Check out my Word Cloud! -- The nifty SnapShirts site allows you to plug in a URL and make this amalgam of words from that page, in this case TAI itself, then order a tshirt of same. I talk about food, politics, and pop culture a lot...who knew?? (Via Margalit)
Allow me to share a few Roadside Sightings, folks:

1. Yet another triple-take bumper sticker in Bedford -- at the junction of Rt. 62 and The Great Road, a nondescript sedan with a nondescript lady at the wheel sported this squintworthy label: "Caution! I brake for Elves, Faires, Gnomes, Leprechauns, Unicorns, Dragons, and other invisible creatures that only I can see." :-0

2. Some troubling items noticed at the Arlington Stop & Shop: the label on the French bread loaf (I cannot rightfully call it a real baguette) I bought for $1.29 was emblazoned: "Baked Fresh Today." That is, with the quotation marks! Maybe I should refer to it as "French" "bread" instead. Then, at the checkout, I had to laugh at the covers of the tabloids, all emblazoned with Brangelina nonsense. The Enquirer cover story said a mouthful about changing social mores: "BRAD and ANGELINA: "So happy!" They're living together, they're expecting a baby -- could marriage be next??" Hmmm, times have changed.
"I might as well have been doing scuba equipment.” -- Shocking confessions of Vera Wang, the uber-bridal gown designer who, it turns out, doesn't really like pouffy dresses, brides, or any of that "phantasmagoria of the American wedding" stuff. Cool! Still not going to even try on one of her $10,000 dresses myself, but that's good to know.
"Women see men with a sense of humour as dangerous and sexy, while men see [funny women] as threatening." -- Well, some men, anyway, and not the most dateable kind, I suspect. British study finds men like to be funny and have women laugh at them...wait, that sounds wrong...


Let the hollow columns snow, let 'em snow, let 'em snow -- cool closeups of different kinds of snowflakes, some of which visited us last night, thanks to a CalTech researcher. Maybe it really is winter...
"Boston prayed for the multi-bladed Gillette that officially made him a Yankee to slip while gliding over his Adam’s apple and spill his lifeblood into the bathroom sink. " -- Judas of the Outfield Johnny Damon comes in at #33 on this awesomely caustic list of the 50 Most Loathsome People in America, from Robert Novak to Paris Hilton and beyond. (Via Kottke)
"It's a back-straining, brain-addling, sanity-rattling siege." -- That'd be waiting tables at East Coast Grill in Cambridge, and the New York Times restaurant critic, Frank Bruni, did just that for a week and lived to tell the tale, despite whiny customers and heavy trays of monkfish. What a Reichl-esque prank.


A few crazy Roadside Sightings of late:

1. Thursday, 10:42 pm, Magoun Square, Somerville -- after dropping a friend off at the curb, Nat & I are waiting for the light to turn green when a traffic coup occurs. There are three sets of lights at this typically baroque Boston intersection, one ahead of us, one perpendicular to us (on Broadway) and a third one that goes sort of diagonally across, basically to let people in the CVS parking lot turn left (like I said, it's baroque). The diagonal light turns green, but the people in line at our light start honking at the car in front, who is, you know, not driving through the red light in front of his face. I guess they could see the other light, way across the intersection and pointed off at a 45-degree angle, and thought it applied to them? Were they all in a hurry and just couldn't wait anymore? Well, it worked -- the front car waited another moment, and then just drove on through the red light, and 4 or 5 cars followed! Obviously there was nobody coming from the other direction, but here's the kicker -- the correct light then turned green, and we turned left only to see a Somerville cop sitting at the front of the line on Broadway, in full view of the cars who just overthrew the red light. Not responding. Nope. Just sitting there, looking down into his lap -- he'd missed the whole thing. Classic.

