and I quote

december 2010

click for permalink December 31, 2010

fireworksHappy New Year, one and all! Enough chit chat — on to the second half of my list of lists, before it's too late...

Best Articles of 2010 (in print or online)

Funny story about printed media... The other day a friend asked me if I read magazines and when I answered in the affirmative, he commented, "You never struck me as the type." I'll be trying to puzzle out the meaning of that one for a while, I suspect — thankfully I'm certain it's not because I give the impression of illiteracy, as this friend has in the past praised my writing and even my intellect (although he never misses an opportunity to misguidedly malign my preference for audio books, as if the prefix "audio" set them as far apart from real books as the prefix "popup" or "coloring" would).

As I was saying, these are ten of the best articles of this past year, online or in, ahem, magazines.

1. I find your lack of faith disturbing — Whatever convoluted path led me to this blog is now a mystery, but I remember the moment vividly. It was late, I was hunched over in front of my laptop and suddenly found myself laughing out loud over a post entitled SLEDGEHAMMER AND WHORE. I was up half the night reading, laughing and bookmarking it so I could read it out loud to Mr. Pink the following evening (and after I went to bed, he stayed up half the night reading). The output of this dizzyingly eloquent, hysterically funny screenwriter is sporadic, but I can't complain (or point fingers) so I'm taking my sweet time going through the archives.

Bees'Event' television... is often a recipe for tv disaster. Aaah, but what about Lost, you say? Explain Lost, or at the very least, explain Lost's success? I'm not the first to say this, but Lost is a freak show that will never be repeated. It's the Michael Jackson of television. No one should try to deconstruct the Lost phenomenon ever again. There is nothing to be gained from studying Lost's success. It's a Black Swan, or an Outlier, or one of many other books on my Kindle I'll never read now because, let's be honest, it's on my Kindle." (Read SLEDGEHAMMER AND WHORE)

2. After you've had a chance to catch your breath, stick around long enough to read BEE SEASON, written during the writers' strike a few years ago. Provided it's not by definition nonsense to suggest that a blog post be considered a masterpiece of its genre, this definitely is.

3. Another Random Bit: The Perspective of David Foster Wallace — Actually two random bits, both masterfully witty and excruciatingly well written. I don't know if these nonfiction pieces are representative of Wallace's more critically acclaimed fiction style, since I only became aware of him after I began to hear his name spoken in hushed and reverent tones in the wake of his 2008 suicide. Solely on the basis of this reading, though, if I were to insert a parenthetical sub-list here, it would be titled Authors I Wish I'd Discovered While they Were Still Alive, and David Foster Wallace would be at the top.

4. The Terrible, Awful Truth About Supplemental Security Income by The Last Psychiatrist

Last year [Supplemental Security Income] paid 8M people about $45B. 60% under 65 had a "mental disorder." When the system ties benefits to a mental disorder, the point is the benefits, not the mental disorder. What you should be asking is why, if society has decided to give the poor a stipend of $600/month, does it do this through the medical establishment? And the answer is very simple:

  1. you, America, would go bananas if poor people got money for nothing, you can barely stand it when they get it for a disability;
  2. if you offload a social problem to medicine, if you medicalize a social problem, then you've bought yourself a generation or two to come up with a new plan or invade Russia... Medicalizing social problems has the additional benefit of rendering society not responsible for those social ills. If it's a disease, it's nobody's fault." (Read more)

5. Letter to Jack Scott, The Vancouver Sun by Hunter S. Thompson

HSTOctober 1, 1958
If you asked [the last man I worked for], he'd tell you that I'm "not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person." Nothing beats having good references. As far as I'm concerned, it's a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks... If this is what you're trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I'd like to work for you... I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews. It's a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I'd enjoy the trip." Sincerely, Hunter S. Thompson (Read more.)

5. The Case of the Vanishing Blond by Mark Bowden, Vanity Fair — A good, old-fashioned True Crime tale with an irresistible mystery at its core, a slightly larger than life protagonist and a deft, primetime TV drama-style story arc that keeps you riveted right through to the final paragraph. You know the one; in the print mag it's continued three times and the final paragraph can be found at the bottom of page 427, underneath two other final paragraphs; one from a nostalgia-inducing exposé of some heretofore unexhumed detritus of the Kennedy legacy; the other a supercilious yet saccharine piece in which a seasoned reporter explores how a certain starlet finds balance between the competing demands of her life and her career since the recent Oscar win and/or divorce and/or birth of her child).

