Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Ice floe


In the winter, Our Lake is "supposed" to freeze over, stay frozen for a while and then thaw. But this winter, with the kooky temperature fluctuations, it froze then thawed early. As temperatures dropped again, the lake only partially refroze, and has basically remained open for the last few weeks. Disappointing for skating, worrisome for global warming worrywarts like me, but at times strikingly pretty or interesting looking. Here are a few images:



When this ice floe slowly drifted by, I thought: "Cool! Swan riverboat gambling"!


DSCN6855 DSCN6854
The thin line between water and ice.


The Lake that Can't Make Up Its Mind


Monday, February 27, 2006


Fall Olympics

I really enjoyed watching the Winter Olympics this year. Compared to the summer games, which I also enjoy, the Winter Olympics seem a bit more intimate, with fewer events overall and perhaps fewer athletes. My impression is that you have more multi-event competitors, and it's fun to turn on the TV and go, "what's Apolo Anton Ohno going to do tonight?"

This broadcast seemed less nationalistic than recent Summer Olympics ones, where you'd only ever seen medal ceremonies where a U.S. athlete had won the gold. Just in case you needed a reminder about the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. Actually, I saw only one medal ceremony, where a Canadian had won the gold and no U.S. athletes were on the podium. Tres international!

I loved the hockey. I've finally gotten over my carping about "professional" athletes in the Olympics, since they're all professional now, and since the historical alternative -- the original Olympic ideal when the modern Olympics were restarted in 1896 -- is the idea "gentleman" amateur, someone wealthy enough that they can dedicate most of their time to "sport."

Yet when the NBA dream team bullied their way to the gold medal in whatever year that was, I thought that was no fun at all, and I marveled at how in certain sports, players can have fun crushing people at much lower ability levels. (Something that doesn't seem to happen in tennis or, say, chess.)

I'm pleased to say that the ice hockey in this Olympics was awesome. Yes, there are tons of NHL players, but they're distributed throughout many of the world's teams. It makes the NHL kind of cool -- the imperial center of a truly international sport. Anyway, the fact that the U.S. team got its ass kicked (1 win, 4 losses, 1 tie) was not a source of frustration for me even though I was rooting for them: it will make it that much more fun when in some future games they win.

This year I particularly enjoyed reflecting about the speed and figure skating. In case you ever wonder "how tiring can it actually be to skate for four straight minutes?", I can observe that in addition to all the jumps and spins and one-legged thingies, those skaters spend about half their time going backwards. For reasons I can't explain, it's about 6-8 times more tiring to skate backwards than forwards. This I know from experience. Okay, try this: skate hard around the ice rink backwards one time... oh, right, you actually can't skate backwards. Okay, well when I do that, one lap and I want to stop for a breather.

Not that forward skating is not tiring. Those speed skaters make it look so effortless as the glide around that glassy track clicking one long blade edge seemingly lightly in front of the other. Well, last time I tried to skate laps around the rink -- which is way shorter than the long speed-skating track -- I was dying by 10 laps. So when Clara Hughes collapsed after her exciting gold medal run in the 5000 meters (three miles, people!), I thought, "I hear you girl. I know."

One little complaint I have is the way media coverage in the first week of the games seemed to be all about how much falling down there seemed to be.

One of two things is going on. Maybe there's always a lot of falling down at the Winter Olympics, and our memories are just very short. Look at the events, for pete's sake. Ski jumping! Dancing, jumping and spinning on ice on a narrow metal blade! Some of the events -- particularly "short track" speed skating and snowboardcross -- build excitement by deisgning the prospect of collisions and tumbles. So what do you expect?

If there is in fact more falling this year, that's even more interesting. It might mean that the athletes are bumping up against the very limits of human capability. Maybe they are beginning to push the records to the point where they can't go any farther, at least given current technology and training regimens. That would be kind of cool.

Either way, it's ludicrous for media outlets and talking heads to be criticizing the athletes for falling down a lot. Who's the audience after all -- we're talking about couch potatos for whom pushing the envelope means attempting to assemble a snack that might not be done before the commericals are over.

And I'm also including some of the ex-athlete announcers, particularly the old queens who do the figure skating commentary. It's really annoying to hear people who medalled decades ago doing single jumps now clucking about imperfections in triple -- and even quadruple! -- jumps the perfrmed by the current crop of athletes.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Opinions about Congress: one of life's mysteries

Grteat comedy shows like The Daily Show and, now, The Colbert Report, are rarely wall-to-wall laughs. When you hear second-hand accounts about their content, it's never the dull stuff or the incessant commercial interruptions, so there's always a certain level of reality-based disappointment when you watch it and find the brilliant moments are scattered and take up maybe 5-8 minutes of the half-hour show.

Nevertheless, moments of brilliance there are, and I greatly admire the satirical genius of Colbert's regular segment, "Better Know a District," in which he interviews members of the House of Representatives. I had wondered what the congresspeople think of being satirized to their faces, and today's NYT story on "Better Know a District" explained. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, "the only thing worse than being made fun of on Comedy Central is not being made fun of on Comedy Central." Or "there's no such thing as bad press."

The story dutifully reports one half of one of the great paradoxes of our time: the fact that over 60% of the American public has nothing but disdain for Congress.

Such dissatisfaction with Congress might spell good news for Democrats regaining a majority, since you think it would give challengers an edge. But that's not how it works, and I personally hold out little hope that Dems will retake Congressional majorities any time in the near future unless some disaster occurs that can only be blamed on Congressional Republicans.

The other half of the paradox, is that incumbent members of Congress win something like 98% of the time. How do you square that with the 60% disapproval rating of Congress overall?

I wish the pundits would explain when presenting their poll data, but they never do. My working hypothesis is that the public's dissatisfaction is directed toward the other members of Congress, not so much one's own.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water

The vacation cruise industry is extremely profitable these days. I always assumed that they carried their waste back into port and had it disposed of expensively. Turns out, they get free dumping right in the ocean, just like they did in the 1800s. See here:
Pollution from cruise ships is a growing problem. Each day, a single cruise ship dumps an astonishing amount of pollution into our oceans, including:
  • 25,000 gallons of sewage from toilets;
  • 143,00 gallons of sewage from sinks, galleys, and showers;
  • 7 tons of garbage and chemical waste;
  • 15 gallons of toxic chemicals; and
  • 7,000 gallons of oily bilge water
Yuck! Okay, so corporate evil is pretty much everywhere. We've got to add Carnival Cruise Lines to the list.


