Crucial Minutia
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You are currently browsing the Crucial Minutiae weblog archives for April, 2007.

Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Punch-for-Punch: Porn and the Useful Male Disconnect
28 Comments | posted April 30th, 2007 at 12:09 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

I’m reading Courtney’s enthralling new book, and while I think she’s spot-on with her analysis of women’s issues, I think the male mind works in different ways than she recognizes. She writes:

Sex drive, like hunger, is not easily circumscribed….A guy can’t make himself like a round belly if all he’s stared at for months on end is flat-as-a-board tummies…Guy after guy has told me that he feels as if he possesses two totally separate sexualities, the one in front of the screen and the one in front of the girlfriend. I’m skeptical. I know that when I get a pop-up ad for Häagen-Dazs while checking my bank account balance, I end up craving ice cream, not the frozen yogurt already sitting in my freezer.

Well, speaking as one of those guys who expressed this paradigm to Courtney while she was writing her book, I respectfully disagree. We males grow up with a powerful emotional disconnect, which can sometimes be very hurtful to those around us, but can also be downright useful.

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Daniel May
Riker’s Journal
4 Comments | posted April 30th, 2007 at 11:13 am by Daniel May

There are roughly 14,000 thousand inmates at Riker’s Island. They are divided into 14 different prisons: there is a prison for juveniles, a prison for men who haven’t been sentenced, a prison for drug addicts, a prison for men before they get sent upstate for longer sentences, a prison for men who are serving shorter sentences, a prison for those arrested in the Bronx (–oh, and it’s on a barge. Because there just isn’t enough space on the island), a women’s prison, and apparently another six or seven different facilities. You take a regular city bus to get there. But the stop isn’t actually marked with any signs. You can tell it’s the bus to Rikers because, as my friend Amy tells me while I’m wandering around under the trains at Queens Plaza “it’s where there are a bunch of young women holding babies.” I find the corner with the young women with babies. “Is this the bus to Rikers” I ask one. She looks at me, jostling her daughter in her arms. “You going to Rikers?” she asks. “Yeah.” She doesn’t say anything else. I guess I’m in the right place.

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Felice Belle
Stakes Is High: Type Casting
3 Comments | posted April 29th, 2007 at 10:43 am by Felice Belle

Stereotypes Are A Real Time-Saver
– Wallace Rickard, The Onion


Last Sunday, I almost missed the curtain for Jack Goes Boating because I got into a heated discussion about 50 Cent and Jimmy Iovine. My friend argued that 50 – a poor, orphaned black youth from South Jamaica, Queens – was unfairly maligned in the mainstream media, when the real target should be Jimmy – the wealthy, white, co-founder of Interscope Records who writes 50’s checks.

I was not so willing to let 50 off the hook.

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Cristina Pippa
Dear Reader,
No Comments | posted April 29th, 2007 at 10:30 am by Cristina Pippa

Iowa City was just warming up to draw its writers out of their dens with their coffee cups and notebooks, encouraging them to stake claims on bright sidewalk cafes, when I left for Chicago on Friday. I was back with the Hawkeyes for a couple of days to interview the WWII female soldier I’ve told you all about, but I got to catch up with friends finishing the Writer’s Workshop and Playwright’s Workshop this spring. As usual, we traded details about new projects and career moves. But how often have we talked about our audience– the very reason for our work? My friend had lent me a Billy Collins CD, and I thought of this as I drove off, listening to his poetry.

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Kate Torgovnick
Elephant polo is real. Really.
3 Comments | posted April 27th, 2007 at 11:52 am by Kate Torgovnick

elephant-polo.jpg This morning, I sent out an email to a bunch of friends, and in said email, I referenced the sport of elephant polo. Some people (ahem) seem to have think I made this up. But I did not. I even have the photo to prove it. Elephant polo is most popular in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. But (here’s some trivia for you) the reigning world champion of the World Elephant Polo Association is the Chivas Regal team from Scotland. See, you really can’t make this stuff up.

Other variations of polo besides your stock equestrian and water:
Bicycle polo (read my article in this morning’s Times here); canoe polo; camel polo; golfcart polo; motorcycle polo; yak polo.

