Monday, January 31, 2011

Conscience or Stomach?

I'm struggling a bit with a difficult decision.

I love Chick-Fil-A. They have excellent chicken sandwiches, as well as the Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad, better-than-average side salads (more than just iceberg lettuce) and good fountain Diet Coke. (Mock me all you want; these things are important.)

I've always known that Chick-Fil-A is a conservative- and Christian-leaning company. They're closed on Sundays, some of their franchises advertise Christian music concerts and I know their corporate purpose is "to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."

I never let that bother me until I heard that recently, several franchises have donated meals to "pro-family" organizations. Pro-family, of course, means anti-gay, and in these cases, anti-gay marriage.

After word of these donations made its way into the media, Chick-Fil-A President Dan Cathy (son of the founder) posted a message on the company's Facebook page, and later said that Chick-fil-A will no longer donate to any organizations that take a political stand on marriage.

Does that make it better? Can I now continue to support this company with my money, when some of their franchisees are discriminating against my equal rights?

Stomach? Conscience?

Part of me can rationalize spending money at my local Chick-Fil-A because they haven't donated to anti-equality-related causes. But can I support a company whose previous behavior leans toward discrimination against gay people?

I know what my decision should be. I just don't know if that is what it will be. And I don't know if I'll feel guilty with that decision.

I sure do love the drama, don't I?

There'll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)...

I've established more than once on this blog that I am a complete and utter sap. As much as I view with great disdain how the Olympics and other television shows love to put the focus on people overcoming amazing adversity and odds to achieve greatness, quite often they seem to choke me up a little bit. (I guess I just feel comfortable admitting this to my blog, what can I do?)

In addition to my getting misty-eyed when a skiier from a small town in Oklahoma who was raised by her blind grandparents and had to walk 17 miles to and from training each day wins an Olympc medal, or when a son returns from fighting overseas just in time for the holidays (and to make Folgers coffee for his family), sometimes I'm a sucker for songs.

The other day I talked about how certain songs get me to thinking; there are other songs that choke me up. While some songs remind me of a particular person or time (I remember as a child my grandmother used to sing Song Sung Blue to me), some songs are designed to provoke strong emotions.

One such song is Moments by the country group Emerson Drive. This song tells the story of a young man who walks onto a bridge with the intent of jumping off, but he is shadowed by a homeless man who recognizes what the other is thinking. When the man goes to find some change for the homeless man, the homeless man explains:

I've had my moments, days in the sun
Moments I was second to none
Moments when I knew I did what I thought I couldn't do
Looking at me now you might not know it, but I've had my moments

It's certainly explainable that a song dealing with someone contemplating suicide might provoke an emotional response, but I don't think that's why I get choked up. And here goes another confession to my blog:

When I was in my late 20s and early 30s, I was on a pretty rapid career trajectory in the association management field. I had the opportunity to volunteer a great deal of time for one of my professional organizations, rising to leadership positions as chairs of two committees and then, ultimately, I was the youngest individual elected to the board of directors. I won a few awards for my volunteer service and certainly was on track to someday run an association. More importantly, I felt a great deal of respect from my peers.

And then, one day, I lost my motivation. I felt tired of playing the game, and once I took a job that was farther away from the DC area, my opportunities to stay involved diminished. As is the case in any arena, new individuals took my place.

At this point in my career, I feel a little lost sometimes, like I fell off track and can't seem to get back to where I was. Which is why I believe the line "Looking at me now you might not know it, but I had my moments" never fails to choke me up, because I guess I want people to understand that I have been and still am capable of so much more than I'm achieving now.

Okay, thanks for that analysis. Take a listen to Moments and then, answer me this: is there a particular song that makes you sad?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's More Dubious if You Don't Know What Dubious Means...

Since they broke into the tennis scene in the late 1990s, many people have questioned the Williams sisters' sportsmanship. From their sudden and unexplained withdrawal from key matches and their refusal to acknowledge their opponents upon defeat, to Serena's heated dressing down of a lineswoman at the 2009 US Open, which led to her disqualification in the semi-finals, at times I find it difficult to muster the awe and respect that their abilities deserve.

Given the antics of their father, Richard Williams, through the years, I've often felt that the apples didn't fall too far from the tree. And the other day, their mother, Oracene Price, took to Twitter to bash Kim Clijsters, who was getting ready for the Australian Open finals.

After a tweet asking who was in the ladies' final, Price mentioned that she was pulling for Chinese star Na Li. While at first she explained she thought it would be cool for "a Chinese" to win and that she likes first-time winners, the second part of her tweet said she "wouldn't want her vision blurred." While that made no sense, she went on to label Clijsters a "dubious person" and then said "that eye of hers gives you the Madusah scare (sic) and turns you to stone."

Apart from Serena Williams' disqualification in her match against Clijsters at the 2009 US Open (which Clijsters subsequently won), there has never been any public animosity between her and either Williams sister. And even if there had been, isn't it more "dubious" for someone's mother to make fun of an opponent of their children?

I guess, at the end of the day, the apples didn't fall too far from either tree...

The Impossible...

All too often I'm inspired by song lyrics. Although I've not gone so far as to think that when a particular song comes on my iPod it's a sign, thinking about a song's message definitely gets my brain going.

And so it was today, when I heard country singer Joe Nichols' song, The Impossible. It's nine years old at this point, but every time I hear it, the lyrics really make me think, especially the chorus:

Unsinkable ships sink
Unbreakable walls break
Sometimes the things you think will never happen, happen just like that
Unbendable steel bends
When the fury of the wind is unstoppable
I've learned to never underestimate
The impossible

So what this song should make me realize is that when something seems insurmountable, when I feel crushed under the weight of a crisis I think might never end, it will. Easier said than done, of course, but when I need a refresher, I just listen to the song again. Joe Nichols' voice makes the lesson a little easier to absorb. (He's not bad to look at, either.)

Take a listen:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Book Review: "Just Kids" by Patti Smith

Wow. What a fantastically written and compelling book.

True confession time: I honestly didn't know much about Patti Smith, save her song "Because the Night," and I didn't know much about the artist Robert Mapplethorpe, except for the controversy much of his work generated. I also had no idea that Smith and Mapplethorpe had a more than 20-year friendship that inspired both of their artistic careers to flourish. But I had heard wonderful things about Smith's memoir, Just Kids (it recently won the National Book Award), so I thought I'd give the book a shot and perhaps learn something new as well.

Smith is a tremendously gifted writer. As she unfolds the story of her friendship with Mapplethorpe and her struggle to find herself and realize her place in the artistic community, her narrative has an almost poetic quality. This was a relationship that flourished in the early 1970s, a very creative, wild time, and Smith truly evoked imagery of that era, empathy as both she and Mapplethorpe struggled to find their artistic footing (while finding the money to survive), and both beauty and anguish in her description of their relationship. This is an inspirational and heartbreaking story about a way of life that really no longer exists, and the story provides insight into two true icons. Don't be put off if you don't know much about either Smith or Mapplethorpe—you'll find yourself drawn to the narrative that Smith has woven.

