Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Mom, Dad, I'm Into Steampunk"

(via boingboing)

This gem available on Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency: Short Imagined Monologues

If you want to label me retrofuturistic so I can fit into your compartmentalized worldview, that's fine. But look past my airplane goggles. This is my lifestyle.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ernie & Bert Ante Up

This does not appear to be the first example of someone recutting Sesame Street footage to match up the muppet lipsync to rap songs, but the execution on this one definitely makes it a winner.

Here Ernie & Bert take on M.O.P.'s hit "Ante Up".

YouTube link

via Monoscope

Friday, July 18, 2008

Slate: You've already spent your tax windfall on gas and bread.

Citing Merrill Lynch's chief economist, Slate's Daniel Gross writes:
The chunk of the stimulus package likely to get spent is roughly equivalent to the amount Americans are paying for higher food and gas prices because of inflation. Put another way, you've already spent your stimulus at ExxonMobil.

Here's the math. Merrill Lynch is basing its calculations on two assumptions:
1. that Americans will spend only 40% of their rebate (and pay down debt with the rest, or save it); and,
2. energy and food inflation combined is costing us $50 billion per quarter.

Total stimulus package in rebates: $120 billion.
40% of 120 is 48 billion, eaten up in one quarter.

At first I thought, big deal, there are still three other quarters in the year. People might--operative word, might --choose to spend more than 40% of their rebate. Say, 100%.

$120 billion minus $50 billion minus $50 billion minus $50 billion (3rd quarter) minus $50 billion (4th quarter)...


We don't track the gasoline expenses in our house, but this year we're on track to pay $700 extra in groceries, not because the kids are eating more, or because of more organic produce, but simply the increased cost of everything at the store. $4.50 gasoline doesn't faze me. But $4.50 bread: I get sticker shock.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wait. This isn't a fake documentary?

(via Whack-a-Flick)

I watched this movie trailer, and wondered at first if it was a low-budget indie movie. Then, once the trailer revealed its premise, I thought it was a put-on. Like Christopher Guest doing a "Best in Show" take on the war in Iraq. (Warning: graphic images in the trailer)

Turns out, this is a straight ahead documentary.

There really is a fake town in the Mojave Desert where the military pays Iraqi refugees to play the part of Iraqi police and insurgents so that the army can conduct war games, complete with fake explosions and movie make up and funerals.

J. Hoberman's review in the Village Voice

David Edelstein in New York magazine

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ethicurean: Eating Local isn't about Greenhouse Gases

Ethicurean, the group blog dedicated to the notion of food mindfulness, or, as they so artfully put it, "Chew the Right Thing", responds to Dubner's post in the New York Times Freaknomics blog.

Well, not directly. They respond to the same peer reviewed study that Dubner cites in his blog, namely "Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States," by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews.

The paper does note that the last miles to the table are not the major source of greenhouse gas emissions... agricultural inputs are. So you make more of a "green" impact by reducing consumption of red meat (since you're using a lot less agricultural inputs (fertilizer) to grow soy and corn which is fed to methane-producing cattle) than by buying local.

Ethicurean doesn't disagree. But their analysis of the paper doesn't lead them to the conclusion that local isn't better. There are other quality of life reasons for eating locally (which Dubner doesn't address... since he sticks to simple economics).

Ethicurean also stands up to
Salon's recent attack on localvores here:

A dissenting commenter on this latter post dismisses the food miles issue and notes: "I buy food at farmers markets. Mostly for the reason you mention: it's picked later and thus tastes better."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I'll See Your "Jordan Jesse Go" and Raise You: The Bugle

For a while I was limiting my comedy podcasts to bootleg RSS feeds of the CBC's Wiretap --Jonathan Goldstein's weekly offering which lands somewhere between a solo sitcom and a Larry David-inflected version of NPR's This American Life.

But while it was funny, it was an acquired taste. Like David Sedaris' work, you had to get used to the voice, and then the mind behind the voice, and over time, as you got to understand Goldstein's quirks and the regular foibles of his co-stars, the humor built up occasionally into laugh out loud moments.

Then the feed stopped. Don't know why.

Then, a chance bit of Facebook trivia ("Brett S. has joined the group The Bugle- Audio Newspaper for a visual world") led me to follow the link to, of all places, the The Times Online, the web site for one of the United Kingdom's national newspaper.

