Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

Write an inaugural speech for Obama, learn where the real dragons live, listen to Bonnaroo in the dead of winter, and more.

Courtesy of WNET.ORG/Icon Films
Courtesy of National Geographic Channel

Friends, writers, countrymen

If you've ever wanted to be a presidential speechwriter, it's time to test your soaring rhetoric – with the help of Lincoln, JFK, and all the other presidents. As you type your eloquent prose into, the software alerts you to similar phrases used by past presidents or even your fellow citizens working on their speeches. Take their cues or stick to your own words. On Jan. 19, the best speech – a group effort – will be posted on in time for the inauguration.

Playing president

Like to try your hand at fixing the US economy? How about passing a new gas tax in France? Or negotiating building contracts in China? Soon you can assume the leadership of any country by playing Commander in Chief from IGS Inc., a new PC video game coming out on inauguration day. The preview trailer was released this week at (Note: the game is rated mature for mild sexual themes, strong language, and violent references.)

Here be dragons!

Dragons are fanciful creatures – fire breathing, maiden eating, and slain by fairy tale heroes. Or are they? Famed herpetologist Romulus Whitaker takes us on a science-based journey into the foundations of the many dragons that have appeared in stories from the beginning of time. It's a tossup which is the spookiest – the blind, albino salamander or the venomous spitting cobras or the island-dwelling Komodo dragons. The Dragon Chronicles airs Jan. 11 on PBS Nature at 8 p.m.

Bonnaroo redux

Music festivals attract top-notch talent for weekend sessions chock-full of mud, sweat, and really loud guitar solos. But festival season won't kick into gear until spring. Don't despair: Bonnaroo, the annual Tennessee gala is rolling out a multimedia feature called Bonnaroo365. Log on at, and you can stream expertly remixed audio from last year's concert. First up is a set by the rock act the Raconteurs; more playlists will be unveiled in coming weeks. Bring earplugs.

Racism in black and white

Incoming president Barack Obama faces daunting economic challenges but serious racial issues are not far behind as two documentaries from the National Geographic Channel make clear. Inside the New Black Panthers traces the evolution of the black power movement from Marcus Garvey to the present day, while American Nazis examines the growing strength of Hitler's white-supremacist ideology. They air back to back Jan. 11 at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Financial crises 101

If you're like most of us, the complexities of today's economic crisis are mystifying. But bestselling author and Harvard professor Niall Ferguson says a little bit of history can help. In the two-hour PBS documentary The Ascent of Money (Jan. 13 at 9 p.m.), he shows how societies have continually created and survived financial crises, in hopes that we can "find solid solutions to today's worldwide economic emergency."

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