Category Archives: television

TV Shows to binge-watch 

On Acorn

Antipodian: New Zealand:

800 Words“,  Suddenly a widower, an Australian writer moves with his kids to the NZ village he spent summers in as a kid. Complications ensue. Great stories, charming characters, excellent writing and acting, several seasons.

Brokenwood Mysteries“,  Brokenwood, a medium size town in NZ, gets a new senior detective, colorful but as it happens, good at his job. Slightly flaky-seeming local Maori guy turns out to know everyone and something about everything. He’s like a benificent Trickster god. Detective Sims, 2nd most senior, is the only actual adult in the plain-clthes part of the station.

Antipodian: Australian:

Rain Shadow“, – a former grain-growing area of South Australia now in drought. Perminently? Story follows a young vet from the big city

Crownies“, – Crown Prosecuturs: Ensemble, very long-form stories, each lawyer has multiple cases moving at different points in the system. 
Janet King”  (sequel to Crownies), Crownies refashioned to center on one lawyer in particular, and with a brilliant freienemy mixed in
Jack Irish“. A winning, low-rent PI, only takes cases he wants…
Mr. and Mrs. Murder” – mostly comedy, two crime-scene cleaners show up after the cops are done, but often discover what really happened. The couple are charming and their neice keeps it in the family. The slightly hapless cop they are consistantly bailing out is at least grateful for the help

My Life Is Murder” – A retired ace detective neglects her baking to come back to the force, from time to time, solving crimes her old boss can’t get cleared by anyone else. Stars Lucy Lawless, formerly Xena, Warrior Princess.


Striking Out” lawyer drama, wonderful cast and writing- Brief adult situations. 2 seasons!
Finding Joy“, – a lot of the same cast as Striking Out.. Newspaper copy editor suddenly assigned to local-color TV reporter’s beat. Bungie Jumps, New Age retreats. Serious fish out of water.
The miniseries of Tara French’s In The Woods and The Image. Really, really, dark, but gripping.
Jack Taylor” about a former Guardi working as a private investigator. Noir-ish.


No Offense” – perfect cop comedy drama, funny as hell. But bad bad guys are in earnest, dark stuff happens. Story arcs are season-long but each episode has a point and arc of its own. Inspector Deering leads her squad with if-it-isn’t-true-it-ought-to-be-true verve. Mostly.
Ackley Bridge” – luminous comedy / drama about public school for a mixed stone poor Anglo and stone poor Pakistani imigrant/2nd generation community. Colorful cast of teachers and administrators. Superb writing and acting. We didn’t expect a 3rd season, but there is! and we’re enjoying it. Drop dead funny, and heart-breaking when it gets dramatic. An amazing amount of characters and their lives are stuffed into each episode.
Loch Ness“, the protagonist detective is leading her first murder investigation, on the shore and environs of the famous Loch. Her husband does “Nessie” tours for tourists, and gets a bit of education too.
Agatha Raisin” – former fashonista / publicity person moves to the Cotswalds and starts solving murders. The senior local cop is utterly incompitent, but she can work with the junior, and local worthies. Some of the outfits Agatha gets to wear may perimently damage older TVs…
Murder (Investigation) Squad“,  – London- based squad similar to Vera Stanhope’s Northumberland and City bunch- different people with different skills, one old-school white guy in a coat and tie, Inspector is a short, intense woman, her bagwoman is a taller, quieter Mc(something), not quite as driven. This is a DENSE show- You get more in one hour than some 2 hour or multi-part shows.”Line of Duty“. Anti-corruption/internal affairs procedural, in Northern Ireland. Complex plots.”The Good Karma Hospital” British doctor returns (?) to India, running a clinic with volunteer locals, ex-pats and returning migrants. Engaging stories move around the location of the hospital. 



19-2” as good as TV gets, but dark. A country cop with back-story moves to Montreal, teams with a city cop who’s former partner was disabled in a horrific shooting. Each has to prove himself to the other, while meeting their own high personal standards. And avoiding the machinations of the creepy captain. Crimes tend to be smaller and involve less gunfire than US cop shows- sometimes they get called for a fight in a bar, and assualts, property crimes, public safety and the usual sorta-organized illegal stuff you expect in a big city. One story starts with a homeless guy who’s outdoors, that the city cop knows. on a clear night that’s going to freeze. He should be indoors… and there-in lies the tale.

We loved the first episode, and thought, “lets have another, even if they can’t all be *that* good”. But they *are* that good. Each better than the one before. Stories build and interconnect. The characters, and the rest of their station (19th precinct, they have car #2) have stuff going on, and histories. Substance abuse, domestic violence, everyone’s stupid problems and the cops own relationship issues offer a range of situations that don’t go as hoped, or planned. There are losses, and hurts that don’t heal quickly.  Yet, after 4 seasons, and the cruel and senseless challenges that most survive, there’s the matter of an out of season deer carcas that the country cop’s brother arrives with one night. Its cleaned and hanging in the back of the tractor-trailer the brother drives for a living.  The short term solution involves packages wrapped in pink butcher’s paper, but one of the cops at the station has a venison pie recipe… and there’s the happy ending!


Rebecka Martinsson” A detective from the forest and lakes part of the country is about to marry a guy from the big city, then things get complex and she has to stay where she grew up and get it all sorted out. Beautiful locations, a smaller town with more rural and less agricultural land than Wallander.

