Previous month:
July 2010
Next month:
September 2010

Bozos on the Bus

At least some of you must be Fireheads; most of my readers are my age, and we are the prime Firesign Theatre demographic. Well, if you liked Firesign, and particularly loved the Butler (Ossman) or Al Bradshaw (Bergman), or if you're so deep into Firesign that you have a bunch of Proctor and Bergman material, than you'll be pleased to hear that Peter Bergman has moved to Widby Island, where he gets together with David Ossman to perform Radio Free Oz--every day! On this weeks show, he noted that many of us take the podcast through iTunes without visiting the home page--and that doing so will eventually dry up RFO's funding. Don't let this happen! And, of course, subscribe to the Radio Free Oz podcast if you haven't already (warning--adult language and situations).

Thank God, the Internet is now good for something. Who knows, maybe the Internet will also figure out a way to support both Merle Kessler AND Duck's Breath Mystery Theater as well (my other favorite comedy obsession).

Political Briefs

Mao's Last Dancer

4 stars out of 5
There isn't much more you could ask for out of a movie than consideration of the themes of loss, desire, Mao's Cultural Revolution, freedom and family. All of them are dealt with here, in a film "based on real events." The scenery is amazing, the story is moving (albeit hackneyed) and the dancing is amazing. It is the story of a boy plucked from his village and sent to Beijing to be a ballet dancer. He is there during the cultural revolution, and Madame Mao is show turning the company from traditional ballet to the agitprop soldiers/guns ballets which gripped China during the late 60s and early 70s. The dancer must decide whether to go home or defect. I'll bet you can guess what he chooses. I came to this film by word of mouth and am now pleased to pay it forward. Go see it. It is impressive.

Dalton finds a few, Dan Grobstein File

Richard Dalton found a couple of stories:
Dan Grobstein File

My Annual Trip to LA

I was going to let my trip to LA pass by without comment. I've been busy, with a lot of travel and desperate efforts to finish my summer projects before school starts. I did manage to clean out one important drawer in my office, but apparently that's going to be all I can manage.

Regular readers will recall that I spend a few days in LA every year catching  up with close friends. This year was no exception. I arrived Tuesday night at the Venice Beach House, a lovely and reasonably priced B&B that is just yards from the beach. Wednesday morning, I caught a 6:30 bus to Union Station, where I got an 8:30 train that arrived in Oceanside at 10 (I mention there things to reassure my longtime friends that I am still a train geek). My friend J, who worked with me at Windows Magazine (I actually recruited him for the job) picked me up and drove me to his house, about a half hour away. We stopped for Pho Noodles on the way, then whiled away a pleasant afternoon talking on his covered porch, overlooking hills that were scorched a year or two ago, but which are recovering nicely. Then a ride to Oceanside, followed by another train and another bus. Would driving have been faster? Maybe (depends on LA traffic). But the train/bus combo was much more relaxing; I got a lot of reading done. Besides, LA's Union Station (the last major train station built in the U.S. in 1939) is a beautiful place. Reminds me, in a way, of Yosemite Lodge or Timberline Lodge (on Mt. Hood near Portland).

I was about to pick up my car in Santa Monica, when I realized I was only a block away from a theater showing The Other Guys. How could I resist? It made for a long day, but I loved it.

Thursday, after a walk on the beach,  I met Jerry Pournelle, a colleague from my days, for a walk and lunch. I was going to show up at 11 for the short walk, but he sent me an early morning email that said, "Come early and we'll do the long walk." I got there at 10, and was treated (and I do mean treated) to a two hour walk through the foothills just behind his house. A steep rise and a beautiful wooded trail. He, I and his dog loved it! R, his lovely wife, joined us for lunch at the Good Earth, where we've had our annual lunch for almost a decade now.

After that, Neal and I met at the Landmark theater in the Westside Pavilion. We were planning to see another film, but traffic was terrible, so we ended up seeing The Extra Man (reviewed here last week), then off to dinner at Wilshire, at 24th and Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica. The movie was OK, the food was good, the atmosphere was great, and the company, as always, was amazing. Neal reviews movies in this blog, and was the Arts Editor when I was the Editor-in-chief of The Tech, the MIT student newspaper.

Friday morning, breakfast in Manhattan Beach with N and his lovely wife C. N was Vicki's friend first (they used to play tennis together in Berkeley) and has become my friend over the 30 years we have known each other. Manhattan Beach is amazing.

So to Palos Verdes, where Prof. S, a friend of mine from USC, invited me into his home for another year. We missed our usual hour-long walk to the restaurant in town, as he is recovering from back trouble. So, we took a car to the Redondo Beach Brewing Co., where we go annually, and I ordered the Vacaro steak, which I order every year. He had a late breakfast, so he enjoyed an ice tea while I ate, and regaled me, with some cajoling, with tales of his time in commercial television. S does not believe in looking back, or dwelling in the past, or even spending much time recounting past accomplishments. Probably a good attitude.