More on the corporate axis of evil

In comments to my rant against credit card companies, economist-blogger Tom Bozzo writes:
Shouldn't Big Tobacco be on the list? Pushing a product that shortens one's life when used as intended must displace Big Pharma, which mostly does the opposite ...

I don't think that the banking industry as a whole merits inclusion, though 'subprime' lenders (payday advance shops, etc.) would rank high for me. The value judgments are complicated, but I don't think I'm worse off for not having to, say, come up with the entire purchase price of my house in cash in order not to be a (total) renter.
I am second to no one in my disapproval of the tobacco industry, and by not putting them in a "big three" of corporate evil, I was not in any way suggesting approval. Let's call them "honorable mention" to the Axis of Corporate Evil, with Microsoft in the Top Ten.

I think pharmaceuticals are worse than tobacco, for the very reason why they seem to have caused Tom to let down his guard. We know tobacco companies push a product that causes harm when used as intended; the evil of pharmaceutical corporations is more insidious and wide ranging, and largely off the radar screen. Let's start with their live human subject testing on unsuspecting people in Africa -- see The Constant Gardner. And their aggressive use of patents, the effects of which will not fully reveal themselves for years to come. Let's talk about their manipulation of consumer consciousness promoting widespread experimentation with drugs by millions of people in our society, their brainwashing of the medical profession, their hostile takeover of objective scientific research, and their dominance of health care policy. I'm certainly speculating here, but in 50 years, they're going to make the tobacco companies look puny.

As for the banking industry, Tom's comment confuses me. Mortgages were available during the heyday of banking regulation, and don't necessarily involve subprime loans. More people qualify for mortgages now, as banks make riskier loans to home-buyers. And it turns out that that practice is a major contributor to the rise in consumer bankruptcies, as people get in over their heads in home buying.

But the bigger point is that big banks are totally into subprime lending -- that's how they're making most of their money these days -- and they do a lot of it through credit cards. And who owns the payday loan places, anyhow?

Friday, February 24, 2006


Existential Friday: the Singles Scene


I went through my sock drawer this morning, and pulled out 17 single socks. I laid them out on my bed for a sock mixer. Quickly, two pair of socks found their mates, and left the party, no doubt with some corny line like "wanna roll up in a ball and hit the sock drawer?"

That left thirteen single socks. There they are, lying like bumps on a log. Is one of them even so much as trying to mingle?

The two black ones in the lower right look like they could be a match -- indeed, they have the same fabric and ribbed texture, but on closer inspection one is gray and the other charcoal. No dice. This just proves the old saying that you can get your socks to meet, but you can't force them to be compatible.

It's sad really. Each of these 13 socks is divorced or widowed. And what good are they now? Do you really expect me to walk around in mismatched socks?

The whereabouts of "the other sock"
remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of the universe.


What happened to their "partners," anyway? How in the world can thirteen socks simply disappear in the space of two years? You can joke all you want about the dryer "eating" single socks, but do you really believe that it's physically possible for a sock to one day up and dissolve into a bunch of lint? I really don't buy that.

I could live with the mystery back in the days of going to the laundromat -- I would just assume that the sock fell out of my laundry, wound up on the laundromat floor and was thrown away. But this explanation doesn't work when you have your own washer-dryer in the basement. They've got to be somewhere. But no: there are no piles of abandoned socks hiding out behind the dryer or under the stairs. The whereabouts of "the other sock" remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of the universe.

Maybe I shouldn't care about wearing mismatched socks -- and therefore, free myself from the oppressive cultural norm that views these perfectly good single sock as useless rags. Why does our existence get so caught up in being part of a couple?

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Life takes (plenty of bullsh*t from) Visa

The TV ads during the Winter Olympics are filled with nauseating contradictions and ironies, like McDonald's "partnering with our Olympic athletes," while simultaneously cheerfully making the rest of us obese.

Or how about U.S. bobsledder Vonetta Flowers getting a surprise reunion with her little boy -- she couldn't afford to fly him to Italy -- courtesy of Kleenex? In case you might have missed the connection, their marketing people make it part of a "Kleenex Moment" campaign. I would have reached for a Kleenex myself, except that experience has taught me it's not the right tool for the job when you need to barf.

But to me the worst offender is the "Life Takes Visa" campaign, which airs at least once during each and every commercial break. Where do they get all that money to saturate us with their damned ads?

You know who "Visa" is, right? Visa is an umbrella brand name for all the companies that have gotten into the consumer lending business through issuig Visa credit cards. The companies are banks, large and small, but the Visa consortium is dominated by a few particularly huge banks, such as MBNA, Chase and Citibank.

As for where the advertizing money comes from, some of it has been coming from me. I've had to pay two $39 "late fees" on my credit card bill in the last two months. I'm a guy who likes to pay bills twice a month -- not 6 or more times a month as the bills come in. I developed my twice a month habit back in the days when banks were more regulated and, like highly regulated utilities such as phone and power, gave you about two weeks to pay your bill.

Visa, full of innovations, has as far as I can tell, shortened its bill paying period to effectively one week. They cleverly withhold information about when they mailed you the bill, even going so far as to use a mail procedure that places no postmark on the envelope, so it's hard to tell unless you pounce on the bill the moment it shows up in your mailbox. Based on my last observation, to avoid the late fee, I would have to make sure Visa had my check in hand ten days from when I received the bill. Allowing for mailing time, as a practical matter, I'd have to send out my check in a week or less.

And what happens if the check arrives late? You not only pay interest (the so-called "finance charge") at an annualized rate of 20% or more -- about ten times the interest you get on a savings account -- but also the (seemingly industry standard) $39 late fee.

