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Singer James Blunt ‘stopped World War III’ [via the BBC]

English singer-songwriter James Blunt, perhaps best known for his 2005 hit “You’re Beautiful,” revealed that during his military service he risked a court martial by ignoring an order to attack Russian troops in Kosovo. Blunt was referring to the 1999 taking of an airfield in that wartorn nation that had already been co-opted by Russian forces. When a NATO general, Wesley Clark of the United States, ordered Blunt and the 30,000 troops in his unit to get a foothold at the airfield, potentially triggering fire between NATO forces and Russia, a British general refused. “”There are things that you do along the way that you know are right, and those that you absolutely feel are wrong, that I think it’s morally important to stand up against, and that sense of moral judgement is drilled into us as soldiers in the British army.”

Bill Clinton Joins the Cast of “The Hangover 2” [via People]

Former President Bill Clinton will cameo in “The Hangover 2,” the forthcoming sequel to the popular 2009 comedy about a group of friends and their Las Vegas adventures. Clinton took time from delivering a speech on clean energy in Bangkok, where some of the movie is being filmed, for his part, in which he plays himself. Heavyweight champion Mike Tyson provided a cameo in the original film.

Chocolate industry avoids collapse as genome published [via the BBC]

The entire genome of the cacao tree, from which chocolate is developed, has scientists hoping higher-yield plants can be engineered to help increase supply for a rapidly growing worldwide demand. The project, which was supported by candy maker Mars, IBM, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a number of universities, aims to help foster research into producing higher yield cacao plants, both helping produce more of the in-demand cacao and freeing up other land for crops such as plantains, yams and sorghum.

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If you’re looking for something light, fancy and easy, these fancy pizzas are perfect appetizers or even light meals.

 

1 red onion, sliced
3 cups arugula, coarsely chopped
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 whole-wheat tortillas OR naan bread OR pre-cooked pizza dough
4 ounces reduced-fat goat cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Saute the onions in a medium skillet over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and caramelized, about 15 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium and add the arugula. Cook until the arugula is wilted, about one minute. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the tortillas, naan or pizza bread on a baking sheet and top each with some of the arugula/onion mixture. Crumble some goat cheese on top of each, and bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes and cut each pizza into 4 triangles.

I made this recipe using tortillas and although the arugula, onion and goat cheese topping were excellent, the tortillas were tough and made eating the pizzas very difficult. Using a softer, thicker crust such as plain naan would provide a better foundation for the pizzas.

I have a letter in The New York Times.

In Ghanaian Village, American Woman Reigns As King [via NPR]

Ghanaian-American Peggielene Bartels goes by a different name when she’s in her home country: King Peggy. She became the king of the 7,000-person fishing town of Otuam in west Africa two years ago after her uncle died. She learned about her new royalty during a 4 a.m. phone call to her Maryland condo. Formerly a secretary at the Ghana embassy in Washington, King Peggy now splits her time between her small kingdom and the U.S., where she now makes her rounds on the lecture circuit, promoting Ghana. She noted that she has seen only some resistance because she is a woman. “The women are so happy for me, they are really on my side,” she says. “But it’s only a few elderly men — because they are used to bossing females around. And I don’t give them the chance. They are the people resisting me.”

Research suggests new cause of Bertolt Brecht death [via the BBC]

A University of Manchester researcher has reviewed German playwright Bertold Brecht’s medical records and believes he may have suffered from undiagnosed rheumatic fever as a child, a disease that may have created chronic heart failure. The author of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” and “The Threepenny Opera” died in 1956 of a reported heart attack. “Brecht was a physical mess, whose chronic conditions would eventually kill him,” professor Stephen Parker said. “Yet he had an extraordinary poetic and theatrical talent, which enabled him to transform his wretched physical weakness into a peerless strength. We can now be sure that virtually all his life he suffered from an organic condition, which proved fatal as heart failure.”

Evicted veteran, sues ex-landlords for $21M after improperly secured AC falls 6 stories, hits him [via The New York Daily News]

67-year-old Anthony Franzese is suing his former landlords for $21 million after a 45-pound air conditioner fell from the sixth floor and hit him in the head. The Vietnam veteran had just been evicted from his apartment in the building and was walking his dog when the air condition hit him; Franzese suffered skull fractures and concussions, and during an operation suffered a heart attack and was in a coma for several days. The air

Sex toy drive-thru: Alabama ship to offer window service [via The Huntsville Times]

An adult store in Alabama famous for challenging the state’s ban on sex toys is opening a new location with three drive-through windows for customers on the go. The first such store in the country, according to the owners, will deliver lubes, stimulants and toys in brown paper bags. Because no court has ever overturned the ban on sex toys, customers must first fill out a medical form detailing their health-related needs. “The real essence of what I’m trying to get across is adult stores don’t have to be hidden in back alleys,” owner Sherri Williams said. “Obviously we wouldn’t be doing as well as we are if no one enjoyed shopping here.”

Why does playing Tetris help reduce trauma? [via ABC News]

Oxford University scientists have found that playing Tetris can help reduce dramatic flashbacks such as those induced by post-traumatic stress disorder. The researchers believe playing the now-classic puzzle game distracts the brain from the previous trauma. “We think it works because it’s competing with resources with the same kind of visual memory that would otherwise make a visual flashback, because flashbacks themselves are strong images,” researcher Emily Holmes said.

Dick van Dyke ‘saved by porpoises’ [via The Daily Telegraph]

Television star Dick van Dyke says he was saved by a pod of porpoises after falling asleep on a surfboard and drifting away from shore. “I woke up out of sight of land … and I started paddling with the swells and I started seeing fins swimming around me and I thought, ‘I’m dead!'” he said. “They turned out to be porpoises [and] they pushed me all the way to shore. I’m not kidding.”

Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Glee,” “Never Been Kissed.”

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I would like to start by saying that I totally called it — Salt (what I call him since he’s always been seen with Pepper before) is definitely in the closet. The virulently homophobic being outed has become such a cliché it’s actually starting to become a safe assumption that the anti-gay are most likely merely compensating.

But let’s start at the beginning. The episode led off with a series of slights at Kurt, shoving, names, etc. Even Mr. Schue got in on it, albeit unknowingly, by ordering Kurt to the boys’ group for the week’s battle of the sexes. When Schue later witnesses the bullying Kurt endures each day, he realizes it’s getting to Kurt. He confesses that, as the sole out student at McKinley High, carrying the rainbow flag is his fabulous cross to bear. Schue tries to help by mixing up the challenge, ordering the groups to perform songs traditional to the other sex, which, of course, enthuses Kurt and irritates the other boys. Go spy on their new competition, an all-boys private school, Puck suggests, once again subtly but firmly perpetuating the hatred Kurt faces.

At the private school, though, Kurt finds a scene tailor made for soft-core pornography: an a cappella group performing Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dreams,” to the wild cheers of the other boys. Kurt is understandably bowled over by this tableau, and rightfully so. There was an awful lot odd about the scene. Even if one is willing to accept the Warblers’ popularity, and if one was could look past a room full of boys dancing to “Teenage Dreams,” there’s still the problem that a zero-tolerance policy probably wouldn’t create such a weirdly accepting atmosphere. Kurt’s painfully obvious infiltration of the competition led to his meeting Blaine, played by newcomer Darren Criss.

The plotline’s saving grace came from Blaine, who admitted that having transferred from a McKinley-esque bullying atmosphere to the academy hadn’t been the brave act it initially seems. No, Blaine admitted, he fled a battleground for paradise, lacking the courage to stand up for himself. His admission was very inflectional — too inflectional, in fact. Everything about Blaine screams too put together. Perhaps this is a theme we’ll revisit in the future, but for the time being he just came across as suspiciously polished.

Kurt, emboldened by Blaine, confronts Salt next time the behemoth shoves him in the hallway (side note: we finally saw an extra react to the bullying; the girl behind them had a horrified look on her face). Tracking him to the empty locker room, Kurt gets up in his face — and then Salt gets in his, quite literally. It was a moment that shocked them, but, as I noted previously, not me. Kurt gets Blaine to help him try and confront Salt about his obvious latent homosexuality, but he denies the whole incident and storms off. It’s not really anything about Salt, however, that has Kurt all teary eyed; he reveals to Blaine that that kiss, full of hatred and suppression and oppression, was his first. Unfortunately, there’s really no way back, but Blaine helps Kurt to press on. At first I was alarmed that Kurt had a locker photo of Blaine, but further reflection changed my mind. It’s important that it’s framed, not some secretive pin-up; Kurt isn’t lusting after Blaine, he’s looking up to him. Although this is great for his self-esteem now, I can’t help fearing that eventually Blaine will show a dark side, either romantically or through the glee competition, that could shatter Kurt’s newfound confidence.

Unfortunately, I think a greater tragedy went largely unnoticed last night: poor Salt. He’s gay, or at least curious, and is in such deep denial he lashes out violently at the one person he subconsciously admires most. “Well, he’s not coming out of the closet anytime soon,” Blaine quips, short-changing the deep anguish of the scene. In this case, Salt’s predicament is not one caused by any glee clubbers, at least, not specifically. He’s a victim of the modern American high school, and he represents the other side of the coin, those who don’t even really know themselves. Whether his storyline moves forward or not, we’re left with a sad impression of a wildly repressed man.

In many ways Kurt and Coach Bieste shared themes this week, though the never-been-kissed bit, so poignant with Kurt, felt stale and forced when it came Bieste’s turn. It begins with Finn and Sam, relaxing in hot and cold tubs, respectively, when Finn shares his mailman secret to “cooling down,” the show’s awkward euphemism of the night. Sam notes he’s never nearly killed a civil servant before, and Finn tells him to find his own mailman. Sticking with the arrogant Sam who emerged last week over the sweet Sam introduced in “Duets,” the lemon-juice blonde latches onto images of Coach Bieste to help him “cool down” while making out with Quinn. It works well, so well he accidentally utters her name instead of Quinny’s. Oops. For some reason he shares it with Mike Chang, who tells Tina, who we learn has a surprisingly aggressive libido. The scene where they make out in a classroom once again raised the subtle specter of male objectivism; once again, Tina fixates on Mike Chang’s abs, even making an awkward and ill-times “Jersey Shore” reference. Obviously, any such objectification of a woman would be troubling, but it slips over Mike Chang like baby oil on his taut muscles. Oh, sorry! It’s really easy to fall into that trap.

Predictably, the whole Bieste thing makes its way to Mr. Schue, who excoriates Sam and Mike Chang (although really it’s Tina). Sam protests that it’s not personal, but Mr. Schue sputters, “Of course it’s personal!” and it is. I found it interesting that “Glee” didn’t go deeper with the anti-fantasies; were they because Bieste isn’t traditionally pretty (it is worth admitting she’s actually not ugly), or because she’s much older than the students, or, as Quinn intimated, because she’s in a position of power over them? I thought that motivation was never made clear. In any event, Bieste quits over the whole thing, admits to Schue she’s never been kissed because she’s an unusual type, and he kisses her, weirdly, without regard for sexual harassment charges, and she inexplicably feels better. The characterization kind of fell apart here, but I’ll let it go. The boys feel bad and win her back with a cleverly done mash-up, blah blah blah.

What’s more interesting in this whole debacle was Quinn, who we thought was no longer the ruthless cheer captain of the pilot. She happily accepted Sue Sylvester’s plan because it would get her man back — not giving second thought to the primary mission, getting Bieste fired. Her selfishness was presented so quickly it almost went unnoticed, but ultimately Quinn was more culpable for Bieste nearly leaving than Sam or any other boy.

The Artie subplot was both boring and pointless. Santana slobbered all over Puck, again, and Brittany seems to want Artie back. Not much came out of this, and it’s not worth recapping, even their enjoyable if unbelievable busking rendition of “One Love/People Get Ready.”

Some remainders:

Where is Quinn living? Did she move back home? Remember last season when she was thrown out and Puck, then Mercedes, took her in? Is she making out in front of Mercedes’ fireplace?

This episode proved Finn and Rachel could have mere supporting roles. It worked. Consider putting them in the background more. For example, I’m dying for some Mercedes. Put her in, coach.

Looking at the guys of glee club assembled before Bieste reminded me that they have all played for the football team at some point. There’s been no mention of Kurt being kicker again this year, so presumably he dropped that extracurricular, but the rest of them are definitely on the current team. Interesting crossover.

Best “leggo my Eggo” story I’ve ever heard — even if it was fake.

I want a confetti cannon.

Line of the night: Mr. Schue: “We’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” Brittany: “I’ve done that.”

Alex Guillén

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Episodes of Glee usually include at least one character picking up a life lesson. They sometimes veer into cheesy after-school special territory. There’s probably a case to be made for that here, but Glee’s subject matter has never been so timely. Even though it still occasionally suffers from mixed messages.

Kurt takes center stage again as he continues his trials as the only out teen at McKinley. A particularly stereotypical football player (what’s his name? Wiki tells me it’s Karofsky) repeatedly shoves Kurt into lockers and generally makes his life hell. What’s more, Kurt feels like he doesn’t get any support from the faculty, including Mr. Schue. And on top of everything else, Kurt knows he isn’t being challenged at McKinley.

Mr. Schue responds by turning the second annual boys versus girls mash-up competition (needs a catchy acronym) on its head, sort of. The boys perform songs traditionally sung by women, and the girls try out more the more “masculine” classic rock. The kids should try to be the opposite of what they are. The more opposite, the more points. I suppose this is to encourage the kids to have a new experience and try something they never normally would, it seemed odd placed in an episode once again about accepting people as they are and finding the beauty below the surface.

Not to denigrate the message of this episode, but I wish more media would address the fact that gender and sexuality are not binary. It’s not always male/female and gay/straight. Gender identity and sexual orientation is a spectrum. I think this is why it irked me so much last week when the word “transsexual” was edited out of “Sweet Transvestite.” Moving on…

Fed up with his situation at McKinley, Kurt checks out the Dalton Academy for Boys, under the guise of spying on their glee club, New Directions’ competition at sectionals this year. (Oh, they actually have to go through sectionals and regionals again? They don’t skip straight to nationals? News to me.) It is a strange new world! The Dalton glee club are like rock stars, and Kurt is swept up by Blaine, played by the adorable Darren Criss (seriously, go to YouTube and look up “A Very Potter Musical.”) Blaine encourages Kurt not to be a victim, and stand up to his bully. Which leads to a genuinely shocking moment when Kurt confronts Karofsky, who ends by kissing Kurt. Call me crazy, but Karofsky may have just become one of the most interesting characters on Glee. A small-town, midwestern jock so frightened that he might be gay that the only thing he can do is lash out. How can this show have so many poignant, realistic moments and yet be so unbelievable?

Which brings us to the secondary and tertiary plots this week. Finn tells Sam about his tried and true method for cooling down when things get hot and heavy with a girl (cue the mailman clip). So Sam comes up with his own version. Picturing Coach Beiste. Then he says her name instead of Quinn’s. Word gets around to the glee clubbers so Tina tries it too. Eventually Sue gets involved, Mr. Schue finds out, he has to tell Beiste, she quits, Mr. Schue talks to her and tells her she’s beautiful, and giver Beiste her first kiss. Again, what? I saw this coming as soon as she said she had never been kissed, but I don’t know. So many random plots. The boys’ mash-up is an apology to Beiste, who stays on as the coach.

And in the final story of the evening, Puck is back from juvie, hanging out with Artie as “community service.” They perform a song together. They go on a double date with Santana and Brittany. Puck needs to do actual community service. Whatever — the upshot is, we should expect Puck and Artie to hang out more, which I am all for. One of my favorite quotes last season: “I just really like Artie, okay!”

So, overall, I think I liked this episode. I’m all for Kurt. The musical numbers? Pretty much throwaways and not very memorable. But damn it if I wasn’t humming “Teenage Dream” when the show cut to commercial.

Alexandria Jackson

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“Glee’s” sixth episode of season two, “Never Been Kissed,” was a superb return to form for the Fox comedy. In a season that’s been suffering from too many themed episodes, last night’s offering showed just how compelling a story “Glee” can provide when the writers are not forced to shoehorn the dialogue and musical numbers into a single gimmicky theme. It was a welcome change after the rather inconsequential ‘Rocky Horror’ episode.

