Sunday, July 31, 2005


Sunday car stuff

A few days ago, I was stuck behind a cell phone talker who failed to see that the light had turned green. I tried to give a friendly blast of the horn, only to discover -- no horn! I pushed and pushed on the horn panel, which takes up the whole steering wheel. Not a sound.

I rarely honk the horn. But do you have any idea the feeling of personal powerlessness that comes from discovering that you have no horn?

My car's owner's manual lists the horn as a "safety feature." It's low tech, to be sure, but I can see that -- a timely bleat can alert an oncoming driver to hit their brakes or swerve away from you.

This reminds me of a car shopping experience we had in the fall of 2003, when B and I bought the car whose horn just went out. We were checking out the 2003 Toyota Camry, found a dealership that had the model we wanted, and took it for a test drive.

This was one of those dealers who doesn't let you test drive the car on your own, so the salesman sat in the back seat during our test drive. I don't know if he was a wannabe actor, but he was born to play the role of car sales sleaze, so it was bound to be a short but awkward road trip.

As we were leaving the lot, I noticed that there were only 000002 miles on the odometer. "Wow, I thought, this hasn't even been test-driven before."

Quickly, it felt awkward to have Mr. Sleaze in the back seat, giving us a bunch of sales jive. B tried to head off his prying inquiries into our "lifestyle" by asking, "Can you tell us what safety features the car has?"

B really wanted the answer to this quesiton. She was quite keen on safety features: the new ESP braking system (whatever that is), side curtain airbags (standard in German cars but an option available in only some Camry's), and whatever.
"ABS brakes," said the salesman.
"What about ESP?" B asked. The salesman didn't seem to understand the question.
"I'll have to check," he said. Then a long pause.
"What other safety features?" asked B.
"Driver and passenger side airbags.... uh ... seatbelts."
I actually find a good sense of humor to be a winning quality in a sales person, and was prepared to laugh heartily and say, " seriously!" But I could see in the rear view mirror not a trace of irony. (Objects in mirror may be less savvy than they appear.)

We'd driven about two exits on the highway, turned around and were headed back to the dealership, having logged at least five miles or so. I checked the odometer. It was still at 000002 and showed no signs of movement
"Hey," I said, "the odometer isn't working."
"Really?" said the salesman. "That doesn't sound right."
I looked again and noticed that the speedometer needle was resting at zero and also showed no movement.
"The speedometer's not working either," I said. "Isn't that sort of a safety feature too?"
"Don't worry. Those things can be fixed," said the salesman. "So, what do you think? Do you want this car?"
My fall 2003 round of car shopping was a watershed experience, because it's when I learned that the traditional system of buying a new car -- high pressure sales from a good-cop/bad-cop tandem of salesman and sales manager (as in "let me go talk to my manager") -- is, or should be nearly, dead.

I was surprised and delighted to learn that you can basically get haggle-free pricing not just from Saturn, but from other brands, if you do your research. You can use the car dealerships as a showroom and test-drive lot, and also as the outlet to buy the car at the price you've zeroed in on by internet and phone. I think maybe now the system of car buying, which has been defective for decades, really works!


Saturday, July 30, 2005


Don't pay attention to him, that's exactly what he wants

Bill Frist has proclaimed a break with the Bush Administration by coming out in favor of stem cell research.

This is just an early announcement of his candidacy for president in the 2008 election.

1) It's generally good strategy to proclaim independence from the second term incumbent, especially if (as is the case with Bush) he's not doing that well in the approval ratings.

2) Frist is telling us that he's going to run center-right rather than hard right.

3) Frist is just doing what Republicans do. The stem cell debate within the Republican ranks is a question of principle (religious right opposition) versus money (there's a biotech gold mine at stake with stem cell research). Republicans are never really comfortable with standing for principle over money: Sure, it's good for a few laughs, but how long did you really thing they'd keep that one up?



Do I know lounge singers, or just the future?

We've left the friendly confines of My Home Town for the weekend to attend B's family reunion up in Strange City. We find ourselves waiting in the bar of one of those funster chain restaurants, TGI SBWMI Friday's, I think is the name. (Thank God I'm Sitting in a Bar Waiting for My Inlaws on a Friday.)

Just as we sit down, the lounge act -- a classic late 70s folk-pop cover "artist" with an acoustic guitar and a synthesizer -- wraps up Wastin' Away Again in Margaritaville. He warns that he'll be back for another set, and as he packs up, the bar's recorded music comes on with Van Morrison's Moondance. This dialogue ensues.
Oscar: Twenty bucks says he plays Moondance in his next set.
B: How do you know that?
Oscar: I know his entire repertoire.
B: From hearing him play one song?
Oscar: Okay, either Moondance or Brown Eyed Girl.
Fifteen minutes later, he's back. He opens the set with a langorous jazzy-blues two-chord progression: Doot ... dooooooo...doot ... doooooo...


Five songs later, Brown Eyed Girl.

Do I rule, or what?



Meanwhile, at the airport, Jesus gets an upgrade...

Yesterday, while waiting at the aiport to meet some family from out of town, I was proselytized. A man holding some religious tracts said to me:
"Do you want to learn more about your creator Jesus Christ?"

I'm no expert in these matters, but last I heard Jesus was held to be the son of the creator. I'm sure some of you, my readers, can tell me which religious sect has promoted Jesus to Creator.

My refusal to accept Jesus as my personal savior has traditionally meant merely that I am not saved and am going to Hell. If I refuse to accept Jesus as my Creator, does this mean that I don't exist? (How interesting that this happened on Existential Friday!)

BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW: My spelling seems to have deteriorated since I began blogging, and I now routinely look up words like "proselytize" by Googling them. While I was fortunate enough to spell it right on the first try, I did learn that "proselytize" was's "word of the day" on January 4, 2001.

Friday, July 29, 2005


What am I worrying about these days?

1. International bio-terrorism.

2. This:



Existential Friday: the tattoo as existential crisis

Should Magdalena get a tattoo?

Magdalena at Perpetually Clueless, in her mid 20s and recently divorced, asks whether she should get a tattoo. She asked this about ten days ago. I hope this intervention is not too late.

Here's what I said in a comment to her tattoo post:
The tattoo thing has peaked. By the time you are 56, there will be all these old people with wrinkled skin and horrible discolored patches where they got tattooed.
Think about it. Once all the first wave of still-attractive young people with their tattoos cross the line to old farthood -- when they're fat, bald, wrinkled, outdated in their attitudes, out of touch with newer music, and terminally uncool in the opinion of their kids -- they'll still have their stinky old tattoos. Who will want tattoos then?

Tattoos are a way of saying:
"I exist!... (don't I??)"


My remarks in this post are not intended to apply to the traditional constituencies of tattoos in our culture: marginal iconoclasts, prison inmates, merchant mariners, bikers and self-destructive lovers. Like jogging, tennis, bicycling in recent years, yoga now, today's tattoo thing is a large scale fad that washes over a pre-existing practice. The kinds of people who got tattoos before will continue to get tattoos after the fad passes.

It's everyone else. It occurs to me that the tattoo is an existential cry for help, an early and less conscious form of what will later emerge as the mid-life crisis. It's a way of saying: "I exist! ... (don't I??)."

But the problem with tattoos is that there's no way you'll like the tattoo when you're a wrinkled old fart. Either you'll get tired of the design, or one day you'll wake up and just go, "you know, this really does look like some sort of skin disease."

Tattoo getters ignore that plain fact because of the existential crisis built into their thinking. They think one of the following:
1) I'll never be that old. I'm Peter Pan!
2) I will be that old, but I will be the exceptionally cool old person. I'm .... I don't know... Picasso!
3) When I get close to being that old, I'll simply kill myself. Suicide is cool. Like tattoos.
Plainly, none of these is the correct answer to life's great question: "why do we get old and slide inexorably toward death just as it seems like we're getting the hang of all this?"

So to Magdalena, I say: Why don't you get in on the ground floor of the next new thing -- clear skin. Or get one of those washable henna tattoos?


Thursday, July 28, 2005


Turns out I wasn't kidding

Remember the other day, how I tried to start a meme here about coming up with backyard adventure stories for kids?

Remember how you all ignored me because you were all in such a snit over the fact that I made some unflattering remarks about your "special friend" Harry Potter?

Well, the adventure has begun! Today, B tried to throw some stuff on the very same compost pile and was stung five times by a swarm of aggressive insects from the wasp-hornet-yellow jacket family. She had to flee for her life, leaving this scene behind:


Guess who's job it is to put the lid back on the composter? Hint here. My current plan: wait until later to see if the bees go away. There's a freakin' swarm of them back there!

QUESTION: Does honor require me to mount a punitive expedition against the offending bees once the lid is put back on the composter?

AND BY THE WAY: In case you're wondering, the winner of this week's backyard adventure story contest is--
The Columnist Manifesto for "Oscar and the Swarm of Killer Bees."



Welcome, all you right wing people!

If you (1) are new to this blog, and (2) clicked through the link to my surprisingly popular post (how to respond to the "do I look fat?" question), and (3) are now checking out the rest of the blog, there's a better-than-average chance that you are politically conservative. How do I know this? Trust me, I just do. (Explanation to follow in a later post.)

In the interest of fairness, I should disclose that on political matters, I may not be "one of you."

I give money to the ACLU. The ACLU actually doesn't issue membership cards to donors, but if they did, I would carry one!

I am pro choice! I support gun control! I voted for Kerry! I think the younger George Bush is the worst president ever! In this very blog I refer to him satirically as "w" (lower case).

But that's okay, right? Spirited political debate is one of the great strengths of our Republic -- the one thing we can all agree on. I respect you and your wrong-headed opinions, and would defend to the death (well, vigorously, anyway) your right to say them. It's a big country. Which I love as much as you do, by the way. I also love our flag (though I think you folks tend to wrap yourselves in it a bit too much.)

I'm glad you're here. Really.

By the way, some of my best reader-commenters are conservative. Ask Bryan -- he'll vouch for me, won't you, Bryan... Bryan?



Just that much less secure

Have you noticed how ill-informed I've been lately? That's because B and I cancelled our NY Times subscription for our recent summer sojourn. Yes, I know we could have done a vacation hold, but B theorized that if we cancelled and then renewed under my name instead of hers, we might get one of those new subscriber discounts...

What B didn't count on was my sloth in matters of husbandry, as a result of which our NY Times subscription has not been renewed for a whole month since we got back. As much as I've missed the blue plastic dog-poop bags that the Times is delivered in, have I really missed out on that much content?

I mean, I heard as quickly as anyone else that that guy Bob Roberts was nominated for whatever (saw it on The Daily Show), and I still get my one line headlines when I check my Yahoo email, and the My Home Town Daily Herald had some awesome coverage of our State Fair.

But B finally put her foot down today, and re-subscribed to the NY Times on line, using my name. And here's the unfortunate part. They asked her three "security questions" in order that we could access my "account" at the NY Times web sit.

Never mind why I even need "access" to an "account" to get the damn newspaper -- just have your guy drop the blue bag on my doorstep, I read the paper, give the bags to people who want to pick up dog poop with them, you send me a bill, and I send you a check. It's that simple!

The bigger issue is that (as I've said previously) I really hate these
... so-called “security questions” that some web sites use to let you recover your forgotten password. It’s a list of 10 or 20 questions, the kind that you would use to prove your identity to your long lost brother who doesn’t recognize you, so you say, “ask me something only you and I would know the answer to!” The questions include, “what is the name of your first pet?” “What is your father’s middle name?” “What was your high school mascot?” You get the idea.

Isn’t it kind of creepy that AOL and PayPal [and now The New York Times!!] know the name of your dog, your third grade teacher, and the word that was uttered by your sex partner the first time he/she had an orgasm with you? (Okay, maybe they don’t ask that question... yet.) Answer enough “security questions” and Time Warner, in a joint venture with Microsoft, will be able to engineer an android who can get on the telephone and convince your own mother that it’s you on the line. (I'm not implying she knows the answer to the sex question.)
Without revealing all, I can tell you that I've really shot myself in the foot, because the answers to the "security questions" on the Times web site are all found in the pages of this blog. For example, "what is my favorite drink?" Can you guess?

(Have you noted a self-referential quality to this post? Three different links to my prior posts plus a sort of dare to read all my archives so you can pretend to the New York Times that you are me. Does this mean I can be ejected from Blogger for "excessive self promotion"?)


Wednesday, July 27, 2005


News flash: Iced decaf at Grandma Moses!

For reasons I can't explain, my favorite coffee house, Grandma Moses, has stubbornly refused for years to offer decaffeinated iced coffee. They sell iced regular coffee year round (and I order it as long as the outside air temperature is above single digits farenheit). But they've never sold iced decaf.

In the mornings, I always order the regular iced coffee, no problem. On hot summer evenings however, I may be faced with a terrible dilemma -- iced regular (and perhaps an unduly wakeful night), or nothing.

Well, my and B's careful cultivation of a friendship with the barista, Emily, has paid big dividends. This morning we walked in and Emily's colleague Bill told B: "Emily made a special treat for you." Acting on her own authority on her shift yesterday, Emily brewed up an experimental batch of iced decaf.

This could be life-changing for B (a decaf person) and me (decaf after 4 p.m.). The trick now is to get a huge rush of people asking for the iced decaf. So please get yourselves over to Grandma Moses and do just that.

