and I quote

december 2009

click for permalink December 24, 2009

I realized after posting my Year in Review that I had forgotten one important thing — then the next thing you know, I'm four lists deep in my Year in Review: Part II. I've said this before but I can't overstate it: Beware, lists can be habit-forming.

Best Things to Watch Online in 2009

I. Every Day

DN1. Democracy Now — The real news; relevant stories and actual investigative journalism without corporate or commercial sponsors, anchormen screaming in bow ties or anchorwomen who look like an evangelist's idea of a porn star.

2. The Daily Show — Posted the morning after it airs, every day, free and virtually commercial-free on the Comedy Network (that's Comedy Central for you Americans). Why would anyone watch it on TV?

3. Countdown with Keith Olbermann — I have to admit I don't watch my favorite Max-Headroom-meets-Howard-Beale as much as I did when Bush was in office but Keith is still keeping the faith, reporting on the new administration's failures and falsehoods just like he should be. Some of his most passionate and pointed "Special Comments" this year have been about gay marriage and health care reform (Olbermann to Obama: "they are going to call you a Socialist no matter what you do... Why not give the haters, as the cliche goes, something to cry about?").

II. Every Week

1. Bill Moyers' Journal (Incidentally, his final season on PBS.)

2. Real Time with Bill Maher — (In that brief window between the episode being uploaded by a nameless poster and YouTube removing it in compliance with HBO's copyright watchdogs.) His timely criticism of Obama and the "filibuster-proof-majority" of impotent Democrats in Congress keeps me watching, despite his ideological pandering to the atheist-fundamentalist fringe in support of his movie "Religulous" (e.g. contradicting his own previously expressed views and parroting simplistic, make that racist, talking points about terrorists and Islam just because Richard Dawkins was on the show — and good for Janeane Garofalo calling him on it.

Not to mention his irrational defense of the neocon fairy tale that "everything changed on 9-11" (specifically, but only for one day; US air defenses, which usually "scramble" F-16s within 15 minutes of anything in the sky going off its flight plan, were rendered incapable of responding within two and a half hours to the mayhem in the skies. The laws of physics and thermodynamics were suspended as well; fires caused steel-framed highrises to collapse within 10 seconds, whether they were hit by airplanes or not; and apparently, the Pentagon is surrounded by an invisible force field that incinerates airplanes — seats, wings, passengers, engines and all — leaving only a 16' hole in the wall where a 5-story plane should have been (wink) but that doesn't mean they'll let us view the footage taken by security cameras, which FBI agents confiscated from all the traffic poles, gas stations and hotels in the area).</911 Truth Rant>

III. Whenever and Whatever They See Fit to Upload

Justice1. Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? (YouTube playlist) — So you're no longer 18 and your dad's not a senator so a Harvard education was pretty much out of the question — until now. Watching this 12-part lecture series with Michael Sandel is the next best thing.

"Justice is one of the most popular courses in Harvard's history. Nearly one thousand students pack historic Sanders Theatre to hear Professor Sandel talk about justice, equality, democracy, and citizenship. Now it's your turn to take the same journey in moral reflection that has captivated more than 14,000 students, as Harvard opens its classroom to the world." []

2. PBS Frontline — Thanks to their incredibly long summer hiatus and sporadic release schedule, I find myself checking back every few weeks braced for disappointment. Once in a great while, however, the joy of being greeted with a brand-new episode is enough to make me watch regardless of the topic, pretty much (and this is saying something, if you consider the fact that, in the last year, nearly half of their shows have focused on some aspect of the bullshit banking crisis).

3. TED Talks — If you don't know by now...

4. POPCasts — Like TED Talks, only less.

Alan Watts

Best Podcasts of 2009

  1. This American Life (WBEZ Chicago)
  2. To the Best of Our Knowledge (PRI)
  3. The Moth
  4. You're Not Crazy, it's Planetary
  5. Against the Grain (KPFA)
  6. Living Room (KPFA)
  7. Alan Watts
  8. Stuff You Should Know
  9. All in the Mind
  10. Big Ideas (CBC)


Best Television of the Decade

  1. West Wing castThe West Wing — For seven seasons — almost two full terms — we got to live in an alternate universe where the country was run, not by Bush II and his neocon cronies, but by President Bartlett; the problems of the world were debated, negotiated and met head-on by Daddy Sheen and an ultra-literate yet supremely human cabinet of liberal Democrats. Sigh. It helped some of us get through the decade.
  2. Rome — For two perfectly crafted seasons, Rome showed us that the political situation could always be worse.
  3. Angels in America
  4. Blue Planet — The old girl never looked so beautiful... yes, even those horrid things lurking at the bottom of the ocean and the Orcas who earned back their title of Killer Whale.
  5. The Sopranos — I lost track after season three but, after reading a very insightful review of the final episode, I felt like I understood everything.
  6. The Office (UK) — The British are not only smarter than the Americans, they're also funnier. It would almost be depressing if I didn't get to count myself among the Canadians, right smack in the middle on both counts.
  7. The Shield — The LAPD's answer to Tony Soprano.
  8. ER — This spring, the best show about doctors since MASH, ended its 15-season run, spawning some of the most thought-provoking top ten episode lists of all time. Even though I missed the last five seasons, my top six episodes were on most of those lists:
    1. "The Lost" — When Carter receives word that Luka has been killed, he returns to Africa in search of answers and his friend's remains.
    2. "All in the Family" — Stabbed by a schizophrenic patient and slowly bleeding to death, Carter and Lucy wait for help to arrive.
    3. "Love's Labor Lost," as one reviewer put it, marked "the moment when the show upped the stakes." Dr. Green fights to save a pregnant woman in one of the most harrowing, emotionally unsettling hours of the series.
    4. "Secrets and Lies" — The doctors bicker and bond in a touching, funny Breakfast Club homage.
    5. "Hell and High Water" — Pelted by rain, Doug rescues a drowning boy under the spotlight of a circling news helicopter.
    6. "Such Sweet Sorrow" — After treating a terminal cancer patient, Carol reunites with Doug in Seattle.
  9. Alias: Season 1 and Lost: Seasons 1 & 2 — Neither merits a full spot on the list since JJ Abrams hasn't been able to maintain interest in any of his shows past the "honeymoon" stage, although it lasted a full season longer with LOST. Maybe by 2012, he'll be able to sustain a 5-year series... or by then he'll be working on feature films full time.
  10. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts — Between The 25th Hour, Four Little Girls and this made-for-HBO mini-series, I think we can all agree on one thing; Spike Lee does his very best work when he's angry.


Best Films of the Decade (or the List Most Likely to Be Regretted and Revised)
After much consideration, instead of separate lists for films and documentaries, I think a single list is the best way to go. Besides, I'm not even sure I can think of ten fictional films that I loved this decade. Sure, it's weird to think of films like Born Into Brothels and Almost Famous in the same breath, but it's also fun. Actually, it might be even more fun to write my first ten off the top of my head, reference-checking nothing more than my DVD collection, then check IMDB and Box Office Mojo's top films of the decade and add my "I can't believe I forgot that" ones.

Top Ten (Off the top of my Head) Corporation

  1. Fog of War
  2. Born Into Brothels
  3. The Corporation
  4. Man on Wire
  5. The 25th Hour
  6. Cast Away
  7. Memento
  8. 28 Days Later
  9. Almost Famous
  10. Kill Bill 1 & 2

    (Ten More I Needed to be Reminded Of)
  11. Black Sun (thank you, Mr. Pink)
  12. Lost in Translation (omg, ditto)
  13. Hustle & Flow (ditto)
  14. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (omg, thanks BoxOfficeMojo)
  15. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
  16. Bowling for Columbine
  17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  18. Mulholland Drive
  19. Thirteen Days
  20. Before Sunset

    (5 More Films that Deserve Mention)
  21. Gosford Park (thank you, Mr. Pink)
  22. Erin Brockovich (ditto)
  23. Black Hawk Down
  24. The Departed
  25. Adaptation (IFC's "Film of the 'Aughts")

    (5 More Docs that Deserve Mention)
  26. Darwin's Nightmare
  27. An Unreasonable Man
  28. The Weather Underground
  29. No End in Sight
  30. The Taking of Patty Hearst

That's it, no more lists for a while... Happy holidays, everyone!

click for permalink December 16, 2009

I know I say this every year but I love this time of year! I love the "Best Of" lists and the "Year in Pictures" compilations and the "Year in Review" issues that rank and file the year's events into neat top tens and clean categories; these things always seem to make even the unimaginable more manageable. For me, the iconic images that rise to the top of the Best Of lists on sites like Time, The Boston Globe, National Geographic and The LA Times never fail to inspire a sense of awe. Even those that bring our worst memories back with vivid clarity only help to make those events what they should be, but rarely are: unforgettable.

The funny thing is, I didn't even realize the significance of this "year-end" until Time reminded me with what will probably end up being my favorite list of all, The Ten Worst Things About the Worst Decade Ever. The links that follow, especially the images, are my way of assimilating (or beginning to) the last year of what will be, at the very least, a decade to remember.

The Year in Pictures 2009

1. Swimming with Tigers — Actually from late 2008 but, still, wow.


2. It's quite impossible to pick just one of Yann Arthus-Bertrand's aerial photographs to represent the thousands he's taken over 101 countries. Visit his site and watch his movie "HOME," still available free on YouTube.

South Africa coal mine Iguazu FallsEverest

Norway Spiral3. Early in the morning on December 9, 2009, an unearthly spiral of blue light spun out into the dim sky over Norway, sparking 1,000 theories, speculations and simulations in response to the world's collectively uttered "WTF?!" The mystery was soon "solved" when the Russian military admitted the effect had been caused by a failed missile launch (that doesn't sound fishy to anyone else, huh?). Other theories still being bandied about include but are certainly not limited to: aliens landing, aliens taking off, the EU signaling aliens, Obama signaling aliens (he was en route to Norway for the Nobel ceremony that day), aliens signaling Obama (didn't you know that was his "bat signal"?), a wormhole caused by the nearby Large Hadron Collider, a sign of the coming Rapture/Mayan Doomsday/Climate Apocalypse (to mark the beginning of the COP15 Summit), magnetic pole shift, HAARP and, last but not least, Photoshop. Read all about it at The Daily Mail.

4. In January, Israel's US-backed attack on Gaza killed more than 1,300 people and injured more than 5,000.

cluster bombs

Palestine in ruins after three weeks of bombardment with missiles and white phosphorus.


5. It's hard to pick just one by HDR guru and prolific photographer Trey Ratcliff (


6. The LHC revs up to take its second (or is it third?) shot at searching for the "God particle" and fabricating tiny black holes. (


7. In June, Iranians took to the streets and — social media (betcha thought I was going to say "tweets" — keep dreaming) to protest their Presidential election results.


8. A rare view of the oddly Frank Herbert's Dune-esque "security wall" between the United States and Mexico. I wonder how it's doing at preventing the flow of American guns into Mexico City?


9. Sadly, the NYT is still soliciting user-generated content for its Document the Decade. I feel just terrible about this but I was about to make some snide comment e.g. "are they embracing social media/Web 2.0 or just tragically understaffed" when I heard that their newsroom had just cut 100 jobs. Can I get a moment of silence for the NYT? Here's one of theirs that we missed in 2008 of the terrorist attack in Mumbai:

Taj Hotel

10. Finally, this isn't exactly a photo but it's certainly one of the coolest images I've seen this year. Download full size 3861x1706).

Mission Orbits Infographic


FlowBest Things I Watched in 2009
  1. Food, Inc.
  2. The State Complete Series DVD — 15 years later, it's not quite as side-splitting hilarious as I remember it but it is still funny, and now it's a bit of a time capsule (e.g. OMG, remember MTV Sports? Heh.)
  3. FLOW
  4. The Cove
  5. HOME — Watch it free on YouTube.
  6. Mock the Week — My new favorite TV addiction to watch on YouTube; British panel of comedians talk shit about Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and a lot of people I've never heard of, but best of all, those daft Americans. (Thanks, Alex.)
  7. Secrets of the Dead: The Mumbai Massacre
  8. Will Farrell: You're Welcome America — A brilliant, hilarious and, yes, moving swan song for the 43rd.
  9. Life After People — Where else but the History Channel?
  10. Making A Killing: The Untold Story of Psychotropic Drugging


