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November 2004 Archives

November 30, 2004

Blade 3: Dorff Upgraded to Reynolds +


Will Blade 3: Trinity be one of the most exciting movies of this end of the year season? Quite possibly, yes. The guy directing the third installment of the series isn't quite as intriguing as Guillermo del Toro, who did Blade 2, although he is the writer of all three installments. But we are still looking forward to seeing this movie when it comes out next week, and we fully expect it will be a wonderful experience.

But I'll tell you one person who might be less than thrilled about this movie, and about life in general: Stephen Dorff. Remember old Stephen? That Stephen Dorff was so hot as Stuart Sutcliffe, the fifth (and by far the most attractive) Beatle in BackBeat. And he looked very pretty in drag as Candy Darling in I Shot Andy Warhol. Stephen was the main evil pasty vampire in the first Blade, and he looked good in that leather.

The problem is that Stephen Dorff isn't much more than a pretty face. After a promising start, his career starting failing after he did Blade: he was in that horrible Deuces Wild thing, and one good performance that John Waters managed to squeeze out of him in Cecil B. DeMented (an underrated movie) can't save him now. These days he's appearing in wretched looking movies that star Christian Slater and Tara Reid. Bad news, Stephen.

Over the weekend, spies saw Pamela Anderson doing the walk of shame out of his house in Malibu. Six years ago, this might have been a positive indicator for Stephen, but now it just sounds kind of sleazy.

Luckily for the producers of the Blade enterprise, we have Ryan Reynolds, who the world seems to know exclusively as the guy from Van Wilder. (Neither I nor anybody I know has ever seen this movie.) It is yet to be seen if Ryan is any more talented than Stephen Dorff, but he looks almost exactly like him, he's younger, and he's dating a more reputable celebrity, Alanis Morissette. He also got one ripped body for the new Blade.

So, sorry Stephen. Try not to get hepatitis.

FameTracker also notes that Dorff's career is on a downward trajectory, though they think that his replacement in the celebrity world is Peter Sarsgaard. - Amy

I've always found the career trajectory of Stephen Dorff mystifying, since his major role is as the poor man's Ethan Hawke, who in turn is the poor man's Brad Pitt. How many rungs further down the ladder of charisma and attractiveness can one go, and still be classified as a celebrity? Skeet Ulrich? Jason Biggs? It's truly a question for the ages. - Emily

November 29, 2004

Exchange Rate Disco


Europeans, their minds addled by the record high value of their currency against the US dollar, enter a whirlwind of gleaming bank notes and blurry glowing exchange rates. These euro-folk--even their exchange bureaus look like clubs.

The Guardian offers some analysis on why the falling dollar will make it harder for European companies to compete internationally against our US companies and their increasingly low relative prices. Americans considering travel to Europe any time soon might want to pack a few lunches to bring along, since your cash won't be worth much.

November 24, 2004

From the Department of Oversimplification

U.S. Fails to Explain Policies to Muslim World, Panel Says

"WASHINGTON, Nov. 23 - A harshly critical report by a Pentagon advisory panel says the United States is failing in its efforts to explain the nation's diplomatic and military actions to the Muslim world, but it warns that no public relations plan or information operation can defend America from flawed policies." [NY Times]

Clearly, these people are infidels if they can't even be swayed by the most American of all solutions, advertising.

Slow News Day

It's a slow news day here at the 'bot, so here's a picture of Tim Allen spraying a cat with a hose. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tim Allen and Cat

Editor's Note: On closer inspection, I think this is a CGI cat. Are they really cheaper than models now? The miracles of technology!

November 23, 2004

Welcome to Marlboro Country


Ever since the class action suits against big tobacco companies in 1998, companies like Philip Morris have had to change the way they promote their cigarettes in this country. This, along with an enormous potential population of smokers overseas, has prompted many companies to target most of their biggest campaigns at foreigners. The LA Times has a great piece (login req'd) on the creepy and secretive 2004 Adventure Team, a 12-day outdoor tour of Utah's Moab Desert for a group of 42 people, ages 22-24, all from countries in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. If they are selected from the application process (which requires all kinds of revelation of personal consumer habits) they get a free trip to the US, ride around in jeeps, hike, wear western hats, and pretend to be cowboys. All the while associating all that freedom and natural beauty with Marlboro cigarettes.

Americans are less likely to respond to all that "Come to where the flavor is" marketing stuff, ever since some of the original Marlboro cowboys came forward with lung cancer in the 1990's. Many people from other countries still love fake cowboys and images of the old west of America (as evidenced by the social clubs of Germans who dress up as Native Americans.) They seem to have a great time on their vacation celebrating American values, like smoking.

An American value that Philip Morris and the Adventurers seem to value less is freedom of the press. The LA Times article is structured around the efforts of the reporter and photographer to gain access to members of the group and the guides, which are mostly rebuffed. They are told to go away by the field guides, the owner of some of the private land used during the Adventure, and by some of the foreign participants themselves. One woman shouts at them, "Why are you bothering us? This is not American." It appears that Philip Morris used to allow some American journalists on the annual tour, but recently decided against allowing any American participants at all. One executive says, "We want the winners to experience the freedom of America. And we find this is easiest when Americans are not part of the event."

So Philip Morris are shilling for a mostly non-existent vision of America to young people from other countries, in an effort to associate their brand of cigarettes with freedom, beauty, and unspoiled nature. But in their execution of this supposed celebration of American values, they actually reveal what have become some of the most pervasive values in corporate America: wilfull manipulation of imagery, corporate secrecy, intimidation and control of media, and marketing campaigns that intrude into consumers' personal lives.

Be sure to read to the end of the article, in which one of the participants offers to the reporter the she actually isn't a smoker. A German rep from Philip Morris overhears this, and freaks out all over the reporter, yelling that he is rude and ordering him to leave, saying, "We never ask these rude questions in Europe!" So much for American freedoms.

AFP Effectively Combines Sight Gag, Understatement

Bush in a poncho

"World leaders, visibly uneasy, donned brightly colored blanket-style ponchos instead of sober suits in an annual 'fashion show' for an Asia-Pacific summit in Chile."(AFP/Tim Sloan)

November 22, 2004

Why the rest of the world thinks New Yorkers are nuts

People who live in New York often enjoy traveling to other parts of the world, going into bars or local businesses, and squealing with delight over how cheap everything is. Yes, there are many parts of our nation in which it is considered normal for a beer to cost well under $6. It is possible to live in this city and be thrifty, but sometimes it feels like our hyper-inflated economy coupled with a lot of alarmingly self-indulgent people are eroding our ability to distinguish a fair price from an absurd joke.

