Wednesday, November 30, 2005



The traffic to this blog has risen slightly in the last couple of months to around 180 hits per day on weekdays and low 100s on weekends.

Bloggers I speak with have this casual way of assuming (or seeming to assume) that 1 hit = 1 reader. That's clearly wrong. I'll visit each of several blogs more than once in a day, and my referrals page indicates that I get a lot of blog traffic via random Google searches. There's no reason to assume that those people are "readers" of the blog -- they probably click away after a second or two.

I'm going to venture a guess that 180 hits per day translates into about 30 or 40 "readers" tops. Maybe it's a lot less, I don't know.

Hey, how about this: if you read this, then please post 1 comment, and I'll take a head count.

Whether you do or not, thanks for reading.


Mets moves

This one's for you, Freakin Rican

A blogging friend of mind occasionally prods me to blog more about baseball. She's not a baseball fan at all, but, she argues, "You say you're a met's fan right there at the top of your blog. Blog about baseball, why don't ya!"

I'm guessing that among my couple of dozen readers, there may be 1-2 Mets fans and no more than 3-5 baseball fans, so "blog about baseball" seems to be a prescription for non-connection.

Yet I'm intrigued to see that Freakin Rican, a blogger with whom I have a few blog buddies in common but no direct links before today, is apparently a Mets fan. His sidebar has a link to the Mets home page under "Teams I like."

So I will say that I'm excited about the Mets recent, splashy acquisitions of slugger Carlos Delgado and top-flight closer Billy Wagner, even if those two players are about to enter the twilights of their careers (ages 33 and 34, respectively). With multiyear contracts of well in excess of $10 million per year, it's easy to argue that the Mets have overpaid, both in dollars and in number of contract years. And yet the concept of overpaying is relative to the team's overall budget. The Mets seem to have more money to spend, and the apparent "win now" approach to free agent signings seems to be part of a larger marketing plan to give the Mets a bigger identity and help launch their cable network.

So I'm happy just to sit back and say if Delgado and Wagner each produce solid seasons in each of the next two years, then they'll help the Mets contend for the next two years and be worth it.

What bugs me, however, is the persistent rumor that the Mets next crush object is slugger Manny Ramirez, another 30-something whose best years are behind him. You hear lots of talk about how would be sluggers in the lineup -- especially Carlos Beltran who underperformed in his first season with the Mets last year -- will do better "with good hitters behind them."

The "hitters behind them" theory holds as follows: With the fearsome hitter on deck, the batter is likely to see more hittable fastballs, the pitcher shying away from breaking balls and spotting pitches in hard-to-hit edges of the strike zone for fear of walking a batter to set up RBI opportunities for the on-deck man.

The problem is that slugging RBI guys also need good hitters in front of them. There need to be runners on base for the sluggers to have RBI opportunities. History has proven time and again that this means having 1-2 hitters with high on-base percentage. But the Mets, with Jose Reyes and his pathetic .300 OBP batting number 1 and a revolving door of low OBP hitters at number 2, posted one of the lowest 1st inning on base percentages in baseball last year. And they seem to be doing nothing to change that.

What they need is a second baseman and/or outfielder who hits for high average and walks a lot, at least one player with an OBP of .375 or higher. If they can't get two guys like that, then get one, and bat him leadoff with David Wright (.388 OBP in 2005) batting second, followed by Beltran, Delgado and Floyd.

Note that if the Mets 1 and 2 hitters in 2006 get on base 20% fewer times than the Red Sox 1-2 hitters did last year, then Manny Ramirez would experience something like a 20% drop in RBIs from that fact alone, independent of his own hitting performance. Not to mention fewer at bats because more outs made in front of him.

So if Ramirez joins the Mets as their cleanup hitter next year, look for him to come up to bat a lot in the 1st inning with two outs and David Wright on first.

UPDATE: I guess the game has changed on me. A quick check of MLB stats from last year shows that there are fewer than a dozen players in all of baseball who fit my profile for a 1-2 hitter -- OBP over .375 who don't hit for power. Virtually all of the high OBP guys are power hitters who get walks because they're being pitched around. Maybe the Mets should add a power hitter after all and try to turn David Wright into a leadoff hitter.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Pride and Prejudice

On Thanksgiving day, our dinner guest, Warren, brought the BBC Pride and Prejudice -- the one where Jane Austen-o-files drool over the (in my view, questionable) charms of Colin Firth, an actor whose humorlessness plays very well in the role of Darcy.

I'm thinking we should make this our Thanskgiving tradition. If I'm not mistaken, it was on or around Thanksgiving that The Wizard of Oz was annually aired, back in the pre-video days in which children who wanted to watch their favorite movie over, and over, and over simply had to wait until the next time it was broadcast by the TV networks. The problem with this version of Pride and Prejudice is its 5 hour running time. But I have no problem watching that much video while the turkey is cooking and then later after eating my way into a stupor.

The BBC P & P is widely and rightly acclaimed as a terrific screen adaptation (in contrast to the current Keira Knightley version, which I hear totally sucks), and it bears up under repeated viewings. I always get something new or different on each successive watching.

For instance, this time it finally occurred to me that the paterfamilias Mr. Bennett is, despite Lizzie's affection for him, something of an asshole. As irritating as Mrs. Bennett is, she is quite right that her daughters need to be married to avoid falling into economically marginal lives, and her constant worry is to provide for them -- while all Mr. Bennett does is to act above it all, putting his wife down with witty barbs while virtually ignoring his responsibility to provide for his children.

This year's viewing was particularly enhanced by my frequent hitting the pause button and grilling Warren -- a font of information about the social history of Regency England -- for illuminating background. You too would get a lot out of watching Jane Austen movies with Warren -- too bad you don't know her real name.

