Friday, March 31, 2006


Existential Friday: Epitaph

What would your friends say if they were polled today for their prediction of what your epitaph will eventually be? But an epitaph that would be so totally wrong?

Here's what I think my friends would say:

"His one regret was that he never watched The Sopranos."

Thursday, March 30, 2006


News from the Barista front

Rebecca, the new barista at Grandma Moses looked very familiar, and as I returned for a second glass of iced coffee in the same morning, she disclosed that she's a law student at My Law School.

Let's look at this from all sides. On the one hand, I think it's cool that a law student would get a job as a Barista at Grandma Moses. I hear from the other members of the Barista team that it's a good place to work, and it strikes me as a nice break from law study. I thought of applying for a barista job here myself, but I decided not to, primarily because I didn't like taking a job away from someone who needed it more.

Rebecca really fits in at Grandma Mo's, and she is bringing a nice upbeat energy to the morning coffee ritual. In contrast to her laid back, almost deadpan co-workers, Rebecca says things like "you got it" when you place your order.

On the other hand, there's the sense that one of my escapes from my life as a law professor has just been cut off. Rebecca, counting out my change, asked me what courses I'd be teaching next year.

And what if my coffee-house behaviors follow me into the law school? What if students start to say, "Professor Madison says he believes in workers' rights, but I hear he's a really stingy tipper"? Or, "how can Professor Madison teach us about the law when he sneaks in scones from Rude 'n' Slows?"

I don't know where this all leads.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


The tax form seems a bit current-eventsy this year

If you need further confirmation about how our country uses the income tax system as a vehicle for social policies by offering tax credits for everybody's pet issue, look no further than 2005 IRS Form 1040, line 42:
If line 38 is over $109,475, or you provided housing to a person displaced by Hurricane Katrina, see instructions. Otherwise, multiply $3,200 by the total number of exemptions claimed on line 6d.
Problem solved!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


What's in a name

This morning at Rude 'n' Slow's, I was very excited to buy a chocolate-almond croissant, a baked offering I hadn't seen before. Would you feel disappointment if you were me, when the pastry turned out to be a "mere" almond croissant, though admittedly delicious in its own right?

Here's me:

Left brain: "This almond croissant is uh-MAY-zing!"
Right brain: "Where in God's name is the chocolate?!"

Monday, March 27, 2006



Oscar Madison in a huge box-super-store is like Superman on planet Krypton. B and I went inside a Target this evening to buy a new toaster oven. The store, as you know, is filled with things. We paused to consider whether to buy a package of toilet paper that had, like, 3 dozen rolls. Shopping at a place like Target should be easy, but I find the decisions more challenging.
"Do we really need so much?"
"The real problem is, will it fit in the cupboard?"
"The real problem is, will it fit in the trunk?"
At this juncture, I pointed out that we only had 11 minutes left of our 15 minute window, so we bypassed the toilet paper.

What is the "15 minute window"? My ability to function inside Target is limited to 15 minutes, as though I had an oxygen tank. As the time ticks down, I get light-headed, my judgment gets clouded, my motor coordination deteriorates. After 15 minutes, I suffer permanent brain damage.

We quickly made our way to the toaster ovens. Well, as quickly as we could. First, I spotted a couple of shelves of microwave ovens -- the toasters have to be nearby! I thought. Next aisle: coffee makers. Either we were getting warm (moving toward countertop electric appliances based on a heating coil) or cold (moving away from ovens).

Next aisle: sandwich makers. An entire aisle of sandwich makers! Okay, they're bread-heating devices -- definitely getting warm.

Next aisle: no!! Waffle irons and countertop rotisserie ovens. The Ronco Showtime Rotisserie oven draws me like a tractor beam. I have a history with this appliance. I am mezmerized by a warning label affixed to the front window of the Showtime Rotisserie: "Do not take 'Set it and Forget it' Literally!" ("Set it and forget it" was Ron Popeil's catchy advertizing pitch for the product: people apparently got into trouble by failing to "monitor" the chicken while it was cooking.)

B sees me staring open-mouthed at the Showtime Rotisserie and doubles over, incapacitated, with laughter. Is her oxygen tank empty?!

Finally, the next aisle has what I have to admit is a pretty good selection of toaster ovens. We quickly reject the two Black and Decker models. The whole reason we're here is the inferior characteristics of our current Black and Decker toaster oven. We also reject any model that has a "rack advance" feature -- that is, a hook connecting the rack to the oven door that pulls the rack out whenever you open the door. That feature on the Black and Decker eventually became the bane of our existence, singlehandedly causing several burns.

We decide on the $50 convection Euro-trash. We like that it has a bell that goes off when the toast is done. (Believe it or not, this feature is not included in our current Black and Decker model.)

I look at the shelves... and there's none in stock!!! The reason that this is a hideous nightmare is that it poses a lose-lose decision scenario. Either (a) we leave the store and continue our quest for a new toaster oven some other day at an equally heinous store. Or (b) we ask a "sales associate" to check in the back to see if there's one in the stockroom.

I have a real problem with option (b). In a huge box store, it can take a lot of looking to find a "sales associate." And then the one you find is never able to check for you. They have to go find someone else. That person disappears into the back for a long time. With every passing minute, you have to decide "should I keep waiting or just leave." That of course replays the initial (a) versus (b) Hobson's choice in a seemingly endless loop. 20 minutes go by. Finally, a third "sales associate" returns -- does he have my "Euro-Trash"? It really doesn't matter, because I ran out of oxygen and died.

In this particular case, as luck would have it, there was one last Euro-Trash on the shelf -- the top shelf, rather than the bottom where all the other toaster ovens were. We hustled to the check out.

