Saturday, December 31, 2005


What are you doing New Years Eve?

On New Years Eve, my quiet-evening-at-home personality meshes with other aspects of my personality -- too-cheap-to-pay-outrageously-inflated-prices, resistant-to-forced-hilarity-in-a-crowd -- to push me toward a New Years Eve consisting of... well, a quiet evening at home.

What are you doing New Years Eve?

To get you in the mood to answer this question, here's an excerpt from the Clay Aiken song:
Maybe it's much too early in the game
Ooh, but I thought I'd ask you just the same
What are you doing New Year's
New Year's eve?

Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight
When it's exactly twelve o'clock that night
Welcoming in the New Year
New Year's eve

Maybe I'm crazy to suppose
I'd ever be the one you chose
Out of the thousand invitations
You received

Ooh, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance:
What are you doing New Year's
New Year's Eve?

Friday, December 30, 2005


Existential Friday: an age old question

Asked by military leaders for millennia: advance? or hold and fortify your position?

Today, my version of this question arises. Should I

a) stay put and build a snow fort?




b) drive five hours in a northerly direction to visit my father-in-law?

Thursday, December 29, 2005


How to improve blog traffic while at my brother-in-law's house

What do you think is the better way to improve blog traffic: posting pictures of (a) cute dogs?


or (b) alien spacecraft?


Tuesday, December 27, 2005


In-law unit

Let's see how good your detective skills are.


This photo depicts my current situation. What can you surmise about it?

Clearly, since I'm only posting now, late in the day, I've been on the road. Indeed, I'm holed up in the guest bedroom at B's brother's house -- note the title of this post ("In-law unit"), and the tell-tale luggage in the foreground.

I'm grading papers and exams. It's that time of year. There they are on the bed.

My prospects for a good night's sleep are somewhat in doubt. To begin with, doing work in bed is bad sleep hygiene. And that most excellent wall painting is pretty darn vivid for sleeping under.

They have Wi-Fi! (That's Phantom Scribbler on my laptop screen.)

Does it get any better than this?

Monday, December 26, 2005


Oy tannenbaum!

My parents, though not particularly religious, were resolute that their children should not drift into Christianity, and so in my boyhood we celebrated Chanukkah with an 8-night present-exchanging vengeance. I carried this bit of religio-cultural upbringing into adulthood, and for many years I refused to have a Christmas tree under my roof.

Xmas tree ornament hand-made by yours truly: Santa in a chimeny,
composed of three kinds of wrapping paper and a toilet paper tube.

But I softened on that. How can you be "principled" about refusing a Christmas tree given all the contradictions inherent in the Yuletide celebration? To name just a few:
1) Christmas is a widely acknowledged opportunity for a secular seasonal retail sales boom.
2) Christmas is an official holiday in a nation that is supposedly based on separation of church and state.
3) Some of the most festive Christmas traditions -- including, especially, the tree -- have pagan origins.
4) Gift-exchanging is not an organic Chanukkah tradition, but rather a purposeful add-on to offset the allure of Christmas gift-exchanging.
Early in our relationship, B called me in tears from her father's house on Christmas day. It was her family's first Christmas together after her mother died, and her dad, in his gruff way of grieving, had jettisoned many of their key traditions that year -- even to the point of buying a fake Christmas tree.

B flew home later that day, and I met her at the airport, and brought her back to my place. She didn't notice the telltale pine needles on the back seat of my car. I had bought a real tree to perk her up, stuck it in my living room, and -- lacking any "real" Christmas ornaments -- decked it out with bits of gift wrap I had around the house. The ornament pictured above was at the top of the tree. That's how the tree thing caught on in my house.

I've really come to enjoy having the decked out tree in the living room, with wrapped presents sprouting underneath like mushrooms. So there it is -- my personal addition to the contradictions of Christmas time.


Day after Christmas: Lord's name in vain?

Taking the Lord's name "in vain," in the 10 commandment's sense, means using it in a disrespectful or irreverant manner, but there's a pointed ambiguity. The more common contemporary meaning of "in vain," of course, is fruitless, pointless or unavailing. And it makes you wonder: who is taking -- or using -- the Lord's name pointlessly these days?

The Christian right got its collective nose out of joint because W the Boy President sent out holiday cards that didn't say "Christ" or "Christmas." And now there's this whole book by one of those Fox News clowns about the liberal "War on Christmas."