Monday, November 28, 2005


To be filed

Every couple of weeks, we go through bills and stuff that's come in, and the papers B and I feel we need to keep -- credit card and bank statements, insurance renewal forms, tax receipts, etc. -- go into a thick accordian folder which we call the "to be filed" folder. This is just a temporary holding place until we take those papers and put them into labelled file folders.

I always plan to "catch up on filing" at the next long weeked -- like Thanksgiving -- or the next break between semesters. But somehow, I don't get to it, and we actually have more than one "to be filed" folder now.

B, not trusting that "I'll get on top of the filing as soon as classes end in two weeks," decided to tackle it now. She has discovered this disquieting fact. We haven't done any filing -- relying instead on stuffing "to be filed" folders -- since summer 2002.

You heard me: we haven't done our family filing for three-and-a-half years.

I find that I have two reactions to this. Part of me says:
Holy f*cking sh*t! That is just totally out of control!!!
Another part of me says:
Hmmm... 3 1/2 years without doing any filing, and things have gone pretty much okay.... So why do we need to do filing?


Bottled water

After hearing about it many times over several months, I finally got a hold of Penn and Teller's Bullshit on DVD.

With the exception of the bottled water episode, I found it pretty dull as they took on one absurdly easy target after another: penis enlargement, professional feng shui interior decorators, and the like.

But the bottled water expose was informative, and the candid camera routine in a fancy restaurant in which they fob off water from a garden house out back as exotic bottled waters from around the world to pretentious diners was very funny. Interestingly, three of the diners who'd been made fools of actually laughed heartily when the truth was revealed -- an impressive display of good grace, I thought.

How the bottled water industry has managed to fool us all into thinking that their product is better for us than tap water -- when most of it is worse, and much of the rest actually is tap water -- is just scary.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


I tremble for my country...

... when I reflect that our economic well-being depends on this:

Gleeful, giddy shoppers rush the sale rack at store-opening time at WalMart.
(From yesterday's New York Times, p. A1.)

Saturday, November 26, 2005



Early in its life-cycle, The X-Files was broadcast on Friday nights. B and I would hang out at the apartment of our friends P and D, who were X-Files junkies, and order in chinese food. They would insist on watching the show, but, invariably, I'd get bored within ten minutes and leave the room to go play Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis on P and D's desktop Mac. The X-Files seemed to consist entirely of a lot of obscure conversations between people with flat affects dressed in suits.

It wasn't until the show's 5th season or so that, for some reason, I got hooked. By then it was being broadcast on one of the Fox cable networks with an epidsode every night, plus a four-hour Friday night marathon. For me, the X-Files is best watched obsessively. Overcome by a fit of nostalgia, B and I just completed a 3-volume X-Files marathon.

It turns out that the show consists of so much more than obscure conversations between people with flat affects dressed in suits. Every episode has a different anxious-looking short bald guy walking quickly and wordlessly away down a corridor, only to disappear into a stairwell, where Mulder or Scully chase them, impotently shouting, "Stop! Federal Agent!" Or sometimes, "Federal Agent! Stop!"

Then there are the great filming locations. By my informal estimate, X-Files scenes are shot in the following settings:
For all this consistency, there is actually a lot of inconsistency from year to year in story details. For instance, for several seasons it appears that the only way aliens can be killed is with a certain high-tech looking stiletto-style retractable shoemaker's awl stuck in the back of the neck -- only that will do the job, and whole episodes are built around the importance of that particular weapon. But then in season eight, Scully can do the job with a well-placed gunshot to the same location.

But more than minor narrative continuity problems, the whole show has a very "make it up as we go along" feel. The screenwriters, cleverly, resorted much more often to the artful enigma than to the lame explanation. An example of the latter was the oft-spoken reason why the bad guys didn't simply have Mulder killed: "Better to let his investigation bedevil us than to turn one man's crusade into a martyr's cause." Whuh? Smoking Man meets Yoda, I guess.

But you get sucked in, and once you do, you get to like those flat affects week after week. So that when Gillian Anderson flashes out that biennial smile, you can go to sleep thinking about it every night for a week.

Friday, November 25, 2005


Existential Friday: Survival


For the past couple of weeks, a slightly camouflaged spectacle has been going on in My Neighborhood Park. It's sort of a squirrel convention, or perhaps a smorgasbord. I wish I oculd have captured this in a single photo, but I'm no nature photographer. Trust me, in your field of vision you could see 10, 12, 15 squirrels sitting there stuffing their faces with acorns.

The most I could catch in one camera frame: four, maybe a fifth in there somewhere.

It's somewhat unusual to see so many of them, sitting and eating with such grim determination. B says this means it's going to be a long, cold winter -- a sort of November squirrel version of Groundhog Day.


I'm reading an excellent book called Displaced Persons, by Joseph Berger, a memoir by a child of Jewish refugees who immigrated to the U.S. after WWII. Berger's parents grew up in Poland and survived the holocaust by going to Soviet Russia after the partitition of Poland in 1939, where they worked at hard labor and never had enough to eat in a country wracked by wartime shortages. They were poor even before the war, and it seems as though the first 30 years of their lives were all about food -- scraping together enough to eat, and being hungry virtually all the time. And it seemed like they spent a lot of time thinking about food.

If I'm hungry for a couple of hours, that's a lot. It's almost unimaginable to me what it would be like to feel hungry most of the time, for years on end. But throughout most of human history, hasn't life for most people mostly been all about getting food? And isn't it that way now for a lot of the world?

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Happy Thanksgiving

We live in a society wrought by fear-mongering. A military-industrial complex profits from promoting fear about national security issues. A prison-industrial complex, likewise, stands to gain from excessive fear of crime.

But did you know that there is a cookbook-industrial complex that engages in fearmongering about Thanksgiving?

