Free-Floating Hostility

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Akil is Noticed

If you pick up a copy of Billboard Magazine and turn to Page 91, you'll find this little piece on everyone's favorite musician. It's not long, but it's quite positive. This can only be a good thing for him. Cheers!

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Monday, August 28, 2006


She who Laughs Last

Today my brother David introduced his girlfriend, Anna Rose, to my parents. Though they met independently at U of M, they have discovered another improbable connection: Anna Rose's stepdad is one of Queenie's lefty lawyer colleagues. Either it's six degrees or my family travels in very small circles. Anyway, David reports that the visit is going extremely well, and that Anna Rose keeps making my dad laugh. This is a good sign, because Dad usually goes for the gruff factor on first meetings, though he spoiled it in Mike's case when he dropped a carton of orange juice and let forth a stream of army-acquired profanity, which is the ideal way to put Mike at ease. Dad's laughing is an extra good sign because some of Anna Rose's predecessors have been less than, to use my mom's phrase, drop dead interesting.

David and I were in the middle of a phone conversation about the underdiagnosis of Bipolar Disorder when he was interrupted. All I could hear at first was a startled "What?" Then he came back on the line. For a moment, he explained, he had thought that Anna Rose had discovered weed in the pocket of our mom's coat. But the crisis was averted, as it had proved to be a tomato stem. I was almost disappointed, just because that would have been the best meet-the-parents story ever.

I was terrified to meet Queenie for the first time. I had already met Fritz on a trip to New York prior to Michael's and my romantic attachment. Although, much to Fritz' own puzzlement, I remained terrified of him for another year or so, I knew by that point that the ship had sailed on my first impression. That left me free to focus all of my anxiety on Mike's mom. We had spoken briefly on the phone, and once when Michael failed to pick up a late night phone call I had accidentally woken her up; thinking on my feet I had faked an English accent and asked for Lola. Anyway, before the big trip to Detroit, I purchased three new outfits, all with an eye toward Queenie's approval. To meet the parents, one must look chaste yet humpable at all times, a difficult tightrope to walk. Little did I know Queenie hates clothes shopping so much she prefers to buy something that looks alright, try it on at home and return it if it doesn't fit. I also obsessed over an appropriate hostess gift. I remember wailing to Form "How are you supposed to find a hostess gift for communists?" "What are you thinking of getting them?" he asked me. "Tea." "Well then, paint it red and call it the People's Tea," he advised. I actually did go out and buy a red tin full of tea. Queenie, of course, was unfathomably warm and kind.

Sometimes when I'm feeling low, I will ask Mike, like a child requesting her favorite bedtime story, "Tell me again about how your dad didn't like Stumpy." Stumpy is the nickname I prefer to use at all times, not just on the blog, for my predecessor, Mike's ex. If, reader, you are thinking that six and a half years is plenty of time to get over a grudge, you are clearly barking up the wrong part-Sicilian tree. Though I do feel I'm in a position to be magnanimous. She may have been a communist, but I bet she never brought them tea. And anyway, she wasn't drop dead interesting.

4 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger jess at August 29, 2006 11:41 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I first met Dan's mom when he invited me over for Easter dinner, so I was totally terrified because I knew she was a religious person. I was like "do I bring a chocolate bunny? What if she thinks the whole chocolate bunny thing is actually a perversion of the spirit of Easter?" What I didn't know (but quickly found out) was that she's a totally fun, loving, and supremely socially liberal lady who just happens to think Jesus had some good ideas about love and tolerance (and who actually practices them). Aside from the fact that she probably believes in God (we haven't discussed it), we agree on most things.

    She didn't like his ex either... it's such a nice fuzzy feeling, isn't it?

  •   Posted by Anonymous Katy at August 30, 2006 6:34 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • My grandparents are communists. Usually when I go to visit them, I bring something edible (cookies and challah from Moishe's Russian bakery on 2nd Avenue were especially well received), but they're my grandparents, and I'm fairly sure they already have a good impression of me. Their idea of a gift, meanwhile, is some strange artifact dredged from their basement--semifunctional kitchen implements, dusty books that may or may not be in English, strange old clothing, that kind of thing.

  •   Posted by Blogger BrooklynDodger at August 30, 2006 6:41 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • What happened to my previous WTMI post, related to the trip of Michigan for a ride to Interlochen? You must understand that a sensible parent recognizes only negative consequences can result from positive or negative intrusion in the mating process.

    Anyway, research has verified the bona fides of the family of Amy Rose [Rose is not her last name, there's another.] Research consisted of identifying the parents, since Fritz knows another Amy Rose where Rose is the actual last name.

    What degree of separation is this, if David knows people who know Amy Rose? Is that one degree?

    Fritz

  •   Posted by Blogger Anna at August 30, 2006 7:48 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Right, well, it's Anna Rose, not Amy Rose, so that's less of a coincidence. You appear to have the same hearing problems as
    Dr. Mormonstein
    .

    Not sure which post you're referring to. It's possible we've begun to repeat ourselves.

    David knows Queenie who knows Anna Rose. Two degrees.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006


Ada and the Great Glass Elevator

This has been a slow wedding year for FFH. We were only invited to two, and could only attend the reception for one of them. Last night we went to Ada and Jody's reception. They actually got married two weeks ago in Hawaii, but we weren't there, so this was a nice way of tying in the rest of us. The Hawaiian experience was recreated for us with ukelele music, Piña Coladas and a "beach chic" dress code. There was, however, a huge glass elevator in the middle of the party space, which two child guests rode up and down all night, pausing only to let the wedding party make its entrances. Ada wore her wedding dress, and Jody wore his barong and the hard-won strappy sandals. We forgot about the beach chic part and turned up in a suit and strapless cocktail dress respectively, but many guests had made similar choices. We looked hot, though, and us looking hot makes Ada look hot, so I feel we held up our end.

