Procrastinate Better
Slate's guide to consuming culture.

Dec. 6 2010 5:20 PM

Whatever Happened to "Gertrude"?


, this year's most popular baby names are Sophia and Aiden. If you want to find out when your name was on every new mother's tongue, bring up

, which charts the popularity of names year by year. Take an

, which hit its peak popularity in the 1890s. Or how about

, which was all the rage in the 1880s. This will provide you with at least 15 minutes of joy, and help you to figure out how to choose a name for your future spawn that won't have 15 heads turning when you call it out at the playground.

Dec. 3 2010 1:06 PM

Watch the Demented Comedy Stylings of Gosselin and Palin This Sunday

Ratings dropped precipitously after the premiere episode of Sarah Palin's Alaska , but I predict a modest upward spike Sunday, Dec. 12,* at 9
 when fellow TLC star Kate Gosselin and her eight unfortunate children guest star on Palin's show . Click here for the preview , in which Sarah brandishes a shotgun and boasts about how Kate will be relying on Palin's protection. Kate cries from the stress of it all. This has the potential to go down in the modest annals of reality TV history. Mark your calendars.

*Correction, Dec. 6, 2010: This post originally cited the wrong air date for the episode on which Kate Gosselin would appear.

Dec. 2 2010 3:56 PM

Say a Little Prayer for Aretha Franklin

A prayer vigil

to send good thoughts to the singer Aretha Franklin, who is undergoing surgery today. As a way to send even more excellent vibes along to the queen of soul, please watch her rendition of "

" from 1970. Here's wishing you several more healthy years of

, Aretha.


Dec. 1 2010 5:21 PM

Light a Candle with Amar’e Stoudemire

To celebrate Hanukkah, which begins this evening, the Jewish magazine Tablet teamed up with the basketball-loving illustrators at Free Darko to make this create your own Jewish basketball team generator . Light one candle with Amar'e Stoudemire ( he's a Jew! ), and another with famed Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach. I choose my team based entirely on who had the best names (Hello Inky Lautman!) but you basketball fanatics out there may be able to pick your team based on actual skill. 

Nov. 30 2010 3:45 PM

Candid Queue: Senior Editor Daniel Engber

Once a week, Procrastinate Better features a peek into the Netflix queue of a staffer or critic. No tampering with the results to make ourselves seem more or less erudite, we swear! Just the brief opportunity to explain (or defend, as the case may be) the choices. This  installment comes from Slate senior editor Daniel Engber. More Candid Queues here.

1. 1974 : This is the first installment of the grim and violent Red Riding Trilogy , a British television series about police corruption in the case of the " Yorkshire Ripper ." I was ready to watch this trilogy at the IFC Center in New York a few months ago as a 300-minute triple-feature, but they wanted to charge me separately for each movie. That's what I call a Yorkshire ripoff.

2. Step Up 2: The Streets : This is the second installment of the grim and violent Step Up trilogy, an American film series about a motley, streetwise crew that must navigate the corrupt world of underground dance-offs. I'm watching these movies in reverse: Having seen (and loved) Step Up 3-D in the theater, the storyline will be unfolding for me backwards through time, like a popping-and-locking Benjamin Button. (Netflix predicts that I'll give this movie 2.5 stars. Nice try, computer. More like five stars!!!1!)

3. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done : This one is research for a Slate piece I'm doing on people who commit murder with samurai swords. How's this for a Netflix queue incidence? The most recent samurai-sword killer, matricidal actor Michael Brea , supposedly had a bit part in Step Up 3-D . Lucky for me, he's not the first guy to saw off his mom's head with an ornate sword. This 2009 film by Warner Herzog dramatizes the case of an Aeschylus buff in San Diego who killed his mother in 1979 in order to protect her from a nuclear holocaust. With Willem Dafoe and Chloë Sevigny—man, those two are always good.

4. Au Hasard Balthazar : Ah, Robert Bresson, the director responsible for what must be the least exciting movie ever made about a jailbreak. Sure, there wasn't much dialogue or editing or action or color in that film, but I'll confess to being mesmerized by its bare-walled intensity and vivid psychodrama. Can the wily Bresson bring this same energy and suspense to the tale of a farm girl named Marie and her beloved pet donkey, Balthazar? We'll have to see!

