Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The End of TV

Okay, so maybe late August isn’t known for great television programming.


Instead, I read a book. Who knew Los Angeles was so pro-literacy?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Goodbye to None of That

It feels good. It really feels good.


Apologies to those I did not have a chance to see before I left, but I will be back — to visit.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sinner Sandwich

Topless Robot, a pop culture website that specializes in very specific lists, yesterday posted a countdown of the ten most bizarre video games made by mainstream publishers. Such a post promises the kind of trivia that I cannot resist, so, of course, I clicked through. I do not regret this clicking-through. The list features titles I would have expected — Killer7 (which features the character Trevor Pearlharbor, though that’s the least of what makes it strange) and the equally horribly named Sega game Seaman — but also a few I hadn’t heard of before. Foremost among these: this year’s PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 oddity Deadly Premonition.

(Before I get into it, what the hell would a deadly premonition be? A psychic vision that kills its beholder? If so, what good could such a premonition actually do?)

Deadly Premonition actually takes the top spot in this list, and Topless Robot’s blurb on it notes that it incorporates a whole lot of Twin Peaksiness. Again, I couldn’t resists the urge to click. This is what I found:


So let’s see… An awkward, seemingly superstitious FBI agent in a small town, at a diner, all set to a soundtrack of incongruous jazz. It’s really too much. And a turkey, strawberry jam and cereal sandwich? The “sinner sandwich”? That almost one-ups “That gum you like is going to come back in style.”

The post offered one more clip.

This is the clip:


So the protagonist FBI dude has high standards about his coffee? Also very David Lynchy. The Zach that Mr. FBI mentions, by the way, is his own alternate personality but also, in effect, the game-player himself. Cute.

Baffled as to how one should play this game — is the object to drink coffee? to weird out people you share meals with? — I looked it up on Wikipedia and found that it’s actually Resident Evil-style survival horror. (Of… course?) According to Wikipedia, the announcement of the title back in 2007 prompted several gaming critics to note the similarities between it and Twin Peaks, ultimately forcing Access Games to push Deadly Premonition in a different direction and delay it for three years. Therefore, what you saw in those preceding two clips, strange as it is to say it, represents the final, un-Twin Peaksified version of the game. The initial go at it, which debuted with the working title Rainy Woods, owes even more to the cult David Lynch series.

Here’s what people in saw 2007 as a preview:


From what I’ve read about the title, the premise glimpsed here — protagonist arriving in a small Northwestern town to investigate the brutal murder of a young woman — survived into the final version. No clue about the two identical (twin?) dwarves chanting “red tree,” the Dorothy Valens-esque chanteuse crooning in what looks like Blue Velvet’s Slow Club, or the law enforcement agent who looks like the lovechild of Michael Ontkean and Michael Horse. But yeah, the fact that this title exists — for systems I don’t own, I should note — boggles me, to say nothing of the fact that it hit shelves so recently without me noticing. This totally blows the Legend of Zelda-Twin Peaks connection out of the water. Or, to use a more appropriate metaphor, it beats it to death, wraps it in plastic and tosses it in the river.

All that said, it makes me happy to learn that Twin Peaks’s legacy continues so far beyond its brief life, all Laura Palmer-like.

Lynch, previously:
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Case of the Period in Dr Pepper

The italics in this post’s title make a world of difference, please note.

People have long speculated what, exactly, gives Dr Pepper its unique flavor — there’s a whole article on Snopes about how the secret ingredient is not, in fact, prunes — but this post will focus instead on someone that has long bothered me: the absence of a period after the Dr in Dr. Pepper. I mean, it’s obviously an abbreviation, right? Why would those branding this soda possibly want to destroy this little, innocent dot?

Snopes explains this as well. It turns out a period once existed in this very spot, until a point in the 50s at which the font squished the letters so that the “r” and period side-by-side looked more like the letter “i” plus a colon. And who wants to drink Di: Pepper?

Have a look:

(via)

Not sure when this image might be from, but it’s clearly before the period was flushed out. (Sorry.) Imagine it in a less ornate font whose “r” has a rounder tail. Something like this:


And that’s how you end up with Di: Pepper. (Die, Pepper!) So I guess the removal of that one dot might have been a clever marketing decision, even if the drink was introduced in the late 1800s and American soda-swillers would have had a half-century to learn the name.

