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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Television: Endings and Beginnings

Just a few hours to go until the crystal ball drops in Times Square and 2015 exits much as it came in under a cold, dark New York City night.  One of my end year thoughts turn to two television shows, one which ended this year and one which began that I haven't commented on in previous posts.

Mad Men ended its 7 season run squarely focused on its lead character Don Draper who seemed to ditch his family and career in search of... well viewers were not so sure as his road trip lasted most of the last season and by the final episode Don was in a California coastal ashram.  The final shot of Don giving a knowing smile as the famous Coca-Cola ad "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" played gave viewers, depending on their interpretation, a possible happy ending for Don as you could see the spark of genius come to him to create that famous ad after his series long search for happiness, fulfillment and enlightenment came to an end.

I especially liked the scene played before the very end when Don was in a group session and he listened to another group member almost describe his day by day mundane existence in his job.  Did Don react with compassion because this true to his experience?  Again, that interpretation is left for the viewer.



One aspect of Mad Men that was so good was that you never were sure which direction the show would go.  The supporting cast was very good and the writing was excellent. 

While one show ended its run another, coincidentally also on AMC network, began last winter.  Better Call Saul began and filled in some of the back story of Breaking Bad's "Criminal" Lawyer Saul Goodman.  The first episode opened with Saul Goodman laying low from the authorities with a new identity working at a Cinnabon concession in a shopping mall.  Later at home, he entertains himself by watching commercials of Saul Goodman.

The show expanded the world of Saul Goodman, to include his brother another lawyer, who is highly esteemed and part of a successful practice.  His brother also has some odd issues of his own (I won't describe as I recommend you watch if you haven't already).  Also the character of Mike Ehrmantrout, played by the fantastic Jonathan Banks, lives again in this Breaking Bad prequel.  His relationship with Jimmy McGill, not yet Saul Goodman, is very funny initially.  There were also several wacky characters introduced this season including the husband and wife embezzlers: The Kettlemans. 


Better Call Saul, again like Breaking Bad, starts with a simple premise, what causes an otherwise good person to turn, or break bad.  The seeds for Jimmy/Saul's descent towards becoming the "CRIMINAL" lawyer we first met in Breaking Bad were sown in this first season and towards the end of the season a rift with his brother, over a huge case begun by Jimmy.  This seems to be one major step, among unrevealed others, leading towards Jimmy's decent and the birth of Saul Goodman.  There's no turning back for Jimmy  and I can't wait to see what's ahead in 2016.  Bob Odenkirk plays Jimmy McGill and his comedic stylings and timing bring his character to life.  I don't recall many successful shows trying this concept of a prequel but it works for Better Call Saul.


Have a great 2016 everyone.




Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Time is Here 2015

Here is a post made a few years ago after Christmas.  I've made some slight changes and additions, however the message remains the same as when I wrote the post.  Merry Christmas to all.

Christmas Day has come and gone. (In another 24 hours)  The commercial onslaught by retailers both brick and mortar and online which began after Halloween (and on Thanksgiving Day) has subsided somewhat.  Now the push (will be) towards those after-Christmas and New Year's sales.  (Today, I spent some time running to get a few errands done and tonight my wife), Aimee made a delicious dinner after spending much of her day in the kitchen.  (Now, I'm happy all the children are secure in their bed and they are so excited to open their presents tomorrow from Santa Claus).

As they fell asleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in their head, I took the opportunity to clean the kitchen.  While cleaning, I tuned into New York's WQXR looking to listen to some holiday classical music.  Instead I was treated to an old fashioned radio play:  Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  The radio play starred F Murray Abraham as Scrooge. (For this year, WQXR had a radio broadcast with Kathleen Turner as Scrooge, I've included the 2013 version starring actor Tony Roberts as Scrooge, enjoy)


I listened to the performance and enjoyed it very much.   The conversion of Scrooge, with the help of Marley and the three spirits, from being an individual who is cold, closed off to others and lacking in spirit to being one that is kind towards others, generous with his wealth and grateful is worth examining within ourselves during this holiday season. 

Like Scrooge, there have been many occasions which I've felt Christmas is a humbug, an excuse to spend money for things not really needed but then I realize that the greatest gifts during this season aren't those my children (will be unwrapping) on Christmas morning.  No the best gifts this season include the time spent with family and friends, the generosity I can display to those in need, and the ability to keep that spirit up throughout the year ahead.  This I suspect will be the most challenging to do but noble to try. 

What are your challenges facing you in the year ahead?  Does the conversion of Scrooge offer any lesson to your lives?  I'd love to hear back from you so drop me a comment or two. 


Monday, September 14, 2015

Reclamation Project

Happy September to all.  It's been a great and warm summer season but now we approach the beginning of my favored fall season, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere. 

The imminent fall season is noticeable with shorter daylight sun and cooling temperatures.  Some trees are beginning to turn color and drop their leaves.  School is back in session and the kids, as well as yours truly, are busy with the new school year. 

