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May 2004 Archives

May 27, 2004

The Future of Non-Reality TV

Count on USA Today to offer an article called "10 Reasons We Still Love TV", a thoughtful, serious analysis of why there is a future for TV shows with actual actors who play characters, despite the lure of reality shows. It's the 10 MVP's of last season, and it includes a few of our favorites: Adam Brody on The O.C., Jason Bateman on the I-can't-believe-it's-not-cancelled Arrested Development, Sarah Jessica Parker from Sex and the City, who did a good job pulling together a show that had long since gone past its prime into a funny and non-irritating conclusion, and of course, our true love and perma-MVP, Kiefer.

May 26, 2004

The Low-Carb Apocalypse, Part II

In response to plummeting sales, Krispy Kreme will introduce a line of low-carb doughnuts. The company will also expand further into less carb-conscious overseas markets, mainly Asia.

The Krispy Kreme brass are naturally most concerned for the ramifications of a low-carb diet on their customers' health. CEO Scott Livengood notes hopefully, "I think there is always a real possibility that people are going to decide a balanced lifestyle is appropriate for them and the dynamics will change."

A balanced lifestyle that includes massive doughnuts, of course.

(via ChrisF)

The Long, Dark, Night of the Car Alarm

All New Yorkers have probably experienced that sleepless night of alternately calling 911 and watching Escape from New York on cable television while that goddam car alarm bleats and howls outside their apartment building.

In an article on yesterday’s anti-car alarm rally at City Hall, Transportation Alternatives’ Aaron Friedman excellently describes the noises that strike fear into the hearts of city dwellers. "There's the Eeh-Eeh-Eeh!" he said. "And the Eh! Uh! Eh! Uh! Eh! Uh! And the Wreeee! Wreeee! Wreeee!"

Transportation Alternatives, frustrated by the City’s lack of action on banning car alarms, claims that the "type of noise produced by car alarms boosts stress hormones and has been linked to cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal illnesses, psychological problems and unhealthy fetal development.” They also estimate the car alarm “noise tax” that each NYC resident pays per year: $100 - $120/year, based on the formula (V x APF) x (N x NDI) = one minute's worth of car alarm damage to the average New York City resident. (V is the value of one minute of the average New Yorker's time, APF is the Aggravation Persistence Factor, N is the alarm noise over and above average street noise, and NDI is the Noise Depreciation Index.)

I’d say that’s about right, but would also add into the equation an exponential increase based on duration and lateness of the hour. Does a car alarm actually do anything but drive the neighbors straight up a frigging wall? Probably not. I’ve seen more than one car drive by me, alarm screaming, and have never been motivated to call the police – mostly for the fear that they would bring the car back.

Although the City keeps dangling that ban in front of us, it seems unlikely to ever happen. But you do have alternatives. New York City law does not allow car alarms to continue for more than 10 minutes and if they do, the police can use any steps necessary to disconnect it, and the owner can be fined hundreds of dollars.

So next time, instead of spending the night in agony, call your local police precinct with a description of the car (preferably with license plate number), and watch justice be served. Serves that bastard right when he comes out to find a $300 ticket along with your anonymous bitchy note on the windshield.

The Dangers of Trendy Dining

Patrons of fashionable downtown restaurant Da Silvano have had a rough time lately: Monday night a group of diners was rudely shushed and then verbally abused by the UK's Princess Michael, one of Queen Elizabeth's cousins, who is visiting the States to attend her daughter's ("Lady Gabriella Windsor") graduation. It turns out the the English have already been subjected to her offensiveness on many very funny occassions. Then last night, a man who had just been stabbed by his stepbrother stumbled into the outdoor dining area.

Remember, there are many, many other less traumatic Italian restaurants to choose in our city.

May 25, 2004

24 Season Finale: The Rise of the Anti-Hero +

24 axe

24 is a corny, manipulative, and outrageous show, but Kiefer Sutherland still manages to transcend it and bring us places television has never really gone before. Based on last night's season finale, we can conclude Kiefer's character, Jack Bauer, is perhaps the greatest hero in the history of TV.

In case you missed it, he uses an axe to chop off the hand of his partner/daughter's boyfriend [screen shot] and saves the day by throwing the hideous-virus-spreading device into the faculty room refrigerator. This bloody act is the coda of a season (a day, even!) in which Jack also shoots his boss in the back of the head, allows his partner to be tortured, and kills at least one federal prison guard during a jailbreak. Never mind that Jack probably could have just thrown a garbage bag over the dispersal device instead of amputating Chase's arm to get to it. What matters is that Jack will do anything to save America.

Emotional detachment is a theme of the episode, and we see how that quality allows him to what needs to be done, under any circumstances. Unlike more conventional heroes (Superman, for instance) who are both inspired and crippled by their emotional attachments, Jack takes a simpler approach: whatever action saves the most lives -- no matter how cruel it may be -- is the moral action. Neither Tony (who committed treason to save his wife) nor Chase (who thought he could have it both ways) can achieve what Jack does, because they both care too much. Jack is the man with nothing to lose, and is therefore the strongest.

In the episode's maudlin but brilliant closing moments, however, we see that Jack remains detached only as far as the mission takes him: when the world is saved, Jack has a private moment as he weeps [screen shot] -- for his dead wife, the horrors he's seen and committed, and the emotional life he abandoned long ago. -ADM

I would say that much of this entire season was about the enormous sacrifices people make to save the most lives, and the emotional detachment that this requires. Kiefer obviously has exhibited this quality the most: not only did he shoot his boss in the back of the head, he also had to shoot his field partner in the face (with what turned out to be an empty gun,) and he convinced his love interest Clow-dia to escape her evil drug lord boyfriend's clutches, which resulted in her death. And, of course, he amputated Chase's hand, and became addicted to heroin as part of a sting operation. Clow-dia also sacrificed herself for the sake of her young brother and father. Michelle shot and killed the panicking guy as he tried to escape the Hotel of Death, and Gael put himself in position to have the deadly virus capsule explode in his face in his efforts to save the world. That's a lot of sacrifice.

