Free-Floating Hostility

Sunday, April 30, 2006


You Save France, I'll Wash Up

I looked up the etymology of the word boycott today. I was a little concerned that it might have gender implications, but it was actually named after a dude, one Charles C. Boycott, who was the object of such an action in 19th Century Ireland.

Tomorrow's Day Without Immigrants boycott sounds highly promising to me. I first heard about it when one of my partners for a group project said she couldn't meet on Monday since she'd be at the march. That in and of itself isn't so newsworthy in Berkeley, but it was the girl in question. She's kind of old- fashioned, a diligent and responsible student, personally gentle to the point of shyness and not subject to displays of political opinion that I've noticed. So that caught my attention. I knew that her parents, with whom she is close, immigrated illegally when she was a child. She herself is legal. Her participation gave me the feeling that something big was going down. I think I was right, too; Bloomberg is reporting that Tyson Foods and McDonald's are already planning to close some locations or limit their operations.

The concept of the boycott I think is very savvy. What better way than a strike in boycott's clothing to point out our economy's reliance on cheap-because-illegal immigrant labor? There is a great deal of public ill perpetuated by our shared denial of a systemic flaw. Right now we have the worst of both worlds. We neither have a strict but fair regulation of immigration nor open borders and the free flow of labor to match the free flow of capital. In the interest of disclosure let me admit that I favor the latter extreme. But worst of all to my mind is the corruption that is inherent in underground economies. Who is more vulnerable than a person who cannot legally admit to his own existence? Arguably the most exciting project at the Center where I worked last year was my boss's proposal to conduct a long-term study to characterize the health of farmworkers. Right now, no one even knows so much as what health problems farmworkers have because there are so many reasons for illegals not to complain, or hell, just not to talk to American strangers. By the way, a few investigators told me by word of mouth that the single most common response to "what health problems do you have" is tooth pain. Psychological problems and nervios are also high priorities often overlooked by the health fields. Public Health is just the tip of the iceberg of course.

I think recognition of the scope of the illegal population is an excellent and critical stepping stone to the solution of larger problems. Therefore, even though the aims of the various events going on around the country are disparate and sometimes unclear, I've decided to participate in some form of organized protest tomorrow. I haven't decided which, though. I feel ambivalent about boycotting classes, particularly as I was meaning to attend a lecture on malaria tomorrow, which is as much a topic of social justice as disease. I also am unclear on what my participation would signify, since I am a US citizen. I'd kind of like to call up my classmate and ask to join her and her family at the march in Oakland. More likely I'll simply attend the rally on Berkeley campus in support of fair wages for UC's immigrant employees. I'll let you know what I see and hear, whose ideology irritates me and whose thoughtfulness impresses me.

For the obscure reference police: The title of this post is a reference to The 2,000-Year-Old Man, specifically the part about how he "went with" Joan of Arc. The next line is, "She in her way, me in mine."

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Friday, April 28, 2006


In which I Join the Pod People

I have gone over to the dark side. I know own an ipod. My mom gave it to me, but I'd be lying big time if I said it was against my will. My mom has tried giving me gifts against my will in the past and I have made things very unpleasant for her. This tactic does not, notably, work on my in-laws, who have been known to buy first and consider demand later. Or sometimes simply hoard, like the time Fritz sent us a Do Not Disturb sign with Jesus on it from Utah.

Time that might have been put to more productive things tonight like, say, blogging, has instead been spent on my music library doing something akin to data cleaning. I have fitted my ipod nano (black, with red armband) with more than 14 hours of workout music and seven hours of cleaning music. Whenever I am cleared to start running again I will have more than 17 hours of running music, as distinct from workout music. And yet, my first thought was, "I need more songs!" Yeeshk. The next time I'm in New York maybe I'll get around to ripping the good songs off the remains of my high school CD collection. That'd be cool. I paid for the Crash Test Dummies album, after all, I should use it.

Jeff may now commence the rounds of "I told you so" and derisive hooting which he has so clearly earned.

1 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger BrooklynDodger at April 30, 2006 6:25 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Fritz has been locked into mp3. A friend provided Fritz with the Billboard Top 100 from 1956 to present, all, Fritz was assured, obtained legally. If it weren't for Elvis, there would barely be any '50's music at all.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006


Muhuway su, Stranger

Pop Quiz: Identify the following text:

1 。如果這頁看起來沒對準, 您大概使用Internet Explorer 。您應該真正地停止做那。得到 幫助

2. 我們沒有意味咬住喬治・Carlin 。這是事故。 讀更多


If you said, "That's what FFH's sidebar looks like in Chinese," then your answer matches mine. Someone from Taiwan visited our blog last night, and that's how we discovered the translation. I cannot express my sadness at not being able to tell how we have been mistranslated in Atayal.

Some titles of our recent posts:
  • 新聞的Cowpunchers 下降在安娜
  • Blogging 關於Blogging
  • 不合情理的抄本。Ase 。
  • 並且您說我由Wolves 培養了
  • 阿倫・Dershowitz: 現代派真相的冠軍
  • 如果007 是體育運動專欄作家
A selection from that last post:

"向hoo 求愛!" 我回答了。不是我對麥克的紫色襯衣實際上關心除祝願它之外永久地會消失, 但這是代碼。我們預先了安排這則消息幾個月前, 以便當麥克得到了一個垂涎的位子在新聞列在籃球比賽他能勸告我打開電視沒有看起來像一doofus 在其它體育運動專欄作家前面。"海峽34?" 我要求。

"十。導致遊戲開始在七, "他回答了以KGB 的所有狡猾。

"海峽十?" 我證實了。

"會是渠道。我意味, 啊shit 。" Valerie Plame 他不是, 但是他是接近的。

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006


The Dark Recesses of My Mind

I have a habit of stealing other people's material. It's not necessarily conscious, but I'll remember a clever phrase that someone once used around and then pull in a different context and then neglect to mention where I got it from. My early writing coaches used to tell me "Bad writers borrow, good writers steal," and therefore I tend to feel no real remorse when doing this in casual conversation.

I expect that talking to me is like talking to an amalgam of the people I see as sources. These are not things I print, although my fear is that I'm passing myself off as quick-witted and funny, when all I'm really doing is using a phrase that someone else once said that seems to fit the moment. The repetoire is unique to me because I'm combining phrases other people use, but very few individual phrases are mine (Massages and Hot Chocolate, is one that I believe I actually made up.) I worry now that this is really a form of intellectual dishonesty. I am currently thinking about this because the Harvard Crimson just busted someone for copying passages from somewhere else into their novel.

Homeboy the Annoying Intern told me once that when he covered his college football team, he refused to read any recaps until he had written his own. This was so he wouldn't be tempted to lift anything. I've never gone that far. After Columbia games, I used to peruse the Times to see what they had to say and then try to go in a different direction. I like to think that I defend against plagiarism using writing style, in that even if I'm saying the same thing as another writer (as happens often in pack journalism) I communicate it differently. In my business, the key to avoiding plagiarism is original reporting. If you have something that no one else has, then you can't have stolen it from anywhere

But I fear that one day in a pack situation, by accident, I'm going to write something too closely resembles something else. Homeboy, according to the list provided in the above link, is entirely likely to commit plagiarism. He has contempt for others and often bit off more than he could chew. With the proliferation of blogs to fact-check things, this is probably my biggest fear. And this actually, this keeps me up nights.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Cowpunchers of the Press Descend Upon Anna

It turns out yesterday's unpleasantness on the train tracks is front page news in the Enterprise. I can't link you to the story cause their website is, um, selective. I'm not suprised it's news, seeing as how I called Mike at the office as soon as the train stopped. I used to love leaking administration info to the Spec back at Columbia and I so rarely have my finger on the pulse of Yolo County. So today Mike called me to ask how long I had been waiting the day before. "Here, tell Lauren," he said, and put a reporter on the phone. I gave her the relevant details as best I knew them, and thought that was that. But as I hung up I heard Mike spelling my name. "Hey, what's that about?" I asked, in dulcet tones no doubt. "Oh. You're going in the paper." "I'm what?"

