Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New TV Show: Community

The 1985 film "Fletch" starring Chevy Chase is one of my all-time favorite movies. And the long-running television show on E! called "Talk Soup" (which is now just "The Soup" and is currently hosted by Joel McHale) has been one of my favorite shows dating back almost 20 years now, when it was originally hosted by Greg Kinnear (who later went on to win a best supporting actor Oscar for "As Good As It Gets"). So maybe it's no surprise, then, that I really like the new sitcom "Community," at least the first two episodes that have aired so far. But I haven't liked many TV sitcoms over the last 20 years or so now, so that has surprised me.

The show stars Joel McHale as a wise-cracking, deeply cynical lawyer who is forced to go to back to community college, and co-stars, among others, Chevy Chase as another student. Chevy Chase's role is written to be like the "Fletch"-era Chevy Chase, too, which is great. And like "Fletch," the script for "Community" is packed with pop cultural references and witty retorts that come fast and furious. Here's a link to the first half hour episode that originally aired a couple of weeks ago:

John Edwards: In For A Penny, In For A Pound

According to the National Enquirer, Elizabeth Edwards, who had previously said she would never divorce her husband John Edwards, has now "dropped the divorce bombshell" on him after learning that a forthcoming book by his former campaign aide Andrew Young claims that his mistress Rielle Hunter isn't the only woman that John Edwards cheated with on the campaign trail (a claim Edwards himself apparently denies).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Megan Fox on Saturday Night Live

Embedded below is a two minute clip from "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend. Megan Fox's roommate is Optimus Prime: watch him transform by clicking HERE.

Why Roman Polanski Deserves Jail Time

I've been surprised at the extent of the outcry about Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland and his potential extradition to the United States to face 30 year-old statutory rape charges. The victim in that case, who was 13 at the time but is now a middle-aged woman, apparently does not want him prosecuted further and wishes that she could put it all behind her once and for all. And some of his defenders assert that Polanski has "suffered enough" already.

Putting all of that to one side, I'd like to see him serve at least two hours of jail time to compensate any of us who have unwittingly sat through his 1967 film, "The Fearless Vampire Killers," in which he starred and also directed. The film was billed as a "comedy." (I use the quotation marks advisedly.) But it takes a real "artiste," I suppose, to combine Hammer horror influences with Peter Sellers slapstick and a dash of European sex comedy to produce such a transcendently un-funny melange. It's hard to believe that just a year later Polanski made "Rosemary's Baby," and just a few years after that, "Chinatown."
The trailer for the film begins with the narrator asking the rhetorical question, "Who says vampires are no laughing matter?" You'll be able to answer that if you watch that 2 minute trailer embedded below:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

1966 "Planet of the Apes" Studio Pitch

The original 1968 film "Planet of the Apes" starring Charlton Heston is one of my all-time favorite favorite movies, and has been since I first saw it on television as a child in the mid-1970s. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Charlton Heston and the film's producers actually had a very hard time getting that movie made in the 1960s. Among other things, studio executives were apparently very wary that audiences would find the ape make-ups unconvincing and that actors on screen in "ape suits" would be unintentionally funny.

Ultimately, Fox agreed to fund a short screen test, giving the producers the chance to prove that the ape make-ups really could work on film. Embedded below is the 8 minute filmed pitch that resulted. The make-up test begins at the 2:50 mark. Interestingly, in addition to Charlton Heston, this test also features the legendary Edward G. Robinson as Dr. Zaius and a young James Brolin (now Mr. Barbara Streisand) as Cornelius. After the film was green-lit based on this test footage, Robinson backed out of participating in the actual movie itself, claiming that his ill health prevented him from undergoing the extensive make-up process for days on end. And the role of Cornelius was played memorably in the real movie by Roddy McDowall instead of James Brolin.
If you're also a fan of the film like me, you may notice a few other interesting things about this pitch. The production art featured in the first three minutes envisions a more technologically advanced ape world than appeared in the final film. Apes fly helicopters and wear suits for example. (That was closer to the original Pierre Boule novel, but was abandoned in the final film because it was thought to be too costly.) Also, Charlton Heston's character is named "Thomas" in this pitch, as opposed to "Taylor" in the final film. It's also noteworthy how similar much of Dr. Zaius' dialogue (by Edward G. Robinson) in this make-up test is to that in the final film, albeit delivered very differently in the movie by Shakespearean actor Maurice Evans. You may also note in the end credits to this pitch that the script for this make-up test was based on a full movie treatment written by Rod Serling (of "Twilight Zone" fame), on which the final film script was based as well. It was Rod Serling's script that originally conceived of the "twist ending" involving the Statue of Liberty.

Bob Stupak Has Died

The flamboyant Las Vegas casino operator Bob Stupak died yesterday at the age of 67. He was perhaps best known locally in Las Vegas for his seemingly endless string of "colorful" publicity stunts, like the time he publicly challenged Donald Trump to a $1 million bet over a board game, or the time he played the Harlem Globetrotters. Outside of Las Vegas he'll be remembered as the father of the monumental "Stratosphere" hotel and casino there. The Stratosphere tower, pictured at left, is the second-tallest building west of the Mississippi. It literally towers over the rest of the city of Last Vegas. You may know that, in addition to an observation deck, it also has a roller coaster and a "free fall" ride at its top.