Arguably, a late fee could be charged to offset the administrative cost to the bank of processing a late payment, but I find it hard to believe that that cost, if it exists at all, exceeds a couple of dollars. That means the balance -- conservatively let's say around $35 -- functions purely as additional interest. A total of $60 interest on a $600 bill paid maybe one week late works out to something like 520% interest. (Economists, help me out here.)

Okay, a rough estimate, but it sounds a bit like usury, doesn't it? By the way, why do you think your phone, cable and power companies don't charge massive late fees like your credit card? 'Cause they're nice? Nuh-uh. Because they're regulated. Unfortunately, banking regulation has been weakened to the point where this practice is arguably legal.

But suppose it's not legal -- who's going to sue for $39? What is needed is a class action: a suit brought on behalf of all of us who have paid the usurious "late fee." Unfortunately, banks and credit card companies have that wired too. If you read your credit card agreement, you'll find there is something called an "arbitration clause" in their which prevents you from suing in court. Arbitration clauses are another innovation in which the banking industry has taken a leading role. And banks are now arguing, with some success, that their arbitration clauses mean that you can't bring a class action against them.

Bush the Boy President points out that America is addicted to oil. We're also addicted to easy credit. Credit card companies have exploited various aspects of deregulation to create a bonanza out of lending huge sums (in the form of credit card debt) to high risk debtors at extremely high interest. And they are making record profits.

Those "Life Takes Visa" commercials are the tip of a marketing blitz that has made banks the world's most successful drug pushers, getting consumers to spend beyond their means to the point where American households are deeper in debt than at any time in our history. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot -- the banking industry recently pushed "bankruptcy reform" through Congress, making it much harder for consumers to get out from under crushing debt through bankruptcy.

What's the third in the three-way "axis of corporate evil" in our time, joining the oil and pharmaceutical companies? Answer: the banking industry.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Wednesday Word Verifictionary Winner

(See sidebar for contest rules and past winners!)

This week's Cordon bleu grand prix
wwdlzzjd: "What would Dalai Lama , Zig-Zag man, and Jesus do?"
Note: Okay, don't get the idea that references to Jesus give you some kind of leg up in the contest, just because such references appear in the first two wining entries. Note also that there is a minor point deduction for treating the letter string as an acronym. But this entry just made up for it with a super-high score on the laff-o-meter.

Runner Ups
Sleep Goblin
bjeuevq: (bee-zhoo-vac) -- A tool for cleaning up the pieces of your broken bijou. These kinds of things always break.

craig kaye
btmht: (bottom heat) -- the (creepy) phenomenon when you sit in a seat that's already warm as someone else had been there before.

yofgueh: (Yo, Fug You, Eh) -- how an Italian-Canadian tells someone to F off, politely.

igsog - a type of eggnog only drank in the summertime
Note: Big week for Craig!
ghgwddpa: (gig-with-pa) (Welsh word, and the "dd" is actually a "th" sound) -- the act of playing music with your father (who is a minstrel, bard, or fiddler) in a concert-like setting

qcddudz (KEW-see-duhdz): Items that have failed Quality Control inspection. (OK, so I'm on a teleconference with the R&D department, so it's actually relevant)

and Honorable Mention to:
warren p.k.
oyvnfunx: oy! ve in funks!

vqcnqdbs: (vah-kwin-ka-do-bis) -- a first year law student who backbenches and passes when called upon, typically appearing with a vacuous look in his eye -- a vqcnqdbs student.

mrhnatkt: "Mr. H? Not cute!"

janelle renée
limwu-- Lim Wu's instant message account i.d.

dritjy -- Dr. Itchy...a dermatologist?

Neel Mehta
udlmbkr (OOD-lum-BA-ker): a thug turned pastry artist.

ebbgql (ehb-GEL-kwil): The moment of inhalation and pause *just* before you sneeze.

gahnmf (GAH - umph): The noise one makes when slipping on ice and falling on one's butt.

And to get you going for next week's contest, two from yours truly:
ypjasmwr: (why-pjay's-mawr) -- a young child's whine about bedtime in certain North American regional dialects.

jrdfft: juniored fit -- an adult style that is made in kid sizes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Doctors and lawyers

My recent bout with flu, and the medical profession's utter inability to cure me, got me thinking.

Despite the huge gap between what they know and their pretensions to omniscience, despite their inability to do a whole lot to make us better about many or most of the things that ail us -- viruses, cancers, aging -- doctors are highly respected.

Lawyers, in contrast, who do about as much or as little to make their clients' lives better, are reviled.

I think it's all because doctors have successfully played the expectations game whereas lawyers have not. And I think I've discovered the trick.

Playing the expectations game is not simply about lowering a client's or patient's expectations about what you can do for them. It's raising and lowering them at the same time, so that you can avoid blame for the bad outcomes, but take credit for good outcomes that are not your doing.

For example, successful medicine usually means helping along the human body's own miraculous healing process. When a sick patient goes to a doctor and says, "doctor, heal me!" the doctor doesn't modestly respond: "I can't heal you -- all I can do is help your body's miraculous healing process." Instead, the Dr. nods sagely and says, "I can't make promises, but I'll do my best." And when the patient gets healthy again, he or she gives the doctor credit for the body's own miracle.

So here's what lawyers should do. We shouldn't just hold out the promise of winning (or not losting) money. We should build up the upside, while playing down the chances of reaching it.
I will take your case, Ms. Client. If we are successful, you will feel happiness and a sense of general well being. However, I have to be honest with you. The chances of that kind of success are not great. This legal procedure is very risky and most clients acheive at best partial, rather than complete, success. What's more, there's a long recuperation period. Even when the procedure is completely successful, many clients find that their immediate response is a feeling of disappointment, and that it can take anywhere from 2 to 5 years to experience full happiness.
So basically, if the client is totally disappointed by the reality of the mixed results that attend most cases, but then in two to five years discovers happiness through meditation, or zen philosophy or a new love, the lawyer can say: "see? What did I tell you?"

Monday, February 20, 2006


"I don't count wind chill when deciding whether to order iced coffee"


I'm on record as stating that I drink iced coffee so long as the temperature is in double digits. The title of this post was my response when it was pointed out that the temperature was 7 degrees "with wind chill."