In case anyone else’s mind works this way, the S.O.S brand of soap pads suffer from a similar lack of proper punctuation. The reason? According to Wikipedia, the brand name S.O.S. could not be trademarked, but removing that one final period made it eligible to be registered in the U.S. patent office. The source for this claim, however, is a now-nonfunctional website, so I’m left wondering if a single dot could make such a difference in the eyes of the whoever made this decision.

Of course, I wholeheartedly embrace the difference between “The Case of the Period in Dr Pepper” and “The Case of the Period in Dr Pepper,” so I shouldn’t question the power of a slight typographical change. Periods — powerful little nothings.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Top Chef Vocabulary Round-Up

In Sunday’s post, I mentioned that I like how shows such as Top Chef and Project Runway introduce vocabulary that novice foodies and the non-apparel-obsessed might not know. It seemed only reasonable, then, to post about food terms on this week’s Top Chef that I either had not heard before or recognized but hadn’t ever looked up.

The big one this week was dropped during the Quickfire Challenge. Angelo used the mystery box ingredients to make what he called a pot-au-feu. The term literally translates from French as “pot on the fire” and refers to a French style of beef stew that, according to Wikipedia, often includes cheap cuts of beef and along with carrots, turnips, leeks, celery and onions. Though Angelo’s take on the pot-au-feu didn’t feature sides, a traditional might offer coarse salt, strong mustard, and pickled gherkins and samphire. That last one is also a new one to me — it can refer to any number of edible plant species, but in this case would most likely be Crithmum maritimum. (The name samphire has no relation to sapphire, which is what I guessed, but is a corruption of the French Saint Pierre, patron of fishermen, because the plant grows near the sea.)

I’ve seen the term tataki on menus before but never knew what it meant. Tataki (literally translated as “pounded” or “hit into pieces”) is a Japanese style of cooking in which meat or fish is briefly seared in fire or in a hot pan, marinated in vinegar, sliced thinly and served with ginger paste. It’s that last bit, the ginger pulverized into goop, that gives the technique its name. (I think I may have previously confused tataki with rumaki. Contrary to what Betty Draper thinks, rumaki isn’t Japanese at all but apparently American, likely having originated at Trader Vic’s. Wikipedia calls this bacon-wrapped poultry concoction “mock Polynesian” and theorizes that the rumaki may come from the name of the Japanese spring roll harumaki.)

Though I feel like I learned the word fricassee from Bugs Bunny cartoons (along with other naturally funny words such as succotash and hasenpfeffer), I never knew what it meant and had certainly never tried it. A fricassee involves poultry or other white meat stewed in gravy, usually along with vegetables. Know we know.

I knew what Kelly meant when she said she’d prepared her dish in a Yucatecan style, but I thought it was worth pointing out that I’d couldn’t recall ever hearing the demonym for the Mexican state of Yucatan.

All that verbal business out of the way, some other thoughts on tonight’s Top Chef:
  • Whoever devises the Top Chef challenges has come up with some good ones that play nicely off the Washington D.C. setting. I enjoyed this week’s main event in particular — “disguising” traditional American dishes and then serving them to higher-up spooks at the CIA. However, this particular challenge gave me more reason to dislike contestant Amanda, who realized that her gussying-up of French onion soup would not fool anyone and who then verbalized this fact by saying that even Helen Keller would be able to spot the original dish. Not that I didn’t grow up with countless schoolyard Helen Keller jokes, but dude — Helen Keller was deaf and blind, she didn’t lack taste buds. Get your famous disabilities right.
  • Of all the politicos to guest judge Top Chef challenges so far this season, CIA director Leon Panetta was the first to actually call out lousy dishes. Previously, people like Nancy “Jerri Blank” Pelosi and Rep. Aaron “Turquoise Belt” Schock hemmed and hawed about dishes they did not like, but Panetta — who was appointed to his current position, not elected — spoke with refreshing bluntness. I should also mention that it’s extremely weird to me that Panetta — the former representative for California’s seventeenth district, where I once lived — is now the CIA head and therefore guy who, as Top Chefer Kelly noted, knows where all the extraterrestrials are.
  • Could Tiffany actually win this thing? I would not have guessed it at this season’s outset, but she certainly seems to be headed for a showdown with Angelo once he remembers how to cook. Tiffany’s culinary feats have not yet wowed me, but I will say she has one of the sunnier, more likeable personalities of any Top Chefer in recent memory. Plus she has the good taste to like La Femme Nikita, though I’m guessing she probably was referring to the Peta Wilson version.
  • Kevin — the one contestant neither in the top nor the bottom of this week’s episode — looks like a grown-up version of Manny from Modern Family


Thoughts?

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Special Victims

    I’m not sure who I feel the worst for.

    jayne mansfield mariska hargitay birthday pink elephant

    Of course, I feel bad for the baby elephant, who probably did not appreciate whatever process painted him pink. But I also actually feel bad for Jayne Mansfield. Even though it was probably her idea to paint the elephant pink, the end result of doing so with the same shade of pink as her dress leaves the viewer little choice other than to identify her with the large, awkward animal. And then there’s the baby, who I’m inclined to guess is Little Mariska Hargitay. All this fuss over her for a day she won’t even remember, plus the added horror of reaching toward what she thinks is her mom only to touch rough, dyed-pink pachyderm skin.

    (Via.)

    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    The Ghost of a Color

    I watch Top Chef and Project Runway not because I want Padma to make mean faces at me or Heidi to tell me my design looks sad, but instead because I enjoy observing the processes of creative people. I like hearing the contestants explain how they arrived at their good ideas or, more often, listening as they talk themselves into pursuing a crap idea.

    But another plus for me is the jargon — those weird words that the contestants spit out as if the American public will know what the hell they’re talking about. Sometimes we can tell by context. Sometimes we actually have no way of decoding a given sentence and figuring out what the strange French term means. (And, yes, whether it’s cooking or clothes, many of these words happen to be French, which is doubly difficult for me because I am terrible at guessing how French words might be spelled.) You’d better believe I get pissed when they don’t display the words on screen — when a Top Chefer, for example, boasts that they will “[unfamiliar French verb] some vegetables and meat to make a [unfamiliar noun — French? Arabic? Space language?]” and the chyron dumbs it down as “stew.”

    Anyway, this week I had reason to learn a fashion term, though not from Project Runway, which most recently focused on party supplies and Betsey Johnson being a loopier real-life version of Janice from The Muppets. (I liked the episode anyway.) And this fashion term is happens to be the word of the week.
    ombré (AHM-bray or ahm-BRAY) — 1. adjective: having colors or tones that shade into each other — used especially of fabrics in which the color is graduated from light to dark. 2. noun: the design resulting from this technique.
    As I understand it, an ombré effect can result from either dip-dyeing a completed garment or weaving colored fabrics in a way that gradually blends and then switches out one color for another. Whatever the process, the result looks something like this:


    No, not like a model wearing a loaded high-fashion diaper, but the fade from white to cyan to gray. To put it in color terms I’m more familiar with, ombré looks like someone selected the space of the garment and filled it with a Photoshop color gradient. Neat, I suppose, in that it seems to strip down the tie-dye aesthetic and elevate it beyond the hippie ghetto. (And in fashion, the hippie ghetto is a bad place to be.) However, it seems like a technique that would only look good on women’s clothes. I at least can’t imagine owning or wearing anything with a color fade.

    The word comes from the past participle of the French ombrer, “to shade,” which goes back to the Latin umbra, “shade.” (Umbra also gives English the word umbrella. Translated literally from Italian, umbrella means “little shade,” which is exactly what the instrument provides even though English speakers call a sun-blocking umbrella a parasol, literally “sun-shield.”) The noun form of the French word, ombre, means “shade” or “darkness” but also “ghost.” This usage parallels English’s treatment of the word shade. And I like this too, because ombré reminds me of pentimento, the instance of a previously painted-over image becoming visible beneath a finished work, whether as a result of an x-ray or time thinning the top level of paint. The extra image appears ghostly — and truly would be spooky, if you noticed a transparent figure appearing in a painting where none stood before. I’m not sure if I prefer the idea of ombré being the lighter color gradually shining through the darker one or the darker one slowly swallowing up the lighter one.

    Of course, ombré also happens to sound a lot like the Spanish word hombre, which is funny because ombré is this soft, feminine thing and an hombre is a gun-slinging dude walking into a saloon in a spaghetti western. In fact, there’s a relative in the name of the card game called ombre — it’s what Belinda plays in Rape of the Lock — and if you try to read about ombré on Wikipedia you just get directed to the article that starts with this image:


    And that’s even worse than a high-fashion diaper.

    Previous strange and wonderful words:

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    Saturday, August 14, 2010

    For You’ve Not Attained Marriage Age

    First, a song you likely have not heard before:


    It’s “Single Girl,” by 60s pop star Dusty Rose Muddy Tulip Rocky Chrysanthemum Sandy Posey. And it’s great, if you have ever felt like your experience of bygone pop music was lacking an American Petula Clark. But that’s not the point. Here, below, watch the same song performed in Cantonese by former child star Fung Bo Bo, a.k.a. Bobo Fung, Feng Bao Bao, Fung Po Po, Petrina Fung and the Hong Kong Shirley Temple. Or at least it’s the same melody played in a more upbeat manner and paired with Cantonese words that, of course, have been translated hilariously into ka-chunk ka-chunk robot English.


    The lyrics:
    Active youth
    Promising and sentimental
    The active young ones
    Full of gaiety and laughters
    Dance gaily but not too much
    And be sensible
    For you’ve not attained marriage age
    Enjoy the songs of the birds
    The beautiful flowers on meadows
    The fascinating country scenery
    (Note: When the hell did we go to the country?)
    Active young ones
    Compete energetically
    Play but not too much
    And be sensible
    For you’ve not attained marriage age
    (Another note: The song may have continued, but the video cuts out, so we’ll never know. Never.)

    For what it’s worth, Fung Bo Bo is giving it all she’s got. But I brief flashes of worry on her face make me wonder if she had a choice about the matter. In conclusion, does anyone else find it disturbing that the Wikipedia list of former child actors from China features only two people, one of whom is famously dead? How likely do we think it might be that some disaster befell a Chinese national child actors convention?

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    A Juice Box and a Snack

    Another report for the streets: Today a car passed by blasting that Khia song “My Neck, My Back.” You know which one I’m talking about — the filthy one. Walking right next to me were some kids with their mom, and they totally heard the chorus. Weirdly, I reacted to the situation with this alien and vaguely parental sense of anger at those kids having been exposed to something inappropriate. Later, in more Drew-like fashion, I tried to think of what a more child-friendly version of that song might be, and the most I could come up with was a revised chorus: “My jump rope, my jacks, a juice box and a snack.” Can anyone with access to a children’s choir flesh out the rest of the song and get this performed publicly? Because YouTube awaits.

    That is all.

    No, wait. That is not all: The car playing the song was full of guys. Weird, right? Or at least sending a message that was open to interpretation?

    Two Angry Mouths, One Strange Movie

    A nice surprise in my inbox this morning: the heads-up that a blog had posted two particularly flashy posters for Hausu, a movie that I instantly loved before I ever watched it.



    The blog itself, Sissy Dude, features a lot of vintage ads and other such graphics that many of you may find appealing — and, now that I think about it, it was an earlier incarnation of the same blog where I found the Anti-Marne — but I should also mention that alongside the kitschy vintage images is also a lot of erotica, most of it the all-dude variety. So maybe don’t open the site up at work and perhaps not from anywhere if you don’t like looking at depictions of sex from both yesteryear and today. It’s, um, quite the mix.

    Just for the sake of convincing every person I can to see this strange, wonderful movie, here’s the trailer once more:


    Spelled H-A-U-S-U, but pronounced “HAUS,” with traditional boogeyman inflection.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    Drew Meets a Bedlington Terrier

    Two men in my neighborhood own Bedlington Terriers. I know this because I have for months been seeing them walking their dogs near my house. And I noticed this because I’m fascinated by Bedlington Terriers, for while these dogs are fully canine they look remarkably like lambs.

    See?


    All this time living at my current address, I’ve been nonchalantly watching these dogs, plotting my opportunity to unobtrusively approach an owner, strike up a conversation and, while doing so, pet a Bedlington Terrier. Today, walking home from errands, I noticed one of the Bedlington Men waiting for traffic at a street corner — the very street corner at which I had planned to cross. Patience had paid off! I walked up to the curb and casually glanced down at the seeming dog-sheep hybrid.

    “Is that a Belington Terrier?” I asked.

    “Yes,” the owner replied. Nothing more.

    After a few moments, I had to say something or I’d lose him forever. “Well, it’s a nice-looking dog.”

    He sorta-smiled. The traffic continued. God bless rush hour.

    “What’s its name?” I asked, already at a loss as to how else I could trick this man into talking to me.

    “Mary,” he said.

    “Oh, like “Oh, like ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’?”

    He looked at me like I actually said “Oh, like Mary, Queen of Scots?” or “Are you fattening her to eat her?” or “Do aliens sometimes talk to you through your freakish sheep-dog, you sex pervert?” His eventual response: “No, like the name.” As if it’s typical for people to give their pets plain people names like Mary or John or Susan or James. At this point, we were now both crossing the street. The window opportunity was about to slam shut and break all my fingers.

    “I just thought because she kind of looks like a little sheep…” I began.

    We hit the corner and he went straight when I would have to go left. “No, it’s a dog,” he said, correcting a mistake I hadn’t actually made. And the little Bedlington Terrier — who I know would have loved me so much — trotted out of my life forever on little lamb legs.

    Of course, I’m crushed. Not only does the owner think I’m crazy, but I actually also think he’s crazy to the point that I don’t think I will ever want to talk to him again, even if he and I and Mary the Bedlington Terrier (not a sheep) were all to duck into the same bomb shelter during a nuclear war and ended up the three last humans-and-one-canine (not a sheep) in the world.

    But just to illustrate that he is crazy and I am not, please allow me to use a visual aid.

    This is a Bedlington Terrier:



    This is a lamb:


    This is another Bedlington Terrier:


    This is another lamb:


    Here’s a side-by-side:

    (image sources: 1, 2)

    Why must all Bedlington Terrier owners be mentally ill? (Yes, this is what I have taken away from this incident.)

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Sumo Bathhouse Victory Mural

    Words cannot express the fondness I feel for the below image.
    Photobucket


    You win? No. We all win.

    (Via Game & Graphics)

    Monday, August 09, 2010

    A Curse Word That Won’t Offend Anybody

    Why? Because I do not doubt that someone out there went to school with stereotypical 80s mean girls named Mallory and Alison, and therefore the knowledge that this word exists might amuse them.
    malison (MAL-i-sen) — noun: a curse.
    According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word entered English around 1300 and comes from the Old French maleiçon, meaning the same, and ultimately from the Latin maledictio — literally malus, “bad,” and dicere, “to say,” though in practice referring not so much to mumbling as speaking ill. Compare malison to its equally rare counterpart, benison. Our world malediction comes from the same Latin roots as malison, and I’ll point out that life would be far more interesting if graduation valedictory speeches by the valedictorian were followed by a deserved tirade from a maledictorian chosen from among the worst and least popular students. The Mallorys and Alisons of the word shouldn’t be allowed to graduate without getting taken down a notch.

    A random thought on such girls: What the hell possessed American parents in the 80s to make so many of them gave their daughters three-syllable names? In addition to Mallory and Alison, I feel like I was educated alongside an unusually high number of Jennifers, Jessicas, Brittanys, Tiffanys, Melissas, Stephanies, and other such people who regularly had their last initial tacked on just so we could tell them apart. Were they all blinded by the dayglo?

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    Sunday, August 08, 2010

    The Girl in the Mirror in the Calendar on the Wall

    My computer has a calendar and my phone has a calendar, but my wall also has a calendar because I find it convenient to glance up and quickly check the date or when the next Friday the thirteenth is coming. (It’s this week, by the way.) Also, I constantly worry that my machines will develop late-onset Y2K and make me think that 1900 has returned and I haven’t been born yet. So handy though it might be, my physical, hanging-on-the-wall calendar has recently stopped making me so happy. Every month gives me a new work of Japanese art, and August has arrived with Kitagawa Utamaro’s “Girl With a Mirror.” It looks like this:


    And every time I see it, I think of this:

    (image via dementedstuff.com)

    Creepy Anna Morgan from The Ring, brushing her hair in front of a similar oval mirror in and then turning to the camera and glaring. I could think of better associations to make whenever I look up from my computer screen. Because The Ring was a remake of a Japanese movie that also featured a woman grooming herself in an oval mirror, I wonder if “Girl With a Mirror” might have inspired the composition of the original scene and, indirectly, the remake too. Utamaro is remembered today as one of the more important Japanese artists, so the creative people behind Ringu would have likely known his work. Yes, I’m probably overthinking this, but you try staring at an image every time you struggle to find the right phrasing. Besides, this would not be the first time I’ve noticed Ring-like happenings in real life, because my roommate once did an inadvertently accurate impression of Amber Tamblyn’s corpse. (Note that I refrained from using the word mirrored to complete that last thought. I’ve also stopped myself from referring to anything coming full circle. You’re welcome.)

    Bonus Ring trivia: Shannon Cochran, the actress who played creepy Anna Morgan, also played Pam’s mom on The Office exactly once, before the role was recast last season. I’d like to think she lost the job by insisting that she play the role as creepy.

    Things are like other things, previously:

    Saturday, August 07, 2010

    I Dig Myself to the Center of the Earth

    Realistically, I should have tired of Cold Cave’s “Life Magazine” by now. But I haven’t. Even last year’s flurry of ads featuring the song could not spoil my love.


    Overall, I’ve found Cold Cave to be the best of the indie music groups whose names follow the formula of “emotional-related word + hole in the ground, more or less = alliterative-named band with layered songs that are difficult to hum” — Passion Pit, Temper Trap etc. I’m anticipating that Cold Cave will persevere in the coming onslaught of Catty Cavity, Needy Notch, Humility Hollow, and Impatient Indentation. (If they’re not all bands now, they will be.)

    Friday, August 06, 2010

    Fishhook-Toothed, Fish-Eating White Mouth

    My friend Elena recently had to move from California to Texas, I presume because she angered either some California governmental agency or God himself. But don’t feel too bad for her — she actually found a job as docent-slash-dying soldier at the Alamo. (Lots of interesting people! Fresh air!) When I strained to hear through her newfound twang, I heard so many of Elena’s stories about confronting the Texan wildlife. Much like Australia, Texas boasts a whole host crawling, slithering and orifice-penetrating animals that don’t like humans and can eliminate them fairly easily. Perhaps worst among them is the highly venomous snake known variously as the water moccasin, the cottonmouth and, perplexingly, the Congo snake, despite that it lives more in the U.S. and less in the Congo.

    (image via backyardnature.net)

    Easily the best way to refer to this scaly bringer of death, however, would be its full scientific name, Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma. Pronounce it out loud. Don’t you agree? Each segment sounds like the name of a Star Wars villain, a Roman gladiator or a particularly forceful businessman of undetermined Mediterranean origin who you suspect of having mob ties. Literally translated, it means something like the “fishhook-toothed, fish-eating white mouth,” which sounds like something a woman of low class would be called in a Faulkner novel. I prefer the untranslated name, you know, for when you’re saying something like “No, don’t bother to call an ambulance. It was an Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma, so I’m basically already dead. Don’t touch my stuff.”

    Yeah, snakes.

    Thursday, August 05, 2010

    That Time Padma Lakshmi Sang

    Though the clip has made the rounds on the blogs of the Top Chef crowd, I realized that I’d never posted it here. So, now, I’m doing my part to pass along a pop cultural gem to you all: Padma Lakshmi singing — in Mariah Carey’s Glitter, no less.


    Now, I enjoy Padma Lakshmi, and I liken her presence in this film to a showy wildflower blooming in an abandoned lot. But I still find humor in her deathwarbling. It should be noted that Padma’s character is supposed to sound awful, so the atonal squawking you hear did not result from Padma’s misguided beliefs that she has musical chops. Also, the scene takes place in the 80s, which accounts to an extent why she’s dressed like a henchwoman for The Penguin, Adam West-era. Even better: Her character goes by the stage name Sylk — as in a fancy fabric that the wealthy would drape on themselves to demonstrate what their money can buy. Just. Too. Much.

    While we’re on the subject: Hey, Wikipedia, is this really the best photo of Padma Lakshmi you could find? The one where her face is all shiny and her eyes look asymmetrical and she overall looks a little drunk? Because if so, then that’s awesome.

    Oh, Padma. Indeed, you and only you can do the freaky things you do.

    Leggings for Horses

    “What’s that? They’ve crossed a donkey with a zebra? You don’t say! What a world!”


    “And how might you refer to this hoof-creature? A zonkey? No, that’s no good. What if we took the first letter of donkey and the end of zebra… That would be… What? Oh. I’m sorry! No, I wasn’t implying anything. Oh, just come back to bed, Debra!”

    EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that another name for this creature is zedonk or sometimes zeedonk. According to Wikipedia, the offspring of a male horse and a female zebra is a zebrinny, while one of a Mister Zebra and a Missus Horse is a zebrula. Now you know. And if you want to feel sad, read on about the Tijuana Zebra.

    (Picture via SFGate, via The Doree Chronicles)

    Wednesday, August 04, 2010

    What It Takes to Make a Pro Blush

    Lyrics from Kim Carnes’ 1981 song “Bette Davis Eyes,” arranged into appropriate categories:

    Things that are meant to sound like a compliment and actually do:
    • “Her hair is Harlowe gold”
    • “Her lips a sweet surprise”
    • “Her hands are never cold”
    • “She’s got Bette Davis eyes”
    Things that seem to be an insult:
    • “She’s pure as New York snow”
    • “And she’ll tease you, she’ll unease you”
    • “She’ll expose you / When she snows you / Off your feet with the crumbs she throws you”
    Things that initially sound like a compliment but then, after thinking about it, you realize that it might not necessarily be a nice thing to say:
    • “She’s got Bette Davis eyes”
    • “All the better just to please you”
    • “She’ll let you take her home / It whets her appetite”
    • “She’ll lay you on the throne” (Meaning “treat you royally” or “do you on the toilet”?)
    • “She’ll take a tumble on you” (Meaning “fall for you”? “Take a dive for you”? Or “will literally fall on you because she also has Bette Davis’s hips”?)
    • “She’s ferocious”
    Things that seem neither here nor there:
    • “She’ll turn the music on you”
    • “You won’t have to think twice”
    • “She’s precocious”
    • “Roll you like you were dice / Until you come up blue”
    • “All the boys think she’s a spy”
    Things written because they rhymed and not because they sound like anything a native English-speaker would say out of the context of a pop song:
    • “She’ll turn the music on you”
    • “And she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush”
    • “She’ll expose you / When she snows you / Off your feet with the crumbs she throws you”
    Things that 80s youth might not have understood and which the passage of time has only made more obscure:
    • “Her hair is Harlow gold” (Many of the 10,000 hits you get by Googling “Bette Davis eyes lyrics” incorrectly state this line as “hollow gold,” which puts an interesting spin on things.)
    • “She’s got Bette Davis eyes” (Like the old crinkle lady from Watcher in the Woods?)
    • “She got Greta Garbo’s stand-off sighs” (Sometimes confused with “thighs”)
    Incidentally, Carnes’s recording wasn’t the first version of the song. Jackie DeShannon, probably best known for singing “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” wrote “Bette Davis Eyes” and recorded it herself in 1974. Now, I can’t say that I like the Kim Carnes version all that much, but it is indisputably an iconic early 80s song. Consequently, DeShannon’s original take feels bizarre and wrong, despite coming first.


    I imagine I’d have a similar reaction if I found out that, for example, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was actually a remake of some obscure Norwegian arthouse movie and tried to sit through that.

    Tuesday, August 03, 2010

    Your Thoughts Are Dirty / And Your Clothes Are Too

    Three years after being given the song “Space For Rent” by WhoMadeWho on a mix CD, I’m still not tired of it.


    Neither should you be. Because more sexy was never made from a falsetto voice and a song about a roommate listing.

    Hooters Say: You’re Not Porking Enough!

    At best, it’s a request for more pig-meat. At worst, it’s something far less innocent. In either case, it’s the word of the week.
    morepork (pronounced… um… like it’s spelled) — noun: an owl of the genus Ninox inhabiting New Zealand and Australia.
    I offered the pronunciation the way I did not to crack wise — or “be cheeky,” as the moreporks might say — but to note that the pronunciation of the word changes quite a bit depending on whether you’re a North American English-speaker or not. In general, I think you’re meant to pronounce the word as you would the words more and pork. However, because Britons, Aussies, Kiwis and others pronounce the letter “R” differently than I do, the American pronunciation of the word loses quite a bit.

    (image credits: stuff.co.nz, tiritiri matangi island, churchmousenz)

    As you can see, the morepork has the unfortunate quality of always looking totally freaked out.

    Originally, morepork and other, less funny names for this owl such as mopoke and boobook began as onomatopoetic representations of its two-syllable hoot. (That is, the owls may not be what they seem, but they’re actively telling you what they are. The tendency to announce themselves may be characteristic of New Zealand birds, as the kiwi bird’s name is also onomatopoetic.) You can tell by the latter two names that you’re not meant to hear an “R” in morepork, but I’m actually not sure how an American should approach this one. With an affected British “R”? Or as he or she normally would, even though doing so would deprive the word of its reason for existing?

    This simple matter could easily be extrapolated into a whole book about interplay and imitation between Americans and Britons. We’ll call it The Morepork in the Mouth of the American. And it will surely mention the Winnie the Pooh character Eeyore, who, as I’ve noted earlier, suffers a similar fate. His name is also onomatopoetic — specifically of the noise a donkey makes. But you wouldn’t know it to hear an American pronounce Eeyore’s name. Coming from someone in A.A. Milne’s homeland, however, Eeyore sounds a lot like the American way of referring to a donkey braying, hee-haw. Plus “R,” minus “H.” Transcontinental English mathematics.

    According to the site Curious Words and Phrases, though the word morepork appears in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels in the name of the city Ankh-Morepork, Pratchett said the resemblance is coincidental, though the owl may have been retroactively incorporated into the insignia for the city. Curious Words and Phrases also notes that morepork was used in the The Harp in the South, a novel by New Zealand author Ruth Park:
    Not black,” cried Hughie. “I won't have my wife looking like a morepork’s widow.” This pleased him, and he lay there chuckling for some minutes, repeating “morepork’s widow.”
    But even being half-New Zealander, I don’t have a clue what morepork’s widow could mean. Ruth Park, I cannot fail to note, gained some fame later for the popular Muddle-Headed Wombat series of books. Oh, down under people — why must you be so down under?

    Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the owl saddled with this name is also known to some by yet other names, including ruru, spotted owl, marbled owl and tawny frogmouth. That last one is erroneous because the tawny frogmouth is a separate species. And that’s mention enough for me to post a rather endearing photo of a frogmouth doing what it does best: making a goofy face.


    For a bird that most cultures associate with wisdom, owls spend a lot of time looking all stupid.

    Previous strange and wonderful words:
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    Monday, August 02, 2010

    Cosa Avete Fatto a Solange?

    A question will only make sense to fans of exploitation cinema: Was I the only one who didn’t realize that the title character of the 1972 giallo film What Have You Done to Solange? was played by the same actress who just six years later played the victim in the gratuitously brutal I Spit on Your Grave?



    Another, perhaps of slightly broader interest: Also, was I the only one who didn’t know that the actress, Camille Keaton, is the stepmother to Lorna Luft, who is the daughter of Judy Garland and the half-sister of Liza Minelli?

    Thirdly, the most general of all: Doesn’t Camille Keaton’s association with Judy Gardland, the Minellis and the Lufts make her seem even crazier yet?

    Finally, a question that is neither here nor there: Can you stop and imagine for a moment how different What Have You Done to Solange? and I Spit on Your Grave would have been if Liza Minelli had played the victim in either?

    image sources: spit title card, solange title card