Do you remember the photo of the wildly thrilled shoppers in Walmart last Christmas season? My question is, if places like Walmart and Target are supposed to be so good for our society, and keep us happy with lots of inexpensive stuff, then why does everybody in this store -- from "sales associates" to cashiers to shoppers -- look and act like a freakin' zombie?

Sunday, March 26, 2006


What are my obligations here?

This morning, B met me at Grandma Moses. I have to go to the office today, so I'm feeling a bit sorry for myself, as well as impatient to get on with it and get my work done, and go home.

B had justed plopped her stuff down and gone up to the counter to order her coffee, when she somehow got herself involved in a conversation with a guy who loves to hear himself talk. He just won't shut up. B is smiling and nodding, getting the occasional one-syllable word in edgewise.

That monologue style conversation has gone on for some 15 minutes and shows no sign of letting up. Meanwhile, I'm done with my coffee and ready to leave. Am I obligated to stay? In other words, do I

a) sit here and gloat about how she got herself into this mess by talking to a stranger who was, you could see from a mile away, going to bend her ear until the end of time.

b) pack up and leave. B will be shocked, like I'm walking out on her, and there will be consequences.... but at least I might be able to extricate her from her conversation trap on my way out.

UPDATE: You commenters don't understand! She was egging him on! Then I heard her say the words, "well, he's the academic." I looked up and saw to my horror that she was pointing at me. "Oh, no, you're not dragging me into this," I said to myself as I started cramming computer peripherals into my backpack. B returned to the table just in time to say goodbye and tell me that she just had a "really interesting conversation about Russian literature."

Saturday, March 25, 2006


What kind of coffee am I? Need you ask?

Inspired by the latest BlogThings personality profile quiz results posted by blog inspirations Sleep Goblin, Moral Turpitude and Just Thoughts, I give you my unsurprising answer to the question: "what kind of coffee are you?"


Friday, March 24, 2006


High tech and not so high tech

Here am I, blogging at Grandma Moses. I'm very worried because each of the last several days I've been here, my internet connection has been slow -- so slow as to make it difficult to surf and blog. The wireless signal strength has been "good," "very good" or "excellent," and other users seem not to be having problems. And my laptop works just fine at other wireless locations.

So what's the deal -- is there a new incompatibility between my particular laptop and Grandma Moses's particular wireless link?

While I'm having tech problems, two guys at a nearby table are having tech problems of their own. It's an intense conversation, almost like a major relationship talk, but it seems like they're partners in some high tech business and having a falling out. They keep repeating earnest relationship clearing-the-air phrases like "All I'm saying is" and "what I'm trying to say is."

They keep talking about R & D and insisting that their goal is to make money. There's also a lot of touchy-feely corporate buzzwords. The guy who looks like Tim Robbins -- a regular here at Grandma Moses -- says table a lot. For a while he was talking about "clearing the table," by which I think he meant getting clutter out of the way. Now he's talking about putting things back "on the table," but I think now he means negotiating points.

I'm not a lurid eavesdropper. They're actually talking too loudly for a confidential conversation in a near-empty coffee house with quiet mood music playing in the background.
"You're just as frustrated as I am."
"Please stop taking all this shit so personally."
"I wish you'd recognize this is business and be dispassionate about it."
One of them has gotten up to leave, but it really is like a romantically involved couple. The funny thing is that just a couple of months ago, I found myself being forced to eavesdrop on Tim Robbins actual intense relationship conversation with his girlfriend. I guess he thinks of Grandma Moses as his home away from home too.

Now his business partner says:
"Can I walk away now, or are you going to be pissed off?"
This is so cool -- it's like that movie Startup.Com. I love living in a town that's home to a major research university, because you're much more likely to be able to eavesdrop on young high tech entrepreneurs.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


A second chance opportunity

Watching a bit of the NCAA tournament on TV, I was reminded that televised basketball offers idiot commentators who talk about "second chance opportunities." As in "they didn't take advantage of that second chance opportunity."

"Second chance opportunity" is a fancy way of saying "rebound." Well, I guess more specifically, "offensive rebound." Even you basketball non-fans get the idea: the team has a second chance to make the basket after getting the rebound off their own missed shot.

Native English speakers among you are probably thinking, "second chance opportunity"? Why not just "second chance"? What is a "chance" in this context, if not an "opportunity"? Well, I'm with you.

Yet, I have a second chance opportunity right here, right now, on this blog. It seems that I missed my first chance opportunity to make a joke in my recent post about the cover of Chess Life. Go back and reread that post... now, please.

Okay. What do you suppose the chess-playing sergeant is thinking? For my money it's, "Bogart, I am going to make you my chess bitch."

I let you be the judge: did I score off my own rebound, or not?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Wednesday Word Verifictionary Winners

Attention blog artists! (You know who you are.) How about make first prize, runner up and honorable mention banners for my Word Verificationary competition? Prizes will be awarded!

First Prize
warren p.k.
lovil -- ("low vil") -- typically prescribed as an anti-anxiety drug, it is used illegally by teens to lower willpower and increase impulsive behavior.

Runners Up
Tom Bozzo
kxcksq (kicks chex squares): The after breakfast scene in my house, given toddler table manners.

Neel Mehta
yfstvxg (ya-fast-VEX-age): that voodoo that you do so quickly.

ympqvg - your mileage per quart varies greatly. (this one just had to be an acronym)

Honorable Mentions
yfnjy--Why Fun Joy? The title of a future Existential Friday post.

