Free-Floating Hostility

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

An Akil Update

His publicists inform me that Akil is at a very important stage in his progression through the music business. Given that my understanding of said industry comes from Be Cool, and is therefore deeply untrustworthy, I'll take their word for it. I can, however, offer some video of an Akil show in New York City.

I can't vouch for the quality, as I am sitting in the public health library in Berkeley and haven't watched it. But it's Akil, so it's most likely really good. This is also a blogging experiment, a chance to see if You Tube embedding works on our blog. If it does, you should prepare for an endless stream of Tottenham Hotspur goals this winter.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Demon Barbers of 2nd Ave

Today I had most of my hair cut off. It's summer, and grooming interests me on no level. Mike is on his way home from work, meaning the countdown is about to begin. Once it took Mike 18 hours to notice I had lost 4 inches of hair (post-wedding break for freedom). So the time after that, I took the old Dave Barry routine to the next level. Mike knew this time where I was headed, so half an hour after my return he remembered that he was supposed to be complimenting my hair and said, "Oh, you got a haircut. I like it." "They canceled my appointment," I answered. "I didn't change my hair." "Dammit!," he wailed, "I thought I had it that time." "Ah, it's okay, I'm just fucking with you. I did cut my hair."

Maybe it's that I don't give him enough practice. I hate and dread trips to the salon, and have been known to go six months without one (think of it in dog years if you're a man). It's bad enough that I have to think about my own hair every day without being reminded that strangers can see it too. And the judgment! And the grilling--not as in hot curlers, but as in "and how often do you blowdry? Mmm-hmm." This is probably how demerol addicts feel when they have to consult their doctor about their swollen lymph nodes, the same general feeling of having no right to be there when hard working people are waiting outside, and that the whole depraved situation is ones own fault.

The best haircut I ever got was from a dyslexic veteran of the air force who in her military days literally blew up a plane after misreading the instructions. Unfortunately, mine was apparently the only competent haircut the woman ever gave--she literally burned the hair out of April's scalp and was summarily fired days later. The time after that I had an adorable hairdresser named Diane, who put me completely at my ease, telling me wild stories about her Greek family ("People ask me if it's like in the movie and I tell them, no, we roast our lamb on the spit in the backyard not the front") and her other job on her uncle's mobile veterinary clinic ("and I told her a dalmation crossed with a chow? No, I'm sorry, puppy abortion!"). I was ready to follow Diane to the ends of the earth, not because of how my hair came out, but simply because I was not mortified to submit to her craft. On my return I learned that she had only been visiting the salon as part of her student training, and no one could tell me where she had gone. I was compensated with Yoshi, who was at least willing to put up with a client who behaved in the chair like a Dalmation-Chow victim of dogfight abuse, cringing at the sight of the comb, cowering at the suggestion that I take my barrettes out so she could see what my hair actually looked like, retreating, comatose, to my Happy Place at the sound of the faucet. Today, however, I learned that Yoshi too had moved on to greener pastures.

I decided it was a sign. I searched for a new salon in Berkeley and came up with Blow, which though highly recommended on Citysearch was reassuringly dykey in ambiance (if not necessarily in staff). Unlike the place I would go to in Davis, which affected the air of a buddhist temple, Blow saves its overhead for training humane stylists to comfort neurotics and freaks like me. Becky, my stylist, was cheerful and haimish, and made it almost the entire appointment without chiding me for going five months between cuts. We agreed that I was ready to go short, and that other than my wanting not to look like a boy I didn't much know what I wanted. She thought for a moment. "I'm thinking a grown-out pixie," she pitched. Now, it just so happens that the look of mine that certain parties still wax nostalgic about was the result of a true pixie cut that my fear of stylists allowed to grow out into something kind of cute. So this sounded promising. I checked what length she had in mind and gave her my blessing.

Back in the office, I didn't quite think I could justify a phone call, but I dashed off a furtive email to Sarah: "I got a hair cut on my lunch break, went really short and now I look like an adolescent lion. " Four hours later I was on the phone to my brother. "I look like Nana. A cross between Nana and an adolescent lion." "Doesn't sound so bad to me," he said with total nonchalance.

Editor's Note: Mike got home, and noticed within a minute. A new record. Though it's hard to miss an adolescent lion.

