Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Because nothing should be taken too seriously

My sister, handing me Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead to read, simply said it was "a wicked good read." She was right.

I went on to write a thesis (or what amounted to one at my school) on Rand. But not on Objectivism, or Capitalism, or Selfishness (caps hers). I was more interested in making a case for using fiction (especially "wicked good reads") to teach science — at least, political science. Seriously, wouldn't you like a little Ayn Rand thrown in with your Hobbes? Or Adam Smith, as the case may be?

Atlas Shrugged by Rand is ranked as the second most influential book in print (after the Bible and before Wisdom from The Road Less Traveled) according to a 1991 study by Library of Congress and Book of the Month club. Strong viewpoints make for big targets, however, and Rand is no exception. See illustration on left.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Think twice about that diet soda

Once upon a time...

No, really, a long time ago, decades in fact, my friend warned me away from the "new" sweetener that was all the rage to replace saccharine.

I'm sure she told me all sorts of terrible things about it, but the one that stuck with me and that made me swear to avoid NutraSweet® at all costs, was that they (yeah, "they") hadn't determined how your body excreted the chemical. Or if it excreted the chemical.

It's a product of my childhood that the pulsing, glowing bezoar of fake sugar I promptly imagined inside me bore a surpassing resemblance to Kryptonite. It was enough to scare me off the stuff for good.

A recent article on Huffington Post by Dr. J. Mercola made me really happy I don't ingest the stuff, which is back in the news with a name change, from "NutraSweet" to "AminoSweet," to highlight the manufacturer's claim that "aspartame tastes just like sugar, and that it's made from amino acids — the building blocks of protein that are abundant in our diet."

It's a common sleight of verbal hand, right up there with "all-natural." As they say (the other "they"), snake venom is all-natural, doesn't mean it's good for you. As for being made from amino acids, while they are "indeed completely natural and safe," according to Dr. Mercola, "they were never designed to be ingested as isolated amino acids in massive quantities, which in and of itself will cause complications."

Dr. Mercola states that the FDA has received more complaints, over 10,000 in all, regarding Aspartame than all other food additives combined. Take that statistic with a grain of salt, since he also goes on to say that "by the FDA's own admission, less than 1 percent of those who experience a reaction to a product ever report it."

Er, that is not exactly what the FDA admitted. In a 1993 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, then Commissioner of the FDA, David Kessler, said "fewer than 1 percent of all doctors report injuries and deaths following the administration of prescription drugs" (emphasis mine). Which is really not the same thing. At all. Like, in any way. I managed to find a few citations that the FDA estimates that less than 10% of people report adverse reactions, but I couldn't trace it to the source — so, more salt.

Well, that got me thinking, and digging. This is what I think I know about Aspartame now: "A 1970s study suggested that aspartame caused brain tumors in rats. However, the Food and Drug Administration persuaded an independent review panel to reverse its conclusion that aspartame was unsafe."

There does seem to be consensus that the FDA's approval of NutraSweet in the 70s was a political and financial hairball of liquid lunches and hidden (or not so) agendas. Everywhere I surf, I find Tamlin Carlisle's 1987 article from The Globe and Mail about the FDA's approval, both cited and not. I also found an interesting, albeit a little salty, time-line compiled by an anti-aspartame advocate.

There does not seem to be consensus regarding aspartame's harmful effects — a great summary of both high-profile sides of the argument is on the site New studies from Italy published in 2007 caused the FDA to conduct its own new safety reviews and once again wholly dismiss any and all claims linking the chemical additive to cancer. At the same time, CSPI downgraded aspartame on its food additives list from a “use caution” rating to “everyone should avoid," and issued a brief castigation of the FDA's safety review as "perfectly predictable."

CSPI advises against Stevia (they're not alone on that one) and approves Sucralose. Mind you, CSPI itself is a little salty, given that in one sentence it advises avoiding sodium nitrite, saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-K, Olestra and caffeine. Come again?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

or maybe not...

C'mon IMDB, catch up!

Deadline Hollywood reports that Detective Winters, the lead in NBC's upcoming Lola (Law & Order LA), will be played by Skeet Ulrich.