Tom Bozzo
ductoi (duck-toy): 'you make bathtime lots of fun'

zapukkjn: v. (za-puke-jin) the act of gin-induced, violent gastric-evacuation by way of the esophagus. [USAGE: He was zapukkjn all morning after all those martinis he drank last night]

Znqkp: The zinc you keep, presumably better than the stuff you throw away.

mnhfrr ("men have fur") - a failed slogan for a shaving products company.

ayotjcl (a-yot-zhickle): a stalagtite of road salt hanging from the bumper of your car.

Neel Mehta
hijnd (hi-jend): the end of hijinks.

Oscar Madison
drsms (doctorisms): e.g., "take two of these and call me in the morning"; "you have a flu virus but let me prescribe these antibiotics just in case"; "lawsuits are the primary cause of skyrocketing health care costs."


Language primer

Is it just me, or is there a tendency in foreign language primers to indulge in rank stereotyping?

I'm studying beginning (modern) Hebrew, and here are two items from my book:


Woman in striped pants: "Are you from Israel?"

Strangely clad couple: "No, from Ireland."

Do Irish people go around in tweed suits and plus fours? The guy is dressed like James Joyce in Zurich in 1917.

There's also sex-based stereotyping. This next drawing depicts Adam and Eve (Chava):


The assignment is to describe what's happening in the pictures. The answer?

"Adam studies Torah. Eve studies English."

You gotta love that Eve, always plucking fruit from the tree of knowledge.

So why is there a tendency to stereotype in language primers? Is it because they're generally geared toward kids?

Wait what am I saying -- more stereotyping in books geared toward kids?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


My life as a rock star, Part II

When I told you about my life as a "rock star" a couple of weeks ago, I of course didn't mean literally a rock music star, but merely a sought-after celebrity performer with thousands of adoring fans. And when I described my "gig" with the high school social studies class, I didn't tell you the half of it.

The other half is that two days later, I did a standup comedy concert for our law school's "admitted students" weekend. Well, a presentation with jokes, anyhow. And I killed. There's something about those low-expectations audiences that really lets me thrive.

Here was the core of my routine -- a powerpoint presentation. I won't give you a recitation of what I said, just the slides:


Okay, not the most artistic powerpoint slide ever, but it gets better:


Great use of clip art, no?


Monday, March 20, 2006


Amazon: can't beat their prices, but they still suck

On February 5, 2006, I ordered several "items" from I refer to the "items" generically, because they are in fact gifts for certain "people" who read this blog. I liked the "items" so much that I also ordered a set for me.

Because February 5 was a couple of weeks before the "birthday" of a certain "person," I felt a high degree of confidence that the "items" would be delivered in a timely fashion.

Then I started getting these:
Hello from

We wanted to let you know that there is a delay with some items in the order you placed on February 05 2006 15:36 PST (Order# 123456).

Please visit the Order Update page in Your Account at the address below to approve the delay for the unavailable items
I've gotten one or more of these messages every week for the past six weeks. The "items" were not shipped in time for the "birthday," and for the most part still have not been shipped. kept pushing back the estimated shipping dates: from end of Feburary to early March to mid March and now to the end of March.

When one of the "items" became available, to whom do you think Amazon decided to ship first? To the recipient of the item that included the gift card? Or to me. That's right, they shipped it to me, without ever giving me a choice of reminding them -- "no, please send the gift one first."

The "items" are either books or book like in nature. They are available from a "publisher" and probably in stores. They are not an exotic butterfly that must be captured live from a distant continent.

I would think that would tell the truth when they say the "items" are "in stock." I assume that means the "items" exist in a warehouse for which has the key to the padlock and maybe a couple of delivery trucks.

Instead, it seems that is waiting for these "items" to fall off a truck. Or perhaps to acquire pirated copies of them on the black market. Or maybe they just call up the publisher and ask to have some copies made up -- which perhaps I could have done myself.

Whatever your excuse,, consider yourself mooned.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Here's what you missed because you don't subscribe to Chess Life

Yes, this cover photo is just what it looks like: Humphrey Bogart playing chess with a U.S. soldier in 1944.


And I'm thinking, Bogey is getting his ass kicked. Tho' he can certainly put on a contemplative look holding that cigarette.

Also, if you didn't read the February 2006 issue of Chess Life, you may not know about this:


Jennifer Shahade, the author pictured on the cover, is a women's grandmaster, on her way to becoming an international master.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Hot iced coffee and other mysteries of the Internet

I love how you can sign up to get all sorts of data about one's own insignificant presence on the internet. Site meter, for example, provides a darling little world map with dots showing the global location of people who have clicked onto my blog.

(Can you imagine W the boy President in the "sit[uation] room" looking at a big world map, and saying, "No, we can't bomb Teheran... they love my blog there!")

It turns out that Flickr also has a hit counter, and yesterday I checked out my "Most Popular Photos" (by number of views):

# 1, with 562 views:


and #2, with 560 views:


and a very distant #3, with 127 views:


If you read my blog, you know that photo #1 is a billboard in Warsaw illustrating a comment I made about the subtlety of Polish advertizing. #2, a big glass of iced coffee, is my alter ego -- or my avatar, anyway. # 3 is a then-and-now montage of a Maginot Line fort.

What to make of all this? People have clicked on these photos when they see them on my blog. But why? Let me offer three possible interpretations.
A) People want to get a better look at the model's middle bracelet in photo #1, because they might want to order one. And people want to get a better look at the surface of the iced coffee because they think they might see an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

B) #1 and #2 are my two hottest photos ever posted on this blog. Period. #3 happened to attract World War II geeks, who prowl the internet in surprising numbers.

