Saturday, March 29, 2014


Ratings at CNN have soared during the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, despite a lack of verifiable information. - New York Magazine

"Welcome to CNN-L, I'm Wolf Blitzer. The 'L' of course is for 'Lost,' and you're watching the only network focused exclusively on what is not found. Yes, it started with the Malaysian airliner. But our ratings have shown that no amount of speculation is too much for you, our viewers. And so here at CNN-L we will round up all that is lost, and bring you whatever facts, speculation and downright guesswork we can. If it's missing, you'll find it on CNN-L. Let's get things started. Candy Crowley anchors our 'Lost Desk.' Candy?"

"Thanks, Wolf. You can see here a listing of all the stories we're tracking, but let me just highlight just a few. We'll start in London, where 16-year-old Melissa Patel was last seen around 10AM on March 7th in the Waterloo Street Tube station. Patel is from Stokley-on-Thames, and was on a school field trip when she told her friends she was 'popping over to the loo.' Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Don LoPedro has reported that when he came out of the Walmart on State Line Road on Tuesday that his 2010 Dodge Dart was not where he parked it. And in Markham, Canada, Alice Kelderhouse has reported that her keys were not on the peg where she usually hangs them. She says she absolutely remembers putting them there after her Pilates class, but, well, they're not there now. And Wolf, those three are just the tip of the iceberg. They keep coming in; we'll keep you updated."  

"Thanks Candy, great work. Let's focus on one story that's been the subject of a lot of Twitter comments recently, the disappearance of Buttons, a 2-year old black and white tabby in Houston Texas. For that, let's go to the Lost White Board, and John King. John?"

"Thanks Wolf. You can see here a picture of Buttons as provided by her owner, Emily Dirksen of West Lake. According to Emily, Buttons generally slipped out of the house around mid-morning, but always returned by dinner time. However, she hasn't been back in two days. This graphic shows the incidence of missing cats after two days in a three county area. As you can see by the data, it's highly unusual for one to be gone that long. There is one spike in Pineles county in October, but that is generally attributed to the demolition of an old theatre and the mice that ran out. With reference to Buttons, let me pull down this satellite view of the neighborhood, overlaid with a heat map. Each red dot represents a living organism outside a dwelling. If we filter out all dots over 20 pounds by heat signature, the picture gets much clearer. But even if if we further adjust for those which are horizontal as opposed to vertical, effectively eliminating toddlers, we still have well over a hundred possibilities. So any on-the-ground search could take some time. Wolf?" 

Thanks John, keep us informed. Another big story has been the disappearance of Bill Sandlebags' iPhone 5C in Omaha Nebraska. It's been over a week, and no real clues. We have experts looking at the possibilities, hosted by our own Erin Burnett."  

"Thanks Wolf. I'm joined by Former FBI Agent Doris Dipplemaestro and Retired NSA Specialist Colonel Lee Leberingway. Colonel, let me start with you: is this a national security threat?"  

"Erin, it's certainly a possibility. I don't want to be an alarmist, but terrorists have been known to use cell phones to set off explosive devices. In the absence of any solid information to the contrary I think it's a scenario that should not be taken off the table."  

"Agent Dipplemaestro, your thoughts."  

"I would caution against any rush to judgment, Erin. Nearly half the thefts these days are smartphones. So the simplest explanation, that it was stolen, is the most likely. Though to echo the Colonels' thoughts, it could have been stolen by a terrorist. We can't rule that out."  

"Sobering. Wolf, back to you."

"Thanks Erin and panel. Chilling stuff, indeed. We have to take a break, but when we come back, we have breaking news: that Dodge Dart has been found in Kansas City. Turns out it was a case of unpaid parking tickets. We'll have the surprising details in just a minute. This is CNN-L."


Marc Wollin of Bedford refuses to talk anymore about the you-know-what. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Something for Everyone

If you want to talk television shows, odds are you can find someone to talk with you about "Downton Abbey." Or "House of Cards." Or "The Good Wife" or "The Americans" or "Game of Thrones." Each of these has garnered praise from critics and audiences alike, and has reached wide audiences regardless of their origin, be it the traditional broadcast channels (PBS for "Downton Abbey," CBS for "The Good Wife"), cable channels both premium and basic (HBO for "Game of Thrones," FX for "The Americans") or subscription services (Netflix for "House of Cards").  