Mike was immediately transfixed by the fondu fountain, which could have come from Willy Wonka's factory. Whichever of you is next to get married, you have to have a chocolate fountain. Equally transfixing was the lechón lying in state on the buffet table. When Ada's brother gave the first toast, it included, "I know this will last, because I'm not dragging another 400-pound pig across four counties." I was worried I might give someone vegetarian offense, but by the time I got to the buffet, there was nothing left but a head.

This was our first chance to show off our new dance moves, so naturally we forgot to practice and wound up in mortal struggle (to borrow Jesse's description) on the dance floor. We finally had to retire to argue over the steps. We represented on the early nineties music, though I was forced to incorporate cinching my dress back up into my routine. When we left, Ada thanked me for dancing my ass off, but I was a little displeased with myself. I really prefer to close weddings down. But I have grown so unused to booze that I found myself a little bit unsteady around 10:00 and decided to call it a night.

1 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at August 30, 2006 4:56 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I suppose there was a hidden Willy Wonka theme to it, glass elevator, all the chocolate and candy, plus all those people prancing around in orange. Not to mention my family (including me, who, based on their average height could be some Oompa Loompa/human hybrids!

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Thursday, August 24, 2006


Astronomers are Mean

The saddest part of the loss of Pluto as a "classical planet" was probably this story. She took it pretty well, but couldn't they have waited a few more years. Actually, one my greetings to Anna upon her return tonight was, "You know how long we've been married? So long ago that there were still nine planets."

That probably makes me the 10,327,234th person to make that joke today.

1 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger Rich at August 25, 2006 7:24 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • No, I think you are in select company. You must be the only non-astronomer to think that is a joke.

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Crash Money N Hos

Yesterday morning, Al Qaeda finally put my life in danger. Granted, it took them almost five years to see any results. Basically, one of the lasting effects of September 11th is that I have a persistant fear of low-flying planes. I have difficulty concentrating when they fly overhead, I wake up in the night mistaking street cleaners for them, and when they fly directly at me like they did yesterday morning I tend to think they're going to crash into me. It's normally not a disruptive phobia. Incidentally, the only other phobia I've had that I recall is my quondam fear of other people's vomit. That was cured the night of the Gnocchi Incident, when Dave A and I accidentally got drunk while cooking, so drunk in fact that I attended four of Dave's vomits before I remembered to be phobic. Cured.

Anyway, yesterday, I experienced an unforseen consequence of my plane phobia, because at the moment when I became convinced that a low-flying plane was flying into me, I happened to be driving. As a result, I was distracted for several key seconds, and when I returned my eyes to the road I quickly realized that I was about to rear end the white pickup in front of me, which had stopped while I was busy confronting the face of evil.

I had rehearsed moments like this in my mind. Since I prefer the left-hand lane, I had mentally prepared myself to swerve onto the shoulder if I ever saw myself about to ram someone. When the big nanosecond arrived, however, my reflexes took over, and I swerved right, directly into the middle lane. Honestly, what the hell was my spinal column thinking? I had the fleeting thought "Well, it's finally happening, you're having an accident." The last time I had to say I had had an accident it was on the playground of Duzine Elementary School, and I was attempting to explain to the recess attendants why I was crying. They were puzzled my my delicacy, and one of them finally hazarded the guess, "You peed in your pants?" to which I miserably nodded, thinking that I had learned a new phrase.

What happened next is a testament to what good drivers Californians are, though not so much me. I think the person who hit me was already breaking, and probably swerving out of my way, too. I experienced a thud at the rear left-hand of the car, and became aware that the car was first moving forward and then turning. At this point my mind went blank except for a single thought: Fuck. I continued to think, though not to utter, the word "fuck" as I watched the horizon swerve away from me. Besides all the obvious reasons, I am glad the accident turned out no worse than it did, because I sincerely hope the last thoughts I have on earth are more appropriate than the F-word. The good California drivers must all have seen this happening and driven around it, because I wasn't hit again. I spun 540 degrees and wound up facing the wrong way on the shoulder. I was shaken, and feeling incredibly stupid, but otherwise no worse for wear. One of my first thoughts was that Jeff was going to send a big I Told You So my way. The car that hit me never stopped, so I had to assume its driver was okay. Or had drugs in the trunk I guess. If they had stopped, I would have apologized and thanked them.

Having weathered the accident, I devoted five to ten minutes to freaking out. It's not that it wasn't perfectly clear to me what I had to do. I was fine, I was pretty sure the car was fine, all that remained was to wait for a break in traffic and hang a u-ie back toward San Francisco. But I was feeling fragile, and needed someone to tell me it was okay to pull a u-turn on I-80. I put on the hazard lights, and attempted to call Michael. He is too dainty to leave his cell phone ringer on, so he did not pick up. My next call was to my dad. My mom picked up, which was for several reasons not the optimal scenario. The connection that we once shared via umbilical cord we now share through my mother's telepathic anxiety. The information on my current whereabouts and the configuration of my vehicle could have been developed by NASA to send my mom into orbit. The conversation went, I think, something like "I've just had an accident and I'm facing the wrong way on the freeway, can I talk to Dad?" It was hardly kind of me, but Trixie was a brick. I knew, simply cause I know her, that she was terrified, but she sounded nothing but stalwart on the phone, and immediately fetched my father. He told me what I already knew I had to do, though he added the advice that I should set my wheels ahead of time.

Pulling out was not really dangerous or hard, just humiliating. There was a big gap in traffic, and I managed it easily, but I had to endure the derisive honks of the oncoming cars. I tried to put myself in their place. Did they think I didn't see them? Did they think I was pulling out into six lanes of traffic cause I thought it was a good defensive driving technique? Anyway, I hadn't inspected the car yet, so I took the next exit and figured I would find a mechanic. Unfortunately, the exit I had chosen seemed to be underdeveloped wasteland abutting on a housing complex. After circling around for a while I pulled into the parking lot of the tenants office and got out to survey the damage. I couldn't see so much as a dent. I flashed onto Das Boot when the U-boat hits the sandy floor of the Strait of Gibraltar, and realizing that they are still alive, the captain says only, "This ship is amazing." I said it aloud, too, "This car is amazing." I felt extremely grateful to the men and women who engineered the Taurus.