C) #2 is my avatar and appears on the top left corner of my blog every day. People click on it to see my singularly uninformative profile. #1 happens to be titled "sex1" and so comes up on lots of Google image searches.

The correct answer? B, of course.

Friday, March 17, 2006


Stocking feet

Sometimes it feels rude to just point your camera at people at a dinner party, but then how else do you get any cool pictures?



Existential Friday: pension plan love

One of the main themes of last weekend's hit movie, Prime, was that "love is not enough," a line that was spoken a couple of times in the dialogue. The 23-year-old guy and the 37-year-old woman were deeply in love in the story, but the relationship was doomed by their being in such different phases of their respective lives.

This theme is nothing new. It's just the age-difference variant of the practical differences that pull lovers apart, going back at least to Romeo and Juliet. Though I prefer to think of the version colorfully expressed in Fiddler on the Roof: "A fish and a bird can fall in love... but what kind of a life can they build together?"

Ah, building a life together. We allow ourselves to get all mushy about that phrase by placing the stress on "life together." But when you look at it more closely, and put the accent on "build," you see how practical and pragmatic the sentiment is at bottom.

Too many people, it seems to me, denigrate love in its impractical manifestations. Love that doesn't, or can't, lead to "building a life together" is written off as "infatuation," something that is not "real" and even, perhaps, an experience not worth having.

The conventional wisdom -- you've heard it hundreds of times both in movies and in real life conversations -- is that real love is something that you have to "work at," day in day out for years, slowly building the bonds of trust and security that will form the basis for a relationship even if (when?) passion fades.

This version of life is something of a 401(k) plan. You work at it now, invest in its long term future, so that you'll have emotional security in your old age. You basically saving up for retirement.

Don't get me wrong -- that's love. And there's nothing wrong with being practical about relationships and making them part of your long-term planning. And it makes total sense to try to hedge your bets against being lonely in your old age.

But my point -- what I liked so much about Prime -- is that the other thing is love too. Love can be doomed by its impracticality, and therefore short-lived, but still be real love. And what I find disagreeable is the tendency to over-romanticize the emotional pension plan. It may be a better choice for most of us than an intense doomed fling in some long term sense, but lets see our sour-grapes rationalizing for what it is.

Oh, and existential news flash: even secure, pension plan love is temporary, because life is temporary.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


St. Patrick's Day comes early

One of our neighbors seems to take special pride in colorful holiday displays. The photo below doesn't do justice to the truly decked out look when eveyything is lit and the inflatable figure fully inflated -- a jack-o-lantern at Halloween, a turky at Thanksgiving, a snowman at Christmas, a bunny for Easter, a minute-man for July 4 and a leprechaun for St. Patrick's day. These figures are up for most of the calendar month in which the holiday falls.


It's a relief to me that they don't put up an inflatable Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks to celebrate Black History month -- that might seem more disrespectful than otherwise. I wonder whether they'll have an inflatable worker up for September (Labor Day).

Even though St. Patrick's day isn't until tomorrow, the Leprechaun has already been in his day-after-St.-Paddy's form all this past week.

DSCN7009 DSCN7013
The leprechaun on Tuesday, left; and Wednesday, right.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Wednesday Double Week Word Verifictionary Winners

The competition was particularly stiff this week, since it's really two weeks of Word Verifictionary entries. Thanks to Janelle for being the one commenter who actually felt any disappointment over the lack of a Word Verifictionary post from last week.

And this (double) week's winner, getting a Double First Prize:

fszsb: [urbanspeak, acronym] Fo ShiZzle So Bizzle. Referring to an individual who lacks adequate time for social activity in his or her "hood".

and the Runner(s) Up:

Neel Mehta
cwndrdl (cow-en-DREI-del): the latest game craze sweeping Jewish farms.

craig kaye
tlfrygll - short for "tel-friggle" which is the plastic clip that keeps the phone cord or ethernet cord in place.

warren p.k.
kbrkd - (pronounced kuh-borked") (verb, past tense) having rejected a judicial nominee: compare "let's bork this judicial candidate" with "he's been k'brkd"

phzrzl (phaze-razzle): annoying people with a laser pointer whilst making buzzy science-fictiony sounds from your mouth.

A special "Making a Very Funny Joke While Keeping Just Within the Bounds of Good Taste" Award:

Moral Turpitude
Woah...look at my word ver: "ejacfw"

This week, a special award for "PJs"-related entries. Apparently, "pj" appears commonly in the word strings:
napjugy: a doohickey used for sleeping.

Warren P.K.
xpjms ("x pjms") -- pajamas that cross the gender divide, as when he wears the bottoms and she wears the top (tho it is much more fun in the reverse!)

Oscar (from prior contest)
ypjasmwr: (why-pjay's-mawr) -- a young child's whine about bedtime in certain North American regional dialects.

Honorable Mentions

aging law student
nesoroxg: slang meaning "lesser of two evils;" the metaphoric choice between having knees or oxygen.

janelle renée
yofmpdem (Yo! Fmpt! Deeee-mmmmzzzzz!)-- the rallying cry, a new product reflective, of yet the Democrats latest self-reinvention: application of rap artist lingo to invigorate the young black vote (or young white suburban black-wannabes).

oflozqbt-- Oh flows kibitz--Thing to say when one's had enough of it.

jtfsfs--This is a good one. I can tell. I'm putting it in the ante, and raise you a "dfsilst".

fbovbx--This blog is fab-ov-blox. One of those new, but annoying, blogwords (for lack of a better word) that means "fabulous blog".

Tom Bozzo
ywvddcup -- What You Would View if you were the late Russ Meyer.

fuslrjz (fuss-lr-gees): Having an allergic reaction to those who make a fuss.

dimmckgg - dim-keg. An empty beer container: "Bummer, man. That's a dimmckgg."

