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September 2004 Archives

September 30, 2004

63% of likely voters say "But it won't pre-empt Joey, right?"

Since the Amy's Robot readership is a particularly politically savvy bunch, we realize that you're already prepared for the fiery first Presidential "Debate" tonight, brought to you from the tempest-tossed city of Miami. You already know that this is a CRITICAL FIRST DEBATE and that THE NETWORKS ARE GOING TO DEFY CAMERA RULES! You've heard weeks of shrieking and moaning from both sides, and if you hear any more about Al Gore's Great Sigh of 2000, you're going to throw yourself out a window.

Here's a little policy of mine: I don't read reviews before I go to see a movie, partly because I want to be surprised, but mostly because I don't trust myself to not be influenced by other people's opinions. This debate is no different. Every new piece of election news throws me into a panic, and I start to believe that other people's opinions are truth.

Paul Krugman addressed this same issue, predicting that no matter how tonight's debate goes, it will be analyzed based on superficial things like body language rather than issues. And voters will respond to that analysis, rather than the actual debate. (Kind of like this whole election season, right?)

So if you have some cable, I suggest watching tonight's debate on a commentary free outlet. Then give yourself a 10-minute processing breather before you start listening to your favorite (and especially your un-favorite) pundits. Be your own analyst! At the very least, it'll give you some ammunition when your coworker comes at you tomorrow all, "Well, Amy's Robot said Kerry's hair was flat!"

The NY Times gets bitchy: Iceman = Moses

Sometimes, a movie or play is released that is so bad and misguided that all serious critics can do is throw up their hands to the heavens and craft an unbelievably mean and belittling review, which is, of course, the very best kind. We then bring you lovingly chosen excerpts for your reading pleasure.

The play: The Ten Commandments (with advertising tagline: "Val Kilmer Is Moses"), a pop opera opening in LA, after a 2001 debut in Paris. The Paris production was a huge hit, but didn't feature the LA version's cast, director, or score. Some details about the New Ten Commandments:

The Review Title: "He Sings, He Dances, He Parts the Red Sea", by Charles Isherwood

"This bland, static, overproduced and underdirected musical all but submerges the famous episodes from Moses' life in an oily sea of pleasant but unremarkable pop music. The legendary journey unfolds here like a long, lumbering fancy-dress episode of 'American Idol.'"

The star: Val Kilmer. "It's tempting to let the phrase that has been used as the advertising tag for The Ten Commandments, the pop opera that opened this week, stand as its critical epitaph. To wit: 'Val Kilmer Is Moses.'

It isn't Mr. Kilmer's name that should appall optimistic musical theater fans or delight specialists in showbiz schadenfreude. Nor is Moses the problem. That little verb is to blame. It is, in this context, ominously suggestive of the pretentious, the misguided, the monumentally silly. Val Kilmer is Batman? O.K. Val Kilmer is Jim Morrison? It worked. But Moses?"

The score: written by Patrick Leonard, who also wrote "Like a Prayer" and "Who's that Girl" for Madonna.

The director: Robert Iscove, "whose credits include the recent television version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella with Whitney Houston, the Freddie Prinze Jr. movie She's All That and something called, arrestingly, Romeo and Juliet on Ice.

Mr. Iscove's direction, abetted by cheesy hieroglyphic vogueing from the choreographer Travis Payne, also obscures more than it clarifies. The stage is perpetually awash in buffed slaves pushing slabs of stone and statuary around trying to escape the torments of their personal trainers - er, I mean their cruel Egyptian overlords. While they labor histrionically at the fringes, the principal performers trade places center stage, often dropping to their knees for emotive emphasis, trying to outdo one another in stretching a single syllable into a showstopper."

Thanks for the sass, Charles.

September 29, 2004

A Challenge to Amy's Robot Readers

The upcoming presidential debate has made me think a great deal about the vital foundation that our country is built on. Is it democracy? Hard work? Ingenuity? Integrity?

Of course not. It's rampant consumerism.

As Americans, we not only demand the greatest volume of products, we also demand the greatest variety. Take, for instance, the glorious Manifest Destiny of Chex™ (or Manichex Destiny™, if you will). Only in a great land like ours could General Mills, not content with providing five types of Chex breakfast cereal, repackage their product as a snack mix and release an additional eight products (Traditional, Hot 'n Spicy, Peanut Lovers', Cheddar, Bold Party Blend, Sweet'n Salty Honey Nut, Sweet'n Salty Trail Mix, and Sweet'n Salty Caramel Crunch). Then, in a brand extension coup never before seen, General Mills created Chex Morning Mix™ – a cereal repackaged as a snack and then repackaged yet again as a cereal. General Mills, I salute you!

