Friday, March 31, 2006

big ben

This post will not be written by myself or Mr. Loophole. Today we differ to something I found on a site that I frequent. Before you all accuse me of 'pulling a Huffington', let me give full credit. Mr. Ben Stein has written a bi-weekly column for many years entitled "Monday Night at Morton's". Morton's ,as some of you may know, is a restaurant frequented by many of the rich and famous. What you are about to read is the final column that Mr. Stein wrote under this title in December of 2003 before he moved on to other things in his life. I thought it quite worthy to share with our regular readers here at the shelf. I promise there will be another Flywheel origional soon after. As for now, I ask you to open your minds and hearts and feel and understand as 'Big Ben' lets us know what time it is.(So to speak.)

Ben Stein's Last Column (from December, 2003

How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World?

"As I begin to write this, I "slug" it, as we writers say, which means I put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is "eonlineFINAL," and it gives me a shiver to write it. I have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even recall when I started. I loved writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never end. It worked well for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the world's change have overtaken it. On a small scale, Morton's, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and definitely some stars. I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a super movie. But Morton's is not the star galaxy it once was, though it probably will be again. Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to. How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a "star" we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model? Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese girls do their nails. They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer. A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world. A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him. A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad. The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists. We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die. I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating at Morton's is a big subject. There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament...the policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no idea if they will return alive; the orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery; the teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children; the kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards. Think of each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse. Now you have my idea of a real hero. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters. This is my highest and best use as a human. I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin...or Martin Mull or Fred Willard--or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them. But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms. This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use as a human."

Spot on, Mr. Stein.

Please feel free to comment if the need strikes you.

Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value.

Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

hard boiled

Guess Bugs won't be filling in for the Easter Bunny again this year. He's been hitting the carrot juice kinda hard.
Believe it or not, one of my favorite times of year is almost here. Yes, I know I said the same thing when Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas came around- but I mean it. Easter and Spring have not only a spiritual meaning for me, but a resonating deep in my bones happiness born in my childhood. Before you accuse Loophole of going sappy on you - let me explain. I won't get into the religious side of things- it is very significant for those of us to whom Easter is a religious holiday. To some it isn't. Some of our friends celebrate Passover instead, some celebrate a secular Easter (which sounds strange) - some don't celebrate at all. Springtime and Easter have sort of become co-dependent in a strange sort of way. The imagery and symbolism of rebirth, life, and the escape from the tomb of winter has it's obvious meanings. To let you know right away- I love Easter time and the spiritual and religious holiday that it is. But that is my affair- I won't get into that. Instead, I wish to convey to you some of the things that spring and Easter have brought in my childhood and why it gets me kinda sappy (just kinda) this time of year.

I was a cracker jack at the Egg Wars game. Get it? CRACK-er jack. HA,HA,HA- oh,never mind.Easter eggs- I love 'em. Sure I could make hard boiled eggs anytime, but growing up as a kid my granddad and I would bring our Easter eggs to the table and have Egg Wars! We would each take a brightly colored egg and then hit them together to crack them. The egg that doesn't crack was the toughest and the winner. Fortunately the loser gets to eat the defeated egg. We stuffed our selves more than once over the years and to this day I can't watch Cool Hand Luke with out feeling a bit of nausea. But it passes. The dyeing of the eggs were always special fun growing up- trying to make the most different shades and patterns was a particular past-time. And of course, egg salad sandwiches were on the lunch menu from days to come.

Easter candy- To me, Easter candy beats out Halloween and Peeps and chocolate... a diabetic's wet dream.Christmas, and puts Valentine's Day to shame. I believe St. Patrick's Day gave in when faced with the consequence of being stuck between Valentines Day and Easter. Jellybeans, Cadbury Eggs, Reese's Eggs, Chocolate Rabbits, Robin's Eggs, Chicks and Rabbits- the list goes on. And of course, the champ in my book- Peeps. The yellow chick Peeps are and endangered species around my house.

Pull My Finger, Pharoah!Classic Movies- Sure - there aren't as many as Christmas, but when I think of when I was a kid I remember the great "sword and sandal" movies and religious movies that were on TV almost weekly during Passover and Easter. The Ten Commandments, Samson and Delilah, The Robe, Ben-Hur, The Greatest Story Ever Told- etc. This was an early introduction to classic "epic" films for me. And one of my favorite films to watch isn't even on that list- Easter Parade with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland. And usually there were other musicals on the tube to go with it. Great stuff

Animated Specials- If you are a Shelfer then you know of our ongoing series of looks at the Ahh- the memories.history and production of animated prime-time specials. Easter has some great specials. In fact, the great Rankin-Bass has more than one: Here comes Peter Cottontail, The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town, and The First Easter Rabbit. The Peanuts gang appear in It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown - where Marcie comes up with more ways to screw up making Easter eggs than any kid has a right to know. Be on the lookout for another Shelf article on Easter specials coming soon.

Spring- You gotta give props to the season itself. I actually love Fall best- but Spring is a close second. The only downer is the pollen and subsequent sinus and allergy problems that follow me everywhere. Nonetheless- where I live the Spring days are just lovely- flowers, cool breezes, trees blooming, etc. Just the season coming alive is great.

Ham sliced like cards so you can shuffle it into your mouth.Family- Well- most of my Easter memories have to do with the traditions and time spent with my family. I guess that's one reason why I love holidays so well and I don't apologize for it. Easter day was always a time for a big meal and the kids had lots of fun with Easter egg hunts, improvised Wiffle Ball games, and drawing with colored chalk on the drive way. Now that I am older I get to watch the kids now- but I do find some fun in hiding the eggs this time around. Besides one of children was born on the day before Easter one year. Easter always will have connections to and memories of family.

