and I quote

december 2008

click here for permalink December 31, 2008

Here it is, my year in review (a few of the things listed below might have technically come out in 2007 but, since I was on hiatus all that year, they still count). Please note, these are all top ten lists but they are not "countdowns" (although a certain "Countdown" is among the listed). So, in no particular order save possibly aesthetic and synaptic, I give you my list of lists...

The Year in Pictures

1.'s The Big Picture: Year in Photographs

2. The sun, TRACE Project, Stanford-Lockheed Institute for Space Research, NASA


3. Day of Prayer for the World's Economies ( — On October 29, 2008, evangelical Christians flocked to Wall Street in a greed-driven frenzy to worship the idol of the golden bull. (For all mankind, I'm sure.)


4. Chile Volcano Erupts With Ash and Lightning (Photograph by Carlos Gutierrez/UPI/Landov, National Geographic Best Galleries of 2008)


5. NASA's Cities at Night, an Orbital Tour Around the World — YouTube video

6. The Campaign, New York Times Year in Pictures


7. Wired: America's Best-Kept Secrets (By Taryn Simon) Nuclear-waste storage capsules containing radioactive material at Hanford Site, Washington State.


8. National Geographic Best Galleries of 2008 — A long-fin squid's suckers, each no wider than a human hair, under extreme magnification.


9. Sydney Morning Herald's Year in Pictures Slidehow — Amazing from start to finish.

10. Reuters Year in Review 2008


The Year in Numbers

  1. Unmasked: 10 Ugly Truths Behind the Myth of Cosmetic Safety
  2. World Clock — Population stats in real time
  3. Nations by Life Expectancy at Birth — CIA World Factbook Rankings (Canada is #8)
  4. Nations by Current Account Balance — CIA World Factbook Rankings (The US is dead last with a negative balance over 3 times the next on the list.)
  5. Top Ten Countries with which the U.S. has a Trade Deficit
  6. How Big is Wal-Mart? (Really fucking big.)
  7. Harper's Index, December 2008 — A few very telling numbers.
  8. Tennessee Coal Ash Spill Over a Billion Gallons — that's 100 times the Exxon Valdez spill. Read a roundup of the Earth's 10 Worst Current Environmental Disasters.
  9. 61.6% voter turnout, highest since 1960. Voter turnout in US presidential elections 1824-2008.
  10. The meaning of a trillion, as in, the US National Debt Clock had to be modified to fit another digit when it hit 10 trillion on Oct. 7, 2008:

    One million seconds ago was the middle of last week.
    One billion seconds ago was the middle of the Carter administration.
    One trillion seconds ago — Neanderthals were roaming the earth (31,688 years ago).


Books & Audio Books

  1. shock doctrineThe Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein
  2. The WalMart Effect By Charles Fishman
  3. When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution by Devra Davis
  4. Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer's View of America by Jessica Murray
  5. Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business by Jeff Howe
  6. The Cult of Pharmacology: How America Became the Worlds Most Troubled Drug Culture by Richard DeGrandpre
  7. Theatre of the Mind: Raising the Curtain on Consciousness by Jay Ingram
  8. How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard
  9. The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why by Amanda Ripley
  10. Thieves of Baghdad by Matthew Bogdanos


Movies & Documentaries

  1. Man on Wire
  2. Young at Heart
  3. Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
  4. Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)
  5. Deep Water
  6. The 11th Hour
  7. Trouble the Water
  8. Charlie Wilson's War
  9. Zeitgeitst Addendum
  10. The Happening



  1. PRI: To the Best of Our Knowledge
  2. Bill Moyers' Journal, PBS
  3. The Visionary Activist Show with Caroline Casey
  4. All in the Mind, BBC Radio 4
  5. Democracy Now
  6. Ring of Fire with RFK Jr. and Mike Papantonio
  7. Countdown with Keith Olbermann
  8. Theatre of the Mind
  9. Evolutions of Astrology with Dena DeCastro
  10. Big Ideas


upside-down treeRandom Cool Discoveries (I made in 2008)

  1. WebEcoist — Themed galleries showcase innovative environmental design, sci-fi-esque oddities from around the world and the latest green tech, like the ingenious, space-saving Upside-Down Christmas Tree from Hammacher Schlemmer (sold out).
  2. Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database — A database of 40,000+ products and ingredients.
  3. stuff white people like — You might be surprised how white you are.
  4. The Big Picture — Big, amazing photos like these recent images of the Sun, taken by NASA's various gadgets.
  5. Instant Color Schemes — Enter any word or phrase and get five Yahoo Image results along with their six most prominent colors' names and color code numbers.
  6. — Wickedly funny, free ecards for every imaginable occasion — and then some (e.g. courtesy hello and cry for help).
  7. CyclotronThe Cyclotron — While researching the Large Hadron Collider this summer, I was stunned to discover that Vancouver has its very own "world-class particle accelerator... TRIUMF is one of three subatomic research facilities in the world that specialize in producing extremely intense beams of particles. The heart of the facility is the world's biggest cyclotron" (see awesome photo).
  8. The Brain from Top to Bottom — In depth, multi-layered and -tiered exploration of the most complex system known to man. (Ever feel like your job might kill you but you're even more afraid of quitting? Here's why.)
  9. — Check out his very rough guide to highlights of 2008.
  10. Shmoop — English Lit, wikified — the crowdsourcing era's answer to Cliff Notes and one question I've had since high school. You know how they always say there are only seven major plots in literature? Know what they are? Booker's Seven Basic Plots:
    • Overcoming the Monster
    • Rags to Riches
    • the Quest
    • Voyage and Return
    • Comedy
    • Tragedy
    • Rebirth

That's it — it's January... Happy new year, everyone!


click here for permalink December 27, 2008

It really is the most wonderful time of the year, if for no other reason than this is when all the "Best of" and "Year in Review" lists come out — and you know I love me some lists! One of the best resources I've found is Fimoculous, an aggregate of year-end lists that constantly self-updates, incorporating the new additions at the top of each category (and, while this produces excruciatingly slow load times for me on my retro iMac, I don't expect it would impact most visitors).

Among lists of lists, Time Magazine's Top 10 of Everything is an institution; if your experience over the last 12 months could be described as anything short of total mainstream media immersion, this is a perfect way to fill in the gaps. Their Top Tens touch on everything from fashion faux pas and favorite gadgets to "campaign gaffes" and "outrageous earmarks."

If those last two categories seem to hint at a slightly disturbing, aesthetically-driven presentation of reality — a consumer-focused commodification of news where all events are equal and news is packaged as an a la carte menu where personal taste and preference are disconnected from any sense of meaning, value or judgment— it is this kind of cognitive dissonance that runs like a meta-theme throughout the Top 10 of Everything.

At first glance, there are a lot of "worsts" notably missing from the list of lists, like "environmental disasters" and "human rights atrocities," but don't worry, that's what the "underreported stories" list is for — well, for ten of them anyway. While there are some pleasant surprises among the underreported stories (the quality of writing among them), the Time/CNN logo at the top of every page is a constant reminder of exactly whose failure that was in the first place.

Handshake, Time 2008Their Top 10 Photo selections are also a bit baffling, ranging from a visually eerie but otherwise totally pointless shot of Cindy McCain with a glass of chardonnay somewhere on the campaign trail, to this (how else can I say it?) Hitchcockian image entitled The Handshake.

Although the description invokes negotiations and the security agreement signed by both parties in early December which set a 2011 deadline for the withdrawal of US troops, this photo was actually taken in September and depicts Defense Secretary Robert Gates shaking hands (presumably in the way of a greeting) with some reporters at, ahem, Camp Victory in Baghdad. Nice composition, though. If you just squint at the copy, you can imagine that it reads: "Handshake at the Gates of Hell."

sunNow, if you really want to see the year in photos (and why wouldn't you?), you will find no better roundup of the year's most memorable images than the 120 featured in three parts at's Pig Picture.

Another new list that I love is the New York Times' Big Ideas, an utterly engrossing collection of reports showcasing some of the very latest discoveries, compelling research and groundbreaking ideas of 2008. Their Top Buzzwords of 2008 is also thoroughly worthwhile.