5. The Book of Eli : Um, would you believe this one is also research for a Slate piece? OK, fine, it's not. But I'm only watching the movie on a bet: Which of the following recent sci-fi flicks would be the least unwatchable— Daybreakers , Legion , or The Book of Eli ? I've already seen Daybreakers , which isn't bad (three out of five stars), and Legion , which isn't not bad (zero out of five stars). Now I have to watch The Book of Eli . Hey, we're in a recession over here—anything to win a dollar .

Nov. 29 2010 3:35 PM

For the Stephen Sondheim Completist: "The Last of Sheila"

There's been a


for Stephen Sondheim's new, fabulously subtitled book,

. For an additional burst of Sondheim creativity, I recommend watching the movie he co-wrote in the early 70s,

, which is currently available for streaming

. It's a stylish, intricate murder mystery about a Hollywood producer played by James Coburn. Coburn's wife—the titular Sheila—is run over by a car in the opening scene. After that initial death, Coburn invites a bunch of California cronies to his yacht in the Mediterranean and makes them play an elaborate game involving an international scavenger hunt at various ports. The men wear tight white sailor trousers, have ridiculous mustaches, and Raquel Welch is at her foxiest. If that brief description and the involvement of the great Sondheim is not enough to convince you to see it, check out the trailer below.


Nov. 23 2010 1:01 PM

Candid Queue: Jeremy Stahl

Once a week, Procrastinate Better features a peek into the Netflix queue of a staffer or critic. No tampering with the results to make ourselves seem more or less erudite, we swear! Just the brief opportunity to explain (or defend, as the case may be) the choices. This installment comes from   Slate   social media editor Jeremy Stahl.   More   Candid Queues   here.

Like multiple Slate staffers , I share a queue with my spouse, which is why half of this list will be made up of juvenile comedies ( mine ) and the other half will be made up of gritty, foreign dramas ( hers ). We generally exercise veto power over each other’s selections, and watch alone when we can’t agree. One caveat is that we only really use the streaming service, which means this isn’t technically a queue so much as a list of movies we’ve just watched or have just started watching.

1.) Bananas : Because of all of the dark, unfamiliar places we visit with my wife’s selections, I tend to opt for comfort films—usually movies that I’ve already seen at least once, often ones by my favorite directors. After my wife spotted Woody Allen’s Annie Hall —an all-time favorite—on a Netflix recommended list, she quickly pointed to it as something that she would not veto. But I’ve watched it about a dozen times and wanted to see what other Woody Allen options were available, because they are such a rare treat on streaming. Deciding against Manhattan , which we watched with my sister earlier this year, we settled on this 1971 slapstick about South American freedom fighters. The calculus here was that if it was funny when I was 17, and I haven’t matured in the last 10 years, then it must still be funny today.

2.) Mad Detective : My wife gave me the option of choosing between the Chechnya war fable Alexandra , the Lebanon war drama Under the Bombs , and this zany Hong Kong detective thriller. All three picks came from this list of the Times of London’s 100 favorite movies of 2008. I jumped at the off-kilter Chinese cop film. There was enough of the aforementioned zaniness to make this worth my time, plus a cool homage to The Lady from Shanghai and a couple of tributes to Reservoir Dogs .

3.) David Cross: Bigger and Blackerer : In addition to my love of his comedic acting , Cross is probably my favorite stand-up act (2004’s It’s Not Funny is the best political and social satire about the Bush years in a stand-up that I’ve heard). When I saw the title on the recommended list, I immediately started watching by myself. Only got five hilarious minutes in before my wife decided she wanted to exercise her rightful turn and watch something together (see above). Already have plans to catch the rest of this while she’s out of town visiting her brother.

4.) Gomorrah : The mob drama about the banal evil of the notorious Neapolitan organized-crime syndicate the Camorra is one that we have both really wanted to watch for a long time, but that I kept putting off because I was daunted by my  Slate colleague Jonah Weiner’s excellent but bleak review . When I finally worked up the courage to watch this "two-hour-plus stranglehold [that] sends us back into the world gasping," I was not let down.

5.) Jar City : If this Icelandic crime thriller had gone by the more descriptive title Preserved Human Brain in a Jar City , I might have been more enthusiastic about viewing it. As it was not, I had no expectations and thus no reason to be disappointed by the rambling procedural murder mystery.