This is a country with nine varieties of Twizzlers. With five variations on the Reese's Peanut Butter cup in flavor only - add another six if you include different sizes and shapes. So in all this time, why has Hershey's never combined two of its leading candies to give us the Dark Chocolate Almond Joy? If you recall, the popular Almond Joy/Mounds ad campaign focuses on the "sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t" distinction, barely addressing the more important issue that the Almond Joy is coconut covered in milk chocolate, while almondless brother Mounds has a dark chocolate coating. And where does that leave us consumers who a) love almonds and b) hate milk chocolate? Fucked, that's where.

Last month, when it came to my attention that a Dark Chocolate Almond Joy had been sighted in Long Island, I immediately put in a call to the Hershey's consumer relations department. A pleasant young woman informed me that the Dark Chocolate Almond Joy was indeed a reality. "But," I sputtered in outrage. "Why isn't it on the website? You only list the white chocolate Pina Colada and the Chocolate Chocolate flavors, which both sound totally gross!"

She patiently explained that the Dark Chocolate Almond Joy is a Limited Edition, meaning that the candy is distributed to retailers once, but then cannot be reordered when supplies run out. (You may be familiar with the Limited Edition concept from last year's sudden appearance of white and dark chocolate Kit Kat.)

I've now spent the better part of a month looking far and wide for the elusive Limited Edition Dark Chocolate Almond Joy™ without success. Now, dear readers, it is your turn. If you have seen a retailer in the New York metropolitan area selling the Limited Edition Dark Chocolate Almond Joy™, email us and let us know. Anyone who provides information leading to the purchase and consumption of a Limited Edition Dark Chocolate Almond Joy™ will receive a special Amy's Robot Gift Package. And yes, I know there are cases for sale on eBay, but I'm not a bodega owner and I don't need 36 of the damn things.

If you don't have information, but would like to make the world a better place for lovers of dark chocolate and almonds, please contact Hershey's at their toll-free number and tell them the people demand Dark Chocolate Almond Joy! [Note: Don't be alarmed when they ask your race. I'm sure it's purely for demographic reasons. Right?] Then tell us about it. If Hershey's makes it a regular product offering, each of you will receive a special Amy's Robot Gift Package.

This is a totally serious contest. I want that candy.

Why should we be slaves to the corporate giants of Big Chocolate? Speak up, America! Tell Hershey's to make the candy you want and deserve, and help make one woman's dream a reality.

NOVA's Origins series


The new season of PBS' NOVA premiered last night with the first part of a miniseries called Origins, which examines the beginnings of our planet, life, the universe, and everything. Part 1 aired last night, and addressed the creation of planet Earth. The show operates on two levels: one offers complex theories and genuine scientific inquiry into topics like the formation of amino acids and peptides, while the other involves a lot of hokey digital graphics of planets colliding and gigantic resulting explosions that get replayed over and over again. Perhaps the study of space and planet formation seems just a little bit childish and dorky because the last time anyone I knew admitted they were into this stuff was in 4th grade, and those kids weren't exactly in hot demand during kickball team selection. The Mr. Wizard's World-esque fake lab sets didn't much impress the New York Times either; their review notes, "Corny gags are meant as breaks in the solemnity, but might also work against the show's popularizing goal. Mature viewers might receive a this-is-kids'-stuff signal. Cool-conscious youths might conclude, 'If I watch this, then I am a geek.'"

Of course, there are many people out there who are proud to be personally interested in planets and outer space explosions and dinosaurs. Even David Bowie asked "Is there life on Mars?" and no one has called him Bugface for a good many years. In a person-on-the-street interview section, New York's own Naked Cowboy sternly insists that it would be "ridiculous" to think that we are the only intelligent life in the universe. Many of the scientists featured on Origins have fascinating jobs, as well as obvious disregard for their social status and popularity. A Canadian scientist rides around by himself on a dog sled every year to track the ever-moving magnetic North Pole, and seriously refers to making speculations about the future location of it as "dangerous."

However, I couldn't help but notice that I had already learned most of the key concepts in Origins by watching the 2003 movie The Core, which operated as a vehicle for many once-respected actors to degrade their careers and damage their credibility. The earth's molten core is what maintains our gravitational pull? Yeah, no kidding, it also keeps pigeons from freaking out and attacking everyone in Trafalgar Square! This gravitational pull also acts as a force-field that protects us from the solar wind? If you saw The Core, you knew that one too! It also once protected Aaron Eckhart from starring in crappy sci-fi movies! And Suspect Zero!

