President Obama To Appear On The Herd With Colin Cowherd This Morning

Courtesy:  ESPN/ESPN Radio

Courtesy: ESPN/ESPN Radio

ESPN’s Colin Cowherd will play host to the Commander in Chief this morning.

President Barack Obama will make a special appearance on ESPN Radio’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd this morning at 11am ET/8am PT.  The broadcast will be simulcast on ESPNU.  President Obama will discuss his bracket for this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, paying college athletes, and “one and done” in college basketball.

President Obama filled out his bracket predictions for both the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Division I Basketball tournaments in an ESPN exclusive this week.  He was joined by ESPN’s Andy Katz and Rebecca Lobo for the exclusive.  President Obama has Arizona, Florida, Louisville, and Michigan State in the Men’s Final Four with Michigan State winning it all.  On the women’s side, President Obama chose Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, and Stanford making it to the Final Four.

The Herd with Colin Cowherd airs M – F from 10am – 1pm ET on ESPN Radio, espnradio.com, the ESPN Radio app, Sirius XM, and is simulcast on ESPNU.

More information on today’s broadcast is available online at http://www.facebook.com/ESPNTheHerd and http://espn.go.com/espnradio/show?showId=theherd.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Martha & Friends’ Latest DVD Another “Magnificent” Holiday Themed Release

Courtesy:  A Squared/Vivendi Entertainment/Gaiam

Courtesy: A Squared/Vivendi Entertainment/Gaiam

The new Martha & Friends Easter themed DVD, Martha’s Magnificent Egg is another entertaining feature for the entire family.  The new release finds young Martha and her friends working on designs for Easter eggs that will be entered for a chance to present one winning egg to the President himself at the annual White House Egg Roll.  But what story would be complete without conflict?  When Martha and her friends present a webcast on how to design eggs, her classmate Samantha copies her designs verbatim.  Martha’s friends aren’t too impressed by the young lady’s general lack of creativity, especially when it leads to a tie between Martha and Samantha in the contest.  But on the eve of the tie-breaking contest, Martha’s basket goes missing.  The kids find the basket the next morning, which leads to a happy ending for both Samantha and for Martha.  Kids and parents alike will enjoy and appreciate the morals of friendship and that winning isn’t everything presented at the story’s conclusion.

The friendship moral is just one positive to this latest release.  While it is entirely CG-based, the bright colors used both in the main feature and the companion webisodes will keep young viewers engaged.  The features’ music also plays its own role as it’s just subtle enough to help set each scene’s mood.  Among the bonus webisodes included on this disc is another Easter themed short as well as a Valentine’s Day short.  Both shorts and the other two each show audiences some crafty things to do from making cupcakes themed for each month of the year to making an armoire for cheap that will help keep one’s stuff organized.  And it can be made from stuff right in one’s own home.  This saves time and money, just as young Martha points out. 

The bonus webisodes make a nice addition to this disc just as with the previous Halloween themed 2012 release.  Though there is one more bonus that kids and parents will enjoy.  That bonus is another of “Martha’s Craft Corner.”  This time, parents and kids can learn how to make a bunch of Easter themed crafts including: Chick Cakes, an Egg Wreath, Eggshell Flower Pots and plenty more.  Though, it should be noted that this feature might not work on some computers when put into their DVD drives. Parents would be well advised to try this feature on one’s own DVD player first since the compatibility issue might arise from one computer to the next.  That aside, it’s still nice to see that Vivendi and Gaiam have included Martha’s Craft Corner yet again.  It’s a great way to get kids into crafts and engaging their creative side.  On a deeper level, it’s a great way to get kids and parents interacting together.  In an age when the divide between kids and their parents is growing ever wider, this bonus is one more salvo in the fight to lessen that divide.  So, kudos is in order once again for Vivendi and Gaiam for this icing on a fun and festival holiday special.  It’s available now in stores and online.

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The Presidents Re-Issue Adds Even More For Audiences

Courtesy: PBS

Binders, Bigbird, and great balls of fire.  Both our current President and his opponent are all over the television and radio this year.  And it’s not entirely for good reasons, either.  How many people out there remember the debates between other presidential candidates?  For that matter, how many people out there can name even half of the men who have led this great nation?  Thanks to PBS, both general viewers and students alike will be reminded of nearly a dozen of those men.  From Roosevelt to Truman to Reagan all the way up to Bill Clinton, this seventeen disc set is an excellent watch for anyone who has any interest in politics and political science both inside and outside the classroom.

