Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Double Review Day!

Yes folks, it seems that I am on a review roll. Today I will be reviewing two fabulous products: Fleur de Sel Ice Cream and iPod Touch 2.0.

First off, the tasty stuff: Fleur de Sel.

Fleur de Sel is an offering from Haagen-Dazs' Reserve line. I have never been the biggest fan of Haagen-Dazs; not because it is bad ice cream, but because it's not good enough for the price. Yes, it is better than most cheaper ice cream, but it's not that much better, and the flavors are fairly dull. Their more exotic flavors usually involve nuts of some sort, which I have never been a big fan of (I know to many this would signal that I should not write a food review, to that I say: "fuck you"), for example, I would love to try the Caramelized Pear and Almond, but don't care for almonds.

There is one flavor of Haagen-Dazs that I do see fit to buy, and that is Dulce de Leche. H-D makes, by far, the best Dulce de Leche ice cream I have tasted, which is partly why I was enticed to try Fleur de Sel, which had caramel as the primary flavor of the ice cream, but with a twist.

The flavor is a combination of caramel ice cream, caramel ribbons, and chocolate covered caramel pieces sprinkled with... salt. But not just any salt, Fleur de Sel (as if you hadn't guessed), which is an expensive salt hand collected from Brittany in France (fleur de sel means "flower of salt" en Fran├žais).

My first bite only yielded ice cream and caramel ribbons, which of course was good, but I was waiting to taste the fancy-pants salt. The second bite was of a chocolate covered piece, and I was in heaven. At first I tasted chocolate and caramel, but that flavor melted away into the salty (but sweet and delicate) taste of the fleur de sel. The flavors blended perfectly together, the caramel giving way to the salt and vice versa.

The price is higher (I paid a dollar more than regular H-D) and the quantities are limited, but I would recommend you go out and give it a try. Well, assuming that you are a little adventurous in your desert tastes. Now, if only they'd release a pepper and chocolate ice cream (they have chili and cucumber Popsicles, but that doesn't sound all too enticing...)

Part II: iPod Touch v. 2.0

On July 13th the iPhone 3G was released to much fanfare. On the same day, all of us losers with iPod Touches were given the joy that is the App Store. We all did a little cheer and started staring down at our small screens.

I got my Touch when I bought my new laptop and it has pretty much taken over my life, as now I actually schedule my time, which has never happened before. The interface of the iPod Touch is ingenious, and it makes it annoying to use my old iPod (which I still use because it has a lot more storage). All-in-all, the touch is like a mini laptop, doing much more than any PDA I had experienced before (not that I really had that much experience before).

The 2.0 update has made the Touch that more awesome. First off, the Touch/iPhone can now connect to secure wi-fi networks, which means I can connect to my school's wi-fi (hello goofing off in class). The App Store has turned my Touch into a little gaming/chatting/Facebooking device, which makes me want the iPhone that much more as I can now communicate with it in every way except phone calls. The wi-fi in my apartment is exceptionally horrible and for some reason the Touch usually connects better than my MacBook, so it has made browsing/chatting in bed so much easier (well, not so much on the eyes).

The bad: the biggest flaw of the iPhone OS is that it can only run one program at a time (with the exception of playing music), thus it makes multitasking difficult at best. It can only load webpages one at a time, and the update has taken away the ability to have Mail check for new messages on a regular interval. Also, I sometimes use French and when I went to the "International" settings dialog, the easy to understand "English (US), English (UK), French (France), et al." has been replaced with "en_us, en_uk, fr_fr" which one can deduce, but is not as convenient. Also, and this is more of a critique of third party apps, the problem with many apps that utilize the accelerometer alone is that the accelerometer can often be a little wonky. I downloaded the much advertised "Super Monkey Ball" only to be frustrated by the fact that sometimes I would randomly switch directions when barely moving my touch.