Fall is a great time to take an appraisal of the year thus far and if necessary regroup for the final push of the last few months of the year.  There's no doubt I plan on using this time to reflect and regroup to be even better in 2016 than I was in 2015. 

This "reclamation project" extends in other areas as well.  Recently, I was in a local thrift market.  I like walking through this place looking for the proverbial "diamond in the rough."  Well on this occasion I came upon a 1970's era Sears stationary bicycle.  It was priced $7.00 and it appeared in decent shape but definitely needed new pedals.  I walked passed it a few times but eventually returned to it and tried it out.  It was in working order and with the relative cheap price I decided to make the purchase. 

It was very funny trying to fit this bicycle in my car, a 4 door sedan.  I had to try several times to position it in a way which would allow me to close the car doors and drive home.  Once home, I started to take some of it apart to clean it as it was quite dusty.  I decided that I wanted to paint it so I picked up some spray paint and new pedals for the bike.  I think it looks pretty good.  What do you think? 

I haven't decided if I should keep it here at home as I've thought of bringing it to my classroom for my students to use at various points during the school day. 

I was very happy just to reclaim and repurpose something that otherwise would be thrown away in the trash.  Aren't we all reclamation projects looking for the spark of inspiration and sense of purpose in our lives?  Let this upcoming season find you well striving towards your purpose and successful in all you do inside and outside your community. 

Before

After a dusting, new pedals and paint.

Change of Season






Thursday, August 6, 2015

Amazon Prime

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Music Video Wednesday - Smells Like...

Today's Music Video Wednesday takes its inspiration from a late 80's early 1990's musical scene from Seattle.  Most anyone would call it Grunge but who likes labels?  There is a new documentary coming out about the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.  From what I have read, the documentary, which has the full backing of his daughter, attempts to remove much of the mythology from Cobain's meteoric rise and sad death by his own hands. 

My Nirvana selection is from their MTV Unplugged session, a cover of a David  Bowie tune: 
The Man Who Sold The World.

 
 
My second selection is from Pearl Jam.  They are still performing today.  Since I'm using a Nirvana covering Bowie, I have Pearl Jam covering Split Enz's I Got You.
 
Enjoy music lovers.
 

 



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Music Video Wednesday - The Americans

I noticed I haven't updated this blog for a bit and since it's a Wednesday it's time for Music Video Wednesday.  Today, I decided to pull out two gems from the great decade of the 1980's.  These two tracks were featured on the FX's show The Americans.  In the show, 2 Soviet sleeper agents are working undercover to find and exploit any information they can during the early days of the Reagan administration.  The show is on its 3rd season and it's quite good, critically acclaimed but ratings are low.

The acting is top notch and the action is well paced and suspenseful.  The show incorporates some fine 1980's music and today I would like to present 2 tracks they have played.  The first song is Don't Go by YAZ.  This synth driven song was used effectively during a frantic FBI search scene a few episodes back.   The other song was used last season and is a favorite of mine, The Stray Cats - Rock this Town

The show has many callbacks to the decade which I remember so well, heck I guess I now know what nostalgia is.   Now watch The Americans and enjoy the videos

 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Music Video Wednesday - The Return of the Giant Gabriel

I haven't done a Music Video Wednesday in a long time.  So without any further fanfare today marks its return and today I offer a two-fer. 

This artist just celebrated his birthday last week and I had the pleasure in seeing him a few years ago at the Jones Beach Theatre.  He's a pioneer in recording techniques and his music videos have always been creative.  Enjoy these 2 offerings from Peter Gabriel.

The first is Come Talk to Me taken from his Secret World Live tour and the second song is I Don't Remember from my favorite of his solo albums - Peter Gabriel 3 aka - Melt.

Enjoy


 
 

Brian Williams and his Faulty Memory: A PR Nightmare

One bright spot over the last several years for Comcast-Universal's network NBC has been its strength in news.  Brian Williams, who took over from Tom Brokaw in 2004, is the current anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News.  Last week reports came out questioning stories he has told over the past ten years of his helicopter taking RPG and AK47 fire while reporting in Iraq during the invasion in 2003.  He issued an apology on the broadcast on February 4, 2015 stating he “made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago.” He also offered his respect and apology to the "brave men and women in the air crews who were also in the desert." 

This apology only opened the door wider in examining Mr. Williams' reporting over the years.  His reporting in New Orleans is under doubt, especially his claim that he saw a body, face down, floating by his hotel's balcony.  Recent reports now question his report of being under fire by rockets in Israel.  Finally, NJ.com reports a PageSix report casting doubt his claim that he was mugged selling Christmas trees in the 1970's.

This weekend Williams released a statement:

In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions.

As Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days, and Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue. Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.

Not much of an apology.  So far, if all of these allegations are true, then his career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in (him) us should be considered a failure.  I always found his self-promotion, whether he be a guest on The Tonight Show or on Letterman's show, or playing himself on 30 Rock to name a few non-news appearances a bit disconcerting.  The anchor of any network must follow the model of the greats: Cronkite and Brinkley. 