Blog of the Week: Skirt

It has become clear to me that Blog of the Week is fated to be an intermittent feature. Abandoning it just doesn't feel right, but doing it every week becomes a tedious chore. So I suppose the feature would be more aptly named "Blog of Whatever Time Interval I Happen to Feel Like," but for the fact that so clunky a name can't really be described as "apt."

But enough about me. Let's talk about the erstwhile Moral Turpitude. You may think it unfair that one person can win Blog of the Week twice. You might think it questionable to encourage someone who has been slowly erasing her old blog from the web, and then decides to start a new one. You may think what you want. The fact is that By the Seat of My Skirt is much more than a cheesy do-over, a blog mulligan if you will. It's a great blog in which MT imposes a fresh artistic vision. I don't just mean going with a white rather than black backdrop.

The concise wit is still there, but gone are the photos and clay sculptures. Instead, virtually every post features an original cartoon illustration. MT has taken her artistic talents and is now exploring the artistic possibilities of Microsoft Paint (or whatever). You really have to see it.

MT's former following may find it a bit confusing what to call her now. She still seems to refer to herself, at least in her professional capacity, as "Moral Turpitude" (, LLC), but her avatar is now called "Taking the World By the Balls." But that's a small price to pay for a daily fix of original art!


New (or new-ish) blogs to keep your eye on:

Aging Law Student -- So far so good!

Just Added to the Blog Roll

Sarah Elizabeth: Stories from LA
Perpetually Clueless
Just Keep Swimming
Stressful Times for Psycgirl


Will you please die, already?

William Safire has a column in yesterday's Sunday Times Magazine called "blargon," which is supposed to be blog jargon. Maybe I'm just creeped out by the Magazine's cover photo of George Clooney with what looks lizard-like eyes -- I hope that was simply an unfortunate photographic effect -- but Safire's column really irritated me.

To begin with, I hate the ever growing list of words that incorporate or riff on the word "blog." Blogosphere I can accept, but words like "blawg" for "law blog" make me want to throw up. Or at least point out that you really can't be cutesy and edgy at the same time.

Which brings me back to Safire. Doesn't he realize that he's trapped in a hopeless paradox? That, by the time a slang word reaches him, and gets defined in his column, it is, like, so totally over?

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Theory of the day

From the Department of Someone Should Do a Study:

People who wrote "Future plans: college" in their high school yearbooks are less likely to go to college than any other group.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Premature celebration

Yesterday, while enjoying a dinner of pizza, pub chips and beer at my smoke-free local tavern, I caught a segment on ESPN showing clips of "The Top Ten Premature Celebrations." The sound was off, so I didn't get to hear the setup commentary, but I gather now that it was a reference to Lindsey Jacobellis losing her sure thing gold medal in "snowboardcross." With the race in the bag, Jacobellis fell on the last jump because she tried to pull "a Method" -- grabbing the back of her board in midair. It was pure styling. Basically, she started her touchdown dance on the five yard line and fumbled away the ball before she got into the end zone.

Oh well. The easy "lesson" of course is "don't celebrate until you've locked down the win." But maybe life is a bit more complicated. Maybe that level of arrogance -- what the ancient Greeks called hubris -- is a necessary part of competing at that level. Maybe people who, like me, are always looking over their shoulder at the Evil Eye, and warding it off by touching wood or admitting our weaknesses, don't win gold medals.

By sheer coincidence, the Times chose today -- the same day it reported on Jacobellis's tumble on page 1 -- to run an op-ed point-counterpoint on Kobe Bryant by two NBA all-time greats. Kareem Abdul Jabbar says that Kobe's recent 81-point game is actually more impressive, in today's NBA, than Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game in 1962. Oscar Robertson argues that Kobe Bryant's apparent greatness is undermined by a selfish style of play that fails to "make those around [him] better."

Oscar Robertson was a bit before my time, so I don't know whether his reputation was "team player." Let's assume that it was. But if you were a betting person, and all you knew about Robertson is that he was a 12-time NBA all star, which statement would you bet was more likely "closer to the truth":
a) he is a genuinely humble person who always "knocks on wood" and wards off the Evil Eye by playing down his self confidence


b) he was supremely confident in his own abilities, believed he could control a game, walked into a restaurant or a party like he owned the place, and was quite arrogant by the standards of ordinary people?
Come on -- it's "b" and you know it. Top athletes are arrogant. Obviously, there's a range -- some are more arrogant than others. Yes, many of them have troubled psychologies in which their arrogance is compensating for inner feelings of inadequacy. Yes, they're not all assholes. But it's undeniable that we celebrate them for a level greatness that no one knows better than themselves, it goes to their heads, and they celebrate themselves. That's the way it is.

What's so fascinating to me about Robertson's op-ed, is what an old story it is. How many retired, aging athletes criticize current players for being too selfish and arrogant? How many of them mellow out and fall all over themselves to give helpful advice to younger players who they wouldn't have even looked at back in their own playing days. Ricky Henderson, Mr. Selfish who wouldn't mentor a teammate if his life depended on it, is now giving base-stealing tips at the Mets spring training. There are probably hundreds of cases of this.

It's the beautiful irony of age. It humbles athletes, inexorably and mercilessly. The decline is inevitable, and what's so crazy is that at their playing prime, they seem constitutionally incapable of forseeing it.

Talk about premature celebration.


"Open sewers lined a street ... and trash is everywhere."

Today's NYT reports that the African nation of Chad has failed to use national oil profits to combat poverty. In fact, "Chad weakened a law that devoted most of its oil money to cutting poverty."

Hmm, sounds like something the Bush Administration would do. Of course, we never even had that law.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Existential Friday: that look

Last week, after completing a professional engagement, I stopped for donuts. Maybe it was the fact that I was wearing a business suit and I looked sharp in it, plus my smart, new black topcoat. Maybe I was just overdressed for the donut shop. Whatever the reason, the strikingly attractive young woman behind the counter gave me "that look."

I hope you've all experienced "that look" at some point in your lives. I hope you've experienced it many times. But unless you're Harrison Ford, you know quite well that you get "that look" with declining frequency as you get older.

