I am off to Cape May, NJ this weekend, folks, for a little R&R -- who couldn't use a bit more of that? I leave you with a link to the newly spruced-up website of J.K. Rowling -- it's more than just Harry Potter over there. Well, somewhat more. As much of a fan as I am, I can't wait for her to write about something else eventually. ;)


Boat-shaped museum plan floated -- zing! Today a plan for a Boston Museum was unveiled, to be planted (literally) in the earth along the future Rose Kennedy Greenway, above the underground Central Artery Tunnel. Architect Moshe Safdie -- who apparently works in Somerville, yeah! -- is also the designer of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel, and the new wing of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. I've been skeptical in the past about the feasibility of keeping the Greenway a public space, but this seems to be a real possibility. Now all they need is $89 million more dollars...
"GLUB GLUB MO BLON!" -- Vintage find du jour, a guidebook from 1941 entitled, "How To Make Friends By Telephone," for those unaccustomed to the then-newfangled Ma Bell technology. Most of the tips are still helpful today...except...wait a sec, "Visualize the person you are calling?" Eww! What's interesting is to think of the ways we have/not developed similar codes of conduct for email, cellphones, etc. -- even as social protocols have developed over time (don't type in ALL CAPS; turn off your phone at the movies) some people continue to yak away heedlessly, or send send spam viruses to everyone they know. Perhaps a well-designed pamphlet is in order...
World's Largest Ice Cream Cake -- and it's a Carvel cake, baby! Sure, there's better ice cream out there, and sure, nobody knows what that exactly is in that crunchy, delicious, chocolate gravel layer betwixt the vanilla and choc ice cream layers, and yes, we'll probably get brain cancer from eating all that fluorescent blue gel icing -- but so what? Nothing beats nostalgia, and in my family we had Carvel cakes on our birthdays, mmmmmm. Good god, will you look at this?! All together now: *droooool.*
"Brothers In Arms" but not on the court -- famed b'baller Kareem Abdul-Jabbar co-wrote this story of the all-black 761st tank battalion in WWII, after he learned a family friend had served in the unit. "This was Patton's best tank unit and they didn't get any recognition because whites did not look upon blacks as having any competence as fighting men," he says in this interview with NPR (there's also a short excerpt). They fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and helped to liberate Buchenwald concentration camp, among others -- amazing!
"Deservedly Deleted" -- Ever wonder why some of the "deleted scenes" included on the DVD of a movie were ever filmed in the first place? The Onion explains it all for you.
Let me just say, I called it -- cheesy as the show may be, "American Idol" has found a real live star in Fantasia Barrino. Come on, the name alone spells "celeb," no? Salon has a nice review here.


Cooking up a universe in the lab -- a pleasantly mind-bending interview by Slate of Andrei Linde, Big Bang expert at Stanford. Apparently it doesn't take much physical matter to start a universe -- cool! But ponder this: "We can't rule out the possibility that our own universe was created in a lab by someone in another universe who just felt like doing it." Gullllp...
"Ninety percent of all movies stink." -- Yet we have to see trailers for them all. Of course, if you're like me, you call out "Boo!" if they're particularly bad. The Wall Street Journal delves into the world of those who try to spin the straw of shlocky Hollywood fare into the gold of, well, the Golden Trailer Awards.
BuffyCon '04! -- Well, not really. There's a serious academic conference on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" this weekend in Nashville, featuring treatises like "Fonty Goodness: Authenticity Through Graphic Design on 'Buffy'" and "Buffy and Religion, Buffy as Religion." Woah! Get more info (or order your coffee mug) here.
Cookie Mongoloid -- a death metal "Sesame Street" cover band. Complete with lead singer dressed in Cookie Monster costume and leather pants and motorcycle jacket. Seriously.
This may be my favorite bit from The Onion...ever:

No-Makeup Look Easier To Achieve Than Elle Claims
NEW YORK — Contrary to claims in the June issue of Elle magazine, the no-makeup look actually requires little effort, a licensed cosmetologist reported Monday. "The article '20 Minutes To A More Natural You' suggests an application of under-eye concealer, light powder, natural lip gloss, and clear mascara to achieve the makeup-free look," said Michelle Karns-Daley, spokeswoman for the American Association of Cosmetology. "But really, a quick shower and a towel-off will do the trick just as well." Similarly, experts say Elle's six-page article "Building Your Self-Esteem" can be more simply stated as "Stop giving a shit about what people think."



Blog your way to a book contract -- not only does this woman have my dream job now as a literary agent in training, she's giving out book contracts to bloggers, my other dream job! Hmmmmmmm...
Scariest headline of the day from the BBC -- "Black Death 'is lying in wait'"! :-0

Second scariest headline of the day from the BBC -- "Couples having plastic surgery"! :-0
Class Matters -- a fascinating companion site to the forthcoming book on class and community organizing. Class is often the great unspoken divide in America, with almost everyone assuming they are "middle class" and therefore "average." Compare your income with the real figures -- attention geeks, if you're pulling in $90K sitting at a computer all day, you're in the top 10%, not the middle!
"Abu...Guh...Rab" -- Our esteemed President really blew it (again) last night, stumbling badly over the name of the infamous Iraqi prison before declaring it will be torn down. It was almost as if...he'd never seen the name before...but no! He practiced the pronunciation beforehand. Wow. Mandy and I watched the whole speech in disbelief: "A free Iraq will always have a friend in the United States of America"? Oh, I see -- since the semi-free Iraq is so friendly these days, surely it will only get better! This "war," not to mention this Administration, is headed right off a cliff, and the best the White House can come up with are canned platitudes about "freedom." Fantastic.


