Category: Entertainment

Digging The Great Courses

Greatly enjoying The Great Courses Plus subscription. This time of the year brings long hours in the garden. I love it, but it starts to be a bit much after awhile, with my mind subtly shifting from “We must cultivate our garden,” and all the artistic and spiritual metaphors it evokes, to “Damn, this is a grinding waste of time.”

Podcasts help, but they’re like blogs: a decent source of information, but with emphasis on entertainment and production rather than reliability and accuracy.

Enter the Great Courses Plus. Curated, edited, taught by experts in their fields. The fare isn’t as good as it used to be, but it’s still awfully good. Ten years ago, I would’ve given their fare a “9.5” These days, I give it an “8.” In the old days, it was rare to get a bad course. These days, you have a much better chance, but with the “Plus,” you don’t have to buy the lecture to find out that it sucks. If the lecturer grates, delete it. If the presentation is confusing, switch to something else.


Interesting: I’ve long railed against female sportscasters doing men’s sports. Their voices simply don’t “fit” the game. Women aren’t on the field playing, so there is something incongruous about listening to them announce the game.

(Aside: I really dislike the “urban” accent of many black athletes, but in the context of announcing a game? It … Read the rest

I Was There When Vegas Came Back

What I Saw in Sin City

I went to Las Vegas last week, spending four nights at the iconic Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas. I spent Tuesday evening walking from the Nugget to the Strat, where I surveyed Vegas from 100 stories high for two hours.

The next morning, I covered five miles of downtown Las Vegas on foot, covering huge swaths of area.

On Thursday, I walked the length of the Strip, clocking in over 32,000 steps.

I took a two-hour bus tour and talked with the guide. I talked with Uber drivers. I chatted with all sorts of workers, from a farmers market vendor a half-mile north of Fremont Street to bartenders who make those frozen concoctions along the Strip.

I made notes. I came home and surfed the web. I bounced observations off my traveling companion (wife).

I then put all this into a giant blender and poured out these observations.


Primary Observation: Vegas is Back

Vegas, economists say, got hit the hardest among major cities. Nevada casinos alone saw revenues drop $6 billion in 2020. Vegas’ lucrative convention business was shut down. The reverberation through everything—other tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants—has been devastating.

I could see it Tuesday evening when Marie and I walked 2.1 miles from the Golden Nugget to the Stratosphere. We marveled at the ghost town feeling. After we left the Fremont Street area (which had … Read the rest

Three Things We Know About the Amazon LOTR Series

Photo by Jeff Finley on Unsplash

As long as I’m “on a Tolkien kick,” I might as well mention that the Amazon series is apparently delayed due to COVID.

People were estimating a 2021 release date, but now it appears it’ll be late 2021 or early 2022.

In the course of looking for that information, I learned a few things that encourage me.

One, Legolas will not be in it.

Whew. Legolas wasn’t in The Silmarillion, either the main body of the took that covered the First Age of Middle Earth, or in its expansive appendices that give an overview of the Second Age and early Third Age of Middle Earth.

But he wasn’t in The Hobbit, either, but that didn’t prevent Peter Jackson (“the Whore,” as he’s known among Tolkien diehards . . . who is not involved in the series, thank goodness) from destroying the three-part movie version with Legolas and the elves.

Second, the series is definitely going to cover the Second Age. When I wrote this piece, people were thinking that was the case, but it has supposedly been confirmed by Amazon. I suspect my conjecture and analysis in that piece will also be confirmed.

Third, the show will go on for at least two seasons. It is written to go for five seasons, but I guess Amazon has committed to only two seasons so far. … Read the rest

Driving the Chicks Crazy with Your Spiritual Life

Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Flat-Top Box

In 1961, Johnny Cash recorded Tennessee Flat-Top Box, an intoxicatingly-charming song about a dark-haired youngster who played guitar in a small Texas town cabriolet. He cared for nothing in life, except playing his guitar: “He couldn’t ride or wrangle, and he didn’t care to make a dime, but give him his guitar, and he’d be happy all the time.”

A guy like would be scorned for many reasons in our society. Jocks wouldn’t like his athletic inability. Career men wouldn’t like his refusal to get a job and make money. A culture obsessed with a frenzied array of activities would disdain his lack of diversity.

Of course, he might gain respect for his relentless effort to succeed with his guitar, like Olympic athletes who are admired every four years for the sacrifice they make to a single sport.

But I doubt the dark-haired boy concentrated on his guitar to gain respect or admiration. Such base self-love would gut the charm of the song. The boy loved playing his guitar, whether or not he got paid, whether or not he would be famous for it. Hence he played in a small Texas cabriolet. Constantly, lovingly.

And was real good at it.

He mesmerized the girls who came from all over (from the border of Texas to Austin) to hear him play. They would hock their jewelry to get money for the … Read the rest

The Continuing Crisis and The Week that Perished

The best lead columnist of all time is Emmett Tyrrell, who wrote “The Continuing Crisis” for The American Spectator for years.

