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All things on earth point home in old October: sailors to sea, travelers to walls and fences, hunters to field and hollow and the long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love he has forsaken.
- Thomas Wolfe

Well, cats n’ kittens, here be mid-October and you know what that means; it’s those last few weeks before holiday madness descends upon the land. Be that as it may, I plan to be elucidating weekly on my pop culture discoveries of the moment from here on in, whether it be a new book or CD or a TV show or a museum or a restaurant, or, perhaps, a movie that I saw when I was 15 that it seems no one has heard of and that I really think you might dig. And without further ado…

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Cupcakes, because why not? So it seems some very twisted souls have come up with a collection of cupcakes inspired by the 1998 film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (which by the way is definitely worth a Netflix lookinto if you’ve never scoped it). Everything from crazy quotes from the book/film to Hunter’s glasses to a smashed cigarette to a drawing of Thompson to a demented clown face to lines of coke next to a rolled up dollar bill and a razor blade adorns these little confections. I think Mr. Thompson would have loved these.

Young Shorpy Higginbotham was a boy who worked the mines in Alabama in 1910. He died in a mine accident in 1928 and his name lives on through the Shorpy website, which does an incredible job of curating vintage photographs. The majority of these amazing images are black and white photographs from the turn of the century that are so amazingly crystal clear it’s really a window into the past. As in this incredible photograph of the Flatiron Building under construction circa 1902. You can also buy large-sized prints from the site suitable for framing, and be sure and get on their mailing list.

Are you crazy about your dog or just crazy? So asks best selling novelist and baby name expert Pamela Redmond Satran in her brand new book Rabid: Are You Crazy About Your Dog Or Just Crazy?, out this week from Bloomsbury Books. States Satran’s tumblr site: I like to think of Rabid as the Jon Stewart of dog books.  Or maybe the Rin Tin Tin of people books. This book will amaze and amuse you, and perhaps even frighten you when you see the lengths many of us go to include our furry friends in our everyday lives. Canine vegans? Pet feng shui? Here. Humans who’ve married their pets? Aqui. Dogs and Art; Dog Weddings; Doggie Daycare; martini-shaped doggie treats; all here and more, much more, as well as a fabulous selection of photos of canines in all shapes and sizes.

Little Steven Van Zandt gets Big Man of the Year Award: Tuesday night October 16th the non-profit organization Little Kids Rock celebrates its 10th anniversary of transforming children’s lives by restoring and revitalizing music education in disadvantaged public schools. This year they honor Little Steven Van Zandt with the Big Man of the Year Award at a gala event taking place at the Manhattan Center Grand Ballroom. Musicians including Dion, Elvis Costello, Tom Morello, Darlene Love, Southside Johnny, Gary US Bonds, Ruben Blades, and others will gather to tribute Steven’s prodigious musical legacy. Van Zandt also has his own non-profit organization, the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, which was formed in 2007 to provide a groundbreaking music-centered curriculum for middle and high school students.

Losers Lounge take on the Dusty Springfield catalogue at Joe’s Pub: Last weekend the fine, fine, superfine Joe McGinty, the Kustard Kings, and friends addressed the mighty archive of recorded work by one Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien – known to us all as Dusty Springfield. McGinty and psycho-cabaret singer Nick Danger started the LL back in 1993, originally as a piano singalong night in the East Village. Since then there have been over 300 shows honoring the canon of more than 50 different artists. The Dusty show was stellar as usual with a number of great guest singers as well as the formidable Connie Petruk, who brought the house down with the closing number “Son of A Preacher Man.” See them in December when they bring to life the storied career gems of Stevie Wonder.

Women’s Rights and Women’s Health: There’s been a lot of talk about these subjects this election year. This begs the age-old question of why the right wing always feels they have to push their beliefs on everyone else. Why can’t we trust women to know what’s best for their own bodies, their own families? Why does it always have to be this absurd absolutism – which seems to be more suited for a dictatorship or a monarchy, not a thriving democracy? Meanwhile, please read brilliant writer Marge Piercy’s poem Right to Life, which says it all. Here’s just a part of that: I will choose what enters me, what becomes / of my flesh. Without choice, no politics, / no ethics lives. I am not your cornfield, / not your uranium mine, not your calf / for fattening, not your cow for milking. / You may not use me as your factory. / Priests and legislators do not hold shares / in my womb or my mind. / This is my body. If I give it to you / I want it back. My life / is a non-negotiable demand.