The case that best illustrates this point is the phenomenon of the overpriced New York haircut. Few other industries offer such radically varying prices for, ultimately, the same service. Having grown up getting my hair cut by my mother as I sat on a stool in the bathtub, I can tell you that the first time I considered paying more for a haircut than I would for a nice meal was a minor trauma. I still feel a twinge of guilt about what I agree to pay every 3-4 months for a service that many people competently do for themselves at home. However, the Sunday Times tells us that some women are so thoroughly complicit with nonsensical pricing theory that they actually believe that if they pay ten times more than what most normal people would consider to be an already high price for a haircut, that they will in fact look ten times better.

Which brings us to The $800 Haircut. The hairdressers that charge this kind of price who were interviewed for the article go through some impressive rationalizations for their fees, usually by comparing their prices favorably to the price of designer shoes. Some old-fashioned types suggest that there just might be an element of the hairdressers' egos reflected in their prices, and call the over-$500 guys "pretentious." (So what do they call hairdressers who charge only $350? "Refreshingly down-to-earth"? "Folksy"? "Communist"?)

There are some people within this world of expensive barbers who see through the insanity. One relatively sensible stylist who works at Bergdorf Goodman, although he also calls his $400 price "bargain basement", recognizes that regular, non-famous people who eagerly seek out these high-priced hairdressers and wait patiently for appointments with them are probably trying to attain some celebrity contact high. They're seeking the "magic thing" of fame and wealth, he says. "And I don't think what they are looking for can be found in a pair of scissors." Wise words.

November 21, 2004

U2 re-legitimizes music on Saturday Night Live


After the recent consecutive travesties of Ashlee Simpson and Eminem on SNL, it was clear something had to be done.

So leave it to U2 to step up and take care of business. On Saturday's episode, they performed three songs, the last one coming as a surprise to everyone but the cast. As they all gathered on the main stage, per usual, to wave goodnight, Bono walked over to the performance area and joined his band to sing "I Will Follow."

Mid-song, Bono walked out into the crowd (as much as that's possible on SNL), pulled the cameras around, gave a woman in the front row a rather feisty lapdance, and then rejoined the cast to embrace an ecstatic and overwhelmed Amy Poehler, singing all the while.

As the song ended with the credits already rolling, Bono repeated the "Live...Live...Live!" mantra he had opened the band's first song with earlier in the evening, and called out, "One more! One more!" As the broadcast cut away, you could hear the band striking up a fourth song.

November 19, 2004

A Warm Welcome For President Bush

Santiago protests

This is the fourth straight day of protests in Santiago, Chile against the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (you know the members of APEC better as "our masters").

“We are protesting not only because of APEC," one protester said, "but also because Bush is coming, who is the No. 1 terrorist of the world. And he is coming to do his utmost to ensure that they keep impoverishing people.”

But what do you really mean?

Kirstie Alley star magazine cover

"[Before filming current series Fat Actress] the actress was regularly seen walking around L.A. in frumpy clothes and uncombed hair, even eating pie at House of Pies...."
[Star Magazine]

NY's humongous new museum


OK everybody, ready to stand in line for 5 hours to eventually get inside the new Museum of Modern Art and get swept by the herds of unwashed masses through gallery after gallery, waiting in that shuffling line of people as it slowly winds past the paintings, looking at all those catatonically bored children who would rather be doing anything else, whose parents are trying to get them to do some free image association with a Motherwell abstract? Then get ready! Because tomorrow's reopening of MoMA is free free FREE! Which is a great deal, as long as your time has absolutely no value.

On other days, it will cost $20 to get in; that $75 annual membership fee is looking better all the time isn't it? With a membership, entrance to the museum is always free, and so are the movies. Friday nights from 4-8 are also always free (thanks Target.)

Here is some local writing about the opening. The Daily News wonders if we can scrap that silly Liebeskind WTC plan and go with Taniguchi instead: his simple and airy design is already making people giddy. And the Times offers an explosive frenzy of coverage. The guarded review likes the new layout (though calls it a "chilly box") but also recalls what has always been the main problem with MoMA--the fact that it still is a stuffy elitist conventional place, especially for an international leader in forward-thinking art.

The Times also includes logistical details about the new museum's offerings, including the new restaurants and bars planned to open soon.

I assume that P.S. 1 and the Noguchi Museum and all those other destinations in Long Island City that benefited from MoMA's temporary relocation to Queens for the past 2 years are getting a little worried about their attendance rates for next year.


You know how every now and then, you get those letters from your credit card company that are all, "Hey! You're such a valuable cardholder that we're raising your credit limit!" and you're all "Fucking yeah! Now I can buy that X-box!"

That's why today, Americans are totally psyched that Congress raised President Bush's credit limit by $800 billion! Our new $818 trillion borrowing cap is 70% of the entire U.S. economy! And you know what that means? Even after you drop $577 million on storing nuclear waste in Nevada, you still have like, a bajillion dollars to spend at Banana Republic! Is this country great, or what?!!!

Unrelated: Europe Pleads with U.S. to Bolster Dollar

Update: Although not expected until Monday, Bush signed the increase into law this morning before leaving for Chile. Phew! Now he can cover that Andean silver jewelry for the girls, and take Laura on the cruise she's always wanted. Ka-ching!

November 18, 2004

Who's Laffing Now?

Laffy Taffy

Today I want to bring your attention to a scandal involving my favorite candy of all time, Willy Wonka™ brand Laffy Taffy™. For those of you unfamiliar with the product, Laffy Taffy is a unique blend of slightly tart, chewy taffy and packaging printed with wildly unfunny jokes allegedly submitted by candy-hungry children across the nation.

I've had my doubts about the Laffy Taffy joke submission process for some time, but have never seen a reason to take up the issue with the Wonka company. After all, sometimes you do come across a gem like:

Laffy Taffy joke

Laffy Taffy answer

But every consumer has her limit. And that would be when she's waiting for the elevator, calmly munching a little piece of candy, and she smooths out the wrapper to find THIS!