All-in-all, the update is well worth the $10, I just hope that the next one will add some multitasking functions. I foresee great things for the iPhone/iPod Touch, by far it is the best music playing device I've experienced, but Apple could do so much more. I am hoping for some exciting announcements next WWDC.

Well, that was a very fattening and nerdy post. Hope you liked it!

Bedroom Secrets of an Ex-Lesbian

Check this book description of a recently released 52-page book, Bedroom Secrets of an Ex-Lesbian:  

As a former lesbian, the Christian author dispels the myth that a woman can please another woman better than a man can. She shares her multi-orgasm techniques that encompass far more than just foreplay. Thus, Bedroom Secrets of an Ex-Lesbian is for every man who has ever lost his woman to another woman or who simply seeks to satisfy his woman so she will never consider being with someone else. This book is also for every woman who wants to help her man satisfy her sexually.

Sigh.  Where to begin?

Notice how the information is only legitimate because it comes from a Christian author? (Otherwise the qualification of "former lesbian, now Christian" would be entirely unnecessary.)  Notice how this information is for the sole purpose of making it so your woman "will never consider being with someone else," and not for the actual pleasure of the woman?

Here's the best part.  In small print, across the top cover of the book, is written:

A Straightforward Guide to Extracting the Elusive Female Orgasm.

Women's sexuality (homogenous as it is, since this one little book applies to every woman) is again portrayed as a secret to be revealed only to men. The "Elusive Female Orgasm" is apparently not something to be experienced or given or enjoyed - no, no, no. It's something to be "extracted," like a wisdom tooth while under heavy sedative. And if this woman has had enough experience to write 52 pages on satisfying women, she should damn well know it's not that elusive.

And, finally, do I really need to comment on the double-entendre of "a straightforward guide" written by an ex-lesbian?  I think not.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Review: Santogold - Santogold

The last review on this blog was not a very favorable one, so I figured I'd review something I actually liked so I don't seem like a cold, petty bastard. Today's review is the self-titled album by Santogold. Santogold hails from Philadelphia, where she was a member of the punk/ska group Stiffed. I haven't heard Stiffed, so I can't really make a reference to her previous work.

General Feeling: Listening to this album is like listening to a mix tape and then suddenly realizing that it is really just one artist, and that is, surprisingly, a good thing. Ska, grime, and post-punk influences run rampant and play nice on this pretty good debut.

Full Review: Santogold's album is not exactly the most coherent in style, but all of the styles that she uses mesh well together in the framework of the album. The variance in styles help keep the album interesting and makes you want to listen to the whole thing in a sitting because you are not bogged down with the same hooks and tricks every song. The album starts off with "L.E.S. Artistes" which sounds like a Tegan and Sara song, only more electronic. The song "You'll Find a Way" shows Santogold's ska roots, and reminiscent of No Doubt but... good.

The two artists that Santogold seems to channel the most are M.I.A. and Siouxsie Sue. The use of rap and noise channel M.I.A., especially the songs "Shove It" and "Creator". While Santogold is not near as good as M.I.A. it is nice to see someone else follow in M.I.A.'s footsteps (besides Lady Sovereign, if you believe Last.fm). The song "My Superman" is so creepily like Siouxsie that I had trouble believing I wasn't listening to Mantaray.

Overall, this album is amazing fun, good dance songs, good trip-hop songs, and never boring. There is a pretty good remix of "You'll Find a Way" tacked on at the end. Some have said that the lack of coherence in style will hurt Santogold, I say that if she keeps it interesting it will only make her stronger. Good work!

Final Word: Buy it! I would say go over to Emusic and download it there!

An Active Christian

So speaking of Christianity and homosexuality, I'm sure a lot of you have been hearing about this Brent Rinehart from Oklahoma.  (For more details, check out this article from the Oklahoman, or this video on CNN for an interview with Rinehart.)  He is running for reelection to the office of county commissioner and has created a campaign material in the style of a comic book.  What's notable about this, other than what the use of a comic book as campaign material suggests about Rinehart's attitude toward the intelligence of the average vote, is the remarkably blatant homophobia pervasive throughout the piece.