2. Sunday, 5:48 pm, Davis Square -- Kim and I are driving over to see Belinda, the lovely local willow tree enshrined in song by nutty local harpist Deborah Henson-Conant whose rollicking show we had just enjoyed (and Kim had cunningly scored a free CD in the middle of, but I digress), pulling up to the T intersection of Day and Elm streets. You can only turn right onto Elm, and there are ample One Way and No Left Turn signs, for once, to indicate this -- despite the fact that you can see across to College Ave from there, and it seems like, "Hey, that's where I want to go, why can't I just drive over there?" Well, you can't, the whole square is a rotary and you have to drive around the block, and admittedly there are no signs indicating that fact. So what does the gold Camry (need I say more?) in front of us do, but roll out into the road and then dart straight left and onto College Ave -- a move I have never seen because they are lucky they weren't killed. Nobody on the streets they crossed over would be expecting a car to come from this direction, and they could easily have been squashed by a speeding car or a bus turning out of the depot. Unreal! Of course I honked madly but they just drove on. Idiots.

3. Two odd pickup trucks -- Plowing snow in a parking lot in Bedford yesterday, a black truck emblazoned with an electron logo and the name "EINSTEIN'S BRIGHT IDEA ELECTRICAL." Do they rewire your house according to the theory of relativity or something? Then this morning in Lexington, another black truck with a big blue logo on the door: "PEACE OF MIND PLUMBING AND HEATING." That's who you call when you just think you hear the faucet dripping in the middle of the night.
"I will not eat them, Uncle Sam-I-Am" -- How to interpret the Dr. Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham in these troubled times: is it a tale of home invasion and food poisoning, or a celebration of American values like "salesmanship and open-mindedness"?(!)
"I am a Matriot, I love my country..." -- Gold Star Mom for Peace Cindy Sheehan weighs in at The Huffington Post about the polar opposite of all that fake, chest-thumping, my-country-right-or-wrong type "patriotism" in the air these days: matriotism!


This little piggy glowed green, green, green, all the way home -- Can you pick the piggy that's the product of a transgenic experiment to splice glow-in-the-dark jellyfish genes into it, so it looks like this under a blacklight? One guess...
Rock on, Rebel Girl! -- A local high school gal is making waves by entering her school's all-male beauty contest fundraiser, wearing a tuxedo and reciting an Ani DiFranco song, to boot! Best line is when last year's winner tells her, "If you want to make a difference, you'd be better off doing something that doesn't interfere with tradition." Yep, that's just what they said to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, kid.
I decided to rip off the Ten Five Meme from The Leery Polyp -- whose entry made me laugh and laugh and laugh:

What were you doing ten years ago? As I just noted to Marky, in celebration of his birthday, I was living in a suite with 9 random other Tufts students, including him, with whom I made really repulsive homemade pasta (we hung it over my clothes-drying rack and it fell apart, so we made the leftover dough into a phallus and threw it out the window....ah, college). In another month my girlfriend would return from her 6-month postgrad world tour/safari and move into my 8x8 dorm room. 14 months later we would split up during the infamous April Fool's Blizzard -- poor Mark was a witness to that too! I had no idea what I was going to do after graduation, having taken the last GRE of the year on a whim, and applied lackadaisically for a fellowship on campus which I did get, thus turning into one of those 5th-year-senior hanger-on types. Sweet!
What were you doing five years ago? Talk about saturn return: I was sloooowly breaking up with another girlfriend and desperately trying to find a real legal job; at that point I was filling in for a maternity leave in the trademark department of this company, and sending out 10 resumes a week. I had spent the summer taking the bar, and the fall totally depressed, watching every moment of the Sydney Olympics on TV and comparing myself unfavorably to the athletes, cursing myself for not being one of those people who took a job at a big soulless law firm for $190K and 90 hours a week. Ugh. 8 months later, I'd have a delightful new boyfriend and a job at a small, semi-soulless law firm on the morning of Sept. 11. By the next day, I knew I didn't want to work there anymore: the managing partner made a joke about how he had stayed in the office (right next to the federal building which was evacuated by the Natl. Guard) until 7pm, as usual, and the rest of us were wimps for going home early. Double ugh.
What were you doing one year ago? Same job, living in Watertown with soon-to-be-fiance for 6 months and starting to plan to move again in 6 more. Found out I'd botched my withholding and owed $2400 in income tax, d'oh! It was a long, grey, wet, cold spring, before a lovely summer.
Five snacks I enjoy: Pirate Booty, chocolate Twizzlers, Nutella, cheddar SunChips, and green grapes & blueberries mixed together.
Five songs to which I know all the lyrics: The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Silent Night (in English y en Espanol, "Noche de Paz"), American Pie (can you tell we sang songs around the campfire in my family?), Frank Mills, and the entire original cast albums of Annie, The Fantasticks, Les Miserables and West Side Story.