But we live in world where even the most downscale of cable packages has at least 50 channels. So even if you subtract the news outlets (MSNBC, CNN, Fox, Al Jazeera, etc.), the sports channels (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and on to infinity), the legacy generalists (USA and TBS) and the well-established specialists (MTV, Comedy Central The Weather Channel and Nickelodeon, to name a few) that still leaves a lot of stuff out there that you probably have never seen.  

Well, maybe. Depending on your particular interests, you might have keyed into one of a number of narrowcasters who have you in their sites. If you're a dog or cat lover, odds are you've stumbled upon Animal Planet. If you like to make stuff, there's DIY or Do It Yourself. And if you covet a new bathroom, you're probably have parked your clicker more than once on HGTV and its steady diet of real estate porn ("Oh baby, now that's a hot tub!").

Still, there's plenty you likely haven't watched. The latest growth area seems to be channels devoted to all things unsolvable. The Hallmark Movie channel, formerly purveyor of heart tugging films like "Ordinary Miracles" and "Freshman Father" is turning to the darker side and rebranding itself as Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. To that end it picked up "The Gourmet Detective" and "Garage Sale Mystery." Likewise, the Lifetime Movie Network, an offspring of Lifetime TV, a cheery channel geared towards women and home of such shows as "Dance Moms" and "Million Dollar Shoppers" is heading towards a possible name change as it increases its offerings like "Bond of Silence" and "Seventeen and Missing."  

The current leader in the unknowable is the former "Discovery Civilization Network: The World History and Geography Channel." In that life its success was, how shall we say, "muted." Seemed no one wanted to spend an hour watching "Akhenaten & Nefertiti: The Royal Gods of Egypt" or "Emperor of the Steppes." So it went about as far from civilization as you can get and still be on this planet, morphing over several iterations to the current ID Network, for "Investigation and Discovery."  

And what do you discover if you tune in? If it's dark and goes bump in the night AND it has bad intentions, they've got it covered. There's "Elder Skelter" which highlights "shocking stories of senior citizens who committed cold, calculated crimes." "Southern Fried Homicide" focuses on "salacious stories from south of the Mason-Dixon Line." "The Bad Old Days" highlights crimes of the 50's and 60's, while "Dates from Hell" talks about romance where emotional rejection was the least of the problems encountered. And "Wives with Knives" is about, well, you know.

And that's just for mystery fans. For shoppers who are tired of QVC and the Home Shopping Network, there's the Liquidation Channel and the Jewelry Television. For gamers there's the Game Show Network, G4 and GameTV. And because you (or somebody like you) asked for it, you can watch Veria Living focusing on a healthy lifestyle, Wealth TV (just renamed AWE) which has shows about all the things you want but can't afford, or the American Heroes channel, focusing on American Heroes (duh).

Beyond that, Netflix has demonstrated that you don't even need an antenna or cable to connect with the viewing public. In fact, odds are your children watch way less "boob tube" than you, and are shacked up with their laptops consuming programming via YouTube, Hulu and a hundred other online platforms. As of this writing, in fact, 53% of the traffic on the web is people streaming programming of some kind. All this means is that it's getting a lot harder to say there's nothing to watch. In fact, you can certainly still say it; it just takes a lot longer to be sure.


Marc Wollin of Bedford recently spent a week where he never watched any television. It was great. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Get Happy

In spite of (or perhaps because of) it being the progeny of one of the great pop musical producers working today, it's tempting to take pot shots at the song. After all, it doesn't take much to deny its musical complexity.  You can also sneer at its simple and repetitive lyrics.  Or just poo-poo its origin as the theme song to an animated movie starring one-eyed pill-shaped munchkins in denim overalls.  But the one thing you can't do is deny the power of "Happy."

It may have lost in the Oscar race for "Best Song" to "Let It Go" from Disney's "Frozen," but Pharrell Williams' tune has legs and then some.  That might not be too surprising when you consider that he was also behind two of last year's most successful songs, Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines " and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky".  In fact, Williams has the kind of track record that's hard to believe in any field, let along popular music.  He has written and/or produced hits for some of the most successful performers working today, from Madonna to BeyoncĂ© to Jennifer Lopez.  In fact, back in 2003, working with his producing partner and childhood friend Chad Hugo as The Neptunes, it was estimated that 40% pf the songs on US radio had his backbeat in them.

