Friday, December 30, 2011

Ten Best Books I Read In 2011

At the end of every year, I will create a blog post of the ten best books I read throughout the year. These books do not necessarily have to have been published and released to the public in 2011, but they were books that were read throughout the year. On average, I read close to twenty books a year, give or take a few books. This year, I was fortunate enough to be able to read thirty, which to me is always a plus. I'm on my thirty first book at the moment, Stephen King's 11/22/63, but will probably finish it in 2012, unless I find a wide amount of time to simply commit to reading. I don't see that happening with the plans on my radar. Coincidentally, I began reading Stephen King's IT at the end of 2010 and completed it in 2011. Reading Stephen King books to complete the year may end up being an unintentionally trend then, eh!

My top ten include books of all kinds. Some of the books are from the horror fiction genre of which I find to be a lost art, a lost art that I hope to pursue success. Some of the books simply caught my eye, whether it be on the mainstream market or because of their simple impression of popularity with the reader's community. Some of the books were simply me broadening my horizons and trying new things. Finally, there were some books that were simply recommendations from other people. If you recommended a book to me and you see it on my top ten list, then I offer my thanks for the recommendation and look forward to exchanging books and titles in the future.

I will present the list in a countdown format, as it increases excitement. Hopefully you thoroughly enjoy the list for what it is. We shall now begin!

#10- Dead Sea by Brian Keene- I discovered Brian Keene when I bought this book at the flea market. He seems to show strong interest in adding his two cents to the zombie craze that is oh so popular at this time. Horror fiction is becoming such a lost art and authors who write in the genre (with the exception of Stephen King and occasionally Dean Koontz) are often looked over. If you like zombies, don't overlook Keene. The protagonist is Lamar Reed, who is black and gay. He realizes that this is the double whammy that makes him somewhat of an outcast to society, but he's a guy that I would most definitely want to hang out with on a regular day. He is blunt and he hates those that add fuel to the stereotypes of blacks and gays. The land becomes uninhabitable, invaded by zombies, and everyone is forced to live in a ship heading out to sea. However, escaping zombie life in the apocalyptic world may be a far more daunting task. Dead Sea is a strong take on a zombie novel that comes off as a light read, but at the same time will keep your attention.

#9- Doctor Rat by William Kotzwinkle- It may be a book of pure insanity. The point of the matter is that this novel is a satire that delivers such a strong message. Take Animal Farm, move it into a laboratory, and you got Doctor Rat. The premise of the novel is animal experimentation and the animals of all kinds (rats, dogs, horses, etc.) have had enough of being used for mankind's experiments. The only animal that sides with the humans is Doctor Rat. He comes off as being a philosopher of sorts and delivers his message with jingles that come off as being hilarious. His motto, which makes sense, is "death is freedom." Makes sense, because you can constantly be tortured, but when you die, you no longer have to live through the torturous hell that comes with experimentation in the lab. The animals engage in a rebellious revolt and can ultimately be summed up with a dose of common sense, something that even a young reader can realize is reasonable (though I would suggest that you don't use this book as a bedtime story for your young one. Enjoy it all to yourself).

#8- When The Wind Blows by John Saul- I am officially a fan of John Saul. His writing can keep you up for much longer than you need to be up and you care for the protagonists and despise the antagonists. In this novel, Christie Lyons moves in to the haunted home of Diana and her mother, Edna. Diana is thrilled to have a new adopted daughter, but Edna is far from thrilled, and does not believe Diana is fit for motherhood. In some instances, she is right. Christie, who is nine, sleeps in a nursery in which she is locked, and in an area haunted by the ghosts of dead children. Things aren't what you would expect in this area. Some of the events that happen in this novel could come off as being shocking. You do have to admit, though, that this novel will attract your attention if anything else. This novel was difficult to put down and it was read through completely in about a week's time. Buy this novel and it'll be very likely that the same will happen for you.

#7- The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde- I've heard plenty about this novel from several people, but have not had the chance to read it myself. After the novel was recommended, I completed it in a week and enjoyed the story of Dorian Gray and his self-consciousness. My issue with classic literature has always been wording. You really have to think deeply when it comes to reading the novel and pick up what is being described in the story. There are also monologue's that generally wouldn't occur in everyday life. I know that I don't walk in my window and give a monologue about the color of the sky and how it compares to my emotions. This novel crosses the paths of such topics as masked homosexuality, the consequence of a misdeed, self-consciousness, and symbolism. The way the novel ends ultimately makes for a strong message.

