And who are we this week?

Nancy Friedman reports on The Contractor Formerly Known As The Contractor Formerly Known As Blackwater:

Blackwater, the controversial security contractor that changed its name to Xe (pronounced “zee”) in February 2009, announced [Monday] that it’s changing its name yet again: to Academi. Or, as the company’s press release prefers to call it, ACADEMI.

Three names in less than three years? There’s got to be something else going on here besides being bored with the letterhead, and of course there is:

One of those “extraordinary changes,” unmentioned in the release, was the departure in 2010 of Blackwater founder Erik Prince. Prince moved on to Abu Dhabi, where he created a mercenary army for the crown prince. Other changes at Blackwater/Xe/Academi include the composition of the board, whose members now include Bush Administration Attorney General John Ashcroft. Ashcroft is serving as the company’s “ethics adviser.”

And besides, “Qwikster” was already taken.

Note: Having refined my own thinking on this subject, I think a more descriptive name might be, oh, “Global MFs,” which conceivably might be available by the time Blaxemi, or whoever the hell they are, are ready for the next name change in January 2013.

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Determining the Envy Quotient

I really can’t see any other useful information obtainable by surveys like this:

Gallup has surveyed Americans to ask what they believe the cutoff for being “rich” should be. The median response was that a person would need to make at least $150,000 to be considered rich.

Only 15 percent of respondents specified a threshold of $1 million or more. Still, this is an income figure, not a wealth figure, which may be why the Times didn’t bother to mention Gallup’s question on how much in the way of savings and investments it takes to make one rich, for which the median was indeed $1 million.

The trouble with all such surveys is that they’re all based on money, and money, these days, is based mostly on wishful thinking: It’s not worth anything except to the extent that the Fed says it is. But pollsters will not be able to quantify my own answer, which would go something like this:

“Yesterday I had to write a check to the garage-door repairman to replace a broken spring. Is this check in any danger of bouncing? No. Will this expense throw me out of the current budget? No. Will this expense impair my ability to do other things I’d hoped to do this month? Yes.”

You can see the pattern here: keep escalating the conditions until one of them applies. Stopping on the third question implies something not exactly poverty, but well short of wealth. How much would I have to have backstopping my current income to keep worries at an absolute minimum? (I have just defined “wealth,” at least according to my lights.) It would have to be enough to restore my current, um, lifestyle with no discernible compromises — twice. (Because after the first restoration, I’d be on edge about every little thing.) I am loath to declare a dollar amount, if only because some of what is lost is time, and I can’t buy that for any number of dollars.

(Suggested by Half Sigma.)

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Thorne Smith, line one, please

It was Turnabout, back in 1931, that set the tone for all the subsequent body-switching (or whatever) stories to come. Smith’s original story was made into a movie in 1940, then a short-lived TV series (1979) starring John Schuck as Sharon Gless, or something like that. (For the moment, we won’t mention a certain episode of Star Trek.)

Of course, nothing says you can’t swap individuals of the same gender; in fact, it’s actually an older premise, dating to F. Anstey’s 1882 Vice Versa, which interchanges father and son. (Mother and daughter, you’ll remember, were swapped out in Freaky Friday.) Best buds were transposed this year in The Change-Up.

Which brings us to the case of two women who aren’t exactly friends, in Kevin Bleau’s musical If You Want My Body:

[It] tells the story of Mildred, a rich but overweight lawyer who yearns for her first relationship. Annelies, a slim dancer, is about to be evicted from her studio. The women make a deal with witch Lorana to swap their brains into each other’s bodies. Annelies’s brain will lose 50 pounds from Mildred’s body. Then Lorana will return the brains to the original bodies and Mildred will pay both women. The women question their philosophies on life as they “walk a mile in each other’s bodies.”

Act II is playing tonight in Boston, with David Reiffel directing, which is why I’m bringing it up now.

(Via this Deborah Henson-Conant tweet.)

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Do not reMitt at this time

Cover of The Week magazineThe cover of this week’s US edition of The Week shows a robot Mitt Romney “blowing a circuit,” and the accompanying story says out front that Romney’s nomination can no longer be considered inevitable. Ric Locke offers this explanation why:

He chooses to appeal to the media gatekeepers, and thereby chooses that I (and a lot of people) will stay home rather than voting for him. Choose the action, choose the consequences.