Part 2 airs tonight, and covers how life on earth began.

September 28, 2004

Who'Dat?™: Movie premiere at a casino

In today's version of Who'Dat?™, take a look at the celebrity photo below. Guess who it is, then click on the photo to see if you are right. Yes, she looks sort of like Mira Sorvino, but remember how old Mira is these days. Actually, *today* Mira turns 37. Happy Birthday, Mira! Enjoy that scruffy 22 year-old waiter husband of yours!

Anyway, back to Who'Dat?™. Who is this celebrity, attending a very classy movie premiere at Mohegan Sun?


September 27, 2004

Political Contributions, sorted by address

The Post offers analysis of the gigantic heaps of cash that Americans are pouring into political parties and candidates' campaigns this year. According to fundrace.org, Manhattan alone has contributed $36 million, which is three times more than any other U.S. city, and that's just one borough.

The most interesting stuff is the breakdown of contributions by street address. Some notables include the residents of 146 Central Park West, better knows as the San Remo apartments. Steven Spielberg, Steve Martin, Demi Moore, and Bono (who bought Steve Jobs' old apartment) all live there. They all contributed over $230,000 to Democratic organizations. Just behind them are the tenants of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, who gave $212,000 to Democratic causes, and a mere $68,000 to the Republicans. This is the building in which in 1934 Diego Rivera famously painted a mural which was later destroyed by his unsatisfied patron, Nelson Rockefeller. Currently housed in the building are NBC, the financiers and philanthropists at Lazard, Freres & Co. (Managing Director Felix Rohatyn's foundation gives generously to many social and educational causes), as well as the Rockefeller family members' offices--they've also been known to give away a lot of money over the years.

The address that gave the most to Republican organizations is 767 Fifth Avenue, giving a total of $113,000. This building is called the General Motors Building, and used to be the home of FAO Schwartz before it went out of business. Working in this building are some investors, some lawyers, fancy makeup producers (though the Lauder family all seem to give to Democrats,) and one super-rich Republican corporate raider. As often happens, it's the big money at the top who throw off the rest of the building's contributors, who gave a larger number of smaller contributions to Democrats.

September 26, 2004

Robot-on-the-Spot: The World Cheesecake Eating Championship

cheesecake contest winner Eric Booker

Forget Takeru Kobayashi and his lame hot dog eating record. The real champions are the ones who spend a hot Sunday afternoon shoving cheesecake into their faces at Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue Festival. As fans of both competitive and amateur eating, Amy's Robot congratulates 2004 World Cheesecake eating champion, Eric "Badlands" Booker, who ate over one and a half cheesecakes (that's seven pounds of sweet dairy goodness) in six minutes. Eric, who in his spare time is an amateur rapper and conductor on the 7 train line, also took the cannoli title last week at the San Gennaro feast, eating 16.5 cannoli in six minutes.

Competitive eating has enjoyed quite the renaissance lately, thanks to the tireless work of the International Federation of Competitive Eating. With a keen understanding of the gluttony that makes our country great, the IFOCE is making an effort to standardize rules and regulations in this fast-growing sport. The organization is also dedicated to making competitive eating as safe as possible, believing that "speed eating is only suitable for those 18 years of age or older and only in a controlled environment with appropriate rules and with an emergency medical technician present."

Of course, even that emergency medical technician can't always prevent the occasional accident. People, I'm here to tell you that you haven't lived until you've seen a a grown man eat cheesecake with his fingers

cheesecake contest goldstein

and then barf it down the front of his shirt.

cheesecake contest loser

If you're still interested in competitive eating, you should certainly subscribe to "Gurgitator", the IFOCE's newsletter, which will keep you up to date on all the latest competitions and rankings. And gentlemen looking for romance - the IFOCE's second highest ranking eater is the lovely and tiny Sonya Thomas. I'd suggest visiting your bank's loan officer before taking her to dinner, because this 105-pound cutie just might eat 11 pounds of cheesecake, 5 pounds of chicken wings, 65 hardboiled eggs, 23 pulled pork sandwiches, and 43 soft tacos. Sexy!

Update: Ordering information for our hero Badlands Booker's competitive-eating themed hip-hop album, "Hungry and Focused" is here. You can also listen to clips from the album.

