Monday, August 31, 2015

Rewriting history: Hello Denali!

WASHINGTON -- Before boarding Air Force One to fly to Alaska, President Obama today announced he has decided to rename America’s highest mountain, Mt. McKinley.

“It’s certainly time,” the president said, pointing out that the 20,322 ft. peak was named shortly after the 1901 assassination of President William McKinley which, Obama noted, was “a national tragedy but we’re pretty much over it. Like, I’ve never met anyone who even remembers the guy.” Obama said the peak will henceforth be known as Denali, the name by which indigenous Alaskans have referred to it for centuries.

Concurrently, Obama announced he is issuing executive orders decreeing new names for other entities named after assassinated presidents.

New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport will revert to the name Idlewild, the name indigenous New Yorkers called it for years before it was renamed to honor the 35th president whose death in 1963 stunned the nation. "'Car 54 Where Are You?' a tv series from the early sixties, has been in reruns on Nick At Night for years,” Obama said, “but contemporary viewers have never been able to make sense of the line in the theme song, ‘There’s a scout troop short a child, Khrushchev's due at Idlewild.’ Now they will understand it.”

Obama also revealed that Garfield the Cat, the comic strip character whose name was inspired by president James Garfield, assassinated in 1881, will be renamed Dick Tracy in homage to a defunct cartoon detective Obama said was “my favorite when I was a boy, plus I really loved the movie version starring Warren Beatty and Madonna. Michelle and I saw it on one of our first dates.”

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, named for America’s sixteenth president who was slain in 1865, is to be renamed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. “Look, I admire Abe Lincoln as much as the next guy, “Obama said. “But it’s not like he actually took up arms or anything during the Civil War. All he did was issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which required nothing more than signing his name, whereas Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 delivered his immortal ‘I Have A Dream’ speech on the steps of that memorial. And that, to my mind, is what it should be associated with in the future.”

When an Associated Press reporter asked the president how there could be two Martin Luther King, Jr memorials in Washington, Obama conceded the reporter had a “valid point” and said he would think about what to rename the current Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which was completed in 2011, on his flight to Alaska.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Now Boarding at Gate 47

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Latrina and I’ll be handling the boarding process for OceanAir flight 96 to Omaha, with continuing service to Tijuana and Miami.

Boarding will begin in just a few minutes. Please note you are allowed one carry-on bag that must fit in the overhead compartment, the total dimensions of which cannot exceed 14 inches, along with one personal item such as a laptop bag, handbag or infant that must fit under the seat in front of you.

Please have your boarding pass handy to expedite the boarding process and ensure an on-time departure.

While we’re waiting, I’d like to take this opportunity to invite anyone needing extra time, passengers traveling with service animals, people traveling with dachshunds, Pekinese, Chihuahuas, guinea pigs, Siamese cats or other ridiculous-looking pets they claim are service animals so they can get out of paying our $100 carry-on pet fee, as well as passengers traveling with screaming children, to pre-board our Boeing 737 aircraft.

First Class passengers and Diamond members of our OceanAir Rewards program, along with premium-level members of the frequent flyer programs of our WholeWideWorld Alliance partners Uganda Air, TransParaguay, S.N.O.T and North Korean, are welcome to board at any time.

Thank you so much for waiting. At this time Platinum Rewards members and holders of the OceanAir Executive Premium Plus Mastercard issued by People’s Republic National Bank may board.

I do appreciate your patience. Plutonium and Gold OceanAir Rewards members, along with military personnel on active duty, are invited to board.

Silver and Bronze Rewards members and those of you who carry the OceanAir Gold Mastercard are also welcome to board at this time. If you do not yet have an OceanAir Mastercard issued by People’s Republic National Bank, please ask a uniformed crew member for an application so you won’t have to wait in lines like this that extend all the way up the concourse back to the TSA checkpoint in the future. Enroll today and you will receive 10,000 bonus miles, as well as miles for this flight.

Thank you again. OceanAir Rewards Aluminum members may now board, along with passengers holding boarding passes that say Zone J.

If you are seated in one of our Super-Duper Long Legroom seats you may board at this time. If your boarding pass says Super-Duper Long Legroom but you didn’t pay the $50 upcharge, you’ll be boarding later – we request that you give those who, unlike you, were willing to shell out a bit extra to avoid deep vein thrombosis the courtesy of boarding according to the amount they paid for their tickets.

Ladies and gentlemen, we know you are anxious to get to your destination today but there’s no reason to knock each other over to get on the plane. There is an orderly process in place and we do appreciate your cooperation.

Those of you who are Somewhat Valuable members of our OceanAir Rewards program are welcome to board at this time. 

