Monthly Archives: July 2011

MTV turns 30, and the celebration is on VH1. And a moment of glory in parallel parking

It was appointment television for just about my entire generation.

After school, throughout junior high and well into high school, I’d come home from Burr Junior High and then Commack Middle School, have a snack, and turn on MTV.
Adam Curry and “Dial MTV” were on, and I had to see if my favorite (fill in the blank among Madonna, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, etc.) video was in the Top 10.
It was important to me that they were.
Why? Because it was. Because MTV was the absolute apex of pop culture cool.

MTV was really important to us back in the day. It was “our” place, the one channel on the dial where we could shut out the world and the grown-ups and the braces and the acne and just enjoy music.
It was Bono belting out “With or Without You.” It was Madonna shaking her sexy body all over the place. It was Van Halen and Prince and Michael Jackson and Nirvana and … everyone else you could think of.
And now, MTV turns 30 today. And for people of my generation (hell, we were called the “MTV Generation), it’s a shell of its former self. Having “music” in its name is as big a misnomer as “gun control.”
Just for the hell of it, I called up the programming guide on my TV to see how many hours of music-related shows MTV was showing on a typical 24-hour day.
Today, it’s a whole three hours of videos. From 6-9 a.m. The rest is reality shows, reruns (“That 70s Show” and the like) and more inane television.
Three hours of music!
Sunday there was a celebration of MTV’s 30th birthday. It was shown on VH1 Classic.
Sigh. MTV can’t even take time away from “Teen Moms” and “Jersey Shore” to celebrate itself. I mean come on, couldn’t we have gotten Martha Quinn to make a cameo with Snooki? Or had Downtown Julie Brown lecturing the “Teen Moms?”
I no longer want my MTV. But just because it’s not what it used to be, doesn’t mean I can’t, on a day like today, remember how incredibly awesome it used to be.
Thank you, MTV, for helping make my childhood a little cooler.

**So allow me a brief minute to gloat over one of life’s unappreciated moments: Saturday night in Manhattan, I performed one of my greatest parallel parking jobs in my life. Not to get all George Costanza on you, but I had been circling my friend’s block for 10 minutes and finally found a space I thought I maybe, possibly could squeeze into.
And after 5 minutes of furiously turning the wheel left and right, backing up six inches at a time, I fit into that sucker. There was about six inches between my front bumper and the white van in front of me, and about three inches between my back bumper and the bumper of the red Corolla behind me.
OK, so I tapped each car’s bumper once in the process. Sue me. When I got out, I actually stood and marveled at the park.
I used to be a terrible parallel parker. And when you don’t live in a big city, your skills grow dormant.
But I’m back, baby! I can park with the best of them!
Thank you. I feel better after sharing that.

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The awesomeness of minimalist movie posters. And the Netflix Relief Fund: A worthy cause

This was a wonderful find on Twitter this week. A graphic artist named Matt Owen decided to reduce some classic movies to minimalist art posters. The results (two of my favorites are above) are fantastic.
I love that in this age where there’s so much fancy whiz-bang technology and graphics to make everything seem exciting and complex, Owen did something as simple as this and it looks so cool.
Check out the rest of his fabulous work here. I think the “The Breakfast Club” and “The Usual Suspects” are particularly brilliant.

**So there was quite a kerfuffle last week when Netflix decided to raise prices on DVD rentals and live streaming. Personally, I don’t see why people had their panties in such a bunch. It’s still pretty cheap to use Netflix, and you can’t beat their selection.
And the price-raising did give us this hilarious video, starring Jason Alexander, urging us to donate to the Netflix Relief Fund. Such a worthy cause.

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A hilarious teacher’s contract from 1922: Women weren’t trusted too much. And Jon Stewart takes on GOP “victimhood.”