The Bugle has British comedy writers John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman dissect the news of the week. They've been compared to The Onion, but fake news is a mere 5-10% of their show. They comment on the news-- it's more like The Daily Show (Oliver, is, in fact, a writer and correspondent for that show).

The two hosts also play off each other, like the Car Talk guys, but, I have to say, English accents work way better for this shtick than Boston ones.

With Zaltzman based in London, and Oliver in New York, they tend to cover world affairs... and it's surprising how many laughs they can generate over political violence in Zimbabwe, the war in Iraq, the global response to climate change (true, much of the humor is at the expense of the United States). The international perspective on American politics is nice to hear, and they even make British sports (rugby, cricket, football) funny knowing that their American audience has little idea what they are talking about.

At least one laugh out loud moment, usually more, per episode.
3 out of 4 episodes will actually find me in tears from laughing so hard.

Available on iTunes, or get episodes here: The Bugle

Friday, July 04, 2008

Vintage Americana

For your 4th of July viewing pleasure, a glimpse of our nation's halcyon days as viewed through the lens of "Dynasty".  I see in this charming folk-dance an echo of Martha Graham's work in "Appalachian Spring".

Thursday, July 03, 2008

TED 2008: Benjamin Zander on classical music

This made the rounds on a couple of arts administration and theatre blogs, and it's my second favorite TED talk of all time.

Benjamin Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic. I didn't know that when I followed the link. I watched it because a couple of bloggers found it a great example of evangelizing for the power of art.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Julia Nunes: Singer-Songwriter, YouTube artist

I'm a bit delayed in writing about Julia Nunes (pronounced "Noons"). (Tom blogged about her way back in May.)

She's a college student in upstate New York, who over the past few months has built up a strong YouTube following, with more than 30,000 subscribers and with many of her videos topping 200,000 views.

Her "schtick", at first glance, is performing covers of pop hits directly into her iSight camera, while accompanying herself on ukulele. She won a uke manufacturer's "World Ukulele Video Contest" back in December for her cover of Destiny's Child's "Survivor."

Here's a characteristic performance from last September, of NSYNC's "Bye, Bye, Bye":

(Link to video)

Where most amateur musicians with Macs might use GarageBand as songwriting tool, Nunes started using the iSight and iMovie for that purpose after taking a high school new media class, performing in-progress songs as videos (according to an interview she gave this year). She got comfortable adding harmony tracks, percussion, or alternate guitar or ukulele tracks by listening to the main video playback using iPod earbuds, and then editing the multiple tracks/takes together.

Here's her cover of The Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men" featuring herself on harmony vocals:

(Link to video)

Nunes' comfort in performing to the camera, her clever multitracking, and her goofy enthusiasm make her a terrific match for YouTube. But I think even more than these, it is her willingness to publish unpolished or unguarded moments that creates a feeling of sincerity and authenticity, and builds an emotional connection with her viewers.

Here, for example, is an original song of hers entitled "First Impressions", in which emotion flits across her face in reaction to both the lyrics and the awkwardness of a couple of her chord changes.

(Link to video)

Revealing this kind of vulnerability is antithetical to traditional showmanship, but creates a powerful emotional hook particular to online/portable video (small formats where the viewer stays close to the screen, enhancing a feeling of intimacy). Plus she responds in video to the many video comments she receives, and has started up a separate YouTube channel just for videos of her talking to her fans and peers.

In fact it's as a YouTube artist that I most admire Nunes. I ponied up the $10 to order her CD of original songs, which pretty much matches one's conception of an album by an earnest college freshman singer-songwriter. (It doesn't feature the song above, but does include both a studio and live version of her hit single.)

It'll be interesting over time to see what kind of musical "career" she can build, either through touring and live performances (she opened for Ben Folds for a few nights in May, and headlines a show at the Knitting Factory next week) or as a mostly online presence. Like Jonathan Coulton, she's got just enough technical savvy to have established something like a direct relationship with her fan base, even if it is using someone else's platform.

Speaking of which, she's savvy enough to know that the still image shown to represent YouTube videos comes from the exact middle of the video. So she cleverly spliced this quick flash frame into her video of "Build Me Up, Buttercup" so as not to give away a surprise she had in store.

(Link to video)

You can visit Nunes' main YouTube page or on MySpace, or buy her CD at her home page.