Straight Forward” A second-generation con-artist flees Denmark when her father is killed, going to ground in New Zealand and trying to rescue her daughter…

Megahertz Network / Cable channel 17:

Beck” – Swedish detective squad led by older widower, nearing retirement. Comedic relief by his wacky neighor- guy with orange-tinted glasses who always appears with a neck brace, like he just had whiplash… usually meeting inconveniently in the hallway or out on the balconies of their flats. Beck’s squad has a hot-dog guy who’s cynical but a good shot, a female nerd, normalish plainclothes dudes and one  guy clearly descended from Vikings- wild red hair and beard, He’s the emotional one. Beck has a daughter who’s a uniformed cop. Not as bleak as “Wallander,”

Baantjer“: Dutch detective, older guy, younger team, like “Beck”, or “Wallander” come to think of it.

Inspector Manara“: Groovy Italian detective, has a Zappa poster up in his apartment  and plays solo saxaphone to soothe his soul.


Animal shows, In order of best and most soothing staff and animals.

Bronx, NY, Zoo:

Chester, UK, Zoo:

Columbus, OH, Zoo:

Want more?

Houston, TX, Vet Clinic:

San Diego, CA, Zoo:

Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Aus. :

The Georgia Aquarium, GA


Big Little Lies“, both seasons. Very dark. Spectacular cast and writing, set in Monterey! Extra intense 2nd season goes past the source book and brings in Meryl Streep!

Six Feet Under” The unexpected death of the owner/father of a family morturary in L.A. leaves his widow, their 3 kids and the partner in the business, mourning, and existentially challenged. The painfully disfunctional family have to pull together,  with the partner, to chart their own course for the business. And as idividuals, to build new lives with or without significant others. It takes 63 episodes, in 5 seasons, to figure it out, with one of the coolest end-of-the-last-episode-endings ever made.

Tremé,” set in the neighborhood of the same name in New Orleans, starting some months after Huricane Katrina. The superb cast and writing show how great TV can be made from stories of normal people trying to make a living and stay relatively honest in tragic times. Great food and music never hurt, even when the apocolypse has come and gone. Death is still in business. Love isn’t always enough. But even a character who seems to only be for themself can find some redemption, doing something for someone else.

The Wire“, further proof that good TV is character and story driven. One season follows one character into his new career as a public school teacher. No superheroics, just seemingly hopeless disfunction only occasionally redeemed by small success. Or rare grace. And yet. Andre Royo, the actor who portrays the recovering heroin adict, “Bubbles”, so intensely inhabited his role that people, in Baltamore, would see him on the street and press money on him, because he *was* that character, and that character needed the help. The good guys are good, the bad guys bad, and like any story it has to end. After far too much death and destruction. Besides its quality as art, the practical tutorial on drugs, crime, poverty, hollowed city centers and race is well worth your time.


Masterpiece detective procedurals:

Vera“, “Shetland“, “Broadchurch“,(UK version), “Foyle’s War


I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” A gentler, “Parts Unknown”: travel+food

KQED’s “Check Please Bay Area”

On PBS and also on Acorn:

BBC’s venerable: “Doctor Who” The new Doctor had her break-out role in Broadchurch (UK).
Endeavor“, – Inspector Morse prequil. Interesting stuff, but the imagined Morse is a bit of a stretch, the senior Inspector he works with is fun, as is the young officer Strange and young medical examiner.
Inspector Lewis“,
Inspector Morse
Last Tango In Halifax“.
New Tricks“, An active duty detective gets assigned to cold cases and recruits 3 retired detectives as her squad. They’re all characters, the cold cases are a wide range, and the retirees change, and then the lead detective, as the seasons run on. Watch from the beginning if you can.

Recently, at our house, on cable TV:

Last week BBC miniseries “Pride and Predjudice”: (Collin Firth)
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” – Fred Rogers’ biopic.
“Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”
“The Best of Enemies” (recent, not David Niven WWII movie)
“Pride and Predjudice”: (2005 Kira Knightley)
“A Star is Born” (most recent version)
at a theatre: “Onward”
Before that: “Parasite”
We enjoyed “The Bridge” (Texas/Mexico) and “The Tunnel”, UK/France, both of which are very, very dark, though also very good

Don’t Forget: (From our DVD collection)

“Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With TIme”
“My Neighbor Totoro”
“A Grand Day Out With Wallace and Gromit”
“Porco Rosso”
“Spirited Away”
“Howl’s Moving Castle”
“Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams”
“A Taxing Woman”
“Hidden Fortress”
“Seven Samarai”
“Le Mans” (Steve McQueen, 1970 = sequel to “Ford Vs. Ferrari”, in some ways…)
“Endless Summer” (Bruce Brown, mid 1960s)
“The Kids Are Allright” (The Who’s biopic, ending just before Keith Moon’s death)
“The Way Things Go” (31 minute Rube Goldberg machine made of industrial junk in a dis-used industrial space)


Stay safe!

*Fortunate* Motorcyclist survives driving off cliff

My comments to CNN:

Cliff-diving motorcyclist Matthew Murray, 27, passes a “25 MPH” advisory sign in the 12th second of CNN’s video clip. This is in the 2nd run through of the crash video. In the 15th second he’s going 68 MPH as he starts to lean into the turn. He’s still going more than 50 MPH as he slides off the pavement and onto the dirt. Text on the screen says something to the effect that he “was following the turn when he thinks his steering locked up”. The video shows no such thing. He was going too fast, and could not turn sharply enough to follow the turn. He started at more than 2.5 times the advised speed. He left the pavement at 2 times the advised speed. His speed “locked” his path, not his steering.

