"Anti-obesity crusaders are targeting haggis, a Scottish dish made by boiling a sheep's heart, liver, lungs, and windpipe in its stomach. Scottish health officials have put it on a list of "restricted" foods for kids because it has too much salt and fat. Reactions from haggis defenders: 1) It's "all natural," unlike hot dogs. 2) First they came for the smokers; now haggis; what's next? 3) At least we'll still have haggis hurling."
"Press Releases: 0.44/day
'Scientific' pubs: 0.0046/day
To me, that's the comparison that shows the Intelligent Design Movement's priorities far more clearly than almost anything else. This is a group of people that are pumping out press releases and op-eds at about 100 times the rate that they are producing material that they claim is scientific."
What was also interesting was how the DI counted 'peer reviewed/peer-edited/published articles, it seems they would list the book, and then list each chapter of the book as a publication as well to inflate the numbers.
Slate is an on-line news magazine with feature articles that tend to straddle the 'left-right' divide as they have authors as varied as Robert Kaplan and Christopher Hitchens writing for them. Not solely a political blog, it also covers art, history, commerce, and pop culture. Something for everyone here.
Left wing US blogger. I am growing tired of the site frankly because it merely repeats what I am reading elsewhere but with more overt snark. Still a decent enough blog though. Worth noting that the author 'Atrios' is one of the two biggest left blogs in the US, and his opinions get noticed.
Still my all-time favourite blog. Sullivan is a gay-Catholic-Republican-libertarian, so he and I don't see eye to eye on many things, but he is so smart in his analysis (mostly - there are areas where he is looney tune like his one-size-fits-all 'Islamofascism', and his support for the war in Iraq) that I can't help but enjoy his stuff even whe he pisses me off. Technically he is on the 'right' but practically speaking he is a committed centrist.
The other big lefty blogger is Markos Moulitsas. Often shrill, always antagonistic to Republican interests, 'Daily Kos' is the result of his efforts to create a 'liberal noise machine' to rival the Republican's Fox News etc. It has the virtue of being both democratic (the Kos diaries let you run your own page on the site) but it also tends towards hyperbole rather than analysis. That said, their collection of election data, their focus on netroots activism, and their support for Howard Dean all appeal to me.
Crooks and Liars
One of my all-time favourite sites. They collect video clips of public figures lying, etc. and post them with commentary. Simply awesome. My only quibble is that the site is video heavy so it takes a while to load. I also avoid the comments sections as they tend towards being all true believers nodding in assent.
An insightful analyst of American politics - definitely on the left, but not a radical.
Political Theory Daily Review
Another of my top ranked sites, this one is merely a clearinghouse for poli-sci articles on a wide range of subjects culled from academic and standard publications. No commentaries, no analysis, just the raw feed. I could spend days roving through this site.
National Review Online
The un-official mouthpiece of the Republican administration, it was originally started by William F Buckley (a conservative libertarian), but has degenerated to providing less critical analysis then in the past, and favours more ideological cant. Home to among others; David Frum (the guy who wrote the 'axis of evil' speech for Bush, and son of former CBC anchor Barbara Frum), John Derbyshire (a committed Theocon, but also easily the most reasonable fella in the bunch), John Podhoretz (a neo-con straight from the American Enterprise Institute) and Jonah Goldberg (the resident cryptofascist plutocrat). All in all an entertaining read (the way horror stories are entertaining), but never anything to take too seriously.
World O' Crap
Another site not to take too seriously is this one. Specializing in satirical rebuttals to rightwing mouthbreathers like Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter, it is often a breath of fresh air to see him take the piss out of the rightwing nuthouse.
By far the most insightful place to get information on what is happening in Iraq. Professon Juan Cole has an insiders perspective on the region, language, culture and politics, and is also clearly well informed on everything the US is doing in the country. If I want to know how bad things are really going in Iraq, I check out his site first.
Where Canadian conservatives go to get their intellectual masturbation. Heavy on the homophobia, but often light on analysis it is a window into the Canadian conservative thought processes. I've been using the site as a method of testing libertarian theory on the right wing in the hopes that it will give them pause for thought before enacting a social-conservative revolution. I might add that I am failing miserably at convincing anyone other than the other libertarians!
A collective of scientists interested in defending evolutionary theory from the hostile religious right. Essential reading for those interested in the background on the Dover schoolboard controversy, and Intelligent Design in general.
Overall my favourite for long science essays. Subjects vary from brain parasites to the chimpanzee genome, but it is always handled with a healthy dose of 'awe'. This guy (Corante) LOVES science, and his joy is infectious.
