Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

I never know if folks are reading both my blogs, so I wanted to send out a Happy New Year from both this year.

By the way, if you check out the Smoking Gun site (mentioned yesterday & linked over to the Right) you'll find they have their MUG SHOTS OF THE YEAR for '05 up. With all the great stories they run it must be difficult to narrow it down to only 15, but they've done a great job. From moonshiners to strippers to DUI actresses and Panther cheerleaders gone bad! One of my faves is the battered panty thief, but maybe that's because I always got a kick out of the Grandfather figure in RANMA 1/2 who never seemed to tire of that vice. :-)

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Smoking Gun

I'm fascinated by legal stuff on television rather dramatic series or 'real life' stuff. Shows like COPS, AMERICA'S MOST WANTED, LAW & ORDER, CSI (whereever) and the like hold my interest. I'm also a big fan of the old shows like PERRY MASON, COLUMBO and MURDER, SHE WROTE. Naturally, I'm an avid watch of Court TV no matter whether they are broadcasting actual court room cases, documentaries or reruns of NYPD BLUE.

If you check out the link area on the Right you'll find a new link to The Smoking Gun. The folks over there are doing their best to keep an eye on the unusual and strange, whether it's happening to ordinary folks or celebrities. I plead guilty (pardon the expression) to actually being interested in which celebrities have broken which laws today. They also have some great mug shots which these same celebrities would love to have never seen the light of day. Hardly the stuff they'll be showing on E! most nights.

Pretty shallow of me, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I've learned my lesson!

I'm not going to make any New Year's resolutions this time around. Last year I vowed to begin reading classics or other books I'd promised myself I'd eventually get around to. Except for Mary Shelley's original FRANKENSTEIN and Robert Ludlum's THE BOURNE IDENTITY I ended up reading other stuff. There are still a number of novels I'd like to read but I think I'm just going to pick up whatever catches my interest at any given moment.

Right now I have two books set aside for my vacation. One is an X-FILES novel and the other another in the series from Preston & Child featuring Special Agent Pendergast. Don't know how much of either I'll get to on the cruise, since Bingo & buffets tend to get in the way. :-)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Packing my bags for Cozumel

It's not Christmas yet but I'm already starting to put together what I'll be needing in the Caribbean. Donna and I are going on a 7-night cruise in January so it's time to see what still fits and what has to be sent out to the dry cleaners.

I think some of the first posts I made over at PARTING SHOTS had to do with cruises, but I'll probably be moving future posts like that over to this blog. On the other hand, I may split things up just to make folks read both places, since I still get e-mail from folks who don't know I have two blogs going. As you'll see I don't have a link to PS over here, but do link to this blog over there. Except for Mark Evanier and Tony Isabella's sites I try to keep SS from linking to overly political places, as I want to make this place 'safe' and non-political.

Speaking of THE Tony Isabella, I want to wish the man a very Happy Birthday and many returns of the day.

Holiday specials: Where are they?

Maybe I'm showing my age, but when I was a kid (and even up through the 1970s) it seemed that rather than showing rerun after rerun the various networks were putting on holiday specials. These were often hosted by stars already appearing in variety shows on the networks, but just as often by performers who were seldom on TV.

Off the top of our heads the other night, Donna and I could recall specials with Perry Como, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Julie Andrews & John Denver among others. The only similar event I've seen advertised this year is one which promotes adoption (not in itself bad, but this isn't a typical Christmas special as we used to expect) featuring some contemporary musical talent.

I have a feeling that we were watching some of the Country music networks we might actually encounter something along the lines of what we used to see. It appears that it's only on PBS that we see such shows, and these tend to be rebroadcasts of those shows from the '60s with Williams & his brothers.

Then again, there aren't many musical stars who would likely be willing to chance something along these lines. I can't imagine a Snoop Dogg Christ-diddly-mas Special.

I'm turning into my father more and more each year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

X-MEN #179: an actual comics review

I know that it will come as a surprise to folks who only peek in here occasionally, but I once did read and review comics. Since returning to New York, I haven’t had the finances, or interest for that matter, to keep up with continuing series from any of the major publishers. In the case of X-MEN (and their multiple incarnations and titles) I have not been a reader of any of the “X” books since Peter David was writing X-FORCE about a decade ago. In fact the only Marvel titles I’ve read in the past few years have been those given away at conventions or as part of FREE COMICS DAY.