Sheer Brilliance (with Lego)!

The creativity of people is staggering sometimes. Check out Lego maestro and film buff Alex Eylar's interpretation of scenes from the 10 Best Picture nominees with Lego characters on Gawker.

The Kids Are All Right

127 Hours

Sometimes People Curse. So F#*!@ing What?

Earlier this week, The King's Speech led the pack by receiving 12 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress and Director. This film seems to be the "traditional" Academy favorite—the story of someone overcoming adversity, an historical drama, accents, etc.—and certainly is one of the odds-on favorites to win Best Picture.

Although not my favorite movie of the year, I really enjoyed The King's Speech, especially the performances that Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter (all Oscar-nominated) gave. The story of King George VI (aka Bertie), who always was happy to stand in the shadow of his older brother, Edward VIII, especially since he had a horrible stutter. When his brother decides to abdicate the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, Bertie must overcome his stutter in order to provide his country the ruler they need in the shadow of World War II.

In one scene, Bertie lets loose with a great number of profanities, in order to demonstrate that when he gets angry, he doesn't stutter. This scene, and subsequent use of this type of language, led to the Motion Picture Academy of America's (MPAA's) decision to give the movie an R rating. While that was a somewhat questionable decision, so is The Weinstein Company's consideration of cutting some of the language so the film could get a PG-13 rating, thus making it "more accessible" at the box office.

I realize that The Weinstein Company is only looking out for the bottom line, but why dilute the essence of your character—the king in The King's Speech—just to make more money? The film has already made $58 million at the box office, which for a historical drama is pretty impressive. (Don't get me started on the MPAA's rating system or we'll be here all day.)

But who cares about art when the pursuit of money is underfoot, right?

"They Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth to Touch the Face of God..."

Unbelievably, it's been 25 years since the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff. This is clearly one of those moments in history that you know exactly where you where when it happened.

Strangely enough, I didn't even know the Challenger was slated to take off that January morning in 1986. I remembered the excitement around the selection of Christa McAuliffe as the first teacher in space (especially since my high school choir teacher, Mrs. Berman, had entered the competition) but after the excitement died down, I moved on to other things and forgot about the pending mission.

I was a junior at Marlboro High School in Marlboro, NJ, and had just gotten dressed for gym class (a horror in and of itself for me) when our principal came over the loudspeaker. That signified something serious, since you literally saw Dr. Casey at freshman orientation and then just before graduation. One of the teachers at school, Mr. Silvestri, had suffered a heart attack about a week earlier, so a few of us thought Dr. Casey was going to announce that Mr. Silvestri had taken a turn for the worse.

But instead, he shared the horrible news of the Challenger explosion. The rest of the day seemed like a bad dream, as we watched on television—over and over and over again—as the Challenger took off and the crowd in Florida (including Christa McAuliffe's parents) watched excitedly, and as the explosion occurred, no one understoof the magnitude of what occurred right away.

Twenty-five years later, this tragedy still remains in our memories. Although McAuliffe was the only name many knew, we lost some incredibly brave astronauts that day. I still get chills when I think of President Reagan's speech in which he said the crew "slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God," quoting the poem High Flight by young pilot John Gillespie Magee, Jr., who died in 1941, far too young, in an aviation crash.

I salute the brave men and women in our space program who put their lives at risk every day to advance the cause of further knowledge and exploration. We owe each of you a greater debt of gratitude than our nation can ever repay.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I Think She's Alone Now...

So did you hear about how everyone's favorite 1980s pop princess, Tiffany, accidentally outed her old boyfriend, New Kids on the Block's Jonathan Knight, on television?

Tiffany and fellow 80s pop icon Debbie Gibson stopped by Bravo's Watch What Happens Live to promote their new super-campy TV movie, Mega Python vs. Gatoroid. (I kid you not. And just to prove how campy the movie is, A Martinez and former Monkee Mickey Dolenz are in it. Seriously.)

After dishing about the movie, Tiffany also shared some memories about her relationship with Jonathan Knight. She said, "He became gay later. I didn't do it! But he's fabulous." she said. And then she added, "Now looking back, when we were dating he was so much fun. We used to do facials together. He was so easy to talk to and he was fabulous."

Knight's sexuality is fairly known in the music world, but like a number of other celebrities, he has chosen not to publicly acknowledge that he is gay. Knight took to his Twitter status to playfully refute Tiffany's story, tweeting "I'm so devastated...How can I not remember getting facials???????"

A horrified Tiffany tweeted, "Really didn't know that was the wrong thing to say...Never meant to hurt Jon."

Knight showed true grace and class in his reaction, and he closed the story by tweeting, "Tiff, please don't lose any sleep over it! I know you weren't being mean and I found it to be funny. Wishing nothing but the best for you always!"

Happy endings all around. Plus, Debbie Gibson has stopped calling herself Deborah! Everyone wins...

Emotional Exploitation or Show Biz?

Many reality shows discovered that one of the keys to motivate viewers to vote and get engaged in contestants' progress is to unveil their sob stories, a ploy not used with any regularity since early game show Queen for a Day did it in the 1950s and 60s. Each season on shows like American Idol or America's Got Talent, contestants share their tales of heartbreak, hope and struggle to rebuild their lives. (The winners of the last two seasons of Talent have been a poor "chicken picker" who could barely carry a tune, and a talented singer who nevertheless lived with his grandparents who had been impoverished following Hurricane Katrina.)

American Idol, however, seems to have cornered the market on the relationship sob story. Three seasons ago singing hopeful Danny Gokey shared the story of his wife dying of a heart ailment shortly after their marriage, and she had always hoped he'd make it as a singer. Not content to let that image linger in viewers' minds, the producers used a hammer instead. Following Gokey's first performance, the camera cut to one of his friends holding a picture of his late wife, tears streaming down his face and pointing heavenward. Although some critical outrage followed, which led to a slight toning down of the manipulation, Gokey often picked songs to remind people of his tragedy—What Hurts the Most and You Are So Beautiful being most notable. In the end, however, voters chose to bounce Gokey just before the finals.

The following season saw multiple stories of single mothers trying to make it for their children, contestants serving as caregivers for terminally ill parents, a contestant whose grandmother was in the early stages of Alzheimer's, etc, but none quite captured the voters like tween heartthrob Lee Dewyze.

This season, though, it appears the producers may have hit the jackpot. After sharing a few sob stories in the first two episodes (including a 16-year-old who had previously been confined to a wheelchair for several years), they introduced 26-year-old Chris Medina, an Illinois barista who brought his fiance with him to his audition. Sounds fine until you understand that his fiance sustained a significant traumatic brain injury in an accident two weeks before their wedding, and now Medina is her caregiver.