Every year, a spate of newspaper articles in "Food" and "Lifestyle" sections, magazine features and TV news spots promotes fear and anxiety about preparing the Thanksgiving feast. What fears exactly?
As a result of all these fears, we are bombarded with contradictory instructions, advice and recipes. Brine the turkey. Don't brine the turkey. Cook the turkey for 4-5 hours at a low heat or 325 degrees; no, no, cook it for 2 hours at 450! Put a foil tent on the turkey when you put it in the oven. No, wait an hour before tenting. Bind up the legs -- no, leave them open. Stuffing the turkey will kill everyone who walks into your house! No, it's okay, you can stuff the turkey -- but heat the stuffing to 120 degrees before stuffing it. Rinse the turkey -- don't rinse, just pat dry.

I have cooked a Thanksgiving turkey every year since 1989. It's something I like doing, and I'm reasonably competent at it. The turkey always comes out somewhere on a range from not bad to pretty darn good. My way of handing the fear mongering of the cookbook-industrial complex is basically to ignore it. I fall back on conservatism: the old ways are best. If it ain't broke don't fix it.

The problem is that I have trouble remembering details from one year to the next. What temperature do we set the oven at, exactly? Do we use a foil tent? What temperature does the meat have to be when it's done? Does it cook for 15 minutes per pound or 20?

In our household, B is in charge of Thanksgiving day worries (on the virtues of a division of labor for worries, see this post), and when I ask B any of these questions, she doesn't remember either, but consults the newspaper or a recent issue of Cook's illustrated. In this way, the door is opened to the fear-based innovations of the cookbook-industrial complex. And our annual Thanksgiving food preparation fight.

A few years ago, B got it in her head that we needed to brine the turkey -- steep it in salted water -- in a plastic 10-gallon paint bucket.
"I'm not comfortable with that," I said. "That bucket had paint in it."
"Oh, come on," said B. "It's completely rinsed out."
One of the prices I pay for being something of a slacker with household chores is a presumption between B and me that I begin these arguments at a moral disadvantage, and I was resigning myself to paint-bucket-brined turkey and fears of chemical contamination when I learned that B had consulted her brother about the brining. He's a carpenter with encyclopedic knowledge about things like paint buckets, and apparently he saved us all by saying "I don't think that's such a good idea."

This year, B brings in a New York Times article asserting that you should not baste the turkey. But we live in a conservative era, and in recent years I've managed to carry the day with the argument that we should cook the turkey just like we did it last year. That and a timely reference to the "paint bucket."

We've been hanging out at Grandma Moses for the past hour or so. "What, you mean you left the house with the oven on?!" Good point -- better get back there and baste before the place burns down... or the turkey dries out.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


An awkward social encounter on a good hair day

While B and I were doing our Thanksgiving grocery shopping, an attractive young woman walked by. (Other than B, I mean.) She looked vaguely familiar, and we did a mutual double-take, and then said hello.

It turns this was Rebecca, my most recent "salon" hair cutter, before I went out and got my barbershop haircut.

I think Rebecca didn't recognize me at first because my new haircut looked so good.

Talk about mixed feelings: half sheepishness over taking my business elsewhere, and half the kind of pride you feel when your ex sees you in your hot new look.

Monday, November 21, 2005



I will make this confession to you. I am one of those people who has purchased a Ronco Showtime Rotisserie Oven.

You might think that as a critical thinking egghead, I'd be somewhat resistant to having my will power reduced to jelly by watching a lengthy infomercial. Ironically, it wasn't a TV infomercial that sold me that Showtime Rotisserie Oven. It was The New Yorker.

That's right -- I bought a Ronco Showtime Rotisserie Oven after reading an article in The New Yorker. I guess you could call it an infomercial for critical thinking eggheads. They did a fascinating profile on Ron Popeil, who, I learned, comes from a Jewish immigrant family of kitchen-gadget pitch-men dating back at least three generations. His grandfathers and uncles hawked kitchen knives on the Brighton Beach Boardwalk back before I was even born. They invented and sold gadgets like the Popeil Pocket Fisherman and the Vegematic. Ron Popeil himself is one of the most successful salesmen of our time.

I learned that Ron Popeil is something of an inventor. He designed the Showtime Rotisserie Oven and has invented numerous gadgets, including the Inside the Shell Egg Scrambler. I also learned that Ron loves rotisserie chicken. So do I! And there's not a reliably tasty source of rotisserie chicken here in my home town. So I bought the Showtime Rotisserie Oven without even waiting to catch the infomerical on TV.

I think I made about six rotisserie chickens on my Ronco oven. One of the appealing features of Ronco products is their money back guarantee if You Are Not Fully Satisfied. I'm someone who is willing to avail himself of the full satisfaction money back guarantee. I once bought, and then returned within 30 days, a brand new Saturn.

Here's the deal with the Ronco. It did cook the chicken as advertized: it comes out juicy, tender and flavorful, without being overcooked or undercooked. But:
1) It makes the whole house smell like rotisserie chicken for the next couple of days.

2) You have to use these elastic bands to bind the chicken around the spit. You get some bitter taste from the elastic bands seeping into parts of the chicken.

3) Some assembly was required. I made a small, but irreversible error in the assembly that caused the spit to fit imperfectly into its housing such that it made a loud, irritating click with every revolution.

4) Clean-up wasn't any easier than the cleaning up required after baking a chicken in your regular oven.
So I returned my Ronco Showtime Rotisserie Oven. I'm kind of sad about it, because my dream of having rotisserie chicken once a week died with the revocation of that purchase.

You'd think after that I would be impervious to any sales pitch by Ron Popeil. But last week, while aimlessly surfing cable in my hotel room, I happened across a Ronco infomercial. There he was, hawking kitchen knives. The fact is, we don't have a good set of steak knives around our house, and our kitchen knives are a paltry, random and on the whole pretty dull set.

Ron was offering a set of high quality steak knives, plus a full set of kitchen knives -- a $150 value, at least! -- for only 3 payments of $13.33. Basically 40 bucks -- what a steal!

But wait -- there was more! He would throw in -- absolutely free -- a chef quality meat cleaver. You would pay $40 just for the cleaver by itself!