Get the an accurate map of the curve, the size and tread pattern of the motorcycle tires and a description of the motorcycle (make, model, horsepower, brakes,weight-as-crashed) and rider (weight). Give to “Mythbusters”. Have them duplicate the failure, during deceleration, then do a binary search for the steady speed at which a motorcycle on those tires, at that weight, could follow that turn. Braking uses traction, does that change maximum speed?. Find the entry speed, before braking, that would allow the bike to make the turn. Put a GoPro on the bike for comparison pictures, and a second one showing where the front tire touches the road.

Burning Korans on 9/11… None dare call it treason!

Plans to burn copies of the Koran this Saturday, in an event staged by Dr. Terry and Sylvia Jones, pastors of (the seemingly mis-named) Dove World Outreach Center, in Florida, are going forward. What part of Christianity this has any connection with is a mystery. I just read the announcement and their list of 10 “reasons” to do this on their web site. It’s at the same level of idiocy as the Middle Eastern and South Asian idiots who burn our flag and chant “Death To America”. Now we’ve got the facts. Both the Christian and Muslim faiths contain bigoted, bloody-minded trouble makers who would rather start a fight than bring any life to the teachings they claim are their inspiration. This transcends any one religion…. but there’s little comfort in it.

I don’t forget that burning the Koran is completely legal, protected, “speech”, as are maintaining idiotic views. Only incitement to immediate violence, and hate speech, are illegal. How close these bozos come to crossing either of those lines may be decided in court. But, as a general rule, burning some inanimate object that represents what you don’t like is as American as apple pie, and dates from before our nation was founded. Burning pictures, effigies, flags, books, records, CDs, periodicals, articles of clothing and government publications are time honored traditions. Long may they wave. Burning religious books is less common than burning non-religious works that are alleged to contain religious content.

Burning holy books of other people’s religions, for example, Korans, seems like a singularly poor plan. At its most fundamental, confusing the 19 9/11 suicide terrorists and their nut-job associates, enablers and guys who still live in caves, with the vast majority of Muslims, only gives aid and comfort to the nut jobs. More than anything, more than their hate and animosity toward us, bin-Laden and the rest want to be the arbitrators of what is Muslim and what is not. Their highest aspiration is to throw out the “liberals” that we know of as the Saudi royal family and put in some “old time religion”, as they define it. Particularly at Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. When someone tells the whole world that these losers are the true face of Islam, it is their dream come true. It’s what they want. And it’s what they use to recruit the pious, alienated and depressed to their cause.

To the second half of my headline, this building up of the al Qaeda viewpoint as the dominant force in Islam puts our men and women in uniform at risk much more than any of the spirited debate in this country about going to war in Iraq, . No-one can’t say how many jihadi’s were motivated by Code Pink or myself or Senator Obama arguing against the war in Iraq. (“Many in the United States oppose the war in Iraq and even in Afghanistan… would you like to become a suicide bomber?” is not a strong argument…) How stupid to you have to be to think burning Korans isn’t many, many, MANY times worse? Why is it our right wing goofballs seem to make common cause with jihadi right wing goofballs? Is the cock and bull patriotism they spout just so much hot air, and it’s really pan-national conservatism that they pledge their allegiance to ?

Does anyone else remember, in the days after 9/11/01, Patrick Buchanan and his ilk (Pat Robertson?) talking about how it was really the liberal’s fault that al Qaeda attacked us? After all, its the liberals, with their emphasis on women’s rights, multiculturalism, acceptance of gay, lesbian and trans-gender persons. and acceptance and support for religious and cultural minorities, that really made bin Laden and al Qaeda angry. If Buchanan, et al, has been able to institute a stiff, conservative, male dominated, alcohol-free, religiously schooled, GLT people back in the closet, state, with modest clothes, strong penalties for women having sex outside of marriage, civil society segregated by sex and no wild and immoral music, films, books or TV, well, obviously al Qaeda wouldn’t have attacked us,,, If we were just like the Taliban in Afghanistan!

Other reasons to not burn Korans:

Outside of the Southern and religious parts of the USA, book burning is most strongly associated with the Nazis, and to a lesser extent the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Neither exactly role models for our nation.

In the Southern and religious parts of the USA, book burning, record burning, etc, have a long history, with no notable accomplishments or benefits. Why reinforce failure?

The Dove World Outreach Center note that these are the ‘end times’ on their web site. Are public demonstrations by people who want the world to end in a conflagration which starts in the Middle East acting the best interests of our whole nation?

These tit-for-tat things never end well, whether its two siblings in the back seat on a long road trip, small nations weakening each other with ‘prestige’ wars, until an empire outside the neighborhood conquers them all, trade wars or vandalism inspired by school sports rivalry.

The essence of Christianity, we were taught as Catholics, is that Jesus Christ died for us, so that sins could be forgiven. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “Vengance is mine, sayeth the Lord” are well known parts of the Christian New Testament, along with “Turning the other cheek” and the story of “The good Samaritan”. If Jesus had been big on burning books, we’d have heard about it. Love, forgiveness and compassion are the strengths of Christianity.