I can't even pretend I didn't know I was talking to the press. At least my name didn't appear till after the jump, but the Enterprise staff is highly amused at Lauren's star witness. Vultures.


I consulted the thesaurus at m-w.com in the hope of finding a synonym for "scavenger" to use in the title of this post. It informed me it had no entries for "scavenger," but suggested the similar word "cowpuncher."

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Blogging about Blogging

The Big Daily across the River just explained in print that it will no longer cover the baseball teams in the Bay like a newspaper. It will still have a beat writer, but that person will be sent to produce magazine-style feature pieces rather than doing game stories and notes, as is the general method for those who cover baseball teams. This is a cost-cutting move, but it is refreshing to see that the Big Daily's management is at least a little embarrassed about pulling back on the coverage in a self-proclaimed "baseball town." It has, of course, rekindled the old discussion about how the hell the news business is going to survive in the 21st century.

The general answer right now seems to be to cut back on coverage. Every newspaper is starting blogs and doing podcasts, but no one has any real passion for it. Maybe what we're learning is that enormous publically-held companies can't be trusted to protect journalism. Because people are always going to need news. Blogs are not capable of replacing the old media. In fact, if all the newspapers in the country started charging for content tomorrow, the blogosphere would vanish. The problem is that as companies squeeze out every drop of profit out now before the old model dies, rather than trying to smoothly segue into the 21st century.

Newspapers are now franchises, trusted names that bestow a certain credibility to the information. Online publication, which is the eventual future, frees you of the traditional constrants of newshole. Your space is theoretically infinite so you should be offering more, not less. In fact, the truly committed Bay Area sports fans probably reads parts of four different newspapers to find the best coverage of their favorite team. Profits will probably never be the same as they were at the height of print, but there's still money to be made. This short-sighted profit-squeezing is killing the news business.

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Monday, April 24, 2006


Perverse Transcript. Ase.

Shut up. It's late, I'm tired, I need a pun to title this post so I can go to bed. Said post will commence now:

Commuters are a jaded crowd. This morning a young man used the train I was riding to commit suicide, and no one on board was even surprised. I mean, I wasn't. It's not my first experience of suicide by train. Two weeks ago there was a fatal shooting on the tracks ahead of us and I didn't get home till 11:40 pm; suicide actually represented an improvement. I was expecting gallows humor, but this morning's crowd skipped directly to selfishness and rancor. "Why did he have to jump in front of my train?" was the most popular sentiment, followed by "If he'd had any consideration he would have jumped in front of a freight." I can see why trains are such a popular method. If by some miracle you survive the impact, the passengers will surely finish you off.

So after I had waited three hours on a track less than two miles outside of the Davis station, with my opinion of the species rapidly plummeting, a train going the other way finally received clearance to pull up next to us and take on passengers. "If you want to go back to Davis or Sac, this is the last train that will be by for hours," we were told. Seeing as how I can drive and all, I figured this wasn't a bad strategy. I began to reevaluate when I found myself in a car full of hyperactive three year olds. Then I moved to the next car and found it full of hyperactive eighth-graders and decided to skip the rest of the day and make an appointment to have my tubes tied. If I hadn't had a 4:30 meeting in Berkeley I would have followed through, too. I found a seat next to a stable-looking person and gazed out the window just in time to see my old train take off for the Bay.

Half an hour later I pulled back into Davis, having missed all my classes and made exactly no progress since I left 3.7 hours before. On the bright side, this meant I would now have the opportunity to drive into Berkeley for the first time, an activity which I had heretofore classed alongside skydiving. In my opinion that justified a nopales salad before I left, so I went by my pimp's office at the newspaper to pick up the car and whine. He was very nice to me for a pimp. After he bought me lunch he even showed me where the gas cap was and made up helpful mnemonic devices for filling up the tank like "now the eel visits the cave." We took this metaphor, by the way, from Memoirs of a Geisha, a film which Mike said deserved the year's award for Greatest Achievment in Making me Feel Icky. Dara called as I was about to get in the car. "How are you?" she asked. "Homicidal," I answered, "But thanks for asking."

The drive, I must say, was almost pleasant. I dug up a mix tape Sarah made in the summer of 1998, which I think she may have left in the car when she drove out with us to New Mexico. I found that singing helps me to behave less maniacally on the road, but it was odd to realize that I could do anything in the car. I mean, there I was, singing "Accentuate the Positive" in plain sight of nine or ten strangers, and no one was the wiser.

I'll skip over the details of my afternoon. Suffice it to say that at work everyone whose signature I needed was on a motiveless leave of absence, and that the little runt behind the counter at Parking & Transportation refused to sell me more than one shuttle ticket, not even a round trip. Around 4:15 I went by Dara's office to give her back the draft of her paper I was supposed to give her in one of the classes I missed. Dara works for the IRB, whose office is situated behind a quaint little dutch door. Unfortunately, when you open it, you are not generally greeted by Ann Hutchinson but by the board member whose job it is to tell your boss that he may not inject goat urine into the toddlers of Thai prisoners without a consent form. Well, maybe not you specifically. The point is, I was relieved that Dara was the one who opened it today. She asked me if my day had improved any.

"Did you ever have one of those days," I asked her, "When so many things go wrong that it starts to be funny? And so you find yourself rooting for more things to go wrong so it'll make a better story?" "I can't wait to read about it on your blog," she said. For those of you who court fame, this is always a good tack to take. Flattering the blog in my hearing is sure to get you mentioned in print. But the sick thing is, for a split second I actually considered changing the subject so Dara wouldn't know all the punchlines when she read about it later. In any case the rest of the evening was fine, pleasant even. What a disappointment.

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Now Appearing in our Sidebar

It turns out yet another of our friends, has a blog. A good one, named Bee Policy. Allow me in particular to recommend the post titled "What would you Send into Space?" Just to sweeten the deal, the author of Bee Policy is Jess, known to many of you as the creator of the llama dialogues.

This reminds me that I never got around to linking you all to Laura's blog, Sweet Machine. I think she may have told me that some of the posts are suppressed unless you do something extra. Can blogs do that?

And speaking of our sidebar, I am going to get around to fixing our look soon. I threw this template together as a stopgap during the Internet Explorer crisis, but it's now been months, and I'm sick of that smug disembodied head. My apologies.

2 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger jess at April 27, 2006 9:27 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I created llama dialogues? Oh my god I am going senile.

    Remember when I woke up on Isaac's floor at reunion, and you guys were saying funny things, and I said "those are funny, who are you quoting" and apparently it was me? I suppose this is a better option than saying offensive things and then forgetting, or saying dull things but remembering them as funny.