Sleep Goblin
tubrb - (too-burb') How I just felt when I was told that I typed the last verification in wrong.

craig kaye
eiespng - pronounced ice-ping, which is a putting contest held on the ice fields of the frozen tundra.

xrhzetjf (Sir HizetJeff): The hip-hop member of the Round Table.

Phantom Scribbler
ybrti: I don't know what it means, but there are 55 results for it on Google.

Oscar Madison
mbgwb -- (am-bi-gyoo-web-bee): an ambiguity found on the internet or World Wide Web

opycep (pron. "oppy-sep") -- a misperceiving someone to mean the opposite of what he really said.

uyeon -- ("oy-eon"): the time period of the world following a major cataclysm, like global warming, a new ice age, or the Bush presidency.

And while it may be a tad early for this, special Lifetime Acheivement Awards go to Wendy and Warren p.k.:
ukffjdac (YOO-kif-jeh-dayk): a one-man band composed of a ukelele, shakers, and an udu.

bhzoteql: (1) the ancient Mayan Bee Goddess ("bee-zho-tek-el"). (2) drinks of the same volume ("zhot-equal")

zalvta (zalvta) - a yiddish word for "skinny woman": opposite of zoftig

vorxfmnm - (vorks-fem-en-em): women's work.

hafmb: (half MB) having only 1/2 the amount of (digital) memory needed to do whatever it is you need to do with your computer, camera, MP3 player, or other digital tchachkes.

bmolu - (BEEM-oh-lew): a common destination for a matter transmitting device. "I'm heading over to the bmolu; see you there?"

tosdaq - (toss-dak) (1) to drink a daquiri very fast. (2) A character name that wasn't stupid enough for George Lucas to use in any Star Wars film.

becruj (be-kruge): the application of makeup on the face, especially rouge, to the degree that it starts to cake and flake.

hkqvqy (hok-qwav-key) - a game played on ice. Players skate around and sing high notes. The player who cracks the ice with their voice wins.

Warren p.k.
gfmawufk -- something one of snow white's dwarves would say

msjnjd -- a tasty afghan stew

qrmup -- a gay muppet

llavzng (pronounced lav-sing) -- welshman singing in the shower


Hair color: my theory

How much of the economy is devoted to changing our hair color? It's not just the manufacture of hair-coloring products, but also the service sector devoted to it. "Hair colorist" is a subspecialty in the salon world, like electrical engineer or estate planning lawyer.

And of course, the time investment of those who color their hair. It's a hefty commitment of a few hours. Labor statistics include categories like work time lost to illness, injury or computer solitaire. What about work time lost to getting one's hair colored?

I have not major problem with hair coloring, but I will say this. My theory is that we're all born with a coordinated color scheme that includes all the visible aspects of our bodies: not just top-of-the-head hair, but also eyes, skin, other body hair, etc. Many people who mess with their head hair color throw the whole thing out of balance. It's like changing the carpet without evening thinking about the color of the walls.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006



I saw Prime the other night, and after thinking in the first few minutes that it would be kind of cheesy, I ended up loving it. Without spoiling too much, I'll just say it's an older-woman/ younger-man romantic comedy that was quirky, funny and more real than usual.

I will say that the age gap -- Uma Thurman playing a 37-year-old falling for a 23-year-old guy played by Bryan Greenberg -- was muted by the fact that Thurman looked younger and Greenberg older than their story ages.

And lo and behold, that was in fact the case. The 14 year difference between the characters -- particularly with the guy barely out of his teens -- is big enough to create an edge of discomfort that makes the point for the movie. But the actors are really only 8 years apart -- Thurman was 35 and Greenberg 27 when the movie was shot.

It reminded me of other "older woman" stories. In The Graduate, as is fairly well known, Anne Bancroft was only 34 and Dustin Hoffman 28 in a story that was supposed to make us think that Bancroft was old enough to be Hoffman's mother (early 40s versus 22ish).

There's a less known movie in this genre, 40 Carats (1973), which I haven't seen for years but recall as having been delightful. A 40-year old woman, played by Liv Ullman, hooks up with a 22-year old guy. For a change, the guy was played by an actor who was was indeed 22 (Eddie Albert, Jr.), thoughUllman was only 34.

I'm not sure what all this means. But perhaps the most disturbing "May-December" feature of Prime was that the supposedly 23-year-old Greenberg (whose character was named "Bloomberg" -- what a stretch!) had an answering machine that was identical to my trusty old dual-cassette Panasonic, the one that died this past summer and could not be replaced. There is no way a 23-year old has that machine! I bought that thing in, like 1990, when Greenberg-Bloomberg was 8 or something, and they haven't made that model for years.

Do you think if I contacted the producer of Prime they'd sell the answering machine to me?

Monday, March 13, 2006


Remade in heaven

I've made no secret about my general attitude of contempt for movie remakes -- they are almost invariably a waste of celluloid. And I feel the same way about theatre remakes.

There are individual exceptions, of course, and a broad categorical exception: the Shakespeare exception. Every generation, it seems to me, has an absolute right to reinterpret the true literary classics, which after all are enduring because of their power to speak to people of different times and social contexts.

I also think there's a more qualified version of the Shakespeare exception: if you feel you have a fresh take on Shakespeare, even if the last one was produced just recently, I say have at it. I loved Ethan Hawke's quirky Hamlet, for instance, because he gave me new ideas about what the play means. For the first time, it struck me that it was a play fundamentally about teen angst -- and that, far from a trivial punch line, teen angst is a serious and enduring feature of the human condition.