Theo Gangi
National Pastimes: Really, National Pastimes
10 Comments | posted April 27th, 2007 at 10:40 am by Theo Gangi

Last night I settled in to watch the first democratic debate and the Yankee game. Phil Hughes, the top prospect in baseball, was pitching his first game in the majors at the young age of 20. At the same time, the top prospect of the democrats, Barak Obama pitched in his first presidential debate. I flipped back and forth, until I remembered I could watch them both at the same time with that cool little bubble. Here’s my night, in a nutshell:

Hughes gives up two runs in the first inning.

Obama looks uncomfortable. Too abstract.

Yankees offense looks flat. I hope Arod does something.

Hilary criticizes prez for stubbornly refusing to listen to the American people as she stubbornly refuses to listen to the question she’s been asked.

Arod gets a hit. Not a homer.

How would people react if, during conversation, I said “I’m proud of the fact that I…” What would I say? ‘I’m proud of the fact that I was fully potty trained at the age of three.’

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Courtney E. Martin
6 Comments | posted April 27th, 2007 at 08:06 am by Courtney E. Martin

bubIn Arianna Huffington’s latest book, Becoming Fearless, she talks about the importance for all of us–but particularly women–to overcome the dubious, naysayers within (for me, these voices are usually reminiscent of my 5th grade math teacher) and trust in our own greatness. Today she is inspiring a campaign of blogging about fearless experiences and I’d like to add one of my moments to the mix. It’s also a love story, so that’s fun.

When I met N. I swooned at first sight. He was humble and thoughtful and kind and gorgeous and we listened to all of the same music. Our second night hanging out became morning as we walked around a rainy Columbia campus talking about anything–everything suddenly fascinating and unsaid. I knew he was smitten when, on my doorstep, covered in pink light, he handed me his brand new Mos Def CD to borrow. It was kind of like our first kiss.

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Courtney E. Martin
Book Tour Blog: The Joys of Being on TV
2 Comments | posted April 26th, 2007 at 03:17 pm by Courtney E. Martin

In the last two weeks, I’ve had my face airbrushed with industrial strength foundation. I’ve had my hair yanked into straight, inauthenticity at the crack of a Saturday dawn. I’ve been made tanner, unblemished, pumped full of soundbites and spit them back out on cue.

All in the name of telling women that they should speak their complex truths and embrace their own imperfections.

Ah, irony.

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Kimberlee Auerbach
Therapy Thursdays: Narcissism Or Something Else?
17 Comments | posted April 26th, 2007 at 12:25 pm by Kimberlee Auerbach

I take a lot of pictures of myself. A lot. Whenever I am bored, anxious, sad or alone, I position my cell phone in front of my face and snap a shot.

I have written about this before. I once showed a friend one of my many self-portraits. His response was, “You sure do like you face.” I turned red and giggled. There are reasons, real reasons. I moved around a lot as a child and often didn’t feel real. Pictures make me feel real. I was a model for my dad’s company when I was a teenager and felt the pressure to look perfect, wear make-up, smile. Candid shots make me feel free.

But what if I do like my face? What’s wrong with that? Does it mean I’m cursed like Narcissus? Is loving yourself a curse? In today’s world, I think it’s quite an achievement.

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Cristina Pippa
All the World: Keeping in Touch
5 Comments | posted April 26th, 2007 at 12:13 pm by Cristina Pippa

I’m in the heartland this week, hearing one of the greatest love/war stories ever told– at least to me. I’m interviewing a nearly 90-year-old woman who left Austria to visit her mother in the U.S. just before WWII broke out. She went back to Europe as a translator, serving in the Women’s Army Corps, all the while looking for the great love of her life who she hadn’t heard from in years. She didn’t know that he’d been imprisoned for his involvement in a pacifist movement to resist the Nazis or even if he was alive.

Every story she tells me sounds like a pitch for a Hollywood movie. And is there a happy ending? You don’t even have to twist my arm and I’ll tell you… She brought him back as her “war bride.” There was no such thing as a “war husband,” so they even made the mistake of putting him in the women’s quarters on the boat back to America.

My mother lived in the States and she said why don’t you come for a little while? So I did. I came at the end of ‘37, and in ‘38 Hitler marched into Austria. Well that of course changed everything. We couldn’t make up our minds about anything by then. I thought he could come to the World’s Fair, but they wouldn’t let him out. After the War broke out, all the young people were called up for service…

We kept waiting and the war went on and on. And of course until ‘41 we could still correspond. After ‘41 there was nothing. No correspondence. No nothing. Once in a while, but more toward the end of the war, the Red Cross let them send something– two lines or 25 words, something just to let you know they were alive. But it didn’t seem to work the other way. He could get nothing from me.

