Saturday, December 28, 2013


Contrary to Edward Snowden's assertions, this past year you didn't have to be the NSA to overhear some pretty damning stuff. Repeated endlessly was President Obama's assertion that "If you like your health plan, you can keep it." But there was also Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's admonition at the Republican National Committee meeting that "We've got to stop being the stupid party." And in an statement that seems like it was uttered by a character in a Saturday night Live sketch, but in fact came from the mayor of Toronto Rob Ford, "Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine. Have I tried it? Um, probably in one of my drunken stupors." As writer Christopher Buckley once noted, in the comedy business these statements are what are known as "low hanging fruit."

But it wasn't just politics that provided fodder for the list of top utterances of the year. There was Barry Manilow on the opening night of his Broadway show: "I was the Justin Bieber of the '70s. Really. Ask your mother." Then-IRS official Lois Lerner, in responding to reports that the agency was selectively targeting right-wing groups for audits, noted, "I'm not good at math." And how to take Kanye West (anytime, to be sure, but in particular) when he says" If I had to write my title, I would literally write ‘creative genius' except for two reasons: Sometimes it takes too long to write that, and sometimes I spell the word ‘genius' wrong. The irony." The irony, indeed.

Herein are some of my favs that likely rank below the top ten, but should not pass unnoticed.

"I'm basically the healthiest fat guy you've ever seen." - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

"If you're not getting a call from a terrorist organization, you've got nothing to worry about." - South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on NSA surveillance.

"I always feel like an idiot every time I fly first class because I'm a kid. And I just sit there, and everyone's got their newspapers and they're on the computer, and I'm like, ‘Can I get a coloring book, please? Can I get some crayons?'" - Actress Jennifer Lawrence.

"This administration does not support blowing up planets." - Paul Shawcross of the White House Office of Management and Budget in rejecting a petition for the creation of a national-defense "Death Star."

"I told you Skyler, I warned you for a solid year: You cross me, and there will be consequences." - Walter White in "Breaking Bad."

"The Pope buys a 1984 Renault. Now, there's a man who believes in the power of prayer." - Tom and Ray Magliozzi of NPR's "Car Talk."  

"Some of us feel we are in a circular firing squad." - West Virginia Republican Representative Shelley Moore Capito about the government shutdown.

"I'm worried that if we don't win, I'm going to shout out obscenities and that's not classy." - Actress Betsy Brandt on "Breaking Bad" Emmy nominations.

"The daily activity that contributes most to happiness is having dinner with friends. The daily activity that detracts most from happiness is commuting. Eat more. Commute less." - Writer David Brooks in a commencement address at Sewanee: The University of the South.

"There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in prejudice and racism, and they just have to die." - Oprah Winfrey.

"If standing for liberty and the Constitution makes you a Wacko Bird, then count me a proud Wacko Bird." - Senator Ted Cruz.

"They kind of stayed on the perimeter like the Red Sea. I felt a little like Moses." - Kobe Bryant after playing the Brooklyn Nets.

"I was lucky enough to know Jimi Hendrix. How cool is that?" - Paul McCartney at the Bonnaroo Music Festival.

"She can't dance, her body looked like hell, the song wasn't great, one cheek was hanging out. And, chick, don't stick out your tongue if it's coated. If you're going to go that far, then think about it before you do it." - Cher on Miley Cyrus' Video Music Awards performance.

"I share this with my sweet friend Amy Poehler. Amy, I've known you since you were pregnant with Lena Dunham." - Tina Fey on winning a Screen Actors Guild Award.

"I need this job like I need a hole in the head." - John Boehner, Speaker of the House.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves a good quote. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

What You Really Want

See that one over there? Socks. The long one closest to the bottom of the tree? Looks like a tie. And the big flat one near that drooping piece of tinsel? Either a sweater, pajamas or a new robe. All nice thoughts to be sure. But not what you really craved. In fact, odds are that you wouldn't even be wowed by a new flat screen TV, a latte' machine, even a bespoke pair of Uggs. Sure, any of those might be OK for some people. However, I know what you really want . I mean, yes, you NEED new underwear. But WANT? Here's the stuff you really wish you would find under your tree.

iWatch. Alongside the release of the new iPhone 6 next year (yes, they just rolled out the 5. Get over it.) THE tech toy to have will be the iWatch. With the release of Samsung's Galaxy Gear Watch, the kids in Cuppertino are just chomping at the bit to show off. They still have some minor tweaks to work out, like the exact size of the unit and some battery issues, but it's coming. Early prototypes are surfacing, and include such reported "wow" features as the ability to charge wirelessly from a meter away from it's base. Whether it works well or not is immaterial. If you consider yourself cool, you hope to find a picture of this under the tree.

