Tuesday, November 24, 2009

AP Headline of the Day

Chef Paula Deen Accidentally Hit by Charity Ham

The Royal Mail

The first letter to the editor in a recent issue of the London Review of Books came from a postman, who offered a relatively lengthy take on how the Royal Mail is misusing its employees. The first paragraph is below. It goes on for a while after that -- you can read the rest here -- and the whole thing is oddly fascinating. I thought so, anyway. What’s more, the postman’s name -- and we can only hope it's real -- is Pat Stamp.
Like Roy Mayall writing in your issue of 24 September, I am a postman and concerned at the absence in the media of any account of how mail delivery is organised and what Royal Mail’s modernisation programme entails. The programme was introduced because the popularity of email and texting has caused a drop in mail volume. Royal Mail’s first step was to reduce the number of walks. It did this by cutting some walks in each area and making the remaining walks longer. A postman who normally delivered mail to six streets, say, now found himself delivering to eight or nine. During the summer months, when mail volumes were low, he could, perhaps, just cope with this. But as autumn begins and the Christmas catalogues start to come out, every week and sometimes every day can be heavy. In the run-up to last Christmas, there were postmen who only finished their walks at 7 or 8 p.m., sometimes two or three times a week. In one depot alone, around 15 postmen phoned in sick. This Christmas, with the even longer walks, it could be worse. Royal Mail is a strong promoter of general health and safety, but as the walks lengthen and the loads increase, many of us feel that our own health isn’t being taken into consideration.

"Meeting Oprah will make you high."

Gabourey Sidibe, the star of Precious, visited Conan O'Brien last week (or the week before), and it was a treat. In case you missed it, part one of the interview, in which Sidibe hilariously describes meeting Oprah, is below. Part two can be seen here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"My God. I didn't know I had a decadent jaw."

You may remember that I'm a big, big fan of actor Bill Nighy. Now, in advance of a new movie, he's profiled by the Guardian:
Nighy gets his manners, and impeccable tailoring, from his father. "My dad had a personal style which was very attractive. It was quite reserved and quite elegant and it was infectious." His father modeled himself on Bing Crosby. "He liked a good sports jacket and a good pair of trousers, with one hand in his pocket and a cigarette in the other. He couldn't understand why anybody would use bad language in front of a woman or a child. He would get up if a woman came in the room. I find myself doing that sometimes and I sit back down again because they are just going to think I'm weird. It is kind of over. Like offering someone your seat on the tube. You can't do it any more. It's just seen as condescending and stupid. Which I understand."

Nighy does not think his manners are exceptional. But he agrees they may help convey insincerity. "In life, if you have an enthusiasm for what they call good manners, sometimes people don't quite believe you. I've had that once or twice before, where they assume you can't be for real. That's useful, particularly for [playing] posh people with sneaky agendas."
Here's a clip of Nighy talking to Charlie Rose about performing (rather, not performing) Shakespeare:


Football Jerseys in Church & Catfish Heads

David Courtney writes an advice column as “The Texanist” for Texas Monthly. This month’s first two questions from readers are:
Q. Is it wrong to wear your football team’s jersey to church?
Q: Texas is the only place where I have seen catfish heads on fence posts. Is this just bragging, or, as I was told by a friend, is it to ward off evil spirits?
Courtney’s answers can be found here. They somehow include this sentence: “If you have the occasion to find yourself outside a bus station in Oaxaca with time to kill, don’t kill it by hot-shotting a bottle of the stuff with a willowy bus driver named Gordo.”

(Via The Browser)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Freezing Hands and Bloodless Veins

Monday night, I was very lucky to see Neko Case play at the Beacon Theatre. My girlfriend's sister was unavailable for the extra ticket, so I got to tag along. It was an incredible show, with Case in a stunning red satin dress (she jokingly called the material a "poly-cougar blend") and her voice in fine form. There aren't many clips online that really do justice to seeing her live, including the one below, but for Wednesday, this is Case singing "I Wish I Was the Moon." Enjoy:


On the Rocks

My friend PF sent this story along. Her e-mail's subject line was "A worthy mission."

The first two paragraphs:
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- A beverage company has asked a team to drill through Antarctica's ice for a lost cache of some vintage Scotch whiskey that has been on the rocks since a century ago.