VFFrom the start, it was a bad case. A battered 21-year-old woman with long blond curls was discovered facedown in the weeds, naked, at the western edge of Miami, where the neat grid of outer suburbia butts up against the high grass and black mud of the Everglades. It was early on a winter morning in 2005. A local power-company worker was driving by the empty lots of an unbuilt cul-de-sac when he saw her. And much to his surprise, she was alive." (Watch behind-the-crime scenes video.)

6. Generation Why? — Zadie Smith, NY Review of Books, reviews "The Social Network," and attempts to make sense of her own conflicted conclusions about the Network in question, how it's changing/changed the way we think about relationships and identity, and how that sets "us" apart from "Generation 2.0."

Shouldn't we struggle against Facebook? Everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder. Blue, because it turns out Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind... Poking, because that's what shy boys do to girls they are scared to talk to. Preoccupied with personal trivia, because Mark Zuckerberg thinks the exchange of personal trivia is what "friendship" is. A Mark Zuckerberg Production indeed! We were going to live online. It was going to be extraordinary. Yet what kind of living is this? Step back from your Facebook Wall for a moment: Doesn't it, suddenly, look a little ridiculous? Your life in this format?"

7. The Enemy Within, Mark Bowden, The Atlantic — You know those articles that pop up in The New Yorker sometimes about "virus hunters" in the wild jungles of Africa who are perpetually trying to stay one step ahead of the next Ebola or West Nile Virus? This article is just like that, only search/replace Africa with the Internet.

the enemy withinMore than a billion computers are in use around the world, and by some estimates, a fourth of them have been surreptitiously linked to a botnet. But few botnets approach the size and menace of the one created by Conficker, which has stealthily linked between 6 million and 7 million computers. If the right order were given... a botnet with that much computing power could... break into and plunder... or even destroy almost any computer network... systems that control banking, telephones, energy flow, air traffic, health-care information—even the Internet itself. The key word there is could, because so far Conficker has done none of those things... No one knows who created it. No one yet fully understands how it works. No one knows how to stop it or kill it. And no one even knows for sure why it exists."

8. Higher, Colder, Deadlier, Ned Zeman, Vanity Fair — Boys can be alarmingly stupid, but also fearless and fascinating.

Mont Blanc is Western Europe's tallest mountain, and the world's deadliest. For four young English climbers — friends since boarding school, two of whom, Rob Gauntlett and James Hooper, had already become the youngest Britons to scale Everest — it held the promise of adventure, camaraderie, and escape from mundane worries. But on January 9, as the author reports, two of them plummeted nearly half a mile to a brutal death, leaving questions to be answered."

9. Fight Club: The Return of Hobbes by Galvin P. Chow (Mar 11, 2001) — Again it's probably generational, but this article is like one big, long, comfortable squeeze of a bear hug from a friend you haven't seen in a very long time.

I am Jack's imaginary stuffed tiger.In the film Fight Club, the real name of Ed Norton's character is never revealed. Many believe the reason behind this anonymity is to give "Jack" more of an everyman quality. Do not be deceived. "Jack" is really Calvin from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. It's true. Norton portrays the grown-up version of Calvin, while Brad Pitt plays his imaginary pal, Hobbes, reincarnated as Tyler Durden." (Read more.)

10. Buzzed: Bees on Coke — Self-explanatory and awesome.


Top 25 (Nonfiction) Books of 2010 Henrietta Lacks

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot was my favorite book of the year long before Amazon went and declared it their book of the year. To learn about the miraculously prolific, immortal cells of a woman who died a half century ago, the author was drawn deeply and inextricably into the lives of the family she left behind. For Rebecca Skloot, researching and writing this book was a deeply personal and transformative journey, from the visceral horrors of an early 1950s cancer ward in Baltimore's inner city, to the crumbling patient records room of a boarded-up asylum where the state's poorest, sickest and most helpless citizens were once housed in unimaginable conditions.