Well, in addition to a Shakespeare exception, I believe there's a Jane Austen exception. Jane Austen's novels have the power to reach us through free adaptations like Emma Thompson's free-wheeling Sense and Sensibility and even far-out inspired-by versions like Clueless. And like Shakespeare, Jane Austen is an actors' writer: the best actors want to take a whack at her iconic characters, trying out their own version of Elizabeth Bennett.*

I think you see where this is going. I'm on record as not a Keira Knightley fan, and it was with pretty low expectations --dampened by thumbs-down reviews by Austen-afficionado friends -- that I finally rented the recent Pride and Prejudice last night.

And with apologies to the lovely Jennifer Ehle and the six hour BBC version, I have to say that this Pride and Prejudice is my favorite. There were brilliant atmospheric touches, like the shabbiness of the Bennett home and the crowded balls, and the slightly outdated quality of the Bennett girls clothes. And the script editing -- where to cut back to fit the time constraints, and where to fill in some material not in the novel -- all worked for me.

But what made this version for was that, for the first time, someone objected to the idea that Elizabeth Bennett falls in love with Darcy by falling in love with his big house. There was never any chemistry between Ehle and the wooden Colin Firth -- we just had to suspend disbelief and take it at face value that these two were falling in love. The story always carried their performances along.

Knightley and that dude who plays Darcy totally sold me that these two had the hots for each other at the get-go, and Knightley's ability to meld come-hither eyes with a sarcastic mouth was amazing.

And stop grousing about her Academy Award nomination, you soreheads!

*I will go so far as to say we need remakes of the great ones. Laurence Olivier's stiff, drama-queenish renditions of Hamlet and Mr. Darcy are totally outdated and have little to say to our time.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


A cautionary tale

Maybe it's the acidity, but coffee has this amazing resistance to growing mold. What other beverage can be left at room temperature for three days without any fuzzy blobs growing in it? But I can tell you that leftover coffee in the coffee pot is quite potable after that time.

And how about those coffee grounds left in the coffee maker? The problem here is that nobody wants to handle a piping hot coffee filter when the need to do so -- right after the coffee is made -- is still fresh in your mind. And if you don't use the coffee maker every day, it can take a day or two or three to remember to get rid of the old grounds.

Fortunately, no problem! Mold doesn't seem to form on coffee grounds either in those time frames.

Well, sadly, I'm now able to tell you that there's an outer limit. This morning, I started to make some hot coffee and discovered old coffee grounds from the last time had never been removed. And there was a sizeable colony of mold growing in it.

I'd like to be able to tell you exactly how long the "mold free window" is, but I can't. That would require a recollection of when I actually last made that pot of coffee. It's somewhere more than two weeks but less than ten.

P.S. Why do I feel like Moral Turpitude is the only reader who will understand me?

Saturday, March 11, 2006


2d Annual Steroids Discussion

With the new book, excerpted as the current Sports Illustrated cover story, purportedly producing compelling evidence that Barry Bonds used steroids from 1998 on, the debate about the appropriate "punishment" for steroid users gets renewed.

Naturally, this book release was timed for the beginning of baseball season; maybe even last year's Congressional hearings were too. So I guess this is going to be a regular Spring Training feature for the next several years, particularly as guys like Mark McGwire and Bonds get on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

I feel like I said all I have to say on the subject last spring, but since the topic has come up again, I link to them here: one, two, three, four, four-and-a-half, five and six ...

... and two funny little footnotes, here and here.

I welcome your comments on the subject. Please just bear in mind that in my above posts, I've already considered and refuted all your arguments.

Let me just add -- though I may have already said this -- that the absurd notion that Bonds should have any of his records "stripped," or the only slightly less absurd notion of blacklisting Bonds from the Baseball Hall of Fame, should be applied equally to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and a host of lesser figures who also set some sort of mark in the steroids era (e.g., Jose Canseco's 40-40 season). Anyone who would throw out Bonds' records while retaining McGwire's is a hypocrite. Quibbles about which substance was technically "illegal" at what time are to me beside the point: if the issue is "level playing fields" and "performance enhancing substances," then there is no doubt that McGwire's home run records, including the big 70, were produced as a result of his taking questionable body-building substances.

But again, as I've said, put a damned asterisk next to the entire decade 1992-2002 if you want, but leave all the records in place. Thank you.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Existential Friday: Titanic

I guess it was an Oscar-season thing that the cable networks showed Titanic about 50 times in the past couple of weeks.

Mark you, I'm not complaining. In fact, I want to go on record as stating, unapologetically, that I think Titanic is a great movie. I loved it the first time, and I find that it holds up well under repeat viewings. I watched it again a few nights ago.

It's one of those movies that is thickly-textured enough that you can get something different from it when you watch it again.

This time I was particularly moved by the ending, when the old lady is on her deathbed and dreams that she's back on board the ship as her young, Kate Winslet self. In past viewings, I always felt that the old woman actress gave a performance that missed its mark: she was supposed to be wise, but came off as smug.

But, this time, I was struck by how true it probably is that old people don't see themselves as we see them: all shrunken and wizened and wrinkled, at best cute and Yoda-like. Part, maybe a big part, of an old person's self image must be a younger self, from whatever time it was that she was her best self.

That's why the old lady was so smug -- she was still beautiful young Kate Winslet trapped in an old lady's body.

I think I'm starting to get that. I still see myself as a guy in his early 30s.