Needless to say, you can look forward to some Easter-flavored Shelf posts in the coming weeks. In the meantime we encourage you to participate in the comments section as much as possible when we post about these things. Let us know what your favorite Easter Candy is, or what animated special brings out the kid in you, and as always just let us know what you think. We'd like to know.

Some Shelf news for today as well:
Two new links have been added to "Shelf Links"
The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass. Rankin/Bass historian and expert Rick Goldschmidt and Mark Sykora are the authors and, in a way, curators of this great site dedicated to all things Rankin/Bass. I am a die-hard RB fanboy and I readily admit it. I actually have been a regular visitor to this site for a couple years and just recently realized we hadn't added them to our links list. We apologize to Shelfers for the error- and encourage you to visit them. Check out the News section for fairly recent updates.
Reel Classics. Elizabeth over at Reel Classics has done a great job at putting together a classic film devotee's favorite. Reel Classics has reviews, articles, news, and images. I recently spent part of an enjoyable evening reading her work on Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Very nice and classy. Worthy of your time.

Other items:
In the Balcony has some news on the titles included in the WB Film Noir Collection Vol.3, Clark Gable Signature Collection, The Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Collection Vol.1 Box Sets, as well as the John Ford/John Wayne and John Ford box sets. Also check out their reviews of the recent Busby Berkeley Collection release.

Coming soon to The Shelf:
Another episode of It Came From the Bargain Bin!, The Shelf Essential Westerns, more DVD retro reviews, a new semi-regular feature: You S'news You Lose, articles on Easter Animated specials and candy and more stuff on classic films, pop culture, politics, commentary, history, and satire and cynicism than you can shake a stick at. Stay Tuned.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Easter Rabbit: But you can't quit now. You'll give the Easter Rabbit a bad name.
Bugs Bunny: I already have a bad name for the Easter Rabbit.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

its media roundup time, charlie brown

Yes, its time for our weekly look at what's hit the shelves and what should be put on The Shelf for this week. And for the first time - not an "oldie" in the bunch! And one of them is a New Release. Hmm- the plot thickens. This episode of media roundup is very much a trip down memory lane to the shows and films of my youth .


Top Shelf Pick of the Week
A Boy Named Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Come Home.
Well, you had to know this would be the top pick for the week. Yes, true believers some of the feature-length Charlie Brown films are starting to come to DVD. And they really couldn't have started off with a better two films. A Boy Named Charlie Brown is the film that we all know and love from our childhood. Charlie Brown wins the spelling bee at school, which propels him through competitions to a final showdown in the national spelling bee. Will he win? I think you remember. This one was funny, it had a great musical score (an Oscar-nominated one by Vince Guaraldi), and great Peanuts moments taken from a similar storyline in the strips. Charles Schulz wrote the film directed by long time collaborator and animator, Bill Melendez and produced by Lee Mendelson. Charles Schulz partnered with Mendelson and Melendez for all his Peanuts features and specials ensuring a long run of quality and very special Peanuts animation.
Snoopy, Come Home is the film that made the ladies cry. A quite sentimental tale in which Charlie Brown discovers that Snoopy has had a previous owner- and that Snoopy has run away to go see her, because she is very ill. When she recovers she asks Snoopy to stay with her - Snoopy faces a difficult choice. Both films are highly recommended and worthwhile family entertainment. Hopefully this means that the other films like Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown and Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown will make it to DVD as well.

Quantum Leap The Complete Fourth Season-
Top Shelf Pick of the Week - runner up
I gotta tell ya- I'm pretty picky when it comes to picking up TV season sets. For one thing - not every episode in a TV series is watchable, or more importantly - rewatchable. So a series has to have something going for it that makes me want to watch episodes again (and again) and bring me back for more. Quantum Leap was such a television series. Very different and and entertaining, QL was able to stradle sci-fi, comedy, drama, history, mystery, romance, and adventure without really loosing the things that made it work. It didn't hurt that the two leads were fantastic actors who made you care about the characters. Scott Backula and Dean Stockwell were great as leaping Sam and his holographic 21st century guide, Al. The Fourth season in particular had some classic QL episodes as well, including the first of the season in which Sam and Al switch places.

King Kong -
Wow, if any week deserved multiple Top Shelf picks, it would be this one. Peter Jackson's King Kong hits DVD this week- and if you've previously purchased any of Peter Jackson's DVD's before, you know that he knows what he's doing when it comes to the extras. The two-disc Special Edition and one disc widescreen and fullscreen editions hit the shelves today. This movie was visually stunning, and Peter Jackson spun a good yarn. All in all, a great remake that really stands a tribute to the original. Yes, it is a bit long, clocking in at a little over 3 hours, but Jackson uses them well. Also, if you haven't picked up the 1933 original- how about do so this week. A single disc edition is being released to coincide with the Peter Jackson DVD release. But do yourself a favor - get the 2 disc special edition. The features are a wow, and some places are selling at special sale price to cash in on all the aped up hype.

Planet of the Apes- the Ultimate DVD Collection.
I am not a huge fan of the Planet of the Apes series. I really liked the first and second one was OK, but I found that the premise and the storyline wore thin as the series went on. Nonetheless, if you are a fan - and there are many out there- this collection looks pretty sweet. The "ape-head" packaging is pretty cool and when they mean "Ultimate"- I believe 'em. Included in the package are not only all of the 5 original feature films, but also included are the 2001 remake (sorry- you can probably use it as stand for the "ape-head"), the TV live actions series, the TV animated series, a host of features, and the excellent AMC documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes, hosted by Roddy McDowell, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the original and a look at the entire franchise. In fact, "Franchise Collection" might have even been a more appropriate moniker for this box set. Although I am not a huge fan of the series, I hope this collection does very well. I know it is a beloved series for many fans. Hopefully success of this box set will encourage studios to do similar franchise box sets of films that had great runs and also appeared in TV, etc. That being said, I wouldn't mind some single releases of this set- I really liked the first one and the AMC documentary.

