Hello, old friend! -- TAI would like to take this opportunity to praise the oft-forgotten low-tech wellness miracle that is the hot water bottle. Its simplicity is deceiving. Clearly it has magical healing powers -- how could it be possible to buy something on a whim that turns out to be more effective than pharmaceuticals, is forever reusable, and essentially free to "recharge"? Adding the HWB to the mix of Bob-O-Pedic memory foam mattress and multiple layers of down duvets in the TAI master suite is making a real difference on these nippy winter nights. We salute you!
"She had dumps like a truck, truck, truck." -- If you recognize that fragment, you will love this eclectic list of The 100 Worst Song Lyrics Ever, compiled with panache (and strange photos) by a couple random people. It's a little dated, but really, things have only gone downhill from there.
"A war it may be, but does it really deserve comparison to World War II and its 50 million dead? Not every adversary is an apocalyptic threat." -- That is to say, are we overreacting to 9/11? Hmmmmmmmmmm...
"I would suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the sole decider." -- Way to step up, Arlen Specter! Reflecting the newly empowered mood on Capitol Hill, even Republicans like Specter and John Warner are pushing back against the "unitary executive" nightmare we've all been living for 4+ years. Let's keep that ball in play, kids.


One potato, two potato, purple potato, four -- At Alinea restaurant in Chicago, hipster chef du jour Grant Achatz creates food out of science and design, in an experiential environment where the centerpieces are edible and dishes may be served on perforated pillows of scented air. Click through a 24-course tasting menu via Chicagoist, and try out a broccoli & dehydrated grapefruit recipe via the Discovery Channel. Mental note: go to Chicago, eat Superdawg and then fried Meyer lemon-caramel ball.
Here's a couple Roadside Sightings, too odd to postpone:

1. White pickup rocketing down Rt. 128, with a large red fire-safety sprinker head on the door, over which in large red letters: SPRINK TECH. I think they fix sprinklers.

2. A silver van, also on Rt. 128, with a large logo of two orange arrows pointing at each other. Above and below this, it read: IN AND OUT PEDESTRIAN DOORS. Ho hum, that's all they do.
What a surprise! A homosexual icon has been accepted by the Vatican.” -- That icon is none other than Oscar Wilde, who converted to Catholicism on his deathbed and has now been highlighted in a book of "Christian witticisms" compiled by the head of Vatican protocol. Like, for fun.
How hot is the heat ray gun? -- I'm sure you were wondering that yourself, since your tax dollars were forked over to Raytheon to build this thing. It blasts waves of hotness up to 500 yards, for crowd control purposes. Check out the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program for more gadgets, like this freakin' thing, it's a phaser set to stun!


Dance, Tom Bug, Dance! -- This is deeply awesome.
Time for the Stupid Is As Stupid Does Edition of TicketStub -- I'm sure you'll see why:

* Borat -- It took us a while (and not for our usual Reverse Hype Aversion reasons) but for Nat's birthday we finally went to see Borat, the day after Sacha Baron Cohen won a Golden Globe for his performance. And it is a performance, despite the haters who claim it's just a prank. It's improvisation dressed up in a well-honed character suit (or man-thong) -- SBC never breaks, yet is always shaping the scene with canny, perfectly timed lines. We marveled at how much footage they must have shot, in character, to keep the film fresh all the way through. The pacing is great-- each scene lasts just long enough so you start to squirm, but can't yet look away, and then it's on to the next. Sort of the opposite of Saturday Night Live. I am a huge fan of SBC's alter ego Ali G, and I always thought the Borat bits on that show were sort of repetitive...but somehow following Borat on his wacky American sojourn gives him a purpose and, dare I say, a measure of dignity. It's such a classic narrative that we have no doubt things will end happily, and that gives structure to the random blurtings, gropings, bear scat, and shameless nudity. The hapless Americans (and Kazhakhs, I suppose) caught on camera are like lobsters slowly boiling, looking around uncomfortably but too abashed, drunk, or thick, as the case may be, to ask aloud, "Is it hot in here, or is it just me?" It's you. Extra points for Luenell Campbell, playing an eponymous goldhearted lady of the evening, and for the immortal line about Borat's wife's vazhene, which now hangs like sleeve of wizard. (A)

