?"

"Uh, she recognized me," Bob stammers. "She's the waitress at the golf club. You know I always like to down a cold one after 18 holes!"

A buxom stripper then comes over to their table, throws her arms around Bob, and starts to rub herself all over him. "Hi, Bobby!" she says. "Want your usual table dance, big boy?"

Bob's wife, now furious, grabs her purse and storms out of the club. Bob follows and spots her getting into a cab. Before she can slam the door, he jumps in beside her.

Bob tries desperately to explain how the stripper must have mistaken him for someone else, but his wife is having none of it. She is screaming at him at the top of her lungs, calling him every four-letter word in the book.

Finally, the cabby turns around and says, "Geez, Bob, you picked up a real bitch this time."

Bob expects to be out of traction sometime next week.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Truth-isms

Recent bumper stickers that we can't argue with:

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

Politicians and diapers have one thing in common. They should both be changed regularly, and for the same reason.

Evening news is where they begin with "Good evening", and then proceed to tell you why it isn't.

Enjoyed this


Amidst Christmas shopping and other holiday chores, we caught Tron: Legacy over the weekend. It was a pretty good movie, much more layered and nuanced than the original Tron. Interestingly, even with all the flashy graphics and 3D effects, the movie is ultimately the story of a father and a son.

I had heard that the emotional content of the film was an 11th hour addition, when an early cut of the movie proved too cold. But, I don't know, the film's emotional themes seemed pretty well integrated into the story, so if was a later addition, it was done skillfully.

In a nod to The Wizard of Oz, which bracketed a spectacular color story with a black & white opening and closing, Tron: Legacy opens and closes with flat, 2D scenes, which serve to emphasize the spectacular 3D middle section, which makes up the bulk of the film. And, by all means, if you're going to see the film, see it in 3D. The 3D is sharp, clean, very cool, and used well.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Good place


I have a restaurant tip for you today that's actually three inter-related tips. Instead of trying to elegantly tie them all together, I'll just list them one after the other. Hey, ultimately, it's the information that counts, right?

First, if you haven't tried your local Carrabba's Italian Grill, you should. The food is always fresh, creatively conceived, well prepared, and most importantly, very tasty. We go to our local Carrabba's in nearby Springfield, Pennsylvania, and it's always a treat. Prices aren't bad, either.

Second, if you do try Carrabba's, do so on a Wednesday. Most Carrabba's run a promotion called Wine Wednesday on that day, and all bottles of wine are $10.00 off the regular price. Check and make sure your local Carrabba's participates in the program before going, as certain states limit or prohibit promotions involving alcohol. Not that you shouldn't venture out to the restaurant if it doesn't participate, of course.

Finally, if you do go to Carrabba's on a Wednesday and it does indeed offer the Wine Wednesday promotion, try a bottle of Ecco Domani Merlot. Don't let the fact that it's one of the restaurant's less expensive wines turn you off. It's a decent Italian Merlot that will go great with the meat and pasta dishes the restaurant does so well. Normally Ecco Domani Merlot goes for an already pretty reasonable $25.00 a bottle at Carrabba's, but on Wednesdays we pick it up for a mere $15.00. Imagine that: a restaurant offering a whole bottle of good wine for only 15 bucks.

Anyway, there you have your three inter-related tips. If you follow any or all of them, please let me know how it goes!

The photograph accompanying this post, by the way, was taken during a recent Wednesday jaunt to Carrabba's. Just call it Still life of a bottle of Ecco Domani sitting on a bar.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pretty rough


Earlier today, I overheard one of the bosses at my job yelling the following at one of his unlucky subordinates:

If you fell into a pond, they'd be skimming stupid off the surface for a week!

Sheesh, and this the holiday season.

Update

Ah, there's a God in the heavens, after all. Driving home from work last night, there was an announcement on Sirius XM's Paul McCartney station that the satellite service would re-run its exclusive December 13 McCartney concert on Saturday, December 18, at 8:00 p.m., a mere two days from now. Thank you, thank you (to God, Sirius XM executives, and whoever else wants my gratitude). This time, I'll make sure I'm in my car at show time.