In short, after consulting with my dad some more I drove the rest of the way to work, very slowly. I considered getting the tires checked, but in the end I couldn't believe anything was really wrong with it, and after work I drove on home. I made the round trip again today, so that's three and a half trips I've made crawling along at 70 miles per hour. It's maybe a little more relaxing, but I think Das Taurus has been patient long enough. After her loyalty and service to me in my hour of need, she's earned a little fun.

5 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger jess at August 25, 2006 8:04 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Don't thank them too profusely... I'm guessing they didn't stop because you're almost certainly going to be considered at fault and financially liable if you rear-end someone, even if they were changing lanes.

  •   Posted by Blogger Rich at August 25, 2006 7:31 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Glad you are okay. I once did a 360 off an exit ramp of a highway. There didn't seem to be anyone around, so I wasn't humiliated or anything. However, I never felt the same way about that car again. We haven't talked since.

  •   Posted by Blogger Jeff'y at August 26, 2006 10:37 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • You are very, very lucky, Bananahicular. Thank goodness.

    There is no forthcoming "I told you so" because you obviously knew coming into things that driving is dangerous, even when your thousands of miles away from Scotter's car. But it's a risk people in most of the country have to take, I guess.

  •   Posted by Blogger Jeff'y at August 26, 2006 10:38 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Why doesn't Blogger let you edit you're comments? I always make the stupid typos and never proofread them until after I post.

  •   Posted by Blogger BrooklynDodger at August 27, 2006 4:43 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Fritz once took a defensive driving course. Part of a H&S conference by an unnamable company. It was on an unused part of the Palm Springs Airport. Fritz was awarded worst driver, a small orange plastic cone. {Fritz thought this was undeserved, but any recognition is worth it. As long as they spell your name right.]

    The point of this story, and there is a point, is that to avoid rear ending they teach you to swerve, not brake. Just like you did. In the course, you get to practice, right and left at increasing speeds.

    The car will do a 180, just like in Dukes of Hazard. A 180 is much more visible than a 360, because you have to add the second 180 to get going again.

    Fritz

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Monday, August 21, 2006


Chattle Hymn of the Republic

The opening sequence of CSA is a fake commercial, shot in the style of those old SNL parodies after the monologue. It's an insurance ad, with a white guy watching his cute blond daughter fall down as she plays on the lawn. She's OK and he looks relieved. The slogan, "Protecting American families," the announcer says as the camera pans over to a black man trimming the hedges, "and their property." And so it begins.

We are all witty and urbane people with healthy senses of irony, so we're supposed to use term "heavy-handed" as criticism. But sometimes a film so successfully sells overkill that you can't help but admire it. CSA is a mockumentary, one that explains what happened after the South won the Civil War. We rented it primarily because of the blurb on the box from someone named Matt Zoller-Seitz of the New York Press, which read, "It's like Jean-Luc Goddard directing a screenplay by Dave Chappelle."

About a decade ago I saw commericals for a film called White Man's Burden, which takes place in bizarro America. Blacks are the cultural elites/cops/rich guys and whites live in bleak urban ghettos. I suspected the premise of that film was itself fairly racist. Sure, the intent was to make you ponder the arbitrariness of racism. But it was still designed to jolt you with the site of Harry Belafonte as the CEO being kidnapped by John Travolta, speaking Causonics.

In CSA, director Kevin Willmott spends very little time poking you with a stick trying to prove how intense he is. What he creates is a new version of normal, using all the tricks of moviemaking. He includes fake historians telling the story of the Confederacy, cultural artifacts like movie clips shot in the styles of the day (the D.W. Griffith take on the capture of Lincoln is especially brilliant) and altered newsreels. But the commercials really bring the message home, showing the cultural norms. There are products named for slaves and PSAs from racial purity squads. There is also the spoof on Cops where the point of the show is to track down runaway slaves. Still it works, illustrating a total dystopian America.

It's not perfect satire. The final 10 minutes seem to get away from the previous tone, when the scion of a powerful slaveholding family gets his commupance. The film seems to ask, is racism, economics or a sadistic desire for power over other human beings the root of slavery? The answer: yes.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006


Guided Tour of the Blogosphere

I recently (last week, but only got around to posting it till now) spent a few minutes hitting the "next blog" button and being sent to random blogs. There really is wonderful stuff out there, I love how democratic the institution of blogging is--within the world of the computer literate of course. Anyway, this is what I found:

I was first sent to The Mystery of Modernity, the work of an Irishman named Shuman who is probably weirded out by the fact that he's suddenly getting all these hits from Sacramento, California as I've been back several times this week. I thoroughly enjoyed his post about taking his kid to the movies for the first time, and he provides some interesting links, including to a story about Reuters swallowing a faked photo. Regarding the latter, Shuman eloquently put it, "I guess if you are in the business of informing with integrity then you pretty much better have your own integrity sorted before you start."

Encouraged by my first encounter with random blogging I hit the button again, and this time was sent to Thinkerup. That blog's author had posted the following inspirational quotation: "If your cherished wife, your closest friend or one of your children becomes involved in this, you must maintain your allegiance to the Lord and be done with them. We become involved in doctrinal battles and suddenly we say, 'Well, you may be right. You may have the correct view of Scripture, but I just don't think that I want to part friendship over this.' The process of erosion begins."

The next blog was World of Vickee. Vickee is a stay-at-home mom with a lot of interesting things to say. She has quite a mouth on her too (and good for her). Here's a sort of mini-manifesto:
I know those of you who have jobs are thinking 'Oh, put a fucking sock in it! I do everything that you do, and work too!' Well, possibly. But I would not consent to working 2 essentially full-time jobs. My husband would have to do more or fork over the funds to pay for what he is not doing, chore-wise, around the house. And he works at least 60 hours a week. Usually more. When he makes the 'Go back to work so I can eventually retire' noises, I wave the Word document I created with the 3 columns showing task/time/$$$ to hire out and ask him which half he is going to do, or pay to hire out. End of discussion.