So far after three weeks of grad school, I’ve learned that my grades may be about what they were 15 years ago (hey, I’m still a B student, I haven’t lost my touch for slightly above-average work!) and that some teachers back in the day had it rough.
Take this hilarious (in hindsight) document my professor gave us the other night. It’s a 1922 Teacher’s Contract for women. For the salary of $75 per month, this is what women had to agree to (My comments in italics)

1. Not to get married. This contract becomes null and void if the teacher marries.
2. Not to have company with men.
3. To be at home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless in attendance at a school function (what if they had to go to the store to buy milk?)
4. Not to loiter downtown in ice cream stores (by far my favorite stipulation. What the hell was going on at ice cream stores in the 1920s? Were they bootlegging liquor or selling cocaine or something? Man, that Baskin-Robbins has always been known as a drug haven)

5. Not to leave town any time without the permission of the Chairman of the Trustees.
6. Not to smoke cigarettes.
7. Not to drink beer, wine or whiskey (but vodka was OK, apparently)
8.
Not to ride in a carriage or automobile with any man except her brother or father (so not only no husbands, but no boyfriends either?)
9. Not to dress in bright colors.
10. Not to dye their hair.
11. To wear at least two petticoats (TWO? What if it’s 85 degrees in May, they’ve still got to be all bundled up? Cruel and unusual punishment. UPDATE: I’m an idiot for not knowing what a petticoat is. An alert female reader friend of mine, A.T.,  tells me it’s an undergarment for a skirt. Apologies for the mistake. Still, I think it’s crazy that they had to wear two.)
12. Not to wear dresses more than 2 inches above the ankle.
13. To keep the schoolroom clean, including scrubbing the floor weekly with soap and hot water.
And finally…
14. Not to wear face powder, mascara or to paint lips.

So there you go. Obey all 14 of those items, and you, too could’ve been a 1922 teacher.
Vodpod videos no longer available.

**Jon Stewart was on his game again Wednesday night, calling out the blatant hypocrisy (and really, it’s more than hypocrisy. There needs to be a stronger word than hypocrisy here) of the Republicans crying victimhood. During the last Sean Hannity quote of this sketch, I really thought Jon Stewart’s head might explode:

A politician accidentally “joins” a Mexican drug cartel. A very cool pool backflip. And the new doll that lets you breast-feed.


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So there are a few things as a local politician you can’t really control.
How smart your opponent is.
Whether unemployment goes up your district.
If your campaign logo is the exact same one used by a ruthless drug cartel.
Yep, I bet the Founding Fathers didn’t have to deal with the problem Judith Zaffarini, a state senator in Texas, has had to go through. Seems that Zaffarini was using a “Z” logo that looked exactly like that of the Zetas, a Mexican drug organization that does really, really bad things to people (they once carved the “Z” into the chests of people they tortured and ripped hearts out of. Lovely, I know).
So now Zaffarini is going with a new logo that is bound to be safer: It has a big circle and says “I support Casey Anthony!”

**It’s late July and everyone wishes they had a pool in their backyard (If you’re reading this and you do have a pool in your backyard, the rest of us hate you.)
Have to say, this is the most impressive pool backflip I’ve ever seen. If this guy tried it 100 times, he’d fail 99 times.

**Finally, this story sounds completely made up (like many of the stories I post here on Wide World of Stuff, come to think of it)  but I swear it’s real.
A Spanish toy company called Berjuan Toys has invented a new doll that you can breast-feed.
It’s called Breast Milk Baby, and it comes with a halter top that your child can wear that allows it to “nurse the doll.”
But wait, it gets better! According to this story, the doll “makes motions and suckling sounds when a sensor in its mouth comes close to a sensor inside an applique.”
Sounds like a delightful toy for boys and girls, and children of all ages.

Paul Krugman nails the media, accurately. A strange story of a woman who disappeared in her own home. And Lochte slays Phelps in the pool.

This is one of my biggest complaints about the national media in the past 15 years: They are constantly putting forth this “false equivalency.” What I mean is, even if one side of the story is SO clearly making more sense, and more truthful, than the other side, the Wolf Blitzers and Brian Williamses of the world present both sides as if they’re exactly the same.
And it drives me up a freaking wall (as it does Bill Maher, who frequently rails about it on his show). It’s happening now with this debt ceiling crisis, as Barack Obama has bent over backwards and then back again trying to get a deal done, offering everything but naming Sasha Obama’s first-born child John.
Meanwhile, the Republicans, who have once again successfully moved the middle of the debate so far to the right that it only looks like the middle because they’ve taken such an extreme position (you followed all that, right?), refuse to budge on anything.
And yet, the media continues to portray this as a civil disagreement between two sides.
Paul Krugman, the brilliant New York Times columnist, put up a blog post Tuesday that sums this up perfectly. Check it out please; he makes the point far more eloquently than I could.

