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February 2010 Archives

February 24, 2010

Women in subs

There's a brief little news item today announcing that the Pentagon has decided to allow women to work on Navy submarines, which I hadn't realized was something they couldn't do already. With all the attention Don't Ask Don't Tell has gotten lately, I sometimes forget about the tons of military jobs that women still aren't allowed to do (though as the Times reported last summer, they're increasingly doing those jobs anyway.)

So now that men and women can serve together on submarines (party sub!) and considering that Don't Ask Don't Tell's days are numbered, I can imagine one glorious day when there are gay and straight men and women all crammed in together on a submarine.

I'm pitching the sitcom! It will be like "How I Met Your Mother" meets "Glee". On a sub.

How I Met Your Mother and Glee on a Submarine

February 22, 2010

Stuff My Shatner Says

William Shatner

A few months ago we heard that the popular Twitter account "Shit My Dad Says" was being turned into both a book and a CBS sitcom. This site makes me laugh 100% of the times I read it, so as happy as I was that it was doing so well, I was a little worried that the swears and the casually cantankerous, humanity-hating stuff that make it so funny wouldn't make it to TV, where the title would probably be softened to "Stuff My Dad Says".

But now, none of that matters. Because the star of the show is going to be WILLIAM SHATNER.

William Shatner on a horse

This is some deeply inspired casting. If anyone can make a TV-ready version of Samuel Halpern as funny as the original, it's the Shat.

The site's author, Justin Halpern says that his dad's first choice for a star to play him on the show was James Earl Jones. Justin says, "I was like, 'But you're white.' He was like, 'Well, we don't have to be! Who gives a [censored]? You asked me who I thought, and that's who I think.' "

James Earl Jones would add a certain gravity to lines like, "A mule kicked Uncle Bob once. Broke his ribs. He punched it in the face.. My point? You have an ingrown fucking toenail. Stop bitching." But in this case the producers know what they're talking about.

As a side note, I guess one of these days Justin Halpern will probably be able to move out of his parents' house in San Diego, but hopefully the time he'll have to commit to his book and TV show won't detract from time spent listening to his dad's blunt, vulgar wisdom. Also: his dad went to medical school and used to lecture at Harvard, so Halperin says the show's tone can't be quite as "All in the Family" as it sounds like it could be.

Here's Shatner singing "Bust a Move" in a Priceline commercial from a few years ago, around the time that his strange version of cool started moving into uncharted, mythical territory.

February 17, 2010

Will we hate Duane Reade any less now that it's Walgreens?

Duane Reade and Walgreens

Today's news that Walgreens is buying Duane Reade for a billion dollars is sure to bring a lot of derision from a city of people forced to shop at Duane Reade, often on a daily basis, in spite of high prices, poor service, ridiculously convoluted store layouts, and their recent totally inflammatory decision to stop stocking Seventh Generation toilet paper.

But if Walgreens is going to be successful in its attempt to "harmonize" the cultures of the two chains, it had better learn about the realities of urban retail real estate, an area in which Duane Reade is the uncontested champion. Duane Reade is currently owned by a private equity firm who made the new logo and presumably launched the lucrative Delish™ snack line in an effort to spruce up the stores, but I believe that the most important strength Duane Reade has is its ability to locate its stores with such expert precision that most New Yorkers are actually physically unable to not shop there.

A few years ago, New York magazine had a surprisingly long and well-researched feature about Duane Reade's ability to turn the ugliest, worst-designed hole in the wall into successful retail space. It all comes down to one thing: foot traffic. Figure out where people walk on their routes to and from work, then put your store smack in the middle of it.

Then you can charge whatever you want, staff no more than two registers regardless of how busy it is, and place the saline solution in the back corner of the basement level, and people will still shop there. Let CVS have the nice expensive corner location with no aggravating second floor where the Cold-Eeze™ is. If it's on the wrong side of the block, you won't shop there, because New Yorkers will do anything to avoid crossing the street.

One other area of concern: while 85% of Duane Reade locations sell beer, exactly zero Walgreens stores do. Clearly another core competency that Walgreens might learn from its new acquisition.

February 16, 2010

Pizzacone: an abomination


There have been some notices recently about a new restaurant about to open in midtown called K! Pizzacone, which sells cone-shaped pizza. The pizzacone has actually already arrived in the greater NY area, by way of Brazil. Over the weekend, I went to a place in Astoria called Berry Lover, which sells frozen yogurt, gelato, and something called Cone Pizza.