I hear he gets mistaken for Terrence Howard all the time.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

If he could just shrug this off...

The book. The saga. The major motion picture. The movie event of the century.

Yep, the million dollar production of Atlas Shrugged from famed movie producer John Aglialoro, directed by the inimitable auteur Paul Johansson and starring Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggert, is underway.

Wait, wait. John Aglia-who-o? Paul Johansson — that guy from One Tree Hill — seriously? Not Taylor Schilling, Angelina Jolie, right? — those rumors have been around for a while. Nope.

Let me 'splain. No, no, it's too long. Let me sum up.

John Aglialoro (head of Cybex, a fitness equipment company, and also a trustee of The Atlas Society) acquired the rights to Atlas Shrugged, one of the most well-known and divisive (not to mention longest) novels of the 20th century, in 1993 for $1 million. Evidently the rights are close to expiration and so, this spring, he decided the time was right to go ahead with the film. Sans script, director, or cast. Why sweat the small stuff?

Since then Aglialoro, who intends to bring the book to screen in three parts, has commissioned a script by famed writer Bryan O'Toole — you must recognize his name? He is responsible for such masterpieces as Cemetery Gates and Evilution. Aglialoro has also brought on the directing powerhouse Paul Johansson. If you're not a One Tree Hill fan, you might remember Johansson when he played Steve's nemesis on Beverly Hills 90210, or perhaps as one of the guys in that memorable series of Diet Coke commercials? Think hard, it'll come to you.

Johansson is also slated to play John Galt. Of course he is.

If you can't see it, click here to watch Johansson deliver and drink some diet coke.

I did say million dollar production. That's right. A whole five million dollars. To compare, the production budget for Juno was estimated at around seven million.

Angelina Jolie, when asked by about the movie (not this production, to be clear, just the movie adaptation in general) had this to say: "the thing with Atlas is just, we all feel that it's one of those projects where if you can't do it right, you really can't touch it." Unless you're a fitness equipment manufacturer, that is. Then, apparently, just doing it is good enough. If only he were making a Nike commercial.

In 1949, when Ayn Rand's earlier novel, The Fountainhead, was brought to the silver screen, King Vidor (five Oscar nominations) directed, Patricia Neal, Gary Cooper and Raymond Massey starred, and Warner Brothers produced. Oh, yeah, and Ayn Rand herself wrote the screenplay. According to the producer, Henry Blanke, Ayn Rand said "she would blow up the Warner Brothers lot if we changed one word of her beautiful dialogue. And we believed her. Even Jack Warner believed her. He gave her a cigar.”

Too bad she's not around now.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Ssshhh, don't tell anyone

If you've been following the Law & Order saga, you might know that NBC rather precipitously canceled the mother ship, the original series, the only show ever to challenge Gun Smoke.

If you haven't been following the saga, because maybe, like, you have better things to do?, let me catch you up: in May, with little fanfare and no little acrimony, NBC announced the end of Law & Order after 20 seasons, after agreeing to a 21st. Dick Wolf (creator, producer, mastermind, power to be reckoned with) was reportedly furious at the renegal (renegement? there doesn't seem to be a noun for that. damn.).

Rumors swirled about Wolf's negotiations to bring L&O to TNT for its third decade, a la its sibling L&O: Criminal Intent. Meanwhile, NBC, fearing that its lone remaining spawn, L&O: SVU, might get despondent all by itself, announced yet another new Law & Order spin-off (Dick Wolf is the octo-mom of procedurals): Law & Order LA. With no cast and no premiere date, the show is nonetheless officially set to go on NBC this fall.

Right, no cast. For a show of no low profile supposed to air in just a few months. Promising.

Let me make that no cast announcement. A fortuitous perusal of IMDB revealed that Terrence Howard's latest credit is, you guessed it, L&O: Los Angeles (otherwise known as "Lola"), as Detective Rex Winters. Ming-na (remember her from, among other things, ER?) is playing Lt. Parker, which would be the role filled on various other L&O shows by S. Epatha Merkerson, Dann Florek, Jamey Sheridan, Eric Bogosian and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

My question is, do you think after the first episode, NBC will replace Howard with Don Cheadle?

