May you be Touched By His Noodly Appendage in the new year! -- Heading into the tail end of the holiday vortex, looking to shake off the bad vibes of '05 and start 2006 off right, it's going to be a wild ride....
End of the year Roadside Sightings:

1. At the Mobil station on I-95 in Lexington, the following items: on top of the garbage can next to the gas pump, an empty gift pack of 4 Fruit of the Loom men's boxer briefs, in black; on a short white man heading back to his tow truck after getting coffee, a grey longsleeve t-shirt with "SNITCHES ARE A DYING BREED" across the back and "SUPPORT BOSTON" on the front; on top of the gas pump, a large, unwrapped, unlit scented candle.

2. Pulling off the Rt. 3 ramp into Bedford, a black Lexus comes up very fast behind me. As the guy swerves around to race past me to the red light, of course, I see he is holding a cup of coffee in his left hand and his cellphone to his ear with his right. Presumably his car is K.I.T.T.
Owen & Mzee Update! -- My favorite story of 2005 continues happily, with an orphaned hippo and a 130-year-old tortoise still inseparable. :-)


"It's the idea that it takes a big fancy smart thing to make a lesser thing." -- That idea would be creationism, folks, and Dan Dennett, himself a big fancy smart thing, once again demolishes its foundations, this time in Der Spiegel. For example: " The critics of Darwinism just don't want to confront the fact that molecules, enzymes and proteins lead to thought. Yes, we have a soul, but it's made up of lots of tiny robots." Zing!


"New Jersey: Come See For Yourself" -- What better slogan for my home state than one with a touch of stubborn admonishment about it? You don't believe we have the best beaches on the East Coast, as well as a fine array of shopping malls and celebrity birthplaces? Well, see for yourself then, nyah. NJ is searching for an update to the old state slogan, "New Jersey And You: Perfect Together," a hard act to follow. There are 4 other finalists, vote early and often!

The National Geographic Best Wildlife Photo of 2005 -- "Sky Chase" by Manuel Presti, of starlings chased by a peregrine falcon over Rome.
Tsunami Girls -- poignant BBC news photo essay on three sisters who survived the tsunami in Sri Lanka.
"Happy Christmases are all alike; every unhappy Christmas is unhappy in its own way." -- So says Ann Patchett, one of my favorite writers, by way of Tolstoy, and I tend to agree. This Salon piece is a reminiscence of Christmases past with her lightly dysfunctional, blended family, including a whole fleet of field mice and a suitcase full of underwear. (Salon is a subscription service -- view the ad to read the entire article.)
95% of Boston high schoolers want to go to college -- that's the good news. In the same survey, 90% said they witnessed acts of violence; 50% are afraid of gangs, feel unsafe on public transit, or know someone with a gun. Predictably, the mayor is shocked by these results, and has appointed a new policy point person on youth issues, blah blah blah. I feel like calling Lawrence Fishburne in here to reenact the last scene from School Daze: "WAAAAAKE UUUUUUP!!" Do we have to wait until all 100% of the kids is personally assaulted before we do something effective, like an anti-violence curriculum, funding community policing, afterschool programs and jobs for kids? Oh right, whoops, we're talking about the Boston public schools here.
Sick of Christmas yet? -- For those of you recovering from the holiday weekend without an ounce of cheer left, how about a Festivus celebration instead? One guy in Erie, PA is taking the Gospel of Frank Costanza to heart, complete with feats of strength, airing of grievances, and a Festivus Pole. Me, I'll be happy to offload all the leftover Christmas sweets onto my coworkers...the spirit of sharing!


Bombs to the Bomb -- Rotten Tomatoes, my movie site of choice, has a "worst to first" movies of '05 feature, a roundup of the lowest scoring movies of the year (Elektra, anyone?) to counteract all those Top Ten lists. Speaking of which, here's Roger Ebert's -- did he see any movies he didn't like this year?


"So as I cut up another credit card over the kitchen garbage can, the mantra is: 'What am I worth? And to whom?'" -- Feel the wage rage, ladies! As the new book Getting Even: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men - And What They Can Do About It points out, women still earn less money than men in the same jobs, to the tune of 77 cents on the dollar. Gee, when I was a kid back in the 70's women only earned 59 cents, what an improvement! This seemingly paltry difference adds up to $700K to $2 million (for a law grad like me) over a working lifetime, though. Paging corporate HR, this is your wakeup call.


That's right, kitties in snowsuits -- play to your heart's content, thanks to Chaos Kitty.
52 Weeks, 52 Questions -- how much do you remember of 2005? The BBC version, anyway.
Name Etymology Haiku Meme -- What do those four word have to do with one another, you ask? I poached this idea from Jon: look up the meaning of each of your names, and construct a haiku that incorporates them all. I like this idea, but coincidentally all three of my names have contested etymologies. Emily comes from the Latin surname Aemilius, meaning "rival," but it's often conflated with Amalia/Amelia, from the German for "industrious." Katherine is all over the place: Greek words for "torture," "purity," "consecration," or the phrase "each of the two" are all possible, as is the goddess Hecate (three-headed mistress of hounds from the underworld, of course). And as for Durand, it's back to Latin: from the root duro, to abide or bear, to make strong. Thus:

Race me to Hades
I'll get there first, stay a while
I can stand the heat
Lamb shank or poussin? -- Praise Allah, I am lucky enough to be going to Blue Ginger, my gastronomic Valhalla, for the first time this week! It's Nat's parents' 40th wedding anniversary next Tuesday, and I will be selling my plasma to raise the necessary dough. Well, not really. But here's the crucial question -- what to order, at these prices, for a memorable experience? I'm sure everything is beautifully prepared, and I'm generally a good orderer, but I don't want to get stuck in some tea-smoked, mole-aoili corner for the night. Hmmmm...off to Chowhounds!

UPDATE: I had the poussin, and it was sublime -- though nearly outshined by Nat's scallops and the awesome warm ginger donut holes, mmmmm. The place is small and friendly, and the food is expertly prepared, though it doesn't show off. Expensive, yes, but not exhorbitant, for what you get in flavor. As Dee said, here's to arthropods in pepper sauce...
Tis the season for more Roadside Sightings:

1. Hard by the side of Columbia Road, next to the JFK T stop, there's a little niche to pull over and drop off passengers. Several signs indicate "LIVE PARKING ONLY." In a town with a zillion "No Stopping" signs, I guess they needed a way to subtly delineate that it's OK to sit in your parked car here...though not if you're dead.

2. Northbound on 95/128 this morning, a silver pickup truck with the following bumper sticker: "FISH ON!"

3. In the Bedford Whole Foods spice aisle, a mom is shopping with her loquacious 3ish year old son in the cart. As I peruse the sea salt selections, the kid is yammering away to himself in an "outdoor voice." Mom says, "Lower your voice, please. Now what does it say on our list that we need?" The kid says, "It says we need poo poo!" "No it doesn't," Mom says firmly. "Yes it does," he chortles, "we definitely need POO POO! Ah ha ha ha hahhahaaaaa!" He laughs and kicks his snow boots against the cart. I am standing right there and doing my best not to laugh or give the kid a hairy eyeball. The mom says, "That's enough!" and this is where it gets good: the boy replies, "Mommy, we should just move on!" She laughs and agrees, "Yes David [name changed to protect the mouth of babe], we need to just move on!" And off they go.


