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February 2008 Archives

February 28, 2008

America's weird orange jumpsuit fetish

America's Prisons

In a study by Pew, we learn that America has more people in prison or jail than any other country in the world. "Is that a higher percentage of the population in prison, or more actual prisoners?" you ask. Smarty pants. Both!

We started 2008 off with 2.3 million people in prison or jail, compared to 1.5 million in China, a country with nasty human rights practices and a population 4 times bigger than ours.

That's 1% of the adult population overall. 1 in 100 American adults is in prison or jail. Among young black men, it's 1 in 9. That's right, 11% of young black men are incarcerated. That's ten times more than the rest of the population.

Why do we lock up so many of our citizens? Because we can. Or rather, we can when our economy is doing well. A director at Pew says, "We tend to be a country in which incarceration is an easy response to crime. Being tough on crime is an easy position to take, particularly if you have the money. And we did have the money in the '80s and '90s." Now that we're broke, we're thinking that violating parole or driving drunk maybe isn't worth $45,000/year per prisoner.

Recently, the states with the most people in prison have reconsidered locking up so many of their citizens--but not because it's a terrible system that doesn't work. Mostly because it's so expensive.

So our country has swung from the "tough on crime" era of the '80's to the "let's spend our money on more important things, like the war on terror and tax rebates" philosophy of the current decade.

The Voice did an article a few years back about so-called million dollar blocks, or individual city blocks where the state is spending at least $1 million per year to incarcerate some of its residents. It was a great piece about all the creative and wonderful things you could do for one city block with a million dollar investment every year, apart from the tempting option of locking up a the same group of people over and over again.

February 26, 2008

Mariah Carey's new market: 30 Rock fans

I don't know what kind of genius is on Mariah Carey's marketing team at her label, or if Tina Fey has started producing music videos, but a snippet of Carey's forthcoming video for "Touch My Body" features extended sequences of her frolicking around an apartment, in bed, and in a backyard game of frisbee with Kenneth Ellen Parcell from 30 Rock (aka Jack McBrayer.)

Watch the video clip, which includes a "Love Rocks" undershirt, tube socks, and a viking helmet:

Kenneth Parcell in Mariah Carey video

Mariah may not be aware of this, but the snippet is very reminiscent of a fantasy sequence from an episode of 30 Rock from this fall when we see Kenneth seducing Tracy Morgan's wife, Angie, while wearing only his NBC page jacket and an eyepatch, shaking martinis, and sensuously feeding her a turkey leg. You can watch the episode (#202) for free on the NBC site.

The video is directed by Brett Ratner. A new episode of 30 Rock airs April 10.

February 25, 2008

The Academy hates America

European Oscar winners

All the big awards were won by Europeans at this years Oscars. The UK was represented by Daniel Day-Lewis and the magnificent and extra-terrestrial Tilda Swinton, France by Marion Cotillard, Spain by Javier Bardem, and the Grand Duchy of Minneapolis by the Coen Brothers and Diablo Cody. Those last two won writing awards, demonstrating that the fine European sensibility is best for interpreting the multi-faceted nuances of American culture.

Even the best song and best score awards went to Europeans. Ireland's Glen Hansard and Czech Republic's Marketa Irglova won for their acoustic-y "Falling Slowly" from Once. Hansard's gleeful acceptance speech ate up 100% of their alloted time on the stage, and Irglova didn't get to say a single word before the orchestra started playing and stopped her.

So then Jon Stewart came back on and said, "That guy is so arrogant"--my favorite line of the night. After the commercial, Stewart went off-script to bring Irglova back on to deliver her very sincere acceptance speech.

Here's a video of Hansard's acceptance speech, Jon Stewart's one-liner, and Irglova's return to the stage [link fixed].

A complete list of winners.

February 21, 2008

This Sunday: there will be milkshake-drinking jokes

Oscar statue

As we get closer to the Oscars on Sunday, the media seems to be converging on a few nominees as almost certain winners (Ebert, AP, Washington Post). Daniel Day-Lewis and the Coens look like sure things, but as the LA Times pointed out yesterday, we're living in a moment where Uno the Beagle, Herbie Hancock, the NY Giants, John McCain, and Barack Obama are all winners or presumed winners, so upsets should be expected.

You can document your bold, fearless predictions now, so you can gloat later.