All this in a field that relies on the notoriously fickle tastes of the listening public.  For if recent history has taught us anything, it's that forecasting or predicting the next riff to hook the public's ear is a fool's game at best. After all, who would have thought that an angsty lament by a New Zealand teenager would be crowned a winner?  Neither the smart nor the dumb money was on Lorde, as no one outside her family had ever even heard of her before last year. But that didn't make a difference, as she had the top selling song by a female in 2013 with "Royals."

Williams' latest track has been described as a feel-good Motown throwback.  But whether you consider that a putdown or a compliment, listen just once to "Happy" and you will listen to it ten times, maybe twenty (just ask my wife after I put it on the playlist in her car). It is infectious and non-threatening, with easy to understand words even if they don't make a whole lot of any sense ("Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.")

For a real life example of just how hard it is to resist the pull of the song, watch the opening of the NBA All Star game.  Williams starred in the pregame concert, working through some of his more notable efforts with help from some of rap's biggest stars, performers known more for swagger and profanity than infectious pop.  He brought out Nelly to do his his Neptunes-produced hit "Hot In Herre." Diddy and Busta Rhymes followed with a basketball-tweaked remake of "Pass The Courvoisier, Part II." Williams played a few more of his own efforts (including "Get Lucky" without Daft Punk) before introducing Snoop Dog and "Beautiful."  One can only imagine the careful sifting it took to find family-friendly lyrics from any of these that passed muster in prime time.

But when Williams closed with "Happy" and brought back the rap royalty to join him, they looked like they were all at a 5-year-old's birthday party.  No bad-ass poses, no crotch grabbing, no gang hand signals.  Rather Snoop, Diddy, Busta and Nelly bopped and shimmied along to the smile-inducing single in a way that would be unlikely to be accepted inside 8 Mile, that dividing line in Detroit between middle and lower class.  Except that because of Pharrell, it's now accepted everywhere.

Still not convinced?  Then surf on over to  There Williams has created the world's first 24 hour music video where the song goes on endlessly with people singing and dancing around the clock. Yes, Williams is there numerous times, as are celebrities like Steve Carell and Kelly Osbourne.  But there're also two guys in tuxes in a train station at 2:20PM, a girl on an exercise trail at 7:08AM and guy in a chicken suit at 8:50PM.  All are indeed happy.  Watch it, and you will likely feel the same.


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

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Throwing in the Healthy Towel

It's hard to escape the commercials. Runners, swimmers, boxers, all talking about their favorite Subway sandwich. These are people to whom eating right isn't merely a good idea, it's essential to their livelihood. Sure, Michael Phelps could shill for McDonalds or Wendy's or Burger King. Odds are that any of them would be happy to pay him millions to stand there with a Big Mac/Wendy/King, and say just how important it is to his training regimen. But no one who has ever eaten one would buy his endorsement. Look, I love a cheeseburger as much as the next man. But I also know if Phelps had a few and dove into the pool, the only lap he would take would be straight to the bottom.

So it's a natural fit for Subway, which has built its image as the best house in a bad neighborhood. There's a certain ring of truth when he and Apollo Ohno and Justin Tuck talk about their favorites, usually some low fat, high protein variant. Even when they "go wild" and jazz it up, it's not with ranch dressing, but with veggies and hot sauce, toppings that would get a nod of approval from that doyen of good nutrition, Michelle Obama. It's all oh-so-healthy, with nary an onion ring or fry in sight. The kingdom that Jared begat appears to be as pure as shredded lettuce.  

But no so fast. Could it be that there is a crack in the quinoa curtain? In an effort to reach a wider demographic (in this case "wider" meaning greater numbers as opposed to waistline, though a Venn diagram would most definitely show some serious overlap between the two), is it possible that a world constructed on grilled vs. fried is crumbling like warm tofu? For how else to explain the latest taste sensation being promoted by the reigning king of healthy fast food, the Subway Fritos Chicken Enchilada Melt.

Yes, you heard right. Subway has a sandwich topped with Fritos Corn Chips, those little curls of snacking goodness, and the corporate sibling of Lay's Potato Chips. While it's hard to place the blame for our bad eating habits entirely at the door of one company, it's probably not too much of a stretch to say that Frito-Lay's products have made a significant contribution to the estimated 16.5 million tons that we as a world are overweight. And so for Subway, it of the "Eat Fresh!" slogan, to embrace one of the originators of the "Eat Fat" movement is a bit of irony at the very least.