The $550 million project was plagued from its inception in the early 1990s with construction and finance problems. Mr. Stupak eventually ran out of money before it was completed. The "Stratosphere" project was ultimately finished by an unrelated company, Grand Casinos, but then filed for bankruptcy less than a year after opening in 1996.
I stayed there for a couple of days in 1998 (when it was still in bankruptcy), primarily because they were offering rooms for $19.95 per night, a totally insane price that also included a complimentary buffet meal each day and free passes to the observation deck and roller coasters. I did go up to the observation deck. The panoramic views really were spectacular. But I couldn't bring myself to try out the thrill rides at the very top, unwilling to entrust my life to a troubled project that was languishing in bankruptcy at the time. (Though it probably says something unflattering about me that I did "eat hearty" at the buffet, and don't remember having the same concerns about my safety there, for whatever reason.)
I really enjoyed "The Stratosphere" and recommended it to friends and acquaintances alike for several years afterward, which never failed to provoke surprised or even skeptical reactions because of its "uneven" reputation back then. But I was very disappointed when I first arrived there to learn that the huge animatronic King Kong that was planned (and heavily touted) by Mr. Stupak to climb up and down the tower every hour had never in fact been installed, for financial reasons.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lamar Odom Wants A Prenup

Good for him: according to TMZ, Lamar Odom now wants a prenuptual agreement before his wedding to Khloe Kardashian, which is scheduled for Sunday. But there's a problem. Apparently there isn't sufficient time between now and then for their respective legal teams to finalize an agreement. And yet the wedding must go on because a reality show is reportedly footing the entire $1 million cost of the event on condition that it is indeed held on that day.

Ah yes, the inevitable reality show. ("I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.")

The Michael Jackson Tapes

NBC aired a Dateline episode last night titled, "The Michael Jackson Tapes," featuring audio recordings of conversations between Jackson and (self-proclaimed) "America's Rabbi" Shmuley Boteach made nine years ago. I was pretty skeptical going in. But some of it was genuinely fascinating.
At one point, Jackson discusses being repulsed upon seeing a photograph of his own face. "I saw it on the computer. It made me sick when I saw it. I look like a lizard, I look like, it's horrible. I don't like it. I never liked it." While that blunt self-loathing is startling, many of the snippets played during the show portrayed Michael Jackson as "typical" celebrity narcissist who'd come to believe all the adulation heaped on him over the years, in a seemingly delusional way. At one point, Jackson suggests that he has been endowed by God with almost messianic healing powers. Separately, he also asserts, "Going to my shows, it's like a religious experience because you come out, you go in one person, you come out a different person."
Embedded below is a 2 minute clip from the show that contains another interesting snippet, in which Jackson blames the bad press he received over the years on a racist reaction by "the white press" to his then-unprecedented allure to white girls.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom To Wed

Khloe Kardashian, 25, and Lamar Odom, 29, are set to marry this weekend, just one month after they met, and with just a few days' notice to friends and family.
I've followed Lamar Odom's basketball career since his college days, and have always rooted for him in part because he had a pretty rough childhood, essentially raising himself. But he has already fathered two young children with a prior girlfriend whom he never married, and a third tragically died of SIDS as an infant in 2006. He was also suspended by the NBA in 2001 for violating the league's anti-drug policy. Khloe seems to be most "famous" (if that's the word) for being a supporting character on a reality TV show on E! about her family called "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," and was herself arrested for DUI in 2007.
Maybe this will turn out to be a powerful, if unconventional, love story for the ages, like in a romance novel. Time will tell, I suppose.
Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee wed impetuously at a resort in Mexico in 1995, after having known each other for less than a week. When you're driving on the road of life, it's probably wise to think twice before getting off at the exit marked with a big sign reading, "Pam and Tommy Welcome You!"

The Numbers: Foreign Ownership of US Debt

"Talking heads" on cable news and on CNBC regularly decry our reliance on the willingness of China and Japan (and other foreign countries) to continue to buy US treasuries to fund our national debt and our annual budget deficits, predicting financial disaster for America if they were to stop these purchases.

It's open to question, I think, whether these nations could ever really stop buying US treasuries (especially in any sort of abrupt way), since they in part fund our ongoing purchases of goods and services from them. They both have export-led economies, and we are their single largest customer. So there is mutual dependence.
But, I wondered, how much of our debt do foreign countries and other foreign investors really hold? As it turns out, according to data from the US Treasury (reflected in the pie chart above), they held just under 28% in 2008. While that may well give them significant pricing power, I don't think that minority stake justifies the volume on the most hysterical rhetoric.

Who Are The Turkeys, I Wonder?

At a $1,000 per person fundraisier held last night in Virginia at the home of former Senator Chuck Robb to benefit three freshman Democrats in the House of Representatives, Vice President Joe Biden reportedly called the three congressmen “independent minded” and “damn competent,” adding, "These guys are smart. Some of the guys Chuck and I have campaigned for are turkeys. Not all Democrats are created equal.”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

In Search Of... Anastasia (Imposter. But Crazy?)

Anna Anderson, who died in 1984 at the age of 87, was the most famous of several women who falsely claimed over the years to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the last Tzar of Russia, Nicholas II. Her story was even immortalized in the Ingrid Bergman movie "Anastasia," which was remade again as an animated film in 1997.

