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January 31, 2006

Oscars nominees

Oscars

The nominees for this year's Academy Awards are out today, and most of the categories include the same movies we've been seeing win all the other awards for the past month--Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Walk the Line, Crash. Overall there aren't many surprises in the big categories, but here are a few notables:

Paul Giamatti, who finally got a nomination (for Best Supporting Actor) after everyone screwed up last year and left him out for Sideways. Sideways wasn't the greatest movie or anything, but he was by far the best thing about it.

Keira Knightley in getting a nomination for Best Actress has impressively bypassed the usual Best Supporting Actress route that is typical of young, pretty actresses (often with limited range) at the beginning of their careers (Mira Sorvino in 1996, Marisa Tomei in 1993, Angelina Jolie in 1999, Natalie Portman nominated last year.) The Academy often uses the Best Supporting Actress award as a way to show the world that they can be unpredictable and can recognize new talent, but in reality, it's too often given to relatively unimpressive actresses. But Best Actress is still the real deal. Keira doesn't stand a chance of winning, but way to go!

As usual, the Best Supporting Actress category has some young, pretty actresses who a lot of people wouldn't recognize (Amy Adams, Michelle Williams). But this year, they're all really strong nominees. As this is often a wild card category, Amy Adams might actually get it, but who the hell knows? Catherine Keener probably won't win, but maybe now the world will realize she exists.

Although Crash was not my very favorite movie of 2005, it is exactly the kind of movie that the Academy loves, and some elements of it were very good (Terrence Howard, the script, Ludacris, scenes that didn't have any slow-motion in them). I just hope it doesn't win for Best Director--Paul Haggis has to learn how to turn down the old Melodram-O-Meter. Imagine how over the top and sappy Million Dollar Baby would have been if he had directed his own script.

Please don't give Best Animated Feature to Corpse Bride, please please please. The Academy will likely think of this category as "Best Kids Movie" for a good many years, so it will probably go to The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Even though Paradise Now, the one about the Palestinian suicide bombers, is probably the only nominee for Best Foreign Language Film that anyone saw, is there any way it can win? And how did Caché not make it to this list, with all the critics making themselves hoarse about it all December?

Most anticipated segment of the awards ceremony: the performance of the nominees for best song written for a movie. “In the Deep” from Crash, “Travelin’ Thru” from Transamerica, and the one I was really praying would make it, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from Hustle & Flow. Who's going to get to announce that one? Sean Penn? Maybe they'll get all jokey and have Dakota Fanning do it. The real question is, who's going to perform it? T-Rock says, "Can't wait to see Elton John and Robin Williams perform "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." That should be a real Oscars™ Moment."

If the black leather bondage mask doesn't fit, you must acquit!

leather bondage mask

DEDHAM, Massachusetts (AP) -- A dominatrix was acquitted of manslaughter Monday in the death of a man who prosecutors say suffered a heart attack while strapped to a replica of a medieval rack. [...] During his closing argument to the jury, prosecutor Robert Nelson put on a black leather mask with a zippered mouth opening and re-enacted the bondage session.

With both hands, he reached back and clutched the top of a blackboard as if strapped to the rack. Then he hung his head as if dead. "That's enough Mr. Nelson," Judge Charles Grabau said. "Thank you for your demonstration."

What the hell was this guy doing in 1995? Obviously not watching the same murder trial everybody else in the world was.

oj

ps. Nice American Flag Tie/Minnie Pearl Bondage Mask ensemble there, Mr. DA... Way to appeal to the heartland of Massachusetts. Hee-haw!

January 30, 2006

Celebrity Matchmaker

What with Valentine's Day just around the corner, and our successful peek into Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe's future love lives, we're really getting in to celebrity matchmaking these days.

And as semi-professional celebrity matchmakers, we can't help but notice....well, you know how sometimes, you've got these two friends - and they're both single - and you've never thought of them together, but they're always both like, "Oh, come on - you must know someone you could set me up with!" and "I just want to settle down" and "I'm really open to anything at this point!" - and finally, you just give in?

Now, what if both those friends were saying those things not to you but to America?

America, isn't it only right that you'd fix them up?

For your consideration.....
Single Lisa Loeb
Single Flavor Flav

Now, I know it seems little random, but listen to me. Both Flavor Flav and Lisa Loeb are currently looking for love on national television - Flavor Flav on Vh1's Flavor of Love, and Lisa on E!'s #1 Single. Both value cooking skills: Flavor Flav put his potential mates through a cooking contest judged by his mom - while Lisa made kugel with her mom! Both are endearingly bananas - Lisa lives "with a quirky collection of gnomes and Hello Kitty dolls" and Flavor Flav wears a Viking helmet! Lisa's looking for someone Jewish, and Flavor Flav is...probably not going to be inviting Professor Griff over very much when they start dating. But still.

And most of all - they are lonely. After suffering through a long-term relationship with the hot but potentially wacko Dweezil Zappa - and a shorter-term one with the formerly hot and very definitely wacko Brigitte Nielsen - are you going to deny these good people their one shot at happiness?

I didn't think so.

Lisa Loeb in love
Flavor Flav in love

Expect More. Pay Less. Fight Crime.™

Target fights crime

Target does a good job promoting its charitable work in education, arts, and community service, but the Washington Post has a great profile of Target's extensive contributions to law enforcement and forensics. Get this: Target's HQ in Minneapolis has one of the top forensic labs in the world, and its investigators now spend 45% of their time doing pro bono work helping law enforcement all over the country solve violent crimes.

A lot of big department stores coordinate their security efforts with local police departments to deal with shoplifting and property damage, but Target takes the smarter approach of working with law enforcement to prevent crime in the entire community. In Minneapolis, they helped the city and state coordinate their databases of criminals using the same technology that Target uses to track inventory, and now the federal government is considering adapting it to a national database.

Treating repeat offenders like they're retail inventory obviously doesn't address the underlying causes of violent crime, but Target is taking a much broader and more interesting approach to corporate philanthropy than the more typical company's disease-oriented walk-a-thon. But I can't find any clear mention of this stuff on the corporate philanthropy and local giving pages on their website.

Another point to consider is the murky nature of a close alliance between a giant corporation and local government. In one sort of creepy public/private venture, the Target Foundation pays for a lawyer in the Minneapolis prosecutor's office through a grant, and measures the grant's success by number of convictions the lawyer gets.

Many American consumers trust and like Target (including me) even though it has many of the same questionable business practices as the much-loathed Wal-Mart. But do we want big corporations doing law enforcement? A company contributing to the security of its community is all well and good, as long as its role is strictly supporting the work of local government and police, and not turning itself into CSI: Minneapolis. One anecdote at the end of the Post article illustrates the point.