Laffy Taffy joke

Laffy Taffy answer

Obviously, I called the Wonka toll-free number immediately, where I spoke to a very helpful customer service representative (perhaps an Oompa Loompa?).

Emily: I have a question about the Wonka Laffy Taffy packaging. Some of the jokes seem – well, let me be frank. They're pretty stupid. How are they submitted? How do you decide what to print?
Willy Wonka Rep: Children submit jokes through our website, they’re reviewed to make sure they’re appropriate, and then printed on the wrappers.
Emily: Reviewed for content?
WW: Yes, to make sure they’re appropriate.
Emily: So - what does that mean – you weed out dirty jokes?
WW: Yes, sure.
Emily: But not jokes that don’t make sense.
WW: Well...children are funny. A joke that might make someone my age scratch their head, you show it to a kid and they’ll be rolling on the floor.
Emily: No, I understand that. So, your policy is to print any joke that’s submitted, as long as it’s not dirty?
WW: Appropriate, yes.
Emily: Ok. Well, I have a question about this particular joke (I read her the joke, she chuckles a little). You're telling me a child submitted this joke? It doesn't make sense on any level! It's not even a pun!
WW: haha - very true.
Emily: I mean, this is a reference to Flash Gordon, right?
WW: haha....
Emily: Look, I'm serious here and - logic aside - doesn’t it seem odd that a child would submit a joke referencing a cult movie that’s 25 years old?
WW: um...
Emily: I mean, it just struck me as odd.
WW: Well, all the jokes are submitted by children.
Emily: But - Flash Gordon? I mean, come on.
WW: All the jokes are submitted by children on our website.

Unsatisfied, I sent an email regarding my issues with this "joke submission policy" to the Wonka mothership, Nestle USA, and received the following answer:

Thank you for inquiring about Wonka Laffy Taffy. We appreciate your kind and thoughtful comments. Children submit the jokes on the Laffy Taffy wrappers. They are accepted only on the Wonka.com website.

Once again, thank you for your interest in our products and we hope you'll visit our website often for the latest information on Nestlé products and promotions.

Consumer Response Representative

Clearly, this line of inquiry has gone as far as the Nestle/Wonka corporate machine will allow. Of course, I'd swallow this party line more willingly if jokes could actually be submitted on the Wonka.com website. However, if you go to Wonka.com you'll find nothing but a store, a few flash games, and an "Ask Willy" section where children can submit burning questions such as, "Do you snore at night?"

Don't try to fool me, Mr. Wonka. You may want to give the impression of a kinder, gentler candy company, but this customer finds it a little more likely that some stoner in the Wonka design department has been watching the Sci-Fi channel at 3 a.m.

November 17, 2004

And in a shocking upset....

Jude Law people cover

“What’s he all about? Supernatural good looks, supersize talent — and so nice, he might just kiss you if you have the nerve to ask,” gushes People.

No, not Scott Peterson, you fools. But put those two together on a magazine cover and you've got one of the creepiest disconnects People magazine has ever achieved.

Worst Bank Robbers Ever

There are many weird and often funny crime stories in the news every day here in the big, bad city that we don't comment on, but every once in a while, we like to report on one that stands out as particularly inventive, disgusting, or asinine.

So today let's focus on asinine. Yesterday a couple spent some time driving slowly around the Upper East Side, casing banks to rob. Somebody noticed them, and the cops were alerted. So now they're trolling along First Avenue, with the cops watching them, and they decide to stop and hold up the Fourth Federal Savings Bank at 72nd St. The guy runs in, with no gun, and slips the teller a note asking for cash. He gets a whole $795 out of it.

Then the police watch as he jumps in the car being driven by his girlfriend, and the robbers speed off, only to hit one of the unmarked cop cars that has been trailing them all day. Then they turn the wrong way down 85th Street (which is a one-way street,) I guess to get onto the FDR, and in doing so, run into two more cars. At this point, they stop and are surrounded by cops.

So they get arrested for bank robbery. AND it turns out that the car they were driving was stolen. AND AND AND the guy also had two crack pipes on him, so they also get drug charges. And obviously they don't get to keep their amazing $795 jackpot. Unbelievable.

November 16, 2004

House premiere

Fox's new hospital drama House starts tonight (tivo it), which is likely the only hospital drama I will ever be excited to watch. The notable thing about House is that it stars British comedian Hugh Laurie as the thorny but brilliant drug-addicted diagnostician who shambles around grumpily and pisses off hospital administration, all the while demonstrating a profound passion for science through his Sherlock Holmesian deductive reasoning. At least, that's what he probably does, judging from the promos. Many of us have followed Hugh Laurie through the Bit of Fry and Laurie and Jeeves & Wooster years. His crime-espionage-gumshoe-comedy novel The Gun Seller is also hilarious. Here's an MSNBC review of the new show, and story about how Laurie got involved. USA Today discusses the big risk the creators take by placing such an unsympathetic and antisocial character at the center of the show. The NY Times likes the nastiness of it, but faults it for taking too many stylistic elements from other shows, like ER, Scrubs, and CSI.

Also featured in the cast are Omar Epps (who was also in ER for a season or two) and Robert Sean Leonard--we'll see how their transitions from movies and Broadway to TV go.

Who'dat™: Glamorama Edition

Today's Who'dat™ caught our attention for a number of reasons. Can you identify this newly feminized performer? Make your guess and click on the picture to see if you're right.


We're as surprised as you.

Chengwin loves you. Chunk hates you.


I go out of town for a couple of days, and totally miss the annual Chunk vs. Chengwin Homecoming Quarter-Mile Marathon Fight. This important event involves big swarms of people converging on Houston Street, walking into Soho, then watching the archrivals Chunk, the evil chicken-skunk, and Chengwin, the loveable chicken-penguin, have a smackdown. Cheerleaders, football players, and people dressed as giant goalposts show their support.

This occurred on Saturday. And some pictures are only going up now. Sorry, OK? Don't ask me to change things I can't control.

[tx Agent 0019, who luckily was there]

Note the many cellphones and cameras in the crowd, recording every moment.

