Friday, November 23, 2007

it's beginning to sound
a lot like xmas...

It's only the day after Thanksgiving, but you'd think it was Christmas eve with the shopping and decorations already at a fevered pitch! So, here's a little xmas mix. The number of songs with sleighbells makes me wonder if the entire music industry uses the same prerecorded sleighbell track or whether groups actually go out and find sleighbells to record with. Hmmm..... Anyway, happy listening!

Brooklyn Xmas mix
Yeah, I Know It's Christmastime - Andrew Dost
Christmas Time is Here - Ivy
And Your Boy Can Drum - The Recital
My Dreams of Christmas - Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters
Here Comes Santa Claus - Gene Autry
White Christmas - Melt Banana
Donde Esta Santa Claus? - Guster
Christmas is Going to the Dogs - Eels
Christmas Reindeer - The Knife
Silent Night - Yo Yo Yo Kids
Winters Wonderland - Scott Allen
Last Christmas - Wham!
Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
All That I Want - The Weepies
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - Death Cab For Cutie
Silent Night - Nullsleep
Christmas Tree's On Fire - Holly Golightly

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

the wampanoag live on

It's that time of year again, when we all get to listen to the heartwarming story about how a fledgling group of English folk and a troupe of 90-odd American Indians gathered for the first official unofficial Thanksgiving. (Here's the kiddie version.) It's a cute story, but it's so blown out of proportion that it's kind of silly. The truth of the matter is, the Pilgrims became the original gentrifiers of this glorious land we live in—and the people who had settled into the lush woods of Massachussets and Rhode Island, well, they ended up with the short end of the stick in so many ways.

By now you may know the name of the American Indian tribe that feted with Myles Standish and the rest of the British immigrants, but in case not, let me introduce you to the Wampanoag. The Wampanoag have traditionally inhabited what is now southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, plus the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. There are about 2,000 Wampanoag surviving today, living mostly in the same places that the Pilgrims found them. (After a major conflict between the English and the American Indians in the late 1600s that nearly exterminated the Wampanoag, some natives were sold as slaves and sent to Bermuda, so there's a small population of Wampanoag there as well.) There are five groups of mainland American Wampanoag. Only two are recognized by the federal government, however: the Gay Head Wampanoag of Martha's Vineyard and the Mashpee Wampanoag of Cape Cod, who received their government recognition just this year.

Along with trying to gain federal recognition, some Wampanoag are currently undergoing a language reclamation project to help modern Wampanoag learn their traditional language, which went extinct more than a century ago. With the help of linguistics experts, the group is making baby steps in trying to teach younger folks the old language so that it may live again. Here's a sample of a Wampanoag text!

If you are so inclined, you can read more about the Wampanoag and their march through history. In the meantime, as you're eating your turkey dinner and gobbling down stuffing and pumpkin pie, take a moment to remember these people for their selflessness during a time when they could have turned a cold shoulder to the needy, helpless Brits. We owe them that!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

recycle now!

Today is America Recycles Day, so I thought I'd start by going on a bit about how ridiculous I think it is that people don't recycle more. And then I'll give you some fun stuff to listen to! First things first: The Gotham Gazette just published a very informative article on the state of waste in New York City and the U.S. as a whole—and some of the recycling stats are crazy. It made me want to look a little deeper into the issue. Here's what I found:

¤ 50 billion bottles of water are sold in the U.S. every year. That's 167 for every man, woman, and child in America! When you think about the fact that most municipal water is clean and essentially free, this kind of stat boggles the mind. (Especially when you also know that some bottled water is just tap water in fancy packaging!)

¤ Only a quarter of those 50 billion water bottles are recycled, meaning that some 37.5 billion water bottles end up—needlessly—in landfills, where they will stay unchanged for the next million years at least. By the way, it takes about 17 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic used to make all the water bottles consumed in the U.S. each year. And the manufacturing of every ton of that plastic belches up 3 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Yum!

¤ If half of all New Yorkers would simply recycle rather than discard their junk mail, they could prevent 500,000 tons of paper waste garbage each year.

¤ In New York City, only about 50 percent of the recyclables that we get rid of are actually recycled. This is insane to me! Especially since if you live in an apartment building, where recyclables are picked up like clockwork every week, it takes almost zero effort to recycle. In more rural areas, where you might have to drive to a recycling center, I would offer this advice: Just get off your you know what and DO IT! You're already polluting the environment by having a car; you might as well pay back a little by making those wheels zoom you to the local recycling location once a month or so. (Of course, for financial reasons, not all towns recycle all materials; be sure to get the facts on what can and can't be salvaged before you dump your recyclables!)