    Anyway, there's a recent post on Bee Policy that involves CTY, so I'd love your comments...

  •   Posted by Blogger jess at April 27, 2006 9:32 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Also: A very high percentage of your friends' blogs begin with the letter B. This is weird.

    My word verification is "bichcdam," which sounds like the German for "generous beaver house."

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Sunday, April 23, 2006


Double-U Indemnity

The Swedish academy is adding a new letter to the alphabet: W. Read about it here. The main reason, I believe, is to enable the spelling of more English words, which would seem to defeat the purpose of an academy. I posted once on Ben and Alice about my conversation with a teacher in Spain about language academies. He couldn't believe we didn't have one. "Who writes the dictionary?" he demanded. I explained to him about the OED, and when we got to Samuel Johnson he simply could not accept that one man had written a dictionary alone. He shook his head over his scotch and muttered, "Barbarians from the North."

The Swedish academy was quick to point out that W is indigenous to many other Slavic languages, and that's how I think of it, too. I associate the letter with Wagner and Warsaw and Welsh towns with unfathomable pronunciations like Llanwrtyd Wells. It has always, to me, signified remove from the Romance family. That's why I was so annoyed when my Spanish Scrabble came with Ws; I'd failed to account for there being a different version for American Spanish-speakers, the ones who say carro.

W is a bit of a sphinx, though, as letters go. It looks like two Vs, and in many languages it's treated thus, but not for us. That leads me to wonder how the sounds v and w mutate so easily from one to the other over centuries. As I sit here pronouncing them over my keyboard like I've just had a rare type of stroke, I cannot hear how they're at all similar. I've still not gotten over my initial shock the day Isaac convinced me that W should be classified as a vowel in English. Once you start thinking about it that way you'll never get it out of your mind, assuming you're at least as nerdy as me. And I really want to know how all those Gs were dropped in the transition from French to English, transforming Guillaume into William etc. Food for further thought is the fact until recently, V and U were typographically indistinguishable.

Brooklyn Dodger, I know where you're going with this and am taking this opportunity to discourage you from posting a pun on the President's nickname.

1 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at June 05, 2006 1:22 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • The gu/w thing is from earlier Germanic /gw/. French eventually dropped the labial part (/w/) (though it's sometimes preserved in the spelling), and English dropped the velar /g/. Hence garde / ward (and Italian guardia, Spanish guarda); guerre / war (which I believe is cognate with Greek phonos, "killing, murder" < bho- < gwho- , yeah, that's right, an aspirated labiovelar in yo face, mofos! . . . but that could be wrong, it's been a whole five months since Archaic Greek and all I really retain from it is a vague dread of Wackernagel's Law).

    Can't remember our "W is a vowel conversation" but I've had a few since then. Once you get turned on to the truth about W, the world is more dangerous and exciting place.

    I think the Welsh have the right idea in making W an actual double (or at least long) U, as in cwm. In English, when you come down to it, W is redundant, just like Y. I like the W sound, but you're right, Anna, she is a sphinx and woe betide the man who fails to answer her deadly widdle.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006


Basta Primavera

I did very little today, but it's not my fault. It's the fault of the scumbag (and I mean that slur precisely) who blocked me in with his/her car. Today was picnic day in Davis, but I didn't go to it. It's Spring, and that means I no longer go out unless absolutely necessary. One reason is that I dislike beautiful weather. The other reason is that I am allergic to every affirmation of Persephone's return and the circle of life. One of my classmates who studied at Davis as an undergrad says the pollen in the air was so distressing to her here that she used to wear goggles when she rode her bike to class. The mornings are the worst for me. First of all I wake up every day with a Benadryl hangover that doesn't wear off until Nine or Ten. Second, my eyes are so puffy that opening them just doesn't seem worth the effort, especially since being able to see will only confirm that I look like Edward G. Robinson. Here in the Central Valley, Spring is an eat drink and be merry time, because the locals all know their time is short. Summer is coming, and summer in the Central Valley is widely acknowledged to be unendurable. I alone long for the time when the punishing sun scorches all the vegetation in three days flat and leaves the locals too enervated to do anything but bitch about Southern California taking our water.

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And you said I was Raised by Wolves




















I would just like to point out that this regal wolverine looks a lot like my dad. The other one bears a passing resemblance to my late Uncle Web.

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Friday, April 21, 2006


I've Changed

For many years the NHL postseason was far and away my favorite. But now it is 2 1/2 hours into this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, and I'm already pretty sure that I won't be expending all that much energy on keeping track of the goings-on of the next two months. This probably says more about me than about the "new" game. I've enjoyed post-lockout hockey the few times I have actually sought it out on OLN or Fox Sports. But my index finger isn't trained to land on channel 65, so there have been few instances where I've just fallen into a game and stuck with it for a few minutes. Also, there's basically no good hockey writing (the guy in the SF Chronicle is pretty good, but the Free Press is deathly boring) out in newspapers, which makes it exceptionally difficult to follow a season that is a month longer than the NBA's.

As I post this overtime between Detroit and Edmonton is beginning. Overtime is one of the great things about the NHL postseason, in that the games are theoretically infinite and there are no TV timeouts. My sense is that this will be a developing situation. As long as the Red Wings are still alive, I imagine I'll pay more than passing interest in what's going on. But given the choice between the hockey and basketball playoffs, it's not even close. On the other OLN has a great commerical with a roaring bear standing next to Stanley Cup, which might be reason enough to keep watching.

By the way, your official FFH NBA Finals prediction: Pistons over Dallas in 6 games.

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FFH Creator Wins Journalism Awards for his Real Job

This is truly such breaking news that I have nowhere to link you. Mike has won two awards from the California Associated Press, one for Investigative Reporting and one for Sportswriting. That makes him the new hotness. Yeeeeah!

1 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger Jeff'y at April 22, 2006 3:38 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Congratulations indeed! Did you know that Mike apparently won the New Mexico AP's first prize in sports newswriting back in the day? Google told me. I guess there was no blog back then to announce it to the general populace.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006


Alan Dershowitz: Champion of Modernist Truth

Possibly weirder than the Harry Potter-Troll connection is suddenly finding myself taking epistemological cues from Alan Dershowitz. Taking my block-quoting cues from Ben and Alice, I will now allow Dershowitz to speak for himself. Excerpted from his piece in Sunday's Times Book Review of Sebastian Junger's non-fiction book on The Boston Strangler, who did some construction on Junger's parents' house and maybe killed his neighbor:
In an intriguing paragraph, Junger makes a disturbing claim about the genre of nonfiction that many have made about great fiction: "Maybe the truth isn't even the most interesting thing about some stories, I thought; maybe the most interesting thing about some stories is all the things that could be true. And maybe it's in the pursuit of those things that you understand the world in its deepest, most profound sense."

I think he is wrong. Nonfiction must be about actual truth, not about how coincidences could lead to a deeper truth. Junger should understand this, especially since he has criticized James Frey's "new journalism." An important difference between fiction and nonfiction is that in novels and plays, Chekhov's dictum prevails: "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on a wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off." There are no coincidences: a chest pain is followed by a heart attack; a phone call is always meaningful; the purchase of a life insurance policy is followed by a murder or suicide. In real life, on the other hand, most chest pains are caused by transient indigestion; phone calls tend to be from life insurance salesmen; the purchase of a policy is followed by years of good health; and rifles gather dust on walls.

