Monday, February 28, 2005


White House Unveils Plan to Privatize Federal Government

WASHINGTON – The Bush Administration will launch a major government reform initiative aimed at privatizing all operations of the federal government, White House spokesmen said today. Called "America, Inc." the plan would place all three branches of government on a private, for-profit basis and turn citizens into shareholders.

"The federal government has rightly been criticized for years as being inefficient," said Secretary of Commerce Donald L. Evans, in a speech outlining the plan to business leaders. "Our ‘America, Inc.' initiative will remake our wasteful government institutions into a lean, mean profit machine."

Under the plan, U.S. citizens will be allowed to purchase shares in the new incorporated federal government during an initial public offering. After that, shares will be traded on one of the major securities exchanges.

"Our one share one vote system is both fairer and more efficient than the current electoral college system, which everyone recognizes is seriously flawed," said Evans. "Voting will be proportional to people's actual stake in society. If it works for corporate America, why not for America, Incorporated?"

Spokesmen for the Bush Administration expect that the abolition of all federal taxes will make the plan extremely popular with the American public. Instead, federal revenue will be raised by placing all government services on a fee-for-service basis, "just like any company that sells a service," said Evans.

Additional revenue will be raised by selling off unneeded assets, such as the Alaska Wildlife Wasteland, as well as by selling corporate naming rights to certain public buildings and monuments, such as "the Microsoft White House," explained White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

The Administration contends that privatization will capture numerous efficiencies that go along with the profit motive. Some administration spokesman have admittedly privately that the federal government has had a difficult time attracting competent high level officials because of federal salaries that pay as little as 10 or even 5 percent of the salaries available to corporate executives with comparable experience.

Under America, Inc., President Bush, as CEO, would be expected to earn an eight-figure annual income, comparable to the salaries paid to heads of Fortune 500 companies.

Bozzo bozzo bozzo bozzo bozzo bozzo bozzo bozzo bozzo bozzo


Sunday, February 27, 2005


The opposite of simulblogging the Oscars

I'm not watching the Oscars. "You're broadcasting, but I can't see or hear you." I'm blogging, after the Oscars are over, about something not the Oscars.

Tonight, I watched the final episode of Sports Night, Aaron Sorkin's brilliant half-hour comedy-drama that was cancelled after two short seasons. This concludes a few months of Sorkin-dominated DVD-viewing, consisting of three seasons of West Wing followed by Sports Night.

Here are a couple of quirky Sorkinisms that one notices after several weeks of audio-visual entertainment in which more than half consists of Sorkin. When I say these things, please put it in the context that I think he's the most brilliant TV-show-creator ever.

1. He has some thing about sex workers who are really highly-educated "nice girls." (The "call girl" who goes to Georgetown Law School by day and dates Rob Lowe in the first season of West Wing; the Julliard-trained "adult film actress" who dates Jeremy towards the end of Sports Night.)

2. He likes the name "Danny." (Daniel Rydell, Sports Night. Daniel McCaffey, the lead character in A Few Good Men.)

3. He milks a lot of laughs out of the same opeing dialogue formula, in which one character obsesses about something, riffing on it four to six times, while the other person finds various ways to say "I don't care."

4. Have you ever noticed how everyone is so witty in Aaron Sorkin's world? If you just saw the words, and didn't see or hear the actors saying them, it would be pretty clear that the characters all talk like the same person. Maybe a lot of playwrights write like this.

5. Aaron Sorkin desparately wants to be down with the brothers. Mawkish moments are uncharacteristic of him, and seem to crop up only when a white guy in his story wins acceptance or approval from a black guy. It was sort of teeth-grinding to watch Isaac Jaffe, the head honcho at Sports Night, who is black, lovingly reassure Jeremy Goodwin that the latter is not a racist. (My partner B infers that Jeremy, the adorable nerd played by Joshua Malina who is not only not a racist, but who also dates the porn star, is Sorkin's alter ego.) The very worst moments of Sorkin's A Few Good Men come when Tom Cruise, with a cloying barf-worthy smile, banters hiply with the black man who runs the newstand.

Speaking of Robert Guillaume, who plays Isaac Jaffe on Sports Night, one of the coolest things about that series is that, after the 73-year-old Guillaume suffered a stroke in real-life, Sorkin wrote that into the show, and after missing some epidsodes, Guillaume/Jaffee returned to his role, post-stroke symptoms and all. It was incredibly moving. I wonder whether the stroke kept Guillaume off of West Wing, a show that features a number of former Sports Nighters. Guillaume, as you may know, had already risen from butler at the governor's mansion to Lieutenant Governor on the long-running sitcom Benson, and from there became Managing Director of Sports Night. With those qualifications, he'd have made a great Attorney General. I'm happy to report that Guillaume, now 78, is still working hard, with two movie roles in production.

Anyway, I now have two choices. Watch the first three seasons of West Wing again,* or else read some books.

* If you care, I've made a decision not to jump ahead and watch the current season of West Wing, and I've been too lazy to try to pick up the reruns at the beginning of the fourth season. I'm waiting for the DVD to come out...