Personal Drone. President Obama and Jeff Bezos aren't the only ones that can have their own remotely piloted aircraft. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAV's, are available from any number of sources for as little as $300. What to do with it? You can use it for aerial photography or delivering stuff to your neighbor. One sportsdad is recording his kid's football moves from above for use in a recruiting tape. And rather than a ring bearer, a guy in San Francisco had his wedding bands delivered to him during the ceremony by a drone piloted from the back row by his brother. Just think how cool it would be during your Super Bowl viewing party to deliver that hot dog to your buddy in the den via air.

Self Driving Car. You might have to be James Bond to have an Aston Martin, but you can be you and have an Infiniti or a Mercedes or an Acura, each of which comes with some variation on Radar Assisted Drive. This system regulates your speed in relation to the car in front of you, speeding up and slowing down as necessary. The Infiniti goes one step further, with Direct Adaptive Steering, which severs the direct link between the steering wheel and the turning wheels. A computer not only makes corrections per your movements, but can take over completely, so you don't need to turn the wheel at all. Add in Active Lane Control cameras, the car doesn't VIRTUALLY drive itself, it DOES drive itself. If you're an acronym fan, just tell the salesman you want RAD, DAS and ALC.

Outdoor HD TV. The C SEED 201 is billed as the world's largest outdoor LED display. Rising 15 feet into the air from its underground bunker at the touch of a button, it is a 201 inch screen viewable in broad daylight. Think the HD screens at Cowboy Stadium or Giants Stadium, just backyard size. Neiman Marcus is offering it as part of a package which includes a matching Dolby 7.1 surround audio system, a DirecTV satellite receiver and DVD management system, including 300 movies and concerts to pass the time between football games. The cost is $1.5 million, but you can also upgrade the sound to the C SEED 78 CAT MBX Giant Outdoor Loudspeaker system for an additional $1 million. And who wouldn't?

Health Care Plan. The gift that keeps on giving. Need I say more?

So next week on Christmas morning, remember to smile politely and say "thank you" to your spouse, the kids and your mother-in-law. And then when no one is looking, log into Amazon and return it all for a store credit. Sure, you may have to eat a few shipping charges, but keep your powder dry: the iWatch is due out come September.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is still trying to figure out what he wants from Santa. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sitting in Judgment

It was a week like any other. I ate at a restaurant or two, took a flight back and forth to a project, purchased a few things, resolved an issue with a credit card. Nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly things I have done before in days and weeks and years past and will do again, most without a second thought. But more and more I find I have to have a lot of second thoughts. Actually, seconds, thirds and fourths. That's because I have to relive every experience so that I can respond to the seemingly endless barrage of emails asking me to chime in for the good of all of you, and post my ratings.

No one used to care what I thought. Oh sure, they, they might say "what did you think of the movie?" or "was dinner any good?" or "how was the book?" But it was just fodder for polite conversation. No one really listened to my opinions, or God forbid, made plans based on them. After all, what kind of training did I have in film production or in the culinary arts or as an author? (Well, some, but you get the idea) Like you, I knew if I liked something or hated it. I also knew that as often as not there were others who had the polar opposite reaction: "You LIKED that restaurant? I got food poisoning there!" As my mother said, that's what makes for horse races.

Yet suddenly I'm a professional critic. Within a one hour span this week, I got earnest emails from an airline, a hotel chain and a credit card company. They don't just want my opinion, they crave it. "We NEED your feedback." "PLEASE Tell us about your flight! "How did WE do??" And if I delete the email or forget to respond? Less than 72 hours later, a follow-up kick in the pants request to do my homework: "You haven't responded yet!" "A few moments is all we ask!" "Perhaps you didn't see our request!" I half expect to get to the airport next time, have my ticket scanned at the gate and alarm bells ring: "Sorry, sir, we can't let you board until you complete our survey."

And it's not enough that I give them 3 forks or 5 pillows or 7 ducks. I have to dissect my experience, parsing every aspect of my visit. "Now that you've given us your overall rating, please take a moment to let us know some of the details." I mean, it was fine: what else do you want to know? "How was the bed?" (three snores) "Was the room clean?" (four mops) "Did you enjoy the in-room snacks?" (zero swizzle sticks: it was $7.50 for 4 cashews.)

