Monday, December 29, 2008

an awesomely bad 2009

For each of the last few years I've tried to find a silly wall calendar for my office. Two years ago it was Extraordinary Chickens. This year my calendar featured a cat named Yoshi who dressed up like 12 famous women in history (proceeds went to animal advocacy groups). But this year, I'm looking for something...well, badder. So far I've had little luck in finding the perfectly bad calendar. I want something cheesy but also cool. Here are a few ideas; let me know what you think! Also feel free to send in others if you have any.

Who can resist yoga dogs? Yoga dogs' fecal matter photographed in pleasant settings? Equally enticing.

Gnomes hold a special place in my heart. So do grown men dressed like them.

I'm not sure what a "tactical girl" is, but on the off chance that the fatigue-covered boobs and machine guns get boring, you can always try out Bobcat drill machines.

Not just any Elvis calendar; it's the TV Guide Elvis calendar, fool! Or, you could have goats. Your choice.

I'm posting this with a program on the history and science of lust in the background, so I figured I'd throw these hunky calendars in there. The boys down under and, um, some very large dudes are at your service.

Crazy nuns!!! Cheesy cubicle design ideas!!! Woo!!!

Last but not least, I bring you...rodents! In one corner, we have silly costumed ferrets pretending they're movie stars. In the other corner, we have...the scourge of...oh, fine, they're cute. (Although I couldn't help but squirm looking at April: One of the rats is hanging out on a loaf of bread in someone's kitchen. Ew.)

Update: And the winner is...a very cute calendar of donkeys! I am trying to ignore the title, because it is crude and mean. Poor donkeys.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

ring in the new year with cava!

There was a neat article in The New York Times this weekend that touched on the increased consumption of sparkling wine in many countries over the past five years. For whatever reason, champagne has become the it-word for sparkling wine (in the same way that you might suggest that your friend 'google' something, although she may actually use any number of Internet search engines). Champagne is simply the sparkling wine that was originally created in the region of Champagne, France (of course, other countries have tried to steal champagne's thunder by producing it elsewhere, much to France's chagrin). But champagne is hardly alone in the world of fact, France itself has not one but several types!

Italy's most successful version, called prosecco, is equally sparkly and, to my taste buds, equally yummy. Prosecco isn't the name of an Italian area, though—it's the name of a variety of grape originally from the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region of Italy. Like champagne, prosecco is being produced outside of its original region more and more, and it is a very economical and tasty alternative. (The aforementioned Times article actually focuses on prosecco, so if you're interested in finding out more, here's the full text.)

Which leads me to cava, my sparkling wine of choice! Cava is native to the region of Catalonia in Spain, and it is delish. It is also cheap! The last time I was in Barcelona, I bought a bottle of pink cava (it also comes in the more traditional white variety) for a whopping 2 euros. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the name "cava" means "cave" and refers to the fact that back in the day, caves were used in the wine's creation.

As I have some Catalan roots (and I like to save a buck on booze whenever I can), I try to go with cava as often as possible here in the States. I'm no oenophile, but I find cava on par taste-wise with both prosecco and champagne; in fact, I would challenge anyone to differentiate between a $10 bottle of cava, a $20 bottle of prosecco, and a $30 bottle of champagne! The French can keep their hoity-toity champagne. I'll drink cava—and so should you!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

no dying in baseball

I'm a pretty big sports fan, but a story I read the other day just about left me speechless. A company called Eternal Image, based in Farmington Hills, Michigan, is now offering burial accessories—
caskets and cremation urns and the like—sporting your favorite Major League Baseball team's logo and colors! Brings new meaning to the term "die-hard fan," doesn't it? (Nota bene: The company also does death accessories with Star Trek and Vatican themes...) Seriously, though, this seems a wee bit over-the-top. But I suppose if one bleeds a certain team's colors, his insides may as well match his death chamber when the time comes!

the future of nasa

Over the past month, there has been much speculation about the future direction of America's space program. During the Bush administration, it seemed as though internal squabbles at NASA were a dime a dozen and that mismanagement was more rule than exception. For evidence of that, look no further than the op-ed pages of The New York Times, where former science administrator Alan Stern recently wrote a scathing article about the agency after resigning from his post. (You can check out some responses here.)

To outsiders, it has often seemed like NASA has mostly been treading water these past eight years. Despite several well-publicized spacecraft missions (often, it should be noted, planned well before Bush took office), the shuttle program suffered some major setbacks—especially after the Columbia breakup disaster in 2003. And the question of overall vision for what we should (or shouldn't) be doing next for human spaceflight has essentially remained unanswered.

Sadly, the issue got relatively little play during the presidential campaigning this year. And so far, evidence suggests that the Obama team hasn't exactly formulated a coherent plan that's much better than the current one. But one thing that seems pretty clear is that Obama is going to kill the Constellation project—Bush's plan to send humans back to the moon in preparation for eventually going to Mars—at least in the near term. It's hard to blame him; there have been many critics of the Constellation program from both outside and within NASA.

Instead, it is seeming more and more likely that Obama's vision for NASA will involve more funding for science projects—and science education—rather than human spaceflight. To me, this would be a welcome change. For one thing, in order to get ourselves to a place like Mars or Europa, we need to know everything there is to know about those bodies before we go there. And since we can do quite a lot with robots (a.k.a. unmanned spacecraft and probes), we might as well send as many of them as possible to scout these places out before we invest the billions of dollars it will cost to get humans there. But also, people often forget that science research done by NASA helps us in a big way back home as well—for instance, with national security and studies on the environment. Plus, if we don't have kids getting interested in science again, we're going to fall even farther behind on space exploration.

One of the first orders of business, of course, is choosing leadership. It seems pretty obvious that the current administrator, Michael Griffin, will be out. But who will fill his shoes? And how much of a leash will this new person be on? All of this remains to be seen. I do have confidence that Obama will make space science more of a priority than his predecessor over the long term, but I can see NASA taking a serious hit of funding in the near term. Which is too bad, considering just how little NASA actually gets compared to the total U.S. budget. (This year's $700 billion bailout would have funded all of NASA 39 times over...) Still, I'm hopeful that things will change for the better over the next four years. &infin

Monday, December 22, 2008

ode to joy (meep remix)

So I used to be deathly afraid of the Muppet Beaker when I was a little kid. Whenever that segment of The Muppet Show came on (and I seem to remember it was pretty often!) I would start crying and have to be taken out of the room until my parents said it was safe to return. I'm not really sure what scared me about Beaker...the hair? The meeps? The fact that he was always blowing up? Today, as someone who is very into science but not so much wack-o scientists, it strikes me as odd that I would have been scared of the poor lab assistant instead of the crazy
Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, who was clearly the one with a screw loose.