#6- Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire by J.K. Rowling- I never read Harry Potter in my life. I watched the films, but never read the books. I didn't have interest, because my strong interest in reading began during my sophomore year of high school, and by that time I was mostly reading adult fiction. I met somebody who happened to be strongly into the series and strongly wanted me to read the series. I did so and did it in less than two months. I enjoyed the fourth to six novels the most, but enjoyed The Goblet Of Fire the most. This is the novel in which the Triwizard tournaments between the many schools is being held, and while his participation is illegal, Harry Potter is mysteriously chosen in compete. This novel is the key turning point in the series and shows the most evidence of a bridge that connects the young adult to regular adult readers. I read the series, enjoyed this book, thought the series was well written, and feel that J.K. Rowling could be considered a literary genius. I am not a fanatic, however, and feel that the series was interesting while it lasted. You will not find me on Pottermore or at any Harry Potter convention.

#5- Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury- Bradbury originally wrote Dandelion Wine and Farewell Summer as one product. However, the publisher told him that he could only publish the first so many words and would have to wait to publish the rest. The first part happened to be Dandelion Wine and was released in the 1950s. It would be another fifty years until Farewell Summer was published. The novel could be extremely difficult to grasp, but the premise is just so magical. The summer has lasted forever and Douglas Spaulding does not want to grow up. He decides to declare war against time itself, but time is an unstoppable force. I finished this novel in a single day. This is a very light novel is a very innocent premise that reminds me of a good breath of fresh air. Bradbury has done a fine job capturing the essence the summer time innocence that comes with childhood. I have thoroughly enjoyed his literary genius that he continues to spread to this day.

#4- Dark Mountain by Richard Laymon- I discovered Richard Laymon and his work by engaging in some web surfing of horror fiction authors. I found Laymon's name, bought some of his books, thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and have been collecting ever since. This novel starts with two families going on a camping trip. They encounter a few obstacles, but their key obstacle comes when they confront a monster manchild, whose mother puts a curse of all of them. They return home and encounter several instances of horror. Enough to finally return to the camping grounds and confront the monsters. Richard Laymon's work are a pleasure. His works are much like Burger King, in the way that it doesn't play like the classics, but it's just so enjoyable nonetheless. There is a fair amount of blood, gore, nudity, sex, and what ever the what not, but that's adult horror fiction for you. The novel is just enjoyable to read and will indeed keep your attention.

#3- Life Itself by Roger Ebert- Roger Ebert may very well be the greatest film critic that has ever lived. I enjoy his reviews and how they are casual, yet formal at the same time. I check his take on the newest films each week and collect his yearbooks and other publications when they come out. With that being said, I had to check out his autobiography. He writes about his life and the highlights in it. It isn't necessarily a traditional autobiography, but that's a good thing. Ebert writes about the things that he felt were most important. He writes about his upbringing, going to Catholic school, his alcoholism, his early relationships, his favorite people in the cinema world, Gene Siskel, Chaz Ebert, as well as the cancer and surgeries that left him without a jaw and unable to speak, but still a devoted fan to cinema. Ebert fills us in with things that stood out in his life, and that was what was truly worth reading.

#2- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson- I finally decided to begin reading the Millennium trilogy that Swedish author Stieg Larsson wrote and was published after his tragic death. The novel was supposed to be ten novels, but Larsson died midway into writing the fourth novel, which was never published. As for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, originally called Men Who Hate Women in Sweden, is about journalist Mikael Blomkvist and how Henrik Vanger wants him to look into the disappearance of a relative. Blomkvist is assisted by computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, who has several tattoos and piercings, but not much of a personality. The complete series has been adapted onto the big screen in Sweden and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was adapted in America just this year. The novel delivers much excitement, as well as much of an intelligent background toward each little detail. Including the family tree of the entire Vanger family most definitely helps when it comes to referring. I am definitely convinced to read the remainder of the series.

#1- Destiny Of The Republic by Candice Millard- I have been interested in information about the U.S. Presidents since the first grade. James Garfield, our 20th president, happens to be one of the extremely vague presidents who is not remembered for much, except being in office for a few months and then murdered. There's much more to Garfield than that. Destiny Of The Republic shows the kind of personality Garfield had, his personal life, the people who stood as conflicts (such as Stalwart leader Roscoe Conkling), and ultimately being shot by Charles Guiteau. Even more, it wasn't Guiteau that really killed him, but it could have very well been the doctors and their unsanitary and narrow-minded practices that killed him. This story opens up several doors that only the historians really pay attention to. Destiny Of The Republic is more about the assassination of a president. It gives us far more substance that history books overlook, and presents recognition that is often ignored in favor of the assassinations of more familiar presidents, such as Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. This book will make for an excellent history lesson.