But isn't the greatest secularizing "threat" to Christmas the whole retailing angle? Having an economy that depends on a societal frenzy to buy stuff at Christmas time seems to drain more religious meaning out of the holiday than does the blandly pluralistic salutation "happy holidays," which merely recognizes that not everyone is religiously celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Happy-Holidays-Tux shoppers
Which is the bigger "threat" to Christmas?

Why doesn't the Christian right take issue with that? Is it that they're just too pleased to go pray at Wal-Mart the other six days of the week?

Sunday, December 25, 2005


Xmas movies

You know how popular musicians will try to put out a Christmas song as a personal cash cow? Like Bruce Springsteen doing "Santa Clause is Coming to Town"?

There's a similar thing in movies, I think, where they'll put in a somewhat gratuitous Christmas scene in order to make it a "Christmas movie" and release it during the lucrative holiday season.

On Christmas Eve, we saw the funny and offbeat About a Boy -- I wasn't thinking of it as a Christmas movie, but the fact is, it has no less than two Christmas scenes, including the finale.

We also rented Donnie Brasco, with Johnny Depp playing an undercover FBI agent who cozies up to wise-guy Al Pacino. B and I realized a few minutes into it that what we really meant to have rented was Donnie Darko. I like to think this was an understandable mistake. Donnie Brasco got kinda boring and we stopped watching it after about 20 minutes. But it had a surprisingly funny Christmas scene in which the two mafia thugs -- Pacino and Depp -- exchange Christmas presents, thanks and emotional hugs. The funny part was that the presents are each an envelope with a large wad of cash.

I'll never again be able to give a money Christmas present without thinking of the absurdity of two guys exchanging gift-wads of cash. It's the thought that counts.


Reading blogs on Christmas

I love the idea that people are reading blogs on Christmas. Here I am blogging at Grandma Moses, and the place has a nice crowd: there are five people sitting by themselves -- three on laptops, 1 reading a book, 1 writing. Near the window, there's a couple of regulars who I know to be a couple just from seeing them around the neighborhood. They're having a serious, intense conversation, and I can only catch snippets of phrases, but it seems like they're breaking up. Breaking up on Christmas!

She is forging ahead with what appears to be a well-managed presentation -- like from a self-help book -- designed to exhaust all avenues of making things work. She keeps saying the word "frustrating." But the way he is resting his chin on his hand, with an air of settled hopelessness -- words will be spoken, he'll say some himself, but he knows that words have already failed.

Me, I'm having a great time, blogging and thinking about who is reading blogs on Christmas. A year ago, I wrote:
maybe by nightfall, many of my many readers will be going, “I can’t take this anymore – [name of relative here] is driving me crazy,” and rushing off to their computers to reconnect with the disconnected world of cyberspace and feel like themselves again.
If you're reading this, does this describe you? Or maybe it's just the simple realization, "Hey, it's Christmas! Why can't I catch up on a few blogs if it will make me feel cheery?"

Traffic is down, and comments are down, but I was really pleased to see from her comment thatJanelle Rene reads blogs on Xmas eve. Merry Christmas, Janelle.


"Blogging on Christmas? Oh, please."

Christmas traditions are just habits that you get all gooey about and attached to. Like watching Mr. Magoo's A Christmas Carol on Christmas eve, or whatever. I'm going to make an addition to my Christmas morning tradition: checking Althouse, who seems to be starting a tradition of being self-conscious and funny about blogging on Christmas.

Last year it was a snippet of dialogue during the opening of presents:
".... Wait a minute."

"She's blogging."

"She stops Christmas to blog."
This year its:
Blogging on Christmas? Oh, please. I'm up at 4:30 and reading the NYT. How can I not?
Is that not delightful? Now for some iced coffee!

Saturday, December 24, 2005


If you have an annoying song stuck in your head, this will get it out

... and replace it with another one!

We have Christmas music album produced by Windham Hill -- elevator music for accoustic-loving yuppies like me. A couple of songs sound just like they were performed by W.G. "Snuffy" Walden, the TV music-theme guru who created the catchy, elevator-music-for-accoustic-loving-yuppies theme music for Thirtysomething and My So-Called Life.* In fact, Walden plays a lovely guitar version of Oh Come All Ye Faithful.