More entries in the Holiday Ticket Stub rush!

* Syriana -- Despite its strong similarities to Traffic (same production team), this densely packed fauxcumentary of the global oil-terrorism complex still packs a serious wallop. Cutting briskly between four plotlines, the film traces the consequences of poverty, political will, and unchecked corporate greed in the final years of the oil economy. The four main characters are well drawn and united in being dwarfed by these larger forces -- particularly Mazhar Munir as a young Pakistani worker in the mideast oil fields who is shunted into a fundamentalist madrassa after losing his job thanks to a shady corporate merger. At every turn, idealism and the hope of reform are thwarted by a multilayered smog of corruption. By the last frame, you'll want to ditch your car by the side of the road and/or move to the moon. Points off for laughably minor female roles, and a brutal sequence of poor pudgy George Clooney being horribly tortured and beaten. Still, it's worth seeing: what does it say about our country that the most serious foreign policy analysts may be in Hollywood these days? Reminds me of Tom Morello saying that he learned more about US intervention in Central America from The Clash's Sandinista than by watching the evening news. Word. (A-)

* RENT -- A holdover from Thanksgiving, finally went to see it for Ladies Movie Night. In a word, meh. I was fanatical about the Broadway show way back a decade ago...but like so many things from the 90's, including me, the concept hasn't aged perfectly. RENT the show was a rough-edged masterpiece, a florid rock opera in a cynical post-Phantom of the Opera world, drenched in AIDS sorrow and youthful verve in equal measure. The songs hold up very well onscreen -- the walls of the movie theater literally reverberated -- but then, how could they not? They are the essence of and the best thing about the show -- plenty of RENTheads have only experienced it through the cast album! The acting runs from decent right down to flat, unfortunately, with Jesse L. Martin (of course) and Rosario Dawson at the top, probably due to their experience off the boards. Taye Diggs manages to come off waxen, though he plays the dull yuppie heel, and his live wire (real-life) wife, Idina Menzel, is nothing short of grating, a theater geek gone mad in front of a camera lens. They all have great pipes, but chugging through lyrics like "In the evening I must roam, Can't sleep in the city of neon and chrome" just doesn't work as well in the "real world" of the movie. And therein I shall place my blame -- director Chris Columbus, already renowned for his ability to suck the life out of beloved artworks, badly misjudges the material here, playing up the background settings (including some truly ludicrous location work) more than the songs. RENT could be staged in a cardboard box and be powerful. Here it seems...trivial, despite being at least 30 minutes too long! Even as a nostalgia trip back to a more innocent version of New York, it doesn't quite hit the mark. (C)
"If your Christmas tree is upside down, you do too much yoga." -- Find out what your choice of Xmas decor says about you. At our house we've had our low-key tree in the window for over a week, but now it's competing with the icicle lights, wire-frame reindeer, and red and green conical tree-shaped disco rope light thingy our neighbors crammed into the front garden over the weekend. Ho ho ho!
Lyra v. Lucy -- Philip Pullman, author of the IMO best children's fantasy series not being made into a movie this year, says Narnia is sexist, racist, and stuffed with Christian propaganda. I'm sure that's what the fundies are hoping, but it doesn't seem quite right...though I still like Pullman's work better.


We had the first true snowstorm of the season (though certainly not the calendar year) on Friday -- luckily I stayed home from work to enjoy the scenery...and the power outage, and the shoveling, and the howling winds, thunder and lightning. Old Man Winter, nice to see ya!
The War on Christmas begins! -- Mr. Sun is on the front lines in "The Taking of Frosty"! After braving the Christmas Tree Shop in Somerville for the second time this weekend, I'm starting to think war might not be such a bad idea after all...
"...and they lived happily ever after." -- From Jane Austen to Nick Hornby, what makes the last line of a novel so memorable? Is it more satisfying to wrap up the plot definitively, or to leave a lingering doubt in the reader's mind? I tend to favor the former, but then again probably the most amazing last line I ever read was "There is no resolution." Gahhh!
Meet Michelle Bachelet -- are you aware that this socialist, divorced, single mom is poised to become Chile's first woman president?
"Sexual relationships often lower the self-respect of both partners—one feeling used, the other feeling like the user." -- A direct quote from the pro-abstinence teaching materials provided to your local high school by the Bush Administration. Don't miss the Freudfest about the "dragon" and the "noose" either.


It's never not a good time for some Roadside Sightings, right?

* On a sandwich board outside a nondescript industrial building in Burlington: "KARATE FENCING." Presumably two separate events, but you never know.

* I bought a baked potato from a Wendy's drive through. The following things were stuffed in the bag alongside: napkin, plastic fork (but no knife), receipt, mini tub of Wendy's brand Buttery Best Spread ("0 Grams Trans Fat!"), strange beignet-shaped package of Wendy's brand Reduced Fat Acidified Sour Cream which had so many ingredients the list took up nearly the entire package. Mmmmm!

* Sprinting across a side street near my house late last night: a little brown bunny. Hope he has somewhere warm to wait for the snow tonight...

UPDATE: The latest, greatest bumber sticker sighting! An unremarkable tan Corrolla displayed an AAA seal, a Marines seal, and a purple "I AM JANE EYRE" sticker. Um, OK.


Do you suppose Glinda's sister, the elusive Locasta, Good Witch of the North, is in there? -- This amazing blue bubble is actually a Zubble, and they'll be available in stores next spring. Oh, I am so there.
Time to kick off the Holiday Ticket Stub season!

* Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire -- Director Mike Newell has done the impossible here: made a good movie out of J.K. Rowling's most overstuffed wizarding adventure. After skillfully stripping out the 5 or 6 least interesting subplots, Newell leaves us with an action-packed flick that zooms from adolescent angst to machinations of pure evil and back, with only a few bumpy patches along the way. He manages to convey a lot of atmosphere in short bursts, with compressed set pieces like the Quidditch World Cup and the Yule Ball making the most of vivid fx and snappy dialogue by the core trio of Harry, Ron & Hermione. The kids seem refreshed and re-engaged in their roles on the fourth go-round, a nice trend. The supporting adults are delightful, as usual, with Brendan Gleeson's hard-bitten crackpot, Mad-Eye Moody, providing some needed comic relief. The plot spirals downward in the third act as the supposed focus of the school year, the TriWizard Tournament, is shown to be just a ruse for Harry to be delivered to his nemesis, Lord Voldemort, embodied with lithe menace by a creepily disguised Ralph Fiennes. My heart was actually pounding during the climactic scene: the sense of epic evil whisking away the illusive comforts of childhood is the real turning point of Harry's saga, and his fans will look forward to the next few chapters with dread as well as anticipation, just like him. (B+)