X-MEN (Vol. 2) #179 is identified by a logo as part of “Decimation” which apparently is the follow-up to the whole HOUSE OF M event. All I know about that particular cross-over is what I’ve been reading online so I was thankful for the opening page “What has gone before…” overview. Seems the heroes forced the deranged Scarlet Witch to return the world to the way it was prior to her revision. At that point however most of the world's mutants lost their powers and abilities.

This issue features also a group of “good” Sentinels, who long time X-fans will recall were originally created to capture or kill any & all mutants, called cleverly on the cover the SENTINEL SQUAD which would no doubt be a great name for a spin-off X-title (if I was of the type to be cynical about that sort of thing). Under the guidance of a group called O.N.E. these particular giant robots are attempting to protect the now more vulnerable mutants, especially those housed in Professor X’s institute. The overview indicates that all this was introduced in the cross-over so regular readers probably won't be as confused as I am.

In typical Marvel fashion stuff gets destroyed, heroes overcome and various sub-plots get moved in glacial fashion, proving to this one time Marvel Zombie that not much as really changed all that much over the past twenty years.

Peter Milligan is a decent writer whose work I’ve enjoyed over the years. However, even with a ‘mysterious’ anti-mutant villain running around in the woods and other characters going off to rediscover their powers there really isn’t anything here to catch my interest.

The art by penciller Salvador Larroca and various inkers is okay, but in close-ups some faces have an unfinished look, almost as if the Larroca left details up to the inkers and they skipped them. I also wonder why it was decided that the titles most popular character, Wolverine (and possibly one of the reasons the X-titles continue to sell so well) is shown almost exclusively from the rear or otherwise facing away. If you weren’t familiar with his costume (and this is the short eared, orange colored one) you’d have no clue who this was. Sadly, most of the characters seem to be posing for action figures or those little mini-busts they push at Diamond and never appear natural. Oh, and could Scott Summer/Cyclop's costume appear more ugly or uncomfortable looking?

A book clearly for the fans, so I’ll give this a pass and two stars.

Damon-ed Yankees!

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, but I naturally wasn't happy to hear that Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon has signed a four-year, $52 million deal to play in the Bronx.

Damon was one of the Wild Men who kicked butt and ended the "Curse of the Bambino". He was one of most popular players on the Boston team and we're going to miss him. Also, it will be weird seeing him in the clean shaven/short hair look that George Steinbrenner insists his players maintain.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Bourne Identity: a quickie review

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

I haven’t seen the film version of this book, starring Matt Damon, nor its sequel. I have a feeling that Hollywood took liberties with the novel, if only to remove the references to the Vietnam War and the Cold War. Originally, published in 1980 it reads a bit dated after more then twenty years.

A man is discovered, badly scarred and nearly drowned by a French fishing vessel. As he slowly recovers in the house of an ex-patriate British doctor, now living in disgrace in France, the man begins to recall events and faces, but no names including his own. A small piece of microfilm has been implanted under his skin and this leads him to a Swiss bank account containing millions of dollars, along with some other secrets that several governments would like kept hidden. Is this man actually Jason Bourne, an operative of the U.S. government sent to find and kill the international terrorist known as Carlos? Or is there more to Bourne, if that truly is his name?

Robert Ludlum is a master at this type of thing and it’s easy to see why he continues to have an audience of millions worldwide. Three and a half stars.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Goodbye, Howard & Company!

This past week two radio shows, both of which I’m a fan, are going off the air. Both Air America’s MORNING SEDITION and Howard Stern’s radio show are leaving the airwaves. I don’t know what I’m going to listen during my morning commute now.

It seems hard to believe that I have been listening to Howard for over twenty years at this point. When I first him he was doing afternoon drive over at "Double U....Ennnnbc" (check out Stern's movie PRIVATE PARTS for an explanation of that) .

I’ve certainly taken my share of criticism from friends and family just for being a fan. I can’t believe that I’m not going to be able to enjoy hearing Howard, Robin, Fred & Gary each weekday morning. I admit that I haven’t been listening as regular the past year as I used to, but it was still a comfort to tune over and hear Howard joking around with Elephant Boy, Hank the Angry Dwarf and new sidekick Artie Lange (formerly of MAD TV). You just don’t get to hear belchers, farters and strippers being spanked enough on morning drive, in my opinion!

Among the VHS tapes I've kept, once Donna and I got a DVD player, were all of my Stern tapes. Beginning with BUTT BONGO FIESTA, Stern put out several amazing videos, mostly from Pay for View events he created before and after his old Channel 9 show. I was actually in attendance at U.S. OPEN SORES, along with my friend Vinnie Bartilucci. How can you forget Fred doing his Kurt Waldheim, Jr. impersonation; Gary, Howard, Robin playing tennis; and the late Sam Kennison jamming on “Wild Thing” with Leslie West?