1 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger Alice at June 29, 2006 6:54 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I'm a haircut masochist: a woman cut my hair and made me look like Velma from Scooby Doo, yet I returned to the same place several months later and couldn't bring myself to ask for a replacement. What happened? Velma again.

    Also, every time my bangs are about to grow out, I happen to sit down to watch Law & Order and Carey Lowell is on and I start thinking, "I can do short bangs..." and then I inevitably screw up whatever progress I've made.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Yes, More Soccer

A work colleague sent this site, which helpfully tells you what your name would be if you, in fact, played for the Brazilian national soccer team. I am either Mirado or Michainho, depending on the version of my first name that I use.

Slate explained that Brazil's one-name thing, is a custom that dates back to Portgal's charming colonial custom of calling imported African slaves by informal names. Informal nicknames are now class identifiers, which I would imagine is rather important given the rampant poverty among much of the footballing class in Brazil. The best part of Brazil's team is that among the usual sprinkling of lyrical names -- like Robinho, Miniero and Dida -- are people called Fred and Kaka.

Yes. I am just going to let that last name sit out there.

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Heat Wussage

This blog is inordinately affected by the weather, which is why, if I want to post, I must do it around 6:30 a.m.

We are "enjoying" the first real heat wave of the summer. The temperature has broken 105 degrees for the last three days and that is expected to continue into tomorrow. Luckily, our air conditioner is broken and our building manager appears to be on vacation. Even before he left, however, it didn't seem as though he was eager to fix it. I invited him up on a cool night in late May to tell him that the AC didn't appear to be working then. He explained that it a new unit and he could hear the cooling the system switch on when I pressed the power button. I heard it too, but all the good sounds couldn't really mask the fact that no cold air was coming out of the system. He agreed to look into it and then, I assume, promptly forgot. Anyway, my laptop doubles as a heat generating device, so I've been avoiding it.

I've responded to the heatwave by spending an inordinate amount of time at work. Usually I spent the bare minimum at my desk, preferring to conduct business in person with people or via cell phone in my apartment. It's telling that the AC switch-on has gotten progressively earlier. Usually our cost-conscious managers have been waiting until 1 p.m. to start cooling the building, but Friday it was just about 10 a.m. Evenings have been no refuge. We've hidden out in Borders the last few nights until nearly 10 p.m. and then walked outside into mid-80s temps. Nice for strolling, but not really for sleeping. The only good news is that the time in the bookstore is keeping me away from the television, and I'm actually doing some reading. I finished Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch in three sittings and really quite enjoyed it. I need to figure out what to pick up next. I want to take a go at something fictional, but I don't really have anything in mind. I'd take suggestions.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Farwel, my boke. Gode dai, my blogge.

Months ago Isaac alerted me to Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog, leading to the conversation in which Mike asked what I was laughing at so hard and I told him to be quiet cause I couldn't talk to him and read middle english at the same time.

Just to counteract the post below this one with a little cul-cha.

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Ladies who Launch

The ladies' room at work has a couch in it. It's not the first time I've seen a couch in a women's bathroom, but I have trouble getting used to it. For some reason I just assume there are never couches in men's bathrooms, like the sofas are a sign of management's symptahy for Menstrual Hell. One of the women's bathrooms at the Center where I worked last year had, in lieu of a couch, an intimidating piece of machinery that looked an awful lot like an autoclave (specifically this one), but which turned out to be a breast pump. That was in the private bathroom, which was seldom used because the door to the stall had been removed; even though the outer door locked it was difficult to ignore the sensation that one was peeing in the hallway. There was also a normal two-stall bathroom, which was a thoroughfare of sorts. That was where I realize that American women, as a rule, don't defecate in front of each other.

For a long time I thought it was a personal neurosis. Well, a few of my female friends shared it. A high school friend claimed to have perfected the "stealth poop," a method that included prepping the toilet bowl with a layer of muffling toilet paper, in response to the personal crisis caused by co-ed bathrooms in her college dorm. While I never went to that extreme, if someone walked in on me in the act I would hold stock still until the other woman left, sometimes even elevating my shoes lest they reveal my identity--it's bad enough being the one caught pooping without people knowing I'm the one who poops. Being a reasonably sympathetic person, I always made haste to vacate the lavatory when I realized I had interrupted another woman in similar straits, and I suspected others were doing me the same service. You would think there would be a common understanding that pooping would occur in what was in fact a dedicated public pooping space. But it was really the opposite—a unspoken understanding that pooping was for dogs, babies and men.