* Walk The Line -- Oscar bait this may be, but if Joaquin Phoenix makes his way to the podium this winter the trip will be well-deserved. A standard, though not dully formulaic, biopic of Johnny Cash and his great love, June Carter, the film blends knockout musical performances with impassioned characterization by Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, who will never have to do a twerpy romantic comedy again. Phoenix inhabits Cash almost deferentially, never pushing the drawling voice or rueful face into caricature, and smoldering through the songs in a way that showcases Cash's beguiling (and sometimes highly calculated) simplicity. This understatement is what sets this movie apart from Ray, which I found a little overcooked, though the stories are oddly similar (check out Nat's comparison chart!). Witherspoon crackles as June, the seasoned performer and grounded realist who prods and waits for Cash to right himself before giving herself over. The pacing is a little saggy, and the "road to redemption" plot is clearly marked from the outset, but the performances draw you in. Watching Phoenix deliver tender lines about the beloved older brother who died young and tragically, whose memory haunts and drives Cash, was riveting -- I'm surprised more critics haven't picked up on that aspect. Whatever his motivation, Phoenix sells the legend of Johnny Cash as a man with convincing feet of clay. Extra points for Shooter Jennings' bit part portrayal of his own daddy, Waylon! (A)
Just to emphasize how out of it I've been all November, I just now discovered that Rob from Cockeyed.com made another award-winning mega-Halloween costume this year -- he was a giant vampire paper bag puppet, a la those Fandango.com ads. Genius!
"Oridnary, comforting, and more than a little predictable, you're the glue that holds everyone together." -- That's me, folks, I am mashed potatoes. Find out What Part Of Thanksgiving Are You? in time for the feast this week.
"When was the last time you met anyone who was ashamed because they didn't know something?" -- Very timely opinion piece on our "whatever" culture, where young people not only don't know things they probably should, but don't care too much about it either. Are the Internet and the global economy responsible, or just plain old devolution and laziness? Interesting note, the undergrads I teach had no idea what...wait for it...a FotoMat was! But that's just because most of them were born in 1985, not that FotoMat was some sort of cultural touchstone. Yes, that's right, I said 1985. I am teaching college students who were born when I was in fifth grade! Deep breath...remain calm...
"Only in the richest country on earth could regular guys spend tens of thousands of dollars building a pumpkin gun. " -- So, so true. The Economist muses over the Millsboro, DE annual tradition of Punkin Chunkin, that is, building large apparati to hurl pumpkins as fas as possible. Sweet!
Tap Tap Tap....Is This Thing On? -- Dear TAI readers, thanks for tuning in during our recent hiatus, brought on by a convergence of technical difficulties and, uh, labor relations issues. But enough about that, on with the show -- who couldn't use a good celebrity boast to kick off Monday morning? Bono is always good for that.


Hospital by Swedish artist Camilla Engman -- any day is a good day for a tiara, but especially Friday. Check out her other works, including crocheted friends.
A midweek Ticket Stub:

* Shopgirl -- Claire Danes, thy name is woman. This moody little film exposes her, literally and figuratively, as a marvel of expressiveness with more than just adolescent appeal. She plays Mirabelle, the titular sales associate, as equal parts dewy and wary, a cautiously blooming thing. She's lost in the alien universe of L.A., until she meets two men, both disastrously unsuited for her...or are they? First is Jason Schwartzman as Jeremy, a grubby goofball slacker she reluctantly booty calls. Then there's Steve Martin (I won't pretend he's playing a character here since he a) wrote the book the movie's based on and b) provides the voiceover narration, big mistake), a wealthy middle-aged loner who charms her a bit and treats her to the good life, no strings attached. But Mirabelle, like most women, would like to be strung, and as she works out her conflicted desires we see her grow and change in the most subtle ways. Danes manages to age a little from the first frame to the last, especially compared to the men around her who are still trying to grow up. I predict an Oscar tussle between Claire and Gwyneth (who in another life could have had this role) this year. Points off for the overheated score and some clunky establishing shots (The Space Needle...could we be in...Seattle??). But the clothes are great, an appropriately Hepburnish touch. (B+)
How to Make a Doormat Out of River Rocks -- this is very cool. Unfortunately I need a doormat inside the house for the winter, but I'll keep it in mind.
The Namesake himself suggested this cautionary tale, TAI readers -- beware the "anonymous" sperm donation in this age of genetic testing, inquisitive teenagers, and that damn internet. A boy in the UK tracked down his biological father using a DNA-genealogy website that, frankly, looks like something out of a movie set in the not too distant future, except it's for real.
''Do well by doing good" -- what a concept! My alma mater has received a $100million gift from two alumni, Pierre and Pam Omidyar, and why is this so exciting? It's not just going into the endowment -- half of this fund will be invested in microfinancing in the developing world. This makes me want to buy a bunch of junk from eBay, woohoo!


It's a brilliant fall day outside, a much nicer start to November than our weekend snowfall. Just want to commemorate it before the long grey days begin...viva el dia de los muertos!
"I'll have a Grande MochaAAAAAAGGHH!" -- Yesterday at Ritual Roasters indie coffeehouse in San Francisco, the baristas dressed up like zombies. That is to say, they donned bright green Starbucks aprons! Heh. And while we're on zombies, last night Nat & I watched Shaun of the Dead for the first time -- I shamefully admit I passed it over last year thinking, "Meh, how good could it be?" Oh how wrong I was. "The Batman soundtrack?" "Throw it." Hee hee!
"He might be a conservative, but at least he is a judge." -- Touche, Harriet! Opinions on the new SCOTUS nominee Samuel Alito are pouring in on both sides, uh, of the Atlantic, that is. This BBC forum has more than a few comments of the "why should I care, I'm British" variety ("Because we're fighting the Americans' war" is a popular response), and over at Slate, NPR, and of course the Fox News Channel there's a wide variety of American rhetoric on display. My favorite: "I don't trust this president anymore. I voted for him, I admit it. I was one of the many who was tricked into thinking he would bring respect and accountability back to the White House. He has done the exact opposite. I can't support any decision he makes. . .Alito would be another pawn in Bush's pocket." — Jenna (?!!)
"The Overpraised American" -- If the 70's were the Me Decade, then we're now living in the Me First, with American narcissism and neurosis reaching new heights. This article picks apart the current trends of outsourced, overindulged family life, where kids learn "to approach institutions such as schools and the workplace with a healthy sense of entitlement."

There's certainly plenty of evidence of this all around us, but by contrast every kid who came to our door last night trick-or-treating said "Happy Halloween!" and "thank you!" very sincerely when we doled out the candy. Arlington: an oasis of etiquette in a world gone mad? Or was it just the candy talking...?


The Wicked Sandwiches of the East -- Kottke waxes on about his all-time favorite sandwiches, and for some reason this put me in the mood to do the same. Maybe because Nat has a list? I don't want to be left out of this internets craze!

1. Roast turkey w/mayo, S&P on a Portuguese roll, Liberty Food Market, corner of Grier & Bayway, Elizabeth NJ -- The manna of childhood, special treat for class trips and family vacations, served on Saturday afternoons by my dad with potato chips (he ate them in the sandwich). Thinly sliced Boar's Head meat, black with pepper, rich with mayo, on a perfect chewy roll that broke apart as you ate it, the crisp outer crust showering you with crumbs.

2. Extra lean Pastrami on light rye w/pickles & mustard, Katz's Deli, East Houston St. NYC -- The original, the ultimate in deli goodness. Sit in the scuffed dining room, order an egg cream and some matzoh ball soup, and prepare to wallow in humble perfection: moist slabs of rosy meat, touched with a dab of mustard, barely contained by slices of light, chewy bread. Begin with a fork, then use both hands, and pick up the last succulent tidbits with a fingertip. L'chaim!

3. Chicken salad sub, London Market, corner of Sacramento & Divisadero, San Francisco CA -- I worked at an academic summer program down the street during my college summer breaks, and I was too broke to buy lunch more than once a week. On Fridays, I'd walk to this standard corner store, distinguished by a great candy and potato chip selection, something to do with its vaguely British theme. A generous scoop of chicken, celery, craisins, and dill, for $5 it was big enough to take half home for dinner.