February 20, 2008

Big mess at Columbia

Protests at Columbia

Today the Columbia Spectator reported that the professor who found a noose on her office door last fall has been cited for plagiarism. The professor, Madonna Constantine (best name in the Ivy League), allegedly used the work of one of her colleagues and of two students without attribution.

There's no clear connection between the noose incident and the plagiarism thing, but Times readers wasted no time in slamming Prof. Constantine in a textbook example of an ad hominem argument:

I was very suspicious of Professor Constantine during the noose case. As an African-American woman and graduate of Columbia University, I had doubts about the validity of her claims. I had a sick feeling that she put the noose there herself. Of course that would far worse than plagiarism, but news that she would do something as dishonorable as using the work of her students makes me wonder.

Ugh. You can look at other reader comments for some really disgusting references to "lowering of standards" at elite universities and openly racist remarks about Prof. Constantine's education at a historically black university in New Orleans.

Plagiarism is a serious offense for an academic, but it has nothing to do with the noose situation, or race, or anything other than plagiarism.

Unfortunately, as soon as the allegations were made, Prof. Constantine started in with the crazy logic herself. She called the inquiry into her writings, which has been going on for a year and a half, a "witch hunt", and wrote to faculty and students:

"I am left to wonder whether a white faculty member would have been treated in such a publicly disrespectful and disparaging manner. As one of only two tenured Black women full professors at Teachers College, it pains me to conclude that I have been specifically and systematically targeted."

What?! You're not helping yourself, Professor. Even if Columbia doesn't put much value in diversity in its faculty, that has nothing to do with whether or not you stole other people's work.

First, Columbia and NYPD should try harder to figure out who put the noose on her door--the investigation is still going on, apparently. Then if there is substantial evidence that the professor plagiarized others' work, she should get fired.

Ironically, Constantine's work focuses on how race influences people in educational and counseling settings.

There are loads of examples of plagiarism in academia, literature, and politics: Stephen Ambrose, Joe Biden, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mike Barnicle, Harvard undergrads.

February 15, 2008

I take back everything I said about Lost not being good anymore

Sayid on Lost

If you're like me, and you used to love Lost but started losing interest somewhere in the middle of last season, around the time Hurley starting driving that van around, you better start watching again, because so far this season has been fantastic.

Last night's episode was the first one to focus on Sayid in what feels like forever, probably at least two years. He's one of three characters who rotates around as my favorite, and I couldn't have asked for a better episode for him.

In his flash-forwards, we got to see that life back in the regular world is as difficult and sad as it is for the others--though it was looking pretty good for a while, there. Playing golf, romancing the ladies, looking sexy, and lounging around naked in rumpled beds, while still getting to kill people here and there looked like an ideal Bond-like lifestyle for Sayid. And while that zinger in the last scene about who his boss is was the kind of shocker we should see coming a mile off by now, I thought the real surprise was seeing Sayid cry. He reminded me of a hotter, smarter, sadder version of Eric Bana from the best scenes in Munich.

It was the perfect episode for old fans who have been waiting for some more screen time for Sayid and for some more inexplicable but vaguely scientific theories about what the deal is with th island. I can't wait to see what they do with the space-time continuum disruption stuff suggested by the clock launched from the ship out there in the ocean, a few miles away and a half an hour behind (I think).

If you want to catch up, you can watch the other episodes of the season.

February 14, 2008

Attention child therapists: future business alert!

Kids and posh decor don't go together

If you're a mental health professional who works with disturbed children, the NY Times published a helpful list of leads today to help you build your client base. It's in the form of an article about the pain parents suffer when having children forces them to alter their home design concepts, titled "Parent Shock: Children Are Not Décor".

Take down these names, find their contact information, wait a year or two, then contact the families when the kids stop eating, begin cutting themselves, or start sleeping with James Woods. These kids are going to need a LOT of therapy:

  • Debra Cherney and Hartley Bernstein, and kids Cole and Brooke:
    When the twins became mobile, the couple realized that they would need to create a designated play space in their prewar Park Avenue apartment. The room they sacrificed — the formal dining room — was tough.

    She felt the full impact when they put their 18th-century mahogany dining table and chair set in storage. "When I bought the table I was envisioning these beautiful, lovely dinners with fine china. Once you have kids and once you give up those things, it was like, 'Who was I kidding?' I remember thinking this room will look nice again — in about 18 years."