Not the 9 o'Clock News-
If you watched HBO in the mid-80s you've got to remember Not Necessarily the News. C'mon! You've at least got to remember Rich Hall and Sniglets. Yeah, I thought so. Well This DVD is the best of the British original. I saw some of this series in the late 80s on PBS and "discovered" Rowan Atkinson. I soon watched as many of his series as I could. I loved Mr. Bean ( don't know why- I just "get" it) and the more recent The Thin Blue Line series- but I especially love Black Adder. After Monty Python, Black Adder has to be my most favorite British comedy series. Even before the great Fawlty Towers , Benny Hill and the work of Hugh Laurie and Stephan Fry. I mean how can you not love Baldrick? So- if you don't "get" it- check out Not the Nine o'Clock News. Then you might be on to something.

Other excellent films and DVD sets hitting this week:
Louis Malle's classic Au Reviour, Les Enfants.
The richly animated and woven Airbender, The Last Avatar, Book 1 Water, Vol.2 And for more of a trip down memory lane try the Danger Mouse Seasons 5 & 6, and The Super Mario Brothers Super Show DVD sets.

Television: (Check Local listings for times)

Tonight is the CBS action block. You know the drill. Don't miss The Amazing Race. The Mighty Phil K. has them headed to Italy. Arguing, breakdowns, and difficult challenges lie ahead. And this week on South Park: Stan convinces everyone to buy Hybrid vehicles, but it isn't too long until everyone discovers a huge stormy mass headed for South Park in "Smug Alert!" Sounds promising. I wonder if we will see a reappearance of Darth Chef? (Chef Vader has better ring to it I think).

Shelf picks on TCM:

March 28th: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance their way through an entagled web of a trumped up marriage, all for the sake of publicity in Shall We Dance (1937).

March 29th: It's Tough Guy day at TCM. Great features on the block for today are The Charge Of The Light Brigade (1936), Gunga Din (1939) , White Heat (1949) , The Roaring Twenties (1939), Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) , The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) , Double Indemnity (1944) , and Whispering Smith (1948).

March 30th: Great adventure abounds with Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr in King Solomon's Mines (1950). Archaeologist get more than they bargained for when they uncover a lost tomb in Valley Of The Kings (1954).

March 31st: Americana at it's Hollywood best. Comedy is on the menu for Doris Day and David Niven in Please Don't Eat The Daisies (1960). Cary Grant and Myrna Loy tackle the American Dream with hilarious results in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948). The mid-west gets a musical sendup in Oklahoma! (1955). And don't forget Baseball! Gary Cooper is the great Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig in The Pride Of The Yankees (1942).

It's April Fools at TCM on April 1st: The Marx Brothers bring their own particular brand of destruction in Duck Soup (1933). W.C. Fields stumbles his way through guarding a bank in The Bank Dick (1940). Lou Costello is a Revolutionary war ghost haunting Bud Abbott in The Time of Their Lives (1946). Bob Hope and Bing Crosby sing, dance, and smirk their way through Alaska in The Road to Utopia. And let us not forget Jerry and Dean in The Caddy (1953).

That's it for this week Shelfers. Enjoy the last of March. And don't forget: It's good to be the King.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

You know what I need? I need more 'hello's'.

Monday, March 27, 2006

saving ourselves

Freedom to choose means freedom to live.
Maybe you would like to believe there is no such thing as evil in the world- or that we can't decide or operate some decisions based on good and evil. Moral relativism is a destructive thing. Maybe if right and wrong didn't exist - we would never have to worry about being wrong. Weren't those the easiest questions in school- "Go ahead and give an opinion class, there is no right or wrong answer." Maybe that is true sometimes. But what is also true is that many times in life there are right and wrong answers. And there is good and evil in the world. No matter how many people, like Madame Albright, would like you to believe otherwise. We have too much recorded human history to know otherwise. Not having right and wrong, or good and evil, in this world makes life rosier for those who think like albright- because it means there is no wrong for them. While you may think that life is more complicated without right or wrong- think again. It is easier. Knowing right from wrong, and what is good and evil, forces us to make a choice- to take a stand. It means that we have to commit to something- a way to live your life. It doesn't mean that once you choose to do something wrong, you can't change. You can - you can change your life. But it does mean that in life you will have to gird up your cherries and face difficulties, unpopular positions, or face scary people.
We face one such time in the world now... a time when there are evil people doing wrong against others, a time when the freedom to choose for oneself is in danger, a time when hard choices and sacrifices need to be made, a time when the good fight needs to be finished and saw through the end. This is even a time when those who make the hard choices are vilified for making them. Your grandparents and great-grandparents know something about these times. Just ask them what life was like back in 1942.

The state of the world is perhaps no better or worse than it was 64 years ago. Or is it? In 1942 we had recently entered a war that was brought to us. We fought those aggressors, but then Yes Virginia, I mean Madeline - there is evil in the world.fought in another front against a country that had not declared war on us. We did it to defeat and remove a dictator. An odious regime whose extent of evil we only truly understood as the years went on. We had limited intelligence, but we had some grasp on what was happening- we also knew that we would have to sacrifice many lives and fortunes to make our own future and the future of our allies secure. To do so we forged alliances with questionable allies, some our own citizens did not completely trust. The President and the military sent our young men (and women) overseas to take the fight to the enemy to fight a war, that became whether anyone thought so at the time or not, a war to preserve and promote democracy.