My favourite science blog, PZ Myers is a scientist who specializes in squids, but the blog covers ground from 'Cthullu' (cuz he's squid like) to bat skulls, to slashing ID proponents with razor logic. He can be a bit...heavy handed sometimes, but on the whole his is the best all-round site for interesting science stuff.
Dispatches from the Culture Wars
Another site devoted more or less to attacking the anti-science movement in the US, be it from the left or right (lets face it, it mostly comes from the right now). More political than other science blogs, it nevertheless has some great stuff going on.
Internet Movie Database
By far the most comprehensive listing of film products, people and plots ever compiled. I defy you to search for a movie and not find it in IMDB. As a resource it has quickly become essential as a reference tool for people like me in the entertainment biz.
"Where pornographers debate nihlists about pop-culture"
Couldn't have put it better myself. This site is worth the 'Guide to 80's Action Movies' alone, but don't miss 'Ten worst heavy metal pictures of all-time', as it was gut busting funny. My all-time favourite review is the one they did for Ashley Simpsons last album, and the ongoing fascination the one reviewer has with Werner Herzog is inspiring (I could do without the focus on death metal bands though). They may have poor grammar, and no sense of shame, but they do have taste in films! (I should add that their review of AHOV was poor).
Canadian band? Check
Ultimately though, there's the morbidly obese pop hook they blast with (what else) their horn section, and it runs through your brain obsessively until you get the chance to purge it. And we all know the only way to purge it is to hear the original again.
When it came down to it, 'The Hypothesist' was unquestionably ruling the iPod, and so it would be King for 2005.
The nut of the argument is; that the four men who died in the London bombings of 7-7 did not intend their actions to be 'suicide attacks', and that they had every intent of escaping.
The question remaining is whether they were deliberately killed as part of the attacks by their handlers - something Ledeen makes a decent case for, of whether their deaths were an accident of timing.
Given my cynicsim, I opt for the former. I think he makes the case fairly clearly (albeit in the form of a dialogue which is irritating), that the young men who committed that atrocity had no intent of being part of the eventual death toll - and that they were themselves victims of their handlers and their agenda.
Most interesting to me, is that their have been no further attacks in London (or elsewhere in GB) since 7-7. Which leads me to think that the atmosphere for generating suicide bombers from among the Muslim youth pop. of England is simply not that fertile a place to grow terror.
In other words, I think that they found four young men who were willing to act out - and their handlers decided to use them up in the one attack.
Food for thought though, eh?
I probably don't need to add that he is an overt atheist, though less controversial than fellow un-believer Richard Dawkins.
But your new book, "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon," is not about cathedrals. It's about religious belief, which cannot be dissected in a lab as if it were a disease.
That itself is a scientific claim, and I think it is false. Belief can be explained in much the way that cancer can. I think the time has come to shed our taboo that says, "Oh, let's just tiptoe by this, we don't have to study this." People think they know a lot about religion. But they don't know.
So what can you tell us about God?
Certainly the idea of a God that can answer prayers and whom you can talk to, and who intervenes in the world - that's a hopeless idea. There is no such thing.
Yet faith, by definition, means believing in something whose existence cannot be proved scientifically. If we knew for sure that God existed, it would not require a leap of faith to believe in him.
Isn't it interesting that you want to take that leap? Why do you want to take that leap? Why does our craving for God persist? It may be that we need it for something. It may be that we don't need it, and it is left over from something that we used to be. There are lots of biological possibilities.
The 'Stardust' probe returns to Earth this Sunday bearing samples of a comet. One of the questions about the material comets are made of is whether or not they contain the pre-cursor molecules of life in the form of amino acids (one theory of life origin has it that cometary bombardment 'seeded' the Earth with these amino acid chains, and their involvement with the early Earth environment eventually leads to 'life').
All in all, pretty mindblowing stuff - not that you'd know it from the ho-hum news cycle, but I digress.
Here's a shot of the comet when the probe used to collect material, impacted on the surface.
Are we some clever monkeys or what?
But not just any calendar featuring decrepit Cathedrals, or 12 different crucifixes, no these are afterall relatively savvy youngsters - no, their idea was to do erotic scenes from the bible!
Predictably, the calendar was such a hit that they can't keep it in stock!
I guess nothing says 'I love Jesus' like naked babes.
'The Family Guy's Stewie Griffin gives homage to Bill's everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink-over-the-top performance here.