Fortunately, a few years ago my brother helped me reconcile with Beaker by buying me a little Beaker doll, and we've been friends ever since. So with that, I give you the inimitable lab assistant, who wishes you a very happy and healthy (and safe!) holiday season.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

shop til you drop

I was dismayed to hear of the trampling death of a Wal-Mart employee on Long Island yesterday. He apparently got in the way of some overzealous shoppers and saw his life end for the sake of cheap electronics. News reports today say that officials are scouring security tape and looking for the perpetrators—the shoppers who physically ran him over. But really, they should go after Wal-Mart for not providing a safe, secure shopping environment.

Wal-Mart is well known for not giving a crap about its customers—nor its employees. Despite the feel-good rah rah cheer their employees do every day, Wal-Mart is one of the worst companies around as far as giving its workers fair benefits and fair wages. And the chain is notorious for being a dangerous place to shop because they refuse to offer any real parking lot security. (If you don't believe me, just google "Wal-Mart parking lot deaths"...or check out the documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.)

That there are often mobs of people outside chain stores on Black Friday is nothing new. And with the current economic crisis playing right into Wal-Mart's business strategy, the company should have anticipated the masses and beefed up security accordingly. In particular, they should have provided structure—lines, crowd organizers—to the throngs of shoppers that were accumulating outside. Similar security planning is provided all the time: waiting for concert tickets, lining up for the first viewing of a new blockbuster movie, etc. When I went to see The Dark Night earlier this year on its first full day, the hullabaloo was pretty was the busiest I've ever seen a movie theater. And yet the theater had impeccable crowd control, and no one ever felt unsafe.

It'll be interesting to see if the family of the deceased decides to sue Wal-Mart. I'm no lawyer, but for my money, that's where the fault lies. Of course, if the family does so, it will be hit by the might of the Wal-Mart legal team, which would promise a nasty fight. Regardless, I'm just wondering how long it'll be before this becomes a Law & Order episode. I give it six months.

Update: The family indeed took took Wal-mart to court, but the big-box giant settled with the local DA, which allowed them to avoid criminal charges.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

throwing like a girl

I am totally psyched to report that a Japanese girl named Eri Yoshida has become the first female baseball player in Japan to be drafted by a professional men's team! Yoshida, who is 16 years old, was selected by the Kobe 9 Cruise team after wowing them during their tryouts. Barring injury, she should make her debut this April.

Yoshida is a pitcher who sports a rare sidearm knuckleball. For those of you not in the know, knuckleballs aren't particularly fast, but their movement is very odd, and they are therefore quite difficult to hit. Yoshida counts knuckleballer Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox as her hero, and she hopes to emulate him during her career. Yay, Eri!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

yes we more football!

A year ago, I posted a little opinion piece on the dreadful state of affairs in college football. Specifically, I mentioned that it's about time that NCAA Division I football run a proper playoff system. Well, it now appears that our new commander-
in-chief agrees with me.

In an interview with 60 Minutes this evening, President-elect Obama argued that he was going to "throw his weight around" the fact that he knows that football fans want playoffs. As it stands now, there is a complex and often inane system in place for picking the Division I teams that get to play in relatively meaningless "bowl games" at the end of the football season. Obama even came up with a plan: three weeks for eight teams to face off, similar to the way, oh, any other major sport does it at the end of their season.

In response, The New York Times interviewed Gordon Gee, the chancellor of Ohio State, about this very issue. Gordo seems to be firmly opposed—although he claims to be an "enormous" Obama fan. (I get to call him Gordo because Mr. Gee was the president of my university for all of two years before deciding he liked it better at football schools. Gee is now in his second tenure at Ohio State, and he followed his Ivy League stint with a stay at Vanderbilt. Heck, I even have photos of my fellow classmates sleeping during Gordo's rousing commencement speech. But I digress...) In response to the playoff question, Gee stated that he's looking forward to explaining to Obama why it's "not in the best interest of the academic integrity of our institutions."

I'm sorry, but that's just a lot of baloney. Everyone knows that football players already get special treatment. A playoff system isn't going to all of a sudden make them all Rhodes Scholars. Please make this happen, President-elect Obama. Sports fans of the world are counting on you!

Friday, November 14, 2008

michael crichton (1942-2008)

I was sad to hear of the passing of author Michael Crichton last week. I first remember reading Crichton when his popular novel Jurassic Park became an instant classic on the big screen. I also recall devouring some of his other works, such as Sphere and Rising Sun, on family vacations and feeling like I was reading a new kind of science fiction, a kind that reflected the truly possible. While he certainly wasn't the first author to try this type of writing, he became one of the best known of his generation. Some scientists would later criticize Crichton for using bad science in some of his books; in particular he has been called out for questioning the scientific consensus on climate change. But the fact remains that Crichton successfully wove narrative storytelling with actual science and technology to make realistic science fiction an exciting genre for a new generation of readers.

Of course, Crichton's books were easily adaptable into box office successes. I don't think anyone will ever hear the word "Jurassic" again without thinking of his fanciful story about turning dino DNA into real terrifying beasts. And I've lost count of the articles that have since speculated about bringing long-extinct animals back to life.

Crichton will leave the world with one more work, to be published posthumously. Assuming the author was aware of his medical condition during its writing, it'll be interesting to see whether Crichton throws down a final exclamation point on his storied career.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

songs for a new era

My mom forwarded me this thoughtful article about the difficulty of crafting a political song for the 21st century. So I thought I'd respond by compiling a little politics/election-themed mix.

People often complain about the dearth of guiding voices in the political music world today. While I'd agree that there are fewer artists known specifically for being activist singer-songwriters than there were, say, in the 1960s, I think there are plenty of artists out there writing and singing about politics—and making an important impact (Dixie Chicks, anyone?). This mix represents songs from the last two decades, but most of them are quite recent. Some of them may not be directly political, but I felt the subject matter was related enough to include. Enjoy!

