The Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody

My friend Laura just made my day by sending this video ...


Chicago Cubs aren't going to rush Starlin Castro

Interesting story here about the latest Cubs prospect ...

Cubs fans have learned the hard way not to fall in love with highly touted prospects after the rise and fall of center fielders Corey Patterson and Felix Pie.
And pitcher Mark Prior.

I'll believe Castro's the real deal when he produces for more than three or four years and helps the Cubs win a World Series.



We’ve just returned from our annual Thanksgiving tour of the southeast part of our state ...

It was a good trip – aside from Phoebe’s temper tantrum on Thursday night because we tried giving her a different cup than the one she’s used to, some familial burdens hanging over our heads and the typical stresses of holiday gatherings ...

After all, it seemed unfinished if I didn’t come up with a list of some things I’m thankful for this year. Everybody else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?

… Phoebe. And the joy she brings to our lives every day. Watching her talk and play with our grandmothers, aunts and uncles, as well as our parents, this weekend was priceless.

… The unconditional love and support of Kates, our families and our closest friends.

… Seeing so many of my friends having healthy, happy children and growing families.

… My mother’s cooking.

… “A Night At the Museum,” which gave me the good dose of comedy and distraction I needed on Thursday night.

Our trusty Subaru Forrester which continues to succeed in taking us from one corner of the state to another in comfort.

… Music. And my iPod.

… Vacation days.

… A home to which we always look forward to returning.

The strong outlook for Kansas basketball this year. It’s only late November, and already I can hardly wait for March.

… The chance to interact with such a vast array of people and experience the highs and lows of life on a daily basis.

… The power of knowledge and the chance for fresh starts.


Music & TV bits

So how about those American Music Awards on Sunday night?

I would have been a little upset if Michael Jackson won the Artist of the Year award. I mean, I love MJ and all; he's a legend. But, seriously, what did the guy do this year besides die an untimely deathok, and star in a pretty swell documentary? ... Taylor Swift was far more deserving of the award, and I was glad she got it, even if it meant watching her gush, "Thank you sooooo much!" one more time.

The performances? … eh.

Janet Jackson’s opener was good – but it was just a run-of-the-mill medley of her hits … The Black Eyed Peas were good – but we’ve been watching them perform the same songs on every thing from Oprah to Saturday Night Live for months …

I couldn’t care less about Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Shakira. And I wasn’t even paying attention when Jennifer Lopez fell.

My favorite performance – easily – was Alicia Keys and Jay-Z doing “Empire State of Mind.”

Oh yeah. And then there was that Adam Lambert performance everybody’s talking about

I watched the act from bed, and regret that his performance was the last image I saw before going to sleep. Ugh. … I thought Lambert’s singing – more accurately it was screaming – was awful, and it lowered my desire to get his debut disc even farther.

The other stuff Lambert did … All I could think was Wow. How are they able to show this on TV?

Some other reads ...
a Best & Worst: American Music Awards 2009
a The audacity of hype
a Television: Two standards, or too racy?

* * *

Here, Jason Segal of "How I Met Your Mother" teams up with The Swell Season ... Pretty sweet.

* * *

The TV season is in full swing now, and at the close of November sweeps we’ve landed just about where I predicted

Hank,” “FlashForward,” and “The Middle” are have all been demoted from our DVR.

Cougar Town” is losing its luster.

Accidentally on Purpose,” “Modern Family” and “Glee” have become the mainstays for new shows … Right next to the rest of CBS’s Monday night lineup, “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Grey’s Anatomy” – and come January, “Lost” and (gulp) “American Idol.”

And, surprisingly, “NCIS: Los Angeles.” … Traditionally, I can’t stand to watch any television shows having to do with crime. “CSI,” “Law & Order,” “The Mentalist” – they make me crazy … But I’ve got an old friend on NCIS this season: Adam Jamal Craig. To see him doing his thing on network television and working with such a talented cast has become one of the highlights of my Tuesday nights.

Go Adam.

* * *

This American Express commercial is one of the most beautiful things I've seen ...