It's time for Weekend Update: Well, the biggest (or smallest) news is the arrival of Hollywood baby Aden Schwartz on Friday morning! Congratulations to Mom Claudia and Dad Marky, who should be headed home tomorrow, happy and healthy. The grandmas are flying in, one from the Southern Hemisphere and one from the Southern U.S., so it should be an interesting couple of weeks Chez Schwartz. Enjoy! :D

In other news, Nat and I saw "Shrek 2" on Friday night -- I gave it about a 7, from him, only a 3. It definitely had some sequel problems (like, there's nothing for Donkey, aka Eddie Murphy, to do), but I thought the new characters were great, especially Jennifer Saunders as the scheming Fairy Godmother. The anachronistic, pop culture references sprinkled throughout made it truly hilarious -- though the basic message remains the same, "Real beauty is more than skin deep," or something like that.

Yesterday I visited the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, NH with Celia and Tori, the world's youngest art critic. The museum is "snack size," as Celia noted, so we were able to see the whole thing in a short time, then we headed over to Down 'N Dirty BBQ, a hole in the wall joint that came highly recommended. We feasted on hickory smoked meats, mmmmmm. And there was yet more meat later on, thanks to Nat's skill with the broiler, and the good people who make Stubb's marinade, it's...the...best. We had a mini-80s film fest with "The Goonies," which admittedly looks a lot better on a huge TV than on the drive-in theater screen I saw it on in 1985.


Ice Cream + Krispy Kreme = Ice Kreme -- and also some kind of sugar coma. Check out Tien Mao's fully photographed visit to Mary's Dairy, a new creamery in NYC specializing in fancy flavors and good old fashioned gluttony, by the look of it. Hmmm, I was thinking Nat at I should stop by Katz's Deli next weekend for pastrami...perhaps we can get dessert there? Ooog. *clutches tummy*
Revenge of the Mansards! -- That'd be those hideous fake red shingles you find atop every McDonald's in the land. Spend some time perusing the American roadside landscape, from tacky fast food huts, to discarded neon signs, to colorful food advertising. From the botomless site Interesting Ideas.
Would you care for some strawi, or waternana? -- Another Friday classic from Worth1000, photoshopping hybrid fruits that never were. It's kind of interesting how the fruit looks half-appetizing, half-grotesque...it's that old primordial part of your brain going, "Hmmm, don't recognize that, don't eat it!" I think I like the PomaPea best.
Yet more Strange Lunchtime Sightings:

1. A bright blue Subaru WRX with the NH license plate "MMMWRX."

2. A man driving a silver Mitsubishi with a cellphone nestled between his left shoulder and ear, and his right hand stuck out of the sunroof, just dangling. Presumably his left hand was on the steering wheel...?

3. A chipmunk.

4. A group of Welsh tourists at the Stop & Shop, buying bottled water, bagels, and peppenoni sticks.


5. I purchased a Diet Pepsi (I know, I know) from the office vending machine and once again found it intolerably warm. I decided to use the drink-chilling sleeve someone has left in the office fridge -- basically an ice-pack for your drink. I cram the bottle into the sleeve, toss it in the freezer, and don't return for nearly an hour. The result? Perfectly chilled beverage: a biscuit-sized ice floe has formed in the bottle, which means the soda flows over it and then directly into my mouth, aaaaaahhhhhh. But that's the strange sighting: at first I was like, "What IS that inside my soda bottle?"
"Strip, Pix, Burn: iRaq" -- this is somewhat disturbing, but it also gives me hope that there's a trickle of political art activism out there somewhere. Of course, Apple is surely none too happy about this...but that's what you get for a marketing style that's just a little too perfect. Click the "Subway" link for a closeup.
"Hope that stings like chlorine" -- Inventor of "lad lit" Nick Hornby gets his old man on in this wistful Times piece on the supposed "youthfulness" of rock music, and how it too can be wasted on the young. He also makes a subtle point about the great commercial divide in the biz today, with meaningless Brit(ney)-pop on the one hand and arty, critic-pleasing stuff on the other that nobody listens to (except Nick Hornby): "Maybe this split is inevitable in any medium where there is real money to be made." Indeed.


"A uterus is not a substitute for a conscience." -- Author Barbara Ehrenreich opines on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the role of female soldiers (both in the photos and running the prison) in it. She admits that as an older-school feminist, she secretly sorta believed women are morally superior to men, and could never, would never, participate in such atrocity. Mmmmm, not so much. I think Anne Rice said it best: "Evil is always possible. Goodness is a difficulty."
"Troy" in 15 minutes -- if you can't decide whether to listen to my good review or the scores of middling reviews of the new sword & sandal epic, read the abbreviated (and profanity-sprinkled) version here.
Strange sightings from today's lunch hour:

1. Guy sitting atop a large boulder, in the middle of his office park lawn, talking on his cellphone.

2. Dead porcupine on the curb, as if he was about to cross the street, then laid down and died.

3. Two crows chasing a smallish red hawk across the sky over I-95, as if away from their nest.

4. In the checkout line at Target, a very well-behaved little boy (unusual enough by itself) "helping" his mom by carrying a rolled up bath mat on his head.