Not that the things at home were any easier. Just a mere decade and half before, we had been enjoying a season of abandon and abundance- then financial ruin. We were just emerging and making our way out of that ruin when war came. And because of that war, we had to sacrifice personally and as a nation to ensure some success. Of course there were some celebrities and public figures who used their fame and speaking opportunities to say we shouldn't be at war- some nationally beloved figures even met with the enemy in prewar years and even in the midst of war argued for our country to leave the battle to others. Some even declared that our administration, our British allies, and our ally Israel were to blame for the current war- not the enemy. While many American families had sent relatives, friends, and family to fight - it was hard not to be discouraged by losses, the dead, and the little progress made.

What has changed in 64 years? We and our allies defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan- who are today some of our strongest allies, despite some recent rumblings in Germany. We were able to win the war after 4 years- but it took years after that to win the peace. Reform, rebuilding, and
refinancing these countries during the years in which we were an occupying force was difficult and took the patience, time, and hope of many who could not see 50 -60 years into the future to know how they would be today. It took an ounce of hope, a measure of courage, and an abundance of faith. Despite the rumblings and There are such things as heroes.critics at home, these things were accomplished, but it took a generation of people who had grown up through a depression and amid devastation to work, and hope, and to have that faith and courage. No matter what the papers said. No matter what the famous said. They presevered. They eventually came home and further built our own country. Many innovations happened in the post war years- brought about by research, work, and ambition from these former soldiers, scientists, civilians, and men and women who lived and fought through the war.
Next time you turn onto the Highway and drive your automatic transmission car home, stop off at McDonald's to get a bite to eat, get home and maybe pop those fries into the microwave to warm them up - and then turn on the TV to eat and watch - you might think about that generation of people who had something to do with the development of all those things and many others we enjoy each day. Even the ipods, computers, and other 21st century development built upon the research and products of others. I'm not suggesting that the war was worth it to get a microwave- I'm saying the war preserved our freedom and democracy - and allowed for life and innovation to grow around the world. In the drive to fight the war- new technology was developed and fortunately it was put to good use after the war in the areas of medicine, health and hygiene, the development of computers and transportation, etc.

The next time you read something about blunders in the middle east, or an unnecessary war, or lack of equipment, or misguided war, or defeats, or leaving Iraq and leaving the fighting to them, or critiques of our Administration, the British and Israel, or war mongering, etc.- and any number of diatribes, pathetic ideologues, second guessing, and thinly veiled attempts to placate the enemy... remember 2 things.
1. Be grateful that you live in a country that cherishes freedom - including the freedom of speech so that all can voice their views without fear of imprisonment, reprisal, or death.
and 2. Be aware that many others in other countries now, like Iran and North Korea and Syria - do not enjoy those same freedoms. Remember that other countries like Nazi Germany, imperialist Japan, Mussolini Italy, and others - once did not enjoy those freedoms. Today a free Germany, a free Japan, a free Italy do We can't be afraid of ideas and of freedom. We have to preserve them.enjoy those freedoms. Now a free Iraq is trying its darnedest to do the same. Maybe others in the middle east will follow.
(Also see this for a little perspective on the casualties. Thanks to Maggie's Farm for the link.)

While those who want us out employ everything from fear mongering, racism, and hate to turn us away- let us be mindful that we will make mistakes, things will be difficult, and it won't happen overnight. Lets give the effort for freedom and democracy the same ounce of hope, measure of courage, and abundance of faith that our grandparents and great-grandparents gave. Then maybe - we will see freedom grow and people allowed to live and worship and speak and read and work and vote as their conscience allows. Free Agency- to be able to choose and act for oneself- is precious and an inherent human right. We said so and believed it 230 years ago in our Declaration of Independence. It's high time we acted like it today. Maybe there is no such thing as a "good war". War has produced suffering for all sides throughout history- but that does not mean that war is therefore unnecessary. War is a difficult choice- sometimes not even of our choosing- one brought to us at times. Sometimes war is a necessary sacrifice to preserve something or to provide that something to others. Freedom is a precious commodity - one worth fighting for. The honor and the goodness of a war comes in the result - not so much in the fighting. It comes in what we do with it. Do we live in such a way to truly earn it? Can we give others the same opportunity to earn it? Where will we stand? This is a time when we have to make a stand. We will choose to see it through? Is it worth seeing through? Can we sacrifice and make the hard choices anymore? Or by banishing the concept of right and wrong or good and evil as ancient whims do we make life easier by not having to choose? At that point are we any better than the person who stands by, phone in hand, watching someone become the victim of a horrible crime- and do nothing. Not getting involved doesn't make it stop. Ignoring what we have to do doesn't make the crime less horrendous. Choosing to do nothing doesn't absolve us of any responsibility. When we choose to do nothing - when we can do something- we are still making a choice. A wrong one.

For good measure see what VDH has to say about the matter.
Enjoy your freedom this week Shelfers- it's OK to disagree, and argue, and have differences of opinion. Just remember it should be OK for others. Intolerance and indifference in this regard leads to the same at home.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

James, earn this... earn it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

make a wish

Shelfers, I hope you will forgive a personal note today!
I just want to wish a fond "Happy Birthday" to Mrs. J.C. Loophole. She is the love of my life and has brought me a lifetime of love. She is (fill in the blank yourself- I'm not stupid) years young today- and I have only grown to love her more every year. How she tolerates me is another matter entirely - and perhaps none of your business. I have found that the reason I am the man I am today is because of the women that she is, and the inspiration and dedication that she gives to me. Behind every good man is a women who knows what she is doing.
For her I give my heart and this rose.