New Project Bozzo format

Marginal Utility has been finding ways to link to my blog "organically," that is, with actual blog text for which the links make some sense. He's got more class than I do.

Bozzo bozzo bozzo bozzo bozzo bozzo bozzo bozzo bozzo bozzo

Saturday, February 26, 2005


Oscar Madison's Oscar Predictions

You might think that because my first name is Oscar [it isn't], I have some special affinity for, or insight into, the Oscars [I don't].

Here are my Oscar predictions. I predict that an array of stars, wannabe stars, obscure spouses of stars, and producers, be-tuxed and be-gowned, will preen on the red carpet posing for paparazzi while knowing that they love us (their adoring public), they hate us, they can't live without us. I predict that the camera will focus on numerous nominees seated in the Kodak Theatre looking as if they're concentrating on something. (They're concentrating on not looking into the camera at that moment.) I predict that several sex symbols will look surprising in fetchingly dorky glasses which they never wear on-screen. I predict that the broadcast will be an insufferable three hours long, chock full of appalling musical numbers and trite thank-you speeches. Chris Rock will create an occasional mild anxiety with his latent dangerous edginess and, while he'll make a joke or two that creeps right up to the line, he will mostly play it safe with cheesy cornball cloying awards host schtick.

Finally, I predict that there will be widespread disillusionment among the Academy Awards viewers. Best Actress went to the actress who doled out gold Rolexes to voters beforehand! Best picture went to the blockbuster who's budget was so big that, if it didn't win, several influential producers would have to be taken out back and shot! Here's what really slays me. It's not that so many smart people get caught up in the spectacle of award-bestowing, as though it means something. It's the widespread sense of betrayal that the Oscar process falls short of the ideal of a democratic meritocracy. Grown men and women, some who can be quite hard-headed and cynical about real democratic elections that send various bozos to the state house, the Congress, or the White House, can be brought to tears or driven to feverish outrage that Russell Crowe got "Best Actor" when someone else was better that year.

How is it that we easily remember from one quadrennial to the next how flawed our presidential selection system is, but that we seem to forget from one year to the next that the Motion Picture Academy makes only token gestures toward meritocracy, reserving that for the Best Supporting Actress and Best Foreign Documentary categories?

Tomorrow night, I'll be getting my hat blocked.


Project Bozzo update

Bozzo's reflection on our linking game demonstrates what I like so much about his blog – the man has an interesting mind. By the way, TTLB was not fooled, or impressed or whatever, by my linking to the same Bozzo posts, and Bozzo himself has already figured out that I can only link to any one of his posts and have that count on the TTLB ecosystem. So I have to link to several new and different posts of his each day in order to have any impact. If I were a techie, I could figure out a program to automate this...


Friday, February 25, 2005


Project Bozzo update

Project Bozzo is in full swing, and Marginal Utility has already evolved from "crawly amphibian" to "slithering reptile," due largely to several well deserved links to his corpus of posts on social security. I'm curious whether TTLB will count it as a unique link if I were to link to some of the same Marginal Utility posts in separate posts on this blog. To conduct that experiment, let me reiterate that Bozzo's views on privatizing social security are worth reading, so check his posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Have a nice day, and Bozzo, Bozzo, Bozzo!

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Blogging games

The Althouse Effect

"A ridiculous irony in the game of blogging is that you can score a lot of links by saying something that people disagree with vehemently." So writes Althouse in a recent post. But I say the game of blogging isn't serious enough to have "ridiculous ironies," just ordinary ironies.

I was privileged to have a link from Althouse yesterday. After learning about it, I sat back and waited for the Althouse Effect, an anticipated major spike in my hit counter numbers. I did indeed get a spike, as my average, hovering at the 25-45 hits per day level, rose to 82 yesterday and 140 and counting as of 10:30 p.m. today. I'm doing almost as well as getting linked to a discussion thread on UserFriendly. But in another one of those "ironies of the blogging game," my spike may not really be attributable to Althouse Effect. As best I can track these things -- viewing the referring URL list on my hit counters -- it seems as if the majority of recent traffic is coming from new links other than Althouse. Indeed, last night, when the spike first became observable, the great majority of new traffic was coming from a couple of links from Nina. Nina-referrals were outpolling Althouse-referrals by a margin of about 4-1.

This is not a ridiculous, but a delicious irony in that Nina is so nonchalant about hit statistics that she doesn't even have a hit counter. I'm inferring that, unbeknownst to her, she has quite a substantial readership. Either that or one or two incredibly obsessive people who repeatedly went to her blog and clicked the link to me.

Today, Althouse-referrals to my blog rose relative to Nina-referrals -- perhaps Althouse readers are daytime blog-checkers, while Nina gets the night-owl crowd -- but Althouse-referrals do not seem to be in any sense dominant, as the Tonya Show seems to have emerged as the plurality front-runner.

I think Nina would say hit-counting is silly. I think it's fun -- not at a level that would produce ridiculous ironies, but something on the order of accumulating "masters points" at your local bridge club.