In case you're interested in food trends and wonder what it's like to eat pizza in cone form, let me just tell you this. The pizzacone is a horror.

I'm not going to get too graphic here, but let me give you an idea. The Berry Lover Margherita Cone Pizza involves a hand-shaped piece of dough that is molded into a cone shape via a sort of hand-operated drill press. Then the cone is filled with a lot of shredded cheese and some sauce and placed in a cone pizza oven, a rotating rotisserie kind of machine that cooks the whole thing. Then they serve it wrapped in a little cardboard sleeve, like takeout coffee.

And it's absolutely terrible. The crust was crispy, but totally uniform and bland and way too similar to an actual ice cream cone. It was filled with low-grade, flavorless mozzarella that oozed out all over everything when I bit into it, and the cheese was edged with some pink liquid that I guess was the sauce. It tasted like like a hard, non-sweet ice cream cone filled with artificial-tomato-flavored caulk. It tasted nothing like pizza, or food.

The really counter-intuitive thing is that, as inflexible as the Italians are about which specific ingredients are permitted in pizza by a government-regulated pizza authority (e.g. buffalo mozzarella) and which ingredients are not (e.g. pineapple), it was actually an Italian company that created the pizzacone ("KonoPizza").

So much for high standards and allegiance to centuries of culinary tradition. It's like finding out your grandmother's homemade cookies were Chips Ahoy.

She's everyone's Sharona

Sharona Alperin

Doug Fieger, singer and guitarist of The Knack, died over the weekend of lung cancer (here's his obituary.) But his teenage girlfriend from the 70s, Sharon Alperin, still looms large in pop music history as the subject of their biggest hit "My Sharona", that classic tale of unrestrained sexual coercion.

Fieger presumably built his entire career around that one song, which was #1 in the charts for 6 weeks in 1979 and has been the inspiration for many parodies and tributes and the scene from Reality Bites that ushered people my age into generational nostalgia, even though we were still in college when the movie came out.

Anyway, I'm glad to see that Sharona, that braless teenage siren in a tank top, has used her tangential celebrity to her own advantage: her real estate website URL is mysharona.com, one third of the site's page on her experience is about the song, and she was interviewed for Entertainment Weekly about Fieger's death (she "spent the entire weekend" with his body. Ew.)

If the entire universe is going to hear how a 26 year-old guy in a band pressured you into having sex with him when you were 17, you might as well spend the next 30 years cashing in. Go, Sharona.

Note: The Knack's second biggest single, "Good Girls Don't", is also catchy as hell and has even more salacious lyrics--see the Wikipedia notes on the "clean" version.

February 11, 2010

Aspies are expressing their emotions, and they're pissed

Darius McCollum, train lover

With the announcement of the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the industry standard for diagnosing mental problems, there's been talk that Asperger Syndrome will no longer be included as a separate diagnosis. The disorder was first introduced in the current version of the DSM, which was released in 1994, but now a lot of psychiatrists think it's part of the larger spectrum of autism disorders, and should just be grouped in as a mild form of autism.

So a lot of people with Asperger Syndrome, or "aspies" as they sometimes refer to themselves, don't like this at all. Aspies don't have the same language problems as people with more severe autism, but tend to get into obsessive behaviors and have similar problems with social interaction. And they want to maintain their distinct identity.

One of the psychiatrists who supports the change in the new DSM, Dr. Mina Dulcan, says their reaction to the change is just a symptom of being an aspie: "One of the characteristics of people with Asperger's is that they're very resistant to change."

But wait: the reason people with Asperger's want there to be a separate disorder called "Asperger's" is that they have Asperger's? Dr. Dulcan is arguing that there's no rational reason why someone might want their disorder to have its own name and diagnosis; if they think that way, it's just because they're mentally disabled.

She goes on to say that the change in the manual "makes scientific sense. I'm sorry if it hurts people's feelings."

Hm. It doesn't sound like she's really sorry. Sounds like she's being pretty insensitive, actually. Could it be that Dr. Dulcan is displaying lack of empathy for other people's feelings and incomprehension of emotional cues? Is Dr. Mina Dulcan herself a secret, self-hating aspie?!

Whatever she is, she's not very good at making her case.