"Such close cooperation sometimes has Target employees working as de facto law enforcement officials. Chris W. Nelson, director of assets protection for the retailer, recalled one case in which he worked with federal agents for two years to break up a crime ring. He questioned informants, got to know some of the suspects and was there as a federal SWAT team surrounded one of the ringleaders on a speedboat on a lake in Minnesota. The suspect stopped short as he spotted Nelson in the crowd and shouted, 'What the fuck is Target doing here?!' "

Good question.

January 26, 2006

Tristram Shandy: postmodern before there was even modern

Tristram Shandy

Michael Winterbottom's new movie Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story might be the first interesting movie of 2006. It's an adaptation of Laurence Sterne's novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which was written in the mid-18th century but reads like an absurdist 20th century experiment in postmodernism. The book is introduced as an autobiography, but has no narrative structure at all, never gets very far beyond Shandy's conception and birth, and is full of stories-within-stories, anecdotes that go nowhere, and endless ruminations about how Shandy can't be sure about anything about himself or the world. If James Joyce had tried to write this book, it would probably be much more popular than Tristram Shandy is (it's allegedly rarely read) but it wouldn't be half as funny. Even so, 700 pages of digressions and drawings of sqiggly lines are hard to get through.

Anyway, Michael Winterbottom is great at making self-referential movies that tell the exaggerated stories of larger-than-life figures--2002's 24 Hour Party People was a sort of biopic of Ian Curtis, Shaun Ryder, and Tony Wilson, but was open about much of it being fictional. In that movie, Steve Coogan hilariously played Tony Wilson, and Coogan is back as Tristram Shandy in this new movie.

Michael Winterbottom is probably the best person around to take on a project like this. In an NPR interview that aired earlier today, he was asked what obligation he felt to be faithful to the book, and answered "None whatsoever."

From the sound of it, the movie Tristram Shandy makes use of all the diversions and self-consciousness that make the book so weird and hard to adapt. Actors drop out of character; there are a lot of references to the making of the movie and the DVD release; at one point Steve Coogan is interviewed by what I think is the real Tony Wilson.

The movie opens on Friday in New York; I don't know when the hell it opens anywhere else.

Note: Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina did a great short movie with Jim Jarmusch that was included in 2004's Coffee and Cigarettes, and it was one of the best comedy moments of the past few years. Steve Coogan is the master of being self-important and simultaneously making fun of his own self-importance.

January 25, 2006

Greg's Music Forum 2005: Aggregation and analysis of 75 "Best Albums of 2005" lists from around the world

Ok, people, this is important. Our friend Greg has once again compiled every "Top 10 Albums of the Year" list he could find. He's aggregated the results and, using a custom ranking system, carefully calculated the 75 most critically acclaimed albums of 2005. He collected and analyzed 75 lists from around the world (a big jump from last year's list). Below, he presents the combined rankings, provides the individual lists in their entirety, weighs in with his own "top 20" list, and offers a short commentary on dozens of other albums from 2005. So here's Greg...

Hi everyone and happy new year. It's a long post so I've included a table of contents to help you navigate (i.e. skip the bullshit).

The T of C

I. Shout-Outs and Explanation of Collated List Methodology
II. 2005: The Year in Music
III. The Collated List (Top 75)
IV. My List (Top 20)
V. My pithy comments on over 70 other albums released this year
VI. The Raw Data (75 top ten lists from 14 countries)

I. What the fuck is this?

Last year I compiled 60 end-of-the-year best albums lists from a variety of music publications from North America, Europe and Australia.

A bunch of people asked me to do this again, so I did them a great favor (yeah, like I wouldn't have done it anyway), only I upped the ante to 75 lists. Here's the distribution of the lists by country:

  • Belgium - 1
  • Canada - 3
  • Denmark - 1
  • France – 2
  • Germany - 4
  • Iceland - 1
  • Italy - 4
  • Netherlands - 2
  • Norway – 4
  • Poland - 2
  • Spain - 5
  • Sweden - 3
  • United Kingdom - 16
  • United States – 27

Since I am no statistician, my method for aggregating the data was simple and not very scientific: 1 “point” for each 10th place listing, 2 points for each 9th place mention and so on up to 10 points for each 1st place mention. Unranked lists were excluded, as were lists by individual critics and bloggers. The result, for whatever it's worth, is some kind of estimate of international critical consensus. Use it as a list of music to seek out, or as a list of stuff to avoid, or just as what it is – a reflection of what kind of music music critics, who are not your average music listeners, like (there are several professional music critics among you – whatup Pitchfork, whatup NME). The individual lists are included at the end for a closer comparison of American vs. European critical taste, or for finding a publication that suits your taste, or to check my math. Enjoy!

Most of these lists were sourced from several pages on the web:

Thanks guys. Keep up the good work. Maybe next year I'll have a website like you guys.

II. 2005: The Year in Music (overly pessimistic discussion prompts)

Another year in music gone by. What does it all mean? Or as Madonna asks on her new album, “Will any of this matter?” If you love music it does. An analysis of the year in music might as well start here with Billboard's Top 200 sellers of 2005.

As this project demonstrates, the music press has an unprecedented reach and influence on music. This is new in the history of popular music and is mainly attributable, like most things these days, to the juggernaut-like growth of the internet. But despite the proliferation of music websites, webzines and blogs, as the data reveals, there is a surprising unanimity of taste among these sources. This is primarily because nearly all focus on the same style of music (generally speaking, alt-rock, for lack of a better label) and are written by and for the same demographic. Not that some of these aren't excellent resources, but many do suffer from a severe narrowness of focus. Thus it seems to me like the more established and traditional magazines (Mojo, Uncut, Record Collector, Rolling Stone) talk the most sense and are least susceptible to passing trends (though I'm not arguing that all passing trends are necessarily bad). More than ever, bands read music publications and are aware of what constitutes good music (to these publications), so you have bands tailoring their sound to the whims of the critics. Naturally, this merging of art and media creates an increasingly insular, cannibalistic music community. And we wonder why independent music in North America continues to choke on the sputum of its own self-importance while some psychotic hype abroad sent another wave of neo-post bands surging across the Atlantic to wash up a tangle of flotsam and jetsam on our continent. Is there an egress from the cycle of madness? Apart from a few exceptional artists, the mainstream doesn't seem to hold much hope, although perhaps the most welcome explosion of the year was that of southern rap, which had always had an influence on the mainstream, but this year became it. Although it might be a futile and delusional enterprise, for my part, I constantly seek out music that strikes me as the least studied and the most genuine, to put it rather imprecisely. And with that I conclude my rant. On with the lists.