Popular nonfiction, of the kind Junger produces so expertly, tries to construct a narrative that emulates fiction by playing down coincidences and emphasizing connections. In real life, perfect storms are the rare exception, while in fiction they are the rule. To write a seamless nonfiction narrative, however, a perfect storm is desirable. If it has, in fact, occurred, as it did with the northeaster of 1991, that is fine. But when a writer has a stake in playing down coincidences and emphasizing connections, his work must be read with caution...

I've been trying to formulate my thoughts on this issue for months, but always wound up saying "But fiction is easier!" which is not at all what I meant. Thank you, Mr. Dershowitz, for clarifying.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Get Your Eyes Off My Plate

Back when Anna used to complain about agressive candy pushing at her old office, I would tell her that men don't comment on what other men are eating. And this is basically true, although they do sometimes eye curiously. I have felt self-conscious on my last two trips to baseball pressbox, given that the two meals, a deli platter and breakfast burritos, all involved bread products. Today I received stares as I unwrapped my tortilla and ate delicious eggs and sausage out of the middle of my burrito. No one said anything, but they were thinking it.

Passover and I have had an interesting relationship since college ended. When we lived in Hobbs, I made a concerted effort to keep Passover. In truth, I couldn't possibly have made less of an effort before, seeing as though until I met some frummy (read Reform) Jews at school, I had no idea that Passover was something people kept for any length of time. I just thought it was two dinners without bread or pasta.

My inclination, however, is not matched by a passionate devotion to the rules. In fact, I've basically made up my own. I stay away from obvious things. But in cases like potato chips, where some brands may be acceptable, I eat whatever is available. My non-kosher eating doesn't stop either. As I explained to one of the press box workers last year around this time, "I'm the sort of Jew who will ham during Passover, but not bread."
"What's that called?" he asked, probably expecting some sort of Hebrew word.
"A bad Jew," I answered.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006


If 007 were a Sportswriter

Mike called me from the Arena tonight. "Hey," he said casually, "I was wondering if you'd, uh, seen my purple shirt around."

"Woo hoo!" I answered. It's not that I actually care much about Mike's purple shirt aside from wishing it would permanently disappear, but this was code. We had prearranged this message months ago, so that when Mike got a coveted seat on press row at the basketball game he could tell me to turn the TV on without looking like a doofus in front of the other sportswriters. "Channel 34?" I asked.

"Ten. Cause the game starts at Seven," he answered with all the cunning of the KGB.

"Channel Ten?" I confirmed.

"That would be the channel. I mean, ah shit." Valerie Plame he is not, but he's close.

Mike looked very handsome on TV, even when scratching his nose, which he did so many times that I wondered if it was a Carol Burnett thing and he was trying to get me a message. He says no.

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Historical Discovery of Great Importance

There really was a show called Branded. There was also a writer called Arthur Sellers, though he sadly appears to have been unaffiliated with the show. The creator of Branded was named, interestingly, Larry Cohen. Hmmm.

I have been taken to task for making obscure references recently. So in case this is the one day that my dad decides to read what he refers to as my blob, the above is an extended reference to The Big Lebowski. You should go rent the movie now and watch it as many times as is necessary for you to instantly recognize Lebowski references. Or move in with Mike and your life will be one extended Lebowski reference.

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Do Alien Babies Even Have Placentas?

Well, it's born. I mean, she is, little Suri Cruise. In fact, it's front page news on CNN. Which I think means that as we speak the happy parents are chowing down on placenta. Now we should be able to clear space for the not-getting-vaccinated story.

There was an article on the cover of the Times Style section this weekend about celebrity babies with unusual names. As you know, I have an abiding interest in names and naming trends. I don't find Suri particularly objectionable, especially in comparison to names like "Audio Science." I kind of figure Pilot Inspektor Riesgraf-Lee was named when her parents started flipping at random through a German-English dictionary. It may be a sign of my failing mind that I can almost sympathize with wanting to name your daughter Moxie CrimeFighter. At least Moxie sounds like a name, and who doesn't want their kid to grow up tough?

I object, however, to the author's characterizing rare traditional names as part of the same phenomenon. I applaud all the parents out there who put enough thought into their children's names to open a book or, gee I dunno, look at a family tree. I object especially vigorously to trendy names. Does everyone have to have exactly the same idea at exactly the same time? And does that idea always have to be something like Madison? What's the point of naming your child at all if they're going to be unidentifiable anyway? Worse yet, by the time they're in college their names will date them. I'm sure Melvin and Dorcas were once edgy and chic.

On a final note, it has not been proven to my satisfaction that exotic names are exclusively or even primarily a feature of celebrity. I grew up with a pair of sisters named Lyric and Sonata (and very pretty names they were in my opinion). There were more waspily weird names at my high school than you can shake a chafing-dish at, including girls named Tenley (who was a friend), Perrine, Keaton, Nathania, Guini--you know what, I'd better not start.

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Wanna hear something weird?


The 1986 film Troll, which I've never seen but which looks perfectly dreadful, and whose cast includes Michael Moriarty, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Sonny Bono, is about a boy named Harry Potter, Jr. Can this reasonably be called a coincidence? Especially given that the plot of the first Harry Potter book prominently features a troll?

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Actually, you Imagined The Whole Thing

I took down a post I put up last night about a study of Scottish Goths cause I have to think a little harder about it. That's my prerogative.

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Monday, April 17, 2006


Committing to Quality Journalism

The Pulitzers were announced today, something that took plenty of notice in a baseball press box where there was a dull doubleheader and wireless Internet. That's not, as you may have guessed, optimal conditions for attention to the ball game.

Anyway the following conversation occurred between me and the writer for the Big Paper.

"Hey, you win $10,000 if you get a Pulitzer," he said. "That's it, I'm actually going to have to win one next year."
"Not if I win one first," I replied.
"I'll be the first one to win for writing 12-inch notebooks about a minor league baseball team," he decided.
"I'll win for Investigative reporting in my Where's Homeboy series?" I said, referring to former intern at both of our papers whose default setting was annoy and whose last day in journalism involved him bailing out halfway through of a college softball doubleheader mumbling something about the police. I began my investigation by checking out California's Megan's Law site, but he wasn't on it.

All kidding aside, the breaking news photography from the Dallas Morning News is incredible, though fairly upsetting. There's some navigation involved, but it's worth your time if you have 20 minutes and a strong stomach.

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The Quality Shows on NBC

I had a plan to phase TV out of my life by 2006. It's 2006, and I'm not really on track, so TV is helping me out by climbing to an unwatchable pitch of absurdity. I think the only thing more affronting than the continuing existence of The Medium is the promo they are running for it: "...and coming soon, Molly Ringwald! And Kelsey Grammer...as the Angel of Death." For crying out loud.

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Sunday, April 16, 2006


Social Marketing is not for Me

This season, as in December, there was a resounding lack of enthusiasm for my cooking safety song titled "You're Going to Stab Yourself (If you Keep Holding the Kebabs Like That)."

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Pesach Parade

Joel and Rachel came to visit us for Passover again this year, proving that Hebrew School is thicker than water. Okay, so our seder was three days late, but it was still full of love and tradition. Mostly. I mean yeah, we substitute a spear of asparagus for the shankbone, but it's only cause we don't have a shankbone. We still call it a shankbone. We still explain the shankbone's role in Exodus and its symbolism today. And it's not like we condone hippie savagery like putting an orange on the seder plate.