The comic describes Rinehart as a "conservative Republican and active Christian."  The sixteen page campaign mailing contains numerous references to Rinehart's fervent Christianity and his various accomplishments in the time he has already served in office.  A demon and an angel run throughout the comic, with the demon saying things like "If only I could get the kids to believe that homosexuality is normal..." and the angel saying "Not with Brent around you won't!"  One image even depicts the caricature of a gay man approaching a boy scout, who is yelling for help, presumably to fend off the impending molestation.

In the video, he describes his platform as roads, bridges, and "exposing the homosexual agenda."  (By the way, this is still my favorite article on the idea of "the gay agenda.")

I really don't even know what to say about this.  Somedays I just can't believe that my vote, with my constant attempts to educate myself on the intricacies of the issues at hand, is worth the same as this guy's vote, who can't even spell the very insults he casually tosses around throughout this so-called campaign literature.

What. The. Hell.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Double Edged Sword: Two Ideas of Christianity, Part 2

The other documentary I watched on the subject of Christianity (see below post) was “Jesus Camp.”

Essentially, “Jesus Camp” follows a group of three charismatic Christian children who attend the Kids on Fire School of Ministry, a summer camp in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. Although I was already aware of much of the information presented in the documentary, there were still a few things that managed, to borrow a phrase from “Family Guy,” grind my gears.

First, there were the children themselves. These children were surprisingly well-spoken and obviously intelligent, especially when asked about their beliefs. However, I find it difficult to absorb that these children understand precisely what they’re talking about. One of the kids, who was 12 years old when “Jesus Camp” was filmed, said he became born-again at the age of five. My question is how can you fully comprehend the meaning of salvation when you are five years old? As one of my friends put it, when you’re five, you don’t have anything to be born again from.

On that note, during the actual camp, there is much discussion and hollering about taking back America for Jesus. It’s somewhat bizarre listening to children talking about what’s wrong with America, especially considering I, as a 20 year old college student and aspiring journalist, still have only a basic understanding of our political system and the American psyche overall. It might be possible for a five-year old to know and accept Jesus into his or her heart, but still I highly doubt a young child can fully comprehend the complexities of American morality.

Also, I thought it was interesting for each of children the filmmakers followed, their respective mothers – but not their fathers – were also interviewed. For a group of people who place such an importance on the nuclear family, it seems rather strange the fathers’ voices were not heard.

Finally, there’s a scene in the film where the leader of a major fundamentalist Christian organization talks to the children at the camp about the evils of abortion. Object to abortion, fine, but I worry that instilling so much fear into children about it will cause some sort of slippery slope as far as reproductive choice, or lack thereof, is concerned. After all, the children are shown praying for the Supreme Court to end Roe v. Wade., which is a chilling image in and of itself. The path from opposing abortion to advocating abstinence only sex education isn’t so long, and it’s obvious how far that’s gotten us.

At any rate, I respect the people who appeared in the film insofar as fundamental Christianity is their chosen path, but I think I will continue to do what I’ve been doing, which is respectfully keeping my distance from them.

For Butler Tells Me So

Just as a side note regarding the film "For the Bible Tells Me So," as mentioned in the previous post...

The film offers various scientific evidence, witty arguments, and compelling stories working to undermine the idea that homosexuality is a choice, but in doing so also offers some troubling assumptions about gender and its supposed links to sexuality.  A short cartoon in the style of a public service announcement captures this duality very well.

The narrator offers various arguments against homosexuality as a choice - those parts based on scientific study (which therefore supposedly carry more legitimacy).  Apparently, several recent studies have suggested that having older brothers significantly increases the odds of the youngest broth being homosexual.  This is - supposedly - because the mother's body reads a male fetus as a foreign object and produces antibodies against it.  The more male children the mother has, the "more adept her body becomes at feminizing the fetus, which may explain why with every successive boy, the odds that he will be gay go up significantly."