The next day

Song of the day: Rob Thomas' "Someday."


When I started my car this morning, these were the lyrics that played on the radio ...

‘Cuz maybe someday we’ll figure all this out
We’ll put an end to all our doubt
Try to find a way to just to feel better now
Maybe someday we’ll live our lives out loud
We’ll be better off somehow, someday

‘Cuz sometimes we don’t really notice
Just how good it can get
So maybe we should start all over
Start all over, again

Thought of the day: How cool is air travel!? The fact that we can board a plane on any random morning, travel cross country and return home that night. Pretty awesome.


19 months

We have a 19-month-old now … who loves to see how loud her voice can go, bust out a waterfall of tears when she doesn't get what she wants, and greet the neighbor's dog every time we leave the house with a loud "Hi dogeeee!"

Oh, how she loooooves to color. If Kates and I really need to keep Phoebe occupied, and have her occupied for a lengthy time, we’ve discovered Phoebe and a box of crayons is the best solution. She can stand at the coffee table for long periods taking delight in taking crayons out of the box and putting them back in, looking at the colors and dragging them across a sheet of paper. … On the other side, though, some of the biggest tantrums we’ve had to endure so far have come at the moment we have to take those crayons away.

She knows almost all of her colors … Like bown, geen, white, wewoa, purpo, bue, onge and -- rojo. Hey, she’s learning Spanish, too!

She’s learning shapes. … and get this: The one she loves to say most – octagon. As opposed to the more common circle or square, yes, Phoebe knows octagon. “Octagai! Octagai! Octagai!” she says as she bounces around the room.

One of Phoebe’s favorite pastimes these days – if she doesn't have access to the crayons – is stacking her blocks and then pushing them and watching the stack fall …

Her interest in books continues. It’s not uncommon for her to plunk herself down in front of one of our book shelves, pull out a book and begin flipping through it. Or she’ll pick out a book and bring it to Kates or I in hopes that we’ll stop whatever we’re doing and read it to her – which we usually do. Her favorite books continue to be “Good Night Moon” and “Skippy Jon Jones,” along with a big “Sesame Street” book with words and numbers.

That interest in “Sesame Street” has only gotten deeper, too – which gets a big thumbs-up from me, not only because I remain a big fan in adulthood, but those “Baby Einstein” DVDs drive me crazy. At least I can enjoy “Sesame Street” with her … Phoebe adores Ernie and Abby and Elmo. She has an Abby bowl she asks to eat from every night at supper; she pines for her Ernie coloring book (Really, it’s a coloring book with all “Sesame Street” scenes and characters, but Phoebe calls it “Ernie.”), and the other day when we were watching one of the new “Sesame” episodes (it was about time … we were so tired of the reruns), Phoebe’s eyes nearly exploded out of her head when “Elmo’s World” began. Phoebe shot straight up from her seat, pointed to the TV and shouted, “ELMO!”

Rarely a dull moment.


From 'Mad' to Bad

Everything I said last week about being excited to see January Jones host 'Saturday Night Live' ...

Yeah. Forget it. All of it.

Kates and I watched the episode in horror this afternoon. It was awful ... I couldn't seem to reach for the remote fast enough as we quickly tired of almost every sketch and hit the fast-forward button ...

But hey, the Black Eyed Peas were good.

Just read Ken Tucker's review on EW. It says everything I'm thinking.


'Sesame Street' at 40

'Sesame Street' is turning 40 this week! Woo Hoo!

Finally some new episodes.

Though I'm not thrilled about the transformation of the show over the years. Into the new-fangled "learning compartments." Ugh.

The computerization of some characters and the complete elimination of others. Bert and Ernie in claymation. An animated Abby. Ugh.

Join with me as I recall the good ol' days ...

Mahna mahna.

The aliens discovering the radio.

Near. Far.

Ernie counting sheep. And fire engines. And balloons.

The Boogy Woogy Sheep.