There are those who have made certain allegations about PBS.  But in watching this series, perhaps those same people will change their tune in seeing how wrong they are.  It is a fully unbiased look at the lives of some of our nation’s most well known and respected leaders.  It pulls no punches, showing each President in his high times and low.  For instance, the program focusing on Clinton leaves nothing out, including the scandal centered on former intern Monica Lewinsky.  Perhaps one of the most interesting facts from the newly added piece on Clinton was that he apparently originally did not want to get involved in the Serbian conflict in the late 1990s.  From what the feature notes, he originally wanted to leave that conflict to NATO forces.  But amid growing pressure from the national and international community, he finally gave in and took the lead in the air war that ended things there.   His ongoing conflict with then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was just as interesting.  Any movie buff will see some similarities to the Frank Capra helmed 1939 movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in the pair’s ongoing conflict.

Another of the more interesting segments included in this updated re-issue focused on President Harry Truman.  Anyone who has any interest or knowledge of Presidential history will find his history to be unlike any of the other Presidents featured in the set.  Truman, as documented in the set, came from the most humble of roots.  He grew up in a less than well-to-do family in Missouri.  He was unlike nearly every President before and since.  He ended up marrying his wife Bessie after having first met her when he was only five years old.  Through all the years that he could have strayed, his heart never did.  Even when he spent part of his young adult life in Kansas City, he never strayed a single bit.  At that time, as the feature notes, Kansas City was a rather seedy area.  So seeing that he didn’t break from his upbringing even then is incredible.  Even more interesting is that even after having married Bessie, he moved into her mother’s home with her and dealt with her mother for many years without even the slightest problem from him.  There is so much more that audiences will learn about Truman here as he gets two of the discs in the total seventeen discs included in the set, as does Clinton.

The features on Clinton and Truman are just a couple examples of what viewers can expect in this newly re-issued set.  Also included are:  Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, LBJ, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter.  The material on these presidents is more than enough to last an entire semester for a college level political science class and an entire academic year in a public high school.

The Presidents is available now.  It can be ordered online at PBS’ online store, http://www.shoppbs.org

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Delta Rae To Perform at Democratic National Convention

Durham, North Carolina’s own Delta Rae has announced that it has been selected to perform at the Democratic national Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina next Thursday, September 6th.  The convention will be at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.  Delta Rae will join music icon James Taylor as one of the convention’s performing acts before President Obama’s nomination acceptance speech.  DNC CEO Steve Kerrigan spoke on Delta Rae being added to the convention’s performer roster.  “Highlighting such amazing talent from North Carolina as part of the entertainment at the convention’s closing event is just one way that convention organizers are working to bring the flavor of North Carolina to all Americans,” he said.  He added, “Whether you’re one of the tens of thousands who received community credentials to attend this historic event in person, or tuning in remotely, you will have a taste of the wonderful region that is home to this year’s convention.”

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Records

Delta Rae member Ian Holljes shared his thoughts on being selected as part of the convention and on President Obama’s accomplishments during his first term in office.  He said, “Watching Barack Obama win election to the presidency in 2008 was one of the most affirming and exciting moments of my life as an American.  I am so thrilled to think what he can accomplish in a second term and I couldn’t be more humbled that Delta Rae’ music will be a part of ushering in that great hope.”  He expressed his support for Obama, saying, “We seem to be at a tipping point for so many important movements.  Marriage equality, women’s rights, and the protection of the middle class among them – and I believe President Obama’s continued leadership is essential to landing on the right side of history on these issues.”

Holljes’ brother–and fellow Delta Rae band member—Eric noted the importance of the youth vote in this year’s election.  He said, “There are currently so many issues being discussed and decisions being made in Washington that are going to drastically affect me and my generation.  I truly hope, as young people, we stand up in this election and let our collective voice be heard.” 

One of the songs on the band’s debut album, “Carry The Fire”, tackles the issue of North Carolina’s gay marriage ban.  ‘Chain on Love’ was a response to Prop 8.  Audiences can check out the video for ‘Chain on Love’ online at http://youtu.be/qnd9ylWsfRA.  Audiences can also check out the video for the album’s lead single, ‘Bottom Of The River’ online at http://youtu.be/bimam2j2gEg.  And to check out a medley of the band’s songs on Warner Sound go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQ_JqRcU9YA.

Along with the band’s upcoming performance at the DNC, Delta Rae will also be performing at Mike Dianna’s Grill in Corolla, NC on Saturday, October 13th.  For a full list of the band’s tour dates and all of its latest news, go online to http://deltarae.com, http://www.facebook.com/deltarae, http://twitter.com/deltarae, and on its official YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/deltaraeband

To keep up with the latest entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/ 381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

New PBS DVD Shows The Importance Of Knowing One’s History

Courtesy: PBS/Inkwell Films/Kundhart McGee Productions/Ark Media/WNET Thirteen

America is a melting pot.  Its history is made up of the stories from the immigrants who settled here from its earliest days.  Sadly, many of those stories have been lost because we as a nation have forgotten our roots.  We have forgotten from where we came.  Now thanks to PBS, a new special has been released that will hopefully re-ignite the fire among Americans to learn their family roots. 