Here are two of my favorite stories about people with Asperger Syndrome, both involving the subway: there's Darius McCollum (in the photo above) who has been arrested dozens of times for MTA-related crimes, usually impersonating an MTA employee or, a few times, stealing trains or buses. There was a great piece in Harper's about him in 2002, and a play called Boy Steals Train based on his life came out in 2003.

Then there's Francisco Hernandez, Jr., an 13 year-old boy with Asperger's who rode the subway for 11 days straight last year. He got on the D train in Brooklyn to avoid getting yelled at by his mom for not doing his homework, and just kept riding. From the Times article:

He says he subsisted on the little he could afford at subway newsstands: potato chips, croissants, jelly rolls, neatly folding the wrappers and saving them in the backpack. He drank bottled water. He used the bathroom in the Stillwell Avenue station in Coney Island. Otherwise, he says, he slipped into a kind of stupor, sleeping much of the time, his head on his book bag. "At some point I just stopped feeling anything," he recalled.

February 9, 2010

Hands off the eggplant!

Bt Brinjal eggplant protesters

In an impressive display of grassroots politics, legions of passionate Indian food activists successfully prevented genetically-modified eggplant from contaminating countless delicious servings of baingan bhartha. I'm a big eggplant fan, too (a friend once observed that if any given menu has a dish that involves an eggplant, that's the one I'll order) so I'm psyched.

An Indian seed company, Mahyco, had developed the world's first pesticide-resistant eggplant seed called Bt Brinjal, though as you might guess, our old plant-patenting ghouls over at Monsanto are also involved--they own 26% of the Indian seed company and the patented Frankeggplant gene came from them. Earlier today, the Indian Environment Minister decided to keep his nation's eggplants engineering-free.

Anyway, the protests involved the usual rallies and street marches, with many opportunities to dress up like giant eggplants.

Bt Brinjal protesters

To remind everyone what they were fighting for, Greenpeace organized a World's Biggest Baingan Bhartha campaign, making the tasty roasted dish with one eggplant for every signature they collected--so far they're at 20,000 eggplants. That's my kind of politics.

February 8, 2010

Band reunion

Here's a great SNL sketch from this weekend's show, for everyone who's realized with dawning horror that the guys from the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and the Circle Jerks are all well into their 50s now.

Band Reunion, with Crisis of Conformity:

You hear that, Alexander Haig?

Also, did you know Fred Armisen was the drummer for freaky 90s punk/hardcore/funk band Trenchmouth? I guess as SNL's oldest member and only legitimate aging rocker he's mentally preparing himself for his inevitable fist fight in the parking lot future.

Watch the game, hate your life

FloTV Super Bowl ad

I noticed a theme in some of last night's Super Bowl ads: in addition to the usual inscrutably unfunny Doritos ads and unoriginal but instantly recognizable Go Daddy ads (those people really understand brand consistency) there was an undercurrent of male misery. It's standard for ads to make the viewer feel uncomfortable or insecure, then offer the product as a solution to your self-esteem problem, but a couple of these ads suggested that the problem in your life is not really your athlete's foot--it's your girlfriend.

The Dodge ad was an especially bitter girl-hating ad, which is odd, considering that it's basically one long whiny bitch fest (with a few pissy little jokes thrown in.) It features lots of guys looking directly into the camera, with a voiceover listing all the indignities they suffer as part of living with a woman, such as being forced to separate the recycling. Life for a man, according to this ad, is an endless series of irritations piled on by that bitch you married (or who's pressuring you for a ring, probably) and the only recourse is to drive a Dodge, the one thing in this world she can't take away from you.

Geez, guys, if it's really that horrific to pick up your underwear, you could find a lady with less stringent household tidiness expectations. Or support Chrysler by suffering in silence and driving a shitbox car.

Then there's the poor doofus who let his girlfriend drag him along underwear shopping (above) instead of letting him watch basketball. Another hapless fellow whose simple yearning for happiness has been denied by his selfish cow girlfriend who needs a new bra. Poor, poor widdle man!

The long-suffering man ad that I did like was the one for Dove Men, which is admittedly an absurdly tough product to try to sell during the Super Bowl. Anyway, the Dove Men approach is to depict one man's life, from fetus to adulthood, and the many challenges he has faced and overcome along the way. Living with a lady in this ad can also be a trial, but these difficulties are shown as small victories to be proud of rather than opportunities to complain about how much women suck. And it's funny. A decent ad.