Medina talked about being there for his fiance "for better for worse, in sickness and in health." And of course, after proving that he actually could sing well (and perhaps would have made it to the next round without the sympathy vote), the judges "asked" him to bring Julia into the audition room. Sadly, one has to question whether she was truly aware of what was going on around her, including Steven Tyler's whispering "he sings for you" in her ear.

Oh, and did I mention he chose to sing "Breakeven" by The Script, which includes the line "when a heart breaks, no it don't break even." (God, I'm such a grumpy cynic.)

Exploitation or just show business? You decide.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book Review: "I Am Number Four" by Pittacus Lore

Lorien is a planet in another galaxy. Years ago, the Loric people were attacked by those from a nearby planet, Mogadore, as they needed Lorien's resources to keep their own world alive. The Mogadorians wiped out the entire Loric race, except for nine children who possessed special powers (called legacies), and their personal guardians. These people escaped to Earth, where the plan was for them to grow and develop their powers, because the Mogadorians would stop at nothing to find and kill them. So the children would need to defend themselves from the possible complete extinction of their people.

Fifteen-year-old John Smith is one of the Loric nine. He and his guardian, Henri, can never stay in one place for long, as Henri constantly remains vigilant for any sign that the Mogadorians might be on their trail. They settle in the small town of Paradise, Ohio, where for the first time, John makes friends, meets a girl and, after dealing with some bullying, starts to fit in. His legacies start to develop and he learns how to control them, preparing for when it will be time to fight. And then the perfect little world John has come to love starts to crack open, and he must decide whether he and Henri should flee again or if he should let the people he cares about in on his secrets, opening them up to great risk.

This book was much better than I expected. It was a little formulaic and a bit predictable, but the action was actually pretty exciting, and the characters had a lot more depth than it appeared they would at the start of the book. I found John and Henri's struggles compelling, and even if I had a feeling how things would end, the plot kept me captivated. Is this fine literature? No, but it's a very good read, and I'll be interested to read the next book in the series when it comes out this fall. (I'll probably skip the movie adaptation coming out soon.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

2011 Oscar Nominations: How'd I Do?

This morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced the nominees for this year's Oscars. Last night, I shared my predictions, and while I only matched the Academy perfectly in the Best Actor category, I did account for all of the places where I was incorrect in my analysis of what could happen. (I guess that means that there really weren't any surprises this morning...)

Here are this year's nominees:

Best Picture
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

I was 9/10 here, picking The Town over Winter's Bone. Both films deserved a nomination; it saddens me, however, that Ben Affleck's film wasn't recognized.

Best Actor
Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

I was 5/5 here. Of course, I would have loved to have heard Ryan Gosling or Robert Duvall's name called this morning, but what can you do?

Best Actress
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

I was 4/5 here, as I idealistically thought Julianne Moore might snag a nod alongside her costar, Annette Bening, but Michelle Williams' nomination was very deserving. (Of course, it brings to light even more that Ryan Gosling didn't get nominated. They were two halves of a whole in Blue Valentine.)

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

I went 4/5 here, although I did predict the possibility that Garfield might get snubbed, and I did mention John Hawkes as a possible nominee. Sad about Garfield, but he'll have the last laugh as Spider-Man, no?

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Analysis: Here I went 4/5 as well. I'll admit, I thought Mila Kunis was a lock for a nomination, especially after Golden Globe and SAG nods, but the Academy is a fickle group, and Jacki Weaver was a critical darling.

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter

I was 4/5 here, but this category made me mad. AGAIN Christoper Nolan was snubbed by the Academy after receiving a Directors' Guild nomination, but at least this time his film was nominated for Best Picture! So irritated about this snub.

And there you have it...the Oscars are February 27, and hopefully the road to that night won't be as predictable as it was last year!

How 'Bout Focusing on the State of the Union?

Tonight, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address. While the media and the political community always make much ado about this annual event, I'll admit I couldn't care less.

It's not that I'm not interested in the state of our country, and it isn't that I don't support President Obama, even if I don't always agree with his actions. It's just that the State of the Union has become more about the event and the reaction than the actual address. I feel that the opposing party is ready with its response before the address actually happens. And this happens no matter what party the president belongs to and no matter which party is in power.

Every time I watch the State of the Union on television I'm struck by dual folly: the president's party leaping to their feet like they were cranked out of jack-in-the-boxes, vociferously cheering and clapping as if the president promised two Christmases every year for the rest of his term, and the opposing party sternly sitting on their hands, scowling. And of course, during last year's address, we had the openly hostile shouting of "You Lie!" by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) (which, of course, didn't hurt his re-election bid any).

In an ideal world, the State of the Union would be an occasion for the president to confront the challenges the nation faces and outline a plan for how he plans to tackle these problems. But given that we live in a time where, regardless of rhetoric, the party opposing the president is only interested in blocking his progress so as to set a foundation for the next election cycle, what he says won't matter.

Tonight we'll hear a call for civility and collaboration in the wake of the Tucson shooting that injured 18 people, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. But shortly thereafter, Reps. Paul Ryan (R-IL) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) will deliver Republican responses to whatever President Obama has to say. Perhaps they'll do so less combatively (not so likely in Bachmann's case), but the bottom line will be the same as it always is—we're right and the president is wrong.

Was there ever a time when the content of the president's message mattered more than the response to it during and afterward? Will we ever be able to get back to that type of world again?

The idealist in me hopes so; the realist in me knows better. But the dreamer in me likes the thought...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Oscar Predictions: What I Think Will Happen...

Tomorrow morning at around 8:37 am ET, the nominations for this year's Academy Awards will be announced. As many of you know, I love this time of year—I love the excitement of the nominees being announced and I love the pomp and circumstances of the Oscar ceremony.

I've been an Oscar fanatic since the mid-1980s. However, I will say that my excitement has dulled a little since then, for a few reasons. First, the internet has opened the floodgates for more and more film critics, all of whom weigh in with their predictions.

Second, there are so many film awards given now, there rarely is much surprise by the time the Oscars roll around. And third, since I know so much about the Oscars, I've seen year after year that the awards are rarely given to those who give the best performances. The Academy is either playing catch up for individuals who should have won previously, making some sort of political or social statement, or recognizing someone for their body of work or being well-liked.

That being said, I'll still get the chills just before the nominations are announced tomorrow. And here is what I think might happen:

Best Picture
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network
The Town
Toy Story 3
True Grit

If any other film sneaks into this top 10, it probably will be Winter's Bone. No other movie has really captured as much praise as the 10 I've listed, and I think this is a pretty fantastic list, actually.

Best Actor
Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

I'm going out on a limb with Javier Bardem, but believe the former Oscar winner has a good shot. The person most likely standing in his way is Robert Duvall, who was terrific in the little-seen Get Low. Other actors completely deserving of recognition are Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine (and it's his nomination I'd be most excited about), Aaron Eckhart for Rabbit Hole and Mark Wahlberg for The Fighter. Truth be told, if Wahlberg's movie gets a large number of nominees tomorrow, he may find himself included.