The full weight of the season does fall on Kiefer's shoulders in those final despairing moments in which he cried in his SUV. Kiefer has had a number of breakdowns throughout the show, but those were prompted by specific traumatic events, such as in Season 1 when he thought Kim was dead, and spends a good 3 minutes weeping on the dock in L.A. harbor, or when he picks up his wife's body in the final shots of the same season. This time, he cries for less specific reasons, I guess because of all the horrible things he and everybody else has had to do for the good of humanity, but I think this makes it more powerful. I would be happy if next season, Kiefer gets to spend several episodes relaxing on that lounge chair at Mrs. Palmer's fabulous beach home that we briefly saw her enjoying before she gets shot. -Amy

24: Last Episode Tonight

As was reported on the Link Factory, some clues were released today about plot developments on 24: many recurring characters did not get their contracts renewed for next season. I have some ideas about what might happen during tonight's season finale. Obviously, a whole lot of people will get killed, but I suspect that one of them might be Tony Almeida. Tony has really blown it this season, ruining CTU operations by caving to the demands of the terrorist who was holding his wife hostage. Did Kiefer let the President get assassinated in season 1 when his family was being held hostage? No he didn't! He subverted the terrorists' plot, made sure the President was safe, rescued his wife and daughter, and still made it to the Young Guns reunion. Tony, on the other hand, risked the lives of millions of people by letting himself be controlled by terrorists. And his terrorist wasn't even Dennis Hopper. Last we heard, Tony was facing life in jail, but I think he might not make it out of this season alive. Somebody's got to bite the big one, and I'm sad to say that Tony deserves it.

I would also like to take a moment to express my admiration for Chloe, who turned out to be my favorite non-Kiefer character of the season. Sure, she's dorky as hell, and sticks her nose in everyone's business, and refuses to just shut up and do her work, but have you noticed that Chloe has been right about everything, all season long? I like how Chloe inserts some reality into such an over the top show: Chloe always reacts to the insane things that happen on 24 with total incredulity and disbelief, pretty much like you or I would if we were on this show. Of course, since she is the only normal character, all the other, mental characters react to her with total irritation and hatred, which I guess we're supposed to feel too (like Tony and his "I'm getting real tired of your personality" line. So mean!) I also liked that difficult scene in which she told Adam to get with the program and do his job without screwing everything up if he was going to decide to stay in the office after he found out his sister was going to die of the hideous skin-eating disease.

Note that Fox has started producing a very cheesy talk show for fans--the actress that plays Chloe was the guest last week. You may also remember her as the Space Nerd Girl from Dude, Where's My Car?

May 24, 2004

The American Dream

The low-carb lifestyle can get so tiring. Sometimes, after eating my fill of eggs and steak, I don’t even want to sit down in front of the tv with that crustless cheesecake flavored with Splenda™.

Luckily, the altruistic food producers of our great country want us all to succeed on our weight loss journeys. Coca-Cola has announced the launch of a lightly-carbohydrated beverage, and it looks like soon you'll have to go to Canada to buy a danish made with white flour. Here are just a few other low-carb products available at your local store:

Fiber supplements (an essential tool for the low-carb dieter, if you know what I mean)
Subway sandwiches
Margarita mix
Entenmann’s cakes and cookies
Hamburger Helper

Eat up, America! You may end up in the hospital or the poorhouse, but with all these low-carb, calorie-dense, fat- and sodium- laden processed foods you can finally live the dream of losing weight without ever eating a vegetable again.

The New Generation of Avon Ladies

In a new effort to win committed customers from an early age (like at puberty,) Avon has launched a new brand, the trendily non-capitalized "mark", and a fleet of new Avon Ladies who will sell you makeup from the comfort of your own home. Ads for mark in teen magazines have catch-phrases like "Mark helped me pay for college, and thickened my lashes!" As part of their market positioning among young teenagers, mark marketing staff is spending a lot of time with 15 year-old girls, taking them out for pizza, and even accompanying them to the prom.

Sales "ladies" for mark are as young as 16, suggesting that Avon is fully aware of the profitability of peer pressure as a marketing tool. The online application to be a mark salesgirl offers "flip burgers" and "babysitting" as other, less lucrative options for employment, and the drop-down menu in which applicants indicate their age includes the 13-15 range. Avon ladies, or in this case Avon underage girls, have always targeted their friends as customers, and how obvious a strategy to use trend-setters in high schools to put the hard sell on less cool followers? Other grown-up Avon ladies who sell mark have day jobs, including internal investigators for the Department of Homeland Security. But no matter how important they may be in their professional lives, Avon ladies know that what women like to talk about in their personal lives is makeup: "We knew that women had always connected through beauty products and beauty rituals." Great, girls! Pass the blackberry plum tea Electro-Lites lip gloss! We're never too young to develop feelings of inadequacy about our bodies, and bond over mark's Butt Fixing Cream!

When TV is a little better than real life

In a plot point lifted directly from the pilot of The West Wing, President Bush fell off his mountain bike this weekend on a “grueling” bike ride around the Crawford ranch.

Unlike President Bartlett, President Bush probably wasn’t in that bike accident because he was upset about a fundamentalist Christian group threatening his granddaughter. And despite needing the Cuban-American vote for his re-election, Bush hasn’t been as sympathetic or admiring of Cuban refugees as our fictional president.

Perhaps most importantly, I doubt that President Bush ended his own episode by telling his staff to quit “thinking about our personal lives or thinking about keeping our jobs,” and get down to the business of running the country.

But he does have some pretty awesome scrapes on his face.

May 21, 2004

Whither The O.C.?

We've already discussed how disappointed we were with the first season finale of The O.C. Two-thirds of Amy's Robot was hit pretty hard by this, considering this was the best new show last season that hasn't already been cancelled (Wonderfalls was doing pretty well for all 4 of its episodes. Oh well.)

Today on Fametracker's 2 Stars 1 Slot reading, the featured actresses are Rachel Bilson, who plays Summer, and Mila Kunis, who plays the whiny, bossy, hot dark-haired girl Jackie on That '70s Show. The writers conclude that the two short, dark, lippy actors who play self-involved spoiled brats are totally indistinguishable: "Bilson and Kunis look and act the same; they even whine the same. They are the same. They could trade shows without causing the least disruption to their many overexposed co-stars."

