Archive for January, 2009

Book Smart: Oscar Reads, “The Reader”

January 30, 2009

Act like you read the book when all you had time to do was watch the movie (or, the trailer) (we’re busy people!). 

The Reader,  by Bernard Schlink (1995) is a former Oprah-fave. Now it’s an Oscar-nommed movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet in her Golden Globe-winning role as a German streetcar conductor who has nasty secrets and a penchant for teenage boys. 

In The Movie:
•    Directed by Stephen Daldry, with a screenplay by David Hare, the movie is told through flashbacks.
•    It’s most famous for the scene where Kate gets naked and deflowers the boy in a bathtub. Hot.
•    Then, because she can’t read, he reads classics of Western lit to her, also while naked. Also hot.
•   SPOILER ALERT! Unfortunately for them both, it turns out that she used to be a Nazi prison guard and gets tried for war crimes and goes to jail. Ralph Fiennes, former child love slave all grown up, sends her books on tape that he records himself. Still, weirdly hot. 

Between the Pages:
•    The book is pretty brief and alternates between storytelling and philosophical musing on the nature of guilt and responsibility.
•    Sequences like the reading-in-bed montage only occupy, like, a few sentences.
•    The book moves chronologically; instead of through flashbacks.
•    The book ends with the loverboy writing down his story; in the movie he tells his tale to his daughter (without all that stuff about the bathtub).


Sink Your Teeth Into Competitive Eating

January 30, 2009

Super Bowl? What Super Bowl? This week’s main sporting event took place this morning in Philadelphia, where John Squibb was crowned the winner of Wing Bowl 2009 with a bellyful of 203 wings and a brand new Cooper Mini. Barf. (Except, by the rules, he’s not allowed to.)

Squibb, aka Cottage Cheese, beat out rivals El Wingador and defending champ Joey Chestnut, the Michael Jordan of Competitive Eating. Yes, it’s a real sport.

Want to eat your way to fame, or at least a hot car? Here are some places to do it:

  • The mother of all eating contests is Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Championship, bringing 40,000 spectators to Coney Island every 4th of July. Japanese eaters dominated the “Mustard Belt” until two years ago when Joey Chestnut crushed the record, eating 66 wieners in 12 minutes. Last summer the gorging went into overtime, with Chestnut narrowly beating a guy suspected of hurling under the table.
  • If meat’s not your speed, try the Stockton Asparagus Festival in California, where eaters gorge on “tempura” asparagus. Yes, that would be the bougie word for deep-fried. Another Chestnut special, our man digested 8.8 lb. of the stuff last year.
  • The Dennis Gross Memorial Sacramento Peep Off challenges you to ingest as many marshmallow Peeps as you can in 30 minutes.  Named for the record-holder who ate 102 sugar chickens in 2003, un-swallowing will get your disqualified. Unless you eat your puke. Which happened last year.
  • For the ladies: at the Iowa State Fair you can compete in the Erotic Corn Dog Eating Contest, banned in 2007 for “poor taste” but reinstated in 2008 due to “popular demand.” You have 30 seconds to demonstrate your, ahem, “technique.” On a corn dog. Creative use of mayo encouraged.
  • New Jersey found a way to out-gross even the grossest, with their the Pigs’ Feet Eating Championship, held at the Meadowlands. Arturo Rios, Jr. won $1250 for eating almost 3lb of pigs’ feet and also knuckles, which most of us wouldn’t even eat one of. To make the “challenging” fare more appetizing they were squirted with lemon juice. Um, yum?

Chow Down on More:

How to Win a Hot-Dog Eating Contest (wiki)

Taiwan cancelled eating contests last year after a guy suffocated

VIDEO of Joey Chestnut breaking the hot dog eating record

* * *

Word Up: Competitive eating – the official sport of stuffing your face with more food than should be humanly possible

By the Numbers: 203 – number of wings winner John Squibb ate during Wing Bowl 2009

Middle-Aged Broads in Bikinis

January 30, 2009

Do you ever see older ladies at the beach and wonder: “Dude, I don’t have this body at 26, how come they get it at 60?” Well we do. Today we were again reminded that the expectation of a “beach body” goes well into your fifties as Angelica Huston romped around in the Caribbean. Here’s our ode to the broads that still strut their bikini-clad stuff in middle age (in age descending order):

Helen Mirren Bikini Last June, 63-year-old Helen Mirren hit the beach in a raucous hot-pink bikini and we almost died. She has serious ab definition, no cellulite, and most importantly, so awesome boobs. Kinda makes us wanna see Calendar Girls.
57-year-old Angelica Huston hit the beach this week in a little black number that made us wikipedia her. We found out she has no kids, which makes us feel better, cause no one deserves to win the genetic lottery that hard core. article-1132185-033ce5cc000005dc-887_468x2861
Janice Dickinson 53-year-old Janice Dickinson has had everything nipped, tucked, sucked, pinched, injected, and implanted that is humanly possible. She’s a character and she’s honest about it, so we kinda dig her. Also, she has a show on Oxygen that we love, cause the lady of the house is bat-shiz crazy.
46-year-old Marla Maples is by far the youngest of the group, and (apparently) the most patriotic. Wrapped in an American flag, she strutted her stuff for the camera, and maybe for that famous ex everyone loves to hate. You go, Marla Maples. marla-maples-bikini070302

Go Buy a Car, Stat

January 30, 2009

car1Ford has been around for a looong time—since 1903. But 2008 was their worst year ever, racking up losses of $14.6 billion smackeroos.