Ultimately, recycling is only one of the three R's—which by now you should know by heart: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle. To really change the way you have an impact on our environment, you need to do all three. Reducing your use of "stuff" is of course the best conservation method of all—the fewer things we consume, the less of it will get produced, and the less pollution will be made in manufacturing. My favorite trick (though it's easy to lapse on if you don't plan ahead): bring your own bags to the grocery store. Heck, Whole Foods even made it fashionable (although I prefer my Strand bag, personally)! Another easy tip: Now that the holiday catalogue season is upon us, make a few 5-minute phone calls to get companies to stop sending you tons of catalogues and other junk mail (I'm talking to you, Capital One)! Reusing the things we do buy also prevents more "stuff" from being sold and manufactured. Just think: if all New Yorkers would refill the water bottle they puchased while walking through Central Park just three times, they could prevent 13,260 tons of plastic from ending up in a landfill. As for Recycling, it's all about attitude. You can sit around and do nothing, or you can take simple but important actions to help fix the sorry state of affairs our planet is in. What's your choice?

Okay, now for the fun—and a rewind to the happenin' year of 1991. I kind of can't believe this CD still works - it's probably one of the oldest dics I own! Anyway, first up is a stern warning from one of the queens of recycling, my girl Bette Midler (don't tempt her, man—you know she'll get on your ass if you don't do what she says!). And second is what I was hoping so dearly I could find on YouTube (it had a ridiculous video with it back in the day)...alas, no dice. The song itself is still pretty sweet, though...I mean, dude: Tone Loc is on there! And Ozzy!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

is intelligent design dead?

I just had the pleasure of watching PBS's fabulous 2-hour NOVA special on the most recent assault to the theory of evolution, namely, the "theory" of intelligent design. The show did a remarkable job of summing up not only the debate that has existed of late between proponents of evolution and proponents of intelligent design, but of the dramatic court case that took place in Dover, Pennsylvania a couple of years ago, which put the legality of teaching intelligent design in American public schools into question. I had read with interest about the trial as it was happening, and also had the opportunity to hear a lecture from one of the star witnesses for the prosecution, Brown University Professor of Biology Ken Miller, at a function for Brown alumni shortly after the trial wrapped up. I won't spoil all the juicy details for those of you not yet in the know, but I will say that the entire case, and the NOVA special in particular, makes me feel a whole lot better about the state of science education in this country, especially in the wake of the havoc wreaked on our scientific government agencies by the current administration.

So the question is, is intelligent design officially dead? You'd think that after the Dover fiasco, it would be. The judge in the case, John Jones, is a known conservative, hand-picked by George W. Bush to preside over the bench in his Pennsylvania district. But the fervor with which he made his legal opinion, denouncing intelligent design as nothing more than creationism in sheep's clothing, seems like it may just have been the silver dagger in the hearts of the pro-intelligent design camp. Doing a bit of research, I even found this blog for a group called Conservatives Against Intelligent Design, which, despite its horrible layout, has a very nice logo. This may not represent the end-all be-all, but surely if you've got right-wing Republicans railing against intelligent design, there has to be something right going on for a change. (By the way, if you're looking for some pro-evolution zingers, toons, or logos, this page has a bunch of good ones.)

I guess the bigger question, really, is what the next iteration of creationism-in-the-classroom will look like—for we all know that there are still tons of people out there who are outraged that creationism isn't given equal time in schools. I watched the documentary Jesus Camp recently, and it was pretty clear that there is some serious home-schooling going on that's brainwashing kids into thinking that creationism is "how it went down." So I can't imagine it'll be long before another set of irate fundamentalist parents tries again to breach the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution (which calls for the separation of church and state). Although, come to think of it, there was talk about a Flying Spaghetti Monster a while back...and frankly, I think a trial to keep old Spaghetti Man out of 9th grade biology would make an even more entertaining NOVA special, so bring it on! (Kidding, kidding.) Anyway, if you didn't get a chance to see the show, check out the NOVA website, where you can watch the entire thing or view the online-only extras.

Monday, November 05, 2007

interweb shoutout: modern cat

You know that cheesy moment in the middle of a B movie where everything goes to slow motion, the protagonist's face lights up with an enormous smile, and the chorus of "Hallelujah" blasts in the background? Well, I just had one of those eureka moments when I discovered what is assured to be the coolest cat-related blog on the planet: Modern Cat.

I've actually been a dog person most of my life, so I'm relatively new to the cat thing. But when I got my kitty last year, I noticed right away that the aesthetic for cat toys and especially furniture was, well, let's just say "lacking." Most cat scratching or climbing toys are covered in various types of carpet, which, let's face it, are usually a**-ugly. Now, I'm all for functional cat toys, and no doubt kitties get excited about some of these intense cat trees and condos, but a person's gotta live in her cat's apartment, too. And I'm gonna tell you right now, wooing potential mates becomes that much harder when it looks like the Golden Girls have seen to the kitty decor!