This raises all kinds of anxieties that I apparently still have to vent about this show. Has The O.C. already lost it? At the close of the season, Summer, the smart-mouth sass who was my favorite TV character for a brief window, was already becoming just plain mean, and Seth Cohen, the source of many a thinking woman's squeal of glee, was changing from a funny oddball into an irritating dork. Same character traits, they just got tedious over time. And now Josh Schwartz, the show's creator, is getting sued by writers who say he stole their idea.

At this point, the anchors of the show are Peter Gallagher, who makes every scene he's in funny, and Kelly Rowan, who plays Kirsten, probably the nicest and coolest TV mom ever. I'm sorry to say it, but in November, I'll be watching because of the adults.

May 20, 2004

24: the final hour approaches

It's been another bitch of a day for the terrorism-fighting forces of CTU, and the writers of 24 have finally managed to come up with some worthy plot developments to close out the season. True to form, they have resorted to killing off major characters in surprising and violent ways as their main strategy. Lady MacPalmer: DEAD! Julia, the wimpy and numb-skulled wife of evil millionaire cripple Alan Milliken: DEAD! And she shot herself in the head too, the first decisive action she's taken all season. You might be wondering, as I was, that with all this picking off of major recurring characters, how is it that Kim Bauer is still alive? It would have been perfect...

Julia: You're not telling me what to do anymore, Sherry! [blows Lady MacPalmer away.]

Wayne: Julia!

Julia: Wayne, I won't go to jail. I'll die first! [puts gun to her temple]

Wayne: Wait! Hang on just one second there. [Wayne teleports to CTU, returning seconds later with a caterwauling Kim Bauer.]

Wayne: OK, Julia, let 'er rip! [Julia shoots Kim in the face, before turning the gun on herself.]

Entire World: Now that's what I'm talking about!

Alas, it was not to be.

I guess the show is going to have to come up with a few new perennial villains for next season: Nina's dead, Lady MacPalmer is dead. Perhaps Saunders' daughter will turn renegade after her bioterrorist father gets savagely killed by the U.S. government, for the second time.

Also, I would like to thank the writers for providing us with the show's best action sequence yet: two fighter jets out on patrol changing course, tearing through the sky, flying lower and lower, until they fire on a landed helicopter and blow it to smithereenies IN DOWNTOWN L.A. Very nice.

Just one more week to save the world and keep Tony Almeida out of federal prison for the rest of his life!

The Internet and Common Sense, Part II

It痴 been a rough week for pedophiles. First, Firefighter Ryan Hogan was arrested for trying to seduce someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl, but was in fact a volunteer for the awesomely named civilian watchdog group Perverted Justice. In a supremely classy move, Ryan chose to appear before the judge wearing an FDNY shirt referencing September 11痴 fallen heroes. Unsurprisingly, since he has only been a firefighter since 2003, the gesture didn稚 win him much support.

Then, yesterday, a Staten Island math teacher was arrested for sending suggestive emails to a 13-year-old student, asking for pictures of her in her underwear. Authorities aren稚 sure how long this kind of communication had been going on before the girl痴 mother logged onto her home computer and started receiving the 途acy� instant messages intended for her daughter.

Here are some helpful tips: Don稚 send dirty IM痴 to your underage girlfriend if she shares a computer with her parents. Also, if you池e looking to get some hot action from a 14-year old girl, and her screen name is cuteashley4U1990, it痴 probably her father.

And dude - just don稚 send live-feed videos of yourself jerking off to anyone, whatever their age. That痴 just gross, and I guarantee it値l come back to haunt you.

In related news, here's a strange story about a child prostitution ring France that might have been made up.

May 19, 2004

Local Music Sales

As major label-produced CDs become less and less viable methods of reaching new audiences, or of turning a profit, local musicians in New York are recording and producing their albums themselves, and putting them up for sale in neighborhood bodegas for $6 a piece. The company that burns the discs and distributes them to the bodegas is Urban Box Office, and they decided to bring their albums straight to the places where young people hang out--the local market. Artists also receive $1.50-2.50 per album sold, more than most major labels can offer. In-store visits are part of the marketing plan, just like at Tower: a girl group from Sunset Park, Gemz, visited a bodega where their album is sold and performed some songs, to the delight of a local fan: "They were here singing! They were outside the bodega and I was talking to them." Urban Box Office also remembers that not everybody has a computer to download music from iTunes. (special tidbit: the founder of Urban Box Office, now dead, was also the producer of New Jack City.)

In a city like New York, kids know there is a lot more out there than what they hear on corporate radio. Giving them access to local music at an affordable price will help keep the power of the music industry in the hands of musicians and music fans, and not in multinational communications companies. Plus we get to hear bands with names like Nemesis Yankee, who have one of Urban Box Office's most popular releases, "Mi Bandera."

May 18, 2004

Why kids who grew up in L.A. are so cool

One of the films at Cannes this year is a documentary about a cable channel available only around LA from the mid-70's through 1989 called Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession. It's by exactly the kind of person who you might imagine grew up watching Z Channel every night: Alexandra Cassavetes, daughter of John and Gena Rowlands, and sister of Nick. Movies that never got a wide theatrical release, or had been edited for content, often got heavy and uncut play on Z Channel. Underground movie culture seems to have grown in this country in part because of this channel: fans say it was like "having a film festival in your home every single night." It never had more than 90,000 subscribers, but people like Quentin Tarantino exist because of Z Channel--before video rental, this was the source for weird, underground, foreign, and other forgotten movies.

The manager of the station also has an interesting and sad story. He had complete freedom to program the station however he wanted, which was successful for many years, but in 1989 as the business began to fail, he lost it, and murdered his wife then killed himself. Video killed the cable TV star.

I have some Viagra to sell you, too.

Here's a tip for jobseekers: If you apply for a job through an online job listing site, the company hires you via email, and the job involves transferring cash out of your personal PayPal account and wiring it to the Ukraine -- surprise! Chances are that the job is not legitimate.