My last visit was to a blog called A Goy's World. I was encouraged by the title, but I have to admit I was wary when I realized the rest of the blog was in German. I was forced to resort to Babelfish. That revealed that the blog's About statement was "My way as a German and Gentile," more ominous still. The Babelfish translation of a poem quoted was rather obfuscating: "A pebble on a leg humpelte to drink. O pain, the brook was not so upper flat - he did into it sinks." So, I plowed ahead and translated a few posts. I was relieved when I stumbled upon what I believe was a descripion of a peace rally:
The demonstration "against Antizionismus and Antisemitismus" ran to Friedrichstrasse corner under the lime trees - then and I were made hungry and to have us of it - peacefully. I no unpleasant incidents e.g. glasflaschen or stahlkappen noticed. There were 500 to 1000 people. Approximately five anti-Germans were there, otherwise participants mixed from the age and the sexual adjustments. Except us no Prominenz. Also there Johnny Mutante was.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006


About Last Night

In case you hadn't figured it out, Anna wrote last night's post and accidentally put it up as me. But there are many codas to be added after my work trip to the ballpark today.

The pranks in the press box continued, when, in addition to scads of chocolate, big buckets of KFC arrived for the press meal. Also included were the sides: biscuits, mashed potatoes, gravy and slaw. Between that and the English style meal I had for lunch as I watched soccer, my heart is probably wondering why I've turned on it. Veggies only for me tomorrow.

The fans remain vile. Today they were given train whistles, which managed to be annoying immediately rather than building up from minor irritant.

After the game I went down the clubhouse to conduct interviews. My route back to the press box took me past our seats from last night, where I promply ran into Miss Yolo County '41. She saw my press pass and said, "Now I know how you got those tickets." I grimaced. There is no possible way to respond without sounding like a asshole. So I just said "yes," and kept walking.

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Friday, August 18, 2006


Buy me Some Peanuts and Crackerjack

Tonight, FFH attended a Triple-A baseball game. That's exactly half a man biting half a dog, in that Mike gets paid to watch such games a few times a week. I, on the other hand, rarely get to the ballpark. In fact, I wasn't planning to get there tonight, either, until I got a surprise phone call at work saying that Mike was in the press box eating chocolate fondue and could I pick him up. It was practical joke night, the butt of said joke was four hours away from winning a bet with his wife that he couldn't forgo chocolate and chicken for six months, and one of the Bee guys decided Mike had to be there and chauffeured him. Mike reports that the chocolate spread was truly inspired.

My trip there was monstrous, as traffic was at a near standstill for ten miles in between Davis and West Sac, and I'd been drowsy when I left Berkeley. As I was driving around slowly looking for Parking Lot A, the asshat in the car behind me (thank you, Laura, for reminding me to use the word "asshat") honked at me--not one of those chirpy staccato honks, either, she really leaned on it. So I turned around in a blind fury and shouted, "Well I'm sooo soorrrrry I stopped at the red liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigggggggggghhhhhhhhht!"

When I arrived at the stadium, though, I was really glad I'd come. The energy surrounding a baseball game is really something special, akin I think only to the overture at a musical play. Perhaps that helps explain that whole deal with No, No, Nanette. Anyway, I caught the last three innings, including an upset in the top of the ninth. We had some truly incredible seats, thanks to Fridge Magnet Gabe, right behind home plate, close enough to read the radar gun. Mike says we were also close enough to hear the umpire yelling, but I missed it as the ump was drowned out by the yahoos behind us shouting "Have some patience, Danny!" at a swing and a miss, followed by "What the hell are you waiting for, Danny?" after a deceptive curveball, etc. There was also a contingent of adolescent boys attempting to disrupt the opponents' concentrations by shouting "swing" at the expected moment. They were successful twice, but after the batter hit a line drive through the hole between second and third the adolescents canned it. The mantle was taken up again by a crowd of 8-year-old-ish admirers who imitated their tactic, but were totally unable to master the timing. It was highly comical.

Now, the Rivercats stadium bouncers are all elderly ladies in straw hats. But the franchise seems to have gone to some effort to recruit only really hot old ladies. It's like a Miss Yolo County reunion or something. Anyway, one of the hot old ladies came over to us shortly after we took our seats. "I need to see your tickets, please," she asked, flashing the smile that no doubt launched a million GI dreams. Mike fished in his pocket and pulled them out, at which Miss Yolo County '41 seemed genuinely taken aback, even embarrassed. "Wow," she said, openly staring at the tickets, "That doesn't happen very often." Only after she had walked away was Mike heard muttering "Awww yeeeah, in your face, I own these seats."

I think I'd like to wear a Bocachica jersey, primarily for the multilingual punning.

3 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger BrooklynDodger at August 19, 2006 2:12 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • For a non-baseball junkie, you are to be commended for "crackerjack." Many say "crackerjacks," which is not what's in the song.

    Another piece of car advice. When screaming epithets at other drivers, make sure the windows are closed.

    Fritz

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at August 19, 2006 8:12 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I'm getting a little nervous about spousal over-identification. It says posted by Mike, but I am not foooled. Trixie

  •   Posted by Blogger Anna at August 19, 2006 8:55 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Woops. Thank you, Trixie, for pointing that out. I can't undo it without deleting the comments, so it will have to stand.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006


One More Thing about the Michigan Ninth

The best way to tell a brave plane from a foolish one is to step back and wait to see what the outcome is. So it goes with Lola's candidate, who is running in Michigan as a champion of the environment. I've watched enough West Wing to know that doing anything in my home state that runs contrary to the interests of the auto industry is a rank miscalculation. But the auto industry ain't what it used to be. The Big Three still have a ton of money, but they have fewer employees and less influence. Today Nancy Skinner unveiled her plan to channel oil subsidies into incentives for green technology. I haven't evaluated the plan, but as a left-winger and disgruntled driver, anything that reduces demand on oil sounds good to me.

