Saturday, December 30, 2006

Year in rock.

Not quite done with your holiday shopping? The year-end music lists are out (*, +, $, @), and while there's something of a lack of consensus, everyone seems to like this. I agree. Might make a good belated present.

If you're just looking to flesh out an iTunes playlist with a single, it actually seems that the poppiest of the pop caught the critics' eye, with Justin and Gnarls heading the pack. Oddly, once again, I agree.

If you just want to while away a few musical minutes on the Internet, could someone please tell me why the kids from Be Your Own Pet covered their faces in shaving cream for their appearance on Conan? Or, you could just watch this:

Celebrating 2006.

Traditionally, the end of the year brings us a ton of lists that celebrate the events of the past 365 days. Dahlia Lithwick takes a slightly different tack, giving us a list of the 10 most outrageous civil rights violations committed by the Bush administration in 2006.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The dining dead.

In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Jim Carrey's character looks around a restaurant, and seeing a bunch of bored couples, asks Kate Winslet's character: "Are we like couples you see in restaurants? Are we the dining dead?" We've all seen them, and all feared to be them, even as we know that spend enough time with the same person and you're bound to have a dead dinner or four. Slate runs this slideshow of bored couples, and isn't it striking that, for the most part, they all look, well, dead.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What do princesses grow up to be?

Do you find this an acceptable fantasy for little girls in today's post-feminist age? The most recent NY Times magazine has Peggy Orenstein wondering what it means that little girls are just plain infatuated with the princess. Are parents terrified that living up to the feminist ideal means alienating all the prince charmings out there, and so they foster in their daughters the sugary-sweetest fantasies they can get their hands on? Is it the virginal fantasy that attracts parents who want to swath their little girls in as unsexualized a character as possible? (The problem being, of course, that the little girl princess outfit can very easily transform itself into one of those trampy rhinestone deals that have become so popular on much bigger girls. See exhibit A, to the right.) Or maybe, though Orenstein seems exceedingly dubious about this one, the current princess craze represents progress--an age when little girls can openly embrace their pink fantasies without sacrificing either ambition or power. After all, Orenstein's own daughter, despite her penchant for princessery, wants to grow up to be a fireman.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Kazakhstan is the new Thailand.

In a recent column in Outside Magazine (you can catch the Podcast here--The Big Idea: Be Afraid. Please.-- though it's probably not worth the effort), Tim Neville points out that Americans of the 21st century are no longer afraid of the so-called dangerous parts of the world, and that, in fact, a little unrest may even make a locale that much more attractive. Neville says he used to be the only guy around that could drop the exciting travel story--his tale of being accosted by Bolivian gunmen would without fail make the ladies swoon--but now compalins that, "I'm likely to be one-upped by some guy in khakis showing off snapshots of his fiancee posing with Thai soldiers on their way to seizing Bangkok." As he says, a coup is pretty hard to top.

For travel writers like Neville to stay in business (and pretty soon, for Joe Average Traveler who wants a good story to tell), the ante will need to be continually upped. Should we be rubbing our hands together in anticipation of some truly absurd undertakings, or--if I can use this strong of a word--do we have a crisis on our hands? Will adventure become mundane? That's the indication out of the Explorers Club, once a bastion of ground-breaking adventurers that has now become a sort of old age home, because, quite simply, there's very little that's new out there for the next generation to tackle. Either way, prepare yourself for some truly odd juxtapositions in the pages of travel magazines in the coming years. It will be up to you to decide whether you should laugh at just how silly it is for Outside to be running a feature on surfing in Alaska (surfing? in Alaska???), or whether to cry because you just don't care.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Jon Stewart is often at his best not when he's mocking the President or discussing Iraq, but when he's taking on the press. On Monday night's show, he did a bit on Time Magazine's Person of the Year for 2006. In case you haven't noticed it on the newsstands, this year's magazine has a mirror on it. Ostensibly the Person of the Year is you... or all of us. Clever, huh? In this clip, Stewart lambastes Time both for copping out and for taking itself too seriously.