There is no more good in a Christian burning Korans than in some Muslim wacko burning Bibles; Hindu wackos burning the Sikh texts; Buddhist wackos burning the Hindu Bagivad Gita; Shinto wackos burning Buddhist texts; or Protestant “Orangemen” wackos marching through predominantly Catholic neighborhoods in Belfast or Derry. Its provocation, and unhelpful.

50 books every geek should read- from

Ok, lets see: I’ve read 16 of these, gave up on another and have 2 in-progress.

I think there are a few good books missing:

1) “The C Programming Language” – Kernighan and Ritche. Not only a great book about programming, especially for beginners, it also shows how clear a programming text can be, how little needs to be said, and how to spiral around the same problems with increasingly capable and complicated programs.

2) “The C++ Programming Language” – Stroustrup. By comparison to C, a much thicker book, containing K&R’s language and a whole lot more, for practical coding and for object oriented techniques.

3) “The Codebreakers” – Herman Kahn A huge book and one that ends in the era where crypto was still a government issue, mostly. But a great history, and clear proof that no cypher system, or code book, is 100% unbreakable.

4) “Seizing the Enigma” – most complete discussion of BREAKING Enigma I’ve seen so far. There are any number of good lessons here, starting with, a small, motivated, team can accomplish what is considered impossible. Never treat the opposition with contempt. Define your requirements as well as you can, do what you can to satisfy them, pay attention to what actually happens.

The actual analytic technique to break Enigma was cooked up by two Polish intelligence officers who could see how the wind was blowing in the late 1930s. When the Germans invaded, they escaped with their method and presented it to the French. The French passed it on to the British before they collapsed. The technique wouldn’t do for rapid recovery of plain text from a well operated system but it could break in by brute force, with some time, and it could also rapidly exploit any laxness in technique by the cypher users. Whereas the Germans believed that Enigma was essentially unbreakable and never seriously looked for its weaknesses, or their own in using it.

Code and cipher trade-craft was good in the Kriegsmarine, so-so in the Wehrmacht and lousy in the Luftwaffe, oddly echoing Hitler’s complaint that he had a Christian Navy, a Reactionary Army and only one National Socialist (Nazi) armed force, the Luftwaffe. The Brits mounted a frontal assault on Luftwaffe Enigma traffic and got what they needed because of bad practices by the users. With the Wehrmacht they got enough to combine with conventional intelligence, what the Soviets gave them from “Lucy”, from the Italians sending cables to each other, etc., to get the job done. The Kriegsmarine used Enigma intelligently, so that frontal assaults hit a blank wall. Fortune gave the Brits the keys, the initial rotor position for each message, occasionally, and they knew what they were missing, so they made it their business to GET the keys, through espionage, Soviet salvage of a sunken German ship, the capture of a shipboard weather station in the North Atlantic, the US Navy’s capture of U-505. Every six months when the key changed, they had to get the new one and did, EACH TIME. And tight security at the Allied end allowed the Germans, all of them, to ignore any suspicion that their cyphers and codes were less than 100% secure. They had no “Red Team”s, or even someone looking at the pattern of Allied luck in finding lone U boats, bombing the right place at the right time, etc. Convinced of their own superiority, like the Japanese, they caught “victory disease” and when the tide turned, retained a confidence that events did NOT justify. Lucky for us.

“Snow Crash,” Neal Stephenson
“Neuromancer,” William Gibson
“I, Robot,” Isaac Asimov  <———- 1
“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams  <———– 2
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Philip K. Dick  <————– 3
“Ender’s Game,” Orson Scott Card
“The Time Machine,” H.G. Wells  <————– 4
“Microserfs,” Doug Coupland  <————— 5
“Flatland,” Edwin A. Abbott  <——- tried, couldn’t get into it. Should try again I suppose
“1984,” George Orwell  <—————- 6
“Brave New World,” Aldous Huxley  <————— 7
“iCon,” Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon
“iWoz,” Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith
“Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire,” Jim Erickson
“The Visual Display of Quantitative Information,” Edward Tufte  <——————- 8
“Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability,” Steve Krug
“The Non-Designer’s Design Book,” Robin Williams
“Tog on Interface,” Bruce Tognazzini  <—————– 9
“User Interface Design for Programmers,” Joel Spolsky
“Revolution in The Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made,” Andy Hertzfeld
“The Soul of a New Machine,” Tracy Kidder  <——————- 10
“Where Wizards Stay Up Late,” Hafner and Lyon
“Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age,” Michael A. Hiltzik
“The Cuckoo’s Egg,” Cliff Stoll  <—————- 11
“The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness,” Steven Levy
“Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time,” Dava Sobel  <– 12
“The Code Book,” Simon Singh
“Cryptonomicon,” Neal Stephenson
“Crypto,” Steven Levy
“The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master,” Andrew Hunt, David Thomas
“Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction,” Steve McConnell  <—— working on it
“Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software,” Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, John M. Vlissides  <— working on it
“Dreaming in Code,” Scott Rosenberg
“The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering,” Frederick P. Brooks  <———- 13
“Beautiful Code: Leading Programmers Explain How They Think,” Andy Oram
“Cathedral and the Bazaar,” Eric S. Raymond
“The Long Tail,” Chris Anderson
“The Future of Ideas,” Lawrence Lessig
“On Intelligence,” Jeff Hawkins
“In the Beginning was the Command Line,” Neal Stephenson
“Code: Version 2.0,” Lawrence Lessig
“The Wisdom of Crowds,” James Surowiecki
“The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology,” Ray Kurzweil
“Gödel, Escher, Bach,” Douglas Hofstadter  <——— 14
“Gut Feelings,” Gerd Gigerenzer
“A Brief History of Time,” Stephen Hawking  <————- 15
“Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age,” Paul Graham
“The Evolution of Useful Things,” Henry Petroski  <————– 16
“Getting Things Done,” David Allen
“Upgrade Your Life: The Lifehacker Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, Better,” Gina Trapani