* Idiocracy -- I'm counting this DVD viewing as a ticket stub, since this film was torpedoed by studio incompetence last summer. It plays fine on the small screen, and is about 12 shades too dark to be a fun matinee, so it's just as well. Simple premise: Army shlub Luke Wilson awakes from 500 years of accidental hibernation in a stupid future. Americans are all tubby dullards, smearing snack goo into their faces while grunting in delight to endless reruns of the hit show Ow, My Balls! Dust storms ravage the parched plains, garbage avalanches everywhere, and the president likes to flip everyone the bird. How exactly, you might wonder, is this different from 2007? And that's where it gets a little chilling. By Mike Judge's conceit, this dystopia results from sheer lack of contraception by the mildly impaired underclass, represented early on as Southern trailer trash. Just why all the idiots in the future look a little ethnic is unexplained, and vaguely bothersome to me -- the lone blond guy (played by cameo-bro Andrew Wilson) is a celebrity executioner. Is everyone just supposed to look unwashed? Hmmm. Anyway, Luke Wilson half-assedly solves the agricultural crisis and winds up as president...wait, is that supposed to remind us of 2007 too? Like its sibling Office Space, this film is clever enough to make a point, but it lacks the zany humor and quotability factor. It's a little slow and the fx are meager, probably also due to studio interference, but still. It's a cautionary tale, not a revenge fantasy...unless we're supposed to take revenge on the future by chucking our TVs, reading great literature, and eating more fiber henceforth. Doesn't sound too bad. (B-)
"Now that the Democrats have taken Congress, Mr. Bush is acting as if he’d had the door to compromise open all along and the Democrats had refused to walk through it." -- So opined the NYTimes after the tepid State of the Union address, and the Democrats have now taken their "won't get fooled again" rhetoric to the next level. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a nonbinding resolution against the troop "surge" yesterday, and if I could go back in time to 2003 and tell my fruitlessly-protesting self that it would only be four years until the Congressional record inked in words like these -- "This is not a time for legislative nuancing. This is not a time for trying to forge a compromise that everybody can be a part of. This is a time to stop the needless deaths of American troops in Iraq." - Russ Feingold -- well, I just wouldn't believe it. Better late than...oh, never mind.


"It is hard for people who don’t know what the city was like in the seventies or the early eighties to understand not only how different it seemed then but how tragically insoluble its problems were believed to be." -- The city in question is New York, of course, and Adam Gopnik's short, sad little New Yorker piece notes that with the wave of chain stores, condo conversions, and de-grubbification washing over the city, "New York is safer and richer but less like itself, an old lover who has gone for a face-lift and come out looking like no one in particular." I think back on the old version fondly, a strange blend of Mean Streets and The Royal Tennenbaums...and subways that looked like this! (via Kottke)


It has been a long, long, long week, folks -- yeah, it's the middle of January, alright. Try to stay warm this weekend, cook up some green chili and eat it in front of the Pats game, and enjoy the Tide Chandelier.


"American critics don't bat an eye at white hotel heiresses dancing on banquettes, or reality shows about sweet-16 parties at budgets that could build a home for a Katrina victim. But impoverished black girls sleeping on nice-ish sheets? That didn't go over so well." -- Interesting Salon piece on Oprah's thrashing in the press for the deluxe accommodations at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy she financed in South Africa. While most can agree that Oprah deserves praise for spending $40 million of her own dollars on this project, there's been some backlash about the embroidered sheets, yoga studio, and designer bathroom tiles that enhance the boarding school atmostphere. To which I have to say, fuck that noise -- I've been on plenty of private school campuses, serving kindergarteners to PhD students, and if there was outcry over every bowling alley, study abroad program, or squash court paid for by a wealthy donor for the betterment of those lucky few attendees, the playgrounds of academia would come crashing down. I think Oprah's right about the inspirational power of beauty (though I don't necessarily see a more expensive item as more beautiful, as she seems to), and she is giving these girls a hefty dose, along with the harsh but necessary life lesson that if you work hard AND get a few lucky breaks in life, you can succeed. Plenty of kids get it all handed to them every day, without the "lesson" angle. Why shouldn't these girls get lucky too? So I quote one of the commenters, "Go Oprah, screw the haters!"
It's time for the first Roadside Sightings of 2007 -- and thanks to the Hubster we have a fresh one from this very morning!

* On the road to Westford on this sleety quasi-holiday (not to diss Dr. King, but those of us in the private sector hafta work today), Nat spotted a panel van emblazoned with the following: "ANGEL VIEW PET CEMETERY, Where Caring Makes The Difference." Awww, that's sweet. But...what could they use that van for besides, um, pickups?