Project Bozzo

The "TTLB" ("The Truth Laid Bear") Ecosystem is another blog game, one that feeds on the bloggers' desire for links. Hits and links are all very rough proxies for readers, which are in turn rough proxies for attention and approval. The TTLB Ecosystem ranks enrolled blogs by the number of unique incoming links to each blog. In collaboration with Marginal Utility, I am launching Project Bozzo. This is an effort to raise our status in the TTLB Ecosystem by fanatically linking to each other. Just to set the starting bar: at the opening of Project Bozzo, I was a "flippery fish" with 7 links, and Marginal Utility was a "crawly amphibian" with 10 links.

Why "Project Bozzo"? Although, like hit counters, the TTLB Ecosystem is another kinda-fun self-absorption game for bloggers, it strikes me as a bit pretentious to claim to find "Truth" in counting links. Project Bozzo is designed to explore the nature of this truth. I will add that I like the name Bozzo, and that Tom Bozzo's blog, Marginal Utility, is a must read for anyone who wants to stay informed about the gathering storm of propaganda by Bush Administration flacks to promote the great push to privatize Social Security. Check his posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Bozzo lays bare the truth. Plus he knows a lot about cars.

Bozzo, Bozzo, Bozzo!


Calling all Monthy Python-Heads

Remember all those annoying people who not only could, but actually would, recite entire Monty Python sketches, word for word? They could be triggered at the drop of a hat, and then they would keep going several minutes until completion, accent and all, and not stop, even when you would cut in and say things like, "yeah, yeah," "or, I saw that one," or "okay, enough already," or "I'm leaving now."

Where are those people when you need them? Today, the NYT reports (in its lead story in the print version) that the Royal Navy (you know, the one with all those Her Majesty's ships) is aiming a recruitment drive to recruit more gays. They will be placing "adverts" as the Brits say.

Let's doff our caps. The United States lags behind the rest of the developed world on yet another human rights issue.

Why the Monty Python reference? I recall that back in the 70s, the sketch comedy show featured a segment consisting of mock TV ads by the "Royal Nay-vee" pitched toward gays. Prophetic. Perhaps I could confirm this vague recollection by extensive internet research, but I'd rather get a confirming email from a Python-head, who could also provide a complete recitation of the sketch...

Wednesday, February 23, 2005



Still at the party. Says another partygoer (pausing in the middle of karaoke singing): "you're blogging about me, aren't you?"


New Format!

I've made a major format change to my blog... you've probably noticed. The "description" or subtitle of my blog. From the beginning, it was "Critical thinking about law, society, politics, things in general, and the New York Mets." My post yesterday made me self-reflective, however, and I have to admit that since the election there has been very little in the way of critical thinking on these pages.

My new description reflects a way of life that I could say a lot more about, and probably will soon. But right now I'm at a party, and several people are talking at once, trying to make themselves heard over the karaoke machine.

I will say for now that (1) my current goal is to average 50 hits a day; and (2) when I said this at the party, another partygoer said "I used to think 40 hits a day was good, but now I think 4,000 is inadequate."

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


A thin veneer of pseudonymity

I think I've more or less admitted in these pages that Oscar Madison is not my real name. What's more, my real superhero identity is not the world's best kept secret. I have some blogger friends who express mild amusement about this. Why do I cling to this thin veneer of pseudonymity? they ask me in so many words. When I say "mild amusement," what I really mean is "mild irritation." My pseudonymity, it seems to me, strikes these folks as a quirk that, while not quite reaching the level of a bad habit, is something they rather I didn't have. Like a facial tic, or a tendency toward scrupulously calculating each person's share of a split dinner tab.

Indeed, two blogistas have recently expressed their... "amusement" on their blogs. I won't link, because you know who you are. One gave me a facetious "award" for my amusingly futile efforts to maintain my pseudonymity. Another thinned my already thin veneer of pseudonymity by providing gratuitous context clues to my identity. I'll be having dinner with these and some other bloggers soon, and it wouldn't surprise me if I suffered further corrosion of this veneer in the form of some indiscretion on a blog, perhaps a revealing photo. At a minimum, I am guessing that – as the only pseudonymous blogger at this blogger gathering – I'll be asked to explain myself. In anticipation of these developments, I explain thus.

I make no secret that I'm a law professor. It's right there in my profile. This means I have students, and a professor image to live up to with my students. Maybe maintaining my image as a law professor isn't as onerous as the image-burden borne by, say, a Supreme Court justice, or the pope. But it's not nothing. In front of my students, I have to be reasonably fair, dignified and mature. This doesn't mean being a phony; it's more a question of emphasizing certain aspects of one's personality and putting others in a closet for the day.

If you read my blog, you know that I use somewhat crude language from time to time. I say "f***" in several posts. Just the other day, in a single post, I used the terms "big butt" and "ass." Indeed, "big butt" was in the title of the post. I have (in my opinion) a somewhat wide-ranging sense of humor that isn't above occasional dips into puerility. Not that I'm Beavis and Butthead, but I did find Beavis and Butthead kind of funny. Also, there's about a 75% chance that I will laugh out loud any time I hear, read, say or think the phrase "bone-in ham."