And thank you, Kindle Taproom readers, for dealing with my venting on this esoteric topic. We now return to our regularly scheduled blog.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Culture corner

Here is a bit of verse to help you meditate and relax:

Haikus are easy.
But sometimes they don't make sense.
Refrigerator.

Spoiled rant


This past Monday, Sirius/XM satellite radio broadcasted a live concert by Paul McCartney, mounted exclusively for Sirius/XM subscribers (some of whom won tickets to attend the concert, held in New York, in person). I was looking forward to it quite a bit, but come Monday night, it was sooooooo darn cold here in the Philadelphia area that I couldn't bring myself to trudge out to my car at 8:00 p.m. to listen to the concert, as was my plan. You see, I haven't yet splurged for a portable unit allowing me to enjoy my satellite radio subscription inside my house.

I reassured myself, though, that Sirius/XM would be sure to endlessly replay the concert in the days following the broadcast, like any other self-respecting, capitalist media company with a popular show. After all, hasn't AMC been replaying episodes of The Walking Dead endlessly every night, to the point where they should just change the name of the station to The Walking Dead Channel? So, yeah, I didn't worry too much as I watched marginal TV in my warm house during the two hours or so I knew the concert was going on.

You can probably see where this is going. It's now Wednesday afternoon, almost two full days after the concert was held (it got some very nice write-ups, by the way, in the entertainment press), and still no re-broadcast. If there's still nothing during my commutes to and from work in the next day or two, I'm really going to be depressed. I mean, what's the point of establishing a temporary Paul McCartney-only station on Sirius/XM if you aren't going to replay the concert conducted especially for the service?

So consider this post both a gripe and an appeal. I'm griping at both my own laziness two days ago, and Sirius/XM for not arranging immediate re-broadcasts of the concert that they promoted like it was the Second Coming. And I'm appealing to the powers-that-be to correct this frustrating situation and get the darn thing on the radio again. Okay, I'm starting to feel a little better now.

Hey, if you can't use your blog to whine and complain on occasion, what's the purpose of having it?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tron lives


I broke out my old DVD of 1982's Tron last night (the 20th anniversary edition DVD, which now, amazingly, goes for big bucks on Amazon), just to re-visit the world of the film before the sequel, Tron: Legacy, opens this weekend. Quick aside: Has there ever been a longer duration between original movie and sequel in the history of American film?

Anyway, just as I remembered from my last viewing several years ago, everything about the original Tron- its acting, story, themes, special effects, etc.- combines the fantastic with the clunky. Everything teases us with its potential but never quite fulfills it.

But that's okay. In the end, Tron scores enough points during its efficient 96 minutes that it remains more amazing than not almost 30 years later. I can see why there's always been some interest at Disney for a new visit to that world, and it'll be very interesting to see how the new film will pick up the baton from the old one.

I'm guessing that the original Tron will once again be made available on DVD as a companion piece to the new film, but for now the only place to get a DVD of the film is the second-hand market.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Not bad


Guys, don't be afraid to see the film Burlesque with your wives. Ladies, don't feel guilty asking your husbands to go. I caught the film over the weekend with my wife Alison (her pick), and ended up enjoying it quite a bit.

Christina Aguilera is both down-to-earth and sexy as the country girl who wants to make it in the big city; Cher lords it over everyone as the tough-but-lovable boss of the burlesque house; and Stanley Tucci is once again everyone's gay best friend. Making all of the preceding palatable to the guys in the audience is the general air of sexiness pervading the proceedings, in large part generated by the wonderfully skimpy costumes worn by Ms. Aguilera and the variety of women performing on stage with her. The songs are very good, too.

Trust me, guys, if you owe your wife a movie pick after dragging her to numerous sci-fi action thrillers, you can do worse than heading out to this one. Kudos to writer/director Steve Antin for delivering a fun night at the movies.

A little southern tale...


A gas station owner in Mississippi was trying to increase his sales. So he put up a sign that read, "Free Sex with Fill-Up."

Before long, a local redneck pulled in, filled his tank, and asked for his free sex. The owner told him to pick a number from one to ten. If he guessed correctly he would get his free sex.

The redneck rubbed his beard stubble, and thought a moment. Finally, he said, "Eight".