**And now, for no particular reason except that I stumbled upon it on YouTube Tuesday night, is Billy Crystal, as Sammy Davis Jr., from the 1980s. People forget how utterly brilliant Billy was:

The best stories are the ones you can get lost in.
They may not have the most profound meaning or carry the most important news of the day, but they suck you in and make you think about how things happen.

Michael Kruse, a very talented writer for the St. Petersburg Times (who is leaving the paper soon for a new gig, I hear) wrote this heartbreaking story about a woman in Brevard County, Fla. named Kathryn Norris, who died in her house and wasn’t discovered for 16 months.
She literally, as Kruse writes, “went missing inside her own home.” It’s a really good story that’s worth your time today.

**Finally, my man Ryan Lochte, a six-time Olympic medalist in swimming who I covered (fairly obsessively) for four years at the Daytona Beach News-Journal, scored another huge win over Michael Phelps Tuesday. At the FINA World Championships he beat Phelps in the 200 freestyle final, the third time he’s beaten the greatest swimmer ever in the last year.
Lochte is ascending, while Phelps is finally coming down from the mountain. It’s been so cool to watch this rivalry develop the last few years, as Lochte got closer and closer to Phelps’ heels. For the moment, he’s definitely caught him.
My last story for my old newspaper (sniff, sniff) ran last Sunday, a profile of Lochte previewing this week’s worlds. If you’re a swimming fan, check it out here, and here’s video of the race:

Should we tax junk food to raise money? NFL labor peace in our time! And a great Beastie Boys/Sesame Street collaboration

So this is no big news headline, but Americans keep getting fatter and fatter.
And our ability to bring in revenue for the government has plummeted as well, thanks to the Republicans’ belief that any new taxes equal the fall of life as we know it.

So I thought it was good that a writer named Mark Bittman wrote a piece in the N.Y. Times Sunday bringing back the argument that we should tax junk food.
Think about it: You’re giving people a financial inducement to eat healthier, and all that crap people are eating is making them sick and driving up health care costs, which affects all of us.

Truly, I’ve never been on this side of this issue before; I used think people should be able to eat whatever the hell they want and that’s their business.
But I’ve been turned around on it. Read this fascinating article and see what you think.

**NFL labor peace has finally arrived. There’s no sport that I anticipate more in the beginning of the season than football, probably because the offseason is so long. (Totally random digression: Football also was the subject of my all-time favorite quote from the greatest TV show ever, “The Wire.” It was from Prez, the cop-turned-teacher; while he was watching a game his girlfriend came in and asked who was winning. His reply: “Nobody wins. One side just loses more slowly.” True of the drug war, too, of course.)
Anyway, from everything I’m reading, neither the players nor the owners got everything they wanted. Thankfully, there’ll be no 18-game season anytime soon, and it looks like retired players got a much better deal than they previously had.
Now, the next week should be nuts, with every team trying to sign its own free agents, and everyone else’s. From my Jets fan perspective, keeping Santonio Holmes needs to be Priority No.1. Braylon Edwards can walk, I’d like to see them keep Antonio Cromartie because he’s pretty good, but Brad Smith is sadly, probably a goner.
Most importantly, training camp opens in a few days, and the season will start on time.
Awesome. To get you ready for the season, check out (above) the Evolution of Dance guy doing the “Evolution of the Touchdown Dance.”

