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November 2006 Archives

November 21, 2006

Free-for-all on science and religion

A recent conference at the Salk Institute in La Jolla brought together internationally famous scientists to talk about how to advance scientific thought in a world increasingly full of religious nutcases. But proving that Nobel Prize winners might not have the greatest social skills, it descended, after a day or two, into what one scientist called a "den of vipers"--looks like even the science side of this increasingly messy and circular debate can't agree on what to do.

The Times covered the conference, and included tons of snippy little comments and smackdowns. Here are a few of the better ones:

Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in physics: “Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.” Whew.

Francisco J. Ayala, evolutionary biologist at UC Irvine: “There are six billion people in the world. If we think that we are going to persuade them to live a rational life based on scientific knowledge, we are not only dreaming — it is like believing in the fairy godmother.” Snap!

Champion blood-vessel burster Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion: “I am utterly fed up with the respect that we — all of us, including the secular among us — are brainwashed into bestowing on religion. Children are systematically taught that there is a higher kind of knowledge which comes from faith, which comes from revelation, which comes from scripture, which comes from tradition, and that it is the equal if not the superior of knowledge that comes from real evidence.” Stamp those little feet, Dawkins!

Then Melvin Konner, an anthropologist at Emory, called Richard Dawkins “a remarkably apt mirror image of the extremists on the other side,” and said views like his “generate more fear and hatred of science.” Is he calling Dawkins a snake-handler?

Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University: “I think we need to respect people’s philosophical notions unless those notions are wrong. Science does not make it impossible to believe in God. We should recognize that fact and live with it and stop being so pompous about it.” Meow!

But Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of NYC's own Hayden Planetarium, may have been the only one there to take a communications class as an undergrad. He advised, "Persuasion isn’t always 'Here are the facts — you’re an idiot or you're not.'"

Sounds like they have their marketing jingle.

Video: Michael Richards ("Kramer") Apologizes for Racist Tirade +

Michael Richards appeared by satellite on Letterman last night during a segment with Jerry Seinfeld. He made an extended, awkward apology for his racist tirade, and it was clear that he was pretty shattered. Painful to watch, especially in the beginning with people laughing (Seinfeld asks them to stop, but it doesn't work). He uses the phrase "Afro-American" twice, says he isn't racist (ok, Mel) and tries, unsuccessfully, to make it about larger issues (racism in general, Katrina fallout, even the war in Iraq), but it's still obvious he feels like an idiot. Says he isn't sure Letterman was the best forum for his apology...that is certainly true.

We uploaded it to YouTube, but no doubt the copyright cops will get it removed shortly: Update: Yep, they pulled it! See the link below to download it...

You can still download it from our server, though. (Right-click the link and choose "Save As...") (Video is iPod/iTunes/everything-compatible MPEG4.)

November 20, 2006

This weekend's new movies

It's the time of year when it starts to get tough to keep up with all the worthwhile movies coming out. I went to see a couple this weekend.

Casino Royale

Casino Royale [official site] is the best thing that ever could have happened to the James Bond franchise. Pierce Brosnan was great as a spy/playboy driving around in sports cars with an eyebrow cocked, and he was funnier than other Bonds, but that particular formula got stale fast. This new movie is the first time I've seen a Bond movie that came close to having more substance than style, even if the plot still doesn't make any sense. Daniel Craig's Bond is less about flashy gadgetry and slick one-liners than he is about breaking people's necks with his bare hands.

It was also cool to see the early days of the character when he's first become 007 and is still a little clumsy. The first big action sequence at an African construction site (not so many cheesy glamorous chase scene locations in Casino Royale, which is a nice change--another big one takes place on the tarmac at Miami airport) involves Bond being totally out-maneuvered by a bad guy with some awesome parkour moves who nimbly leaps from crane to I-beam to cement truck while Bond is slipping all over the place.