When you're my age, attractive younger people tend to look through you or past you. If they look at you, it's with a sort of friendly kindness that tells you they're the sort of person who would feel comfortable and not grossed out helping the residents of an assisted living home sit down for the Sunday afternoon "Music of the Tropics" entertainment.

But young donut counter gal gave me an intent stare that said "you still have it." I realized that I hadn't gotten "that look" for quite a while.

In fact, I get "that look" about once every two or three years, now. One of these times -- who knows, maybe it was this one -- it will be the last.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


"Santino... you're in"

My man Santino makes the cut in Project Runway!

In a rather bizarre moment on the show, the four budding designer contestants get an audience with a woman who's supposed to be a big player in the design world. Her advice? "I can't emphasize enough how important it is to be nice."

Whuh??? Isn't the whole show a case study in how really bitchy people get to run things?

It's amusing how much all the other contestants have tried to demonize Santino. Yeah, he's a little full of himself, but if he's so evil to them, you have to wonder what bubble they've been living in.

And that cute little Daniel, pretending to be "nice" -- what a snake! At least with Santino, what you see is what you get.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Inaugural Wednesday Word Verifictionary Contest

And the winner is...

Aging Law Student
mjzrn: (my-jeezer-on); slang for intense religious worship; "I'm getting 'mjzrn."

Runner ups:

Sleep Goblin
jndlayms (gin-lay-ums) - pj's designed specifically for laying around and drinking gin.

Neel Mehta
wvlsm ("WEE-vil-some"): like a weevil.

kckihvli ("kick-ee-heh-VAH-lee"): a toddler always able to kick you where it causes the most pain.

otuhg -- ("Oh, too, gee ...") That initial, split-second, rise-fall reaction you have -- sometimes aloud, sometimes not -- to someone else doing that clever thing you were just about to do. Perhaps similar to the initial reaction one could have when arriving at a party, event, etc., and seeing someone else in the same outfit, or giving the same gift, etc.

And honorable mention to:

vpvkociw: the v and k are silent (pronounced "pah-kew"). (verb) To nearly obtain an object.

boljmwnx (balge-wim-en-ex): the expunging of curvaceous females from one's existence.

cfecxr (see-FIX-er): 1. the act of repairing something that you just noticed to be in need or repair. 2. Telling someone that you've repaired a thing while speaking like Chico Marx: "She's a-fixed!"

hqlitv - High Quotient literary content: contains too many verbs.

xqfttpkt - "excuse me for taking packets."

awmma (aw-m' ma): any word mistakenly called "baby's first word".

craig kaye
qydbetve: common Brit slang for "quid bet eh?" e.g., I believe the distance from here to that sheep is 200 meters. Response: quid bet eh? how about 5 quid.

beabue: translated from French for an attractive baby, pronounced bay-bo

zjknfbi -- Special agent ZJ Kane, coming soon to CBS.

warren p.k.
rqqtalvi: apparently some new kind of pasta.

Phantom Scribbler
xweqs: Equus

Nice work, everybody. Now lets get those entries going for next week!

UPDATE: To get you going for next week:

kbcwaeye -- an ability to spot a French Canadian from a mile away (quebecquois-eye).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Harry Whittington's "On the Roof"

Now that millionaire lawyer Harry Whittington has had a heart attack as a result of going quail hungting with Dick Cheney, all humor on the subject is officially in poor taste. But as a "bad behavior at funerals liberal" I have to make the following observations.

The steady and reliable White House press secretary Scott McClellan had this insight: "I think you can always look back at these issues and look at how to do a better job."

How might "these issues" (those thorny "the Vice President just shot a guy -- no, I mean literally" issues) be better handled?

For starters, it was kind of weird the way everyone involved, including Whittingon's family members, seemed determined to protect Cheney by downplaying the seriousness of the injury. Weirdest of all was the way Cheney tried to rely on the hunting grounds' property manager, Katherine Armstrong, for spin control in the first 48 hours after the shooting. Cheney's spokespeople actually referred key questions to this woman, who seemed determined to make it seem like getting shot by a fellow hunter was kind of cute and funny: Whitington, she said more than once, was merely "peppered" by Cheney's buckshot, which she described as "itty bitty pellets."

One of which has now worked its way to Whittington's heart, causing the heart attack.

This this strange, and possibly tragic, event is starting to sound -- right down to McClellan's "it could have been handled better" -- more and more like the old morbid joke, "the cat is on the roof." Only replace "is on the roof" with "went hunting with Dick Cheney."

Monday, February 13, 2006


Scalia to Decline Future Duck Hunting Invitations from Cheney

"I've rethought the ethics of it," Jurist Says

WASHINGTON -- Justice Antonin Scalia announced today that he will decline future opportunities to go duck hunting with Vice President Dick Cheney.

The conservative jurist was heavily criticized two years ago for taking a duck-hunting trip with Cheney while the Vice President was a party to a case pending before the Supreme Court.

"I've rethought the ethics of it," Justice Scalia said in a prepared statement. "In order to avoid the appearance of impropriety, I've concluded that it would be best not to go hunting with a sitting vice president."

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Why do bad things happen to good people?

Dick Cheny accidentally shoots, injures fellow hunter!

I'm not insinuating anything. I'm just saying, if the fellow hunter had happened to be someone who was going to go before the grand jury in the CIA leak case, do you think Cheney is the sort of person who would be capable of .... no!



Did David Sedaris just say "anal intercourse" while reading a story on NPR? Yes!

Can you do that with a Republican-controlled Congress?

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Fame as a long term contract

The other day, I overheard the video store clerk assert that Steve Martin is out of ideas -- that's why, argued the clerk, he's devoting his energies to lame-ass remakes like Cheaper by the Dozen and, now, Inspector Clouzot in The Pink Panther.

She has a point. Thirty and even twenty years ago, Martin was a brilliant comedic talent, and he was able to bring occasional fresh air to movie roles even after he became a mellow middle-aged baby boomer in the mid-1980s. More recently, he's been an interesting character actor in non-comedic parts -- The Spanish Prisoner is a particular favorite of mine.