Here is my top ten. It was a bit tougher than you would think, but that's the way lists are. The toughest part was between the ten and eleven area, as that would be the deciding factor. 2011 was overall an excellent year for reading. I strongly hope that 2012 is just as excellent, if not, far more excellent, because reading could only become better. Hope you enjoy these selections and if you have yet to check them out, check them out and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Television Review: Who's Still Standing

In this day and age, game shows have been ruled by the contestants that they choose and not the play of the game in general. It seems like the producers feel that in order for a game show to succeed, it needs to have contestants that can build excitement or create some form of emotion. Simply put, the contestant needs to either act like they overdid it on drinking coffee or they need to have some kind of story that's going to pull on the viewers heartstrings. The latter seems to hold more true for reality talent competitions, the former is generally something that a game show looks for. We know that this is not true, because Jeopardy!, which along with Wheel Of Fortune, is the best game show block on television. Jeopardy! is a show in which the game play and those who play the game well are the ones who stick out. Who's Still Standing, a new game show that originated overseas, has been brought over to America. It is simply another version of GSN's Russian Roulette, only the rules are different.

Who's Still Standing is a game show that airs on NBC and is hosted by Cash Cab host Ben Bailey. This in itself is a good thing. Several game shows have been casting "has-beens" to perform the role of host, as oppose to hiring professionals to do the job. We have seen Howie Mandel, Bob Saget (though being the host of the original America's Funniest Home Videos could count in his favor), Jeff Foxworthy, Penn Jillette, Kevin Pollack, among others hosting shows when there is so much out there, like Ben Bailey. Bailey has a good sense of humor and a personality that makes him someone you would enjoy hanging out with.

On Who's Still Standing, a contestant has to take down ten "strangers" in one-on-one trivia battles in order to win the grade prize of $1,000,000. They each have twenty seconds to come up with the correct answer. As long as you can come up with a correct answer in twenty seconds, you remain in the game. The battle continues to go back and forth until someone runs out of time on a specific question. In that case, that person would drop through their trapdoor. If this happens to be the contestant, then the stranger wins $10,000. If this happens to be the stranger, then the contestant wins money in their bank that depends on how much the stranger is worth. This amount can range from $1,000 to $20,000. The questions are relatively simple, unlike many other trivia based game shows. Some of the occasions in which someone gets stumped is on ridiculous occasions. For instance, someone couldn't figure out Al Gore made a movie about global warming. The contestant is given two passes for the first five rounds, meaning if they are stumped on an answer, they could force the stranger to answer the question. The stranger has no such help. After five battles, the contestant gains the option to walk away if they wish after each battle. They also gain an extra pass.

There are several faults about the show. The first is the simple holiday theme that is being extended past the holidays. Santa's voice as the narrator (and not even a good Santa at that) has begun to get on my nerves. The commercials also occur during the middle of a battle. When they return, they act like they were just taking a break, and then return to the same position that they were once in. I find that to be really annoying. It makes it feel like the curtain between what we see and what really is happening is thin and dainty. Another fault is how the show allows the time to control the game play. On many game shows, either time boundaries already exist or the contestant returns the next week. On this show, the game play is cramped into the one episode, thus we have come up with the pattern of knowing what's going to happen. That and the fact that the contestants on this show walk away pretty quickly. On the first five episodes, three of them walked away after the fifth question and two walked away after the seventh. In the most recent episode (the December 26th episode), the female contestant mentioned that she couldn't stand it when contestants walked away early and didn't take the risk and continue playing the game. The show takes commercial. When they come back, she begins choking up and saying how $51,000 is a lot of money and that it could help her with a down payment. Then she chooses to walk away. This goes to show me that she is either a hypocrite or she was told what to do. I don't want to think the former, nor do I want to think the latter, but the latter could be a possibility.

On many occasions, the remaining strangers participate in a speed round where they have ten seconds to answer questions. Correct answers add to the jackpot and incorrect answers cause the stranger to drop. The last one standing wins the jackpot. It's also exciting to see Ben Bailey dropping through the trapdoor at the end of each episode. It shows that the host has a personality and is open to having fun. Though Russian Roulette host Mark Walberg did it during the Playboy episode and substitute host Todd Newton did the same when he was subbing.

Who's Still Standing will be airing on Monday nights at 8 PM EDT on NBC for at least the rest of January. The show does have a good amount of potential. While there are many quirks that I have, I am a game show enthusiast. For the ordinary viewer, you will have a good time watching the show. You'll enjoy the comedy element of watching different types of people dropping through trapdoors and playing along with fairly simple questions (which is something new for Ben Bailey, because the questions on Cash Cab were fairly difficult). If you can overlook the faults, you'll enjoy the experience. If you can ignore the clock and the pattern you'll form in your head when you don't ignore the clock, you'll enjoy it as well. It's a good option for a current game show, even though I may be looking for something on the intellectual caliber.