The bravery of Malala Yousafzai: Last week the spotlight of the world fell on Pakistan and the shameful actions of the Taliban in attempting to assassinate 14-year-old Malala, a schoolgirl who tirelessly advocated on behalf of the right for girls to be educated in her country. Malala had been on the world stage for quite some time as the voice of Pakistani children, and girls in particular, for resistance against the dangerous extremism rampant in their society. The Taliban threatened her many times and finally made good their threat to try to kill her. She underwent surgery for shotgun wounds to the neck and head and has now been airlifted to a hospital in England. Millions of people all over the world rose up in outrage over the attack on this young girl, including in her home country Pakistan. The UN Special Envoy for Global Education took up the cry I Am Malala and created a website in support of her campaign to outlaw discrimination against girls. When she wakes up – and I say when, not if – young Malala will see how she has transformed the world by her bravery.

Project Runway Season Ten: Those of you who have followed my rants and raves through the years may realize that this is the first Project Runway season in a long time I haven’t blogged weekly about the show for the Huffington Post. Why, you ask? Well…there are a few reasons. One of which is that it’s a huge amount of work – hours and hours of work – for very little return. But more importantly, at least this season, is that the designers are a crashing bore. I don’t know if we’ve been spoiled with our Mondos and our Santinos in the past, but hella the pickings this year are slim. And now that the smoke has cleared and four of them (Fabio, Christopher, Dmitry, and Melissa) are left standing to show at Fashion Week, I have to admit there were whole episodes I just glossed over because of the snore factor. One episode left and we’ll know who the winner is, but based on their three representative looks for the judges this week, I don’t think any of them should make it. Catch the Season Finale this Thursday night October 18th on Lifetime.

The Sound of Cylons: Someone who is calling themselves Saul Tigh uploaded this gem a few days ago to Youtube.  It’s a reworking of the Simon and Garfunkel classic to tell the story of Gaius Baltar and his, um, giant fuckup in inadvertently handing the soulless killing machines known as cylons the key to destroying the known world on the brilliant series Battlestar Galactica (I speak here of the remade version which premiered in 2003).  It’s hilarious whether or not you’ve seen the series but if you have not, I urge you to check it out. I came to it late; it had been off the air for years when I finally succumbed to the advice of friends who assured me it was one of the best science fiction series of all time. They were right. You can see it on Netflix and rest assured, you will be just like these characters on Portlandia.

Hugh Howey’s series Wool: I fell down this rabbit hole a few months ago thanks to goodreads and I urge you to do the same. Writer Hugh Howey originally created a novelette about a dystopian society trapped inside of a huge silo buried in the ground. No one ever went outside, except the unlucky ones who were thrown out and died a miserable death in the poisoned atmosphere. As cream rises to the top, this self-published story became a massive bestseller, growing to several more novelettes, attracting global attention, and has now been optioned for a potential feature film by Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian. It’s available either in bite-sized chunks or in the Omnibus version. These characters continue to haunt me and the word cleaning will certainly never be the same.

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If you have any books, music, film, television, or other nugget of pop culture you’d like to submit to me for this column please contact me here

Bill Hicks once opined (and I agree): Watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye. That being said, the fact is that dramatic moments of all shapes and sizes were played out this year on the small screen, from the sublime to the ridiculous (most of it being more in the latter category). The year began with the writers’ strike which went on for about ten million years and impacted our lives in all kinds of ways. After a Busboy drought (no Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert) the daring duo returned to the screen early in the year sans writers – and, surprise surprise, were pretty much as hilarious and entertaining as ever.

The writers’ strike, among other things, ensured no new season of 24 would take place until 2009. I don’t know about you but I was fine with that decision; much as I missed Jack B’s constipated facial expressions (and sour-faced / annoying / but you gotta love her - sidekick Chloe) I was fine with not seeing a show this year where presidents were snuffed out. (And then we recently got a little taste of Warrior King JB on 24: Redemption to warm us up for next year)

The overwhelming TV presence this year was politics. But let’s get to that later. First I’d like to spotlight the best new show of the year, Alan Ball’s True Blood. Lip-smacking good. Here’s some fun; tonight (New Year’s Eve) you can catch a True Blood marathon on HBO 2 starting at 6pm. Bon Temps, Louisiana comes alive (in a manner of speaking) with this vampire romance between sweet telepathic Sookie (Anna Paquin) and sexy undead Bill (Stephen Moyer). Best characters: Sookie’s conflicted, demon-ridden, wisecracking best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley) and Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) as the coolest, cutest, freakiest, most interesting short order cook ever. What else would we expect from Alan Ball, who created Six Feet Under and wrote the film American Beauty.