I don't tell my students that I'm always "the dignified professor" or that I never use crude language. That would be pompous and false, not to mention irrelevant. But I don't use crude language around students. In order to provide an effective learning environment, I feel my students should have a certain level of assurance that I will not make jokes about "big butts" in my classroom or my office. At the same time, I don't want a student to walk up to me and say "bone-in ham." Maintaining an image means drawing a line between your professional persona and your personal life.

Most law-prof bloggers seem content to put their blogs largely or mostly on the professional side of that line. While they don't always blog about law, they seem to refrain from saying stuff that would be inappropriate in a conversation with a student in their offices. Folks like Professor Bainbridge, or the Volokh Conspiracy, or Althouse, or Conglomerate maintain an informal, yet not-unprofessional tone. To varying degrees they trade on their academic affiliations, and would have relatively little ground for complaint if, for example, their law schools posted something about their blogs on the law school web sites. And you don't catch them saying "big butt." Indeed, a Google search "‘big butt' professor bainbridge" yields only a few hits, none of them from his blog.

A couple of professor bloggers write blogs that are almost entirely personal in nature. But I could as easily ask them, "why aren't you pseudonymous"? My thin veneer of pseudonymity may not protect my identity very effectively, but it does give me a way to say "no" if the law school wants to acknowledge my blog officially. And it lets me save face if a student were to come up to me and refer to one of my blog posts with leering familiarity.

My friend J, a linguistics professor, recently explained to me that the word "sheesh" is a "taboo avoidance" device, a way not to say "Jesus Christ" in vain. My pseudonymity is likewise, a form of taboo avoidance. The pseudonym is an announcement that the views expressed on this blog are not those of the classroom professor, that they are part of my personal, not professional professorial, life. They are part of my "bone-in ham" life.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


Bush Reportedly Mulling Fox Funny Fake News Anchor Offer for 2009

WASHINGTON – President Bush is considering taking a job as anchor of a satirical mock-news broadcast after his current term as president ends, according to White House sources.

Speaking on a condition of anonymity, sources close to the President say that Mr. Bush is weighing an offer from Fox Broadcasting Company that would reportedly pay him a “low eight-figure sum” to host the show, starting in early 2009.

While executives at Fox have declined to comment specifically on offers to Mr. Bush, a spokesman for Peter Roth, President of FOX Entertainment Group, confirms that the network is indeed contemplating the launch of a TV broadcast called “The Nightly Show,” to compete with "The Daily Show,” on the Comedy Central cable television network. The Fox spokesman admitted that "all we need is an affable, funny guy" to be "the conservative answer to Jon Stewart," the Daily Show's popular host.

When asked whether the network felt that Mr. Bush could be successful in a comedic fake news anchor role in direct competition with Mr. Stewart, the Fox spokesman quipped, “Well, I've got three words for you: 'Need some wood?' Come on, Bush is funny.”

Saturday, February 19, 2005


Bush Administration Defends Fake News Broadcasts

Claims they were meant to be funny

WASHINGTON -- Responding to a warning from the Government Accountability Officethat White House-sponsored fake news broadcasts violate federal laws against propaganda, spokesman for the Bush Administration have asserted that the news broadcasts, while fake, were "meant to be humorous."

"The GAO obviously wouldn't know a funny joke if it came up and hit them in the face," said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. Last Thursday, the GAO's chief, Comptroller General David M. Walker, issued a letter warning federal agency heads against the practice of issuing "prepackaged news stories" that "are intended to be indistinguishable from news segments broadcast to the public by independent television news organizations."

The GAO warning appears to be a reaction to two instances of phony news videos, one issued by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and one by the Department of Health and Human Services, in which actors, impersonating newscasters, touted Bush administration policies relating to federal anti-drug policy and Medicare reform proposals. The tapes were sent to local television stations for use in news programs.

But the White House has vigorously defended the use of fake news to get a good healthy laugh from the public. At the same time, the White House press secretary attacked the GAO for falling prey to "the liberal media bias."

"If the Comptroller General is so concerned about fake news broadcasts, why isn't he cracking down on The Daily Show?" retorted McClellan. "Notice how it's okay to have funny fake news so long as it's liberal propaganda. Can't the White House be funny too? Hahahahahaha!"

McClellan charged that the distinction between "fake" and "so-called real" news broadcasts is not as great as one might think. "After 'Rathergate,' I'd say it's all pretty fake," he said.

Friday, February 18, 2005


Dishonorable discharge in academia

The NYT reports that "several professors [are] talking about taking a vote of no confidence" in Harvard President Lawrence Summers for his public remarks last month dissing the "intrinsic aptitude" of women for science and engineering careers.

The "vote of no confidence" sounds so old fashioned and parliamentary, and it makes me wonder whether there is an academic ceremony to effectuate the disgracing of a university president. I envision Summers, wearing his full academic regalia of cap, gown and hood, being slowly walked through a gauntlet of tenured professors. He stops before the Chairman of the Harvard University Board of Trustees, who rips the decorative stripes from his robe. The humiliation is complete when the chairman shifts the tassle on Summers' mortarboard from the left back to the right side...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Big butt TV

I have a confession to make. This past weekend, I cheated on my TV. I spent the weekend in a hotel room in New York City with a slim, sexy, flat-screen TV.