I could go on and on. How ' bout "Heeeeeere Fishy Fishy Fishy

Mad season

Kates and I got around to watching the season finale of our new favorite show, "Mad Men" last night ... Our Sunday nights won't be the same for awhile, knowing our DVR isn't recording the trials of the Draper family and the Sterling-Cooper advertising agency ...

The last weeks' episodes have been excellent television ...

The Oct. 25 episode was arguably the best we’d seen to that point in our short tenure of watching.

January Jones stole every scene she was in, and nailed the episode with her death glares at Don (Have I mentioned how excited I am that she's hosting SNL this weekend!?). The episode was proof of how and why this show has cleaned up at the Emmy Awards the last couple years.

And while the thought-provoking endings can sometimes be confounding, how could you not love the ending of that Oct. 25 episode!? With Don and Betty having just had it out, secrets having been spilled and their marriage on the verge of imploding, they take the kids trick-or-treating. A neighbor treats the kids, then looks at Don and asks, “And who are you supposed to be?” … Fade to black. End of episode. So good!

With the season beginning in the spring of 1963, anyone who watched the show was eager to see how the writers would handle President Kennedy's assassination ... We got our answers in the Nov. 1 episode, and it was done wonderfully. In it, we got the tragic weekend in Dallas playing as a backdrop to Don and Betty’s faltering marriage and the spectacle of Roger’s daughter’s ill-timed wedding.

Don and Betty. You never know who to feel more sorry for ... Every time Don cheats or does something to have us sympathizing with Betty, she does something to swing us right back in Don's corner ...

And finally, the season finale. Every episode got better than the last, and Sunday's finale topped them all.

The whole story line proceeded with such zip and adrenaline, full of what felt like both brilliant surprises and a wonderful sense of inevitability as each piece of the puzzle fell into place ... (more)
… The shot of the ol’ gang back together again, standing around a table in the darkened Sterling-Copper office on a Sunday and plotting to steal whatever they could get their hands on was priceless.

While every episode had its moments, we got more laugh-out-loud lines in the finale than there were in the entire season ...

Peggy denying Roger a cup of coffee was priceless, but my favorite came the morning after Don and crew had purged the offices. Part of the plan had been for Lane to fire them, thus allowing the gang to spend a weekend gathering everything they wanted on their way out. So when Lane arrived at the office on Monday and the secretaries were crying "We've been robbed!" he knew exactly what was coming. He answered a call from his furious boss in London -- who promptly fired him, too -- and replied jubilantly, "Very good. Happy Christmas!''

What a season. What a show.


Saturday Night's all right

Kates and I got around to watching last weekend’s Saturday Night Live last night, which is a record turnaround for this season. Considering the bad buzz and awfulness of the episodes this season, it’s taken us at least a week to watch other episodes …

But finally -- finally! -- we got an SNL over the weekend that had more than one or two sketches worth watching. And a host we actually cared to see (Megan Fox!? Gerard Butler!? Seriously!?) … Taylor Swift turned in a fine appearance last weekend, and I'd like to think that was only a warm-up for another great one next weekend -- Mad Men’s January Jones will host and the Black Eyed Peas will perform. Aw yeah!

I have to admit, I've gained a newfound respect for Taylor during the last few months, with the catchiness of her recent hits, the success of her album, and the whole run-in with Kanye at the MTV music awards.

But the thing that put me over the top – dare I admit this – was Taylor's Oprah appearance a few weeks ago ... I was flipping through the TV channels one day when I stumbled on it and caught this 11-year-old girl, who happened to be a huge fan of Taylor's, and Oprah hooked her up for an exclusive interview with the country star. I was charmed by how sweet Taylor was with the young interviewer, and I was equally taken by Taylor's openness and wit and the drive she showed during her conversation with Oprah. For all her success and the attention she garners, it appears it's hardly changed her from her roots as a simple country girl. (And by the way, this surprise for a pair of twin girls was classic! ...)