Five things I would do if I were a millionaire: sleep more, work out more, write more, run for office, open a restaurant. Wait, is this what Oprah means when she says "Live Your Best Life Now" and all that? And isn't Oprah a millionaire anyway? Gah!
Five bad habits: never flossing, desultory litterbox maintenance, Mt. Washmore, picking at side of thumb with index finger, addicted to internet.
Five things I like doing: reading, watching movies, road trips, cooking Sunday dinners, everything with Nat.
Five things I would never wear again: Big red plastic glasses from middle school, white shoulder-padded minidress with ropes of fake plastic pearls (see above), white flats (ditto), ridiculous short overalls from college years, a suit to work every day.
Five favorite toys: Hoberman sphere, Sharpies, Crock Pot, Scrabble, sweet blessed TiVo.
Justice Scalia is a big fat hypocrite -- William Saletan points out the obvious on Slate, that Scalia voted in totally conflicting ways in this week's assisted suicide and abortion rights cases. Scalia says "value judgments" don't belong in Supreme Court opinions, yet he filed a long dissent in the suicide case ranting on about how lethal drugs are not part of a "legitimate standard of medicine." Um, according to you maybe, Dr. Scalia. He says the Constitutional text is all-important, that if something isn't specifically mentioned it doesn't exist -- but in the NH abortion law case he says oh no, the "legislative intent" is key, and since in this case the NH legislature wanted to restrict abortion access it's A-OK with him. Most ironically, Scalia fancies himself a champion of "state's rights," but apparently only if the states want to restrict abortion; if they want to make a state law allowing physician-assisted suicide, then hell no, the federal gubmint's in charge of regulating those drugs, so forget it, state! Looks like Antonin could use some drug therapy himself.
Headline of the year -- so far, anyway, from the ever-reliable BBC.
Another page for Idiots -- in case you failed the quiz a few posts back.


Catching up with holiday movies is almost as hard as catching up with my Ticket Stub reviews:

* Pride and Prejudice -- As a card-carrying Austenophile and also an Ang Lee fan (see below), he who created the perfect Austen adaptation, I had seriously low expectations for this film, which raised the hackles of many with it's spiced up ending for the American audience -- showing the couple after they marry, totally verboten in Jane's universe. But it seemed to be a tempest in a vintage teapot, because I enjoyed it on the whole, and Kiera Knightley in particular. Shot in a loose, earthy, somehow French way (it reminded me of Jean de Florette -- not to sound like another Working Title film or anything), saturated with color and candlelight, the settings and characters seem truly authentic, down to the slightly unwashed look of the country Bennett sisters. Knightley's slow-burning, brainy brunette Elizabeth Bennett is somehow more believable, yet much more attractive, than Jennifer Ehle in the much-lauded BBC miniseries; she manages to seem headstrong but not silly, thoughtful but not gloomy, and sardonic in all the right places. Mr. Darcy is reliably cold, yet boyish, a nice touch -- until he comes striding through the dawn in an open-necked shirt, that is. There are several totally overwrought scenes like this, complete with music swelling out of nowhere, almost like a telenovela...huh? If the tone were more consistent, and the younger sisters and Mrs. Bennett a little less grating (which is the point, but still), the whole would go down easier. Lop off that last scene, and it's highly recommended. Extra points for Donald Sutherland's excellent turn as the put-upon Mr. Bennett; one point off for the over-cast Judy Dench; is she required to appear in these historical movies annually or something? (B+)