I stayed at one of these hipster “boutique” hotels with tres moderne room furnishings, including a flat-screen TV on the wall. It’s the first time I’d ever seen a flat-screen for real. Sure, I’d seen them advertized on my old TV, but I’m not one for browsing at places like Circuit City, since I find a wall of turned-on TVs disconcerting, the visual equivalent of a dense underbrush of barbed wire.

The flat-screen was the only thing mounted on the wall – no hotel art. It occurs to me that flat-screens lend themselves to a sort of minimalist design ethos. On the one hand, you don’t need to enshrine the TV, as in former days, in its own corner of the room with a special cabinet or stand. The flat-screen hovers unobtrusively, at a standing-eye level, only a little boxier than a large dry-mounted poster. You can easily ignore the dark blankness on the screen, but it stares out at you, ready, waiting to catch your gaze, and remind you that it is there for you, a portal into the Alice-in-Wonderland World of Reality Shows, Fox News and a fictional President whose wisdom and judgment makes for uneasy comparisons with the actual smirking one giving the State of the Union address. You don’t need, indeed want, anything else on your wall, since that would only distract from the TV screen image. And so, in its subtle and almost perverse way, the flat-screen becomes more of a TV shrine than the TV it replaced.

If I were to buy a flat-screen it would be like taking on trophy wife, expensive, showy and light in your hands. I think about the TV waiting for me back home. A 19-inch Mitsubishi I bought for $289. It’s not like its screen is bulbous, and in it’s day – so the Circuit City guy assured me – it was near the cutting edge of TV technology. “This is ‘Diamondvision Technology,’” he had said. “This is what you see at the ballpark.” But as with all TVs that are not flatscreens, it has a very large behind. To the rear of a screen that could still be called “flat-ish,” my TV has about two feet of boxy, cathode-ray-tube action going on back there. That means it cannot be moved any closer to the wall, cannot be slid neatly onto a bookshelf and cannot be carried under one arm, but must be instead cradled with two arms like a 50-pound struggling dog whose weight is so unevenly balanced that it’s prone to tipping out of your grasp and crashing spectacularly to the floor.

I bought my TV back in 1987. That’s right – it’s 17 years old, more aged than most household pets. Even more bizarrely, it has been with me far longer than the ancient cabinet-style Magnaovox Home Entertainment Center, with TV, speakers, hi-fi stereo/radio with built in record-player was with my family. That Magnavox was in my parents living room the day they brought me home from the hospital, was the first TV I ever knew, was the TV whose screen, I am told, I would kiss as a five year old when models for Alberto VO5 shampoo would flaunt their shimmery hair. If you could see that ancient dinosaur of a TV, you could only assume that it had been in my family forever, but I’m pretty sure it was replaced after no more than 12 years.

My TV’s sound is getting somewhat fuzzy. It can’t be hooked up to a computer, and its days of interacting with newer model DVDs and VCRs are undoubtedly numbered. When it was in its first year in my possession, my apartment was burglarized and my TV remote control was stolen. The TV itself had been moved slightly but left behind, as if the burglars thought about stealing it but then concluded, “how am I going to get away with a TV with such a huge ass?” For the next 16 years, I could turn it on and off and adjust the volume only by getting up off the couch and touching the controls on the set itself – it was incompatible with several generations of “universal remotes.” But, magically, the remote for my new DVD player, purchased just a few months ago, works on the TV. Now I can stay on the couch and let my butt get as big as the TV’s.

I’m saddened to think that an entire generation of TV design may be wiped out by a social aesthetic that overvalues thin. There’s nothing wrong with a big behind. Unless the manufacturers of this old school style of TV plan to dump their products exclusively in places like Brazil and Cuba, then you have to wonder whether they have a long term marketing plan to make the big butt beautiful again.

Monday, February 14, 2005


New York City, February 2005: The Gates of Central Park

Wherein I prove yet again that I am a no-fun philistine!

I spent some quality time with Christo's Gates today in Central park, which were being enjoyed by throngs of people.

For an account by someone who appreciated the Gates as they were meant to be, one can’t do better than Nina’s blog, whose extensive photo essay beautifully captures the experience in words and pictures. Nina was all over those things. Here at CM, you’ll have to settle for the opinions of a sore-head.

I thought the Gates were kind of neat: 20 foot high plastic trestles in a pleasant “saffron” color, lining several miles of Central Park’s winding walkways at 5-10 yard intervals, varying by width to match the width of the pathway, each adorned with hanging saffron sailcloth or some such fabric waving in the gentle breeze.

And yet, part of me couldn’t help but feel like this was another situation in which the talent of the “artist” is that of the tailor in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” or Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. This isn’t the first “art” exhibit based on the theory that a large, neatly arranged assemblage of like items can be shaped into art. I think of the oil can collection in a glass display case at Luna Café. Perhaps a collection of several thousand supersized traffic cones or road construction warning flags lining the paths would have worked just as well aesthetically.
“No that’s exactly the point. The fact that you think an orange cone or flag would work just as well as a saffron-colored, sailcloth-draped gate shows precisely that you are not an artist!”
True enough, I’m no artist. But are the gates so different from, say, those colorful lamp-post banners that many cities now use to announce their museum shows, symphonies and Major League Baseball teams? I really like Christmas lights. Aren’t the gates just a clunkier attempt, than Christmas lights, to dress up some already awesome landscaping? We’re talking about Central Park here, one of the most beautiful urban parks in the world. What a bore, huh? Did it “need something,” like bland chili?