10 – High Tension
You read my original review here. A blood soaked exercise in grindhouse horror and Freudian repression it was novel for being both lesbian and Gallic in the flavour of its excess.
Bonus points for the scene where the villain has oral sex with a severed head.
9 - Mr and Mrs Smith
Surprisingly breezy romantic comedy had a light touch throughout, plot holes the size of the Arizona meteor impact crater, and two of the most supremely beautiful leads ever cast in film. I liked it despite all the Hollywood baggage it carried (the unrelenting hype, the endless action set pieces, the insistence on punctuating every scene with an explosion, etc.). In the end though, it had such a care-free heart at its core that I couldn’t help but enjoy it.
8 – Batman Begins
You can read my original review here. The franchise got rebooted in 2005 and none too soon. Taken away from the Hollywood crowd that had turned it from a campy exercise in 60’s kitsch (Adam West), into a darker but still quirkily gothic version that cruised on visual style as much as anything else (Tim Burton), into a creatively bankrupt toy selling machine where the intellectual juice ran so low that Batman’s suit had nipples and both the future governor of California as well as Jim Carrey make movie killing appearances (Bruckheimer) - the latest version was crafted to be smarter, slicker, and more psychologically complex than the previous entries combined. Christian Bale brings exactly the right amount of handsome blank expression and internal suffering to the role, and even the lamest villains from Batman’s catalogue of enemies (the Scarecrow and Ras Al-Ghul) turned out to be excellent. All in all, a ripping new beginning for the franchise.
I still could have done without the tank-like Bat-mobile though.
7 – Ong Bak, the Thai Warrior
Tony Jaa blows up on the screen with terrific charisma, and dynamic physical skills. Jaw dropping stunts and high energy fight scenes are dotted throughout. At least part of the success for the film is due to Luc Besson’s recutting of the flick to Western tastes, and this did compromise plot in favour of action – but when you see Tony Jaa leap through a ring of barbed wire (he did all his own stunts), you know it’s not really about plot anyway.
The end was a tad disappointing given the excellent action sequences that lead up to it, but at least they had the good sense to stage the final battle in front of a giant statue of Buddha, creating some impressive visual elements to round out the film.
Still the flat out the best martial arts flick I’ve seen in a while.
6 - Serenity
I am not, and have never been a big fan of ‘Firefly’, the TV series that the movie is based on. That said, having seen the film I am now willing to go back and give the series a try.
Sure some of the plot points bothered me; the ‘Reavers’ seem to be completely homicidally insane – yet they are apparently high functioning enough to have a fleet of ships they raid others with, the lead character gets into a fight with the villain – a programmed killing machine and yet he holds his own, and don’t get me started on the suspension of logic required with the whole ‘we need to get to Mr. Universe’s lab to disseminate the truth’ thing – that was just bad (indeed it was so bad that I myself have written a short story with a similarily poorly thought out solution), but more often then not I found myself impressed by the sly ways that Joss Whedon teases out of his characters a full range of grace notes, the subtle humour, the libertarian perspective, and of course, the action sequences which had more snap and drive than the last two Lucas SW films combined.
Bonus points - Joss isn’t afraid to kill off characters.
5 - The Aristocrats
If you don’t laugh at the joke when George Carlin delivers it in the first 10 minutes, you can safely turn off this film – it is simply not for you. If you laugh out loud (as I did), you’ll find that the rest of the flick is pretty hysterical as well. My favourite was the ‘Amish version’ discussed around the mid-point.
My vote for funniest movie of the year, hands down.
Bonus points: one of my heroes, the magician Penn Jillette, is executive producer.
4 - Box 507
A Spanish film noir, I picked it up with low expectations and left thinking it was one of the best movies of the year. After I brought it back to the office and discussed it with the RV purchasing staff, they were convinced to give it a second (actually first) look, and it went from a title not being purchased at all to one that should be available in the next month at your finer RV stores across the country.
The premise is simple, a bank mgr is held up and locked into his own vault. Within he discovers a box (of the title) and in it some papers, papers that make some very dangerous and powerful people extremely nervous. From then on the mgr’s story runs parallel with a hitman (the owner of the box) who is trying to get the papers back.
It’s rare to get a movie with this much tension and intelligence, and even more rare that it would be flying so far under the radar.
Bonus points: The ending is simply off the hook good.
3 – Oldboy
My biggest surprise of the year was this nasty little film from Korea. You can read my original review here.
I don’t want to say too much else, except it’s a cross between ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Kill Bill’ – a film noir revenge flick with a brain.