Verdict: 7/10

Monday, December 26, 2011

Top Notch Television: The Twilight Zone

Sometimes all of us need to escape into a completely different dimension. We need to escape reality and enter some form of fantasy. When you enter The Twilight Zone, this fantasy isn't always a positive fantasy, but sometimes it is a world that we do not necessarily want to live. This world may very well be a world in which we live in the future and some of these scenarios have become extremely accurate in some way or another. The Twilight Zone is a horror fiction delight, because it plays with the mind and causes a kind of fear. This fear being what we as a society are allowing the future to bring.

The Twilight Zone was created, produced, and narrated by Rod Serling. Serling did a lot to contribute to the feel of the show. Whether it be with his narration or with the stories and scripts that he contributed, many of the stories of which he created. The narration that he gave was generally a bit of background information to start the episode and then to sum it up, he provided a "for instance," that would leave us, the viewer, to think about the entire episode. When Serling wasn't contributing, he had a wide array of writers, such as Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury (best known for works such as Fahrenheit 451 and Dandelion Wine), Richard Matheson (best known for I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man), among many others. What Serling had was a great team that produced such a great show, which had an original run from 1959 to 1964.

There were several highlight episodes in the series. "Time Enough At Last" featured Burgess Meredith, playing a bank teller who loved to read. He would read anything and everything, but it interfered with the way he lived, and those such as his impatient boss and nagging wife felt he needed to stop reading. When an H-Bomb hits and wipes out humanity, he's the only survivor. He finally has time to read, but a specific twist stands in the way.

"The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" delivers a strong message. The episode involves an alien invasion that causes the power to go out in the neighborhood and the neighbors ultimately blaming one another for being an alien. The message has to do with holding prejudices and creating scapegoats for our problems. This episode can be used in each of our everyday problems.

In "Night Of The Meek," The Twilight Zone gets into the Christmas spirit in a sentimental episode about Art Carney playing an alcoholic who plays a mall Santa each year. His alcoholism stands in the way of performing him well, but all he wants is to have a good holiday where all of the children are happy and satisfied. He gains help from a magical sack.

In "A Game Of Pool," Jack Klugman plays a pool player, challenging a dead great, played by Jonathan Winters, to see who's the best. The episode challenges the boundaries between life and death in a way far different from a visit from the Grim Reaper.

"To Serve Man" was in my opinion a strong episode. The story has to do with an alien played by Richard Kiel promising to serve man. Well, he holds his promise to doing so, but there is more than just one way of serving man. How about being served in order to satisfy aliens of another race... for dinner. It's so incredible how something that could be so graphic can be portrayed without being graphic.

"Nightmare At 20,000 Feet" is one of the more memorable episodes. Written by Richard Matheson, it starts William Shatner in his early days as an airplane passenger. He continues to see a hairy creature on the wing of the airplane, but only he could see this creature. This episode has been redone many of times, but as always, the original would be extremely hard to top.

These are only some of the amazing episodes in the series. Other premises that have been touched include physical appearance, computers taking over the jobs of everyday people, and the need to be exactly like everyone else. The scary thing is that this may very well be the direction in which we are heading. Rod Serling was a man beyond his years and provided us with different insights to what the future may bring. It was unfortunate that his heavy smoking would cost him his life at a very early age, but the legacy of The Twlight Zone lives on.

Even in Disney World, The Twilight Zone lives on through "The Tower Of Terror," which is an elevator ride from hell. Just imagine being in an elevator and having the chord snapped. The ride does have different experiences for each visit, making the ride that much scarier.

The Twilight Zone has really made an impact for readers who enjoy taking that extra mile to thinking about what they just read. These are readers that enjoy the experience that lies ahead and is willing to think outside the box. This is top-notch television that should definitely be checked out whenever the opportunity occurs.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Wishes

We are now in the heart of the holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Boxing Day, or just a simple off day to be with your loved ones, the holidays are here again. A time to cherish the moments you have with your loved ones and a time to sit back and enjoy everything you worked up to. Sometimes there are things that stand in the way, but Christmas time is a time for everyone to put that aside and show a bit of joy and happiness.

We may better know the holiday season as being a period of time filled with commercialized advertising, crowded stores, scrambling to complete all kinds of shopping, and everything else in between. For many, the holiday season is being promoted by retailers as being a quick way to make a buck. For others, the holiday season is a time to complain about why we call the holiday "Christmas" and how we need to point out politically correct terms. The holiday season is a time where we should just put this aside and let others live the way they want to. I don't think we need to send three ghosts to every misers house now??? At this time of year, let's just ignore this and think about what is great!

