It's true that the Winter Olympics is a special bird. The biathalon has athletes in tights hoisting rifles over their shoulders between ski laps, ski jumping is a boys-only affair, ice dancing is figure skating without all the jumps (what fun is that?), and curling, well, as Slate's David Plotz put it "curling combines the worst of shuffleboard and housekeeping."

Unlike the Summer Olympics, with scores of sports and thousands of athletes, the winter games is a more intimate and quirky affair, but it's also becoming more X-Games, younger and more hip than its warmer counterpart. Sure, Beijing's summer games had the charismatic Usain Bolt, who hammed for the camera before busting records, but overall the winter games just seem to have more fun. For example, snowboarding. Now, I don't adore the half-pipe event, it starts with athletes giving Apple a product shot for crying out loud! (Boarders often set their iPod at the top of each run.) But Shaun White and the other boys (and soon girls) in plaid and baggies are exciting to watch soar. But here's the question: Is snowboarding any different (less exciting) than skateboarding? It takes the same level of skill and coordination to perform tricks on a board with wheels as on snow (some might say more, see Lords of Dogtown). And skateboarding got here first (I think).

Anyway, just wondering. The folks over at are as well, they have an online poll going. So far, even with their presumably skater audience, 60% of respondents say "Hell No" to skateboarding becoming an Olympic sport. Surfing anyone?

Season Six, Episode 4: "The Substitute" (February 16)

Lots to discuss after last night's episode of Lost, which was filled with puzzling clues about "candidates" and names scratched on an underground ceiling. Plus, we got the numbers, a broken Sawyer, alternate-timeline Locke, and a creepy ghost kid. Below, MoJo staffers do their best to make sense of a jam-packed episode:

Nikki Gloudeman, New Media Fellow: So...last night's episode was crazy.
Samantha Schaberg, Administrative Assistant: What I'm most curious about is the cave. And specifically, if the Dark Man (Locke) crossed off the name Ford to make a point with Sawyer, did he make the decision for him basically to turn down the candidacy?
Nikki: And why those numbers?
Jen Phillips, Assistant Editor: Those weren't the ages they were when Jacob made contact, were they?
Nikki: Ooh, maybe. I'm trying to remember what numbers were with what people.
Jen: Me too! I'll have to look up later.
Nikki: You just know multiple Lost fans are scrutinizing a screen shot as we speak.

Jen: So from what does the island need protection?
Samantha: Nothing, Locke makes a great point, nature and earth and all that goodness will be there regardless of man's decisions for it.
Nikki: There seems to be something bigger than this island, a god-like force that we haven't yet seen.
Jen: Is the strawberry blonde kid a god? What do you think he was? I figured kid Jacob come back to life.
Nikki: Yes, I also assumed Jacob come to life. I think he can possess bodies, which would explain all the "ghosts" from season pasts. They were actually bodies possessed by the spirits of the island.
Jen: But Ben Linus saw his mom, who never reached the island having died in childbirth. Maybe it can create bodies?
Nikki: Good point. Maybe it can create bodies from the consciousness of the island inhabitants? So because Ben was on the island, his mom was there too...via his consciousness? That might make no sense.
Jen: Well, that's Lost for ya.

Samantha: I wonder what happens to the 'landed in LAX' Sawyer when his 'crashed' persona comes back to the real world.
Nikki: I think the sentimental undercurrent of this season is that we are shaped by the people around us. So Sawyer could become a totally different person if he meets good people. Like Locke, who is now happy thanks to the guidance of Rose and Hurley (and possibly Jack). One cool thing from last night: that Fake Locke possessed by MIB said "You can't tell me what I can't do." Just like real Locke did in the past. So was pre-crash Locke already channeling the dark spirit?
Jen: Maybe Locke was always the easiest to possess, being the weakest and saddest when the plane crashed.
Nikki: That definitely makes sense. He certainly seems to have been targeted by MIB very deliberately.

Jen: So back to the ceiling. We didn't see Claire's name, right? Because she seems pretty darn protective this season.
Nikki: Don't think so. All I remember for sure is Sayid, Jack, Sawyer, Hurley...
Jen: And Kwon. There's one spot open, as there's six numbers in the sequence I think. And they're not telling us who it is.
Nikki: Oh, you are so right. That's sneaky.