November 15, 2004

Real Life, ripped from a Law & Order script

Interesting story in the Times today about a woman who served as head juror on a murder trial 12 years ago, who has now contacted the defense lawyers to help them overturn the guilty verdict that she helped deliver. The case involves two men (now serving 25 to life) who were convicted of shooting a club bouncer in 1990; there have been three separate city investigations since then, and new evidence suggesting their innocence has surfaced within the past couple of years. The defendants' law firm has more details about the history of the case and its media coverage. This summer, the head juror happened to see a TV show about the many investigations of the murder, and realized it was the case she had sat on. On the show, she learned of some evidence that was not included during the trial, and she now says she is "sure they are innocent."

The story is reminiscent of a great Law & Order episode in which a female head juror at a murder trial falls under the spell of the defendant, a handsome and intense man who chooses to represent himself in court, who shoots long, smoldering looks at her throughout the trial. (This prompts the judge to scold the defendant, saying "This is a courtroom, not a singles bar.") After the trial ends with a hung jury, the juror approaches McCoy and admits that her deliberation was unduly influenced by the defendant and his flirtation. She offers to help overturn her jury's (non)decision. The TV version of the story is more exciting, of course (especially when the evil seductive defendant sneaks into the head juror's apartment to try to strangle her after she admits her misjudgement to McCoy, and she stabs him in the neck with a pair of kitchen shears,) but still, some interesting parallels.

November 12, 2004

Subway message board hijinks

It's a pretty slow news day, apparently, so the Daily News gives us a whimsical story about this crazy city we live in, about the electronic message board in the West 4th subway station yesterday, which for several hours displayed the message "PRETTY GIRLS DON'T RIDE THE SUBWAY". While anyone who lives here can tell you that this is totally inaccurate, it's still more interesting than the usual "WATCH FOR PICKPOCKETS" or "THANK YOU FOR RIDING WITH MTA" or the popular "ENTER MESSAGE" display, when something gets screwed up.

Subway riders' responses are also good. Sassy Lucia Morales, a social worker from East New York, Brooklyn, says "That's horrible. I'm pretty, and I take the subway every day." And sensible actress Katharyn Bond knows the real value of public transportation that runs all night: "Pretty women take the subway so we can go spend money on more important things - like alcohol."

Perhaps the message board would have been more helpful if it had read, "PRETTY GIRLS RIDE THE SUBWAY... AND THEY'RE DRUNK!"

If you had access to a subway station message board, what would you write? Post it in the comments. If it's funny.

Manohla Dargis needs a vacation

What’s a film critic to do when she just wants to write some thoughtful pieces about Godard and Oliveira, but dammit, someone’s got to review the new Bridget Jones movie? This is the sad story of NY Times film critic Manohla Dargis, who has also edited the film section of the L.A. Weekly and written for the L.A. Times. In the past weeks, we’ve noticed some increasing, shall we say, frustration on Ms. Dargis’ part towards big-budget Hollywood films:

The Forgotten:
“In the preposterous thriller ''The Forgotten,''...a pseudospiritual, mumbo-jumbo, science-fiction inflected mess that opens nationwide today, the director Joseph Ruben does not just fail to tap into Ms. Moore's talent; he barely gets her attention.” (9/24/2004)

Ladder 49:
“A sob story about a Baltimore fireman, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Jack Morrison, a once and future hero who battles untold infernos, saves untold lives and quaffs untold draft beers to become a fireman's fireman, the kind who fearlessly enters burning buildings and puts everything at risk, including a picture-perfect family and a self so radically unexamined, so thin and vaporous, it's a wonder it doesn't drift off the screen along with all the billows of enveloping smoke…this is essentially a male weepie about strong, simple men and the strong, simple women behind them, and as such it's platitudinous rubbish.” (10/01/2004)

The Polar Express:
“…most moviegoers will be more concerned by the eerie listlessness of those characters' faces and the grim vision of Santa Claus's North Pole compound, with interiors that look like a munitions factory and facades that seem conceived along the same oppressive lines as Coketown, the red-brick town of "machinery and tall chimneys" in Dickens's "Hard Times." Tots surely won't recognize that Santa's big entrance in front of the throngs of frenzied elves and awe-struck children directly evokes, however unconsciously, one of Hitler's Nuremberg rally entrances in Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will." But their parents may marvel that when Santa's big red sack of toys is hoisted from factory floor to sleigh it resembles nothing so much as an airborne scrotum.” (11/10/2004)

And today's Two-Slams-In-One:

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
“What was Renée Zellweger thinking? It can't have been fun to put on all that weight, especially for a film as ghastly as this, and it sure won't be fun taking it off again…or maybe this movie just made me feel sorry for her. I liked her a lot in "White Oleander," a ludicrous movie where Michelle Pfeiffer shouted out to the homegirls in prison while flipping her blond tips.” (11/12/2004)

What is the toll of such frustration? You end up kind of liking "The Brown Bunny".

November 11, 2004

Hope for America: Wife Swap


In our divided nation, driven into further anger and resentment post-election, we need something to bring us together and show us that despite our differences, we all have something to learn from each other. Our best hope for national unity and mutual understanding that I can find is ABC's excellent new show, Wife Swap. There are some other decent new shows this year--I enjoy the occassional Lost episode, and yeah, Desperate Housewives is funny, but Wife Swap is one fascinating, voyeuristic show. Even Tom Shales likes it.

You think we have culture wars in our country? This is illustrated every week on Wife Swap. Let's consider last night's episode. Cindy's family consists of an affable husband with a goatee, two teenage daughters who get to wear, do, eat, and say whatever they want, and Cindy herself, an independent and easy-going woman who likes to eat chips and pizza. Read her family rules. Melissa's family is described very accurately by Cindy as "like a military church, with a bunch of vegetarians in it." Read her family rules. Melissa home-schools her 5 children, and her husband, who is in fact in the military, governs the house with strict rules, order, and a leather whacker used to discipline the children when they get out of line.

Well! Remember in the '80's when there were those student exchange programs between the Soviet Union and the US so that kids from each nation could learn to understand each other and, hopefully, build the foundation for a peaceful future? And organizations like Seeds of Peace who now do the same for Israeli and Palestinian kids? Wife Swap works much the same way. After two weeks of living with another very different family, the wives realize that maybe some of their household norms are too restrictive, or too permissive (hint to families chosen to participate in Wife Swap: if the producers choose your family, that means you are nuts.)