When I began working at the Center, I was a little unnerved to encounter women who treated defecation casually. I would be, say, washing my hands, when another woman would come in, wave and smile, make conversation, and then proceed into a stall. Suddenly I would realize something was amiss. She couldn't be, could she? At first I would think she must have thought I had already left. So out of consdieration I would bang around as much as was feasible to alert her to my presence, affording her the opportunity to freeze every (every) muscle in her body, pretending that she was engaged in something perfectly harmless, like masturbation. But no, at the Center everything would continue much as I imagine it does in men's rooms until I ran out the door, hands dripping, to the refuge of my Chihuahua-filled office.

Interestingly, all of said women were visiting scholars from various East Asian countries. That's how I realized that it wasn't just me; it was a weird, unacknowledged cultural trend. I was used to other women pretending they weren't pooping. It didn't take a horrible Freudian episode, though I have one. I had gotten the notion that I was wrong for having bowel movements because I rarely encountered other women openly engaged in them. To do so would be to become a person who literally thinks her shit don't stink.

However liberating my discovery, it has not really changed my behavior or my attitudes. That's why I find it so weird that there's a couch in the dedicated public pooping space at my new job. It's a pretty nice lavatory, well ventilated and well lit--we are, after all, the Indoor Air Department. It's a very comfortable couch, hidden discreetly behind a wooden screen of the sort ladies used to change behind in movies. Next to the couch is a coffee table upon which is spread an impressive array of reading material, including a Norton Anthology of American Literature if you please. It's so popular that I've only gotten to use the couch once, after work when I took a half-hour safety nap before driving home. Every other time I've sidled by the couch with intent to lie down for a few moments (in my defense I've been having neck pain) it's been occupied, and there aren't that many women working here. It's obviously a really good thing to have and may be intimately connected to employee satisfaction. But…

You can hear other people pooping! Worse yet, other people can hear you! What if your inconveniet urges are interfering with someone else's meditation? What if your inconvenient neck pain is interfering with someone else's afternoon crap? From limited observation, however, I have to admit that the female workforce of Building 90 doesn't seem all that bothered. Some of the reading material has even made its way into the stalls, where people will hang out reading Parenting or Ebony for ten minutes at a time. It's almost like we've been brainwashed into thinking it's something normal.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Soccer Qualms

Argentina meets The Netherlands Wednesday afternoon, in a game between two traditional soccer powers. The New York Times World Cup Blog posted this today, an account from the time these two nations met for the 1978 Cup final in Buenos Aires, though it has little to do with the match itself. Argentina was ruled by a military junta that took control in a coup in 1976, but was allowed to host the tournament anyway. The match was played less than a kilometer from a prison where some 5,000 desaparecidos were housed. The juxtaposition of people doing hard labor just around the corner from a nation celebrating a World Cup title could not have been more stark.

This year's World Cup final will be held in Berlin's Olympic Stadium, which (after $300M of renovations) is the same ground where Jesse Owens ran for four gold medals at Hitler's 1936 Summer Games. Another host city is Nuremburg, where the stadium abuts the Nazis' favorite rallying grounds. It is probably inevitable that a sport whose traditional powers reside in Europe and South America would continue exist in the shadows of some of the 20th century's worst atrocities.

The hard part is figuring out what exactly to make of all that. Perhaps that's because I'm an American, and we tend to gloss over the more difficult parts of our history. Or we break down by age. Neither Anna nor I are particular excited about the erecting of a new building on the site of the World Trade Center. But to our children 9/11 will just be a scary story, something that doesn't mean nearly as much as it does to us. It will be a difference in our collective memory. There have been a number of articles suggesting that Germans have been slow to embrace their national team, because they fear how powerful real nationalism can be. And with the Nazi-era buildings still there, maybe it's more difficult for eras like that to fade easily.

This is also a soccer thing, in that hooligans tend to be right-wing nationalists. I've never thought of, say, New York Yankee crowds as particularly ideological, but the crews on British terraces tend to like to beat up minorities. During the prelude to each match of the World Cup there is a white tarp placed over the center circle with the message, "Say no to racism." This has been deemed necessary because of several incidents over the last year in which black players have been subjected to monkey chants and other indignities. Having dealt with the less obvious racism of U.S. sports fans (who trade in coded adjectives and wistful memories of the good old days) the American players have professed themselves shocked that such behavior still exists. European club soccer has its own good old days of course, the years when a nation's top league was populated mostly by domestic players. Now the top clubs cast a worldwide net and field rosters with players from all over the world. I imagine it drives the hooligans and nationalists crazy.