The New York Times reports that crime rings are recruiting the gullible and greedy to launder money from stolen credit cards through Monster.com, Careerbuilder, and Hot Jobs.

"I assumed the jobs were legitimate," says Sasha Valentine, a graduate student in information technology who owes PayPal $700. "I feel really let down by Monster."

People, why can't you use your heads? The worst consequence of our internet-based culture may be the accompanying total loss of common sense.

May 17, 2004

This is the true story of 28 strangers...

Wouldn稚 it be great if the back-stabbing deliciousness of reality television were also educational? Hold onto your hats, because tonight is the premiere of Colonial House on PBS. Colonial House is just like MTV痴 Real World, except the cast members pray, can稚 wear low-rise jeans, and live in wood shacks.

The show痴 predecessor, Frontier House, was notable not just for the log-chopping, farming, and community-building but also for casting the privileged Clune family, who bratted their way through the series and smuggled in modern day make-up and shampoo.

I can tell you why Colonial House will be just as juicy in two words: Indentured. Servants. They are young, hot, and at least one of them seems to have done no work at all. Clare 敵indy� Samuels mentions in her profile that she most enjoyed 電aily chats with Craig on the rock; sleeping in the sun; sitting on the rock gazing at the ocean; seeing the incredible sunsets� drinking wine and card playing in the evenings.�

Other fireworks to look out for:

The Governor of the colony is a Baptist Minister, while the Assistant Governor is a religious studies professor from California.

Dave Verdecia, a firefighter who plays a hardworking tradesman, mentions 斗iving in a tight-knit community is emotionally draining�the stress of that is probably greater than the physical stress�I learned that hard work is a good thing, and I hope that my kids did as well.� His youngest daughter snits that 土ou should be thankful for what you have back at home."

Could the Verdecias� marriage end over the show, like the Glenns� did? We値l find out starting tonight!

Iraqi National Pride and the Olympics

Thanks to the Olympic wild card system that allows some athletes from every country in the world to compete without qualifying, Iraq will send six individual athletes to Athens this summer. Iraq's national soccer team will be the country's first to compete in the Olympics; they qualified based on their own merit, recently beating Saudi Arabia (!) in a regional qualifying match.

The article includes some incredible stories of Iraqi sports under Saddam, and Uday's efforts to build up Iraq's international Olympic presence. "Iraq has taken part in the Olympics before but has only ever won one medal - a weight-lifting bronze in 1960. Saddam was determined to change that, putting his eldest son, Uday, in charge of the national Olympic team. Uday's control of the team was through fear and intimidation. Those who failed to perform well enough were jailed and beaten. His Olympic committee building became a private jail, replete with torture devices, until it was flattened by an airstrike during the war."

Sure, many athletes are glad to be able to miss an occassional goal without being sent to jail, but not everyone in Iraqi sports thinks things are better off under US occupation. Security problems have caused league games to be cancelled, and some athletes say they are in greater danger now. However, they are eager to enter international competition and represent their country again. They even have a new Olympic slogan: "Iraq is Back!" Go get 'em, tigers!

Happy Birthday, Brown vs. Board of Education!

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. Here's the decision itself, a summary of the case, a great series from NPR about the case and its ongoing ramifications, and a big archive of documents related to the case from the University of Michigan.

It seems fitting, then, that today also is the first day for legal same-sex marriages in Massachusetts, since both decisions hinge on equal protection under the law. A friend tells me that the Mass. supreme court specifically chose today b/c of the Brown v. Board anniversary.

May 13, 2004

Bush and Europe

The headline of a New York Times piece from Sunday (sorry people, I've been busy over here) on how Europeans feel about Bush says it all: "Europeans Like Bush Even Less Than Before". Conservative members of the British Parliament think he's frightening, and several think the world would be better off with Kerry in power. And these are the Conservatives. Where does that put Tony Blair, who's been put in the awkward position of supporting Bush even though he and Clinton were wearing one half each of those Best Friends Forever necklaces in the '90's? Even the Tories think Bush is too conservative, so perhaps Blair has to start forming alliances based on actual policy alignment, not just cozying up to whoever's in power this year.

The most interesting comments in the article come from Spaniards interviewed by a political scientist. People in Spain are saying, "I'm very frustrated that I can't vote in the U.S. elections, because these are the ones that affect my way of life more than anything else." If the U.S. is going to play Lead Nation of the World and make the decisions that have global impact, should non-Americans have some voice in U.S. elections? The Guardian noted in a March editorial that nothing will change the state of world politics more than a change in the White House. It makes me wish we had some kind of International Vote Donation program, so that any American who plans to not vote in the upcoming election could donate their vote to some Italian, or Spaniard, or German, so that they could help influence what happens to global politics.

May 12, 2004

Where 2/3 of Amy's Robot Will Be on Friday

From Star, May 17, 2004:

The opening scene [of Troy] is a “jaw-dropper.” Brad Pitt, 40, is seen lying stark naked on a bed….the sexy star is on his belly and his butt is fully exposed. The camera then follows him as he slowly stands up…the movie seemed like it was “about how many gorgeous shots of a nude or at least partially nude Brad Pitt they could get on screen.”

May 11, 2004

Oh, I Wish...

Have you been longing for the day when you could party in style in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile™? My friend, that day has finally come. Thanks to the brain trust at Kraft Foods, all you have to do is tell Oscar Mayer what you plan to do with their Wienermobile™ in 50 words or less.

Sadly, Kraft seems to have anticipated most of my initial ideas, and clearly states in the contest guidelines that:

Winners cannot alter the Wienermobile™ in any way
The number of people inside the Wienermobile™ at any one time is
limited to four
There is no smoking and no food or drink INSIDE the Wienermobile™

And the final straw: the proposal must incorporate “elements of good will.”

Well, fine. Kraft Foods, if you’re so concerned with corporate “good will”, then give the Wienermobile to some kids with cancer. They can spend the day eating your artery clogging Lunchables™ (at 470 calories, 22 grams of fat per serving) while their parents apply for free passes to Curves pro-life Christian gym. Then sell them some cigarettes on their way home.

And don’t even get me started on your nasty Wienerwhistle™™.