Best Actress
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Again, I'm going out on a limb in this category with Julianne Moore. I really hope she gets nominated, although I think it signifies even more that Annette Bening will lose again. Those actresses with an outside chance at a nomination include Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine (so deserving), Oscar fave Hilary Swank for Conviction and British actress Lesley Manville for Mike Leigh's Another Year. (Some think she could wind up in the Supporting Actress category.) The other surprise could be if voters realize that Hailee Steinfeld was in virtually every scene of True Grit and deserves a Best Acress nod instead of one for Supporting Actress.

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter
Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

There's a part of me that thinks Garfield might get bumped by a posthumous nod for Pete Posthlethwaite's performance in The Town, but it was a really small part. Then again, if there's a sentimental spot to be filled, Michael Douglas could take it for reprising his Oscar-winning character, Gordon Gekko, in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. And Matt Damon could ride into the category for True Grit as well, as could John Hawkes for his quiet, seething performance in Winter's Bone.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

In my mind, the only surprise in this category will come if Steinfeld gets a Best Actress nod. In that case, the fifth slot should be filled by one of these women: Lesley Manville, Barbara Hershey for her creepy performance in Black Swan, or Australian actress Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom, for which she received a Golden Globe nod.

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David O. Russell, The Fighter

The Coen Brothers could sneak into this category for True Grit, but hopefully they won't do it at the expense of Nolan, who has been nominated for three Directors Guild Awards (for Inception, Memento and The Dark Knight), but never gotten an Oscar nod.

And there you have it. Honestly, I hope for some surprises, and I'll be back tomorrow to compare these predictions with reality!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Where is That Corner Anyway?

I've discussed on this blog more than once that I have a penchant for getting random songs stuck in my head. This song has been in and out of my head for at least a few months, mainly because the lyrics intrigue me. I don't know what the song means, actually, but if it's about wondering whether there's anyone you can count on, I know how that feels from time to time.

The song is You Found Me by The Fray. Listen for yourself and see if it resonates with you.

Oh, and if anyone knows where the corner of First and Amistad is, I'd love to find out...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

It's Nice to Have Role Models...

The cover story of the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly looks at gay teens on television, and how television shows like Glee are setting a new example in the entertainment world. The story includes a timeline of milestones in the depiction of gay teenagers on television, beginning with Ryan Philippe's brief stint as a gay teen on One Life to Live to prominent characters on current shows like Greek and 90210.

It's good to see that things are changing on television where gay characters are concerned, and hopefully it's reflective of changing attitudes toward gay people in many high schools, colleges and communities. While Kurt, Chris Colfer's character on Glee does exhibit some stereotypically "gay" behaviors—fixation on what characters wear and how they look, an interest in fashion and decor, a more feminine voice—the counterpoint of Darren Criss' character, Blaine, helps illustrate that not all gay people act the same way. If people can start to understand that gay doesn't always equal flamboyant (see Sean Hayes' character on Will & Grace, for one) and that you can't always pick the gay person out in a crowd, that's half the battle.

Between the increased number of positive (or at least diverse) gay role models on television and openly gay celebrities like Ricky Martin, Neil Patrick Harris, TR Knight and Ellen DeGeneres, I hope that teenagers and others struggling with their sexuality can take some comfort in knowing that they're not abnormal or different. I remember when I began realizing that I was gay, the examples I saw on television were Billy Crystal's overly stereotypical Jody Dallas on Soap and, even sadder, Aidan Quinn's AIDS-stricken character in An Early Frost.

Is it any wonder it took me a long while to come out of the closet to friends and family? Hopefully we're on the right track now...

Book Review: "A Visit from the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan

Sometimes books are difficult to describe, whether because of their structure, content or narrative style. As I read Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, I realized more and more that it was a difficult book to really pin down, as it kept defying my expectations. More a collection of linked stories than a novel and less about the music business than other reviews led me to believe, this book had tremendous heart and soul, and a number of the characters have kept me thinking about them even after finishing the book.

The two anchors of the book are music executive Bennie Salazar and his troubled assistant, Sasha, although many of the stories focus on different people with significant or tangential connections to one or both of them. The stories take place at different times and in different locations around the world, so at times you are able to see what happened to a particular character or how they got to where they were in an earlier story. While the jumbled sense of time and characters can be a bit confusing at first, the stories draw you in fairly quickly and I found it easy to get oriented to when and where each was taking place. Oh, and did I mention that one chapter—one of my favorites—is actually a PowerPoint presentation? (It's not as weird as it sounds.)

I really enjoyed all but the last chapter in this book. It took place in the future (although you're not certain how far into the future) and Egan uses strange lingo and creates a setting that is hard to get your head around. But other than that, I thought this book was really well-written and some of the stories packed quite a wallop. It may be a little work to remember each character and determine where and when the chapters take place, but it's well worth the effort.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Power of Hope...

Thirteen days after being shot in the head during a "Congress on Your Corner" event, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) left the Tucson hospital where she was being treated for a rehabilitation center in Houston. Giffords will now undergo significant rehabilitation, which should take at least 1-2 months.

To think that 13 days ago, there were news bulletins which erroneously reported that Giffords had died from her injuries. In those 13 days, she has continuously surprised doctors, supporters and her family by the progress she has made, considering the extent of her injuries.

Recovering from a gunshot wound to the head will require a great deal of determination, as well as physical and mental strength. And as with most traumatic brain injuries, the true after-effects may not be immediately known.

However, I am staggered by the tremendous strides that Rep. Giffords has made. It is clear that she and her family have truly harnessed the power of hope, which can only strengthen them further as the difficult weeks of rehabilitation progress.

Never underestimate the power of hope.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How about a Little Personal Responsibility?

So did you hear the one about the woman who was texting and not watching where she was walking, so she fell into a fountain at a Pennsylvania shopping mall?

No, this isn't the lead-in to a joke, but a real situation. Here's the video from YouTube:

Cathy Cruz Marrero wasn't content to lick her wounds, dry herself off and move on, however. Apparently she's considering suing the mall because no one came to her aid. She told George Stephanopoulos in an interview on Good Morning America that she was texting with a friend from church and didn't realize the fountain was in front of her until she fell in. She did complain that there were no handrails to help her get out of the fountain. (Like there should be?)

Some reports say Marrero was due in court today on five felony counts including theft and deception; if that is true, you might wonder what type of schemes she has pulled before.

And if she is not guilty of these other crimes, what she is guilty of is a lack of personal responsibility. People in our society are far too quick to blame others for their problems—I didn't burn myself when I spilled my coffee because I was holding the cup wrong, McDonald's made the coffee too hot. I didn't gain weight because I eat twice the amount of calories recommended daily; I gained weight because Hostess makes their cakes so good. Really?

We are raising a society of people all too willing to shirk responsibility for their actions and misfortunes. Remind me of that the next time I fall into a fountain while texting...

There's a Land That I See...