All memories now along with Howard’s regular morning show. One of these day’s I may spring for Sirius (or eh eh eh, as the folks at Infinity would have it) and be able to hear him and the gang again, but until then….

Goodbye, Howard! We’ll miss you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Hitting 55 with no brakes!

Today's my 55th b-day and I find myself doing a typical work day. Donna and I had discussed going out, but she's not feeling well. We'll probably just order in and watch TV, as we usually do.

My 50th birthday party was amazing and Donna went all out, completely surprising me (although she continues to believe that I was expecting it!). It was the only time that our mothers ever met, so beyond the party it holds a special place in my heart. Since then I can't really say that Dec. 13th really means a whole heck of a lot. Donna celebrated her 50th earlier this year and I returned the favor as best I could. A surprise visit from The Child straight (pardon the expression) from California made that day special for my wife.

So today is just another day and I've found myself thinking more about my new job than growing older. I'm now approaching the age where several of my friends and relatives never reached. When I complain about getting older Donna is wise enough to remind me of the alternataive.

Didn't mean to get all sentimental here, especially since I like to keep Shot's Shack a fun place.

Next time out I'll try to be more cheerful. Promise!

Friday, December 09, 2005

What am I listening to?

One of the nice things about my daily commute is that I have time to listen to 'books-on-tape' and other stuff while sitting on the subway. Personally, I love audiobooks, especially as it gives me a chance to catch books I'd otherwise put aside for later. I'll listen to one book for half the trip and then open up whatever 'real' book I happen to have along.

I usually don't mention the audiobooks that I check out from the library, but just wanted to mention the most recent.

APPALOOSA is an unabridged version of the recent Western novel by Robert Parker. Parker is probably best known for the SPENSER series, which was adapted to television for a series and some made-for-tv movies. This particular novel tells the story of Hitch & Cole, two gunmen who become the law in the title town. Plenty of gunfights and other standard fare, with a plot which wouldn't surprise anyone who has seen a score of old western movies or episodes of GUNSMOKE. I'll give it three out of four spurs.

One of the reasons I mention the thing at all is the heavy use of the "F" bomb throughout. Now, now having ever seen the cable show DEADWOOD I can only go by what I've read. Apparently, the characters in that particular western are pretty fluent in the use of curse words. It's not that I'm offended by that type of language mind you, and Parker has used similar in his novels set in a contemporary Boston. I'm just curious to know if this particular four letter word was really that widely in use in late 19th century America.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

World Baseball Classic

Since it is America's Past time, we call the championship of Major League Baseball the World Series. Of course, up to now Canada is as 'international' as the game gets, except for some exhibition and pre-season games played in Japan, Puerto Rico and other places. This year various international baseball organizations have conspired with MLB to actually put a real "world series" together.

The first World Baseball Classic will be a series of games featuring professional baseball players from various countries. These include some big names from the U.S. going into the field for their home countries. If you click on the headline above you'll get to the official WBC site, where you will get more information and be able to purchase merchandise (Hey, what did you expect?).

The games will begin on March 3, 2006 with games in Japan, with the final teams facing each other in San Diego on March 20th. Since so many MLB players will be appearing you can bet the networks & ESPN will be covering these, unlike the Olympic baseball games which seem to be shown around 2:30am if at all.

Fingers crossed that we will see some exciting games and not just guys doing as little as possible, so they won't risk injury for the up-coming season.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Atlantic City Weekend, pt. 2

Atlantic City pt. 2 - Pete and I went down to the pool for a while on Saturday morning and then grabbed some brunch at the Borgata. Around noon we left for Caesar’s, where we had another room and were going to see the group Chicago later that night. We had done a little gambling at Borgata, but I had pretty much been depositing my previous winnings. I should have seen this as an omen of things to come, but the lights & bells tend to hypnotize me so the sensible thing doesn’t mean much.

I don’t think I’ve been to Caesar’s in close to ten years. I probably last went there with Elayne and her parents, whom introduced me to AC. (Hats off to Alex & Goldie Wechsler!)

Of course, having been several times to Caesar’s in Las Vegas I can’t help but compare the two. Naturally, the Vegas casino easily tops its AC namesake, although it isn’t too bad and certainly compares favorably with most of the other casinos in the city.