A Snuffy Waldon wannabe plays a languid, slowed-down version of Jingle Bells on accoustic guitar. I think you can imagine the sound. Every time I hear it, I supply the classic alternative lyrics, below. (Elipses and line breaks are inserted to simulate the dirge-like tempo).
Jingle . . . . bells

Batman . . . . smells

Robin . . . .

laid . . . . an egg

Batmobile . . . .

lost a wheel . . . .

Joker . . . .

got away

Happy holidays!

*To be fair, Walden's theme music credit list is huge, and includes a variety of styles.


Is it just me...

... or does my backpack look a lot like Jabba the Hut?

DSCN6197 jabba

Several months ago, I pointed out that Jabba the Hut bears a striking resemblance to Justice Scalia. Under the transitive principle, does my backpack therefore look like Scalia?

DSCN6197 scalia-hut


Well, it was beginning to look a lot like Xmas

With several inches of cumulative snowfall in December, plus temperatures comfortably (if that's the right word) below freezing, we were well on track to have a picture-postcard white Christmas.


Then, wham, temperatures in the mid 40s, serious snow-melt and, of course, New York City style dirty slushy.



Can we please have a soft white blanket of snow tonight?

Friday, December 23, 2005


Existential Friday: Life expectancy

Most of us believe that, barring an unforseeable tragic event, we will be longer-lived than our parents. It's a kind of life-span "upward mobility" theory. Life expectancies have generally been going up in the history of our society, so why shouldn't that trend continue?

Well, let me suggest some reasons.

The pace of technological change seems to be increasing rather dramatically, and may be affecting our environment in ways that we don't yet fully understand.

What if ubiquitous telecommunications signals -- electromagnetic fields or god knows what -- from cell phones and wireless internet actually do contribute to cancer?

What if the huge increase in technological inputs into our food supply (pesticides, genetic modification, growth hormones and antibiotics, chemical additives) and fat and sugar in our diets (fast food, hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, etc.) pulls down life expectancy? We know we're getting fatter, and there may be other health effects as well.

What if pollution and population density have reached a tipping point that will exert a depressing effect on lifespan?

What if the dramatic increase in global trade and travel has made us more vulnerable to exotic disease outbreaks?

The point is that all these things are new enough that we won't be in a position to fully understand their effects until the next generational cohort starts dying off: perhaps the baby boomers, perhaps the generation Xers. It will be interesting to see whether baby boomers live longer than their parents.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


From the photo archive: the World's Saddest Mini-Golf Place

I'm feeling a bit down today. In the hope of bringing you down too -- or, I don't know, maybe picking you up with a small laugh -- here are a couple of photos I took on Madeleine Island in Lake Superior this past fall of the World's Saddest Mini-Golf Place. Bear in mind: this was a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon.



Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Winter solstice, 2005: Magoo and Me

A Christmas tale -- re-posted from December 25, 2004

Last night I was disappointed by the bare, snowless ground. As a Jewish kid, I didn’t grow up with Xmas and did not really establish much in the way of annual Xmas rituals, but I do like Christmas carols and snow on the ground on Christmas morning. So did my mom, ironically; although she adamantly forbid a Christmas tree in our house, she too liked snow on the ground on Christmas morning. Maybe it had to do with her love of Broadway musicals. As a semi-professional writer and director of musical theatre, she had a professional respect for Irving Berlin, the Jewish songwriter who gave us "White Christmas."

Our non-sectarian Christmas ritual was TV Christmas specials. In my childhood, there were no videos or DVDs that we could force our parents or baby-sitters to run three times without break. What we had – all we had – was the annual, ritualistic airing of The Wizard of Oz around Thanksgiving (Halloween?), and the Charlie Brown holiday specials, of course, starting withe the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s kind of fun to know It’s A Wonderful Life by heart, and it seems like they still show that. But my favorite was always Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. It was my favorite annual date: attention was paid to the TV schedule (not by me, I was too young to read), and the day was planned to be sure that my sister and I were plopped in front of the TV when the curtain went up on Mr. Magoo. And it was always better if we could bully our parents into watching it with us.