For my Christmas season, I have had the complete honor of spending the season with those I cherish. I was able to spend time with my family and will spend even more time with them on Christmas Day. I was also able to either speak with my friends or visit with them, depending on time and distance. Being able to be with these people was the greatest gift of all. That is what Christmas means to me!

I want to extend my Christmas wishes to ALL of my readers and hope that their holiday season is fantastic! I also want to wish everyone a happy, healthy, and safe new year. God bless you all!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Big Cheeses: Parmigiano Reggiano

The king of cheeses! I couldn't go without recognizing a cheese that would fall under such a title. That cheese is Parmigiano Reggiano, and it's the one that I have had the most active appetite for. The fact that the best in the market is imported makes it more expensive than something we put together in America, but it's definitely worth it when it comes to finally eating it. Many have tried to interpret Parmigiano Reggiano cheese as Parmesan, and just as many failed to do so. There is much to say about this king cheese, because if there is any all or nothing cheese, this one is definitely it!

Looking at the name alone, you would know that Parmigiano Reggiano comes from Italy. It just so happens that the cheese could only be called Parmigiano Reggiano if it is made in specific Italian provinces. These specific provinces include Parma, Bologna, Modena, Mantua, and Reggio Emilia. Otherwise, the name Parmesan is generally put into use. Parmigiano Reggiano has since spread and been extremely popular with several dishes. Whether it's grated on top of pasta, used in a soup dish, or on a salad in order to make the dish that much better. Of course, my favorite way to eat this cheese is just as it is.

Parmigiano Reggiano has a hard texture and a nutty kind of taste. If it doesn't crumble when you chop it from the block, it will surely crumble in your mouth. It leaves an orchestra playing in your mouth, tempting you to go for more. When it's in the right state, Parmigiano Reggiano is a brilliant cheese. Mario Batali even did his magic with this cheese by creating a bowl and filling it with grappa. There's a lot that could be done with this cheese, and this is a cheese that is difficult to create a disaster with.

If there's anything that's disastrous, it's the interpretations of this cheese. The biggest disaster is the Parmesan cheese that's sold in a container or shaker and laid out on a dry surface. While many practices say that cheese should be kept at room temperature as oppose to the cold temperatures in which it's often kept, the packaging completely hurts the taste of the cheese. Many of times, it's placed in a cardboard container. This causes the cheese to taste like sawdust, or sand, or the cardboard itself. Even when the packaging is dry, it takes the moisture out of the cheese and thus suffocates everything that makes the cheese excellent. If you have any intention of eating cheese the right way, buying prepared cheese that falls under this kind of packaging in a cardinal sin.

When it comes to doing the right thing and enjoying cheese the right way, spending thirteen dollars on a piece of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese shouldn't hurt if you do it on occasion and put the cheese to good use. The fact that it's called "The King Of Cheeses" is indeed an appropriate name and the fact that it tastes good just about confirms the statement. So do yourself a favor and buy a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano if you have yet to do so for the holiday season!

Friday, December 16, 2011

December Republican Debates

There were two debates that were held in December. One of which was aired on ABC and the other on FOX News. Both were held in Iowa and featured Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and for the debate held on FOX News, Jon Huntsman. These were the first two debates that didn't feature Herman Cain, and since this change, it seems as if the polling order within the field has become uniformed.

I will be doing something different than what I did for the previous debates. I will be reviewing how the candidates are doing in the debate and tying it with how they are doing in the race for the Republican nomination. The debates have become battlegrounds for the front-runner candidates, Gingrich and Romney to be specific. I will mention the candidates individually and grading them on how well they have stood their ground in the race.

Rick Santorum- Santorum's numbers are strong compared to his numbers in most other early states and nationwide. The problem is... those numbers aren't very high to begin with. He's running at 5% or slightly higher in Iowa and under 5% elsewhere (with the exception of his home state of Pennsylvania, which he tends to place in third and has polled as high as 18%). In the debates, he's asserting his ground and how he shows no nonsense for issues he feels strongly about. These issues include social issues and foreign policy. If you stand in his way, he'll fight his way through you. He's mentioned that he was consistent with his beliefs and stood by these beliefs whether they were popular or they were not. During the early debates, he was the candidate that didn't stand out in the crowd. Starting in August, when he was participating in a debate in Ames, Iowa, he became assertive with his views and the time that he had to express them. Santorum put most of his time in Iowa and not coming out with 15% or more (which I believe he comes out with 5% and 10% if he hits the jackpot) will be a loss that will result in Santorum's exit from the race. He seems to be a guy that's in it for the long run, but I also think he's a guy who will only get about 1% in New Hampshire and no more than 5% in any other state besides Pennsylvania. The FOX News Debate may have been the last we see of him for the 2012 race, but he could possibly run again. He made an impression during the debates and that's how we'll remember him for now. B