Other great shows this year, in no particular order:
-Always necessary – The Daily Show, The Colbert Report. The Colbert Report’s week in Philadelphia covering the heated Pennsylvania primaries was outstanding. Colbert at the Liberty Bell telling the guide “Let me tongue the crack of liberty.” Colbert singing the National Anthem with John Legend, beautifully. Hillary Clinton fixing the digital screen in order to prove she can handle any crisis, only to have Obama appear on it soon afterward by satellite (Colbert: Won’t Senator Clinton be glad she fixed that).
-CBS Sunday Morning – for the most part, educational and entertaining (except when they go off on boring tangents).
-Gossip Girl – a moral drama of the highest order, with the consistently best dialogue of any show methinks. Remember Blair trying to keep her cool when meeting her mother’s new boyfriend for the first time; “I am Grace KellyGrace Kelly is me.”
-Lost – best moment so far in a show chockablock with great moments: Ben turning the frozen wheel that made the island disappear. Say what?!?!?!
-Ugly Betty – eye candy with a moral lesson thrown in. And love, love, love Marc St. James (Michael Urie), the bitchy but soft-hearted assistant to diva ediatrix Wilhemina Slater (Vanessa Williams). Another reason to watch; Betty’s younger brother Justin (Mark Indelicato). His best scene ever (Season 1) – acting out the play Hairspray to passengers on the subway. Receptionist Amanda (Becki Newton) also hits many high notes. This show is blessed by brilliant casting.
-30 Rock – All of a sudden it’s all about Tina Fey. Well my altar to her went up years ago when she broke into the boys club at SNL. I’ve been a fan of this show since the beginning, believing (and rightly so, it appears) that if Tina Fey created it, it must be golden. And then there’s Alec Baldwin. My dream man.
-The Soup – I don’t dare chance a weekend without a bowl of spicy soup from Joel McHale and his sick crew. What’s great about this show is that it is a collection of the best moments of all the worst TV shows. McHale’s banter makes me chortle. Although I am getting a little tired of mankini. And when is Spaghetti Cat getting his own spin-off?
-SNL – When they’re good, they’re very very good, and when they’re bad they’re horrid. Sometimes both in the same show. But consistently great (even in bad skits) are Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Casey Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, and Kenan Thompson. Amy Poehler, girlfriend, I’m going to miss you! Of course SNL had a huge year with all of Tina Fey’s Palinizations and such, of which more later.
-Hardball with Chris Matthews – you want to hate him, and sometimes you do. But maybe it’s his Philadelphia accent (my hometown too), maybe it’s because when he gets excited about something he practically foams at the mouth, but he’s hugely entertaining and I logged many hours of this show during election season.
-Countdown with Keith Olbermann – sometimes it seemed as if his voice was the only one speaking truth to power this year. Although he did go overboard many a time. Still, I love him madly and he’s earned a place at the top of my must-see-TV list.
-The Rachel Maddow Show – she’s smart as a whip, cute, and engaging. Her interview last night with tainted Illinois Senatorial candidate Roland Burris was a don’t-miss and if you did miss it, check it out here.

I have not caught the train on these yet but I know I have to soon:
Mad Men
Battlestar Galactica
The Sarah Silverman Program

Really good shows on the fringes of my radar, to be further investigated:
The Office
Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List
Cash Cab
Chelsea Lately
Dexter
Tracy Ullman’s State of the Union