(I would have just guessed statistics... the more kids you have that aren't, the higher chance your next one will be.  But what do I know?  And what does "feminizing the fetus" even mean?  Pink chromosomes?)

This otherwise potentially informative cartoon actually reinforces widely-held myths about gender and sexuality, most notably that femininity is biological and, when coupled with the male sex, implies homosexuality.  To present the argument that homosexuality is a genetic matter implies only genetic causality, which may or may not include room for other theories like constructivism.  However, to argue that homosexuality is a genetic matter because the male fetus is "feminized" and therefore increasingly likely to be gay implies that it is in fact the biological assignment of femininity to males that causes homosexuality, not some genetic combination that occurs randomly in roughly ten percent of the population.

The concept of biological femininity only reinforces the commonly held belief in the synonymy of gender and sex, implicitly guiding viewers to the idea that gender is something essential, inheritable, and genetic.  It disallows for the possibility of societal influence and construction of gender roles, performance, and identity.

In other words, it's one thing to say that being gay is genetic. It's an entirely different thing to say that being gay (in the case of men, anyway) is because of feminization. Doing so only falsely links sexuality to gender.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Double-Edged Sword: Two Ideas of Christianity, Part 1

I no longer to go to church, but the doings and trappings of Christianity in America still remain of interest to me. So, with that interest in mind, I decided to watch two recent documentaries with two rather divergent takes on where Christianity in America has taken us.

The first of these is “For the Bible Tells Me So,” which examines the intersection of Christianity and homosexuality. I watched the film with rapt attention. So long used to the negatives Christianity hurls at the GLBT community (although plenty of examples of those are also presented), it was refreshing to hear the opposing side, the mantra of which is homophobia is the sin, not homosexuality.

The meat of the film is interviews with a group of Christian GLBT people – some famous, some not – and their families. Although each family came to accept their gay child in different ways, all but one family were united in the fight against hate and discrimination.

Images of those families in picket lines and gay pride parades in addition to the words of religious scholars and leaders debunking the myth of what the Bible says about homosexuality made me feel optimistic about the possibilities of bridging the gap between being gay and being Christian.

I have seen firsthand the damage church teachings can inflict upon Christians who also happen to be gay. My first girlfriend was raised Baptist, and I recall at times she would feel conflicted about being gay because, she told me, of what she had been told all her life, e.g. homosexuals are bad people and are going to hell. No one deserves that – to be told you are evil and worthless because of something as intrinsic to you as the color of your eyes.

Yet, that hateful rhetoric continues ever on, perpetuated by such faith-based organizations as Focus on the Family, which was spotlighted in the film. Indeed, the climax of “For the Bible Tells Me So” is when one of the families interviewed by the filmmakers goes to a protest at the Focus on the Family headquarters and reads a letter addressed to the notoriously homophobic Dr. James Dobson, the organization’s director. The family is then arrested for crossing a picket line and is filmed being taken away by the police.

Hopefully, such courageous acts will inspire other families to take a stand and reject the idea that homosexuals are unloved by God. Let us love one another, for the Bible tells me so.  Homophobia is the sin, not homosexuality.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I'm New

I often have nothing good to say, so I add sarcasm.  Even when I have something good to say, my bitterness and excitability come off as sarcasm.

My thoughts on July 4th: Nothing like blowing shit up to celebrate people dying for a country free of religious tyranny... yet now I am a second class citizen because of religion in the government. Perhaps I should move these fireworks closer to congress.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Recycled Ideas

Recently, I had the opportunity to see My Fair Lady at the Muny. I didn’t see it so much out of pure desire, but because the tickets were free, and I can’t resist a free trip to the theater.

Bored as I was during the show, I started to contemplate the moral of the story or what it was all of the characters were striving toward. Having trouble coming up with a clear answer, I considered the precursors of My Fair Lady.