Okay, so the fact that Grandma Moses is a pseudonym in an unidentified city called My Home Town poses a slight logistical problem...

Two iced coffees on the homey lamp table at Grandma Moses.
Left: B's, decaf. No wait! Uh, oh...

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Relationships 101: "Do I look fat?"

A lesson in how to answer "the question"

Here is a bit of human experience that seems to fall into the “things everyone has to learn for her- or him- self” category: how to handle the question from wife/girlfriend, etc., “Do I look fat?” And yet the pain of that relearning process seems so avoidable. We all know the question will be asked. Why wait around unprepared only to be caught like a deer in the headlights when it finally comes up:
♀: Do I look fat?
♂: No, not at all.
♀: I’ve gained weight though, haven’t I?
♂: Uh... since when?
♀: Oh, so I have gained weight since you first met me.
♂: Well, I don’t...
♀: What you’re saying is, I do look fat.
♂: No!
♀: Well, you just said I’ve gained weight.
♂: But you don’t look fat!
♀: I’ve gained weight, “but I don’t look fat.” Lovely.
♂: I didn’t say that.
♀: So I do look fat!
♂: ....?....!
♀: If you think I look fat, why don’t you just come out and say so?
Of course, no wife or girlfriend wants to be told she looks fat. Quite the contrary! Yet it seems as though she is programmed to conduct razorlike, determined cross examinations that will not end until she has broken the man's will and extracted a "confession."

Sometimes this examination may start in a more sly and subtle way:
♀: Do these clothes look tight on me?
♂: No they look great.
♀: You aren’t looking!
♂: (Looking up.) I am. Those clothes look great on you.
♀: I must have gained weight since I first bought them. They feel a lot tighter.
♂: Maybe they shrunk in the wash.
♀: So they do look tight.
♂: No...
♀: But you just said they look like they’ve shrunk in the wash –
♂: – yeah, but –
♀: – when I know for a fact they haven’t.
♂: ....?....!
♀: If you think I look fat in these clothes, why don’t you just come out and admit it!
The first mistake most guys make is to think they can correct their mistakes for next time by analyzing these conversations to figure out where they went off the rails. Clearly, in both versions of the conversation, ♂ gets himself into trouble by seeking a clarification (“since when?”) or offering helpful information (suggestion re clothes shrinkage), breaking the cardinal rule of responding to cross examination (never volunteer information!).

But on closer inspection, any attempt to respond to these questions straightforwardly is vulnerable to variants of the impossible, checkmate cross examination question: "was I fatter then or am I fatter now?"
♀: Do I look fat?
♂: No, not at all.
♀: I’ve gained weight though, haven’t I?
♂: Definitely not.
♀: You think I looked like this when we first met?
♂: Like what?
♀: Fat.
♂: I didn’t say you looked fat.
♀: Well, I’ve obviously put on weight since we first met.
♂: I haven’t noticed that.
♀: So basically, I’ve always looked fat enough that a few extra pounds doesn’t make any difference.
Nor is it possible to head things off by making assertions to the contrary:
♀: Do I look fat?
♂: No, no you look thin.
♀: Too thin?
♂: No, you look just right.
♀: But if I put on some weight, I wouldn’t look “just right.”
♂: Sure you would.
♀: So it doesn't matter to you whether I look fat or thin?
♂: No, not at all.
♀: If I looked totally fat right now, you would say I looked "just right."
♂: That's right.
♀: Well, you just did say I looked "just right."
♂: Um... yeah?
♀: So you think I look fat.
The mistake is not the fact that ♂ gives wrong answers to key questions in the “do I look fat?” cross examination. The mistake is trying to answer the questions at all.

Listen up, all you ♂s. You can avoid all these problems whenever you sense you have gotten within a mile of the "do I look fat?" line of questions, by following three simple rules:

1) Never, never, under any circumstances say the word “fat” – or for that matter, “heavy,” “gain” or even the seemingly neutral “weight.” Once you let yourself get drawn into a discussion concerning the weight of the human body, the battle is lost.

2) You should act as though you are a candidate running for the office of husband or boyfriend, and that “do I look fat?” is being asked by a reporter who is out to get you. Your one task is to stay on a single, simple campaign theme: “You are beautiful in both spirit and body, and every day I strive to remain worthy of your love.” Therefore, don’t answer any question directly at all. Do not say “yes” or “no.” No matter how much you are goaded, stay on message.

3) Be a walking thesaurus with at least a dozen words for “physically attractive” at your disposal.
♀: Do I look fat?
♂: You look beautiful.
♀: That’s not what I asked you. Don’t you think I’ve gained weight?
♂: Well, all I can say is you’re really hot.
♀: Stop avoiding the question. Do I look fat or not?
♂: You’re totally babe-o-licious.
♀: What you’re saying is, I do look fat.
♂: You were winsome when I first met you, and you’re even more so now.
♀: Winsome?
♂: Drop-dead gorgeous.
♀: Oh, so I wasn’t as good looking when you first met me, is that what you’re saying?
♂: That’s right. You’re even more lovely now.
With this strategy – which I call “the stonewall” – you can wear her down until the subject changes from weight to beauty, a more ethereal characteristic. Note how it’s harder to turn "then-versus-now" loveliness into an insult. Even the more persistent ♀ who is frustrated and annoyed that you never addressed the weight question has nothing on you but the fact that you said she’s beautiful. You hold onto the moral high ground.

The stonewall is the only safe approach I have seen in all my years of experience. If you have something better, I’m all ears.

UPDATE: "Very funny post. Are you trying to tell me I look fat?"


Monday, July 25, 2005


Blog Of the Week Addendum

I admire bloggers who make great finds on the web. This is one of the Blog Of the Week™ly qualities of a girl walks into a bar (exam). Her best find:
Peroxide Comix.
I would have been doing you all a disservice had I simply snuck Peroxide Comix into my "Check These Out" sidebar category. The guy is a comics genius. Thanks, "girl."



What will she do next? B.O.W. Honors a Leading "Barzam" Blog

Blog Of the Week™ pays tribute to takers of this week's nationwide Bar Exam: the best answer is "a girl walks into a bar (exam)"

Although each state offers its own somewhat different version, all the bar exams (as far as I know) are taken at about the same time. This is because one day of the test is the standardized "Multistate" -- a devilish multiple-choice, fill-in-the-circle-with-a-black-#2-pencil test. Since all bar exams include this test, they all have to give it the same day to reduce potential cheating.

(How devilishis the Multistate? Well, as those of us who have taken it, or are about to take it, know all too well, the instructions say that of the five suggested answers, there is probably no "right" answer. Only a "best" or "better" answer from among those that are not wrong.)

On or about February 1, 2005, this "31-year-old California native with two dogs (whippets), two cats, and two fish (I like symmetry)" started a blog about her preparation for the California Bar. You might think, only the world's biggest nerd would start preparing for the bar exam (even the California bar exam, which is infamous for having the lowest pass rate in the country) more than six months ahead of time. But consider this: First, she was asked out on dates based on her very first blog post.

Second, she may be a nerd, but she is extremely insightful and funny. Funny about studying for the bar exam. (By the way, tell her to print up and sell that T shirt -- it would look great with the Calbar Purse!*) And she continues to be funny while under the mounting stress of studying for the bar exam, which begins this week! (Indeed, she plans to blog through the bar exam -- very gutsy.) So it's not just a blog, it's a science experiment too.

The big question for me is whether -- let's call her "girl" -- will continue to write "a girl walks into a bar exam." Maybe she'll keep the title and just morph the subject matter to her current life. Maybe she'll switch entirely to her other blog (started the same day). Even if she stops writing the "Barzam" blog (her word -- I love it!), its archives will be worth reading by generations of law students for many years to come.

The same question, really, can be asked about all the recent law grad bloggers. I haven't read the blogs of anyone who has made this transtion: what happens to law student bloggers after they graduate from law school?
a) They will continue blogging, but about their jobs rather than law school.

b) They will stop blogging, because their jobs will become so all-consuming that there will be no time to blog.

c) They will stop blogging, because their jobs will become so all-consuming that there will nothing for them to blog about except what they do at work, most of which is covered by attorney-client privilege and therefore unsuitable for blogging.

d) They will blog about stuff they're doing at work, breach attorney client privilege, get fired, and have their names paraded through the state's glossy bar journal and The National Law Journal.

e) They will continue blogging, and carefully avoid discussing anything that could get them fired by talking about their pets and pop culture.
Sorry, I couldn't resist the cruel-yet-rather-amusing allusion to the Multistate. (Hey, I took the California Bar. My joke is fully consistent with the notion that the bar exam is just a big hazing ritual.)

On a serious note to current law students: use some judgment about blogging about your work, for pete's sake. I've read a couple of law student blog posts where the authors have made very questionable calls about what they can say within the bounds of professional confidentiality.

Anyway, best of luck to you, "girl," and all of you about to take the bar exam this week!

HONORABLE MENTION: Mariam, at Accident Prone, has also maintained her sense of humor while studying for the bar exam, and has really found her talent as stressed-out self-portrait photographer.

*Note: the California Board of Bar Examiners require that test-taking materials be brought into the testing room in transparent ziploc bags (to prevent the sneaking in of crib sheets and other cheating technology).


Sunday, July 24, 2005


Stupid business plan, #1,327,855

Local rotisserie chicken place. Mmmm.

Free delivery... very nice.

Closed on Sundays!


How do you spell "loogie"?

Here's the Google search I did to check the spelling of the phrase "hock a loogie" when I wrote that in yesterday's post:


I'm reading Stephen Ambrose's history of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Undaunted Courage, which observes in an aside that the late 18th and early 19th centuries were a period of "free spelling" for written English.

In our current time of standard English spelling, does it make sense to have standard spelling for onomatopoeic slang like "hock a loogie"? The American Heritage online dictionary has no entry for "loogie" (or "lugie"), but UrbanDictionary tells us what we already know: it's a "large slimy gob of spit." Spelled with the double-o.

"Hock" in this context means to collect that slimy gob with that distinctive sound -- the hard, Hebraic "ch" sound that is not used in standard spoken English, though it is often made by 10-12 year old boys when trying to create the sound effect of an explosion.

The actual hocking sound, I once heard a comedian say, is most frequently heard on the streets of New York, and is more effective than a police siren to make you look around in alarm.

Technically, "hock" could also be rendered as "hawk" or "hack," and there's no real reason why "loogie" couldn't be spelled "lugie" or even "lewgie." But I'm pleased to find that Google has set about to standardize the spelling.


Saturday, July 23, 2005


"She's preggo, so give her handles"

This instruction was given to me sotto voce by Felicity, the cashier, at my new job. For three hours every Saturday, I volunteer as a grocery bagger at our neighborhood food co-op. I am the lowest person in the store's good-natured hierarchy (it's a pretty democratic place, on the whole), so the cashiers can tell me what to do. Felicity meant that I be sure to use the paper bags with handles.*

For some while, I've been lamenting the fact that I spent little time in my youth in service industry jobs waiting on customers. I worked at a gas station briefly the summer after I graduated high school. And after college graduation, I worked for less than ten days as a bus boy and an office temp before getting mono and being pretty much incapacitated the rest of the summer. That was it. The rest of my summer and full time jobs were white collar. Ho freakin' hum.

I'm not trying to romanticize low wage work or anything, but the restaurant at which I bussed tables seemed like it could have been fun. There was a buzz among the staff, and heavy flirtation, and sculduggery (the bartenders were cheating us busboys out of our tips). Had I worked there longer, I might have had more stories, like the time I hocked a large loogie on the driver's seat of the bartender's jeep on my way home for the night to avenge the tip thing.

(I might add that I bussed badly: I carried a dish tub around with me as I cleared plates from tables where diners still sat, and thought "something is wrong with how I'm doing this, but I can't quite figure out what.")

Having just gotten tenure this year, it seemed like the perfect time to moonlight in a low wage service industry job to get this thing out of my system. By coincidence, there was an opening for a barista at Grandma Moses, my favorite neighborhood coffeeshop, and I thought long about applying. But in the end I felt it would be wrong to take work hours away from the overqualified twentysomethings who actually need the money. (I swear, everyone who makes coffee for me has at least a BA.) So I went for the volunteer job.

I love my grocery bagging job. There's a certain 3D jigsaw puzzle zen to putting groceries into rectangular paper bags. It's liberating to be working in a public space without my professor persona, and it's amusing when the customer turns out to be a law student who does a quick freaked out double-take before regaining enough composure to say, "Oh, do you... work here now?"
*Her real name is not "Felicity" of course. It's Heather.**

**No, it's not Heather either. There's probably someone actually named Heather working at the store, but she wouldn't be the one in this story.


Friday, July 22, 2005


The Dread Pirate Roberts

My favorite line about the Supreme Court nominee, Judge John Roberts, is from The Daily Show:
After all the speculation about naming a woman or minority, President Bush has nominated a white guy. He's very white. If he came in a box, it would be labeled: "contents: one white guy."
A Supreme Court nomination is a time when professors of constitutional law get to step out from under our rocks and into a bit of limelight. But, while we are well qualified to correct certain technical misapprehensions about how the Court works or what precise issues it is deciding, we really don't know much more than anyone else about the answer to the question everyone wants to know. We can't really predict what kind of justice he'll be.

I mean, he'll be conservative, but how conservative?

It's more fun to speculate about whether he's really a closeted gay man (see here and here). When I mentioned to B that one of the most compelling pieces of evidence on that subject was that he played "Peppermint Patty" in the school production of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, the following dialogue ensued:
B: Oh, come on. It was an all boys school! Who else was going to play Peppermint Patty?
Oscar: Um... some other gay guy?
Althouse says that the Roberts nomination shows little "w" distinguishing his presidency from his father's because he didn't engage in tokenism by replacing O'Connor with a woman jurist (in contrast to Bush, Sr. who named Clarence Thomas to replace Thurgood Marshall.) There's a superficial similarity to Bush Sr.'s other nomination, David Souter, a man with a somewhat inscrutable political track record who's "lifestyle" (unmarried middle aged man living with his mother) also prompted "he's gay" speculation.

But it would be foolish to think that Roberts could turn out to be as liberal as Souter. One big difference between then and now is that The Federalist Society machinery has reached maturity -- alumni of this well-organized, well-funded conservative law student organization are now far enough along to run things -- and they are in a position to give a thorough vetting to judicial nominees. I don't think they had as much influence in the senior Bush administration; in any event, David Souter was not their guy. As a protege of G.H.W. Bush's top advisor, John Sununu, Souter was outside "the system" and essentially leapfrogged over the Federalist Society vetting machinery.

For me, the real question about Roberts is whether his nomination came from "within the system" -- was he proposed by Federalist Society types, is he one of them -- and it looks like the answer is yes. His track record as a justice department litigator, as a point man to argue the positions that recent Republican administrations have taken to appease the religious right, point in this direction.

The only hope for us liberals is that Roberts has been cagily angling for this Supreme Court job his whole professional life: In other words, that his litigation stances and lower court decisions have been designed to express views consistent with those who would nominate him to the high court, and that he has kept his own (hoped for) more moderate views in the background.

To describe that scenario as "hope" sort of makes me sick.

Yet it's hard for me to get worked up about the Roberts nomination because, let's not forget, this is only the first year of Bush's second term. Rehnquist will retire shortly after this confirmation process, and Bush will get to refresh that conservative seat with younger blood. And unless John Paul Stevens can hang onto his job until 2008, which seems unlikely, Bush will be able to replace that liberal vote with a conservative one.

So I'm afraid that the good ship "Hope" sailed last November.



Existential Friday

Method actors are the true existentialists of our day. When introduced to a new role, they ask:
"What's my motivation?"
I think "existential Friday" will become a regular feature on my blog. It's hard to say for sure.


Thursday, July 21, 2005


The "Children's fantasy-adventure tales in our own backyards" Contest

"Beyond the Compost Pile"


Either it's a children's fantasy adventure tale, or else a small husbandry problem on my part. Note the broken gate, left.

What do you have around your house? Come on, open those cupboards, look under those stairs, get out your digital cameras, and let me hear from you!


Wednesday, July 20, 2005


I'm soooo sorry!

Some closets are not meant for one to come out of, and questioning the popularity of Harry Potter is clearly behavior of the "I just shot your dog" variety. I'm very sorry. The Harry Potter books are truly, truly wonderful.

I'd like to take this opportunity to say that I didn't really shoot your dog, I just pushed him off when he jumped up on my torso. I guess I could have done that in a nicer way.

By way of clarification, there are a couple of themes that came up in the comments that I'd like to address.

1) I don't hate the Harry Potter books. As I said, I liked the first book well enough to finish it -- I just don't understand the massive appeal of the series. I wish Harry Potter all the best, and sincerely hope he conquers evil.

2) A commenter said my simile comparing Harry Potter to a trust fund baby was "overstated" because Harry had a hardscrabble existence before his admission to the exclusive boarding school, and that he hangs out with the outcasts at school. I think this reflects a misconception about trust fund babies, who are not necessarily popular and are as capable as anyone else of being pariahs in their elite schools. And by the way, trust fund babies can be quite active in developing their talents: their defining trait is simply that their inherited fortunes excuse them from the necessity of holding a day job.

3) It's totally fair game to hit back at my beloved Lloyd Alexander books. Maybe the appeal of those books defies understanding, but that appeal is just barely enough to keep them in print (and they went out of print for a while in the 1970s and 80s). Harry Potter's appeal is on a whole other dimension. It's a phenomenon whose explanation is worth a passing thought.

4) Speaking of which, I'm still interested in alternative theories to explain the extent of Harry Potter's appeal to grown ups. "My kids love the books" (e.g., here) strikes me as an important contributing factor, but incomplete: a necessary but not a sufficient condition for their popularity with the grown ups. Otherwise, why aren't there lots of grown up game clubs dedicated to playing Candyland... or War?

5) Thanks to Nina who rushed to my defense by explaining to my annoyed commenters that I wasn't attacking the Harry Potter books, but only the people who like them!

Anyway, I apologize. And to make it up to you, I hereby promise to come out of the closet with this item pictured below and offer it for sale at my next garage sale.


It's a genuine Cambridge University undergraduate gown, perfect for Harry Potter costuming. (How do I happen to own this? Without going into messy details, let's just say I'm a Christ's College dropout.)


Present a printout of this post at my garage sale, and you will be entitled to an automatic 15% discount on the gown!


Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Minority Report -- Part II: Finding our inner Republican

Why are the Harry Potter books so popular with grown ups?

Will I have any friends left after today? Practically all my blogger friends are heavily into Potterzeebie. Check out this post by Phantom Scribbler -- 93 comments and counting!!!

The Potter bandwagon is a juggernaut rolling through the American heartland. Even folks who didn't love this latest book, have read (or heard) them all.

And then there's the whole meme about which dorm (or "house") you're admitted to in Harry Potter's school.

Potterzeebie is not the same as the crazes over beenie babies or furbies. Those clearly involved parents lining up to get stuff for their kids. With Potterzeebie, the grownups -- and we're talking about discerning, highly literate people here -- are getting their own reading enjoyment.

I'm guessing that most adult Harry Potter fans would not say these novels are the greatest literary feat of our times, even though they may well be the greatest literary marketing feat of our times. So I'm asking for your theories: why are the Harry Potter books so popular with grown ups?

The answer can't be: "because it's a book that appeals to adults and kids at the same time, so we can read it together." First that's too easy, and it doesn't explain why Harry Potter so excels the many other entertainment vehicles that meet this criterion. Anyway, that answer begs the question: why do the grown ups like it so much?

Here's my theory. Harry Potter has two qualities that make it an irresistable commodity.