Soft Revolution - Stars
Alarm Call - Björk
American Idiot - Green Day
North American Scum - LCD Soundsystem
It's a Hit - Rilo Kiley
Mr. President - Janelle Monae
To the Teeth - Ani DiFranco
Dear Mr. President - Pink, featuring Indigo Girls
Viva La Vida - Coldplay
Wish - Ellen Allien
Mosh - Eminem
Price of Gasoline - Bloc Party
Policy of Truth - Depeche Mode
An End Has a Start - Editors
Power to the Meek - Eurythmics
Stand Up (Mob Action Mix) - Superchick
The Rising - Bruce Springsteen

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

interweb shoutout: pious pets

I'm not a religious person, but after stumbling across a website that literally melds pets (or pictures of them, anyway) with the Christian faith, I just had to share. Known simply as Pious Pets, it's an online store where you can buy roughly index-card-sized likenesses of your cat, dog, or bird...on the head of a saint. Nothing is revealed about the artist(s), save for his/her/their belief that "a pet can be depicted as a saint due to their good natured attitute [sic]." But I guess that makes sense, considering that depending on your world view, you may see the cards as either hysterically cute or supremely sacrilegious! I personally fall into the former category, and I hope we will get to see more of these divine creatures soon. I mean, the Bombay Mother Teresa (get it?) and smooth collie "flying" nun are just priceless, but where are the Chartreux and Shiba Inu and keeshonden? Keep them coming, please!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

food matters

Over the past couple of years, I've been getting myself up to speed on how the United States produces food, how the process has evolved over the past century, and how food production affects not just our diets and our health, but our economy and our environment, too.

As the presidential election draws nearer, I've been both excited and dismayed to see food taking such a prominent position in the mainstream media. Excited because it suggests that average Americans are starting to look deeper into what they are eating—and that they are making new choices that are healthier for both themselves and for the natural world. But I'm also dismayed because this media attention can only mean that things have gotten really bad.

For instance, this week, a New York Times article explains that because of the ever-increasing prevalence of highly processed salt-heavy foods in children's diets, the incidence of kidney stones in children as young as five and six years old has been rising sharply. The numbers are increasing in young adults—especially women in their 20s and 30s—as well. And while a significant part of the early onset of kidney stones is related to not getting enough water in the diet, the trend is magnified by that of children and young adults relying more and more on quick meals that include things like sandwich meats, canned soups, sports drinks, and processed snacks—all of which contain alarming amounts of sodium.

But health concerns are just the top of the iceberg. If you're new to the food culture party, buckle up: there's a lot to learn. If you've got some time on your hands, I'd suggest starting with The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan; that'll get you going with some of the big-picture ideas behind the effects of agriculture and food production. If your time is more limited, try these recent articles on for size:

To echo what Pollan argues in his Times article, the culture and science of food—and the politics behind how it is made and distributed—are going to be central issues of the next president's term simply because the effects of these concerns are so wide-reaching. Here's hoping No. 44 will take the issue by the reins and begin to push back against the big corporations that would, I presume, just as soon see a continuation of our current destructive food policies.

Friday, October 24, 2008

meanwhile, in outer space...

In case you've forgotten how insignificant we all are in the grand scale of the universe, I offer you these stunning new images from Saturn, our gigantic planetary neighbor. These snapshots were all taken recently by the Cassini spacecraft. For details on the images, check out the official Ciclops imaging site. Gorgeous!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

separated at birth?

Hee hee. As soon as I saw this image from last night's debate, I thought of Hobbes - and sure enough, the likeness is striking! But seriously, that makes two out of three debates where McCain was dancing with the moderator!

Okay, debates are over . . . let's vote already!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

muxtape is dead; long live muxtape

Some sad news: The mix-sharing service Muxtape has officially gone the way of Napster. Muxtape's simple idea: to recreate the mixtape online. Users would upload mixes (up to 12 songs), which anyone with an Internet connection could listen to. Browsing through the mixes, you could discover new music! There were even links to buy the songs directly from Amazon! It was fantastic! Unfortunately, the RIAA decided to shut Muxtape down. If you visit Muxtape today, you can read the long saga of Justin Ouellette, the guy who started Muxtape and who ultimately bowed to the immense pressure from the recording industry.

What frustrates me most is that Muxtape is no different from file sharing through iTunes within a local network. If I have tons of music—including "playlist" mixes—on my office computer, anyone within my network can listen to any and all of it. They can't own it, but they can browse and listen, in the exact same manner as with Muxtape.

My brother, who has expertise in copyright law, tells me that the RIAA seems to have drawn an arbitrary line in overlooking streaming at the local network level. In other words, they decided this music sharing was okay as long as only a limited number of people could do the sharing. It seems unfair to allow people who work in cities (where the offices are concentrated) much more leeway to listen to shared music than a lone Web surfer in Nebraska whose nearest neighbor is 15 miles away. But, I guess it is what it is.

In any event, the Muxtape was a nice idea, and it was fun while it lasted. The site will actually still live on, but the focus moving forward will be on new bands only. Unfortunately, that kind of kills the whole idea behind mixes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

dark days of aught-eight

We're in a curious place in the race for the White House these days. Less than a month to go, and things are getting decidedly nasty. The Swift-boat style attacks on Barack Obama are in full swing. We knew the Republicans would bring it, but it's pretty disturbing how bad it's become.

Last night I heard political commentator David Gurgen describe what he saw at a recent rally: people actually calling for the murder of Barack Obama. Videos taken at GOP events have shown people in such furor that I can't help but think back to the film Mississippi Burning, which portrayed the racial hatred that permeated the Deep South in the 1960s. And McCain and Palin are doing nothing to stop it. In fact, they seem to be spurring on the spewing of hatred (and the dissemination of outright lies); Palin in particular has all but called Obama a terrorist! McCain may not have gone that far, but if his supporters want to think that way, he seems to be just fine with it.

So how did we get here? A friend of mine recently posted on his blog the idea that the Democrats are drawing on hope in this election, while the Republicans are drawing on fear. It's not the first time I've heard that equation, but especially with what we're seeing with the current financial crisis, the GOP certainly seems to be ratcheting the fear factor up a notch...and adding a certain amount of unfounded hatred to the mix.