The proprietor said, "Shucks, you were close, but the number was seven. Sorry. No sex this time."

A week later, the same redneck, along with his brother, Bubba, pulled in for another fill-up. Again he asked for his free sex and, again, the proprietor gave him the same story, asking him to guess the correct number.

The redneck thought hard and finally guessed, "Two".

The proprietor shook his head and said, "Sorry, it was three. You were close, but no free sex this time."

As they were driving away, the redneck said to his brother, "I think that game is rigged! He doesn't really give away free sex!"

Bubba replied, "No it ain't, Billy Ray. It ain't rigged. My wife won twice last week!"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tables turned

My insensitive friend is usually the cause of all the big fights he and his wife inflict on the rest of the neighborhood. But things aren't always so predictable, as evidenced by the following story he told me in the bar the other night...

A few Saturdays ago, I got up early, quietly dressed, made a lunch, and slipped into the garage, where I hooked up my boat to our car. I then hit the switch to open the garage, and proceeded to drive out into a torrential downpour. Not only was it pouring rain, but the wind was blowing at least 50 miles per hour. It was bad.

So I pulled back into the garage, turned on the car radio, and discovered that the weather would be bad all day. Sighing, I went back into the house, quietly undressed, and slipped back into bed. Getting a new idea, I cuddled up to my wife's back, now with an entirely different anticipation than for fishing, and whispered, "The weather out there is terrible."

Pulling me closer to her, my wife replied, "Yes, and can you believe my stupid husband is out fishing in that"?

Big fight ensued.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Roses are red...


The following are entries from a recent Washington Post competition soliciting short, two-line poems from readers. The challenge was, each poem had to combine the most romantic first line one could devise with the least romantic second line.

As you might guess, readers tend to rise to the occasion in quirky competitions such as these, as this sampling ably indicates.

My darling, my lover, my beautiful wife:
Marrying you has screwed up my life.

I see your face when I am dreaming.
That's why I always wake up screaming.

Kind, intelligent, loving and hot;
This describes everything you are not.

Love may be beautiful, love may be bliss,
But I only slept with you 'cause I was pissed.

I thought that I could love no other.
That is until I met your brother.

Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so are you.
But the roses are wilting, the violets are dead, the sugar bowl's
empty and so is your head.

I want to feel your sweet embrace;
But don't take that paper bag off your face.

I love your smile, your face, and your eyes.
Damn, I'm good at telling lies!

My love, you take my breath away.
What have you stepped in to smell this way?

My feelings for you no words can tell,
Except for maybe "Go to hell."

What inspired this amorous rhyme?
Two parts vodka, one part lime.


I ask you, who says poetry is boring?

Decent coffee


Starbucks Natural Fusions Vanilla Flavored Ground Coffee combines the usual Starbucks richness and "ooomph" with a subtle vanilla flavor, resulting in a more relaxing, down-to-earth coffee than non-flavored Starbucks varieties. Or to put it another way, it's an enjoyable coffee for those times when you favor a comforting coffee experience over an eye-opening one.

I also recently tried Melitta Cafe Collection Parisian Vanilla Ground Coffee, and liked that a lot, too. That one was more like a regular cup of coffee, though, less strong and complex than the Starbucks variety described here, though the vanilla flavoring had about the same flavor and strength in both coffees.

It's all a matter of personal taste. Some people like a no-nonsense coffee like the Melitta and some like the gourmet richness of a Starbucks. Myself, I go back and forth. And when I'm in the latter mood, and also in the mood for a flavored coffee, this quality Starbucks offering will do the job nicely.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The empire that was


Nelson Johnson's Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City is a decent little book that covers, in both a concise yet rich manner, the history of Atlantic City from an uninhabited wetland circa the U.S. Civil War to the present day. It covers much more ground than the HBO series based on the book: the series focuses on the Prohibition years in Atlantic City, which the book covers in roughly its middle third. So, in the book, you also get lots of stuff about 19th century investors, seeing resort possibilities, trying to convince the railroads to establish rail service to Atlantic City (then an uninhabited, mosquito-dominated wetland known as Absecon Island), and, in the later going, a detailed account of fairly recent casino developments in A.C. (lots about Resorts International, Donald Trump, etc.). It's all fascinating.