Saturday night’s SNL wasn’t great from top to bottom, but it did have some good moments that, at the very least, brought out a smile -- from the opening sketch lampooning Fox News’ insanely right-wing views on last week’s not-so-important election, to the “Roomies” sketch that had Swift and Nasim Pedrad playing a pair of roommates who cuddled and loved each other more than Pedrad's character did with her own boyfriend …

I loved that Taylor showed off some strong acting chops and that she held nothing back, doing excellent impressions of Kate Gosselin and Shakira

Best of all was her hilarious and adorable “Monologue” song – which I was repeating the rest of the night (“ … In my Mono-logue … La la la …” ), and her public service announcement for T.R.A.A.A.P.D. (That’s Teens Raising Awareness About Awful Parents Drivers).

Apart from Taylor, I was quite pleased to see the return of Nicholas Fehn – my favorite “Weekend Update” character – even though his bit was hardly memorable. And better yet was Seth Myers’ introduction of another “Really!?! With Seth & Amy” segment, which gave way to Amy Poehler’s surprise appearance / return to the “Weekend Update” desk. …

Here’s what EW’s Ken Tucker had to say ...


Fighting words

Kathleen Parker had an excellent column over the weekend about a pair of Washington Post writers who came to blows ... In it, she writes about the scenes that have gone missing -- or at least are dwindling -- in American newsrooms ...
Fights may have been infrequent, but tempers often flared as deadlines loomed and reporters sweated over just the right word, usually under the baleful eye of an editor whose own deadline was bearing down.
That's how I felt last night when I returned from covering an event and asked my editor how much time I had. 15 minutes he said ... The sweat started sprouting from my veins.
The newsroom wasn't just a workplace. It was a rendezvous point for renegades from the ordered life who, nevertheless, were compelled to perform under fire. To create on demand is a contradictory skill. To do so artfully is not usually a function of charm.


World Series diary

Taking a cue from my friend Matt, and putting additional blame on what I’m calling “The Lost Season,” I’m a little late posting my postseason predictions (and good reads) this year… Sorry for that. I’ve been busy.

So let’s review. Going into the post season, I predicted a Phillies-Yankees World Series. That part I got right.

But I also predicted the Phillies would win the World Series in seven games. That part I got wrong. And never posted for the record on this blog. But it’s true.

I never got around to posting my (organized) thoughts on this blog as the games were being played … But as always, I was taking notes on the side. So here I present my “World Series Diary” from some of the raw, unfinished notes I took …

Which is, really, the essence of my blogging anyway …

As the World Series approached, and the buzz got louder, an interesting thing happened -- I started getting really excited.

That's interesting because I've written off 2009 as arguably the most un-interesting and least memorable season of my baseball-loving life. On top of that, I have little love for the Yankees, and I have little interest in the Phillies -- a team that, in recent years, I've found to be dull and boring. (See: 2008 Postseason ... Oh, how I miss 1993.)

Then there's Kates, who said while we watched Game 1, "I don't like either of these teams. I want them both to lose."

And yet, somewhere along the way, I put my biases aside and began paying attention to just how good and sound these two teams are ... The Phillies lack the star power of the glittery Yankees and they go about their business fairly quietly, but they can play -- really well.

As for the guys in pinstripes, I haven't felt this much respect and admiration for the Yankees -- albeit, ounces of respect -- since the days of Brosius, O'Neil and Martinez.

Both teams seem so good and so evenly matched that there's no way I can't see this series going seven games.

I thought Game 1 was a gem. Cliff Lee was masterful and the two plays he made on the mound -- fielding a come-backer behind his back and non-chalantly catching a fly ball -- were images to remember.

With more and more of the players I idolized as a youth becoming just a passing memory – and being snuffed out by steroids accusations – I’ve begun to consider Chase Utley one of my new favorites. And this year’s World Series has pretty much sealed that.

When he hit the three-run homer to put the Phils ahead in Game 5, I shot off the couch, arms in the air and shouting “Chase does it again!” Then I watched it sail into the seats – the identical right-center spot where it seems every one of his postseason hits have landed this year – and pumped my fists. Kates and I remarked about the number of big home runs he’s had … to the point that, in the eighth inning when Kates and I had moved to separate rooms, I scurried upstairs to tell her Chase hit another one; Kates rolled her eyes in amusement. By the time I returned to watching the game a few minutes later, I half expected Joe Buck and Tim McCarver to announce Utley had hit a third home run in the time I was away.