As you may have noticed, I am unabashedly nostalgic for the pop culture of my childhood. Something about watching an old commercial or television program, or hearing a song I remember from the 70s or 80s often takes me right back to the simpler days.

There are few things that remind of my childhood more than Free to Be, You and Me. A book and record album released in 1972, subsequently followed by a 1974 television special, this was a project of Marlo Thomas that used songs, stories and poetry to teach children that, regardless of gender, they could achieve anything and everything. It also sought to break down many of the gender-related stereotypes of the day.

The record featured contributions from Thomas and celebrities of the day, including Alan Alda, Carol Channing, Mel Brooks, Dick Cavett, Diana Ross, Dick Smothers, Robert Morse, Shirley Jones, Jack Cassidy and, with the classic song It's All Right to Cry, football player Rosey Grier.

Not only do I remember the album and television special vividly (I've told you before, I'm an utter savant when it comes to this stuff), but I had the opportunity to perform in a version of the show while at summer camp in 1981. I was part of two "skits"—The Pain and the Great One, which was a back and forth between a brother and sister, and The Southpaw, about two feuding friends. I actually caught the chicken pox during rehearsals but was recovered enough to perform before having to head back to the camp infirmary.

Even if the music may seem a little dated now—and you should have seen the look on a few of my colleagues' faces when William's Doll came on my iPod yesterday afternoon—the message is one we all could benefit from, no matter how old we are.

After all, if Marlo Thomas tells you that you can be anything you want to be, you should listen. She's That Girl, after all!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Family is Crazy Enough, Thank You...

When politicians are sworn into office, there is often conversation about their "striking the right tone" during their inaugural address. Alabama's new governor, Robert Bentley, who was sworn in on Monday, certainly chose an interesting tone for a speech he gave shortly after taking office, and it has raised eyebrows, if not a little ire as well.

Speaking at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church, Bentley told the crowd that he considered anyone who believed in Jesus to be his brothers and sisters regardless of color. And then he said, "Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister."

Critics quickly pounced on Bentley's comments, wondering whether as governor, he can be fair to non-Christians. While his office countered the criticism by explaining that Bentley believes "he is the governor of all Alabama," representatives of other religious and anti-discrimination organizations question this. An official with the Anti-Defamation League said that it sounded like Bentley was using the office of governor to advocate for Christian conversion, which would violate the First Amendment.

Whatever Bentley's intentions, religion has no place in politics. No one religion is better than another, and for him to claim only Christians as his "brothers and sisters" sets an inappropriate tone for someone elected to govern all people in the state, regardless of religion, race, sex, ethnicity or age.

I believe people have the right to believe whatever they wish, but they should not try and foist those beliefs on others, especially when they are in a position of power. Politicians often forget they need to do what is right based on the well-being of the people and the desires of the electorate, not their religious philosophy.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Dream of a Million Girls...

Saturday night in Las Vegas the Miss America Organization celebrated its 90th anniversary in grand style by crowning a new Miss America, 17-year-old Teresa Scanlan, Miss Nebraska. Teresa, who played White Water Chopsticks on the piano, won a talent preliminary competition on Thursday evening.

I've written previously about my experience with, and interest in, the Miss America Pageant. In fact, when I judged a local pageant in Omaha last October, I had the opportunity to meet Teresa and spend 1-1/2 days getting to know her a bit. I remember that my fellow judges and I were absolutely wowed by her intellect and poise, especially at 17 years old!

I am proud of the contestants I know—Lindsay Staniszewski, Miss Maryland; Caitlin Uze, Miss Virginia; Kayla Martell, Miss Delaware and Lauren Werhan, Miss Kansas. Caitlin and Kayla both made the top 10 during Saturday night's pageant, but all four did themselves and their supporters proud with how well they did during the preliminary competitions. It's a pleasure to know them!

So, congratulations, Teresa, and best wishes for an absolutely amazing year ahead. And for those of you who wonder how a 17-year-old might get crowned Miss America, here's her post-crowning press conference. She starts answering questions around the 18-minute mark, and you'll see what I meant about being wowed!

Book Review: "Left Neglected" by Lisa Genova

Sarah Nickerson and her husband, Bob, have a successful if utterly chaotic life. Sarah is the VP of human resources for an international HR consulting firm and Bob works for a struggling technology startup, they have a beautiful house in an affluent Boston suburb, and they rarely have any time that doesn't involve their jobs or their children. While the pressure is staggering, especially after their oldest child, Charlie, is presumed to have ADHD, Sarah knows this is the life she wants to lead. And one day, while looking at an email on her phone, Sarah gets into a car accident and sustains a traumatic brain injury which manifests itself as Left Neglect, in which Sarah's entire left side—of her body and her vision—has vanished from her.

A significant portion of Left Neglected follows Sarah from when she wakes up from her accident through recovery and rehabilitation, as well as the adjustments she and her family need to make. This is a tremendously well-written, heartfelt, compelling book; while you may not be able to identify with Sarah, either pre- or post-accident, the book certainly brought to light for me many "what if" questions. Genova has a PhD in neuroscience and while you may never have heard of Left Neglect, she does a great job of explaining it in layman's terms.

What gripped me about this book, however, is Genova's ability to give voice to what Sarah is thinking as she struggles with recognition that she—and her life—are different following her accident. The battle between type-A Sarah and recovery Sarah is emotional and very interesting, and the people around her behave much as many people do in situations like this. I really enjoyed this book, and found it a little less depressing (although no less good) than Genova's wonderful first book, Still Alice, which dealt with early-onset Alzheimer's. This is a great story and while it's not a light read, it's well worth your time.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

All Hail Sanctity...

On Friday the Republican National Committee elected Wisconsin GOP leader Reince Priebus as its new chair, to succeed former Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, who withdrew from seeking a second term. Priebus, little-known outside of Wisconsin, defeated three other Republican operatives to lead the party, and now must begin raising money for the 2012 election cycle.

During the RNC Chair debate on January 3, Priebus and the other candidates were asked their position on same-sex marriage. Priebus' response: "It’s foundational in our lives...I don’t believe anybody should be denied dignity in this discussion, everyone should be loved. But at the end of the day, I believe that marriage — through the sanctity of marriage — should be between one man and one woman."

Ah, yes. Ye old "sanctity of marriage." According to, sanctity is defined as "holiness, saintliness or godliness" or "a sacred thing."

This, of course, brings up two questions.

1) If marriage is so sacred, why do many people—including many opponents of same-sex marriage—cheat on their spouses, divorce, remarry and sometimes divorce and remarry again?

2) Aren't church and state supposed to be separate? If so, why should our lawmakers be allowed to cite religious reasons for opposing same-sex marriage?

Marriage is, actually, a legal institution, which is why people can marry at a justice of the peace's office or in a threadbare "marriage chapel" in places like Las Vegas. People aren't required to marry in a religious institution, so why can it be considered a religious act when it's expedient to do so?