Actually, the Dove Men ad is probably targeted exclusively to women. How many guys out there are going to purchase Dove Men bodywash at the supermarket? They could at least rebrand this line to something like Falcon or, to continue the political metaphor, Hawk. This ad probably presents a less toxically bitter attitude toward women because they're the buyers. (Though I see that Dove got last night's MVP Drew Brees to appear on the website, lathering up a very masculine and non-drying foam in the shower.)

My favorites were the Kia ad about toys going out on the town (particularly the shot of the robot and a human in a Vegas club, both doing the robot) and the Audi ad using Cheap Trick's "Dream Police" as a soundtrack for scenes of an army of draconian eco-fascists handcuffing people for using styrofoam cups. I love it.

You can watch all the ads on Hulu, though you have to watch a few seconds of a Coke ad before you watch each of the other ads, which seems unjustifiably cheap.

February 3, 2010

No lollygagging for Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick is not one to rush. During his unhurried 37 year career, he's written and directed exactly 5 movies.

Sure, they've been doozies (Badlands, The New World, and The Thin Red Line, which I haven't seen but I'm sure is good) but the man knows how to take his time. He took 20 years to come out with his follow-up to 1978's Days of Heaven.

And technically, his fifth movie hasn't even come out yet. The Tree of Life stars Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Fiona Shaw, and Jessica Chastain, and it's about a 1950s Texas family (though there's allegedly a lot more to it than that: something "hugely ambitious" involving prehistoric Earth and possibly dinosaurs. Who knows.) It's coming out later this year, a short 5 years after The New World.

Now today there are reports that later this year, he'll start shooting another movie. That will presumably be released in the same decade as his last movie. Well! Look out, world! Hurricane Terrence is rolling down the pike, and he ain't paying no tolls!

This new movie will star Christian Bale (who was also in The New World), Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams, and Olga Kurylenko (the most recent Bond girl) in some kind of dramatic love story. Judging from his other dramatic love stories, it will probably end badly.

February 2, 2010

Look at all those best picture nominations

The Blind Side

The Oscar nominations are out. I had big hopes that this year's change from 5 to 10 best picture nominations would allow some smaller movies that don't normally stand a chance to be acknowledged, and in some cases this has happened. None of the movies I named back in June when the change was announced actually ended up with nominations (Moon, Adventureland, Goodbye Solo) but A Serious Man, District 9, and Up probably wouldn't have made the list otherwise.

I usually try to see all the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars, but my primary movie-watching partner wrote to me this morning saying, "Jesus Christ, are we gonna have to watch The Blind Side now??" I think I'm OK with letting this one go.

I guess that's what you get with a longer nominations list. I'd like to think The Blind Side would never have made a list of 5, and I still sort of can't believe it beat out The Hangover. The weekend it came out, I happened to be at our nation's largest retirement community, The Villages, and, gee whiz, did old white people sure get excited about that movie. Maybe this nomination is the Academy trying to reach out to middle America and show them they love feel-good star vehicles, too (especially the ones whose moral seems to be, in the words of A.O. Scott, that "the best hope for a poor black child in America is to have rich white parents.") And the people who produce the Oscars are psyched that so many huge hits are in the mix this year.

It's looking like Avatar is going to get Best Picture, in spite of everything. I'm still chasing the dream that Kathryn Bigelow will get Best Director for The Hurt Locker, since every so often the movie that win Best Picture doesn't also win directing or acting awards. All the recent movies I can think of that fall into this category have been big, bombastic movies that are, arguably, sort of terrible and don't hold up to much scrutiny: Gladiator, Chicago, and Crash won Best Picture but not Best Director, and of those three I think only Gladiator won a major acting award. Avatar could join that list: it got nominations for best picture and director, but, notably, no acting or writing nominations, probably because the acting and writing are mostly awful. So there's some justice.

Right now I'm going to say Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock (I know, I don't understand it either) will get the acting awards, Avatar gets Best Picture, and Kathryn Bigelow gets Director.

February 1, 2010

Doing art with Tino Sehgal at the Guggenheim

Timo Sehgal at the Guggenheim

This weekend, a new exhibit opened at the Guggenheim by German conceptual artist Tino Sehgal. I saw the feature the Times did on him recently, and some of the details about his work (he never uses materials other than human beings, has no written contracts but sells his work to museums and, bizarrely, private collectors, he doesn't fly or use a cellphone) made him sound like some combination of exacting performance-art auteur and high-concept weirdo.