Definitely check this one out.
2 – Sin City
Stylistically this is easily the greatest achievement of the year. The original black/white look they create pops off the screen in a way no other film has before. As an adaptation of the comic book, it is excellent (in no small part due to the fact that Frank Miller, the author of the comic, was brought in to co-direct), making it one of the most successful translations of comic book to screen ever.
The film is not without some flaws. The opening part of the trilogy is by far the strongest, and the last one is by far the weakest, but as a whole they work magnificently together.
Mickey Rourke is also a revelation, giving depth and meaning to his character, he disappears completely into the role of ‘Marv’.
Exceedingly violent, dark, amoral and even cheerfully debauched, it was also easily one of the best flicks of the year.
Bonus points; Rutger Hauer as the cannibal priest, and Elijah Wood as a suped up serial killer. Sweet.
Extra bonus points: The beginning and end sequences may well be the strongest of the film overall, despite their brevity.
1 – A History of Violence
The original (and overly gushing) review is here.
Cronenberg’s mainstream breakthrough is also a comic adaptation, though the graphic novel it was based on was never as big a deal as the Frank Miller Sin City series was. DC however, takes the otherwise routine plot of the film and layers on levels of meaning.
What is genuinely masterful about DC’s telling of this story (which is the most simplistic plot he’s engaged in since ‘Shivers’), is that the last scene, where the wife is confronted with the question of whether to take the lead character back, and the answer is left unresolved – forcing the movie viewer to parse out the different moral ramifications of the violence that has taken place to see whether the answer lies within the film itself.
Simply put, AHOV is a work of calculated genius, and was by far my favourite movie of the year.
What TC lacked was the Malkin/Kessel factor. A gamebreaker forward who could be counted on to produce something highlight reel worthy in every game.
TC was instead characterized by team play, Steve Downie and Brent Sutter - which is to say, smart, fast, and agressive, hockey.
The unfortunate part of Canada's victory was the no-goal call that robbed the Russians of a chance at closing the gap to 2-1.
I'm sure I'm not the only person who thinks that the right thing for the ref to do would have been to call it a goal and restart the clock. Which isn't to say I don't understand how the call got made the way it did, and why they don't go back and correct themselves, I just think that a gold medal game deserves to have the play of the teams be recognized properly. It was not a shutout for TC, and but for the graces of IIHF rules favouring quick face-offs, Canada's 2nd and 3rd periods might have gone very differently.
Throw into the mix that Canada essentially got into the gold medal game by tieing the US in the round-robin game (a tie was useless to the US so they pulled their goalie and we got the win), effectively, getting a bye by the skin of our teeth, and you have a nice win for Canada, but one with a few unsettling 'what ifs' attached to it.
- Phil Kessel: First I am back to hating Pierre Maguire. If I never hear 'He's got Lafontaine's wheels and Hull's shot' ever again it will be too soon. Once was a nice way to describe Kessel, twice was hyperbole, thrice is a cliche' and by the fourth time I was screaming at the TV every time he said it (I believe three more or so. I got hoarse).
As to the merits of Maguire's mental tic, Kessel delivered on the wheels, but I just don't see the sniper's touch that a Hull comparison warrants. As I watched the games my own Kessel impression dropped from;
'Instant Franchise Player'
This was an impression confirmed after the first game (5 assists) against Norway and with his performance at the 2004-5 Jrs still in my head. Rather than Maguire's clumsy comparison, I thought Ilya Kovalchouk was more apt.
'Oh man, is he Jeremy Roenick selfish with the puck.'
'Uh Oh. He's getting predictable with that inside outside move, and he's not overwhelming the D-man anymore.'
(This was at least in part obviously the coach's fault, someone sat down Kessel after the Norway game and said 'stop screwing around and just shoot more', and he took it to heart. That and he started getting the first look by everyone on his team for a pass.)
'He's neutralized whenever you play the body, and I don't think his head is in the game'.
Which leaves me exactly where? I still think he's a got solid FP potential, but I would be less willing to pin that hope on him then I would have been with Ovechkin, or Crosby. The fact is thanks to the GM who drafted him in the ED this year (uh..me) Kessel will never make it to the prospect draft in our pool now, and the next opportunity to sew him up to a long term contract will only come if a team looks at him as a potential FP.
If you'd have asked me before the tournament if he was 'Lafontaine blah blah blah Hull', I'd have said 'Yeah, I think he might be', and if I were looking at replacing an FP and considering the available candidates, I would have short listed him for consideration.