“Gut Feelings,” Gerd Gigerenzer

The comedy that I really enjoyed in my formative years

I’m going to start this as a list and link it out to the people whose humor inspired me and soothed my teen-age years, when I wasn’t just playing music as loud as I could manage…

Bill Cosby. I loved his early records- Noah, the chicken heart that ate Philidelphia.. a funny, funny, man. I totally loved  “I Spy” too.

Cheech and Chong. All of “Big Bambu” was great but “Dave’s Not Here” remains a relevant cultural touchstone. Its the beginning of any honest talk about smoking dope, as my people say. Yes, I’ve told it, as best I remember, to my son. It sums up a reality that goes with the post-detox Robin Williams’ masterpiece deconstruction of alcohol- “The point of alcohol is to make English  your second g*&@#)(@+d language!”  Say it, brother Williams!

Bob Newhart. From the Button Down Mind album to that wacky show with Daryl and his other brother Daryl,  And to stay on theme, you can throw in his Sir Walter Raliegh phone call about drinking the hot bean juice with some of the burning leaves every morning…

The Duck’s Breath Mystery Theatre.  Ah, so much to choose from here- the Mr. Science routines on NPR, their “Gonad The Barbarian, a man on the edge of thought”, which 30+ years later STILL provides me with chuckles and some great wise-ass lines (“You speak squeek bear?” “I was raised by squeek bears, in the wilderness”). The Drag Aggies spiel. The “Household Appliances” song. The “Ronald McDonald” song… A friend of mine was in the same apartments as at least some of DBMT at one point and they were apparently kinda obnoxious neighbors- loud, coming and going at all hours, about what you’d expect. How many MS and PhD students were delighted to say, “I have a <whatever degree>, <pause> In Science!” when their diplomas were awarded? There must have been a good 10 years where that would be THE thing to say to your friends…

The Flying Karamazov Brothers… another bunch with boundless talent. Maybe Penn and Teller invented their deconstruction schtick independantly, but the FKBs need to explain how everything worked was pretty amazing, even in the 1970s. The words, the music and the juggling all worked together, with a real delight in language, physical acumen and finding a place for the 2, then 3, then 4 and sometimes 5 truely diverse individuals.  And their musical accompanists, the Kamikaze Ground Crew, added another bunch of colorful people and interesting ideas.

George Carlin. Gawd. The philosopher prince. Not JUST for the 7 words, not JUST for any particular bit, but for the strength and clear eyes he brought to the whole business. Funny was only one part of  it, and he had some serious staying power. He remains a national treasure.

Chris Rock. No, I don’t approve of a lot of what he says about women, some of his opinions are reprehensiblle, but some of his bits are deadly accurate.. He’s not really about making nice comfort zones on “racial”, cultural and economic issues.  Rock gets laughs out of material that could be written for people far more conservative than his actual audience. If the Republicans weren’t an aging, mostly white-male outfit of hypocrites, they’d be a natural audience for some of Rock’s hard truths. Cosby, Chappel and plenty of others too.  There are plenty of people who delight in pushing the buttons of the stereotypical liberal unconscious…  just as there are people who delight in pushing the buttons on the stereotypical conservative unconscious. Both are endless opportunities for humor.  The brittle hypocrisy of the Hanity/Coulter/Limbaugh noise machine can’t be better demonstrated  than by their obvious lack of humor. Narrow, mean, vindictive, controlling people are seldom much good at comedy….

Roseanne Barr. Look, before its pathology came to echo that of my own family of origin, I thought the Cosby Show was great. Finally- the real world up on the little screen. Then I realized that part of my positive reaction was to the just-like-my-family father competing with son dynamic… ick! And then I saw Roseanne… dang, she and Mr. Goodman were the best romantic couple since Morticia and Gomez Adams.   I think the Roseanne episode where the older daughter writes a poem about her mom and the school orchestra plays the worst recorded version of Pachobel’s Canon may be the greatest 30 minutes of human actors doing comedy on TV……. Again- dang, what an ACCUTE observer! And how lovely the ensemble cast’s work. The time the boy child turned out to have a box of Barbie doll heads under his bed- NEVER explained, just like in real life :^)

And I DID see the “Night Court” episode where they went to the Markie Post characters home and saw all the character’s Prince Charles and Lady Diana stuff….  Night Court was pretty funny too!

I don’t expect anyone will read this, much less reply, but It feels good to give recognition where it belongs!



Dr. G. R. Tiller, M.D. Murdered.

In memoriam, Dr. George Richard Tiller, M.D., August 8, 1941- May 31, 2009.