But Inspector Clouzot? You get the impression that Martin has used his influence to indulge his vanity in trying his own hand at a role that has become a "classic." There is a long tradition of this sort of thing in stage acting. There, it's understandable, because the original actor can't return to the stage to reprise his classic role -- he being dead, and all -- and, frankly, mainstream theatre is such a has-been form of entertainment that they can economically justify remakes as necessary to fill the theatres.

Movies are different. Movies represent a significant commitment of resources and creative talent, and frankly, Steve Martin is just taking up space. Martin is kind of a case study in taking up space. Long after his original comic talent faded, he started getting very unfunny humor pieces published in The New Yorker -- which I gather was slobbering over the big name byline -- thereby displacing god knows how many writers of real talent.

If "15 minutes of fame" captures one end of a spectrum, Martin is at the other. He's like a 39 year old baseball player in the seventh year of a megabucks 8-year contract. The contract was thrown at his feet back when he could still produce -- now we're stuck with him, even though he's way over the hill. Move over, Steve, and let someone else have their shot.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Existential Friday: illness and wellness

My flu is dragging on, putting me in a great position to relish feeling well again.

Illness is so existential: there you are, steeped in symptoms, wondering if you'll ever know the feeling of wellness again. Then you get better, and maybe for a day or two, you exult in how great you feel... isn't it wonderful to feel normal!

There it is -- your moment of zen. The splendidness of, not the extraordinary, but the ordinary. And then it passes -- feeling normal is a baseline we expect and take for granted. Until we get sick again.


Okay, it's official: Word Verifictionary Contest

In my ongoing quest (or perhaps "trolling" is a better word) to increase blog traffic, and to promote the practice of "word verifiction," I will be honoring my word verifiction commenters by awarding prizes* each Wednesday for the Weekly Word Verifictionary Winner. Those of you who have already played the game on this blog are entered for next week's contest. Enter as often as you like!

To get you going:

qpwdyj -- ("kwip-wittage") -- the degree of wittiness attributable to a quip or quipster.

*Prizes will be based on the "recognition is its own reward" principle.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Ever wonder...

... what it would look like to disappear in a blaze of light while your sweetie looks on?



Memes as questionnaires

I guess I'm just bad at memes. Janelle "tagged" me with this meme more than a week ago, but I only get around to it now.

I'm still not completely clear on the concept. I like the concept expressed in the formal definition
A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.
Blogs seem to have great potential for spreading cultural practices or ideas this way. But when I see bloggers share what they call "memes," it more often takes the form of a chain letter. When the content of the chain letter is "let's have your riff on this idea," it still seems at least somewhat like that above definition of meme. When the content of the chain letter is "here's a list of things about me/ things I like! Okay, now your turn!" -- a blog version of the guys doing their top five lists in the record store in High Fidelity -- it seems less like a meme. Unless it's the "cultural practice" of making lists, rather than the content of those lists, that you consider to be the meme in question. But that's so "meta." (On "the ironic mutation of the term 'meme' for these things," see Jeremy here.)

Anyway, with a mixture of feeling flattered that I was "tagged" and feeling mild dismay and annoyance for having, essentially, to fill out a form by doing the meme, here goes. Forgive me if I go off script from time to time, but I've decided to answer the questions freely by revising the questions.

Five Things

Remove the blog in the top spot from the following lists and bump everyone up one place. Then add your blog to the bottom slot.
That's kind of tedious. Not gonna do it.

Next, select five people to tag.
Allright, this is already feeling like a chore. So, no...

What were you doing 10 years ago?
To the month? To the hour?

What were you doing 1 year ago?
Apparently, I was blogging about neckties.

Five snacks you enjoy have either impulsively bought in the last six months or could desperately cobble together out of ingredients currently found in the back of your pantry:

1. smoked oysters
2. muffaleta and salami on toast with melted provalone
3. orange flavored almond butter on oat bran graham crackers sprinkled with chocolate chips
4. all the black beans you could eat in a month if you were under doctors' orders to do so
5. emergency drinking water

Five songs you know all the words to whose lyrics are, incredibly enough, taking up space in your brain and make you wish that your memory was like a hard drive and you could delete the lyrics to create more disk space:

1. 76 Trombones (from The Music Man)
2. Theme song from Man of La Mancha
3. Any of several songs from Once Upon a Mattress
4. Any of several songs from James Taylor's 1977 hit album, JT
5. Any of dozens of 1970s and 1980s pop songs that I'd name for you, except that if I did, they'd start playing in my head, and I'd have to shoot myself.

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire gazillionaire:

1. Squash Bill Gates like a bug
2. Contribute heavily to various congress people and then, quite ironically, pressure them to implement rigorous campaign finance reform
3. Start a foundation and give away money until I am pictured in Time Magazine holding hands with Bono. Oh, what the heck, why not French kissing Bono?
4. Use my powers for the good of mankind.
5. Wonder why I am not perfectly happy.

Five bad habits:
1. Fretting about losing my hair
2. Obsessing about mid life crisis
3. Checking Site Meter too much
4. Fretting about why you're not reading my blog more often
5. Fretting about why your friends are not reading my blog more often

Five things you would never wear again:
1. Clam diggers
2. Flaired pants of any kind, unless the "sailor suit" fad comes back and extends to grown straight men.
3. The sailor suit I wore when I was five.
4. Trendy shoes of any kind.
5. Store bought Halloween costumes.

Ironically, the meme / questionnaire goes on to ask "five things" about two more things. I'll stop at five.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Word verification update

It's called "word verifictionary" and it's the latest craze!

That's right. Take those nasty blogger word verification letter-strings and turn them into a fun game. Make a word out them and define the word!

Here are my most recent word verifcation words:

ymfiv (I'm five) -- synonym for "duh!" for a young child; what my then five-year-old neice Linny said to her grandmother in response to a rather obvious point: "Hello! ymfiv!"

hughoa (hug-ho) -- someone who will do or say anything to get a hug.

gfledztn (guh-flets-tin) -- what you say to someone who has just hocked up a big loogie of phlegm, because "bless you" or "gezundheit" doesn't seem quite right.

fnertz (fnertz) -- your turn... I'm stumped!


From the mailbag -- on the King funeral

Oscar Madison responds to reader comments!