    Reporter Rebecca Skloot's first book was the result of a decade of research and writing, and of a remarkable relationship between author and subject... the stranger-than-fiction tale of a woman who died young, but whose cells lived beyond her and laid the foundation for countless scientific breakthroughs." (

  2. You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier
  3. The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge
  4. Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton
  5. The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey
  6. American Furies: Crime, Punishment, and Vengeance in the Age of Mass Imprisonment by Sasha Abramsky
  7. How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
  8. 13 Things That Don't Make Sense by Michael Brooks and James Adams
  9. Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Robert Sheffield
  10. Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman
  11. The Age of Empathy by Frans de Waal
  12. Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century by P. W. Singer
  13. The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris, Daniel Simons, and Dan Woren
  14. Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer
  15. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
  16. The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich and Eric Conger
  17. Making Rounds with Oscar by David Dosa
  18. The Shadow Factory by James Bamford and Paul Michael
  19. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
  20. Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides
  21. The Twilight of the Bombs by Richard Rhodes
  22. The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson
  23. What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell
  24. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
  25. Gang leader for a day by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh

Speaking of lists of books, This Recording has taken an interesting stab at listing the 100 Greatest Writers of All Time and although I can't say I've read all of them, I was pleasantly surprised that my initial guess of 21/100 was off in my favor. I've actually read 29 of their 100 authors and I was quite pleased with the top three.


Top Five Webcomics

Special Ops Bunny
  1. xkcd
  2. A Softer World
  3. The Oatmeal
  4. Hyperbole and a Half — Read "Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving" but — I can't stress this enough — not while you're eating.
  5. Surviving the world — especially Lesson 42.


Top 10 Heroes of 2010

"Courage is contagious." Julian Assange
— motto


1. Julian Assange/Wikileaks

If you don't already know this story inside and out, in more detail than you ever wanted to know, I probably lost you several lists ago. Journalists, newscasters, bloggers and commentators have gotten so sick of talking about it that even the most relevant, valid, broadly impactful implications of this case are being prefaced with apologies and promises of brevity. (See how I almost managed to avoid that little trap?) I just wish they'd stop going over the lurid details of these Swedish sex cases on Democracy Now; it's starting to give me weird dreams. Also, I thought Naomi Wolf was past the point in her career where she had to come on talk shows and get into bitching matches with other feminists (these confrontations never fail to devolve into shouting and finger-pointing with both parties saying things like, "if you would just let me finish," and rolling their eyes while the other is speaking).

(In case you're living in a WiFi deadzone or working for the Chamber of Commerce, this clever little rap sums up the Wikileaks story nicely.)

2. Lt. Bradley Manning — The 21 year old who allegedly set it all in motion has been for the last six months locked in the depths of some Pentagon dungeon awaiting trial and/or military tribunal, charges, death by untraceable poison or suicide. Some of the best reporting on his story has been done by Glenn Greenwald.

3. Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent-Vermont)

Every time I turned around in 2010, I was finding new reasons to love the iconoclastic Senator from Vermont, including his vocal support for same sex marriage, opposition to media concentration and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his introduction of a bill to audit the Federal Reserve, support for single-payer health care and his environmental record. When the Senate was to vote on a bill to extend Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, many were outraged but none were more impassioned than Senator Sanders, who gave a standing 8.5-Hour Senate Speech/Filibuster Denouncing the Tax Cuts. (Watch/Listen/Read at

Sean Penn4. Sean Penn

He came to Haiti after the earthquake that killed 300,000 people and left more than 1.5 million homeless to help with immediate relief efforts. He decided to stay, co-found the J/P Haitian Relief Organization and manage a tent camp on the Pétionville golf course sheltering some 55,000 people as of July 13, 2010. (Read/watch at

5. Lt. Dan Choi et al.

6. Alan Turing

Don't ask don't tell"It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different," British PM Gordon Brown admitted 55 years after Turing's suicide. "The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely." Brown officially expressed his sorrow and regret for the government's treatment of Turing late in 2009 and on December 18, 2010, the US Senate voted 65-31 to overturn "don't ask, don't tell," ending the 17-year policy barring gay troops from serving openly in the world's largest military. (The UK's ban was overturned in 2000 and, since you asked, Canada's military has proudly allowed gay troops to serve openly since 1992.)

It's important to remember that although the repeal of DADT was long overdue, to say nothing of logistically inevitable and a civil rights no brainer, we are still talking about the US Military. At least now that everyone is equally allowed under the law to serve, torture, kill and die for their country for one tenth what the private contractors make, maybe we can stop acting like there's something noble and desirable about that.