(Ladies- relax- this is just a romantic gesture for her day. The real presents will come later)

Also today is the real Baravelli's birthday as well. A grand Happy Birthday to him.
Why not take a moment today and watch the "stateroom " scene from A Night at the Opera (clip courtesy of Youtube) as a birthday tribute! You'll be glad you did.
Shopkeep, generously frosted Birthday cupcakes all around.

Thank you for your indulgence, Shelfers. We now return you to your regularly scheduled cynicism and satire - already in progress.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

hello, children

Hey Chef! What's on the menu for today?
Well children, it's a big helping of Media roundup.

Television (check local listings for times)
Top Shelf Pick of the Week-
On Comedy Central Wednesday night: The Season premeire of South Park. This season 10 opener promises to tackle the whole Chef/Issac Hayes/Scientology controversy. Top Shelf Pick of the Week. Must viewing! If you need a little taste- has a trailer for the first ep on their site.
Tonight of course is NCIS/The Unit/The Amazing Race night. Looks like those TARers are headed to Germany and the autobahn tonight. Last weeks episode in Moscow was classic TAR Russia. Language and weather problems, great roadblocks and challenges, and surprise! the race didn't have a pitstop- just the Mighty Phil K. on what all thought was the-end-of-the leg-mat and their next clue. Good Stuff. (Image is from The Amazing Race website at

Shelf picks on TCM this week:
March 21st: San Francisco (1936) with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Jeanette MacDonald in pre-earthquake Frisco. Then TCM gets decidedly grand with a triple feature from William Powell and Myrna Loy: Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941), I Love You Again (1940), and Love Crazy (1941)- all topped off with an extra dose of Powell in The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936). Will the last three be part of the Powell-Loy box set due later this year?
March 22nd: The Out-of-Towners (1969) features Jack Lemmon as a man in town for interview and winds up with the worst night of his life. Camille (1936) is a Garbo romance classic.
March 23rd: Two Japanese films which influenced American Westerns. Seven Samurai (1954) is the influencial movie to several film makers and spawned some American Classics including The Magnificent Seven. Also Yojimbo (1961) which influence Sergio Leone in the Clint Eastwood western, A Fistfull of Dollars
March 24th: Detective comedies Murder by Death (1976) and The Cheap Detective (1978) are the docket for this night, and later you can catch Jack Benny in the movie which became the butt of a thousand jokes on his own radio show: The Horn Blows At Midnight (1945).
March 25th: Make room for the Film Nior classic D.O.A. (1950) and an early Hitchcock, The 39 Steps (1935). Later on see if you can fit in Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
March 26th: See another side of Bogart in Sabrina (1954).
March 27th: The Bogie we all know and love is falsely accused of his wife's murder in Dark Passage (1947).

For the classic film fan, several releases:
The Ten Commandments (50th Anniversary Collection). You may have purchased the Collector's edition about a year and a half ago; if so, you might want to pass on picking this new 3-disc 50th Anniversary set. All of the previous features are present and the print and transfer are the same, so you'll probably be happy with what you have - with no real reason for the upgrade. The only thing new is the inclusion of Cecil B. Demille's previous 1923 Ten Commandments silent epic. If you don't have The Ten Commandments in your DVD library yet- well what are you doing reading this? Go get it. One question: Where is DeMille's 1949 classic Samson and Delilah 50th Anniversary DVD? We've been due for about 7 years now.

The Busby Berkeley Collection features the film work of groundbreaking choreographer Busby Berkeley, whose fantastic and glamourous numbers became a stereotype of the early Hollywood musical and made Berkeley an icon. The Collection features the films Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1933, Dames, Gold Diggers of 1935, and the famous 42nd Street.

Stalag 17 Special Collector's Edition. Billy Wilder's black WW II comedy set in German POW camp provided much of the setting for television's Hogan's Heroes, but the tone is certainly darker. A solid performance by William Holden as the cynical loner Sgt.Sefton, while having his hand in most contraband material schemes in the camp, still isn't quite what he seems. Look for a performance by a young Peter Graves of Mission Impossible and Biography fame. And yes, Stalag 17 has it's very own Sgt. Schulz.

Also out today:
Bewitched - The Complete Third Season
South Park - The Complete Seventh Season (featuring some of the Shelf's favorite episodes like Krazy Kripples, Raisins, Lil Crime Stoppers, and the great Casa Bonita.)
Chicken Little (somewhat panned by critics- I thought it was not as bad as they claimed. Definitely worth a rental.)

Several releases this month have caught our eye at The Shelf. If only they had a Netflix for books. Oh! They do - it's called a library! And get this- it's free!
The Scratch of a Pen : 1763 and the Transformation of America by Colin Calloway.
Calloway is a History professor at Dartmouth and the author of last year's excellent One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West Before Lewis and Clark. This time Calloway takes a look at the cultural and geographic transformation in North America that followed the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, which ended the French and Indian War. You may vaugely remember from history class that the although the seeds of the American Revolution in many ways go back further, the French and Indian War and its consequences and results had much to do with the events of 1775 and 1776. Calloway examines the cultural and geographical changes in America as whole tribes and groups of people move across boundaries decided by, as the title suggests, the scratch of a pen. Highly recommended, this book is part of Oxford University Press' fantastic Pivotal Moments in American History Series. One of last year's entry in the series was David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing is an essential read. The Scratch of a Pen may end up right next to it on the Shelf.