When it comes to deploying an army of pretty flag bearers in a tree-lined field, Cristo’s Gates seem quite pale next to Kurasawa’s movie tableaux in Ran and Kagemusha, whose scenes of thousands of soldiers in color-coordinated medieval Japanese armor take your breath away.

Speaking of pale, Cristo’s “saffron” did get me thinking. If only he could have interspersed royal blue gates with his saffron ones, we might have had a lovely celebration of the New York Mets, or if you like, the 40th anniversary of the 1964-65 New York Worlds Fair. Are the Mets colors blue and saffron? “There’s a thought,” I thought as I sat on a park bench peeling my tangelo. Holding the tangelo peels up to my eye, I found the color to be very close to that of the gates. How close are these other oranges to saffron?
Orange peel
Zabar’s shopping bag logo
Traffic cone (too red)
Automobile front end turn signal
I began to notice orange all around me. The festive orange-colored winter hat (very close to saffron) of the woman in front of me was to worn to have been bought for today’s Gate-watching, but some of the orange scarves we saw, as my companion B observed, looked pret-ty new. The traffic cones have too much red in them. The cabs are an orangy-yellow, but definitely more yellow than orange – next to the gates.

Hmmm. Getting your butt out to Central Park on a crisp winter day, getting you to think about color. Is it perhaps... art?

Sunday, February 13, 2005



To quote the famous headline from the Onion: Factual inaccuracy found on internet!

It was recently suggested in these pages that there are no girls named "Brooklyn." According to A, the Director of The Columnist Manifesto's After-the-Fact-Checking Department, this is incorrect.
According to the Social Security Administration's Popular Baby Names website, Brooklyn was the 119th most popular baby name in 2003. However, none of the other boroughs was among the top 1000 baby names for the years 1990-2003, [during which] Paris ranked 275, London ranked 892, and Gary ranked 326.
The Columnist Manifesto, while proud of its witty fact-checking experts, feels very foolish for having overlooked the, in retrospect, overwhelming likelihood that baby-name websites would exist in abundance on the internet. To be sure, once the Bush Administration privatizes Social Security, the SSA's "Baby Naming Website" will doubtless either be abolished or else made available only to premium pay subscribers.

The Columnist Manifesto regrets the error, particularly since we do not relish having the following conversation in our law school classes 22 years from now:
PROFESSOR OSCAR MADISON: How was the due process clause interpreted in the case you read for today? Brooklyn?

STUDENT: It's Brook-lyn.

Saturday, February 12, 2005


New York City, February 2005: Deep thoughts

Why aren't there any girls named "Brooklyn"?

Friday, February 11, 2005


Saudi's forestall U.S. invasion by setting own "fires of freedom"

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA -- Saudi Arabia, long considered an iron-fisted, authoritarian monarchy, took a giant step toward democracy today by holding its first ever elections. Although the elections were only for the purpose of electing local government counsels, and although women are denied the right to vote, the Saudi's "new birth of freedom" is considered by experts sufficient grounds to remove Saudi Arabia from the Bush Administration's "freedom and democracy hit list."

"It's true, they were next," said a White House source speaking on condition of anonymity. "Until these elections, they wouldn't have know freedom if they tripped over it."

Under the Bush Doctrine, any middle-Eastern country is subject to preemptive military strike by U.S. forces for the purposes of establishing elected democratic government.

Saudi oil sheiks are privately breathing collective sighs of relief, since it was widely believed that President Bush is far too principled to let long-standing business and personal ties stand in the way of his bold plan to spread democracy throughout the world, if necessary by force....

Thursday, February 10, 2005


New York City, February 2005: What I should have said

I’m back in New York City, home of the original Barney’s New York, New York (as opposed to Barney's New York, LA). Flew here from the middle of the country, with one stopover. Here's what I should have said.

To the guy bellowing into his cell phone at the airport “Food Court”:
What I should have said: “Sir! Lower your voice! Please! Can’t you see that Food Court is in session?"

What I said: nothing.
To the woman who sold me the regrettable pecan roll at Cinnabon, in the airport “Food Court”:
What I should have said: “Don’t you find it strange that it’s always the worst food offenders who actually run the Food Court?”

What I said: “Thank you.”
To the cagey hustler at Port Authority Bus Terminal, who asked me “what bus you lookin’ for?”:
What I should have said: “Oh, are you the greeter?”

What I said: “I’m fine, thanks.”
To the second cagey hustler, at the subway station just outside of Port Authority, who offered to sell me a used Metrocard:
What I should have said: “Right. No one who’s from New York City ever goes away for a couple of days and then returns to the bus station carrying a f***ing bag. As you suspected, I’ve just gotten off the f***ing boat!.”

