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May 2005 Archives

May 31, 2005

Slim Goodbody, still scaring children everywhere

Slim Goodbody

When I was little, no children's television character was as terrifying to me as Slim Goodbody, who made regular appearances on Captain Kangaroo. I hid under my bed when he came on, and cried. I don't know what it was--maybe that skin-tight suit with organs all over it, or his maniacal demand to his viewers, "Give yourself a hug. Say, 'I love my body. I'm the best me in the world!'"

Anyway, he's back! He's still doing books and videos on children's health and is now creating more series on exercise for kids, but his style has evolved with the times: "He swapped his afro for a mullet, which he in turn abandoned in favor of a more conventional hair style. And he has added rap to his repertoire."

Slim's real name is John Burstein, he's from Long Island, and he once aspired to be a Shakespearean actor. Guess he had to settle for filling my early childhood with total abject horror.

Man as Machine

One of my least favorite columnists in the New York Times, John Tierney, has been writing lately about why men still more or less run the world when women today have unprecedented access to education, networking, and positions of power. His op-ed from last week concluded that women have the capability and opportunity to reach top positions in their fields of work, but many of them choose not to, deciding instead to have some semblance of a normal life outside of work. Men, on the other hand, are likely to see their jobs as a winner-takes-all tournament, so they are more likely to sacrifice everything to get to the top. And he says they like competition more than women do.

Today's op-ed looks at Scrabble tournaments rather than the corporate world. Tierney notices that, while women outnumber men in Scrabble clubs, the winners and top 50 players are almost exclusively men. Are women just not as good at anagrams as men are?

No, he suggests, men are just more willing to commit themselves totally to being the best Scrabble players in the world. They want to be Scrabble machines. "You need more than intelligence and a good vocabulary to become champion. You have to spend hours a day learning words like 'khat,' doing computerized drills and memorizing long lists of letter combinations, called alphagrams, that can form high-scoring seven-letter words." Women seem to be less willing to do this extra time-consuming work to edge up another ranking or two in the Scrabble champion hierarchy.

Tierney's suggestion for why men will sacrifice everything to reach the top is the same old tired evolutionary explanation we've heard a million times: successful men do better with the ladies. Men at the top will be more likely to attract both long-term partners and women for quick flings, so they pass on their genes more, so many of us are descended from these Scrabble champs who supposedly get laid a lot. Men stand to gain or lose more in an evolutionary sense by whether or not they win the Scrabble tournament, while women will probably still find someone regardless.

Nothing new here. Related to Tierney's ideas, I have some theories of my own about the male drive for expertise (for example, why men are more likely than women to have extensive record collections of '70's German art rock, all on vinyl, or have enclyclopedic knowledge of Swedish new wave films,) which I will admit I developed mostly while reading White Noise in a college English class. But what I find really interesting is the similarly single-minded, machine-like attitude that men seem to take to arenas of life that are in no way competitive in nature, and that are relatively new areas of participation for men, such as spa treatments.

Another Times article today says that more and more men are going to spas, especially as part of business trips, and they aren't going to relax. No way. One businessman goes to a fancy spa in Miami on his way home from business trips, and describes his treatments like this: "I go in there for a lube job and oil change. I don't go to relax; I go to get rehabilitated."

Spas that cater to men have made a few changes to make men feel more comfortable in territory that is traditionally as female as it gets, by installing TVs in the locker rooms so the naked men could have something to look at besides other naked men, but it seems that as long as the treatments sound like automotive services, men love them. A 50 year-old vice president of a mortgage company in Illinois had the "golf performance treatment" at a hotel while there recently with about 20 colleagues, mostly male, and their spouses. "I'd say everyone of them got some type of spa treatment," he said, and some, including himself, had multiple visits. "I don't mean to sound like a chick," he said. "It just feels so good."

Maybe the male striving for perfection in professional competition, intellectual capacity, and reduced pore size all come down to the quest for reproductive advantage, I don't know. But it would be nice if the corporate world was structured so that talented and ambitious women were encouraged to achieve their full potential without the pointless winner-takes-all mentality that encourages us to spend our weekends memorizing alphagrams. Then maybe we could achieve the mythical work/life balance, and rich businessmen would feel more comforable getting a facial without talking about it like it's a car tune-up.

May 26, 2005

Who'Dat?™: Wholesome celebrities

Today's Who'Dat?™ features celebrities who had a wholesome evening together at last night's American Idol finale. Try to identify both of these people, then click on the picture to see if you are right.