* Brokeback Mountain -- Heath Ledger turned in the performance of the year here; sorry, Joaquin! As the stony, wounded Ennis Del Mar (ah, the Jungian implications of a name that translates to "rock of the sea"), Ledger forever buries his past as a lightweight teen hunk. Literally in the first five minutes of the movie -- a wonderful, wordless sequence that could be a short film in itself -- he tells us everything about his character through gesture, just the way he fills space...amazing. Can't quite say the same for Jake Gyllenhaal, although he comes off convincingly as a cocky twerp, and manages to become more complex and soulful over time, while Ledger fossilizes in stoic bitterness. Against a windswept Western backdrop, these two fall into the most compelling star-crossed romance ever put on screen, somehow as inevitable as it is unlikely. I joked with Nat that it would make a great double feature with Wedding Crashers (think about it!), but it also calls to mind Remains of the Day, the underrated All the Pretty Horses, and of course Boys Don't Cry. Ang Lee is a master of imagery and placing the camera, with each element bringing something to the story: waving prairie grass, peeling paint, a red cowgirl hat, casually naked flesh. He conveys the chilling irony of hiding one's deepest desires in plain sight, of living a confined, diminished life in the midst of such wide open country, so smoothly and comprehensively that the final image, which makes devastating use of these themes, just breaks your heart. The central story is rounded out with tremendous smaller parts, particularly Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway who give two very different takes on the "wronged wife" role, and Roberta Maxwell and Kate Mara for giving some glints of hope to the final scenes. Hope, but not redemption, since the film plays as a tragedy, not quite a cautionary tale. There have been some interesting fruits of the "controversy" over the film's subject matter; all I'll say about that is, this is one of the least gay movies I've ever seen. Whatever his "orientation" (a laughable and alien concept in 1963, for sure), Heath Ledger's characterization will stay with me for a long time. (A+)


Not bad for a 300-year-old Bostonian, right? -- Yes, today is Ben Franklin's tricentennial, and there is a wealth of info online about him, which probably suits this peripatetic inventor, statesman, and ladies man just fine. Like myself, he loved a good epigram and wrote some of the all-time gems, for example: "Beware the hobby that eats"(!), "A great empire, like a great cake, is most easily diminished at the edges," and of course, "A penny saved is a penny earned." Hear hear! And while we're on the subject of scintillating New Englanders born on January 17th, everybody wish Nat a happy 34th too -- only 266 years later. ;-)
There have been some high quality Roadside Sightings to kick of 2006, folks:

1. Neon Division: On the way to Milton Saturday night to watch the Pats fade away, I spotted the famous Schrafft's building in Charlestown. Its flirty pink neon sign read "SCHRA_FTT'S" on one side, "SCHRAF_TT'S" on the other. Do you suppose they time the F's so that they're never out at the same time? On the way home, the front of the Barnes & Noble in Braintree read as follows: "Barnes & Noble Boo...ore." Mmm hmmm. Finally, a certain bank in Medford Square yesterday had been rechristened "it zens Bank." Woah!

2. On the back of a delivery truck, the following message in very large, neat letters somehow wiped in the grime on the rear door: "I SUCK/ARTHUR IS MY GOD/GO PATS!"

3. Here's another indoor retail sighting: at the perpetually overcrowded, understaffed Michael's arts & crafts store in Burlington, I made the mistake of showing my face on a school holiday. The place was packed with moms and kids, and one pair was being sort of loud (like overexcited loud, not bratty loud, to be fair). A brother and sister, around age 8, were loudly commenting on everything they saw: "Cool, foam letters! WOWWWWW, look at that tiger sticker!" etc. Then I come around to find them sorting through a pile of straw hats (I think they were to make doll outfits with). The girl picked up a rather large one, with a big round brim. "Put it on!" Brother cried. She complied. "You are a Japanese woman!" he yelled. I almost laughed, because he sounded so pleased with his "joke," and he didn't say it in a mean way or make goofy "Japanese" faces, etc., but it was still kind of appalling. His mom turned from the photo frames in horror and said, "[Name]! That's enough!" and hustled them off. It made me think of a recent topic of conversation around our house, how kids absorb these weird, outdated cultural references from TV and movies, esp. cartoons, that they take at face value, whether it's a stereotype like Asian headgear or things like TNT, hot water bottles, or limburger cheese -- not too many kids see those around the house anymore, but their humor value gets through loud and clear. Interesting...
"So history repeated itself." -- Very scary exercise by a Harvard professor in writing a proposed future history of the Great War of 2007 in the Middle East, kicked off by rising petroleum prices, Islamist insurgents, a nuclear Iran and Bush's good ol' doctrine of preemption. Gulllllp.
Why The Odyssey is still a bestseller -- intriguing Aussie article on "universal aesthetic psychology," or why people in different cultures and throughout history are drawn to the same types of dramatic themes, beautiful music and artworks. What is the Darwinian usefulness Jane Austen, anyway?