7. A.C. Thompson of ProPublica

His post-Katrina investigation of the story, and subsequent refusal to stop reporting on it, brought to light a crime that would otherwise probably never have been solved, "the death of Henry Glover, a 31-year old man whose incinerated body was found in a burned car on the banks of the Mississippi." Finally, in December 2010, not only truth but justice finally prevailed:

Thanks to the sustained, effective reporting of ProPublica's A.C. Thompson, the world found out what happened. Three officers were convicted on charges that included manslaughter, lying to federal agents, and burning Glover's body... [T]his much is clear. A single reporter, armed with only a pen, a pad, and a determination to find the truth, can make a difference." Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica

Anonymous8. Anonymous

They don't forgive. They don't forget. More power to 'em. Would I feel differently if their ideas about who deserves to be the target of denial of service attacks and public ridicule differed greatly from mine? Maybe — but since they don't, I'm free to revel in risk-free solidarity and enjoy the instant gratification of watching Civil Disobedience 2.0 from the sidelines. Now they're being rounded up by the FBI and I'm sure Jaron Lanier would call it trolling gone wild — he wouldn't be wrong, but it's hard to ignore the fact that Anonymous is standing up for freedom of speech, while the mainstream media mindlessly tries to spin the faceless backlash into a menace we can believe in.

PseudomymousThe thing about all this self-righteous bullshit — terrorism from the right and lawlessness from the so-called left, not to mention Malcolm Gladwell, with whom I usually agree, saying kids these days know nothing about activism or risking their safety for the greater good — is that no actual damage has been done. Not one plate-glass window was shattered, no rush hour traffic disrupted; on the other side, no protesters were nerve-gassed, night-sticked or tazed.

A handful of web sites — Mastercard, Visa, PostFinance Bank and Paypal (an anticipated attack on Amazon was either withstood or stood down), all behemoths of capital (who, need I remind you, don't deserve our sympathy) — experienced a few hours of combined downtime and it's highly doubtful that the heart of commerce skipped so much as a beat.

9. The first responders, fire fighters and paramedics who sacrificed their health and their lives in lower Manhattan on the Day that Shall Not Be Named. Finally (though too late for far too many), a bill to cover their overwhelming medical costs was passed into law by the same government that spent the last ten years cashing in and piggybacking on the horrors of that day. In the end, they had to be shamed into voting before Christmas by none other than Jon Stewart, but the vote was unanimous.

10. Yes, Jon Stewart.


click for permalink December 21, 2010

WinterThere's no need for introductions here, is there? You know each other all too well! On the off-chance you've stumbled in here by happenstance, defying the logic of crowds and the primacy of Page rank, however — Visitor, this is December — welcome to my list of lists. I'm doing this one in two parts (and not just because it will make my non-resolution to post twice in December a slam dunk) so stay tuned for part two and, if I don't post it before the weekend, have yourselves a merry little xmas...

The Top 10 Infographics of 2010

Top 50 movie quotes1. The Top 50 Movies of All Time in Quotes

The hi-res version has a key at the bottom with all 50 quotes and films ranked in order of box office draw as of October 28, 2010. From a design perspective, the idea and implementation are next to perfect — top 50 anything of all time, count me in — and who doesn't love movie quotes? The thing is, it's more than a little sad that these are the top 50 movies of all time. I wish it was the top 50 movie quotes of all time.

2. Or even The Top Ten Most Quotable Movies of All Time — which is an unimpeachably well-rounded and well-researched roundup and I defy any movie geek within 10 years of my generation on either side to find significant fault with it — but I was nonetheless loath to link to it, on account of its Egregious Fail of a layout. Top ten lists are among the purest of article forms — arguably one of the seven basic Internet storylines — but in the wrong hands, they can be twisted into sprawling, diabolical obstacle courses on a Mall of America scale. The familiar path from 10 to 1 becomes a scavenger hunt through link-laden pages, columns bursting with embedded videos and images in all shapes, sizes and states of download, and myriad other distractions litter the periphery like landmines.

social media vennWith each passing page, the elusive "Next" button gets harder and harder to locate, cleverly camouflaged amidst the decoys and obfuscations of "related" minutiae and the ever-present entreaties to share, share, SHARE! Always with the goddamn sharing, but if you want to email it to someone (who may or may not be yourself)? Then you're partying like it's 1999 up in the File menu. You can only Share the way they want you to share, so they can add all your friends and family to their little site-hopping persistent cookie/keystroke-logging uber-beacon/digital dossier of you in the "cloud," which is really a network of air-conditioned server farms, of thousands of hastily-constructed, high-speed fiber-connected featureless concrete slabs dotting the countryside in semi-depressed rural areas that used to be dotted with real farms. But I digress — good list, bad site. I suppose there's no one stopping me from doing the research and mapping out the damn infographic myself, though, is there?