Daniel Craig is great too, I don't know what all that complaining among "fans" was about. His ripped body makes Roger Moore look like a scrawny little weed, but it goes with his version of the character, which as Manohla Dargis notes is closer to the “ironical, brutal and cold” description in the Ian Fleming books than any other recent Bond. And Eva Green is good--nowhere near as fun as the hilarious evil maneater that Famke Janssen (my favorite Bond girl) was in Goldeneye, but she's quick and tough and still has some of that same adolescent gawkiness that she had in The Dreamers.

I was impressed with a few complicated set-ups that we got to watch unfold and figure out for ourselves, but as smart as the audience was allowed to feel at some points, we also get spoon-fed a lot of idiot narration at other times. During one of the (many) (long) poker scenes, there's a lot of really dumb commentary: "The pot is now at $120 million!" or "a straight flush beats a full house!" as if the actual workings of the game make any difference to the movie.

Fast Food Nation

Fast Food Nation [official site] was a big disappointment. The nonfiction book may have opened a lot of people's eyes about the gross realities of high-volume meat production, but the movie examines the industry through some not very well-developed fictional characters. As Stephen Hunter writes in his review, "it works far better as journalism than as drama and it really doesn't work very well as journalism."

The characters are more like sketches, and many are obvious stereotypes (the teenage burger-flipper who spits in food, the asshole plant floor manager who gropes employees, the idealistic but clueless college students.) Even the scenes that are supposed to be shocking are so obviously foreshadowed that when they finally happen they have little impact. And where was the scene that the whole movie was clearly leading up to that never came--cow poop getting splattered all over a whole side of beef, which then gets made into hamburger patties? Isn't that what the whole movie is supposedly about?

Even the bad things that happen to some characters are more like lame-brained lessons than revelations about the meat industry. Like, "don't operate machinery while on drugs" or "don't sleep with your boss." I would have watched a whole movie about Luis Guzman, the coyote. Or Kris Kristofferson, the crusty old rancher, and how other local ranchers had lost their land which got subdivided and turned into exurban blight. That would be an interesting story. Instead I guess we're supposed to be surprised to learn that working in a meat-packing plant is gross, that migrants get exploited and have really hard lives, and that fast food companies use chemicals rather than real ingredients to add flavor to the food. Yeah, shocking. Linklater, I know you can do better than this.

I was a little shocked, however, to see how handsome Wilmer Valderrama is all of a sudden. Look, I know, I'm just saying.

November 16, 2006

NYC is really, really big

US population map

[Time's visualization of US population density]

Most of us who live in New York probably only experience a few small bits of the city in our daily lives--our home neighborhood, work, favorite bar, Trader Joe's. It can be easy to forget how absolutely enormous this city really is, and how impressive it is that this whole operation functions as well as it does (notable exceptions: finding affordable housing, transit strikes, Ludlow St on Saturday nights, walking through Rockefeller Center anytime between now and New Year's Day.)

Last night at an event held by Robin Hood, Mayor Bloomberg threw out a few statistics that reminded me of the giganticness of our city:

  • The projected increase in New York's population over the next 10 years will be larger than the population of Pittsburgh (pop. 335,000)
  • The number of students in the NYC public school system (1.1 million) is more than the population of Detroit (887,000)
  • The number of people that will live in the new affordable housing units slated to be built is more than the population of Atlanta (471,000).
  • NYC's annual budget ($53 billion in 2007) is bigger than every US state budget except for New York, California, and Texas.

Plus, over 300,000 people work for the city.

Then when I think about how most of us all take showers at about the same time as everybody else every morning, my head really starts to spin.

November 14, 2006

Who'Dat?™: You look so pretty when you smile

Today's edition of Who'Dat?™ involves a recent celebrity who you may not know much about, but we're willing to bet you've seen a lot of in the past few months. Though this might be the first time you've seen him looking like a person that you would not want to punch in the face.

To play the game, try to figure out who this person is, then click on the picture to see if you are right.