It will be interesting in four years, when the World Cup is in South Africa, to see the way that country's history is addressed then.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

That's it! That's the List!

Mike and I have resolved to watch each other's picks for best movies (as distinct from favorite movies, which would have included Love Actually and The Commitments) this summer. Here they are, order-free:


  • 12 Monkeys
  • All the President’s Men
  • Before Sunrise
  • The Big Lebowski
  • Monty Python’s Life of Brian
  • M
  • Out of Sight
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Romeo + Juliet
  • The Silence of the Lambs


  • Adam’s Rib
  • Big Fish
  • The Big Lebowski
  • Cabaret
  • City of Lost Children
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral
  • Primary Colors
  • The Silence of the Lambs
  • West Side Story

For Good Measure, The Six Worst Movies Ever:

  • Dancing at the Blue Iguana
  • Powder
  • Congo
  • Johnny Mnemonic
  • Something’s Gotta Give
  • Crash (1996)

5 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at June 20, 2006 3:44 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Will you have to watch Silence of the Lambs twice? Well, if it's so good, I guess that's OK.

  •   Posted by Blogger Anna at June 20, 2006 3:55 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • You've seen it. You were with me when I saw it the first time--New Year's 1997 at Jess's.

    And no. Lebowski, probably yes.

  •   Posted by Blogger jess at June 21, 2006 6:38 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I'd love to set up something like this, since Dan hasn't seen Real Genius or Clue (though I did make him watch Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead). But he doesn't really have favorite movies I haven't seen.

    Also this reminded me that I should make him watch City of Lost Children, too. But I'm focusing on Real Genius right now, because seriously, a physicist who hasn't seen Real Genius? It's nonsensical.

  •   Posted by Blogger Jeff'y at June 24, 2006 9:13 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • ...Four Weddings and a Funeral...

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at June 25, 2006 2:02 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Oh, I know. I remember leaving the room when Hannibal Lechter breaks out of his cage. I'm glad I did it, too. I'd do it again.
    What I meant is, if it's so good as to win its way onto two best-of lists, then it must be good enough to watch twice.
    But I don't understand what's so great about The Big Lebowski. The actors are all good, but they're great in other movies, too. Maybe someone can explain it to me.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Snarks Always Win: A History Lesson

Here's a recounting of one of my favorite bits of classic celebrity lore, taken at random from this site. It would have been most relevant during Oscar season, but still.

John Wayne ran an Academy-Award campaign in 1961 for the film The Alamo—"the most expensive picture ever made on American soil"—that sparked some industry controversy....The film's co-star, Chill Wills, nominated for Best Supporting Actor, was running his own campaign with ads saying the cast was praying for a Will's [sic] Oscar "harder than the real Texans prayed for their lives at the Alamo." Pushing it to the limit, another ad listed the names of all the Academy members and said, "Win, lose or draw, you're still my cousins, and I love you all."

Academy member Groucho Marx responded by taking out an ad that said, "Dear Mr. Wills. I am delighted to be your cousin, but I'm still voting for Sal Mineo."

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At the Intersection of Anglophilia and Pretention

I've always been interested in the World Cup, but in the past have found that my desire to understand and follow the tournament far outweighed my desire to actually sit still for 90 minutes and watch matches. Not so this year. I've been glued to the tournament for about a week, waking up at 6 a.m. to catch the early matches and then spending the early evenings reading everything I can about the tournament. There are three or four other people at my paper that are following the tournament obsessively as well, so we're all sort of stoking each other's interests.

I'm told that the American intellectuals have taken to soccer over the last few years after reading this book. One friend said that it was a way for snobs to embrace the proletariat without having to actually spend time with them. That may be right. Also it's probably a lot easier for U.S. snobs to embrace the European masses, who, unlike the Americans, don't watch NASCAR.

