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January 22, 2007

Pillow Fight League — Episode 2: It's got legs


David Segal's front-page story in today's Washington Post Style section featured America's latest craze.

First the New York Times, then bookofjoe and now the Washington Post: this firecracker's been lit.

What I like best are the athletes' names, among them Betty Clocker, Lynn Somnia and Vermonster.

Here's the Post article.

    The Sport Might Seem Fluffy, but Pillow Fighters Pack a Punch

    The reigning world champion of the Pillow Fight League is backstage, strategizing about how to put the hurt on Betty Clocker.

    "I tend to knee a lot, but not this time," she says, whispering so her opponent can't eavesdrop. "Because she'll be expecting that. I'm switching it up."

    Stacy Reardon, or Champain, as she's known in the ring, is keeping the particulars a secret. Whatever pillow punishment she has in mind will be a surprise to Ms. Clocker, not to mention the roughly 170 fans now seated in rows around a square mat in the middle of a performance space/bar in Brooklyn called Galapagos.

    They have come for the first out-of-town appearance of Toronto's PFL, a year-old league that answers this crucial question: Will people pay to watch Canadian women clobber each other with pillows?

    The answer: Duh. Demand for the $20 tickets was so high that a second night at Galapagos was added and quickly sold out. But anyone who comes for a giggly face-off between two chicks in undies — the age-old slumber party fantasy — is in for an unhappy shock. "Real women. Real fights" is the league's motto, and this is no joke. When the fight starts, nearly anything goes — leg drops, arm bars, chokeholds and punching — as long as a pillow is the point of contact. Just don't gouge, scratch or pull hair, and no fair hiding bricks or any foreign objects in the pillowcase.

    You win by pinning an opponent's shoulders, as in a standard wrestling match, or pummeling her so hard she quits, or if the referee stops the action. If there's no winner at the end of the one-round, five-minute fight, three judges choose a victor, based on style, stamina and aggressiveness.

    "The name of the game is use your pillow," shouts the evening's emcee, who calls himself the Mouth, briefly explaining the rules to the audience.

    Nothing is fake or scripted, though in the tradition of professional wrestling, each fighter takes a nom de guerre and a persona. Lady Die enters the ring dressed in elegant equestrian gear, though she undercuts the aura of English hauteur by flipping the bird with both hands as she struts to her corner. Eiffel Power is dressed in a shirt with those horizontal stripes that will forever connote Frenchness. Lynn Somnia enters screaming, ostensibly driven insane from a lack of sleep and wearing a white hospital gown.

    "When I came to the first practice, and I was looking for a character, they said, 'Well, what do you do at night?' said Ms. Somnia in a post-match interview. "And I said, 'Well, I don't sleep.' "

    On Friday the evening starts with the introduction of the 22 fighters, followed by the singing of the U.S. and Canadian national anthems. Then it's go time. Each contest starts with two bed pillows in the middle of the mat, and each fighter in a corner.

    "Roxxy Balboa, do you want to fight?" shouts the referee.

    Thumbs up from Balboa.

    "Ursula Anvil, do you want to fight?"

    As a matter of fact, she does.

    "Fight like a girl!" howls the ref — the phrase that launches every bout — and it begins.

    Forget technique. None of the fighters seems to have any, aside from the basic windup and swing and the occasional leg sweep to dump an opponent on the mat. The action is frantic and grueling. The fighters seem exhausted after a minute. Wild swings outnumber square hits. Much of the action happens on the ground, where the fighters pitch and roll, occasionally using their pillows to try to choke each other, which doesn't really work. There's nothing sexy about it, and with a 20-ish, mostly male crowd calling out such bons mots as "Hit her low!" the event often has the atmosphere of a "Jerry Springer" melee.

    The PFL is the brainchild of Stacey P. Case, a 39-year-old who swears his name is really Stacey P. Case. In 2004, he was driving through Austria with his band, the Tijuana Bibles, when a thought struck him out of nowhere: pillow fighting. Real fighting. Ladies only.

    "A light bulb went off," he recalls, smoking a cigarette outside Galapagos during intermission. Case is tall and lean and wearing a 1950s-style hat that makes him look like a young Art Carney. "Everybody thinks it's a strip thing, but it's not. We've had offers from nudie bars to come and fight there and I don't even return their calls. I've got a rule on the books that says no lewd behavior."