And this particular consequence, says Locke, also explains the rise of Newt Gingrich and the persistence of Ron Paul:

Whatever else can be said of those two, it is impossible to visualize either of them performing the full proskynesis on the sidewalk in front of 620 Eighth, piteously imploring Pinch & Co. to say something nice about them. The primary difference between McCain and Romney in that respect is that John would try hard to build a wall of bystanders to prevent public notice, whereas Mitt would call in the cameras before heading for New York.

Not that John McCain had any problems sucking up or anything.

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DJ on a chip

I’m not above listening to dance tracks in the car — it’s not like I’m going to go dancing, after all — but this unnerves me just a little:

Autoblog explains, sort of:

Pioneer is set to introduce a new functionality to a few of its stereos — including the much-hyped AppRadio — that mixes the songs on your iPhone, iPod or USB drive on the fly.

By measuring beats per minute and other data, MIXTRAX can supposedly beat-match and add effects and transitions into songs to create a seamless mix, all while animating the cover art to match the tempo.

Well, as long as you don’t have to keep punching buttons to get the desired effect. We have enough distractions already.

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No suitable thermometer exists

The basic problem with making a list of “the hottest women of all time” is that, well, it’s going to be biased toward those we see every day and against those whom we’ve never seen at all because they died in the 1840s or the 1440s or in 40 BC or whenever. There has already been backlash of a sort from blogdom: neo-neocon — fairly hot in her own right, I suspect — asks “Are you kidding?” and Morgan Freeberg makes a list of women not on the list who ought to be there ahead of Jennifer Aniston.

I’m arguing a slightly different point: Jennifer Aniston isn’t even the hottest woman of all time named Jennifer.

Exhibit A:

Jennifer O'Neill

With, um, supporting documentation.

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Strange search-engine queries (306)

December tends to be low on blog traffic anyway, and being snubbed by Google doesn’t help in the least, but, as the phrase goes, you carry on regardless.

famous ten sentences about of jhunjhunu:  Were they that famous, you could probably write about ten sentences on your own, don’t you think?

worlds funniest cats:  On the other hand, cats don’t think we’re amusing in the slightest, especially if we’ve been less than attentive to our primary purpose, which is of course fawning over cats.

Electronic Youth Debbie Gibson:  Um, no. That was Electric Youth. Although if someone comes up with an electronic Deb-bot some time in the near future, you know where to find me.

words to start sentences with becides with:  What say we get the words correct before we start trying to make sentences out of them?

piture of mazda 626 cronon manual transmittion:  See above on getting words correct.

power shift here we go:  Guy’s obviously suffering from torque pique.

fakekrab:  Now wait a minute. Fake crab is “krab.” So basically we’re looking, not for real fake crab, but for fake fake crab. Sheesh. No wonder we’re crabby.

“indoor naturism”:  Almost as much fun as the outdoor variety, but it doesn’t do a thing for your Vitamin D levels.

chris in okc nancy’s lighthouse fight last night:  Assuming this actually happened, you might want to check Facebook — or Bros.

carousel “as long as someone alive remembers”:  And if not, there’s always the cached copy.

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This sucker is tall

I mean, really, 48 feet?

Sports Illustrated screen shot

We’re talking serious defense here, guys.

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Perhaps a timely tune

RCA EP by Amalia MendozaWhen this EP sleeve showed up on the LP Cover Lover site, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who thought this, but apparently I’m the only one who had the temerity to tweet it: “My name is Amalia Mendoza. You bought my album. Prepare to die.” (It did earn an actual retweet, though.)

Pop-culture in-jokes aside, Amalia Mendoza was a major name in the Mexican genre known as ranchera, and on the evidence of this 1995 appearance, when she was in her seventies, she deserved to be. (“La Tariácuri” is a nickname she inherited from her brothers’ musical group, Trio Tariácuri, which in turn had been named for a figure in Tarascan history.)

“Amarga Navidad” — “Bitter Christmas” — which she recorded on the very EP pictured, is a standard of the genre, written by the wonderfully prolific (over a thousand songs, says Wikipedia) José Alfredo Jiménez.

And what’s up with that dagger, anyway? “Puñalada Trapera” means, more or less literally, “Knife in the Back.” You can probably guess what that song is about. (Hear it here.)

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Today’s least-timely news leak

For some reason, this was number one in the news feed:

German maritime archaeologists claimed to have found a urinal used by Kaiser Wilhelm II lying on the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

The piece of porcelain history was discovered in the wreck of the Udine, a light-cruiser which was sunk in the First World War by the Royal Navy, that now lies 28 nautical miles off the German island of Rugen.

“It was sunk by the British in 1915,” said Reinhard Oser, the archaeologist leading the expedition. “We managed to take some great photographs, and made this unusual discovery.”