What I really like is she's speaking positively about environmentalism. She's approaching it as a business opportunity rather than a reason for doom and gloom. An article Atlantic Monthly, says that environmental regulations that have been introduced over the last two decades have been both cheaper-than-expected and quite successful. It's an interesting claim and I'll leave it to the scientifically inclined to argue about it. I do know this: California allows hybrids in the carpool lanes no matter how many people are riding. But the state is running out of stickers. Maybe this explains the dire state of the auto industry, that the companies aren't investing in technology that people seem to want to buy. The demand is there. The supply, well, someone could probably make themselves a lot of money.

Lola expressed concern today that no media types seemed to pick up on their press release. She blamed, ironically, the annual Dream Cruise, a week-long festival where everyone in a 400-mile radius breaks out their classic car and drives really slowly up and down Woodward Ave. That might have been part of it. My feeling is that the political reporters don't think Skinner can win. But I think (or maybe want to think) those political reporters are wrong. Joe Knollenberg, Skinner's opponent, garnered just 65 percent of the vote in the GOP primary against a liberal Republican. This was without much Democratic crossover. That suggests the activists in Knollenberg's base aren't all that excited about him anymore. Also, this district went for Kerry, Gore and the Democratic governor. And this is one of the first times that Knollenberg hasn't run against a tomato can. Skinner doesn't have as much money, but if she can turn out the vote in Pontiac, the lone working-class enclave in that district, she can win. I just wanted to put that out there.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006


As Ever, I Am a Marketing Whore

I spent some time with Lola's campaign back in Detroit where I learned that the only legitimate answer to any question is, "Snakes on a muthafuckin' plane." Want a beer? Snakes on a muthafuckin' plane. How many volunteers do you guys have? Snakes on a muthafuckin' plane. What do you think of the ceasefire in Israel? Snakes on a muthafuckin' plane. They wore it out. The power of suggestion is too much for me. By the end of the weekend, I was using Snakes on a muthafuckin' plane as a greeting to Lola's new friends.

This movie looks like complete crap. But the marketing is absolute genius. I'm told by people who know this sort of thing that Snakes on a Plane is sort of a Wiki-movie. The producers leaked scenes to the Internet and then asked the public to contribute ideas. Now you can also send people phone and e-mail messages with Samuel L. Jackson talking personalized trash. I spent the first seven innings of a baseball game yesterday sending messages to other people in the press box and then watching them break down laughing. We even sent it to the wife of a colleague. All of this almost makes me want to see the movie. Almost.

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Tough Love











Mike being licked by Lola's dog,
Sophie (short for Hagia Sophia Loren)

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Monday, August 14, 2006


Fanmail for Trixie

The following was transcribed from a letter my mom recently received in response to an appearance she made on TV, in which she discussed how a person can claim to be an intellectual and a person of faith at the same time. Enjoy.

Dear Prof. Trixie:

As a side effect of some of the things I’ve been reading I stumbled across what I believe to be the meaning behind all the nonsense surrounding the Kennedy assassination. The trouble I run into is that so far I have failed to find anyone who is willing to engage me in an honest dialogue about it. Even the people whom you’d think would be especially interested have been pretty dodgy about it. And there is so much inane chatter on the internet about it that I have given up trying to find a community of thinkers there.

When I saw you on [that TV show] the quality of your remarks led me to believe that you could grab hold of the right end of this idea. And when I read through the first few pages of your book on Joan of Arc I knew there was something we could work with, specifically the concept you called “A confusion of affiliations between England and France during the 100 years war.” [Trixie: What?] My own hunch about the Kennedy assassination led me directly to the American Revolution by way of the history of the French in North America. And what do I find but that the French aristocracy provided half the troops and navy and all the financing. And this was a revelation to me, since all I knew was that Jefferson and Franklin had spent a considerable amount of time in Paris. I was always under the impression that the American Revolution was all American. You know, men hiding behind rocks and trees, two if by land, Washington crossing the Delaware, that sort of stuff.

Then, when we return to the front end of American History, [Hmm] and we acknowledge that what we now call the Vietnam War began as the French-Indochina war, and we look at World War II and the storming of the beach at Normandy, and we look at the comment that Sartre made about the discomfort of American Intelligence with the notion of De Gaulle taking power in France, something alien starts to emerge. What I concluded, and what I believe still, is that we as Americans suffer from a factitious national identity. And this phrasing I think resonates very closely with what you have called a confusion of affiliations. No one can discuss the assassination openly because it’s impossible to do so without revealing this other rationality operating just below the surface. And, the idea that democracy is only skin deep wouldn’t sit too well with the populace.

Now, if for some reason you’re still a believer in the official version of events, know this: Jack Ruby made a phone call to a friend in Los Angeles twenty minutes after the assassination to arrange a new home for his dog. [Here I have elided some detail, but it is available on request.]... What’s more, all of this is in the Warren report, in the 25th volume of Hearings and Testimony. So either the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing, or they just figured no one would ever read that far into it. I certainly haven’t. I just found it at random. I figured the juicy bits would be at the end.

In case you were wondering what led me to start thinking of the case in these terms, it’s a little complicated, but the turning point came when I saw some documentary footage of Clay Shaw, the man Jim Garrison charged with conspiracy in 1968. He seemed to me to have a pronounced aristocratic bearing, and I wondered if that might be significant. After that, the planets just fell into alignment. The trouble is that to really flesh this story out, to give it the treatment it deserves, we require the concerted effort of a number of very educated people. People who have studied political philosophy, social sciences, history, and economics, etc [Trixie: Ah, Economics, truly my long suit]. Because what I envision is something on the scale of a Decline and Fall. A few years ago I was reading the Princess of Clèves by Madame de Lafayette and among the names that appeared in the courtly life of her times was Jacques Pierre. I didn’t know much about the French language at the time but once I realized I should pronounce the “S” it had a very familiar ring to it. [Please, FFH readers, enlighten me]I hope you realize how interesting this could get. So if you’re interested in discussing this further, or you think you could round up an adequate group of writers and researchers, I’d love to hear from you. I think this story deserves to be told and I don’t think there is anyone alive who could pull it off working alone.