3. Now, if you're the type of person who said, hell yes, I'll do it myself, feeling a surge of self-directed dopamine-adrenaline, then and it sounds like Many Eyes was made for you. Here you can create data visualizations of your own in three easy steps. (For the record, I'm not surging.)

Wordle - MsPink May20104. Wordle — Now this is a do-it-yourself infographic I can handle; go to the site, plug in a url or drop in a block of text if your site's not RSS'd (my inexplicably prolific month of May, for example) and click. Then click "Randomize" 20-30 times and piss around with the colors, fonts, shape and directionality until you've spent far too long at this and wonder if the Internet really is causing us to devolve into a race of sleep-deprived naval-gazing zombies. (It isn't just me?)

5. Journalism in the Age of Data is better than an infographic, it's a full-length documentary on infographics! How awesome is that?

"Journalists are coping with the rising information flood by borrowing data visualization techniques from computer scientists, researchers and artists. But how do we communicate with data, how can traditional narratives be fused with sophisticated, interactive information displays?"

Work around the world6. Work Around the World published in Mark #16, an architectural magazine... What? Sometimes I buy architectural magazines. Doesn't everyone? Like when you're at the airport and you find yourself browsing the magazine rack with a sort of childlike objectivity, like you've never seen any of these magazines before, and you end up buying an issue of Scientific American — or Architectural Digest — am I wrong? Anyway, this is a neat infographic that shows all the world's timezones, what percentage of the world's population lives there, and when the people in each zone are sleeping, working or relaxing — labeled "leisure time," which sounds just like what the people in architectural magazines are usually doing, when there are people in them at all.

Since I started working remotely this summer, most of my coworkers are in London, South Africa or Chicago, so I actually feel the truth this chart is trying to illustrate every day. According to this chart, at the very end of my day only 2% of the world's population is working, which is something I can actually watch on my office chat program's contacts panel. One by one, my colleagues' availability indicators blink from green or red to yellow, then white. By the time I log off, I feel like I am the lone outpost at the edge of the world, where the crust of the earth folds back in on itself to be slowly devoured and melted down in the fires of creation.

50 ugliest cars7.  Bloomberg's Fifty Ugliest Cars of the Past 50 Years — Self-explanatory; half a century of auto industry eyesores, from the classics (Pinto, el Camino) to the cutting edge (Cube, Nano), it's a highly entertaining ride. Although I vehemently disagree with them on the PT Cruiser, which was one of maybe five cars on the market in the last 15 years with any character or personality whatsoever. Also, whether or not the Prius is ugly is entirely beside the point, so its inclusion here just serves as a reminder of who's hosting the list.

8. Overthinking Google Zeitgeist 2010 — A comment on the ubiquitous (to whom?) societal barometer:

"This is where I take Google to task for playing a bit fast and loose with the use of the word "zeitgeist." To me, Google's Zeitgeist actually tells us very little about the actual "spirit or mood" of our times. Heck, it barely even shows us the "ideas and beliefs" of our times. It just shows us the stupid crap we're looking for on the internet, and there's a pretty large gulf between that stupid crap and anything approaching the spirit or mood of our times."lee,

9. Natch, the Google Zeitgeist. It really does leave you wanting more, although not the kind of "more" that, say YouTube's Year in Review offers. That's just sick.

wsj top 50 trackers10. Finally, What They Know is a surprisingly thorough (mostly when you consider the source) exploration of the top 50 web sites you visit, what information they collect about you and who they're selling it to. The ingeniously designed "exposure index" "determines the degree to which each site exposes visitors to monitoring — by studying the tracking technologies they install and the privacy policies that guide their use." Dictionary(/Thesaurus).com tops the list with 234 trackers. Want to know the sad thing? Even knowing all that, I probably visited the site about 12 times in the course of writing just this post.