Comment on yesterday's post,"Word verification and comment spam."
I was actually hoping you would comment on the disrespectful behavior of the liberals at the King funeral yesterday. It looked like there were some old leftist warhorses at the Coretta Scott King funeral yesterday who were determined to use the occasion to get in some shots against President Bush. (Carter & Lowery).

No disrespect, Craig, because I'm fond of all my readers, including you, but I was actually hoping you would comment on efficient ways to delete comment spam. That's what I meant by the (admittedly ambiguous) phrase: "can anyone recommend a way to delete [spam comments] that is faster and more efficient than going to each comment and hitting the delete comments button?"

But since you ask, I will comment on your topic. What makes conservatives think they can and should go all Emily Post-al and become self-appointed authorities on appropriate behavior at funerals? I guess Republicans are flushed with success at their last whining binge about the supposedly "inappropriate" political display at the Paul Wellstone memorial ceremony -- they parlayed that into an electoral win.

So I guess complaining about "political statements" at funerals is going to become a knee jerk right wing response for the foreseeable future. But why do you think Bush attended the King funeral? Isn't that political -- to attend a funeral only because it would look bad politically not to?

Maybe Bush "had to attend," but there was nothing to stop him from finding a graceful, respectful way to bow out of making a speech. (Through Scott McClellan: "The President wishes to pay his respects to Mrs. King, but would like to leave the speaking to those who knew her better, so as not to appear to be using the occasion for political advantage.") I find it distasteful that Bush waxed eloquent about civil rights -- using the occasion to jump on a politically correct bandwagon -- when his administration has basically taken its Civil Rights division lawyers out of the job of enforcing the very antidiscrimination laws the Kings fought for and instead put those lawyers to work on deporting undocumented immigrants.

Carter's comment -- that the Kings had been victimized by the very sort of illegal wiretapping that Bush is now promoting -- was a rather mild allusion, I thought, to the almost insufferable irony of Bush giving any sort of elegy for Coretta King. Even Lowery has a point -- Bush has sent young American men and women, disproportionately represented by young black men and women, to die in Iraq based on lies. I may not have said what Lowery said, but I don't consider myself sufficiently morally superior to condemn it either.

If a memorial service is ever put on for me, I would hope that someone would speak about my political beliefs and values. And if someone who made a career of farting on those beliefs presumed to get up and speak about me, I would hope that someone who cared about me would take him down with a few potshots. I'm going to put that in my will.

We've never met or corresponded, Craig, but you and I both know that you spent a lot of energy in the 1980s and 1990s complaining about "political correctness" and how the "liberal thought police" were impinging on your free speech. But isn't that exactly what you're doing now? I can't say that it's "inappropriate" to make a politcal statement at the funeral or memorial of a political public figure in a highly politicized time.

One last thing: why are the conservatives using the comments function to politicize my cute little post on "word verification" words?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Word verification and comment spam

I realize that word verification is a tedious extra step in posting comments, but I've decided to keep with it. When I look back at my old posts, I find them to be barnacled with dozens of spam comments in the last couple of months of 2005; but the spam seems to have stopped since I activated word verification on January 17.

I wish they would make word verification more fun by coming up with letter combinations that sound like words. My last two word verification letter strings did in fact almost sound like words:

What would you guess them to mean?

Speaking of comment spam, can anyone recommend a way to delete them that is faster and more efficient than going to each comment and hitting the delete comments button?

Monday, February 06, 2006


The morning after snow: fog

From the snowfall a couple of weeks ago. Nothing like a little fog to make you think you can take pictures.


Above and below: Our Lake Park


Our Lake:



Intrepid runners in mist.


The fog does not lift -- it settles.


Sunday, February 05, 2006


The limits of my sense of humor

I have a pretty good appreciation for satire, but this one rubbed me the wrong way. If they can haul you off into the windowless interrogation room for making the wrong joke in an airport, then I want the surveillance people to be serious and professional in all their communications with me. There, I said it.

Photography 101: try to get some red in your color photos.

No, not funny. And clean up that grammar, will ya?

"I'd have mooned you, but it's too damned cold."
The video camera in question should now have footage of me multitasking
(taking a photo of the trailer and flipping a bird at the same time).

Saturday, February 04, 2006


Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?

Moral Turpitude, with her new blog! By the Seat of My Skirt.


Mr. Boner goes to Washington

I know this is far from original, and is, like, totally Beavis and Butthead, but what's with this Republican penchant for weird names that are tailor-made for cheap and easy satire?

Boehner Unexpectedly Raised to Majority Leader
"He just seemed to pop up out of nowhere," says Blunt

Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) (pronounced: Boner), who ran an insurgent campaign calling for change in the face of a widening corruption scandal, was elected yesterday to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) as House majority leader in an upset over the acting majority leader.

Boehner's victory over Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a longtime DeLay ally, stunned House members attending the closed-door election.

"I had Boehner totally beaten," said the plain-spoken Blunt. "The thing was in my hands, but it just slipped away."

They really ask for it though. You can say that you don't pick your own name, but former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex) could have chosen to be known as "Rick." Plus, he asked for it with his famous utterance referring to Barney Frank as "Barney Fag" and then saying, "oops, it was a slip of the tongue."

GOP's Boehner to Lead Dick Armey

Former Republican House Majority Leader, Dr. Richard Keith "Dick" Armey, PhD, praised the selection, saying "I would follow Boehner anywhere."

Has all this already been said on The Daily Show? Well, I didn't watch it. And it can't be said too often.

Boehner Succeeds Dick Armey after DeLay

Ohio's Boehner replaces the scandal-ridden Tom DeLay, who had succeeded fellow Texan Dick Armey as Majority Leader...

The leading Republicans have other pun-worthy names: the third place finisher in the Majority Leader voting was John Shadegg (R-Ariz) (pronounced "shad - egg"), who I gather is nicknamed "Roe."
Boehner to have no special access to Bush

"Representative Boehner will be no more or less welcome than Dick Armey to come inside [the White House]," said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, who failed to explain the pointed omission of Tom DeLay.

Now try reading the actual text of the Washington Post story without laughing:
Boehner's election portends a change of direction for the House this year. In campaigning for the job, he said that the current leadership has been too top-down in its control of the legislative agenda ...

