Previous month:
October 2007
Next month:
December 2007

Me and my nano

About five years ago, I got an Ipod Mini. The mini classic available from Apple today resembles my mini the way a 68 GTO resembles a Prius; they both have four wheels and can be steered. Mine had 2 GB of memory and a black and white text-only screen, which I was sure was all I would ever need. And for a long time, it was; I used it for music and books on tape. It worked fine. I had an agonizingly slow Internet connection, so I didn't care that I couldn't play video, because it would take me the rest of my life to download a video. I live a LONG ways from the central office, and the fastest DSL I could get was 150k. I simply didn't trust cable-system high-speed Internet access. But Spike Grobstein (Dan's son), one of the smartest tech people I know, told me cable Internet was reliable. I switched about six months ago. I've never looked back.

This summer, when I started a serious exercise program, I needed something to listen to while I biked. Perhaps, if I had gone with Books on Tape, it would have changed my life in one way. Instead, I discovered podcasts, and my life went another way. I've been a little bitter about podcasts, because I was producing both daily and weekly Internet audio programs from 1997-2001. Podcasts, as it were, before the pod. We failed for many reasons, but one was the inconvenience of having to listen at your computer. I grokked podcasting the second I heard about it, but stayed away from it because I was jealous. Once again, I had been punished with failure for being ahead of my time.

Why don't I have a podcast now? Because this column is too random to attract a podcasting audience; I no longer have any other passion that would attract any listeners outside of my own family.

Anyway, I bicycle for 90 minutes a day, three days a week, and I needed something to listen to. I'm a news junkie, so I went with news programs. At the time, the BBC posted their hourly news summary (a podcast they have since dropped--I WANT IT BACK!), as did NPR. When the BBC hourly news went away, I added Radio Netherlands and Deutsche Welle, the German international service (English language service, of course).

You could certainly assemble your own list, from the iTunes store, or by surfing the web. The New York Times, the Washington Post (and most other US newspapers), as well as many broadcast organizations, especially NPR and American Public Media, have more podcasts than you can shake a stick at. If you want to see my own eccentric selection, with commentary, visit Paul's Podcasts.

BPP: Best radio program you've never heard

Someone at NPR took a look at the demographics for its wildly successful news shows and noticed that everyone's getting older--not a good omen for the future (it's worse in newspapers, where the median reader age rises by a year every year--a truly scary statistic). So, they've created a trendy, with-it morning news show, "The Bryant Park Project." It's terrific. It's clever, and lively, and would skew young if anyone carried it. But Morning Edition is the most popular program on radio, so why would anyone drop it for BPP? It is on very few terrestrial radio stations, and even on them it is often relegated to 4am. It can also be heard on satellite radio. And, thank goodness for me, you can get it as a podcast (see Paul's Podcasts). You've already missed the first male co-host, Luke Burbank, recruited out from Seattle whence he is returning. Here are some links: an article about the program, reaction as reported to public radio station KCPW, and a precise description of who NPR thinks they need to host it.

The Insurance Industry: idiots or jerks?

I heard both John Edwards and advocate for the working class Barbara Ehrenreich attack the health insurance industry this week. They don't know the half of it. I am the office manager for a medical provider, and I have never witnessed such incompetence in my entire life as I see from the insurance companies, and I was once a newspaper reporter. In fact, now, when I hear people say, "Do you want health insurance to be run like the post office," my answer will be "yes, at least the post office usually delivers." The number of "lost" claims in insurance companies is so high I can only conclude they lose them deliberately, to see if you will notice and refile the claim or simply let it go. I know I mailed it; their claim they "never got it" is bogus in the extreme. Beware people who sing the praises of the existing system. They are just wrong.

Darjeeling Limited

3.5 stars out of 5

Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman are three brothers travelling through India on a spiritual quest. (Bill Murray has a two-scene cameo that is winning in the way only Murray can be). It is a buddy film, and a travel film, and a comedy, and a drama, which is why it is getting 3.5 stars instead of 4. Basically, this film is all over the map. Despite its lack of coherence, if you like the work of director Wes Anderson, or any of the leading actors, or if you are fascinated by India (much of the film appears to have been shot on location), then I recommend this film. It is only in a few theaters at this point, but I wanted a review on the record for later, when the DVD comes out.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

4 stars out of 5

Dustin Hoffman. Natalie Portman, and Jason "Arrested Development" Bateman. Plus, the next big child star, Zach Mills--of whom we will all be seeing a lot. How can you go wrong? You can't. This film is sweet without being cloying, and has positive messages about life, death and self-confidence. You don't have to have a child to go see it--it is plenty good enough to rank as a first-rate adult film. Visually sumptuous (a very long section of visual effects credits). What is it with CGI movies and over-the-top final scenes (see Enchanted review, also this week). Guys, it's OK to leave some unspent money in the special effects budget!

No Country For Old Men

4 stars out of 5

This film would have earned five stars out of five, except for the Coen brothers penchant for extreme and graphic violence. It is definitely art, although the message is obscure. Perhaps the message is, simply, that in the end life is random, and that neither good guys nor bad guys are assured of coming out of it OK. It may also be that entropy rules, and everything deteriorates. The movie is about the rise of mindless drug violence in Texas in the 1980s, to the extent that it is about anything.

Tommy Lee Jones has the role of a lifetime, with close-ups of his weathered face that will certainly haunt my dreams for a few weeks. Woody Harrelson has a great cameo which ends with a huge surprise. Stephen Root also has a cameo; he was Jimmy James the station owner on Newsradio. Needless to say, he's not that nice here.