The real Anastasia, though, was murdered as a young girl (along with with the Tzar and Tzarina and all of her brothers and sisters) in July 1918 in Ekatarinburg, Russia, by the Bolshevik secret police in the wake of the Russian Revolution. But persistent rumors of Anastasia's possible escape from captivity before she was killed allowed several imposters to come out of the woodwork in the middle of the 20th century claiming to be Anastasia (seeking both fame and her inheritance). This was largely put to an end once and for all in 1991 when a mass grave near Ekatarinburg containing the remains of most of the last Tzar's family was revealed to the public.

This subsequent revelation and the advent of DNA testing make the story of life-long imposter Anna Anderson all the more amazing. Anna Anderson was born in Germany in 1896 and was institutionalized in a mental hospital in 1920 after a suicide attempt. Shortly thereafter, she began claiming to be Anastasia, and continued to do so vehemently until her death over 60 years later, garnering a surprising number of influential supporters along the way, even among Romanov relatives. From 1922 to 1968 she bounced between the United States and Germany, living in various sanatariums, asylums, and homes of supporters until she inevitably wore out her welcome with her outrageously demanding behavior and moved on. In 1968 she married an aging Virginia eccentric Jack Manahan with whom she lived in relative squalor until her death in 1984. While her remains were cremated at the time of her death, DNA testing conducted years later on a lock of her hair proved conclusively that she had no genetic link to the Romanov family.

Was she just crazy? Or did she, over the years, simply come to believe her own "BS"? Or was she shrewdly putting everyone on in a coldly exploitive way for over 60 years? Who knows. But somehow it's hard to view any elderly person as a remorseless con artist. (Maybe that's what she preyed on.) Her story was profiled on the television show "In Search Of" in 1978 (part 2 of 3 is embedded below), years before the revelation of the mass grave in Ekatarinburg and before the advent of DNA testing. What do you think? Is the 81 year-old Anna Anderson interviewed in that segment of the show simply crazy? Or crazy like a fox?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Most Unhealthy Pizza In America

According to a ranking in "Men's Health" magazine, the Uno Chicago Grill's Classic Deep Dish Individual Pizza is the pizza that is the worst for you, nutritionally speaking, in the entire United States. Among other things, it apparently contains the same amount of sodium as 27 bags of Frito Lays potato chips. (That's a photo above taken at a Frito Lay plant. I bet that's not even 27 bags' worth on that conveyor belt.)

Bringing Your Own Food On An Airplane

Since airlines have begun charging for food on their flights over the last couple of years, there seems to be a lot less eating on airplanes by passengers. As someone who was never a big eater on planes, I am pretty happy about that in general. But in my experience this has also resulted in another, less pleasant, consequence: many passengers who do want to eat seem to bring their own food. While I still think that people should be able to go without eating for 3 or 4 hours, I guess I can see bringing on a bag of McDonalds purchased in the terminal just before boarding, or a Subway sandwich or whatever. But I start to have a problem with some of the "home made" food that I've seen some fellow passengers bring onboard.

A case in point was a flight I took on Monday from Dallas to California. The flight was totally full, and since I went standby I ended up in the very last row, but at least I got the window. The guy in the middle seat next to me was way too big to be comfortable there. He was a tall and stocky (but not obese) man, about the size of disgraced financier Alan Stanford. About an hour into the flight, a stewardess comes by and asks if we'd like a complimentary beverage. I passed and turned to look out the window. But this big guy next to me hems and haws and then says finally, "I wonder what goes best with Texas barbeque?"

That got my attention again. What did he just say? I had heard him right, it turns out. (His answer: Diet Coke.) As the stewardess poured him his drink, he reached down into the computer bag at his feet and began awkwardly pulling out this big tupperware platter full of BBQ. And sure enough, after he pulled down his tray table, he dove right in with both hands, literally. Who in the world thinks that BBQ ribs for lunch is a good idea when you're 6' 3" and flying in coach. And since we were seated in the last row, he was eating all this BBQ just a few feet from the lavatory. He would have been further from a toilet if instead he'd taken his plastic tub of ribs into the public mens' restroom at DFW airport before departure and eaten those ribs while leaning against the paper towel dispenser near the sinks.

When he was more or less finished, he suddenly leaned his elbows on his tray table, hands upright like a surgeon scrubbing before surgery. BBQ sauce coated his hands and was dripping down his forearms. And then it hits me, he'd just realized that he had failed to bring any napkins. Then he glanced over at me with a confused any maybe desperate look. Were his eyes saying, "would you mind terribly if I just used your t-shirt as a napkin?" Or maybe, "I'm sorry to bother you, but do you happen to have a spare 20 napkins on you?" Or even, "Oh no, I'm bleeding! Can you tie a tourniquet?"

That whole scene seems to me, on reflection, to be a metaphor for the war in Afghanistan. It seemed like a great idea initially. ("These ribs are great. I think that I'll take some on the plane tomorrow. They'll keep until then and it'll help pass the time.") But the whole situation soon proved to be larger and more complicated than expected. ("Huh, I can't seem to get this tupperware container out of my bag. There we go. Finally. Uh oh, it seems to be too big for the tray table. Where will I put my Diet Coke? If I hold the glass of Coke in one hand, I won't be able to eat these ribs with both hands...") And then it soon proved that we were woefully under-resourced as well. ("Oh sh*t, I forgot the napkins....")