Best Books I Read in 2009
  1. Panic In Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science by Richard Preston
  2. Anticancer a New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber
  3. The Cult of Pharmacology: How America Became the World's Most Troubled Drug Culture by Richard J. Degrandpre
  4. McMafia: a Journey through the Global Underworld by Misha Glenny
  5. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
  6. The Dark SideThe Dark Side: the Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer
  7. Legacy of Ashes: the History of the CIA by Tim Weiner
  8. The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth about Global Corruption by John Perkins
  9. Outliers: the Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
  10. The Man Who Loved China: the Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom by Simon Winchester
  11. Don't Get Too Comfortable: the Indignities of Coach Class, the Torments of Low Thread Count, the Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil and Other First World Problems by David Rakoff
  12. Toxic BeautyToxic Beauty: How Cosmetics and Personal-Care Products Endanger Your Health and What You Can Do About It Samuel S. Epstein with Randall Fitzgerald
  13. The Lost City of Z: a Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
  14. Planet Google: One Company's Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know by E. Randall Stross
  15. The Whale Warriors: the Battle At the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet's Largest Mammals by Peter Heller.
  16. The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics by Leonard Susskind
  17. Embracing the Wide Sky: a Tour across the Horizons of the Mind by Daniel Tammet
  18. Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life by Steven Johnson
  19. The World without Us by Alan Weisman
  20. Poison in the Well: Radioactive Waste in the Oceans at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age by Jacob Darwin Hamblin


Heroes of 2009

1. Stan Brock
Stan BrockThe former host of TV's Wild Kingdom is the founder of Remote Area Medical, a non-profit all-volunteer medical relief corps founded in 1985 that provides free healthcare, dental care, eye care, veterinary services, technical and educational assistance at temporary "relief centers" across rural America and around the world where they are needed most. On the site's Warning page, Brock says: "If we have to parachute in or run Piranha infested rivers in dugout canoes, we will attain our objective."

2. Richard O'Barry
As a Marine Mammal Specialist in the 1960s he captured and trained dolphins, including "Kathy" and four others who played Flipper on TV. Everything changed for him the day Kathy swam into his arms and — in what he describes as a suicide — lifted her head out of the water and refused to take another breath. Dolphins, unlike humans, control their breathing voluntarily. He realized then that it was cruel to keep them in captivity and in 1970 he dedicated his life to freeing dolphins and educating the public. The Cove (2009) documents his dangerous mission to expose the slaughter of 20,000+ dolphins and porpoises that takes place every year in Taiji, Japan.

Paul Watson3. Paul Watson
Founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Whale Warrior and Great Polar Bear Spirit incarnate: "Our intention is to stop the criminal whaling. We are not a protest organization. We are here to enforce international conservation law. We don't wave banners. We intervene." Read my lengthy, gushing post about Watson from June of this year.

4. President Mohamed Nasheed
The Maldives' first democratically elected President, has been speaking out in bold and creative ways to raise the alarm about the dire consequences of climate change on his island nation and others like it, describing the current approach to climate talks as "the logic of a madhouse, a recipe for collective suicide." In October, he held a special cabinet session underwater and this month he sent fifteen-year-old Mohamed Axam Maumoon of the Children's Climate Forum to Copenhagen to represent the Maldives as a climate ambassador and speak to world leaders there.

5. Congressman Alan Grayson of Central Florida
Rep. Alan GraysonThis guy took office in January 2009 and in less than one year he's become a YouTube sensation, a fixture on MSNBC, a target of the Fox News hate machine and, increasingly it seems, the last living idealist Democrat. He's co-sponsored an Amendment (with Ron Paul) to audit the Federal Reserve, he's an ardent advocate of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan immediately, he's one of the only Democrats still standing up for a public healthcare program, not the mother of all bailouts for the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries — there's even a counter on his web site telling visitors how many Americans have died due to lack of coverage since the beginning of the year. I just hope he knows to avoid traveling in small airplanes and convertibles.


Best of the Best of Lists of 2009
  1. Time's Ten Worst Things About the Worst Decade Ever — Someone had to say it (they could have made it 2000 things).
  2. The New York Times' Year in Ideas 2009 — A reliably relevant roundup.
  3. Best Science Fiction Films of the Decade — Double shocker: I've seen all but one and agree with most.
  4. Vanity Fair's 100 to Blame — Although I disagree with them on a few.
  5. Top 25 Censored Stories of 2009/2010 — Required reading for a rounded view of our flattening world.
  6. The Top Internet Memes of 2009 — You know, memes. (Heheh, David after Dentist... whose dad, by the way, is now cashing in with a web site that sells T-shirts and other "merchandise." I sure hope it's going towards David's college fund.)
  7. The 50 Greatest Trailers of All Time — IFC's list covers the last 80 years but I defy anyone to come up with a better top ten (their number one pick is among my top three films of all time, and the trailer is truly a work of cinematic perfection).
  8. A Decade of Counterintuitive Thought — via Fimoculous. New York Magazine rounds up the decade's biggest blows to conventional wisdom (and some of the bullshit that was passed off as wisdom).
  9. Revisiting the New York Times' 2001 "Year In Ideas" — Also via Fimoculous. Mediaite covers the first-ever Year in Ideas with links and commentary.
  10. Fimoculous 2009 List of Lists — The Ultimate list of lists.