In my distant-childhood-recollection way, I have this sense that it was on every year for many years, and that I watched it several dozen times. The math doesn’t work though, since that would have me watching it annually until age thirty-eight. I probably only saw it an improbably small number of times, like 5 or 6. The TV networks dropped it a long time ago, which has always burned me, because I remember it as being so good, running my young emotional frame through a gauntlet of emotion: scared, haunted, laughing, and deeply moved.

I’m not one who believes that technology is an unalloyed good, but I may never have appreciated the miracle of DVD more than yesterday, when browsing the holiday section of my video store I found – only moments after sharing the reminiscence with my companion – a copy of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. Guess what I did last night.

I have to say that, other than the color (we had a black-and-white TV in those days), it was much as I remembered it; where it differed, it was better than I remembered, or else forgivable. The animation is quaint – not state of the art even for 1962, since it was made for TV – but charming. And though, as a 50 minute cartoon, it is necessarily fast-paced, Magoo is a remarkably true and moving adaptation of the Dickens story. The cartoon uses a clever conceit of presenting the story as a Broadway musical production of A Christmas Carol. Magoo, who you may recall is a seriously myopic character whose comedic schtick comes from his visual confusion, bumbles his way to the theatre, and the curtain goes up on him starring as Ebeneezer Scrooge. The visual frame of the stage disappears as we get drawn into the story – just the way it does in a real theatre – and returns only at the end of each act, when presumably the TV version would cut to commercials. Although the pure wonder of my childhood perception is gone, Magoo really stands the test of time; it’s funny, still charming, and packs emotional punch. The ghost of Christmas future is as haunting as ever, and the moment at the end of act two, with Magoo/Scrooge on hands and knees in front of his own gravestone, singing “I am all alone in the world” made me weepy.

Mr. Magoo was the star of a long-running cartoon short in the early 60s, and his voice was always performed by Jim Backus, famous for his role as Thursten Howell, “the millionaire” on Gilligan’s Island. The Magoo role called for broad comedic acting, and yet, there’s something commendably post-modern and talented about playing a cartoon character who is himself an actor playing another role – not Backus as Scrooge, but Backus as Magoo playing Scrooge. There is some other notable voice work on Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. Morey Amsterdam – yes, Buddy Sorrell from The Dick Van Dyke Show – is somehow snuck in there. I have to watch it again to figure out who he is, because there was no Jewish comedian in the tale. Paul Frees does several characters, like Harry Shearer nowadays on The Simpsons. Frees was a giant of voice-over work in that era, and you’ll probably recognize his voice as the host of Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion.”

I was also taken aback to find that the Ghost of Christmas present (the hale and hearty one) was played by Les Tremayne. You probably don’t know who Les Tremayne is, though in his day, he was a famous radio actor – acknowledged in 1940 as the third most recognizable voice in America, after President Franklin Roosevelt and Bing Crosby.

Why was I taken aback? You see, Les Tremayne and I have a bond. He died a year ago, the week before Christmas, and his obituary appeared exactly one year ago, on Christmas day 2003. On the same page of the newspaper was the obituary of my mother.

My mother died of cancer on the solstice, December 21, 2003. In recent days, I’d been thinking that I’d like to speak with her, and I’ve been wondering "why can’t death mean that you can no longer see the person, but you can still talk to her on the phone?" I think I could handle that.

Mr. Magoo, a Broadway musical, Christmas day obituary... I think you see where this is going. I was warned about this anniversary, and I said, "Bah, humbug!" If you’d read my blog on December 22 and 23, you might have detected the manic quality of someone experiencing mood swings of a bottled-up emotion. "Coffee? What's really going on?"

I didn’t observe the anniversary of my mother’s death on the solstice, or the next day, or the next. Then Les Tremayne appeared, this time in the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past, and took me to where I could cry.

When I woke up this morning, it was snowing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005



No, this is not a typo -- I know this is not the proper spelling of "whoopee cushion," (if there is a "proper" spelling). It's a reflection of my limited acronym skills. But don't let that detract from my official announcement:
"W" is the WOrst President In Combined United States History In Our Nation

Yes, it's official. Here are just a few of the key facts about how W the Boy President is our worst ever.

1. Winning the Iraq War -- again and again. May 1, 2003: Bush announces victory in Iraq. December 15, 2005: Bush projects confidence about the prospects for victory in Iraq.