Do you have a "best self time" yet, or is it still to come? Don't say "my best time will be when I'm old and shrunken and wizened." That would sound pretty smug.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


My life as a rock star

I am frequently asked by readers:
"Can you give us just a small glimpse into the rock-star-like life of Oscar Madison, famous law professor? What's an example of when you, like, recently nailed it to the wall and, like, really threw down?"
As it happens, just last week, I had just such an opportunity, having been invited by the social studies class of a local high school to speak on the question, "Should fast food restaurants be held responsible for their customers' health?"

The savvy high schoolers set this up as a debate, in which I was pitted against a lobbyist for the state Restaurant Association.

What exactly are my qualifications to debate a restaurant industry lobbyist on this question? Well, (1) I eat food, (2) I know some stuff about law and (3) I saw "Super-Size Me."

I have to say that the students were pretty smart, the lobbyist was pretty slick, and basically I think I may have debated him to a draw. My main theme was that the "personal responsbility" argument relied on by the restaurant lobby guy is a story that leaves a lot of people out.

"There's more than just McDonalds and the fat guy who eats four Big Macs at a time in this story," I said. "You're in the story too, and so am I." I tried to tell them that the health costs of people getting obese and developing ailments like diabetes from eating junk food are borne by society, that those costs are not included in the price of the hamburger, that we pay those costs in the form of private health insurance premiums and taxes to pay for social welfare programs, and that it's kind of like if I were to take up a collection to make a donation to McDonald's to help them pay for their beef cattle.

I don't know if my message got through. I think I may have lost them somewhat when I actually tried to explain the concept of "risk pooling."

And then, of course, the lobbyist stooped to making the ad hominem attacks on lawyers -- as if the only way to hold fast food restaurants responsible is through lawsuits that are nothing but a windfall for trial lawyers and their obese clients.

How do you make a case for trial lawyers to a bunch of 16 year olds? Foolishly, I didn't come to the debate prepared to respond to lawyer bashing.

Here's what I said. I asked the students to think about the first wave of pioneers who blazed a trail through the wilderness. And to think about the first frontier towns, with their muddy streets and their gun-toting inhabitants. These frontier types were probably pretty rough and tumble. And then I said, think about how what we think of as "civilization" -- cities and towns with laws and pavement and sanitation -- follow, and really depend on, the trailblazers.

Then I said: sometimes trial lawyers are like that. We're in a legal wilderness right now, because Mr. Lobbyist Guy over there has been so successful in blocking any laws that would regulate fast food companies. Trial lawyers may be rough and tumble, and you may not want to invite them to dinner, but sometimes we need them to blaze a trail through that legal wilderness.

I don't know whether I was persuasive, but I certainly felt like I'd earned a stop at the donut shop, which was right on my way home. And because I was coming from a public speaking gig, I was wearing a coat and tie and, coincidentally, that sharp-looking top coat. Before I realized it, there I was, face to face with the young donut gal. Didn't get "that look" this time.


My next project

A brief post-mortem on Project Runway. As you all know by know, Santino Rice did not win. The three finalists each had a collection of garmets whose beauty exceeded most of the week-to-week challenges -- hardly surprising that clothing designed and made over six months will look better than project-"challenges" thrown together in 48 hours -- and I really couldn't say that one was better than another. The judges seemed hard pressed too.

Santino, having served his purpose as "enfant terrible" for the season, was tossed aside for being too "safe." Yet for weeks the very same judges had been whaling on him for being too over the top. For once he wasn't BSing when he defended himself -- his stuff was indeed too subtle for the judges!

Chloe Dao won -- a pleaseant surprise, since it was starting to look like the whole season was orchestrated to crown Daniel V. Plus, you get the impression that women don't catch many breaks in this business and that the show was perfectly okay with that.

Let me just say that Chloe was the only one of the finalists who seemed to be genuine and honest in her self-presentation. I found Daniel's whole "nice/ gracious" schtick to be every bit as much a persona as Santino's "obnoxious jerk" schtick. Santino was smart enough to figure out that big personality is a good survival strategy on an elimination "reality" show. And the producers clearly wanted that from him, taking every opportunity to play up his obnoxious side. If you were splattered across 100 hours of "documentary" reality-TV footage, the editors could probably make you into a wide range of apparent personalities.

So what is my next project? Well, I have to say, the first installment of Top Chef has already drawn me in.


Danger: thin posting!

You could say that I've only posted 5 words in the past 54 hours. Well, I have two more words for you:
... spring ...

... break ...
For the significance, I refer you to this previous, related post.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Big night

Dude! Project Runway finale! Tonight!

Monday, March 06, 2006


"Mistakes were made"

Or, the blogspot equivalent: "there were errors."

This is maddening. I'm trying to put Brevity is Wit in my Blog of the Week sidebar spot, but this simple operation has led to a maddening series of "there were errors" messages, preventing me from changing the template. When I check for details, I get such illuminating information as "broken pipe."

I have a broken pipe in my blog template. Does this mean I'll never be able to change my template again? I don't see how I'll be able to call a plumber for this.


Blog of the Week: Brevity is Wit

I can't allow this to go on any longer. I demand that everyone who reads this post go read Neel Mehta's blog, Brevity is Wit. Please, do it now. I mean now.

Read a post and leave a comment. If you're not fully satisfied that Brevity is worth your while, then don't go back. But I think you'll like it.

Neel is a frequent commenter on this blog. Does he ever complain about how I never comment on his blog? Does he ever put self-promoting links in the comments here?

No, he's a gentleman. And brief. And witty. He just goes about his business, making clever comments on other blogs while compiling a consistently clever, entertaining, crisply written -- and yes -- witty bunch of posts on his own blog, which is closing in on its 1-year anniversary.

Neel has a couple of particularly delightful regular features, 55 Fiction Friday and the monthly Fictional Speaker series.