“Finding Your Roots”, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a ten part special spread across three discs.  Gates interviews many of this great nation’s most famous names, discussing their family roots with them.  The famous names come from the world of music, acting, politics, and more.  One of Gates’ most interesting interviews comes in the segment featuring musicians and friends Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis.  Another was his interview with actors Robert Downey, Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  And one of the most interesting cross sections shown in this ten-part special comes in his interviews with Doctor Sanjay Gupta, comedian Margaret Cho, and famed personality Martha Stewart.  They, along with the other unmentioned interviews, make this special one of PBS’ best to date.

“Finding Your Roots” starts with gates interviewing musicians Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis.  Starting the mini-series with this pair of interviews is more than just an interview with a pair of famous musicians.  What gates and those behind the camera intended to do with this segment was to try and bridge the racial gaps of our nation.  The connection between Connick and Marsalis shows that while people may have different color skin, that’s all that really separates us.  Connick admits in his interview that he wanted to be black.  He says that he dressed and acted the part.  What’s really interesting about this is the discovery that one of his ancestors, James Connick, fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.  On the good side, it should be noted that James Connick  did not fight for slavery.  He fought solely for economic reasons.  He wasn’t even a slave owner.  He was just trying to support his family.  Apparently, Harry didn’t know this.  But it raises what becomes a very interesting trend that viewers will see as the special moves to other notables.

Just as Harry Connick, Jr.’s roots proved to be rather interesting, so did those of Branford Marsalis.  Interviews with Branford’s famed father Ellis Marsalis, reveals that Branford may have actually gotten his musical abilities not so much from his father, but from his mother.  Or rather, he got his talent from her side of the family.  What’s more, it’s also revealed that one of his ancestors was actually the result of a relationship between a white man and black woman.  This brings this very first pair of interviews full circle.  Gates tells audiences that despite the popular belief, far fewer African American males were born of Native American blood than believed.  Many more will find that they have deeper African American and European roots than Native American.  What it seems that Gates is getting at in this first segment is that while the color of our skin is different, blacks and whites may be far more closely related than we think.  We need only take the time to look back and find our roots.

Gates’ interviews with Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis are both entertaining and very insightful.  They’re just one part of what makes “Finding Your Roots” so impressive.  Another interesting pair of figures interviewed for the special is Robert Downey, Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  It’s revealed that both are descended from Jewish ancestry.  What’s more, Gyllenhaal’s Jewish ancestry is one hundred percent pure Jewish.  She admits in her interview some interesting facts that reveal ancestry and genetics play directly hand in hand.  Again, viewers will see this pop up a lot throughout all ten parts of the mini-series.  What’s really interesting to learn about Maggie Gyllenhaal is that apparently she’s descended from nobility.  It’s revealed through investigations and Gates’ interview with her, that Maggie Gyllenhaal is actually descended from King Henry I.  And somewhere along the line, she’s also linked to both George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush, as well as Shirley Temple, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  She showed that she had no clue about any of these links, and just how amazed she was by all of it.

Robert Downey, Jr., on the other hand, had much different roots.  He and Gyllenhaal both are children of film makers.  And like Gyllenhaal, he too has Jewish roots.  It’s also revealed that he has Swiss roots.  Unlike Gyllenhaal’s roots, though, he can’t claim connection to any real famous historical figures.  Ironically enough, he himself has become one of the biggest names in Hollywood throughout his career.

Musicians and actors were only a tiny portion of the whole that makes up “Finding Your Roots.”  Gates also interviewed Sanjay Gupta, Margaret Cho and Martha Stewart.  This feature offers perhaps some of the most interesting material in the series.  These segments reveal to both the celebrities in question and to viewers some rather unexpected and surprising information.  One of the most interesting pieces of information is that Martha Stewart has links back to the Mongols.  She laughs in discovering this as she admitted to Gates that her dog is actually named Genghis Khan.  What’s more, many of her ancestors also had professions that involved much of what she does today.  As noted in previous segments, it seems yet again that there is at least some link between one’s ancestry and one’s own personal genetic makeup.  Maggie Gyllenhaal admitted her pleasant surprise at her link to her Jewish ancestry due to her own recent personal choices before her interview.  Branford Marsalis’ parents told Gates that he got his musical abilities from his mother’s side of the family.  That link is explained in the connection to specific well known acts from the rich history of music. 

The roots discovered in conversations with Martha Stewart are the revelations of Margaret Cho’s family.  Her interview reveals that one of her distant ancestors was a very well respected member of his community.  What’s most interesting in her discussions is that members of her family are not actually Korean.  They came from other regions of Asia.  She shows her surprise, laughing about it.  She tells Gates that this was a surprising revelation, being that her parents always claimed such national pride for Korea.  This discovery is made through genetic testing.