The tax issue is just the tip of the iceberg. McCain and company harp so hard on the "Obama wants to raise your taxes" line, despite the fact that to his face, on two national debates, and on countless commercials, Obama has made it clear that almost everyone in the U.S. will pay FEWER taxes under him than under McCain. More disturbing are the rumors that Obama is a terrorist because of his middle name (Hussein) and/or because of his connection with a man with questionable ethics (Ayers). I mean, the hypocrisy of that, especially with Palin—who was recently found guilty of abusing her power as governor—is astounding.

But more intriguingly, I just wonder where all of this hate is getting the McCain camp. I can't help but think that some people in the Republican Party must be turned off by this level of fear-mongering. John McCain has, until this election, seemed like a sensible guy that Republicans, as well as some independents and even Democrats, could like. What is it saying about his leadership style if he and his people have to resort to the lowest of the low blows to get a win?

It's also just depressing, though, to know that this culture of fear, which has been promoted by Republicans for some time now, is propelled by a continually spiraling education system. It's no wonder that our schools are failing, that our country's collective math skills are going down the drain, and that many people consider the "intelligent elite" the scum of the earth when the Republican agenda has been to keep money out of public schools and to turn both teachers and students into zombies who can do nothing else but study for standardized tests.

I don't happen to agree that all's fair in politics. Regardless of what happens a few weeks from now, I think we're heading down a dangerous road. I only hope that we can reverse course before it's too late.

Update: Looks like I'm not alone in feeling this way; this spot-on op-ed appeared the day after my post.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

shea stadium (1964 - 2008)

Today was the last day in the life of a vibrant and quirky stadium in Flushing, New York. And a somber day it was. Not only did the stadium see its final game, it saw its team, the New York Mets, lose all hope of making it to the playoffs—on the last day of the regular season, for the second year in a row. Sheesh.

It's been a tumultuous season, to say the least. The Mets suffered through a number of key injuries (most devastatingly to their closer, Billy Wagner); fired their manager in midseason; came back to erase a seven-game deficit in the division; went on to blow a three-game lead that they later earned, and finally, made their fans suffer through a roller coaster last two weeks that undoubtedly left many ulcers in its wake. I gotta say, they performed pretty well considering they were stuck with an extremely subpar bullpen for much of the season. And yet, they lost. Again. Boo.

Perhaps it was fitting to go out this way. The Mets seem to be built on a relatively solid core of players, but they are in need of a spark (or five) get them through to the next level. I kind of feel the same about the Mets' home for the last 44 years. Shea Stadium will always remind me of my youth, in the same way that the Polo Grounds will always stick with my father, who grew up rooting for the New York Giants before they moved to San Francisco. But I ain't no spring chicken, and neither is Shea. The stadium has improved since it opened, especially in the coloration. But a good chunk of the mezzanine seats have a horrible view, while the upper deck—where I'm guessing fans spent most of their time over the years—is downright frigid in the spring and early fall. Also, fans in some of those outer seats can seem far, far away from the action. Worst of all, the interior parts of Shea, including all concession stands, are totally cut off from the field.

Still, it's with a real tear in my eye that I say farewell to good old Shea Stadium. I was lucky enough to have attended three of what the fans voted as Shea's top 10 moments (#2, 6, and 10), and those memories won't soon be forgotten. Of course, I won't soon forget all the other memories of the Mets blowing it, I assure you. The new digs next door look fresh, and they will be home to a whole new set of memories, though. One wish is that the Mets would use the change of venue to bring ball girls back to New York. Growing up, I realized it was a pipe dream to think of playing for the Mets. But they used to have ball girls on the sidelines, and that was a great thing to see. Today, it's all boys all the time, which sucks for all those girls out there who dream diamond dreams.

Anyway, goodbye Shea. We will miss you.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

a year in spacetime

Although I technically started this blog in 2005, today marks the one-year anniversary of the real beginning of Annals of Spacetime.

It's been an interesting journey thus far. I think now is as good a time as any to step back and remember that our world, and the life on it, is precious. In the grand scheme of the universe, we are, as astronomer Carl Sagan so famously pronounced, just a pale blue dot in the vastness of space. But this is the only planet we've got.

In the past few weeks, disasters both natural and man-made have graced our headlines and threatened our sense of security. I truly hope that the powers that be who are making decisions on behalf of the rest of us can appreciate and be humbled by the power they hold in their hands. And that the rest of us make it a priority to understand the world around us a little more each day.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

for whom the bell curve tolls

In this week's education-themed New York Times Magazine, columnist Deborah Solomon interviewed Charles Murray, the author of a new book suggesting that college is a waste of time for most Americans, who aren't smart enough to understand what they're learning.

You might remember Murray as the author of the controversial book, The Bell Curve, back in 1994. To recap, The Bell Curve purports to use statistical data to explain that people who score low on intelligence tests (who tend to be minorities) do so because of inherent, genetic differences. Today, many people who study the determinants of intelligence agree that the results of the studies used by Murray and his co-author Richard Herrnstein were seriously flawed. In particular, a number of new scientific studies, which made sure to use the proper controls, have shown that one's upbringing plays much more of a role in determining how much a person's inherited intellectual abilities can express themselves.

Back to the interview. First off, I just disagree with Murray about the premise of his book. People go to college for many reasons. No, you might not remember or truly understand all the lectures you hear, but you can say the exact same thing about any level of schooling. But more importantly, college is far more than just a place to become educated cerebrally. It's a place where many young Americans can meet people of different backgrounds outside of their home-town circle; explore various academic areas without worrying about whether or not they're going to get fired for doing a bad job; and have maturing experiences that simply don't exist outside of the college setting.

But aside from that, the most teeth-gnashing of Murray's responses came after Solomon asked him a couple of questions related to the upcoming election. First, there was:

Q: What do you make of the fact that John McCain was ranked 894 in a class of 899 when he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy?

A: I like to think that the reason he ranked so low is that he was out drinking beer, as opposed to just unable to learn stuff.

Okay, so to explain away McCain's ineptitude at scholarly pursuits, you say he was just "out drinking beer," but for other people you argue that they aren't measuring up because of genetic inferiority? Hmmm. Then, my favorite question of the day:

Q: What do you think of Sarah Palin?