1. The Harry Potter books resonate with contemporary ideas about parenting. Suzuki violin, multiple languages, karate, ice skating, soccer, pre-school reading. We've discovered that the ability of young children to learn far exceeds what was believed (or practiced) when we were kids. They're knowledge-and-skill sponges! If only our own parents had been more on the ball, we'd all be multi-talented renaissance men and women by now. Our kids do, it turns out, have magic powers. And so did we -- but they went to waste!

2. The Harry Potter books appeal to our inner Republican. What at bottom is the basic premise of Harry Potter? A young boy inherits incredible wealth (in the form of magical powers) from his parents and goes to an exclusive boarding school. Hmm, that sounds familiar: a fantasy about sending kids to private school, getting away from all those buffoonish unmagical Muggles, and inheriting huge capital gains with little or nothing taken out in "death" taxes, which would just be squandered by being redistributed to the Muggles anyway...



Minority Report -- part I

In which a sore-headed member of the tiny minority who are unimpressed with Harry Potter goes and alienates, well, pretty much everybody...

I'm not some sort of grown up snob who is unwilling to read children's and "young readers' " fiction. I loved Holes, and I've read The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander about a dozen times since I was ten.

I read the first Harry Potter book a few years ago, because several of my adult friends told me how great it was. There were at that time, perhaps, 2-3 books out and Pottermania (I prefer to call it "Potterzeebie") was in full swing. I thought the book was okay. I mean, I finished it. But I wasn't interested enough to read another one.

Harry Potter struck me as a Hollywood screenwriter's approach to the fantasy genre: instead of going back to the original source material (Welsh legends or whatever) and doing her own take, J.K. Rowling knocked off the other novels -- Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and yes The Prydain Chronicles -- with a healthy dose of Tom Brown's Schooldays (classic Brit young readers' novel about a boy at a boarding school) and Star Wars thrown in for a twist.

Rowling is workmanlike with the gimmicks (e.g., Quiddich) and spinning out plot for her characters. As are Hollywood screenwriters.

What I didn't like so much about Harry Potter is the same thing that I always found to be the big hole in the middle of the Star Wars series. In The Prydain Chronicles the protaganist, Taran, is an ordinary boy with human shortcomings who has to find his own way through a world infused with magic relying on his own character and the help of his friends. His lack of magical powers is a continuing source of frustration and disappointment to him, and the "special power" that emerges in him is the power of striving in spite of that.

In The Lord of the Rings the Hobbits had certain qualities, but not magical ones. It too was a story in which the protagonist had to reach inside and find special fortitude in his seemingly ordinary character.

In contrast, Star Wars gives us Luke Skywalker, who has no particular quality or virtue of his own, but by chance inherits "the force" from his parents. And the film is hampered by the fact that Luke was played by Mark Hamill, undoubtedly one the lamest actors of his day, whose only qualification seems to have been good hair. Hamill the actor constantly appears lost and overmatched, wandering through the films like a deer in the headlights, boosted only by his prefabricated role. The result is to place at the very center of the original Star Wars Trilogy a character who, when you think about it, bears a striking similarity to George W. Bush.

Whatever strengths J.K. Rowling has as a writer and storyteller are, for me, offset by the fact that she opted for the Star Wars route. I'm not saying you can't write a good fantasy tale about someone with magical powers, but at least make them work hard, or give them some kind of internal demons to struggle with. Or else, don't pretend that your protagonist who effortlessly acquired magic is virtuous. To me, the Harry Potter character is as interesting as a trust fund baby with no emotional problems.




I'd always assumed the word "potrzebie" was pronounced "potter-zee-bee," and this morning the word just popped into my head, along with this definition:
Read something other than Harry Potter, for god's sake! I don't know, read Mad Magazine!

Here's the Wikipedia entry for Potrzebie:
Potrzebie is a seemingly nonsensical word (actually Polish), popularized by its use as a running gag in the early issues of Mad not long after the comic book began in 1952. The word is pronounced "po-TSCHEB-yeh" in Polish and means "as needed" or "as necessary"....

Mad editor Harvey Kurtzman spotted the word printed in the Polish language section of a multi-languaged "Instructions for Use" sheet accompanying a bottle of aspirin, and Kurtzman decided it would make an appropriate non sequitur.

poTSCHEByeh. poTSCHEByeh. Sorry, Nina.


Monday, July 18, 2005



The word "husbandry" makes me feel inadequate. Technically, "husbandry" refers to agricultural practices -- cultivating crops and breeding livestock -- but I can't help but think of it more broadly as a kind of dutiful, manly zest for doing chores that husbands are supposed to do. The ones that show up on the so-called (here I choke back a certain distaste for this cloying phrase) "honey-do list."

I don't have this zest. While not totally inept or clueless with tools, neither am I particularly clever with them. And my attitude toward choredom borders on ... well, let's call it "sloth."

This past weekend, I was tasked with some yard and garden husbandry: specifically, to search and destroy all vestiges of the dread Trumpet Plant. The trumpet plant (or "trumpet vine") is a viney shrub whose trunk eventually grows thicker than you can wrap your hand around, reaching heights of 8-10 feet. Last summer, we basically paid off our neighbor to remove her trumpet plant growing right along our property line.

trumpet1 Untitled-1
Left: The trumpet plant, summer 2004. Right: the same view today --
minus trumpet plant. (The remaining orange flowers are day lilies.)

You might ask, "why destroy this plant," whose pretty, orange flowers shaped like the "bell" of a trumpet are said to attract hummingbirds? Because, in fact the trumpet plant is not an element of "landscaping," so much as it is a sci fi monster.

To begin with, the the leaves of this plant are kind of ugly and those pretty orange flowers aren't so pretty up close -- they seem lurid and surreal, and I'm surprised they're not actually carniverous. Also, I don't recall the flowers attracting a single hummingbird in five years. They did, however, attract big black ants -- the flowers were usually crawling with them -- and wasps. That's right. Not bumblebees -- wasps. Now look again at the picture above. Imagine getting out of your car on a summer day into a faceful of wasps.

Finally, the trumpet plant must be one of the scariest breeders in the plant world. It sends out long shoots, many of which popped up along the foundation of our house. Look at the photo again: the shoots grew underneath the driveway and came up the other side. B and I took to calling it the "X-Files Plant," in honor of the X-Files epidsode with the giant underground fungus that ate people.

trumpet-plant 010

Why the trumpet plant had to die: Above, shoots sprouting up from our neighbor's yard last summer, under our driveway and up along our foundation. Below, the same shoots just one month later.


Well, the alien mother ship -- I mean the main trunk -- of the trumpet plant was removed this spring. But yesterday, while conducting the "search" part of my "search and destroy" mission, I counted at least two dozen new shoots. Here are a couple of them.

Surviving spawn of the evil trumpet plant.

So I donned a pair of manly work gloves -- well, actually they looked more like yellow Mickey Mouse gloves, but Mickey is a male mouse after all -- and set about the "destroy" part of my mission.