Unlike G.M. and Chrysler, Ford isn’t in on the $13.4 billion federal auto bailout. But, help is on the way. A slew of  initiatives may give wheels to this clunker of an auto industry:


By the Numbers:

$14.6 billion = the amount of money Ford lost in 2008

Book Smart: Oscar Reads Slumdog Millionaire

January 30, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire is melting hearts and snapping up awards across the planet (hello, 10 Oscar nods?). This means we are going to get to see M.I.A. wear something insane when she performs her nominated song “O Saya.” Awesome.

The movie tells the tale of Jamal, a chai-wallah (tea boy) who wins the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” It’s based on  Vikas Swarup’s Indian bestseller “Q&A.” However, it’s not just the title that has been changed.

Here are other ways director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufroy fiddled with the original:


  • Movie: The show is called” Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?”, it’s real-life title.
  • Book: Swarup calls it “Who Will Win a Billion?”, a made-up version of the same thing.


  • Movie: The hero, Jamal Malik, is a Muslim whose mother is attacked and killed by Hindus.
  • Book: The character’s name is Ram Mohammed Thomas, a symbolic mix of Indian, Muslim, and Christian names.


  • Movie: We first meet adorable little Jamal running through the slums of Mumbai; he lives with his mother until she is killed in a raid
  • Book: We meet Ram as a baby, left on the doorstep of a Delhi church


  • Movie: Perhaps the most complex relationship in the film is between Jamal and his tougher brother Salim
  • Book: Jamal and Salim are just friends, so the betrayal at the end does not carry the same weight


  • Movie: Jamal meets and falls in love with Latika, a fellow street kid, as a young child; after they are heartbreakingly separated, he spends most of the movie looking for her, going on TV hoping she’ll see him
  • Book: Ram meets his lovergirl as a teenager; she is a prostitute and he goes on TV to win the money to buy her from her pimp.


  • Movie: Jamal is arrested after the second-to-last question, suspected of cheating.
  • Book: He’s thrown in the slammer after winning the whole shebang.

What does author Swarup think of all these radical departures? “The film is beautiful. The plot is riveting. The child actors are breathtaking.” And paid, like, zero dollars.

Greening the White House

January 29, 2009

In his first weekly You Tube address to the nation, Obama declared that the US will be a leader on climate change. That is change we can believe in. And also breathe.

Here are some of the ways he’s gonna green the U.S. of A and save our wasteful souls:

  • Get 10% of our energy from renewable resources by 2012, and 25% by 2025
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050.
  • Build a new electricity grid
  • Make 75% of federal buildings more energy efficient
  • Weatherize 2 million family homes

Ok, so we know it all starts at home. Every four years, the First Family gets $100,000 from Congress to redecorate—so how well are the Obamas going to practice what they preach?

  • The Obamas just hired Sam Kass, their locavore-minded Chicago chef, to work with White House chef Cristeta Comerford, who already uses veggies from the White House roof garden. Just yesterday, she served sustainably raised wagyu beef to Congress at the very first White House cocktail party in eight years.
  • The Bushes have already made the White House pretty efficient, installing flurorescent lightbulbs, solar-heating panels, and low-flush toilets.
  • Last fall, Obama told told Barbara Walters that he turns the lights off at home and unplugs unused electronics. “Part of what I want to do is to show the American people that it’s not that hard” to be green.

Or, Not So Much:

  • We’re all a-twitter about Obama’s no-jacket office attire. But there’s more than fashion behind that look: turns out BO likes to turn up the heat. Literally, not just on Republicans. Advisor David Axelrod told the Times, “He’s from Hawaii, O.K? He likes it warm.” Unfortunately, keeping it warm can leading to warming, i.e. of the earth.
  • You may recall that The Beast, the President’s kick-ass new car, only gets—gulp—8 miles a gallon. A Prius it ain’t.
  • Obama is going to have to work to reduce waste at social gatherings. The day after the Inauguration, the Washington sanitation department picked up 130 TONS of trash.

Hm. While it’s obvious that Obama and fam are totally committed to all things awesome and green, I wonder if he should buy a hip Armani sweater, turn the heat down, and go for more walks.