(Please keep in mind these questions are rhetorical, because I know that there are no logical answers. However, I do keep on hoping...)

Maybe one day all of our political leaders can focus on what is important instead of what they most care about. Maybe one day...

Book Review: "The Lincoln Lawyer" by Michael Connelly

I've enjoyed Michael Connelly's books for years. Between his exceptional series featuring LA investigator Harry Bosch and his stand-alone novels, Connelly is almost always at the top of his game. That being said, I held off reading his first legal thriller, The Lincoln Lawyer, for a while, because that genre tends to frustrate me. I know that corruption sadly exists nearly everywhere, but the extent to which legal thrillers portray defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges and jurors—not to mention defendants—as purely evil starts to stretch my disbelief from time to time. But with the movie adaptation of the book on the horizon, I thought I better get to reading.

Mickey Haller is a fairly successful defense attorney in LA. He doesn't believe, nor does he care, that any of his clients are innocent. He'll defend nearly anyone, as long as they can pay him, and spends most of his days in the back of one of his Lincoln Town Cars, being driven from courthouse to client meeting to jails and back again. Mickey's biggest desire is for a "franchise client," one that can bring in a lot of money and lead to favorable publicity and other jobs. He believes he's found this in Louis Ross Rolet, a rich playboy who is accused of brutally beating and threatening to murder a prostitute. Rolet vehemently insists he is innocent, and evidence that Mickey's investigator finds points in the same direction. And then information surfaces about another of Mickey's cases that makes him begin questioning the foundation of his entire practice of law, and brings him face to face with a pretty dangerous criminal. (As always, I'm being pretty vague so as not to spoil any of the twists.)

This book had me from start to finish. Even though pieces of the story seemed a little formulaic, Connelly threw some good twists into the narrative and really fleshed out many of his characters. While Mickey seemed to be the quintessential defense attorney at the start of the book, Connelly revealed his layers little by little, until you found exactly what made him tick. And while I was fairly sure I knew how the story would wrap itself up (and wasn't entirely wrong), it didn't matter, because I found myself on a very compelling route toward its conclusion. Is this fine literature? No, but this is a really enjoyable addition to Connelly's work, and it just proves how exceptional a writer he is.

Book Review: "The Takeover" by Jack Drew

You've heard the adage "if it seems to good to be true, it probably is"? Well, I would imagine that if he could, Chance Fordham, the main character in Jack Drew's creepy The Takeover, would have that tattooed everywhere he could.

A computer programmer living a fairly mediocre existence, Chance and his wife, Vicki, are struggling, both financially and emotionally. Vicki wants Chance to get a better-paying job and be more supportive of how hard she works to care for their two children. But when Chance lands a job at TCI (aka The Company), somehow the gigantic raise in salary and move to a beautiful house in a development where all Company employees are required to live, start to seem a little too good to be true. And then the strangest things keep happening—from the bizarre dreams both Chance and Vicki start having, to Chance's inexplicable lust for one of TCI's administrative assistants, to the horrible stench that surrounds Mr. Grisham, TCI's director of HR. And scarily enough, that's just the tip of the iceberg...

I don't read a lot of horror books, mainly because I'm a wuss. And boy, this book was creepy. But while I read parts of the book the way I watch some horror movies, dreading what's going to come next, Drew still told a really compelling story. At times I wanted to shout at the characters to make them realize what was going to happen, but people on a plane don't take kindly to other passengers shouting at inanimate objects. This definitely kept me turning the pages, even when I didn't want to.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Words That Heal, Words That Hurt...

Earlier this week, President Obama led thousands of mourners in Arizona—as well as all Americans—in remembering those individuals killed and wounded in the Tucson shooting spree on January 8. Six people, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl, were killed; a number of others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), were wounded. Giffords sustained significant brain injury and faces a long and difficult road to recovery.

While much of the dialogue following the shooting has centered around the vitriol that has come to define our political system, President Obama stayed above the fray during his speech.

"What we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another," he said. "If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle."

Sarah Palin had the opportunity to travel the same path as President Obama, yet chose not to. Since the shooting, Palin has been lambasted by many in politics and the media, as Rep. Giffords' district was one of 20 Palin "targeted" (using an image of a gun's crosshairs) to "take out" in the 2010 midterm elections because of her vote on healthcare reform. And Giffords even commented on this to MSNBC.

In the days following the shooting, Palin remained silent, except for posting a message of condolence to Giffords' family and the families of the other victims. But on the same day as the Tucson memorial service, she released a video statement in which she lashed out at her critics for "apportioning blame" for the tragedy.

"Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn," Palin said. "That is reprehensible."

Like any time Palin makes a statement, her supporters defiantly defend her, and her critics excoriate her. Some have questioned Palin's use of the term "blood libel," used historically to falsely accuse Jews of using children's blood to prepare their Passover matzoh, while others question whether she truly understands the gravity of the situation.

What is understood is simple. If Palin truly views herself as a credible candidate for president in 2012, she failed a simple test of looking "presidential." At a time when she could have served as a uniter, and even tried to beat President Obama at the same game, she instead traveled an already well-worn path: blame the critics, not the actions they are criticizing.

I believe for a nation in need of healing, of compromise, of reassurance, President Obama's words provided the necessary comfort, while Sarah Palin's provided yet another incitement to blame others.

Our nation deserves the former, not the latter, especially at this time.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Book Review: "The Metropolis Case" by Matthew Gallaway

At first glance, Matthew Gallaway's terrific debut novel, The Metropolis Case, seems to be composed of unrelated but similar stories with one common thread, the Wagner opera Tristan and Isolde. The novel mainly follows four characters from four different periods of time—Lucien, a teenager in 1850s France who dreams of being an opera singer and falling in love; Anna, an opera singer who reaches her career pinnacle performing Isolde in the 1960s and then teaching at Juilliard; Maria, who grows up in 1970s Pittsburgh feeling ostracized until she shares her singing voice with her peers; and Martin, an attorney in post-9/11 New York, who, despite being professionally successful, yearns for connection and meaning in his private life.

The book follows each of these characters through the ups and downs of their lives, and you may begin to wonder whether there is any cohesive thread that will connect them, other than the opera itself. And then the connections come, with some of the plot twists being a bit surprising (at least to me). While the main plot device requires you to suspend your disbelief a bit, it actually worked really well in the context of the story. If I had any criticism of the book, I don't like when books have characters speaking a foreign language but they don't provide a translation for what's being said. However, it doesn't happen too often.

I wasn't sure what to make of the book when it started, although I enjoyed all of the characters a great deal, but the story really hooked me. While opera is the thread that connects everything together, this is more than a book about opera—it's about love and art and the beauty they bring, and the need to forge whatever connections you can whenever you can. I really, really liked this and can't wait to see what Gallaway does in the future!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Time for a Wake-Up Call...

Sometimes I weep for what our country has become. Today is one of those days.