**And finally, just your typical Beastie Boys song performed with the characters of Sesame Street. This killed me:

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A historic day in New York for gay marriage: 2 stories from the long fight. And Danish a capella singers do 90s dance music

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Sunday was a record-setting day in New York, and for the first time in a week it had nothing to do with the weather (seriously, I know I just moved from Florida, but I didn’t mean to bring the oppressive July heat with me. Sorry).
Across the state, from Niagara Falls to Long Island, from the Bronx to Binghamton, it was finally legal for two men, or two women, to say “I Do.”
Thirty days had elapsed since the New York state legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo passed a bill legalizing gay marriage, and the new law was official at 12:01 Sunday morning.
It was a phenomenal day; just look at the faces of the happy couples in this NY Times story to see why this meant so much.

To honor this day that was so long in coming, I’d like to share a couple of stories. Charlene Strong had me choked up listening to this tale on “The Moth” radio podcast recently. Strong, who has become a very prominent gay activist in Washington state, suffered a terrible tragedy and goes into excruciating detail about her situation, and how it galvanized her to make same-sex couples rights a major issue in her life. Listen to this fantastic story if you have time today; I guarantee it will move you.

**The importance of marriage affects gay people in so many other ways. My friend Tara Finnegan Coates (a fellow Delaware Blue Hen, whoo-hoo!) pointed me to this excellent story by a woman named Beth Daniels, who explains how because her same-sex relationship wasn’t officially recognized by Virginia, she was denied custody rights of her son when the marriage ended in divorce.

**Finally, this is awesome on many levels. It’s a group a capella performance from a Danish group called Local Vocal, and they’re performing 1990s dance hits, which as you know were pretty friggin’ numerous.

The first two minutes are my favorite part, but really, the whole thing rules.

Once again, I say for the 4,383rd time: God bless the Internet.

“Weeds” and “The Green Room” are shows you should be watching. And the most devoted boyfriend ever

A couple of years ago Showtime passed HBO as the home of good TV.
HBO still has a few decent shows that I watch, like the brilliant “Boardwalk Empire,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but Showtime has vastly surpassed its more famous rival in terms of quality stuff.
So because I don’t think enough people know this, I’d like to toot the horn of a couple of my favorites who are off to great summer seasons.
The first show I love is “Weeds,” which you’ve probably heard of since it’s been around for seven years. It started off great seven years ago with Mary-Louise Parker as a suburban mom/pot dealer. Seriously, it was as darkly funny the first few years as any show I’ve ever seen.
Then it kind of got crazy and off track the last two years, but this season it’s been fantastic. Nancy Botwin (Parker) and her family have moved to New York after she spent time in prison and they were in the Netherlands (don’t ask). Kevin Nealon is back to being funny on the show after just being annoying the last two years, and the rest of the supporting cast rules. Watch this show; it’s on Monday at 10 p.m.
The other awesome Showtime show is one you probably haven’t heard of. It’s called “The Green Room,” and it’s basically this: Comedian Paul Provenza gets four other famous comics in a room, and they all sit around riffing and cracking each other up.
It’s been brilliant in its first two seasons so far; last week’s episode, with Kathy Griffin, Dana Gould (who had me spitting up food he was so funny) and Greg Proops.
Here’s a clip, not the best one of the last episode (truly, the best lines on the show are unprintable), but still pretty funny:

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**Gentlemen, I’m sorry to inform you that there’s a new standard-bearer when it comes to devoted boyfriends who want their beloved to accept their marriage proposal.

Meet my new hero, Liu Piewen of China. His girlfriend, Ling Hsueh joked with him that the only way she’d marry him is if he walked 1,000 miles. She said she wanted him to live out the old Proclaimers song, “I would walk 500 miles”, (the next lyric is “and I would walk 500 more”), and then she’d agree.
Our man Piewen thought she was serious, and has started on a hike of 1,000 miles. Should take him about six weeks.
I love this quote from Ling: “‘He’s such a fruitcake. I would have married him anyway and was only joking when I said he had to walk a 1,000 miles.”

Ah, true love. I would hope, at the very least, she’d have some tea and cake waiting for him when he was finished.

The NFL owners screw the players (and fans) again. And the great child marshmallow test.

Well, I guess it would’ve been too much to ask for this NFL labor war to end peacefully.