But wait -- there was yet more. A serrated carving knife! A boning knife! A filet knife, that could filet huge raw salmon and halibut!

We have none of these things in our house. I'd pay $40 just for one or two of the knives offered. There was more and more until the knife set had over 40 pieces of cutlery -- meaning that you would pay less than $1 per knife! And he would just throw in -- absolutely free -- a compact wood storage block for the whole kit and caboodle!

I was mesmerized, drooling like Homer Simpson looking at an ad for a bacon cheeseburger topped with a melting mound of fresh creamery butter. Uhhh-huh-huh-huh-huh...

Luckily it's not quite in my nature to pick up the phone and call toll free to place my order. Plus there was some catch about "telling a friend" that didn't sit quite right. Plus, when you think about it, it's not like I'm standing around my kitchen, when we prepare food, and thinking, "Damn, what I could do with a boning knife and a professional quality meat cleaver."

But I told B about the knives anyway, hoping to create a groundswell of enthusiasm that would propel us into a purchase.
"Don't you remember the whole rotisserie debacle?" said B, not unkindly.

"But wait," I said, "there's more! I almost forgot about the 'Flavor Injector.' "
"But the rotisserie came with one of those."

"But that was just for liquid flavors. This is a solid flavor injector. It can inject garlic cloves... or olives! Right into the meat!"
B just shook her head sadly. And that was the end of it.

Sunday, November 20, 2005



A month or so ago I decided I wanted to archive my blog just in case Blogger experienced some sort of crash or they changed their policies and deleted posts going back beyond a certain date. Not being technologically adept, I am up with no better way than right clicking and a page of my blog and then clicking "save page as" ... "web page." The result is that each page of my blog is now on my hard drive, and I can call it up by clicking on the icon. I don't have to be on line. The page comes up as it appears on line, photos and all -- but the links are not active, and the comments are not accessible.

Essentially, a "page" of blog is an entire month of archived posts -- that is, click on, say, October 2005 in your archive list on your sidebar, and allthe October posts come up -- and can be saved -- as a single page. So you can archive your entire blog pretty quickly.

Again, this method doesn't save the comments. To do that, I suppose you could call up each post as a separate page showing comments, and save it, but that would take 20-30 times longer to do.

Does anyone have a better way to back up your blog?


This is depressing

I haven't read their book yet, but Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have what I take to be a short introduction to the book in today's Sunday NYTimes Magazine. In "The Center No Longer Holds," Hacker and Pierson outline their argument about show how the Republicans have succeeded in breaking the political pendulum that has somewhat reliably swung back to the center in American politics after getting pushed too far (for Americans) left or right. By seizing and expanding certain structural advantages they can impose unpopular right-wing policies that even median swing voters don't like, without suffering electoral backlash.

Read it and weep...

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Two witty remarks

These were actually said this morning.

1) At the end of yoga class this morning, the yoga instructor tells us that he was watching an episode of Jeopardy recently and was surprised to see that one of the contestants was named Iyengar. It's not a common name in the U.S., and of course it put him in mind of B.K.S. Iyengar, who is one of the most influential yogis on the contemporary practice of yoga in the U.S. This dialogue ensued:
Random yoga student: Did "Iyengar" win?

Yoga teacher: Actually, he came in third.

Oscar: That's surprising -- I'd think that a yogi would be particularly good at putting the answer in the form of a question.
2) Walking home from yoga, B and I bump into a neighbor whose wife is up north deer hunting. (You need to know for this story that B is a lawyer.) The neighbor tells us that he and his wife have learned how to butcher the deer right in their own home and will get a several month supply of venison out of the kill his wife brings home.
B: I want us to learn how to do that. Can we tag along next year? That's one of those skills that's probably good to have.

Neighbor: You mean for the post-nuclear apocalypse?

B: Yeah. I figure we already have the law thing covered.

Advantage: B.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Existential Friday: Counting down

A week ago, in Washington, DC: I'm waiting to cross the street, the traffic wooshes past me, and the red-handed "don't walk" sign emphasizes my need to wait.

Off to my right, at a ninety degree angle, the white "walk man" signals that it's safe for pedestrians going perpendicular to my route to cross the street.


I notice, and become mesmerized by, the digital timer counting down the seconds until the "walk" signal will change to "don't walk."


I can accept that this timer may be a valuable safety feature for the elderly and disabled, who can use it to decide whether they have time to make it across the street. Yet I find it strangely disturbing.

The countdown at right angles to me is essentially telling me how much longer I have to wait until the light will change in my favor and I can cross. It makes me conscious, in a way I wouldn't have been if I was waiting in ignorance or uncertainty, of the passage of time. Seconds of my life, adding up to minutes, are draining away merely waiting for this damned traffic to stop so I can cross the street. There's 45 seconds of my life I'll never get back. My life, spilling out, while I'm just waiting for traffic.

I don't want to think of my time counting down that way.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


The eternal sunshine of the spotless blogger

Moral Turpitude has apparently decided to stop blogging, but more than that, she seems to be expressing that choice in a kind of blogger performance art.

A few weeks ago, she posted what I referred to as a "blogger suicide note," a post entitled "Post-bloggerism" consisting of one line -- "maybe this guy has the right idea" -- and a link to a blog called Julienned Carrots which, as you can still see it today, consists entirely of the blog's title bar followed by a completely blank page.

Since that time, Moral Turpitude has been erasing posts from her blog, starting with the most recent, and working backwards. The post at the top of her blog is one dated October 9 and has this picture:

yellow teeth
Moral Turpitude self portrait, October 9, 2005. Keep this in your memory, because she will soon erase it from the blogosphere.
Soon, no doubt, this post will be gone. Reminiscent of the memory-erasing medical procedure in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Moral Turpitude is erasing our record of her delightful blog, little by little, until (I suppose) only her title bar remains.