Reality TV Rubbernecking:
-Project Runway – this year was not so great, but Tim Gunn always delivers. He’s like the teacher you always wanted to have in high school.
-The Pick Up Artist – unbelievably bizarre reality show where a guy in what looks to be a flea-bitten furry top hat who calls himself “Mystery” teaches a bunch of geeks how to score with hot chicks. Mystery has his own language which is endlessly entertaining, my favorite being DHV-ing. This means ‘demonstration of higher value’ – in other words you’re supposed to work DHV’s into your conversation with the babe you want to snag. It’s like a reality tv show in Bizarro World. And Mystery himself, purportedly the biggest catch on the planet, obviously has a hair loss thing going, always wearing strange head coverings. What’s with the goggles? Possibly weirder than him are the sad losers that hang onto his every word.
-America’s Next Top Model – Child! This show can come up with some fun moments. Like when Tyra lapses into ethnic phraseology. Or when she spontaneously bursts into song on lines like ‘noted fashion photographer Nigel Barker.’ Is it me or does everyone behind her (Paulina, Miss Jay, etc) squirm a bit when she does this? Love that Whitney, a plus-size model, won the top prize this year. Love that Isis, a transgender model, was part of the homegirl gang recently. Lady Miss Tyra marches on, dashing barriers right and left!
-Living Lohan – in which Dina Lohan shows us why she should have had her tubes tied prior to getting married.
-Sunset Tan – the best thing about this vacuous show was the Olly Girls (Holly and Molly), two platinum blonde airheads and former Girls Gone Wild. They were fired and…hired back. Because the producers know what makes for good (AKA bad) TV.
-Paris Hilton’s My New BFF – in yet another sign of the approaching apocalypse, this show went on the air in the fall. The winner was Brittany Flickinger (can that be someone’s real name?). Everyone’s favorite: Onch, the girlboy. Stalker material: Vanessa, the runner up. Wikipedia gives us a gorgeous chart which explains why each contestant was eliminated. (At the elimination ceremonies, Paris would gaze sadly at the ousted hopeful and dismiss them with “TTYN” – talk to you never).
-Rock of LoveSeason 2 of this unbelievably sick show began in January and ended in April with Bret Michaels, a R&R has-been if I have ever seen one (and talk about hair loss) choosing Ambre Lake from a bevy of skanks to be his (gag me) rock of love. This show never disappoints in complete and total ickiness. You practically contract a sexual disease from watching it. By the way, Ambre didn’t last – I know you’re as surprised as I am – Bret launches a new season of this trainwreck Sunday night January 4 with Rock of Love Bus. Apparently he hops between two busfulls of so-called hot mamas while touring.
-Rock of Love Charm School – in which Sharon Osbourne was the plucky headmistress to a bunch of losers from both seasons of Rock of Love. Although she’s supposed to be teaching them to become ladies, she’s got them dressing in sexy jailbait schoolgirl uniforms. Sharon’s great though. And this show provided many hilarious moments with Lacey, Rodeo, Megan, Heather and the gang.
-A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila – I crown this show to be the one most like licking an ashtray. It was positively rank. And why anyone would choose Bobby over Dani is beyond belief. Seriously! If Tila had chosen Dani, I like to think they’d be living together in Florida in semi-marital bliss. Notice you haven’t heard from Dani since the show ended, which has to be the true test of a real person versus a made for tv skank. I wont even bother to go there with the spinoff show Domenico did. Just the bits I saw on The Soup were enough for me.

2008 Randomizers:
-Ryan Seacrest. He’s everywhere. Why?
-Britney Spears. Starting the year with no hair, stabbing cars with umbrellas, ending it with cheese grits cooked over the stove by dad and big hits (fazed cookies too I bet).
-Lindsey Lohan. Apparently now a card-carrying member of the Daughters of Bilitis, big Obama supporter although she later referred to him as “colored” (ouch!), and the real story behind her episode arc on Ugly Betty may never be told.
-Rachael Ray’s never-was Dunkin Donuts commercial due to her wearing a ‘terrorist scarf’ that looked like something a crazy Muslim would wear. I ask you. Can you think of someone less American than Rachael Ray? Because I can’t.
-Word of the Year: Meme. According to Wikipedia, a meme comprises a unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices; such units or elements transmit from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. The etymology of the term relates to the Greek word mimema for mimic. Memes act as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate and respond to selective pressures. Well trust me; its still the word of the year.

From The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

From: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Political Asylum TV:
During the long-ass American Idolatrous Popularity Contest between HRC and BHO, I logged about 3 hours of MSNBC almost every week night. If I wasn’t home, I taped it. This had never happened to me before; watching news in this fashion. All of which led me to really believe that the lanky, cool junior senator from Illinois who refused to play dirty could pull this thing off. After watching him for many months, and canvassing, and doing everything I could to get him elected, I had absolutely no doubt in my mind on November 4th that he would win. What I did not realize was that he would win so big.