A co-worker directed me to this site, which purports to help people select the side they should support. According to the rankings, Ghana is the most supportable and the United States team is the least (The U.S. is 30th, but there are no rankings for two countries, as the site pleads lack of information). This is indeed bad news for the Americans, who must face Ghana next week in a game that probably be rendered meaningless in a few hours. I find that I object to that, in that you can't be intellectually honest and then say that Iran and Saudi Arabia are more supportable than the Americans. Not when the Iranian president is dabbling in Holocaust denial (a cheap ploy to earn fans for his team in Germany, perhaps) and Saudi Arabia remains Saudi Arabia. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit that I found myself rooting for the Saudis in their match against Tunisia, especially in the second half when the Carthage Eagles were lifeless, dull and begging to be beaten. There was a moment in the second half when the Saudis inserted Sami al Jaber, the country's most celebrated player who had be coaxed out of retirement to play. He entered in the 81st minute and almost immediately created a breakaway chance and scored to give his team a 2-1 lead. That was a really great moment. I spent the rest of the day unsettled and slightly disgusted with myself.

I've also been spending time reading the English papers, which has been fantastically amusing. They eschew a number of the really annoying conventions of American sportswriting, most notably the over reliance on direct quotations and long blocks of play-of-play description. Also, even the beat guys write with attitude. That's more than you can say for most. I've also been listening to the Guardian's daily podcast, which has become a regular pleasure during the last week.

I'm wondering if this is going to segue into some interest in European club football. I have been reading up on the Premiership this week, which I assume would be the easiest to follow since the coverage would be in English. The problem is that I'd have to pick a team to follow and have no basis on which to do that. I know that Manchested United is like the Yankees, that Chelsea is trying to purchase the title and the Arsenal is comprised almost entirely of imports. That would seem to put Arsenal in the lead, but they've been so good recently that feels like an entirely trendy pick. There's the possibility of picking a team at random, but I'd want to be able to watch my boys on television. So maybe that limits me as well. Anna reports that she'd be all in favor of me picking up Premiership soccer if it meant the banishing of the NHL. It's something to consider.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

For your Enjoyment Only (I think I'm a Hack)

I find it disconcerting when other people think I'm funnier than I think I am. It should be a big bonus, but it isn't. I get worried that if I'm funny when I don't think I am, then I'm probably not funny when I do think I am. Either way it leads to far too precise an estimate of how much time I spend getting humored.

An example, again featuring Dara, I don't know she's a blog muse or something: Anyway, we were finishing up a homework assignment on a rapidly approaching deadline, and one of our classmates was trying to talk to us. After one interruption too many I told him, "You have 30 seconds and then you're dead to me." I didn't even know it was a joke. I thought I was just making my point in a manner exaggerated enough to avoid giving offense (oh don't pretend like that doesn't make sense). I was barely paying attention. But Dara thought what I said was hysterical, so much so that she went home and told her fiance, who laughed so hard he shot soy milk out his nose.

I don't get it.

On the other end of the spectrum from the throwaway not-joke is the throwaway excess joke. A large group of Epi/Bio kids was out having a drink one Friday afternoon last March, and one of them ordered a personal pizza. When it arrived, the guy who had ordered it felt it fell short of the description on the menu. "That doesn't look like thirteen inches," he said disappointedly. "John," I sympathized, "Welcome to the life of woman." It was such an obvious and therefore lame punchline that I wouldn't even have bothered had I not been in my cups. But instead of the regulation groans and exchanges of pitying looks, the table (full of women) erupted into raucous laughter that attracted the attention of nearby tables. Months later they were still talking about it, asking me to repeat the line, telling all their friends who went on to tell friends of their own.

I ran that one by Mike in search of an answer as to what made my hackery so entertaining. "It's a well placed dick joke," he explained, shrugging. "It's not often you find one so well placed."

Well, blimey.

1 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger jess at June 21, 2006 6:42 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I have definitely had this experience. In fact, I think I've actually expressed incredulity when people laughed -- "are you serious? That wasn't funny!" But so much of it is about timing and just the vibe of the room. For instance, probably the funniest line last night was when Dan said "there used to be a place called French Indochina" -- not at all funny out of context, but we were all primed to think it was the most hilarious thing ever said. This is why I wouldn't want to be a standup comedian.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006