5. On Rt. 3 at my exit, the ultimate Bad Camry Driving moment: a green Camry I'd been following for a while somehow misinterpreted the signs for the exit, peeled right about 50 yards ahead of the offramp into the construction area (they've been widening Rt. 3 for like 18 months), drove BEHIND a line of Jersey barriers and then rejoined the offramp. There was fresh asphalt over there, but there are big orange pylons and it's pretty clear that the lane is not yet in use -- he's lucky he didn't swerve off into the woods or the big ditch on the righthand side, seeing as there's no guardrail yet. I gave him a look as I pulled up next to him at the bottom of the ramp, and he appeared -- in classic Camry driver fashion -- blissfully unaware.
Curves is anti-choice? -- OH NO! The weird, Jesus-y vibe I've gotten from the promotional materials at my Curves gym apparently leads right to the top. (It's a Salon article -- watch the ad to read the whole thing.) The founder, Gary Heavin, is a born-again Christian, and there's some controversy over the types of "women's health organizations" he donates money to -- some are neighborhood health care facilities in Texas with religious overtones, some promote "abstinence-only" sex "education" for teens. I love the Curves workout, and my local franchise owner is just that: local. She and the other members are a diverse lot, in age, fitness level, and surely politics as well. But where is my $39 a month going? It seems that the politics of the founder might not be so militant after all, and Curves is still the biggest franchise business in the world, offering thousands of women not only better fitness but the opportunity to run their own business. Maybe a compromise is Curvers For Choice, a grassroots website for Curves women to donate to pro-choice causes in the name of Curves and Mr. Heavin. Or, um, maybe not. Whew -- and I thought the squat machine was tough...
Sheet music becomes screen music -- very cool NYTimes piece on the MusicPad, a wireless tablet device that allows musicians to scan in zillions of pages of sheet music and read and edit it digitally. Neato! This might have come in handy last night -- Miss Kim and I went to see "Elegies: A Song Cycle" at the SpeakEasy Theater, sung by five players and accompanied for 90 minutes straight by one very tough pianist. He had to not only turn pages of the spiral-bound score, but he took quick swipes at his hair or his aching neck in between phrases, ouch! The MusicPad can sit on the piano, and "flip" to the next page in the score with a quick touch to a remote, or you can set it to automatically "look ahead" half a page, woah. Hey, if it's good enough for David Bowie's band...


"Commencement" means "beginning"...and usually "hot and boring" too -- to follow up on Nat's roundup post of commencement speakers past and present, I thought back over my many graduation experiences. Here are some notes:

Mom's graduation from Rutgers U., May 1975: I attended as a wee 8-month-old, in the blazing sun on the all-concrete urban campus. I don't remember this, obviously, but there are photos of me wearing my mom's cap...that must explain the long educational career ahead of me.

Kindergarten Graduation, St. Adalbert's School, Elizabeth NJ, May 1979 -- I was the "valedictorian," for what that's worth, and walked up on stage with Mrs. Pomianek, our teacher. A nerd is made, not born, people. I also remember we wore white caps and gowns, and sang "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" while waving big paper stars covered in glitter.

Third Grade "Commencement," Victor Mravlag School No. 21, Elizabeth NJ, June 1983 -- I gave a little speech while wearing a fashion nightmare: blue and white strappy sundress that I hated, brown leather sandals that I hated, new brown eyeglasses that I hated, hideous Kate Jackson haircut that I hated. To top it all off, I had a big scab on my nose from falling face first off our backyard swingset a few weeks prior. Lovely.

Sixth Grade Graduation, William F. Halloran School No. 22, Elizabeth NJ, June 1986 -- Green caps and gowns this time, and I sang the school song with the a cappella madrigal group in our signature neon green blazers. I remember wearing very stylish (at the time) white jelly shoes that tore up my feet, but I wouldn't admit it to my mom, who had predicted that very result.

Eighth Grade Graduation, Battin Middle School, Elizabeth NJ, June 1988 -- No caps and gowns this time; I think I wore my super-80's sweatshirt-dress with big shoulderpads and many strings of pink fake pearls!

High School Graduation, Elizabeth High School, June 1992 -- There was much controversy over the weighting of grades and how that determined our valedictorian and salutatorian, my friends Carol and Christine. In the end, who cares? Christine went to NJIT, and Carol too, I think, after having to turn down MIT because they didn't offer her enough financial aid, sigh. I graduated #12 out of 711 (there were 900+ *before* the final exams were graded, ouch), and got to sit in the front row. There were so many graduates that you just stood in your place when they called your name, nice touch. We were the 15th graduating class from the high school: before 1977 there was a girls' high school and a boys' high school, until a nice Title IX lawsuit merged them. The gender divide persisted, however, in our caps & gowns: boys in black, girls in cheesy see-thru white. I did everything I could to switch -- left the "Gender" box on the order form blank, put down "E. Durand" as my name...but no dice. In protest, I wore a checkered sundress underneath that showed right through -- oooh, rebellious!

