I enjoy reading about politics, particularly presidential campaigns.
Of the many such books I've read, "Game Change" is my favorite. It was written by reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann about the 2008 presidential campaign. Obviously, that election – with Barack Obama vs. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party primary and Sarah Palin as the Republican Party's vice presidential nominee – was full of interesting (and weird) stories.
The 2012 election wasn't nearly as interesting. Mitt Romney doesn't have an abundance of charisma. Neither does Paul Ryan, who Romney chose as his running mate. And, let's be honest, Obama didn't bring a lot of energy to his 2012 campaign, either.
Still, Halperin and Heilemann manage to make "Double Down: Game Change 2012" a darn good read. I finished the book early last month. I've actually finished two books since then, but I've had this list in my email and I'm just now getting around to sharing it.
Here, in no particular order, are things I found most interesting about "Double Down," and, hence, the 2012 election:
• Barack Obama really hates debates, and he doesn't prepare well for them. This was obvious in his first debate with Romney, which the president lost handily. In that debate, Obama seemed disinterested. Turns out, he was disinterested!
• Chris Christie was the most interesting Republican Party character in 2012. The New Jersey governor doesn't get that much ink in "Double Down," but the roadblocks his administration threw up during the Romney team's VP vetting process were telling – particularly in light of the ongoing "bridgegate" controversy.
• Bill Clinton still can flip the switch when called upon. His speech in Charlotte, N.C., at the Democratic National Convention was electrifying. Reading about his prep for the speech is nearly as fun.
• Benghazi was a bigger problem for Romney than Obama. Romney and his campaign bumbled every opportunity they had to make political hay of the deaths of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. You can almost feel Romney's pain reading about the thoughts going through his head at the time and the conversations he had with his campaign team.
• The president's disdain for Romney was real. Obama never considered Romney a political equal, sometimes to his disadvantage. But it was a bit startling, at times, to read about just how little Obama thought about his Republican opponent.
If you haven't yet read "Double Down," or "Game Change" for that matter, I'd recommend you do so.
Finally, this passage in the book really stuck with me, for whatever reason. It was written about the president discussing with his campaign team his accomplishments during his first term:
Obama didn't need to run through this preamble. Everyone knew the litany of his achievements. Foremost on that day, with the fresh news about al-Awlaki, it seemed the president was pondering the drone program that he had expanded so dramatically and with such lethal results, as well as the death of Bin Laden, which was still resonating worldwide months later. "Turns out I'm really good at killing people," Obama said quietly, "Didn't know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine."
It's the last day of sweeps month for network television shows. Hasn't it been exciting?
No, well, that's sort of how I feel about network TV these days. There are a few good shows on currently, but none that I included in my Top 10 all-time list I shared earlier this month. Frankly, cable network series are better these days than network shows.
Don't believe me? Then, check out my list of Top 10 shows currently on television. Tell me what you think. What do you watch?
1. The Walking Dead (AMC)
2. True Detective (HBO)
3. Parks and Recreation (NBC)
4. The Newsroom (HBO)
5. The Good Wife (CBS)
6. Episodes (Showtime)
7. Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)
8. Homeland (Showtime)
9. Modern Family (ABC)
10. The Middle (ABC)
Assuming it's not a shell of its former self, "24" likely will shoot up to No. 2 or 3 on this list when it returns in May. Maybe even No. 1, though I do like "The Walking Dead" an awful lot.
I'm Matt Mencarini. I cover city government and other happenings in Dixon.
It's been cold and snowing everywhere in recent weeks. Well, not everywhere, but even in places like Knoxville and Atlanta.
This winter has seemed colder and snowier and longer than others in the past, which means most people probably aren't looking to do things outside.
And since we're all stuck inside for the next few weeks, I thought I'd share a list – in no particular order – of some books I recommend reading while seeking a respite from the weather.
1) The Perfect Storm: A true story of men against the sea, by Sebastian Junger – 225 pages.
Junger is a genius storyteller. This book was made into a movie that starred George Clooney, but like most movies based on books, the book is far better.
In 1991, a fishing boat, the Andrea Gail, got caught in the Perfect Storm off the coast of Massachusetts. Junger starts the book by writing about the lives and families of the six crew members of the ship, then tries to reconstruct what might have happened on the boat during the storm. He "tries" to reconstruct it because all six men died.
It's beautifully written and full of details. And the weather in this book will make you think it's summer outside.
2) In The Woods, by Tana French – 429 pages.
This is the only fiction book on my list. I mostly read nonfiction, but my brother recommended this to me, and I'm glad he did.
French tells the story of two homicide detectives in Ireland who are working to solve the murder of a 12-year-old girl. The hidden past of one of the detectives becomes too much to handle, given the circumstances of the murder.
French created some really interesting characters.
3) Meat Market: Inside the smash-mouth world of college football recruiting, by Bruce Feldman – 304 pages.
This is the perfect time to pick up this book. National Signing Day, when many high school football recruits can officially sign letters of intent for their scholarships, is Wednesday, Feb. 5.
Feldman is now a college football writer with CBS Sports. He takes you behind the curtain of this crazy recruiting world with inside access at the University of Mississippi while then-head coach Ed Orgeron was recruiting the 2007 class.
The last line of the book tells it all.
4) The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe – 344 pages.
This book is about American test pilots in the 1950s, and specifically the seven who became the Mercury Seven – the first American astronauts.