In the end, he was, after some effort and delay, able to beg a few more cocktail napkins from the stewardess. But they were not nearly sufficient. So he spent the rest of the flight with, quite literally, a mess on his hands. When we exited the plane a couple of hours later, he still had some BBQ sauce on his hands. And he left those used cocktail napkins, now discolored brown, wadded up in the seat back pouch in front of him. There's a lesson in there somewhere.....

NBC News On The John Edwards Scandal

It's amazing to me how little coverage the John Edwards scandal has received in the so-called "mainstream" press over the last 15 months or so. But now they seem to be playing catch-up to "The National Enquirer" on this.

Embedded below is a 3 minute segment about this scandal from NBC's "Today" show. I found this noteworthy in part because of how starkly it paints John Edwards as a serial liar about this. But I thought that it was particularly interesting because it includes brief interviews with two "legal experts" who explain in more detail than I've ever seen before the legal theories that federal prosecutors are apparently using to pursue criminal charges against him.

CNBC Tonight: "The New Age of Walmart"

CNBC will air a 90 minute special tonight about Walmart that I will definitely be watching.

Five years ago or so, CNBC aired a prior special on Walmart, also hosted by David Faber (who is perhaps my favorite CNBC on-air personality). I thought that was an absolutely fascinating look behind the scenes at the unique corporate culture and world- famous logistics chain behind the biggest retailer in the world. (Who knew that Walmart executives shared hotel rooms when traveling on business?) But that was several years ago now, in what seems like another world. Walmart was then besieged by what seemed like unrelentingly bad press about, among other things, the treatment of its non-union employees and how their stores ruthlessly squeezed out small businesses, destroying the local culture.

Several years later now, the Great Recession is on. Some of those concerns have faded as the economy has faltered. (Perhaps they seem like unaffordable luxuries today.) Walmart's sales are bigger than ever, while its biggest competitor, Target, is having trouble. And Walmart now even advocates for health care reform that would provide some sort of health insurance coverage for its employees.

David Faber has apparently gone back to Walmart to see what's changed. I hope that this new special is half as good as the first one. Embedded below is a 2 minute trailer for tonight's show, if you're interested:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Competitive Eating

"Humble Bob" Shoudt, a 42-year-old husband and father of three from Pennsylvania and so-called "professional eater" (photo at left) claimed the Harrah's Louisiana Downs Grits Eating Championship first place last Saturday, just 24 hours after he won the 2009 World Burrito eating championship in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Perhaps as disturbing, there is actually an umbrella organization called IFOCE, the International Federation of Competitive Eating, for this "sport." (That's the official IFOCE crest above. Really.) also posts world rankings. Bob Shoudt is #5.

According to his profile on the IFOCE website, Bob Shoudt and his entire family are vegetarians. But he may be a very recent convert, since he apparently ate 34 beef brisket bbq sandwiches at the Cherokee Casino in July 2008, and indeed the 33 quarter pound burritos that he ate last Saturday were filled with beef, beans and green chile according to the Associated Press.

"Ginsu" Knives Were Not Actually Japanese

"In Japan, the hand can be used like a knife...... But this method doesn't work with a tomato......"

Do you remember that opening line from the pioneering late 1970s informercial for "Ginsu" knives (90 seconds, embedded below)? Even today the official website for these knives still states proudly, "Ginsu knives are a symbol of ancient Japanese traditions."

Well, the Japanese link was actually a total marketing fabrication. Two founders of a Rhode Island-based direct marketing company had seen a set of knives (dubbed "EverSharp") being made in Ohio by a company called "Douglas Quikut" that was primarily a manufacturer of vacuum cleaner parts. These direct marketers decided to sell the knives nationally via TV infomercials, and thought that, to be more enticing, they needed to have a different name, one that was evocative of something foreign and exotic. Among other rejected possibilities, they apparently also considered giving the knives a name based on the scimitar before settling on Japan and the made-up, nonsense word "Ginsu."

Interestingly, according to the official website, the manufacturer, Douglas Quikut, is actually a division of another company called the "Scott Fetzer Company" which in turn has been owned by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway for over 20 years. Ginsu knives have been made in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas since 1988.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I Would Have Preferred Snakes On The Plane

I was flying to Florida last Friday night. Whenever I fly (and I've flown a lot over the years), by force of habit I almost always pull open the seat back pouch in front of me before take-off and disinterestedly flip through the in-flight magazine. And when I see one of those disquietingly bland little air sick bags in there, I smile a thankful smile that I've never, ever seen one of those used by anyone in all my travels.

Until now.

He was sitting right next to me, and we were in coach class, which means that the entire "event" occurred about a foot from my (horrified) face. It was like watching "The Exorcist" with your face pressed right up against the television screen.

It all started just after take-off. The middle-aged man sitting next me mentioned that he was not feeling well as he put on his overhead fan. That was fine. But within seconds he then reached in for the "air sick" bag, and I started to get a little nervous. ("Perhaps the gentleman would be more comfortable in the aft lavatory...") But he stayed sitting in his seat. Right next to me!

He next put the bag up to his mouth and nose and began breathing deeply, like he was trying to get rid of some hick-ups. (Is he really not going to the bathroom?!?!) Then it happened. "Blaaaahhhh." Then a pause. A sigh. Then again. "Blaaahhhhh." A soft moan. Again."Blaahhhh." Another moan. And on it went like that. I lost count at 8, as I began concentrating on the wet sensation starting to build at the back of my own throat.