Rough Sea at Naruto in Awa Province, by Ando Hiroshige -- find out more on the 18th century Japanese woodblock painter here.
You know I can't stay away from a few good online quizzes, and today has been the kind of day at work where you just want to climb under your desk and never emerge. Thus, click away and find out which tarot card are you, what sort of fruit (no surprise, there are a lot of bananas out there), what flavor of Pocky stick Japanese cracker/candy (I'm chocolate, yes!), which John Cusack character you most resemble (Iceman! Power Lloyd!), and just to make sure, whether or not you're an idiot. Watch out for that last one.
DIY Name Is Earl -- The powers that be at Channel 4 in the UK have deemed Jason Lee, aka Earl Hickey, as a face you'd like to make. And why not? You can also make a mate of your choosing -- now's your big chance to play "Intelligent Designer"!
To quote The Simpsons obscurely, "Sand....sand....sand!!" -- Enjoy some spaceout time at your desktop today...
Why is Menzies pronounced Mingis? -- If you, like me, didn't know but do care about this, check out this BBC exposé on the yogh, a mysterious and defunct letter.


"Why have you never chosen to work in the private or nonprofit sectors or to represent individual clients, an experience shared by the majority of the lawyers who will come before you?" -- Now that's a question I'd ask Samuel Alito, thanks Scott Turow! The NYTimes asked 6 legal types to pose 30 rhetorical questions to the nominee, who seems to be holding his own through the second day of questioning. I fully expect the guy to get confirmed -- I second Walter Shapiro's opinion that the Democrats' supposedly tough, probing questions "could have been dodged by a tree sloth." Ouch.


My holiday moviegoing was shamefully minimal this year -- with one thing and another, I managed to see only one movie between December 13th and this weekend, which for me is like a record-breaking drought. Happily, I caught up in a big way with these seasonal Ticket Stubs:

* The Family Stone -- Kim and I caught this mediocre flick over at the Loews Fresh Pond, which, like the movie's premise, has been hanging on since the early 80's and looks a bit worse for wear. Family gathers for Christmas and to evaluate oldest son's haughty girlfriend, tribal kookiness is displayed, some bedhopping, tearjerker twist, blah blah. Most of the time, the monumentally overqualified cast (Claire Danes, nooooo!) makes the most of it, but poor editing and an unraveling script eventually slow the pace to a dreadful crawl. Diane Keaton crackles as the saucy matriarch, the only stock character with a little punch -- she throws a fork at one point, and it wakes up the entire picture. The few nifty touches (recreational drugs, disco jukebox tunes in a seedy bar, the deaf/gay brother) are all cribbed from other, better, smaller movies like The Myth of Fingerprints, Home For the Holidays, and Moonlight Mile. If you liked any of those, you might rent this one...or, well, not. Points off for the use of Nutcracker music in a dopey chase sequence; one extra point for Luke Wilson being Luke Wilson. (C-)