Also, for readers who live in the Philadelphia/southern New Jersey region, there's an added bonus. We learn all about political boss and central A.C. figure Frank Farley, whose name most people in our region only know from the automobile rest stop on the Atlantic City Expressway that's named for him. Well, now I know a lot more about Mr. Farley ("Hap" to his friends). After all the blatant corruption described in this book, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that an acknowledged boss of the New Jersey rackets (though one who was smart enough to use buffers to maintain a little distance) is honored today with his own rest stop on the way to Sin City East.

Author Nelson Johnson doesn't mince words or soften his presentation in his desriptions of the rackets, and their bosses, that ran Atlantic City for most of its history, but in the end, he's not overly hard on them. After all, as he points out, yes, it was an undoubtedly corrupt machine (politically, criminally, socially, etc.) that held sway in Atlantic City for seven or eight decades, but that machine kept everyone happy and built and maintained one of the true jewels of the East Coast, making it a "must visit" destination. Sadly, it was in a later era of cleaner, more transparent government and more lawful day-to-day life in Atlantic City that the resort saw its decline, a decline that not even legalized gambling and multi-billion dollar casino operations have been able to adequately reverse.

The book ends on a somewhat upbeat note, acknowledging that Atlantic city has come back at least a little from its abandoned, burned-out nadir of the 1960's, sporting once again at least a few glimmers of its Roaring 20's heyday. The final pages present some interesting ideas for keeping this former oceanside icon moving in the right direction and fulfilling its unrealized potential.

Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City is available for $9.02 on Kindle.

Boy, he's mean


Here are two final stories (for now) from my insensitive clod of a friend. He really seems to enjoy relating how the biggest fights with his long-suffering wife got started. Once again, I'll give him the floor...

When our lawn mower broke, my wife kept hinting to me that I should get it fixed. But, somehow I always had something else to take care of first: organizing my tools, shining the boat, taking a nap, making beer... you know, things more important to me.

Finally she thought of a clever way, at least in her mind, to make her point. When I arrived home from work one day, I found her sitting in the tall grass in front of our house, busily snipping away at the grass with a tiny pair of sewing scissors.

"See what it's come down to?" my wife said with a sigh. "What do you have to say to this?"

I watched silently for a short time and then went into the house. I came out a moment later and handed her a toothbrush.

"When you finish cutting the grass," I said, "you might as well sweep the driveway."

Big fight ensued.

* * *

My wife and I were sitting at a table at her high school reunion, and she kept staring at a drunken man swigging his drink as he sat alone at a nearby table.

Finally I asked her, "Do you know that guy?"

"Yes", she sighed. "He's an old boyfriend I haven't seen since high school. From what I've heard tonight, he took to drinking right after we split up, and hasn't been sober since."

"My God!" I said, "Who would think a person could go on celebrating that long?"

Big fight ensued.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More "mean guy" stories

My friend really IS a mean, insensitive fellow. Here are three more recent exchanges with his wife that brought about unpleasant results (aka huge blow-outs):

My wife was hinting about what she wanted for our upcoming anniversary.

"I think I want something shiny that goes from 0 to 150 in about 3 seconds," she said.

So I bought her a bathroom scale.

Big fight ensued.

* * *


My wife sat down next to me as I was flipping channels.

She said, "What's on TV?"

"Dust," I replied.

Big fight ensued.

* * *

Fresh from the shower, my wife was standing naked, looking in the bedroom mirror. She was clearly not happy with what she saw.

"I feel horrible," she said to me. "I look old, fat and ugly. I really need you to pay me a compliment about now."

"Okay," I replied "Your eyesight's damn near perfect."

Big fight ensued.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fightin' words


As a service to Kindle Taproom readers, a friend of mine, not generally known for his sensitivity, relates below how his last three major fights with his wife got started. Perhaps you can avoid the same pitfalls. I'll just give him the floor...

One year, I decided to buy my mother-in-law a cemetery plot as a Christmas gift.

The next year, I didn't buy her a gift, and she asked me why.

I answered, "Well, you still haven't used the gift I bought you last year!"

Big fight ensued.