A: I’m in love. Truly and deeply in love.

Q: She attended five colleges in six years.

A: So what?

So the man who endorses a policy of social darwinism for our education system can't see the hypocrisy of endorsing someone to be our Vice President who—for whatever reason—can't even make it through college on the first or even second try? Wow.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

george w. bush 2.0

I was having a conversation with a friend today about the improbable candidacy of Sarah Palin for the position of Vice President of one of the most powerful countries in the free world. We were discussing how grossly underqualified this woman is to be the country's second-in-command, much less the proverbial heartbeat away from the oval office. But more specifically, all we could think of was that Ms. Palin is basically a clone of George W. Bush—with heels.

You could talk about political ideologies; Palin and Bush are both right-wing Christian conservatives who'd be thrilled to repeal Roe v. Wade and dozens of other cases that have empowered people in this country. And they both obviously disdain science, conservation, and reason in favor of rewarding their friends and super-rich Republican cronies. But it's the way they work that really makes them seem like they were separated at birth.

For one thing, Palin and Bush both surround themselves with people who do the talking for them. They know that errant words can and will come back to haunt them, so they've both taken every step to keep layers upon layers of press handlers, who very rarely let them speak candidly and face their accusers. Bush and Palin are also masters of changing the subject to avoid real issues.

But most of all, Bush and Palin are both compulsive about manipulation, secrecy, and personal revenge. They will both do whatever it takes to get what they want—including firing people because of personal vendettas—and they've shown that they'll abuse their power to make sure no one gets in their way.

So we have to ask ourselves: Is Sarah Palin really who we want as the second-in-command of our country? I realize that John McCain is the first name on the Republican ticket, but his selection of Palin has been a real eye-opener. I mean, McCain keeps calling himself a maverick. But Palin is the same type of leader as Bush—minus the Washington experience! So in choosing Palin, McCain is in fact embracing what Bush stands for. Talk about fuzzy math!

In the last two months, we've seen McCain try to distance himself from Bush with words, while his actions have made the case that he and his running mate are just George W. Bush 2.0. A perfect example is the recent "interview" he gave to Time magazine. His behavior makes it crystal clear that, if he wasn't there already, McCain has completely defected to the dark side.

In short, McCain and his Veep choice are more of the same old team that brought us a pointless and devastating war; who constantly sided with big business and big oil at the expense of average Americans; who set us back decades in terms of cleaning up the environment and following progressive policies to fight pollution; and who ruined our good standing in the world, both financially and ideologically. I really hope that in the coming weeks, any undecided voters will come to realize how dangerous John McCain and Sarah Palin would be for our country if elected. It's time to restore some decency and reason to the White House, and the only person who's going to do that in this election is Barack Obama.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

ipod overkill

I love iPods as much as the next person; these little guys have taken over the way we listen to music, and the product is generally top notch—crappy batteries and lack of a built-in radio nothwithstanding. But Apple is getting on my nerves with how many redesigns they've come out with. Not including the tiny Shuffle, which doesn't give you any real control over what you hear, and the iPod Touch, which is basically an iPhone without the phone, the iPod has undergone at least a dozen changes in just seven years. That's close to two new versions every year! While I'm all for upgrades, every redesign makes the previous one obsolete. And while you might be able to send yours in for repair to some third-party company, the reality is that fixing or accessorizing your iPod in a physical store becomes all but impossible a year, on average, after you buy it. Hey, Apple! Do us a favor and slow down, will ya? Thanks.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

dorothy "dottie" collins (1923 - 2008)

I'm sad to report that women's baseball has lost one of its biggest stars. You may never have heard of Dottie Collins, but you've probably heard her tale. Collins, who died this week at the age of 84, was the inspiration behind the 1992 film A League of Their Own, a fictionalized chronicle of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which existed from 1943 to 1954.

Born in Inglewood, California, in 1923, Collins (née Wiltse) started her career off in organized softball but soon moved over to baseball when she joined the All-American League's Minneapolis Millerettes. As a pitcher who threw a little overhand, a little underhand, and even some sidearm, she won 20 games in her debut season. Collins spent the rest of her career with the Fort Wayne Dasies, amassing a lifetime record of 117-76; an ERA of 0.83; 1,205 strikeouts; and two no-hitters. Not too shabby!

Collins is probably most famous for being the real-life personality behind A League of Their Own's star pitcher and main character, Dottie Hinson, who was played by Geena Davis. As in the film, Collins quit baseball to have a family . . . but let it be known that the real Dottie continued playing until she was four months pregnant! More important to Collins than the movie, however, was the fact that she convinced the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, to create an exhibit—and later, an entire wing—on women in baseball.

I was fortunate to meet several former players from the AAGPBL when I took part in an exhibition game out in Arizona in 2003. The event was a 24-hour marathon game bringing together female baseball players from around the U.S. and a few other countries. It was exciting to see so many young women partaking in our nation's pastime . . . of course I'm talking, here, of regulation baseball, not the watered-down version known as softball that girls are all but forced into today. I'll never forget former AAGPBL pitcher Jeneane "Lefty" Lesko, easily in her 70s at the time, churning out two or three innings of work at about 2 in the morning! I don't believe Dottie Collins was able to make the event, but the spirit with which she played and promoted the game for women and girls was certainly on hand. She will be missed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

the right call

This week, Major League Baseball announced an agreement with the umpires and players to allow instant replay during games. The ruling would limit instant replay reviews to boundary calls, which basically means they'll be used to review home runs.

The decision already has baseball purists up in arms, but I'm excited about the announcement. Since a home run can so dramatically change the outcome of a game, I feel like umpires should do everything they can to get it right, even if it means relying on video replay. I can definitely remember at least two home run calls in recent history that were botched to the detriment of my team. Of course, it only made it worse that everyone in TV land could see how obviously bad the call was...

To be sure, I don't think instant replay should be used for any other calls; like the purists, I think umpire judgments should always play a big role in Major League Baseball. But the awarding of an automatic run—or four—shouldn't be something that's subject to an umpire's faulty vision.