At the end of the flight, this sick passenger wanted to shake my hand to thank me for being so understanding. Was that really appropriate? (Lawrence Olivier didn't offer to shake Dustin Hoffman's hand at the end of "Marathon Man.")

Canary in the Coal Mine

I have been traveling for the last several days, during which I passed through four different US airports in three states, including two of the nation's busiest (LAX and DFW). Whenever I passed a newsstand I checked to see if they sold any comic books. I walked into several in each airport. And not one sold any comic books at all. Not one.

The writing seems to be on the wall for the comic book industry, which is all the more painful given that super hero characters like Spider-Man and Batman are probably more popular worldwide today than ever before (albeit in other media).

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Dark Side of Walt Disney

One afternoon while my young daughter was watching a Mickey Mouse cartoon, I started explaining to my wife that the "real" Walt Disney was by today's standards a flawed character, in some ways wildly at odds with his smiling, grandfatherly persona.

Like his alleged attitudes about race and ethnicity that were not, to put it euphemistically, "modern." Or his treatment of his own animators, and his reaction when some of them tried to start a labor union. Or his testimony in 1947 at the House Un-American Affairs Committee where he branded several animators and Hollywood labor organizers as communists. Or even the famously untrue urban myth that, after his death, he had his body cryogenically frozen so that he might be revived one day in the future. (His ashes actually rest at Forrest Lawn. Like Michael Jackson.)

The other day I stumbled upon an animated spoof about these same allegations on the NBC website that first aired on "Saturday Night Live." Mickey Mouse awkwardly struggles to defend all of this to two little children. At one point, Mickey sort of gives up, exasperated, and says to the kids, "Look, he was who he was. Take the good with the bad. He created me. Think of all the laughs I've given you." And the two kids look back at Mickey, confused, and ask, "You're supposed to be funny?"

It's 3 minutes long and is embedded below:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

US To Scrap Missile Defense In Europe

President Obama announced this morning that he is scrapping President Bush's planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe, in favor of a reconfigured system focused on intercepting shorter-range Iranian missiles. The missile defense shield planned by the Bush administration had provoked a wildly negative reaction from Vladimir Putin, who had argued for years that the system was a potential threat to Russia. As a result of this decision announced today, a sophisticated radar system will not be built as previously planned in the Czech Republic, nor will 10 ground-based interceptors be installed in Poland.

Metaphorically speaking, I suppose this news means that, in the photo above, the planned missile defense shield in Europe is Vladimir Putin's shirt. In stark contrast, I bet that Poland and the Czech Republic are very worried that they have suddenly become that nag he's riding. Time will tell though whether it's really President Obama who's become the horse.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Jim Rome On The Buffalo Bills' Loss

"Buffalo Bills: put that coffee down. Coffee is for closers." That's how this clip embedded below begins.

I have loved Jim Rome's sports talk radio show for years, dating back to when he was a young local radio personality in San Diego at the start of the 1990s. His radio show used to be really heavy on insider jargon, with nicknames for many sports personalities that were cryptic to all but regular listeners. But as he became more popular, and his show became nationally syndicated in 1996 (and he got a second TV show on ESPN in 2003), he toned this down dramatically.

Anyway, embedded below is a 3 minute clip from the start of his ESPN television show ("Jim Rome is Burning") yesterday afternoon, during which he discusses the Buffalo Bills' last second loss to the Patriots on Monday Night Football.

Good For Him

While a film crew from CNBC was setting up for an interview with President yesterday, he was asked in casual conversation about Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift at the MTV video music awards. President Obama's candor in this unguarded moment is to be applauded, I think.

His reaction was captured (audio only) by the CNBC crew as they were prep-ing their equipment. This became public because an ABC correspondent subsequent heard this audio clip (embedded below) and "tweeted" about it, an act for which ABC News later issued a public apology.

The Daily Show On ACORN

I really like "The Daily Show." I may not share Jon Stewart's politics. But I do share his sense of humor. I also thought that his fake history text book The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction was one of the funniest books I've ever read.

Last night on his show Stewart did a segment on the recent ACORN scandal, which I have embedded below. His take on it may surprise you.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kanye West On Jay Leno Last Night

I really liked Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" and watched it regularly over the years, especially his opening monologues. So I was very interested in his new 10 PM show that debuted last night. I am disappointed to have to say that I thought most of it fell surprisingly flat. Notably, the sit down interview with Jerry Seinfeld (and Oprah Winfrey via satellite), felt like an extended wait for punch lines that never came.

But there was one great moment during this first episode. It came when Jay briefly talked Kanye West about his disruption of Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the MTV video music awards the other night. At one point, featured in the clip embedded below, Jay asks Kanye what his mother, whom Kanye had praised publicly for years and who died tragically in 2007, would have thought about his behavior that night.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cheese-Filled Combos

Do you remember "Combos"? They were a potato chip-like snack that was advertised pretty heavily on television in the early 1980s. ("Cheese filled Combos. Combos really cheeses your hunger away!") They were basically little pretzel tubes with this Cheez Wiz-like substance stuffed inside.

