At just 540 calories, KFC’s new chicken sandwich, the Double Down, makes for a modest meal. Even skimpy Hollywood movie star Megan Fox would have to down nearly five of them each day to sustain her weight of 114 pounds. But if the sodium-drenched morsel seems more tooled for casual snacking than a serious feast, it has certainly satisfied our collective appetite for outrage and controversy. In the lead-up to and aftermath of its national debut three weeks ago, the Double Down emerged as an irresistibly mediagenic, instantly polarizing force, the junk food equivalent of Sarah Palin.

 

In true maverick fashion, the Double Down replaces the plainest, least indulgent part of a traditional chicken sandwich — the bun — with the most delicious part — the chicken. At first glance, this seems like a… More…

I ought to be past the stage of being a SINK.

 

Instead, in part thanks to the economy, in part due to changing mores, I’m still stuck as a SINK (Single Income No Kids). I just wish that the word didn’t strike me as being so forlorn, evoking someone having a sardine sandwich for supper.

By chance or choice some couples are Double-Income-No-Kids — DINKs — and, as such, are said to have lots of discretionary income. Oodles of it. The acronym frames parenthood in terms of finances.

The terms “DINK” and “SINK” are related to age and place in the life cycle as it was traditionally constructed. Contemporary usage applies “DINK” to a couple only during the decades when they might be financially responsible for children. Referring to both gay and straight couples, “DINK” isn’t commonly used… 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…

Christmas curmudgeonry has grown as monotonous as the music a Salvation Army kettle-clanger makes. First, the ACLU spoils Baby Jesus’ City Hall camp-out by filing a lawsuit somewhere. Then, the Christian greetings police refuse to turn the other cheek at sales clerks who don’t sufficiently reciprocate their faith-based merriment. Then, secular spendthrifts denounce the excessive commercialism that undermines a day ostensibly devoted to peace, joy, and football. So at least give economist Joel Waldfogel credit for coming up with a new way to tell us how much Christmas sucks. In his new book Scroogenomics, the University of Pennsylvania economics professor argues that our holiday spending binges aren’t efficient enough. For example, say I buy you a toaster for $50, and you buy me a waffle iron for $50. If neither of us really wanted the gifts we received, and would only pay $25 for them if we had to buy… More…

 

There was a time, not long ago, when every American had at least one fantastic job. There was your primary gig — factory worker, schoolteacher, administrative assistant, whatever — which, admittedly, probably was not that great. And then there was your unofficial gig as vice president of taste-testing at every food and beverage company in the land. This position didn’t pay anything, but the work was easy and satisfying. Just like a real vice president of new product development, you sat back on your couch and did nothing as armies of flavor scientists, copywriters, and graphic designers feverishly attempted to create products that would momentarily seduce your roving attention and please your notoriously fickle palate.

Now, thanks to that Web 2.0 scourge known as crowdsourcing, you’ve been demoted from the executive suite to a marketing department cubicle, and… More…

It was a bright yellow table with four sturdy legs. White flowers arched gracefully across its shiny top. Two panels, attached by hinges to the main panel, hung on the sides. Without them the table was square. When the panels came up, the table morphed into an oval-top.

But its best feature was the price. At $5, it had my name written all over it.

I was a newly minted immigrant in this country, on a mission to cobble together the basic household items I needed as a student. A sleeping bag I had brought from India served as my bed. My tiny room had a built-in rectangular closet for my clothes. Reneé, my roommate, had just driven me to a department store where I purchased a fan (for $10, which turned out to be a great value; we still use it 16 years later) to minimize cooling costs…. More…

 

The hundreds of billions of dollars the U.S. government has earmarked for infrastructure repair may not start truly flowing until 2010, but look around the high-end clothing boutiques and upscale department stores of America, and you can see we’re plenty ready for the challenges that lay ahead. Head to toe, from their Engineered Garments railroad conductor caps to their APC leather work boots, our hardest-dressing clotheshorses are tightening their hand-oiled Billy Kirk No. 109 skinny belts and preparing to rebuild America’s rusty bridges, its flimsy levees, its technologically obsolete sewer systems.

Of course, anyone who is willing and able to plunk down half a grand on work boots with meticulously top-stitched vamps — anyone, in fact, who knows what a top-stitched vamp is — isn’t likely to be messing up his manicure any time soon. Metaphorically, however,… More…

People in Chicago were stunned by the announcement that their city was out of the running for the 2016 Olympics after just the first round of voting. Everyone had expected a positive result, particularly after Chicago son Barack Obama got involved. Was it Chicago’s reputation for corruption and strong-arm tactics? If Chicago had been announced as the victor, it may have looked as though the committee bowed to pressure. Or maybe it was the fact that the world does not seem to know what to make of modern-day Chicago. The Olympics were going to be Richard Daley’s legacy: the reintroduction of Chicago to the international community.

Chicago: A Biography by Dominic A. Pacyga. 472 pages. University of Chicago. $35.

Any recognizable narrative of Chicago ended around the second World War, when the population of the city started to drop. The industries… More…

 

[T]he whole plant, instead of rising to the surface of the water as hitherto, hung limp from the fissure where it was placed, and trailed upon the sand. Coincidently, (was it consequently?) a greenish tinge pervaded the water, speedily increasing in depth and opacity. In five days, no object could be discerned six inches from the glass, and my beautiful Aquarium was transformed to an unsightly ditch. — “My Aquarium,” The Atlantic, 1858

For as long as man has tried to keep an aquarium, he’s been struggling to keep it clean. This unavoidable aspect of the hobby was immediately evident on entering the 21st Annual Marine Aquarium Conference of North America in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Put another way, don’t go to a marine aquarium conference expecting a kind of bustling World’s Fair of tanks and fish… More…