Category Archives: Blog

10 funniest cities in the US

My friend Joel has a book out, The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny. To help promote the book, Joel, and his co-writer Peter McGraw, created an algorithm to determine the 50 funniest cities in the US. We're number 2! We're number 2!

1. Chicago The capital of improvisation and a mecca of stand-up comedy.
2. Boston It has a split comedy personality: dry high-brow and rowdy low-brow.
3. Atlanta Many jokes on race: “What do you call a black pilot? A pilot, you racist.”
4. Washington Politics and politicians provide plenty of fodder for cynical jokesters.
5. Portland, Ore. Known for its celebration of oddballs and weirdness.
6. New York City How to cope with the stress of life here? Humor, about anything.
7. Los Angeles It’s teeming with aspiring entertainers who like to riff on shallow locals.
8. Denver Home to a more relaxed humor, often about (and mellowed by) pot.
9. San Francisco Likes jokes about its wacky characters, liberals and, lately, tech nerds.
10. Seattle Its humor: youthful, tech-savvy and sometimes smug toward outsiders.


His findings were drawn from surveys of residents (on the prevalence of humor in their daily lives) and of comedians, number of visits to comedy websites, tweets, radio stations, comedy clubs per square mile and native-born comedians per capita.

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 2 Recap

Mad Men Art

Every week, Chris Piascik (@chrispiascik) illustrates a moment from the episode and I write up a recap.

Episode Title: "A Day's Work." Off the top of my head, I can't remember any episodes taking place all in one day. Or, almost a day. Pete, Bonnie, and Ted had a tryst late on the evening of the 13th.

Timing of the episode: February, 14 1969, only a few weeks from episode 1.

As well as Don looked to be doing last week, this week he was less put together: Unshowered, house a mess, marking off the liquor bottle with a grease pencil to keep track of his drinking. Don only cleans the house and gets dressed when Dawn comes to report on the goings on in the office. Obviously lonely, Don tries to charm Dawn into staying for coffee, but she demurs. When he offers her "car fare," "There's something about the money that makes it feel wrong." THAT'S WHAT THE MONEY IS FOR.

Imagine now there are 400 words on the symbolism of Don seeing a cockroach in his apartment.

Pete also seemed better off last week than this week. Pete still only cares about closing the deal, which he should, because he is selling, but it leads to trouble for him every time. Last week, he was mooning about California's vibrations, now he doesn't know if he's in "heaven or hell or limbo." Ted remains placid, as ever, "Just cash the checks, you're gonna die one day." Pete's girlfriend seems to know how it all works, "Our fortunes are in other people's hands and we have to take them," but I think Pete grew up holding the fortunes maybe?

Joan figured out her Dawn/Lou issue by making Dawn head of personnel, but what does this mean when Don comes back? Last year, there was a similar situation where Joan gave Dawn additional responsibility and intimated she'd need a willingness to be unliked. This came up again when Joan and Culter were discussing what was required of a head of personnel. Most people still want to see Mad Men tackle race, but I don't think we're ever going to get it.

When Dawn and Shirley were talking about Shirley's flowers, they were calling each other each other's names. Maybe they do that because that's what happens in the office? Dawn gets called Shirley and vice versa? "Keep pretending, that's your job."

There were some interesting examples of embarrassment this week: Ted catching Pete and Bonnie, Sally finding Lou in Don's office, Peggy thinking Shirley's flowers were for Peggy, Sally catching Don in a lie, Don getting caught in a lie. Etc. Etc.

Peggy had a fun time today, alone again. "Enjoy your flowers, boss." She knows she's acting crazy, but she can't help it. Ted has moved on from her, even if she doesn't want to admit that. The scenes with Shirley's flowers were gold, just gold. My favorite of this young season. Not sure what Ginsberg has against her, though. "February 14th: Masturbate gloomily."

I can't really understand why Roger had a problem with asking Detroit about the Chevy dealerships. I got to thinking it might have something to do with Don not being around (and Lou in his place, "Strangest things happen to you."), but there's not much evidence for that. He's bored at SCP, that's for sure. Also, anti-semitism is alive and well in 1969, NYC.

Racism, too. Thanks, Bert Cooper. He's not saying Dawn shouldn't be at the front desk, he's just saying.