An aforementioned work glove. Sneer if you will, but note the gas barbeque
in the background, on which red meat is grilled by yours truly!

Summoning all the husbandry at my command, I gripped each shoot powerfully as close to the root as I could, and gave a series of mighty tugs. I needn't have bothered. Each shoot snapped off as easily as a dandelion, leaving the sinister roots deep in the ground.

Surveying the disappointing results of my effort -- a small pile of trumpt shoots lying dead on the driveway -- and realizing that the shoots will be back again, I felt that this latest adventure in husbandry was not a complete success. Still, I like to think I'm not entirely without husbandly virtues. For one, I'm a good listener....



Still pregnant? Or angry?

Angry Pregnant Lawyer is Blog Of the Week™

I don't know why she's angry, but she writes a mean blog -- "mean" as in sharp and funny. When you check it out, don't neglect the archives. And what really put it over the top for me: her post yesterday, titled "I got nuthin' ", which starts:
"I don't read Harry Potter..."
You go girl (or other words of encouragement appropriate to Harry Potter non-readers)!

Angry Pregnant Lawyer is also, in my view, an award winning blog name. What other six syllable blog title is so catchy or evocative? And it scans exactly the same as "Single Female Lawyer," the Ally McBeal parody featured in an episode of Matt Groenig's other animated series, Futurama. Whenever I read "Angry Pregnant Lawyer," I can't help but put it to the tune of the "Single Female Lawyer" theme song:
Single Female Lawyer
Fighting for her clients
Wearing sexy mini skirts
And being self-reliant
Note: Nothing in this post is intened to suggest that Angry Pregnant Lawyer bears any resemblance to Single Female Lawyer, Ally McBiel or any other fictitious person or stereotype.

Further note: For an edifying critical analysis of the relevant Futurama episode, see "Anti Femminism in Recent Apocalyptic Film," in the online Journal of Religion and Film.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Don't forget past Blogs Of the Week™, now conveniently marked with a double asterisk ** in my sidebar! They're still great.


Sunday, July 17, 2005



One of the things that makes jazz unique is the way that people who love it just assume that everyone loves it.

You might hear someone say "I love the opera," or "do you like country music?" Or if someone gives you a CD for your birthday, they might say, "I really like this group, and I hope you will too." Or you might even get music flung at you like a challenge: "You do not like hip hop. You aren't cool enough to like hip hop."

With jazz, all this is skipped over. Jazz lovers go straight to: "Mobius Strip is playing next week at the Slink Club. I thought you'd want to know." Or they'll invite you to go hear the Chuck Chudek Five without even inquiring whether you like jazz. Or they'll just give you a jazz album for your birthday as though it were something generically giftable, like wine or flowers or chocolate.

Please note: I'm not saying that all jazz lovers do this. But if someone happens to cop this attitude toward their music, it's probably jazz. What's that about?

UPDATE: Althouse links and finds a political side to the jazz issue. Or is she just giving her answer to the implied meme, "what do people (wrongly) assume about you?"


Friday, July 15, 2005


Watch on the Rhine*

From the travel files: June 4, 2005

DSCN1810 DSCN1791
Rhine river views. Barges, tour boats, poppies --
and get a load of those vineyards in the background.

In addition to castles, there are cute tourist towns "every five meters" along the middle Rhine. They feature narrow cobbled streets, low sixteenth century buildings with exposed timber beams on the exterior and stone archways ....



tourist strips...


small public squares



... and interesting factoids! For instance, I bet you didn't know that Michael Thonet, the designer of the world famous "Bentwood" cafe chair, was born right here in Boppard on the Rhine. Uh.. you didn't know that Michael Thonet designed the Bentwood chair?

Darn -- we were a week too soon for Michael Thonet day
at the Boppard Museum!

And of course gift shops, with stuff that you can't get anywhere else. Okay, maybe you can get kuckoo clocks, but what about a Red Baron Beer Stein?

DSCN1657 DSCN1759
I had to have the Red Baron beer stein, until I took a closer look at the price tag: 79 euros!

And where else would you find this tasteful "Cowboys and Indians" chess set? The Germans apparently have (or had) a long-standing fascination with the "American West" as portrayed by pre-1970s Hollywood.


Note how the Indian pawns are just looking, while the Cowboy pawns are shooting. And check out the Cowboy queen. It put me in mind of licensing a chess set design with the queen modeled after Courtney Love.

You can also find motorcycle gangs made up of not-very-scary-looking middle-aged people. But don't try to drive around them.



*Allusion to 19th century German patriotic song.



More mysteries of google

A random audit of Google reveals that my blog has fallen to the 102nd result out of 639,000 for the search "Oscar Madison." Back in March, I was the number one or number two result for this same search. Yet I have far more links and traffic now than I did in March. What gives?


Thursday, July 14, 2005


An open letter to You Know Who You Are

Dear [Name withheld]:

I got your message this morning saying, in its entirety, "Please call me." You know this because I called you.

What you may not know is that, as an anxious person, I automatically assume that a message along the lines of "Please call me," with no hint of the nature of the need for the call makes me think that you are going to give me urgent, terrible news. Certainly, I don't assume that I am calling to discuss something in the nature of what to bring over for dinner tomorrow night. In that case, you could say something like "Please call me so we can discuss what you should bring for dinner tomorrow night."

Oscar Madison

P.S. Your stated justification for the "Please call me" message is that I "never respond" to your emails. Ironically, you conveyed the "please call me" message in an email.



Onward and upward with digital technology

My trusty Panasonic dual cassette answering machine finally died. It was twelve years old, and is survived by a three-year old Plantronics cordless headset phone and an old wall-mounted phone of indeterminate age.

Why did I hold onto the Panasonic for so long? Is it because I'm super-thrifty and save string and old wrapping paper? No. Okay, I do kind of hate buying consumer electronics (read about my now 18-year-old TV here), but there are many reasons for that. Built-in obsolescence -- the linchpin of the consumer electronics industry -- really offends me. Those electronics superstores like Best Buy and Circuit City are super obnoxious. And the technology, when it comes to replacing your old model, doesn't always get better.

I replaced my old Panasonic with this--


-- the ATT 1726.

It's sleek, compact, digital, and has many features. It has not one, not two, but three mailboxes -- ideal for a household of two people who don't need to separate their incoming messages. It can record and store four outgoing messages. (Expressing your creativity with an outgoing answering machine message is so 80s. Mine just says: "Leave a message for Oscar or B." I don't even say the wholly redundant "... at the beep.") It has several features that are so cutting edge I don't even understand how they can help me.

Seems like it does everything but clearly record telephone messages.