Javier Bardem, who plays the psychopath Anton, made the jump from Spanish-language roles to English-language roles last year. If he is willing to be cast to type, he has a bright future. He's the scariest guy I've seen on the screen in ages.

(Neal Vitale adds: This is a nearly perfect film, full of wonderful detail and nuance - one of my favorites of the year. Paul highlights several of the positives, and I would add kudos to the underappreciated Josh Brolin (American Gangster), and note the nice work of Kelly Macdonald (The Girl In The Cafe), a Scottish actress playing a Texas wife. I give No Country 4.5 stars, falling short of 5 not because of the violence, but for the airy, amorphous ending. This is the same problem that undid another of my top films of the year, 3:10 To Yuma.)

Neal Vitale Reviews: Enchanted

4 stars out of 5

This film is a delight, modernizing a classic Disney fairy tale without losing any of its heart and appeal. Enchanted is a Cinderella story set in Manhattan, one in which the city's people, style, and even vermin, play pivotal roles, particular in the film's early going. There are several perfectly-suited performances, from Amy Adams (Junebug and lots of TV), Patrick Dempsey (Dr. McDreamy on TV's "Grey's Anatomy"), James Marsden (Hairspray, X-Men), Timothy Spall (Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket), and Susan Sarandon (In The Valley Of Elah, Romance & Cigarettes). Idina Menzel (Rent, Broadway's original Elphaba in Wicked) is wasted in a small role, and the film's CGI-laden ending is wildly overblown, but those are minor flaws in what is otherwise a gem.

[Ditto. My family loved it, and I second Neal's four stars--Paul Schindler]

Neal Vitale Reviews: I'm Not There

4 stars out of 5 (if you're knowledgeable/interested in Bob Dylan)/ 2 stars out of 5 (if you're not)

Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Safe, Far From Heaven) has re-imagined the traditional biopic with this bravura kaleidoscope of Bob Dylan's life. The much-documented structure of I'm Not There consists of seven intertwined segments, each featuring a different actor portraying an aspect of Dylan's life/personality. The end product is impressionistic, scattering connections between events and song lyrics throughout, wonderfully capturing Dylan's mischievousness, misdirection, and intellectual peregrinations. But, as a result, the film demands a certain fluency with Dylan - his life, mannerisms, and writings - to piece together a sense of narrative. I'm Not There is visually sumptuous - not what you'd necessarily expect in a biographic piece - beautifully art-directed and photographed. The cast is uniformly strong, mixing in musicians (Richie Havens, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, My Morning Jacket's Jim James) with acting professionals. Among the Dylans, Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth:The Golden Age, Notes On A Scandal) is Oscar-worthy as the mid-60s version, but she is rivaled by yet another excellent though unheralded performance by Christian Bale (Rescue Dawn, The Prestige). I'm Not There can be maddeningly obscure and opaque, at times seemingly more concerned with arcana, visual style, and apparent film homages than coherence, but I found it fascinating.

[Paul adds: Neal is absolutely correct. All I would add is that it may be a sliding scale; 4 if you know him well, 3 if you know him moderately well, and 2 if you're not knowledgeable and interested.]

Cats, Miru, Dan Grobstein File

Got this from one of my daughters: Invisible LOLcats, Monorail Cats, and Michael Cera's parody of this extremely lame, but apparently serious, video resume.

Marlow's College roommate Miru Kim, featured in Esquire.

Dan Grobstein File

  • | November 21, 2007
    Paul Krugman: A thought about political discourse
    Paul Krugman
    A meta-thought inspired by the Social Security craziness: Faced with a major public issue, such as the future of Social Security, one might think that the crucial thing would be to ascertain the facts.

  • I'm a big fan of railroad expansion [ed. note: so am I]
  • Ten most viewed pages at Conservapedia [ed. note: I feel obliged to point out that this is probably the result of clickbots gaming the system.]
  • Wall Street Journal:

    Accident Victims Face Grab for Legal Winnings
    Wal-Mart Paid Bills For Mrs. Shank, Then Sued for Money Back
    November 20, 2007; Page A1

    JACKSON, Mo. -- A collision with a semi-trailer truck seven years ago left 52-year-old Deborah Shank permanently brain-damaged and in a wheelchair. Her husband, Jim, and three sons found a small source of solace: a $700,000 accident settlement from the trucking company involved. After legal fees and other expenses, the remaining $417,000 was put in a special trust. It was to be used for Mrs. Shank's care.

    Instead, all of it is now slated to go to Mrs. Shank's former employer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

  • | November 20, 2007
    Op-Ed Contributor: Pay Me for My Content
    How long must creative people wait for the Web’s new wealth to find a path to their doors?
  • | November 20, 2007
    Decline of the Tenure Track Raises Concerns
    A nationwide trend for universities to use adjunct professors instead of a tenured faculty has become so extreme that some schools are pulling back.

  • Boston Globe:
    Street smarts? Motorists trying to navigate Boston's New Age roads find old, whirled ways [ed. note: my ex-girlfriend was, in part, in charge of making sure there were street signs in Boston for the bicentennial in 1976; they've since, apparently, disappeared. When I was in Boston from 1970 to 1974, there was a not a single street sign along the length of Boston's longest street, Commonwealth Ave. Apparently if you don't know where you are you don't need to/deserve to know where you are are. Everyone I know believes the old story about Boston's streets having been laid out by cows--which apparently isn't true.]
  • Of course the Bush plan to improve Thanksgiving travel was a load of codswallop.