Sunday, December 24, 2006

Those of you who have been following the sidebar will have noticed that there's been some stalling. Finals plus holidays has equaled lack of progress, and I'm kinda fine with that. I didn't make it to 300 for my brother's December 30 wedding as I'd hoped, but I'm satisfied. I'm especially happy that I've eaten like crap for a month without really doing any damage, because for the first time in school I kept up the gym routine at the end of the semester. Good times. Hopefully the holidays won't be the carnage that they could--though mom's baking for the first time in years, so who knows. I didn't bring the nifty Weight Watchers scale home with me, so no more weigh-in numbers until I get back to Ann Arbor and back on the horse, so to speak. Not an actual horse--that would suck for me and the horse.

Merry Christmas everyone! And thanks for reading even though I haven't been so good with the updates. We'll strive to do better in 2007...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I have my first exam of the finals period, Transnational Law, in a little over 2 hours. This is the first class in my life where I decided a week in that I was taking the class pass/fail, and treated the class accordingly all along. I'm hoping that the "pass" standard is as low as I suspect it is, because I've spent most of my time lately
playing on the Internet, watching movies, watching football, and generally wasting time studying for my other classes.

Still, I've found time this morning to put together my standard playlist in honor of my forthcoming exam. As always, I culled this list from the iTunes currently on my computer. I resisted the urge to put in every single song I have that has a foreign country or city in the title, which eliminated about 75% of candidates.

Really, the list could have boiled down to one song: Warren Zevon -- Lawyers, Guns and Money. It turns out Transnational Law is about law in the same way that Welsh Rabbit is about rabbit. But still, I found some more things to include...

Long Haired Lover From Liverpool, Little Jimmy Osmond; The Girl From Ipanema, Joao Gilberto; Don't Forget Where You're Coming From, Joe Grushecky; Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen: One of the few universally recognized fundamental human rights is the right to a nationality.
Yellow Submarine, The Beatles; Broken Ship, Immaculate Machine; Six Months in a Leaky Boat, Split Enz: Not surprisingly, admirality and naval cases comprise much of the early body of international law.
The Mariner's Revenge Song, The Decemberists: Especially cases about pirates.
Waterloo, ABBA: The Napoleonic Wars were arguably the pinnacle of the post-Westphalian national system
Perfect World, Liz Phair; Wonderful World, Herman's Hermits: It's good to keep in mind the ultimate goal of Transnational Law...
Eve of Destruction, The Turtles; The End of the World, Leigh Nash w/ Los Straitjackets: ...and the more likely outcomes as well.
A New England, Billy Bragg; What's Left of the Flag, Flogging Molly: The European Union has led to a fundamentally altered European system, arguably with severe constraints on national sovereignty.
Come Together, The Beatles: The post-1945 international world has seen a proliferation of multilateral treaties and other international agreements.
Love Me I'm A Liberal, Phil Ochs: Many international agreements are non-binding and aspirational, stating what countries should do with no enforcement mechanisms or ultimate authority behind them, except in the super-rare instances where they become customary international law.
Less Than Zero, Elvis Costello: What all of those non-binding, aspirational international agreements are worth in practice.
Screaming at the Wailing Wall, Flogging Molly: This is the remedy available when someone violates those non-binding, aspirational international agreements.
We Used To Be Friends, Dandy Warhols: What countries say to other countries when they violate those international agreements.
Think Locally Fuck Globally, Gogol Bordello: That's just good advice for everyone.
Rocked by Rape, Evolution Control Committee: In the '90s American legal scholars scored a coup when they were able to sue Radovan Karadzic for war crimes, including systematic rape, in the post-Yugoslav wars under the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act.
La Resistance, South Park soundtrack: Under the old black box theory and the ongoing act of state doctrine, we generally don't look into internal actions of a government against its own nationals within its own territories. So domestic dissidents generally can't look to the international community for help. Except when they can.
Democracy, Leonard Cohen: The Montevideo Convention prescribes a definition of statehood that includes a government, but it doesn't care which kind.
Let's Get Out of This Country, Camera Obscura: Given the previous two facts, this is what those dissidents are likely to say when things go badly.
Turkish Song of the Damned, The Pogues: The single biggest case (The Lotus Case) in pre-WWII international law said that Turkey could impose criminal liability over a French sea captain who caused the deaths of Turkish sailors on a boat he accidentally rammed with his own--even though it happened in international waters--because they had custody of the captain and because any jurisdictional rule not forbidden by international law was permitted.
Battle of Who Could Care Less, Ben Folds Five: A good way to characterize a terrible class that most people end up taking pass/fail.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