2. Making the world less safe for democracy. The reason we were supposed to put up with all the other bullshit (e.g., the far right wing domestic agenda, drilling for oil in Alaska nature reserves, privitizing Social Security, etc.) is because Bush was supposed to be strong on national security, particularly in leading us in the war on terrorism. But it is now widely agreed even by bipartisan and middle-to-conservative experts (e.g., 9/11 Commission, Council on Foreign Relations) that the Iraq war has not only stretched our military resources dangerously thin, but has also been a dangerous diversion of leadership attention from the real security issues. This is no joke: the attention and energies of people in charge are a resource, and it's all going into the Iraq war, rather than actual terrorist threats and the growing potential for nuclear threat from rogue states, terrorists and criminal organizations.

3. Fighting against our rights here at home. Bush is now "vigorously" defending the recently disclosed domestic spying by national security agencies on U.S. citizens, in blatant violation of the 4th amendment. What were they going to do with this illegally obtained evidence, when it would not be usable for prosecutions in a court of law? Oh, right, I guess they'd use it in the unconstitutional military tribunals in which the Bush administration claims power to try, convict and punish people without having to go through the court system.

4. Wrecking the economy. Turning a budget surplus into the largest deficit in our nation's history was a challenge, but was accomplished with the creative idea of cutting taxes (primarily for the rich, of course) during a war.

5. Scandal and corruption. Waging a thinly-justified war that creates an opportunity for war profiteering of historic proportions by business interests connected to the administration tops this list, in my book.

6. Dismantling the government. This story, while largely below the national news radar screen, is one of my favorites. Because the Bush administration has no interest in enforcing our environmental, civil rights and antitrust laws, there is not enough work for lawyers in those divisions of the Department of Justice. To fill up their time, the Bush administration is putting the department's civil rights and antitrust lawyers to work on deportation cases. That is, the entire justice department is going into the business of getting rid of "illegal aliens." Meanwhile, the Bush administration is driving out career professionals from DOJ and replacing them with political hacks.

WOPICUSHION Meme: do YOU think Bush is the Worst President in Combined U.S. History In Our Nation? What are your top 6 reasons?

Sunday, December 18, 2005


How much more proof do we need that our political leaders have gone off the right-wing deep end

... when today's liberal-left rallying cry is "Happy Holidays"?

Saturday, December 17, 2005


Mixed feelings

I'm interested in your comments on the use and misuse of creative work posted for free on the web.

Blogger Tetricus at The Angry Sicilian has paid me a somewhat double-edged compliment, here. He has downloaded three of my photos from Flickr (Berliners, Red Death Star Apple, and Jetson Towers), printed them, and put them on "public display," expressing the hope that I won't mind.
DSCN1755 DSCN5708 DSCN6087

On the one hand, I'm flattered that Tetricus likes the photos. On the other hand, the "public display" is apparently a merchandizing display at Best Buy or one of those type stores to sell HP Laser printers. If that's the case, then I have to say I do mind.

I'm not angry at The Angry Sicilian, and let's not direct any harsh words his way. First, I'm sure Tetricus meant this as a kindly intentioned gesture: He wants me to know he likes my photos. If he was simpy about stealing stuff, he wouldn't have told me, and I'd never have known my photos were being used in this way. For all I know, office supply stores around the country are displaying photos they've taken off of websites without authorization or even notice.

Second, my sense is that bloggers think in terms of the permissive property regime of the non-commercial parts of the web -- a system of property-sharing, characterized by "open source" and "creative commons" -- concepts which I admit I only dimly understand. I think Tetricus may have confused this blogosphere property-sharing ethic with commerce.

But I'm fairly certain that original content -- whether visual or verbal -- posted on blogs or stored on web sites like Flickr are proprietary original works, with the creator (in this case me) holding a copyright -- and that nothing about posting on a blog or on Flickr waives those rights.

I myself have copied photos and artwork from other blogs and posted them to this blog. But the difference -- which makes all the difference -- is that (1) I've only done so to promote the blog I've borrowed from (which means I always give credit) and (2) my blog is not a commercial endeavor. Note that I don't even have blog ads.

I've done some other posting of photos that is at best sketchy in terms of intellectual property rights -- news photos, magazine covers, and most recently New Yorker cartoons. Other bloggers do this too. I get away with it probably because this is a non-commercial blog with low traffic.