Sunday, July 04, 2010

I bet he's good at Scrabble too

Rare is the show that can make me laugh out loud.

This is Jon Stewart on Fox & Friends' "discussion" of George Axelrod's appearance on Jon Stewart talking about MMS and the phenomenon know as "blaming it on Bush." I recommend the section between 3:08 and 4:38, if you don't want to watch an 8 minute clip. It's all funny, but that's the sweet spot.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c

Daily Show Full Episodes
Political HumorTea Party

YES! It's a VIDEO! Don't see it? Click here and watch it and shut up already.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Ghost Chair meets Crocs meets Greenpeace

Moschino Kartell BowWowsThey're calling it the update of the Jelly.

Moschino, a mildly successful Italian fashion company (read: sarcastic) and Kartell, a mildly successful Italian furniture company (read: very sarcastic) have teamed up to make... shoes.

Of course they have. Who knows shoes better than the Italians, who brought us, most notably, Gucci, Prada, Ferragamo... and Donald Pliner, whose marketing campaign proudly touts that his shoes are "made in the mountains of Italy?" Nor is he alone. Blahnik, Choo, Louboutin? They're all made in Italy.

BowWows, these new plastic ballet flats, won't be in stores until late this year, but if they're half as comfortable as they are cute, sign me up.

Did I mention they're 100% recyclable?

Let me recap: America brings you the Jelly, ugly and made from that poison plastic, PVC (can you say "phthalates"? No? Don't worry about pronouncing it, do worry about staying away from them). Italy brings you the BowWow, both gorgeous and green.

Italy-1, USA-0.

The Declaration of Independence in 140 Characters or less

Could you declare independence and start a revolution in 20 words or less? Slate Magazine ran a contest for best tweet to do just that. They put it this way, "rewrite the Declaration of Independence in a single tweet."

Straight from the magazine's mouth, here are the results:

declarationind.jpgThe third runner-up, for straddling the delicate balance between the literal and humorous: @Boston1775: "We seek independence based on noble and universal ideas combined with petty and one-sided grievances."

The second runner-up, for his direct and confrontational tweet, goes to @TJMonticello: "All peeps are equal. Sick and tired of your tyrannical BS. Seeking independence. Your permission requested, not required."

The first runner-up, for both historical accuracy and a Twitter-worthy modernization of communication, goes to
@badanes: "Our Rights from Creator (h/t @JLocke). Life, Liberty, PoH FTW! Your transgressions = FAIL. GTFO, @GeorgeIII. -HANCOCK et al."

And finally, our winner—according to his Twitter bio, a former writer for Conan O'Brien and The Daily Show—is @ApocalypseHow, for reminding us that brevity is the soul of wit: "Bye George, we've got it."

By George, I think we did.

Happy July Fourth, everyone!


ipad.jpgI think the iPad is tres appealing. It's cool and it's hot. It's slick. It's Apple's new product. And unlike the new iPhone 4, it apparently works. What's not to like?

Well, it's big. And it's heavy. I know I wouldn't want to hold it up and try to read a book on it for hours.

Of course, it is called the iPad. From that point of view, I get it. If you're a note taker — and I am a world-class note taker — it would be nice to have just one pad, with an endless "paper" supply. And a pad that would tag and index and sort and save and email and post your notes? Heaven. Playing movies and reading the paper and playing games could be nifty too.

Still, for reading books, I'm just not convinced. When I read, I want to read, not lift weights. I've been saying for months there should be an iDevice that's bigger than the iPhone and smaller than the iPad. Personally, I'd call it the iBook (cuz, you know, it would be about the size of a paperback).

And wouldn't you know — there are reports that Apple plans to release a new device in early 2011. A smaller, five to seven inch, device.

Ah, just right.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Miami is a crazy town

One of these two is a classically trained ballet soloist from the Miami City Ballet.

Here's a hint:

And hey — this post has two, count 'em two, videos, and not much else. If you can't see them, you're kinda missing the whole point. If you want in on the point, click here. If not, well, fine.

Total non sequitur: is it just me, or is that the first time ever you've heard it called "Miami City"?