2 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at August 16, 2006 6:18 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Jacques Pierre . . . Zhacquespierre . . . Shakespeare?

    And . . . so the French killed Kennedy? 'Cause awesome.

    And I always learned that the French sent us boatloads of money and . . . well, boats, because they wanted us to beat the British. Does no one pay attention in history anymore? - Allison

  •   Posted by Blogger jess at August 18, 2006 1:02 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Wow... sounds like my ex.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006


Listerscreen

I never followed up here on our resolution to watch each other's favorite movies. We have begun; we started with Four Weddings and a Funeral. I must admit, the movie hasn't held up as well as I remembered it. Jeff will try to tell you it's a chick flick, but Jeff has never actually seen it. It is not a chick flick. It's a cogent argument against marriage, and the first twenty or so words in the script are all "fuck." But, neither is it top-ten material. If we ever make a list of top ten movies in which the most important criterion is hilarity it will surely appear, but for now, I think I will tentatively replace it with Frida, pending re-watching of the latter. Conveniently, it its in the same alphabetical position:

Adam’s Rib
Big Fish
The Big Lebowski
Cabaret
City of Lost Children
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Frida
Primary Colors
The Silence of the Lambs
West Side Story

3 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at August 14, 2006 10:51 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I just rewatched Four Weddings and a Funeral as well (having been inspired by attending a wedding so picture-perfect it was unreal. I mean, the reception ended with half the guests going swimming while the band continued to play). It's still funny, but I now understand why people complain about Andie MacDowell. - Allison

  •   Posted by Blogger Jeff'y at August 15, 2006 6:35 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • If you were to draw a Venn diagram in which one circle contained all the chick flicks and the other contained all the movies that make cogent arguments against marriage, I'd think there would be a decent overlap. Not that I'd no for sure, because I've never watched a chick flick.

    That's all I'm saying.

  •   Posted by Blogger Jeff'y at August 15, 2006 10:00 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I wish my otherwise airtight argument, involving sets and circles and Vennetians, hadn't been marred by misspelling.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006


Hostylefax: Adventures in Urban Renewal

Vassilis took a break from agitating on behalf of home healthcare workers Friday play tour guide as we walked around Downtown Detroit. I posed this question to him and open it up to any urban planners who might happen across this blog: Is there a tipping point for shrinking cities like Detroit, when land becomes so cheap and the available tax breaks so desperately generous that developers would be stupid not to try and build there? And is that going to be enough for the city to actually regenerate itself?

This was my first trip to my hometown since last July, which means I saw all the construction in preparation for February's Super Bowl, but had not seen the finished product. There's some fairly impressive stuff. At the center of the redevelopment is a downtown park called "Campus Martius." The park was at the center of a previous push for urban renewal. After the fire of 1805, someone named Augustus Woodward supposedly studied the stars and picked a specific location as "the center of Detroit." The new city was then laid out on a hub-and-spoke grid with all major roads leading to a specific spot (now the intersection of Woodward Ave. and Monroe Street). When Queenie worked downtown (pre-1998) it was the center of a traffic circle where lots of homeless people hung out. Now it's a grand-looking place, with a war monument, an Au Bon Pain, and a concert stage that turns into a skating rink in the winters. Around you facing north are huge impressive buildings, including brand new offices for Compuware and Ernst&Young. Facing south, the city has landscaped three blocks of Woodward into a grand avenue, leading past city hall to the river. It's really quite impressive. Here are other people's pictures of what I'm talking about. 1, 2, 3 (from the winter and sort of facing south).

Everywhere you look there are signs draped on buildings that advertise luxury lofts. I won't use numbers, but when Vassilis told me what a luxury loft goes for in Downtown Detroit, I stood there mouth agape. We are definitely living in the wrong place, cost-of-living wise. There does seem to be a different sort of energy downtown. On Friday the Lions were playing an exhibition game, and there were white people in team gear out drinking before the game. It does seem to score a point for those who argue that public funding of sports venues is good for a downtown. It should be noted, however, that the teams here don't control much of the parking. So there's heavy emphasis on getting downtown early, parking cheaply, eating and then heading over to the game.

On the other hand, when you get off the main drags, there are still just as many vacant buildings and homeless people in the area. Some show signs of being developed and others don't. Panhandlers are often quite aggressive (Vassilis: "Come on, at least tell me a joke. What's the best nation in the world? Do-Nation. I love that one"). And as we two white guys walked down a side street, someone called out "Narcos," and then walked inside a store. Whether he was talking about us, I don't know. But it does suggest a fairly well-considered open-air drug market.

I am, as ever, biased on this topic because I want the city to recover and find a way to thrive again. My fear is that Detroit is simply too spread out for much of this effort to actually reach the neighborhoods, in such a way that everyone prospers. In that regard, Detroit might just become New Orleans with shitty weather. That's probably a step up from where it was headed, but not that great an ambition, as far as aspirations go.

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What Harry Potter can Teach us about Aging

The West is not a great culture in which to age. It's been a problem for eons, but it's going to become more pressing in our lifetimes, as the demographic proportion continues to take on the shape of an upside-down pyramid. Most of us are aware of the practical problems posed by an aging world population, including the burden of health care and the economic implications of having more people retired and fewer working to fatten up that social safety net. But underlying all of these is a cultural factor that is very difficult for us to see. We are all of us on some level (and frequently on the surface) afraid of aging. And why shouldn't we fear it? We think of it as an inevitable decline, a second childhood, a mere prelude to death, unless God forbid one dies young. We lack a cultural notion of age as a positive change, to which benefits accrue. It is in fact considered insensitive to call someone old, so that one must resort to euphemisms. No wonder when we talk about healthy or successful aging, we tend to talk about a person who stays young. There is no good aging, only slower aging, aging that does its best to look like anything but age.

Except for Professor Dumbledore.