I liked them as a teenager in the 1980s, but hadn't seen them anywhere in years. To my amazement, Combos are apparently still made by Mars Incorporated to this day and even sponsor Kyle Busch in NASCAR. ("The official Cheese Filled Snack of NASCAR.")

They even have an official website ( The unsettling blueprint for the "Combrero" pictured above is posted there. The site even has a store locator that will generate a list of retailers near you that still sell Combos. I'm not sure it's a good sign, though, that they're only sold near me at pharmacies like Rite Aid and CVS. Are they medicinal?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

On "Meet The Press" This Morning

Embedded below is a 10 minute segment from "Meet The Press" this morning. The roundtable discussion focusses on how proposed health care reforms might be paid for, and a "Washington Post" editorial today discussing the fallacy of government paying for anything by promises to eliminate, "waste, fraud and abuse."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

In Search Of... Bigfoot

Did you know that the Bigfoot "craze" really kicked off in 1958 when a construction crew (including brothers Wilbur and Ray Wallace) operating at an isolated work site in Bluff Creek, California claimed to have found enormous footprints in the mud. They took a plaster cast of one such footprint to the local newspaper as proof. Then in 1967, Roger Patterson claimed to have taken a reel of color 8 mm film showing Bigfoot walking at the edge of a forrest. That's a still from it at left, which you may remember.

When I was a child in the 1970s, Bigfoot "mania" was perhaps at its height. (Remember the episodes of the "Six Million Dollar Man" tv show where Lee Majors fought off a bionic bigfoot played by pro wrestler Andre The Giant?) The ensuing years have not been kind to the "mystery" of bigfoot, however, especially since the 1990s. After Ray Wallace's death, his children produced a pair of oversized wooden feet that their father, well known locally for years as a hoax-er apparently, had used to produce "bigfoot" tracks like those his construction crew found in 1958. And in recent years a man who was an acquaintance of Roger Patterson admitted that it was actually him an ape costume which was captured in the famous "Patterson film."

"The most convincing visual evidence of bigfoot is a film taken by Roger Patterson in Northern California," Leonard Nimoy says with authority in the clip embedded below, which is from an episode of the television show "In Search Of..." that first aired in April 1977. "Dr. Krantz believes it to be authentic."

"'I've examined the film many times," Dr. Krantz then intones in this clip. "All of the anatomy of the creature is perfectly consistent. It just simply does not fit with a man wearing a suit. In fact a suit of that size.... there's simply no way a man could get into it. The chest and shoulders are simply too wide. The feet are properly designed for carrying that kind of body weight. That doesn't make any sense unless we've got a body of that size. Patterson could not have faked any of this stuff."

Later in this same episode Dr. Krantz is shown holding a plaster cast of a purported bigfoot track. "I studied this at some length.... It's not just a gigantic human foot. The leverage has been re-designed. And this happens to be re-designed just exactly the way it would have to be for an 800 pound animal....If it was faked, it was done by a human anatomist who was a real genius. And he had to have laid out thousands of these fakes all over the place. And that just simply becomes impossible."

That "Dr. Krantz" was Dr. Grover Krantz, who was then a professor of physical anthropology at Washington State University, and who continued to teach there into the 1990s. He died in 2002 at the age of 70 of pancreatic cancer. Did this 1977 "In Search Of" interview embarrass him professionally in later years? Did he come to regret it, in light of these subsequent hoax revelations? His obituary may provide some insight on that.

"Krantz' challenge on Bigfoot provoked more than scientific debate," the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote in his obituary published in February 2002. "It created unwelcome controversy and allegations of 'fringe science' that Tyler said cost him some promotions and almost prevented him from getting a tenured post at WSU."

The "almost" in that last sentence really jumps out....

Friday, September 11, 2009

Shawne Merriman: What Not To Say

Details have now leaked into the press about what led up to the incident at 3:45 AM at Shawne Merriman's house on labor day weekend. Tila Tequilla has alleged that Merriman hit her and restrained her as she tried to leave his home after a long night of partying. Merriman was arrested that night based on these allegations.

Apparently, once the club in downtown San Diego closed for the evening at 2 AM, the two of them and a collection of Merriman's other friends went back to Merriman's house to continue the party. A couple of hours later, Merriman was nowhere to be found. Tila Tequilla went looking for him throughout the house and ultimately found him in bed with two other women, at which point Merriman apparently deadpanned to the bi-sexual Tequilla, "want to join us?"
This enraged Tequilla. So she stripped naked and ran out of the room, threatening on the way out to have sex with one of Merriman's friends and then to run naked through his neighbors' yards. It was the neighborhood streaking that Merriman was apparently really trying to stop when he "restrained" her (and not to keep her from driving away drunk, as originally suggested).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

That Laughter Was So Telling

Did you notice how one line in President Obama's address to Congress last night unintentionally elicited roaring, bipartisan laughter by seemingly all of the senators and congresspeople in attendance? It was in response to the President's assertion that he believed, "a broad consensus exists for the aspects of the plan I just outlined," but that there, "remains some significant details to be ironed out..."

That spontaneous, collective laughter was so telling about the prospects for health care reform this year.

"Hot" Mike

Have you seen the video of California Assemblyman Mike Duvall, a 54 year-old married father of two, bragging in graphic detail to a colleague before the start of a meeting of the State Assembly Appropriations Committee in July about having sex with two other younger women, both believed to be lobbyists (one for Sempra Energy)?