So I went to the show. There are other reviews out there (NY Times, WNYC) that describe in detail the experience of being at the exhibit, but I don't want to give away too much here. I didn't know what was going to happen when I went into it, and I think it's better that way. I'll just say that there is no art at all on the walls of the rotunda, and you experience the piece, called "This Progress", by walking up the long ramp of the museum where you encounter various people.

As the WNYC reviewer says (after making a Jersey Shore joke about the "situations" that the artist calls his pieces,) trying to talk about this exhibit is like "trying to reconstruct a particularly intense dinner party conversation: It was fascinating while it happened, but on the retelling can seem trite and pretentious." Interacting with the people that make up the exhibit was like being seated next to someone really friendly and interesting on a plane--you don't really know the person you're talking to and you'll almost definitely never talk to them again, but during the time you're together, you can get into some pretty cool stuff.

But what the exhibit really made me think of is those artists who surreptitiously install their own pieces in museum galleries, guerrilla-style--like Banksy or the guy at the Brooklyn Museum last year. If you can expose the arbitrary nature of what art gets into museums and what art doesn't just by hanging your painting in the Met for a few hours before it gets noticed and removed, couldn't you do the same thing in an experiential, interactive exhibit like this one?

I hope some enterprising young artists decide to go into one of those little recessed gallery areas in the Guggenheim rotunda and become another art installation by ironing some pants or jumping rope or eating Wheat Thins. You could easily circumvent the real installation by striking up a conversation with a museum-goer and talking about your cats or Boggle or one time you threw up in your brother's Darth Vader mask. It would probably be the easiest way to get your own art into a world-famous museum, and, actually, Tino Sehgal would probably love it.

Actually, the first time I started walking up the rotunda ramp, I somehow didn't get properly engaged in the interactive part of the exhibit, so my companion and I went all the way to the top with having an actual art experience, except for watching the people around us who seemed to be having a better time than we were. At the top, an older gentleman started talking to me, claiming he was a critic and not part of the exhibit. He urged me to go back to the beginning and try again, but then started talking about being open to life and experience and how one could find progress by being open to confusion, and I still can't figure out if he was part of the exhibit or just into dispensing advice in the form of rambling non-sequitur.

Tweens and Axe

Tween boy loves his Axe

In the Styles section, the NY Times ran an article about tween boys and their devotion to Axe body spray that's basically the exact same piece that the Washington Post ran almost 4 years earlier. Both articles are great reads and very funny, but the story has hardly changed over the past few years: boys are becoming self-conscious at younger ages, and 11 year-olds are dousing themselves in $6 bottles of spray perfume in an attempt to copy the older kids and get girls.

A few interesting things both articles point out:

  • The companies that produce these popular products insist that their target markets are 18 to 24 year-old men, despite the evidence that a lot of their customers haven't reached puberty yet. The Post suggests that this is because their marketing is so direct in its claims that using Axe (or whatever) will make you irresistible to women, and no one wants to think about a 12 year-old boy getting busy. The Times says Axe marketers are reluctant to talk about their younger fan base publicly because "nothing would make older teenager run from a product faster than for its manufacturers to acknowledge that it's a must-have among the sixth-grade set."
  • Young boys appear to interpret Axe's obviously jokey ads, in which guys wearing body spray are swarmed with lust-crazed girls, pretty much literally. A 12 year-old at a suburban Maryland middle school said, "I was watching the commercial, and there was this guy and he was mobbed by a bunch of girls, and I thought, 'Wow, that's tight! ' So I went to CVS and bought it."
  • Everybody apart from middle school boys seems to hate it, because boys tend to use it too liberally or as a substitute for bathing: "It's not necessarily a hygiene thing," said Paul Begley, a physical education teacher at Messalonskee Middle School in Oakland, ME. "If they've been sweating, they'll use it as a mask instead of a shower."

    And my favorite quote of these articles, from 14 year-old Allison Testamark: "Someone by my locker uses it, but he uses so much that you can taste it in your mouth," she said, scrunching up her nose in disgust.

Also, the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, Rosalind Wiseman (who has things to say about 12 year-old boys highlighting their hair), has a new book out called Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials. Tina Fey, who adapted her earlier book for Mean Girls says, "You can't put this book down... or it will talk about you while you're out of the room."

About February 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in February 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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