4. Cream cheese and strawberry jelly on Home Pride Buttertop Wheat bread -- My lunchbox sandwich of choice circa 1982. Somehow it was more like eating a danish than a PB&J. Accompanied by a box of raisins, an apple, and a half-pint of chocolate milk.


Angel From Montgomery -- Rosa Parks has passed on at age 92. Is there another person you can think of whose one small, unpremeditated act created so much social change? What small thing can you do today to fight some injustice, large or small? Open your mouth, your schedule, or your wallet -- or learn how to keep America from sliding back into the segregated past.
"Blue Umbrella" -- A very appropriate poem for today, by Gail Mazur.
Pick the woman’s worst feature and then make it appear desirable. Tell an older woman that she looks young. Tell an ugly woman that she looks ‘fascinating.” -- There you have it, dating advice from the year 2 B.C.E. This article reviews 2 millenia of sex advice, some vague and silly, some ridiculously specific and involving dried snails. Oh, l'amour!
It's never too late for a little Theater Stub:

* Theater District -- On Thurday night, Miss Kim and I kicked off our third year of SpeakEasy subscriberhood with this short, sweet play about teen angst in an alterna-yuppie Manhattan family. Wesley, a perceptive 16year-old, splits his time between his divorced parents' households: weekdays with Dad and his partner, George, weekends with Mom and new hubby. He's ignored by his high-powered parents (a lawyer and a book editor) but respected and loved by their spouses (restauranteur and eye doctor), and he's muddling through it all when his best friend comes out at their prep school assembly. Much reflection ensues, along with flashbacks to the good old days for the adults (including the master of comic relief, Neil Casey). Creative staging, strong dialogue, and knockout performances by Bill Brochtrup as the wry, thoughtful George, and Edward Tournier as Wesley, who seems like a real live teenage boy, make the show shine despite its brevity. As the last lines note, a lot can happen in a day -- that's what days are for. (A-)

* The Kvetching Continues -- The Theater Offensive lives up to its mission once again! Back to the South End we go, on Saturday, for the one-woman comedy cabaret stylings of Jackie Hoffman, thankless starlette of Broadway's "Hairspray." Decked out in a gold cocktail dress, leaning against a baby grand, Hoffman lets loose a tirade of, well, kvetching, in word and song, on everything from bratty children to kissy-kissy couples to Jewish mothers to (shudder) Rosie O'Donnell. And of course, her "Three Minutes on Broadway" (this lead-off song in her ersatz lineup), which come after hours of trying to flush the slow backstage toilet. Scathing, biting, grating -- and hilarious. (B+)


Can't...break free...of...the cuteness! -- Hey, it's Friday, and doesn't everybody feel like this? Or alternatively, wouldn't you like a hug from this little dude (or his plush equivalent)? I could not resist Tai Shan, panda cub at the National Zoo, for today's ? du Jour.
"What makes the candy dish nutritionally dangerous might bring the fruit bowl back in vogue." -- Just in time for Halloween, the "candy psychologists" at Cornell have proof that the desktop candy jar is bad news for your diet. Better a desktop candy lead-lined oak chest. Or even the classic plastic pumpkin, perhaps?
Top 100 Toys of the 70's and 80's -- I have a feeling I've posted this before, or maybe I'm just excited to see some of my old favorites...Mastermind! Yes!
"Has American culture begun to mimic the chronic nostalgia of a certain strain of post-imperial Englishness?" -- That is a good question, and somehow I missed it in last Sunday's Globe Ideas section. Do we Yanks love Tolkien for his longing for a way of life slipping inexorably away, like the golden 50's or even the 80's, or just low gas prices? Hmmm.
"It's very streety, as streety as I can make it" -- and for Mr. Burt Bacharach, that's saying a lot. The man behind "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," which I listened to on a 45 back in the 70's, has a new album of topical songs, protesting the Iraq war, woah! It also involves Rufus Wainwright (OK), Elvis Costello (right), and Dr. Dre (buhh?).


"Wild salmon are the canaries in the coal mines of our own world." -- Just try to wrap your mind around this statement. OK, it's a mixed metaphor, and the president of the Atlantic Salmon Foundation is trying to say that salmon are the canaries of the sea...or something. But aren't "the coal mines of our own world," well, coal mines, with canaries in them, not salmon in cages? Whew. This paradoxical phrase appeared on the side of my coffee cup at the Arlington Starbucks last night, where I witnessed a wide array of troubling social phenomena:

1. The store was crowded with patrons, including a weekly knitting circle who were using all but 8 of the chairs and all but 4 of the tables in the store. The 8 remaining chairs were all occupied. This meant that everyone in line was going to have to stand around, or leave. The knitters (about 10 women of various ages and one son, around 10 years old, also knitting) were chatting and knitting away, and obviously NOT DRINKING COFFEE since their hands were occupied and they don't want to spill coffee on their yarn, now do they? They stay from 7pm until closing. The angelic barista actually went and brought out some extra chairs from the back for us.

2. While I was waiting in line, a woman approached and sort of cut in front of the guy ahead of me, trying to get the attention of the barista behind the counter. The barista was very busy pouring drinks while the only other employee worked the register. The woman piped, "Hi, um, I'm still waiting on a hot chocolate?" and the barista kindly replied, "OK, just a minute." Then the woman waits until the barista has turned around, finishing her drink order, and says, "Um, hi, do you have a microwave back there?" I see that the woman is carrying a plastic tray with what look like knishes inside, like from the supermarket deli. The barista very kindly takes the tray and heats up the food, which they DO NOT SELL at Starbucks, so the woman can feed it to her two little girls. In the Starbucks. The woman meanwhile cuts behind me in the line to reach OVER the cash register and grab a plastic fork: "Um, can I have a fork?" She was petite, with a bandana around her hair, a fleece and jeans. Her two daughters, maybe 9 and 6, were dressed in nearly identical pink tracksuits and raincoats, pulling those rolling school backpacks. They both refused to eat and the woman cut up the knishes and FED THEM to the younger girl, while chatting with her woman friend in an unidentifiable language, possibly Spanish but maybe Hebrew. Cultural differences, or just...WTF?

3. A 30-something guy in the line, slightly shifty, started dancing around to the Starbucks soundtrack music. He was standing there normally, then would suddenly rock out for a few bars, then stand still again. OK, whatever. Then while he's waiting for his coffee, he pulls out a pharmacy bag and begins poring over the many, many pill bottles inside, shaking them and swaying to the music.

4. Another knitter arrives to join the circle. This woman is visually impaired and uses a white cane. She slowly approaches the knitting group, coming up behind one of the queen bee knitters. As some of the other women start to greet the newcomer, Queen Bee turns around and says, "Oh hi, I didn't see you there!" Woman replies, without missing a beat, "Neither did I!"

5. A dapper geek comes in behind me: khakis, turtleneck, leather coat, hat, bald head w/goatee, glasses, laptop bag. He chats with the barista and mentions he won't be in much more, he is moving to North Carolina for work. "I'm gonna miss this place," he says. The barista jokes, "Well, I'm sure there are some Starbucks down there?" Very sincerely, he replies: "It just won't be the same."