One other note: my siblings and cousins all went to Roselle Catholic High School instead of E-town, and they had to wear emerald green outfits (white shoes for the girls!) and sit through a long Mass and parade of faculty in academic robes, as if they were at Oxford or something. By the time my youngest cousin graduated, my Dad and uncle were ready to burn the place down, and the loathsome headmaster wished *me* congratulations on graduating (I was 25 at the time!).

Tufts Graduations, Medford MA -- I attended the 1995 ceremony, featuring Doris Kearns Goodwin as speaker; and my own in 1996, with author Betty Bao Lord speaking and brilliant poet Seamus Heaney receiving an honorary degree. We wore thin black caps and gowns, which were pelted by oak seedlings as we sat outside for the ceremony -- Paul and I sat next to each other and watched two squirrels running up and down a tree trunk for most of it. The ceremony is at 8am, and the night before is the traditional midnight candlelight procession to the top of the Hill, what are they thinking?!

Other collegiate ceremonies included: Seton Hall U. in 1993 for my mom's Masters Degree (just like one of their basketball games, loud and silly with lots of beach balls); Rutgers U. in 1994 for my sister Becca (featuring Jumbo Bill Richardson as speaker), where my other sister Sara and I set up lawn chairs for the family in advance and sat there frying in the sun for hours; Drew U. in 2000 for Sara (the best post-ceremony catering spread of all, shrimp cocktail for the masses!). My brother graduated Seton Hall in January 2000, so I missed that one.

Northeastern Law Commencement, May 2000, Boston MA -- Big, heavy black robes on a hot, humid day, ugh. The ceremony was inside the university hockey arena, where none of us had ever been before. My friend Wyeth and my favorite professor spoke, followed by Judge Isaac Borenstein, who gave a long, rambling reminiscence of his Cuban-Jewish heritage and his battle with prostate cancer. Really. The invited speaker was Sister Helen Prejean, the death penalty activist who was played by Susan Sarandon in "Dead Man Walking." The reception was awash in cheap champagne, and I got some fantastic gifts, like my briefcase and some very fancy pens, plus a big box of legal pads from my parents, ha ha.

Wow, that was a long post.
Unitarians: Just not good enough for Texas -- providing yet more evidence that Texas is its own little country, the state comptroller has denied a Unitarian church there tax-exempt status, on the grounds that the Unitarians do not have "one system of belief" and therefore aren't really a church. Seems the comptroller's office doesn't like witches, atheists, New Agers, or the Society for Ethical Culture, either, because they do not "mandate belief in one supreme being." Oh, is that the standard for "religion" these days? As the article points out, Unitarianism was good enough for both Presidents Adams...but I guess in the land of President(s) Bush you need a more orthodox approach to make the grade, i.e. go Jesus or go home. Sheesh.
Who wants my GMail? -- Apparently, getting an account on the prototype Google email system, GMail, is a difficult proposition. I was offered one through Blogger (owned by Google, natch) because of my (*cough*) superior blogging skillz. I like the interface a lot, though I'm not quite ready to dump Yahoo! altogether...soon, very soon. But now that I know I could swap my account for "one Chicago Style hot dog" or a "half pound of Norwegian gjetost cheese" (which is weird and brown but very tasty), I might reconsider...
"We want whom we want -- even if he's fat and green." -- Salon reviews "Shrek 2" very favorably. Cannot...wait...to see...this movie! And let me take a moment to note that I saw "Shrek" in L.A., a long THREE years ago with the big green ogre himself, Marky. :P Back then, he was single and living at his dad's place -- a far cry from the happily married, homeowning, any-minute-now-soon-to-be pop we see today, huzzah!
"Piglet," penguin, stolen! -- Who would purloin a penguin? Poor Piglet.


I too am a cobbler person -- the Amateur Gourmet has a very comical and tasty-looking recipe for Apricot and Cherry Cobbler, mmmmm mmmmm.
Battle of the Macho Miniskirts -- On Saturday night, I had an overwhelming urge to see a big silly popcorn movie, and so Nat and I went to good old Showcase Woburn to see Troy, starring (in order of acting competence) Peter O'Toole, Eric Bana, Sean Bean, Brian Cox, Orlando Bloom, Brad Pitt, and German model Diane Kruger as a totally uninspiring Helen of Troy. In the spirit of the goofy-poetic movie review championed by the Brothers Woodward, here's my take:

Tanned thighs, blue seas, and
painful, wooden dialogue:
classic summer flick.