If you have a boarding pass that says Zone A, you may now board.

Passengers seated in rows 30 to 45 are eligible to board.

Thank you for waiting. Passengers holding boarding passes that say Standard Legroom are free to board at this point, along with those holding Super-Duper Long Legroom boarding passes who didn’t pay the fee but somehow got lucky at check-in, all of whom should be ashamed of themselves for being so cheap.

If your boarding pass says Zones B, C or Q, you may now board the aircraft.

Passengers with boarding passes designated No Legroom and all Of No Value Whatsoever members of the OceanAir Rewards program are invited to board.

Those seated in rows 12 to 29 and/or zones Z, M or P can board, along with standby passengers Manson C,  Dahmer J, and Simpson OJ.

Last but not least, passengers holding boarding passes designated TL for Total Loser may now board.

It has been my pleasure to assist you today. On behalf of all of us at OceanAir, have a pleasant flight.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Five intelligent TV series to stream this summer

“You haven’t been writing much on your blog lately,” a friend observed the other day. “How come?”

It would have been nice to be able to reply I’ve been spending my summer working on a cure for cancer or building Habitat for Humanity houses but the truth is, I’ve been watching TV. Lots and lots of TV.  

In the olden days, you had to go to the movies if you wanted intelligent entertainment but Hollywood for some unfathomable reason no longer gives a rat’s ass about anyone over the age of 12.  Happily, directors worldwide have jumped in to fill that void and are producing some amazing TV series. Thanks to streaming video, you no longer have to wait a week to catch the next episode of any series that catches your fancy. You can watch follow-up episodes immediately, one after the other, without commercial interruption. And the next night you can do it again, until you’ve seen every episode from every season. It’s a more satisfying and infinitely more intelligent way to watch TV.

Here are some of the series my wife and I have binge-watched this summer. If you’re over 12 in terms of age or IQ, I’m betting you will enjoy them, too.

The Americans
3 seasons, 39 one-hour episodes, originally appeared on FX

It is early ‘80s. Reagan has just taken office, vowing to bring down the evil empire that is the Soviet Union. Across the Potomac in suburban Virginia live Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, an attractive couple who run a successful travel agency and are the parents of two perfect children. The all-American family, right?  Hardly.

Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) are KGB agents, native Russians  trained to speak unaccented English, who have infiltrated America, tasked with uncovering our country’s deepest, darkest secrets including plans for the stealth bomber and nuclear submarines, as well as details about America’s role in training the insurgents who are fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

The art direction – vintage cars, harvest gold-colored appliances and furnishings in the homes, the clothes, wigs and eyeglasses the Jennings’ don to disguise themselves as they gallivant around Washington doing their thing – is superb. So is the background music comprised mostly of hits from the ‘80s. (The opening chase scene is set to Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk.) The scripts are equally inspired, a combination of intrigue, humor, irony and poignancy.

Though they are ostensibly married, Phillip and Elizabeth Philip have never been in love – theirs was a match made in Moscow. Tentatively, they are realizing they actually do care for each other. And while Phillip is beginning to appreciate some of the good things about America, Elizabeth is tougher, a woman who can watch a man being doused with gasoline and burned alive, then return home to make a lasagna for the kids.

Having come of age in paranoid post-WWII Russia, the Jennings’ are doing their best to make sense of America’s political landscape. For instance, on the day Reagan is shot, the day Secretary of State Alexander Haig famously declared he was in charge in the absence of Vice President Bush, Elizabeth is convinced a coup is underway until Phillip makes her realize Haig means only to reassure the public that everything is under control.

An ongoing subplot revolves around their teenage daughter, Paige, who has no clue her parents are Commie spies but suspects that things aren’t as they appear. Why do mom and dad go out almost every night? How come she has no aunts, uncles, grandparents or cousins? Confused and unhappy, Paige joins a church youth group, discovers Jesus, and announces she wants to be baptized. Her atheist parents are horrified and try to talk her out of it, but eventually give up and have to play along lest their cover be blown.

The cast of supporting characters include next-door neighbor Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), a straight-arrow FBI counter-intelligence agent who has fallen head-over-heels for an exotic KGB double agent, Nina Sergeevna (Annet Mehendru). Beeman’s boss, Frank Gaad (John Boy Walton Richard Thomas), has a man-hungry secretary, Martha (Alison Wright), who is the spitting image of the hostess at our favorite restaurant – my wife and I have trouble suppressing laughs whenever she shows us to our table – but I digress. Martha is being wooed by, and eventually marries, a geeky fellow government employee named Clark. She is so starved for love and validation that she’ll do anything Clark asks, which includes planting a hidden microphone in John Boy’s Gaad’s office. Little does she know that Clark is actually Phillip Jennings.