Some real numbers:
-Voter turnout increased by more than 13 million people this year, compared to 2004.
-The Associated Press reported that 136.6 million Americans voted in the presidential election, which is a 64.1 percent turnout rate out of more than 208 million registered voters. What a concept; we’re actually acting like a democracy!

Some wonderful moments over the long road to El Casa Blanca:
-McCain ‘suspending’ his campaign and canceling on Letterman. No one will ever make that mistake again, n’est-ce pas?
-Hillary’s 3 AM wake up call commercial in which the phone rings about fifty times before some half-seen female with glasses answers it, meant to scare the bejesus out of us. Somehow I bet Obama would have answered it on the first or second ring.
-The never-ending discussion over the Bradley Factor keeping white voters from voting for a black candidate. No one talks about it now that we have the Obama Factor.
-John McCain’s insincere smile. It always looked to me like he was suddenly remembering to smile. And the body language between him and Cindy was – well I am not going to go there.
-Cindy McCain’s plagiarized cookie recipe.
-The so-called terrorist fist bump practiced by Barack and Michelle Obama onstage when he announced he was the presumptive nominee.
-John McCain’s confusion about how many houses he owns. And cars! Must be fun to be that rich.
-The debates – McCain wandering around onstage and getting in Tom Brokaw’s camera shot.
-Joe the Plumber, the everyman that was suddenly world famous thanks to McCain, and turned out not to even be a plumber, owed back taxes, had newsmen camping on his lawn, and got a book deal. I’m waiting for the reality TV show. (Hey Joe, where you going with that plunger in your hand?)
-McCain and Palin stoking the fires of fear, ignorance, racism and violence at their sparsely attended campaign rallies trying to make Obama rhyme with Ayers. Trying to paint Obama as a scary unknown communist Muslim. And then McCain being surprised when a woman says she doesn’t trust Obama because he’s an Arab.

And then there’s Sarah Heath Palin. Oh the beauty of it. I doff my hat to McCain or whoever had the foresight to pick her as his running mate. Loyal readers will know that I have run on and on about this particular subject so I will only mention a few of my favorite things here:
-Her first moment in the spotlight, the RNC Speech where she you betcha-d her way into America’s heart. While daughter Piper studiously licked the hair on baby Trig’s head in the audience. While baby Trig was the special needs human football that had to be trotted out in the middle of that loud, germ-ridden arena so we could all admire SP’s motherly dedication to him. As that poor little thing slept through the whole shebang, unaware he was a symbol now and not a child.
-Her debate with Joe Biden. The May I call you Joe? moment where she tried to seem both vulnerable and charming behind the barracuda smile.
-The Charles Gibson interview where he asked if she believed in the Bush doctrine. After a long (for TV) pause where you know SP was frantically racking her brains for what the hell was he talking about, she quipped, ‘in what respect Charlie?” and a whole string of Charlie Charlie Charlie as if that would negate the fact that the emperor (empress in this case) had no clothes.
-The Team of Mavericks. The definition of maverick is an unbounded range animal, one who does not abide by rules. Okay then!
-Thanks but no thanks. The true story of the Bridge to Nowhere.
-Katie Couric trying to pin SP down as to what, if anything, she reads. And not succeeding.
-The turkey death clip that surfaced post election of Palin chattering away as turkeys are slaughtered directly behind her.
-Palin assuring us of her qualifications for a job one heartbeat away from the Presidency because she can see Russia from her house.
-Tina Fey out-Palining Palin and the classic moment when they switched places at the podum on SNL.

And then the final nail in the Bush coffin took place recently when an Iraqi journalist threw not one but both of his shoes at GWB during his farewell press conference in the green zone. Bush later shrugged it off saying, that’s what people do in a free society. Oh really? They throw shoes at world leaders to express their absolute horror, dislike and complete disdain?

From the ridiculous to the sublime… the best TV moment of the year was Barack Obama’s Election Night Speech at Grant Park. In which he said, Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long . . . As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies, but friends — though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too . . . And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down - we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security - we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

So ends my 2008 subjective diatribe about the year in television. I know I’ve run at the mouth quite a bit here. Feel free to comment away, and Happy New Year!