It's becoming cliche to say so, but I strongly subscribe to the New Year's Eve haters club. I've tried doing lots, doing a little, and doing nothing, and it's almost always a disappointing night. But this year, I think the plans are pretty good. In addition to the concert tickets, I also have the Rose Bowl tickets. Now I just need the plane tickets. Either way, though, I'll be arriving in L.A. on the 31st in the afternoon, and staying through the 3rd or 4th. At least one day will be partly devoted to apartment-browsing in Venice, which I'm looking forward to almost as much as the two big events.

Also, I'm taking suggestions for neutralish garb I can wear to the game that won't be Laura Quinn crazy.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I don't go to McSweeney's all that often anymore, but occasionally I pop in and happen upon a gem. Today they've got a beautiful dose of holiday cheer. OK, anything involving Sylvia Plath isn't really "cheer" per se. But still.

And this remains the best thing ever written by anyone anywhere about anything.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hi, I'm still here.

I was home for Thanksgiving, and Dad is getting pretty bad. I've thought about posting some extensive details, but it's pretty painful. My brother gets married on December 30, and we're really hoping Dad is around and ambulatory enough to make it, but there's no guarantee. In happier news, the numbers in the right-hand column continue apace, and I'm going to Tennessee this weekend for Trashmasters. It's mind-boggling to think that I was on the winning team for this tournament 12 years ago; my team is pretty experienced (I may actually be the chronological baby of the team) so maybe we can do well, but we've never all played together so it's hard to say how our knowledge will mesh or overlap. After Chattanooga, the finals cocoon will be in full swing, so posting may be scarce for a while. We'll see.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

If, like me, you are a fan of both NFL football and picayune legalistic minutiae, I strongly recommend reading through the archive of the Jerry Markbreit "Ask the Referee" column from the Chicago Tribune. (Thanks, Mike.) You can learn rules about a pass batted back to and caught by the quarterback (no second pass allowed), returning a short field goal attempt (you must catch the ball on the fly, you get the original spot if you take a knee in the end zone, etc.), and pass interference and a personal foul on the same play (both penalties enforced if and only if the same conduct led to both penalties--such as interferencing by committing a major facemask). And that's just this week!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I haven't updated any profiles that include an entry for "The 6 things I couldn't live without..." or somesuch in a long time, but if I did I would have to include--beyond my normal, smarmy "oxygen, water, etc."--the iPod. It is utterly indispensible for two situations, driving and the gym. Especially long-distance driving, since my 8-year-old car CD player can best be described as moody and sees scratches where there are no scratches. And especially the gyms at school here, in which the administration has decided that any form of music or TV would be too much of a distraction from the task at hand, staring at undergrad girls working out.

Unfortunately, the iPod now has a display that says, "Connect to your computer. Use iTunes to restore," in four different languages and in the old-fashioned Apple IIe-ish Chicago font. If I connect to my computer and use iTures to restore (or connectez a votre ordinateur, or Mit dem Computer verbinden, or something in unidentified Asian characters), I go through a whole rigamarole that works about half the time when iTunes decides to let it, and at the end I am once again instructed to connectez to my ordinateur. Not good.

So within the next 2 days I will have a package from the fine folks at Apple containing a package in which I am to ship them my iPod, which they will then apparently just replace, since iPods are entirely fungible. I'm hoping against hope that I will get said replacement before driving home for Thanksgiving on Wednesday, but I sincerely doubt it. I guess I can now look forward to a lovely couple of weeks of humming while driving and exercising. Grrrrrrrrrrr.