The families are usually harder to break. Last night, we saw 14 year-old Blake sitting at the dinner table and crying and carrying on because she had to eat some spinach and bean soup. Paul, Melissa's controlling husband, started twitching and fidgeting when Cindy told him he can't discipline the children for 5 days. After living with a new mom figure for two weeks, the families learn that there are other ways to interact with each other, they appreciate their real mothers more, and the husbands often suffer a "meltdown", code word for crying on camera, and sometimes start being more considerate.

There are some important parenting lessons to be learned from the show. If you are too rigid and structured and never let your kids do anything without getting your permission first, they will completely freak out when given the freedom to manage their own behavior. Witness Melissa's kids stuffing greedy handfuls of M&M's into their faces when Cindy gives them a big bowl of candy, and watching as many as possible of the 100 channels of TV they are suddenly allowed to watch. These are the kids who drown in their own vomit during the first semester of college after doing 38 tequila shots. Conversely, if you don't have any household rules at all and let your kids do absolutely anything they want, they will not develop beyond the maturity of a 3 year-old and have a hissyfit when you tell them they have to clean the bathroom.

But despite all their differences, the families take some valuable lessons away with them after the 2 week production ends. Some families learn that sometimes you can eat food that is not cooked in a microwave. Some learn that their husbands are unappreciative pricks who should maybe start doing some of the housework and spending time with their kids. If the Wife Swap families can learn from each other, there's hope for us yet. Husband Swap and Boss Swap are both in the works.

November 10, 2004

Shopping vs. Stalking

In Touch magazineLife & Style magazine

You may have noticed a new friend at the news stand this week, a friend who could be the lovechild of Us Weekly and Ladies’ Home Journal. This offering from Bauer publishing is Life & Style Weekly, and just in case you felt there weren’t enough wire service celebrity photos and makeup tips in your life, it will join the company’s In Touch Weekly in your local supermarket aisle.

Just what is Life & Style? Bauer President/COO Hubert Boehle tells us: "In 2002, we launched In Touch Weekly, which continues to expand the weekly celebrity and entertainment market. With Life & Style Weekly, we expect to continue this market expansion by offering young women a new, distinct editorial product."

By “distinct” Boehle means that the company is doing exactly the opposite of what made Us Weekly such an extraordinary success. Us editor Bonnie Fuller recreated what was essentially a supermarket tabloid by combining celebrity news with shopping tips, product endorsements and movie reviews, boiling down every type of women’s magazine into an easily digestible and delicious 20-minute read.

Always the rebel, Boehle has chosen to separate these elements into two magazines: In Touch, exclusively featuring blurry photos and celebrity gossip, and now Life & Style, which documents what stars are buying. Example: In Touch asks “Are Cameron and Justin on the Rocks?”, while Life & Style announces “Cameron was buying sheets on Saturday!”

The bonus of separating your shopping and your stalking is that In Touch and Life & Style both retail for $1.99, considerably cheaper than the all-in-one Us Weekly. But how do you decide which news you need? If you buy both, you may as well have just picked up that copy of Us.

It’s taken the media a great deal of time and effort to create a magazine that so effectively shills products while pretending to offer entertainment, creating general consumer frenzy by linking our celebrity obsessions with the purchase of consumer goods. In this troubled economy, is it really responsible to try and separate them? I say no.

Unless, of course, In Touch and Life & Style turn out to be the exact same magazine.

For more detailed analysis of In Touch, see Fametracker’s guided tour, "What the Hell is In Touch Weekly?"

November 9, 2004

David Brooks and Wasteland America+


Today's Op-Ed by David Brooks, our favorite moderate conservative, offers an interesting study of one of America's fastest-growing demographic and geographic classifications: the exurbs. Exurbs are not really suburbs, because they don't rely on a nearby city, they're not traditional small towns, and they're certainly not urban either. People who live in exurbs live, work, shop, and especially drive in an endless array of strip malls and office parks, with nary a tall building or subway station to be seen. They have no contact with urban life. As Brooks says, they are "huge, sprawling communities with no center."

In other words, the most repellent form of civilization. I am not personally familiar with the I-4 corridor in central Florida, Mesa, AZ, or Henderson, NV--some of the exurb examples that Brooks offers--but I bet these places have lots of SUVs that never conquer any rocky terrain, no sidewalks or bicycles, and basically zero locally-owned businesses. Brooks seems to have chosen to write this Op-Ed as an extended and impressive rationalization for why his book about exurbia, On Paradise Drive, which came out six months ago, hasn't sold very well. He posits that the very people who might have been interested to read about the cultural phenomena that they constitute had no way of learning that the book existed. He says that his book tour took him to places like New York, Berkeley, and Seattle, so he was unable to promote in a central place where exurbians congregate. My guess is that these exurban shopping centers are probably not overflowing with quality bookstores. I would also guess that the residents of exurbia are too busy idling in traffic and affixing plastic siding to their houses to buy books about the changing cultural and geographic landscape of America.

However, these exurbs probably do have decent public schools, and a thriving community of non-denominational churches. Brooks notes that the Republican party got inside the "conservative but also utopian" sprawl of the exurbs, and convinced the people there to vote for them. I find it interesting that as the physical landscape of America becomes more and more foreign to small town and city dwellers like me, the political landscape changes right along with it, in similar ways. If you can see the appeal of living in a place like Polk County, FL, then voting Republican could certainly make sense too. Hopefully the Democrats will realize that these days, lots of Americans truly do not care about community issues and poverty and people who are less fortunate than they are; they just want low taxes and a yard and Outback Steakhouses. As Brooks says, "Get out into the sprawl, into that other conversation. It's a new world out there." -Amy

I can think of two other reasons Brooks' book isn't selling well: 1) It received mediocre reviews, even from his own employers, and 2) why would people in the "exurbs" want to read a New York Times writer's often insulting generalizations about their lives and choices?

In this Philadelphia magazine article one writer takes on Brooks' sweeping claims(including the mysterious statement that it's impossible to spend more than $20 at Red Lobster) by travelling to Franklin County PA. As it turns out, Brooks is often willing to dismiss facts to make his (often distorted) point.

Are there cultural divides in the US? Of course, and it's increasingly important that we understand them. But Brooks' "moderate conservative" label isn't even the issue in this instance as much as his elite urban attitude. In trying to sell his book to those "exurbites", he ultimately makes the same mistake the Democratic party did: talking down to the people you want on your side.