Sally is back, and I don't remember her eyebrows being so eyebrowy. "I'd stay here until 1975 if I could get Betty in the ground." Sally is the perfectly cynical boarding school teenager, a funeral is a good excuse for a shopping spree until losing her purse. Upon discovering Lou Avery in her dad's office, she was upset, showing as much as she's tried to grow up, she's still a little girl. The wall comes up again upon catching Don in a lie. She wants to love her dad, but he makes it almost impossible. By insisting on trying to be the perfect man, Sally is repulsed and reminded of Don's failings. What goes on the note? "Just tell the truth." It's only when he comes clean about being asked to leave SCP Sally warms to him again. "I told the truth about myself." "Nothing you don't already know." While the Shirley/Peggy scenes were great, the Don/Sally scenes were probably the most important scenes so far. Don will continue wanting to treat Sally as a child, but as she says, "I'm so many people." She's got it tough.

This Will Be Our Year by The Zombies played out over the credits.

Questions for Macaulay Culkin and Pizza Underground

Macaulay Culkin is on tour with an art concept band Pizza Underground, and Boston Magazine was interested in talking. Eugenia Williamson asked for an interview with Culkin and was told to email questions and a band member would respond. Williamson complied.

… Boston Magazine will publish the interview online with the show details if the band answers the following questions:

If you were a very large (but, admittedly, very dried-out) piece of sausage on top of a mediocre pizza surrounded by much smaller pieces of sausage hoping to receive some of your reflected glory, would you do interviews or make journalists email the pizza as a collective?

If drugs were pizza, what toppings would they have?

If you had a choice between staying relevant forever and never eating a slice of pizza again or being a has-been and eating all the pizza you want, which would you choose?

If a lady pizza married a man pizza and had a pizza baby, should they put the pizza baby in showbiz and take all his money?

If you fell in love with a gentle, pre-adolescent pizza that died from a bee sting, how would you grieve?

Has pizza ever slept with Lindsay Lohan?

If you wanted to have some little boys over for a slumber party at the Neverland Ranch, would you order pizza?

Mad Men Season 7 Episode 1 Recap

Mad Men Art

Every week, Chris Piascik (@chrispiascik) illustrates a moment from the episode and I write up a recap. First some quick thoughts:

This was a long weekend for me with one event in DC and one event in Philadelphia, and Chris came with me, so I'm not totally sure how coherent this will be. Additionally, it usually takes a few episodes into the season for me to remember how to recap a television show. In any case...

Episode Title: "Time Zones" obviously refers to Ted, Pete, and Megan in California, Bob in Detroit, and everyone else in New York. But also, different times in their life, relationships, work.

Timing of the episode: January, 1969 as evidenced by Richard Nixon's inauguration. The Super Bowl Freddy mentioned was Super Bowl III. It featured Joe Namath and the Jets, and was played a week earlier.

Overall, everyone seemed unhappy. Roger's unhappy, Don's unhappy, Megan's unhappy, Pete seems happier than we've ever seen him (but Ted says he's unhappy), Peggy's unhappy, Ken's unhappy, Joan's unhappy, and nobody else cares about anything.

Considering how often the opening scene of last season was referenced during the season, we should pay special attention to Freddy's opener. "It's not a time piece, it's a conversation piece." We've heard, "If you don't like what's being said, change the conversation" a couple times on the show, and the two quotes are stuck together in my head right now. Maybe the passage of time will be a key theme this season, maybe I'm too tired to make sense of anything? It was 8 minutes until Don's first scene (a musical montage!), which likely didn't mean anything thematically.

I kept trying to count the number of the passed out women in Roger's first scene. At least 5.

Don's replacement, Lou, is like the kindly, but surly, grandpa of SC&P. He says such shitty, mean stuff, but without any emotion behind it. "I think you're trying to put me in a position of saying 'I don't care what you think'." Peggy is bristling at the new dynamic, and, as it turns out the work being produced. I loved this, "Well, I'm tired of fighting for everything to be better. You're all a bunch of hacks who are perfectly happy with shit. Nobody cares about anything. No one wants things to be better? I got it, I'll just stand out here all by myself." That's a very, very, Don Draper thing to say. Peggy breaking down at the end was her feeling totally alone, probably about as much on a personal level as a professional level. Ted was professional and personal and he left, and Don was professional and he's not around.