III. The Collated List (# of points in parentheses; ties settled by AllMusic ratings):

75. Junior Senior - My My Hey Hey Yo Yo (Crunchy Frog) (10)
74. Neil Young - Prairie Wind (Reprise) (10)
73. Avenged Sevenfold - City of Evil (Warner Bros.) (10)
72. Little Brother - The Minstrel Show (Atlantic) (10)
71. Trivium - Ascendancy (Roadrunner) (10)
70. The Rakes - Capture/Release (V2 International) (10)
69. Eels - Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (Vagrant) (10)
68. Smog - A River Ain't Too Much to Love (Drag City) (11)
67. Nine Inch Nails - With Teeth (I Nothing) (11)
66. Hakan Hellstrom - Ett kolikbarns bekannelser (12)
65. The Mitchell Brothers - Breath of Fresh Attire (Wea/Beats) (12)
64. DJ Muggs vs. GZA - Grandmasters (Angeles) (12)
63. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Howl (Red Ink) (12)
62. Tocotronic - Pure Vernunft Darf Niemals Siegen (13)
61. Metric - Live It Out (Last Gang) (13)
60. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Worn Copy (Paw Tracks) (13)
59. Akron/Family - Akron/Family (Young God) (13)
58. Jesu - Jesu (Hydra Head) (13)
57. Bruce Springsteen - Devils & Dust (Columbia) (13)
56. Elbow - Leaders of the Free World (V2) (14)
55. Madonna - Confessions on a Dance Floor (Warner Bros.) (14)
54. Doves - Some Cities (Capitol) (14)
53. Common - Be (Geffen) (14)
52. Rufus Wainwright - Want Two (Geffen) (16)
51. Dalek - Absence (Ipecac) (16)

50. Paul Weller - As Is Now (Yep Roc) (16)
49. Queens of the Stone Age - Lullabies to Paralyze (Interscope) (16)
48. Devendra Banhart - Cripple Crow (XL) (18)
47. The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree (4AD) (18)
46. Coldplay - X & Y (Capitol) (19)
45. Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine (Epic/Clean Slate) (19)
44. Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy (Jagjaguwar) (20)
43. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - Worlds Apart (Interscope) (20)
42. Konono No. 1 - Congotronics (Crammed Discs) (20)
41. Amadou & Mariam - Dimanche a Bamako (Nonesuch) (21)
40. The Decemberists - Picaresque (Kill Rock Stars) (22)
39. Beck - Guero (Interscope) (22)
38. Gang Gang Dance - God's Money (The Social Registry) (23)
37. Robyn - Robyn (23)
36. Edan - Beauty and The Beat (Lewis) (24)
35. Death Cab for Cutie - Plans (Atlantic) (25)
34. Isolee - We Are Monster (Playhouse) (25)
33. Sigur Ros - Takk... (Geffen) (27)
32. The Rolling Stones - A Bigger Bang (Virgin) (28)
31. Deerhoof - The Runners Four (Kill Rock Stars) (30)
30. The Magic Numbers - The Magic Numbers (34)
29. The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute (Universal) (34)
28. The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday (French Kiss) (35)
27. Ry Cooder - Chavez Ravine (Nonesuch) (41)
26. Spoon - Gimme Fiction (Merge) (42)

25. Broken Social Scene - s/t (Arts & Crafts) (42)
24. System of a Down - Mesmerize (American (47)
23. Maximo Park - A Certain Trigger (Warp) (47)
22. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (48)
21. Art Brut - Bang Bang Rock & Roll (Banana/Fierce Panda) (49)
20. Kaiser Chiefs - Employment (Universal) (52)
19. Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs (Righteous Babe) (52)
18. The National - Alligator (Beggars Banquet) (53)
17. Kate Bush - Aerial (Columbia) (53)
16. Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary (Sub Pop) (60)
15. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods (Sub Pop) (62)
14. The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan (V2) (63)
13. My Morning Jacket - Z (Badman) (79)
12. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema (Matador) (79)
11. Gorillaz - Demon Days (Virgin) (80)

10. Animal Collective - Feels (Fat Cat) (84)
9. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (Saddle Creek) (95)
8. Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better (Sony) (119)
7. Kanye West - Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella) (127)
6. LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem (DFA/EMI) (138)
5. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm (Vice) (140)
4. M.I.A. - Arular (XL) (192)
3. Arcade Fire - Funeral (Merge) (200)*
2. Antony and the Johnsons - I Am a Bird Now (Secretly Canadian) (243)
1. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois (Asmathic Kitty) (307)

*Although released in the States last year, Funeral was considered a 2005 release by most European publications, hence its inclusion here. The fact that it still collected more votes than all but 2 artists -- in spite of being ineligible for 27 lists -- shows how well it was received overseas.

IV. My List (let the hyperbole begin):

20. The Hold Steady – Separation Sunday (French Kiss)
Best Track: “Your Little Hoodrat Friend”
“Yeah, damn right you'll rise again”

Separation Sunday is to Midwestern-bent indie rock what The Drive-By Truckers' Southern Rock Opera was to Southern-bent indie rock – a character-driven story evoking the people, places and music of the region, set to some driving, nuts-out music. The Hold Steady recalls not only a time when indie rock actually rocked (remember Superchunk?) but also the late '70s, when classic rock was giving way to punk. There are nods to Thin Lizzy, Springsteen, AC/DC and, possibly the strangest and greatest of Midwestern bands, Cheap Trick. Craig Finn's mostly spoken (in a snarly Mark E. Smith kind of way) vocals will either take some warming up to or they'll start to gall your ears after a few listens, but this was still some of the most muscular and honest rock and roll to be found in 2005.

19. Brian Eno - Another Day on Earth (Hannibal)
BT: "And Then So Clear"
"As the snow across the tundra / And the rain across the skies"

Eno's unexpectedly structured ambient-pop record is a model of understatement -- everything's carefully placed, expertly modulated. The sonic array is broad enough that none of the tracks sound the same, though the mood is consistent enough that the album never sounds choppy. Some of the songs are so delicate and weightless they're hardly there, while on others, like "Passing Over," the sense of dread is so present that it makes my bowels go lax. Eno often references his best album, Another Green World, not only with the title but with certain words and synth patches, though generally the songs here are more fully formed, which means that while there's not a dull moment on Another Green World, there are a few dull stretches here. But aside from that and a few tracks that sound like some Laurie Anderson shit, this is a powerful recording.

