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» 2010 » February

Monthly ArchiveFebruary 2010

Books & Comic books 26 Feb 2010 04:49 pm



Chew is so high concept, it puts other high-concept books to shame. The gist is this: FDA special agent John Chu picks up psychic impressions from food he eats. Reading Taster’s Choice, which collects issues 1-5, I couldn’t help but think this it is a series designed for Showtime or HBO. Like shows on those networks, it is funny and disturbing in equal parts.

The only food to leave Chu cold, psychically speaking, is beets. Unfortunately for Chu, his diet isn’t confined to them. Instead, he is forced to eat progressively more unappetizing evidence, including severed fingers, parts of a dog, and a few others surprises I won’t ruin here.

If that sounds sickening, it is — but only incidentally. Writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory serve it all up in a lighthearted style (the first issue had me laughing out loud — a rarity) that makes even the nastiest
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Commentary 25 Feb 2010 10:41 pm

Check it off

Here is my column from Feb. 25, 2010, as published in The Alliance Review:

I’m feeling ADHD today, one random thought colliding with another like water molecules in a boiling pot. Let’s see where it takes me:

“Checklist Manifesto” is a new book by Atul Gawande that defends the lowly to-do list, without which many of us can’t make it through the day. I’m a believer: A list-less day is a listless day, one where very little gets done.

My wife teases me that if she doesn’t make my list, she gets no attention. I shush her and scrawl, “Talk to wife.”

According to the author, a checklist in surgery causes hospitals’ mortality rates to drop, presumably because the last step is always, “Be sure to remove all equipment from patients before sewing them up.”

Which gets me thinking that some jobs aren’t complicated enough to need lists, which gets me thinking about shoveling snow: 1. Insert shovel into drift. 2. Throw snow over shoulder. 3. Repeat as necessary. 4. Don’t overexert.

I’m that weirdest of cats, a person who likes to shovel. While some people yearn for heavy snowfalls to make angels in the yard, I look forward to them because I genuinely like to throw snow the old-fashioned way.
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Movies 23 Feb 2010 10:20 pm

Dust in the wind…


I’ve been on a classic movie jag of late, having watched Citizen Kane and now Gone with the Wind in a two-week span. I said Citizen Kane is a film that needs no apologies, one that is still startlingly modern (with the exception of a single hokey close-up of Welles that seems to last forever) and can hold its own against anything up for Oscar contention this — or any — year.

I can’t say the same for Gone with the Wind. First of all, it’s a gross romanticizing of slavery, one that would have audiences believe most Southern blacks were happy with their lot on plantations and dreaded the coming of the evil Union army just as much as their white masters. It’s hard not to notice this jarring misappropriation of history once you’ve read Alice Walker’s tremendously entertaining The Same River Twice, where she talks about how the power of Hollywood was sufficient, in her youth, to fool her into believing that the problems of one skinny Southern belle (fiddle-dee-dee, it’s Vivien Leigh as Scarlet O’Hara) are somehow of more importance than the enslavement of an entire race.
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Media & Music & Television 22 Feb 2010 04:50 am

Welcome to Cooper’s Bar

The New York Times had an article this weekend about shock-rocker Alice Cooper’s appearances in a series of commercials for Saturn, a German electronics retailer. The commercial above passes an essential test of TV ads: You can tell what’s going on even if you don’t speak the language.

Commentary 21 Feb 2010 12:38 am

Agricultural boom in an upstairs room


Here is my Feb. 18, 2010, column from The Alliance Review:

My wife is in the spare bedroom, planting rice, strawberries, bell peppers and squash.

She has considered switching to watermelons exclusively, like the farm of a relative she recently visited. She’s fostered this new green thumb in the dead of winter, without once leaving the house or the soft glow of the computer screen.

The name of her agribusiness obsession is “Farmville,” a game associated with the social-networking site Facebook. Visitors to Farmville do everything a regular farmer does, minus the bills, droughts and dirty hands.

My wife is not alone. According to one estimate, 74 million players worldwide have beaten their ploughshares into pixels and joined the Farmville craze.
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Books & Commentary 17 Feb 2010 08:00 am

Terror prevention


This is my One Book One Community review of “Three Cups of Tea,” as published Feb. 13, 2010, in The Review.