Rest in Peace, Dr. Tiller. If the name isn’t ringing a bell, he was a doctor, in Kansas, who would perform late term abortions. Constantly threatened, shot over a decade ago, he was assassinated as he ushered at his church, on Sunday. A victim of violence which can fairly be called terrorist. Not the first doctor assassinated by anti-abortion activists. FoxNews’s Bill BO’Rielly repeatedly rabble-roused against him in recent years. Why DOES O’Rielly hate our freedom?

If you don’t like abortions, don’t have one.

Want to stop other people from having abortions? Make accurate and complete sex education a priority, and make sure a wide variety of contraception alternatives are readily available. This is proven to work.

Love babies? Help some teenage mother take care of hers. Help her finish high school Help her get the training and experience for a real job that pays more than minimum wage. Do the same for the father. Nothing is better for a child than an educated, self-reliant parent. Two educated and self-reliant parents are even better.

Want to teach only abstenence, allow no abortions and restrict informations and access to contraception?  Sorry, you’re delusional. The data’s in. Whole, *European*, countries, Ireland and Romania, for example, tried it. It doesn’t work. Saudi Arabia has and carries out the death penalty for sex outside of marriage. That doesn’t stop it.

What to watch with the family, of various ages, during the holidays

So you’ve got 500 channels and there’s nothing on… and your child, parent, neice or aunt Rochelle or uncle Ralph need something to do on a rainy afternoon. Here’s a passel of movies, mostly kids movies, but not all, that are favorites of ours. These are good to get from the library, good for your Netflix list, good rentals, good stocking stuffers. Enjoy, and put your own picks up as coments!
I’ve broken out Miyazaki and Nick Park’s work at the top, the rest of the kids stuff is alphabetic:

Lets start with Studio Ghibli. If you don’t know these, I think you’ll like them:

My Neighbor Totoro
Porco Rosso
Spirited Away
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Howl’s Moving Castle
The Cat Returns,
Floating Castle,
Princess Mononoke
“Grave of the Fireflies”
is a post Hiroshima drama/heartbreak and
stands aside from the rest…

Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit movies- the first 3 are shorter than 90 minutes.

A Grand Day Out
The Wrong Trousers
A Close Shave
Curse Of The Weir-Rabbi

More kids movies,

alphabetic order and including some additions over the annoted list below, because I haven’t caught up!

The African Queen !
Avatar – the last air bender
Casablanca !
Chicken Run
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
Creature Comforts
Finding Nemo
Fly Away Home
Get Smart
The Great Escape
A Hard Day’s Night
Ice Age 2
Ice Age
The Incredibles
Indiana Jones, every one of them
Kit Kittredge, An American Girl
Mary Poppins
March of the Penguins
Men In Black
Monster House
Night At The Museum
Nim’s Island
The Princess Bride
The Pursuit of Happiness
Rivers and Tides – Andy Goldsworthy Workinig With Time
Spy Kids 2
Spy Kids
Spy Kids 3
Toy Story
The Way Things Go
Winged Migration


How The Grinch Stole Christmas <– Chuck Jone’s animated version.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Miracle on 34th Street
Its a Wonderful Life
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
– GE Theater stop-action animation, with the elf who wants to be a dentist.

A bit (only a bit) more grown up:

Bend It Like Beckham
Hellboy (I)
Le Mans
Pirates of the Caribbean I, II and III.
Raising Arizona.
The Triplets of Belleville

RIght on the edge:

The Lord Of The Rings trillogy- The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King
O Brother Where Art Thou
Michael Clayton
Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day
The Shawshank Redemption
Tropic Thunder

Not for kids, imho:

The Big Lebowski
The Constant Gardener
No Country for Old Men
Saving Private Ryan

Annotated/capsule reviews:

My Neighbor Totoro <– An animated, Japanese, Winnie The Pooh… Truly a child’s film, and beautiful to watch. One for my desert island DVDs list
Porco Rosso <– Beautiful and disorienting 1930s fable of Adriatic air pirates… Also for the desert island
Spirited Away <– An abandoned theme park contains an alternate reality which includes some dark stuff and some very odd stuff too.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
<– A young witch must spend a year away from home, Charming. Neat cat subplot.
Howl’s Moving Castle <– Really cool but hard to characterize in a sentence… you’ll have to trust me, if you liked any of Miyazaki’s other films, this one is worth your time too.

After any of these you’ll have seen enough to make sense of his other films- The Cat Returns, Floating Castle, Nausicaa, and the other adventure stories. etc. That said, “Grave of the Fireflies” is a post-Hiroshima drama/heartbreak and sort of special and stands out from the rest…

Here’s some bio and a description of Totoro:
Nick Park’s wonderful claymations:

A Grand Day Out <– introduces Wallace and Gromit, an inventor and his dog. Pure bliss. The first W & G film.
The Wrong Trousers <– Strapped for cash, Wallace lets Gromit’s room to a boarder who may be more than he seems… Ends in an amazing chase
A Close Shave <– Our heros start a window washing business, then Wallace meets a charming lady who sells yarn…
Curse Of The Weir-Rabbit <– W & G start a pest control company, using a machine Wallace has invented… Chaos follows.