He apparently didn't realize that his microphone was already "hot" despite the fact thet the committee meeting had not yet started. His boasts include references to the "little eye-patch underwear" worn by one of the women, who he went on to say was 18 years younger than he, as well as to the fact that he apparently has a spanking fetish. ("So I am getting into spanking her. I like it. Yeah..")

The cringe-inducing sexual references would be merely embarassing and humbling for the otherwise inconsequential two-term assemblyman, but for the fact that at least one of these two female lobbyists had business before the Utilities Committee of which Duvall is the Vice Chairman. And this type of behavior is apparently so commonplace among the state's elected representatives in Sacramento that Duvall felt comfortable casually discussing all of this openly during a committee meeting in the capitol.

Amazing. Our government at work. At least he resigned yesterday. Here's the video of a local TV news broadcast. Unfortunately, it's a little blurry:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"Arctic Shores" Shrimp Is Neither

Yesterday I bought a package of frozen "Arctic Shores" shrimp at the meat counter of the local grocery store, an "Albertsons" as it happens. I didn't give it much thought at the time. It just seemed like a good deal for "Arctic" shrimp.
But when I got home, the label (photo above) caught my eye in more deatil. "Arctic Shores Raw Shrimp Prev Frozen" it reads. But as you can see, these shrimp weren't now "Raw" despite having once been "Prev Frozen." They were just plain frozen. Stone cold.
Then I looked at the label in more detail and started wondering, what does "Arctic Shores" shrimp really mean? Especially since I then noticed the "fine print" right below that description which reads, seemingly inconsistently, "Farm Raised Product of Thailand."
Uh oh....
As it turns out, "Arctic Shores" is indeed an accurate description (of a sort), but not in the way a typical shopper probably assumes. "Arctic Shores" is not, in fact, a geographic decription of where the shrimp themselves came from (or even where their species originated). It is actually the name ("Arctic Shores Seafood") of the generic in-store brand of seafood products sold by the Minnesota-based grocery store chain "SuperValu Inc.," which bought the Albertsons chain in 2006.
Mmmmmmm. Is your mouth watering, too, now? Or is that sensation you're feeling actually coming from a bit further back in your throat? (I guess a little knowledge really is a dangerous thing...)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Shawne Merriman, Tila Tequila And The Real Cost of "Free" Lap Dances

Around 3:45 AM this past Sunday morning, police were called to San Diego Chargers star linebacker Shawne Merriman's house and encountered faded MTV exhibitionist Tila Tequila alleging battery and false imprisonment against him (despite the fact that she was reportedly intoxicated and had no tell-tale marks on her). Earlier in the evening she and Merriman were seen and photographed in a nightclub in downtown San Diego were she was reportedly giving him lap dances all night as they sat in a VIP area.

Tila Tequila has since claimed on Twitter to be “allergic” to alcohol and to “have a baggage with me loaded with interesting truths inside of it." “Tomorrow, the truth comes,” she reportedly tweeted shortly after 7 p.m. last night. Then, a few minutes later: “Steroid use makes people act aggressive. Known fact.”

Sounds like, even if Shawne Merriman is never charged with any crime, he's about to learn a valuable lesson the (very) hard way: "free" lap dances are never really free.....

William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy at Dragon*Con This Past Weekend

I was never a big fan of "Star Trek" in any of its incarnations. But as a child in the 1970s, I watched more than my fair share of episodes of the original 1960s version anyway.

This past weekend at Dragon*Con (a smaller version of the San Diego Comic Con that is held in Atlanta every year), an aging Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner, each 78 years old, held court for an hour in front of large audience of fans. Embedded below is the first 10 minutes of their on-stage conversation. It's surprisingly funny, almost Laurel and Hardy-esque. Much of this clip involves William Shatner repeatedly asking rhetorically of this summer's new Star Trek film, "Why am I not in the movie?" And then he goes on to explain why he hasn't yet seen the film, even though it was apparently shown on the airplane as he and Leonard Nimoy flew to Atlanta.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The People of Walmart

Have you yet checked out the new website "People of Walmart"? It collects photos taken at various Walmarts that capture some of the more bizarre and/or eye-popping characters who haunt its aisles and parking lots.

Sure, some photos feature the predictable array of mullets and exposed coin slots that all of us have probably seen from time-to-time at a Walmart or at any other large retail chain anywhere in the country.

But boy-oh-boy are there also some real "eye poppers" posted here, too, including one of a woman nonchalantly wearing what appears to be a red sweatshirt with a large swastika emblazoned on the front. (What!?!) And who is that standing next to her in line?

Or the one of the old bearded man who looks a bit like Herman Melville from the neck up, but who just a bit further down appears to have had Dolly Parton-style breast implants.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Last Refuge Of The Scoundrel

Already under investigation for multiple ethics violations, the 79-year old Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Charlie Rangel, played the race card during a health care forum earlier this week, saying that racial bias against President Obama is behind opposition to health care reform. "Some Americans have not gotten over the fact that Obama is President of the United States. They go to sleep wondering, 'how did this happen?'" Rangel also likened the fight to provide health care for the uninsured to the fight for civil rights. "Why do black people have to bargain for what is theirs? Why do we have to wait for the right to vote?"