May 10, 2004

Mean Girls and Mean Girls Grow Up (aka 13 Going on 30)

We池e always eager to discuss movies about teenage girls, especially when there are several of them released at the same time. This weekend we saw both Mean Girls and 13 Going on 30, which had similar themes of how cruel girls can be to each other in their quest for popularity. Both were morality pieces about the horrible things that happen when you sacrifice friendship and kindness for membership in shallow but exclusive social cliques. Obviously, the movie that stars Lindsay Lohan was bound to be the better of the two; despite the overwhelming mitigating factor of Mark Ruffalo, 13 Going on 30 was disappointing.

But back to the teenage girl stuff. Mean Girls had much sharper insights about high school social groups and the complete disdain that different crowds of kids have for each other. Not surprising, since it was written by Tina Fey, whereas 13 Going on 30 was written by the team that brought you What Women Want. According to 13 Going on 30, what women want is the friend from middle school who had a crush on you and who you rejected in favor of the cool girls. They also apparently want to buy pink houses in the country and to wear thermal shirts and jeans, even though they may think they want swanky Fifth Avenue apartments and a fabulous walk-in closet. I guess we池e meant to realize that the vision of our adult, stylish, selves that we long for when we池e in 7th grade is probably going to be majorly disappointing once we actually get there. This movie promoted a strange message of 電on稚 follow your dreams of being a fashionable urban woman, because they are selfish and will only make you miserable.� The assumption that being single and cool in the city equals having destroyed everyone who loves you in the process of getting there is surprisingly conservative for a Jennifer Garner movie that markets itself as 鄭 comedy for the kid in all of us.�

But Mean Girls: this movie was about how pretty much everybody in high school is incredibly cruel and backbiting to pretty much everybody else, despite social groups or popularity. And wouldn稚 it be so much nicer if we could all just get along and be open and honest with each other instead of talking behind each other痴 backs and stealing each other痴 boyfriends? The ending was this insane vision of high school utopia, in which even the meanest of the mean girls starts dressing conservatively (again with the thermal shirts) and smiling warmly at the less popular. At least the soundtrack to this unrealistic vision was Orbital痴 滴alcyon,� but it was still a departure from the rest of the movie, which was insightful and hilarious. Sure, high school might be easier if everyone wasn稚 so horrible to each other, but then where would all of us misfits and social outcasts who made it through the struggle be? Probably not in Manhattan, home of the high school uncool. -Amy

Emily adds:

Both of these movies also set themselves up for comparison with some films that affected us as teenagers. For instance, when Mean Girls� junior high school girls are forced to admit en masse to backstabbing, it recalls nothing so much as the tearjearking* 的知 a nerd, too!� final scene in Revenge of the Nerds . The nicest of us are mean girls, just as the prettiest and most popular of us are nerds.

The obvious structural comparison for 13 Going on 30 is Big. Both movies feature adolescents who wake up to find themselves grownups in a world that strangely still resembles school. However, Big succeeds where 13 cops out. Josh (Tom Hanks) realizes in the end that he痴 not cut out yet for the grownup world. As awkward and painful as it is to live through those gawky years, no magical fortune-teller can speed the process along. Jenna (Jennifer Garner) has no such realization. I thought that 13 was heading to a similar conclusion when Jenna finds herself 13 again, sitting miserably in the basement closet. This time she can choose to kiss the dorky friend next door who will become the delicious Mark Ruffalo instead of rejecting him for the popular clique. This ending would have been moving, and more honest. But instead, she kisses him, then magically drags him up the basement stairs to � their wedding! By choosing friendship over popularity, Jenna has chosen the harder path, but suddenly it isn稚 the harder path at all. She痴 simply managed to do what many of us longed for at the time, and skipped her teens altogether.

*I知 totally serious here, this scene always makes me choke up.

Fat Kills!

This AP story (via MSNBC) caught my eye because it’s such a prime example of the fear mongering I mentioned in an earlier post. The article brings out the often-mentioned and not actually true declaration that “Obesity is fast becoming one of the world’s leading reasons why people die”.

Of course if you read long enough (over halfway through), you eventually see that “Simply being fat won’t necessarily kill you outright. And it’s not weight alone that determines your risk from several diseases.”

The “fat kills you dead” articles tend to be structured this way, starting out with a misleading statement that is gradually qualified with some “obesity is linked to…” or “diseases associated with obesity…..” phrasing.

Obesity does not kill people; heart disease, strokes, and complications from diabetes do. The reality is that thin people who eat crap and sit in front of the television are equally at risk for these diseases as the fat, lazy slobs that the press loves to be horrified about. Fat is not the enemy. Lifestyle is.

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Free Hugs! New York is wary

New Yorkers may be standoffish and suspicious of people acting overly friendly, but they usually have good reason to. Such is the case with a young financial advisor who has been offering free hugs to everybody in Washington Square Park on Sunday afternoons. It sounds like a nice enough offer, and come on! Why turn down a free hug from some dude in the park?! What's wrong with you?!! Are you some kind of wary New Yorker bitch who can't accept no-strings-attached affection from some aggressive weirdo?? The reactions of the people who accept or reject the Hugs Guy's offer are great: many are uneasy about him, yet also feel bad about themselves for feeling uneasy.

Not surprisingly, the Hugs Guy is "not in touch" with his own parents, who live in Brooklyn.

May 7, 2004

Recap of Shows We Don't Watch: Friends

So maybe you heard that last night was the finale of Friends, a show I have not watched an entire episode of since 1995. Oh sure, I've lingered on TBS for up to 10 minutes at a time if I happened to catch a syndicated episode featuring Paul Rudd (by the way, is it right that a show can be producing new episodes and be in syndication at the same time? No, I don't think it is) but I give you clear warning that I have not watched this show, or kept up on plot developments, in nearly 10 years.

Therefore, I bring you a Recap of the Final Episode of Friends as Viewed With No Sound in an East Village Bar.