I don't know why this picture strikes me as being so weird. But it really, really does.

(make your guess before clicking on "Continue reading")

Continue reading "Who'Dat?™: Wholesome celebrities" »

ABC Characters Maybe Not Learning Important Lessons from Real Life

Anyone who paid attention to the Lower East Side murder of Nicole Dufresne earlier this year knows what you're not supposed to say to someone with a gun. So how to explain not one, but two ABC characters making the same error in judgment in their respective season finales?

Desperate Housewives, 5/22/05
Susan to Zack: "What are you going to do, shoot me?"

Lost, 5/25/05
Michael to Sawyer: "What are you going to do, shoot me?"

At least Michael has the excuse of being trapped on a tropical island all season. Susan - I know you're self-absorbed, but surely they have newspapers in Fairview.

May 25, 2005

The most anticlimactic 24 season ever

Kiefer walks off into the sunset

I know this is a day late, but I would like to briefly register some of my disappointments with this latest "nonstop" season of 24 that wrapped on Monday night. The show's producers mentioned in a number of articles leading up to the finale that it would be a big surprise, and Kiefer himself said it was unlike anything they'd ever done before.

Well, let's look at what happened. There was a nuclear warhead rocketing toward downtown LA, which the CTU team located when it was only a few miles outside the city. So then they communicate with some Air Force pilots, who go and shoot it down while the CTU staff literally stands around the office and listens to the Air Force communications on their radio.

THAT'S IT. That's the big climax. Hooray! The world is saved. I wonder if there's any ice cream left in the freezer.

Compared to last season's hand-severing finale, this was a major disappointment. Less disappointing were the numerous shots of a naked, bound Tony Almeida on his knees in Mia Kirshner's apartment.

Then there was the potentially complex but completely glossed-over subplot about China wanting blood for their dead consul, and the U.S. administration deciding in about 3 seconds to agree to hand over Kiefer, who just saved the world for the billionth time, to satisfy the Chinese. Even though it took at least 2 entire episodes for them to make any other decisions. Whoops! It's the season finale! So we've gotta wrap this storyline up really fast here, so, OK, Kiefer fakes his death and the CTU staff stand around his non-dead, non-bleeding body looking vaguely concerned until the government agent goes away satisfied, and the Chinese, um, well I guess they're satisfied too.

No time to puzzle over this one! It's the season finale! Even though the rest of the second half of this season has been agonizingly slow and plodding.

I guess next season will be all about Hobo Kiefer wearing his aviator sunglasses, fighting terrorism and getting tortured out on the open highway, with no woman, no country, and no identity. Wouldn't it have been exciting to watch him break out of Chinese labor camp in season 5? Oh well. Hopefully he'll go back to the heroin.

May 18, 2005

Britney and Kevin: Anticlimactic

When my mother moved recently, my sister and I spent a weekend sorting through boxes and boxes of old papers and art projects and report cards. Among many other treasures, I uncovered a heap of truly, singularly terrible high school poetry. This collection of my early work, written largely in free verse on purple loose leaf paper, was so mortifying, so self-involved, and reflected anguish over issues so banal - and so boring - that I didn't even finish the first page before I ran into the kitchen and buried it under the coffee grounds in the garbage can, never to resurface.

Unfortunately, dear readers, Britney Spears has put her high school poetry on national television. And although I was only able to watch about 15 minutes of the humpfest that is Britney and Kevin: Chaotic, it made me squirm and roll my eyes in much the same way as my box of poems did. I can only hope, for her sake, that the show continues to be so uninteresting that it will be quickly forgotten.

And just for your enjoyment, here is a list of words that high-school goth poets consistently misspell.

Racial Missteps

Mexican President Vicente Fox was in hot water with the likes of Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton this week for refusing to apologize for an unfortunate racially loaded comment. In response to the U.S. crackdown on immigration, Fox declared that Mexicans in our country "take the jobs that blacks won't".

The nerve! But after all, what can you expect from the President of a country where, as the AP helpfully tells us, "blackface comedy is still considered funny and nicknames often reflect skin color."

Thank god we've moved beyond such crass and tasteless ethnic humor in our own country.

bloomberg in sombrero

May 17, 2005

24: [wink]

Now that 24 has re-entered the honeymoon phase with its devoted and long-suffering viewers, its producers have also decided to start adding a few in-jokes into the dialogue. On last night's episode, did you catch the little Dennis Haysbert/President Palmer Allstate ad reference? Each of the Allstate ads ends with Haysbert looking presidentially into the camera and asking, "Are you in good hands?"