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Joie Jager-Hyman
Kidz Today: My Humps
4 Comments | posted April 25th, 2007 at 10:19 am by Joie Jager-Hyman

What you gonna do with all that junk, all that junk inside that trunk?
I’m gonna get you drunk off my hump.
What you gonna do with all that ass, all that ass inside them jeans?
I’m gonna make you scream, make you scream.

When Alanis Morrissette heard these lyrics from the Black Eyed Peas’ song My Humps, she must have thought “there are words that really make a statement.” So she got all hooched-out Fergie-style and sang the song in a wildly popular You Tube video.


Alanis’s interpretation has been seen by an estimated 5.5 million viewers, and it is currently the most popular video on the web. Now everyone wants to know WHY? What’s so good about it?

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Jennifer Gandin Le
Beauty in a Wicked World: Don’t Say I Never Gave You Nothin’
1 Comment | posted April 25th, 2007 at 08:00 am by Jennifer Gandin Le

genshiro_small.jpgLast month, billionaire Genshiro Kawamoto, a Japanese real estate mogul and billionaire, opened three of his multi-million dollar homes in Hawaii to three homeless families of Native Hawaiian descent. The families can live there rent-free, but paying utilities, for ten years.

Some people have criticized Kawamoto’s gesture as being empty and impractical: how will the families pay for their bills? If this billionaire really wanted to help the homeless, he’d build affordable housing or fund programs that help people stay off the streets. One commenter on the article says, “This is just a sick P.R. move.” It’s possible. Kawamoto has a bumpy ethical track record: in 2002, he evicted 27 Oahu tenants with 30 days’ notice because he wanted to catch the rising housing prices.

His supporters disagree, saying that a good deed is a good deed, no matter what the motivations.

So what do you think? Does a good deed have to have good intentions, or does it stand on its own as an act?

Photo Credit: AP

Kate Torgovnick
You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Caffeinated Soap.
2 Comments | posted April 24th, 2007 at 08:29 am by Kate Torgovnick


Piggybacking on Courtney’s are-we-all-way-too-addicted-to-technology post, this article I just read made me wonder if we’re all way too addicted to caffeine, too. Evidently, you can now get caffeine from a bar of soap? But don’t worry shower gel users, that version is available, too.

The folks who’ve invented this brilliant soap, called Shower Shock, say that it releases the same amount of caffeine into your bloodstream as two cups of coffee and “is infused with peppermint and citrus so the user doesn’t end up smelling of coffee.”

What is our world coming to? —Kate

Courtney E. Martin
Composing a Life: Crackberries
5 Comments | posted April 24th, 2007 at 12:19 am by Courtney E. Martin

So I’m having dinner with my incredibly smart and kind Harvard Med School buddy the other night and she tells me about one of her most mysterious cases as of late. A woman came in with a very strange discoloration on her right forearm. No one could figure out what had caused it–psoriasis, skin cancer, alien kiss? Not in the least. It turns out that the woman had severe tendonitis from scrolling through her Blackberry so obsessively, so often. A previous doc had given her a shot of something to relieve the pain and she had gone right back to scrolling, creating an even more serious reaction.

Seriously? Are we a culture of workaholics so dependent on our technological doo-hickeys (to make us feel important) that we can’t call it quits when our appendages turn funny colors and stop working?

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Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Punch-for-Punch: Do You Know The Contra Code?
8 Comments | posted April 23rd, 2007 at 12:01 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

Konami’s ContraI noticed the familiar grey box peeking out from J.T.’s half-closed chestnut entertainment center. It looked out of place among the Thai lamps, sleek electronic piano, and exposed brick walls of his penthouse loft, but there it was: a Nintendo Entertainment System—the original.

I dropped to my knees on the carpet and began shuffling through the games. My eyes lit onto a giant, flaming “C” and I pulled it out. “Contra. Sweet.”

J.T. smiled. “Yeah, but do you know the Contra Code?”

I looked at him like he was crazy. “Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, B, A, select, start. Of course.”

He nodded sagely. “Ok,” he pronounced. “You are a man.”