Monday, November 13, 2006

My Michigan and Proskauer colleague Ms. Chang sends along news of a legal verdict that could change how we look at the law, and also lunch. OK, mostly just lunch.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Interesting weekend coming up--jaunt around the Big Ten, as I'm headed to the Michigan-Indiana game in Bloomington on Saturday, and TRASH Regionals in Urbana-Champaign on Sunday. It's my first TRASH Regionals as a player after nine years as part of the organizing team and a year away, so I'm a bit nervous and am just hoping not to embarrass myself. I'm not too worried, though, since we've got this guy to do the heavy lifting, and this guy to do much of the other lifting.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

This makes me repeat a Life of Brian-esque, "We are all individuals..."
LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Thanks, Kristan. All 5 of you.

Monday, November 06, 2006

This hit a little too close to home, even if it is my favorite web comic.

Through a strange perfect storm of birthdays, my brother and his fiance coming to visit, Halloween, and other reasons/excuses, I ended up going out drinking for six consecutive nights last week. I really need to not do that again. It was fun, and I wouldn't take it back. The downside, though, is that I'm now on the borderline this week, in Weight Watchers terms, between whether I'm having an "off week" or whether I'm taking the "week off." Ugh. Wednesday morning may not be pretty.

But then again hopefully by then we'll be back in the age of divided government. W00t!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Last Tuesday night I realized I'd had my phone off for hours, and it was midnight before I turned it on. One voice mail message. It was from mom, but no specifics, just that she'd call back tomorrow.


I knew what this was all about. Mom doesn't call on a weeknight out of the blue--we're in a regular "once a week on the weekend" pattern of phone calls, as we've been for years. I called first thing Wednesday morning, and it was pretty much what I expected.

I have only a weak layman's understanding of my dad's (or anyone's) bout with prostate cancer, but here's how I've been led to understand it. First you get prostate cancer, and that sucks and makes you incontinent and has all sorts of problems, but it doesn't kill you and it's slow-moving. If you can't get rid of the prostate cancer, it'll eventually spread, and the likely place for it to spread is the bone. Bone cancer is awful, but that's not what you have--you have prostate cancer that has spread to the bone, which is also awful but maybe not quite as awful as bone cancer per se. Now you're susceptible to a whole lot of pain from the out-of-control cells growing in your bones, and a whole lot more pain when those bones get weak and start breaking. But still, it doesn't kill you.

Unfortunately, the bone marrow provides a vehicle for the cancer to spread throughout the body and eventually work its way into the internal organs.

That kills you.

Last Monday, Dad had a CAT scan to see what was up with the prostate cancer of the bone. We've been in the "matter of time" stage for a long time now (and not just in the Keith Olbermann sense of "he's day-to-day, but aren't we all"), and the chemo and the morphine and the decreasing mobility have all been difficult steps. But the CAT scan results from Tuesday told us what we knew was coming but still didn't really want to know was coming. It's in the liver.


So why am I telling you, fair readers, all of this? Well, one is to get it off my chest. Two is to pay penance for the fact that I'm way happier than I should be under the circumstances, given what I've been doing for my own self. And it's not even a matter of denial, but rather a matter that we've been expecting this for so long that I've already learned how to anticipate the next steps in advance, I've already been sad about the whole process including what hasn't happened yet, and I've already made peace with it as best that I can. I've gone through the Kubler-Ross steps in advance, I think.

Three is not to elicit pity or sympathy or anything like that--please don't tell me you're sorry, because as Demetri Martin has pointed out, a funeral is the only time that saying "I'm sorry" and "I apologize" are different. And we're not there yet.

Three actually reminds me of when I was seven years old and something happened that my little kid brain couldn't quite get around--the NFL players went on strike for 8 weeks. Somehow even then I understood how much TV controls sports. Even though my parents had the news on every night, and there's no bigger news in Pittsburgh every fall than the Steelers and the NFL, somehow I was afraid that we wouldn't notice when the strike ended. So every week when we got the Sunday paper, I would immediately look at the TV listings section. I did that because I wanted to see if the paper would have a (t) next to the Sunday NFL game listings. The (t), the footnote told me, meant "tentative" and my mom or Mr. Webster's explained to me what that meant. Somehow I thought that if the (t) wasn't there, there had to be football, because no document on Earth at that age seemed less likely to lie to me than the TV listings section of the Sunday Pittsburgh Press.