However, the holier-than-though posturing would be forgiven if it was worth it. While some reviewers have said it is a nice addition to the chain's offerings, even those who like it outright give it what can only be described as backhanded compliments. At Man Reviews Food, Taylor Tamlin wrote, "The combination of the chicken, corn chips, and cheese made the Fritos Chicken Enchilada Melt feel like something straight out of Taco Bell." (In case you're wondering, that's considered a good thing.) And Dan Gentile at Thrillist said, "If you're craving a Jared-ified Frito Pie sandwich, you've come to the right place." As Nastia Liukin says in one of the chain's TV spots, "Uh, Yum?"

Alas, not all felt even that marginally positive. Shirley Qui at Grubstreet wrote, "If finding this sandwich not remotely as bad as I expected constitutes approval, then count me in." And Kevin at The Impulsive Buy put it this way: "Subway and Frito-Lay came together and birthed the half-breed antichrist of sandwiches. It gurgled and writhed in pain and asked me to put it out of its misery, and after I ate it, I asked the same of myself." Odds are he won't be asked to join Phelps on the set of the company's next spot.

Of course, you could just do it yourself. Buy a bag of Fritos, get your favorite sandwich and add your own crunch. After all, hand crafted is often better than corporate constructed. Or as Kevin wrote of the officially licensed version, "Titans meet but sometimes the story doesn't always have a happy ending. Sometimes it's more like when Freddy meets Jason, or when Alien fights Predator, or like whenever they try to make a movie with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. Sometimes it just ruins chips on a sandwich."


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

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Drive He Said

I confess I'm not a car person. Yes, I drive one. Yes, I prefer to have one that looks better than worse. Yes, I can tell the difference between a Mercedes and a Chevy. But beyond that? Let's put it this way: when we went to buy a new vehicle for me, and the question of color came up, my wife said, "Give him a green one. His last one was green, and that way he'll remember which is his."

At this point I drive a Jeep (black, I should point out). It was the car I always wanted. Not a fancy, upscale model, but the basic two-door Wrangler with bucket seats in the front, and a bench in the back that you have to be a contortionist to get into (not that I care; I sit up front). It's more than a little bouncy, and you have to climb up to get into it, but complaining about those aspects is a little beyond the point: if you want a Jeep-esque vehicle, there's a nothing like the original.

But with 80,000 miles on the odometer, it's starting to hit its half-life. I know there are people who keep their cars well into the hundreds, and that vehicles of that age tend to develop "character." Some might even argue that the quirks I'm seeing are endearing, from the emergency brake that refuses to hold to the windshield wipers that turn off in any position but down. But endearing? I think not. For me it's about transportation, pure and simple, and if it stops getting me from A to B, it's time for the car equivalent of the glue factory.

So I've been watching car commercials with more interest than usual.  I'm looking at models and features, technical specs and pricing. And while I have a certain feature set in mind, I'm open to just about anything that might fit the bill. But having paid close attention to my options, I have some thoughts.

I don't really want a car that can tow a space shuttle. I don't really want a car that can drive up a ski slope. I don't really want a car that can teach me Spanish. I don't really want a car that will help me reach my highest potential as a human being. I don't really want a car that can jump on top of a train, drive along the roof, then jump back off. What I actually want is a car that will get me to the train and back. Yes, I now it's boring, but it's me.

Yet identifying one that can accomplish that very simple task from the ads is a difficult thing to do. If I'm running from a "doberhuahua" dog, want to buy a car that shows my solidarity with the people of Detroit and helps that city climb out of bankruptcy, or need to carry the cast of the Muppets movie, I know what to buy. And it's entirely possible a that a car like the new Kia that bends the spoons of people eating in restaurants, causes street lights to blow out and the other cars to flip over would be fine for my morning commute. But do I really want to take the chance of causing that kind of mayhem on Route 22 at 7:02AM?

So here's the wish list. Good mileage and a comfortable ride. Where we live, four wheel drive, while not a necessity, is certainly a good idea. I like sitting high as opposed to looking up at the world, and a stick is nice but not a deal breaker. A good sound system is a plus, and I confess I've grown fond of being able to put the top down in warm weather. And I shouldn't have to mortgage the house to get it. After all, we just got out from that debt, and I really don't need to do that again.

I have yet to see a commercial for a vehicle that answers those needs. But if need one that Ironman Tony Stark feels at home in, I know just what to buy. That being said, I do wonder what Tony would do if he was stuck behind a school bus. Now, if he can make a legal move to get around that, I just might consider buying what's he's driving.


Marc Wollin of Bedford isn't sure how many cylinders he has. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.