* * *

One evening, my wife and I were watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? while we were lying in bed.

I turned to her and said, "Do you want to have sex?"

"No," she answered, only half paying attention to me.

"Is that your final answer?" I said.

Rolling her eyes, she replied, "Yes".

So I said, "Then I'd like to phone a friend."

Big fight ensued.

* * *

I took my wife to a restaurant. The waiter, for some reason, took my order first.

"I'll have the sirloin steak, please, rare."

"Aren't you worried about the mad cow?" the waiter said.

"Nah, she can order for herself."

Big fight ensued.

Worrisome

In a couple of the Kindle-related discussion boards at Amazon, I've been reading about a troubling problem with the Kindle 3: the letters and numbers on the device's buttons sometimes fade to nothingness. Apparently it's only a problem with the new graphite-colored Kindles. Which means that either the lighter-colored paint used on the darker Kindle's surface is faulty, or the darker plastic of the graphite Kindle doesn't hold the paint as well. Or possibly both of these are true.

One or two posts on the boards say that the problem has since been solved, but maybe I'll wait a while before ordering my own Kindle 3 from Amazon. By January 1st or so, any faulty Kindles should be out of the pipeline (being either sold or withdrawn from the market). With all the games of Shuffled Row and Every Word I now play, I really use the buttons on my current Kindle a lot more than I used to, and this will likely continue with a new Kindle. I don't want all that activity to rub off the imprints on the buttons!

Have any of you Kindle 3 owners experienced this problem?

Monday musings

More observations from Aaron Karo's Ruminations.com:

The President, who has arguably the most important job in the world, has nothing on his desk but a phone and a pen. I have arguably the dumbest job in the world and it looks like Office Depot threw up in my cubicle.

Movie characters are always so badass. If they wake up mysteriously in a hospital alone and beaten up, they just rip the IV right out of their arms and slip past the nurses. I would at least want to see my chart first, and maybe get some juice.

"Smooth as a baby's butt" implies too much baby butt rubbing for me to feel comfortable using that expression. I prefer "smooth as a soapy boob".

Apparently, I would rather break my teeth or put a hole in my new shirt than locate a pair of scissors to cut the tag off.

Whenever I choose to go down the stairs next to a crowded escalator, I feel the need to move faster than the escalator to prove to the people on board that I made the better decision.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Good site to visit

Author and comedian Aaron Karo's web site, Ruminations.com, features short, funny anecdotes and observations by Mr. Karo and his readers. As the site describes itself, "We're sort of a cross between Twitter and Seinfeld". Here are a few recent posts at the site that gave me a chuckle:

You know you've screwed up at work when a specific mistake gets named after you: "Okay guys, we'll have a good day as long as no one pulls another Alan."

When a friend sends me an amusing yet inappropriate reply to a mass e-mail, I like to give him a scare by responding, "Next time try not to reply-all."

I'd rather read pages of useless, random internet humor than a few paragraphs of something that would actually better myself.

Based on the cleanliness of dorm rooms in movies and TV shows, I have come to the conclusion that nobody in Hollywood has ever been to college.

Google's Driverless Car will revolutionize our highways by giving people the freedom to express themselves using both middle fingers.

Check out the site. It's a lot of fun.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Good tape


A post about tape is probably a strange thing to include in a blog, even a general interest blog like this one. However, as part of its Vine Program, Amazon recently sent me a supply of Scotch Tape, in return for an honest review. Since the review is already written, and freshly posted at Amazon, I might as well share it with you folks, too. Hey, I guess if I can do a post about cat treats, tape is fair game, right? Anyway, here it is:

This is the classic Scotch Magic Tape that we've all used for years, at least when we didn't succumb to cheapness and buy those other brands at the dollar store. Of course, using the cheap brands always reminds us of the quality and simple elegance of Scotch Magic Tape, and sends us back in the right direction when it's time to buy tape again.

There are lots of reasons this is a preferred tape. Myself, I always liked that it sports a decent width, resulting in a more secure taping job, and the fact that it practically disappears on contact. Also, it really isn't that much pricier than all the sub-par tape out there.

