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February 2007 Archives

February 28, 2007

New York Times: The math club president in the cheerleaders' locker room +

New York Times does Penthouse

Frank Bruni's review of the steakhouse in the Penthouse Executive Club is surely rocketing its way up the Times' "Most Popular Articles" list. I hardly know what to say about this thing, except that it's totally bewildering, and very funny.

When the Times runs an article about a somewhat distasteful, low-brow topic like strip clubs, they often assume a posture of the amused outsider, observing the unwashed masses and their unrefined pursuits (like the article about other papers' journalists, who often *gasp* go out drinking together after work!) When their restaurant reviewer goes to a strip club to eat their legendarily delicious steaks, he does so only while stressing how out of place he feels, how much he is really, honestly there for the steak, and intentionally comes off like a dork pushing his wire-frame glasses back up his nose. Even in the part when the strippers pour a buttery nipple cocktail and Reddi-Wip down his throat.

My favorite part is his exchange with a woman who is I guess is his waitress or hostess, who sits down with him and his friends at their table.

She introduced herself. I wasn’t sure I’d heard her name correctly.

"Mahogany?" I said.

"Yes," she purred.

I was getting my bearings. "Mahogany," I asked, "do you know where you’re going to?"

She didn’t miss a beat, noting the reference, summoning the singer, and moving on to another of the dreamgirl’s hits. "I’m ... coming ... out!" she sang, waving her arms, wiggling her hips. Mahogany and I would get along just fine.

Haha! Funny, but maybe trying a little too hard to show how down with the strippers Frank Bruni can be, and how he totally doesn't objectify these women but actually views them as intelligent and very, very friendly human beings. He even chats with another stripper about her cellphone! Plus, did he mention he really loved the steak?

Funny article, if painfully self-conscious, like the Times was trying to publish something "fun" that might be found in New York magazine, but ended up with something more like what you'd read in Stuff. There's also an interactive slideshow that features equal parts steak and tits. Even though Bruni swears that he and his friends weren't interested in the human flesh on display, somebody on the payroll clearly picked up on it.

UPDATE: Of course, all this makes a lot more sense when you take into account that Frank Bruni is gay. Of course! A group of gay guys eating steak "ecstatically" at Penthouse Executive Club on Valentine's Day with the Times picking up the tab makes the whole story so much better. I can't believe I didn't pick up on this right away, but at least Mahogany seems like she did.

February 27, 2007

YouTube ruins it for everyone

no more Twisted Sister

Great post on Fimoculous yesterday about YouTube and the death of video culture. Remember when YouTube was still an exciting new resource that totally changed the way people thought about once obscure material, music videos, clips from tv shows and movies? When you could think, hey, I wonder if the song by Frazzle and the Frazzletones from Sesame Street that I loved so much when I was 4 is up there, and it was?

Well, not anymore, it's not. The best demonstration of YouTube's recent decline is Fimoculous' methodical revisiting of a wonderful Pitchfork feature from last June, 100 Awesome Videos. I was pretty excited about this video collection myself. It was article that took a lot of work, and now it's mostly useless, because fewer than half of the 100 videos that used to be freely available on YouTube are still available there. The rest of them have been replaced by the "This video is no longer available" notice of doom.

No more Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It", no more ODB's "Got Your Money" [note: the Pitchfork links don't work anymore, and though right now you can search for and find new posts of these videos on YouTube, it's only a matter of time here]. I understand about intellectual property and artists getting their due, but this seems like a poorly-conceived knee-jerk restrictive approach to all video media that only aggravates fans and prevents the public from learning about new things. How is this helping anybody? And I'm not just saying that because we got banned.

Rex says, "I try not to be polemic about these matters on this blog, but I find it hard to believe this is good for anyone -- artist, label, critic, fan, and, especially, the marketplace of ideas."

February 26, 2007

Oscars in slow-motion

Scorsese wins

The first half of last night's Oscars was so draggy that we should have been grateful that they only ran an hour over time. Maybe the producers were trying to make up for last year's rigid military-exercise of an awards show, but this year it got way too loosey-goosey with the cutesy filler, like Ellen's photo with Clint Eastwood for MySpace, those Pilobolus human pyramid-penguins, and all the montages.

Actually, every year's show has at least three montages, right? One weird one with only the filmiest of unifying themes (what was it this year? Immigration? America?) and one for everyone who died this year, and one other arbitrary one, which this year was a "foreign film" montage. And they sort of plowed through the usually glacial lifetime achievement award and humanitarian award. Ellen's opening bit wasn't funny, but it wasn't especially long either. So I have no idea why the show ran so long, and felt so uneventful until Jennifer Hudson won. Maybe it was the hordes of winners heaping praise on Guillermo del Toro, who sat there basking in adulation while not actually picking up any awards himself?