Earlier today, at a "Congress on Your Corner" rally in her home district of Tucson, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 17 other people were shot. Six people, including US District Judge John Roll and a nine-year-old child, were killed. Giffords was shot in the head, and although early reports said she had died, she actually pulled through surgery and doctors are "optimistic" about her condition.

The lone gunman, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, is in custody. Motive has yet to be determined, although YouTube videos showed him ranting about the illiteracy rate among people living in Giffords' district, among other things.

Giffords was narrowly re-elected to a third term in 2010. Ironically, Sarah Palin listed Giffords as one of the top "targets" of the midterm elections because of her vote to support health care reform. As Giffords commented presciently in an interview with MSNBC, "For example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action." (Ironically, Giffords' opponent in the midterm elections held "target practice" to encourage supporters to defeat Giffords.)

How did we get here?

How can we as a society, how can the media allow these things to happen without calling these individuals out?

Where is our outrage?

Why is the media fanning the flames of hatred rather than trying to extinguish them? Far too often, opponents of issues are allowed to share their views with no counterpoint, no balance, no debate.

All that's left is hatred and ignorance. Which breeds the type of violence we saw today.

I'd like to believe that today's senseless tragedy might serve as a wake-up call for our politicians, but I'm not naive enough to believe that's possible. When days after being sworn in, Republicans are already disregarding campaign promises they made, when during the reading of the US Constitution a protester still questioning whether President Obama is an American citizen had to be removed, when in the last three days, several pieces of mail have turned into incendiary devices in Maryland and Washington, DC, clearly we're not there yet.

But we need to be. Demand better of our politicians, our media, our society. Demand better for yourself, your family, your children, your future.

No one should motivate anyone to violence. We don't need to love one another, but we need to respect each other.

It should be the only way.

My prayers go out to those who lost their lives today, and are with those recovering from their injuries.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Political Correctness or Censorship?

Earlier this week, Publishers' Weekly announced that an upcoming edition of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn being released by NewSouth Books would have all uses of the "n" word removed. The new book will also remove all traces of the word "Injun."

This redux, being spearheaded by Twain expert Alan Gribben, isn't intended to whitewash the book, but rather "update" it. As Gribben said, "Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century."

Huck Finn is one of the most vilified and misunderstood literary classics, and is frequently a target of banning by overzealous parents and school systems who would rather criticize the book than put the language in context for students.

Isn't providing context and interpretation one of the purposes teachers and parents should serve? Wouldn't reading this book—complete with its racially and culturally insensitive language—be a counterpoint to a terrific dialogue about how words can hurt, and the history of how these words have been used, especially for a generation that hears the "n" word in myriad rap songs?

I understand how emotionally charged these words are, but in this case, they have a historical context. Mark Twain was not a racist; he was using words germane to the book's setting and time. While some may argue that children shouldn't be exposed to anything that uses words like these, I believe that hiding them from reality doesn't do them any good.

In an article on Entertainment Weekly's web site, Keith Staskiewicz said "It’s a little disheartening to see a cave-in to those who would ban a book simply because it requires context. On the other hand, if this puts the book into the hands of kids who would not otherwise be allowed to read it due to forces beyond their control (overprotective parents and the school boards they frighten), then maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge."

Explain. Don't censor or pretend it never happened. That's the only way to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Question of Legacy...

As a society, we're obsessed with the concept of legacy. We revel in achievement while simultaneously debating how it ranks among other historical achievements, and are often preoccupied with determining the achiever's place among others in their field, whether it's sports, politics, entertainment or something else.

Yet for a legacy-obsessed society, those who should be most concerned with preserving their own seem to make more than their share of mistakes. We've seen presidential scandals—both political and personal—and of course, athletes and entertainers are no strangers to controversy.

Which brings us to one of the media's favorite recent topics, Brett Favre. For years, Favre was football's golden boy, an athlete with the rugged determination of a champion and the soul of a choir boy. He decimated the record for the most consecutive games played and dazed opponents and teammates alike, all with an engaging smile. Fans mourned with him when he played shortly after the sudden death of his father, and supported him through his wife's battle with breast cancer. When he announced his retirement at the end of the 2007 season, it seemed like the perfect end to a storybook career.

And then he decided not to retire. From that point on, people began to question Favre's decision-making. Early on in the 2008 season as quarterback for the Jets, he seemed to vanquish his critics with stellar play, yet as the season headed toward the playoffs, the Jets collapsed.

And then Favre decided to retire again. But not really. Favre alienated the last of Green Bay's fans with his decision to play for the Minnesota Vikings, and had a storybook season which ended just short of the Super Bowl. Many thought that Favre would retire, but after much hemming and hawing, he opted to come back for one more season. The 2010 season, however, was far from storybook, with Favre suffering numerous injuries and defeats at the hands of his opponents.

While the 2010 season and what became an annual tradition of Favre vowing to retire and then returning may impact his legacy, the off-the-field scandals have certainly impacted the reputation of Favre the man.

The accusations of former Jets cheerleader Jenn Sterger that Favre sent numerous texts (including photos of his penis) and left voice mails begging her to spend evenings with him dented his family-man veneer, to the point that Wrangler dropped him as their spokesperson. And it's too soon to tell whether the lawsuit of two former masseuses who said they were fired by the Jets for refusing to sleep with Favre has any merit.

Ultimately, will all of this impact Favre's legacy? Former quarterback Kurt Warner says yes, at least in the short term. "To me, when I think of Favre, the first thing I think of [is] the chaos that's happened the last couple of years. Hopefully, within a couple of years, people will forget that and remember the kind of player he was on the field. I think in the short-term, he definitely hurt his legacy."

However, sportswriter Chris Chase says that it's rare that an athlete's post-career antics change his legacy, unless the antics reach the level of OJ Simpson or Roger Clemens. And although Favre did bounce back and forth between retiring and not, from team to team for a few years, football greats like Joe Montana and Emmitt Smith didn't retire after playing for the teams with whom they achieved their greatest heights, and their reputations aren't tarnished. (Montana's endorsement of Skechers' "tone-up" sneakers and Smith's victory on Dancing with the Stars are amusing, however.)

Many times, history is kinder than reality. Hopefully in this case, an athlete with the skills and achievements Favre had will be remembered for them rather than what he did off the gridiron.

Winding Your Way Down on Baker Street...

Sad news came from the UK yesterday with the death of Gerry Rafferty. Probably best known for his 70s hit Baker Street, which very well might possess the greatest saxophone playing in a pop song ever, Rafferty had been fighting cancer for some time.

While some may have thought of him as a one-hit wonder, Rafferty started out as part of the band Stealers Wheel, which hit it big with Stuck in the Middle with You, and then also had hits with Right Down the Line and Night Owl.

But it is Baker Street for which he will forever be known, a song that definitely resides among my favorite songs of all time and never fails to take me back to the 1970s every time I hear it.

RIP, Gerry Rafferty. Songs like yours don't come along every day, or every year.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy 50th to My Favorite 30-Year-Old High School Student...