As the ambitious, grouchy Speaker of the House confronted Mike over the newly sworn-in President, and his questionable choice of selecting former President Palmer as his chief advisor during the national crisis they're embroiled in, rather than turning to his own staff, this is what the Speaker says: "If [the President] is not going to ask his cabinet for help, or the leadership, it comforts me somewhat to know that he's in good hands."

Little in-jokes like this serve mostly to make loyal viewers feel acknowledged and appreciated by the writers of the show, and it's espeically smart to use them when you've just spent the last two or three months making these loyal fans sit through tedious episodes, wondering why the hell they still bother.

I would also like to take this moment to recognize the producers of 24 for following exactly the same pattern of story development and quality that they have done for the previous three seasons: a great opening, a generally strong first third of the season, a mid-season slump of implausible story developments and way too much talking, during which ADM stops watching the show, and then a final 3 or 4 episodes in which all the good ideas that they have been hoarding all season get crammed into a few hours, and the fans decide they love the show all over again, despite everything.

One more thing. The return of Mia Kirshner--again. Hers is possibly the most uniformly strong character on the show, because she is behind or connected to just about every seriously evil plot of the show's history (blowing up a passenger plane; setting in motion the plot to assassinate then-Senator Palmer; slipping President Palmer some trans-dermal poison; helping to set off a nuclear warhead within the U.S.; next--who knows, but it will definitely be evil.) She perfectly combines two of the best character types for a show like 24: sexy spy and vicious assassin. Suck on that, The L Word !

Post Copyeditors Show Enormous Restraint

Since you know they've been itching to use this one since the day the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Holy Shiite!

May 16, 2005

Sabrina Harmon: Soldier. Lesbian. Yoo-Hoo Drinker.

Sabrina drinks YooHoo!

At today's trial of Sabrina Harmon, who you may remember from the Abu Ghraib Photo Album, Sabrina did not speak in her own defense. But her lover, Kelly Bryant, did get on the stand and read from a letter that Sabrina wrote to her from Iraq in October 2003. "At first I thought it was funny, but these people are going too far," Sabrina wrote in her letter. "Kelly, it's awful. I thought I could handle anything, but I was wrong."

Unfortunately for Sabrina, it turns out that her letter was written a few days before the first instance of abuse that she is accused of committing.

Here's a picture of Sabrina not thinking it's funny.

Here's one of her not being able to handle it.

Wonkette has a funny bit on Harmon's trial and spelling skills.

May 13, 2005

Lindsay Shrivels

This summer brings the next feature movie starring America's favorite girl-next-door, the lovable Lindsay Lohan. Remember how spunky and cute she was in Freaky Friday and Mean Girls? The girl has real talent and an effervescent charm that is just about irresistible.

Herbie: Fully Loaded comes out on June 22 and, frankly, it looks like worthless trash. But check out how cute Lindsay looks!

Lindsay Fully Loaded

The irony is, of course, that since this film wrapped, Lindsay's position in the celebrity universe has changed, as has her lifestyle. While audiences will be charmed by that fresh-faced teenager on screen this summer, they'll doubtless be confused by the image that will face them next weekend on SNL.

Lindsay gets skeletal

It might be hard to tell, but Lindsay is the one on the left. [And yes, she appears to be transforming into Paris Hilton. -Emily]

As part of our commitment to providing added value to our readers, we have taken this image of Lindsay and run it through our Paris Hilton-ification Image Projection Visualizer, and it generated a forecast of what Lindsay will look like in 15 years, given her current trajectory.

Here it is.

Lindsay in 15 years

Beware, Lindsay! And lay off the crystal meth.

May 12, 2005

Unintended Consequences of Body Modification

An article in the Styles section of today's Times highlights an ironic trend in women's fashion that shows just how warped our culture's concept of a regular female body has become. Now women who buy designer clothing, which we all know is usually cut to fit more slender women, are having to get their clothes altered so that they can accomodate their gigantic fake boobs. Yes, wealthy women who can lead the lifestyle that allows them to maintain a size 2 or 4 are having to buy dresses in size 10 (gasp!) because of their breast enlargements.