6. Around 9:30, an anorectically skinny blonde enters, looking frazzled. She plonks down a huge book and laptop, plugs in, begins paging through the book and typing furiously. At 10:20, the barista comes around to let us know they are closing in 10 minutes. The woman sighs, "I'll have to go study at home." I see that the big book is "The Wine Bible."

Starbucks, I may have misjudged you. Sure, you peddle over-roasted cofee and overpriced doo-dads to aimless Americans in our alienated suburban community nodes. And yes, you charge a lot for your heavily branded WiFi access. Plus your baked goods are really quite poor. But you put up with a lot of shit, too. Carry on.


Yet more Ticket Stub action:

* In Her Shoes -- As I predicted, there's more to this c-flick than meets the eye. Yes, it's about two clashing sisters and their wrecked romances, but it's also about how families deal with mental illness, how women treat each other, and how people try to change. Oh, and illiteracy! OK, there are some gratuitously cute dogs, old people, and shoes for that matter, but Curtis Hanson once again is able to create realistic characters in a realistic setting, not a fake movie universe. It's the opposite of that Must Love Dogs train wreck from earlier this year: sweet, but brainy too. Extra points for Shirley Maclaine playing the grandma quietly and carefully, rather than over-the-top grande dame. (B+)

* Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit -- Hands down, the funniest movie of the year; sorry, Steve Carrell. Even more wonderful than the lovingly detailed clay universe is the story -- what a concept, a movie with an original story! By turns funny, spooky, goofy, cheeky, and clever, it should be nominated for Best Screenplay (hey, Finding Nemo did it first). I don't want to give away the plot, but it involves brain waves, bunnies, and big hunks of cheese. Highly recommended, and not just for kids! (A+)

Sweet knitted robots! -- Check out Jess Hutchinson's craft gallery, including this family of adorable robots made of yarn. I don't think my knitting skills are up to the challenge, but maybe I can hone them working on one of these...or a knitted Ford Prefect!
The Nyakaima Tree -- fascinating photo-essay from BBC News on a Ugandan woman who cares for ancestral spirits inside a sacred tree: "If someone said that places like this have no importance today, I would ask them how they came into this world? Then I would pray for them, so they may become enlightened." Sounds good to me.


It's the week of crankin' out the features around here -- enjoy the latest Ticket Stub:

* Good Night, and Good Luck -- Nat & I waded over to Harvard Square for pizza and leftist rhetoric with The Namesake & Sarah. George Clooney wisely makes his political points through a medium that suits him, film, unlike certain other celebs I can think of. This crisp B&W essay on Edward R. Murrow, pioneering frontman of the "liberal media," and his stand against Sen. McCarthy is chilling yet smooth, like a good historical martini. David Strathairn as Murrow manages to be wry, passionate, and professional all at once, while Clooney leads an all-star chorus of character actors to fill in the bare-bones sets. The movie is small in scope, with a curiously truncated ending, but it echoes broadly in a future far more corrupt than Murrow probably ever imagined possible. Extra points for the evocative stylings of Dianne Reeves! (A)
* Serenity -- Move over, Star Wars: the true successor to The Empire Strikes Back has arrived, in the form of a tiny, Sino-Anglo space bootlegger from the 26th century! Forget the ravening hordes of Buffy fans bleating about this movie, just go see it for the sheer enjoyment of a smart, original, and funny adventure flick -- they are few and far between these days. You can rent the Firefly DVDs later, once the brooding Captain Solo, uh, I mean Reynolds keeps popping into your mind. Sure, it's about a telepathic girl-child assassin, but don't hold that against it. Extra points for great computer effects smoothly mixed in with some hilariously cheap-o set design: I noticed a "hologram chamber" upholstered in plain old bubble wrap, nice! (A+)
* Proof -- Two word review: Gwyneth, Oscar. In a few more words, a strong adaptation of a big deal play that nearly always succeeds in being a movie, not a play, on screen. G.P. is compelling as the abrasive, nerdy, possibly crazy Katherine (do you see all the Oscar bait here?), dutifully caring for her totally crazy math genius father (Anthony Hopkins in full Hemingway mode) and fending off the realities of life, love (in the form of Jake Gyllenhaal, yow!), and her own talent. Gwyneth looks believably sad, lonely, and unwashed here -- what role could better deserve an acting award? Extra points for Hope Davis playing totally against type as the heartless, banal yuppie sister. (B)
* I'm going to see In Her Shoes tonight, and will update with a surely estrogenic and positive review next week. I (heart) Curtis Hanson.

Can you tell it's movie season -- I may attend 5 flicks this week! Why the hell does Hollywood still overload the fall instead of putting out something decent between August 1st and September 30th? It can't be that all the publicists are on vacation that whole time...can it? Grr.

* Not ticketed but still noteworthy -- I watch the CBS/Lifetime movie Martha Behind Bars and wow, does Cybil Shepherd need a gig! She was deliciously evil in NBC's 2003 Martha, Inc., filling the denim tunics and chinchilla wraps of The Big M with eerie aplomb. This lower-budget sequel is sort of like the cotton-polyester blend to the the 400-thread-count pima cotton of its predecessor. Cybil sports a sasquatchian blond wig half the time, giving the whole thing the air of a creepy summer camp skit version of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Even worse, the naughtiest thing that happens at the women's prison is sugar packet hoarding (no double entendre there). Martha makes her bunk with perfect hospital corners, Martha folds origami cranes with her cellmates for Christmas, Martha scrubs the shower stalls. All as dull as the grey sweatshirts the prisoners wear -- bring back the beeyotch Martha from the first half, the one who shouts "This is not the proper knife! Where is my favorite serrated carving knife?!!" It was also disappointing that the movie didn't touch on what real-life Martha managed to at her post-prison press conference: that most of her fellow inmates were serving long mandatory sentences on drug charges stemming from their dealer boyfriends/husbands' activities, while she had supportive family and friends visiting her, eventually whisking her away in a private jet to house arrest on her sprawling Westchester estate. Now that's hard time. (C-)

It's the 14th of Octover -- heh. A year from today, I'll be married (!) and attending my little brother's wedding (!!) and hopefully sneaking out to watch snippets of a Red Sox playoff game (!!!) that same night. We can always hope...


It's been too long since we had some quality TAI Roadside Sightings. Thus:

1. At the Mobil station alongside I-95 in Lexington, each pump is adorned with a colorful placard celebrating the contributions of Latinas in America. That's cool, but WTF? At the bottom it says, "Mobil Celebrates Hispanic Heritage." Hmmm...

2. The teenaged girl who checked my ticket at the AMC Burlington cinema on Sunday was named, according to her nametag, Britni. I guess that's better than "Britnie," right?

3. Some quality bumperstickers spotted lately: "We Support Figure Skating In Medford!"; "I'd Rather Be Driving My Antique Car"; and on the refrigerator of a certain car-free, lefty couple in Jamaica Plain, a big red-white-n-blue ribbon emblazoned "I Support More Troops Than You."
Thank goodness somebody is keeping tabs on the Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court -- we can count on Mr. Sun to dig some real dirt. He tracks her dreadful reading habits, enshrines her in epic poetry, and evaluates her midichlorian count, just for kicks.
Woman goes into labor with premature triplets in a train station, and is at first ignored because she "appears homeless" -- that pretty much says it all about our so-called society these days, doesn't it? On the upside, a high school teacher came along and took of his shirt to help! A similar story took place on the T here in Boston last year -- I wonder how that mom (and her two older children) made out?