While staying at Caesar’s Pete gave me the newbie tour, which included the adjoining Bally’s and Wild West. If you head over to the Wild West and have a sweet tooth, I have to recommend Gold Tooth Gerties, where you can see the muffins & donuts being prepared on a conveyor belt. It’s a convenient place to take a break and grab a snack between donating funds at the three casinos. Another nice thing about the Wild West is to check out the displays of photographs and authentic western memorabilia along the walkway. You can even try to toss some coins into the prospector’s pan along with the kids. Speaking of which, by comparison Las Vegas really has become much more family friendly in the past decade, while there’s still not much to do with children in AC, when it’s too cold for the beach or outdoor activities on the boardwalk.

Overall, Pete and I had a good time, even though both of us ended up with less money than we arrived with. If you’re smart you’ll go down with money set aside which you can afford to lose. My problem is that like lots of folks, once I hit I keep playing hoping to hit more. It doesn’t work when I play at home, so I don’t know why I expect anything to be different when I’m playing with REAL money.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Atlantic City Weekend, pt. 1

Any of you who know me, or have been reading my blogs for a while, already know that I’ve been fascinated by casinos ever since I had my very first casino experience back in 1969. It was then when I and some fellow shipmates went to a casino in Nassau, while serving aboard the USS Boxer (LPH-4) during a Caribbean cruise. While some of the magic of that first moment has dimmed I still get a thrill when walking through even the smallest gambling den.

A couple of weeks ago my friend Pete and I drove down to Atlantic City on Friday night. Pete had an invitation to take part in a Slot Tournament at the Borgata, along with a comp room for two nights. We also had tickets to see Chicago on Saturday night, which I talked about over on SHOT’S SHACK.

I’d been to the Borgata a couple of times before and it always struck me as the most “Vegas” of the AC casinos, if you know what I mean. If you’ve ever been to Vegas or seen the casinos there on television or in films, you know that they have a certain atmosphere. With the Borgata it feels as if they picked up a Vegas casino/hotel and dropped in on the New Jersey shore. It really seems like they are trying to go for a younger hip crowd and High Rollers, rather than the typical AC player. You generally won’t see the ‘bus people’ running around the Borgata for the most part, unless they’ve taken the shuttle over from the Boardwalk. The rest of the AC casinos are a bit more welcoming of these folks, and seem to compete in trying to get as many as possible down to the gambling floor.

I’m also not crazy about the way the rooms are designed in the Borgata either. Now these may be only the low end/comped rooms, but it doesn’t make any sense to have a picture window behind the desk. You have to walk around the desk to open the blinds leaving the desk & chair blocking your view. What’s that about?

On the other hand, the pool area at the Borgata is really nice. With the palm trees and lounges it resembles some of the smaller casino pools in Vegas, which is a nice thing. It’s not deep, but decent sized with a very pleasant hot tub over in the corner of the room. During the summer they’ll open the doors and you can sit outside, but in the colder months you’re completely comfortable and can even order room service. Sweet!

The plan was to get to AC around 9:30pm or so, after Pete picked me up after work, check into the Borgata and then head up to the slot tournament. After that we’d grab a bite at one of the restaurants and then hit the casino floor. All went according to plan until we got up to the tournament. Seems the Borgata allows the player and a guest entrance to the tournament room which also has an "all-you-can-eat buffet" & open bar. What a nice surprise! It wasn’t a large buffet, but did have a decent selection with two carving tables, dessert & coffee. We spent about an hour relaxing after Pete played and then continued with our original plan.

(Aside: this may include things you don't want to hear about so feel free to skip it if you have a weak stomach. - There was one guy at the tournament who was seriously taking advantage of the open bar. At one point when he stood up he almost fell into the lap of an older gentleman sitting at a table behind him. If the guy's friend, who wasn't quite as drunk, hadn't grabbed him and led him out I think the wait staff was about to call in security. I can understand the casino not wanting to put a damper on somebody 'enjoying' themselves, but you would also think they'd have somebody at these things to keep an eye on the players. To top it off, about fifteen minutes later I found myself helping the drunk up off the bathroom floor when I went in to wash my hands. His good buddy having disappeared somewhere or other, either before or after this guy emptied his stomach into several sinks. End of aside!)

One of the interesting things about casinos, if you haven’t been to one, is the fact that no matter what time of day you get there you seem to feel it’s twilight and you lose track of time. The maze like quality of most casino floors tend to lead you away from any entrance where natural lighting or a view of the outside might clue you in. Naturally, the floor has no clocks so before you realize it you’ve spent several hours. Before we knew it my watch showed it was after 3:00am, so we finally tore ourselves away from the machines and headed back to our room. (FYI: At this point I was a little over $100 up and feeling pretty good.)

I’ll finish this report up later.