I think we can safely assume that the average dress size for women who shop at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills is likely well under a size 12, but it seems more and more women in this neighborhood now need to buy larger sizes, at least for some regions of their bodies. And it's not because they've gained weight: "With many plastic surgeons saying that Los Angeles is the country's implant capital, the Beverly Hills branch of Neiman Marcus sells more dresses in Size 12 than any other, while Sizes 8 and 10 are the most popular for designer evening wear at other Neiman branches, said a buyer for the chain, who linked the phenomenon to customers who had surgically increased their busts." From 1997 (when enlargement surgery rates were relatively low after silicone implants went off the market) to today, enlargement surgery rates have gone up by 257%.

When you consider that there are likely a number of women who have this fashion problem who went through some other form of body modification, like liposuction or stomach stapling, in order to get the rest of their bodies down to a size 2, who are then surgically changing their bodies again to reach another non-proportional and unnatural dimension, well, the layers of crazy really start to pile up.

Thin women are also starting to realize the limitations of some women's clothing for the bustier among us. A clothing merchandiser in New York who had breast enlargement surgery says, "I gave up my wardrobe to show off my breasts. Your options are so much better, but it's funny: I used to wear button-down shirts, and now they don't fit. I might have to go up a size on the top if it's too tight around the chest, but then it does not fit in the shoulders or the arms."

Maybe that's because clothes are still, quaintly, being designed to fit actual human bodies that adhere to some concept of proportionality. Women have long complained that designers make their clothes to fit only women on the smaller end of the spectrum, but at least those clothes fit bodies that naturally exist. Now more and more women want clothes to fit fake bodies that pretty much never occur without surgery. As one designer says of his industry's rigid adherence to the laws of nature, "You can't design a collection around a customer with a large chest, because it throws the proportion off. It's not realistic. When someone is a size D cup and a 2 waist, it's really a challenge."

Ladies of Southern California: maybe it would be a lot simpler, and cheaper, to just leave your tits alone and be able to shop off the rack without paying the cost of your clothes all over again for alterations. Unless you're a stripper, in which case you probably buy most of your clothes as separate tops and bottoms, anyway.

May 11, 2005

An insightful psychological test

Some researchers at the University of Missouri recently investigated how alcohol would influence the sexual stimulation of a bunch of undergraduate boys. Because these are very clever researchers, they pretty much assumed that many college guys would tend to rate the attractiveness of college girls higher if they had a few drinks first. But what they decided to test in this study is if brief exposure to masked words that are related to alcohol would have a similar effect. Basically, could they get some guys to respond to women the way they do when they're drunk just by showing them words like "beer"? Even if what they were shown was actually "xdbeerilq"?

They sure could! [abstract of the article here] The researchers found that if men had previously indicated that they get a little extra romantic feeling when they've been drinking, they rate women as being more attractive than do men who claim no such lusty effects when they drink, after both sets of men are flashed with words like "rwqdrunkmi".

What does this mean? The researchers conclude only that "the effects of alcohol expectancies on behavior are remarkably subtle and far-reaching." Just thinking about alcohol, even subconsciously, seems to produce the aphrodisiac effects we expect to experience when we drink. What I wonder is if guys who self-report that they become more interested in women after they drink are just generally more girl-crazy than guys who don't, um... OK, I'm trying to avoid the term "beer-goggles" here, but it looks like I can't get around it.

So now I'd like to conduct a little test.

1) Please answer the following questions:

Do you tend to get that rogueish spark in your eye after you've had a few drinks?

Have you ever made out with someone in the bathroom of a bar that you would probably not even notice on the subway?

2) Now look at this:


3) Now look at this picture and rate the attractiveness of the women you see.

Yow! Pretty foxy right? No? Well, try doing a few shots of Wild Turkey, then repeat the test.

May 10, 2005

Sure, Renee Zellweger Might be Married....

But did anyone else realize that "Britney Spears" is an anagram of "Presbyterians"? I was just wondering.

May 9, 2005

Crash: suspension of disbelief

Crash scenes

Paul Haggis has written a lot of bad TV in his time: he wrote some episodes of Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life, and a few failed series in the '90's. His script for Million Dollar Baby last year was the start of a whole new career that will probably be more successful and award-winning than he ever imagined.

His directorial debut is Crash; maybe you've seen the harrowing-looking posters for this movie that all feature screaming people and generally make the movie look agonizing. The themes of the movie--race, class, money, power, and the violent collisions of people who fall along different points on these spectra--are about as tough as movie themes get. All these difficult issues that are at the center of a lot of America's problems are right up there, in your face. Living in a truly multicultural city (and country) is often a mess, and this movie doesn't pretend that it's anything but. It's like a heavy dramatic version of the ingenious song from Avenue Q, "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist".