It's also about Chuck Yeager, the man who broke the sound barrier for the first time. It's about "the right stuff" and what exactly that is. This book also was made into a movie, which is great, but I recommend you read the book first.
And if test pilots and astronauts don't have you sold, then Wolfe's writing is reason enough to pick this up.
5) Born To Run: A hidden tribe, superathletes, and the greatest race the world has never seen, by Christopher McDougall – 304 pages.
This book is about running. But not the running you or I do, or even the running that marathon runners do. It's about ultramarathons – 50 to 100 miles – in extreme conditions and the people who run them.
It's about a society you've never heard of in a place you've likely never heard of.
McDougall takes you along from the initial moment of curiosty about the best way to run, all the way to him being alone in Mexico's Copper Canyon in the midst of a race against some of the best long-distance runners in the world.
Bonus points because there's no actual running required when you read it.
Is Barack Obama really the worst president ever? Some people think so, and they spout off that view on the Internet. Others said the same thing about George W. Bush – and probably all of his predecessors.
My unsolicited advice: Take off your partisan blinders.
To level such a charge, you should have an understanding of all the other presidents. Not just the last few.
Here is my list of the best presidents:
• George Washington (1789-1797): He united a young country that could easily have disintegrated. He decided against running for a third term, stepping down voluntarily, an unusual act in human history. He saw himself as a citizen first, setting the right tone for the new democracy.
• Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865): In the Land of Lincoln, how could I not include him in the best list? He was a master politician, and I mean that in the very best way. He hated slavery and steadily moved toward his goal of ridding the nation of that evil. His presidency should be a leadership case study.
• Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909): One of history's more interesting characters, Roosevelt gave government a bigger role in the economy – anti-trust efforts, food inspections and environmental protection.
• Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945): He created much of the nation's social safety net in response to the Great Depression, not to mention his leadership in winning World War II.
• Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969): He expanded the Vietnam War, a big blot on his record. But his other achievements – civil rights, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, education – put him in the best list.
The worst presidents:
• Millard Fillmore (1850-1853): A lackluster president who did little other than sign the Compromise of 1850. In his post-presidential years, he took the cause of the Know Nothings, an anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant party.
• Franklin Pierce (1853-1857): He did nothing to unite the country, standing by as divisions between the north and south worsened. He was a compromise Democratic candidate in the first place, who essentially promised that he would do nothing about slavery.
• James Buchanan (1857-1861): Pretty much the same story as for Pierce. States seceded in his final months, while he stayed silent.
• Andrew Johnson (1865-1869): A stubborn man, he learned nothing from the leadership of his immediate predecessor, Lincoln. He had no ability to bring people together. Congress passed civil rights and Reconstruction measures over his veto. He was probably the most racist president, to boot.
• Warren Harding (1921-1923): He looked like Hollywood's version of a president, but he wasn't much of one. His administration was full of scandals.
David Giuliani is a news editor for Sauk Valley Media. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-798-4085, ext. 525. Follow him on Twitter: @DGiuliani_SVM.
Ellen DeGeneres will host the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday night.
Blockbuster and independent films will collide in many categories, including the award for best picture. The nominations for Best Picture are: "Captain Phillips," "American Hustle," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Gravity," "Her," "Nebraska," "Philomena," "12 Years A Slave," and "The Wolf of Wall Street."
That's a pretty impressive list. Far too many of those films are still on my list to see.
With an impressive crop of nominees, the Oscar will be awarded to an almost-certain future classic film, and it will join a profound list of some of the best movies ever made.
With that in mind, I took a look back and came up with a list of some of my favorite Best Picture winners ever.
Bear with me; I am almost a month away from being 27, so the majority of my choices will be within that frame of time.
"No Country for Old Men" (2007)
For me, the Coen brothers are hit or miss. But with "No Country for Old Men," they hit me so hard I can still feel it. The brothers are different. This time, different is good. So breathtakingly good.
I'm a huge fan of ensemble casts. The film includes Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Brendan Frasier, Terrance Howard, and more delivering some of the best performances of their careers. The film outlines the racial tensions in Los Angeles, and sometimes it's hard to watch.
"Lord of The Rings: Return of The King" (2003)
Move over Skywalker and Solo, LOTR is the best trilogy of all time. The crazy thing is that this isn't even the best film of the trilogy. Peter Jackson recreated J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy world better than anyone could have imagined.
"West Side Story" (1961)
I envy those who grew up in a time when American musicals were as beautiful as "West Side Story." I remember wearing out the VHS, trying to decide if I was a Jet or a Shark. To this day, "America" can still get stuck in my head for weeks at a time.
"The Departed" (2006)
It's one of my favorite films of all time. Easily in the top 10; perhaps in the top 5. The pace of this intense, modern crime thriller is perfect. There isn't a bad performance in the entire film. Sometimes it's fun when a film punches you in the gut. Over, and over, and over.
"Forrest Gump" (1994)
This film has had the unfortunate problem of possibly becoming more well-known for a catchphrase than the movie itself. I'll agree with some critics who say the movie isn't perfect. Lucky for us, Tom Hanks is. The award-winning actor delivers one of his best performances with one of the most memorable characters in the history of film.
There's so many other movies that deserve to be mentioned, including: "Argo," "The Godfather," "Ben-Hur," and "The Sound of Music."
I welcome you to take a look back and share some of your favorites. Perhaps, like me, you'll realize just how lucky we are to have seen so many wonderful movies.