* * *

By the Numbers:

100,000 – number of dollars new White House residents get to erase all traces of the previous occupants’ bad taste

Led’s better; Still, Minority Salaries Range

January 29, 2009

Today, Barack Obama put pen to paper to sign the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which’ll make it much easier for women and other minorities to sue their company for pay discrimination. The bill is named for Lilly Ledbetter, who worked for 19 years at a tire factory making much less than her male counterparts. When she tried to take legal action in 1998, she was negged by the Supreme Court. 

“It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign, we are upholding one of this nation’s first principles,” said Obama. “That we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness.” 

All of this got us wondering, just how bad is pay discrimination these days? We checked  the Bureau of Labor Statistics and learned: It still sucks. Here’s the breakdown of pay for the same work across gender and race:


Here’s hoping this new bill will help us all get to the same level.



Ledbetter Bill = a bill recently signed into law by Barack Obama that makes it easier to sue for pay discrimination

By the Numbers:

80¢ = the amount of money a woman makes to every dollar banked by a dude

Still Life: Office Casual

January 29, 2009


Everyone’s making a big fuss about Obama losing the jacket in the Oval Office. What if other world leaders took Obama’s cue and dressed down? Here’s how we imagine India’s Pratibha Patil, North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, and France’s former president Jacques Chirac in their office casual outfits!

White House unbuttons formal dress code: Photos of jacketless Obama at White House may signal subtle culture shift

Abortion Smackdown: Obama V. Pope

January 29, 2009

Lots of women cheered when, on his second full day in office, President Obama signed a law overturning the “gag-rule,” the Bush-era clamp-down on overseas groups offering abortion counseling.

Not cheering, however, was the iPod-loving Pope. The Vatican immediately declared the act “arrogant” and the new president to be “a disappointment,” and basically warned the new Prez that  he’s gunning for a fight over family planning—a fight that Obama seems ready to take on.

The New York Times wrote that repealing the law on the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade shows that Obama actually plans to deliver on his campaign promises. Obama himself declared that overturning the gag-rule “stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters.”

Representatives of the Holy See lashed out in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, saying that signing the law displayed “the arrogance of a person who, having the power, thinks they can decide on life and death.”

Some Catholic groups in the US are ready to play dirty, already airing this video suggesting that Obama himself was almost aborted. Ugh.

More helpful is this map of pregnancy centers in the US, by state.

* * *

Word Up: The Holy See – the site of the central government of the Catholic Church; recognized as a sovereign state by the United Nations

By the Numbers: 36 – number of years ago that the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion

Eat Me: Foods to Die For

January 28, 2009

Cute little guy, isn’t he? That Blowfish up there?

Well, Blowfish poisoning sent seven people to the hospital in Japan this week. Erm, not so cute. A drop of poison, called tetrodotoxin, from this delicacy can paralyze and kill a person. Blowfish poison is found in the roe, ovaries and the liver of the fish. It takes years to train in cutting the Fugu, as it is called in Japan. Just ask this guy. A slip of the knife and it’s your last meal…

But blowfish aren’t the only fatal foods. Here are some of the deadliest:

  • Live Octopus or San Nak Ji (in Korean): Live octopus is super popular in Korea and Japan. Though not “poisonous” per se, their little suctiony arms can stick to throats and choke victims, causing an average of six deaths a year in South Korea. The live baby octopus is cut up into bite-size pieces and immediately served, usually with sesame oil. The tentacles squirm until you chew them to death. Sounds pretty metal, right?
  • Fruit Seeds: Apple seeds. Cherry stones. The kernels in apricot, nectarine, peach and plums pits. All contain cyanide. If consumed in large quantities, it deprives cells of oxygen and eventually shuts down the heart and brain, causing respiratory failure and death. Children can kick it from eating just 15 apricot kernels at a time. Though, this shouldn’t be an issue, cuz who’s eating these things?
  • Cassava: If not properly washed or cooked, the leaves and roots of cassava contain cyanide. But pound the roots and leaves into flour, soak and dry it, and the cyanide gas escapes.  500 million people rely on cassava for their calorie intake and it is used to make tapioca and protein-rich cakes. Recent news suggests cassava might be making its healthy snack introduction stateside. Because our snack food isn’t already trying to kill us.
  • Mushrooms: Death Cap mushrooms, often confused for the Paddy Straw, contain over seven toxins and one bite can kill you. Other killer not-so-fun-gis are the Gyomitra (often confused for Morrel) and the aptly named Destroying Angels, and Deadly Webcap.  Most mushroom poisoning causes nausea, diarrhea, hallucination or kidney failure.
  • Ackee Fruit: Originally from West Africa, Ackee fruit is  used in Jamaican cuisine like the national delicacy, “ackee and saltfish.” The fruit is poisonous if it is both immature or overripe. The only edible part is the flesh around the seeds, the rest has a toxin called hypoglycin which can be fatal.


By the Numbers:

500: million people rely on cassava as a food staple