A quick disclosure: I like the Harry Potter books. I don't have kids of my own to blame it on, I just read them all and liked them, and got sucked into the loserish world of people who discuss them all day long. It got to the point when watching the opening scene of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire I was momentarily appalled to learn you can say "avarda kedavra" in a PG-13 film. But, let me also point out that I am hardly alone. I would venture to guess that most people in the English-speaking world and probably everywhere else too have read at least one of these books. I'm not claiming exceptional quality for the books, but one cannot deny their potential for cultural influence.

And all of this is good news, because one of the most important relationships in the book is between Harry and his great aged teacher, Prof. Dumbledore. By my calculation, Dumbledore is at least in his early to mid 80's if not older during Harry's years at school*. The series offers us two models for reimagining seniority: Dumbledore's personal progress and the benefit that the rest of the world accrues from his old age.

Clearly, Dumbledore has read the literature on healthy aging. He is a brisk walker, and walking is probably the single most powerful health measure a man of his age can take. He surrounds himself with a supportive social network, including peers like Prof. McGonagall and younger friends like the Molly and Arthur Weasley, and of course Harry himself. Granted, he never married, but perhaps he's gay. He drinks red wine. He keeps busy, both with work and with leisure. He never abandons his own education, which helps keep him mentally sharp. Perhaps most importantly, he adapts to the changes that come with age. His magical Pensieve is a wonderful example. He finds he has a hard time keeping track of his memories, but instead of slipping into a depression at not being able to recall things the way he could in his youth, he invents the pensieve in order to record them. Now his mind is more valuable than ever. It is obvious that Dumbledore has lived a rich and happy life, despite great losses.

More important, in my opinion, is the social place that Dumbledore occupies. He is the most powerful, respected, beloved and relied-upon figure in Rowling's world, and no one ever seems to think of Dumbledore as young for his age. "Very old" is I think the first description we get of him. Old Dumbledore, though, seems to be the best he's ever been. What makes him a powerful wizard is his experience. He can tell Harry things he would never find in a library, allowing the boy to benefit from all his acquired experience. It's the oral tradition at its finest. If the headmaster of Hogwarts were a young wizard, no matter how talented, he would never have as much to teach Harry because he would simply lack Dumbledore's perspective on history.

Don't we all secretly wish for a Dumbledore in our own lives? Perhaps this is part of the appeal of the series. Though its hero is a boy, that boy is guided by an old man, someone we would all aspire to become, and wish to have for a friend and teacher. No one would trade the aged Dumbledore for the young Dumbledore we later get to see. Age has made him great. It may be worth pointing out that sages are cropping up all over popular works, from the Lord of the Rings to X-Men. Perhaps that reflects a culture that is ready to embrace the benefits of age, and more importantly yet, to appreciate the wonderful resource that older people are for the young.

*Details of the calculation: We know that when Hagrid left Hogwarts as a student, Voldemort was sixteen years old. We are told that fifty years have elapsed in between that incident and the opening of the Chamber of Secrets in Harry's second year at school. We learn in the sixth book that Dumbledore visited the boy Voldemort to recruit him for Hogwarts, which would have had to be five years before the Hagrid incident. At the time of the visit, Dumbledore is already a Hogwarts teacher, albeit a young man. So if we hazard a conservative guess that Dumbledore was about 25 at the time of the visit, and know that fifty-five years have elapsed since, he would be about 80 at the time of Harry's second year, and approaching 85 at the end of the sixth book. You are such a nerd for caring.

4 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at August 14, 2006 10:54 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • At some point, JK Rowling confirmed that Dumbledore is well over 100. There was some explanation about wizards having a longer life span. On the other hand, they also tend to marry very young. - Allison again

  •   Posted by Blogger Laura at August 14, 2006 7:36 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I was going to mention X-Men as another example of (in this case) a movie in which the oldsters are clearly better in every way for being old. They are also very sexy men, of course. No old ladies, though--maybe we only accept the old as great when they're played by Ian McKellen.

  •   Posted by Blogger Anna at August 14, 2006 9:22 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • That's a really good point, Laura. Where are the female sages?

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at December 04, 2006 11:06 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Yeah, actually, Dumbledore was born in 1844, so that makes him about 150 years old. Nice to hear you are a HP fan!

    ~Crystal~

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Thursday, August 10, 2006


For He's a Jolly Good Fellow

Tonight was the party celebrating Fritz's retirement from Secret & Secret, Inc. As many of you know, in the coming weeks he will be moving to Nowhere and taking up a Nothing, at None of Your Business. I was sorry not to be there for the party, which Mike tells me was really wonderful (though I've been having way too much fun in the meantime sitting around with my boss and trying to figure out things like why that one p-value is rounded to 0 instead of to 0.0000). It's a good feeling, says Mike, when people call your dad a genius in public and tell you he can see the future. Also when they play old videos of him performing karaoke--I've never seen it but I really, really, really, really want to.

So in honor of Fritz, let me tell a classic Fritz story, which I'm told came up during the roast portion of the evening. This took place c. 1998 during the Lewinski debacle. Someone must have been abusing Ms. Lewinski, because Fritz spoke up in her defense. "I mean, come on, wouldn't you?" he said. "If Lola could bag the president, I'd tell her to go for it." Queenie is said to have responded, "Fritz, you're deranged!" Someone next asked him if he'd still encourage his daughter to go for it if the president in question were Republican, and Fritz considered before answering, "Nah, then it wouldn't be as cool."

1 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger BrooklynDodger at August 13, 2006 11:37 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Monica's mother seems to have taken the same attitude. Kept the dress for a souvenir. Whatever happened to the dress? Did they take the entire stain for testing, or only part of it? What would the dress be worth at Sothby's? ebay?

    Fritz

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Retractor Beam

I can't believe that after all of Mike's posts about the World Cup, he failed to alert us to the apex of gallows humor (chew over that mixed metaphor and smoke it), excerpted here from The Guardian back in June:
Spain's coach Luis Aragonés last night refused to apologise before this evening's second-round game against France in Hanover for racially abusing Thierry Henry in 2004, insisting rather bafflingly that he has "black, Gypsy and Japanese friends, including one whose job is to determine the sex of poultry".
I didn't exactly faint from shock at hearing that the coach who made the comment was from Spain. Call me sheltered, but I lived in New York City for twelve years and it wasn't till I traveled to Spain that anyone tried to tell me a "black joke," and it wasn't even funny.