Now, granted I was in the mood for this movie, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I really enjoyed it -- in fact, I turned to Nat as the credits rolled and said, "That was a million times better than Gladiator!" to which he could only reply with a gaping, "Are you serious?!" We settled the question by watching "Gladiator" on DVD last night -- I love that Russell Crowe, but much like the first time, the movie eventually put me to sleep. It's about 40 minutes too long, and the supporting characters are just unwatchably bad...Joaquin Phoenix and Connie Nielsen, ouch! Russell is the only thing holding the movie together, and he makes awful dialogue seem plausible and dignified. While "Troy" comes off as painfully derivative in the special effects department -- it owes a lot to not only "Gladiator" but "Lord of the Rings" also -- and is not going to win any acting awards, I thought the juicy personal dramas were nicely foregrounded (especially the spicy tale of runaway virgin priestess Briseus), so you could sort of skip past the sweeping computer effects and follow the real plot. Eric Bana was excellent as Hector, the dutiful older brother who saves not only the dreamy Paris from death in a duel, but the whole city of Troy (for a while, anyway) by battling Achilles, played by the ripe thighs of Brad Pitt. He's more buffed than I've ever seen him, but he just can't carry off the armor like Russell can, it's a pity. As with many blockbusters, it's best not to delve too deep -- I really enjoyed the beautiful, very historically accurate costumes and set design, the glittering Aegean Sea backdrop, and some of the battle sequences were amazing (giant flaming hay balls!). I'll stand by my assessment: down with Rome, up with Troy! Of course, speaking of movies we saw this weekend, I'm also the one who liked "The Matrix Revolutions" best out of that trilogy, so...
"I don't mean ta bug yah..." -- Salon interviews Bono! Everyone's favorite Irish rock god/geopolitical activist waxes on about his new One Campaign for global aid to Africa, and his testimony to Congress this week. Oi!
Ding dong ding dong -- the gay wedding bells are pealing away here in the Bay State, as the first same-sex couples get hitched, woohoo! My friends Eve and Brenda were Couple #7 in line outside Cambridge City Hall last night, waiting in line for ten hours to get their license! They were pelted with rice, soap bubbles, and good wishes from thousands of cheering supporters, and they're off to the rabbi some time today -- then next month their long-planned wedding day arrives right in the middle of Pride Weekend, whew. The Globe is chock full of excited coverage, including a slightly odd editorial from Howard Dean, who offers his congratulations, wizened advice as the man who presided (barely) over the advent of civil unions in Vermont, and some handy "facts about gay and lesbian Americans." YEEAAAAARRRRRHHHHHHHHHH!

UPDATE: There's a volcano of press coverage about all the weddings, but like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words -- check out the Yahoo! News slideshow of happy couples. It's impossible not to smile after 50 or 60 shots of beaming newlyweds...those no-fun-damentalists should try it!


How do you translate "poop and scoop" into Japanese? -- Enjoy some international "curb your dog" signage. My favorite is the "Officer Poop" one: the mind reels at the surrealist implications of a dog dressed in a police uniform and walking on two legs meting out punishment to a human (perhaps his owner?) for not scooping. Hey, it's Friday. Note: the link at the bottom of the page that looks like "ZY,O" is "Next," there are several pages.
"A strong rival for souls" -- the Catholic Church proves itself skilled in international diplomacy once again today, with a missive from the Vatican warning Catholic women of the dangers awaiting those who marry Muslim men. Go ahead, read that sentence again...whaaaa? The document grumbles that Muslims are not making progress on key issues like "fundamental liberties, the inviolable rights of the person, the equal dignity of man and woman." Oh right, I forgot, the Catholic Church knows all about equality of the sexes...mmmmmm, smell that irony!
Vive La Creme -- time for one of my very occasional product endorsements. I'm eating a vanilla La Creme yogurt from Dannon, and it is that rare product which truly lives up to its packaging: "Incredibly creamy and mild yogurt." The stuff is sinfully good -- creamy, flavorful, it's like eating creme fraiche...actually, it may be creme fraiche, seeing as how it doesn't even pretend to be low-fat. Well, no, it's still yogurt, and it's not quite as rich as Brown Cow "Cream Top" yogurt, which tastes like melted ice cream and has a tasty rind of "yogurt cream" at the top. So there -- go out an enjoy some relatively austere yet luxury yogurt. If that's not a sign of our culinarily masochistic times, I don't know what is.
I'm not much of a Fark-ster (sorry honey), but they have a great photoshopping challenge today -- to create "IKEA-esque instructions for saving the world." Nice.
Down With Gerunds! -- I for one am fed up with gerunds in movie titles, from "Boxing Helena" to "Raising Helen," the latest dreck to float out of Garry Marshall's factory of sexist puff. Am I the only one upon whom boring titles like "The _______ing of Alexandra" or "________ing Mozambique" grate? I think not: somebody named Chefelf has even helpfully created a Gerund Movie Title Generator, go crazy!
Dream job alert: Janet Marie Smith is the staff architect at Fenway Park, the woman responsible for the Green Monster seats, the right field roof seats, and of course the bigger bathrooms. Huzzah!


I promised to make it Fun For Kim Day here at TAI -- I've gotten some negative feedback of the "not enough fun, silly links!" variety of late, so here goes, knock yourself out:

* Behold, a sofa made of mousepads!

* Yum yum yum, let's eat Hello Kitty for lunch...well, not really, it's too cute to eat.

* Feeling a little cash-poor? Get yourself some Noney.

* Play Twister in bed -- and/or, buy lots of goofy gag gifts for the lad in your life at this site.

* Feeling a little artistic/hungry/homesick for the Midwest? Browse through a gallery of crop art. If you're just hungry, try the gallery of jellybean art instead. If you're famished and about to run to the vending machine, try identifying these candy bars by their cross-section...mmmm, cross-section.

