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That Ain't Love 

Unreal sheds some pounds, buys some shoes and heads to Mars! Plus: Learning to raft with REO... Speedwagon?

When Unreal heard that the REO Rafting Resort near Vancouver, British Columbia, would be hosting a songwriter's retreat in July 2007, we about peed our pants. The Speedwagon, teaching us how to craft hits for six straight days, with packages running from $700 to $1,000? Booyah! We couldn't fight the feeling to call up Bryan Fogelman, the director of the retreat.

Unreal: So, when do we get to learn how to write hits like "Don't Let Him Go"?

Fogelman: Well, there are some really talented songwriters that attend. Last year we had songwriters from South Africa, New Zealand, all over the U.S. and Canada. About half of them are singer/songwriter performers, and the other half are writers who are trying to get their songs covered by artists.

What, exactly, does "You're under the gun, so you take it on the run" mean?

That would be a lyric that probably wouldn't cut it in Nashville. They're very literal in Nashville, so when you're writing for that market you've got to be very clear. When you're in other genres, you can get away with saying things that are more [obscure].

Do you know why "I'm gonna keep on loving you"?

Um, because we're great?

"'Cause it's the only thing I wanna do."

So, you're a songsmith yourself.

No, we're just excited that your retreat is affiliated with REO Speedwagon. Which members of the band are going to be there?

[Laughs] I wish they'd all be there. Actually, they're playing here in Vancouver in about a month.

So, you have no affiliation with the group?

No — other than that I listened to a lot of REO growing up, so when I started the REO Rafting Resort, I was kind of inspired by REO Speedwagon.

If we bought a ticket to your camp under the impression that REO Speedwagon was going to be there, we would be sorely disappointed.

We don't give that impression. Did you get that impression?


Well, now you've inspired me to try to make contact with REO Speedwagon.

Last thing. Finish this sentence: You can tune a piano, but you can't tuna....


Shoe Wanna Lose Weight?

Imagine Unreal's glee after getting word of The Shoe Diet. This pretty little book is billed as a guide to "weight loss through fabulous new shoes" and was penned by a "fashion scientist." That's, like, totally uncultivated territory!

The intrepid stepper is Isabelle Shaw, a 31-year-old French Canadian who now resides in south city. She's a Ph.D. in biomedical science who used to smoke and never exercised. When she finally kicked the cigs a few years ago, she gained a good chunk of weight. She also became obsessed with shoes — a serendipitous fixation that helped her lose the extra pounds. Unreal, of course, wanted the specifics.

Unreal: So, is this diet all about advocating shoes made with super-duper doses of protein?

Isabelle Shaw: [Laughs] Nooooo. I'm promoting switching habits by motivating yourself and rewarding yourself with shoes. If you've never exercised a day in your life, how do you start? Take walks. Six months from now, you will have lost 60 pounds, but that first day it's not going to happen. So you reward yourself with shoes on the first day. And when you have a hard time staying on the treadmill over the next six months, think about shoes.

Why not sausage?

Shoes make you feel pretty, and good. You don't have to take off your clothes to try them on. You just slip on a pair, and it changes your mood. And that's the one you want to perpetuate throughout this reward process.

Did you buy a pair of Manolo Blahniks at the end of your diet?

Nope. [Laughs] I did get a really pretty pair for the cover of the book, though, and that was my most expensive pair. Now I get to write off my shoes, which to me is just awesome.

How many people have you tested this diet on, and what were the results?

I tested it on myself. It's all based on sound scientific evidence — not the shoe part, but the whole concept of reward and motivation systems.

Cool. Are you going to be on Oprah?

Hopefully one day! I was on The Early Show about a month ago, and I got a call from the Daily News in New York City. And I might be on Today in St. Louis soon.

Breaking Water

This past November, a team of U.S. scientists discovered evidence that water's been flowing on Mars in recent years. It bubbles up to the surface and trickles down slopes, carving odd patterns in gullies. By Unreal's estimation, this means that just beneath the surface of the Angry Red Planet are vast, micro-Martian-infested cauldrons of molten saltwater sludge — but our rooftop observatory's a tad outdated.

Looking for proof, we called our favorite Mars researcher, Ray Arvidson, director of the Earth and Planetary Remote Sensing Laboratory at Washington University. In his spare time, Arvidson's the head of NASA's Planetary Data System Geosciences Node. As a hobby, he's the deputy principal investigator of the Mars Rover mission, which in 2003 landed two high-tech dune buggies, Spirit and Opportunity, on opposite sides of the planet. Three years later they're still collecting data.

"Mars is cold on the outside," explains Arvidson, "but the inside might have some leftover magma pockets or increased heat flow. We might have a situation occasionally where liquid water is close to the surface. If it breaks out at a high discharge, it will take a while to freeze."

Water breaks out of Mars at a high discharge?! Apparently. At one point Arvidson uses the word "gushes." He ignores, however, our suggestion that perhaps the liquid isn't water but the boiling blood of mini-Martians — or that maybe the patterns in fact contain messages written in an alien tongue.

Arvidson says that in a few months, another explorer (the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) will be directly above the water deposits and will shoot pulses of radar at the acreage. The microwaves will penetrate the subsurface and bounce off of water layers (if they're there).

"Water is needed for life," concludes Arvidson. "If there are pockets of water in the shallow subsurface, who knows — there might be biological systems that are able to maintain themselves in that subsurface. We have no idea. But that's why it's so exciting, because liquid water is kind of the elixir for life."


Karen Hornback of Edwardsville (and formerly St. Louis) contributes this week's Commontary. Hornback and her mother, Carol, who uses a wheelchair, recently discovered that the Saint Louis Art Museum has not exactly extended an open invitation to Rembrandt van Rijn's 400th birthday, currently being celebrated with the exhibit Rembrandt: Master Etchings from St. Louis Collections.

It was so disappointing. My mom is 70, and we've always enjoyed Rembrandt, but we got there and there was no way anyone in a wheelchair could see anything. I'm not a curator, but the displays — they're etchings — they're very small. The museum gave out magnifying glasses to examine them with. If you're gonna do that, you could put them in display cases: I don't think that would been unreasonable, for the able-bodied public to sit at, and where people in wheelchairs could wheel up to.

I mentioned this to the security guard and she said, "Well, we can't accommodate everyone." There was not a lot of sensitivity there. I understand you can't accommodate everybody all the time, but they made no attempt. I feel like they should have a wheelchair with a big line through it on all their signs for the exhibit.

I saw kids leaving the room, and a guy with a stroller couldn't even get through the narrow hallway to the exhibit; he had to take an entirely different route. Three people couldn't pass through this one narrow corridor to get to the gallery.

When you get in there, the etchings are all hung on the wall. I'm five-foot-six and they were easy for me to see. Several older, taller people were bending down to look a bit. You needed to get up close and look at them with the magnifying glasses. My mom's had a stroke. She can't get out of the chair. The etchings were hung above her head.

I check out almost any venue before I take my mom anywhere because I don't always expect things to be handicap-accessible, but for some reason I thought the art museum would be accommodating. I thought the museum had public funding; it's not private.

On the first floor of the museum I filled out a comment card and asked for a response. They might respond to it. I wasn't rude, but I wasn't particularly friendly. Anyway, I mentioned that people in wheelchairs — there was no way. I wish I had known.

Ever get the urge to jump up and ____ this damn town?
Tell Unreal about it!

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