That's right, the sound quality of the ATT 1726 digital answering machine is for shit. In the three days of deployment, it's recorded about 20 incoming messages, not one of which I was able to hear in its entirety. A transcript of a typical message would look something like this:
Hey, Oscar, [heavy static] this is Larry [inaudible]. You don't know me, but I've got something really important to tell you about your mrfblugfu. Basically, [garbled]. So can you call me as ...oo... possle at m55-123?
I look for fundamentally two features from an answering machine. It should record incoming phone messages. And it should allow me to listen to the messages while they're coming in so I can screen calls. (The common solution -- voice mail combined with caller ID -- is actually an inferior system, since a good answering machine allows you to screen from another room without having to get up and go to the phone to see who's calling.) Remote message retrieval would be nice too.

Because the ATT 1726 fails to transmit the incoming call audibly, its impressive structure of additional features -- call screening, remote message retrieval and the rest -- falls apart like a house of cards.

While the ATT 1726 totally sucks, the fault is not entirely with this model. I think all digital answering machines suck. The Panasonic had been cranky for a couple of years before its death, and I tried to replace it three times in the past. But apparently, they don't make dual cassette answering machines any more. They're all digital, and all the reasonably-priced ones have terrible sound quality.

Here's an example of the myth of progress. The new technology is not of a better quality, but it manages to compete better in a flawed market. Digital answering machines are worse than what they've replaced, but they're cheaper to make (at least the crappy ones are), and casette tapes are probably one their way out as a mass produced consumer good. VHS was inferior to Beta; Microsoft has outcompeted one better product after another -- starting with it's operating system, which is inferior to Apple's -- because the company is better at competing.

Meanwhile, I've ten days to find a replacement for my answering machine before the closing of my "no questions asked return" window at Staples. Any suggestions?


Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Hitting the wall

[Part III of IV on reunified Germany. Though, who knows? Maybe I'll never get around to part IV...]


The "East Side" of town has always had a more ominous connotation in Berlin than in, say, New York or even My Home Town. The photo above is the first panel of a mile-long surviving section of the Berlin wall that was transformed into an impromptu gallery for street artists when the wall came down.

Berlin wall panel.

Starting about ten years later, the Germans launched a project to restore the original wall paintings, virtually all of which had deteriorated. Many of the original artists returned to restore their work. But a large swath is still in pretty bad shape.

It's interesting to think about the wall art: whether its character as performance predominates over its quality as "hanging" art for posterity. A lot of people treat it that way, at least I think they think they're performing "anti-wall" statements when they slather graffiti on the original or restored wall paintings. There's a ton of graffiti, most of it of the "Kilroy was here" variety, but well after reunification.

DSCN2520 DSCN2515

DSCN2514 DSCN2511
Berlin Wall art -- good, bad, indifferent. It's the doing that counts!
Below: Graffiti. Is it performance art?

Mmmmm. No. Above right: self absorbed note to friend:
Below: a guy hawking his blog?


By the way, it's hard to take photos of individual wall-panel paintings. Framing a photo straight on from the sidewalk gives you a narrow focus, but if you back up for a wider angle, you move right into a heavily-trafficked street.

DSCN2537 DSCN2539
Wall photographers in the un-restored section. Right: checking the camera angles.

Here's the famous painting, found on posters and postcards, in which Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker (the then Soviet and East German head honchos) give each other a sexy kiss.


It seems so laden with queer po-mo meaning until you realize that it's just copied from a news photo:


So what's behind the wall? Communism? No: it's the famous sandy beaches along the River Spree.


Yes, indeed, they just put these things there. Kind of cute, and perhaps in hot sunny weather it would be nice. On this overcast day with temps in the upper 50s, it had more of a haunting quality.

DSCN2523 DSCN2533

I love the beach bar cribbed right out of a Gidget movie.



Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Plugging in

Tonya, who like me is dumping all her recent travel photos into new posts, has an excellent post about trying to plug her electrical appliances into British sockets. The photo of the chain of adapters for her I-pod sagging under their own weight is a must see. It replaces "bone-in ham" as the thought that is guaranteed to make me laugh out loud.



Geek squared

Okay I'm a geek. But answer me this: is it more geeky to have spent last Saturday night playing an intense 5-hour game of History of the World, or to make bad puns while playing? (Or to feel compelled to point out that I won?)

boardgames_1848_48343712 boardgames_1848_48413293

History of the World is basically like the old classic Risk with a difference. Instead of an abstract undifferentiated mass of armies, each player is randomly assigned a real historical empire in each of seven rounds of historical epochs. So in one round you might be the Romans, and in a later one you might be the French under Napoleon.

The empires, which span the globe and a few thousand years of human history, include ones you may not have heard of. The Gupta Empire may not strike fear and awe into your heart, though if you lived in India between 200-500 A.D. you might feel differently.

When one of my opponents drew the card assigning him the Guptas, I quipped:
"Now we'll really see what sort of Guptatude you have."
This was typical of my many flashes of wit that evening. I think one of the things that makes puns so bad is that they sound canned, like I trot out the "guptatude" line every time I play this game (about once every six months). Well, as I assured my friends, my bon mots that evening may not have been funny, but they were fresh, and I will have to come up with entirely new ones the next time I play.

For a photo of geeks playing history of the world, click here. Please note: this is just a photo from the web. None of these people are me, nor do they look anything like me. Nor do know any of them, and I cannot vouch for their ability to make puns.


Monday, July 11, 2005


The truth about Belgian waffles

Reports that "Belgian waffles" are merely an American marketing ploy and that there are really no such thing, are greatly exaggerated. I'm here to tell you that Belgian waffles ("gaufres" in French) not only exist, but are actually quite delicious. I bought one at a cart in a subway station, and another in a waffle and ice cream restaurant.

Only they're not called "Belgian" waffles. Belgium boasts two waffle styles, named after their two largest cities. The Liege waffle (my personal favorate) has an irregular circular shape with a ragged edge, while the Brussels waffle is rectangular. The photo explains all. They're eggy with just a hint of crispness. Mmmm. And check out the toppings!


And check out the strategically-placed dirty rag. As I've said before, Belgium has a bit of a "thing" when it comes to cleanliness. I'm not a fastidious person, and the rag didn't keep me from ordering my Liege waffle. And the ubiquitous litter didn't keep me from enjoying Brussels.


We kind of got a warning driving into Belgium from Germany. No sooner do you cross the border than the well kept roadsides become overgrown with weeds, and the roadside rest areas are somewhat gross. It's kind of cool how national differences persist even with the European Union.

Remember "Ampelmann" in Germany? The Belgian traffic-light-man looks... well, tipsy.


Cathedrals, yadda, yadda...


Brussels Grand-Place, the city's tourist mecca with it's eye-popping Baroque architecture, if you like Baroque.


Having just come from the University of Boogie, I appreciated this:



This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]