18. The National - Alligator (Beggars Banquet) BT: "Daughters of the SoHo Riots"
"Out among the missing sons and daughters of the SoHo riots"

"Sometimes I feel like I'm carrying the whole of hip-hop by myself," Kanye either boasted or lamented a while back, but he actually had some help this year. The National, on the other hand, seem to be carrying the indie rock torch all by themselves. Jimmy's right, they sound like Archers of Loaf, and they blend their British and American influences as deftly as the Archers and their other indie rock forebears, Pavement and Guided by Voices. Matt Berninger's lyrics are funny and desperate, confident and self-deprecating in the best spirit of the genre. “I'm the great white hope,” he jokes on “Mr. November,” but it sounds oddly convincing.

17. Paul Wall - The People's Champ (Swishahouse)
BT: "Sippin' the Barre"
"I'm iced out like frozen food / Sippin' on the ski taste"

Houston might be the worst city in the country but its nascent Swishahouse scene, where everything gets screwed and chopped for the torpid sizzurp slurpers, is really something unique. And Mike Jones might've sold more records this year but it's Paul Wall that we're least likely to forget. He's certainly not the most dexterous or versatile MC (he raps about the same stock topics over and over – his grill, his city, the purple stuff, switching lanes, etc.), but his jumpy, canted flow is instantly recognizable and immediately endearing. “Internet Going Nutz” is about picking up bitches on the computer, which is groundbreakingly (un)cool, and “Just Paul Wall” is an unusually humble autobiographical rap and introduction to the oafishly lovable “Paw Waw, baby.” What it do.

16. The Go-Betweens – Oceans Apart (Yep Roc)
BT: “Born to a Family”
“Born to a family / Of honest workers”

Australians Robert Forster and Grant McLennan are master songwriters – acute, direct, controlled – and The Go-Betweens were one of the most consistent bands of the '80s. They're also one of the most unsung. Probably what prevented them from finding the substantial fanbases and critical plaudits that their American and British contemporaries (R.E.M. and The Smiths) enojoyed was that they didn't have a vocalist/frontman with as much charisma (gayness) and as unique a voice as either Morrissey or Stipe. But the quality of their songwriting really isn't that far behind that of R.E.M. or The Smiths (which, in my book, is saying a lot). And I guess their low-profile status is part of their charm. Oceans Apart is an excellent record, but if you're new to The Go-Betweens you might be better off starting with the back catalog. Any of their albums from the '80s. Seriously, they're all good. Wait, not Send Me a Lullaby. But any of the other ones.

15. John Hiatt - Master of Disaster (New West)
BT: "Thunderbird"
"There's a burial ground / beneath a cattle herd"

Hiatt's nasal delivery is about as unaffected a voice as you're likely to find in this day and age of exaggerated vocal stylization. His stories are told in a homey language with a wisdom, a melancholy and a wit all akin to John Prine's. Backed by The North Mississippi Allstars, who sound like a loose but solid L.A. bar band here, Hiatt managed to cut the only truly convincing piece of Americana I heard this year.

14. Beanie Sigel - The B. Coming (Roc-A-Fella)
BT: "I Can't Go On This Way"
"I still pray along, forgive me for my actions / Cuz I still spit gangsta think Muslim and act Catholic"

We sort of know what it sounds like when an artist records an album having just been released from prison. It sounds pretty much what you think it'd sound like - free, self-starting, a roar of release (see Steve Earle's Train-a-Comin' or Cormega's The Realness). But what does it sound like when an artist records an album in a hurry right before he leaves the world to serve a year-long prison sentence? Apparently it sounds like this. Sigel's album is many things: a defense of his actions, a plea for forgiveness and understanding, a document of his life and the elements of his social situation, presented as possible catalysts for his crime in a Native Son kind of way. The track titles are pretty indicative of the album's tenor: “I Can't Go On This Way,” “Lord Have Mercy,” “Flatline,” “Look at Me Now.” It's not without its digressions, though – guess what “Purple Rain” is about? The production is thick and ornamented and there lots of guest verses, most notably his pal Jay-Z and Twista. Overall an excellent rap album, made all the more poignant by the circumstances surrounding it, something like when Warren Zevon sang “Knockin' on Heaven's Door” and “Keep Me in Your Heart” while terminally ill.

13. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema (Matador)
BT: "Streets of Fire"
"Lick my lips, twist my hips / But Contessa...I already did"

The New Pornographers can overdo it – a song needs one good hook, maybe two or three, but certainly not five or six. And the bastards make it sound so easy - I don't know if any band since The Attractions has played such tight, catchy pop/rock so effortlessly. Let's cut this one short with a little music critic rhapsody that goes like this - The New Pornographers are the best indie rock band of the 21st century and this is their best album.

12. Gorillaz – Demon Days (Virgin)
BT: “Feel Good Inc.”
“City breakin' down on a camel's back”

A fiendish concoction from Damon Albarn and Danger Mouse. Apocalyptic parables, ghoulish laughter, lethargic beats, anachronistic synth melodies, all swathed in Mr. Albarn's broken-hearted refrains. Butler and Cocker were the obvious heirs to Bowie's legacy in the '90s, but it's Albarn who's proved to be the most Bowie-like in the long run – experimental, restless, hiding behind his creations and always finally elusive. It's an eclectic album and things don't always jell, but Albarn's still all by himself in this territory.

11. Kanye West - Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella)
BT: "Heard 'Em Say"
"The devil is alive, I feel him breathin"

I don't think an artist has enjoyed such an overwhelming union of popular success and critical favor since Nirvana. And like Cobain, Kanye's personality threatens to overshadow his music. Unlike Cobain, however, Kanye has been more than willing to accept his role as spokesperson for a populace. The thing is, he's a damn good one (see “Crack Music”). Courting controversy and fueling his own iconic status, Kanye has earned his share of detractors, but keep in mind that ego has a different valence in America's black community. But the music.... Late Registration is every bit the equal of its predecessor, though it's a somewhat different album. Enlisting the help of studio whiz and soundtrack mangler Jon Brion seemed like a misguided move, but somehow they pulled it off with great panache. Brion's touch is felt but not intrusively so, and Kanye's beats are great, of course. It's his clumsy delivery that's always borne the brunt of the criticism, and it's definitely not his greatest weapon, but it really does make him seem less like a rapper and more like a...friend! Isn't that nice?!