The Merchant of Power : Sam Insull, Thomas Edison, and the Creation of the Modern Metropolis by John Wasik.
Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism by Eric Burns
Sometimes my own professional and personal biases get in the way when I see a journalist publishing a work of history or biography. However, I do try to accord a benefit of the doubt attitude. Sometimes I am well rewarded. Sometimes, I am not. I tend to see some "journalists" who try to make history either fit into a meticulous philosophical and political construct, or they give no thought to history and its contexts, content merely to apply modern ideas and notions to the people of the past. Having provided this disclaimer, if you will, I do intend to read these two books, both written by individuals who work in the media. In the case of John Wasik and The Merchant of Power, he couldn't be on more familiar ground as a "consumer correspondant" and author of works on personal finance. Wasik's subject is the little known Sam Insull, a man who became a personal secretary to Thomas Edison and eventually built up a corporate empire worth $150 million, only to loose it all during the great depression. In Infamous Scribblers, journalist and Fox News Anchor Eric Burns tackles what should be a familiar topic for him: American journalism and politics. Don't hold that against Burns- neither should you assume anything just because his previous juant into history was a social history of alcohol. (sorry- just poking fun- any connection, living or dead, between journalism and alcohol is purely unintentional and the result of your own conclusions. ) Anyway- Burns examines the tempetous and fledgling relationship between the press and the newly formed government of the USA. Bought and paid-for journalists? You got it here. Wealthy individuals, even politicians, supporting and financing newspapers and journalists for their own agenda? Yup- it's right there. Fact is, many complaints that we make about the media today (The Shelf included), however warrented have been around for awhile. The press did not emerge, wholey formed and pristine, out of Zeus's head, much like Athena. More so - it emerged in many ways as it has before - in reaction to the events, people, and wealth of the day. And like anything or anyone else, it can and has succumed to those self-same weatlh, people, and events. The subject itself warrents a read... as well as further study.

The Accidental President of Brazil: A Memoir by Fernando Henrique Cardoso
I lived in Brazil (opa brasileiros- tudo bem?) in the early 90's when President Fernando Collor de Mello was in office. Collor was impreached on charges of corruption by the Brazilian Congress and his vice president, Itamar Franco. The largely ineffective Franco did little of lasting import, other than naming Cardoso as finance minister in 1993. Cardoso had the thankless job of trying to turn Brazil's inflation-ridden economy around. Cardoso implemented a strategy and finance plan dubbed Plano Real, or the Real Plan, after the new currency, the Real. Success of this plan and the stabilization of the Brazilian ecomony led to Cardoso's election to two terms of the Brazilian Presidency. This memoir not only tackles that subject - but also his many years of political and academic life, which in turn chronicals the story of Brazil in the 20th (and into the 21st) century.

Well children, that's all. Don't go get into any more trouble or I might have to sing you a song!

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

I've learned something too: selling out is sweet because when you sell out, you get to make a lot of money, and when you have money, you don't have to hang out with a bunch of poor asses like you guys. Screw you guys, I'm going home.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

assorted shtuff...

Using state of the art technology we bring you today's features!
From around the world wide web- our crack team of observers and reporters bring to you various things sorted and sundry for your entertainment, knowledge, and that "can do spirit." Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Internet, the Shelf Brings you:


Say, isn't that George Clooney over there looking all dapper and eating an ice custard with his Oscar in tow? Why it is! Hey George, looks like that Oscar needs another coat of polish! Ha, ha! We look forward to your next journalistic comedy, in the meantime, how about a lick?

From George Clooney in regards to his Arianna Huffington Blog post: "I didn't write it." Apparently though, he also said: "I stand by my statements but I did not write this blog."
Arianna asked permission to publish some of his statements and response to questions during interviews on television. Permission was granted by someone in Clooney's camp.., er... maybe. Ha, ha George! Don't worry, Mrs. Garrett and the girls still love you!And then Arianna thought that he said, but he didn't - he thought that she... well, you get the picture. It's middle school hubris. Most intriguing was this statement from Clooney's publicist:
"She knows what she was doing. She was saying to people that she had George Clooney's blog and was printing it. George Clooney does not make statements. He answers questions."

Really? Then what do you call that acceptance speech at the Oscars, George? Who exactly asked you a question? If you stand by your statements- (note to publicist- George called them statements, what's your problem? Damage control to difficult for you? You're probably used to backtracking about stuff like who he's dating, schtuping, etc. When politics get involved it's a different world isn't it? Don't worry - there might be some help for you at this site.)- If you stand by your statements - then what's the problem with seeing them in print?
Now he also says, "When I go to the Oscars, I write everything I say...I stand by what I do, but I'm very cautious not to take giant steps onto soapboxes because I think they're polarizing."
Ok, yeah.
Whatever, George. Whatever you say. A little by the by to you George- it's on tape. Both you and your soapbox.

Here we are visiting the little one-room schoolhouse. What are Dick and Jane learning today? Looks like recycling, geopolitics, envriomental science and race studies are on the teacher's lesson plan for today! That'll teach Johnny to read! And if it won't it'll sure help him to fight the red menace! Thataway Johnny!

Can Johnny read? We don't know - as long as he recycles and bicycles- who cares?If you remember our several forays into commentary about education- here is a link (courtesy of from Maggie's Farm that we found that has an actual test from Kansas in 1895 that was requisite for passing the 8th grade. Think you could've passed the 8th grade in 1895? Think again. What government agencies and teacher's unions and regulations and money and leftist and cultural elitist politics have done to the state of education in the country is criminal. Also a teacher offers his thoughts on the sense of entitlement that has pervade our education system.