It is well known that the musical is based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. In fact, the plots of both – shrewd academician transforms uncouth country girl into prim and proper lady – are nearly identical except for their respective conclusions.

The name Pygmalion itself is a reference to a Greek myth in which a lonely man fashions the likeness of a woman out of marble and for his kindness is rewarded by the gods with a real woman to marry.

Contemplating this, I thought perhaps the inherent charm of My Fair Lady was the supposedly entertaining plot device of someone “improving” someone else while hilarity and romance unquestionably ensue. That’s probably true for most people, but I don’t find those kinds of stories entertaining.

And then, I picked up on another theme that maybe isn’t so obvious. During one of the few scenes that genuinely moved me, the heroine, Eliza Doolittle, plaintively and repeatedly wails to her instructor of proper grammar, Prof. Higgins, “What will become of me?”

At that moment, the lines, “You become responsible forever for what you have tamed,” from the French tale The Little Prince came fluttering through my mind. Yes, I decided, this was the moral of My Fair Lady: Higgins created the new Eliza, and he was subsequently responsible for her. That was a premature conclusion on my part, as several scenes later Higgins tells Eliza she is free to leave his home whenever she wants because he has no power over her.

So, to reiterate, I could not identify any clear moral to My Fair Lady, and I wasn’t at all amused by its so-called charms. And, to make it worse, the ending is fairly open-ended, which works for intelligent dramas, but only served to exacerbate my overall irritation with it.

According to that hallowed reference guide, Wikipedia, My Fair Lady has been called the perfect musical. Perfect musical, my ass.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Here we go again....

That's right folks, Hollywood is coming out with another - and this is shocking, believe me - REMAKE. And it only gets better, it seems that this time the remake is of The Karate Kid and the director/producer is going to be *drumroll please* Will Smith. [LINK!]

Not only that, it seems that it is going to star Smith's son, Jaden. I don't really know what to think about this, as I am usually wary of nepotism - except in the case of Helena Bonham Carter in Tim Burton films, BUT she was a good actress before she married him. Now, I could be proven wrong and Jaden could be a good actor. We'll see... or rather other people will see as I don't think the Karate Kid necessitates a remake.

And beyond that, I am getting pretty tired of Hollywood regurgitating the same old movies. Lately it's either remakes or comic book movies. Blah. I mean, I have never been a big fan of mainstream movies period (I usually stick to indie and the Criterion Collection), but the movie theatres are starting to look like a giant roman shower. No thanks LA.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Oh Michael Bay, will you ever learn?

I found an ever so delicious piece of fake awesomeness on Spill.com (via Neatorama); a script by Michael Bay for The Dark Knight. Read it hot off the presses!

... I'll pause to let you read the thing...

Of course, the joke is that this is basically the script for Transformers, but made much more obvious the subtle message in Transformers: The military is awesome!

In the commentary for Transformers, however, this is pretty much laid out, as Michael Bay says that the Army worked with Bay in order to show the public how cool the army could be. Humorously enough, in Transformers law enforcement is shown as bumbling and full of themselves, while the army is blown up as a lone wolf, pursuers of true justice. Obviously Bay is trying to make the Army seem... well... rebellious. A contradiction in terms if I ever heard one.

Even my beloved Apple does not escape from the Army trying to peddle its awesomeness, during WWDC 08, when Jobs announced iPhone 2.0, various corporations were featured in a video on how the new iPhone has helped them. Most of the other corporations focused on the iPhone, but the army was more concerned with building itself up. (Garrr... I can't find the link, maybe later...)

So, has the army become the new cigarette? It can kill you and harm others, but it sure looks cool in movies!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be Famous ... and Have Scientists Grow Me Skin in Test Tube?

Some things will never change. In a faltering economy with a stock market that’s officially been declared bear, the wealthy are still spending their confusingly exorbitant amounts of cash on random crap while the unemployment rate continues to skyrocket. Case in point number one: Pharrell Williams.