* When you're ready to space out at your monitor for a while (or possibly the rest of the day), click on over to the Virtual Kaleidoscope.

* For some truly useless trivia, contemplate this list of names that are also verbs. Woah.

* And for a surrealist finish, read the Daily Peeg over at Rum and Monkey, and top it off by taking their Peeg Test. Turns out I am a Bliss Peeg, who knew?
Beyond the passive voice -- a French author has published a 233-page novel with no verbs. Think about this for a minute: it doesn't seem as impossible as you might think, right?
A man and his tchochkes -- the Globe "Life at Home" section has a big photo spread today on Bruce Davis and his sprawling pink mansion in Framingham, where he lives with his two Pomeranians and a lot of random stuff. Click through the photos and see if you don't get a creepy, Franklin Mint, rummage sale vibe...


Baseball is old -- and of course still America's game. This collection of Spalding Baseball Guides from the Library of Congress is like the old-timey version of ESPN: stats, analysis, humorous commentary. And speaking of the old ball game, the scrappy Berkshire town of Pittsfield has unearthed a historical triumph this week: a town by-law from 1791 prohibiting games of baseball within 80 yards of the new town hall...and its precious glass windows. Pittsfield is also home to Wahconah Park, one of the last remaining wooden ballparks in the nation. Incidentally, it's also got the Storefront Artist Project, a collaboration that puts working art studios in empty storefronts, neat-o.
Today the BBC is full of News of the Weird: the Mexican Air Force sees UFOs! Somebody throws water on 50 Cent in Springfield, MA! The online Church of Fools is corrupting civilization! You've gotta love it. See also the quirky philosophical column, "10 Interpretations," this week featuring a weird art exhibit of a robotic dying sparrow.
"I'm happy to be a bricklayer." -- The NYTimes Magazine interviewed Mary Bonauto, fellow Northeastern Law alumna and groundbreaking civil rights litigator. She's the one who argued the Goodridge case, as well as countless smaller ones for GLAD. Remember her name, folks.
"Ah, but to a dog each and every boring, monotonous, repetitive day is an absolute adventure." -- A pleasant meditation on the dog's life. For further proof that dogs are the happiest creatures on earth, take a peek at a dog's diary entry...and note the essential difference from the feline.
"We take over Abu Ghraib when we should have torn it down . . . It's sort of like going into Baghdad and tearing down the central mosque and building a synagogue in its place." -- Salon has an interview today with former CIA operative Bob Baer, who says the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal shows the intelligence agency is "broken." (Watch the ad to read the whole thing.)
"John Kerry: A Man Who Has Chaired A Lot of Committees." -- The Onion offers some slogans for the Democratic "presumptive nominee." I'd love to wear a button like this to the Convention this summer...
"Whether we're sipping green tea or enjoying a Big Mac® sandwich, we're helping make the magic mix called America become even richer." -- McDOnald's seems to think each ethnic group needs its own marketing campaign to eat McNuggets. Not only does this site yield the world's most comprehensive trademark notice (and what chilling product might "McBaby" refer to?), it has a whole multicultural family of weird sites, like the Latino version, and the black history version. Must be that McDonald's really is a socially responsible company...um, or that they just want everyone to be obese.


Well, now that I've spruced things up around here a little, allow me to recount a few highlights of my weekend in Northern California. Kathy and Pete were married on Saturday afternoon under perfect blue skies at Trentadue Winery -- grape vines planted in neat rows as far as the eye could see, with a backdrop of rolling hills and several huge hawks (OK, they were probably turkey vultures, but still pretty cool) wheeling in the air overhead. Amazing! Note to self: when planning a "destination wedding," pick a great destination.

Celia, Tom, Tracy and I stayed in Healdsburg, a sleepy little town with a rather upscale population -- plenty of Land Rovers and shiny antique convertibles parked in the old-timey town square. We spent an afternoon strolling around, and stopped in for a wine tasting at the Kendall-Jackson tasting room. A very nice man named Elliot, who was quite suave despite his gold jewelry, hairpiece, and Hawaiian shirt with big wine bottles all over it, poured us sips of their "Grand Reserve" wines, which are produced on a much smaller scale than their "white label" wines, which are very good too -- that is, they make 13 million cases of their best-selling chardonnay (that's 156,000,000 bottles!), but only 2500 cases of the Reserve. Elliott instructed us to "swish, breathe, and swallow" the wine in three separate sips, and it really makes a difference...and hey, after a few generous tastes we were all relaxes and buttered up, and we each bought a bottle to take home (mine is Syrah), yum yum.