Kaiser Bill’s batman was not available for comment.

(Via Christopher Johnson.)

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Libby back on the label

When Premiere ceased to exist as a magazine in early 2007, about all the send-off I could come up with was this:

The truly sad part, of course, is that this puts Libby Gelman-Waxner out of a job.

And now, suddenly, in Entertainment Weekly (#1185), with the same old title (“If you ask me…”), look who’s back:

I stopped writing my column, not just because Premiere went under but due to a crippling personal depression caused by Jennifer Aniston’s inability to hold a man. Jennifer is so beautiful and talented, but her spray tan became like a terror-alert thermometer, growing richer and more burnished as each no-good celebrity boyfriend hit the road. But now, thank God, Jennifer is happy and in love and wrapping those featherweight scarves many times around her neck, and so the time is right for me to once again bring joy and insight into the lives of my bereft fans, and to prove what everyone who’s ever gone online already knows: that I is the most important word in any language, followed by me, mine, oeuvre, vision, Goobers, and the question “Why would I go see a movie called Melancholia when Immortals features Henry Cavill in a leather diaper?”

Love ya, Libby. Glad to see you back, on whatever schedule EW hath decreed. (And just when I was wondering if I was crazy for buying another year and a half of this mag, too.)

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Through mansions of glory in suicide machines

My own tastes, politically, run toward the kamikaze model, though Andrew J. Patrick argues that this isn’t such a good idea, owing to the presence of what he calls the “mushy middle”:

The Kamikazes were a powerful weapon in the hands of the Japanese. They were scary. They sunk lots of ships. They affected the outcome of the war not one iota, because destroying the enemy does nothing unless you can force him back. If we were to somehow elect Ron Paul, Ron Paul would busily construct himself to demolishing every last addition to the federal bureaucracy since the Jackson Administration. And unless he had the American people on his side every step of the way, he’d be gone in a quatrain of years, and his Democratic successor would put everything back, and more, even faster.

Proposed (and mushily ambiguous) compromise: demolish everything back to the Johnson administration.

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Iffy culty

So there’s a book coming out called 100 Cult Films, and while some of the selections are at least somewhat arguable, hey, it’s an easy way to gin up a meme, right? I have boldfaced those I’ve actually seen:

    2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, 1968
    Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988
    Angel of Vengeance, Abel Ferrara, 1981
    Bad Taste, Peter Jackson, 1987
    Baise-moi, Virginie Despentes, Coralie Trinh Thi, 2000
    Begotten, E. Elias Merhige, 1991
    Behind the Green Door, Artie Mitchell, Jim Mitchell, 1972
    La belle et la bête, Jean Cocteau, 1946
    Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Russ Meyer, 1970
    The Big Lebowski, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 1998
    Blade Runner, Ridley Scott, 1982
    Blue Sunshine, Jeff Lieberman, 1978
    Brazil, Terry Gilliam, 1985
    Bride of Frankenstein, James Whale, 1935
    The Brood, David Cronenberg, 1979
    Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, Robert Wiene, 1920
    Café Flesh, Stephen Sayadian, 1982
    Cannibal Holocaust, Ruggero Deodato, 1979
    Casablanca, Michael Curtiz, 1942
    Un chien andalou, Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí, 1928
    Coffy, Jack Hill, 1973
    Daughters of Darkness, Harry Kümel, 1971
    Dawn of the Dead, George A. Romero, 1978
    Deadly Weapons, Doris Wishman, 1974
    Debbie Does Dallas, Jim Clark, 1978
    Deep Red, Dario Argento, 1975
    Dirty Dancing, Emile Ardolino, 1987
    Django, Sergio Corbucci, 1966
    Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly, 2001
    Don’t Torture a Duckling, Lucio Fulci, 1972
    Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton, 1990
    Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, Aristide Massaccesi, 1977
    Emmanuelle, Just Jaeckin, 1974
    Enter the Dragon, Robert Clouse, 1973
    Eraserhead, David Lynch, 1977
    The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi, 1981
    Fight Club, David Fincher, 1999
    Flaming Creatures, Jack Smith, 1963
    Freak Orlando, Ulrike Ottinger, 1981
    Freaks, Tod Browning, 1932
    Ginger Snaps, John Fawcett, 2000
    The Gods Must Be Crazy, Jamie Uys, 1981
    Godzilla, Ishirô Honda, 1954
    The Harder They Come, Perry Henzell, 1972
    Harold and Maude, Hal Ashby, 1971
    Häxan, Benjamin Christensen, 1922
    Hellraiser, Clive Barker, 1987
    The Holy Mountain, Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973
    The House with the Laughing Windows, Pupi Avati, 1976
    I Walked with a Zombie, Jacques Tourneur, 1943
    Ichi the Killer, Takashi Miike, 2001
    In Bruges, Martin McDonagh, 2008
    Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Don Siegel, 1956
    Invocation of My Demon Brother, Kenneth Anger, 1969
    It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra, 1946
    The Killer, John Woo, 1989
    Lady Terminator, H. Tjut Djalil, 1988
    The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson, 2001-3 (2 of 3)
    Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, George Miller, 1981
    Man Bites Dog, Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde, 1992
    Manos, the Hands of Fate, Harold P. Warren, 1966
    The Masque of the Red Death, Roger Corman, 1964
    Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, 1975
    Near Dark, Kathryn Bigelow, 1987
    Nekromantik, Jörg Buttgereit, 1987
    Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero, 1968
    Pink Flamingos, John Waters, 1972
    Piranha, Joe Dante, 1978
    Plan 9 from Outer Space, Edward D. Wood Jr, 1959
    Re-Animator, Stuart Gordon, 1985
    Reefer Madness, Louis Gasnier, 1936
    Repo Man, Alex Cox, 1984
    Ringu, Hideo Nakata, 1998
    The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Jim Sharman, 1975
    Rome Armed to the Teeth, Umberto Lenzi, 1976
    The Room, Tommy Wiseau, 2003
    Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975
    She Killed in Ecstasy, Jesús Franco, 1971
    Showgirls, Paul Verhoeven, 1995
    Soul Vengeance, Jamaa Fanaka, 1975
    The Sound of Music, Robert Wise, 1965
    Star Wars, George Lucas, 1977-2005 (3 of 6)
    Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, Todd Haynes, 1988
    Suspiria, Dario Argento, 1977
    Tank Girl, Rachel Talalay, 1995
    Tetsuo, Shinya Tsukamoto, 1989
    The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper, 1974
    This Is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner, 1984
    Thriller: A Cruel Picture, Bo Arne Vibenius, 1974
    Thundercrack!, Curt McDowell, 1975
    El Topo, Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1970
    The Toxic Avenger, Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman, 1984
    Two-Lane Blacktop, Monte Hellman, 1971
    Two Thousand Maniacs!, Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1964
    The Vanishing, George Sluizer, 1988
    Videodrome, David Cronenberg, 1983
    The Warriors, Walter Hill, 1979
    Witchfinder General, Michael Reeves, 1968
    Withnail & I, Bruce Robinson, 1987
    The Wizard of Oz, Victor Fleming, 1939

I admit to having once rented Café Flesh and then not actually watching it.

(Seen at Jennifer’s, though she says Peter started it, which is in fact true.)

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Gianni on the spot

They do things differently in Italy. Here, we’re having to repave roads to take care of the potholes that appear after snow, rain, sometimes even fog. Rome, however, has different priorities:

Mayor Gianni Alemanno has announced plans to begin a makeover on Via del Corso, one of Rome’s central streets. The plan is to smooth the sidewalks and roads to make walking along them less dangerous “especially for women in heels.”

While much of the street will be filled with new cobblestones, some of the high traffic areas used by public transportation will be covered in asphalt.

Mayor Alemanno stressed the importance of maintaining Rome’s history and personality by preserving the cobblestone streets. He explained that the new modern cobblestones would be set and sealed in a base of concrete to prevent irregular depressions.

Travel writer Annemarie Dooling (she runs Frill Seeker Diary) comments on Facebook: “I am very clearly missing the Italian gene that thinks this is okay.”

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Someone to see

Or maybe someone not to see: Felicity Jones has signed to play Nelly Ternan, secret mistress to Charles Dickens, in Ralph Fiennes’ adaptation of Claire Tomalin’s Ternan biography, The Invisible Woman, due out in 2013.

Jones, twenty-eight, isn’t exactly known for period pieces, but here she is doing Shakespeare:

Felicity Jones in The Tempest

Specifically, she’s playing Miranda in Julie Taymor’s slightly revisionist take on The Tempest (2010). (How slightly? Well, Miranda’s book-drowning magician parent is played by Helen Mirren.)

Claire Tomalin, incidentally, has a new biography of Charles Dickens on the shelves.

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Even in his youth

The cover of Mad #513, on sale Real Soon Now:

Cover of Mad 513

Bonus points if you can explain the title.

(The is the Mad blog.)

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