10. M83 - Before the Dawn Heals Us (Mute U.S.)
BT: "Teen Angst"
"How fast we burn / How fast we die"

If Albarn's vision of the end was a burning monkey's head preceded by a grand danse macabre, a burlesque of human folly and cruelty, Anthony Gonzalez's vision is less political, more of a great melting into pure sound, everything drowning in cosmic washes of synth. It's a synesthetic experience, intensely visual and emotional – think Sigur Ros set to driving beats and seraphic choirs. If the album title doesn't give you enough of an idea, consider song titles like “Don't Save Us from the Flames,” “Let Men Burn Stars,” and the album's stunning coda “Lower Your Eyelids to Die with the Sun.” Clearly not for the jaded or stoic.

9. The Game - The Documentary (Aftermath/G Unit/Interscope)
BT: "Westside Story"
"The West Coast never fell off, I was asleep in Compton"

Has it really been almost ten years since Tupac turned his toes up? It seemed like such a surprise that someone from L.A. finally offered a contribution to the rap dialogue between New York and the South that Jayceon Taylor's debut practically comes across as a gimmick. It doesn't help his case that he drops names with what must be a groundbreaking frequency. But it's not ostentatious - more of a personal history of hip-hop listening, a grateful acknowledgement of influences and inspirations. The album's pretty much a showcase of hip-hop's best producers – Dre, Timbaland, Kanye, Hi-Tek – and the list of guest MC's isn't bad either – Eminem, 50, Nate Dogg, Busta Rhymes. Taylor's delivery is tough and gruff, his rhymes terse and clipped. What else can I say? It's the best piece of gangsta since 50's debut.

8. The Darkness - One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back (Atlantic)
BT: "Dinner Lady Arms"
"I know I'll never be your Mr. Right / But I'm happy to be your Mr. That'll Do for Tonight”

The hardest thing to understand or accept about The Darkness is that they're not a novelty act or even a very derivative band but a profoundly original one. The irony issue is beside the question; The Darkness, more so than almost any of their contemporaries, encapsulate some of the qualities essential to the spirit of rock and roll (whether we're defining that as Elvis, Hendrix or Kiss) – theatricality, passion and FUN. One Way Ticket isn't as consistently awesome as Permission to Land, which was the freshest sounding thing since Andrew W.K. Here it seems like they responded to the criticism that they were a facile Queen rehash by recording several tracks that actually do sound like Queen, which are the album's only missteps. Otherwise the riffs are just as perfect and the power ballads just as soaring.

7. Billy Corgan - The Future Embrace (Warner Bros.)
BT: "Mina Loy (M.O.H.)"
"The siren calls outside / They want to kill us all”

In the popular music of the early/mid-'90s (when I was in high school) there was a pretty solid consortium of Gen-Xers – Billy Corgan, Kurt Cobain, Trent Reznor, Beck, Billie Joe Armstrong, Courtney Love and Eddie Vedder – and each had carved out his/her own little niche in the Gen-X market: Billy was lovesick, Kurt was angry, Trent battled his personal demons, Beck was a funny freak, Billie Joe was apathetic, Courtney was crazy and Eddie was...actually, I don't know what the hell Eddie was. Kurt's critical barometer has fluctuated the least, and then probably Beck's; arguably Billy's has aged the worst, probably because he was the only one who wrote pretty love songs. But this is what always set him apart from his contemporaries. His lyrics could be as elliptical as Cobain's or Vedder's, but his music was always the most unapologetically beautiful and mellon collie. His ear for melody was undeniably brilliant, and it still is. The Future Embrace is a step back from the bright, lofty rock of Zwan (a remarkable album that was critically ignored); rather, it plays like a more stripped down version of MACHINA, Corgan's last album with the Pumpkins (also a remarkable album). Heavily processed guitars, programmed beats, a thudding synth bass and Billy's caterwaul – that's about it. The cover suggests that Billy still has something of a messiah complex, but as long as he keeps making great records, I don't care who he thinks he is.

6. Bob Mould - Body of Song (Yep Roc)
BT: "Underneath Days"
"Fucked under these days"

Along with The Edge, Peter Buck and Johnny Marr, Bob Mould was the most influential rock guitarist of the '80s. His signature distorted open chords were as ubiuitous in '90s alt-rock as Buck's open high string picking. His solo albums have always lacked the immediacy of Husker Du's dynamic pop-punk attack, and Body of Song is no exception. It's a fairly straightforward album, though not without a few curiosities (apparently some people were pretty miffed by the vocoder). But it's also an incredibly sure-footed set of songs, resonant with depth and maturity. Nothing innovative here, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. It's a satisfying return to form dressed up effectively with modern flourishes.

5. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Cold Roses (Lost Highway)
BT: "When Will You Come Back Home"
"Shivers in the sheets and the blankets of snow"

Cold Roses sounds like a summary of Adams' career thus far, showcasing everything from the alt-country rockers of his Whiskeytown days up through the sappy singer/songwriter ballads of Love is Hell. But he also channels something new here, and it's the spirit of a band whose influence on alt-country has been largely underappreciated. As you might have guessed from the title and album cover, it's The Grateful Dead. The Cardinals are the ideal backing band for Adams, and it's their guitarist, J.P. Bowersock, who summons the ghost of Garcia (circa 1968 - “Wharf Rat,” “China Cat,” etc.) with his winding but tasteful solos. Alt-country has proved to be a pretty durable genre, and ever since Tweedy jumped ship a few years back, Adams has, willingly or not, and lousy attitude notwithstanding, proved to be one of its true stalwarts and most genuinely gifted songwriters.

4. Ry Cooder - Chavez Ravine (Nonesuch)
BT: "Soy Luz Y Sombra"
"Soy luz y sombra, el sol brilliante"

An absolute virtuoso effort from Cooder, who pulls out every last stop in telling the true story of Chavez Ravine, an Hispanic L.A. neighborhood bulldozed in the '50s to make way for Dodger Stadium when the team was making the move from Brooklyn. Soundtracks, not albums, were always Cooder's forte, and that's probably what makes this so successful, although Cooder isn't so much scoring this film-on-record as he is directing it. Sufjan's Illinois is a similar project, another attempt to chronicle a place in song, but his album never really rises above its outsider-looking-in configuration. It's a more subjective experiment and comes across as such – an artist using the names and events of a locality as fodder for his art – and the listener walks away knowing a lot more about Sufjan, but not a hell of a lot more about what Illinois is really like. Cooder's album is more of a sociological study of its subject, though without any of the aridity that such an academic treatment might suggest. On the contrary, Cooder's treatment of the tragic material is compassionate and funny. Cooder really gets inside his story, acts out the parts of some of his characters (a la Tom Waits) and captures the authentic rhythms and sounds of the neighborhood by bringing in several popular Latin singers of the era and including archived clips of radio interviews. It all took place at the height of the Red Scare so Cooder naturally foregrounds the politics of the situation, but fortunately not in a preachy way. All perspectives are considered – characters speak from beyond the grave, there's a song from the bulldozer driver, who explains that he was just doing his job, and a song about a neighborhood baseball fan whose home was displaced. Cooder's arrangements are inspired and forward – listen to his guitars emerge from every corner of the mix on “Muy Fifi.” The scope of the album is nearly unprecedented and its success nearly unqualified – as a moving musical creation and as an American historical document.