Neel is not obsessive enough to have a hit counter, so I don't know what kind of traffic he gets. But there are not enough comments over there, which is a crying shame. Come on, people, let's get busy!

Sunday, March 05, 2006


"This right here is where the gnarliest stuff I've ever done happened, where I really pinned it to the wall and, like, really threw down."

This is what one of the snowboarders featured in First Descent says about the mountains of Alaska, where he and other top snowboarders are helicoptered to the top.

I like the quote, because it perfectly describes how I feel about my blog.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Why people become professors

If you want a beautiful illustration of why people seek academic careers, I suggest this post by Jo(e).


Can I please have amnesty?

My blog reading has been sadly neglectful in the past several months. I have not been reading, let alone commenting on, some of my favorite blogs.

You think it would be a simple matter to just start commenting again. But what if the blog has changed format or added a beautiful new title banner? I want to say "nice format" or "great-looking title banner" -- saying nothing seems almost dishonest -- but then the response is: "I changed that __ months ago! Haven't you been reading my blog? You are so busted!"

Anxiety over that whole thing keeps me away from the blog even longer.

So may I have amnesty? I'd like to come back!

Great looking title banner, by the way, both of you.


The cycle of life begins again

They're playing Nick Drake again at Grandma Moses. I have now established that the barista's choice Nick Drake cycle is almost exactly four months.

Friday, March 03, 2006


"Grape juice good for aging brain"

I can't believe they're talking about me like that!


Exisitential Friday: Casting update

My movie is an existential romantic comedy called "Reasonable Goals."

There's a tendency for people to want to cast actors who look like themselves to play them in the biopic. The extreme version is Tonya, who would cast herself.

I'm thinking of going in a different direction. I'll be holding auditions, but right now I'm thinking of casting an actor who resembles my self image. My people are talking to Oliver Platt and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Calling central casting

Whom would you cast to play you in the movie?

What movie, you ask? That's my question. When the movie about you is made, what genre would it be?

And what's the title?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Wednesday Word Verifictionary: Same Old Suspects, New Winners

In honor of the Winter Olympics, a disproportionate number of this week's verifictionary entries involved sounds made while falling down:

warren p.k.
wjaxlq -- woops, axle, qu.. (the mental mutterings of an olympic ice skater failing in an attempt at a double-quad axle combination)

shlmh -- the sound a skier makes after crossing the finish line and now swirling to a stop

Sleep Goblin :
zpahgq (zuh-'pahk): an expletive used when you've fallen down, as the initial syllable, zuh, comes as the air leaves you with the thud, and is quickly followed by pahk! as the pain fills your bottom.

gahnmf (GAH - umph): The noise one makes when slipping on ice and falling on one's butt.
and other Olympiana:
warren p.k.
jvwymq == junior varsity women's curling team

snszmovc == snooze moves (those boringly repetitive compulsory ice dance moves in the olympics, when performed by skaters from slovakia, the czech republic or any other balkans country in need of an emergency vowel drop)

trkdtuqx -- track and duck, the recommended motion for anyone going quail hunting with the vice president

in other recurring themes:

Wizards, Warlocks and Sci-fi-biotech:

janelle renée
raymr (ray-mer)- the latest success in cross species breeding technology: a stingray-mermaid hybrid.

wzflks (was-folks)-- (1) The no longer cool folks; (2) (wiz flicks)-- The best selling educational DVD series of 2006: Everything you need to know to become a wizard!

wrhliqh: (wer-lick, the "h" is silent) a warlock who practices out in the sticks

zgdofec (zy-go-do-fek) the effect zygotes have on online message boards, especially during discussions about abortion rights.

Honorable Mentions

abpsmcjk: absinthe and milk

hkiwqu: a line of people waiting in Hong Kong

Tom Bozzo
piyux - (1) The baby talk version of the 'math is boring, hard, and useless' column by Richard Cohen of the Washington Post; (2) utterance of insane dessert haters.

craig kaye
bwdrtwb - "budoir tub" - a small used to clean one's self found in a budoir

Oscar Madison
garqylrx: (gar-gyle RX) -- a prescription medication taken by gargling and spitting out, prescribed to cure the compulsion to wear argyle socks or sweaters.

kqmraum -- (KQM-raum): the motivation for expansionist, consolidation and takeover policies in the broadcasting industry; lebensraum ("living space") for west coast radio TV and stations.

Runners Up
eyjsj (eye-jizz): the crusty stuff in the corner of one's eye that is often found upon awakening.

warren p.k.
snszmovc == snooze moves (see above)

and the Winner is:

Neel Mehta
gqaqtd (GQ-act-ed): Wore a sharp suit to pose for some imaginary magazine cover photographer for reasons beyond metrosexuality.

And a special "picto-verifictionary" prize to Majorsteel for creating a picture of his last week's Grand Prix winning word.


15 seconds more of fame

I appeared on yesterday evening's local TV news broadcast for a few seconds -- maybe as many as 15 -- in the show's lead segment. I won't tell you what the story was, or where, to preserve my precious pseudonymity, but I did not look or sound as horrible as I feared, considering I was wooly-headed with flu. And had a runny nose. The news station edited me kindly.

Not that it was good either. It seems that I've developed some sort of facial tic. It's a really strange-looking raising of the eyebrows. Where the hell did that come from? It seems that the more experience and wisdom I get, the more television stardom recedes from me.

In the segment, by the way, after my interview clip, the anchor cut back to the on-the-scene reporter who added a few facts and then referred back to another of my comments from the original interview. But she had forgotten my name and said, "as that law professor said..."

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