More on this celebrity after the break.

Continue reading "Who'Dat?™: You look so pretty when you smile" »

November 9, 2006

Can Lost be saved?



All in all, we've been pretty quiet about the fall tv season because it's been so -- boring. New shows, old shows -- there's nothing we can get really excited about.

If you watched any of this cruddy 6-episode mini-season* of Lost, you know that the show that used to be so great is pretty much beyond saving at this point. But even if we have officially Stopped Watching Lost (and some of us haven't made it through a whole episode awake this season) there are still some characters that we would miss if the show's producers decided to, say, wipe out the entire island with a really awesome scene of total obliteration by volcano/meteor/tsunami/French woman (is she still even on the island?) blowing everyone away before turning the gun on herself.

Unfortunately, with 357 characters and only 1 hour a week -- plus that 4 month hiatus -- the writers can only do so much. So we've taken it upon ourselves to suggest new opportunities to give our favorite Lost characters the quality and quantity of screen time they deserve while adding much needed spice to the rest of the lackluster fall lineup. How? By deporting all the characters to some other shows!

Jack: He's got daddy issues. Big time. So why not move him to House, where he could adopt Dr. House as his new brilliant but emotionally-distant, dysfunctional father figure? That show needs more fistfights anyway.

Sawyer: Shame on you, writers. Although we appreciate the gesture, making Sawyer shirtless for 6 episodes does not equal character development. We need more of the Sawyer sass -- and where better to see it in effect than sunny California? Sawyer and The OC's Julie Cooper would be an unstoppable team. Sawyer can get it on in a bed for a change, while the two plot to swindle the Newport elite out of their cash.

Sayid: Our favorite ex-Republican Guard interrogator would bring many new scenes of reckless torture with total impunity to 24. "I'm going to shoot him in the knee, Sayid." "No, Jack, I think you will find shooting him in the stomach will be much more effective."

Hurley: Oh Hurley -- Hurley! Does anyone on the island even talk to you anymore? And is there any gang of misfits in which you would not be beloved? Hurley would be right at home with the warehouse guys on The Office, or growing a fabulous moustache to match Jason Lee's on My Name Is Earl. Hell, he'd even be value added on Heroes. What superpower would Hurley have? Flying, or making any woman he wants be uncontrollably attracted to him? "Dude, save the cheerleader, save the....Hey, is that ranch dressing you got over there?"

Sun and Jin: Where the hell have they been for the past few weeks? There are so many opportunities on network television for our favorite couple. With Sun's sailing skills and Jin's, um, negotiating skills, they'd kick ass on The Amazing Race. And with their communication issues and emotional problems, they'd seem like a natural addition to Desperate Housewives' Wisteria Lane. But our true dream is to see them on Wife Swap -- we can only imagine the entertainment value if they appeared opposite the competively eating Badlands Booker family on the season premiere.

Locke: This is a tough one. We used to love Locke -- but even he's growing unwatchable. (No more endless games of Charades. Please.) Locke, we're willing to give you one more chance -- how would you like to anchor the CBS Evening News?

Of course, making room for this many folks means some other characters will have to be displaced. We suggest sending the whiny, useless Peter Petrelli on Heroes, The O.C.'s Seth Cohen, Rachael Ray, and the entire cast of Studio 60 to the island. And then, producers -- do what you will with these new castaways. We won't be watching anyway.

*Sopranos, I blame you for this.

November 8, 2006

The one who says he always tells the truth always lies


President Bush gave Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld an unequivocal vote of confidence Wednesday, saying he would remain in the job until the end of Bush's presidency, a pointed response to Democrats -- and Republicans -- who have called for Rumsfeld's resignation.


Bush said Wednesday he met with Gates in Crawford, Texas, over the weekend. He said he had planned to nominate him as Secretary of Defense regardless of what happened in Tuesday's midterm election.