Now, I'm not so sure.
- Team USA: It's funny, but they've had enough talent to compete the last few years, but something has gone wrong in the wiring somewhere. It's not just Kessel's inability to dominate national teams outside of a minor Scandanavian power, it was the whole team. Jack Johnson's elbow to the head at the end of the Canada USA game was an example - it was the kind of play that could have got him kicked out of the tournamet, let alone hurt someone. Reports of Skille and Kessel butting heads, the invisibility of OHL scoring star Robbie Schremp in the teams offensive scheme, etc. are others. It just wasn't hanging right from the word go. Whereas TC only seemed to get tighter and faster and smarter as the tournament went on, the US only seemed to get worse - eventually succumbing to Finland for the Bronze. Throw in a goalie who was getting booed by the fans in the city that drafted him, and you have one of those classic psychic meltdowns that TC used to go through. A fluke goal here, a bad penalty there, and suddenly your brawling in a foreign country wearing skates, someone crazed looking in a refs uniform is shouting at you in Swedish, and then the lights go off.
They just have that feel to them, that something is doomed in the chemistry.
Canada, after bottoming out, eventually got rid of their ghosts, and now even in years where the high end talent is stripped out by NHL competition (Sid the Kid anyone?) TC is competive thanks to their solid administrative foundation.
The US development program...I'm not so sure.
- Evgeny Malkin: My Maguire tic: 'A Russian Lecavalier'. He got the Ovechkin treatment that TC handed out last year - namely, someone slamming into him every time he got near a puck. Fact is, I think he handled it fine, and he showed niftiness and creativity that Kessel's game lacked.
Did he go up in my estimation? Not really. He was pretty much as advertised. Big, strong, fast, creative with his wingers, wicked wrist shot, and a developed defensive and physical game. He didn't overwhelm any of the Canadian defenders though, and it would have been encouraging to see him put up any kind of offense in the gold medal game, but overall, he's about where I had him prior to the tournament. My only concern is that hint of 'Viktor Kozlov'.
- Jack Johnson: 'He's Chris Chelios in his own end and Kevin Hatcher on the rush'.
He's a beauty. I think he has more offensive upside than Dion Phaneuf. I also pulled a Kessel and selected him outright in the draft to prevent him from becoming a prospect.
Relax, he's gonna play for Carolina. Like they'll ever get their act together.
- Justin Pogge vs. Tuuka Rask: my Maguire tics 'Justin Pogge is what happens when you put Sean Burke and Martin Brodeur into the telepod at the same time', Which is to say he's a rangy tall netminder with a technical game who can make lethal outlet passes and is a legit threat to long bomb it for the odd goal. Rask however is 'VanBiesbrouck with a Tommy Salo'. Maybe its me, but doesn't Rask already have something of the tragic about him? The fact he now has to fight for his job with a guy he just lost to in the biggest game of his life? That kind of Hamlettian doomedness is pure Salo, the facing the a zillion shots and stealing a win in a big game he had against the US was the Beezer genes at work.
- Chris Bourque = Koivu x Barnaby / Ray Bourque
Maybe it was just me, but when you saw him running the powerplay from the point, didn't you get a chill?
I was a little concerned before the tournament, but then he ripped Norway for 5 goals, and played gutsy speed hockey for the rest of the way. Bonus points, he's part of the depleted Capitals organization so it's only a matter of time before he gets his spurs.
- Lauri Tukonen: 'Robert Lang covered in sandpaper'. The kid has got game. Of the offense the Finns put up, Tukonen seemed to be in on anything resembling a pretty goal, or offensive wizadry. If it didn't go in off of someone's leg, or from a playground scramble in the slot, it was Tukonen either creating the shot, or taking it himself. Could be a 2nd line scoring centre or winger for LA in the future. First Laurie to make my draft lists since Laurie Boschman.
- Luc Bourdon: Maguire tic 'Jovo-cops offensive range and Prongers defensive awareness'. Vancouver is totally delirious about him.
My surprise of the tournament;
- Nikolai Kulemin: Malkin was nice, but the kid who impressed me was this one. He was only 6'0 and 191, but I would have sworn he was bigger. Quick release on an accurate shot, heady offensive skills, but maybe lacking in the breakaway speed and lateral mobility of his linemate Malkin, he had a knack for getting himself open and creating scoring chances. He also showed no fear of traffic, physical play or for going where angels fear to tread. I have already added him to my prospect list.
Once Canada scored to go ahead 3-0 the writing was on the wall.