* Stopped at a red light on Alewife Brook Parkway, I glanced over to the car heading in the opposite direction, trapped in evening commuter traffic. At the wheel of a black VW Beetle, a greybearded Cambridge type dude was kicking back and playing the harmonica. Yes, really.

* Following behind an electrician in a covered mini-pickup in Belmont, I notice that his VETERANS FOR BUSH bumper sticker has been graced with a big black X of electrical tape over the "FOR." Word.


Che bella! -- Take a virtual trip to Tuscany this morning thanks to the NYTimes and a lucky lawyer who renovated himself a medieval retreat among the poplars. What a nice place to pause and reflect . . . we are so happy today to welcome two new TAI (future) readers, Jaden Quinn and Isaac Patrick, buongiorno babies!
"Is the troop surge a last show of muscular resolve before Bush bows to political reality and reluctantly sets a timetable for withdrawal? Or will Bush's last-desperation gambit be a wider war that touches Iran and Syria?" -- That's exactly what I wondered after watching the rather pathetic address last night. Despite Bush's appearance as a withered husk of his brushcutting, ex-fratboy self, which if there is justice in this world just might show the weight of responsibility and guilt on his shoulders, the whole thing went over like a lead balloon. He didn't sound particularly convinced that these extra troops will accomplish even a short term goal, but he was back on his usual blustery horse with the vague threat against Iran: "We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. . . I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region." God help us all if they decide to light another fire to put out the first one.


I caught up on some of my Oscars-prep viewing last night with Kim, so I'll throw together this She's A Lady edition of TicketStub:

* The Holiday - I am fed up with Nancy Myers. She's like one of those people who wins $100 million in the lottery, buys a big ugly house and then sordidly fritters away the money on plastic surgery, booze, and bad investments. She's one of the very few women with the studio backing to make big budget, glossy feature flicks, and they wind up dull, trite, and focus-grouped to death, diluted like cheap sangria. Apparently the only thing keeping Something's Gotta Give afloat was the chemistry between Dianne Keaton and Jack Nicholson, and despite heroic efforts by Kate Winslet and Jude Law (who actually share the screen for only the last 30 seconds of the film) this one sinks to the bottom. The premise is worn but serviceable: two single gals exchange homes for a holiday break, to try to wash that man right outta, etc. Winslet is a wallflower with a country cottage in Surrey, a sort of smarter, duller Bridget Jones, who's been mooning over arrogant slimeball Rufus Sewell for years. Cameron Diaz plays the neurotic, driven Hollywood go-getter with the aspirational, bougainvillea-draped mansion on whom Ed Burns is cheating. A few IM clicks (and Myers still seems to think that IM is so cutting edge that the actors must read each message aloud in its entirety as they type it or the audience will fall irretrievably behind) and voila, two fish out of water and without bicycles. Long story short, Diaz beds Law (who is Winslet's hunky brother) and proceeds to get over her "dead inside" career gal issues once she meets his adorable moppets (conveniently, he's a widower), and back in LA under the spell of the Santa Ana winds, Winslet befriends an elderly gent in the neighborhood, who used to be a famous screenwriter, who recommends she watch all these old black and white movies with spunky heroines, and he's played by Eli Wallach, and blah blah blah blah until you want to scream. Yes, Kate Winslet gets the half-assed "best friend" role while Cameron Diaz, who comports herself like a Weimaraner puppy onscreen, is the unlikeable lead. Kate gets a bizarrely truncated budding quasi-romance with Jack Black, who should sue the producers for editing him down to one good scene and forcing his hair into an mudflap over his forehead. All the zip and humor needed to sustain a light romantic farce was drained out of this movie like lamb's blood, and the result is a meager, tasteless sausage. The sheer wattage of wasted talent could power Disneyland for a day -- with the exception of Law and Wallach, nobody is allowed to shine. And what does it say when the two juiciest parts in a chick flick belong to men? Additional points off for music recycled from Garden State, gratuitous cute dog/children/old men, really bad fake snow, and for being at least 30 minutes too long. With great power comes great responsibility, Nancy. (C-)