I love the movie Eternal Sunshine, much of which takes the form of a dream sequence in which the protagonists unconscious decides he doesn't want his memory erased after all. As it happens, I dreamed last night that I was try to stop Moral Turpitude from erasing her blog.

I always enjoyed Moral Turpitude's frequent comments here on my blog. I wonder whether she can erase her entire blogospheric presence by deleting her comments on other people's blogs...

Oh, well. Go check out Moral Turpitude while it lasts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


If only they'd appreciated the value of a sturdy pair of rubber boots back before the black plague started

Lead story in yeserday's USA Today:
Poultry Farm Practices May Thwart Bird Flu


Workers enter barns only if they're wearing coveralls, boots and hairnets, which are later washed or discarded so workers don't inadvertently spread viruses. Feed trucks are hosed down before driving onto the farm for the same reason.

Poultry producers say they have taken precautions such as these for years to protect flocks from diseases. Now, they might prove to be one of the nation's vital defenses in preventing the spread of a deadly bird flu virus that has set off fears of a global health crisis.

What a relief! And here I was so worried about silly things like feeding ground up leftover chicken parts to chickens...



I was sitting by myself in a cafe when I had a bit of an out-of-body experience. The camera zoomed out to a middle distance showing me looking lonely and pensive over my cup of coffee; walking thoughtfully along a river bank; and wistfully going through a montage of my daily activities. I was thinking about her -- why hadn't I been willing to commit? She really was the one! Have a blown it -- or might she still take me back? Suddenly, I'm running through the streets of the city, an elated yet anxious look on my face. It's all so clear to me now! I only hope I can find her while there's still time!

Wait a minute... I'm happily married. I'm really not the hero of this particular movie. What's going on?

Answer: they're playing Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs in the background at the cafe. Is there any other recording artist whose entire body of work consists of songs that sound like the soundtrack for the climax of a romantic comedy?

Monday, November 14, 2005



Organizers of the ABA conference I attended last week crowed with pride when they announced, shortly before the meeting date, that they had scored Senator Orrin Hatch as keynote speaker for the event.

I’d never seen Hatch in person before, and my impression of the Senator was formed by a series of TV appearances when he was not at his best: it was during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings during and after the Anita Hill revelations. Hatch was like a deer in the headlights – stunned, dazed and completely at a loss for the right words to say.

But I guess you don’t get elected five successive terms to the U.S. Senate without being able to work a room, and Hatch – with a law degree and 14 years of law practice behind him – spoke to the room full of lawyers with clarity and intelligence on various legal issues.

He cogently explained the Class Action Fairness Act; offered a surprising and insightful critique of BMW v. Gore, the wrong-headed Supreme Court decision that imposed constitutional due process limits on punitive damage awards, as an example of “judicial activism”; and came across as moderate (albeit Republican and conservative) on tort reform, referring frequently to the fact that he had worked on the plaintiff side (i.e., as a “trial lawyer”) for a few years of his law practice.

And yet, “statesmanlike” is not the word that captures my overall impression of the 71-year-old, five-term Senator. His strategy at charming us was to aim at plain-spoken folksiness, but he missed that target more often then he hit it, ultimately coming across as inappropriate and even a bit vulgar.

He referred to President George H.W. Bush as “Bush-one,” as when explaining that his (Hatch’s) son, “who was in the office of White House counsel under Bush-one, is now a plaintiff’s lawyer in Utah.”

In boasting about his bipartisanship, he tells a story about his willingness to confirm Ruth Bader Ginsburg to her first judicial appointment as appeals court judge on the D.C. Circuit. Ginsburg’s advance person, when scheduling the nominee’s sit-down with Hatch, said that Ginsburg (an extremely well-credentialed feminist lawyer and law professor) “is really scared of you.” Hatch says, “I didn’t understand why anyone would be scared of me” – aw, shucks! – “but Ginsburg did come across as really timid. Remember Ruth Buzzi on Saturday Night Live? Ginsburg was the spitting image of Ruth Buzzi.”

Ruth Buzzi is a comedic actress who played a mousy old lady in sketch comedy on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, (about a decade before Saturday Night Live, by the way). Justice Ginsburg is not a physically imposing presence, but her main resemblance to the Ruth Buzzi character, other than perhaps the name "Ruth," is wearing her hair in a tight bun.

Hatch wrapped up his remarks by telling a strange joke about a Mormon church elder who was so earthy he couldn’t stop himself from cussing; he’s sent by the church elders to a sinful town, where he holds up a rolled piece of paper and says “this is the Lord’s shit list, and you’re all on it.” It’s plainly a joke that Hatch tells frequently to wrap up his addresses to interest-group audiences, but he really has to stretch to make it into the one-joke-for-all-occasions he seems to think it is. His tie-in – “don’t worry, you’re not on my shit list” – was pretty lame.

He obviously revels in his power, though, sharing these two "inside" stories of his facing down the other branches of government:
Clinton called me and ran down his list of about ten names for Supreme Court justice. His first choice was Bruce Babbitt. I said, “he’ll probably get confirmed, but there will be blood everywhere.” I suggested, “how about Steve Breyer.” Well, he picked Ginsburg for that slot, but he picked Breyer next.
I attended a meeting at the U.S. Supreme Court at which some of the justices said to me, “you have to get rid of diversity jurisdiction.” I stared the Chief Justice down, and said, “we’re not going to do that.”
I don’t have a per se objection to earthy language in a semi-dignified setting, if the speaker is a genuinely down-to-earth person. But that suit doesn’t fit well on Hatch. What he’s really doing is trying to seduce us with a rehearsed pretense of letting his hair down, as if we’re a group of his 150 closest friends, Washington insiders getting a nudge and a wink from a real power broker. It’s no doubt how he squeezes money out of Republican donors. But at the end of the day, I’d have been much more impressed by his sensibility, and his judgment, if he had acted in a more dignified manner. The phony intimacy he put on for us is not so far removed from the leering “boys club” mentality that – to his great surprise – blew up in his and his colleagues’ faces back in ‘91 during the Hill-Thomas episode.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Baby boomers oughta love this one

Janelle Rene at Just Thoughts posts these stellar images from memory lane. Do you know what a "pee chee" is? Then you'd better go see...