All the harmonious feelings and “we’re getting closer” leaked news bulletins that have come out the last few weeks, assuring us that a deal was about to be struck, now are as worthless as Confederate money and words coming out of the mouth of Sarah Palin.
All week, we football fanatics heard that Thursday was going to be the day. Owners were going to ratify a new labor deal, then the players would do it, and great glory Hallelujah, we would still have an NFL season.
Training camps opening soon! Free agency coming soon! Real, actual football season starting on time!
And then, pfffttt. Turns out it appears the owners tried to screw the players at the last minute. According to the excellent Peter King’s story on SI.com, the owners tried to throw in some language that had not been agreed upon, and basically gave the players an ultimatum.
And yeah, that didn’t go over so well. Looks like the owners totally overplayed their hand, and in a pretty obnoxious way.
So now this whole damn deal may blow up, we may have weeks and months more of men in suits arguing instead of men in cleats and pants hitting each other, and who knows if the 2011 season will get played.
I’m making this about me. I knew God would punish me by having the Jets get really, really good, get them thisclose to making the Super Bowl, and then the sport would blow up for a year.

I want my NFL football. Dammit, dammit, dammit.
In the meantime, here’s Al Pacino to get you fired up:

**This next video is based on a famous experiment done by Stanford psychologists in the 1960s. The idea is this: They bring a little kid into a room and put a marshmallow in front of him or her. They tell the kid they can eat the marshmallow now, but if they wait 10 minutes, they’ll get two marshmallows.
Man, what IS a kid to do? This cracked me up, especially the kid’s face at 1:55. As one YouTube commenter said, “it’s like watching a bunch of cute, adorable crack addicts.”

The cops bust a kid’s lemonade stand. Am I turning into an old man? (thoughts from school). And Fallon and Timberlake rap

Well, this story made me mad. Especially because it’s summer and a child’s lemonade stand is one of the most wonderful parts of the season. A hat tip to my friend Mark Mahoney (a Pulitzer Prize winner, by the way; I love calling him that) for pointing me to this one.
Seems police in Appleton, Wisc. (a town name that always makes me think of Larry Appleton, from “Perfect Strangers,” but I digress) busted a lemonade stand run by two sisters, aged 9 and 10, because of a new city ordinance regulating vendors who sell stuff near a public event (there was a car show going on nearby).
Except the joke was on the police, because they read the law wrong and the girls weren’t in violation.
Like that really matters. It’s a child’s lemonade stand, for God’s sakes! What, are you afraid they’re going to drive business away from restaurants selling lemonade??? Do you think maybe terrorists are funneling money through those dastardly 25 cent cups of sweet, thirst-quenching goodness?

Ugh. I just hate these kinds of stories, because if you’re a police officer and you see kids selling lemonade, are there any circumstances in which you think “You know what, I need to shut this down”?
I hope the girls sell a ton of lemonade after this publicity.

**OK, I admit right up front that the fact that I’m at least 10 years older than most of my graduate school classmates this summer may be influencing my thinking.
But I’m a little worried I’m becoming an old fuddy-duddy. At least when it comes to the wardrobe of others.
Wednesday night in class, this girl walks in wearing the shortest pair of shorts I’ve ever seen. I’m talking, Hollywood Boulevard hooker-type shorts. Hoochies walking around South Beach-type shorts. (Shorts like that random girl in a photo I found on the Internet.) I really don’t think I’m exaggerating here; the shorts basically stopped at the bottom of her hips.
And I was kinda bothered by it. The girl is about 22 or 23, I’d guess. But I mean, is that really how a person dresses for a grad school class on a Wednesday night?
To see if I was just crazy or not, I asked my new friend Crissy, a fellow “adult” in her 30s who sits next to me in class (it’s amazing how friendly you can get with people when you see them for 3 1/2 hours every night) about it.
She said she hadn’t noticed. Then she looked over at the girl. She mouthed “Wow” to me.
That made me feel better. But you tell me, am I wrong to be judgmental here?

**Finally, I know normally seeing two white guys go through the history of rap, while performing it, would sound pretty lame. But since it was Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon doing it, it was pretty damn funny. The beginning, and the M.C. Hammer part, are my favorites: