Flotsam and Jetsam

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Amazing junk

Posted By on 01.04.12 at 02:00 PM

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  • Newtown grafitti
Lake Superior State University has released the list of words that respondents to its annual survey are intent to see “banished.” Receiving the largest amount of reader complaints this year? “Amazing,” which one commenter is correct in identifying as a contemporary relative of the 90s staple “awesome”—a hyperbole whose meaning has been vacated by repetition. Said another: “Every talk show uses this word at least two times every five minutes. Hair is not 'amazing.' Shoes are not 'amazing.'” Runners-up include “shared sacrifice,” “occupy,” “blowback.” It’s really been that kind of year, hasn’t it? The shared sacrifice demanded by the Occupy movement has provoked a certain amount of cultural blowback. (Sorry.) Also, “baby bump.”

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year's Eve tradition: Dinner for One

Posted By on 01.01.12 at 03:43 AM

Dinner for One
  • Dinner for One
Last year I learned about a peculiar German New Year's Eve tradition. An old British comedy sketch called Dinner for One is run repeatedly that day on a number of television stations. Apparently it's watched by millions. At one time it was the most frequently repeated TV program ever.

No one I've asked seems to know how the tradition started. There are multiple theories. And this was in the days before YouTube viralness.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

In the beginning, God created smug teenage boys

Posted By on 12.23.11 at 08:00 AM

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  • Konstantin Goldenberg/Shutterstock
As it was for my brothers, my bar mitzvah portion was "Bereishit," or Genesis 1:1. You know, creation, Adam and Eve, snakes and apples. The whole deal. My parents had reserved this portion for all four of their children, which, at my synagogue, was tantamount to going to Wrigley Field and buying up all the seats on the first-base line for four seasons straight.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Testament in Rogers Park

Posted By on 12.22.11 at 08:07 AM

Last Friday night while running a few errands, I was surprised to find carolers standing in front of Morse "L" Liquors, a corner right by the el stop where you're far more likely to encounter panhandlers or crazy people. "Would you like some hot chocolate?" a young man asked, pointing to a large orange thermos. "No, thanks, I'm here for the bourbon," I said. I got my Maker's Mark, stayed for a rousing version of "Hark! the Herald," and continued with my rounds.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Query me this

Posted By on 12.21.11 at 01:08 PM

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  • Chris Dlugosz
Merriam-Webster announced last week that the word of the year—the one most frequently queried in its online dictionary—is “pragmatic,” which, being a dry and utilitarian descriptor, is a letdown. How boring! As a social barometer, it also strikes me as unrepresentative of a year that saw both the Occupy movement—say what you will about them, they’re not pragmatists exactly—and the Republican presidential primary, peopled primarily by fantasists. Merriam editor at large Peter Sokolowski told the Chicago Tribune that his site experienced increased searches for the word at midsummer, during the first round of debt-ceiling talks, and in November, when the Congressional supercommittee considered the debt problem again. “Supercommittee”—now there’s a heady little compound.

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The power of negative thinking

Posted By on 12.21.11 at 11:46 AM

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  • downing.amanda
Last week I posted my idea of what placebo drug warnings would look like. Placebos are pills with no active ingredients—they're typically given to control groups, in clinical trials that are testing the efficacy of "real" drugs. But in several recent studies, placebos themselves have "performed as well as drugs that Americans spend millions on," the New Yorker reported earlier this month. They help people feel better who are told the pills will help—it's the power of positive thinking. A new institute at Harvard is exploring the idea that placebos might be given as medicine in clinical practice.

But there's also the power of negative thinking. "Expecting a placebo to do harm or cause pain makes people sicker," the New Yorker story noted. This is called the "nocebo effect."

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Who wants to own Alot?

Posted By on 12.17.11 at 11:54 AM

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  • Arixystix Creations
I've been a fan of the Alot for a couple years now, ever since a friend who knows my grammar-freak tendencies (it's not hard—some people who have never met me know about my slight obsession with grammar) sent me a link to Allie Brosh's excellent The Alot Is Better Than You at Everything—one of her equally excellent Hyperbole and a Half comics. You should really read it yourself, but in case you're not so inclined, the idea behind it is that Brosh came up with a fictional creature named the Alot to deal with her annoyance at constantly coming across the also-fictional word "alot." Now that creature exists as a plush toy created by Alix of Arixystix Creations. It doesn't look like it's currently possible to buy one, but there are a lot (I know, sorry) of calls in the comments for her to put them on sale, so maybe it will be in the near future.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Your placebo drug information

Posted By on 12.16.11 at 02:00 PM

In several recent studies, placebos have performed as well as drugs that Americans spend millions on. In most cases, the larger the pill, the stronger the placebo effect. Two pills are better than one, and brand-name pills trump generics. Capsules are generally more effective than pills, and injections produce a more pronounced effect than either. Colored pills are more likely to relieve pain than white pills; blue pills help people sleep better than red pills. A new institute at Harvard is exploring the idea that placebos might be deployed as medicine in clinical practice.
—"The power of nothing," Dec. 12 New Yorker

MEDICATION: Pretendia (pre-TEN-di-a) 500MG tablets

DIRECTIONS: Take 2 tablets by mouth twice daily, or any number whenever.

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When picking out gifts, don't do what Mo did

Posted By on 12.16.11 at 12:14 PM

Every so often I fall into a minor panic as I realize that Christmas is still closer and I still haven't picked up any gifts. And this reminds me that I am a mediocre gift giver, and that reminds me that whatever else happens, I need to avoid doing what Mo did.

I first heard about her errors as I was home reading one afternoon this summer, and a squat guy of about 30 began pacing under my window as he spoke on a cell phone.

"Mo, what kind of man do you think I am?"

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Zany Newt Scrabble contest

Posted By on 12.15.11 at 02:15 PM

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In today's New York Times, Gail Collins has some fun with Mitt Romney calling Newt Gingrich "zany." Yesterday Romney continued his direct assault on Gingrich, arguing that "Zany is not what we need in a president." Collins writes, "This is an extremely safe position for Romney to take because the odds are very good that no one has ever called Mitt zany in his entire life."

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