Don't you guys understand that the rest of us have gotten kinda sick of you?


Actually, I think they do get it. But they realize that they have the marketing power to generate serious commercial interest in themselves by themselves. They don't need us. What other generation of sixty year olds has ever gotten any attention?

For my explanation of the baby boom, see my post here. The baby boomers, as I've argued before, have a vested interest in overstating the length of the baby boom, to create an inflated impression of how many of us have joined in their economic bonanza, and thereby get us to vote against inheritance taxes.

To figure out if you are a baby boomer, you can take my simple test, here -- test results here.

Friday, November 11, 2005


Existential Friday: Veteran's day

Veteran's Day has morphed into a general commemoration of war veterans, but it was originally established to mark the armistice ending the horrific fighting of World War I, which took effect at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918 -- the famous "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month."

This generalizing of Veteran's Day beyond WWI is ironic, because the American experience in World War I became an episode of our nation's history that many Americans wanted to forget. We entered in the final year of the most destructive war in world history, and became almost immediately disillusioned as our war aims -- "making the world safe for democracy," and "ending all wars" by the establishment of a peace-keeping League of Nations -- were wrecked by the manipulation and maneuvering of our European allies.

Our country reacted to the experience with two decades of isolationism that might have kept us -- mistakenly -- out of World War II. And there was no lionizing of World War I veterans as a "great", let alone "greatest" generation, as happened after the next World War. Perhaps as a result of this American cultural detachment, the standard story of WWI historians is Euro- and particularly Anglo-centric: U.S. involvement, while helpful, was too little and too late to be decisive, and the war was won by Britain and France.

Fresh looks at the history are making clear that in fact, by the end of 1917, France and Britain, having bled themselves white for four years, lacked the offensive capability to defeat German. The million U.S. troops thrown into the western front in 1918 were indeed decisive.

What should also be remembered is that in the 200 or so days in which the American Expeditionary Force was engaged in the front lines in France, 50,000 American soldiers were killed in action. That's more than died in 8 years of combat in Vietnam.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE: I had a lunch date with an old friend that we had to reschedule from yesterday to today. Due to a random assortment of factors, we decided that I'd go to his office at 11:00 a.m. I have to go to the reception desk on the 11th floor, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


The big conference

I'm in Washington, D.C. for a conference.

There was a time when business travel made me feel important -- I have to go somewhere, and it's so important that others are willing to pay for that to happen.

I have a business suit and important-looking papers.


At the airport, even if I'm sitting down for a cup of coffee, I can exude importance. I'm not just lounging, I'm taking a moment to relax during my important business travel. People are counting on me to be at a certain place by a certain time.


You know, there's something about a cafe table with one chair that looks so lonely and... I don't know, exposed, or something. Don't you think? Not the best look to convey importance.


That's better.

I get to stay at a fancy hotel, with turn-down service, chocolates on the pillow, and a huge bathroom. And a bathrobe and slippers to make me feel important after I take my shower.


Here's my view. It's commanding. I can look out and see that changes are being made. Progress.


The conference is being put on by the American Bar Association Tort, Trial and Insurance Practice Section. I realize it's not a huge budget operation, but couldn't they have come up with a better logo?


It looks like something you could whip out in about 20 minutes on Power Point.

Once you've been to a few of these things, they start to look all the same. Here's the continental breakfast.


And those same chairs are used by every hotel conference room in the entire country.


Bored already?

And check out the old school dork tags! It's the safety pin model, that puts a big puncture in your clothes!


I really have to remember to put together a travel kit for these things. I have half a dozen hanging-around-the-neck dork tags at home; and I should also throw in an ethernet cable.

In case you think the red "speaker" ribbon makes the dork tag more cool looking, check it out fully assembled and attached to the suit.


Looks like the ribbon for the prize pig.


"This rolled up paper is the Lord's sh*t list, and you're all on it!"

-- Remarks of Senator Orrin Hatch, as keynote speaker for the conference I'm attending.

No, wait! It's not what it sounds like! Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005



Oscar Madison's new haircut, as reflected in airport window. Tarmac lights in background.

I got the haircut this morning.

I went to the barber shop at my appointed time and caught the barber, Tom, at the tail end of a conversation with the outgoing customer, Mike, about outrageous costumes Tom saw this last Halloween.

“... so one guy had a fake penis down to here,” gesturing to his upper shins, “and he wore a big raincoat, which of course, he kept opening, to flash the penis.”

Well, that didn’t take long. After years of going to hair salons, I finally venture back into a barber shop, and sure enough, the discussion turns to penises.

“...And his partner had a fake, bare butt. It was a large, sculpted plastic butt, obviously not a real one, attached to his .. to his butt. And the guy with the penis kept chasing him around.”

Tom and Mike both thought this was very, very funny. They chortled. Mike made a lnegthy rejoinder about Halloween. The conversation went on and on. I looked at my watch.

So here’s an interesting twist on the sociology of the barber shop. Is it maybe a prison/locker room kind of thing? In all my years of having my hair cut at hair salons staffed by lots of gay guys, I never heard a single reference of any kind to male-male anal sex. Not once! But set one foot into a barber shop, and whammo...

I tend to prefer not talking while getting my hair cut, but Tom was a friendly sort who wanted to converse. After talking about the weather, I learned that Tom has owned this shop for thirty years. The two empty chairs suggested that he had colleagues or employees back in the day. He had cancer, and the chemotherapy had been hard on him, so since his return to the shop he’s been working only until mid-afternoon. His landlord – the owner of the bar next door – has been threatening to raise the rent, so Tom may move his business.