    The fighters, he says, are mostly denizens of Toronto's art scene, which means the whole show could be interpreted as one big performance art piece. (That doesn't make the violence less real, but it gives onlookers the out of regarding the PFL as an exhibit they are watching rather than a car crash they are gawking at.) Fighters train once a week, at a studio, and so until this night in New York they've had five public outings, all in Toronto, including a show in front of 600 people. Each fighter is paid the same amount, described by the league's referee as enough for "a good dinner and a couple drinks."

    Of course, this is a part-time gig for everyone involved, though Case dreams of turning it into a career. When advance word of the PFL's inaugural jaunt to Brooklyn hit the Web a few days ago, the offers poured in from U.S. venues around the country.

    "I asked the girls the other day, 'Hey, how many of you would quit your jobs and become pillow fighters full time?' And half the girls raised their hands."

    As undignified as professional pillow fighting often looks, it is alluring enough to tempt a few in the audience to try. Once the appropriate waivers are signed, a dozen attendees remove their jewelry and belts and, after being paired off with strangers, they start roundhousing each other in impromptu five-minute battles. Among them is a woman in a red gingham top who obviously came ready to riot. She has "Vermonster" written in pen on the back of her shirt, and after coming close to pinning her startled opponent, she wins a unanimous decision.

    The fighting, according to the pros, is just part of the appeal.

    "Off the mat, we hang out," says Reardon, the PFL champ, who has inked the word "hate" across the knuckles of both hands. "You might be mad at someone because of what they did on the mat, but you bring it back to the mat."

    Reardon's showdown with Betty Clocker is the final match of the night. Clocker enters wearing an apron and bearing a plateful of cookies that she hands out to the crowd, instantly turning her into the audience favorite. Reardon, who enters wearing the three-pound PFL champion belt, doesn't care.

    "I tried to do my judo and sweep out her legs," Reardon says grinning and out of breath after the match, her belt firmly back around her waist. "And once I got her tired, I knew I could get her on the ground and smother her."


Bonus: The Post website has a video entitled "Let's Get Ready to Slumber!" containing an interview with one of the league's stars and actual footage from last weekend's epic tilts.

January 22, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Misanthrope Door Mat — Episode 2: beware of dog


In Episode 1 on Saturday, January 20, we employed suggestion.

Today the gloves (and muzzle) come off.

30" x 18".


January 22, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Go play in the traffic — but first, visit Carnegie-Mellon's new website


It's at www.hope.hss.cmu.edu.

Long story short: The website, which calculates risk factors for travelers, was put together by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University with support from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

"Risk, the researchers emphasize, is not the number of people who die, but the probability of death per mile traveled, or per trip or minute of travel," wrote Matthew L. Wald in yesterday's (January 21, 2007) New York Times story.

Tell you what: in 20 years we're going to look back at 2007 and wonder how it was that 40,000 deaths just this year on American roads was considered an acceptable loss.

We're also going to wonder how it was that people were actually allowed to drive their own cars in opposing directions with nary a barrier between vehicles.

Here's the Times article.

    Site Calculates Risk Factors for Travelers

    A middle-aged male pedestrian is four times as likely, on any given trip, to be killed by a car as is an elementary school student, according to a new interactive Web site that lets people compare travel risks.

    The site allows users to assess the dangers of driving, walking, and riding a motorcycle or a bicycle, by season, region and personal characteristics of the traveler. It links two federal databases, one of traffic fatalities and the other of travel habits, to put the number of deaths into context by comparing them with what statisticians call exposure, or the extent to which people are in situations where there is a chance of a crash.

    The site was put together by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, with support from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. It is being presented at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting, which begins Sunday, and is going public then, at hope.hss.cmu.edu.

    Risk, the researchers emphasize, is not the number of people who die, but the probability of death per mile traveled, or per trip or minute of travel.

    Linking the databases produces results that vary considerably from common perception, the Web site’s creators said. For example, the risk of death for an 18-year-old male driver is about the same as that for an 80-year-old female driver, but both are safer than the operator of a motorcycle. And counterintuitively, risk is higher in the mountains in summer than in winter.

