Rick Mercer went into infomercial land in last night's season debut, with a sketch about the seeming inevitability of anything other than a minority parliament. (Click here for the rest of the Mercer Report's YouTube channel; you can watch more stuff on the show's site. The Slap Chop commercial is here, if you want to compare kitchens, veggies and such.)
Earlier this month, I pinched a book (as I often do) from my wife's bedside table. Michael Gates Gill's How Starbucks Saved My Life has one of those titles that's pretty catchy, but it's the author's blueblood background, matched against how he ended up as a Starbucks employee, that make the book intriguing.
Michael Gates Gill is the son of Brendan Gill, a still-legendary writer for The New Yorker. I have a copy of Here at the New Yorker down in my home office. Gill did well in life: he sailed through Yale, and on graduation went to work immediately for J. Walter Thompson, one of the largest advertising companies in the world. His client list was peerless.
And then he got fired. He rebounded by forming his own consulting company ... and then screwing up everything in his life. His marriage failed. He became estranged from his kids. And, gradually, his self-directed company dissolved into sand. (Despite this, he managed to coauthor an evidently less-than-truthful book in the 1990s about how being fired is liberating.)
Facing a potentially life-threatening disease and without health insurance (a topic that resonates in the U.S.), he applies for a job at Starbucks, in large part because the coffee chain offers health benefits. He eventually becomes so desperate for those benefits that he becomes willing to take on any challenge, from cleaning toilets to working any shift he's offered. Most of all, he learns plenty from his young, black manager, whom he calls Crystal in the book, and who is based on Tiffany Edwards, the woman seen above with Gill in a USA Today photo taken on the book's release in 2007. (The paper's report is here.)
The book is light stuff - I went through it in a few evenings of bedtime reading - but I have to say that I was challenged by Gill's experiences, even though he acknowledges that he cast a fictional veil over details of the lives of his coworkers, almost all of whom were young and black.
It's the contrasts he draws that are fascinating, and which I would expect will drive the movie adaptation (to which Tom Hanks has been attached, even before the book was published). Because of his connections growing up in remarkable wealth and comfort, he was introduced to plenty of famous people; a scene involving Gill as a college student with Ernest Hemingway in Pamploma does, indeed, seem right out of a movie. Gill's world once included hobnobbing with Jackie Onassis; he finds himself nonetheless redeemed by eating a great big piece of humble pie, and learning profound lessons late in life.
A key nugget is his citation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald line about the dignity of work, which appears to underscore his late-in-life discoveries. (As recently as this winter, Gill was still working at a Starbucks, even though he is now closing on 70.) Trained as an executive to be cold to his subordinates, he is astonished to see how Starbucks prizes respect and discipline among all of its employees.
I liked the book, and would recommend it, but I had a nagging sense throughout that I was being sold something. Even though Starbucks was not officially involved with its production, one cannot be suspicious about Gill's sales pitch, which is unfailingly boisterous about the virtues of the company.
Moreso, I found the book a bit of a trifle. Enjoyable, like a snack. Which is a shame, because I had been hoping for more of a meal.
Here's a video made with a couple of hidden cameras, a bunch of kids, a bag of marshmallows and a psychology test: if told you could get a second treat if you simply waited, would you be able to resist eating the first one?
"Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read." - William Safire
[William Safire died this weekend, a few weeks after his last On Language column ran in the New York Times. The column was always excellent; the above line is one of the many "Fumblerules" - including 'Don't verb nouns' and 'Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do' - he advanced in his columns, not to mention in the book of the same name. Philip Lee, an old colleague of mine here in St. John's, pays his respects to Safire, and his sage advice, in this blog posting.]
The video below is really impressive: it shows how a small team working with the company Compost Creative created sequences for the BBC program Timewatch for a special called Bloody Omaha, on the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. As you'll see, the team used just three uniformed actors, some photography, a pop-up greenscreen (above), digital photographs, rubber weapons and a great deal of ingenuity to create convincing sequences. You can read more about the Bloody Omaha project here.
... and it's one of the entries in a Worth 1000 competition this summer called One Letter Off, in which players rejigged movie posters by adjusting a single letter in the title. Hence, Wall, The Depanted and Pam's Labyrinth, among others.
That's Jenny Slate above, about one second after she realized she had let the real F-bomb drop during her first major sketch on her debut episode on Saturday Night Live. After repeatedly using the word "frickin'", Slate swore for real in a sketch called Biker Chick Chat, which aired with about 15 minutes to go in the season premiere. You can watch the sketch here.