That's a rambly way of saying that number three is that any plans any of you happen to have with me over the coming weeks and months have a big-ol' (t) after them. And if that means that I end up canceling on you due to the (t), I apologize in advance.

And that's when you can be sorry.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I posted something a while back asking for podcast suggestions and was met with reaction akin to a roomful of crickets. OK, to be fair, a roomful of crickets plus one comment with a very generic suggestion and one email with some quirky suggestions that didn't really do it for me.

So I had to go it alone, but the good news is that I found some good stuff. Here are the podcasts I've been checking out that I recommend (all available for free on iTunes):

  • Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing: This is a short irregular podcast, approximately 5 minutes each, with about 20 episodes available to date. Grammar Girl is a professional tech writer, and each podcast tackles a practical grammar issue. The tips are basic, but they provide nice refreshers and often nice mnemonics for keeping them straight. And in my experience even people generally mindful of grammar have certain blind spots or rules they just can't keep straight--personally, I highly appreciated the primer on that vs. which. Some episodes are not pure grammar either, but deal with topics such as interviewing or proofreading. Highly recommended.
  • KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic: This podcast is even more irregular, with only a handful of episodes out right now. It's roughly a half hour set of one musician or band with a little bit of interview. The guests are indeed eclectic. I've listened to the Guster and Camera Obscura episodes. I highly recommend Guster, sort of recommend Camera Obscura, and in general recommend perusing the episodes for ones you might like rather than subscribing.
  • KCRW's The Treatment: This is film critic Elvis Mitchell interviewing someone in the film industry for approximately a half-hour. I listened to the Matt Dillon episode, and it had the feel of a Will Ferrell as James Lipton Inside the Actor's Studio. It was downright scrumtrillescent. Other episodes might be better. Not particularly recommended based on small sample size.
  • New York Times Times Talks: This is a series of approximately semi-weekly hour-long chats with someone in the news, though many of them seem to be entertainment figures. I listened to the Howard Dean talk, and if they're all that good, then you should subscribe. I'm also going to check out the Joan Didion episode. But I personally find it hard to get interested in some of the topics. Maybe recommended.
  • NPR All Songs Considered: This is simply an irregular 20 to 35-minute broadcast of various eclectic songs, some episodes with a theme and others not so much. Check out the contents of individual episodes, and you'll probably find some gems.
  • NPR Books and NPR Pop Culture: These are weekly half-hour-ish collections of NPR stories on the relevant topic. Books has a lot of author interviews, and is a nice way to hear about what's being published in a variety of areas, while Pop Culture is generally oddball stories. I've actually subscribed to these, and they're worthwhile. Recommended.
  • NPR This I Believe: These are weekly 500-word statements by a variety of people outlining their personal beliefs, and they run about 4 minutes each. I haven't made up my mind yet about this one, but the one by the autistic woman who made a career out of designing more humane slaughterhouses is not to be missed.
  • Slate Explainer: Slate takes a current news story and finds a bizarre question that requires more research, and presents an answer. For instance, faced with North Korea's declarations about nuclear warheads, they research how it is that a small cadre of folks learn (admitted strained) English in that insular country. Or they explain how museum professionals would fix a Picasso that you've accidentally punched a hole in, or what a protest at Gallaudet University sounds like. The answers are inevitably as entertaining as the questions. Highly Recommended.
  • This American Life: The highly acclaimed hour-long weekly radio series is now available in podcast form. The only catch is that you can only download the current episode for free; back episodes cost 95 cents. I've only listened to one episode, but on the basis of that episode I plan to make it a habit. Recommended, even though the one at a time thing annoys me.
  • The Folkways Collection: This is a 24-episode history of one of the 20th Century's more unusual record labels. Each hour-long episode discusses part of that history, focusing on an artist, a genre, or some behind-the-scenes aspect. The Folkways label collected all sorts of off the beaten path music--folk, country, world music, spoken word, jazz, etc.--from 1948 until the early 1970s, and it's now housed as The Folkways Collection of the Smithsonian. I'm picking and choosing on this one, having listened so far to the introductory generic history of the label, the country and bluegrass episode, and the Phil Ochs episode. I don't know how many more I'll check out, but this is a nice collection of the music itself along with personal biographies and other music history. Recommended if and only if any of this sounds particularly appealing to you.
  • The Loveline Archive. OK, I lied, this one isn't on iTunes. But it's years worth of complete episodes of what was the best radio show on the planet until Adam Carolla left to host what's probably the new best radio show on the planet. Each episode has the commercials removed and runs about 95 minutes. I don't know how legal this is and how long it will stick around, so if you love Loveline 10% as much as I do or more, you should start grabbing episodes now. Right now. Go. I'll wait.
The bottom line appears to be that if you're looking to find general interest podcasts, going to iTunes and looking to a handful of providers (NPR, PRI, KCRW, New York Times, CNN, PBS) will provide you a lot of good stuff, and following the "Listeners Also Subscribed To..." box will get you beyond that small group.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Big sports weekend, so let's summarize where I stand:

  • Michigan football survived what should be its last true test before the monstrous November 18 Ohio State game. This was a really tense game, but the defense again proved to be dominant. Northwestern and Ball State at home and Indiana on the road does not sound like any problem for a very good and a very steady team. If this does play out as everyone expects, one of the rivalry games on everyone's very very short list of best American sports rivalries will be played for the biggest stakes ever this year--and possibly again on January 8th if it's a super-close game and other dominoes fall right.
  • USC didn't play this week. In the next six, though, the Trojans play two conference road games, three consecutive ranked teams at home, and in-city rival fUCLA. Even as a fan I think it's unlikely the team gets through this stretch to finish out 12-0. Cal is the most obvious pitfall, but my hunch is that someone else does the deed--that USC over-focuses on that one and trips up against Oregon, Notre Dame, or even Oregon State. And this is too big of a rivalry for UCLA not to knock us off one of these years.
  • The entire preceding paragraph may simply be my denial of the possibility of a Michigan-USC championship game, which could make my head explode. By January 8th, I'd make Harvey Dent look well-adjusted and focused. I can't even think about this any more right now.
  • Pitt football. Ugh. Yeah, losing to Rutgers this year is different, but it's still losing to Rutgers. The winner here had a chance to play into the pre-ordained Louisville-WVU storyline for conference supremacy and a BCS game. The loser probably gets a ticket to whatever they're calling that Charlotte bowl now. That's us.
  • Beth-Center football. Go, go go, go you mighty Bulldogs! By virtue of a touchdown pass on the last play of the game, the Bulldogs knocked off Fort Cherry--the cradle of NFL coaches--for their first conference title in 12 years, setting up a possible run at their first WPIAL title game since I was in seventh grade, or possibly even first WPIAL title since 1975. In retrospect I should have put this at the end, because you've probably all stopped reading this part.
  • Steeler football. OK, here's what it comes down to. At 2-4, the Steelers play at Oakland and home against Denver in the next 2 weeks. Win both of those games and the season is back on track; lose either and it's over. The second half of the season features 5 divisional games, so if we're within striking distance then we have a fighting chance. But we also have Carolina and New Orleans, and a suddenly resurgent Tampa Bay. At 3-5 we would have to go 7-1 and pray, which is probably too much to ask. But 4-4 with a lot of offensive momentum and we'd be a team to be reckoned with. Note: there will be absolutely no reckoning if we don't learn to hold onto the goddamn football--12 fumbles in six games, losing 7, is way too many for a team that expects to do anything.
  • The World Series. I have to admit that I'm very torn on this one. On the one hand, I have no horse in this race and many of my friends are Tigers fans, so it would be nice to see the Tigers win for them. On the other hand, my National League pride is starting to get exercised much as my AFC pride was in the mid-'90s when I wanted an AFC team--any AFC team--to win the Super Bowl finally. At least the streak of sweeps has ended at 2, and I'm happy for that. But here's the thing--since 1990, only one NL team that existed in 1990 has won a World Series: Atlanta in 1995. The NL has only four total titles in that time period. I would really like to see the original 8 NL teams in particular reassert themselves. Of course, I'm not particularly holding my breath for the team I really want to see re-emerge. But maybe that's the final argument for cheering for Detroit--sucking for a very long time does not mean sucking forever. I think that's what they're calling the team highlight video this year.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I am starting to get to the point where people who don't know me quite so well and who probably don't know about my Weight Watchers odyssey are pointing out to me that I am losing weight which, of course, I knew, but it's nice to hear. The problem is that I'm really bad at taking compliments--I never know quite what to do when receiving a compliment of any kind, so I mutter "thanks" and try to either minimize it ("oh, so and so is really the one who did the work") or turn it back around ("no, you're the smart one, I just got lucky"). In this case, it's a little hard to do. To minimize would be to turn my back on my largest current preoccupation and thus would be self-denying in a really awkward way. Turning it around doesn't work either:

Person X: Hey, you're looking thinner!
Me: Thanks, you're looking more, um, well, antediluvian
Person X: ?!
Me: Gee, look at the time....
So I'm either going to have to take the statements as factual assertions rather than compliments ("Hey you're looking thinner." "Yes, yes I am.") or I'm going to have to learn how to take a compliment. If you have any suggestions about a third option that is even remotely socially acceptable, I'd love to hear about it.

I've also decided that if I'm going to force my continued obsession on both all of my readers, the least I can do is provide the nitty-gritty details. So you can now track my progress in the "Weight Tracker" heading on the right. Publishing weekly status updates on myself seems a bit too much like the WW Message Board People who scare the bejeezus out of me, but I'm going to call it a necessary evil and move on. And of course, feel free not to read it either. In fact, I'm still not sure why anyone reads any of this at all--perhaps that's because (at least in a roundabout way) I consider it a compliment. So thanks. You're all looking rather antediluvian yourselves.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I've been working my way through a fair number of Netflix recently; here are the last several:

  • Secretary. What I really like about this movie is that you feel as though everything you know about movie history tells you that these people cannot have a happy ending, cannot fail to be punished for everything that goes on in the first 90 minutes, and yet it turns out this movie has a different sensibility. Also, Maggie Gyllenhall is hot. I generally don't like Spader, but he's fine here.
  • The King of Marvin Gardens. The first half of the '70s gave us some of the finest movies of all time. It also gave us a whole lot of semi-incomprehensible weirdness. This is much closer to the latter. With Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, and Ellen Burstyn you'd expect a whole lot more; instead, you get a general sense that life is one big scam, especially if you live in Atlantic City, and that some chicks are just crazy. Not recommended.
  • Match Point. I suspect that the people who say this is the best Woody Allen movie in years are right, though I haven't seen many of his movies over the last 7-8 years, so I couldn't say. But everything is good here--the story, the little details, the music, etc. And though I'd never think it possible, the Woody Allen imprint is strong even without an on-screen appearance and without a New York setting.
  • sex, lies, and videotape. This is one of those movies that has become better known for puns based on its title than for the content. It's a shame, because there are four really well-written characters here--none of them totally likable, none of them totally villainous, all of them certainly damaged. Personally, I especially liked underrated late '80s/early '90s hottie Laura San Giacomo as the little sister who seems like the loser in life, but she is actually the one her older sister defines herself against. Again, likable movie despite the Spader; maybe I'm coming around on him.
  • I Heart Huckabees. Indeed I do--I reveled in the weirdness here. This seems odd to me, because there's a very Wes Anderson-ish tone here, and I generally dislike his movies--and further because my deep-seated hatred for Jason Schwartzmann generally goes way beyond anything I've ever thought about Spader. On the other hand, it's not Anderson but David O. Russell, who I generally do like. Go figure.
  • Silent Running. More with the early '70s weirdness. I really enjoy the pre-Star Wars scifi, but this one is simply a steaming pile of crap. It's not even a fun pile of crap. There's some sort of eco-friendly hippie message, but one that you can't really get behind unless you think it's ok to kill innocents in its name. Plus the plot doesn't even make sense. I can't think of any reason to recommend this at all.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I enjoy karaoke nights more than anyone should. I get that. I wish I could impart to the people who roll their eyes when I mention karaoke (or, at least, at the frequency with which I mention it) the enjoyment that comes from standing on stage at 1:45 a.m. and having an epiphany. In this case, the epiphany was that yes, it does make a lot more sense to face these kinds of things with a sense of "poise and rationality" than it would to face them with "poisoned rationality."