This morning, as we all felt too full of leftovers to move, we sat around until it was time for Joel and Rachel to catch their planes to Portland and LA. Joel asked me how my crossword was going. "Just started," I said, "I finished the Acrostic though." "Acrostic?" he asked quizzically. "Yep, no Alzheimer's for me." "How do you expect me to believe you're preventing Alzheimer's when you're making up words for puzzles?" he retorted. "It's very cromulent of you."

On Wednesday one of my classmates wished me an early Chag Sameach, and a second classmate asked, "Is that Gaelic?"

Oh, and Happy Easter.

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Friday, April 14, 2006


The Ambassadors

I didn't do anything funny today, so here's a pair of old stories. I've been doing rather a lot of reminiscing about international travel, perhaps cause I haven't left the country in four years.

Spring of 2001, Mike and I went to Berlin on our spring break to visit Joel (Big Joel, I mean, not Joel from Detroit). We had to fly through Paris, so we decided to take three days there on our way back. Coincidentally, we wound up sharing a plane with Akil, who strummed his guitar all over Charles de Gaulle airport. On our way back from Berlin to Paris we took the overnight train, sleeping with our passports in our underwear in case we should become a victim of one of those criminals who sprays sleeping gas into the cabins then fleeces everyone while they're passed out. I don't know, Joel told us to be careful of stuff like that. Anyway, as we were pulling into Paris I wound up in conversation with an elderly French couple who were sweet enough to let me stumble along in French. Mike, I should point out, was visiting Europe for the first time and was freaked out 24/7. He seemed to have the notion that he was going to get in trouble for not speaking French, and that his best policy was to fake it. So he just stood there rigid with anxiety throughout the conversation until the nice lady asked if we were German.

"Vous êtes alemans?" she inquired.
"Non, américains," I answered, beaming because this meant my French was good enough that she couldn't tell I was American.
At this Mike, who had been silent until now, heard "américains" and clutched at the familiar sound. "Yes!" he bellowed out in hearty affirmative, causing the nice frenchpeople and me to jump in the air and stare at him like he'd just suggested we have a foursome.

Akil, by the way, came up short on his share of the cab money back from JFK. I had forgotten all about it when, a month later, I was eating lunch outside the West End (sigh) when a hand appeared in front of my salad planting a ten-dollar bill on my table and I looked up to see Akil, who just winked at me and kept walking up Broadway.

A year later we spent our Spring Break in Montreal. Again, I trotted out my Brearley French whenever I had the opportunity, and mostly people were nice to me for trying. We were having supper at a crèperie and the waitress was humoring me as I ordered, then it was Mike's turn and she addressed him in French, too. "Non, non," I stepped in, "Il parle Espagnol seulement," meaning that he'd never studied French. But she of course got the idea that what I'd said was what I'd meant and began miming and shouting, "WOULD YOU LIKE--CER-VEZ-A?" At this point I was so embarrassed that I forced Mike to speak Spanish for the rest of the meal. For some reason he agreed to this plan, probably because he's really a much kinder person than I am.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Introduction to Assassination Tactics for Public Health Students

I'm climbing up the stairs, my AK dancing lightly in my muscled grip. I can't hear anything, but that's normal. I also have no sense of smell, touch, balance or gravity, so that if I find myself suddenly facing a wall I am completely cut off from the rest of the universe, but that's okay too. At the top of the stairs I charge ahead, tripping lightly over a box full of health pills and head toward the uzi hovering in midair just ahead. I'm almost there now, any second, when--dude, what was that? Nothing? I take another step. There it is again! Two soft arcs of light just ahead of me. Goddamn it, that French guy is lobbing grenades at me from behind again. Retreat! No, wait, don't retreat, the whole point is to kill him first. Okay, okay, spinning, spinning, thread the needle...oh piss, he killed me.

Except I'm not dead. Where am I now? No sign of Frenchie, and I'm standing atop a vaguely vaginal red tube holding a semi-automatic. I step down and find myself in between a tunnel and more stairs. I opt for the tunnel. Wait. I hold stock still. I see a telltale bulge of calf muscle just around the corner. It's not Frenchie, so it must be--no time to think. I have to take him out. I fire, but it goes wide and now I've blown my cover. My assailant wheels around and I know I'm spotted. I fire again but it's becoming increasingly clear that my aim sucks. Now he's coming toward me.

"Oh no, I guess you spotted me," the Cookie Man (whose anonymity I'm still protecting even though he showed that post to his boss) calls out waggishly from the next workstation. It is 6:15, class is over, and that means it is Quake hour in the computer lab. It may have been Dara who gave Cookie the idea for Quake hour; she plays these assassin games with her real-life-gun-packing now-fiance and her mom. And mazel tov to Dara and David by the way. But tonight it's just me and a French student whose name I haven't caught. I made a transparent attempt to do some homework when class ended, but I gave over easily. I explained to Cookie a little about my history with electronic gun games and how I tend to lose in improbable ways, but that just egged him on. "Let's show Anna how rough first-person shooter games can get!" he called out to the Frenchman. "You're French, right?"
"Yes."
"The French are good pacifists."
"Can you throw bricks in Quake?" the Frenchman quipped.
"And then you can write about it on your blog," (this last to me).
"I probably will," I said. "In fact, from this point on if you want something not to be public, you should specifically tell me so." And as you can see, my mom raised no liars.

So I decided I would rather be reeducated in the ways of shooting games than run regressions on the mortality data from the Titanic. Yes, those were the actual choices. Which brings us to where I left off in our narrative.

Okay, I thought, he's gonna let me kill him as a teaching tool. All I have to do is point the gun somewhere other than up my nose. I wanted to aim farther down, so I hit the down arrow. This proved to have been a mistake, as it caused me to step backwards directly into the moat.

"I'm in the moat, Cookie," I whined as my avatar floated aimlessly in his own bubbles.
"Hang on, I'll come down into the moat and you can shoot me there." He made good on his promise and jumped. "Isn't this environment incredible?"
I maneuvered myself into the right position and began firing. This time, as he was completely immobile, I managed to hit him four times, each producing a red splash from his avatar and an indulgent cry of "Oh no, you're shooting me!" from the man himself. Finally he died.

"I killed you!" I said with mingled pride and relief.
Cookie fought off a smile. "I'm sorry, but I feel duty-bound to tell you that I actually died by drowning."
"Crap."

You so wish you went to Berkeley.

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Alien Bunting

According to news reports, Maggie Gyllenhall and Peter Sarsgaard are going to have a baby. Those news reports fail to answer the question on everyone's mind, a baby what? We're talking more about Sarsgaard here, who is terrifying about 100 percent of the time. I'm still not actually convinced that he and Chloe Sevingy are not the same person.

On a related note, we watched Jarhead tonight, starring that unfortunate kid's father and uncle. In his last two movies, Jake Gyllenhall has played a cowboy and a marine. The consensus on our couch is that someone is overcompensating. Anna says it's not working.