[Note: best way to sound like someone trying to sound like they’re from New York – lots of F-words.]

What I said: “No thank you.”
To the 5-year old on Broadway who was whining and struggling against his dad’s grip, while his dad said, “Luke, if you go back in that store, you’re going to be sorry”:
What I should have said: “Lu-u-u-u-ke. I... am... your faahhh – ther.”

What I said: nothing.
To the hotel desk clerk, who said, “Do you need help with your bag?”
What I should have said: "I’ve been humping this bag around since 7 o’clock this morning, on and off of two planes and a bus, through three miles of airport and bus terminal corridors, and then maneuvered it uptown by subway and for several blocks on foot. Yes, what I’d really like now is to pay someone five dollars to carry my bag the last few feet to my room."

What I said: “No thank you.”
To the foreign traveler on the airport bus who pointed to the words “Port Authority” on his ticket and asked me in halting English, “are we here?” and then debarked, looking rather lost.
What I said: “Yes, this is Port Authority.”

What I should have said: “Do you know where you’re going next? Can I help you?”

Monday, February 07, 2005


More lessons of history

Hitler's offensive against France, launched on May 10, 1940, was a foregone conclusion by June 10, when Paris fell to the Germans. That same day, Mussolini's Italy declared war on France, like a vulture hoping to grab some meat off the bones. John Lukacs, in The Duel: The Eighty-Day Struggle Between Churchill and Hitler, describes Hitler's reaction thus:
The fall of Paris had been forseeable for a week at least. Hitler had made no particular remark on it that day. He was privately critical of Mussolini for having resorted to a formal declaration of war [on France] on the 10th of June. Declarations of war were an "antiquated and hypocritical" practice:

“That will be the last declaration of war in the history of the world. Attack and march! That is the right and healthy way. I shall never sign a declaration of war. I shall act!”
There are some ironies here. The United States, of course, declared war on Japan and German 18 months later, but that is the last declaration of war in the history of the United States. No war was declared on North Korea, North Vietnam, Iraq (either for Desert Storm or this last time around) or any of our other armed conflicts since World War II.

While our presidents are quite eager to declare metaphorical wars -- on poverty, on drugs, on crime, on terrorism -- they actually lack the power to declare real war. That power is given by our Constitution to Congress in Art. I, sec. 8, clause 11. The pattern since World War II in which presidents commit American forces to combat on a large scale and get after-the-fact ratification by Congress; or receive pre-approval for commitment of troops to armed conflicts of vaguely defined scope represent a troubling shift of power from Congress to the president on this most important national question.

Sunday, February 06, 2005



It appears that I am HOMPed ("hoist on my [own] petard"). I now regret that I ever blogged about my favorite coffee house, Grandma Moses, because I have not been able to get a table there the last few times I have gone! What's that about? No table Saturday morning, no table Sunday morning. It's such a mixed blessing when a place you love gets a favorable, high profile review. You want it to do well, but you don't want to share it so much.

You may be thinking that the 20 or so people who read this blog are not enough to swamp the seating at Grandma Moses, even more so since I have not actually revealed the true name of Grandma Moses or even what town it's in. Yes, but the people who know...

This reminds me of a bit in a novel by my favorite espionage novelist, Alan Furst. The Parisian restaurant he always writes about -- the fictional Brasserie Heinenger -- gets shot up in the course of a hit by two Tommy-gun toting assassins. French guy and British guy the next day are discussing the hit, and this dialogue ensues:

FRENCH GUY: Well, in any case, I wouldn't try to dine there for a while.
BRITISH GUY: Yes, I suppose it will be closed for repairs.
FRENCH GUY: Are you kidding? Of course, it's open. But you won't be able to get a table there for weeks!

Saturday, February 05, 2005


New ties

For the first time in many years, I bought a couple of new neckties. I don't have a digital camera, so I can't show you the actual ties, but one was a magenta color pretty close to the one pictured far left, though with a busier, more abstract pattern. The other was in contrasting blues, pretty close to this origami necktie. (Origami necktie???) In shape and width (but not pattern or color), my ties were both like this Prostate Cancer Awareness necktie .

What strikes me about the width of the ties is not that they make me aware of prostate cancer -- they don't. Though interestingly, I once heard a comedian comment that the function of the necktie was to promote awareness of the male crotch, inasmuch as the tie is essentially a big arrow pointing straight down there.

No, my new ties made me think of nothing so much as the neckties of the 1970s. Certainly, the colors today are better than in the 1970s, which would have featured brown and orange or else bold contrasts, but in terms of width and shape, it's flashback to 1974.

My new ties also make me feel old. It's not because they remind me that I was old enough to be wearing a tie in 1974, but something more subtle. In 1974, my dad wore relatively narrow ties -- he did not get "hip" to wide ties until about 1980, when they were being replaced with the narrower "power ties" of Wall Street fame. Meanwhile, in the early-mid-1980s, I cleaned out dad's collection of narrow ties for myself ("you're not going to wear these anymore, are you dad?"), as well as his old bowling shirts, which all matched up nicely with my 1950s era thrift store sport jackets.