We had excellent travel luck from the get-go -- Celia and Tom and I were on a fairly empty and seriously cheap America West flight together, and then at the Hertz couner we were upgraded from the basic Taurus to the cushy Buick Rendezvous SUV, woohoo! Despite the $2.33/gallon price of gas in CA these days, the car totally grew on us: not too big, not too small, deluxe appointments, smooth pillowy ride...and hey, it only cost $33 to fill the tank 3/4 full at the end of the trip! The drive from SF up to Sonoma County is beautiful, right over the Golden Gate Bridge -- and we enjoyed it even more after stoppin to stuff ourselves at Mel's Drive-In, and walk around Fillmore a little on the way. On Friday night we had a "Twilight Zone"-esque trip to the DoubleTree Hotel in Rohnert Park, aka Santa Rosa, aka the Town With The Disappearing Exit from Route 101. Suffice it to say, we recommend most hotels to try adding lights to their parking lots, and perhaps some signage on the front door, to indicate that they are, in fact, hotels...it helps a lot. We enjoyed a little dessert with the other out-of-towners, despite the surly catering staff. A much better get-together was had the day after the nuptials, at Creekside in the Redwoods, a retreat up in the hills featuring a perfectly placed hammock and a rather tepid hot tub, which the bridesmaids had rented for the weekend.

We rounded out the trip with a few drinks at Zeitgeist, a hipster/biker (as in bike messenger) bar in the Mission District back in SF with Celia's old friend Steve, and then a gloriously authentic taqueria dinner up the street at Puerto Alegre, yum yum yum, sopes and tacos and margaritas, oh my. By the time we got on the return flight and settled in to watch the awful in-flight movie, "Against The Ropes" (which I was able to fully comprehend without listening to the dialogue, and renamed "Erin Box-ovitch" after observing Meg Ryan's ridiculous wardrobe), I was already planning my next trip out there...sigh, you know how the song goes.
Back from Sonoma and a fine weekend among the vines...and I've discovered the comprehensively updated Blogger upon my return. What better reason to give the Index a little spring makeover? Not to mention spring cleaning the Link List, it needs it. Now if only I can get the Comments to turn on...


I am off to Geyserville, CA this weekend for the wedding of Kathy "KT" Thielke, fellow Northeastern Law-yer, and Pete Chen -- full report on wedding and wine tastings on Tuesday! :)
"Tyrants censor; democracies self-censor." -- A scathing critique of the growing Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal from the Washington Post. Has America become its own worst enemy? Perhaps. Let's ask some of our popular neocon commentators, like Rush Limbaugh, who says the abuse was just soldiers "blowing off steam" or soldier "babes" meting out a little torture, "just like anything you'd see Madonna, or Britney Spears do on stage." Dear god.

A bracing chaser for this awful news is a surprisingly forthright criticism of the Bush "Administration" by none other than George Will -- when it gets to the point where George Will writes stuff like this, you know it's getting bad: "This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think, and, having thought, to have second thoughts . . . Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice." I'll go one better and posit that there is in fact no thinking of any kind going on at the White House. Dear god, again.
"Cornered, Mr. Kerry conceded the point. "I am tall," he said." -- John Kerry grilled by kindergarteners, film at 11.
NYC Hipster Gardening -- wait, let me rephrase: Painfully Hip NYC Alterna-Gardeners. There.
The secret recipe of CDV -- another food blog alert, my new favorite way to while away some time online, reading other people's dad's recipes for salad dressing (written up very wittily, of course). "Chocolate & Zucchini" is a lovely blog by Clothilde, Parisian food lover and former Sili Valley Girl who seems to have it all: access to incredible French treats, a delightful sense of humor, kitchen skillz, and a motorcycle-riding French boyfriend. Non, rien rien...non, je ne regrette rien...

Interestingly, Clothilde and I share a phenomenon she calls the "Last Bite Axiom" -- saving the tastiest morsel in a dish for the very last bite. Since I was little, I've been a very compartmentalized eater, and prone to fixating on things -- I still usually eat all of one item on my plate, then all of the next, etc. (i.e. all the peas, then all the chicken, then all the potatoes). Even if I'm eating something altogether delicious (say, an ice cream sundae), I still instinctively prioritize so that the tastiest bit (the cherry on top) is saved as a "reward" for having slogged though the lesser material -- whether that material is ice cream and whipped cream, or liver and kidney beans (my least favorite childhood meal, served with rice, which was the understandable reward). I came up with a much less charitable description for this behavior: The Bourgeois Postponement of Pleasure. Despite the abundance and relative deliciousness of all the food I had to eat, it still made me feel good to "reward" myself at the end of the "task" of eating, and putting off that "reward" as long as possible assuages the subconscious guilt of having plenty and not having to work hard to get it. In other words, the bourgeoisie is marked by a tendency to create the illusion of effort and reward where there really is neither, just comfort and abundance for the asking. Hmm, clearly the hedonism of my French forebears is being eclipsed by the dour impulse of self-denial handed down by their Slavic counterparts...maybe I need to go visit Clothilde in France! :P
Toot toot toot -- that's me on my own horn, folks. I got some great news today: my course proposal to the Experimental College at Tufts was accepted, so starting in September I'll be teaching a few undergraduates all about intellectual property. Uh, or all I know about it, anyway. Yay!


The Hall of Technical Documentation Weirdness -- I think I might have posted this before (hmm, someday I'll install that search function...) but who cares, it's still cool.
Huzzah for Bryson! -- One of my favorite writers, Bill Bryson, has been shortlisted for a non-fiction writing prize for A Short History of Nearly Everything, which if you haven't looked at you should. The title really says it all...
"Maybe I gave my mini fridge a bit too much power over my lifestyle in the five years I lived with it." -- A love-hate relationship with a tiny refrigerator is a classic New York story...apparently. This one goes out to Miss Paris, who is off to Lancaster County, PA with a gleaming mini-fridge of her own!