Anyway, congrats to the expectant parents.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Commuters Behaving Badly

Now and then when I'm running late I'll shorten my commute by ten minutes or so by taking BART instead of the bus. It makes me a little nervous cause there's a stretch between Richmond and El Cerrito del Norte where you're on rather a severe diagonal with respect to the earth. I can't imagine that's earthquake-safe, either. BART is, however, excellent for people-watching. The other day I was waiting at Richmond for the train to leave when a woman in a wheelchair wearing a neck brace boarded the train. She offered to help someone who looked lost, then pulled out her cell phone and made a call to tell someone else when she'd be arriving at Fruitvale. Fine. Then, she arose nimbly from her wheelchair, removed her neckbrace, and lay down across two seats with her knees up and a BART map over her eyes to block the light while she napped. What gives??

I'm told Ellen once encountered a legless panhandler on the subway in New York, who when she offered him some change, turned to her and said, "Hey baby, how 'bout when I get off work I strap on my legs and you and me go hit the town?"

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Won't Anyone Please Think of the Numbers

Barry Bonds has not yet hit a home run this season, but he will. And pretty soon he'll get the seven he needs to pass Babe Ruth (714) on the all-time homer list and start his climb toward Hank Aaron's 755. This, if you ask the game's caretakers, is a disaster for everyone involved. A couple of enterprising reporters have proven that Bonds used an astounding cocktail of performance-enhancing drugs to start this late-career power surge. The baseball establishment has ignored this until now, when it's signature record is suddenly in danger of being eclipsed.

MLB can't have it both ways. MLB's owners were printing money when guys were injecting themselves with designer drugs, fertility treatments and mongoose semen in order to develop the power to crush baseballs. Some have recently suggested that they wipe out the records from this era. Malcolm Gladwell has suggested sending in a team of forensic economists to examine the accomplishments of players past. This is slightly more creative than baseball's usual method of approaching existential crises, which is asking George Will to decide. But you can't really call a do-over now, and say that everything that happened since 1995 shouldn't count. It doesn't work like that. Not unless the owners plan to refund the money they made during those years, from both fans and television networks. Not unless the teams that won World Series during those years plan to give their trophies and rings back. And even then it wouldn't do anything. When the Michigan basketball program was found guilty of violating recruiting rules to land the famous Fab Five, the university had to take down its old hoops banners, erase the wins from its record books and return tournament money to the NCAA. But everyone still remembers Chris Webber calling time-out against North Carolina.

Record books don't need to be protected, they just need to be understood.

Baseball fans have emotional connections to 714, or .406 because they see them as records of brilliance. But they are just digits. And without context this is just an episode of Lost. Numbers don't lie, they just answer the questions they are asked. So if you make list of the top-1o home run hitters in major-league games, the top-1o against integrated pitching staffs and top-10 without suspicision of performance enhancing drugs, you get three different lists. And honestly, if you go back in time, you can't really prove that Aaron wasn't on amphetamines or that Ruth and his contemporaries weren't injecting themselves with cameleopard feces (It was a long time ago after all) because it gave them some added pep after long train rides.

The argument for asterisks or expunging homers is that Bonds (or Maris or whoever you're asterisking) doesn't deserve to be an all-time record holder for whatever reason. That may well be true. But it's the wrong question. The records are measures of the past performance not rewards. And the record book actually belongs to Major League Baseball (which is 130 years old). The historical comparisons are part of the draw of the sport. The people in charge of protecting the "sanctity of the game" spent a decade ignoring the fact that chemists could make a mockery the past numbers. MLB's management can feel remorse for this, but it can't fix this particular failure after the fact.

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Monday, April 10, 2006


The Effect of Cookies on Biostatistics Grad Students

One of my instructors, who has given his consent for me to blog this story only on condition of anonymity, is studying the effect of cookies on grad students of Biostatistics. Or so he claims. Halfway through the semester he started bringing a generous bowl of cookies to class, explaining that up until now we had been the subjects of a study (don't let the IRB get wind). Last year, he always brought cookies to class, this year never, and he was curious to see if his teaching evaluations were better in the cookie year. But, he explained, they were no longer independent events, as some of the 2nd-years had blabbed, and he was bound to be downgraded now if he didn't pony up.

As a secondary Specific Aim, he was trying to find the upper limit of cookie consumption among grad students, but he simply could not find it. He concluded that the grad student appetite for cookies was limitless. Last year when he brought oreos there was a scuffle, and when he brought double-stuf oreos there was a near riot. The week after that he brought regular cookies again and the students complained, "Hey, where's the double-stuf?"

He told us after class that he had discussed this with his boss, an eminent biostatistician.

"I'm studying the effects of cookies on grad student evaluations," he said.

"You'll never tease it apart from the secular trend," his boss rebuked him stonily.

I love Berkeley.

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  •   Posted by Blogger autogato at April 11, 2006 2:59 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Upper limit for graduate student cookie consumption? Oh, doesn't your prof know that there is no upper limit for graduate student consumption of any food that is free? I know this because I have eaten stale Krispy Kreme donuts (which I consider to be an insult to donut-dom itself) just because they appeared and were free to graduate students. I'm convinced we would eat cardboard if someone offered it to us and engaged in even the slightest bit of convincing regarding its nutritive value.

    Clever story. Much enjoyed, by the way.

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How Marriage Works Part V

So you all know the Joke Convention joke, right? A weary traveler walks into a hotel lobby and he passes an open door to an auditorium. Inside, a man walks up to the microphone and says, "Ninety-nine." The audience gives a polite academic titter. He exits and a woman walks up to the microphone and says, "Three-fifty-two," at which the audience bursts into hysterical laughter, doubled over with tears streaming down their faces. The traveler asks the bellhop, "What gives?" and the bellhop explains that the hotel is hosting a Joke Tellers' Convention. "They know all the jokes already," says the bellhop, "So they don't have to tell 'em. They just call out each joke's number." So the traveler is feeling daring. He gets in line to call out the next joke. When it's his turn at the microphone, he says, "Ahem. Six?" There's dead silence. Someone in the first row mutters, "Some people just don't know how to tell a story."

All of this is background to How Marriage Works Part V.

Last night, Mike and I were discussing the Southwest frequent flyer plan which, if you accumulate really a lot of a lot of points, gives you buy-one-get-one-free status on all your plane tickets for a year--perfect for bringing spouses on road trips. Mike is nowhere near this goal, but we agreed it would be fun.

"That'd be TFA," I said.
"Yeah," said Mike, "It'd be STS."
"Fourteen!" he shouted at the exact moment that I was shouting "Thirty-four!"
And, of course, we laughed really hard, cause we already knew the joke.

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And Sometimes we don't Know the Joke as Well as We Think

So here's a story from my mom's grad school days when she, Phil and Jan were roommates. Phil was giving a presentation for the math department (could it have been his dissertation?), and he had included a laugh line, but he was afraid no one would get that it was funny. So, he decided to seed the audience by telling mom and Jan what the line was so they could laugh. "Okay," he said, "When you hear the line 'And that gives the lie to Goldbach's conjecture,' that's your cue to laugh." Mom and Jan agreed. But of course (that is it's of course if you know them), Mom and Jan were MFA students and didn't know Goldbach's Conjecture from the Undecidability of the Continuum Hypothesis. So when the big moment came, Phil read out "And that gives the lie to Goldbach's conjecture," and from the fourth row came "HAAAAAAAAAW hawhawhawhawh WOOOOOOOOOheheheheh snort Ahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Ahaaaaaaaa, Hooooo hooooo Hoooo Hooo hooo..." So basically Phil was convinced he was going to be dematriculated for academic fraud and finished the rest of the paper in a manic state.