  • Kipp Cheng and Mark Jarecke, and son Beckett:
    "We spent years collecting meaningful, quality pieces. Basically each room was finally done, and then it all got blown apart."

    Among the most troubling matters was the fate of the Barcelona chairs... After much deliberation, they put three in the garage and wrapped the corners of the fourth in foam so it could stay in the living room. "It was just sad," he said.

  • Bob Stratton and Sandra McLean, and kids Vin and Fia:
    "They can play with a toy in the main living area, but it has to go away when they’re done. I’m very concerned with what’s in my visual space. When people come into the house, I very much do not want them being bombarded with toys."

    Ms. McLean instructed Fia and Vin not to eat on the couch, and told them half-jokingly not to "sit on it, stand near it or even look at it."

  • Jacqueline Brown and Gavin Friedman, and son Harrison:
    They were determined not to let Harrison "take control of the house," Ms. Brown said. They went ahead with putting in flat-front lacquered maple cabinets in the kitchen, even though they soon had to watch a professional babyproofer drill 300 holes in them for safety latches. (Ms. Brown still cringes.) And they held onto the molded-wood chairs, which were not an easy transition from the highchair. "They have a very sleek bottom," Ms. Brown explained. "He slides off it."

I bet children of wealthy interior design enthusiasts who grew up with furniture they weren't allowed to touch sometimes wonder if their parents really love them. Now they know!

Lots of sputtering indignation in the readers' comments.

February 13, 2008

The strange world of the Westminster Kennel Club

An afghan in a tracksuit at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Everyone's a little dog-crazy today with all the excitement over Uno, the absurdly cute Beagle that won Best In Show last night at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Here are our favorite things about the dog show, which is based on looking at lots of pictures of bizarrely-groomed dogs and reading 1.5 articles about it:

  • Afghan hounds in Florida-retiree tracksuits and sassy kerchiefs (this one is named Ike)
  • The wacky registered names that show dogs have in addition to their regular names that their owners call them. The registered names refer to the kennel club they were bred at and begin with "Ch", like Ch. Colsidex Seabreeze Perfect Fit, Ch. Fuzzy Farm Devil Made Me Do It, Ch. Smash JP Win A Victory, and Ch. Surrey Spice Girl (a miniature poodle, of course.)
  • The Times' coverage of the dog show, which is proudly located in the Sports section.

February 12, 2008

Oscar Picks!

Blow Oscar

OK, strike's over, the Oscars are here, get cracking on writing those puns for mismatched pairs of presenters, WGA members!

A lot of the nominess for the big awards at this year's Oscars are surprising, and some categories are really all over the place. Next Sunday should be an interesting night.

Before we get to the picks, I want to point out this year's Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Robert Boyle, an art director I've never heard of. The montage of his movies before his speech is going to be awesome: he worked on In Cold Blood, North By Northwest, The Birds, Marnie, the original Cape Fear, and Abbott and Costello Go To Mars. Guess who forgot to give this guy an Oscar? Oopsie!

So here are our picks of who we think will win in each category. Please add your picks for any categories you want to predict in the comments.

You can also participate in IMDb's poll, where you vote for who you want to win, not necessarily who you think will.

Actor in a leading role
George Clooney in "Michael Clayton"
Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood" [Amy][Cushie]
Johnny Depp in "Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
Tommy Lee Jones in "In the Valley of Elah"
Viggo Mortensen in "Eastern Promises"

Actor in a supporting role
Casey Affleck in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"
Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men" [Amy]
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Charlie Wilson's War"
Hal Holbrook in "Into the Wild"
Tom Wilkinson in "Michael Clayton" [Cushie]
(This is my favorite category--these guys are all so good. Hal Holbrook is my favorite, but I don't think he'll win.)

Actress in a leading role
Cate Blanchett in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"
Julie Christie in "Away from Her" [Amy]
Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose"
Laura Linney in "The Savages"
Ellen Page in "Juno" [Cushie]
(A pretty weird group. Aside from Juno, these movies hardly have any other nominations. But Academy folks are nuts for Julie Christie, so I think she'll win it for sentimental reasons.)