Dara emailed me from Albuquerque today. She's there for the summer, conducting plague surveillance and, unfortunately, investigating a plague fatality (although, given that there was a fatality it's very cool that Dara gets to investigate it). This includes a fair amount of rodent trapping and mosquito feeding, which is not so much Dara's cup of tea. When I asked her permission to post this picture, she cautioned, " I'll be reading your blog, so don't put anything bad about me or I'll FedEx you a dead squirrel." The threat was not random; she has a supply in the freezer at work. Actually, now whenever a squirrel spontaneously snuffs it, it gets sent to Dara. We kind of assume that if plague's going to crop up anywhere in New Mexico it would be in Hobbs--high prairie dog to protestant ratio, you know. In happiest news, Dara has adopted a German Shepherd puppy named Nisa. Puppy puppy puppy! Posted by Picasa

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Next Stop, Athletic Director

Did you hear the one about the Red Sox beat writer who left the Boston Globe in order to become director of hockey operations for the NHL's Minnesota Wild? Chris Snow, the beat writer in question, covered the Wild for a season at the Strib before accepting the Globe job. Snow was also 24, which made his ability to get those positions profoundly annoying. Everyone says that he is really good, though.

It does raise an interesting question though: Which industy has a better future outlook the NHL or Newspapers?

2 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at June 15, 2006 8:50 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • newspapers.

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at June 16, 2006 6:27 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I read the Globe's coverage of the Sox almost obsessively. OK, obsessively. Chris Snow is really good, and when they posted the story about him leaving for Minnesota, I thought it was a joke at first (but maybe his departure explains why the Twins just swept the Sox). Why can't some podunk hockey team hire Dan Shaughnessy instead?!

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

LBL Employees are Premium People

I had my New Employee Orientation today. The major theme of new employee orientation at LBL is "No one here does any classified work." They said it at least six times, including during the health and safety slideshow. Okay, fellas, if you say not, I'll half believe you.

The one presentation for which it made some sense was the counterintelligence and counterterrorism section. This particular presentation featured a testimonial of sorts from an ex-KGB intelligence officer who defected in the nineties. He assured us that every single one of us, no matter how menial our jobs or how harmless our fields of endeavour, was by the simple fact of our working here meant a target. There was a silent montage of a woman winning over another woman at a conference and then guilting her into passing a manila envelope to someone in a car. The man in charge of the presentation said his goal was to sensitize us to the threat. Maybe I was already maximally sensitized to threats, but the only sense of mine that appears to have been heightened by today's training is my sense of self-importance. Now not only do I work at a joint with ten Nobel Laureates to its name (no, Jesse, I haven't read it yet, but I will), but somebody out there already has me in a database and is preparing to pretend to be my friend. That's good news for all of you, because obviously I can never make a new friend again, thus ensuring your continued importance in my life.

For the KGB of obscure references: the title refers to Everything is Illuminated, which is set in Ukraine.

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The Basketball Player Question

In Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, the Portland Trail Blazers blew a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter and were eliminated by the Lakers. The biggest culprit in the loss was FFH favorite Rasheed Wallace, who missed a bunch of field goals consecutively in the second half (A sportswriter buddy/Laker fan remembers it as nine). At one point in the fourth quarter, the Blazers missed 13 straight field goal attempts. Wallace authored six of those bricks. It was the worst single-game choke job in recorded playoff history. It was also proof, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that Rasheed Wallace is a great player. We judge great players by how they perform in the huge moments. A large part of that is simply the inclination to take big shots; remember the Michael Jordan commercial?

Our little network of blogs seems to be abuzz about this Malcolm Gladwell article from the New Yorker, a discussion of basketball Sabermetrics. And the NBA Finals seems as good a time as any to discuss what makes a great basketball player. I don't have an actual answer to this question, but it's fun to talk about.

Gladwell leads his piece with Allen Iverson, who may or may not be overrated. Iverson is a volume shooter, a guy who can go for 50 points one night and need 23 shots to score 30 points another. Sabermatricians and old-school guys alike would probably agree that this is a pretty inefficient way to play basketball. According to the metrics, however, Iverson is a drain. But when the 76ers reached the NBA Finals in 2001, the conventional wisdom was that his team was so good at offensive rebounding that Iverson's copious misses acted as passes. That might not be bullshit, in that Philly was fourth in the NBA in offensive rebounding that year.

The Sixers won the first game of the 2001 Finals, with Iverson scoring 48 points. He never scored more than 37 in the Sixers' four straight losses.