This is now family lore. One of the posts above this one makes a reference to secular trends; I argued to Mike that you don't actually have to know what a secular trend is to get the joke, and in any case anyone with a good sense of the history of the language will get it anyway. To which he responded, "Well, that gives the lie to Hasselback's conjecture."

Iceberg, Goldberg, what's the difference?

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Now Ask me why I Changed my Name

I know some of our readership remains intimidated by the comments page. But I don't want you to miss the link Laura provided us, to The Zombie Survival Guide, written by Max Brooks who in addition to many other things is Mel Brooks' kid. Isn't it weird when celebrities take ethnicity-free stage names and their kids still wind up inheriting them? See also Charlie (Estévez) Sheen and Jakob (not Zimmerman) Dylan. I was chagrined to learn that Michael Douglas's birth name was Michael Douglas, but father Kurt's birth name more than compensated me: Issur Danielovitch Demsky.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006


Party, Communist, Party

This morning we were reminiscing about Michael's ex-girlfriend the Trotskyist. He was saying that the difference between all the good communists he grew up with and the bad communists like his ex were that the old school communists knew how to have fun--hence Eugene V. Debs Memorial Kazoo Night. That led to a discussion of who really said "If I can't dance, I don't want to be in your revolution." Was it Emma Goldman or Rosa Luxemburg? Well, it turns out it was neither. That's a link to a 1991 piece by Alix Shulman, a scholar and biographer of Emma Goldman, titled "Dances with Feminists," in which she explains the origin of the aphorism and how it came to be misattributed. It was an anarchist T-shirt salesman from Noho.

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Friday, April 07, 2006


Lacrosse Players are (Probably) Insufferable Pricks

I don't currently have anything original to add to the story of Duke Lacrosse team, especially after this piece by someone named David Jamieson was posted today on Slate. Race is a major part of this story, especially given the backdrop in a southern working class town that host to an "elite" university. But most everyone is ignoring the class implications in this whole sordid mess. Jamieson is writing from his own experience, painting with the same broad brush that NBC used when it targeted bigots in NASCAR crowds. But just because something is unfair doesn't mean it is is incorrect. I have never spent any extended period of time with men's lacrosse players, but I have been around with rich white guys from fancy schools, and this rings absolutely true to me.

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Farewell West End

My favorite West End memory happened freshman year, on the night the Yankees clinched the 1998 World Series. It was a Wednesday, not our usual Monday, but the West End actually ran its $4 pitcher schedule for three days early in the week. A few of us (I think it was me, Ryan and Form, although that part of the story is pretty hazy) sat in the back, eating wings and wincing every time the gong went off to signal another Yankee run. We ordered our usual Black Star pitcher only to learn they had run out of it. We looked at each other uncertainly. Then the waiter went to fetch the manager. I thought we (obviously) underage drinkers were busted. But instead the manager apologized and called us "sirs." To make it right, he gave us pitchers of Pete's Wicked Ale for the price of Black Star. This is, of course, like paying Taco Bell prices for a 20-ounce steak.

But there are other memories, like the first half of my bachelor party. I remember Erin picking up Buffalo Bill there. I remember the way our table sent Anna and Erin to the bar to get pitchers after the kitchen closed, because there was no way the bartenders would card them. I just remember sitting there Monday night after Monday night and talking about everything. I remember the surprise appearance by Big Daddy Backstreet, well after he was banished from the rolls of the active students.

I also remember visiting the campus in 1996 with Fritz, during his 30th reunion. This was the closest I ever came to Days on Campus, staying in Carman and hanging out on the Low steps. We ate at the West End multiple times that weekend as well, long meandering meals when Fritz and his old college buddies talked forever about the good old days. To some extent it was the old codger version of what we did all those Mondays. That weekend was the first time that I actually pictured myself as a Columbia student. To that point going to CU was Fritz's goal for me that I indulged. But during one of those afternoons, as I read on the steps someone tapped me and asked where Schermerhorn Hall was. This was a building I actually knew because reunion registration had been in that direction. And I felt as though I belonged on the campus. Who knows what would have happened if they had asked me where Mudd was? All of these memories and landmarks take on greater meaning for me as I get further away from them. And I know that without the West End (whose food I certainly won't miss) Morningside Heights will feel a little less like home to me.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006


Faust, Macbeth, Shaun of the Dead

I got to see Laura again on Tuesday morning. She was in town being wooed by UCD's English Department as she picks a PhD program. Not that many people wind up in Davis on their own steam, so I was doubly psyched. Laura thinks pretty highly of the program, but prospective student days are always a bit wacky. While making conversation with a current PhD student, they discovered that they had similar research interests. Laura explained that she was interested in the body, identity and the limits of the self, primarily in 20th Century poetry. The other girl concurred heartily, then added, "In all seriousness, I'm interested in zombies." Laura said something polite. "Yeah," the other girl continued, "I'm just fascinated by the rotting flesh of the zombie." "I'm interested in zombies, too," Laura told me later over crèpes. "I'm just not professionally interested in them. It's more like, zombie vs. werewolf: who's on top?" We had a fun time trying to imagine which canonical works this girl would be using for her thesis.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Adventures in Nostalgia

Anna posted her observations of Andalusia from 2001. I visited her late in that trip, which was my second and most recent visit abroad.

We spent five days in Sevilla, where Anna's Spanish teacher successfully intimidated me and my crappy-ass Spanish. On the weekend, we hopped a bus to Tarifa, which is the last "major" city on the Atlantic coast. The town is the windsurfing capital of Spain. We enjoyed the breezes on the beach. Now when you're used to lake beaches in the Midwest, Spanish beaches are sort of a revelation. At one point I looked to my left and there were multiple topless women sunbathing. So that was exciting. Later, Anna and I were dozing and suddenly we heard a thump, thump off in the distance. As it grew louder, we both sat up. Suddenly our small little area was filled with protestors. The cause, it appeared was Spanish immigration law that had people trying to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar and dying in the process. The protestors stripped off all their clothes and started splashing in the water.

"Abajo las fronteras," they shouted bending over and splashing around.
Then they shot up, "Arriba las personas," they yelled, hoisting a sign that read "No mas muertes in el Estrecho"

After about 10 minutes, they continued down the beach. Two weeks later and back in Detroit, I told Fritz the story, omitting the topless women.

"Did you join them?" he asked.
"No," I answered.
"Fucking Republican," he told me.

A day later we arrived at the Tarifa bus station holding tickets only to find the station chained shut. The notice on the front said "Huelga." It means strike, which Anna informed me is a favorite pastime of Spanish transportation workers. I had a plane to catch in 12 hours and was carrying a credit card with a small limit, meaning I couldn't afford another flight. I started to freak out. So we eventually hooked up with a young Spanish couple, eventually communicating that we could drive a car up to Sevilla if necessary. When the car rental place said that wasn't an option, the couple negotiated us an affordable cab ride to Algeciras. That city is as seedy as Tarifa is scenic. It's mostly a port town that ferries people across the Strait. Anyway, the Spanish couple managed to chase down the final bus out of town. We bought tickets and ended up riding north with them. It was quite a weekend.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Help Yourself to my Pancreas (I Won't be Using it)

Today my driver's license (lalalala, lalalala) came in the mail, and with it came my organ donor sticker. That's how I learned that California has an organ donor registry; I registered with Donate Life California and now I don't legally need anyone else's consent to donate my organs in the event of my death. The registry also gives you a chance to restrict your donation to particular organs or tissues and to restrict the uses to which your organs and tissues will be put. I do have a living will, and I've made clear my intentions to my designees, but this is better still. The interesting thing about California's living wills is that you can designate people you specifically do NOT want to make decisions about you while you're in a coma or similar. But I digress. Anyway, there's no national organ donation registry, but a number of states have them. So, if you're interested, based on our informal reader profiles: neither Massachussetts, Texas (sorry Sol) nor Pennsylvania has a registry, but I shall link you to California, New York and Washington State.