Speaking of Buck and McCarver, usually I enjoy their commentary and shrug off the annual criticism of their styles. This year, McCarver has goofed so many statements, I can hardly stand listening to him anymore ...

Going in, I had high hopes of the Phillies forcing a Game 7. The Yankees can’t possibly win with a three-man rotation, I said. The Phillies are going to jump on their tired arms, and the Phils have Pedro going tonight.

But Pedro had nothing.

By the time he was pulled after four innings, the Yankees had Title No. 27 in the bag. And I was fighting to stay awake for the rest of it.

I watched the ninth from bed, constantly dozing off and having to jerk my eyes open every couple minutes so I didn’t miss the finale … My eyes were closed again when Mariano Rivera got Shane Victorino to ground out for the final out, but Joe Buck’s booming narrative jerked me awake in time to see Mark Teixeira catch the throw and the Yankees beginning their victory dance on the infield.

As Hank Aaron once said, “I’m thankful to God it’s all over.”

It’s a little painful for me to admit this, as much as I would’ve liked to see the Phillies win, but I really did like this Yankees team …

Sure, the management still doled out millions to marquee players, but for the first time in years, this year’s additions actually brought some character and class to the team. This year’s group reminded me more of those admirable teams in the late ‘90s with guys like Scott Brosius and Paul O’Neil than the train wrecks of this decade that included overpaid, baggage-toting guys like Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown.

To me, Derek Jeter also remains one of the classiest players in all of baseball, and I like the feel-good story of him, Rivera, Andy Petite and Jorge Posada reclaiming a title after an eight-year drought.

Some good reads from the series ...
a Girardi dissected as Yankees try for Series title
a Phillies Hope To End 364-Day World Series Drought (From The Onion)
a For Managers, a Clash of Styles on the Top Step
a Taking Different Paths After Building the Core
a Jeter Returns to Series, but Stays in His World
a 2 Sluggers Are Having the October of Dreams
a Lee-Sabathia matchup in Series opener is rare treat
a Baseball Hopes to Break a Streak of Clunker Series
a A-Rod and Howard add luster to starry World Series
a Shades of 1950: Phillies Arrive in New York by Train
a Debate About World Series’ Late Finish Will Last Beyond November
a With Series Fever, Steroids Issue Fades to the Past ... A-Rod will always be a cheater to me … And the Cardinals hiring Mark McGwire as their hitting coach – and Bud Selig’s approval of it – is deplorable.


This Is It

So I saw "Michael Jackson: This Is It" this afternoon. ... I'd been looking for a good time to see it since it hit theaters last week, and today was my best shot. I took off straight from work for a 12:30 showing ...

It's been so long since I've seen a movie in a theater, I was looking for a seat belt when I took my seat. After the usual pre-show trailers, I buckled down for the show ...

(... About the trailers, nothing extremely enticing. Although there was a semi-interesting one for a Hugh Grant/Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy, "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" ... The film depicts an estranged couple who gets moved to rural Wyoming as part of a witness-relocation program. In one funny bit, a woman dressed as a hunter steps out and cocks a shotgun, to which Sarah Jessica Parker's character deadpans, "Oh my God, it's Sarah Palin." I'm willing to bet, though, that it's your everyday Hugh Grant flick and all the truly funny moments went into that trailer.)

A lump settled in my throat during the opening scroll of "This Is It."... Man, I hope this is good. Please don't let this make me cringe, I thought.

But the moment the beat started popping for "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," a smile broke over my face. My foot started tapping and it barely stopped the rest of the way.

I'd read a few reviews of the film, but I still wasn't sure what to expect today. I knew the film was taken from footage of tour rehearsals, but I wasn't sure whether to expect a concert-style film loaded with Michael and company performing whole songs in full costume just as they would have in their London shows -- only without the screaming fans. Or would the film be a giant montage of footage, music bits and interviews cobbled together in a timeline to his June death?

