The Daily Show: Stickin’ It to CNBC

If you missed last night’s Daily Show, you owe it to yourself to check out this instant classic online. Rick Santelli, a CNBC analyst who’d gone off on a rant against homeowners, was supposed to be the guest. Then he backed out. So instead Jon Stewart devoted the whole show to a take-down of CNBC. It’s brutal, vicious, deserved, and an example of the only TV-based investigative journalism worth watching besides Frontline. I’m sure Santelli wishes he’d gone on the show instead. (Starts after 30 seconds of commercials and one minute of schtick.)

Stewart: “Hmmm. If only I’d listened to CNBC, I would have a million dollars now…if I’d started out with a hundred million dollars.”

Fungal Interlude to Calm the Nerves

I give you this fungal video by Taylor F. Lockwood while sitting here a nervous wreck at half-time of the Florida-Oklahoma game. Maybe it will be calming.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is coming to DVD soon. Honestly, anyone want to gift me with something, anything from the sidebar will do. I’ll write you a nice thank you note and draw you a Cheshire Cat. (POB 4248, Tallahassee, FL 32315. Thank you, and back to nailbiting…)

Oh–not to mention the sortable mushroom index.

John Adams Miniseries

This holiday season, Ann and I watched the John Adams miniseries on DVD. Coming on the heels of having read Paine’s Common Sense and some discussion about humanizing historical characters, it was a bit of a revelation. Following Adams and his wife through more than fifty years of the early history of the United States, and including a fascinating look at, among others, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, this is as moving and sweeping a historical drama as I have yet seen.

At the core of the movie is the relationship between Adams and his wife Abigail. Watching not just the trials and triumphs of a country but a marriage over such a span was an emotional experience. The movie is not just about the formation of a country but the nature of mortality.

Paul Giamatti as Adams makes the man come alive in all of his infuriating complexity. Here was a man as successful as anyone, and yet in many ways an under-achiever because of his temper and his bluntness. Laura Linney as his wife Abigail is an absolute revelation–a performance as brilliant and multi-faceted as Giamatti’s. Stephen Dillane plays a cool, reserved, almost reptilian Jefferson with similar, if understated, verve. Other actors are also excellent, from David Morse (Washington) to Tom Wilkinson (Benjamin Franklin).

The sweep of historical events is masterfully conveyed in this miniseries, but don’t expect to get an intimate view of things like Revolutionary War battles or the War of 1812. Adams was largely on the sidelines during these events–either serving as an ambassador overseas or not in office. This adds a wonderful perspective, though, on the period, as we get scenes not in the history books.

I cannot recommend John Adams highly enough. I didn’t expect to cry, and I didn’t expect to feel so utterly invested in the lives of Adams and his wife. Stunning stuff. Between the Paine and this miniseries, I’ve finally rediscovered a kind of patriotism and pride in my country, even as I still shudder at the way in which we’ve squandered much of the potential we started with in this country.

There’s Only Fun Left to Be Had

When I was a kid, my parents had a few couples of friends with whom they used to play cards on Saturday evenings. Whether it was bridge night or canasta night, we almost always had someone over for dinner on Saturday. This led me to believe that having guests was somewhat a fatality for my poor parents. At about the age my daughter Stefana has now, one of these visiting couples made the mistake to ask me what I wanted to become when I’ll grow up. I answered without hesitation: “I wanna be a guest!”. They laughed politely and my mom, knowing me, tried to move on with the conversation, but the lady who had asked me in the first place wanted to know more: “Why a guest?” And the answer silenced her (and sent my dad to the bathroom, where from we almost instantly heard him laughing histerically): “Yes, a guest, because guests always come when the house is cleaned, the food is ready and there’s only fun left to be had”.

I remembered this anecdote (one that my dad used to bring up whenever there were not so welcomed guests around) today, thinking that I have finally achieved my childhood dream. I am a guest, and a guest-blogger at that: the blog is here, the audience ready-built and eager for my words. In consequence, it’s time to have fun!

No, no more letters from my lawyer this time. Fun has become a peculiar notion for me, the almost forty-year-old publisher and reviewer (I do the occasional book reviews on my blog or for Nautilus, a webzine hosted by my fiercest rival in Romanian publishing but edited by my friend, writer Michael Haulică) who spends most of his time reading and writing about books. Fun is NOT reading books for review or publishing consideration purposes. Fun is spending time with my girls and doing carpentry work at the country house I bought this spring. And fun is also reading books for my own pleasure. I might end up reviewing them or even publishing them, but the initial impulse is, ALWAYS, aimed at having fun. I buy them from Amazon.com or B&N (they finally lifted the ban from Romanian ordering) or in the local bookstores or at bookfairs. Sometimes friends send them, sometimes I find them (on this blog, sometimes). I read them in days or merely hours. And these are the books I always end up recommending to others, even if I’m not their publisher, even if my best interest would be to push my own books. These are the ones that get pictured in my now regular bookporn blog posts, with their covers displayed to be seen by all, with sometimes even their first page being offered, scribbled with an autograph, to the salacious eyes of voyeur readers.

And, since being a guest is about having fun, I thought I’d show you some of the books I’ve had fun with this year, so far. [Read more...]

Amazon Pop Culture Report #4: Greg Broadmore, Lovecraft, Moomin, and More

I’ve just posted my latest Pop Culture Report both here and on Amazon’s book blog, Omnivoracious. For those who haven’t seen the others, it’s a DIY come-into-my-house-and-look-at-some-recent-cool books kinda thing. Check out the version on Amazon, where I’ve posted links to all of the books mentioned in the report.

Feel free to embed the video on your own blog or site with your own comments about the books I’ve reviewed. And let me know here what you think, too. The more attention these video features get, the more able I am to continue doing them. (Small apology this time around: a lightning strike or two during the filming caused a couple of hiccups.)

Here’s the direct link to it on YouTube.