Chicken Run <– As in the W & G films, Park has an un-erring feel for 1930s-1050s-ish technology, culture and wildly mixed humor. A small-time egg farm looks and runs like a WWII Stalag Luft xyz- complete with a capable lady chicken playing the Steve McQueen trouble-maker role from “The Great Escape”. She’s in the cooler, with her baseball and glove, as the story opens… it gets better 🙂

Park’s first widely seen work is in a series of shorts called “Creature Comforts“- the spoken words are quotes or recordings (can’t remember) of retirees in homes or nursing facilities, the images are of animals in the zoo… :^)

Hoodwinked – low budget fun, no fart jokes, turns a familiar story inside out… “A-” writing, “B” animation, “A” direction. And it might inspire someone to see The Thin Man.
Over the Hedge – formulaic, but this has an even funnier squirrel-on-caffeen joke. See if free. Squirrel joke near end.
Everything Pixar has ever done, but especiallly Ratatouille and Toy Story… boy has computer animation come a long way! Oh yeah, The Incredibles too.
Cars, Wall-e, Finding Nemo etc, have a lot going for them too. Pixar hasn’t made a bad movie yet.

Spy Kids 2 <– this is the best of the three Spy Kids movies- Richard Rodreguez is a major talent, with a major attitude 🙂 Nonstop invention.
Spy Kids <– see where it all began. You can start here if you’re feeling linear, ‘2 will be easier to follow if you do..
Spy Kids 3 <– Fun for a movie of a story-inside-a-video-game but 1 and 2 are better.

Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. Again, having created and justified an ensemble in the first film, this sequel ads some marvelous characters (Crash and Eddie) and just runs with the idea. And there’s more of Scrat, who is absolutely wonderful. It doesn’t hurt to see Ice Age 1 and then 2, but 2 is the richer film.

March of the Penguins, the English language version, is priceless.

Winged Migration, is another documentary about birds. Breathtaking, and the scene on the beach is a fake, they resuced the bird and threw a sandwich out to the scavengers.

Fly Away Home, a drama based on a true story about Canadian geese taught to migrate…

Rivers and Tides – Andy Goldsworthy Workinig With Time is just knock your socks off cool. He’s a stunningly good at what he does, which is making art out of what he finds in the natural world. Not all of it works, which is the whole point. He says, at one point, “I still don’t understand these rocks”… its a time machine back to when science and art were the same thing.

The Way Things Go – a Swiss art film that has been changing the world since 1986. A 31 minutes Rube Goldberg machine run, made of junk in an abandoned or disused building. There is fire, and bad chemicals, and a rhythm enforced by the need to change film magazines. They try to make it look like one shot all the way through though. You can’t watch it just once :^)

COG“, find on youTube, is a 2 minute Honda ad that’s a homage to TWTG. It was said to have required 600+ takes, over several days. My favorite part is the pushrods rolling down the springs, and the valves turning 180 degrees.

The Triplets of Belleville. Not really a kid movie, but animated, and with music and song from the characters, like 1930s animation.

Kit Kittredge, An American Girl <– Jean and Benjamin saw this and liked it a lot

Nim’s Island <– A girl and her widower father live on a jungle island with friendly animals…

Ratatouille <– correct spelling. What a wonderful film! Life, art, cooking. Can’t beat it.

Mary Poppins <– Good whenever things look too bleak. Sing along with “Chimchiminee”!! And, if you don’t see this, how can you get the “Juuuulieeee Andrewssss” (in the rich, fruity, voice) that Peter Cook uses for abracadabra in the original Bedazzled?

Monster House <– Effectivly scary, engaging, good lessons blah blah. Nice movie.

Avatar the last Air Bender<– this TV animated show comes in season and movie length servings. Good stuff.

Get Smart <– I was cringing as we went in but it turns out to be faithful to the spirit of the Don Adams/Barbara Feldman original without trying to channel them. A pleasant surprise.

Madagascar – if you can watch it for free, the penguins are worth your time.

The Pursuit of Happiness – Will Smith shines in this gently but firmly told story of a medical equipment salesman who looses his job and makes his way, homeless, with his young child, back into employment. If you don’t smile at the end you have no heart. Serious drama, suitable for all.

Men In Black. Tommy Lee Jones as the tough lawman he seems to have been born to play, Will Smith as the new guy, and its the True Story of the Aliens All Around Us. Jones and Smith are trerrific fun playing off each other, the New York locations are fun, the gags, gimicks and awesome weapons are thrilling. Of course they win in the end. A complete treat.

Night At The Museum <– The first Ben Stiller film I really liked. He plays deliberately unlikable characters, a discovery that he can make comedy without being likable (Mary, the Fockers, etc.)

A bit (only a bit) more grown up:
Pirates of the Caribbean I, II and III. Johnny Depp is an astounding conceptualizer – taking a theme park ride and a one-liner (“pirates were the rock stars of their day…”) as a point of departure and creating three well made films and a zillion dollar licensing empire. It works big because it works on a small scale first and foremost. He’s completely serious. Funny as his basing Capt. Jack Sparrow on Keith Richards is, having the real Keith play the Captain’s father in the third film, successfully, is a master’s touch. Coulda been awful. Instead its great fun.

Hellboy (I) I can’t vouch for the second film but the first one is Way Cool, and the role of a lifetime for the star. The action plot didn’t do much for me but I could have watched the characters for another hour or two. Its Stephen King in reverse- the plot is just a skeleton to hang terrific characters on.