Anyway, the big acceptance speeches were personal and sincere-sounding this year, and nobody thanked their lawyer, which I'm grateful for. Vindicated good sport of the century Martin Scorsese managed to keep his speech focused on The Departed, while also acknowledging in a gracious way that he knows he got the award this year largely because of decades of Academy screw-ups.

Salon's toxic Oscars queen Cintra Wilson even refrained from her usual incineration of the whole night and everything it stands for, admitting that this year, the show was "a kinder, homier Oscar celebration. It was a little boring and flabby, but well intentioned."

One of the only moments that made me drop my sandwich was while Cate Blanchett was announcing the nominees for Best Supporting Actor and describing the difficult characters many of them had developed. She said that Mark Wahlberg played a cop, while in his own life he had been arrested twenty-five times! I have no idea if that's literally true, but I want to believe.

February 23, 2007

Who'Dat?™: Can you even identify the decade this person was born in? edition

Today's edition of Who'Dat?™ concerns a speaker from the memorial service for Robert Altman, held earlier this week at the Majestic Theater.

who'dat?

Try to figure out who this is, then click on the picture to see if you are right. It's a pretty good one.

February 21, 2007

Mag crew exploitation

Mag Crews

The latest article in a series that the NY Times seems to be doing about really horrible exploitation of vulnerable kids is today's piece on traveling magazine sales crews, who go around the country trying to get people to buy magazine subscriptions, often while being abused by their employers. The article is long and incredibly thorough, but might make you throw up or decide that the whole world sucks.

Even though this industry was investigated by Congress decades ago (article includes links to coverage of the hearings), it seems like no changes have been made. Here are just a few excerpts:

Two days after graduating from high school last June, Jonathan Pope left his home in Miamisburg, Ohio, to join a traveling magazine sales crew, thinking he would get to "talk to people, party at night and see the country." Over the next six months, he and about 20 other crew members crossed 10 states, peddling subscriptions door to door, 10 to 14 hours a day, six days a week. Sleeping three to a room in cheap motels, lowest seller on the floor, they survived some days on less than $10 in food money while their earnings were kept "on the books" for later payment.

By then, Mr. Pope said, he had seen several friends severely beaten by managers, he and several other crew members were regularly smoking methamphetamine with prostitutes living down the motel hallway, and there were warrants out for his arrest in five states for selling subscriptions without a permit.

"You’re involved in bad stuff, you’re seeing bad stuff and they tell you, 'No negativity,' " said Jennifer Steele, 23.

In September 2004, Ms. Steele said, she was drugged and raped by two men who were partying with crew members at a motel in Memphis, where her crew was staying. When her manager told her to go back to work the next day, she said she "threw a fit." But she did as she was told, and worked part of the day before filing a police report and having a rape kit performed. She stayed with the crew for another seven months before quitting.

Asked if they ever went overboard, two enforcers [employed by magazine companies to keep sellers in line] recalled an incident in November 2005 involving an 18-year-old recruit from Dayton, Ohio, named Rudy. "All we were told was that Rudy had shoved and disrespected the manager." For 10 uninterrupted minutes in a motel stairwell in San Francisco, Mr. Simpson, Mr. McClinton and four other enforcers beat Rudy unconscious, Mr. Simpson and Mr. McClinton said. One held his mouth shut. Two others pinned down his arms and legs. Tearing off his shirt, they pressed a flaming lighter into his back. Mr. Simpson kicked him in the face and body. "I stopped because I ran out of breath," Mr. Simpson said.

Ugh. It's sadly reminiscent of Kurt Eichenwald's now-legendary articles about solicitation and exploitation of kids in internet chat rooms, and how child abusers encourage each other online.

Oscar Picks

Oscars

The Oscars are this Sunday. It's a pretty good year this year, and for once I'm OK with any of the nominees for major awards winning (with the notable exception of Leonardo DiCaprio--sorry, man. You had it, you lost it.)

These picks represent who we think will win, not necessarily who we want to win. Please add your picks for any categories you want to predict in the comments.