It's been two months since the end of last season, and Don hasn't told Megan about getting the boot from SC&P. He's going to have to work on that relationship. The morning after Don gets to California, Megan drops a Playboy on his chest. I wondered if she was sending a hint she didn't want to be intimate.

Ken pulls Joan into a meeting with a 14 year-old shoe executive who wants to fire SC&P. Joan goes to speak with a business school professor for ammunition on how to respond. I got the sense she's done this before, but not with this professor. I wonder if Joan will step more into an account executive role. Remember last season when Joan was managing a client a bit?

Pete Campbell is going bananas in California. "The city's flat and ugly, and the air is brown, but I love the vibrations." This should be a lot of fun.

Both Roger and his daughter appear to be going on the same journey of exploration, but they're taking different paths. The scene with Roger coming home drunk to his new lover felt very important. He's tired, exhausted of this life. I wasn't sure if he was tired of the bohemian lifestyle, or of life in general.

"Blame Madison Avenue for that." This was the second or third subtle to not-so-subtle dig at advertising in the episode.

"She knows I'm a terrible husband." "Well if she doesn't know, you should keep it that way. That's what people do." "Have I broken the vessel?" "What can you do about it, it's done." Don flew home from California with the ghost of Don Drapers past. It looked like Don was going to go home with the mysterious airplane beauty, but he had to work.

At first you think Don's lying to himself AND Megan, until Freddy comes over with sandwiches and it becomes clear Don's been sending Freddy around with Don's pitches. For me, it completely changed how I saw Don in this episode. Less pathetic, more driven, producing work again, good work. I wonder how long he'll be in the shadows for. "I been there, you don't want to be damaged goods." Maybe he's less unhappy than I thought.

Final song: You Keep Me Hangin' On - Vanilla Fudge

All the Tim Wallach baseball cards

J. Corey Stackhouse is trying to collect all the Tim Wallach baseball cards. Not one of each. All of them that exist. All of them.

How many Wallach cards are out there? A lot. For the most part the card companies didn't release production run numbers. However in 1993 Donruss did, and they ran off somewhere around 500,000 sets. That's probably at the high end for production numbers, but even at half that number, it easily puts the number into the millions. Wallach had at least one card in the Topps, Fleer, and Donruss sets every year from 1982-95. Then there's all the other sets that started popping up from 1988 onwards.

In all reality "collecting them all," is not possible. I'd have to lease a warehouse. But putting a dent in the online availability of them is certainly something I'm trying to do. For now, storage isn't too much of a problem. A guest room closet in my house still holds them all. I have downsized my own collection of cards significantly to make room, but it's a trade-off I'm more than willing to make.

Michael Lewis’ new book, Flash Boys

Michael Lewis is out with a new book today.
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt is about how Wall Street banks are using high frequency trades and various algorithms to make trades milliseconds ahead of the rest of the market. Sergey Aleynikov who was profiled by Lewis in Vanity Fair last fall is featured in the book, along with Brad Katsuyama, the founder of IEX, a new exchange with an interesting speed bump (60 km of cable) aimed at thwarting high frequency trading. Interestingly, the book seems to have been kept a secret until a day or two before its release.

More at International Busines Times:

The controversial practice, in which firms strategically locate servers and use sophisticated computer algorithms to accelerate transactions by mere microseconds -- and thus reap huge profits -- is the subject of a probe by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Last week, he announced an inquiry into how such traders have gained an unfair advantage in the timing of their trades by paying fees to exchanges such as the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq to locate their servers in the exchanges’ own data centers. “I have been focused on cracking down on fundamentally unfair – and potentially illegal – situations that give elite groups of traders early access to market-moving information at the expense of the rest of the market,” Schneiderman said in a speech. Several regulators, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, are exploring new regulations of high-frequency trading to limit such abuses.





On 60 Minutes, Lewis say, Flash Boys is, "The story of trying to restore trust to to the financial markets."


Impossible to improve on this headline: “Man does C-section on dead porcupine, saves baby”

The AP's headline is perfect, no reason to even try improving it. On Thursday, a Maine man, Jarred Buzzell saw a porcupine get hit by a car and decided to look for Bezoar, a natural occurring...thing found inside of animals. Bezoar was once thought to be an antidote to any poison, and is still used in Asian remedies (I guess?). In any case, when Buzzell cut open the dead porcupine, he found a baby porcupine he was able to revive with a brisk massage. Buzzell is currently caring for the young porcupine before finding a more appropriate home.