3. Antony and the Johnsons - I Am a Bird Now (Secretly Canadian)
BT: "Bird Gehrl"
"Bird girls can fly"

Apparently I don't need to convince too many people that this is the shit. Though it didn't find the ecstatic reception in the States that it received in Europe, it wasn't exactly panned here. Antony Hegarty arrived as one of the most original artists to come along in years. His voice certainly owes something to Bryan Ferry's patented tremolo, but Antony's is more soulful and aching, quavering over simple arrangements of piano, bass and strings. The imagery is unusual – mythological stories of gender transmutation and metamorphosis. But the themes are about as universal as you can get – the struggle against entrapment and the yearning for release – from the body, from the earth, from the confines of one's gender. The result is something spiritual in its simplicity, enchanting, uplifting and utterly unique.

2. Kate Bush - Aerial (Columbia)
BT: "How to Be Invisible"
"Is that a storm in the swimming pool?"

At the beginning of the '80s when Bowie's music started losing its edge, Kate Bush's music swooped in to fill the vacuum left in Bowie's wake (I mean the sudden absence of clean, arty rock). There was Peter Gabriel and there was Roxy Music in its later incarnations but Kate's music was more radical and compelling than either of theirs. There were other mysterious, dark-haired beauties like Chrissie Hynde and Lydia Lunch, other women who sang sexually charged music that was more than a little aberrant, like Marianne Faithfull, Blondie and Stevie Nicks, but Kate was up to something different. Let's review some of her album covers: the cover of her first album, The Kick Inside, deceptively makes Kate look like a country singer; the cover of her next album, Never for Ever, is one of my favorites – it shows an illustrated Kate giving birth to a swirl of Where the Wild Thing Are-looking creatures; on the cover of The Dreaming she looks like an Elvira gone Jenny Craig; and on the cover of Hounds of Love, well, she's in bed with a couple dogs. Aerial does not have Kate on the cover. Instead, a serene, new-agey looking picture of some water, rocks and sky. And the album's as different as its cover. Her voice isn't as shrill as it once was, there's nothing here as catchy as “Wuthering Heights,” and nothing as unrestrained and feral as “Get Out of My House.” But Aerial is something of a mood piece, as suggested by its title - it's airy, eerie, aerie-like, and Kate's lyrics are still masterful at detecting the magical in the ordinary, her voice and piano compositions still transporting. This is a beautifully crafted record from one of the most pioneering female artists of the past 30 years.

1. Richard Hawley - Cole's Corner (Mute U.S.)
BT: “The Ocean”
“Here comes the wave, down by the ocean”

Hawley's voice is a transmission from the '50s, a rich baritone with echoes of Elvis, Orbison and even Sinatra. And like Sinatra's classic In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning, Cole's Corner is a triumph of atmosphere, sculpting the city's lonely after-hours with images of empty streets, wet and neon-lit, deserted cafes, quiet hotel rooms. The layered, velvety production casts Hawley's dramatic longing in just the right shade of noir and the songs sound so instantly classic it's hard to believe these are original compositions and not covers of crooner pop standards. Absolutely gorgeous.

Continue reading "Greg's Music Forum 2005: Aggregation and analysis of 75 "Best Albums of 2005" lists from around the world" »

January 24, 2006

Emotional politics: I want to believe!

Psychologists at Emory have some recent findings about how strongly partisan people respond to criticisms of their party's figures. Their responses are emotionally-based, not rational.

Participants in the study were all men who identified strongly with either party. They were shown clips of their preferred candidate from the 2004 election stating one position, then given statements from each candidate reversing their opinion (Bush talked about his relationship with Ken Lay; Kerry about social security and whether it should be overhauled.) As participants dealt with these contradictions by condemning the other party's candidate and letting their own off the hook, pleasure centers and regulators of negative emotion were activated, while the more rational cortex was quiet.

It's no secret that emotions play a role in our political identification--the Republican party certainly makes good use of hot-button issues like abortion, gay marriage, and the dealth penalty in appealing to its supporters.

But don't the Democrats have a few issues they could bring up at every election that might elicit some strong emotional responses, too? Let's think for a minute here.

I'm getting emotional just thinking about it.

Culture of Life

You believe as I do that every human life has value...

coffins

...that the strong have a duty to protect the weak...

injured boy

...and that the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence apply to everyone...

lynndie

...not just to those considered healthy or wanted or convenient...

katrina evacuees

Bush told the anti-abortion marchers.

January 23, 2006

Who'Dat?™: Too Many Cheetos Edition

Today's Who'Dat? shows a startling transformation of someone who was once the subject of fevered adolescent fantasies and now - frankly, even before he put on the additional chins - has lost that power.

In fact, it looks like this person has just spent the past months lying around his apartment sulking while eating Cheetos, watching basic cable, and wishing he could have sex with Scarlett Johansson.

And no, before you even guess, it is not any one of your Amy's Robot correspondents. We prefer Cheez-its.

Make your guess and click on the picture below to see if you're right.

who dat?

January 22, 2006

"Lazy Sunday" video remixed with rapping kids

lazy sunday

After SNL aired "Lazy Sunday," the Andy Samberg/Chris Parnell rap video about going to see Chronicles of Narnia, Waxy.org's Andy Baio brilliantly followed up with an MP3 of his 7-year-old niece and 9-year-old nephew rapping "Lazy Sunday" against a homemade beat.

So we've taken the obvious next step and remixed the original video to feature the kids' performance. Here you go:

Nick and Amelia's "Lazy Sunday" -- the video (14mb, mpeg4)

ps. the video is compatible with iPod and everything else.

ps2. Yeah, the first chorus is a little muddy.

January 19, 2006

When Helpful Signs Raise More Questions Than They Answer

On my way to purchase some two cent stamps at the neighborhood post office today, I encountered this puzzling sign on the front door:

Federal Holidays New York style

Since I am so easily confused, my first thoughts were:

1) Damn, November 11th - that was months ago! Doesn't anyone check this stuff?