The news in 2015, especially the reporting at the national and international level, needs to be free from the celebrity filled drivel commonly found on the local broadcasts throughout the country.  The public airwaves demand that Mr. Williams report the news in a credible manner.  This can be done without him having to become part of all the high profile stories he reports.  This viewer finds that quality lacking and I believe he needs more than "several days" to sort this all out instead of hoping to let the heat die down which came across to me as something he wants to do in his statement. 

We'll see how this sorts out. 

The Lie

 
After the Lie
 
 
 





Saturday, February 14, 2015

Brian, John, and David...Oh My.

This has been quite the week for the media.  In Broadcast Journalism, NBC's Brian Williams was given a 6 month suspension from hosting that network's Nightly News.  This was a swift response from his superiors due to allegations he "embellished" his account of being hit with enemy fire while reporting on the Iraq War in 2003. 

For some background read my blogpost titled Brian William's and his Faulty Memory: A PR Nightmare - See more at: http://comments4today.blogspot.com/#sthash.nBYywZVZ.dpuf

I applaud NBC's quick response and sincerely hope that Mr. Williams stay far, far away from the anchor chair.  His desire to integrate himself into the entertainment side of the network moved far beyond the point of promotion in my opinion. 

On the same day this news was announced, Comedy Central cable network was informed that The Daily Show host, John Stewart would be stepping down.  As I understand, The Daily Show is a parody of the news/political pundit shows.  It appeals to a demographic slightly younger than me and Stewart has hosted the show for over 10 years. 

I have never seen this show so I'm not sure why there was so much hoopla about this news.  Parody shows have been around for my lifetime and there has always been some satire of the news.  I remember enjoying HBO's "Not Necessarily the News" in the 80's.  I'm not sure what the appeal of The Daily Show was that it attracted political figures to it. 



The Daily Show and its success with a younger demographic may have been seen by the major networks as a model for it's own change over the years. 

Over the last 15 to 20 years there has been a steady and creeping emphasis on entertainment in all areas of public life.  This has been very noticeable, to me, in all forms of the news business.  This includes the garbage printed in the local paper and reported on the television news.  Combine that with the overall consolidation in the media and what's left is a public that's dumbed down, complacent and misinformed.

During this time, the growth of the Internet and bloggers and social media has been seen as a challenger to local and national news media.  David Carr, who died on Thursday, was a "media commentator" who reported on all of these changes and challenges to the "Traditional Media."  The outpouring of sadness at his passing was no surprise to me.  Not only was a member of the newspaper of the establishment, he also had a professional stake in the Times' response to the new media landscape.  I had first became aware of him while seeing him on Charlie Rose's show a few years back as he was promoting a documentary called Page1.  In the documentary Carr discussed all the changes to the newspaper business and the challenges The New York Times faces from bloggers and events like the WikiLeaks document releases which was happening at the time.



Carr had quite a history he wrote a book, The Night of the Gun, which dealt with his drug history and brush with the law.  At 58 years of age, he was far too young to pass, however in the pictures I've seen of him recently he did look sick.  May he rest in peace. 

What a week for those who enjoy following the media.  My wish is that the corporations that control the news pull back, just some, and try to reduce the emphasis on entertainment and look to report the news and truly inform the public.  Is it too far gone for that?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

MLK Day 2015

Here is a blog post I wrote four years ago to commemorate the MLK Holiday.   Let us all reflect today how we can be agents for change and warriors for peace as modeled by the late Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King. 

Today, after a peaceful three day weekend, I have decided to reflect a little bit about the man today's holiday is named for: Dr. Martin Luther King.  Dr. King led a peaceful civil rights movement whose ultimate aim was the equal treatment of all African-Americans under the law. 

Dr. King's pursuit of this goal came with a cost.  On April 4, 1968, while in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, he was assassinated outside his motel room.  An article I read today noted a hateful  letter sent from an anonymous FBI agent to Dr. King some time in 1964.  Dr. King's courage in the face of such fierce opposition is amazing. The article also, in my opinion, guesses as to what Dr. King would be most vocal about today.  They are:

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are unjust. (Update-while the wars may be over our country has an ongoing presence and commitments to these countries.
 
The disparity of wealth between the rich and the poor in America is unjust. (Update -remember the occupy movement? This original blogpost predated that movement and in the four years since this piece was published the gulf between rich and poor has grown.
 
The influence of corporate money in American politics is unjust. (update - this continues to go on i.e., Koch Bros .  Which in turn leads to an apathetic voter turnout during a Presedential election of 2012 58.2% of all eligible voters and 37% turning out in an off year election.

A leader like Dr. King doesn't come around often, but his example and message are relevant today as they were 42 years ago. 

To close here are a few quotes from Dr. King:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.

Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one's whole being into the being of another.

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

Enjoy your holiday America but take a moment to thank the sacrifice MLK made for all Americans in the pursuit of an equitable nation.