The Americans, hands-down, is the best TV show of the last 10 years – light years beyond Mad Men, a full notch above my previous fave, Breaking Bad.  FX has extended it for a fourth season, scheduled to air next year.

Cancel all your plans through Labor Day and watch it.

Available on Amazon Instant Video. (The first two seasons are free for Amazon Prime members. You’ll have to pay to watch the final season.)

1 season, six 30-minute episodes, originally appeared on Britain’s Channel 4

Having revisited the Cold War, you’ll undoubtedly feel the need to lighten up. This comedy, written by, and starring, Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, is the perfect way to do just that.

Rob, a late thirty-ish American exec on a business trip to London, meets Sharon, an early forty-ish Irish schoolteacher, in a bar and they commence a week-long torrid affair. He returns to Boston, assuming he’ll never see her again. A month later, she calls to tell him she’s pregnant.

Seeing this as an opportunity to have a conventional life, for which he secretly yearns due in part to having been raised by his bitch of a mother (hilariously played by Carrie Fisher, who we see only during phone conversations) he returns to London, and convinces Sharon to keep the baby and marry him. There’s something both sweet and sad about Rob and Sharon. They’re imperfect and not even in love with each other but, by God, they are determined to make this work because it’s their last chance.

The show has been renewed so you’re going to be seeing and hearing more about it over the coming years. The only nit I have to pick with Catastrophe is its misleading name because the coupling of Horgan and Delaney is anything but catastrophic to viewers yearning for an intelligently scripted comedy that’s actually – what a concept – funny.

Amazon Instant Video. (Free with Prime membership.)

Last Tango In Halifax
3 seasons, 18 one-hour episodes, originally appeared on BBC One and on PBS

Tango isn’t profound TV. Truth be told, it’s little more than a soap opera, but the characters are so well-drawn that you can’t help but be sucked in.

Alan (Derek Jacobi) and Celia (Anne Reed), who were high school sweethearts, are in their late seventies. They were married, but not to each other. Now that they’re widowed, they’ve reconnected, fallen back in love and decided to get hitched. This comes as a surprise to their forty-ish daughters, the real stars of this show.

Alan’s daughter, Gillian (Nicola Walker), is just a girl who can’t say no … to anyone with a penis. Oh, by the way, she killed her husband. Sort of. So she has to be especially careful not to mention this to her late husband’s brother, one of her many sex partners. Celia’s daughter, Caroline (Sarah Lancashire), the overachieving headmistress of an exclusive school, is married to a booze-addled author who has just left her for another woman but she is finding that liberating, having come to the realization that she is a lesbian who, as her new step-sister puts it in cricket terms, “bats for the other county.”

Set in northern England, in and around Halifax, the characters speak a dialect that seems more Scottish than English and, at times, sounds medieval. They say ‘owt” for nothing or zero, “methinks” for “I think,” “summat” for “something,” etc.  Be sure to turn on closed captioning so you won’t miss a word.

On Netflix and Amazon (seasons one and two). You’ll have to buy season three from Amazon.

The Legacy
One season, 10 one-hour episodes, originally appeared on Danish TV

An internationally renowned sculptress has unexpectedly expired.

Her adult children have been waiting for this moment, assuming they’ll inherit everything so they can start living the lifestyle they feel they deserve after putting up with mom’s eccentricities all these many years. They are about to find out they are mistaken.

Mom has left her estate to a fourth child she gave up for adoption, a sweet-hearted girl named Sunshine who works in a flower shop and has no idea she was born into a family of greedy vipers whose flaws and misdeeds are revealed over the 10 episodes that are conveniently subtitled for those of you who don’t speak fluent Danish.

The Legacy is compelling TV. And let's be real here. How often do you get the chance to learn about life among upper middle-class Scandinavians?  

Season two has already been shot but hasn’t yet been released.

Amazon Instant Video. Free for Amazon Prime members.

The Missing
Mini-series, eight sixty-minute episodes, originally appeared on BBC One in the UK and on Starz in the US

Continuing our tour of Europe, let’s head south to a charming village in France where Oliver Hughes, the five-year-old son of a vacationing British couple, has gone missing, snatched from his father in a crowded venue where drunk and crazed French football fans have gathered to watch the World Cup Finals on TV.

Oliver’s parents, Tony and Emily (James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor), are devastated, desperate to find him. The French cops go through the motions of seeming concerned but only one, Julien Baptiste (Tcheky Karyo), seems to want to help; the rest are strangely detached.