Rick Perry- It was the poor performances in the debates that caused the incredible shrinking of Rick Perry's campaign. It was an ad titled "Strong" that made Rick Perry even more unpopular and maybe even damaged his support from those who weren't social conservatives. In the most recent debate, he compared himself to Tim Tebow and how miracles could happen. He also mentioned how he was finally getting the hang of these debates. Yes, he's finally getting the hang of these debates, but now it seems a little too late. Bashing him in no longer popular in the race. Nowadays, people are looking to bash Newt Gingrich. Perry's numbers in Iowa and South Carolina seem to be in the mid-single digits and in New Hampshire, they are atrocious. I had mentioned that he had until South Carolina to make a splash or his campaign will be over. I stand by it. Perry is not presenting himself well and seems to be more remembered for his flubs than his feats. Getting 15% or more in Iowa, New Hampshire, and/or South Carolina will be key in the race, and Perry MAY get that much in South Carolina, but that's if passionate social or neo-conservative voters come out in the droves. Perry is not doing himself justice in the race and will need to pull something from his sleeves if he's going to want to come near the nomination. C-

Mitt Romney- Romney has consistently remained at the front of the pack. The race has almost always been down to Romney and somebody else. Romney comes off as being the most "politician-like," more so than Newt Gingrich, though being the most "politician-like" doesn't be the most "presidential worthy." Romney has taken his hits at candidates such as Gingrich, but has also been able to fess up to his mistakes and that he is NOT the perfect nominee. He did it last election when it came to his position on abortion and how he was pro-choice in the 90s when he ran against Ted Kennedy. This goes to show you that he does want the voters to trust him on his positions. Whether or not he's to be completely trusted would be up to the American people to decide. We should take what any politician says is a grain of salt, as that's just common sense. Romney's leading in New Hampshire and in or battling for second in Iowa and South Carolina. He will likely be able to clinch the northeast, California, Michigan, Utah, along with other states that generally go to Democratic candidates. If he garners a decent amount of delegates, he will likely be able to stick around until June, when primaries such as California and New Jersey occur. He comes off as presentable at the debates and will be a candidate to look at. B+

Newt Gingrich- In the many earlier debates, Gingrich was the blunt and aggressive debater who went after Obama, Bernanke, Dodd, Frank, the Democratic agenda, the media, and anything and everything else that stood in his way. He was like a freight train that was going in any old direction, but this direction was sure to be the right one. Gingrich is now the front-runner and is leading polls in Iowa and South Carolina. He is also the key target for several of the other Republican candidates. He is indeed a candidate that's going to take a lot of heat, as there are many dark spots to Newt Gingrich. Ron Paul took the first jab at Gingrich with an ad, and Michele Bachmann quickly followed with a pro-choice position of his. Gingrich happens to talk about the Reagan administration more than any of the candidates, as he was one of those who was in public office during the eighties. Gingrich debates well and his good debating has helped him move upward. He should be a strong candidate in the south and winning South Carolina, as every Republican nominee has won since 1980, could really be the decider. Gingrich just has to keep calm in the debates, but at the same time remain firm. He'll be a freight train whose destination could be the Republican nomination and then off to his next route: the White House. B+

Ron Paul- Many people say that Ron Paul doesn't have a chance and that there's no way he could win the Republican nomination. I don't know about that. He was just about a hundred votes from winning the Ames Straw Poll and it was Michele Bachmann that won that. At this point in time, the vote may be a bit more spread out, leaving some open space for Paul to prevail. Paul has taken advantage of the time during the debates. His reply to the fact that many say he doesn't have a chance is that anyone on the stage is more electable than Obama. Paul remains consistent with his views on foreign policy and how we need to stay away from the possibility of going into Iran. He mentions that Switzerland and Sweden are doing a fine job with their history of remaining neutral. This brings for heated debate from the other candidates with the exception of Huntsman, who has a moderate view on foreign affairs in the middle east, but not as severe as Paul. Aside from Gingrich and Romney, Paul looks like he is fighting for the big prize. He was the first to release an attack ad on Gingrich at the time in which Gingrich achieved front-runner status. Paul could very well be a dark horse for the 2012 race for the presidency, it's all going to come down to voters. A

Michele Bachmann- If there's anybody that's taking advantage of the debates and bringing their opponents down to size, it would be Michele Bachmann. She coined the term "Newt Romney" when referring to the skeletons that are hiding in Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney's closets, she fought Gingrich on his lax stance on pro-choice colleagues, she even fought Ron Paul and his stance on staying away from Iran. Bachmann is benefiting from the debate, but whether or not it will garner votes is something that's to be determined. Her support in Iowa is in the mid-single digits and closer to Rick Perry's. It's going to come down to Iowa and how well she could prevail in the first caucus. If she doesn't have a strong showing in Iowa, it could very well be the end for the 2012 Michele Bachmann campaign. Her numbers in New Hampshire are very low and South Carolina is a slight possibility, but nothing as strong as Iowa, which is just south of her home state of Minnesota. Based on how well she's fighting, she's fighting and fighting hard. She's got the spirit and that's what matters most. A