* The Queen - What a difference (almost) ten years makes. Looking back on the death of Princess Di and the global media firestorm that followed is almost a pleasant diversion from today's headlines...were people really that torqued up? Actually, maybe that event was the kickoff to the decade that brought us Us Weekly, American Idol, and Paris Hilton. In any case, the titular character here is Elizabeth II, ably embodied by Helen Mirren...or wait, is it? One clip from the judiciously interspersed news footage is an interview with Diana where she claims to want only to be "queen in people's hearts," now that she's been booted out of the royal family. And the massive outpouring of grief at her death shows just how much that was true, to everyone but the royals themselves, of course. Mirren is not a mimic, but she plays the queen with certain little gestures that give a sense of her character: dutiful but exacting, watchful but not canny, more patient than iron-willed, sure that any obstacle in her path will eventually see the sense in doing as she wishes. But Diana's death upends that comfortable cushion, and she winds up following the lead of a green Tony Blair, who has a better PR department. The film covers the week of the accident and funeral, and flicks back and forth between Blair's bustling office, his toy-filled family-guy living room, the growing crowds outside Buckingham Palace, and the royal retreat at Balmoral, so far removed from modern London that it still has rotary telephones. The place is like a Ralph Lauren photo shoot, where the royal family don Wellies and tweed and go off tramping across the heather -- one wonderful tableau shows a picnic where the princes are fishing while QEII, Philip and the Queen Mum set up a grill for the fish. Philip has trouble lighting the grill, and the queen says not to worry, "I brought along some stew and we can always have it cold." That's the essence of her, willing to make do uncomplainingly, despite all the pomp and circumstance around her she hardly notices anymore. But the media frenzy and Blair's sure handling of it, as well as the overwhelming popular sentiment favoring her ne'er-do-well ex-daughter-in-law over herself, do make her take notice in the end. Delightful characterizations by James Cromwell and Michael Sheen flank a solid performance by Mirren, who wears the wig and age makeup lightly. It's sort of like a really good episode of The West Wing, with corgis! (A)

So here's my question -- why has the far more mediocre of these two movies made twice as much money? Sure, it's marketing (or the lack thereof), and that's sad. The demographics of the intended audience seem pretty similar (women 30+), and despite the fact that one is pitched as a date movie they are both character studies of strong yet flawed female archetypes. Maybe it's like Jason Kottke said, if only people realized The Queen is really about Princess Diana, they'd flock to it. Was that, ironically, too low-brow a selling point for Miramax to stomach?
The food has to be fast, it has to be handheld, and No. 1 across the board is egg and cheese on a bread carrier.” -- Mmmmm! Fun overview in the NYTimes on breakfast foods-to-go and Starbucks' attempt to crack into that market. I too have been burned by the overpriced, sub-par offerings in *$'s pastry case, and somehow I just don't think they'll be as successful with food as Dunkin Donuts has been with espresso drinks. Which reminds me, why wasn't DD mentioned in this article? Oh my god, I really am a Masshole now...I need to go out and get a buttered roll or a muffin the size of a grapefruit for breakfast tomorrow morning, to regain my Jersey-grown pride!


Let's Lock & Load, Jesus! -- I think I might need one of these. Also this. And this.
El Niño doesn't exist online -- If you're feeling weird about the absence of actual winter weather, try making yourself a virtual photo snowglobe!
"The gray substance in some of the inner pleat folds is a kind of insignificant mildew, less toxic than what is found on some foreign cheeses." -- Helpful hints on dealing with a shower curtain, from The New Yorker.
"The need for Congress to assert itself in such a case transcends the particulars of Iraq policy. It's important to confirm the democratic character of the state itself. The president is not a king. He is not a Stuart. And one more Hail Mary pass for George W. Bush's legacy just isn't a good enough reason for losing more American lives, treasure and prestige." -- Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo goes off on our off-balance system of checks and balances, and how Congress needs to nut up this week or it will squander what little popular goodwill it has left after the election. Come on, Pelosi -- hang onto that checkbook and put your foot down!


Good Morning, Guv'na -- TAI wishes Governor Patrick a restful weekend of celebrating his historic inaugural....don't eat too many chocolate fortune cookies, and get ready for the reality check Monday morning. Huzzah!
I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the Corps commander, General Dempsey. We all talked together. And I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no." -- That's General John Abizaid, the top commander in Iraq, quoted in a long-awaited letter the Democratic leaders of Congress just sent over to GWB, saying, in short, SNAP OUT OF IT. No "surge," no "stay the course," just wrap it up: "It is time to bring the war to a close." Say it, sister! As some of the commenters note (and there's a Nobel winner in there!), the Prez is still listening to his chorus of Iagos if he thinks more troops could actually help...not that Vice Profiteer Cheney cares about another 3,000 or 30,000 dead so long as his retirement account continues to fatten. Is it possible to impeach the VP? Hmmmm....
"He admits to regularly dipping into Mr. Santorum's stash." -- His candy stash, of course. Now that Santorum has been cleansed from the Senate floor, the new occupant of his well-stocked "candy desk," a Congressional loophole/tradition since 1968, hasn't got constituents like Hershey to placate the Capitol sweet tooth. Maybe they can contract out to Halliburton for $900 candy bars or something...