I read the column while I was in high school, always being careful to put the magazine back in my dad’s stack before he got home from work. In the 1990s, I got my own subscription. I always read “Ben Stein’s Diary” first, then “The Continuing Crisis.”

Both columns are back, I discovered yesterday. You just need a subscription . . . to the tune of $10.99 per month.

I was bummed at that. I was hoping it would be $20 a year, but no: $132 per year. As I mentioned in this column, the paywall online publications vary wildly in price and content. I’m afraid The American Spectator ranks pretty low in this regard.

It’s too bad. I gotta believe Tyrrell is still brilliantly funny, and Stein’s reflections on his days in Hollywood are always fascinating. He gave Jimmy Kimmel his first big break on Win Ben Stein’s Money (to be accurate, I assume Comedy Central hired Kimmel, but I gotta believe Stein had some involvement). I still remember Stein writing that Kimmel had more talent in his little finger than most people have in their body and that he would make it big someday.

He was right.

I just wonder if he weeps at how Kimmel went woke. I know I … Read the rest

Listening to Podcasts at Oxford in 1374 and Kansas in 1974

Why do we love those conversational podcasts?

If you were a student at a medieval university, you listened to lectures.

And listened and listened and listened to lectures, often more than ten hours a day.

But they weren’t like lectures at today’s universities, where hundreds of students sit in a hall and listen to a professor deliver a monologue.

The medieval morning lectures were like that, but come afternoon, the lectures morphed into dialogue. The professor would assert a position, a graduate assistant would field questions or objections posed by undergraduates, and discussion ensued. At the end, the professor would summarize that afternoon’s conversation.

It was the “Scholastic disputation.”

Each session was meant to unfold knowledge gradually, as informed and inquisitive minds rubbed against one another, sharpening each other in the process, like knives rubbing against a whetstone.

Kansas: Early 1970s

The disputation, like everything else Scholastic, evaporated over the centuries and gave way to the mass lecture hall, with one professor doing all the talking.

In the 1970s, three professors at the University of Kansas brought back the disputation.

The three professors were John Senior, Frank Nelick, and Dennis Quinn, and they led the Integrated Humanities Program, a program dedicated to the wild notion of restoring a sense of beauty and poetic knowledge in its students.

The Program had a lot of facets (e.g., waltzes, star-gazing, great books), but its centerpiece may have been … Read the rest

Give Gloria! The Neo-Garage Rock Movement

My son turned me onto a musical movement that I’m not sure even has its own name

A music revival took place from about 2000 to 2015 that didn’t even have a name.

Which is fitting, its eponymous grandfather wasn’t given a name either, until after it had concluded.

In the 1960s, a rock genre came out of thousands of garages across America. They played Them’s “Gloria” and simple chords with heavy beats.

From Dallas: Sam the Sham & the Pharoah’s “Wooly Bully.

Union City, Indiana: The McCoy’s “Hang on Sloopy.

Los Angeles: The Standell’s “Dirty Water” (I never figured out why a LA band wrote a tribute to the city of Boston.)

Saginaw, Michigan: Question Mark and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears” (poor lead singer Rudy Martinez changed his legal name to “Question Mark” in anticipation of more success, but none came).

Pittsburgh: Tommy James and the Shondell’s “Hanky Panky.”

All these groups and innumerable bands that sounded like them weren’t given an identity until the early 1970s, when they were remembered as “garage rock bands.” (If you want to see the definitive, if expansive, garage band playlist, see the 165-hour compilation “Underground Garage Nuggets” by The Vault on Spotify, which includes nine versions of “Gloria,” including one in French.)


A similar thing happened earlier this century. I call it “neo-garage rock,” but I don’t think anyone else is. It’s part of the “garage rock … Read the rest

McConaughey on His Way to Rome?

Recommended: Joe Rogan’s engaging interview with Matthew McConaughey

Delightful interview from Austin, Texas, with Matthew McConaughey at the Joe Rogan Show. I listened to it yesterday while using my new nifty leaf mulcher to create some great winter beds for my garden (the mulcher is great, but (i) it eats the whipping string pretty fast, and (ii) it goes a lot slower if the leaves are wet).

McConaughey has always struck me as a genuinely decent guy, and this interview confirmed it. He has no problem confirming his Christian faith and I’m pretty sure he’s right-of-center politically. How right? I don’t know.

But what really grabbed me: his prayer life. He says he spends time getting in touch with himself every morning, then he “bookends” it in the evening by doing a review of his day. He does the review, he says, right before he does his prayers.

Wow. The guy is doing the Examen. He didn’t call it that, but that’s clearly what he’s doing.

I love seeing Catholic practices erupt into pop culture like that. I call it “Accidental Catholicism.”

I swear, Ryan Holiday is creating an entire cottage industry out of re-packaging Catholic spiritual practices under the name of “Stoicism” (check out these Stoic medallions that he’s selling . . . the guy is really clever).

Here’s the thing: If we Catholics have the truth, or the nearest we can … Read the rest