Part of what made this episode great was the payoff of plot points from earlier in the season. I’d remarked before about how unusually abrasive Kurt was acting, and now that that’s built for a few episodes, we finally start to see what he’s going through and how it’s affecting him. Kurt, just to be himself, is one of the strongest personalities that we see at McKinley High — which is saying a lot — so to show him quietly weeping over the basic human decency at Blaine’s school was a very powerful moment. In fact, just about everything about Kurt and Blaine’s storyline this episode felt right, and I’m glad that the show didn’t waste an unnecessary amount of drama over the fact that the two guys each mislead the other in their first meeting. Kurt’s lie of pretending to be a new student would be an okay starting premise for any number of mediocre romantic comedies, so it was a relief to see Glee had bigger intentions. Blaine referring to the Warblers as rock stars, while not letting on to Kurt that he’s a member of the group himself, was sort of rude — and it was another moment that could have been played up for more unnecessary drama. Instead, it was a nice way for the writers to show that no matter how much Kurt is idolizing his new friend at present, the kid isn’t perfect. Regardless, I liked Blaine’s character a whole lot, and I hope we see a lot more of him.

The surprise outing of Kurt’s main high school antagonist was a twist I wasn’t expecting, but it’s certainly presents some interesting character development for both him and Kurt. My immediate thought was to wonder whether the bully’s (unusually absent) partner in crime knows the truth about his friend, and whether he might be gay as well. And I really felt for Kurt when he told Blaine that he had never before been kissed, but after the mixed reaction I had to Schue kissing Beiste, I’m glad that we didn’t see Kurt hook up with Blaine after his own confession. Besides, we still know nothing about this kid. It won’t surprise me at all if we learn next week that Blaine already has the perfect boyfriend, although I’m sure he and Kurt will get together at some point regardless.

It was also great to see Puck back again, and I actually liked his and Artie’s storyline this episode better than I thought I would. It’s nice when Puck’s posturing can be taken down a notch, and it seems like his stint in juvie did just that — although of course, his response to getting scared there is to posture all the more. Still, I’m a big fan of how Puck’s personality and humor skew against the rest of glee club, so his return to the show is definitely a good thing in my book. I’m quite glad to see him regrowing his original haircut as well.

For a show like “Glee,” I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the music at all, but I’m having sort of a hard time remembering what songs were in this episode. That’s because the Warblers’ number, an a cappella cover of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” was so terrific, it really put the rest of them to shame. Maybe this is my inherent love of a cappella music shining through, but I really think this was one of the best numbers we’ve seen on “Glee” — and from a bunch of new kids, no less! Regular cast, shape up (and do more a cappella songs, please).

Joe Kessler

Federal scientists see big increase in bird beak deformities in Alaska, Northwest [via the AP]

A U.S. Geological Survey study has found “the highest rate of beak abnormalities ever recorded in wild bird populations in Alaska and the Northwest,” topping the previous statistics tenfold. The specific deformity recorded, avian keratin disorder, occurs when part of the beak becomes overgrown and can be caused by environmental factors, poor nutrition or even foreign infections. Overgrown beaks make feeding difficult and also discourage preening, leaving affected birds with dirty feathers that make them more susceptible to the cold.

Cricket testicle size clue to promiscuous mating [via the BBC]

A University of Derby study has determined that the bushcricket has the largest testicle-to-body-weight ratio in nature, sporting gonads totaling up to 14 percent of an individual’s weight. According to scientists, testicle size has generally been found to correlate with promiscuity, allowing the male to copulate with a greater number of females and increasing his chances of successful reproduction.

Woman denied alimony because she had talked about open marriage [via The Guardian]

An Italian court has denied a recent divorcee alimony payments because she allegedly discussed the idea of an open marriage with her ex-husband prior to their wedding. The court, upholding a lower court’s ruling, held that her theorization of infidelity, though never evidenced to have actually occurred, was enough to constitute infidelity in the marriage. “I find it shocking and very perplexing that the court should rule on what is a virtual betrayal when real betrayals frequently go unpunished,” Gian Ettore Gassani, the chairman of the Italian association of matrimonial lawyers, said.