The opening scenes involved a woman who looked sort of like a bedraggled Reese Witherspoon giving birth. I would think that this kind of event would be at the climax of a series finale, but whatever. She ends up having two babies, and then Matthew Perry and Courtney Cox (at this point I am far more familiar with the actors on the show and the coverage of their lives in magazines than I am with the characters they play) take the babies away. I understand from my viewing/drinking companions that they are going to adopt the babies. So.

We order another round of Rheingolds.

Then the entire cast stands around in that apartment with the little atrium window area, and Jennifer Anniston hugs people and leaves.

Then things got very difficult to follow. There was a rockabilly band playing the back room (of the bar, not on the Friends set) and the bar was filling up, and I might have lost focus for a few minutes. Anyway, Lisa Kudrow is driving an old-style cab with David Schwimmer in it, then they get to an airport, but then they're back in the cab again later. Maybe it was like that Seinfeld where Jerry's flight got rerouted and Kramer and George have to drive from La Guardia to JFK? I don't know.

So then they get to the airport that has Jennifer Anniston in it, and there is a race through the hallways, and they find Jennifer. David Schwimmer holds her hands and speaks passionately, then she gets on the plane. Pretty much like the Season 5 finale of Dawson's Creek (is everyone stealing story ideas from that show this year?)

Meanwhile, Matthew Perry and Joey (I know that character, because of the upcoming spinoff) stand around for seriously 15 minutes and talk about a foosball table in front of them. What a fantastic show this is.

The bartender pours us a round of free shots. What the hell.

Pretty much nothing that can be easily deciphered from a bar television with the sound off happens for the rest of the show. Jennifer Anniston reappears in the old apartment, where everybody in the cast plus the two babies are, and they all hug. There are a lot of long, lingering, nostalgic shots of the oven and refrigerator, everybody leaves the apartment, then that's it. The American sitcom is dead.

May 6, 2004

Is No News Good News?

New York City commuters may have noticed that navigating the streets during rush hour became twice as hard yesterday. In addition to dodging amNew York promoters you値l now need to avoid another newspaper nobody wants, Metro. Metro already exists in three dozen cities worldwide, including Boston and Philadelphia, and this week it enters the New York City market.

The two papers claim not to be competitive with each other, although Metro痴 managing editor, Henry Scott, snips that 菟eople he saw reading amNew York on the subway appeared to be older than those the paper (and its advertisers) are seeking.�

That痴 very interesting, considering this enthusiastic reader testimonial in today痴 Metro:

的 like the small size, it痴 not one of those big papers you have to pull open,� said Chris, a 36-year-old federal government worker who declined to give his last name. [Metro痴 demographic is 18 � 34]

This reporter also noticed that amNew York heavily staffs the Times Square and Union Square subway stations (younger commuters), while Metro has promoters camped out at every entrance to the Port Authority Bus Terminal (older, suburban commuters). I took an informal count on my own morning commute of how many folks were reading either paper (0) versus how many copies of each publication were littering the ground around the station entrances (amNew York, 4621, Metro, 2586).

Scott claims in a fit of wild hubris that Metro痴 real competitors are the Daily News and the Post, without realizing that those two publications have something the free dailies don稚: content.

Neither company seems to realize the fundamental flaw in their business plan � they are offering a service that no one wants. The 18 � 34 demographic are getting their regurgitated AP stories from Yahoo! News, reading legitimate news sources online, and using that valuable subway ride to knit kicky hats or play with their iPods.

Highway Robbery

People are unbelievable.

Sure, I致e borrowed my sister痴 dress without asking, maybe pocketed a Snickers from the Cumberland Farms, but it never occurred to me to steal things like electricity and guardrails [login required]. That really takes balls.

While New Jersey has apparently been losing miles of aluminum guardrails to the tune of $2.5 million "like termites silently devouring the wooden beams of your house", Con Edison has been enduring thievery from customers that ranges from street vendors stealing currents from lamp posts, meter tampering, and building false walls to hide electric wires.

I壇 say that people will steal anything that痴 not nailed down, but guardrails and lamp posts are nailed down, aren稚 they? Or bolted? Or soldered?

For me, these crimes raise many questions, such as: is it wise to try to save money by cutting open live electrical wires? And, do you seriously expect me to believe that no one notices people yanking sections of guardrail off the highway?

Officials seem to take all this thievery in stride. New Jersey is compensating by replacing stolen aluminum guardrails with steel. And Con Ed痴 top inspector, Charles Mormilo, rationalizes, "New Yorkers are stealthy�But my inspectors are New Yorkers, too."

The O.C. Or should I say, Dawson's O.C.

It happens every time The O.C.'s writers try to make a point about class in America, or try to be poignant, or moving, or meaningful. They fall flat on their face. Or, to be more specific about last night's season finale, they just borrow a page from Dawson's Creek (note to O.C. staff--if you're going to rip off earlier, lesser shows, at least pick Melrose Place. It's more your style.) Angsty long-suffering blonde boy playing the martyr and spending the summer in some crappy city? Check! Funny but self-deprecating dark-haired boy sailing off in a smallish boat to places unknown with nothing but the polo shirt on his back? Check! Hopefully the O.C. writers will not feel the need to also go down the "punish the sluts" route and kill off Theresa, but it might clear up that whole pregnancy problem.

Perhaps this show, which started as a summer premiere, would be better off only airing shows during the summer. That way, we'd get all the beach parties and girls in bikinis and debauchery in Vegas, and none of those boring plots involving school or dying grandmothers. In any case, writers, the strength of this show is the style, not the substance. Please, keep the fluff coming next season.

May 5, 2004

Eliot Spitzer, My Hero

What痴 not to love about New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer? When he痴 not getting your money back for that damaged sofabed, he痴 making record companies pay outstanding royalties to their artists. David Bowie and Elton John may not need that money so badly, but the smaller folks like 86-year old pianist Marian McPartland can probably use it.

的t痴 not like it痴 hard to find [recording artists]� Spitzer says in today痴 New York Times. 添ou could go to a concert and throw the check at them on stage.�

Oh, Eliot Spitzer. You just want to keep our money safe, make sure we have affordable health care, and protect our elderly. Please run for governor in 2006!