But wait: there's more. Part 2 encourages me to write a novella capturing the full gestalt of my experience. It starts with tick boxes: "Check all that apply: Romantic dinner. Great view. Foodies welcome." Funny, I never see a box for "rude waiter" or "too much salt." Then it gives me free rein, as if I'm writing an essay to gain admittance to college: "Title of your review? (Example: This hotel has great features!)" OK, how about "Overpriced, but Close to Office." And in an anti-Twittter huff, I'm required to offer a minimum: "Please note that you must write at least 25 characters." So I guess "sucked" wouldn't qualify: it's 19 letters too short.

Finally the kicker: "Would you recommend us to a friend?" After all, in this Facebook-Instagram-LinkedIn-Pintrest world, nothing is thought to be as persuasive as your homies telling you who has the best burger. Interestingly, you always thought that your BFF Cynthia wouldn't know homemade pasta if it bit her on the nose, but these days a nod from her is thought to be the holy grail.  

So in that spirit, before you leave, please complete this short survey. Part 1: "On a scale of 1 to 37.5, please rate this column." Part 2: "Check all that apply: Snappy writing. Great pop culture references. Used all 26 letters." Finally and most important: "Would you recommend this column to a friend?" But I have a Part 4: "If your answers to any of the above are negative, please keep your opinion to yourself."


Marc Wollin of Bedford usually deletes the surveys he gets. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

If You Play It, They Will Come

Ask almost any musician why they do what they do, and they will tell you that they aren't out to make money. That's not to say it's not nice to sell a few tracks or CD's, or give a performance for a paying audience. But the fact is that there are very few Justin Timberlakes or Beyonces compared to the number of talented people performing and recording. For most it's a calling, and the goal is simply to get people to hear what they sing or play. And if they are lucky enough to combine the two, to find a receptive audience and make a living doing it, well, that's as good as hitting the lottery.

Dan O'Connor is one such case. By his own admission, he was "an unknown New York singer songwriter." A jazz guitarist, he wrote and recorded any number of his own tracks, gigging locally and picking up some nice reviews here and there. Back in 2008 he created a one page website to help spread his music, and put 7 songs on it. He got a few hits, but nothing major to speak of. Then he had an idea: "One day I updated the page to say that people could include the music in their videos. Well, the response was overwhelmingly positive. It turned out that small business owners, game developers, video producers, independent artists and online entrepreneurs needed cheap, quick music they could use for commercial purposes." Word got out, and usage started to take off.

He took a two-pronged approach. For those willing to give him credit, Dan offered his tracks for free. All you had to do to use the bluesy "Flying While Weeping" under your travel montage, or the Coldplay-esque "Sunspark" in your video game, was to place a graphic somewhere within the work that said "Music by Dan-O" along with a link to his website. Or if you couldn't do that, you could pay him $10 and then use it as you saw fit. No pun intended, but it struck a chord: "Commercial YouTube videos and Danosongs turned out to be a killer combination." And more and more visual artists of all kinds looking for tracks to back their work found their way to his site.

I asked him why he didn't just charge for his music to all comers. He said that while he does sell it, the exposure he gets from the free uses results in far more listeners than he might get otherwise. And since he maintains a web of availability, with his tracks on iTunes, Amazon and the like, people who see his credit click around and buy the tracks they hear or are led to his other efforts. The net result is that "when anyone searches danosongs or a song name they like, I am one click away on their favorite music service. So it turns out that this one basic idea, to give people a practical use of my music, has created all kinds of income opportunities. It pays a lot more of my bills that I ever thought it would!"

Dan has continued to expand his offerings, and now posts nearly 100 tracks on his site. The basic deal is still in place, along with an option to buy unlimited access to all his tracks for $49, a bargain if ever there was one. Now, some five years after he started the project, many have found his stuff perfect for their efforts. Search "danosongs" on YouTube, and you can find his tracks backing everything from "Intermediate Yoga for a Beach Bod" to "Blue Sparkle Galore Nail Art Design Tutorial" to "St. John Fischer College Countdown to Commencement." At last check, there were over half a million videos that feature his music.

Dan continues to write and record new efforts and post them to the site. When I asked him how he promotes it, he said that he doesn't have to: "The community and word of mouth around Danosongs does 90% of the work. I mainly just create the music and share it. The rest is up to the amazing creative folks who use my music." And that drives him to write and record even more: "It's a real blessing, which offers an incredible artistic freedom that I truly appreciate."


Marc Wollin of Bedford would have loved to have the talent to be a musician. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.