Earlier this summer I was at a meeting of the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society, when a member who had been an MLB umpire for a good deal of the last century told us a story about a botched home run call many decades ago. During the play, a fly ball was so close to the fair pole that it was all but impossible to see which side it landed on. The resulting call (I forget which way it went) was so disagreeable to the parties involved that someone suggested it would be a good idea to add a fence to the fair pole, so that if a ball got that close, it would hit the fence and bounce down. Wanting to make more accurate judgments (and prevent the vitriol spewed against them in the event of a bad call), the umpires of the day agreed that all stadiums would from then on be equipped with fences along their fair poles. I'm sure baseball purists were outraged back then, too, but I think we can all agree that that innovation has hardly been a detriment to the game.

It has yet to be determined exactly what kind of surveillance system will be used to monitor fair and foul balls moving forward. But if it's anything like the system used by professional tennis players, I think it'll be terrific. Of course, even if it's just normal TV replay, I'll be happy. Strangely, some people have already started complaining that baseball games will get longer as a result, but how many close home run calls do you see in a game? The fact is, the majority of fly ball plays are totally obvious to everyone on the field, so in contrast to both football and tennis (where any of a number of plays per game/match might warrant review), instant replay in baseball will most likely be a rarity anyway.

Friday, August 15, 2008

my favorite medals

Every two years I get psyched up for the Olympics, and this year is no exception. The TV broadcasters this time around have been way too obsessed with Michael Phelps (though I freely admit the dude is amazing), and I wish we could get to see something other than volleyball, swimming, and gymnastics in prime time. Nevertheless, I've been enjoying the show.

I was curious about the makeup of this year's medals, which which feature rings of three different colors inside of the three medal types. It turns out that the rings are distinct types of jade, a semiprecious stone common in China. Of course, I had to look up the history of Olympic medals to find out more. I found that Summer Olympics medals are usually pretty boring; by tradition they feature the Greek Goddess Nike, who personified victory. Only recently have countries started adding personal touches to the backs of medals, and I'd say that so far, the Chinese version is the most unique—by a long shot.

Winter Olympic medals are much more creative, and therefore (at least in my view) a lot nicer. They often take an organic form that's not as perfectly circular as Summer Games medals. They also tend to include materials other than the traditional gold, silver, and bronze. I'd say my all-time favorites are the 1994 medals from Lillehammer, Norway and the 2004 rings from Torino, Italy—but the backs of the Beijing medals are a close third. &infin

Thursday, July 31, 2008

interweb shoutout: simon's cat

First, there was Tom and Jerry. Next up was Garfield. Now, I'm thrilled to say, we have Simon's Cat!

For those of you who haven't seen this lovely new cartoon, it's worth a visit to the Simon's Cat page on YouTube, where the shows are hosted. All animations are done by Simon Tofield, an animator with Tandem Films. The cartoons are simple and short (only two or three minutes each), but they're completely hilarious, especially for you cat owners out there.

The series (which only has three episodes thus far) stars Simon and his unnamed cat, who loves to drive Simon crazy in ways both familiar and unique. At the end of the day, kitty just wants attention—as well as his next meal. I can only hope that Mr. Tofield will produce these a little more regularly, 'cause I'm hooked!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

the year so far

Back in December, I posted a list of the top 10 things I was looking forward to in 2008. Now that the year's half over, I thought I'd do a follow-up to update you all on those events!

Smart fortwo: I've seen a handful of these little buggars cruising around the city, and they do look cute. But the Americanized version of the fortwo got some pretty unflattering reviews.

Phoenix Spacecraft: The probe landed perfectly on Martian ground at the end of May. Way to go! Phoenix used its robotic arm to scoop up some soil, plant it into a "wet chemistry lab," and do some tests. So far, we now know that the soil has a relatively basic pH and contains both water and carbon dioxide molecules.

Mets' new season: It's been up and down the entire way, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. The Metsies fired their manager and gave bench coach Jerry Manuel the interim job. Injuries have plagued both the pitching staff and regulars. The good news is, they're still in contention with two months to go.

Hawaiian State Quarter: Hawaii doesn't come out til later this year, but a few of the new ones for 2008 have made their appearance—namely Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona.

New music: First, the winners: M83's newest offering is a classic, and Ladytron's new one was solid (both groups were great live, too). I still haven't heard Goldfrapp's offering, but it got mixed reviews. Peter Gabriel is the king of letting his fans down...looks like there is no new album but only a few songs for the WALL-E soundtrack . And the Postal Service decided they had better things to do, so no new music from them "before the end of the decade." Other nice surprises, though, included The Long Blondes and an old favorite, Robyn.

ISS modules: The Columbus and Kibo modules were both successfully installed on the International Space Station...hooray! Let the science begin.

Large Hadron Collider: I'm not even gonna say nothin. Just watch this:

Ikea: The blue-and-yellow is in effect, finally, in Brooklyn. I paid a visit, and I must say it's pretty nice, as Ikeas go. It's one of the few Ikeas that has windows, and the views of the harbor are actually quite serene. So far so good with traffic; there are definitely more cars along the main drag in Red Hook, but it's really not that bad.

Shea Goodbye: Shea is still standing; I'm not sure when demolition day is, but I'll definitely be there if they make the date known. The new stadium looms large, however, and it looks really nice. There have even been a couple of scary falling incidents at Shea this season, which puts me a little more at peace with relegating it to the trash heap. Plus, the rumors have been confirmed: Shake Shack at Citi Field! Rejoice!

Regime change: The date is set. Barack Obama v. John McCain. I'm excited, and cautiously optimistic that the Dems will take the White House back come November. It's about time for a change—I can only hope the rest of the country feels the same.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

watermelon = manna

With the dog days of summer upon us, the pink fleshy fruit of the Citrullus lanatus plant is the refreshment of choice for anyone needing to cool down. But what do you really know about this yummy snack? Here are some fun facts, care of Wikipedia and the National Watermelon Promotion Board!

  • Only 8 percent of a watermelon is not water.

  • The largest recorded watermelon ever grown was 262 lbs!

  • Over 70 percent of the world's watermelons are grown in China.

  • There are about 1,200 varieties of watermelon, with flesh colors ranging from pink to red to yellow to orange.

  • Despite technically being a fruit, the watermelon is the state vegetable of Oklahoma.

  • The watermelon is believed to have originated in the Kalahari Desert in Africa.