In sum, what I think is objectionable about Tetricus's use of my photos is that he's appropriated them for a commercial enterprise -- he or his employer wants to make money by using them -- but have not obtained my permission. And I wouldn't give permission for commercial use of my creative work without some kind of value received in exchange.

So, Tetricus: thanks for the compliment. Thanks for reading my blog. Thanks for your honesty about the fact that you're using my photos. But please stop using them for commercial purposes. Though I could use a color printer, so maybe we could discuss a deal...

Friday, December 16, 2005


Existential Friday


Thursday, December 15, 2005


Not the best start

I'm reading the oral argument transcript in Gonzales v. Raich, the U.S. Supreme Court case deciding whether the Attorney General can extend federal anti-narcotics laws to prevent physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients which is allowed by law in Oregon.

I'll discuss the merits of that case -- which was argued back in October and is now awaiting decision -- in a separate post. For now, I want you to imagine that you are the senior Assistant Attorney General, arguing what may be your first and only case in the U.S. Supreme Court, defending the Oregon Death With Dignity Act. Your great moment has finally arrived. You rise to speak... and this happens:


This is the real thing. You can read it for yourself here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Office supply giant branching into porn?

Actual email received in the Oscar Madison household:
From: Staples []
Sent: Friday, December 09, 2005 8:05 PM
To: B. Unger
Subject: Santa's workshop, uncensored. Plus great savings.


Still surviving


Squirrels in foxholes.

Untitled-5 Untitled-7a

Well, maybe "foxholes" isn't quite the right word.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005



In the world of alternative New Yorker cartoon captioning, I'm a mere amateur. First of all, I hadn't realized this, but it turns out you can see (and enter) the contest online, here.

What's more, has for some time been running "The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest." Read the contest rules and inaugural entry here. From there, go to the index, which has several weeks worth of contests.

The anti-captions range from dumb or crude to much funnier than the real captions. Daniel Radosh himself comes up with some of the best captions as "starters." Here's a taste:


"Excuse me, you dropped your briefcase."

"No, fuck you and the horse you rode in on."

(Captions courtesy of Radosh.)

I have to add two new guidelines to the process of brainstorming about captions:

1) try to come up with an anti-caption -- a pointedly unfunny but fitting caption to the drawing. You'll find that near misses can be very funny.

2) avoid the formula of acheiving unfunniness by describing the drawing itself.

For instance, take this one:


You wouldn't caption it with something like: "Those damned floodlights have made my pupils disappear!" I mean you could, but it's too obvious.

I doff my cap to the witty blog, I hate the New Yorker, which features a running critique of various parts of the magazine and led me to both the online caption and anti-caption contests.

UPDATE: Check out Linney's caption for the above drawing in the comments. And how could I forget the anti-captions at Peroxide Comics?

Monday, December 12, 2005


There's no crying in retail: the "creative destruction" of Marshall Field's


Federated Stores, the retail conglomerate that owns Macy's and Bloomingdale's, has bought out Marshall Field's. Apparently this buyout doesn't mean that Federated will add the venerable midwestern department store chain to its stable of brands; rather, it plans to erase Marshall Field's and replace all the stores with Macy's. (See here.)

DSCN6099 DSCN6096
Time is running out on the Marshall Field's signature nameplate and clock.

I'm not one to get all weepy over the demise of a particular big business in the "creative destruction" (in Joseph Schumpeter's famous phrase) that is our capitalist system. On the other hand, retail establishments can become part of the cultural fabric of our lives. I hate it when the local businesses that ground a small community are wiped out by yet another Walmart on the outskirts. The demise and Macification of Marshall Field's is different, but not entirely: It's another victory in the inexorable march of national sameness over regional variation.

A holiday tradition: Xmas season lunch next to the tree.

Marshall Field's has been a mainstay of downtown Chicago for over a century. and one wonders what will happen to its elegant old interior. Apparently, the Macy's people -- whom you can see scurrying around with blueprints as you do your Christmas shopping -- are going to completely redo it.
DSCN6110 DSCN6111


DSCN6109 DSCN6107
Some views of the classic atrium.