I posted a (somewhat shorter) copy of this on my Facebook feed on Friday; as I put it, if this doesn't cheer you up, you need something stronger than a baby grooving to a video of Beyonce.
My friend Samantha pointed out this video, a scene from this week's episode of Glee, featuring a football team busting the same moves to Beyonce's Single Ladies, coincidentally on the heels of Kanye West's Swift-dissing stunt. (Yep, we're watching Glee, which is filling the whimsical comedy-drama brain sorbet left vacant by the departure of Pushing Daisies.)
We've all seen them: the parents who like to give their lungs a workout while their kids are playing sports, and could very well be giving their kids a complex. I love this Little League video, which turns the tables nicely.
A group that aims to combine beer and music for a new festival launches this week's walk around the web, with stops along the way involving Monty Python, salad greens and your Twitter network … if you happen to have one.
Rock-toberfest I've been to Oktoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario, and would some day love to take in the real thing in Germany. Did you know a group of folks in St. John's want to adapt the idea for local purposes, to create what they hope will be an annual festival? The idea is to not only entertain the home crowd, but enrich the fall tourism season with an extra incentive to stick around and enjoy what they call "a little taste of Oktoberfest, but with a large twist of Newfoundland culture, music and love of a great party."
Clothesline Sudoku Speaking of tourism, I found this game on the provincial government's tourism site, tucked into the part that plays up the "breathing room" visitors find here. The traditional Sudoku grid is adapted here with icons from the province (icebergs, blueberries, salmon and so on); your job is to fill them in. A good few icons are sprinkled on the board to get you started.
LOLcat builder Yes, you can has your own cheezburger, too. From the folks who bring you the ever-popular LOLcats site (which combines photos of cats, and other animals, with caustic captions burned into the image) is this tool to make your very own. You can also upload your own picture, but don't assume it will show up online right away, or at all: they still screen submissions for laughability and, apparently, taste, and get far more submissions than they use. In any event, your friends and family may get more of a kick out of an in-joke than the rest of the world.
Twitter friend visualization Twitter is one of the leading social networking applications at the moment; use this tool as one way to get a sense of how your personal network is connected to many, many others. The tool gives you a visual sense of who's in your proverbial circle; click on one member, and a whole other array opens up, and so on and so on.
From the land of Monty Python comes this bit of lunacy, in which you can generate a funny walk to rival anything John Cleese could do with his arms and legs. The generator is a promotional device to help sell a DVD collection. Pick a character (e.g., lumberjack, Spanish inquisition member), a backdrop (pleasant meadow, English street) and program a series of manoeuvres with the body parts. If you like what you come up with, you can save your walk and email the link to a friend.
Know your greens This is the time of year when the supply of fresh green things at the markets is teeming, and already at our house we've enjoyed a series of delicious salads with a variety of greens. Here's a guide for knowing your chard from your mache.
Skewville Skewville consist of twin brothers working in New York, using art in a clever, streetwise way, blending together social commentary, advertising motifs and, um, sneakers. They have a new exhibition underway, although this site shows just how much they use urban landscapes as a canvas to play on.
Guess the Colours This is a problem-solving game, pretty much like the Master Mind game I played when I was a kid. The idea is to figure out which colours fit into which places, with only a set number of guesses to crack the code. With each turn, you get a report telling you whether you have an exact match (but not which one) or the right colour in the wrong spot. It's a great exercise for the little grey cells.
John Gushue is a writer in St. John's, and is currently on leave from his job with CBC News in St. John's. John is on Facebook right here. John is on Twitter right here.
Above is a screenshot of a cool interactive tool on USA Today, which aggregates data from each presidency since Harry S Truman, showing how approval for each president has waxed and waned (or collapsed, in a few cases). Here's the link.
One of the best memories I have of a visit to San Francisco 15 years ago was seeing a touring production of Tommy at the city's historic opera house. I came across this video today that brought back that memory: a flashmob that formed in August in Union Square to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Who playing Tommy at the Woodstock festival. The event was sponsored by Wolfgang's Vault, which is full to the rim with great concerts and such.
Dot Dot Dot is Morse code for the letter 'S,' the full message Guglielmo Marconi claimed to have received atop Signal Hill in St. John's in 1901. It ushered in the age of telecommunications. My maternal grandfather worked as a telegraph operator for Canadian Marconi on Signal Hill for many years.
As well, I have a habit of overusing the ellipsis when I write ... as frequent readers might notice.