Nikki: Ok, one other point: Yet again they harped heavily on fate v. free will. And made it pretty clear Jacob=fate, MIB=free will.
Jen: Speaking of free will v. fate, do you think that the alternate timeline is one made of characters free will, while island timeline is fated?
Samantha: Oh, I like that Jen.
Nikki: Free will with the knowledge of what happened on the island, such that free will is exerted to better ends.
Samantha: Subconsciously, maybe.
Jen: So why is the MIB "trapped"?
Nikki: He's trapped by fate, perhaps? And he can't make the choice to leave? But if enough people exert their free will, it can overcome fate—which is why fake Locke needs everyone with him?
Jen: I just don't get if he can turn into black smoke and different people, why can't he leave the island on his own? And he said he was a man once, which means...?
Nikki: Hmm yes. It is strange. I'm wracking my brain, but can't figure it out.
Jen: I think we don't have all the pieces yet. There are "rules" that we haven't been let in on yet, nor who made them, and who died and made them smoke monster.


Nikki: Ok before we wrap this up...favorite moment from the night? I like when Locke walked in on Sawyer, drinking on the floor. It felt so ominous and creepy. The whole episode was fantastically directed/shot, actually.
Jen: Yes, extra points to directors/writers for this episode. I liked Ben Linus, European history teacher, resentful coffee maker.
Samantha: Yes, that was great. I loved Ben Linus as the teacher.
Jen: So perfect, right? And yet, I sympathize with him. I feel like I make a pot of coffee every morning in the office.
Samantha: I liked how MIB Locke simplified things in the cave with Sawyer, explaining Jacob and how he's bringing them there for no reason to protect the island.
Jen: But even with so much heavy lifting, there were fun moments. I liked Locke's funeral, and the pilot's "weirdest damn funeral I've ever been to." I did like the answers from last night. But I feel like there are still lots of questions to be answered.  And I don't know if we'll get them all this season.
Nikki: I was worried about that after last week. But after last night, I started feeling more confident. They're at least making it clear they will answer these questions: the numbers, who Jacob/MIB are, why and how the castaways were chosen, and what the island is. And they already answered the smoke monster question. And I think we'll get an answer on the spirits/whispers too. So that's a lot of the big ones.

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit
Sweet William EP

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit will never again end up in the MoJo Dog Pile.

That’s what I call the cache of unsolicited media that for one reason or another never caught the attention of our reviewers. It's also where I discovered Flynn's debut CD, A Larum, and by the time I managed to listen to it and get myself hooked—I mean, I pretty much played it to death—it felt too late for a review. So last Thanksgiving I included A Larum in our (partial) staff list of Music We’re Thankful For, and moved on.

That very month, as if to extend my addiction, singer-guitarist Flynn released Sweet William, a stand-alone EP recorded at his home in London—he emigrated to the UK from South Africa at an early age. It's a sweet little four-song effort complete with more lush instrumentation from the Sussex Wit (horns, cello, piano, percussion), complementing Flynn’s Appalachian-tinged flat picking and adding depth to his timeless sound. (Flynn is also handy with a fiddle and a banjo.) The EP is also a friggin’ tease for the group’s second full-length, due out this spring. That record will be produced by Ryan Hadlock, who worked on A Larum and has assisted the likes of Blonde Redhead, the Strokes, and former Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus. (Permanent reunion, please?)

Believe it or not, doing good works and assisting your community in nothing new in the world of punk rock. Because healthcare doesn't come with indie-label contracts and temp jobs, there's bound to be at least one benefit show on the calendar of your local club where the bands have donated their talents to cover the medical bills of a local guitarist or singer. Benefits for disasters like the great tsunami and Katrina are also old hat, and so it isn't surprising to see independent musicians coming out for Haiti.

But of late, one group of indie concerns has been taking its philanthropy to a larger audience online., Paper + Plastick, and Limited Pressing have teamed up for an online auction of punk paraphernalia to benefit Doctors Without Borders' Haiti relief efforts. It has proved so successful—by punk standards, anyway—that they are now on their third round of the auction, and have raised more than $18,000. Not bad in a realm where tickets, CDs, and t-shirts seldom go for more than 10 bucks. 

Rock Me Amadeus

Last week, President Obama awarded San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas the National Medal of Arts for his efforts to win over a wider audience for classical music. In our current issue, MTT talks with MJ's Clara Jeffery about the philosophy behind his work, his love of nonclassical artists such as James Brown, and experiments such as organizing the first ever YouTube symphony. Check it out. Or take a moment to enjoy these greatest hits of classical music crossover:

1885 The Boston Pops is launched to bring classical music to the masses.

1940 Disney's Fantasia. Money loser until 1969 re-release makes it a stoner classic.

1957 Elmer Fudd + Wagner = "Kill Da Wabbit."

1958 Leonard Bernstein conducts his first televised Young People's Concert.

1968 2001: A Space Odyssey immortalizes Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra.

1976 "A Fifth of Beethoven" disco remix.

