Slightly Higher West of the Mississippi: Back when I was a kid, and when virtually every manufacturing firm in America had their operations on the East Coat, this was the generic disclaimer that was used in ads to warn people that shipping rates would raise the price if they bought something in any location west of the Mississippi River. But a while back, the US Department of Health and Human Services published a map summarizing the results of the National Institute on Drug Abuse annual survey of drug use patterns by region, and what do you know? From looking at that map, it looks like things are slightly higher west of the Mississippi.
To me, the most fascinating thing about looking at this map are the places where the gradient between two adjacent regions is nearly vertical. The Colorado/New Mexico side of the Rocky Mountains is in the highest use; immediately adjacent regions of the Rocky Mountains on the Arizona/Utah side are the lowest. Rural New York state, merely average; rural New Hampshire, baked. Northwestern California, baked; immediately adjacent southwest Oregon, merely average. (Which reminds me of the old billboard that somebody once paid for on the interstate highway just inside Oregon going north: "Oregon is not 'cool.' Go home.") I also found it fascinating that in at least four of the states that grow an awful lot of America's domestic marijuana crop (Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, and Alabama), marijuana usage is perceptibly lower in the growing regions than in the non-growing regions. I also note, less out of surprise than amusement, that rural Missouri, Texas, Wisconsin, and Ohio are very low in marijuana use, but that St. Louis, Dallas/Fort Worth, Madison, and Columbus are all moderately baked.
Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Salty, and Savory: The food columnist for the Manchester (UK) Guardian wrote what has to be the most thorough, thought-provoking, and fascinating article on the subject of monosodium glutamate that I have seen in the whole 25 year or so history of the controversy over it, and for that matter since it was first introduced to this country as a cooking spice when I was a little kid. The headline alone, though, sums up the most interesting question in the whole article. "If MSG Is So Bad for You, Why Doesn't Everyone in Asia Have a Headache?"
and finally for today, Topless Smart Girls in Public: Because if there's anything in the world sexier to me than a woman with intellectual interests showing her breasts in an unexpected public place, well, I just can't imagine what it would be.
Vienna: The prestigious (and notoriously somewhat stuffy) Leopold Museum in Vienna specializes in "modernism," not in the sense of the most modern or current art, but of the artistic movements of a hundred years ago that were specifically called "modernism," like surrealism, dada, and avant garde. They already had scheduled for this summer an exhibition called Nackte Wahrheit (the Naked Truth). The paintings were by Gustav Klimte, Hans Makart, and some lesser known avante garde artists of central Europe around 1900 whose paintings got them in huge trouble, even by the relaxed standards of avant garde art. They gathered together the most controversial paintings (or, in a few cases where the controversy got so intense that the originals were destroyed, reconstructions from photographs) and set up an exhibit to invite the public to compare current controversies over art that "goes too far" to similar controversies of a hundred years ago. (If the catalog is available in English, I'd love to read it.)
Well, the exhibit just happened to fall during a massive summer heat wave, and one of the reasons that was given for sub-par attendance was that people were choosing to spend their weekends at the beach, where they could wear bikinis or speedos or less, instead of getting dressed up for a formal museum visit during crushing heat. So for a publicity stunt, under the guise of offering people a chance to beat the heat and a chance to be part of the hundred-year controversy over these paintings, the museum offered free admission to anyone who showed up wearing swimwear or less. From Yahoo! News, see AP, "Austria Museum Lets Naked People in Free" and "Viennese Public Can Bare Anything to See Nudes Free," and the associated (tame) slideshow of wire service photographs.
New York City: A while back, the New York state Supreme Court ruled that any place that lets men go without shirts has to allow women to go topless, as well, so long as it's not done for lascivious purposes. A New York City professional photographer got curious as to why so few women do, but even more curious as to what it would look like if women were nonchalantly topless in and around many of New York City's defining neighborhoods and landmarks. So he hired models and set out to shoot a huge portfolio of such images, and put it up on his website. One particular image, of a very smart and sexy looking woman using a laptop in a Starbucks, has to be the sexiest single image I've seen in at least a month.