Everyone is acknowledging that basketball is the hardest sport in which to judge individual impact. Ben tracked down the actual formula for "win score," and it seems really complicated, adding and subtracting lots of different statistical categories. The good folks over at, were the first pioneers in the field. Their general approach is to measure the team's performance when individual players are on the floor. There is a contradiction in the two approaches. Win scores tend to de-emphasize points, arguing that lots of factors lead to a valuable contribution. The 82games method uses points as the primary measure of team success.

Certainly there are the measurables. But intangible factors have so much to do with team success that an over reliance usually leads to a world of pain for team. Take the Blazers post-2000. They were extremely talented and could match up with Shaq and the Lakers. But their players didn't get along and actually kept going to jail. The team started losing in the first round every year. This year the Blazers lost 61 games.

Teams function properly over the long haul when every player understands and buys into his role on the team. That's a cliche. But if two guys believe they're the No. 1 scoring option, they'll make it very difficult for players 3-5 to get enough shots. And some players are great individual players and terrible teammates. Stephon Marbury may be the ultimate current example. But some guys need to be in the right situation. Cuttino Mobley struggled in Sacramento because he didn't trust the ball would come back to him after he gave it up. So he simply made sure that he got his shots, to the detriment of the team's offensive sets. But Mobley was fine in the more structured system employed by the Clippers, and made that team better. Knowing what guy is going to work in a given situation is tough to quantify.

Which brings me back to Rasheed Wallace. He is unafraid to shoot in the big moments. And his teammates like having him around. Not surprisingly, he was considered the reason that the Pistons went from good team to championship caliber team. And in the playoffs, after he turned his ankle and stopped playing well, the Pistons went from championship caliber to not very good.

One other note on the overpaying of basketball player: The NBA financial system, as designed in the collective bargaining agreement, is logic-option. Some teams can pay a free agent more than others. Also, every multi-year contract is back-loaded, so deals that make sense in the first two seasons often don't after that, when they are more damaging. The first round of maximum contracts following the 1999 CBA are unwieldy for the first few years before entering the realm of the insane. The Kings paying Chris Webber $14 million in 2001 was acceptable. The Sixers paying him $21M next year on the back end of that deal is obviously ridiculous.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Vinum Sine Gravitas (with Apologies to Isaac for my Latin)

The night before I left New York, my dad and I were playing a lovely game of Find the Poem (i.e. Oo, oo, you've really never read "Visit to St. Elizabeth's"? No child of mine's going to misquote "Mending Wall," get over here!). Just as we were feeling as elevated as hopheads climbing the Transamerica Pyramid, my mom came home from being sold. My mom loves Barnard so much that she was willing to auction off an evening of her time to benefit the college. She rang the doorbell when she returned, as she was neither sober enough nor dressed loosely enough to carry keys. "Hi Mom," I said as I let her in. "I'm a very good whore," she informed me, "I went for $11,500." This proved to be an accurate figure in the cold light of dawn; the winner was a book club in Westchester.

I asked her if she wanted to join our little poetry circle (line?) and she was very eager. Until, that is, she heard that the next poem on the docket was Milton's poem to Oliver Cromwell. "Fine," she said, "Go ahead and memorialize the murderer of thousands of Catholics," and proceeded to make unsubtle gagging noises and motions throughout the first stanza until I yelled. After that she sat stock still with her lips pursed into a fish face to show that she was not making gagging noises.

All of which is to say that I miss my parents.

1 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at June 14, 2006 12:40 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • No problem, I'm on vacation.
    Walked through Central Park today, only corrected one person.

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

More from the Annals of Gallows Humor

Some friends of Sarah's parents have a small daughter who is going to summer camp for the first time this year. A few weeks ago the small daughter started to let comments fall like "Some people might be scared of camp." Her parents naturally assumed she was having some kind of separation anxiety about this upcoming life event, until one day she asked, "Can I go to the kind of camp where they don't shoot you in the face?"

Apparently she had heard that Dick Cheney was at a duck camp when the infamous accidental shooting occurred, and had extrapolated.

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

New Template, Old Story

I got around to getting rid of the Smug Floating Head template--though I saw the original of that half-finished study at the Met on my last visit and felt sort of sentimental. As usual I'm having issues in Explorer, namely the header gets a crew cut, and as usual I'm too annoyed at IE to spend any more time fixing it. To those of you who check FFH at work: Stand by.