Oh, when I told my wife about my having to write this review, she said to me, "Yeah, the tape is terrific, but be sure to also mention that the cutter thingy on the dispenser always works great with Scotch Tape, and never as good with the other brands."

"You mean the serrated edge that slices the length of tape you want to use?" I replied.

"Yes, smarty, the serrated edge," she said. "It always cuts the tape neatly and easily. The dispensers on the other brands, even the brands that cost real money, just don't cut the tape as well."

Live and learn. It's funny what makes an impression on people.

Those media jackals


Billy Wilder's 1951 film Ace in the Hole is a cynical, noir-ish tale about cunning newspaper reporter Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas), who stumbles upon a rescue operation to free a man trapped in a cave, then manipulates events to make the rescue take much longer than it should. This allows him to file many more stories about the rescue effort, increasingly lurid and sensational, enhancing- as planned- his own reputation as a reporter who sells papers.

While a fairly riveting movie, laced with style and dark humor, in the end the story might be a little dark for its own good. While the film functions as one of the earliest warnings that the growing mass media of the mid 20th Century might not be entirely altruistic, by having such a bleak conclusion to both the central plotline and the path of reporter Chuck Tatum (don't worry, I won't get more specific than that), the result may have been somewhat counter-productive. The film, being perceived as too depressing, failed at the box office, limiting the effect of its message.

Also limiting viewership at the time was the possible sense that the film's criticism of the media, while worth considering, might have gone a little too far. After all, while no one would doubt that newspapers and the other major media in 1951 wouldn't hesitiate to sell more ads if a disaster they were covering increased their audiences, would they really put people's lives at risk to keep the disaster from being addressed?

Of course, Ace in the Hole is also the story of one reporter and his personal decisions, so even if the central message is somewhat overcooked, the movie still works fine as the story of Kirk Douglas' Chuck Tatum character, and the events he sets in motion. You can always enjoy the movie just on that level, and take as much of the media-criticism theme to heart as you deem appropriate.

Not surprisingly, Ace in the Hole looks and sounds wonderful on the Criterion DVD I watched, and, also not surprisingly, there are a variety of wonderful extra features on the second disc, as well as a decent commentary track by film historian Neil Sinyard on the disc containing the movie. My favorite among the second-disc special features was an almost hour-long program, produced in 1980, featuring extensive conversations between Billy Wilder and film critic Michel Ciment. Mr. Wilder tells some great stories to Mr. Ciment, providing wonderful insights into the creative process and motivations behind his many films.

If you don't feel like buying or renting the DVD, Ace in the Hole also shows up from time to time on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which is carried by most cable services.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Driving with Paul


I'm really enjoying my new subscription to Sirius/XM satellite radio, which I listen to in my Hyundai Genesis. With 150-plus channels of crystal clear, commercial-free programming covering every possible mood and taste, what's not to like?

But in addition to all that regular happiness, Sirius/XM often surprises listeners with temporary "boutique" channels that set up shop for a specific period. For example, there are now a handful of channels presenting nothing but Christmas music from now to the end of the year. Each holiday channel has a slightly different flavor, some emphasizing old Christmas favorites, some contemporary holiday recordings, etc.

Another boutique channel that I'm particularly enjoying at the moment is Paul McCartney's "Band on the Run" Radio, now running on Channel 27 to about the end of December. Established to simultaneously promote the re-issue of McCartney's classic Band on the Run album from 1973 and a special concert staged especially for Sirius/XM listeners on December 13, the channel is playing nothing but McCartney and Beatles music 24/7, along with interviews and "fun facts" related to Sir Paul and his vast catalog. The channel will also broadcast the December 13 concert, which will be staged at Harlem's Apollo Theater for a crowd of Sirius/XM listeners lucky enough to secure tickets- via Sirius/XM on-air and online contests- to be there.

Anyway, the Paul McCartney channel is really fun stuff, as are many of the other regular and temporary Sirius/XM channels. I'll probably do a post in the near future describing some of my favorite channels, in case you've been mulling over the possibility of signing up for the service yourself and wouldn't mind a little information from a current subscriber.

Sometimes it's the small things in life that make you want to get up in the morning. Lately my Sirius/XM subscription has been one such small, valuable thing making life fun.