Coming soon: my own Top Ten of Some Things.



click here for permalink December 07, 2008

cosmoI was an avid preteen reader of Cosmopolitan magazine and I remember this one particular issue that came out when I was 13 which featured a 16-page spread of four different fantasy bedrooms. Each design was based on an archetypal feminine caricature and each provided the reader with lists and suggestions for replicating their inner Cleopatra, or Harlequin romance heroine's, ideal boudoir. (I was about to write "bedroom" and then I remembered, this was Cosmo so, of course, it would have been boudoir.)

I don't remember all four of the fantasy bedrooms but, naturally there would have been one all-white, lace-and-pillows-everywhere theme, listing essentials like "crisp cotton sheets" and "a vase of fresh lilies" along with DIY suggestions like "a coat of paint gives gorgeous antique finds a new life!"

It was the "Cleopatra boudoir" that spoke to me... the daybed-style mattress on a raised platform with two bamboo-covered steps leading up to it, framed by golden cat statues and covered with a sleek satin duvet. One end was piled with exotic-looking pillows — brocade silk neck rolls and stiff modernist squares with gold piping around the edges — but the best part was the canopy; yards and yards of seafoam green satin that draped down in a deep arc over the bed and formed decadent pools on the floor at both ends. This luxurious love fort derived its shape from a graceful wrought iron frame and the back wall was also draped in green satin so that the bed was entirely enclosed on three sides. Hanging down from the bed's four corners were long braided cords that ended in gold tassels, presumably for tying back the curtains, although I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to do such a thing.

I fell so madly in love with this bedroom, and was so convinced of its power to express the inner — whatever — I was becoming at 13 years old, that I spent hours deconstructing those four pages. I mentally itemized and streamlined the design, calculating which items would have to be splurged on and compromising on others — reluctantly, I had to admit that I could probably live without the raised platform and the two steps leading up to it. Finally, I pleaded and cajoled and eventually convinced my then-stepfather to help me (or, rather, to let me help him) construct a bed frame. Wrought iron was unfortunately out of the question, although it took me rather longer than one might imagine to concede to this, so we agreed on a wood construction of 1.5" round dowels.

sheherazad bedThe project took an entire weekend, two long and sometimes grueling days, most of which were spent in the overgrown backyard of our Seattle home under an unrelenting spring sun. I remember this detail vividly because it resulted in an epic sunburn that I was forced to fiercely defend as a tan that week at school until, several days later, it had finally faded into one. The combination of physical exertion with raw lumber and power tools and sweating in the baking heat while breathing in clouds of sawdust and varnish fumes exponentially exacerbated the unavoidable bickering and carping that often accompanies well-intentioned family DIY endeavors. My mother fled inside the house early on, emerging only fleetingly thereafter to observe our progress from the doorway, perhaps hoping to catch us in an unguarded moment of cooperation.

Despite the scarcity of such moments, complete the project we did; by the end of the weekend the bed was finished. Late Sunday night I climbed under the sheets — carefully, so as not to aggravate my deeply reddened skin — and fell asleep, enclosed on all three sides and gazing up into a shimmering canopy of green satin.

I don't know where other 13 year old girls get their ideas about canopy beds but a quick Google image search reassures me that my adolescent fantasy room wasn't a generational phenomenon — although the color was probably an eighties thing. Like most obsessions at that age, however, my canopy bed was short-lived and it wasn't long before I developed a new obsession — a waterbed — and had to begin the process of pleading and cajoling all over again.

The interesting thing about that Cosmo article is the way that four arbitrary archetypes can be presented to us, as teenage girls especially, and we will leap at the chance to pigeonhole ourselves into whichever category we feel best expresses our inner... whatever it is we want to express. Sure, the definitions are superficial and fleeting — after all, there's a new Cosmo quiz every month — but the lure of the personality test is eternal.

ISTP: "The Psycho Vigilante ISTPs are quiet... mechanically gifted but withdrawn and reserved. ISTPs often need a great deal of personal space and "alone time," which may give others the impression that they are aloof; in reality, this time is necessary to hide their secret identities. The typical ISTP leads a dual life; his outward reserve and quiet masks an inward seething rage at the injustice of life... Sometimes, ISTPs may become evil themselves in response to a perceived rejection from the very people they are trying to save." [A twisted take on my Jungian/Myers-Briggs personality type from Read yours here.]