The Oprah of Afghanistan -- in a more secular world, I suppose that would be Oprah herself. In the meantime, Farzana Samimi tries to give voice to some of the most oppressed women in the world.
Q: Are you still a conservative?
Q: Still a conservative?
THE PRESIDENT: Am I still a conservative? Proudly so. Proudly so.

Just one of the many rhetorical gems on display at Bush's press conference this morning, his first in 5 months -- not like anything much has happened since May, I guess. Here's my other favorite: "It's not acceptable for any member of my administration to break the law. And I presume free gifts from lobbyists break the law." Good guess, Chief.
"Fizzy Fruit is fun to eat!" -- Carbonated fruit, people. I expect to see it at the Stop & Shop any day now, right next to the display of these. Is there anything technology can't do? Hmmm...


"For it's mraah, raahhrr, ghirrrr strikes you're out at the old...ball...game!" -- This is so totally awesome. Unfortunately the Sox lost last night, and are facing the Yanks this weekend, but hey, go see the Star Wars "Science" exhibit at the Museum of "Science" today!


Whirlwind Weekend Update: my shamefully inconsistent blogging of late can be attributed to many things, but mostly to my trip to NJ and MD, where I found a long-distance fan (hi JD!) and had a variety of adventures. After a sluggish 6 hour drive (ugh), Nat and I checked into Durandville, and early the next morning headed off to the NewVernon VFD Auction, an annual tradition where I scored big in the housewares department. That afternoon we kicked back with the extended clan to celebrate Mom's birthday and the 2 engagements of 2006: much badminton and cake consumption. Sara hosted a Hoboken housewarming that night, in her incredible apartment, and we capped off the night at the Malibu Diner with Dan & Kim & cheesecake. A few hours later, and we drove off to Baltimore to see the Sox-Orioles game with the Atheys, who enjoy a competitive Scrabble round as much as we do, and about 20,000 other Sox fans: it hardly qualified as a home game for the O's. Monday's long trip back was smooth and delicious, with lunch at Katz's and dessert from Sugar Sweet Sunshine, my how hip we are.


Ticket Stub: On Friday night, Nat & I had an impromptu old-fashioned double date with Mandy & George, feasting at Watch City and Cabot's before taking in The Constant Gardener at the vintage West Newton Cinema. The film's based on a John LeCarre novel, directed by Fernando City of God Mireilles, and stars none other than Count Almasy/Lord Voldemort himself, Ralph Fiennes. The plot is a twisty, fast-moving account of a troubled marriage (or is it?) between a timid diplomat and fiery activist, played smartly by the luscious Rachel Weisz, set against a backdrop of African beauty and misery. Geopolitical intrigue over pharmaceutical profits alternates with good old soap opera and spycraft, and the visuals are stunning: rich, oversaturated color contrasts with grainy realism. A few hollow lines of dialogue and an abrupt ending can't derail this absorbing version of Voltaire's Candide, updated for the global economy. Extra points for Bill Nighy as a slick, sole meuniere-loving bureaucrat. (A)
Win a trip to the Oscars! -- OK, not exactly. You'd have to get yourself to LA for the ceremony next March, but there'd be a spot for you and up to 3 friends in the deluxe red carpet bleachers to watch the stars arrive. Who knew? Perhaps if I throw in some photos of my elborate home Oscars party costumes throught the years...


Dateline Bogalusa, La. -- another tiny bright spot in the dark aftermath of Hurrican Katrina, a WSJ profile of prison inmates helping out the relief effort. Wow.

And if you're ready to get het up about all this again, check out Harold Meyerson excoriating the "Stuff-Happens Presidency" which is "willing, apparently, to sacrifice any claim America may have to national greatness rather than inconvenience the rich by taxing them to build a more secure nation." Woah! For a bracing shot of righteous indignation instead, E.J. Graff waxes obvious: "That’s why we pay taxes: to fund all the boring and necessary amenities and protections that we call 'civilization.'" Yeah!

UPDATE: The font of angry journalism will not be plugged! Check out Frank Rich's latest pummeling of Bushie, "a self-styled C.E.O. with a consistent three-decade record of running private and public enterprises alike into a ditch." Ouch. Ditto Maureen Dowd, who twists the knife by comparing GWB unfavorably to his father, whose mistakes were supposed to be avoided, not surpassed. Yee-ouch.


Yes, it's a Mona Lisa made out of Rubik's Cubes, by this LA-based artist. Enjoy that thought sinking in.
Do You Give Off A Sexy Vibe? Do You Have Gum Disease? Could You Pass 8th Grade Math Today? Are You An Annoying Coworker? Are You A Regency Catch? What Kind Of Candy Are You? Do You Take Too Many Online Quizzes??! -- There is no such thing.
"The God Who Drowns" -- my favorite blogging waiter/former seminarian wrote the most lucid, moving piece on making sense (if possible) of Hurricane Katrina I've seen. Take inspiration where you find it, indeed.
"Do you see dead people, and by that I mean the founding fathers." -- What's the most dumb-ass question the Senate Judiciary Committee might ask John Roberts? Via SeƱor Sol. Oh, I've got a few...how about, do you like John Grisham or Dan Brown better? Who was your favorite American Idol last year? Any Amendments you feel are a little useless and out of date? Just askin'!
"We should all aim to be fat Americans." -- In a philosophical sense, of course. Very interesting essay on why the world hates fat Americans, both literal and figurative, and what the arguments against overconsumption say about our committment to raising global living standards.
''That's a real interesting piece of legislation" -- you said it! The Transportation Committee on Beacon Hill is considering a new law requiring Mass drivers to clear their vehicles of ice and snow that may pose a hazard to other drivers. Oh, you mean that lazy jackass in the Navigator with the foot-high ridge of snow hanging precipitously over the back window might get a $500 ticket? There is sweet justice!


R'amen! Posted by Picasa I feel the need for some divine intervention this week...may the sauce be with us all. In the spirit of good works and karma, here's my new favorite Katrina charity: Crafter's United is raising thousands for the Red Cross through the sale of deliciously handcrafted items on Etsy.com. Buy and save!
Since we could all use some cheering up, I offer these recent Lunchtime Sightings:

1. At the Panera in Woburn, I see a preppy go-getter waiting for his order while yakking on his phone. Nothing new there -- except this guy is wearing a navy polo shirt, sunglasses, sandals, and truly amazing shorts. His were red with whales. I would laugh at his snooty fashion sense, but I can just laugh at his pants straight up. Best of all, a slightly batty Panera employee came up and started complimenting him on them: "Those are just darling!" Heh.

2. A silver Saab convertible with license plate "WASAABI." Must...kill...

3. At the Stop & Shop, my cashier was named "Maris." I know this poor woman's probably had to explain many times that she's not married to Niles Crane, but hey, I always thought the writers made that name up.

4. On the back of a Central Transport semi, a large sign reading "We support our troops whenever we go -- no comfort to the enemy, no way, no how!" With a big U.S. flag, of course. The hell? Did the Cowardly Lion write this for them?

