Recently by Jesse Smith:

Wife Swap, however, flies under the critical radar. This is a surprise, since Swap is one of the more insidious reality shows on television today.

The series, now in its sixth season, follows a rigid format that takes two wives, and then swaps them. The key is choosing families that exist at either end of an rotating spectrum with seemingly incongruous ends: hard-workers vs. funlovers; savers vs. spenders; athletes vs. the lazy (or, to be honest, the thin vs. the fat).

Reading the pairings on the Wife Swap website is like looking through a kind of only-in-America! panorama of our populace:

– A traditional wife who runs the pet funeral and crematorium family business swaps lives with a wife who’s a shock jock radio DJ. – A strict martial arts family who run their family like a business swap lives with an unconventional family of actors drowning in unpaid bills…. More…

If any zoo or botanical garden or nature center has its hands on your e-mail address, you’ve probably been invited recently to view its Web cam. This isn’t as NSFW a proposition as most invitations to view live Web cams, but is instead an offer to intimately view an animal, usually a bird with eggs about to hatch, from the comfort of your home or (if you’re lucky) your office. This — spring — is prime nature Web cam season.

 

My invitation came from Duke Farms — the sprawling former estate of tobacco heiress Doris Duke in central New Jersey that is today a nonprofit environmental center. “BREAKING NEWS,” an e-mailed newsletter alerted me. “The Eagle Cam is back on the air! Don’t miss this opportunity to watch a pair of Bald Eagles raise a new family this… More…

The funny thing about Rome is that anyone can invoke it. The whole death-to-Caesar thing is popular. John Wilkes Booth seems like something of a quack, quoting Brutus’ “Sic semper tyrannis” as he jumped to the stage after shooting Lincoln. But Abigail Adams thought the same of George III, and signed her wartime letters to her husband John with the name “Portia” — Brutus’ wife. Everyone also seems to love thinking themselves Rome to their enemies’ Carthage. Washington’s victory over Britain was often compared to Rome’s ultimate victory in the Punic Wars. But back before the war ended, Britain’s Charles Van told Parliament, “Delenda est Carthago” (“Carthage must be destroyed”) in discussing the trouble with the colonies — lines spoken by Cato the Elder when Carthage broke the treaty ending the Second Punic War. Tyrants and Carthage, it seems, are in the eye of the oppressed and those facing a… More…

As far as the United States Postal Service’s problems go, a dust-up over a stamp probably doesn’t rank very high. But for the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), the post office’s dire financial straits don’t mean it can just go about issuing stamps of whomever it wants. That’s why the organization — whose focus is maintaining a separation of church and state — last month came out against the Postal Service’s decision to issue a stamp this year honoring Mother Theresa.

FFRF argues that the choice violates the Service’s own ban on stamps and stationary that honor religious individuals. The organization blames “America’s disproportionately powerful Roman Catholic influence,” but a spokesman for the agency told Fox News that the nun is being… More…

 

 

When that poor women recently fell into and tore Picasso’s “The Actor” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, nobody questioned whether the painting should be repaired. The only issue seemed to be how — and as of right now, the Met either doesn’t know or isn’t revealing the answer.

This is a no-brainer. The master paints the work, an adult-education student tumbles into it: Despite the power differential between the two, we’re still working in the realm of the human.

Repairing nature, on the other hand, is a bit more jarring. This is likely why Richard Barnes’ photographs of natural history dioramas in various state of repair have drawn attention since they were collected in a book of his work Animal Logic, released in the fall.

To equate natural history dioramas with… More…

 

 

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is always pointing out that it’s the largest indoor agricultural event in the country, so maybe it makes sense to start with the buildings. The Farm Show is held just outside Harrisburg at the Farm Show Complex & Expo Center — a space, as its name suggests, dedicated to the Farm Show but supported throughout the year by car shows and rodeos and proms. Of course you can’t corral the Keystone State’s largest industry into one space overnight. It’s been an 80-year process that’s resulted in a hodgepodge of buildings with varying degrees of stylistic intent and temperature control. To say that to walk through the Farm Show is to walk back in time isn’t to be wistful for some diminishing agrarian way of life, but… More…

 

Give a bird a seed, you feed it for a day. Give a bird a bird feeder, and you start driving its evolution. Who knew?

Scientists didn’t, at least not until they started studying the migratory patterns of Central European blackcaps in southern Germany and Austria. The small gray birds that summer there traditionally winter on the Iberian Peninsula, fleeing the nutritionally sparse region for the lush olives and fruits of sunny Spain every year. But in the 1950s, a small part of the population began overwintering on the British isles instead of Spain. It seemed like a case of different strokes for different songbirds, until German scientists discovered in 1992 that a genetic basis for the behavior had developed. The light cues that send the birds back to Germany each year come earlier in… More…

 

When word of possible financial catastrophe came out of Dubai last week, the media scrambled for the most highly visual examples of the emirate’s opulence it could find. Luckily, these images were not in short supply. The world has watched for years, transfixed, as a golden Dubai exploded up into the sky and out beyond its natural land. As it built a ski mountain…in the desert!

It’s no surprise, then, that television viewers listened to reporters speak over images of the Burj Dubai, at 2,684 feet the tallest structure in the world. They saw aerial shots of the man-made Palm Islands that extended Dubai out into the Persian Gulf. And they watched footage of people happily cruising the slopes of Ski Dubai. The pairing of these images with news that Dubai’s government-owned investment company wanted to delay payments… More…

 

Go to a dog show on a rainy day and the first thing you notice is the smell. This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s ever owned a dog or been around a dog or heard people talk about just how bad a wet dog smells, but it does. Those dogs are pets — sloppy, misbehaving, food-stealing pets. With show dogs, we anticipate perfected specimens of the animal world that never chew the furniture, never hump company, and never find themselves caught in the rain.

This was the Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s annual two-day dog show. The show does not have the distinction of being the nation’s most prestigious dog show. That would be the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City, which will be held in February and broadcast on… More…

 

Based on the headlines I’ve skimmed, the World Series spurs a lot of questions — questions I don’t really care about involving starters and lineups and blah blah blah. I’ve got a question: How about that Philly Phanatic?!

If the Phanatic takes top billing this Series it’s partly because, well, New York doesn’t have a mascot. I suppose it reflects a minimalist sensibility that non-New York cities lack the confidence to adopt, but whatever the reason, the absence of a mascot is a point of pride. In a 2001 New York Times story on the injuries sports mascots suffer in the line of duty — broken legs, heat exhaustion — writer George Vecsey noted: “It is a tribute to my hometown, New York, that mascots are generally not seen cavorting on the playing fields. New York fans become engrossed… More…