"We must act swiftly to restore the thrust between Congress and the American people," Boehner said in a written statement. [Sorry, I cheated: he said “restore trust.”] ...

Blunt Short of Boehner by Six
[okay, me again – but look, it’s true!]

Blunt, who as majority whip will still be the third-ranking Republican in the House, came within six votes of victory, as the winner needs more than half the votes cast. He picked up 110 supporters in the first round of the secret balloting, compared with Boehner's 79. Forty votes went to Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), while two lawmakers wrote in Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kan.). With just a handful more needed in a second round of voting, members began sending e-mails saying that Blunt appeared to have won.

But in a second, head-to-head tally pitting the first- and second-place finishers, Boehner scored a decisive 122 to 109 win. ....

"The members wanted to make a big decision, and they did," Boehner said.


But it was mounting concern about a political corruption scandal -- not Boehner's or Blunt's legislative skills -- that colored the leadership contest until the end.... Under mounting pressure [from Boehner supporters?? –ed.], DeLay relinquished his claims to the majority leader's post, officially beginning a scramble for new leadership.

Boehner's Extra Six Trumps Blunt's Personality
[yup... me. --ed.]

From the start, .... Blunt's list of public supporters was always comfortably longer than Boehner's. But it was not until this week that House members returned to Washington from a long recess and the candidates could campaign in person. Boehner said even members who committed to Blunt began realizing this vote had far more significance than the typical leadership contests that are decided on personality, personal contacts and promises. [So size does matter! -- ed.]

Although he campaigned as a reformer, Boehner (pronounced BAY-ner) is no stranger to Washington. ... Once in the leadership, he avidly cultivated ties to the K Street lobbying community. He made headlines for handing out checks from tobacco interests to colleagues on the House floor.

Wait a minute... Bay-ner??? Damn.

Friday, February 03, 2006


Existential Friday: To Dream the Improbable Dream

"Why should we expect of ourselves the impossible, when all we need do is achieve the improbable?"

Last night I dreamed this line. I was speaking with a young man who was permanently injured and would never play ice hockey again, which made me incredibly sad. I asked him how he got injured, and he said that he was a Fidelista in the Cuban revolution. The quote was something Fidel Castro had said.

I don't know if Castro, or anyone for that matter, actually ever said that.* But it's catchy isn't it? I think my dream mind made it up. I wonder what that means?

Janelle recently blogged about recurring dreams, seeking interpretations of her recurring dream in which her teeth break, fall out, or turn to mush. The "Dream Dictionary" she consulted gave her a fatuous suggestion: maybe she is "chewing something over." That made me think of cheesy fortune-tellers who stare at your palm or the tarot cards, or the crystal ball or whatever, and say sonorously: "You have ... concerns... serious, concerns."

I do recall Freud's Interpretation of Dreams saying something to the effect that people do sometimes dream in puns (like chewing over something), and we do dream in hokey, obvious symbols. I'll confess that I've frequently dreamed about being unable to pull the trigger of a gun or to aim it. Or, else the gun barrell just goes limp. (I wonder what that means?)

Many people seem to want their dreams to be capable of foretelling the future, or receiving visitations from the spirits of the dead, or other magical things. But why should it be disappointing if dreams are nothing more than shrouded glimpses into our own suppressed thoughts? Isn't there something magical about a fogged window into your soul?

I consider myself lucky when it comes to dreams. While I don't typically remember the details of my dreams once I awaken, I do recall the awareness that I did dream and, if this is possible, feel aware of the experience of dreaming while it's happening. And I say this touching wood, but I rarely have truly unpleasant dreams. They're not often wish fulfillment dreams, either, but they're often interesting and sometimes, like my recurring tidal wave dreams, redolent of an action-adventure tale. The overall effect is that when I drift off to sleep I feel like I'm about to go to the movies.

*A quick Google search failed to turn up anything closer than this: "The impossible often has a kind of integrity which the merely improbable lacks." --Douglas Adams The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, courtesy of The Quote Lady.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Why you turn to this blog for my uniquely insightful take on public affairs

Yesterday, I was basically knocked out by flu and spent most of the day deepening my understanding of public affairs with an historical perspective, by reading Churchill: Visionary. Statesman. Historian. I would read a page or two of Churchill, drift into a doze for an hour or two, read another page, doze, etc. Okay, so I basically spent most of the day sleeping.

But by evening, I felt pretty much awake. Not clearheaded "Visionary. Statesman. Historian" awake, but sufficiently awake to watch four solid hours of back-to-back episodes of Project Runway. Even though I haven't liked any of his designs, I find myself inexorably drawn to Santino Rice and I hope he wins. Though I don't see how anyone's going to beat out Dan, who is as talented as he is cute.

Can you imagine anything more scary than being read out in your own workplace by Heidi Klum? I now have waking nightmares of her towering over me, with her big pregnant belly, saying:
Oscar. Your ideas are unoriginal and uninspired. Your jokes in class are not classy. Your course organization is sloppy. I'm afraid this means "you're out." Auf wiedersehen.
We exchange air kisses before I slink out of the law school forever.

On a related note: Today, I was back at work. Someone asked me, with perhaps a touch of smugness, why I hadn't gotten a flu shot. Had I been clear-headed and energetic, I would have explained:

(1) I don't believe in flu shots. Don't they just innoculate you against last year's flu rather than this year's? Don't flu viruses mutate extremely rapidly? It seems like a classic case of closing the barn door after the horse is gone, the medical equivalent of all the pseudo airport security we got after 9/11. Except that it involves getting a shot.

(2) If flu shots do work, the story is that there is not a large enough supply of flu vaccine for everyone to get one. That being the case, I don't feel like I'm in a high need category. So shouldn't I wait to get my shot for needier people to have their turn?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Mao for sale



Am I too grade-conscious?

A few days after getting my doctor's glowing oral report over the phone about my cholesterol, I've just received the letter putting the results in writing. It says:
The results of the tests have been reviewed and are acceptable.
Acceptable?!? I didn't take my cholesterol test pass-fail! I took it for a grade! I want the letter to say that my test results are star-studded and fabulous!

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