Actually, it turned out to be everything I had imagined and hoped it would be: The perfect balance of Michael and company performing entire songs mixed with backstage footage of the planning, technical work, teaching moments and preparation that was going into the shows.

The whole film shows Jackson in a way the public has rarely, if ever, seen him. From moments of him tutoring his young dancers to encouraging a guitarist to sieze "her moment" on one of her solos, to critiquing his backing musicians. The film shows an extremely human and caring side of Michael Jackson, but it also shows the creative psyche of a man who was in charge, precise and determined to be the best on every turn of his shows.

He knew exactly what he wanted and he wasn't afraid to let director Kenny Ortega, the sound mixers or the musicians know it. At a couple points in the film, Jackson scolds the musicians to watch for his cues, but then reminds them "It's all for love." Multiple scenes show Ortega giving Jackson the last word on film and dance sequences.

Other points in the film show the childish wonder inside Jackson, like when he stepped onto a cherry picker for "Beat It." Jackson wanted to rehearse with the music right away, but Ortega only wanted Jackson to get a feel for the contraption and had to talk him out of rehearsing with the music "for safety."

For two hours, I was wishing I could have been anyone on that stage with him. A dancer, a background singer, that rad girl rocking on her guitar, didn't matter. It looked like they were having so much fun! You knew from their giddy smiles and adoring eyes what an amazing experience and honor those rehearsals must have been for each of them.

And oh, the sets and effects. There were fireworks exploding from the stage. Jackson, dressed in his classic white suit, was worked into some vintage film footage as part of "Smooth Criminal." One of my favorites was the industrial skeleton of a building the dancers descended from during "The Way You Make Me Feel."

Given that "The Way You Make Me Feel" is my favorite MJ song, I could have predicted that performance might also be one of my favorites in the film. ... The segment opened with Jackson working with a keyboardist on a jazzy intro to the song. Jackson dances to the keyboard and nitpicks on the arrangement. "Let it simmer," he says. A debate continues until the keyboardist tells Jackson he's got to be clear with the musicians about what he wants from them. Jackson needs to tell them if he wants "a little more booty," the keyboardist says, causing Jackson to fall into laughter. "A little more booty, I like that," he laughs. ... Moments later they perform "The Way You Make Me Feel." The music, the dancing, Jackson's voice -- it all had me smiling again.

I got my first real bout of chills and misty eyes when a colorful psychadelic backdrop appeared on the stage with the J5 logo, and Jackson started doing the "I Want You Back" routine with his dancers ... The joy of that was quickly squelched, however, when Jackson lost some of the lyrics and then berated the crew because he couldn't hear through his earpiece; it felt like someone was punching him in the ear, he said. Ortega noted it, the music resumed with a medley of "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There," and I got the chills again. The music also featured accompanying footage of Jackson's childhood days with the Jackson Five.

I got bigger chills during Jackson's calls to save our environment and his performance of "Earth Song." But my misty eyes and chills didn't reach full force until the film's "Man In The Mirror" finale.

As I drove home, nothing on the radio compared. I wanted more Michael. ... I got home and wasted little time putting on my "Thriller" album.

Here's the trailer. And here are the songs featured in the film (with a few video clips):

"Wanna Be Startin' Something"
"They Don't Really Care About Us"
"Human Nature"
"Smooth Criminal"
"The Way You Make Me Feel"
"I Want You Back" / "Stop The Love You Save" / "I'll Be There"
"Can't Stop Loving You"
"Beat It"
"Black or White"
"Earth Song"
"Billie Jean"
"Man In The Mirror"

Update: 11.04. 2009 -- Here's a couple good reads I stumbles across today about the film ...
a 'I'm happy for Michael' says director Ortega
a 'This Is It' as his personal thriller: The film on Michael Jackson proves an unlikely odyssey for Tim Patterson, a commercial director who made crucial contributions.