I’m guessing Tom is in his early sixties, so he doesn’t cut hair as fast as I had hoped. This meant that there was more conversation needed. He had an old color TV going, with The Price is Right, and I was astonished that the familiar emcee voice belonged to none other than Bob Barker.

I thought it would be impolite to say to a sixty-something cancer survivor what popped into my head – “Gee, Bob Barker was old when I was a kid! I can’t believe Bob Barker isn’t dead yet!”

Instead, I looked down into my begowned lap, now filled with big clumps of my brownish hair, which I can't help noticing contains a disturbing amount of silvery streaks.

“Wow, Bob Barker and I both have a lot more gray hair than when I saw him last,” I said.

“Well, you know, he used to color his hair," Tom explains. "But then he says he read a medical study showing a link between the hair dye used in Grecian formula and cancer. So he just decided to go natural, and his hair’s all white now.”

You go, Bob. And you too, Tom. The haircut ($20 with the tip, which seemed to please and surprise Tom) wasn’t half bad. It was certainly no worse than any salon cut I’ve ever gotten. So I may be seeing Tom again.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Back to the barber

One of my worries -- admittedly, one that is very low down on the list -- is how barbers continue to make a living in an era of unisex hair salons. It's sort of a fascinating sociological phenomenon: for decades, American men would get their hair cut by men in barber shops, and women would get their hair "styled" by women and gay men* in "beauty parlors." Then, starting with the horrible hair styles of the 1970s, men started going increasingly to "salons" -- essentially, beauty parlors renamed and restyled for unisex clientele, with the big domed hair-dryers replaced by the smaller, hand-held gun style of dryer.

Meanwhile, haircuts at cheap barber-shop prices became gettable at chain hair salons like Supercuts. With barber business drying up, and salons historically offering more financial upside due to the tradition of more expensive haircuts, there would certainly be little social pressure to make room for women in barber shops, which seem to be barely hanging on. It seems like there are a few barbershops left staffed by older men.

I've decided after many years to give the barber another try. I hate getting my hair cut, and I find that I never get one I like whether I spend a lot of money or a little money. I don't like the experience of a leisurely haircut, I don't particularly like getting a shampoo, and I hate making appointments for this necessary inconvenience. So why not make the procedure quick and painless -- barbers are trained to work fast, and make their living through high volume.

I walked into a barber shop this morning at 8 a.m. There were three chairs in the little shop, but two of them had stuff on them, and there was just one barber -- a man in his mid fifties with thick arms and a Harley Davidson bowling shirt.

But he couldn't cut my hair because... he was booked for the day! I had to make an appointment for tomorrow morning. And when I gave him my name, this funny thing happened. (As you know, my real name is not Oscar. For purposes of this story, let's assume it's Steven.)
Barber: What's your name?
Oscar: Steven.
Barber: (Writing in his appointment book.) Can I write it down as "Steve"?
I guess I was glad to hear that he had no openings today, because it suggests that his business is going well. A haircut is $17 -- about $5-7 more than Supercuts. But what's up with the "Steve" thing? And what about making appointments? Does that mean he's not going to give me the quick painless haircut? I have a whole day to worry about it.

*In the 1975 movie Shampoo, Warren Beatty played a hairdresser Lothario who beds Julie Christie, Carrie Fisher, and I think Goldie Hawn, among others. Film critic John Simon wrote something like "this movie will cause a huge increase in beauty school enrollment by heterosexual men."

Monday, November 07, 2005


Blogger intervention -- continued

My effort to organize a blogger intervention for Moral Turpitude led to 2 comments on my blog and no comments on MT's blog. Could I have come up with a better scheme to make somebody feel worse?

A couple of months ago, when I was feeling blogging blues, Sleep Goblin turned me on to this helpful pamphlet on blogging depression:


Some people have told me that it's best to leave people alone with their existential blog crises. I'm not so sure -- I think it's worth making one more try to tell Moral Turpitude what we think of her blog. Go there and comment!

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Blogger intervention

We have a blogger down!

After two solid weeks without a post, blogger-extraordinaire Moral Turpitude posted the blog equivalent of a suicide note on November 1st.

Moral Turpitude: what is she trying to tell us?

I have read Moral Turpitude most days since naming it as my inaugural Blog of the Week last April. The end of Moral Turpitude -- a talented, creative blog -- would be a loss to the blogosphere. This is the blog that brought us Shirley She-Rooster, Mr. Snuff and the inimitable Althouse clay-mation. Plus, she brings the funny like nobody's business.

mrsnuff0001 althouse0001
Left: Moral Turpitude's original mascot, Mr. Snuff. Right: Her clay rendition of a former Althouse photo-avatar.

Don't let this cry for help go unheeded! Show some love. If enough of us visit and leave comments, it may not be too late to save this blog!



I'm at Grandma Moses having coffee, where the music is always "barista's choice," a lovely contrast to Starbucks, which I imagine dictates the music selection at each individual store from its world-wide corporate headquarters.

They're playing Nick "What's Not to Like" Drake, Way to Blue. The baristas play this album repeatedly for a week or two until they get sick of it, after which you don't hear it here at Grandma Moses for a few months.

So Nick Drake in the background means that the music selection has looped around to the beginning. The great circle of coffee house life begins again.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


Oscar Madison's worries -- continued

17. Identify theft (how could I have left that one out?) -- thanks, Tonya.
18. Is your luxury cruise ship equipped to fight off pirates?
(thanks, Althouse)

As if I didn't have enought to worry about already.

Friday, November 04, 2005


Existential Friday: Prioritizing worry

There are too many things to worry about, and I don't have time to worry about them all. Here is my list of worries, in no particular order. Indeed, that's part of the problem -- I need to prioritize.