If you've got some extra time on your hands (and presumably you do since you're reading this web site), it's also worth watching Stewart's interview with Iowa Governor and Democratic presidential candidate Tom Vilsack. In the interview, Vilsack tells Stewart that we need to end Iraq's culture of dependency on the U.S. What? We're barely able to keep Iraq from an all-out civil war. Where's the dependency? I don't get it and neither does Stewart.

The interview with Bill Kristol on Tuesday is also worth watching. Stewart just goes off on him and barely gives him any time to speak. It was unfair, but still funny.

All of these videos are available on the Daily Show website.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Congressional bigotry.

I'm often disappointed by some of the things that members of Congress do. Selling votes. Macaca comments. Personality consultants. But the letter that Representative Virgil H. Goode (R-Virginia) sent to his constituents regarding the election of a Muslim to Congress is one of the most bigoted pieces of propaganda I've seen put out by a member of Congress in quite a while. Usually when congressional leaders decide to be bigots or racists, they try to be subtle about it. Goode apparently thinks he has nothing to hide. From Goode's letter:
I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

The Represntative at the center of the "controversy," Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), had this to say:
“I’m looking forward to making friends with Representative Goode, or at least getting to know him.”

Getting to know him indeed! Here is what the Daily Irk voice of authority had to say.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mess for success.

These folks are arguing that messy people earn more and get more out of life. Finally some vindication! New Year's resolution: I won't clean my room.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A few questions before I do.

This article is at the top of the most-emailed list, so more likely than not, you've already seen it. It's a series of questions that married couples wish they'd asked each other prior to tying the knot. Nothing ground-breaking here--kids, religion, et cetera. Oh, there's also whether or not to put a television in the bedroom. And then there's the last question on the list: "Do each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?" Maybe they can just incorporate that one into the wedding ceremony as part of the vows. 'Til death do us part?

Monday, December 18, 2006


From Douglas Wolk's blog, I give you Panda Sneeze:

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Video games lead to violence!

Uwe Boll makes movies. Bad movies. And because his genre of choice is video game adaptations, Mr. Boll's bad movies have drawn a not insignificant amount of ire. It seems that people who like to play video games take their hobby very seriously, and also know how to use the Internet pretty well. And so a lot of electronic ink has been spilled decrying Mr. Boll's bastardizations of the beloved games. The bad press piled up, the box office take declined, and Mr. Boll got mad. Rather than make better movies, however, Mr. Boll chose a more constructive route: he challenged his critics to a fight. Oddly, four said yes. Did they think the ninja skills they had mastered in their video games would rub off in the ring? Needless to say, Mr. Boll, a former amateur boxer, won each bout handily, and may just face a bit less criticism when his next film comes out. It's sure to be very good. The plot summary felt the need to include the fact that one scene features "boiling blood" that "seeps" from someone's eyes, and that, generally, the film will "redefine the boundaries of extreme gore, physical and mental torture explored through cinema." It doesn't mention that it's very well acted, but I'm sure that's also the case.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bad taste?

The NY Times reports on this study out of MIT which showed that expectations have quite an influence on how food tastes. In the study, participants who were told that a beer contained a special ingredient preferred that beer over a comparison beer (even when the so called special ingredient was actually a drop of vinegar). So for the foodies out there, how much do you actually trust what your taste buds tell you? I especially wonder about what I'll call the find. You know, that little out of the way place that none of your friends have tried yet, the decor is shoddy, or a little bit idiosyncratic, and the owner, who hovers about the place is somehow 'authentic' or old school. Isn't that the kind of place the food geek just dreams about having up his sleeve to impress his friends? How much do you attribute the taste of those pan-fried noodles to the actual flavor, and how much do you attribute to the fact that you're eating them in a hut with a corrugated tin roof?

The end of the free phone call.