The drillers will be trying to reach two crates of McKinlay and Co. whiskey that were shipped to the Antarctic by British polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton as part of his abandoned 1909 expedition.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Eating Animals

Over at The Second Pass, I review Jonathan Safran Foer's latest, a book about his vegetarianism and the horrors of factory farming. A taste:
When Foer was nine, a vegetarian babysitter asked him, mid-chew, “You know that chicken is chicken, right?” For Foer, this was one of those “how-in-the-world-could-I-have-never-thought-of-that-before-and-why-on-earth-didn’t-someone-tell-me? moments.” That reaction is OK — even charming — at nine, but Foer is 32 now, and his years since have not been an uninterrupted protest against meat. In fact, soon after the babysitter posed her shattering question, Foer went back to eating meat. Then, at the end of his sophomore year at Princeton, he became a philosophy major and did his “first seriously pretentious thinking,” which led him back to vegetarianism. “I thought life could, should, and must conform to the mold of reason,” he writes. “You can imagine how annoying this made me.” Yes. You could say my imagination has rarely been less taxed.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

An Ideal World

The latest college football poll is out. The top six teams are all 10-0. The top three of those -- Florida, Alabama, and Texas -- are almost impossible to separate from one another. Behind the top six are teams at 10-1 and 9-1, then a group that includes a few big-time programs (LSU, Ohio State, Penn State, etc.) with a couple of losses each.

Clearly, the best thing to do here would be to feed lots of abstract information about all of these teams into some type of supercomputer and have the supercomputer figure out which of the two teams should play each other to determine the best team. Especially pesky are those top three teams, so it would be particularly satisfying to see which of those three the supercomputer determines is unworthy of playing for the championship.

Wait, what? That's what they're going to do? The supercomputer exists? Oh. Whew.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

“The next day, which I thought was the next day...”

Last year, my friend JF let me know about a no-hitter thrown by Dock Ellis in 1970, during which Ellis was high on LSD. Now, JF passes along this great video commemorating the event, in an e-mail with the subject line, "This is why the Internet was invented." Can't say I disagree:


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tonight, Tonight the Highway is Bright

For Wednesday, two great versions of the same song. “Racing in the Street” is a quintessential early Springsteen lyric. The first clip below was filmed 31 years ago at a show in Passaic, New Jersey. (When I watched it, the sound wasn’t perfectly synched up to the picture, but it’s still worth sharing.) The second clip is a cover by Patty Griffin, from a 1999 show at Fez, a New York club that sadly no longer exists. Griffin’s got one of my favorite voices, and with just that and a guitar she makes the song full. Enjoy:

Labels: ,

"Not this gal! She had had it!"

Just some random comedy for Wednesday (a song to come later, fear not). Both of the clips below feature Paul F. Tompkins, the first a sketch from the great Mr. Show (get past the bizarre start) and the second a funny and touching bit about his mother's last days and her thoughts about religion.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Line of the Day

From a friend: "Aren't you glad the Berlin Wall fell without Twitter?"

Gallery 32

Photo by Graham Love, a finalist in the "This is Britain" category of the 2009 Digital Camera Photographer of the Year contest.)


Monday, November 09, 2009

Cameron's Pad

If you have $3.2 million laying around -- and really, who doesn't these days? -- you could buy yourself Cameron's house from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. You know, the one with the elevated glass garage?

(Via -- yes, my life has come to this -- Roger Ebert's Twitter feed)

Friday, November 06, 2009

“Your appendix is connected to your large intestine, which is connected to your small intestine, which is something that Karl Marx had.”

No, this isn't a post just to mark me as the one millionth blogger to link to Jon Stewart's very funny "11/3 Project" clip. It's also a post to point to this piece on a New York Times blog the other day. It covers a protest of the health-care bill in Washington. And OK, it's the Times, but that sign in the picture -- the one that says "Marx" with a red circle and a line through it (a la the Ghostbusters logo; I ain't afraid of no socialists) -- is of a type that doesn't seem hard to find at these protests.

A while ago on this blog, I wrote "I've never had any use for the 'Bush=Hitler' brand of sloganeering." I think that's pretty clear. Well, likewise, I think it's intellectually lazy (more like intellectually comatose) the way the grassroots right has reacted to the Obama administration thus far. Like all major policy debates, there's a lot to be said about health care -- the least useful of which is, "Trying to change the health-care system in the U.S. will turn the country into a Marxist stronghold." This is asinine on at least seven levels.