And David - nice try on the tour excuse, but even Mesa, Arizona has readings at the Barnes & Noble. - Emily

November 8, 2004

New York has a manufacturing industry too+


The vast majority of the Northeast's manufacturing industries that moved our nation out of an agrarian-based economy and into a factory-and-pollution-based economy have long since been lost to the Midwest and the South. In the early 20th century, it just became cheaper to run a factory in Mississippi than in Lowell, Mass. (Though these same regions that once benefited from northern manufacturing job losses are now bitching and moaning about their jobs being sent to China. Crybaby sons of mill workers!) Anyway, you might be interested to know that manufacturing is still listed as the fourth largest economic sector in Brooklyn. One of the companies providing manufacturing jobs is surely one of the very best places to work in the world: Joyva, our nation's largest producer of unfathomably delicious halvah. The company also makes other sesame-based foods like tahini and crunchy candy.

Richard Radutzky, a third-generation member of the company's founding family, who came over from Ukraine, expounds on the love that New Yorkers have for halvah and his company's importance to the city: "There seem to be transplanted Brooklynites all over the world," he said. "And when they see halvah, there is a sense of familiarity and of coming home and of nostalgia and tradition that's not just talk. It's something tangible." I'll say it is. Keep our manufacturing industry strong, Joyva!

And don't forget New York's other favorite exports - Streit's Matzo, Brooklyn Brewery beer, Rheingold, and Neighborhoodies.

November 5, 2004

An Open Letter to the FOX Broadcasting Company

Dear FOX Executives:

I understand that you’re trying to drum up interest in that show with Uncle Jessie’s girlfriend from Full House, but I must strongly request that you air scenes from upcoming The O.C. episodes before 9:03 pm. Your viewers with Time Warner DVR service are unable to program beyond 9:01 without recording all of North Shore, and frankly, I can’t be wasting a precious hour of recording time that could be dedicated to Wife Swap or zombie movies.

I realize that last night’s premiere of The O.C. was largely expositional, so I want to thank you for adding in 10 minutes of completely gratuitous shirtless construction workers and gardeners. However, now that all the plot points have been explained, I hope to see at least two fistfights and an overdose next week. Of course, I wouldn’t know what to expect in the coming weeks since my recording CUT OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF UPCOMING SCENES.

Lastly, on behalf of 48% of the country that didn’t vote for George Bush, please, please renew The O.C. for at least three more seasons.

Amy’s Robot

From the Amy's Robot Phrasebook

Son of a Mill Worker™


"Can you believe that son-of-a-millworker didn't bring in a single Southern state?"


"As if it wasn't bad enough Kerry and Edwards lost, now a Republican is in that son-of-a-millworker's Senate seat."

November 4, 2004

Mourning in America

get out the vote volunteers

I was part of a delegation of 5,000 New York City volunteers in Pennsylvania on Election Day. [more crowd shots here and here].

We started off with encouraging words from Russell Simmons and the Reverend Run [blurry pic], and then were dispatched in 15-person teams to "unlikely voter" areas of Philadelphia. Federal regulations prevented us from endorsing a specific candidate (we could only encourage people to vote), but people leaned out of passing cars and screamed "Keerrrrrrrrryyyy!" at us anyway. Each neighborhood we went to was covered in Kerry/Edwards posters. Some of the posters on porches were the size of highway billboards.

Almost everyone we spoke to had already voted. "I voted at 7 this morning!" they said. Or, "Honey, I was there when they opened!". Or "I brought my neighbors!" A few had just come home from work and were on their way to the polls. "I've got my registration card right here," said one man, flashing it at us. When we ran out of doors to knock on, one of the women on my team marched into a bodega and came out with two young men in tow, who she personally escorted to their polling place. One group arrived to find a two-alarm fire in their canvassing area. They made sure everyone standing in the street had voted. Even the woman whose house was burning was on her way.

This week I'm pretty disillusioned with the Democratic party, but I'm not disillusioned with Democratic values and ideals. I don't think Americans voted for George Bush because they're stupid or because they're gullible -- I think they voted for Bush because they want what the Republican Party promises. A majority of this country wants Reagan's morning in America, where babies play on the lawn and young couples get married and start investment accounts. I want that too, but I also think babies should have health care, and that it's okay if some of those young married couples are gay.

What George Bush didn't explain to voters is that creating that America means developing an informed worldview. It means helping people less fortunate than you. It means being tolerant of people who are different. And as much as Bush needs to learn that, the Democratic party does too.

I'm not excusing 51% of voters. I'm still deeply disappointed in them, and frightened by the growing conservatism in this country. But I don't believe that John Kerry lost because he used big words and complex ideas. I think he lost because he (and his party, and the media, and yes -- even his "working class" running mate) talked down to that vital 51% of Americans. During the campaign, Kerry could never convince that vast red voting block he didn't think they were a bunch of stupid hicks. When Democrats made fun of George Bush for his stupidity, it resonated with voters who identified with having their lives and values made fun of by rich liberals.

Americans are cynical about politicians -- rightly so. If this election has shown us one thing, it's that we can't depend on our political parties to include or inform us. It's criminal to spend $600 million on political attack ads in a country where children are hungry. We need to forget about the rich Republicans and the rich Democrats, and spend the next four years talking to (not down to) other voters.

That's why all the volunteers making phone calls and pounding the pavement made such an impact on this election. Voters talking to other voters about how we're going to fix this country make a difference. Individuals and grassroots movements, not political parties, are what's going to turn this country around.

I'm proud of all those Pennsylvanians who got involved this year and turned their state blue. I just hope they stick around for the next four years. We need them.

MoveOn has posted this statement that might make you feel a little better.

The topic of this post is zombies

In these dark days of culture wars and political alienation, what hope is there for we Americans who just want to get along and live our lives and watch a lot of movies? What reason do we have to go on?

I'll give you a reason:

George Romero is making a fourth zombie movie: LAND OF THE DEAD

I know I don't have to say anything else here to give you a sense of optimism and joy in your disappointed and wretched lives, but let me give you just a few more details:

The cast features John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, and Dennis Hopper. Three of our favorite actors ever (we only include Hopper in this list because of his genius performance in 24 as Victor Drazen.) It also includes Shawn of the Dead's Simon Pegg in a "Zombie Cameo", surely one of the most desirable film roles ever.

Following the trend Romero established with his earlier zombie movies of referencing contemporary social issues (such as the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement in Night of the Living Dead,) this movie will deal with post-9/11 fears of terrorism.

It is being filmed almost entirely at night inside Toronto's BCE Place, an office and shopping mall. In the movie, this area is safe from the the hordes of roaming flesh-eating zombies, but it doesn't have everything the characters need. Romero says, "some of the protagonists have to go out into the real world to get things like food - and deodorant."

And, this is what Romero looks like now.


The movie will probably open next summer. We can't wait.

America is Still a Great Country

stand n stuff taco

Does France have a flat-bottomed taco shell that stands upright while you fill it?

I don't think so.

November 3, 2004

Moving On.

Now that we've given up on America, we can focus our energies on more important things. It's all about whiskey and prime-time soap operas from now on, folks.

oc countdown

Official O.C. countdown, Times Square

America: Can't Tell Shit from Apple Butter

After a night of holding our heads in our hands as our bodies were racked with sobs, we're ready to wipe the tears from our red-rimmed eyes and lay into our moronic countrypeople.

ADM's entry below is a thorough dissection of what has gone wrong with our country. Even if Kerry had barely won this election, the fact that it was a close election at all demonstrates that America has already moved far down a path of dangerous self-righteousness. My personal favorite part of last night's election coverage was Steve Colbert's closing commentary on The Daily Show, in which he semi-jokingly noted that the hatred that each half of the country feels for the other half is now the greatest strength our country has. "Our identities have become wholly based on rejecting each other," he said. "Ours is now an anger-based economy."

My biggest surprise is this: Who would have thought this election would come down to issues like gay marriage? Both sides of the political landscape have at various times dismissed the gay marriage debate as a mean-spirited non-issue, one that served only to rile up the support of Evangelical Christians. Well guess what? They got riled up, alright, and they turned out in great masses of bigotry to "protect" a religious institution that has absolutely nothing to do with the government anyway.

A great many of voters who chose Bush in important swing states said that their main criterion for choosing him was "moral values". By which, apparently, they mean killing Iraqi women and children, degrading the environment, attacking the poor in our own country, eroding Americans' civil rights, cronyism in government, and threatening our basic social safety net. But these are probably not the "moral values" that Bush voters had in mind while at the polls yesterday. One of the biggest values that likely did get them to vote was homophobia. Which brings me to my attempt to describe the majority of America, who support such things.

As far as I can tell, most Americans who voted for Bush must be either ignorant, selfish, or stupid. Lets look at ignorance first. Because of the massive amounts of money and time and effort spent on informing the American public of what Bush and Kerry each stand for, what policies they support, and their vision for the future of the country, I doubt that all those people can truly be ignorant of what they were voting for.

Which brings us to selfishness. These voters, through their support for Bush, demonstrate that they don't care about anyone who is different from them. Poor people, people of races other than white, gay men and lesbians, and non-religious people are typically not Bush supporters. White Christian Evangelicals, who pulled together to win Bush this election, appear to not care about what happens to accused "enemy combatants," pregnant poor women, gay men and lesbians, poor people, and people living in any country other than America. The selfishness explanation, unfortunately, makes sense.

What about stupidity? Can non-wealthy Bush voters really be just too dumb to realize that Bush is not working for their best interests? I used to think that most Americans truly believed in the central tenets of our nation: freedom, community, self-determination, and moral leadership. Maybe they're truly too ignorant to realize what's happening to these American values, but I think they're fully aware of it--they are just too selfish and stupid to care.

An Ohio Voter Weighs In

Amy's Robot has located an Ohio voter who voted via absentee ballot. Despite being a politically aware English speaking college graduate and financial adviser, he found the ballot more complicated than the Series 7 exam. He comments:

The Ohio absentee ballot comes with a special metal poking device and a piece of styrofoam to do your poking on. The first line looks like a question, and you think it should be "Bush" or "Kerry" but it's just a blank question. If you make any mistakes, your entire ballot is invalid. The holes are so close together that it's almost impossible not to punch more than one – which invalidates your ballot. There's a line for Nader, but then a note that if you vote for Nader, the rest of your ballot is invalid. There is a warning on the back to check for chads.

The wording is also designed for maximum confusion, like the gay marriage amendment:

Ohio Amendment 1: Same Sex Marriage
Amend the Ohio Constitution to recognize marriage as a union between one man and one woman; neither the state nor countries can give legal status to unmarried individuals whose relationship are intended to approximate the design or effect of marriage.

You have to read it over to figure out what it means. No means yes and yes means no. I can't imagine filling it out accurately if you don't speak English well.

I think I voted for Kerry and for gay marriage, but they probably threw my ballot out anyway.

America: The Country That Doesn't Want To Be Saved

That this election was even close is all the evidence you need that America has lost its mind, and has become a nation of knee-jerk reactionaries more interested in suppressing civil liberties and puffing out its chest than in quality of life and justice.

George Bush appeals to the machismo and hunger for power that nearly took over during the Reagan era but has been mostly dormant in Americans until now. It seems a majority of Americans want a President who tells them, There is one set of rules for us, and another set of rules for the rest of the world: we can do what we want, and be held accountable to no one.

Our military crusades upset entire regions? Who cares. 9/11. We killed 15,000 or maybe 100,000 innocent people? Who cares. 9/11. Our soldiers tortured your citizens? Who cares. 9/11. Our pollution is causing problems in the rest of the world? Who cares. Business. AIDS is wiping out a generation of Africans? Who cares. They shouldn't be having sex anyway. We're doing God's work over here, don't forget.

America has been willfully duped by a president who uses fear and jingoistic moralizing to divide a country and turn it on itself, a President who correctly calculated that more Americans support his power-tripping brand of nationalism than support the idea of actually doing something to improve the life of a fellow citizen.

Bush's demagoguery is an insult to American ideals of freedom and justice, and an insult to Christianity, a religion he uses in defense of his policies. In fact, his policies are in direct opposition to nearly every tenet of Christianity, and yet he has fooled a compliant America into believing he represents its core values. Christianity is about sacrificing everything to help those who need your help and treating the rest of mankind with kindness and respect. But Bush's Christianity, instead, focuses on creating hatred between people and urging them to act on that hatred. Hate Muslims? Let's kill 'em all. Hate gays? Let's restrict their rights. Hate abortion? Let's outlaw it but not support alternatives.

America has looked at the terrible results of these policies, and accepted them without question, maybe because not accepting them is to admit something so awful it would destroy our sense of national identity: America is perpetrating evil in the world.

For his one-time supporters, to vote against Bush is to admit that you were tricked by him, that you made a mistake, and that America is engaged in an unjustifiable slaughter of innocents. It's so much easier to tell yourself that we're doing the right thing, and to exercise that belief by voting for Bush, who tells you, with religious fervor, that by killing people, we are being good Americans and good servants of the Lord.

Ironically, however, Christianity should be entirely irrelevant in American politics. Decisions based on things like the Bible should have no place in our legal or political systems, and yet Bush thrust his interpretation of religion and its influence on his policy to the forefront of his campaign at every opportunity. Utterly missing from American political discourse is the importance of seeking justice and well-being for people irrespective of religion and God. We should treat people well because it is right and just and necessary, not because God told us to. This concept is entirely lost on Bush and his supporters, it seems.

But through the use of religion, Bush has encouraged America to believe that the culture of death he has promulgated is actually a culture of life. He has told us that war is peace, that injustice is justice, and that lies are truth. And America, unwilling to see the reality of the situation, has gleefully flocked to the polls and validated his twisted view of the world, our country, and their own religion.

In the past, probably for several generations, many liberals have encountered a President they fiercely disliked and talked about leaving America. When Bush "won" the first election, I casually entertained these thoughts. But what the weeks leading up to this election have taught me is that leaving America is not something you do because you hate the President. It's something you do because you feel that so many of your fellow citizens have beliefs that are so deeply contrary to your own that is illogical for you to consider yourself a member of their nation any longer. Maybe it's possible for you to still love America, but what does that matter when a significant majority of citizens has betrayed and abandoned the values you've used to construct your identity as an American? Can you still, in good conscience, identify yourself as an American?

I realize that various websites and newspapers will be filled with similar polemics this morning, many of which will appear maudlin and desperate, but I don't think the quantity or exaggerated mood of pieces like this one should overshadow the central truth of the matter:

The country and the world will change in terrible ways over the next few years, and not all the damage will be reparable. Lives will be ruined, suffering will spread, and hatred will consume many of us. Unfortunately, we deserve it.

November 2, 2004

Election News: Refresh, Refresh, Refresh

Here's a list of some sites that will be updated frequently today. (5pm: A lot of them are slow because of all the traffic they are getting.)

Do you know of others? Submit them to the Amy's Robot Link Factory and we'll post them.

November 1, 2004

Halloween Parade


We're big fans of the Village Halloween Parade, despite the increasing corporate presence, but this year we finally learned our lesson after battling through crowds of onlookers and standing on our tiptoes to try to see over all their heads to catch a quick glimpse of the weirdos parading down the street. The best place to see the parade is from within. Plus, despite concerns that we would revert to the frightening police state that this city turned into during the RNC, anyone who wants to join the parade is still free to do so, just by showing up. You don't even have to get fingerprinted or tattooed with a bar code. Here are a few pictures of some notable costumes:

[tx Agent 0019]

Speaking of Lynndie, here's a site dedicated to the latest prank photograph craze, "Doing a Lynndie".

New York Times Op-Ed Freakout

Bless the New York Times, with their columnists so full of rage and frustration. The Times op-ed page has reached such a boiling point that Friday's paper offered these cheerful thoughts:

Krugman, Bush has totally, irreparably fucked up this country.
Herbert, Our troops are dying and the government doesn't care
Birkett, There's an island in the Pacific where little girls are systemically raped.

Perhaps due to the burst appendixes and aneurysms of regular columnists, the Times has chosen today to include the election experiences of three novelists who live in swing states:

Charles Baxter, Minnesota
Dan Chaon, Ohio
Tony Hillerman, New Mexico

There's also an interesting piece by Barnes & Noble chair Leonard Riggio on book sales of the politically left and right. 95% of humor books are left leaning, and liberal books sell at lower price points.

Of course, if you just want some good old-fashioned vitriol, you can still read today's Herbert column, "Days of Shame".

Vote on the Working Families Party line

A public service announcement for all you New York State readers out there. When you go to vote tomorrow, you'll notice that next to the Democratic Party row, the Republican row, the Conservative row, and the Independence row, there is Row E: the Working Families Party row. You can vote for Kerry/Edwards on this row, as well as for Chuck Schumer for Senator. Voting on the WFP row counts just as much as if you voted for these same candidates on the Democratic row, but it also sends a message about progressive political values. It shows your support for the issues that the WFP fights for: living wage jobs, affordable housing, universal health care, better public education, and other social and economic justice issues.

The reason that you can vote for the same candidate on more than one party line is because New York State uses fusion voting, in which a candidates can be the nominee of more than one political party. This method allows voters to show support for other parties, without the "wasted vote" problem in tight election years. So if you vote for Kerry on the WFP line, your vote still counts just as much as if you voted for him on the Democratic line, but it also helps build support and power for third parties with progressive agendas. Take a look at the WFP's issues and their history and strategy, and if these ideas appeal to you, consider showing your support when you vote tomorrow.

Vote or Die?

Cheney granddaughter halloween

Vice President Cheney adjusts granddaughter Elizabeth Perry's Halloween mask before speech in Romulus, Mich., yesterday.
[NY Daily News - Veep says aloha in nod to tight race in Hawaii]

And even more appropriate:

Cheney granddaughters halloween

Vice President Dick Cheney applauds as his granddaughters Elizabeth Perry, right, with her Grim Reaper Halloween costume, and Grace Perry in her princess outfit are introduced by Lynne Cheney before supporters at the Romulus High School...To howls of laughter, Lynne introduced Elizabeth as "John Kerry's health plan."
[Yahoo! news]

Nobody can accuse those Cheneys of not having a sense of humor! I would have said she was dressed as Dick Cheney's foreign policy, but what do I know. [tx adm]

What happened to "wrong comment, wrong place, wrong time?"

red sox fans for bush

Thanks a lot, Schilling. You jackass.

About November 2004

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

October 2004 is the previous archive.

December 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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