2) Ve....ver.....Vertan's Day? Like.....Michael Vartan? Michael Vartan Day? Yeah, he's hot - I could get behind that.......

3) But that seems kind of weird, to have a Federal holiday for a Canadian.

4) And besides, how do you celebrate? Send a card to Jennifer Garner?

5) I wonder if they have any two cent stamps left.

24: season 5 premiere

Kiefer, 24 season 5

We should have gotten to this a few days ago, but earlier this week FOX launched season 5 of 24. The four episodes were typically action-packed and bloody, but we all know we're entering another 4-month cycle of sometimes great, sometimes agonizing television.

Certain character types seem to appear year after year on this show, and even with some casting shake-ups (read: violent deaths) during the first few minutes of the season, it already feels like we've seen some of these new faces before.

For example, many 24 fans out there were likely dismayed at the speedy incineration of Michelle Dessler, played by the lovely Reiko Aylesworth. However, this season we are treated to another gorgeous actress of indeterminate ethnic origin: Sandrine Holt, who plays Evelyn, the First Lady's aide and confidant. Oh, and actually it turns out that Sandrine Holt has a French mother and a Chinese father.

And what would 24 be without an irritating little pissant of a teenage character for us all to swear at when they come on the screen? In seasons 1-3 we had Kim Bauer and her posse of moron friends; there was the would-be cocaine dealing little surfer shithead from season 3 who nearly infected L.A. with a deadly virus; and last season we had the Secretary of Defense's whiny psuedo-pacifist weasel of a son, who acted like he believed in personal freedom and civil liberties and stuff like that, but in reality just didn't want to admit that he was gay. Presumably that character is now getting some intensive therapy, since his secret one-night stand nearly lead to nuclear annihilation.

And this season, we have Derek, the nosy paranoid sullen little brat who sasses his mom, and resents Undercover Kiefer, his mom's new tenant/lover. This kid has already blown Kiefer's first chance to bust the terrorists from within Ontario airport, but we did get to see him blubber and hyperventilate while having a gun held to his head for a solid 10 minutes.

I haven't gotten over losing Shohreh Agdashloo as the coolest villain ever, last season's Dina Araz, aka Dragon Lady. This year's addition of Jean Smart as the unstable, often-sedated First Lady is a nice addition, and covers some of the same ground with her unpredictability and willingness to play both sides.

So far the season is going OK, though showing the murders of hostages by masked terrorists over the internet was a lot like the start of last season, in which terrorists held the Secretary of Defense hostage and broadcast very similar images. Plus, CTU is taking orders from a Hobbit. It seems like the real storyline is just starting up now, and those first few episodes were just loud, violent filler. We'll see how it goes.

January 18, 2006

Who's Older?™: Trademark Infringement Edition

Over the years, Amy's Robot has presented a wide variety of celebrities in our semi-regular Who's Older?™ feature -- everyone from presidential candidates to aging rock stars. But the current edition of Us Weekly, on newstands now, has opened us up to a whole new kind of game.

Who's Older?™

Beloved national pastime Who's Older?™ or...

US Weekly Copyright Lawsuit

Us Weekly's new occasional feature Who Do You Think Is Older?

Thank you readers - you have all guessed correctly. Our Who's Older?™ (April 25, 2003) is older than Who Do You Think Is Older? (January 30, 2006)

Janice, you can just go ahead and make that check out to: Amy's Robot.

Bonus points if you also noted that the Amy's Robot feature has a catchier name. And that using stars who lie about their age is cheating. Please. If Catherine Zeta-Jones is 36, then I'm 19.

Monster photo-op

Viktor "The Creature" Yushchenko shakes hands with Leonid Stadnyk, who at 8' 3" may be the world's tallest man.

Yushchenko + world's tallest man = Frankenstein

Stadnyk was visiting his mother in a hospital in Kiev. [tx ADM]

Earlier: Yushchenko prepares to eat Condi.

January 17, 2006

And the Golden Globe for Worst Red Carpet Interviewer Ever Goes To.....

joan and melissa
star jones reynolds
isaac mizrahi

When Joan and Melissa Rivers jumped the E! ship last year to provide their Red Carpet services to the TV Guide Channel, E! responded by replacing them with serious journalist Star Jones-Reynolds, an interviewer who would challenge celebrities with those hard-hitting questions that America wanted to hear. Unfortunately for E!, the Jones-Reynolds/Kathy Griffin team proved to be a terrible, terrible idea, and neither were invited back this year.

So how did E! set out to win viewers back to their coverage? They did the unthinkable and found someone even worse than Star Jones! While some correspondents who were clearly on drugs or taking payouts from the E! corporate offices found him charming, Isaac Mizrahi is undeniably the worst Red Carpet pre-show host in the history of time.

Besides committing the unforgivable Red Carpet sin - being boring - Mizrahi also wins a special commendation for successfully not asking a single interviewee a single question about the work for which they were nominated. Instead, he asked:

To Keira Knightley: "What did you eat today?"

To Marcia Cross: "What sign are you?"

To Queen Latifah: "Tell me about your underwear"

To Felicity Huffman: "Is that hair all yours?"

In fact, Mizrahi's red carpet presence was so appalling it made my viewing companion utter the unprecedented words: "Can we please watch Joan and Melissa?"

So congratulations, Isaac. I hope in the future E! keeps you in the Fashion Police chair where you belong.

Any ideas for future Red Carpet hosts?

January 16, 2006

Amy's Robot's dream comes true as Hilary Swank and George Clooney mingle at Golden Globes

This is wicked exciting. It was just last week that we nominated George Clooney to fill the position of Hilary Swank's new man. And guess what? Last night during the Golden Globes, THEY WERE TALKING TO EACH OTHER and loving it! A quick-fingered camera man caught the moment. Check out that hand-on-the-elbow action!

the future mr and mrs clooney

Please please please break up with rumored tongue-kissing partner Lucy Liu and go out with Hilary, George. You're the only one (besides Bill Clinton) who has the charisma and life energy required to be her soul mate.

Here's the entire two seconds of video NBC aired of the encounter.

And how will New Yorkers be honoring the work of Dr. King this weekend?

Celebrating Dr. King

January 12, 2006

The next CBS News anchor

The world seems to have totally lost interest in the rumor-that-won't-die that Katie Couric will be the next anchor for CBS News. Katie herself was recently overheard at a party saying nothing is happening, and that she can't even negotiate any other contracts until May.