British Columbia enacted a carbon tax 5 years ago and it worked amazingly

In 2008, British Columbia passed a carbon tax and surprise! it's working really well. Not only is it reducing pollution, because the tax was designed to be revenue neutral, it's resulted in a reduction to both business and income taxes.

If the goal was to reduce global warming pollution, then the BC carbon tax totally works. Since its passage, gasoline use in British Columbia has plummeted, declining seven times as much as might be expected from an equivalent rise in the market price of gas, according to a recent study by two researchers at the University of Ottawa. That's apparently because the tax hasn't just had an economic effect: It has also helped change the culture of energy use in BC. "I think it really increased the awareness about climate change and the need for carbon reduction, just because it was a daily, weekly thing that you saw," says Merran Smith, the head of Clean Energy Canada. "It made climate action real to people."

It also saved many of them a lot of money. Sure, the tax may cost you if you drive your car a great deal, or if you have high home gas heating costs. But it also gives you the opportunity to save a lot of money if you change your habits, for instance by driving less or buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle. That's because the tax is designed to be "revenue neutral"—the money it raises goes right back to citizens in the form of tax breaks. Overall, the tax has brought in some $5 billion in revenue so far, and more than $3 billion has then been returned in the form of business tax cuts, along with over $1 billion in personal tax breaks, and nearly $1 billion in low-income tax credits (to protect those for whom rising fuel costs could mean the greatest economic hardship). According to the BC Ministry of Finance, for individuals who earn up to $122,000, income tax rates in the province are now Canada's lowest.

40 years of Kiss

Big profile of Kiss in the latest Rolling Stone. It's great. I especially liked it in the context to the Wu-Tang profile I posted yesterday. After 20 years, the members of Wu-Tang are still loosely together, if not always on the same page. After 40 years, 2 members of Kiss are still together, and 2 who left/were kicked out pretty early in the band's career, are just looking on from the sidelines. Worth a read just for the soap opera.

Kiss still tour. But the only original members left are Simmons and the band's frontman, Paul Stanley, two New York Jewish kids who shared a cleareyed ambition and zero self-destructive tendencies – smart guys who managed to write some of the most gloriously brain-dead lyrics ever ("Get the firehouse/'Cause she sets my soul afire!"). Drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist Ace Frehley, the ones who took the whole party-every-day thing to heart, who crashed sports cars and threw furniture out of hotel windows, are long gone. You can sometimes catch Simmons and Stanley talking about their old bandmates with distant fondness, as if they were parked in their very own Kiss Kaskets, rather than living quiet lives in New Jersey and San Diego.

2 new Wu-Tang Clan stories

Later this year, Wu-Tang Clan will release a single copy of a new album. The album will tour museums and festivals, and then it will be sold for the owner to give away or keep or donate or whatever they want. It's a neat idea, almost shockingly obvious in retrospect, and I'm curious to see how it works out.

According to RZA and the album’s main producer Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh, a Morocco-based part of Wu-Tang’s extended family, the plan is to first take Once Upon A Time In Shaolin on a “tour” through museums, galleries, festivals and the like. Just like a high-profile exhibit at a major institution, there will be a cost to attend, likely in the $30-$50 range.

Visitors will go through heavy security to ensure that recording devices aren’t smuggled in; as an extra precaution, they’ll likely have to listen to the 128-minute album’s 31 songs on headphones provided by the venue. As Cilvaringz puts it: “One leak of this thing nullifies the entire concept.”



And then there's the 10,500 words Amos Barshad wrote about Wu-Tang Clan for Grantland. Barshad spent months tracking down and talking to each individual member resulting in a #longread worthy profile of the group. I wouldn't have called Cappadonna the 10th member of Wu-Tang Clan like Barshad did, but what are you gonna do?

For several months, I chased down and spent time with all 10 members of the Wu-Tang Clan,2 winding my way from Brooklyn to New Jersey to Tennessee to Arizona to — of course — Shaolin in the process. It was, for the most part, maddening. As a fan, I was happy to find that a certain anarchic spirit is still rooted deep within the Wu. As a reporter, I wondered how many more unanswered calls would bring me within the legal definition of stalking. It was surreal, in the best way possible.