Time to check on our boys in the front lines! Yessir, where would we be without all the hardworking men and women in Congress and on the school boards and city councils passing resolutions and censures? Why- no where, of course! Peace marches and sit-ins are all the zany rage around these parts and our boys overseas are grateful for all the comedic entertainment! Although they've told us they'd much rather see Bob Hope and a bevy of beauties! Oh well, at least they haven't taken away their soda pop! We hope!

Maggie's Farm is an interesting website and deserves some perusal. Here is another piece that Darn those pesky guys building schools and hospitals and stuff! They just water down our groovy peace marches!they have concerning the Iraq war that has some reason and thought and a link or two to other articles. Also one of the more thoughtful responses I've read to the left and their penchant for shouting empty slogans and empty idea. Courtesy of someone who refers to himself as Dr. Bob. Also interesting is a link to this piece that has some answers to those who believe we are running out of oil.

Is there a Civil War brewing over there? Don't think so- check out HNN (as much as it pains me to link there- trust me this won't happen often) for an opinion piece.
Speaking of some professors- it seems that the what's right for me isn't right for you attitude of some (some) academics is truly becoming more well known outside of the academic ivory tower as well as within. Bruce Thorton over at VDH's website has a great article on the subject. Double Standards are SOP.
Now onto our technology corner! Don't worry Mrs. Homemaker- America's scientists are hard at work on helping you know what's healthy and what isn't so you can properly feed your hard working insurance selling husband and those two impish kids! What's that - canned tuna and powdered milk? Hope there's room in the bomb shelter! Think any of those mapcap crazy kids at PETA have anything to do with this? Who knows? Maybe we'll ask them when the big one comes! Canned tofu can't last long!

This was an interesting piece on Food scares by Charles Stuart Platkin. This is part one mind you. Very informative. It made me think of all the books on early modern Europe that I read in grad school and how often I thought that the science and medicine of the day took on mythological ideas and presumptions. Have we shaken the human flaw of blowing some things out of proportion? Not as long as the newsmedia can make a buck off of scaring everyone.
Thank you for joining us for this brief trip around the internet, and don't forget to buy those bonds! Now onto our Cowboy Cliffhanger Short!

Lastly for your reading enjoyment- A series on Westerns from Images Journal. Well worth your time for the new fan of the genre as well as the old hand.

And now for our Cartoon!
Patrick McDonnell's Mutts is one of my favorite strips- it seems to embody the minimalist spirit of Charles Schulz while doing it's own thing. If you haven't read - check it out. Matt Groening says about it:"Mutts cheers me up everyday. It's not only sweet, simple, and funny--a rare combination--it's also the best drawn comic strip around." Yeah- Bart Simpson's creator loves Mutts. By the way, I spelled "shtuff" correctly- if you read Mutts you would know that.

And that's it Mr. and Mrs. Internet for WEB ON THE MARCH!

By the way we failed to give you our Top Shelf Pick of the Week on Tuesday's media roundup- therefore we will name one today: Maggie's Farm- full of thought, links, information, and a dose of eclectic humor and quotes. The articles and links on education alone are worth the trip. They are now are a part of the Shelf Community. Perhaps a dubious honor- but an honor nonetheless.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Life is difficult, isn't it, Charlie Brown?
Yes, it is. But I've developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

in the mood

Glenn Miller- modern master

Have you ever had the great fortune of finding something great for next to nothing? You think to yourself- “They made a mistake. This can’t be right.” And then you run to register before they figure it out. That’s the great fun in bargain bin diving. You know what I’m talking about- those bins or displays near the DVD section in the store of your choice. All the movies are under $10 - most of them are $5 and under.

The secret to bargain bin diving is clearly knowing what your looking at. When you pull up a DVD out of the bin- ask yourself – is it worth $5? Is it a steal, or is it not really worth a $1. The bargain bin is rife with material better left on the cutting room floor. Sometimes there are even foreign language films, educational films, public domain films- all really in bad shape. But every once in a while you find a gem that makes all the panning through fool’s gold worth it.
You want to be careful of where the bin is also. For example, some movie rental places may have certain films that the local Wal-Mart won’t. The quality of the “previously rented” is also a crap shoot. I tend to stick with other stores. Sometimes a Mom and Pop may have titles that you’ve never or even want to hear of. And please stay away from questionable establishments, like gas Just drop it...slowly...and back away from the bin.stations – you might think you are getting a get copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory- but look closely. That man in the hat on the cover probably isn’t Johnny Depp and those Oompa Loompas might be dressed in leather. Instead of the Hollywood hit, you just might have pulled up a copy of Charlie in My Chocolate Factory. Put it down, leave the store and go wash your hands. Twice. Other titles that you might question and stay away from:
Brokeback Mounting
The Bare Witch Project
Saving Ryan’s Privates and
Good Night and Good…
but I digress.
Here at the Shelf- we consider ourselves an average member of the public- Joe Consumer, if you will, and we figure that we can perform this vital service to fellow members of the DVD buying public. Therefore we now present a new regular feature here at the Shelf:

It Came From the Bargain Bin!
Hey- Don't leave! You forgot your movie!