* King Kong -- The mighty cinematic behemoth returns, and I'm referring to Peter Jackson, of course. Bringing his childhood favorite to the screen again was obviously a labor of love -- the film glows with the forgotten glamour of the movie palace, and bristles with Jackson's ambivalence about the perils of fame and creative obsession. But that, like so much else, is subtext; looming in the foreground is Kong himself, a wonderfully realized creation, looking like, well, a really big gorilla that they trained to be in this movie. Not once does he seem computerized, and unfortunately that goes for almost every other beastie, of which there are a few too many (take a tip from Nat, go to the restroom when you see the giant bugs approaching!). The unsettlingly brilliant special effects sweep you up in the star-crossed story of a lonely ape and the dreamy, equally lonely lass he falls for. Naomi Watts turns in the first truly believable performance of reacting to nothing but a green screen -- her faraway eyes are like a Bernini sculpture, not the off-kilter staring of certain other screen sirens. Her Ann Darrow is a bit of lovely flotsam on the inexorable tide of the narrative: as all the human men are swept aside and crushed by their own weakness, naivete, or greed, she winds up climbing that stairway to heaven with her soul primate. This is all very interesting to your average grad student, but is it a good movie? Yes....but, it's wayyyy too long, especially the ending, which drags where it should rush to a doomed crescendo. I found some of the bit parts diverting, especially the mysterious, spinoff-worthy Capt. Englehorn; others, not so much (Colin Hanks, adieu). I would only have cut two complete sequences (giant bugs and ice skating) but would have edited many others to make them move more nimbly. How ironic that Jackson made his ape look so realistic while the story moves in a painfully "stop-action" fashion. Fantastic production design and Jack Black's devilish eyebrows can only take you so far, though -- in the end, the audience's patience is exhausted and you leave feeling a tad hollow. Somehow I think if this had been a big summer movie instead of a holiday one, and it thus took itself 5% less seriously, it would've hit the mark. (A-)

* The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe -- I won't crown a final favorite until I see Brokeback Mountain, but so far this was my best movie experience of "2005." I'm just as surprised as you! I didn't care much for these books as a kid, but this adaptation really takes on a life of its own. I love movies that weave a successful spell, and this is one of them -- but for a few flat notes (sometimes literally, as the score is grating and disruptive in places) the images sing with life and magic, and the child actors are quite compelling too. Four siblings, displaced by the London Blitz, discover a portal to another world in an upstairs bedroom: just this concept alone could be watered down beyond recognition by the wrong director. But surprisingly, the man behind the ever-irreverent Shrek movies takes a careful approach here, getting many details luminously right, adding new sequences almost seamlessly. Maybe it worked for me because I'm not a Narnia purist, but it worked all the same. This film builds rather obviously on the tone and look of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but then again C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were old friends so what's the harm? The imaginative spark of both writers was their insistence that magic and myth are real in the world, sometimes so real you can zoom in really close up and grab the fur -- this film makes that seem possible, with its supporting cast of astonishing animated animals. Tilda Swinton's eerie characterization of the White Witch adds the shivers on the cake, and cheery Georgie Henley is a perfect little sister Lucy, the embodiment of that belief in magical realism. There are a few clunky action sequences (and judging by the end credits that may be because the special effects were split among several different workshops), and the whole Christian allegory business somehow gets simultaneously soft-pedaled and overcooked, but in the end it's no more moralistic than The Wizard of Oz. The film is at its best in its quiet, captivating details, like the stunning use of silence in the climactic battle, or the surreal flickering of a gaslight in the middle of a snowy forest. Like its source material, this will become a classic. (A)


Five days into 2006 and I just set up my desk calendar -- waited until they were 50% off, of course. And here are some New Year's thoughts from the wise Clark Humphrey out in Seattle to ponder:

New Year's resolution number one: Don't become a Big Chill person.
New Year's resolution number two: Be kind to Big Chill people.
The coming year might, just might, mind you, bring a long-overdue opportunity for political change in this nation. If it's to occur, it'll have to be from the ground up, not from the politicians down. That means we've got to build an all-inclusive popular movement. And that means we left-O-center types have got to reach out to the widest possible swath of potential compatriots. And THAT means sacrificing one's own sense of subcultural superiority.
In other words, treat people who are different from you as your equals. Yes, I mean "those" people too.

Even people who watch television, drive cars, and eat meat.
Even straight white males.
Even football fans.
Even people who live in less funky neighborhoods.
Even people who don't want to have sex with you.
Even your co-workers.
Even timid drivers.
Even people who like to talk about real estate at New Year's parties.
I don't say it'll be easy, just necessary.

Awww man, timid drivers too? :P