Top 10 Podcasts of 2010

  1. This American XmenThis American Life (NPR) — Also coincidentally produced my honorable mention infographic in response to a "shout out" in a recent issue of The X-Men. They decided to reprint the panel as a poster, for that rare breed of supernerd in whom an interest in public radio and comics might intersect.
  2. To the Best of our Knowledge (PRI)
  3. Search Engine
  4. Big Ideas (CBC)
  5. Against the Grain (KPFA)
  6. Common Sense with Dan Carlin/Hardcore History — If you aren't my age you'll have to forgive this reference, but Dan Carlin is "Hard Harry" from Pump Up the Volume, all grown up and college-educated, still talking hard.
  7. The Moth
  8. Gnostic Media
  9. GRIT Radio with Laura Flanders
  10. Douglas Coupland's 2010 CBC Massey Lectures — Again, if you aren't my age... No, I like to think his appeal is broader than the cult-ish devotion of the generation he's credited with christening. There's such an uncanny insightfulness in the way he writes his characters, something universally poignant in how they think — and by extension, how he thinks. Underneath all the clever, cultural resonances with which he draws us in, lies a deep, dark, timeless truth, that we all really do share the same soul and he's taken up the task of constantly reminding us.


Top 10 Videos of 2010

  1. The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies — A simple test with three criteria for movies: (1) Does it have at least two (named) women in it? (2) Do they talk to each other? (3) About something besides a man. WOW. Check out this list of 1,767 recent movies' test results (just over 50% passed). More disturbing is the very incomplete list of movies that didn't pass (see video).LOST time
  2. 10 Years in 2 Minutes with 92 Magazine Covers
  3. Time's Top 10 Viral Videos of 2010
  4. Kendall On Sharecropping Field Trip (original)
  5. Shagged by a rare parrot (BBC Two)
  6. The Story of Cosmetics (2010)
  7. VANITY FAIR: Christopher Hitchens' Ten Commandments
  8. Look Back at It's a Wonderful Life
  9. How LOST Should Have Ended
  10. How LOST Actually Ended <sniff.> (What's that? You say I dissed LOST on this very page, in this very list of lists, last year? Well. Who could have predicted that J.J. Abrams would actually circle the wagons and pull it all —and I mean all — together in the end? It'll never happen again.)

[LOST time chart by Joy of Tech]

The Year in Pictures (and Lists of Pictures)
(Click to see full-sized image and site of origin.)

1. The BP oil platform Deepwater Horizon ablaze in the Gulf of Mexico on April 21, 2010. (Boston Globe Big Picture)

BBP - Deepwater Horizon

2. During central Russia's hottest summer in over 130 years of record-keeping, wildfires swept the countryside. Remember when Russia was practically synonymous with freezing cold? (Boston Globe Big Picture)

Russian Summer

3. Lightning streaks across the sky as lava flows from an Icelandic volcano in Eyjafjallajokul, April 17, 2010. (Boston Globe Big Picture)

Iceland volcano

4. The sky over English Bay was filled with spears of light from an art installation called Vectorial Elevation, every night from dusk till dawn during the 2010 Olympics.


5. This photo, taken by the Transit Police, is the first I've seen that really begins to capture just how many goddamn people were in Vancouver at the height of Olympic madness.

2010 Robson st.

6. A street flooded by toxic sludge in Hungary after 1 million cubic meters of liquid waste spilled from a nearby alumina plant on Oct. 5, 2010. (Boston Globe Big Picture, part 3)


7. When I saw this next picture, it almost made me cry. The caption says, "U.S. Marines... protect an Afghan man and his child after Taliban fighters opened fire in the town of Marjah," and I'm pretty sure that's exactly what's going on. Look closely at the two men in the foreground, at their centers of gravity. Their weapons are drawn, but they're not attacking, they're protecting — they've formed a wall with their own bodies to defend this unarmed man and child whose lives are in their hands — not just ultimately, as we might say every civilian in their country is, but intimately.

It's impossible to tell from the photo if they were ever under heavy fire, but you can tell one thing just looking at these men — that nothing was going to harm those people while they were still breathing. That at some level, if this was how it had to go down, they'd be okay with that — that, of all the ways their parents could have to learn that they died in Afghanistan, they would take this in a heartbeat. Imagine if this picture was not only true of a single, selfless moment on the side of a mountain, but a fair representation of the whole mission — of the whole military — if they were truly peacekeepers, bringing democracy, and if this picture was what the world had in mind when they thought about American soldiers...

Afghanistan soldier

... instead of this. Can you imagine?