In ICFBB we’ll take a look at some DVD’s that we’ve dug up (HAW!) out of the bargain bin and evaluate them in several areas:
Price: $1, $5- under $10? Was it really a bargain, or just another DVD slumming’?
Difficulty: Did it take a while to find, or was it right on top? Or was it hit or miss- kinda fifty fifty depending on how the store has them displayed.
Quality: Does it look like someone copied it from a VHS tape that their Uncle Fred taped off of the Sunday Night Movie, or is it pretty stellar DVD that is just been in rotation for a while? How does the print and sound hold up?
Features: Might be pretty skimpy, or you might be surprised. Is the packaging pretty pathetic? Don’t you hate when they put an ad for other films on the DVD and call it a feature? These questions and more are answered for you. And don’t worry- you’re really buying for the film anyway. Right? Which brings us to…
The Film: This is what you came for- was it worth your $5 bucks? Do you wish you hadn’t really bought this turkey and grabbed a pack of gum instead? Our mini-review will reveal all.
Tilt: This is the je ne sais qou quotient. The pop culture factor, the geek factor, the unknown. Maybe the film is so bad that it’s good. Like MST3K good. Maybe there is a nostalgia attached to it that makes you hang on to it when you should have let go years ago- like that stuffed animal you hide in the closet when your friends come over.
And finally-
Bargain?: Is it or isn’t it? Is it a bargain? The sum total of the evaluation will tell.
So now on with the show:

For our debut feature- The Glenn Miller Story with James Stewart and June Allyson.
Good Flick
Price: This one was found for around $5 at my local Target. Sure, I could have ordered it forThey don't make movie posters like this anymore. around the same price from Amazon or but it’s not the same. And I didn’t have to pay for shipping.

Difficulty: Hit or Miss- no bins at Target. These lower priced DVDs are mixed in with most everything else, so if you’re looking for a deal you might have to sort through a lot of regular priced DVDs. On the other hand, if you’re just browsing or know what you’re looking for it’s either a great surprise or a piece of cake.

Quality: Pretty good. Now this isn’t a print restoration or anything, but it has That's alright Mr. Potter - I got this music gig now.held up OK. The print they used has a few very minor issues, but the sound is great – which is integral to the movie. I would buy a special edition in a heartbeat.

Features: Nil. Just an ad for similar biopics. And when I mean ad, I mean a screenshot of three other DVDs. But again- we’re here for the movie. But in case anyone is listening at Universal – let Warner Brothers handle a special edition on this one. Your track record is pretty spotty. They could do it right. Some nice features on Glenn Miller and the stars, Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson.

The Film. Oh- that film, that film. I will ad a disclaimer. I love this film. I had it on VHS and Lovely Junewore out two copies. I was holding out for a S.E., but when I found this at this price I couldn’t resist. All bargain bin finds should be like this but alas, they are not.
Jimmy Stewart plays, as you could guess, Glenn Miller in this bio-pic tracing Glenn’s life from obscurity to fame and thru war and ultimately- an untimely death. Anthony Mann, one of Jimmy Stewart’s frequent collaborators, directs this great film. The delightful June Allyson co-stars as his wife, Helen. A great supporting cast including Henry Morgan and George Tobias fill out the film nicely. And one great thing about the film is the many appearances by genuine musical greats like Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, Ben Pollack, Francis Langford, and groups like the Modernaires and the Mellowmen. Some great little catches include a bit part by Mrs. C of Happy Days fame- Marion Ross. In fact if you look for the Mellowmen- you’ll discover one of their members is Thurl Ravenscroft – better known to my generation as the classic voice of many Disney characters (including animatronics characters in the parks), the singer of “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” and the voice of Tony the Tiger. Greeeeat!

Beautiful music being madeThe story of Glenn Miller is pretty well known and when this movie came out in 1953, it was a smash hit. It spawned other musical biopics like The Benny Goodman Story and others. You can find a pretty thorough synopsis here at the TCM database -so check it out. The music is sensational- Glenn Miller’s friend and cohort, Chummy MacGregor (played by Henry Morgan in the film) served as a technical advisor to the film and some of Glenn’s band participated in the making of the film. Although the movie was made in 1953, almost ten years after Glenn’s place disappeared overseas around Christmas of 1944, the music had moved on. The Glenn Miller Story sparked a revival of sorts of interest in Glenn and his music. Indeed, today, Glenn Miller’s music continues to thrive and find new fans. When I was a kid seeing this film sparked my own interest in big band, swing, and jazz. I even found a soundtrack recording of The Glenn Miller Story and listen to it still today. In short- this movie is highly recommended. It is a gentle, sentimental, and musical journey into the life of a man who was very gifted.

The tragic ending is perhaps handled with greater class than in many other films. Helen (June Allyson) has received word of her husband’s disappearance over the sea, and is listening to a Christmas broadcast of Glenn’s band. Their friends Si and Chummy and his wife are there comforting her- and telling her that Glenn’s music and in a way his legacy will live on. Glenn had traveled ahead of his band to make arrangements in Paris for the Christmas broadcast- but never made it. The band went on with the broadcast as planned as a tribute to Glenn and the first numberWow- June! was a new arrangement that Glenn had worked on as a Christmas present for his wife: Little Brown Jug. It was a song that had a special meaning for the couple – Helen listens and realizes what the song is- and gets that “funny feeling”. The funny feeling she gets on the back of her neck several times during the film- when she knows everything will be alright. Very little dialogue, but wonderful acting by June Allyson. A bittersweet, classy, and memorable ending to a wonderful film.

Tilt: I am sentimental about this movie – no doubt about it - it figures heavily into my discovery of music and classic films at an early age.

Bargain- Uh- yeah. A no brainer. I checked out some online vendors and found out it’s actually more expensive online- $12-15. What a find. If you can find it for the same price then walk, nay- run to the register and go home and enjoy. And hope for a special edition in the future.

Well Shelfers, that’s it for this edition of It Came From the Bargain Bin! Hope our sacrifice and public service in our ongoing quest to dig into the dark realm of the bargain bin was worthwhile.
Please share with us some of your bargain bin discoveries or your thoughts and opinions about The Glenn Miller Story in the comments section. Til next time- adieu.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Don't you see what Si is getting at Helen? If the band goes on now, even if Glenn's not with it- that's the proof. It means that Glenn's Band, Glenn's music keeps right on going.


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