    “What surprised me most is that there were lots of surprises,” said Paul S. Fischbeck, the director of the Center for the Study and Improvement of Regulation at Carnegie Mellon and a professor of engineering and public policy.

    For instance, Dr. Fischbeck said, “I knew that 80-year-olds and 18-year-olds were at high risks, but to have them at the same level of risk, it’s a very stark contrast.”

    He said the original idea behind the Web site was to educate consumers. “But when you find things that are counterintuitive that you cannot explain,” he said, “that’s not good for education.” He said he planned to assign his students to try to find explanations.

    The Web site allows a variety of comparisons. For example, the risk of death for vehicle occupants who are 16 to 20 years old, on weekdays, is 13.86 per 100 million trips between 8 a.m. and noon. But between 8 p.m. and midnight it is 30.51 per 100 million trips, more than twice as high.

January 22, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

How to watch a DVD on a nuclear submarine — Episode 2: Faster, better, cheaper


Episode 1 back on January 5, 2007 received a lot of play and responses from Sea Dogs past and present.

I had my crack research team stay on the topic and late last evening they returned from wherever it is they go to find stuff — frankly, I don't know nor do I want to know... but I digress — with the nifty device pictured above and described below.

From the website:

    Sony Kitchen TV/CD/AM-FM System

    Here’s the modern way to bring today’s sights and sounds into the kitchen.

    This remarkable Sony entertainment system mounts easily under any kitchen cabinet.

    Just flip down the 7” widescreen LCD display to keep up with the day’s news or a favorite show.

    Or with the built-in CD player and AM-FM radio, you can listen to your favorite sounds.

    Special circuitry provides powerful stereo fidelity you’d expect to hear only from a large system.

    Magnetic-back remote control stows neatly on your refrigerator door.

    Ultra-slim under-cabinet design saves valuable counter space.

    The system measures 15-3/4”W x 12-3/4”D x 4-1/8”H.

    Mounting hardware included.



Stick this puppy above your bunk and start the movie.


January 22, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Portrait of the Man Who Drowned Wearing His Best Suit and Shoes — by Thomas Lux

When his small skiff returned alone,
like a horse who's lost its rider,
the relatives sat down on stones

by the shore and waited for the tide
to bring him, also. He had wanted
to row back, singular and drunk,

from a wedding on a neighbor island,
just a few real miles away
across the black calm. The relatives

waited, the tide did
what it does, and he arrived
in that familiar pose

of all the drowned: face down, chin
tucked in, arms outstretched
with slightly cocked wrists,

and legs a bit splayed—the position
of a man trying to fly somewhere,
somehow. The Dead Man's Float

it's called by the living
which carried him home on a flight
both airless and lacking a wing....

January 22, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What is the purpose of the advertisement below?


It occupied the entirety of page 5 in yesterday's New York Times Sunday Styles section.

At the very bottom, in very small type, is the following: RUNWAY.POLO.COM


I had my crack research team take a look — at the time they were busy doing something close 2 nothing (but different than the day before) and turns out the URL is an entrance to a website showing Ralph Lauren's Spring 2007 Collection.

But that still doesn't help me understand my original question, which is why I flagged the ad.

What is it selling?






January 22, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Swivel.com — 'YouTube for data'


Hey, that sounds interesting — where do I sign up?

Long story short: Swivel not only lets you play with other people's data but also helps you make your own charts.

Wired magazine wrote, "Upload Excel files or enter your own figures. From there, create a mashup of your own data with someone else's, pick a pretty chart style, and kiss Excel ugliness good-bye."

Christian Banzhaf of christianbanzhaf.com and spreadshirt.com wrote about it last month, under the headline up top.

So I'm only a month or so behind the curve — considering what I have to work with, could be a lot worse.

January 22, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Would you buy a used car from this man?


Jane L. Levere reported in yesterday's New York Times Business section that Edmund C. Moy, director of the United States Mint, said of the idea of putting big-name CEOs from the corporate world on U.S. coins and currency, "It's an interesting thing to think about."

Moy suggested former Treasury secretary Andrew C. Mellon as a possible candidate, and also mentioned the current Treasury secretary (and his boss), Henry M. Paulson Jr. (above, on a hypothetical coin), noting that "He's extremely well-known on Wall Street."



January 22, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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