5. Not exactly sighted at lunch, but Nat & I watched something called "The Very Best of the World's Worst Drivers: 2" last night. Hey, that's what TiVo is for, right? If it ever crosses your path, check it out for the drunken French bicyclist alone...hoo!
Fired for eating leftover pizza -- and you thought your job sucked. At my office we have the opposite policy, any leftovers will be immediately sensed, tracked down, and devoured by the cubicle vultures. Squawk!


"Is this what the pioneers of the civil rights movement fought to achieve, a society where many black people are as trapped and isolated by their poverty as they were by segregation laws? If Sept. 11 showed the power of a nation united in response to a devastating attack, Hurricane Katrina reveals the fault lines of a region and a nation, rent by profound social divisions." -- I'm falling back on my "only one post about ginormous news events" policy, because I am burned out and disgusted by the anarchy unleashed in New Orleans this week. Aside from the storm destruction and the utter moral breakdown in the streets, how dreadful to see just how inept and callous our vaunted "homeland security" really is. Our government....wait, I should say the government, it certainly doesn't seem to belong to the citizenry anymore. The priorities of this government are truly backward if it not only consigns the most helpless people to fend for themselves in a crisis, it also left a critical economic lifeline for the nation basically at the whim of nature, let alone terrorists. And what were they spending time and money on instead? One guess. We will all be paying the price for this for a long time.


"Yes, eyes are for seeing, but these and all the other purposes in the natural world can be generated by processes that are themselves without purposes and without intelligence. This is hard to understand, but so is the idea that colored objects in the world are composed of atoms that are not themselves colored, and that heat is not made of tiny hot things." -- I think Dan Dennett, behemoth intellect and my first philosophy professor, not only smites the Intelligent Design goons once and for all here, he came up with a great new Bright Eyes album name!


Bookcrossing -- how have I not heard of this before? "The practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise." It's like intellectual littering-slash-resource management. Brilliant!
40-Year-Old Virgin Alert -- just a quick Ticket Stub blurb today, a glowing review of this sweet, sometimes stupid, and overwhelmingly hilarious Steve Carrell vehicle. I want to go back in time and not laugh so hard at Wedding Crashers after seeing this movie -- had their release dates been reversed, I would've seen W.C. as the far more puerile, generic film it is, Vince Vaughn notwithstanding. A simple premise ("Men are dogs -- hijinks ensue") and a witty, thoughtful script elevate this far beyond what it could've been: an extended SNL sketch, with dirty vocab. Carrell manages to make Andy, the titular neophyte, sympathetic rather than pitiful, a tall order. Extra points for Paul Rudd's ass and a Doug Henning poster, both prominently featured, plus the awesome dance number. Dare I say it: this is what a Male Chick Flick should be! (A) for laughs, (B) overall.
"Soon our collections will be all ones and zeroes stored deep in hard drives, instantly transferable and completely unsatisfying as possessions." -- The death of the Rock Snob is upon us, now that any fool can carry 10,000 totally obscure songs in his pocket. Boo hoo, Rock Snob, boo hoo.


"Too many Hollywood movies these days, they say, just are not good enough." -- Earth to Tinseltown: DUHHH! A NYTimes reporter is present for the dawning of reality among the studio heads. Check out the last few lines, where the Universal chief admits some of his summer movies "should never have been made." No kidding, dude. As NKW would say, it's like no human was involved in making this junk, it just gets extruded from a tube. Take a lesson from the audience favorites this summer: smaller is better, and just plain BETTER is better.


Nighty night. Posted by Picasa With one lovely exception, it's been the kind of week where I wish I was asleep in a room like this instead...so enjoy a taste of William Joyce, one of my favorite author/illustrators. Zzzzzz...
Hail Mary on the Half-Shell -- Flickr gallery of Somerville's vast array of yard shrines. Awesome! (Via Sushiesque)
Behold Boston Uncovered -- heh, funny that it's sponsored by The Globe, then. As Boston Magazine always says, thank god we're a two-newspaper town (for now). Anyway, B.U. (oh wait...) is the latest outreach-marketing ploy by the people who bring the Metro and Sidekick to the floors of the T all over town each day. Favorite sights, bars, movie theaters, eateries (including the IHOP in Brighton?!), blah blah blah. Better get uncovered while you can, new college kids, before the long, dreadful winter begins again...on, say, November 1.
I admit it, I'm addicted to Yahoo! Buzz -- no, it's not some new, cross-marketed energy drink, it's an entertaining little bog/sidebar where anonymous wags write up little blurbs on who & what people are looking for in the Yahoo! search engine. They list "movers" and "decliners," like the stock market, and it's all very meta-pop-cultural & wacky. Unfortunately for them, I still do all my searches on Google...but thanks for trying.
"The Dread Pirate Bin Laden" -- interesting treatise from Legal Affairs on using old laws against piracy to fight modern terrorism. All Hollywood incarnations aside, pirates were described by Daniel Defoe as "stateless persons at war with all the world." Al Qaeda et al. seem to fit that definition as well.
Waiter, there's an Allegra tablet in my soup -- The always entertaining WaiterRant launches a new technique: subtly diagnosing customers with free drug pens. Nice!


Heigh-ho, wedding cake unicorns, away! Posted by Picasa Please join me in the vast ocean of wedding tchochkes -- until a few weeks ago, I had no idea how deep and wide it was. God help me.
Today's M u l t i Ticket Stub feature will encompass a wide variety of recommended leisure activities, from theater to your summer reading list to the multiplex. Get out there, folks, only a few weeks of summer left...(shiver):

* Mad Hot Ballroom -- This is truly my favorite movie of 2005 to date, and you can take that as you will, but GO SEE IT. NYC public school kids taking a ballroom dancing class for P.E. -- the premise doesn't convey the wonderfully poised, gawky, funny, honest moments the movie catches on the faces and feet of these middle schoolers. Far less heartwrenching than Hoop Dreams, and much more upbeat than Spellbound, which seems like a festival of schadenfreude by comparison. (A+)

* Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim -- David Sedaris' latest recollections of his nutty family show a maturity and self-reflectiveness that somehow make the antics even funnier: the tale of his raunchy brother ("The Rooster") getting married is a highlight. His writing is so impossibly smooth, the poignant lines sneak right up on you. (A)

* Slanguage and The Syringa Tree -- OK, so it's too late for you to catch either show on the Boston theater scene, but keep a lookout in the future. Utterly different in production, both shows explore identity and how it's shaped by childhood environment: in one case the barrios and ghettos of northern Manhattan, in the other a divided household in apartheid-era South Africa. Creating a unique language of expression is central to each -- the performers of Universes, who developed Slanguage out of the NuYorican poetry slam scene, literally bang out their words with their bodies and voices onstage. Pamela Gien, the one-woman theater troupe who play all characters (young and old, black and white) in TST evokes a whole world with just her body, swinging on a swing across an empty stage. Both are powerful. (B) and (A)

* The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency -- I'm not a mystery person, but I fell swiftly under the spell of this book...probably because it's not a mystery, even though cases get solved and the plot unfolds in neat, satisfying, Austen-esque steps. Mma Ramotswe, the titular lady detective, tells her own engaging story of life, love, and death in Botswana in between tracking down philandering husbands and man-eating crocodiles...or both. (B+)

* The Quilts of Gee's Bend at the MFA -- The quilts are amazing, but you should make tracks over to Huntington Ave for the sociological smorgasbord in the exhibit room alone. With the continued self-examination of Boston (link to yesterday's Globe article on cross-cultural socializing) as a city stonily divided along race and class lines, this exhibit drew a most diverse crowd: young families, wizened grandmas, polished businesswomen, each represented in black, white, brown, and more. But best of all, it was the biggest lesbian pickup scene since Sister Spit; I felt like we were extras in an L Word episode. (Q)

* Centre Street Cafe in Jamaica Plain -- At this perenially popular slow food joint, I had the salad of my life, a huge panzanella with perfectly ripe red, yellow and purple farmer's market tomatoes, cukes, onion, olives, chewy bread cubes, and rich olive oil. OK, maybe it was more of a fattoush. Whatever, it was well worth the trip. (A+) for salad, (B) overall.