Sanjay Gupta’s interview was one of the most moving of the entire mini-series.  Gupta shows just how amazed he is by all of the information discovered through the research done for his interviewed.  At one point, he even begins to tear up.  That single moment is perhaps the defining moment of this entire special.  The emotion that he shows is the entire point of the presentation.  So few Americans are aware of their families’ histories.  It doesn’t matter if someone is related down the line to this famous person or that, or if they are simply related to some random person.  It’s that discovery of one’s past is the most important.  It can make all the difference in a person’s life.  It adds that much more to the nation’s already rich history as a whole.

Gates’ interviews with members of the entertainment community reveal some very interesting notes about them.  It also reminds viewers that they might be just as interested if they take the time to do some research into their own family roots.  There’s no telling what viewers might find if they take that time.  “Finding Your Roots” is proof of that.  “Finding Your Roots” is available on DVD now.  It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org.

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History’s “America” is a wonderful story for all Americans

Courtesy: A&E Home Video

Two hundred and thirty six years ago today, America’s forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence.  While the signing of that document was one of our nation’s most momentous occasions, it would eventually turn out to be the starting point for many more important milestones in the nation’s storied history.  It was thanks to the Declaration of Independence that America would have to fight the British military for its independence in the Revolutionary War until 1781. 

Courtesy: A&E Home Video

The Revolutionary War was a key moment in America’s story first and foremost in that it was what would lead to the country’s true birthday.  While July 4th is consideredAmerica’s birthday, it wasn’t until British forces surrendered in 1781 that America truly gained her independence.  The war for independence was in itself, key toAmerica’s history for military and medical reasons.  When British forces first invaded America after the Declaration’s signing, militia groups had to break from traditional battle tactics, as noted in the series.  Rather, they were among the first to use guerilla tactics in the fight against the British forces.  That tactic was the first step in turning the tide in the country’s war for independence.  The introduction of French backing for American forces, a spy network used to infiltrate British lines, and proper military training also helped turn the tide of war.  These discussions will entertain any military history buff. 

The military advancements made by American forces were only part of what made the Revolutionary War a key moment in America’s history.  One fact that many individuals might have otherwise not known about was General Washington’s then highly controversial experiment to cure smallpox among U.S.forces.  Luckily for Washington and his men, the experiment worked.  As a result, his experiment is now considered one of the first great medical advancements made in American history.  

While Washington’s experiment is considered by today’s standards to be a major breakthrough in his time, more advancements were still to come.  The series discusses them in its Civil War segment.  Viewers who have not yet seen the series should be warned that some of the material in this segment may be considered graphic.  So viewer discretion should be used here.  The medical advancements made during the Civil War came thanks to future American Red Cross founder Clara Barton.  It was thanks to her efforts that far fewer soldiers had limbs amputated.  Even general treatment methods were changed thanks to her. 

Medical advancements weren’t the only positive outcome of the Civil War.  Throughout the Civil War, President Lincoln and the Union forces used the telegraph to communicate.  As noted in the segment, the use of the telegraph was a big reason for the Union’s victory over the Confederate states.  The success of the telegraph in battle proved its use in the civilian world, thus making it really the beginning of mass communication in America and thus a major aid in industrial growth across the country.  It is even compared, in this segment, to being the earliest form of Twitter.

The Civil War and Revolutionary War both played pivotal roles in the growth of America in its infancy.  There was at least one more key moment in America’s history that helped the nation become the world power that it is today.  That moment was America’s entrance into World War II.  The documentary’s narrator points out that before the country entered the war, three million people across the country were unemployed as a result of the Great Depression.  But all that changed when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor.  It was a “day that will live in infamy.”  But it was also the catalyst that restartedAmerica’s industry and economic system.  The need for military vehicles and weapons led the many shuttered factories to be re-opened for the sole purpose of churning out materials for the military.  Since the men were being drafted, women went to work.  Their going to work was what really kick started the industry and economy.  They were the ones who spent money.  As noted in the segment, that empowerment was also the beginning of the feminist movement inAmerica, too.  So there, too was another advancement made because of war.

War, it’s said, is hell.  This is true.  But it would seem that the most important moments in America’s growth came as a result of some of its most intense conflicts.  It’s highly unlikely that History Channel and those involved with this series were trying to argue the importance of the country’s conflicts in its development.  But there is no denying how important these moments in time were for America.  Of course, it had many more important moments, too.  And audiences can check out those moments on both the triple- disc DVD set and triple-disc blu-ray set.  Both sets are available in stores and online at http://shop.history.com.  While it may not manage to touch on every single tiny moment that made America the great world power that it is today, there is no denying that “America:  The Story of Us” is an excellent starting point for any history class (college and high school), or for general viewing.  It’s really the type of series that will get any viewer excited and wondering just what the next chapter in America’s story will be. 

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.