*     *     *

Most guys in their 20s and 30s know the Contra Code. (It has its own Wikipedia entry.) And for many of them, it may just be the closest thing to hugging their male friends they have ever known.

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Joie Jager-Hyman
I Sell Tallises
6 Comments | posted April 22nd, 2007 at 12:19 pm by Joie Jager-Hyman


This weekend marks the thirtieth anniversary of the release of the best romantic comedy ever, Annie Hall. Even after all this time, the movie still seems cutting edge. By defying the rules of the genre, the film ultimately pushes the discourse on love and relationships to a new level. Plus, it’s wicked funny.

I always wondered how a man who famously left his long-time partner for her FRIGGIN DAUGHTER could somehow write such rich female characters. Annie Hall is one of the most lovable and enduring characters ever created for the big screen. She’s talented and vulnerable, graceful and wonderfully awkward, innocent and strong with a killer sense of fashion. I love how she uses the word “neat.”

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Felice Belle
Stakes Is High: This Week’s Wow Award
2 Comments | posted April 22nd, 2007 at 09:12 am by Felice Belle


Every now and then I hear a piece of news that leaves me speechless. Not that there are no words to say, just that in the moment I cannot find them.

When this happens my default response is, “wow.”

Short, simple, to the point. Communicating just the right amount of shock, awe and/or wonder.

This week, I’d like to present my first ever Wow Award to a German Army training video. According to the BBC, “during the filmed training session, an instructor tells the soldier: ‘You’re in the Bronx, a black van pulls up in front of you and three African-Americans get out and start really insulting your mother… act!’”

(On so many levels).

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Kate Torgovnick
Sorry dudes, it’s a birth control post.
5 Comments | posted April 20th, 2007 at 10:04 am by Kate Torgovnick

Not too many women I know love getting their period and the awesome cramps that come with it every month. So you’d think women would be jumping up and down after hearing that a new pill called Lybrel is likely to be approved this summer that eliminates periods completely. But instead of women being excited, it’s caused a pretty big uproar. Read this article for a good recap of the controversy.

Here is the argument I hear most often, usually from women who have been taking the pill for years: It seems unnatural to not get your period every month. But this argument hinges on some huge misinformation. And since I’ve spent years studying this as a health editor, I am taking it upon myself to clear it up.

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Theo Gangi
National Pastimes: We Have Nothing to Fear
4 Comments | posted April 20th, 2007 at 09:45 am by Theo Gangi

There was a practical reason for the second amendment. We were a citizens militia without a standing army, without a warrior class. Now it makes purchasing an automatic handgun with a hair-trigger and a 16 round clip as easy as ordering a sandwich.

The only purpose for such a weapon is to kill a mass of people as quickly as possible. These weapons are designed for the military and police, not duck hunting. Yet we sell them to children if they have a drivers license. Our most powerful political party defends this policy. And they’re adults. Virgina lawmakers should be charged with 33 counts of reckless endangerment.

And who profits? The same weapons manufacturers who are rolling in money since we invaded Iraq. Haliburton’s stock price has tripled since 2003. Their CEO made 100 million dollars last year. Are our politicians in the pocket of the defense industry? No. Our politicians are the defense industry. A person going from the state department, to being CEO of a defense contractor, and back into the vice presidency, defines the legal principle of a ‘conflict of interest’. The same man who wages war cannot be the same man who profits from one.

The majority of this country has been bulldozed by a powerful few for too long. They believe they are bigger than the constitution, bigger than the people, and bigger than the Geneva conventions, which call a war of aggression a war crime. Let me paraphrase the late Don Imus– our current leaders are war criminals.

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Courtney E. Martin
Book Tour Blog: The Polar Opposite of Loneliness
No Comments | posted April 20th, 2007 at 08:45 am by Courtney E. Martin

Describing my book party turns out to be one of those rare occassions when words seem inadequate to me, but I’ll still give it a try.

It felt like almost every person I have ever loved, respected, walked beside, drank next to, sung with, embraced, worried about, debated with–and did I mention loved?–was in one sweet, little downtown bar. I wanted to press pause and walk around, inspect all of these incredible people from all different parts of my incredible life. It all moved so fast, seemingly propelled forward at warp speed by the sheer force of that many brilliant and beautiful people in one space.

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