Oscar Madison's Worries
Partial List (in no particular order)
  1. Avian flu.
  2. Flu in general.
  3. Should I get a flu shot, either for general flu or avian flu? Will the government use the flu shot as an opportunity to catalogue my genetic code as part of an alien colonization project?
  4. Whether any aspect of the X-Files conspiracy might be at least partly true.
  5. Environmental degradation in general.
  6. Whether the electric power plant in my neighborhood is polluting the air to a sufficient degree to locate my home within a cancer cluster.
  7. Low level radiation or electromagnetism produced by wireless telecommunications (WiFi, cell phones, cordless phone handsets, etc.) Do these cause cancer?
  8. Mass bird kills caused by cellular telephone signal towers.
  9. Disastrous climatic conditions caused by global warming.
  10. My hair -- loss, graying, etc.
  11. Adulteration of the food supply by industrial food production -- toxic pesticides, genetic modification of foods, anti-biotics and growth hormones fed to livestock, mad cow disease and the feeding of animal bi-products to livestock.
  12. Adulteration of labelling by FDAm allowing agribusiness to use "organic" label for foods that aren't all that organic.
  13. Secret CIA prisons abroad.
  14. Am I saving enough for retirement?
  15. Terrorism -- bio, nuclear, and plain old.
  16. Will I live to retirement?
Will prioritizing these worries actually help me, though? Maybe what I need is a broad approach to worry management. For example, should I follow the rule "only worry about things you can control?" That would bring retirement savings to the forefront (at least arguably), and put bio-terrorism back a few. But what about avian flu? I can't control that, but maybe I can control whether or not to get a flu shot. And maybe I should be preparing for bio-terrorism or climatic disasters by storing gallons of drinking water and canned goods in my basement.

Should I assign certain worries to others, and allow myself to ignore them? Phantom Scribbler, for instance, seems to be doing the worrying of ten people on the subject of avian flu. Maybe she can take on my avian flu worries. But then, maybe I'd just be sticking my head in the sand -- I worry about becoming that sort of person.

Sometimes others' worries become a source of worry. B is concerned about hearing some opinion poll allegedly showing that 59% of Americans believe that the Book of Revelations is an accurate prediction of future events, or want the Rapture to come about, or some such. Without knowing all the details, I guess that Jews don't do so well in the Tribulation that precedes the Rapture.

B wants us to come up with a contingency plan in case a 21st century Holocaust comes to America. People who temporarily wallow in gloom about the political future of our country often say "Canada," as in "if that happens, I'm moving to Canada," but I point out to B that that notion of Canada is an idealization that may be little more than a figure of speech. Why would Canada be such a sanctuary if the United States goes all to hell?

So what's the worry here: religious nuts take over the country and launch anti-semitic Jihad? Canada not a realistic refuge? Real estate prices in Canada? Are we saving enough for second home in Canada? Or B worrying too much about stuff?

Thursday, November 03, 2005


The longest Fall


Even a clock that doesn't run will have the right time twice a day. Somehow, that aphorism seems to fit the climatic situation in My Home Town this Fall. The world climate may be going all to hell due to global warming. And we had a drought here this year. But for this year, the combination of climate conditions have made Fall just right.

tree DSCN5868
This tree's colors peaked three weeks ago, and it's now bare of leaves.
But lots of other trees have stepped up to take its place.

Usually, Spring and Fall around here are short "shoulder seasons" to the very long, cold winter and very long, hot summer. This year, however, we're having a real Fall, a long, langorous, vivid fall. The temperature is gradually getting colder, but in that pleasant brisk way -- no winter coats yet.


And the colors. In years past, it has always seemed like you had to take a day trip to the country to "see the fall colors." This year, the countryside has been kind of dull and brown. The vivid colors have been right here on my neighborhood streets.

DSCN5881 Untitled-7

Best of all, we're not having the usual unison green-to-whatever color change, followed by the universal leaf-drop, for a 2-3 week fall color display. It's as if the trees have gotten together and decided to produce a carefully orchestrated sequence of staggered color changeovers that's now in its sixth week with no end in sight. I've never seen such a long-lasting display of brilliant fall colors. I may never see it's like again. I'm enjoying it while it lasts.


Above : carefully-timed, staggered color changes. Below: the tree in the foreground
is still solid green.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005


New York, September 2005

Here are some photos I've been meaning to post, but never got around to:


Ubiquitous steam vent

Reyes and Martinez holding hands


Above: Tom's Restaurant, Broadway, Upper West Side -- famous as the diner hangout in
Below: Tom's dinner salad.


Green benches

Refreshing candor, near Wall Street

Donut-bag sculpture, Penn Station

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Don't be that guy

I just went to a coffee shop near the University that had a big tip can with the following sign on it:
Every café has a creepy guy who tries to hit on the young women who work there. DON'T BE THAT GUY!
At first glance, the sign is pretty funny, like a bit by a competent standup comic describing a familiar situation using a phrase or a setup that you'd never quite thought of in that way.

But on further reflection, I thought, "hey, wait a minute..."

The implications of this are too big for a quick post. For now, I'll make a couple of observations. I don't think I hit on young women working in cafés (or older women, or men, for that matter). It seems unfair to hit on service-counter workers, who are more or less trapped into being friendly towards you. Yet the sign sent me into a depressed reverie about whether I have ever been that guy in some context or other.

I don't think I like a coffee place that puts up signs designed to make me feel bad about myself.

I should explain that I ordered an "orange cappuccino" after the barista helpfully and informatively told me that "it's cappuccino with orange flavor." I imagined a small "flavor shot" of liquid orange essence, not the three heaping teaspoons of powder that turned my glass mug of cappuccino into a suspended particulate sludge looking like a pale version of freshly poured Guinness Draught (with the illusory downward rush of foam-bubbles).

The bitter orange-peel taste was too brutal for more than one sip.

"Every city has a café that refuses to give customers their money back for this disgusting unpotable swill -- Don't be that café," I should have said.

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