So it was with tremendous pleasure that I discovered Modern Cat, a blog that specializes in functional, yet impeccably designed cat furniture (and toys). The layout and commentary are relatively simple, but that's the way it should be for a blog that prides itself on celebrating mod designs that speak for themselves. I'm hoping that this and a recent New York Times article are a harbinger that the cat's time has come as the new center of attention in the pet design world. Anyway, definitely check out the Modern Cat blog if you're in the middle of the Venn diagram for cat lovers and design freaks.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

i am a rock...

Many of my friends already know that I have a thing for islands. Aside from their inherent beauty, islands are places where people pride themselves on their culture. In some cases, island residents represent a microcosm of the larger nation to which they belong. Other times, islanders are fiercely independent and want nothing more than to be left to their own devices. Either way, I've found that visiting an island and meeting its people is always a rewarding experience.

So when I recently discovered National Geographic Traveler's rankings of the top 111 islands in the world, I started some mental drooling. What an amazing list! The only sad part is knowing I'll probably never get to see all of these places. But thanks to all those family trips and other vacations I've taken over the years, I have already been to one-eighth of them! Of those, here are my top four...

Faroe Islands: These are the islands that got the highest score in the whole survey, and I'd have to agree that the Faroes (seen in the photo above) are probably the best-kept secret among vacation spots in the world. You're not going to find sand and sun here—the islands get precipitation almost every single day, and temperatures hover around 50 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. But the majestic canyons of carved green rock, combined with the warm, but independent-minded natives (they're technically Danes but speak their own Faroese language), make this destination one of the most unique you'll ever find.

Bora Bora: The second-best-known island of French Polynesia (after Tahiti), Bora Bora lives up to the hype. With its dramatic extinct volcano rising from its center and the surrounding lush rainforests and pristine beaches, this small island is nothing short of gorgeous. Many of the local resorts offer charming bungalows either right on the water's edge or sitting on stilts in the water. There are also plenty of places to explore, whether it's hiking in the jungle, canoeing the lagoon, or snorkeling along the reef. Talk about the perfect getaway!

Mallorca: True, it gets a bad rap for being too touristy and overdeveloped in spots, but Mallorca, the largest of Spain's Balearic Islands, is still tops in my list for the hidden gems you'll find along its shores and in its Tramuntana mountain range. As long as you rent a car and make a point of exploring outside of the capital city of Palma, you'll find plenty of quiet aqua-colored beaches and coves, as well as quaint villages—like Valldemosa and Deià—that still retain their traditional Mallorcan appeal.

Aran Islands: If you're looking for old-world charm and lovely vistas mixed with a spot of history, the Irish Aran Islands are for you. Inishmore, the largest of these small islands, is covered with rocks—some in their natural state, but many more in the form of ubiquitous stone walls. There are also a number of iron age forts that deserve exploring. And with all the sheep on the islands, the local residents are known for their woolen goodies, including the famous Aran Sweaters.

Of course no list like this can go without some debate...Here are the four islands I think the peeps at NGT missed!

Long Island: Okay, lots of Long Island (New York) is an eyesore, with miles and miles of nothing but strip malls. But the eastern and western ends of this glacial moraine are completely unique. For instance, on the eastern fork, you've got the ever-popular vacationing communities of Montauk and the Hamptons. And on the western edge, well, you have two of the most culturally interesting parts of New York City: Brooklyn (home to Coney Island, above, which used to be its own island but not anymore) and Queens! Of course, I do live here, so I'm a little biased...

Montserrat: You may have heard about this island when a major volcanic eruption happened here in 1997, wiping out much of the infrastructure and decimating several towns. While the Soufriere Hills Volcano is still active, Montserrat is making a comeback. It's a beautiful Caribbean island, but it's also an amazing place to go to witness geology in action. During your stay (I'd recommend no more than a few days), you can see how the ash cloud from '97 created havoc and meet with the vulcanologists who are monitoring this Caribbean jewel.

Åland: This archepelago between Sweden and Finland is not well known among Americans, but is a popular destination for Scandinavians during the warm August months. Technically a part of Finland, Åland islanders retain a semi-autonomous government and actually align themselves culturally more with Sweden (they speak Swedish, for one thing). A lovely way to view the sparsely populated islands, which feature a nice mix of rolling meadows, evergreen forest, and rocky shores, is by bike, since they're relatively flat.

Easter Island: I've actually never been to Easter Island, but I'm shocked that it didn't make it to the NGT list. Maybe it's because it's so hard to get to (you have to fly through Chile, its mother country, or Tahiti) or because the ecosystem there has been in major decline (check out Jared Diamond's Collapse for more on that). But, this island is chock-full of prehistoric arifacts, including petroglyphs, stone houses, and, most nobably, their famous Moai, spooky human-shaped statues that line the island's coast. I definitely hope to get there soon!

So, what say you? Feel free to bash my picks or make your own in the comments section! The islands we're talking about here are generally small islands and shouldn't be major independent countries (so, for instance, Ireland, Japan, and Australia don't count). Happy traveling!