“I’ve learned that terror doesn’t happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan simply decide to hate us,” says Greg Mortenson. “It happens because children aren’t being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death.”

Mortenson has spent most of his adult life giving kids better reasons through the Central Asia Institute (CAI), an organization he co-founded to build schools in places that many Americans only hear of when a roadside bomb explodes or a military operation is staged there.

“Three Cups of Tea,” this year’s One Book One Community selection by Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, chronicles Mortenson’s success in bringing education to some of the world’s most impoverished people only after it recounts his biggest failure: An abortive attempt to scale K2, the world’s second highest mountain. Eventually, he finds himself in Korphe, an impoverished Pakistani village that nonetheless offers the climber a place to rest and recover. He is so touched by the inhabitants’ kindness that he promises to build them a school.
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Movies 16 Feb 2010 03:11 pm

A model ‘Citizen’


Back in the early ’90s when I was teaching at a parochial high school in Sidney, Ohio, one of my students was obsessed with Citizen Kane. His father told me he watched it almost every night and could quote large portions of it from memory.

There are few films that are better fetish fodder. Until this last week, when I watched the film twice, I hadn’t seen Orson Welles’ masterpiece for more than ten years because my old VHS copy had crapped out. That’s too long to go between viewings, but it had the advantage of making the film fresh to my eyes again.

Citizen Kane is one of the few films that works wholly like a piece of literature, inviting repeated viewings and challenging its audience to grow along with it. The story of Charles Foster Kane — such a thinly disguised pseudonym for real-life newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst that Hearst’s censure of the film was enough to suppress it for years — resonates as a story of power, hearkening back to a time when newspapers, and the people who made them, could actually shape public policy.
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Books & Commentary 16 Feb 2010 06:53 am

Don’t let people call you an idiot


Is it just me, or is the title of this self-help book bitterly ironic?

Commentary 12 Feb 2010 07:44 am

Talk like a boss

Here is this week’s column, dated Feb. 11, 2009.

To make extra money this year, I am offering a class for busy, wannabe executives called Corporate Conversation.

No longer will eager company cadets need to travel to some out-of-the-way Swiss chateau to learn the language of the executive up-and-comer, a tongue steeped in backpedaling, equivocation and disingenuous commentary, as slippery as half a dozen eels slithering over an icy lake.

Instruction in this oily idiom is now available locally, through one-on-one meetings with the instructor (me) or via easily downloadable computer lessons. The main tenant of Corporate Conversation is simply this: Never give an easy answer when a longer, less-definitive option exists.

For instance, why say yes or no to a subordinate (or “plebeian,” as my exclusive, Boardroom Banter lexicon calls the typical worker) asking for a raise when you could say instead, “I will take the matter under advisement, and run it past the next meeting of the Associate Remunerative Committee, scheduled for the vernal equinox in 2011.”

The average worker, when faced with such a response, will either a) salaam slowly out of the office, fearing the thought of such a committee and wondering what the heck “remunerative” means, or b) feel so honored that his or her productivity will increase for the next year, giving you 12 months to find a suitable replacement.
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Commentary 10 Feb 2010 12:43 pm

A rare, unscheduled gift


I had to go waaay back in the archives to Dec. 14, 2006, to find this column on snow days (or calamity days, as they are more properly called). Since most area schools are out because of the weather today, it’s appropriate to share a leftover:

The season’s first flurries have fallen, and children’s thoughts turn to … snow days.

Snow days, the Shangri-La of the American education system, a day salvaged from the drudgery of reading, writing and arithmetic by the happy union of Mother Nature, Old Man Winter and their offspring — Snow, Ice, and (the newest arrival) Wind Chill Factor.

We’ve only had one good dusting. The day after came nowhere near meeting requirements of a snow day here, although some neighboring districts were blessed with one.

Nevertheless, what child could resist the temptation to stay up later, blow off homework, or offer up a prayer that the following morning would dawn with his school on the cancellation list?

It takes a saint to avoid that temptation, and most saints grew up in warmer climates. They probably wished for sand days, instead.
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