September 23, 2004

Law & Order season premiere


Now that the new fall TV season has started, we can finally start writing about matters of substance, instead of all that stuff about political machinations and democracy. Last night, the new season of Law & Order started with a double-header of exactly the kind of episodes that make me like the old ones better--they focus so much on elaborate story and plot set-ups that there is no room left for clever investigative and courtroom techniques, last-minute switching of the main suspect, or surprise revelations in the DA office. Here are all the topical issues that last night's two episodes cover in their stories: the war in Iraq, Abu Ghraib prisoner torture, stress suffered by soldiers returning home from Iraq, the controversial designation of American citizens as enemy combatants, the trend of FDNY firefighters leaving their families and marrying 9/11 widows, the Staten Island ferry crash, and the dissolution of NY communities post-9/11. A lot to take on. These issue-heavy episodes detract from the show's strengths--the drama generated by the investigative and trial processes. I find that the more an episode deviates from the formula established in the handy Random Law & Order Plot Generator, the worse it is.

One hope for this new season is the introduction of Dennis Farina as Joe Fontana, the new detective replacing Jerry Orbach, the man who essentially WAS L&O for many of us recent but ardent fans. The show is not known for its delving into main characters' personal lives, so at this point all we know about Fontana is this: he wears expensive suits, and he drives an expensive car (which we learn in a funny scene in which Green and Van Buren are talking in a parking lot, while Fontana fusses with his flashy convertible as it works through an elaborate roof-closing process.) He also uses a number of snaky deceptions to get key witnesses and suspects to lower their guard. Perhaps some clashes around class between Green and Fontana will come later on, which is suggested by a scene in a bar in which Green is drinking a Bud Light, while Fontana drinks a martini.

I am a huge fan of Dennis Farina. If you've seen him in Snatch, Out of Sight, Sidewalks of New York, or Get Shorty, you know what I mean. Given his personal history as an ex-cop turned actor-who-often-plays-cops, I have high expectations for some masterful delivery of funny, wry dialogue. Maybe the writers are struggling to establish a new style after working with the Jerry Orbach trademark dry, smirking quip for so many years, but I don't think they're effectively using Farina's strengths as a comic actor. We'll see how this develops.

We also watched a few minutes of the new CSI: New York during L&O commercials. Note to writers: Gary Sinise can only stare into middle-space looking stern and haggard for so much of your pilot episode before viewers grow weary and decide they would rather watch commercials on NBC. However, we were pleased to note the return of the actress who played the doomed and pouty-lipped Clowdia on last season of 24. Hi Clowdia! We were also surprised to note that the many women on this show with big, cascading, curly, long hair never seem to pull it back from their faces, even when examining a delicate crime scene or learning over a decomposing dead body.

24-Related Note: Are you all aware that 24 is not starting until freaking JANUARY? What the hell are these people doing? Waiting for that wretched new Andy Richter vehicle Quintuplets to finally get cancelled? They can't be taking extra time to carefully craft each episode's story development, since they clearly only plan each season's story arc through about episode 6 anyway. So I guess Kiefer was just too busy stripping in New Zealand karaoke bars and canoodling with Reiko Aylesworth all summer to make it to the set. Come on people, back to work!

September 22, 2004

Can Professors Require Voting?

An American Literature professor named Merrill Skraggs at Drew University in New Jersey was planning to require that her students vote this semester, but when she told the entire faculty of her plans, she received overwhelmingly negative responses. Her assignment was called "totalitarian" and over the top, and she was advised to just talk about the process of political elections in class instead.

Students were generally less critical of the assignment; one said, "When she told us we were required to go into voting booths, it wasn't a different reaction than when she said on the 21st the first paper is due." Since voting is a personal political expression, requiring that students vote is different than requiring that they write a paper, but students are able to choose their classes and drop any class that requires assignments that they don't want to do. What surpises me is the vigor with which the school objected to the voting requirement. One political science student said "the requirement runs counter to democratic freedoms." Look, undergrad girl, I'll tell you what runs counter to democratic freedoms. 18 to 24 year-olds being the least likely age group to vote, that's a threat to democratic freedoms.

Professor Skraggs ultimately changed the requirement, assigning students to enter a voting booth on election day, look at the candidates, and decide for themselves if they want to vote or not. No students have dropped the class so far.

September 17, 2004

China just needs someone to talk to

If you live in a hard-core Communist country, in which your job, house, family, and life are all owned and regulated by the government, you probably won't have much psychic space in which to question your existence and wonder if you're an actualized person. But if your Communist country starts to encourage some entrepreneurship, and more and more industries and elements of daily life are sometimes controlled by individual people, but with many inconsistencies, and if social expectations suddenly change to include more competition and self-determination, you might have a nervous breakdown.