Rangel's incendiary remarks come as the congressman filed amended financial reports to the House Ethics Committee admitting that he forgot to report millions of dollars in assets and income. Financial forgetfulness is apparently contagious, and has spread to his staff. Two of Rangel's top aides, chief of staff Jim Capel and Rangel legal counsel George Dalley, are among about a dozen staffers on his tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee who have also filed amended financial reports recently. Capel did not file any financial disclosure statements for six years.

Don Imus To Join Fox Business Channel

The Fox Business channel has turned to controvertial talk radio veteran Don Imus to boost its flagging ratings. The upstart financial channel, launched by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp in October 2007 as a challenge to CNBC and Bloomberg, confirmed on Thursday that it would simulcast Imus’s syndicated radio show between 6am and 9am starting on October 5. Imus' radio show is currently simulcast on RFD TV, a channel that focusses on rural and farm issues. The most recent Nielsen figures available indicate that Fox Business channel averages 21,000 daytime viewers, while CNBC averages 232,000.
Is this an upward move for Imus? Or a lateral move? Or something else entirely?
It may end up being one of those ideas that, as in the old photo of Imus above, sounds fabulous as a hypothetical when first suggested; but then, later on, there ends up being a little more uncertainty in the smile than you'd have expected...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Remember The Flowbee?

Do you remember the "Flowbee"? ("Using the suction power of your vacuum cleaner, the Flowbee draws hair evenly into the recessed blades and cuts it precisely.") I was thinking about how I need a haircut myself, and so found myself laughingly remembering it. It was marketed via informericals 20 years ago or so. With the benefit of hindsight, it may not have lived up to its promise to, "revolutionize the hair styling industry." But the founder still sells it today via his own website. (For $69.99!) To whom, I can't imagine. But embedded below is a Japanese TV commercial for it:

Oh: is that Glenn Close in the photo above, giving herself a quick trim before going to "see" Michael Douglas?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What Disney's Purchase Of Marvel Says About The Future Of Comic Books

The Walt Disney Co. announced Monday that it has agreed to purchase comic book and film company Marvel Entertainment for about $4 billion. The deal is valued at $50 per Marvel share, which represents a more than a 29% premium to Friday's closing share price.

The myriad of press accounts about, and analyst reports on, this proposed deal published over the last two days unintentionally provide compelling insight into the future (or lack thereof) of comic book publishing. Almost without exception they have noted, with caution, that Marvel already has a myriad of long-term deals in place with movie, merchandising and theme park partners (including Paramount for movie distribution, Universal for theme parks, and Hasbro for toys), that will take years to run their course before Disney will be able to realize the full benefits of this acquisition. They've also all noted that Marvel owns the rights to over 5,000 popular super-hero characters, including Spider-Man, the X-Men and Iron Man.

I've not read a single account that mentions anything at all about comic book publishing, in any way.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

True Crime: D&D + Love Triangle = Hammer Attack

Zachery King (mug shot at left) is charged with beating Logan Bryson, 23, and Daniel Shokrian, 20, in Cedar City, Utah, on May 30. King knew Bryson from school, and both men had spent time the previous day playing "Dungeons & Dragons" with Shokrian at Shokrian's house. Shokrian was the Dungeon Master, and King didn't like what Shokrian was doing with King's character, detectives said, nor that Shokrian was "acting cocky."

King went home after the game, took an over-the-counter sleeping pill and went to bed. He woke up still angry, however. So he grabbed a hammer from his tool shed and drove back to Shokrian's house, entering through an open window. King went to Shokrian's bedroom, yelled, "I hate you," and started hitting Shokrian with the hammer. King then went to the room where Logan was sleeping and attacked him, too. (King was apparently also angry with Bryson because Bryson was dating a girl after they had both agreed they would not date her.)

New "Rambo" Sequel Coming

According to "Variety," Nu Image/Millennium Films has greenlit the fifth installment of the "Rambo" franchise, with Sylvester Stallone again to star in and direct the movie. The storyline involves Rambo fighting human traffickers and drug lords to rescue a young girl abducted near the U.S.-Mexico border. Production will apparently start next spring.

Sylvester Stallone will be 64 years old next year.

Buyer's Remorse

eBay plans to announce later today that it has reached a deal to sell "Skype," its internet telephony subsidiary, to a group of private investors (including an eBay director). The purchase price has not been disclosed, but eBay has said it wants around $2 billion for Skype. eBay acquired Skype in 2005, outbidding Google and Yahoo in a deal that has come to be viewed as one of the worst technology transactions of the decade, according to the New York Times. The price then ultimately topped $3.1 billion. After it later became clear that the company was not a good fit with eBay’s main auction and Paypal businesses, eBay wrote down $900 million of Skype's value.

This reminds me of the old joke, "How do you become a millionaire offering a free service that lets users talk to each other via computer?"

"Start as a billionaire."

Oops, I Did It Again

Rep. Charlie Rangel, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and assets on his financial disclosure forms for 2002 through 2006, according to amended financial disclosure forms he filed on August 12 with the clerk of the House of Representatives. In these new forms he acknowledged that he had previously ommitted an array of assets, business transactions and sources of income.

Did Rangel, who is already facing investigations by two House subcommittees into his personal finances and fund-raising, simply forget that he had at least $250,000 in a Congressional Federal Credit Union IRA and at least $365,000 in mutual funds?

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to have under-reported income by millions once may be regarded as misfortune; to do so twice can seem like carelessness.