  • Watermelon rinds are edible. In certain countries, they are stir-fried, stewed, or pickled.

  • Cube- and pyramid-shaped watermelons can be produced by growing the plants in shaped glass containers.

  • All watermelon plants need to be pollinated by honeybees to produce a fruit.

  • You can compete in watermelon seed spitting at the Redneck Games, held each summer in East Dublin, Georgia.

  • Speaking of said seeds, a watermelon will not grow in your stomach if you eat them. In fact, watermelon seeds are a popular snack in many countries!

Friday, July 18, 2008

seeing double

Okay, time for a totally silly post. Today I read about a new blog from the makers of I Can Has Cheezeburger, which is a complete waste of neurons but a lovely way to spend a little down time at the office (or wherever). It's called Totally Looks Like, and, well, it's a nice little place to find lots of "separated at birth" pairings of celebs and their often non-human lookalikes. Judging from the popularity of ESPN's Here's Looking At You column, I'm guessing this one will go far. My favorite so far is Wilford Brimley and his Diabeedus friend. Hee! Of course, this project pales in comparison to the recent stunt pulled by the always entertaining prankster group Improv Everywhere, where a dozen or more sets of twins took over a New York City subway car. But it's still pretty fun!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

what's in your mix?

A couple of weeks ago, I had to make a trip out to the vet's for my cat. While there, I spied a brochure that I just had to pick up. Sporting the slogan "Because different breeds have different needs!" it advertised something called Wisdom Panel MX Mixed Breed Analysis. As you might guess, the company in question (the system is owned by one Mars Veterinary) offers a "scientific breakthrough for mixed breed dog owners." For between $135 and $175, Mutt owners take their dogs to the vet to get blood drawn, and the vet sends the sample to the folks at Mars Veterinary, who apparently have proprietary DNA information on 134 dog breeds recognized by the American Kennel Association. In a few weeks, the results are in, and *presto,* you now know your dog better than ever! In particular, the brochure says the system can help you get to know your mixed-breed's personality and/or help you understand what breed-specific health problems your dog might get.

Or so we're told. A couple of articles I found on the subject seem to indicate that no one's really tested how accurate the system is...which rung a familiar tune in my brain. A day or two after the vet visit, I happened to catch an episode of 60 Minutes in which reporter Lesley Stahl looked into the new business of tracing your ancestry through DNA. The upshot was that the few companies that do so-called "genetic genealogy" are great at marketing but not so amazing at giving people real information. What's more, it seems that this wasn't the first such report; Popular Science ran a piece essentially saying the same thing five years ago.

To be sure, it's a thought-provoking topic—at least enough to warrant a book on the subject! As someone who's interested in genealogy, I'll admit that the idea of tracing your roots beyond the ancestors you already know of is fascinating. But as someone who also has a science background, it gets hard to believe that we've come up with a reliable way to determine where all of your great great great great grandparents (all 64 of them) came from, as well as what ailments they had. And yes, that goes for Fido, too. &infin

Sunday, June 29, 2008

turn, turn, turn

Ever since 9/11, there has been an increasing push in New York City toward "out there" architecture. Sadly, these designs so rarely seem to come to fruition. First, of course, you had the redesign for the World Trade Center itself (which has been changed so much that the original intent seems quite lost in the red tape). Then there were two Santiago Calatrava ideas (for a gondola to Governor's Island and an East River apartment building) that were ultimately nixed. And the Frank Gehry vision for the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn is far from certain to be completed.

On the plus side, a few notable funky designs have been built. These include the Gehry IAC Building on the far west side, the curvy Sculpture of Living on Astor Place, and the sleek BLUE tower on the lower east side.

The latest "out there" idea is for a truly mind-bending building that would mimic towers that are now being erected in Dubai and Moscow. Designed by Italian architect David Fisher, the Dynamic Tower would have somewhere on the order of 70 or 80 floors (based on the existing Dubai and Moscow designs), and each of the floors could rotate 360 degrees about a central axis. The result? A building in motion that would fluctuate in look between undulating waves and a gigantic Jenga game. Check out this video to see how it would work.

All things considered, I kind of doubt this thing will get built. But what a sight to behold if it did...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

switching it up

I realize this makes two baseball-related posts in a row, but I couldn't let the week finish out without commenting on an amazing game I went to on Thursday. It was the third meeting of the season for the New York-Penn League (A-level) Brooklyn Cyclones and cross-town rival Staten Island Yankees. And actually, most of the game itself was pretty mundane; the Yanks held a sizable lead for most of the way. But then the bottom of the 9th inning happened, and, as it turned out, I was witness to something completely wacky.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Yankees hurler Pat Venditte was a switch pitcher—meaning he could pitch with either the left arm or the right! To aid him in this exceedingly rare ability is a custom six-fingered glove that he can use on either hand. Anyway, everything was moving right along until the fourth batter in the inning, when Cyclones designated hitter Ralph Henriquez came up to the plate. What started then was a dance for the ages.

For the uninitiated, hitters are usually better against a pitcher who is pitching from the opposite side of the plate as they're hitting. So, a lefty batter usually hits better against righty pitchers, and vice versa. Managers will sometimes take a lefty pitcher out and replace him with a righty pitcher just to turn the numbers in his team's favor. Of course, opposing managers can retaliate by sending a different batter up in these cases. Well, in Thursday's game, it was just mayhem, because not only was Venditte a switch pitcher, but Henriquez was a switch hitter! As you can see in the video, the result was pretty funny.

The umpires were initially confused about the situation, but they ultimately decided that the batter had to pick a side first. Henriquez did, and the at-bat concluded with him striking out to end the game. But how crazy was that?!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

mets to willie: good riddance

Well, the speculation had reached a fevered pitch, but I never thought the Mets would stoop so low as to fire their manager (and a couple of other key coaches) the way they did. The Mets were out in Anaheim, California—three merciful time zones away, I guess—and it wasn't gonna matter whether the team won or lost last night. The Wilpons decided that it was time for Willie & Co. to go, so at about 3 a.m. EDT, Mr. Randolph got the news. As did pitching coach Rick Peterson and bench coach Tom Nieto.