We Fall a Little Bit out of Love with Lindsay Lohan

From People, May 10 2004:

Q. We read on your website that you're a big Beanie Babies fan. Do you still collect them?

A. I used to. Oh my God, I have, like, almost every one made.

May 4, 2004

Happy First Season, O.C.!

Has it really been less than a year since the beloved O.C. came into our lives? With it?s gorgeous blend of 90210-fake teenery and Melrose Place-style brawls and antics, The O.C. has changed our Wednesday nights forever and made us realize all over again how delicious television can be.

Who knew that in only 27 episodes, a young man could escape from Chino, join a new family, get into a fancy private school, steal a car, fool around with his adoptive grandfather's lady, find a depressive and needy girlfriend, save her from an overdose and a mental stalker, out her ex-boyfriend's gay dad, discover that same ex-boyfriend is sleeping with the clingy girlfriend?s mother and cause him to drive drunkenly into a tree, save an old girlfriend from an abusive relationship and maybe get her pregnant?..and on top of it all, start a fistfight every week?

You know where we'll be at 9pm EST tomorrow. Watching the first season finale of the best show on television.*

We love you, O.C. Don?t ever leave us.

* Disclaimer: not all staff members of Amy's Robot may support this statement.

Don't forget to tip your driver

Oh, how New Yorkers are weeping and wailing about the taxi fare hike. Although the average trip will now cost only about $1.70 more than it did last week, many riders are showing their disapproval by tipping drivers less or not at all.

Well, I've got news for you whiners: stiffing your taxi driver is not "protesting". It's cheap. Your cab driver makes about $120 on a 10 -12 hour shift with no health or pension benefits. Even with the increase going directly to drivers, that's still not a lot of money.

That $1.70 won't even cover your latte on the way to work. If you have a legitimate problem with your driver, then get his or her identifying information and file your complaint here.
If the rate increase offends you that deeply, take the damn bus. If you take a cab, tip your driver!

Petty bank theft

Today's best regional news story:

"I robbed banks to pay for surgery for my sick cat, Smoochie."

Catherine Kaczanowski ("44-year-old recluse") from Bensonhurst pled not guilty to charges of robbery from five different banks, totalling $7,500. The first robbery of $2,000 was to pay for Smoochie's surgery, which you'll be glad to know was successful. Then she just decided to keep on robbing banks for very small amounts of money.

May 3, 2004

Deceptive Foods ++

(This post has been greatly expanded from the original.)

Remember when South Central LA decided that it would fix all its problems of urban blight, poverty, crime, and hopelessness by just changing the name? Well, now Kentucky Fried Chicken is following suit. They first changed their name and branding to "KFC." Last year they tried to market fried chicken as health food. Now they've suggested that KFC actually stands for something else: "kitchen fresh chicken." Admittedly, that name sounds a whole lot less artery-clogging without the word "fried," but what does this mean for other food companies? Can they all start just changing their names to imply that the food they produce has somehow improved, without any actual changes being made?

The most glaring related example of this is, of course, the recent downgrading of yogurt from a "meal" to a "snack" that both Dannon and Stonyfield have bought into. They reduced their yogurt cup size from 8 oz. to 6 oz., leaving many customers outraged. Emily may have more to add on this, given that she has launched a personal crusade against the participating yogurt companies. Note that Colombo is now advertising its yogurt as "8 oz. since 1929" (see bottom of page.) -Amy

Well, the real question is, what does the "KFC = Kitchen Fresh Chicken" formula mean for all of NYC's second-tier fried chicken mini-chains whose name-wars are built into the landscape of the city, particularly in the Bronx.

Most New Yorkers have driven past the tasty-by-association (and legally sound) "Kennedy Fried Chicken," but may have missed its progeny: the brilliantly dubbed (and also legally unassailable) "JFK Chicken," a name which at once recalls Kennedy Fried Chicken, Kentucky Fried Chicken's rebirth as KFC, and -- let's face it -- JFK himself. After the advent of JFK, and proving once again that nothing succeeds like success, "Canada Fried Chicken" also surfaced, which someone must have figured sounded close enough, and which of course spawned "US Fried Chicken" and "American Fried Chicken." Only Crown Fried Chicken, perhaps the largest of the outer-borough chains, has steered clear of this mental-association game and is reputed to have the tastiest chicken of them all.

So does this mean that "Kennedy Fresh Chicken" is available? By asserting that KFC now stands for "Kitchen Fresh Chicken," will KFC ironically lose its claim to its original moniker, "Kentucky Fried Chicken"? Wow: This could lead to the kind of onomastic battle not seen since the days of Ray's Pizza vs. Famous Original Ray's Pizza vs. Ray Bari Pizza -ADM

It's no coincidence that both Dannon and Stonyfield Farm reduced their cup size around the same time; both are owned by the French company Groupe Danone. Although Stonyfield�s party line is that they are just some humble cow-owning folk from the backwoods of New Hampshire, the company has taken an alarming turn since Groupe Danone�s acquisition in 2003.

In my ongoing quest to expose Big Yogurt, I've uncovered some serious examples of corporate deception:

1) You Asked for Less, You Got Less �In an independent research survey on Trends in Yogurt Consumption, 73% of all yogurt eaters viewed yogurt as a snack rather than a meal,� Stonyfield PR cheerily announces. �So in addition to the colorful graphics change, we reduced the size of our fat free cups to a 6oz. size that's more appropriate for snacking.

People, please. It seems disingenuous, at best, to suggest that these �snacking� consumers are pushing back from their desks, groaning �I�m so full! And now I have to throw away these two leftover ounces��*

Dannon resorts to the more Orwellian �room in every cup for your favorite mix-ins� on the back of the already 6-ounce container, encouraging the consumer to �create your own yogurt experience!�

2) More Money, Less Yogurt Worried about paying the same amount for less yogurt? Don�t worry, because �all of the ingredient savings from the size reduction have been passed on in our new pricing. Though the actual product size was reduced by 25%, most stores will price the new size at a 15%-20% decrease.�

Well, unless you buy your yogurt in the Greater New York metro area, where you will actually pay exactly as much as before.

I contacted Stonyfield Farm via email about these issues, mentioning that, as a former New Hampshire resident, I wanted to support a local company producing a quality product. 6 ounces, I said, is not a sufficient snack size and leaves me hungry and unsatisfied. Furthermore, I noted, none of my local retailers seemed to be passing along this price savings to me.

I received an email along the lines of the website explanation, and a week later, some coupons came in the mail. How far will those two free yogurts get me? Assuming I buy 6 yogurts a week at $1 each, those two coupons will exactly cover the 12 phantom ounces I�m paying for on my next trip to the Key Food. But what happens after that?

Despite all of this, I still buy Stonyfield Farm yogurt. Why? It tastes good, and I honestly do want to support a company that began as a local, environmentally sound business.

What these corporate changes are really saying to me is that healthy food just isn�t that profitable. For the most part, Americans don�t give a crap about their health � they just want to lose weight. Subway jumped right on that � first with Jared�s astonishing weight loss, and now with their line of low carb sandwiches.

You don�t need to look further than Stonyfield�s introduction of eXtreme!!!!!! flavors such as Screamin' Strawberry & BaNilla Blast to realize that Big Yogurt is in trouble. But is the solution to nickel and dime the consumers that choose to support them?

*They probably will have to throw it away, because in an effort to save the environment from the dire threat of plastic yogurt lids, Stonyfield Farm also now only covers their 6 oz containers with foil. You can request extra lids from their headquarters, but they won�t send you more than 2 or 3 at a time. Trust me, I�ve tried. -Emily

U.S. Losing its Top Position in Sciences +

A post from our friend Jim:

Here's an interesting juxtaposition of articles from recent editions of the New York Times. Today, we learn that the United States is producing fewer PhDs in the sciences than is used to, that we account for a smaller share of world patents and Nobel Prizes than we used to, and that fewer foreign graduate students are choosing to come here. Some of this I think is overrated: if Asian countries produce more PhDs, and European universities encourage their faculty to publish rather than pontificate, it's a good thing for the world, and says nothing about changes in America. But some of this is very bad news: fewer foreigners are coming partially because visa restrictions are getting tougher for foreign students, and green cards are harder to get. Importing the best and brightest from India and China might be bad for India and China, but it's a windfall for us. Why is it so great?

Why, for the reasons laid out in this article. While Singaporeans and Germans are out studying physics and biochemistry, publishing journal articles and starting companies, American high school students are going to Creationist theme parks. Creationism sure is an appealing philosophy. Why bother studying hard classes like biochemistry and genetics when your church says it's all lies? This sort of foolishness didn't matter so much when it was a bunch of bumpkins in Tennessee who weren't going to amount to anything more than textile workers anyway, but now that those textile jobs have moved to other countries, it would be nice to get some warm bodies into science programs. What a shame the only thing that develops slower than the Southern economy is the Southern worldview. -Jim

In other troubling education news, CUNY has included an initiative in its four-year plan to recruit and retain more black men in its colleges. It looks like men in general are seriously in trouble in New York public higher education, representing only 38% of all CUNY students. The largest race group at CUNY schools is black (31%), so it makes sense to target black men specifically to raise enrollments of all men. Interestingly, schools within CUNY that have the highest majorities of black students also have the largest disproportion of female students: Medgar Evers College's students are 92% black and 78% female. Maybe the new breed of affirmative action programs need to focus not only on class, but also on gender. -Amy


Since everyone who wasn't already married apparently got married this weekend (except ole ADM, of course), it seems timely to discuss one of the parts of the NYT that just isn't as good online as it is in person: the Vows section, which summarizes the nuptials of various notable and unnotable people. It's usually investment bankers marrying legal assistants, but the editorial staff has the good sense to sprinkle in one or two oddball marriages each week.

Although this week the Times longest "Vows" article covers a couple who met in Antarctica (he's Roxy Music's manager, she's a lawyer), the true highlight of the section is, without a doubt, the story of Marsha Wolfman and Henry Druckerman, aged 66 and 67, respectively. Believe me, it's worth reading to the end:

Marsha Mae Wolfman and Henry George Druckerman are to be married today in Laurel Hollow, N.Y., at the home of Jacqueline Shapiro and Dr. Michael Shapiro, the bride's daughter and son-in-law.

The bride and bridegroom became friends as children in the early 1940's in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where they lived...The youngsters graduated from Erasmus Hall High School, where they remained friends but never dated.

Mr. Druckerman was a guest at Ms. Wolfman's wedding two years after graduation. But then they lost touch. "She was a married lady starting to raise a family in Queens, and I was a young kid in Brooklyn," he remembered. In the four decades that followed, they did not meet or talk, he said. In 1968, he married, later moving with his wife and children to Miami.

Both marriages ended in divorce only weeks apart in 1996. Mr. Druckerman recalled that one day in spring 1999, after he had relocated to New York, a Web advertisement popped onto his computer screen, claiming that it could "find almost anyone."

"On a lark, I decided to see if I could find my old Brooklyn pal Marsha," he said.

He knew only the address where she had once lived and her husband's first and last names. The site yielded the telephone number and address of her former husband, who, after receiving assurances that Mr. Druckerman was indeed an old friend, gave him Ms. Wolfman's new phone number. "I called Marsha immediately" and left a message, Mr. Druckerman said.

She did not respond right away. "I was in Boston at the time," she said. "When I heard his name, I thought, 'This is going to change my life.' I waited a day or two to get home and catch my breath."

The relationship that followed was punctuated repeatedly by proposals of marriage by Mr. Druckerman over the next five years. But all were rebuffed. [OK, now, pay attention...here it comes! -adm] "I was inclined to accept Hank's proposals," Ms. Wolfman said, but she believed she would lose her Social Security benefits.

Finally, this February, Mr. Druckerman called Social Security to complain that its rules were interfering with his marriage plans. But the agent told him that he and Ms. Wolfman were mistaken: she could continue collecting benefits.

He hung up the phone, then proposed yet again, and -- no longer fearing the cessation of her Social Security payments -- she said yes.

This is exactly the kind of anecodote about true love that everyone loves to hear during the best man's toast.

About May 2004

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in May 2004. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2004 is the previous archive.

June 2004 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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