* Wedding Crashers -- I admit, my expectations were low, despite many recommendations from fellow Vince Vaughn-o-philes. And he does make the movie: Owen Wilson is starting to dry up like an old flip-flop, and Vince was on fire with his signature random ad-libbing all over the place ("Im gonna choose not to eat with ya..."). The plot is cookie-cutter bedroom farce, which goes down easily enough, but the quirky casting (Christopher Walken and Jane Seymour are married, yet hardly interact onscreen) is wasted by the frantic hopping from joke to joke. That is, until the ponderous last 20 minutes, when it suddenly turns into a chick flick -- the best guy friends fight, grow up a little, and make up, awwwww. Points off for Gratuitous Cameo of the Year (I'm sure you can guess who), and for Rachel McAdams' very poorly-colored hair, but overall an amusing diversion. (C++)

* Eastern Standard, Kenmore Square -- The enormous new bistro in the Hotel Commonwealth is finally open, seating on the sidewalk and in a classy room filled with oversized red leather booths. There's something for everyone on the menu, from liverwurst to steak to addictive, skinny, salty fries. I had the ultimate grilled cheese, oozing from buttery brioche -- it should come with a side of Lipitor. Great for an outing, but probably insane on a game night. (B)
Here's one for the Only In This Town file -- Boston City Council candidates are invited to perform in a talent show just before the primary election, to "humanize" and connect them to voters. In typical fashion, Mayor Menino's boasting is the funniest thing about the article. Buy your tickets early and often, people.
Contemporary literature = "endless kvetching"-- Long, rambling, juicy interview with Camille Paglia in The Morning News, in which she waxes on about everything from Oscar Wilde to the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, and not even in the same sentence! This is for all you fellow ex-English majors out there...
Let's play The Exciting Game of Career Girls! -- Check out a vintage 1966 board game all about the "wide" world of the working "girl." I especially like the heart-shaped tokens you collect showing which attributes you'll need to succeed: "quick thinker" and "pretty" are good, but "overweight" and "failed Biology" are bad, I'll try to remember that.


God Save the Needlepoint! Posted by Picasa I want one of everything from Etsy.com, an online craftopia for buying and selling all manner of handmade things...like this cuddly Johnny Rotten portrait. Yes! Must bookmark for the holidays...
What did Americans do with their Jesus Pierogies before EBay? -- Eat them? Shellac them? Keep them in the freezer indefinitely? I'm still awaiting my own Jesus/Madonna-in-food sighting...and I love pierogies, the more old-school the better, mmmm.
"Both Texans will be tarred by history for having waged disastrous, unwinnable wars. Both holed up at their Texas ranches whenever they wanted out of Washington." -- You guessed it, GWB and LBJ have some striking similarities. The big difference? Johnson had empathy, and that made him a great leader, despite the ongoing horror of Vietnam. Can't say the same for W., folks. And speaking of his lack of empathy, "peace mom" Cindy Sheehan, camped in front of Compound W., is facing not only runaway pickup trucks and a neighbor firing off his shotgun, but a petition to restrict the protesters to somewhere, you know, less public. Nice.


First with the same-sex marriage, now the same-sex swans -- Head down to the Public Garden, behold the swan couple that's brought a touch of romance to the pond for 16 years, "Romeo" and "Juliet." Except it turns out they're both female -- please insert your own "Boston Marriage" joke here. And speaking of which, just think of how many cheesy wedding photos those swans are in...rock on, swans! And in related news, see the NYTimes Style piece on that old standby, the Girl Crush.


"I just saw a sign for LEE-O-minster." -- Ah, that particularly Massachusetan disconnect, between the spelling of our place names and their pronunciation...behold a Bostonist rant on same. I grasped Worcester (that's "Wuss-tah!") right off, but come on, who came up with "Billa-RICKAH" for poor Billerica? Thankfully I now live in one of the many Arlingtons in the USA, that's an easy one.
"Men may have their first real chance in forty-five years at having a voice in the reproductive rights discussion. The question is: Do they want one?" -- Intriguing look at the forthcoming male contraceptive pill, potentially on drugstore shelves by 2010. Unless anti-choice pharmacists get wind of it, presumably...grrrr.


Eeeek, it's Bridezilla! Posted by Picasa Or not. Yes, it's true, I am betrothed -- huzzah! Let the Woodwardification commence! :D But...I promise not to turn TAI into Royal Fairy Princess Barbie ConeBride Hell along the way. I've already gotten lots of advice from my married friends (like "Elope! Elope! Elope!" Thanks, Marky!) and the internet is packed with diversions like Going Bridal, the work of delightfully crafty/evil Sara. See also EtiquetteHell, IndieBride, and of course, Corpse Bride.
Which Country Are You? -- I never get tired of these quizzes. Of course, I'm Canada.
Step right up, make your own One Word Movie -- this is really cool. Thanks, Lindsay!
Flip-Flopping America -- No, I'm not referring to our new national footwear choice, I'm talking about plummeting support for the war in Iraq. Eric Boehlert at Salon rounds up the latest conservative smear campaign, against military mom Cindy Sheehan: her son was killed last year, and now she's camped in a ditch outside Bush Vacationland in Crawford, TX, waiting for Georgie to accept her invitation to chat. GOP true believers rush to discredit her, because she used to think Bush was a decent guy. What's changed? As she puts it: "Over 1,100 more soldiers are dead since then, the Downing Street memo report came out, the Senate intelligence report has come out, and the 9/11 Commission report has come out. Saddam is gone, they've had free democratic elections in Iraq, and our troops are still there." And yet GWB wants to "stay the course." What a flop.
Let the Hobbit Feast begin! -- And pass the popcorn topped with mushrooms and bacon, please. Check it out, the coolest movie theater in America is hosting a LOTR trilogy marathon with 7 Hobbit-a-licious meals to go with! Oh, Karen, we may have to return to Austin just for this... :)
If On A Summer's Day A Television... -- diverting photo gallery of castoff junk on the curbs of San Francisco, by Heather Champ. God I love the summers out there, nothing but jeans and fog.
"There's no reason why, if there's 'Wedding Crashers' for boys, there can't be something really funny yet intelligent for women, that has something to say for women." -- So true, Gwyneth, so true...but is that "something" a short-film collection sponsored by Glamour magazine? Yes, the project has a great collection of women in the entertainment biz, but, in the words of Jerry Seinfeld, "Glamour?!?" Gwyneth is directing a short called "Dealbreakers" about bad first dates, of which I'm sure she's had many. She's also portrayed an impressive range of female heroines onscreen, from the spoiled Emma Woodhouse to the star-crossed transvestite Viola DeLesseps. We'll leave the trailer-trash stewardess and karaoke star roles alone.