1984 Amadeus wins eight Oscars.

1990 The Three Tenors storm charts.

1998 Georgia aims for "Mozart effect" by giving new moms classical CDs.

2002 Nas samples Beethoven's "Für Elise."

2007 BBC launches a reality show to reclaim classical music from "posh old white people."

2009 YouTube Symphony Orchestra and MTT play Carnegie Hall

The language spoken by the Na'vi in James Cameron's Avatar is the most buzzworthy alien dialect since Star Trek's Klingon, and the man behind it is     University of Southern California's Paul R. Frommer. Long before Avatar became the world's highest-grossing film, Frommer was toiling away on the words and sounds moviegoers now attribute to the film's giant, blue creatures. The Chronicle of Higher Education's Andrea Fuller spoke with Frommer to discuss the language's origins and inspiration. Here's an excerpt:

Q. What was so appealing about the project to you as a linguist?

Doing this kind of work as an academic is not going to advance your research reputation. It's not going to result in publications in peer-reviewed journals. But it just may push the world forward in the way it's turning on young people to the wonders of language.

Q. How did you go about creating the Na'vi language?

The first thing is to try to nail down the sound system or, to be more technical, the phonetics and the phonology. You want to determine what sounds are in the language, and just as importantly what sounds are not in the language. ... I also included some interesting combinations of sounds. You could have a word that begins with "fng." I excluded certain familiar sounds. There's no "b," "d," or "g" sound. There's no "sh" sound. I think I came up with a pretty interesting collection of sounds. Then you start talking about pronunciation rules. How does one sound change into another under certain circumstances? Once that's determined, then you can be thinking about how to build the words, morphology, and how to put them together in phrases and sentences, which is syntax.

Q. Did you model this on any language?

Not on any particular language, no. I've studied bits and pieces of maybe 15 or 16 languages. If you look at Na'vi, you may see this  particular structure reminds you of something in Persian, or something in Chinese, or something in Hebrew. 

To read the rest of the interview, you will have to subscribe to the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

    Can you have Ethics in 140 characters? It's a question of 'great social and political import' (to borrow the phrase) to the folks over at Twitter, Social Media's secretly earnest smart alec kid sister. So important, in fact, they've devoted a department to it. 

"I think about ethics all the time," said Del Harvey, who heads up Twitter's Trust and Safety Dept., hidden somewhere past the green fiberglass deer in their San Francisco HQ, which is just as cool as everybody always told you it was. "I have a 21-person staff that thinks about ethics and the ethical ramifications of things also all the time."   

Think about, sure. Define, not so much.

The only consensus so far is that the Internet is a tool, one that can be used for good or for evil. Or as one Orthodox Twitterer recently put it to me " [The Web]'s like a baseball bat. You could start a little league team in your community or you could mug someone." So what, then, are Social Media Ethics? To answer that, the micro-blogging site imported a panel of experts that sounds like the set-up to a bad joke--a rabbi, a lawyer and a blogger--plus a psychologist, an entrepreneur and a data-analyst to the company's posh SOMA offices.  The conversation was called Jewish Ethics and the Internet, but kosher meal aside, the themes were fairly universal. 

Chief among them: How should we behave on the Web now that there are more active Facebook users than US Citizens and we  spend more time online than we spend sleeping?


When Homos Attack

A sociologically interesting and spooky 45-minute video has been making the rounds on gay-interest blogs this week. The footage in question is from a 1967 special called CBS Reports: The Homosexuals. Hosted by Mike Wallace, it’s full of the sort of psychological analysis that was typical of the time. Overbearing mothers and homosexuals forever damned to unhappiness abound, and the following excerpt is pretty representative: 

"This much is certain. Male homosexuals in America number in the millions. And their number is growing. They are attracted mostly to the anonymity that a big city gives them. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco. The permissiveness and the variety of the city draw them. The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in or capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life, his love life, consists of a series of chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits, and even on the streets of the city."

The Advocate's Dave White posted about the documentary, comparing it to the prevalence of gays on television and in politics today. Watch the video below.


Brit Fever

The Brit Awards (that's the British Phonographic Industry’s annual pop music showdown) take place next Tuesday, and there are scads of pop tart dynamos to be grateful for this year. Too many to name, in fact, but here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorite artists competing in one category or another:

1. Mika brings Freddie Mercury-style epicism and hyperactive, Technicolor 2010 flamboyance.

2. Dizzee Rascal offers linguistic gymnastics, shark costumes, and rock-solid party tracks. 


3. La Roux having a straight-from-the-heart, Annie Lennox kind of moment.


4. Florence and the Machine being all sublime and ghostly. Harps and shouting.


5. Bat for Lashes singing the haunting and melodic "Daniel."

Follow Evan James on Twitter.