Jon Huntsman- Huntsman was not invited to ABC's debate as he did not meet the 5% requirement in Iowa. He was invited to the FOX News debate and it seems like for Huntsman, it's New Hampshire or bust. Unfortunately for him, the latter is much likely. Huntsman contributed his experience while he was Governor Of Utah and other brief ideas. He was not on the hot seat or engaged in any hot seat confrontations. Huntsman has not put a lot into Iowa, never did, and is likely to not put into Iowa so much anytime soon. New Hampshire's going to be his decider. He's polling at around 10% and will likely garner a vote of a little less. He does not have such a strong showing in any other state, besides Utah, and chances are he will end his campaign after finishing around fourth in New Hampshire. There's nothing Huntsman is really doing otherwise. C

As far as debates go, Michele Bachmann is taking more the most advantage of this time to strengthen her weakening campaign than any of the others and their campaigns of various strengths. However, going into Iowa, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul will be the candidates that will get the most looks. Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman are in the next tier under.

The next debate will not occur until after the Iowa Caucuses, thus the lineup as to who participates will remain in question and depend on which candidates remain in the race. A lot will come down to what happens in Iowa.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Holiday Pleasures

The holiday season has arrived, whether we like it or not. For the record, the only part we would dislike is the hectic shopping, the slew of Christmas music, and anything else that may be so fast paced that you think your head is going to blow up. Besides that, the holidays are just a warm and magical time that you get that really cozy feeling. The holidays are a time of year where you feel warm inside when you're able to make someone happy. It delivers the happiness of a good deed.

Another great thing about the holidays are holiday pleasures. I sure have many of those! Some of these pleasures could be enjoyed any time of the year, but there are some pleasures that are simply meant to be enjoyed for Christmas time (which is what I happen to celebrate).

Shortbread Cookies- I whole-heartedly enjoy shortbread cookies! They're like my fuel for the holiday season. I could go to a BJ's and get a tin box full of Walker's shortbread cookies and I will be set. If I put my mind to it, a whole sleeve could be complete in one sitting. The top of the line shortbread cookies come in four designs: fingers, triangles, highlanders, and rounds. Fingers are rectangular looking, triangles are triangular and look like watermelon slice cookies, and the highlanders and rounds are both circular, but the rounds are a bit more smooth in your mouth. Walker's makes what could be called my favorite make of shortbread cookies. The Danish cookies happen to be more popular, but they could sometimes be a bit too sweet. I remember getting a more unique looking tin of those and they were delicious. It's very likely that I consume about 90% of the shortbread cookies throughout the year in the month of December. They're just that good!

European Chocolate- Well, any chocolate lover could tell you that chocolate is great any time of the year. It just so happens that we want December to be a soothing month, more soothing than it actually is. European chocolate just so happens to be soothing. The different between Belgian and Swiss milk chocolates and other types of milk chocolate like the Hershey bar is that European chocolate tastes richer and creamier. It doesn't have the feeling of a sugary rush, but instead a feeling like you can cuddle up inside and feel like you're sailing on the sea. European chocolate could just about be consumed any time. It just so happens that Christmas and chocolate go together very well!

Cheese- Okay, okay, okay. I am a cheese enthusiast. I write a segment about "Big Cheeses" roughly once a month. In my mind, cheese can be enjoyed any time you feel like it. I just so happen to enjoy it so much more around the holidays. I used to attend Christmas Tea events at my high school, where one of the teacher's would make tea and then we'd have several snacks. I would always bring cheese and crackers. The cheese would be a cracker friendly cheese, like a Cheddar, Muenster, or Gouda. Havarti with Dill also went off well. The cracker would be the Shop Rite Entertainment crackers, which are by far my favorite crackers to pair with cheese. It has just the right taste and texture, but yet the cheese remains the star. This year, I bought a block of Parmigiano Reggiano (the king of Italian cheeses!) and cut off chunks to enjoy. Cheese is an excellent way to celebrate the holidays!

Christmas Music- They seriously overdo the music, enough to aggravate people and make them disagree with my opinion about it. They begin playing it right after Halloween, and by Thanksgiving, we're like "CAN'T WE JUST GET RID OF THE CHRISTMAS MUSIC ALREADY!!!" I think that the right Christmas music makes for the right Christmas experience. Listening to "Do You Hear What I Hear" and "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas" about a thousand times does stir aggravation. Then you have wonderful gems like "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy" by David Bowie and Bing Crosby, Bing Crosby's "White Christmas," and even Lou Monte's "Dominick The Italian Christmas Donkey" and your Christmas season has feeling to it.