The chieftans of Federated are retail experts, and I'm not, but I can't help but wonder what they think they gain by shutting down the downtown Chicago flagship store for 6-8 months while they gut the place and rebuild it as Macy's. Not to mention all the other stores that will be shut down during the makeovers. And what about all the business goodwill associated with the Marshall Field's name? And are they just going to dump Frango Mints?

Please tell me that the business plan is something smarter than "we're going to ditch all those tight-fisted Marshall Field's nerds so we can bring in all the Macy's shoppers who are really hip and will spend lots of money."

The famous Tiffany ceiling. I said to B:
"If we have a girl, let's name her Tiffany Ceiling."

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Dealing with the goldfish

Our friends the Verbs came over for dinner yesterday evening, and we played the New Yorker cartoon caption game.


In the past couple of years, The New Yorker has run a cartoon caption-writing context on its back page. I've pored over New Yorker cartoons, with their clever drawings and dry, sometimes humorless, captions my whole life. Why I don't know -- for every 20 cartoons, maybe five captions are really clever and only one laugh-out-loud funny. But but maybe that's a good ratio.

I'd like to win that contest one day, and I figure a good approach would be to get together with friends and brainstorm cartoon captions to get in practice. So Mr. Verb brought over an envelope stuffed with painstakingly clipped cartoons -- the original with the caption, and a copy with the caption cut off. We would circulate a de-captionated cartoon, come up with some captions, pick out the best one or two, and then compare it with the original.

Cartoon captioning is hard! There are probably some handy rules of thumb that the experts know about that can serve as guides to good caption writing. The only rule I've figured out is: a good caption has to deal with the goldfish. If the drawing has an unusual or salient detail -- like the goldfish in the cartoon above -- the caption has to refer to it in some way. Otherwise, I'm sure the judges would mark you down.

Here's what I thought was some of our better work. You can decide whether we (the Verbs and us) bested "them" -- the writers of the actual caption.


Them: "You've got one foot in the grave. Further testing will determine if it's your left or your right."

Us: "The good news is: it's a boy!"

[alternatively] "No shirt, no shoes, no service!"


Them: "Sign here if you don't want to take part in a prisoner-abuse scandal."
Us: "Reason for return?"

I should explain that B thought that the object behind the desk just to the left of the suspect -- either a package or a computer terminal sitting on the chair -- was a goldfish in this drawing.


Them: "Here at Hazmat Acres we take pride in our beautiful mystery mounds."

Funny, but it doesn't deal with the goldfish -- here, a man standing on a distant mound seeming to me to be aiming a rifle.


Us: "Most of the remaining neighbors are well out of range."

Okay, so maybe we didn't kick ass, but I thought we're off to a promising start.

Saturday, December 10, 2005



To celebrate the end of classes this semester, I joined B for a romantic overnight in TBCTNNY -- The Big City That's Not New York.


B goes there a lot for business travel and has become such a regular at the Hotel We Stay At, that everybody there knows her. It reminded me of the scene in The Graduate where Ben (Dustin Hoffman) takes Mrs. Robinson's daughter Elaine for a drink at the bar of the hotel where he's been trysting with Mrs. Robinson. One after another, hotel staff walk by saying to Dustin Hoffman, "Good evening, Mr. Galdstone." (Gladstone is the alias he used to get rooms with Mrs. Robinson.)

The doormen and the concierge and the front desk clerks all stop and say to B, "Good evening Ms. Unger." "Nice to see you again, Ms. Unger." One of the doormen gives B a big hug.

Plus, they give us this luxury suite!


The bedroom is a corner room, with three windows, each with a window box. We eat chinese food out of cartons sitting in a huge window box.


The view of the street makes the cars look like toys. Not ant-sized toys, but shoe-sized remote control cars, awkwardly maneuvering on a toy city street.


The curtains, when you draw them at night, are wall to wall -- you get a cosey, enclosed feeling like I imagine you'd have in one of those old curtained Victorian canopy beds.

Our hotel affords a splendid view of the Jetson Towers.


I don't know the name of this pair of buildings, but clearly it either inspired, or was inspired by, the futuristic sixties cartoon, The Jetsons.

J10 J21

I guess now the 1960s futurism style counts as "retro-futurism."

Jetson Tower: One of the alluring design features at the time was
undoubtedly the above-ground downstairs parking ramp.
Looks like a big corncob, doesn't it?

Jetson Towers, in the snow.

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