Whether or not people like this movie seems to depend on how much sentimentalism they can take. Roger Ebert loved it. A.O. Scott didn't. Just like he did in Million Dollar Baby, Haggis loves the big sentimental gestures that sometimes border on the tear-jerker, but I think he mostly pulls it off without getting hokey. There are a whole lot of very sentimental moments, and the intersecting storylines of the ensemble cast rely on wildly implausible coincidences. I think you're better off if you just go with it, like people manage to do without complaining when watching Robert Altman movies, which also center on big coincidences.

A lot of critics are saying that this movie's characters are interesting because they are both good and bad (though A.O. Scott writes, "Mr. Haggis is eager to show the complexities of his many characters, which means that each one will show exactly two sides.") This isn't quite true--all the Latino characters don't really do anything bad, and some of the white characters lean pretty heavily to the all-bad side. What I thought was interesting was all the possibilities that each character goes through in each moment of their big scenes. They might end up doing something heroic or something despicable, but there are many confusing choices that we see them make as they go through these scenes. Some scenes have better outcomes than the audience might have feared, and some end up being much worse. But I was really wrapped in all of it, to the point of mild stomach discomfort, and my very non-wimpy male viewing companion almost cried a few times.

And of course, all the actors are really fantastic. Don Cheadle is so talented and great that, as Norman K. says, I would watch him eating cereal, and I can hardly believe how good Ludacris is. Really.

I don't know anything about L.A., but this was such a good look at how race and class issues play out there that it made me wish Spike Lee would go back to making those kinds of movies about New York again, like Do The Right Thing and Summer of Sam.

The future of U.S.-European relations

Bush with European pals

Today's commemoration of the Allied victory of World War II in Red Square is a great opportunity to evaluate Bush's attempts to reconcile his foreign policy with the leaders of Europe. Things have been especially touchy with Putin, with recent Bush's remarks about Russia's democratic backsliding. Let's see how U.S.-Russia relations look! Reuters says the two leaders "hid their political strains as they smiled and chatted like old friends."

Well. Maybe there were smiles, but for Putin, there was also a good deal of grimacing...

Putin grimaces

... and bemused smirking.

Putin also smirk

Maybe Putin was still miffed about Bush calling his 1956 Volga a "Commie-mobile" after he drove it at a photo op on Sunday.

Putin and Bush in 1956 Volga

May 5, 2005

New York Businesses Defiant in the Face of Explosion

How are New Yorkers coping with the aftermath of this morning's "novelty grenade"* explosion on Third Avenue?

It's business as usual for our brave working men and women. Amy's Robot's Midtown East Correspondent sends in this memo she received when she was finally able to enter her office building:

As you are aware, xxx Third Avenue and [Company] is open for business. Please note the following:

Until determined otherwise all arrivals/departures need to go thru the 52nd street entrance of our building (between Lex and 3rd Avenue).

ID (building or DCI) is required.

There continues to be an on-going Police/FBI investigation in our immediate area which will include investigators searching the building's window surfaces for evidence. Please do not be alarmed if you see men on scaffolding outside your windows.

Please continue to check the NY emergency hotline for updates. We ask that you follow the instructions provided in these messages.

Pizza is being provided at 1p

* Seriously, doesn't this sound like something one would buy at Spencer Gifts?

May 3, 2005

"Untitled Britney Spears Project"

britney kevin head rags

Word has come down from the creative minds at UPN that the Britney and Kevin Federline home videos - oh, sorry, "reality show" - finally has a name!

Mark your calendar for the premiere of Britney and Kevin: Chaotic!

uh - wha? Seriously, people, you have a month to come up with a catchy title, and you just randomly select something from Microsoft Word's thesaurus? Frankly, I'm insulted.

Since I am just as familiar with MS Office functions as a UPN executive, I offer you these alternate show titles, suggested by Microsoft:

Britney and Kevin: Disordered
Britney and Kevin: Disorganized
Britney and Kevin: Muddled
Britney and Kevin: Confused
Britney and Kevin: Messy
Britney and Kevin: Untidy
Britney and Kevin: Frenzied
Britney and Kevin: Unruly
Britney and Kevin: Anarchic

Feel free to volunteer suggestions.

About May 2005

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in May 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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