RummyPool™: We Have a Winner


Rumsfeld just announced his resignation, and that means that RummyPool™, our betting pool on when Rumsfeld would resign, has come to an end.

Apparently, we have some pretty clever readers: the average guess was that Rumsfeld would resign on 10/26/06.

But guess what: way back in April, a reader named Danielle correctly guessed the exact date. Very good analytical skills, Danielle!

We will be contacting her shortly to arrange delivery of her prize, a very sexy Donald Rumsfeld man-thong.

November 7, 2006

Break the two-party stronghold

Working Families Party ballot

It's Election Day! If you live in New York State and are going to go vote after work, may we suggest you vote for your candidates on the Working Families Party line, Row E, rather than the usual major party line. The WFP vets all candidates, and endorses those that are most likely to fight for fair housing, employment, healthcare, and schools for everyone. Here are all their endorsements for this election.

The Working Families Party works for legislation and political representation for the working class, the poor, and the middle class in New York State. They're a little too closely tied to the big unions to be able to truly represent the interests of all working people, in my opinion, but they're still pushing for good change statewide. In 2004 they were a big player in the successful effort to raise the state minimum wage.

Even if you're not a union member and can't honestly count yourself among the working class, voting on the WFP line shows your support of moving beyond the shamefully inadequate two-party model of American politics. Your vote still counts for the candidate you're voting for (yes, I'm making some assumptions here, but come on, who the hell's going to vote for John Faso?) and you get to encourage a viable third (or more) party system.

November 3, 2006

Surprising suicide: Adrienne Shelly +

Adrienne Shelly

The Post reports that actress Adrienne Shelly was found dead in the Village apartment she used as an office on Wednesday, having apparently hanged herself from the shower curtain rod. Shelly was the star of two early Hal Hartley movies, The Unbelievable Truth and Trust, in the late '80's and early '90's, though her career never quite took off the way you might have expected.

Shelly did write and direct some movies, including 1999's I'll Take You There starring Ally Sheedy, and Waitress, which has yet to be released, but stars Nathan Fillion from "Firefly" and Keri Russell. Family members thought she was basically a happy person who wasn't on any medication. The Post reports an interview from 1996 in which she said things like "I might not live another seven years" [full text of interview].

In the same interview she quoted something her father said when he turned away agents who wanted to cast her when she was still very young: "I will not have my daughter jumping out of a window when she's 30." He was off by 10 years--Shelly was 40--but it seems his concern wasn't too far off base.

Those two Hal Hartley movies she starred in aren't the greatest movies ever made (there's a sort of hokey scene at the end of Trust where she tries to convince Martin Donovan that "respect plus admiration plus trust equals love") but she clearly had some real talent, especially for Hartley's style of deadpan comedy. Shelly was in her early 20's in these movies, though she plays a high school girl in each.

Cops are saying it looks like a suicide, though they are investigating a few suspicious elements of the case.

UPDATE: It wasn't a suicide after all. A construction worker in her office building got into an argument with her about noise, killed her, then arranged her body to look like a suicide. Horrible.

November 1, 2006

Halloween Parade


Last night's Village Halloween Parade was as insanely popular and wild as ever. I didn't get to the staging area at Broome and 6th Avenue until about 7:45, and for much of this back-end of the parade, it felt like there were more people marching in the parade than watching from the sidelines. As well it should be--what other major parade can you march in just by showing up?

We posted some photos on Flickr:

See lots of other photos on Gothamist, and parade set-up shots from earlier in the evening.

And did anyone else happen to catch George Whipple on NY1, who Emily suspects was drunk, interviewing Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley from KISS? We love you, George Whipple! He's briefly included in the NY1 video clip of the parade, which is really good.

Also: a day late, Rockefeller Plaza is dressed up as a cranberry bog. Publicity stunt for Ocean Spray or public health service for New Yorkers prone to UTIs?

About November 2006

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in November 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

October 2006 is the previous archive.

December 2006 is the next archive.

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

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