I'm pretty disappointed in my team right now, on all fronts. Yes, they are a .500 team. Yes, they have been the picture of inconsistency. Yes, they have been shockingly good at times and then maddeningly horrible the next day (or four). But what were the Mets brass thinking when they decided to let Willie fly all the way out to Cali, just to fire him after one game?

I guess we'll hear more at the press conference later on today (5 p.m. Eastern). But part of me thinks they won't really divulge very much. To me, the season is now officially a lost cause. The ownership has essentially said: "We don't even care to replace you with another star manager; we just want you out." No one can know exactly what goes on behind closed doors, so maybe there was tension a-brewing that simply needed to stop, no matter what the media and fans might think. But on the surface, at least, the manner in which this firing occurred was insensitive and just plain dumb.

Willie, we'll always have 2006. If you need any comfort, this song just might do the trick.

Update: Oh, Mr. Met. You are the bomb. You too, Mr. Stewart.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

i heart M83

It kind of makes sense that I would fall for a group that's named after a galaxy. M83 is the name of the musical undertaking of Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez, who apparently liked the Messier object No. 83 so much he decided to name his group after it.

M83 is mostly known as an ambient electronic synth group, but for their most recent album, Saturdays = Youth, 80s new wave electronica is in full force. I managed to catch the second of two sold-out shows in New York, and it was pretty amazing. Lush chords often found themselves being slowly drowned out by pulsating guitars and, at other times, punctuated with gorgeous vocals from contributor Morgan Kibby, whose breathy overtones recall Alison Goldfrapp, Elizabeth Fraser (of the Cocteau Twins), and Kate Bush.

I won't gush any longer - just go and check M83 out right now!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

refueling america: grasping at straws

Hello readers! Apologies for the long drought in posting. It's been a busy 6 weeks...

So, there's been a lot going on in the world since my last post. I'll start my return to the blogosphere with a piece on a new marketing strategy I've been hearing about as I watch Mets games (an activity that has become a lot more painful since I wrote last...yikes). This strategy's moniker? "Let's Refuel America."

The label alone makes me think of such falsely named Bushy initiatives as No Child Left Behind and Clean Skies—and for good reason. The program is run by Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep, who have teamed up to offer customers who buy one of their vehicles a deal where they pay no more than $2.99 per gallon for gas in each of the next three years. As the program website states, after buying a car or truck, you get a special credit card that magically converts every gas or diesel gallon you purchase to $2.99. (You simply pay the initial bill if prices go back under $2.99 per gallon.) Of course, as average gas prices have recently passed the $4-mark, the deal may seem like a pretty sweet one. Here's why it's not!

For one thing, I looked into the fine print, and you can only use the card for a certain amount of gas. I don't think they're worrying about people reselling the gas—although stranger things have happened. But they preset a maximum amount of fuel that you can purchase that's based on the miles-per-gallon consumption rating of the car you buy (of course, there are other restrictions on grade of fuel you can buy, too). For instance, if you buy a Jeep Grand Cherokee, which gets a paltry 16 miles per gallon, you can buy up to 2,250 gallons of gas—which, by the way, doesn't actually need to be used in that Grand Cherokee you purchased—over three years. But if you buy a Jeep Compass, which gets a much more respectable 24 miles per gallon, you can only purchase 1,500 gallons over the three-year term. How annoying is that?

Of course, the bigger problem with this program is that it promotes our continued reliance on driving fuel-inefficient cars. Rather than following the trend of many other car companies, who of late have obviously been working much harder at building and promoting hybrid models that both use less gas and pollute less, Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge are effectively giving a big middle finger to the environment just to make a buck. "We'll pay the oil companies off so you can use our gas-guzzling cars!" they're saying. "Who cares about cutting our dependence on oil and our emissions of noxious, polluting carbon dioxide? We've got SUVs to sell!" It's really sad. I urge anyone in the market for a new car not to fall for this horrible scheme! If you really want to save money on gas and you must get a new car, buy one with fuel economy of 40 miles per gallon or more. Here's a list of cars that get great mileage.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

interweb shoutout: xkcd

In the last few years I've been getting a lot more into graphic novels from artists like Chris Ware and Lilli Carré. But sometimes you just want a quick hit of cartoon humor, and I'm happy to say I've found a great new place for just that: xkcd.

Billed as a "webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language," xkcd is a thinking man's (and woman's) cartoon. While not lounging in the ball pit he installed in his apartment, author Randall Munroe makes his stick figures loveable by placing them in cerebrally advanced situations such as... Playing with the Large Hadron Collider! Digging (and dishing on) Mythbusters! Poking fun at the Drake Equation!

Anyone with nerdy tendencies should check this comic—and its accompanying blog—as soon as possible.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

saving the planet, one plastic bag at a time

Here we are, Earth Day 2008. It's funny, but I can't help feeling like it's the early 90s all over again. Gas guzzling is out. Recycling is in. And the Democrats are using the green vibe to their advantage (with similar results in November, I hope).

So what does it all mean? It means that we have some serious problems to face, and that at least for now, we have to cash in on this neo-eco-consciousness. It means changing your habits whenever you can. Simply holding onto that plastic water bottle you just purchased until you can get home to recycle it is a great start. So is unplugging all those appliances that use up juice just sitting there, even when they're turned off. It means voting for people who will make a commitment to a cleaner 2009 and beyond.

I know it sounds corny, people, but I for one don't want my great grandkids to be faced with the choice between moving to Mars or enduring certain death from painful cancer after the ozone is all but wiped out. And you shouldn't, either; I hear Mars is pretty chilly at night.

But seriously, the good thing about what's going on now is that it looks like big business is finally starting to listen. Who would have thought that hybrid car technology would have become so popular in a matter of just a few years? Electric cars, which were the wave of the future back in the early 90s, fizzled and died out before they ever had the chance to make it. But you can't watch a car commercial nowadays that doesn't mention the words "fuel economy," "mileage," "hydrogen," or "hybrid." (Okay, except for that silly VW one with David Hasselhoff.) So, I'm hopeful that people are starting to realize that "Earth-friendly" and "business-friendly" don't have to be polar opposites.

Anyway, my two suggestions for you on this Earth Day: Read this eye-opening series from The L Magazine writer Amanda Park Taylor on how to change your plastic-using ways (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5); and check out this set of free enviro-toons from the one, the only, BrainPOP.