Season Six, Episode 3: "What Kate Does" (February 9)

Last night's episode of Lost raised lots of questions: What's the "darkness"? Will Sun and Jin reunite anytime soon? And what was up with the return of creepy Ethan? Below, four MoJo staffers puzzle it out:

Laurin Asdal, Director of Development: Can I just start off by saying that I think the best moment of last night's episode was the last ten seconds? The rest was a snoozefest.
Jen Phillips, Assistant Editor: I agree with Laurin. Welcome to Snoozeville, population: Lost.
Ben Buchwalter, Editorial Fellow: I have trouble adjusting to a one hour non-steroid Lost fest.

Jen: Ethan scared me though, just showing up like that.
Ben: Ethan, still an OBGYN.
Nikki Gloudeman, New Media Fellow: And still creepy. Why was he there? I still don't understand how these parallel worlds relate to one another.
Jen: I don't think they are parallel. I think they're simultaneous.
Ben: Do you guys think he's still connected to the island... or whatever iteration of the island might exist in this other world? I keep thinking that in this non-island world, there's still some connection to Jacob, island mysticism, etc.
Jen: That's a good point, Ben. Kate definitely recognized Jack, and Jack recognized Desmond last week. Why, if not to somehow course-correct in a world where the island is submerged or disappeared?
Nikki: The course-correct theory is interesting...Does that mean these characters are doomed to make the same choices, because fate dictates it? And how will free will play in? I think Jacob and MIB represent not just good and evil, but fate and free will.
Laurin: I think that is quite possible. The use of fate is heavy throughout and the fact the same people are meeting suggest fate in many ways is trumping free will.

Jen: What about the darkness Dagon talked about? Do you think that's fated?
Nikki: I don't know if it's entirely fated, because as we saw with the smoke monster, the darkness (if that's the same thing) tests people based on the choices they make.
Ben: I thought that was the most interesting part of the episode. I think it has to do with near-death experiences. Claire went through a very similar experience to Rousseau, and seems to be like her now.
Nikki: Do they all end up with darkness?
Ben: And how does Sayid tie in to that darkness?
Jen: One thing another blog brought up is that the Losties got vaccinated when they went back to the 70s. Remember when Ethan gave Aaron medicine in utero on the island? Maybe it was to prevent the darkness?
Ben: It reminds me of the sickness that impacted people traveling from the boat to the island in an earlier season. But that was connected to time travel.

Nikki: One thing I did like about last nights show was the emotional element, with Sawyer/Kate on the dock, and Sawyer talking about proposing to Juliet. I like it when the show has these moments, to ground it.
Jen: Right, seems like they're getting back to what made first season good.
Nikki: The writers historically do that after explosive premieres.
Ben: It was interesting how Sawyer reverted to being individual now that Juliet is gone.
Nikki: Which means he's back to season 1 Sawyer.
Laurin: Let's hope. Season 1 Sawyer was my favorite.

Nikki: I'm sensing a Jin/Sun reunion next week...anyone else?
Ben: Yeah... any guesses about what Sun is up to?
Jen: I'm guessing the beach group and the temple group will meet somewhere in the jungle just like in, oh, several other past episodes.
Laurin: I kind of love the juxtaposition of the Sun on the island desperate to reconnect to Jin, and the Sun in "real life" trying to escape him.
Ben: Yeah... really excited to see more about that soon. And to see if Jin undergoes a similar transformation in "real life" as he did on the island.
Jen: The island gave them a chance to reconnect, through Sun's pregnancy. So without that...?

Nikki: Ok...favorite moment of the show? I'd say Kate/Sawyer on the dock.
Ben: Miles grumbling about how Hugo is the leader.
Jen: "Are you a zombie?"
Laurin: The guy, at LAX, crossing in front of the cab saying in his worst New York accent, "Hey, i'm walking here!"
Nikki: Was that Arszt?
Jen: Yes, all in one piece.

Nikki: I kind of want to talk about next weeks episode...looks like we might learn more about Richard.
Laurin: Let's hope so. Like what kind of eyeliner does he use. He seems like a liquid man to me.
Nikki: That is the key question of Lost, I think. That, and "What is the island?"
Jen: I hope we leave the temple, though. Dogan's Japanese is terrible and those folks bug.
Laurin: They bug hard.
Nikki: Yes, im not a fan of the temple. It's a little cheesy.
Laurin: It's like a bad Temple of Doom.

Ben: For the record, I don't think Juliet is really dead.
Jen: Really? Juliet comes back, you think? So will the series end with a wedding?
Nikki:: A very special episode of Lost? I hope not.
Ben: I hope Ross and Rachel attend.