Cool Web Tools 2009
  1. Assess your weekly seafood intake with the Got Mercury Calculator.
  2. IRIS World Seismic Monitor — up-to-the minute earthquake atlas.
  3. The Typelyzer determines any web log's Myers-Briggs personality type with frightening accuracy. How did it do at assessing mine? Well, since I don't use a blog hosting site, the url is different every month, and about half the time it says I'm an ESTP and the other half an INTP, which is pretty darn close for an algorithm. In self-assessed tests I'm an ISTP but I'm open to the suggestion that what I consider my "personality" is subject to change depending on my mood or the topic I'm riffing on. It identifies The Last Psychiatrist as an ISFJ or an INTP depending on the post, and Mystic Medusa as a fellow ISTP.
  4. VPLMicrosoft is still evil but I have to admit Bing Maps is pretty goddamned cool. Now that Vancouver has been fully digitized to Google's Street View, I guess all we can do is wait for someone to accidentally or purposely leak the CIA crackz. Then we can spend all day spying on celebrities, politicians and exes with the night vision plugin, the Predator infra-red view, the Superman-style X-ray vision or the Wonder Woman-inspired lie-detection suite (not admissible in a court of law, let's be real).
  5. Melanoma Risk Calculator — If you're into this sort of thing. Assuming of course that I can be trusted to give honest answers, my results were actually very reassuring.


Words of 2009/Words of the Decade

"Even with 10 years to decide, still no name for the decade."The Yahoo! Newsroom

The Global Language Monitor compiles several lists at the end of every year to track the newest, hottest, most overused and least understood words and phrases to enter into common usage.

"GLM's Predictive Quantities Indicator (PQI)... tracks words and phrases in the media and on the Internet, now including blogs and social media. The words are tracked in relation to frequency, contextual usage and appearance in global media outlets, factoring in long-term trends, short-term changes, momentum and velocity."

GLM Top Words of the Decade (Full list with comments)

  1. Global Warming*
  2. 9/11
  3. Obama
  4. Bailout
  5. Evacuee/Refugee
  6. Derivative
  7. Google
  8. Surge
  9. Chinglish
  10. Tsunami

GLM Top Phrases of the Decade 2000-2009 (Complete list with comments/definitions here)

  1. Climate Change* (2000)
  2. Financial Tsunami (2008)
  3. Ground Zero (2001)
  4. War on Terror (2001)
  5. Weapons of Mass Destruction (2003)
  6. Swine Flu (2008)
  7. "Let's Roll!" (2001)
  8. Red State/Blue State (2004)
  9. Carbon footprint (2007)
  10. Shock-and-awe (2003)

*It's great to see that the environment ranked so highly on the English-speaking word scoreboard but since we are on the topic, does anyone else think it's odd that "Climate Change" is considered a phrase while "Global Warming" counts as a single word? Anybody?


click for permalink December 9, 2009

Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the Union-Carbide pesticide plant explosion on December 3, 1984 in Bhopal, India. Since the disaster, 20,000 people have died as a direct result of exposure to a combination of toxic gases — 15,000 in the first week alone — and an estimated 100,000 are still suffering from debilitating, chronic illnesses caused by widespread chemical contamination.


"Union Carbide left Bhopal without cleaning up the factory site, leaving thousands of tons of highly toxic chemicals in sheds, storerooms and solar evaporation ponds. The Dow Chemical Company, based in Midland, Michigan, USA, acquired Union Carbide's assets and liabilities when Dow purchased the company in 2001. In the years following, and to this day, Dow-Carbide has refused to: Clean up the factory site, which continues to contaminate the soil, water and much more; Provide just compensation to victims; Fund necessary medical care; Reveal decades of research on the effects of MIC and related toxins."

The links on this page no longer work — including the links to larger versions — so the cards cannot be sent via their site, but you can view and read them all here, or at The artist's name is Paul Phare.

"Dow Chemical has just spent $30 million on a "human element" advertising campaign to convince us that it is a humane and benevolent company. The ads are beautifully made, but telling a lie beautifully does not make it true. Dow's ads are gorgeous masks that hide a reality of horror, pain, illness and death. As a personal response to Dow's propaganda, Paul Phare has designed and written a series of posters that expose the facts behind Dow's masks."

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