Also note new sidebar whoring: Laura and Jess are co-authoring a blog about logic, and therefore about all the arguments people making using "logic" as they understand it. Enjoy Truth Tables.

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From the Annals of Gallows Humor

During my visit to New York, Jeff's Adam told me a story that he says he's not going to use for his blog since he hasn't updated it since October. No one who knows Adam will be surprised that while the events of this tale are objectively grim and Not Funny, he had me rolling. I'll try to do him justice.

Some number of weeks ago I think, Adam was driving his mother and his severely demented grandmother back to Sea Gate from a weekend upstate in his grandmother's former home--which, on an otherwise unrelated note, Adam believes to be haunted. Anyway, as they were pulling off the Triboro bridge into the City, Adam and his mother heard some telltale gurgling and turned around to find that Adam's grandmother was casually vomiting all over the back seat. He pulled into the nearest gas station, went inside and asked for "all your paper towels and all your cleaning fluid." He and his mother then set about cleaning up his grandmother and the car. So they were kneeling in the parking lot, wiping up an improbable quantity of vomit, and vomiting themselves, when an eight-year-old boy sidled up to them and offered, "Hey man, you wanna buy some weed?"

Adam relayed the question."What do you say, Grandma? Do you feel like getting high?" His grandmother blinked at him and made some noises, so he turned back to the boy and said, "No thanks, we're good right now."

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The Lab on the Hill Right Above the Hill with the University

As Mike suggested, I have a new job, in a teeny research group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, henceforth referred to as LBL. This is a new situation for me in that I've never had employers or coworkers who knew about this blog before I came into their fold. In this case, the night of my interview our SiteMeter picked up a hit from LBL and twelve hours later I was asked to provide references. On Thursday I was told that the blog did not get me the job, but I cling to my theory. Having described my new job briefly to Jeff, he suggested that I call myself Statgirl, for its resonance with Batgirl. I will indeed be "doing statistics" as my mother calls it, mostly programming at least for now. I'm only three days in but it's fun so far.

LBL itself has a lot of romance for me, fuelled by the ad campaign on their shuttle buses, which drive through the city of Berkeley with Nobel Prize winners on their sides. The actual campus is gorgeous. I rented Ang Lee's Hulk last night because they filmed there and I wanted to show it to Mike, but there weren't that many exterior shots (although the rental did justify my forwarding to one of the silliest scenes in film, in which St. Ann's alum Jennifer Connelly gets attacked by a giant mutant poodle).

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  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at June 11, 2006 8:00 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • As you probably know, the historical reputation of the labs at Lawrence Berkeley and its former conjoined twin Lawrence Livermore is not all light and laureates. For a literary treatment of the subject, read Vikram Seth's novel in sonnets "The Golden Gate," in which Livermore is pseudonymized as "Lungless." Seth, you'll be happy to learn, studied demographics at Stanford -- but never got his degree. Didn't hurt him a bit.

  •   Posted by Blogger Jeff'y at June 11, 2006 8:11 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I think XtraHotSAS trumps Statgirl, though.

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at June 14, 2006 12:39 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • "The Hulk" was a serious exploration of the monstrous anger that lurks within every human breast.

    The killer poodle was an essential part of its allegorical structure.

    Wait, maybe I'm thinking of "Heart of Darkness."

    Yeah, that was Heart of Darkness. The poodle was pretty stupid.

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Hostylefax: A Long Vacation

We have been back from Seattle for the better part of a week now. The delay in posting has been a result of actual work. Anna began her new job, which I'll allow her to tell you about. Meanwhile, I returned home to find that there would be a Title IX lawsuit at the university and that some football players had been released from the team. I had also accepted a four-day freelance assignment for a newspaper in Texas. I've been working basically 14-hour days since our return because of those things.

Anyway Seattle was excellent. I bowled the best game of my life (162) during the trip. We enjoyed a bevy of ethic foods with Scott and Rachel. Saturday we hiked around some beautiful waterfalls, although the fun part of that sort of ended on the way back when we deviated slightly from the trail and I slipped on a rock and hit my head. Luckily, my nose is enormous and that distributed the shock of the fall pretty evenly. I followed that later in the evening by injuring my right index and middle fingers as I attempted to break off a hunk of Trader Joe's chocolate. There appear to be no lasting effects, other than confirmation that I am physically awkward. But I think we knew that.

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