MINDS ON MAXIMUM WARP -- Clark Humphrey posted this rumination on how living in Bush America is sort of like living in a bad sci-fi novel...ah, that explains it:

"Sometimes, our present-day life in occupied America seems like a bad science fiction novel.
By "bad science fiction novel," I don't mean a brisk, high-energy pulp adventure story of 1950s vintage.

I mean a ponderous, relentlessly grim-n'-geeky, multi-volume saga of 1980s vintage.

You know, those thousand-page trilogies that tried to shoehorn in all possible fan-favorite elements in the same story—"hard" science, magic, sword and sorcery, palace infighting. monsters, and a sniggering teen-nerd sexuality; all delivered in an ultra-humorless tone, with extraneous sublots and sub-subplots dangling every which where, distracting readers away from the lack of a compelling main narrative.

Sci-fi trilogies of the pre-cyberpunk years often depict scary, foreboding worlds. Similarly, the geeks running today's conservative establishment posit a vision of a scary, foreboding America, eternally besieged within an even scarier, more foreboding world.

Trilogies are full of near-incomprehensible jargon, catch words, acronyms, and bureaucratic geekspeak phrases that often conceal more than they reveal. So does today's U.S. federal government, with its straight-faced doubletalk about "weapons of mass destruction related program activities" and such.

Trilogies depict freakishly misunderstood stereotypes of human behavior and interaction, and demand the reader accept them as just the way things are in this fictional universe, with no questioning allowed. So do the likes of Karl Rove, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, et al., who, with their incessant screeching and posturing, insist that we can make the rest of the world adore us by shoving them around, that we can defend "freedom" by destroying it, and that anybody who disagrees with this is a terrorist.

Grim sci-fi, just as much as the less pretentious pulp sci-fi, wallows in physical impossibilities portrayed as hard science. Exploding spaceships might not make noises in trilogy novels (as they wouldn't in real life); but the writers do play havoc with accepted real-life laws of mass, energy, and matter; often coming up with convoluted pseudo-explanatory excuses for doing so. Likewise, the right wing's yarn-spinners insist to us, with no hint of irony permitted, that monopolies are good for competition, imperial invasions are good for democracy, pollution is good for the environment, conservative-only talk TV is "fair and balanced," bigotry is Christlike, and the best way to persuade others toward your point of view is to insult and belittle them.

And most importantly, grim SF offers up a skewed definition of heroism and/or antiheroism. Grim-SF protagonists don't have to be noble, inspiring, or all that heroic. They're the good guys because the writers say they are; they can do evil things and it's still OK. And in our century, we've got a ruthless gang of powermongers who regularly whore themselves out to big campaign contributors, who put the greed of the few ahead of the need of the many, who deliberately consign the domestic economy and the global environment to the figurative toilet, and who still, with total sincerity, believe themselves to be the noblest, most righteous figures on our planet.

Oh yeah—grim SF "trilogies" don't always top out at three volumes. They can go on for seemingly ever, spreading their joyless aesthetic of bitter struggle, until people stop buying them.

Let's hope people stop buying the fictions of our federal storytellers soon."

Local Music Alert -- get ready for the Lowell Summer Music Series! As many of you know, Lowell is teeming with arts and music (not to mention baseball) in the summer, and this concert series is fun, inexpensive and held in historic Boardinghouse Park. This year is one of the best lineups I've seen, including Christine Lavin, Livingston Taylor, John Gorka & Cheryl Wheeler, and not only a Beatles Tribute night, but also our perennial favorites, ABBAMania (self-explanatory) and Stayin' Alive (BeeGees tribute band)! Woohoo!
Bad SCRABBLE hands -- or, more accurately, bad racks. I seem to often get 6 consonants and a vowel, or 6 vowels and a consonant, sigh. I'm no Kevin "Tornado" Evans, that's for sure. (via kottke.org)
Qantas never crashed . . . but they do have live frogs in the salad -- today's "Waiter, there's a _______ in my food!" story, enjoy. For more on the New Zealand whistling tree frog, here's a nice photo, and some species info. Oh and of course, feel free to buy a CD of Australian frog calls -- in case one turns up in your salad, you can lure it forth.


Choose Your Guru -- or, let the amusingly snarky Slate Guide to Gurus choose for you. Ooo ooo ooo. Hey, who didn't know that Oprah is god?
"Museums On Us" is here again -- if you, like me, hold a bank card from Fleet or Bank of America, you get free admission to a number of great museums in the northeast this month. I'm going to make time (finally!) to go see the Gaugins at the MFA, and also check out the newly renovated Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. And it's never a bad time to visit MassMoCA, though it's a long, long drive...
Han Solo frozen in carbonite...and LEGO -- this man, Nathan Sawaya, is clearly the LEGO god. Not only is he a LEGOLand Master Builder, he made a Monopoly box out of LEGO's, which to me seems like insanity itself. You might say he's a few bricks shy...oh, never mind.
Office Supply Lust Alert -- animal-shaped rubber bands...how do they do it?!
"The Story of Ohhh!" -- I don't know about "the basis of monogamy," but orgasms are pretty cool nonetheless.