There's an interesting LA Times piece about the rising industry of talk therapy and psychoanalysis in China [login req'd]. As you might guess, living in a country of a billion people with vast economic stratification, an economy changing from state-controlled to more free-market, western influences in tension with traditional eastern values, and horrific pollution and urban decay, all gets pretty stressful. Prozac sales have doubled over the last 4 years, and a new therapy industry has "sprung up virtually overnight", with many therapists operating in private practice as the government struggles to get in on it.

China has an average per capita income of $1,000, so only the relatively wealthy can afford a therapist. But isn't it the trappings of wealth and modernity that get people anxious and miserable enough to seek out therapy? Increased pressure and fast-paced cultural change are taking their toll on well-off urban Chinese people. As the article says, "For many Chinese, the most troubling sign of increasing instability has been a parade of news stories unheard of in years past. Overwrought college students pour acid on zoo animals, kill roommates with a hammer and step in front of trains."

One Beijing therapist is hosting group therapy sessions for road rage, as well as individual counseling for typical western complaints, like divorce and relationship problems. Her style is reminiscent of Denis Leary's therapeutic philosophy: She says of some of her clients, "They have to be strong in front of the people they know, but they are weak inside. Most of them need to be told: 'You have no problems! Cut it out! Get to work!' "

And just like that, they feel better about themselves.

September 15, 2004

'90's Nostalgia

If you went to college during the early 1990's, and if you were a DJ at your college radio station, chances are good that you were a fan of Ride and My Bloody Valentine (especially the noisier stuff.) If you attended a college in some rural or non-Northeastern part of the country, it is also likely that you never got to see either of these bands play live, but you've been following the last 12 years of reports about "reclusive genius" Kevin Shields thinking about maybe entering a recording studio again, or that he drove his car to the grocery store looking bloated and insane, or that he has been spotted laying face-down in the mud of his garden.

Anyway, if you never got to see these bands, you have a second chance at rocking out with a lot of indie kids with post-graduate degrees, thanks to French band M83, who are touring the US for the first time. [their website has a cool low-tech aesthetic, but is difficult to get out of, so be careful] Everybody says this band sounds just like MBV (and I would add Ride), but that's because they do. Especially if you can envision MBV performing with the members of Boards of Canada as guest keyboard-noodlers. Here are the tour dates. This is one super-fast-paced tour: Pitchfork notes that "these noble foreigners can hightail it from Chicago to California to Seattle in the time it takes Kevin Shields to fold a t-shirt." Their show last night at the Bowery Ballroom was high-energy with a lot of big gorgeous soupy '90's guitars. All the crinkly-faced former indie-kids in the crowd grinned and bobbed their heads, thankful that the main act considerately took the stage at a very non-rock-and-roll 10 PM. One of my companions wondered if the Bowery Ballroom bar served hot tea. The band members are touchingly documenting their first tour of the US by taking many photos of the crowd, so if you go to the show, your face might be projected onto the wall of their living room back in the south of France during their post-tour slide show for their parents.

As an added bonus, the delightfully-named Ulrich Schnauss is opening for them on this tour. Ulrich's keyboard and computer-produced music sounds like an early Cocteau Twins backed by the Orbital brothers supplying some big beats. A lot of '90's nostalgia for one night! If you missed the show, and the chance to hit on those foxy indie kids of your youth, all the same people will probably be at the Pixies shows in December. Plus about 50,000 more of them.

And just like that, I decided to wear glasses forever.


Hooray for severely nearsighted people like myself, who aren't candidates for Lasik surgery because of our freakishly thin corneas! The FDA has approved the first implantable corrective lens. The lens, similar to those used in cataract surgery, has been manufactured by the Dutch firm Ophtec for 17 years, but rigorous FDA testing requirements prevented it from become available in the U.S. until now.

This is how it's implanted:

"A little cut is made in the cornea through which the lens is inserted in the anterior chamber. When the lens is right in front of the pupil it is attached to the Iris. A little fold of Iris is pushed into the clips of the lens. In this way the lens will stay in its place. The small incision is sutured and the surgery is over."

Thanks, but even without warnings of side effects like cataracts, swelling of the cornea, and detached retinas, I think I'll stick to my low-tech glasses. Although many of my friends have gone through successful corrective surgery, my personal philosophy is: don't take chances with your eyes. You only get the two.

As an early Halloween present, here are some gross pictures of other Ophtec products.

Who's Older?™: 2004 Fall TV Premieres

It's fall again! Time for the fall premieres! Time for more teen dramas that get compared to "My So-Called Life" to get dragged onto another ABC lineup!

In honor of one of the more poorly reviewed shows of the new season (that inspired reviewers to use a lot of airport-related taglines) we bring you a new edition of your favorite interactive celebrity quiz game. [tx ADM]