Actor in a leading role
Leonardo DiCaprio - BLOOD DIAMOND
Ryan Gosling - HALF NELSON
Peter O'Toole - VENUS
Will Smith - THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS
Forest Whitaker - THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND [Amy]

Actor in a supporting role
Alan Arkin - LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
Jackie Earle Haley - LITTLE CHILDREN
Djimon Hounsou - BLOOD DIAMOND
Eddie Murphy - DREAMGIRLS [Amy]
Mark Wahlberg - THE DEPARTED
(I'd love it if Mark Wahlberg won for what was one of my very favorite performances of last year, but it's not going to happen. -amy)

Actress in a leading role
Penélope Cruz - VOLVER
Judi Dench - NOTES ON A SCANDAL
Helen Mirren - THE QUEEN [Amy]
Meryl Streep - THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA
Kate Winslet - LITTLE CHILDREN
(Probably the single best category of this year's Oscars--these are all really great. But there's no stopping the Helen Mirren juggernaut. -amy)

Actress in a supporting role
Adriana Barraza - BABEL
Cate Blanchett - NOTES ON A SCANDAL
Abigail Breslin - LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
Jennifer Hudson - DREAMGIRLS [Amy]
Rinko Kikuchi - BABEL
(As a friend said, Jennifer Hudson's "And I Am Telling You" is was last year's pod racing scene from The Phantom Menace. Rest of the movie was ehh, but that one scene sure was something. -amy)

Animated feature film
CARS [Amy]
HAPPY FEET
MONSTER HOUSE

Art direction
DREAMGIRLS
THE GOOD SHEPHERD
PAN'S LABYRINTH [Amy]
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST
THE PRESTIGE

Cinematography
THE BLACK DAHLIA
CHILDREN OF MEN [Amy]
THE ILLUSIONIST
PAN'S LABYRINTH
THE PRESTIGE
(Based on Roger Ebert's observation that, to predict the Academy's picks for technical awards, just substitute "most" for "best". -amy)

Costume design
CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA
DREAMGIRLS [Amy]
MARIE ANTOINETTE
THE QUEEN

Directing
BABEL
THE DEPARTED [Amy]
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA
THE QUEEN
UNITED 93
(Yeah, I know, Clint will probably get it again. But, to paraphrase ADM, Scorsese really deserved it for The Aviator, and Million Dollar Baby, aka the most minimally-directed movie to ever win Best Director, won. So this year, it would make some sort of twisted sense that Scorsese would finally win it for his straight drama with no airplanes or special effects, and Eastwood's big epic war movie in Japanese would lose. I mean, who the hell knows. -amy)

Documentary feature
DELIVER US FROM EVIL
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH [Amy]
IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS
JESUS CAMP
MY COUNTRY, MY COUNTRY

Documentary short subject
THE BLOOD OF YINGZHOU DISTRICT
RECYCLED LIFE [Amy]
REHEARSING A DREAM
TWO HANDS

Film editing
BABEL [Amy]
BLOOD DIAMOND
CHILDREN OF MEN
THE DEPARTED
UNITED 93

Foreign language film
AFTER THE WEDDING
DAYS OF GLORY (INDIGÈNES)
THE LIVES OF OTHERS
PAN'S LABYRINTH [Amy]
WATER

Makeup
APOCALYPTO
CLICK
PAN'S LABYRINTH [Amy]
(I'm assuming we're looking at a Mel Gibson shutout this year. -amy)

Music (score)
BABEL [Amy]
THE GOOD GERMAN
NOTES ON A SCANDAL
PAN'S LABYRINTH
THE QUEEN

Music (song)
"I Need to Wake Up" - AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
"Listen" - DREAMGIRLS
"Love You I Do" - DREAMGIRLS
"Our Town" - CARS
"Patience" - DREAMGIRLS [Amy]

Best picture
BABEL
THE DEPARTED
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA [Amy]
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
THE QUEEN
(Tough one. The Queen and LMS are both too small-scale to win, Babel is the kind of thing the Academy usually flips for, but it just wasn't all that great. The Departed was probably too violent and nasty, and a lot of people hated the ending. Iwo Jima was in Japanese, but its anti-war message and Eastwoodiness give it the best chance. -amy)

Animated short film
THE DANISH POET
LIFTED
THE LITTLE MATCHGIRL
MAESTRO
NO TIME FOR NUTS

Live action short film
BINTA AND THE GREAT IDEA (BINTA Y LA GRAN IDEA)
ÉRAMOS POCOS (ONE TOO MANY)
HELMER & SON
THE SAVIOUR
WEST BANK STORY

Sound editing
APOCALYPTO
BLOOD DIAMOND
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA [Amy]
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST

Sound mixing
APOCALYPTO
BLOOD DIAMOND
DREAMGIRLS [Amy]
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST

Visual effects
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST
POSEIDON
SUPERMAN RETURNS [Amy]

Adapted screenplay
BORAT CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN
CHILDREN OF MEN [Amy]
THE DEPARTED
LITTLE CHILDREN
NOTES ON A SCANDAL

Original screenplay
BABEL [Amy]
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
PAN'S LABYRINTH
THE QUEEN

February 20, 2007

The metaphorical war

George W and George W Bush

Our government's struggles in dealing with Iraq are leading to some weird and increasingly desperate rhetoric. The President's speech at Mount Vernon yesterday in honor of the other George W's birthday drew parallels between the Revolutionary War and the war on terror:

"Today, we're fighting a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life. And as we work to advance the cause of freedom around the world, we remember that the father of our country believed that the freedoms we secured in our revolution were not meant for Americans alone."

I wonder what an Afghan or Iraqi civilian would say about the U.S.'s role in defending their way of life. Anyway, in remarking on the dubious similarities between George Washington and himself, Bush tantalizingly said, "After winning the war, Washington did what victorious leaders rarely did at the time. He voluntarily gave up power." !!!

But, remember: Bush will never be a victorious leader, so don't get your hopes up.

And a couple great examples from last week that I should have mentioned earlier.

Republican Rep. Todd Akin, from Missouri: "Picture Davy Crockett at the Alamo. He has his back to the wall. Santa Ana has got thousands of troops. So he gets his BlackBerry out. He checks with Congress. Congress says, 'Hey, Davy, we really support you but we're not going to send you any troops.' That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me."

Republican Rep. Virgil Goode, from Virginia: "I fear that radical Muslims who want to control the Middle East and ultimately the world would love to see 'In God We Trust' stricken from our money and replaced with 'In Mohammad We Trust'." [link includes video]

Muslims don't worship Mohammad, Congressman.

February 16, 2007

Lazy interjections

Today's Slate has a piece on the rise of interjections as a substitution for actual words in speech, on blogs and other websites, and in actual respectable newspapers. The clip above shows a textbook use of the "awwa!", or in more linguistic notation, "aww/uh!", an interjection used to express delight in the adorableness of something that is popular among teenage girls and, in written form, LiveJournalers.

The article provides a good overview of interjections of years past, such as "duh!", "not!", and "ka-ching!", which all seem to have outlived their socially acceptability in speech and writing. "Meh" and "feh" are more recent examples that maybe demonstrate the growing apathy and noncommital attitude of youth culture.

Other more generic interjections that are used by all ages are the interesting ones, in my opinion. "Ha", "haha!", and "HAHAHAHAHAAAA!" are unoriginal, yet I never get tired of them or feel false when I write them. While "lol" or "rotfl" or "lmao" suggest a teenage MySpace user, a simple "haha" is universal and not attached to any particular age group or other demographic identifer. Like Ben Yagoda, the author of the Slate piece, I feel proud when I get a written "haha!" as a response to a joke.

But the interjection that is probably most common in speech, and most grating in writing, is "um". Right now I formally apologize for any usage of the interjection "um" in anything I have ever written. As Ben Yagoda wrote, "um" has "been flagrantly overused by feature writers and columnists to signal an impending attempt at irony or humor; the maneuver is now well beyond cliché, somewhere in the neighborhood of desperation." Writers at newspapers like the Chicago Sun-Times and the Toronto Sun use "um" to indicate that they are saying something marginally off-color or making a lame joke ("Watch for Justin Timberlake pairing up with someone in a duet, which often can be quite, um, revealing").

If you have written a joke that isn't funny enough for your readers to notice that it's a joke without preceding it with an "um", it probably isn't a good joke.

If the best we can do these days to add some spice to our writing is "um" and "meh", then I think we have no choice but to revive some of the colorful interjections of yore that never find their way into published writing anymore. Such as "darn tootin'".

February 14, 2007

Who's Older?™: Valentine's Day edition

Al FrankenJohn Waters

Today Al Franken announced that he's going to run for Senate in Minnesota in 2008. Air America may have faded in stature lately, but you can't keep the guy down, and he sure loves his country. "I want you to know," he said in his announcement, "nothing means more to me than making government work better for the working families of this state."

John Waters' last couple of movies may not have done so well, but he has a stand-up movie called This Filthy World at the Berlin Film Festival, and a Valentine's Day album out called "A Date With John Waters". I'll always love him, especially because of a recent interview in BUST magazine in which he said that his ideal date would be holding up a 7-11.

So open your heart to the love of resilient old coots and pick which one you think is older.


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