Speaking of Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption is based on a story of his and is the one piece of his work I like. The movie has violent and unpleasant moments, but its a classic, lovely to watch, and some (not all) bad deeds are punished. Its eye candy and the story is told straight forwardly by and of guys who’s clothing identifies their characters standing in one place or another…Very old fashioned in that way. For when you get tired of computer generated animation. A “real movie”.

Bend It Like Beckham – Two girls in London are friends and very good soccer players- against the (different) wishes of both sets of parents. Two parallel family comedies with a sports-friends story mixed in. Of course there’s an older sister’s wedding and a thousand complications. Very, very, nice. Happy ending, of course!

Raising Arizona. <– the opening sequence is the funniest Nicholas Cage has ever been and apparently ever will be. Holly Hunter is sweet and completely winning as the cop who loves him, and their mad scheme to kidnap one of a set of quituplets is a left turn straight to Toon Town. All ends well, and Hunter and Cage’s characters visibly grow in wisdom. They make an awesome screen couple- they make it look SO easy. My brother knows people who bought only Huggies for their kid because of this film.

Tampopo. <– One of my top 10 movies of all time. I have to think about the other 9, but this is one without question. It has two ‘false’ beginnings before you really see the main character (Goro) and his assistant driver (Gunn) ride into town on a rainy night- they stop for noodles in a bad part of town, stopping bullies from beating up the son of the restaurant owner and chef. The rain pours down. The noodles are not very good, and the bad guys hanging out in the restaurant start a fight with Goro, the older man, which he loses. (you’ve seen this Western, yes?)

As he prepares to ride away, the next morning, the restaurantier, a widowed woman who’s husband started the restraunt and then died, asks Goro to teach her to cook noodles correctly, and he agrees. What follows is something
sorta like Seven Samauri or The Magnificent Seven, as experts in all fields of ramen are gathered together to teach Tampopo (Dandylion) the craft she aspires to. Frequently, someone will cross the screen and the camera will turn and follow them into a food-related subplot… The gangster from the first ‘beginnning’ re-appears. All is resolved. And the two truck drivers drive off into the sunset…

Michael Clayton <– If the Gray Suit Maker’s Association of America isn’t buying George Clooney’s wardrobe you can’t tell by looking. Damn! The man is a Movie Star, never more so than when things seem against him. Really, really, enjoyable stuff.

O Brother Where Art Thou <– a take on the Odessey, sorta, set in the depression era South. Its so good Clooney’s character can’t steal the whole thing. Glorious. Hilarious. Liberating.

Fargo. Not for kids- very dark, but VERY funny. William Macy is an unlikable auto dealer whose financial shenanigans are coming unglued. He hires a couple of bad, bad, guys in a harebrained plot to make big money, quickly, and things go wrong immediately. Frances McDormand is the chief of police, a cop’s cop, also pregnant, and a rich mix of subplots appear as she solves the crime and brings the malefactors to justice.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day. An able and good hearted woman who is a bit of a square peg, awkward, without friends, recently fired, muscles her way into a personal secretary’s job for a classic 30s screwball comedy socialite and actress. With an outsider’s clarity, and the the stark realization she has nothing to loose, she be comes
indespensible, untangling her employer’s life, finding her own feet and a very happy ending. McDormand is just a joy to watch when she has a good part, like this.

No Country for Old Men. Tommy Lee Jones, again, this time in a riveting, dark, story, impecibly acted, written and filmed. You can’t look away, although its not always nice to watch. Xavier Barden’s bad bad guy in a bad hair cut is One Scary Dude, and Josh Brolin, at the center of the story, is compelling and sympathetic, with a controlled
intensity that keeps hope alive.

The Big Lebowski. ANOTHER Coen brothers movie, with John Goodman and Steve Buscemi as memorable supporting characters. Jeff Bridges IS the slacker named The Dude (Lebowski), possibly the best performance of his life. When bad guys ruin his rug, mistaking him for the BIG Lebowski, a millionare, he enlists his bowling buddies to help him sort it out. “Aw, that rug pulled the whole room together”. A Paen to slackers. I don’t think Bridges ever wears long pants.

Buscemi is unique, as always (will he and the Coens ever run out of ideas?) and Goodman’s haunted, Vietnam
vet shows every gratuitus PSD sufferer on screen the door. Its amazing how one good role and performance can completely wipe away a generation’s lazy short-hand for character development. LIke all the Coen’s movies I’ve seen, this one celibrates the individual and those who strive to do good in a world they’ll never completely understand, or master.

Tropic Thunder <– the second Ben Stiller movie I like- again his character isn’t that likable, but the ensemble acting, the comedy and the drama mixed in with it are absolutely first rate. Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. are superb, and if its all not quite politically correct enough for some, sorry ’bout that. This is what “Hip and ireverant” was originally meant to convey.

Saving Private Ryan <– War movies are necessarilly part of indoors and bad weather. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded that freedom isn’t free, perhaps especially at the holidays. Speilberg can’t stop himself from making this a bit of a comic book, and I hold that against him, but Hanks and the rest of the cast and crew are superb.

Elf <– Every scene is perfect. He can really act, its nothing like his sports comedies.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas <– Chuck Jone’s animated version. Right length, perfect in every respect. Pair with:
A Charlie Brown Christmas <– The actual Christmas story, great music, superb characterizations. Nothing wasted.
Miracle on 34th Street <– Kris Kringle IS Santa Claus. Pair with
Its a Wonderful Life <– Another great holiday tradition