ADM has already commented on Katie's journalistic "chops", which primarily consist of interviewing television celebrities and hawking household products on "Today". And yes I know she used to be a news producer and was a Pentagon correspondent for two years. Still. She markets herself as a likeable soft-news host who has a good head for PSA-like specials, like the colonoscopy thing. She's the consummate morning show host, but she's no Walter Cronkite.

Despite all this, many people love the idea of Katie Couric as a nightly news anchor, so obviously her popularity is worth more than other qualities typically valued in high-level journalism.

Which brings me to my ideal candidate for the job at CBS: Star Jones.

Star Jones, serious journalist

Hey, if we can seriously argue that Katie Couric is a journalist, why not Star? Star Jones has been hosting popular daily TV show "The View" for over 8 years. Before that, she was a legal correspondent for Court TV and NBC, and was the only correspondent to get an interview with O.J. Simpson while she was covering his case for "Inside Edition". The world may not have seen the inside of her colon (though the doctor that performed her alleged gastric bypass probably got a look at it) but she has worked extensively with organizations helping low-income kids in East Harlem.

And her wedding to Al Reynolds last year demonstrated that her product promotion skills rival even Katie's.

So let's hear it for the successor of Dan Rather and the future of CBS News, Star Jones!

Lost finally attempts to jump the shark

lost smoke

Wow, I haven't seen anything like that since Derek Zoolander stopped Mugatu's throwing star with "Magnum".

January 11, 2006

In Defense of Chad Lowe

In response to Amy's post yesterday on potential new mates for Hillary Swank, I feel that someone needs to stand up for Chad Lowe. The man is a treasure - so sensitive! So supportive! The only man with the gentleness to capture the soul of John Denver. A man who weeps with pride when his wife wins an Oscar, even though she forgot to thank him in previous speeches!

Supportive Chad Lowe

Sure, such inequity in fame was bound to eventually come between them - but that doesn't mean that Chad Lowe wouldn't still make another recently single celebrity very, very happy. The question is - who?

Another 90210 alum?

Tori Spelling

Oh, sorry - already engaged again. How about another person with a more famous relative?

Ashlee Simpson

Or maybe another former teen star?

Christina Applegate

What about someone younger - maybe not such a serious actress, but someone who also spends a lot of time worrying about her body?

Nicole Richie

Or maybe Chad needs someone entirely different - someone with respected acting chops - someone tough, like Hillary, but gentle and soulful as well. Maybe someone like.....?

Jake Gyllenhaal

Any other suggestions?

January 10, 2006

Red Alert: Hilary Swank is single

The world learned yesterday that Chad Lowe and Hilary Swank are splitting up after 8 years of reportedly happy marriage, and even a NYT feature on their funkily decorated West Village house, published less than a year ago.

While the cause for their breakup has not yet been publicized, we think it just might have something to do with this passage from an article announcing their split:

"Swank won best actress Academy Awards for Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby. Lowe, who won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of AIDS patient Jesse McKenna on the TV series 'Life Goes On,' is the brother of actor Rob Lowe."

It may also be that either Swank or Lowe found new partners. But the possibility that Hilary Swank is out there in the world, right now, and SINGLE, is just about too much for us to bear.

Therefore, we bring you a helpful guide in determining who is best suited to date the potentially single Hilary Swank. By the way, if you've never seen the photo of her running on the beach in a bikini from Vanity Fair last year, which is without question the best picture of anything I've ever seen in my life, now's your chance.

Now let's look at who's single.

Charlie Sheen
Too sleazy.

Leonardo diCaprio
Too puffy. Also, might use Hilary's Oscars to beat her to death in a jealous, bloated rage.

Nick Lachey
Too dumb, and possibly also mean. Seems a little too into lap dances.

Eddie Van Halen
Alcoholic, has cancer, probably still in love with Valerie Bertinelli.

Frankie Muniz
Shockingly, engaged!

The truth is, the only single celebrity that has the charm, talent, looks, and confidence to handle a woman like Hilary Swank is George Clooney.

George Clooney

Sure, there's an age difference of 13 years, and Clooney is the very definition of playboy bachelor, but Hilary is due to make a major step up in the world of celebrity companions.

If it doesn't work out, Hilary, I'm always here for you.

January 9, 2006

Robot-on-the-Spot: Robots in Brooklyn!

If you're walking down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn - look out! You may see some robots on the loose.

Robots in brooklyn
More robots in brooklyn

The robots are part of a display by Bennett Robot Works (aka artist Gordon Bennett) called "40 Robots" - a collection crafted from found industrial materials like used car parts, cameras, radios, and fire alarms. It looks like they've been up there since October, but I just noticed them a few weeks ago.

At first I was intrigued, then charmed. Now I stop and visit with my robot friends every time I walk past. My favorite is Detecto, but I am also partial to Captain.

The best thing about these robots is that they are for sale, and I imagine they make excellent gifts! In fact, you probably wouldn't even have to wait until someone's birthday. You could probably get one for me them right now, and they would be totally happy, I bet.

Iraq Police: defiant in the face of adversity

Today is National Police Day in Iraq, but it's been a rough day for the police force. During their celebration in the Interior Ministry in Baghdad, two suicide bombers disguised as high-ranking officers killed at least 29 people and injured 18, most of them police officers. The attack is claimed by al-Qaida as retribution for relatively high Sunni turnout in December's parliamentary elections.

Police in Basra, undaunted by this violence, formed a human pyramid.

Iraq Police human pyramid

NYT report on attack.

January 6, 2006

Foreign Languages

Bush is a Texan

In an address he made at the U.S. University Presidents Summit on International Education yesterday, Bush may have identified the precise cause of his inability to connect with large sectors of the American public.

He announced a new initiative to encourage more American students to learn foreign languages, which will help our citizens relate more effectively to our neighbors from countries around the world.

Citing his own experience with meeting foreigners who speak his language, Bush said, "When somebody comes to me and speaks Texan, I know they appreciate the Texas culture."

So that's why our President's words cause so much confusion and frustration for so many Americans! That's why we feel like he doesn't understand the interests of regular people! He's speaking Texan.

The particular langauges that the initiative is intended to encourage in U.S. public schools are Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, and Farsi. Someone in Washington knows which countries and regions are rising in the world, and they sure aren't France and Spain.

January 5, 2006

Who's Older™: Ailing World Figures Edition

In the past year we've seen two important world leaders suffer severe strokes. Both are working for unity and peace - one by bringing millions of Americans together for one night each year, and one by withdrawing from the Gaza Strip. One is recovering well, although slowly - and one isn't doing so well at all. But the really important difference is that one of them is older.

Dick clark 2006Ariel Sharon


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