We all knew it was too good to be true. For most of 2006, Skype has been allowing users in the U.S. to call U.S. based landlines and mobile phones for free. Starting in 2007, however, you will need to pay $30 per year for unlimited calling in the U.S. That's still a great deal when you compare it to landlines, cell phones, and other VOIP services such as Vonage, but free is way cooler. If you haven't tried using Skype to make a phone call, give it a go before they start charging. I find call quality to be better than landlines most of the time, though occasionally I get a bad connection (usually restarting the calls clears up the problem and when it's free I'm not complaining). Just to be 100% clear, Skype to Skype calls will remain free.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ethical Food

This week's Economist has an interesting leader and special report on ethical food. Per usual, they take a contrarian view, arguing that you're not actually helping the planet buy purchasing organic or local food. The basic logic against organic food goes something like this. Growing organic food is more land intensive so the benefits you gain by growing organic produce are offset by less efficient land use and greater degradation of soil. Obviously I've simplified this quite a bit, but hopefully you get the point. I can't say I know enough about this stuff to feel like I have an informed opinion, but it's worth a read (and worth learning more about).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Crazy Dog

Perhaps you've all seen this already, but I just came across it. One word: hilarious.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

I'll have a Venti, please.

The BBC News is running a story about condom sizes in India. It seems that condoms designed to international standards are too big for the average Indian. Though the article is quite amusing, it outlines a serious issue; if condoms are the wrong size, their effectiveness is greatly decreased. Not surprisingly, though, most men aren't comfortable asking for smaller condoms. Well, I say we take a page out of the Starbucks play book and name the sizes after Latin words that no one understands. That way if you walk into the drugstore and ask for a Venti condom, no one will be the wiser.

Scientific breakthroughs?

The problem with getting your news from RSS reader is that it doesn't contextualize the stories for you. So here are three blurbs from the NY Times Magazine that seem like they might all fit under the theme of scientific discoveries of some sort. Are they running a special issue? No idea. So I'll just say that this is pretty incredible, this has major cool potential, and this is, well, just kind of silly.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Catch the A train.

Darius McCollum has been arrested close to two-dozen times over the last 25 years, the most recent of which was this past November. His offenses range from impersonating a New York City transit officer, to hijacking a subway train. Yes, you're right, the New York subway runs on tracks, and McCollum could not have taken the train anywhere other than round and round-- there was no get-away, and no damage. In all of these instances, and there have been several dating back to when he was 15 years old, McCollum has taken the train along its normal route with the passengers none the wiser. McCollum suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, a disorder which often includes an intense infatuation with some seemingly random area of study. McCollum's infatuation is, you guessed it, NY subway trains. Despite the diagnosis, the court system has been less than understanding, and McCollum has spent a good deal of his 41 years behind bars. In either case, four years ago Harper's published a fascinating profile of McCollum, which I was so excited to find in its full form on the Internet, that I simply had to pass it along. The formatting is kind of terrible, and it's long, but I think it's well worth it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Video games lead to violence? Sort of.

Normally, the debate about video games is that they somehow lead to violent or aggressive behavior out in the real world. But the new Nintendo Wii seems to be producing in-game destruction and violence--broken TVs, light bulbs, windows, and cut hands. For those who don't know, the Wii controller uses motion sensor technology so that it can be swung, stabbed, poked, et cetera, in imitation of what the video game character is doing in the game, whether that be wielding a tennis racket or a sword. There's also no wire that connects the controller to the system. The upshot is that rather than staying seated in front of the TV, gamers are up and about, swinging their arms around. In some cases of these non-catastrophic injuries, the controller has actually flown out of users' hands and smashed into the TV. In other cases, gamers have simply positioned themselves too near breakables, like light fixtures. Nintendo has issued the appropriate warnings.

Thanks to Nate for passing this along.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Vulcanize my penis.

I'm lifting this directly from William Saletan's blog on Slate, but it was too good not to spread the word.

A German company is currently perfecting the next great contraceptive innovation: the spray-on condom. Essentially, this will be a tube into which the man can insert, press a button, and then emerge... packaged? The advantage over the traditional condom, the creaters say, is that each condom will be perfectly fitted to the wearer. Now, whether this is an advantage because it makes for better contraception or because fewer women will have to listen to guys go, "Um, don't you have any Magnums?" I'm not sure. The obvious disadvantage, it seems to me, will be transport. You clearly won't be able to slip the thing into your wallet. How will men deal with this? Holsters?