The reason I feel old is the mental process that has kept me from buying new ties for some time. I think, "I'll just keep wearing these kind of middling-width ones, because the 'fashion pendulum' will soon swing back, and I'll be right back in the game -- with a couple of extra bucks of spending money in my pocket to boot!"

Thus, the old feeling. Like my dad, I have become that guy who is unable or unwilling to keep up with the fashion trends. They do always swing back: 1940s - wide lapels, 1955-65 narrow lapels, late 1960s to late 1960s, wide lapels, 1980s narrow lapels, 1990s -- 60s style three button jackets, etc. It's all manipulation to get you to keep buying stuff. Those damn young fashionista whippersnappers!

This illustration demonstrates my point. The short wavelength at the bottom represents the pendulum swinging fashion trends -- wide tie, narrow tie, wide tie, narrow tie. The increasingly longer wavelengths above illustrate a man's ability to change his personal fashion as he gets older.

Note that there will be moments where the older guy's personal fashion will intersect with the hip new fashion trend. My dad's wide ties are now back in, so this is just the right moment for him to begin sporting some mid-width ties. Maybe I could trade with him.


Comments function activated!

I have enabled the comments function! Now all of you who have been dying to comment on my posts can do so. I hope this doesn't make me an enabler.

I was inspired to do so by this discussion thread on UserFriendly, which basically said that I'm lame and have no one to blame but myself because the comments function was disabled. Blame for what? For any disappointment I may feel about blogging.

By the way, UserFriendly gave me my second spike yesterday (over 100). Meanwhile, my duration per hit numbers continue to fall (49 seconds now). However, a UserFriendly reader named "foredeck" (a sailing enthusiast?) has kindly told me not to obsess about those numbers. The explanation is not necessarily that the geeks don't like my site, but that "UFies speed-read!" (UFies, for you unhipsters, are UserFriendly folks.)

Thursday, February 03, 2005


Nerd porn

Yesterday, my partner B picked up the mail and announced that I had received my January 2005 issue of Chess Life Magazine. The following dialogue ensued:
B (reading the magazine cover): "U.S. Women's Team 2004 Chess Olympiad."
ME: No kidding! I hope there are pictures!
No, I wasn't being facetious. It's something I blurted out before the internal editor had time to kick in. Lest you think I'm a moron, rather than, say, a sexist jerk, please be advised that there are in fact several babes among the nation's top chess players, who by the way captured the first ever medal won by U.S. women at a World Chess Olympiad.

Check out Rusa Goletiani (click on this link and scroll down), a Woman Grand Master whose 2348 rating positions her to crack the list of the 100 top players in the world. To put that rating into some perspective, the top U.S. Chess player is currently rated around 2700, whereas an average tournament player who is probably good enough to kick your ass would be rated 1500-1600.

I wouldn't kick Anna Zatonskih and her 2462 rating out of my chess club for eating crackers. Anna, I'll have you know, kicked some serious butt at the Olympiad by smacking down the Nimzo-Indian defense (classical variation).

I gave up tournament chess playing back when I was sixteen, because I needed to devote my energy to asking out girls and trying to work up the courage to kiss them good night. My membership to the United States Chess Federation, and with it, my subscription to Chess Life and Review (as it was then called) lapsed. I won't tell you how many years passed between my previous issue and my renewed subscription with its kickoff January 2005 issue -- let's just call it a low(ish) two-figure sum.

Gawking geeks

The association of ideas leads me to mention that I experienced my first major spike in blog hits this week. This was due to receiving a link from UserFriendly, which announces that it has been "impairing productivity since 1997," is a comic strip in the Dilbert vein, and the web site is both a platform for the strip and an online community for geeks.

I had about 130 hits the day of the link, which was kind of nice. But apparently the geeks just kind of hit and ran my site, finding little of interest. My average time per hit was driven down from 2:00 to 1:00 minute. And somehow, my number of hits has plateau'd at a lower level than before the spike. Oh, the mysteries of blogging.

Would geeks be interested in "nerd porn"? In fact, are the terms "nerd" and "geek" synonymous? Please help me out with this.

According to the American Heritage online dictionary, "nerd" means:
1. A foolish, inept, or unattractive person. 2. A person who is single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept.
whereas "geek" means:
1a. A person regarded as foolish, inept, or clumsy. b. A person who is single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept. 2. A carnival performer whose show consists of bizarre acts, such as biting the head off a live chicken.
So, according to the dictionary, a "geek" is a "nerd" who bites off the head of live chickens on the side. I'm not sure I buy that. I think we need to hear from the geeks themselves...

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


"We need first of all to have a clear conscience"

We need first of all to have a clear conscience. Let us not think that because we are less brutal, less violent, less inhuman than our opponents, we will carry the day. Brutality, violence, inhumanity have an immense prestige that school books hide from children, that grown men do not admit, but that everyone bows before. For the opposite virtues to have as much prestige, they must be actively and constantly put into practice. Anyone who is merely incapable of being as brutal, as violent, and as inhuman as someone else but who does not practice the opposite virtues is inferior to that person in both inner strength and prestige. And he will not hold out through such confrontation.

--Simone Weil, 1939

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