Who stole the kid? A local convicted child pornographer? Was it Garrett, a fellow Brit who has put up 100,000 euros as a reward for information and. it turns out, has a penchant for kiddie porn himself? Was it the boy’s father who, we learn, has a violent streak his wife knew nothing about? And what does that arrogant tabloid journalist have over the French cop who is withholding evidence that just might solve the case?

Beats me. We won’t find out until tonight when we watch the final two episodes.

Amazon Instant Video: You’ll have to buy the entire season for $12.95.

I’ll be seeing you soon. In front of your TV.

Friday, August 7, 2015

A quick interview with Donald Trump

Love him or hate him, there's no arguing that Donald Trump's performance at last night's debate was unforgettable. This morning, was granted an exclusive opportunity to sit down with the presidential hopeful to ask five quick questions. 

TD: You claim you’re the only Republican candidate capable of stopping Hillary Clinton from becoming president. How would you go about it?

DT: The Clintons are money-grubbing trash. As a wedding present they actually gave Melania and me a Thomas Jefferson soup tureen they’d stolen from the White House, put it in a turquoise box, and tried to pass it off as a gift from Tiffany's. A week before the general election I’d offer Hillary a billion dollars to drop out and trust me, she’d take it.

TD: Republicans are big on family values. Do you believe in family values?

DT: Absolutely. My wife, who sells jewelry through her own web site, has a net worth of $35 million. My five kids have trust funds valued at $25 million each. So the value of my family is north of $150 million but that, of course, pales in comparison to the $10 billion I personally own.

TD: What is your stand on abortion?

DT: If a pregnant woman could take a test and find out the baby’s she’s carrying was going to turn out like Rosie O’Donnell, I'd support her decision to abort. Who in their right mind wouldn't?  

TD: You’ve repeatedly expressed concern that America owes trillions to China that we can’t repay. What would you do about it?

DT: We'd declare bankruptcy like I’ve done four times with Atlantic City casinos I've owned. That, in turn, would bring down the Chinese government which would have to close its state-owned factories. We could then move all those jobs to Mexico, which would keep millions of wetbacks working south of the border where they belong instead of illegally crossing into the U.S. to rape our women. One decision would solve two problems at once. That’s the kind of president I’ll be.

TD: What person, living or dead, do you admire most?

DT: What a stupid question. Get out of my face.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

10 things NOT to take on your next vacation

 1. Roomba robot vacuum

Unless you’ll be staying in a certain Best Western on I-95 whose location we won’t divulge lest the owner be litigious, it is likely your room will have been vacuumed before you arrive.

2. Pan Am ticket

Pan American World Airways went belly up in 1991. If you arrive at the airport with one of these, the only place you’re going is home.

3.  Glasses like Rick Perry's

Donald Trump says Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas who is running for president, only wears them to “make him look smart” but you won’t look smart wearing them in Paris, France or Paris, Texas, and neither does he.

4. Baby grand

By all means bring your grandbaby if you’re headed to Disney World or some other kid-friendly destination but there’s no reason to schlep your baby grand or any other piano unless you’re a concert pianist who needs to practice every day and insists on using his or her own.

5. The “Jesus loves you ... but everyone else thinks you’re an asshole” hat you bought in Playa del Carmen

Seemed like a good idea when you bought it after downing five jumbo margaritas on your last vacation but wear it in public on this one and people will think you’re a dick.

6. “Mac and Me” DVD

Being waterboarded is more entertaining than this, the worst movie ever made, that was produced in 1988 to capitalize on the success of E.T., the Extra-Terrestial.

7. Dachshund doorbell

If you have a hand-painted dachshund doorbell like this, leave it – there isn’t a chance in hell you’ll need it. If you don’t, you can order it from eBay for the “Buy-It-Now” price of $22.95 and it will be waiting when you return.

8. Publix Original Style bread crumbs

Look, you’re not going to be cooking anyway unless you’re camping and, if that's the case, you’ll probably be grilling burgers or chicken or something like that and won’t even need bread crumbs from this southeastern supermarket chain.

9.  1936 Lufthansa German Airlines poster

Europe-bound? The plane in this colorful poster features a swastika on its tail – a graphic that was all the rage in Deutschland back then – but don’t even think of taking it with you unless you’re prepared to have it confiscated at Customs. We’re told it is illegal to import anything with that symbol into certain European countries.

10. Where He Stands: The Life and Convictions of Spiro T. Agnew

There are better things you can read on the beach – try Harper Lee’s latest – than this 1968 book that was rushed to press by the Republican National Committee after Nixon chose Agnew, an unknown, as his running mate.

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