Actress in a supporting role
Cate Blanchett in "I'm Not There" [Cushie]
Ruby Dee in "American Gangster"
Saoirse Ronan in "Atonement"
Amy Ryan in "Gone Baby Gone" [Amy]
Tilda Swinton in "Michael Clayton"
(Holy God, Amy Ryan was so good. She really deserves it. Cate Blanchett could get it, but she already has one of these for The Aviator.)

Animated feature film
"Ratatouille" [Amy][Cushie]
"Surf's Up"

Art direction
"American Gangster"
"Atonement" [Amy]
"The Golden Compass"
"Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" [Cushie]
"There Will Be Blood"
(If Atonement wins anything, it will probably be for this sort of stuff. It was awfully pretty.)

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
"No Country for Old Men"
"There Will Be Blood" [Amy][Cushie]

Costume design
"Across the Universe" [Cushie]
"Elizabeth: The Golden Age"
"La Vie en Rose"
"Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" [Amy]

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
"Michael Clayton"
"No Country for Old Men" [Amy][Cushie]
"There Will Be Blood"
(The Academy is so relieved that the Coens are making good movies again that they won't be able to resist.)

Documentary feature
"No End in Sight" [Amy]
"Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience"
"Sicko" [Cushie]
"Taxi to the Dark Side"

Documentary short subject
"La Corona (The Crown)"
"Salim Baba"
"Sari's Mother" [Amy][Cushie]

Film editing
"The Bourne Ultimatum"
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
"Into the Wild"
"No Country for Old Men" [Amy]
"There Will Be Blood" [Cushie]

Foreign language film
"Beaufort" Israel
"The Counterfeiters" Austria
"Katyn" Poland [Amy][Cushie]
"Mongol" Kazakhstan
"12" Russia

"La Vie en Rose" [Amy][Cushie]
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"
(Heh. Norbit.)

Music (score)
"The Kite Runner" [Cushie]
"Michael Clayton"
"Ratatouille" [Amy]
"3:10 to Yuma"

Music (song)
"Falling Slowly" from "Once" [Cushie, wishful thinking...]
"Happy Working Song" from "Enchanted"
"Raise It Up" from "August Rush"
"So Close" from "Enchanted"
"That's How You Know" from "Enchanted" (Amy)
(Enchanted's got a lock. Alan Menken wrote all of them, and he's Mr. Disney Oscar.)

Best picture
"Michael Clayton"
"No Country for Old Men" [Amy]
"There Will Be Blood" [Cushie]
(Tough one, best guess. There Will Be Blood is too weird, and people don't like the other ones enough.)

Animated short film
"I Met the Walrus"
"Madame Tutli-Putli"
"Même les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven)" [Amy][Cushie]
"My Love (Moya Lyubov)"
"Peter & the Wolf"

Live action short film
"At Night" [Amy][Cushie, I have no idea]
"Il Supplente (The Substitute)"
"Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)"
"Tanghi Argentini"
"The Tonto Woman"

Sound editing
"The Bourne Ultimatum"
"No Country for Old Men" [Amy]
"There Will Be Blood" [Cushie]

Sound mixing
"The Bourne Ultimatum" [Cushie]
"No Country for Old Men"
"3:10 to Yuma" [Amy]

Visual effects
"The Golden Compass"
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"
"Transformers" [Amy][Cushie]

Adapted screenplay
"Away from Her"
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
"No Country for Old Men" [Amy]
"There Will Be Blood" [Cushie]
(This is a really hard one, but the Coens managed to make the Cormac McCarthy book funny and sort of snappy, so it will probably win.)

Original screenplay
"Juno" [Cushie]
"Lars and the Real Girl"
"Michael Clayton" [Amy]
"The Savages"
(I just realized that I am predicting a Juno shut-out. I think it will either win zero awards or maybe will bizarrely only win Best Picture, if votes get split between No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood.)

February 11, 2008

When do we get our TV back?

dead tv

After 3+ months of nonstop "Millionaire Matchmaker", "Deal or No Deal", and "American Gladiators", the writers' strike looks like it's finally coming to an end.

Actually, all the "American Gladiators" has been pretty awesome. And it's been a relief to know I'm not missing any important television. But this is America: we're sick of talking to each other at night, books are for putting you to sleep, and we need our scripted half-hour comedies.