As a specimen of backpedaling, this is pretty rich, but it isn't quite the funniest I've ever heard. Sadly, I can't remember anymore the names of the men involved, but I did once see on ESPN an interview between two boxers, one of whom had publicly called the other gay. "I didn't say he was gay," this man now asserted, "I said he was acting in a way that was gay." The other boxer's rebuttal involved something about how he was "100% ladies' man" and the interview ended in a physical fight in the studio.

My high school history teacher Mr. H once told us a story about going into a Jewish bakery during Purim. He ordered hamantaschen, and the man behind the counter squinted at him. "Funny," said the man, "You don't look hamantaschen." "Some of my best friends are hamantaschen," Mr H replied.

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Monday, August 07, 2006


League of Nerdcraft

A colleague at Spectator once told me, "The Internet is only good for is fantasy sports." And I have certainly followed his advice, spending far more time than is reasonable on fantasy baseball and football. I am famously terrible at these games, which is a running source of humor, given my profession. My early studies of soccer have discovered the English also play fantasy sports. Fantasy soccer strikes me as rather dull, given that there aren't so many goals. That would be fine if there were other stats, but the English laugh at us in the U.S. for wanting to record assists as an official category.

But recently, I have discovered fantasy fantasy soccer. It's a game where you act as a team chairman/manager. Your job is to hire the coach, buy players, sell players, set the training regimen, make sure the team turns a profit, make additions to the stadium and try to win promotion into better leagues. These games have the added advantage of being played in real time, which means that people all over the Internet can join in. So in a sense, you're playing against the entire world. I've joined two games, Simsoc and Hattrick. Eventually I'll pick between the two, or else just forget it entirely. Simsoc uses real teams from the four major English levels, and real player names. Imagine my surprise the other day to run into Joe Cole of the real-life Chelsea playing for Grimsby Town or some other League 2 side. That was jarring. In Hattrick, you invent teams and play with your imaginary players against other fake teams. So far I've created the NorCal Peaceniks, named the stadium Kumbayah Grove, bought a goalkeeper and fired the coach.

The Peaceniks play their first friendly against a Brazilian club this week. I'm sort of excited about that, which makes me about the biggest nerd ever.

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Sunday, August 06, 2006


Beer Review

On Thursday night, several of the Epi/Bio kids gathered for a Happy Hour. We used to have these a lot during the school year, but the group has dispersed for the summer. The person who picked the venue on Thursday never showed, leaving us among a collection of regular alcoholics and homeless alcoholics. I don't know exactly what they made of us, sitting around in office clothes and trying not to touch the excessively sticky tables as we gabbled on about longitudinal data and meta-analyses. At one point, we were discussing which programs we were all using at our summer jobs, and a girl named Beckie said "I'm using Excel!" sending the whole table into peals of laughter. At such moments I always feel privileged to be in on the joke; not many people find such a phrase amusing.

Everyone is doing interesting things with their summers. One person is at a local hospital working on control of hospital-acquired infection. Her duties include hiding in the bathroom and pretending to check vents while watching to see if hospital staff wash their hands. Another person is examining the relationship (if any) between certain psychological features and the likelihood of developing AIDS among the HIV-positive. Margaret the auto-racing fan has been working for the Marin County health department. The population of Marin is unusually wealthy and old, both of which contribute to late births and a lot of fertility treatment. As a result, twins have become so common that the county now averages 1.4 children per pregnancy. Since twins are more likely to be born premature and underweight, it's driving down the average birthweight, which would normally be high in a wealthy community. Margaret solved the mystery.

Throughout our discussions, 80's music was blasting out of a jukebox in the background. In this company there's a certain machismo surrounding the question of who has taken off the most time in between college and grad school, so the topic of 80's music is not unloaded. John was trying to recall the chorus of a song that was playing. "You put a something on me" he had teased out (my suggestion was "hex," but he later remembered it was "you dropped the bomb on me").

"I can't help you," Margaret shrugged, "I missed the first half of the 80's cause I didn't have a radio."

"I missed it too," said Beckie. "I was an egg."

2 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger BrooklynDodger at August 07, 2006 5:09 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • What's so funny about excel?

    Fritz

  •   Posted by Blogger Anna at August 08, 2006 9:46 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Excel was never actually intended to be database software; it doesn't protect the integrity of your data. Hit the wrong button while sorting and you can irretrievably misclassify your whole dataset with repsect to some variable. And it's not much good for analysis. So, basically we laughed because it's software lite. She has a year's worth of training and wound up using Excel. Ha ha, aren't we cultivated.

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V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N

We have not posted for a few days because we have been on vacation. HA! We never get to go on vacation, unless we're visiting one of you lot. This weekend we nipped off to Santa Cruz, to swim, lie out, watch birds and rock formations, try new flavors of ice cream and new outfits, explore new beaches, read new books, and accrue all the feelings of health and wellbeing that accompany the smell of salt and seaweed. It was lovely. Now we're back.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006


The Expanding Mishka's Empire

Those who have visited us here and those who have been subjected to Columbia interviews with me, know about Mishka's. It's the best sort of hang-out spot with good coffee and free wireless Internet. The good news is that owners of Mishka's have started building outward. They have created a series of businesses that have upgraded the quality of life in town. First it was an indie movie house placed inside a renovated old community theater. This was a really good idea, one that angered the musicians in town, who decided quite late in the process that they wanted yet another live music venue. The Varsity opened in April and has done nothing but show An Inconvenient Truth for about two months consecutively, which is, I suppose, what happens when you have this many science and engineering Ph.Ds in a confined area. Next door, they've now opened an ice cream parlor. I've walked by a few times. They appear to be especially proud of their gelato.

The moral of the story is that Davis is more livable than most other places.

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