Reading- Just like the cheese option, reading is a 365 1/4 day pleasure. It just so happens that I have been able to get a lot of good quality reading done during the holidays. Last holiday, I read Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, and thoroughly enjoyed it (in fact, it may be an upcoming "Excellent Read"). This year, 11/22/63 will likely be my holiday read. There's nothing more holiday pleasure than curling up and taking your mind away from reality and placing it in the plot of an excellent book.

So this should be some kind of positive notion as to how I feel the holidays should be spent. We all have our holiday pleasures and these happen to be mine. Well I might as well finish up this post and go forth on accomplishing one or all of these things! I may say this in one post or many, but have an excellent Christmas season!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Prediction: After The South Carolina Primary, Three Will Remain In The Race For The Republican Nominee

After hearing a ton of whiplash for alleged extramarital affairs, Herman Cain decided to suspend his campaign. Suspending his campaign meant one of two things. One, he was actually guilty of engaging in one or more of the  affairs or two, he was eaten up by the news media, who had to spread some dirt on a clean candidate who had a chance to win the nominee. Regardless of what happened, we will not be seeing a 9-9-9 tax plan any time soon.

That was what happened then. Now, it's about what is happening now and what will happen in the upcoming primaries. Seven top-tier candidates and a few second-tier candidates remain in the race. On the top-tier include Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney on the top, and now more than ever, Gingrich is really rising in the polls. Also on the top-tier are Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman. The second-tier candidates include Gary Johnson and Fred Karger. Buddy Roemer has decided to switch to the Americans Elect party, but will continue to compete in the Republican primary, which he will probably garner about a hundred votes, the same number that makes up the maximum amount of money that he allows donors to donate. With that being said, the field has been set.

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are the two candidates of which the Republican has their eye on for the nomination. This will become a fact after the South Carolina primary, with Ron Paul, who still has a viable chance to be a dark horse, being the only other.

The remaining seven will take part in the first three contests. The Iowa Caucus should likely be the key decider as to which direction the race will be heading. If Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum (or both) do not garner a good amount of support in these states, they will likely drop out. They will have to come out with at least a few delegates or 15% of the vote. Nothing else really matters. Bachmann at one point was a strong contender, but her numbers have since slipped. Santorum's numbers never made it far and his aggression was what has kept him around. If he realizes that things aren't going in the right direction, he may call it a day after Iowa.

The New Hampshire primary is going to be the decider for Jon Huntsman. If Huntsman does not come out in New Hampshire, he is done, as there will be little to no support in any of the other states. Gingrich and Romney should have strong numbers in this state, as this was where most of their effort has gone. Romney will likely win this state with Gingrich pulling in at second place. I can see Huntsman reaching between 5-10%,  but that's only a possibility. Gary Johnson will likely make a decision about going to a third party after New Hampshire as well. Fred Karger may think the same way, but he's just going to be a candidate that simply fades.

Rick Perry could very well withdraw from the race after Iowa, but I think he will stick around for the South Carolina primary. This is his territory and he should gain some ground after Cain's campaign suspension. South Carolina has generally decided the nominee and it has also been a conservative battleground. Gingrich should also have a strong showing. In the event that he overwhelmingly wins the state and Perry shows lacking numbers, it may be time for him to drop out.

At this point, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul will remain, and this should be the lineup for awhile. While Paul's name does not pop up as being a candidate to win a primary, I would beg to differ. He could very well prove to be a spoiler in his own right. The primary is going to be decided by the voters that show up and cast their vote. Ron Paul has a growing group of voters and if they show up, he may very well pull ahead. The same goes for the mega-conservatives who seem to back Gingrich and the more laid back moderate conservatives or those who are realists that look for the best option to beating Barack Obama, who back Romney.

In 2008, Ron Paul continued to participate in the race until the primaries were over. Even though John McCain won the nomination in March, Paul stuck around until June. At the moment, Paul confirmed he will not be running for Congress in 2012. I do not know whether or not he will change his mind in the event that things are not mathematically going well this time around. That will be the ONLY instance that he drops out of the race. Otherwise, he is going to be the third candidate that engages in battle between Gingrich and Romney, which may very well come down to the final primaries in June.

I'm calling it right now! The next Republican nominee will be one of the three candidates that I mentioned in the previous two paragraphs. These will also be the candidates that win primaries and make a splash. It will be interesting to see any one of them go up against Obama and fight him for the 2012 nomination, but that in itself will be something we just have to wait and see what truly happens.