Here's the latest Times status report of when and if all the network shows plan to return with new episodes. Some notable ones:

  • "30 Rock" and "The Office": a few new episodes in April or May.
  • "Ugly Betty": probably shooting a few new episodes soon.
  • "Lost": season will only be 13 episodes. [Good news, since that's about all the good material they usually come up with for a season.]
  • "24": abandoning this season all together.
  • "Heroes": probably not coming back this season.
  • "Bionic Woman": gone.
  • "Terminator": once they run out of episodes, gone until the fall. Or forever.
  • "Simpsons" and "Family Guy": have just been obliviously chugging along all this time.

Only major networks are included on the list, which prompted a lot of panicky comments from "Battlestar Galactica" fans. It comes back in March.

February 10, 2008

Who'dat?™: Hitchcock tribute edition

In today's edition of Who'dat?™, we bring you a celebrity featured in the current issue of Vanity Fair, the annual Hollywood issue. The issue includes a really cool section with current movie stars in recreations of famous scenes from Alfred Hitchcock movies. There's Jodie Foster as Tippi Hedron in The Birds, Keira Knightley and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Rebecca (who are exactly who I think would be cast in that movie if it were remade), and--this is genius--Seth Rogen as Cary Grant in North by Northwest.

But there's one celebrity in the series that might be trickier to identify. To play Who'dat™, look at the person in the Vertigo recreation below, and try to guess who it is. Then click on the picture to see if you're right.


This isn't even the first time this celebrity has been a Who'dat™ subject. The chances I'd be able to recognize her on the street are probably zero.

Here's the whole Vanity Fair series.

February 7, 2008

Romney fights terrorism by quitting

Romney is out

After winning the primaries and caucuses of 6 states, Romney has decided to drop out of the race.

Not because he doesn't think he can win. But because if he stayed in the running, the terrorists would win.

During his speech, he said:

"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror."

That'll show 'em! Try splitting the vote now, insurgents!

The only downsides I can see to this news are that Romney's telegenic press secretary, Kevin "Mitt but handsomer" Madden, won't be on TV anymore. Same for Tagg, everyone's favorite Romney boy. Sorry, Tagg-hags!

[tx T-Rock]

February 5, 2008

It's Primary Day!

Barry and Bobby

Even De Niro has endorsed Obama, although his speech was a bit awkward:

"Barack Obama does not have the experience to be president of the United States," he began, evoking a pantomime "Boo!" from the crowd. "I can prove it. He wasn't experienced enough to vote to authorise the invasion of Iraq."

If Oprah, Caroline Kennedy, Michael Chabon and Craig Newmark didn't sway you, surely Robert De Niro will.

On the other hand, as of Friday, Snoop Dogg was still undecided.

February 4, 2008

Sons of Italy vs. scratch tickets

Bada Bling ad

When The Sopranos was on the air, the Sons of Italy protested its unflattering negative stereotypes of the Italian-American community--specifically, they claimed Italian characters on the show were mostly mobsters, criminals, murderers and, in their words, "low-class, dim-witted hoodlums." David Chase said the show was "about America" and wasn't meant to generalize about Italian-Americans, but the Sons of Italy stayed mad.

Now that the show's over, the Sons of Italy are protesting a cheap, unfunny rip-off of The Sopranos produced by the NY State Lottery for one of their scratch games, Ba-Da Bling. Here's the TV ad for Ba-Da Bling that caused the problem:

Bada Bling Video

You'll note that some of the four ganster-type guys in the ad look almost exactly like Sopranos characters, and that they have really schlocky fake Brooklyn accents. And that the name of the scratch game is obviously taken from the strip club where the guys all hung out on the show.

Stella Grillo from the local Sons of Italy chapter says about the protest, "I know a lot of people are saying you are overly sensitive. But Americans have become more sensitive to most racial groups, and it should apply to Italian-Americans."

I don't know where she's seeing all this sensitivity--if you look at this one cruddy state-sponsored lottery ad, you'll also notice young black men with lots of jewelry, big cars, and puffy jackets rapping about money. And a group of girls in tiny hideous outfits enthusiastically shaking their asses all over everything.

If anything, I'm impressed that the lottery could reference gangsters, rappers, strippers, one of the best TV series of our time, and loud obnoxious jewelry all in one 30-second ad for a program that mostly exists to fund public education.

Almost half of the $2.3 billion that the state generates for education through the lottery every year goes to NYC schools. So you can feel good about perpetuating a whole rainbow of stereotypes for a good cause.

About February 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in February 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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