Williams, a multi-millionaire music producer, has commissioned the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Skin Treatment in North Carolina to grow him some new skin in a lab (because they can totally do that now). It seems Mr.Williams has grown tired of some of his many tattoos, and he would like a fresh, ahem, canvas.

When it’s ready to go, the skin, which is created using a sample of his existing epidermis, will be grafted onto Williams, and after it heals he said he intends to have that new shiny spot all inked up.

I realize skin is a pretty amazing organ but imagining Williams getting a tattoo on his grafts creeps my shit out. Needles going in ... chunks of skin ... falling off ... but I guess that’s okay because he just has his old skin underneath, right? Although that begs the question, how can you just graft new skin onto skin that’s already there, that’s perfectly healthy? What happens if he gets tired of that tattoo? I don’t think this is a procedure you can do more than once. Actually, I think there’s just too many things about this that make it seem like a bad idea.

Many parents would say tattoos in general are a bad idea. I would disagree. I have one myself, and I intend to get more. It’s just that it’s been more than a year since my last tattoo because I spend a lot of time thinking about my next one. Maybe Williams could have saved some cash by thinking a little more about his tattoos, but then again I’m just an idealist.

The tragedy of this is for every bored and egotistic Pharrell Williams, there’s probably at least 12 burn victims who would refinance their house to get what’s left of their hands on skin just like theirs – because it is theirs – and the replication of which won’t cause them any further pain. But then again, how many burn victims do you know who have as much money as Williams? (Two-Face from Batman doesn’t count.)

That said, Williams’ commission is far from being the first time a scientific breakthrough has been used to satisfy vanity; after all, plastic surgeons repair the faces of both aging socialites and children with cleft palates. Similarly, Botox injections can used to tighten the visages of the aforementioned aging socialites or to soothe the muscles of those who suffer from cerebral palsy.

What makes this different is because, in a word, it is ridiculous. Kudos to you, Mr. Williams, for taking it to another level.

Somewhere, there’s a room full of scientists and futurists scratching their heads.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Lament of a Barista

After working in coffee for awhile, and avidly consuming it for much longer...

I'd like to think that there is a correlation between the length of one's order at a coffee shop and one's level of maintenance.  Surely the fact that one orders a double tall, non-fat, extra hot, half caf, sugar free, black and white mocha with a splenda and no whip says something about one as a person.  Or at least one's relationship to Meg Ryan.  Or maybe what's more telling is the frustration that happens when the drink is not made to such precision.  (This amazing guy Ethan Nichtern calls this "latte suffering" - a "petty violence" we enact on the barista for making a drink incorrectly, but also on ourselves for allowing ourselves to care about a cup of coffee that much.  But that's another discussion.)

I'd like to think that I'm above judging people by what they drink.  But I'm just not.  I realize this is influenced by the significant gendering of coffee, as recently noted in Bitch Magazine's "Wired" issue - hence why I love it when women order double cappuccinos or plain black dark roasts, or when men order blended, Frappucino-like drinks.  Nonetheless, you have something powerful and complex in your cup, something that has shaped empire and culture and philosophy (see Mark Pendergrast's Uncommon Grounds).  Enjoy the bite, the acidity, the finish.  Stop messing it up with half a cup of cream and three packets of Equal.  

I'd also like to think that people are, generally speaking, intelligent and at least capable of noticing a sign or two.  This, however, has shown itself to be false.  The signs that say "We'll get your coffee when you get off the phone," or "We are currently out of soy," or "Our credit card machine is down" never seem visible enough.  Inevitably, customers order while carrying on about their latest breakup or hottest movie star, ask for soy, or try to pay with credit cards while the signs stare them in the face.

I could go on.  Mind you, I don't mean to be an ignorant asshole.  I just do this for a living, so give me (and a million other broke baristi/e) a break and toss a dollar in the tip jar.  Get off the phone.  Put everyone out of their latte-suffering.

Or I'll keep making your drinks decaf without telling you.