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Postcards from the Past

On Mike's last trip to Detroit, he discovered the collection of postcards I sent him during the summer of 2001, when I was in Spain. It's only been five years (meaning I was 20), but for a number of obvious reasons it feels like another era. Here are some excerpts, many of which are taken from postcards sent on weekend road trips in the company of a flamboyant Dutch IT specialist named Sacha--remember Europe before the Euro? When Rich told me he was moving to Sevilla he asked me what he should check out and I was blanking on the name of this beautiful little performance space where I used to go hear Sephardic music. After two days it dawned on me that it was called Casa de Memoria. Oy.

May 18: “2 thumbs up for the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Hats off to you if you can pronounce it. But here’s my question: have you ever heard of Expressionism? I hadn’t before today, and I think I know why. It sucks, that’s why. Hard to describe, but bright and ugly. Nothing, though compares to the portrait of the King + Queen of Spain from 1992 (done for the Barcelona Olympics I suppose). The people are ok-looking but they’re set against these bright blotches of color like something out of Sears Portrait Studio. I guess you can’t really paint portraits of royalty in the contemporary style past a certain point. ‘Don’t be alarmed, your Highness, it’s just Cubism.’”

May 19: “…The book I’m reading, A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster, contains this charming aphorism: ‘Adventures to occur, but not punctually.’ One of the strangest facets of Spanish life to me is the fact that all vital goods are sold by tobacconists. Just try to get stamps or phone cards from a newsstand. They sigh more or less tolerantly and make the motion of lighting a cigarette. I wonder if it’s some kind of legislation to give tobacconists something to do when everyone quits smoking. Shah, like anyone in Europe doesn’t smoke. When I design European airports and restaurants, I’m putting in a giant fume hood under which all the smokers have to stand.”

May 23: “…I’ve solved the mystery of the bizarre vocations of tobacconists. The Spanish government has a state monopoly on tobacco products. So the ‘tabacos’ or ‘estancos’ aren’t really like newsstands, they’re like government offices. That’s why it makes sense to get your tax forms at the same place you get your rolling papers.”

June 5: “Today Paco took us around the Alcázar. I was wrong; it’s not a mosque at all. The word means schloss I think. This one was built on the site of the last Sultan’s palace, but all that’s left of it is one wall. The Catholic Kings built three palaces to replace it—each new king wanted his own Alcázar. But the architects were all Muslim, so it retains a lot of the old style. No Qurٔanic writings, though, only praise to Pedro the Cruel, etc. Over the wall is the old Jewish district from the period before the Muslims + Jews were expelled. Inside are a lot of gorgeous Muslim-style gardens that represent the oases of Arabia—palm frond stylized doors + fountains. Outside, green English gardens. We even saw two families of ducklings just a few days old. One of the prettiest things I’ve seen in Spain. Sacha tried to catch some for dinner but I’m happy to say she failed.”

June 7: “…It turns out that the word ‘kitsch’ exists in just about every European language. And apparently part of the hip vocabulary in Germany these days includes the word “fuck me shoes.” Antonio asked me to name words in Spanish that are actually English words and all I could come up with were ‘gintonic’ and ‘topless.’ Hooray for our national culture.”

June 9: “Fuimos a la playa. Tarifa is a really nice town…I think [it’s] relatively unknown, too—Sacha just saw it out of a bus window + decided to go—cause there aren’t many people. When we were eating lunch, she asked for an ashtray and the waiter just said “the floor!” Our pension is the nicest one I’ve stayed in, and it’s about $25 for the 3 of us. But unlike, say, Amagansett, NY or whatever the U.S. equivalent of Tarifa would be, there’s still a ton of old castles + churches, museums, statues overlooking the bay, etc. Very Span. And across the water we can see Africa!”

June 13: “I think Triana is the “cool” neighborhood in Sevilla. It’s where Sacha and a bunch of other people live, but I’d never been there till last night. The name means 3 rivers, possibly in Hebrew. Ramón keeps insisting that my name means river in Hebrew, despite my insistence that it means grace, which it does…On the Triana side of the river there are lots of little restaurants where you can eat overlooking the water. I’ve heard rumors of Greek + Italian food in the area, too, although most of the short-stay people insist on eating Spanish food all the time (which honestly isn’t that great). I’m not sure why the bridge is named for Isabel, besides the fact that everything in Spain is named for Isabel. Her husband was born in Sevilla, in the Alcázar, so maybe it was their capitol. I forget. I should buy a quick history of Spain.”

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Monday, April 03, 2006


More on Fantasy Baseball

One day into the baseball season, and I'm fairly convinced that I am playing in far too many fantasy leagues. I spent about three hours at home watching baseball on four different channels and couldn't keep track of just who exactly I needed to root for and against. So this is tough. I got an e-mail from someone regarding a trade and I didn't know what league he was talking about. That's not good at all.

Doing three drafts in six days also leads to some strange glitches. For instance, I have Robinson Cano in three leagues. I didn't even know who Robinson Cano was until I watched him and the Yankees bludgeon the A's tonight. What it means is that I'm going to do a ton of work and still finish in last place.

On the bright side the Tigers won today. 162-0 baby.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006


You Wish you were as Cute as my Mom

I've decided that since my mother is rather small, I'm justified in calling her a Momelet. If she were Spanish, or from Denver, it would be extra appropriate but no such luck. I suppose she's Western in the global sense. Hmm.

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Men Plan. God Laughs.

Anna read Moneyball soon after I did, but this year she has decided to play fantasy baseball for the first time. This is probably an example of what Trixie would call sports whoredom. For the people who don't know how fantasy sports work, you draft a team of individuals and as they accrue statistics you earn points. For someone who is studying biostatistics, it is the perfect sort of game. So Anna spent much of her week off (Spring Break) entering a large number of players and their statistics into the computer and then measuring distributions and other statistical things that make no sense to me. She ended up generating an impressive amount of information and a fairly unique draft board.

Of course on draft morning her computer couldn't properly accomodate the Java applet to the point where she could select players live. So then we both used my computer (one in Firefox, one in Explorer), which was a good solution until the sixth round when my wireless modem lost contact with the Internet for two rounds. My draft never really recovered, although Anna seems to have come through nicely. I am notoriously terrible at Fantasy Sports so I'm expecting to get my ass kicked yet again.

2 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger Rich at April 02, 2006 7:35 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I was afraid that Anna might be doing something like that. Not suprisingly, statistics told her not to draft too many closers or people who steal base. I guess these Moneyballers were on to something.

  •   Posted by Blogger Anna at April 02, 2006 10:58 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • It's not my fault I couldn't use most of my data during the draft. It's yours, Goldman.

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