But what I really loved about the report in the Times was this summary of a common combination:
Some of the same people warning of too much government spending also complained that Medicare does not provide sufficient coverage.
That brought to mind a possible Onion headline. Something like this:
Beneficiaries of Government Help Complain Government Doesn't Help Enough at Protest Against Benefitting from Government Help

Thursday, November 05, 2009

If Christians Try to "Save" Souls, Should Atheists Try to "Lose" Them?

My friend Lauren has a piece up over at Tina Brown's Daily Beast about atheists and their determining whether or not to "evangelize." A taste:
[Kurtz's] life's aim, he told me, is to “make it so a person can be a nonbeliever in our society and be respected and accepted.” As such, he thinks it’s counterproductive to preach against religion. “You can't begin by calling people names,” says the 85-year-old Kurtz. “It's self-destructive to nonbelievers.” When Kurtz’s own organization supported international “Blasphemy Day” in September (a day dedicated to openly criticizing all things God), Kurtz wrote a column in Free Inquiry magazine, an atheist publication put out by the Center for Inquiry, comparing the day to “the anti-Semitic cartoons of the Nazi era." . . . One of Blasphemy Day's supporters was, in fact, Tom Flynn, Free Inquiry’s editor-in-chief and Kurtz's colleague at the Center. Flynn sees a loud, proud, and socially unacceptable atheism as the best chance to achieve Kurtz's declared goals. He also draws constructive parallels to the raucous gay-rights movement of the 1970s and ‘80s. “If you think back to deliberately outrageous activism like ACT UP and Queer Nation, somehow after 10 years, gay was mainstream,” he says. “There were gay characters on sitcoms. How did this happen? That brashness and outrageousness, it desensitized America. It got everybody over that taboo.”
Lauren even spoke to godlessness' biggest rock star, Richard Dawkins. I find this issue of great interest, as you might imagine, and the comparison to the gay rights movement above is an instructive one. The idea that atheists should be socially accepted, should be allowed to (dis)believe what they (dis)believe, goes without saying. And raucously saying, "We're here, we don't hold God dear, get used to it" is great. But many, including Dawkins, obviously want to do a lot more than that.

And that won't likely change, since it's easy to see acceptance of an inherent identity -- "I'm black." "I'm gay." -- as an act of addition. But religious people and atheists both believe something, and it's natural to think of beliefs as a zero-sum game: If my belief is right, yours must be wrong. It seems to me that it would be helpful to think of religious beliefs (and the lack thereof) as more like sports than like math. If someone says, "I believe that two times three equals seventeen," well. . . . it might eventually be difficult to handle that person, socially. But if you're a Yankees fan and someone says, "I love the Phillies," it's OK to trade some good-natured barbs and then move on and continue to each be productive members of society. Which is just to say that a bar-stool sense of playfulness might be refreshing on both sides, rather than dogmatic screaming about settling on the right formula. Fat chance, I know.

1923 . . .

. . . 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2009

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Jargon Generator

This is fun. Make your own academic sentence. Two examples that I just cranked out:
The historicization of the gendered body is strictly congruent with the reification of normative value(s).

The systemization of the gaze replays (in parodic form) the epistemology of linguistic transparency.
(Via The Browser)

Another Word for Procrastination

John Roderick, the clever, verbose leader of The Long Winters, talks to Maximum Fun about his band’s next album, due in spring 2010. (If you get a chance to see the band live, do it. The music is great fun, and Roderick’s between-songs banter is the rare good kind.) In the interview, he says:
I think the record we're working on now is by far the least intentional thing we've ever done, in the sense that there was no stated purpose, no governing aesthetic, no semi-conscious guidelines. The songs are all based on riffs that were recorded spontaneously in the middle of the night. The riffs were combined into songs at the last possible moment with a minimum of forethought. Once we started working we didn't throw anything away, so there hasn't even been curatorial culling. The result is as close to the unadulterated sound of The Long Winters in the studio as you can get. It's kitchen sink pop.
He also says something that’s useful (for rationalizing, at least) for people like me to remember: “Procrastinating is very hard to distinguish from ruminating.” And his last answer, to a question about the relationship between experience and songwriting, is worth clicking over to read.

Gold Won't Bring You Happiness

This song came on shuffle the other day (it's on one of the all-time great soundtracks), and I've been singing it to myself ever since. For Wednesday, this is Dean Martin doing "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You" and goofing it up for the crowd. Enjoy: