May 27, 2014

May 27, 2014

Things I’ve Read: One Summer: America, 1927

Bill Bryson, whose work I’ve discussed before, has a newish book out about the summer of 1927. If that seems oddly specific to you, join everyone else with whom I’ve discussed this book over the past few weeks. Then SUCK IT UP AND DEAL because this book is both fascinating and informative, as I myself strive to be.

In 1927, a whole crapload of stuff was happening, much of which would have Lasting Ramifications. In BuzzFeed list(icle) form, these things would include: 
  • The New York Yankees: Great team or GREATEST team? (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, et al.)
  • Sacco and Vanzetti
  • Fed Decision sets the stage for the 1929 stock market crash
  • Coolidge quietly gets up to no hijinks; Hoover is neck-deep in hijinks
  • Al Capone: Totally a Thing
  • Lindbergh crosses the Atlantic
  • Ford develops the Model A
  • The original Ponzi scheme
  • The Jazz Singer is released

Though we can argue that other years are of greater significance (I myself am a big fan of 1066), 1927 brought developments in technology, finance, politics, and sport that changed the world. The book discusses them mostly chronologically, going month by month. It also, however, focuses on key personalities—Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, and so on. It goes to show how much was happening that summer that Philo T. Farnsworth is mentioned but briefly and Nucky Thompson NOT AT ALL.

This book is also a good reminder that the days of yore weren’t always so golden. The Mississippi flooded in 1927. It was off-the-chain hot and no one had air conditioning. Europe was stirring fretfully, with some Americans standoffishly regarding it from a distance while others prepared to heil. For every successful Lindbergh, there were a dozen others who literally crashed and burned. Roaring twenties, indeed.

To seal the deal, here are my very favorite trivia bits from this book:
  1. Charles Lindbergh had a secret German family that he kept hidden for DECADES
  2. Warren Harding was totally our worst President, yet you never hear about that any more. I wonder how the Clinton and Bush administrations will look in a hundred years.
  3. Henry Ford tried to start a rubber plantation/New Detroit in Brazil called Fordlandia. It failed miserably.

May 16, 2014

May 16, 2014

24-Hour Game Show Marathon

In addition to being people that I tolerate and occasionally admire, my friends do a lot of good. They volunteer. They donate money. They create elaborate game show software and play said games for 24 hours straight while broadcasting the whole thing on the internet.

Indeed, it’s time once again for the 24-Hour Game Show Marathon.

In a nutshell: On Saturday (TOMORROW), friends-of-blog Cory, Bob, and Christian will be playing a series of game shows, broadcasting the whole 24 hours (the good, the bad, and the drunken) at In addition to watching them attempt Jeopardy!, Pyramid, Family Feud, and such, you can (and should!) donate to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Because that’s sort of the whole point of the GSM. It's not just three dudes and their friends having a good time. It's three dudes and their friends have a good time and helping sick kiddos.

There’s a little something for everybody in the full schedule, whether you’re a Brit, a Yank, or just a person who enjoys the phrase “Golden Balls.” Ideally, you would watch the whole 24 hours straight, but unless you're a Schlaag den Raab watcher, you may not have built up that stamina yet.

To Cory, Bob, and Christian: Here’s hoping the third GSM is the best one yet. May the power of Bradley Walsh be with you. (Also, how about The Cube for GSM4?)

May 15, 2014

May 15, 2014

Rockabye Baby

Sometimes, things you’re ambivalent about end up being pretty cool. As this week’s space-themed trivia night made clear, I’m one of the least-informed people in my circles about NASA and space exploration in general…but I do enjoy many of the by-products of our attempts to colonize space, including Velcro, Tang, and George Clooney films.

Likewise, I am no fan of babies. No fan. Of babies. They’re messy, and I’m neat. They’re expensive, and I’m cheap. They’re typically not very smart, either; rarely can I hold a decent conversation with a baby about Syria or UKIP. I leave the continuity of the human race to the rest of you, while occasionally using a by-product of the immense category that is Stuff Needed By People With Babies. Like Rockabye Baby.

(But let me first say that SNBPWB has to be costing you PWB a shitload of cash. Now that it’s tourist season in DC, I see the occasional couple with child on the train. They are always accompanied by: a stroller, toys, a diaper bag, snacks, water bottles, hats, sunglasses, extra shoes, and [inexplicably] a wagon. Rarely—RARELY—is the actual kid sitting in either the stroller or the wagon. He’s generally running up and down the aisle, shrieking at the top of his lungs. Yet people continue to ask whether I’m going to have kids.)

ANYWAY. I’m sure the joys of parenting outweigh the costs, yada yada yada. One thing I wouldn’t mind spending a grubby buck or two of my own on? Something from Rockabye Baby. In a nutshell, they do lullaby versions of rock songs. Think lots of marimbas, chimes, and other easy listening percussion sort of stuff. Everybody from The Beatles to Blurred Lines:

It’s rock dressed up as classical, and the part of me that went to parochial schools appreciates that. Plus vibraphone Jay-Z is my new second-favorite Jay-Z (after elevator Jay-Z, obvi).

If you MUST reproduce, at least get that kid started on The Ramones and Bowie early on.

May 12, 2014

May 12, 2014

Nineteen Channels and Counting

The typical American watches just 17 channels. Granted, if you’re of a certain age, 17 channels probably seems like a lot. In fact, it probably IS a lot. Time marches on, though, and approximately nineteen thousand channels now exist to beam comedy, drama, and cat footage directly into your eyeballs.

I ran through my own list and came up with 19. I counted cable network “families”—History and H2, for example—just once, and only counted a network if I consistently watch at least one series on it (sorry, Bravo). Your mileage may vary, especially if you are into sports or whatever it is all those ESPN channels are for.

It’s a little disconcerting, because I consider myself a pretty informed entertainment consumer. Yet statistics prove prove that you’ve one birthday that I’m barely above average.

What’s your number?

May 2, 2014

May 2, 2014

Last Week Tonight

It’s a big world out there. I’m reminded of this every time I travel abroad, deal with someone from another country, or have to memorize the countries of the world and their capitals. We Americans, probably more than any other country, are isolationist narcissists. Not cool. Really not cool.

You can consume non-American media—Deutsche Welle’s Journal and the BBC World News are great places to start—but alas. Our airwaves are filled with stories about singing birds and people losing weight and sports. None of those things are intrinsically bad, but there’s a whole planet of stuff going on. India’s holding the largest election IN HISTORY. Syria: still a thing! The Cornish are now an official UK minority. And these are but a random tip of the iceberg.

When I read that John Oliver’s new HBO show, Last Week Tonight, would be covering more these sorts of stories and less Kartrashian sort of stuff, my interest was piqued. I liked Oliver on The Daily Show, though you have to attribute at least 80% of that to the fact that he is British. But hang on a minute. The fact that Oliver is what we ‘muricans would call an Outsider lends weight to the idea that his show might actually cover substantive issues. See for yourself by watching the full episode HBO put on YouTube [insert language disclaimer here].

Honest assessment: I liked this a lot. More than I expected to. The Indian election segment was a powerhouse; you’d expect nothing less from the opening story of the premiere episode. Truth in food labeling? An analysis much coarser—and brutally honest—than anything you’d see on the NBC Nightly News. They seemed to lose their way a bit in the interview segment, and I don’t know how much of that is the show’s fault and how much is the subject’s fault. Oliver seems to still be working out whether he’s in character (a la Stephen Colbert) and if so, what that character is. His interviewee, former NSA head Keith Alexander, thus wasn’t in on the joke, or even sure there was a joke to be in on. (I apologize for that sentence. Keep parsing it until it makes sense.)

Overall, though? A whole lot better than waterskiing budgerigars (Harry Potter reference!) or that traffic jam on the 405. I’m staying tuned.


May 1, 2014

May 1, 2014

At what percentile is "Old"?

Though my internal age hovers comfortably around 65*, I’m afraid that I’m technically just 30. I use the word “just” because the Powers That Be running the world are generally Baby Boomers who refuse to get out of the way, and they don’t seem comfortable with the fact that people born in the 1980s now have kids entering high school.

But I don’t judge, because for every 99 times I’m told I’m a mere kid in the grand scheme of things comes one time that I am, in fact, an old fogey. Today, the Junk Food Guy tipped me off to that 1 time: the “How Many Pro Athletes Are Younger Than You?” Tool. Here’s my distribution:

(We can pretend that age alone is what’s keeping me from being a professional athlete.)

For once, statistics that I can get on board with. In defense of the kids, I recently helped out with a Model UN function at Cabinet-Department-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named and those kids were sharp as a whip. Informed on the issues, communicative, and (most importantly) dressed in tiny navy blue blazers. I wasn’t nearly as put together at that age, and I turned out pretty okay.

In fact, I’m turning back the hands on my Humanity’s Doom Countdown Clock two seconds.

* I watch NCIS religiously, eat dinner at 5, and attend multiple fine arts performances each year. I’m not someone you take home to mom; I’m someone you take home to grandma.