Nov. 22 2010 3:28 PM

Celebrate Loretta Lynn’s Golden Anniversary

From time to time, a Slate staffer or critic offers up a favorite cultural pick for Procrastinate Better readers. Today's endorsement is from Slate contributor Noreen Malone.

I didn’t listen to much country music until I moved to NewYork, but here its twang often seems perfect for countervailing the jangle ofthe city, and the sudsy sentimentalism offers a welcome break from Easternreserve. Lately I’ve gotten particularly hung up on down-home proto-feministLoretta Lynn, whose songs I’ve grown to love fiercely. 2010 happens to be the50th anniversary of her first single, and so there’s been a small bonanzaof Loretta-themed releases: Her memoir, ACoal Miner’s Daughter , has been reissued in a new version, along with a two-disccompilation of her greatest hits . There’s also a just-outtribute album featuring mostly country artists—and a rocker or two—singingsome of Lynn’s best-loved songs. (I’m partial to the White Stripes’ version of"Rated X," and the Alan Jackson/Martina McBride duet on "Louisiana Woman,Mississippi Man.") Lynnalso recently gave a fascinating interview on Fresh Air that’s worth yourtime especially if you’re unfamiliar with her life story. The best tidbitsinclude the fashion advice she got from Patsy Cline, her friendship with JackWhite, and the detail that, though she penned the shocking-for-its-milieuanthem " The Pill ,"Lynn didn’t have access to birth control..She had yet another unplannedpregnancy in the wake of the song’s release.

To see the fruits of Cline’s sartorial advice (oh my!) andthat collaborative friendship with White, check out this clip of Lynnperforming 2005’s "Portland, Oregon," a warm bit of escapism I’ve been playingon repeat as this New York winter begins.


Nov. 19 2010 1:36 PM

MoMA's New iPad App Is Fabulous and Free

To go along with their acclaimed

, MoMA has released

, and it's just as vibrant and innovative as one would expect. The app includes videos that explain

, along with key works and information about the artists who made up the core of the movement. There's even an interactive map that includes important landmarks in abstract impressionist history, like

, where Barnett Newman and many other future abstract expressionist successes took classes. Below is a video of a cat exploring the MoMA app. If it's good enough for Judi the cat, it's good enough for you.


Nov. 18 2010 1:36 PM

Best Rockin’ Performances on YouTube by White Dudes

From time to time, a Slate staffer or critic offers up a favorite cultural pick for Procrastinate Better readers. Today's endorsement is from Slate senior editor Michael Agger.

Oh Internet, youkeep turning up fresh, distracting wonders. There's On the Road rewritten for bros : "With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the bro’d. Before that I’d oftendreamed of going West to see hot LA actress chicks and try In N’ Out burgers,always vaguely planning and never taking off." There's the Twitterfeed of artist Jenny Holzer :"Being judgmental is a sign of life." And yet more ridiculous bike parkour from Danny Macaskill.

But lately I'vebeen spending my procrastination time in pursuit of a small quest: what is the BestLive Performance by White Dudes I can find on YouTube? Below is the list I'vebeen playing with, biased away from overly obvious choices such as BruceSpringsteen's 1978 " "Born to Run"and also toward my lame, raised-on-Jethro-Tull taste. Maybe you can do better.In fact, I know you can do better.

5. Quo Vadis ,"Mute Requiem:" Found this on a guitar forum—it's the first and onlydeath metal song I've ever listened to. It sounds like a bad hailstorm .Yet also somehow awesome.

4. New Order ,"Temptation," 1984: How is that for a U-turn? Not really"rock" per se, but I love the clinical craftsmanship on display toproduce such a dreamy song. (Warning: white shorts.)

3. Talking Heads ,"Psycho Killer," live in Rome, 1980: One of the all-time greatcurtain-raising songs, despite having French lyrics. Also check out the more intimate CBGBs version .

2. Rush ,"Subdivisions," 1990: Conform or be cast out! The best anthem everinspired by a shopping mall. I like it better than " Tom Sawyer

1. AC/DC ,"Hells Bells," live in Rio, 1985: I won't sully this masterpiece ofrock with words.

Please put yourbest suggestions in the comments below. I'm prepared to lose a few afternoons.