Iraq video

9. Black Sea of Concrete by Rafal Milach

Black Sea of Concrete

10. Ki Gompa Monastery 4,000 meters high in the Himalayas. (by Natalia Luzuriaga, National Geographic)

Ki Gompa


click for permalink December 12, 2010

Snow queen
[claudmey, Paris shop window]

I've always loved Christmas decorations, and even though I grew up in an unapologetically agnostic household, we never let that stop us from joining in the holiday ritual of tarting up a dead tree and trimming our home with garish lights just like our Christian brethren. After all, religious origins aside, Christmas is an opportunity for unfettered artistic expression, and that's something that my family believes in very deeply — perhaps even a little evangelically.

Not that we stuck to the traditional menu when it came to holiday decorating — far from it. Space was often at a premium, so giving over six feet by six feet floor-to-ceiling to a dead tree was sometimes not an option. I remember one year when the tree was lovingly rendered in two-dimensional photo realistic acrylic paint, a mural that took up almost an entire wall, and another year when one of our robust houseplants did the honors decked out in festive holiday decor.

hulahoopMy favorite tree "alternative" was an ingenious product of my parents' imagination, hung from the ceiling of our Sedona ranch-style living room. They created a tree-shaped cone by fastening long Christmas ribbons at one-inch intervals around a hula hoop, which formed the base of the tree. The ribbons were gathered together at the top and secured to a hook which hung from the ceiling, creating a seven foot tall cone made entirely of red, green, white, silver and gold ribbons, the base of which hovered about six inches off the ground.

It looked amazing, even without any lights or ornaments, and it twisted and turned slightly which made the colored ribbons catch the light. Eventually a small mountain of presents were piled up inside. I was amazed at my parents' creativity at the time (and it went a long way towards making up for that Halloween, when I came home from trick-or-treating and was mortified to discover that it was my parents who had been giving out chewable vitamin C all evening).

Which somehow brings me to this year... Since we moved back in August, we've had an embarrassment of riches in bubble wrap, a windfall made possible by craigslist, where we met a guy who gave us four garbage bags full of bubble wrap and a dozen or more huge, sturdy moving boxes for $5. The bubble wrap is now on its third reincarnation (and it won't be the last). When my outlandish idea actually turned out well, Mr. Pink suggested I concoct a "how to" on the topic, so here goes. (Click images to enlarge.)

How to make a bubble wrap Christmas tree, comme les Pinks...

TreeTreeStep one: You'll need packing tape, a desktop or table you aren't using, one adjustable speaker stand (a microphone stand or other free-standing, telescoping contraption will work), one styrofoam cylinder approx. four feet tall, six inches in diameter, and two garbage bags full of bubble wrap. (Go ahead, I'll wait.)


Step two: Take each strip of bubble wrap (anything longer than five feet should be cut in half) and roll each on a diagonal into a long conical shape and secure in the middle with packing tape. You may want to secure the longer ones in a couple of places, but leave the longer ones open at the wider end so they flare to a point.

TreeStep three: Take your foam cylinder and place it atop the speaker stand, tightening the latter as needed. Arranging this on top of a table or desk, raise the telescoping stand so that your foam cylinder is pressed against the ceiling and secure firmly. Now you can begin covering the "trunk" of your tree with bubble wrap "branches" and securing them to the styrofoam cylinder with packing tape — which actually works surprisingly well.

TreeStep four: At some point in the middle, you will want to add your lights. For reasons to do with weight and fastening, it's preferable to wrap your lights around the trunk and hide the wires with another layer of bubble wrap so that the lights shine through the clear plastic. Use the LED kind, obviously (otherwise this whole idea would be an unimaginably horrific fire hazard!). It will become evident when you've added enough — or at some point you'll just be so sick of taping that you'll say fuck it, that'll do (which it will).

TreeStep five: For decorations, lightweight is the primary qualification. I chose — well, what I already had for the most part — little colored ball things, big fake cloth flowers and a few spiky sea anemone-looking fuchsia things I bought at Winners in a pack of three. Sadly, there are some Christmas tree staples you will have to do without, among them baby candy canes (you'll just have to settle for eating them) and tinsel. I know! But trust me — it just wouldn't look right to have clumps of tinsel stuck to your tree with packing tape like so many handfuls of damp, metallic hair.

And... voila! Only a tiny bit of Photoshop later and you get the idea...

TreeHappy holidays!