The Ideal Contrast Moon -- a montage of photos taken during different lunar phases combined for crisp, clear lunacy. From the Earth Science Picture of the Day archive, lots of good wallpaper ideas in there...
"Dear Governor Patrick...You should always ask middle and high school kids what they think they need instead of only listening to grown ups tell you what they think we need." -- Youth of the Commonwealth, unite! This Boston Latin Academy student has an editorial platform in today's Globe, as Patrick gets sworn in and, hopefully, a new wind starts to blow around here....let's hope.
"The black and white / right vs. wrong / ethical vs. unethical line seems so clear for you, but come play at my house for a week....” -- One of the sympathetic commenters to The Ashley Treatment, an article posted by parents of a severely disabled girl in Seattle who opted for surgery and hormone treatment to stop their daughter's growth. Medical ethicists and disability advocates are troubled, but I for one am waiting for the Schiavo tribe to pipe up on this one...yeah, I won't hold my breath.
"I think it's going to be really cool," Lucas said. -- That's George Lucas, folks, referring to the fourth installment of Indiana Jones, hitting theaters with a sexagenarian thud in May 2008. Thus sounds the death knell for that franchise...sigh.


Just in time for the new year, here's my Everything Old Is New Again Ticket Stub:

* Casino Royale - Bond has more fun as a blond, apparently. I'm no big fan of the genre, but this updated, stripped down version really captured my interest, not least because of the strong resemblance of Daniel Craig to old-school, turtlenecked Steve McQueen, mrrrowwww. A lively opening chase sequence set the tone of brute physicality, rather than stale smarm and goofy gadgets. From there, it's a whirlwind tour of southeastern Europe alongside the vexing Vesper Lind, a brainy Bondette with a heart of stone. This contrasts nicely with the weird nude flogging scene, self-defibrillation scene, and Richard Branson cameo. Craig comes off as confident, unaffected, and driven -- more like a real James Bond than just the latest incarnation. Enough fisticuffs, cleavage, horsepower, and liquor to keep everyone happy, with some clever dialogue too. Points off for ludicrous product placement shots of Ford Mondeo, for pete's sake. (A-)

* Dreamgirls - Sisterhood is powerful, but so is the spotlight: that's the theme of this reincarnated 80's Broadway hit. You might expect a veiled retelling of Diana Ross & The Supremes' rocky road to stardom to be one long catfight, but the real star here is the spunky second banana played by Jennifer Hudson. Beyonce is so dazzlingly gorgeous we would forgive her anything, but her Dina is so sweet and compliant she fades into the background and bears little resemblance to the real-life diva Diana. Hudson's Effie is the fiery, voluptuous lead singer who gets bumped in favor of Dina's more conventionally appealing looks, and winds up scraping by as a single mom while the group rockets to stardom. Bulldozing over every friend and enemy in his path is Jamie Foxx, as producer/Rasputin Curtis Taylor, who winds up alone in his Lucite-encrusted Hollywood pad. The drama ends with an awakening for Dina, a comeback for Effie, and a puzzling lack of remorse for Cutis, but there's plenty of swooping power balladry and picture perfect costumes, wigs, makeup, and old fashioned dazzle. The music sounds weirdly dated rather than classic -- Dreamgirls is to Motown as Grease is to doo-wop, an homage from a later decade rather than the real thing. But it's an entertainment, and it was gratifying to see a completely earnest, mainstream, big budget movie populated entirely with black stars (except for the weird cameos by Jon Lithgow and John Krasinski). Eddie Murphy made me forget his entire "family comedy" career with one devastating scene as the self-destructing soul singer Jimmy Early, and who knew he (and Foxx, for that matter) could sing so well? But the major points and props (and probably the Supporting Actress Oscar) go to Hudson for belting out the classic "And I Am Telling You..." number so wrenchingly that people actually applauded in the theater at the end of the song! Not at the end of the film, though, it was a little too LifeTime movie for that. (B+)