Finally to dinner in Santa Monica Friday night with F, a long-time family friend, who is about to leave LA behind for his childhood home in Queens, across the street from JFK. I asked him about the weather, and he told me that it snowed at Christmas last year while he was visiting--and that he loved it! We are both watching out weight, so we split a Caprese salad and a grilled cod. Both were great, but then, it was the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, so what else would you expect?

And so another summer sojourn in Los Angeles.

Neal Vitale Reviews: The Switch

1 star out of 5

If there's a film actress with less on-screen charm and warmth than Jennifer Aniston (The Bounty Hunter, He's Just Not That Into You), I've yet to see her. Aniston is the frosty female lead in this mildly funny but predictable and tedious tale of mistaken paternity, late-blooming love, and the aging process. Abrasive actress-cum-rocker Juliette Lewis (Whip It) is Aniston's irritating best friend, and Patrick Wilson (The A-Team) is all obsequious blue-eyed white-toothed earnestness as Aniston's hunky suitor. The only redeeming aspect of The Switch is a trio of engaging male actors - an amusingly schlumpy Jason Bateman (Couples Retreat, The Invention Of Lying), who increasingly weaves elements of Steve Martin into his persona; dyspeptic eight-year-old newcomer Thomas Robinson; and a delightfully droll, sarcastic Jeff Goldblum (Man Of The Year, Cats & Dogs) in a small role. But mostly The Switch is to be avoided.

Neal Vitale Reviews (on DVD): The White Ribbon

2 stars out of 5

This highly-praised, lengthy, Oscar-nominated film by Michael Haneke (Hidden, Time Of The Wolf, Funny Games) left me exhausted and unmoved. The reason may be as simple as The White Ribbon is in an arty genre where evocation of a time and place overwhelms the need for a compelling plot or storyline, and I'm not a fan of that approach to film-making. But The White Ribbon is not without certain appeal - it is quite a beautiful work, shot in color then converted to black & white (replete with - grrr! - white subtitles over light backgrounds), and the acting, particularly of a cast of child actors, is strong. The mood is ominous and bleak, laced with an undercurrent of looming, pervasive evil. In this rendering of pre-World War I Germany we see an environment that could foster the Third Reich and a culture that could embrace Nazism in the decades that follow. That said, I still find The White Ribbon difficult to recommend. While The White Ribbon might well qualify as "art" (a quality that Paul often seeks in films), it's not to my taste. [Paul liked it a little better when he saw it in a theater last February.]

One Political Brief, Quotes and a test from Kent, LA Teachers, Dan Grobstein File

Only one political brief this week:
Kent Peterman sent me two quotes and a test. He scored 23; I got 17.
A Think Test
The quotes:
The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.
-Franklin Roosevelt
But there are advantages to being elected President. The day after I was elected, I had my high school grades classified Top Secret.
-Ronald Reagan

Richard Dalton sent me a scary link about incompent teachers in LA.
Dan Grobstein File
  • James J. Kilpatrick Is Dead. (ed. note: A racist who said he was sorry, but with his fingers crossed.)
  • A CNN anchor expresses the crux of "mosque" opposition
    Patel: I have to tell you that this seems a little like telling black people 50 years ago: you can sit anywhere on the bus you like - just not in the front.
    Lemon: I think that's apples and oranges - I don't think that black people were behind a Terrorist plot to kill people and drive planes into a building. That's a completely different circumstance.
    Patel: And American Muslims were not behind the terrorist plot either.
    That sums it up about as well as anything I've heard. Nothing related to Muslims should be near Ground Zero, because it was Muslims generally -- not the handful of extremists -- who flew the planes into those buildings. It's just amazing that that last point from Patel even needs to be uttered, but it does. This campaign is nothing different than all of the standard, definitively bigoted efforts to hold entire demographic groups of people responsible for the aberrational acts of a small percentage of individual members. Congratulations to CNN's Don Lemon for laying it all out in its naked clarity. This whole controversy is exactly that disgusting.

  • Why Gibbs' hippy-punching incident is pivotal, not trivial

  • Cheap-Labor Conservatives
  • Hard working Hispanics sacrifice for the nation: Look at the surnames
  • Sam Seder tweet: Sweet lord, did anyone realize they've already put a big fat minaret on top of our congress. WOLVERINES!
  • Roger Ebert tweet:: Dear Franklin Graham: If Obama was "born a Muslim," were you born a bigoted idiot? I was born to ask you that question.
  • The News Fire Hose
  • Space Food: The Best and Worst
  • OPINION | August 20, 2010
    Op-Ed Columnist: Appeasing the Bond Gods
    The policy elite are making a strange argument in demanding that we engage in human sacrifices to appease the anger of invisible gods.
  • Tweet: Visiting the rarely seen MIT side of Cambridge. There's a bar here called Miracle of Science. [Ed. note: Not rarely seen by those of us who WENT to MIT]