Today, Gabrielle Carteris—who will forever be known as Andrea Zuckerman on the original Beverly Hills 90210—turns 50. That's pretty amazing, considering that she played a high school student when she was 30 years old! (The show also premiered with 26-year-old Ian Ziering and 25-year-old Luke Perry playing high school students as well, so Gabrielle wasn't alone.)

Hollywood has a long history of ignoring age when casting. Angela Lansbury, at age 37, played 34-year-old Laurence Harvey's mother in The Manchurian Candidate, and this year, 51-year-old Melissa Leo plays mother to 40-year-old Mark Wahlberg and 37-year-old Christian Bale in The Fighter.

But it's the adults playing high school students that is always amusing—Stockard Channing and Jeff Conaway were 33 and 27, respectively, when they played high school seniors Rizzo and Kenickie in the movie Grease.

However, in a magical world of syndication and movies on DVD and cable, these actors remain in high school matter what a frightening prospect that is.

Happy birthday, Gabrielle!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Book Review: "Brooklyn" by Colm Toibin

Some novels, regardless of their length, are big, with their weighty issues, larger-than-life characters and major plot twists. Other books are smaller, and although they may not be characterized by a great deal of drama or action, they still have some weight to them. Colm Toibin's Brooklyn definitely falls in the latter category.

It is the early 1950s in Ireland, and Eilis Lacey spends her life blending into her surroundings. Her older sister has a job in Dublin, her brothers have moved to England and even her friends are heading toward marriage. After Eilis finds a job where she is treated like a servant, her sister and an Irish priest in America arrange for her to move to Brooklyn, where she will live in a rooming house with other Irish girls and work in a store until she can find an office job. She experiences some homesickness and struggles with the same feelings of inadequacy until she meets Tony, an Italian plumber who is clearly devoted to her, and starts to introduce her to life in America (complete with Coney Island and a Brooklyn Dodgers game). And as they begin planning for their future, she receives disturbing news from Ireland, which sets a number of events into motion.

Toibin is a great writer, and I always marvel at his ability to infuse "everyday" situations with a kind of poetry. I felt the buildup to Eilis' move to America took too long, although it did lay a foundation for what occurred later in the story, but once Eilis settled into her life and became a bit more animated, I felt the book hit its stride. I liked many of the characters, and disliked the ones you clearly were supposed to, and found the way Toibin unfurled the story was really compelling, even if it did so with more of a whisper than a scream. All in all, I enjoyed this book, even if it lacked the "punch" I was hoping for. (I'd also recommend several of Toibin's earlier books, including The Blackwater Lightship, The Story of the Night and The Master.)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy 2011!

How is it possible we rang in a new decade last night? It is amazing to me how fast time flies, even when you're not always having fun.

The past year was an interesting one. There were some terrific times—getting our new dog, Quinn; going to the US Open; seeing some fantastic Broadway shows (American Idiot and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson rocked); spending time with my amazingly precocious nephews; reuniting with some old, dear friends after a number of years; and relaxing in the Dominican Republic for a few days, to name a few.

Of course, the year wasn't without its difficulties. Luckily, one of the most predominant issues I had—the injury to my hip—was taken care of, thanks to an immensely painful cortisone shot and physical therapy. Being able to exercise again after nearly a year is a fantastic—and exhausting—thing, but it is my hope to be back in shape again sometime soon.

I am excited and hopeful about what 2011 has to offer. While I'm not a fan of resolutions, it's certainly my intention to try and get a better handle on my life in the coming year, physically, professionally and emotionally. Of course, I know there will be some fantastic opportunities and challenges that come my way, and I look forward to facing all of them.

Most importantly, I look forward to spending time with my family and friends, including the 50th anniversary reunion of the summer camp I attended back in the 1980s. That should be interesting!

Happy New Year to you and yours. I wish you everything you wish for yourself!

The Best Books I Read in 2010...

I read 80 books this year. While that may seem like a lot to you, I actually read 105 last year, so clearly I'm slacking. Or better yet, get a new puppy, change jobs and read several 750+-page novels and see how many books you read!

I tried to whittle my list down as best as I could, but after getting stuck at 17, I decided, it's my list, after all. Almost, but not all, of these books were actually published in some form in 2010. For each book on this list, I excerpted my original review; if you're interested, you can click on the title to access the full review.

Enjoy! Comments welcomed.

And now, in no particular order...

One Day by David Nicholls: Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew connect at a party the night they graduate from college in Edinburgh. This book follows the peaks and valleys of Dexter and Emma's relationship on the same day—July 15—each year for over 20 years. Sometimes they're close friends; sometimes they're not. Sometimes one is romantically involved while the other isn't. This is a book about love, in many forms—friendship, romance, sexual attraction, marriage, parent/child relationships, unrequited crushes, etc. Made me sob.

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham: An emotionally compelling and intriguing story of love, longing, happiness and family dysfunction. Peter and Rebecca Harris are a New York married couple in their early 40s. They are mildly happy; both have flirted with affairs but seem rooted to their life together and the struggles they are having with their daughter. And into this complacency comes Rebecca's much-younger brother, Ethan, aka Mizzy (short for The Mistake), a beautiful but flawed young man who has drifted from thing to thing in his life—scholastic success to drug addiction, woman to man, career ambition to a search for inner peace. In just a few short days, their lives (Peter's in particular) change dramatically, as Peter's obsession with Mizzy takes him on an as-yet-undiscovered path. This is Cunningham is at his best.

Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan: I loved Harry Dolan's debut novel. I had my suspicions about where the plot would go. Sometimes I was right and sometimes I was wrong, but the book took so many twists and turns, I found myself surprised from time to time, and not because of random red herrings or improbable occurrences. A man who calls himself David Loogan lives an anonymous life in Ann Arbor, MI. He meets Tom and Laura Kristoll, publishers of a murder-mystery magazine. He builds a friendship with the Kristolls, and begins an affair with Laura. One night Tom asks for Loogan's help with a problem, and shortly thereafter, Tom winds up dead. And that's just the start of the mystery within a mystery within a mystery.

Room by Emma Donoghue: Jack just turned five years old. To celebrate, he and his mother play games, watch TV, eat cake and his mother measures his growth progress by marking his height on the wall. The only thing is, Jack has never been outside the storage shed where he and his mother are being held captive. In fact, Jack was born in Room (his name for the shed) and his mother was kept there for two years before his birth. This is a tremendously affecting story of the amazing love a mother has for her child, creating a whole world in just one room.

Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffield: Easily one of the best books I've read in a long while. Part the memoir of a lifelong music lover, part a funny and heartbreaking love story, this book grabbed me at page 1 and never let me go. Sheffield's style is wry, a little sarcastic and unafraid to embrace the emotions that this boy-meets-girl, boy-marries-girl, girl-dies story brings out. If you love music, love memoirs or just love love, this is a book I hope you'll read and treasure.