* * *

A couple of weeks ago I was walking around Borders trying to find a novel and having very little luck. I've always been a pain in the ass at video stores, libraries, and book stores because I go into option paralysis at the overwhelming number of choices available to me, and I either stand around dithering until someone or something forces me to make a decision, or I simply flee. But the last few times I've wandered into a literature section, I actully find myself having trouble finding anything I can imagine buying and then reading. I'm not sure what to make of this, but I hope I snap out of it. This time was no different.

After failing in fiction, I took one last look at the display tables and noticed the series of "Best American x of 2006" collections. I browsed several of them and for some reason (probably having to do with the presence of David Sedaris and P.J. O'Rourke and a general feeling that this is a genre I should have tried long ago) I picked up x = Travel Writing. I didn't know what to expect, but after finishing what I had been reading at the time, I dove in.

The bottom line: I loved it. Out of the 26 stories anthologized, at least 20 were winners--tales of fishing in Mongolia, skiing in South Korea, seeking out seasonal soups in Ecuador, retracing the footsteps of a 19th-century Scottish explorer in the Libyan Sahara, and sailing across the Atlantic in 25 (not-so-)easy steps. The tales followed an octogenarian down the rapids of the Grand Canyon, followed an American expat leading "first contact" trips into the Papaun interior, and sought out the tallest man in the world in a Ukranian village. Perhaps best of all, they came one after another--the stories more fun in juxtaposition than they would have been individually.

The stories made me want to go all sorts of places, of course, as travel writing is probably always designed to do. OK, a few of these stories make you not want to go certain places--fishing in Mongolia immediately comes to my mind, but several stories particularly decry modern air travel in general as well. The story that most made me want to do things was George Saunders' unexpectedly positive story of his trip to Dubai. Not only did it make me want to go to Dubai, but it also made me want to read more George Saunders. So conceivably, the travel book even knocked me out of my fiction reading rut.

* * *

I'm not the type of person who is inclined to look at things that are happening generally to everyone around and assume that they are things that the world is specifically doing to me. But if I were, I'd be inclined to think that the world is telling me that if I'm going to largely avoid winters starting next year, it's at least going to give me a doozy to go out on. As the bold text above this post indicates, it's freakin' October 12th. Right now in Ann Arbor, we are experiencing a snow squall. This is not cool. It also means I have to remember how to deal with winter, and not do things like, when leaving the house to walk over to this coffee shop, carry around a cold soda. Moron. I think my rationality may have been poisoned.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Here's what you need to know about spending your Saturday night at the finest drag bar in all of greater Toledo:

  1. Yes, the large group of women is probably a group of all lesbians, even if some of them look a little too lipstick-ish.
  2. The woman in the Steeler jacket may or may not be a lesbian; lots of women in Steeler jackets just look like that.
  3. If you're not sure of the gender of the person on the dance floor, look for man hands.
  4. The bachelorette party may be filled with hot straight women, and you may be the only unattached straight male in the house, but after they explain the "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" motif of their party and all start smoking, you may decide you don't want to take advantage of those proportions, even if you thought you could.
  5. It's totally not worth it to go just because it happens to be that "bar in Toledo across from the depot."
  6. But to see friends you don't get to see often enough, worth it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Weight Watchers is a pain in the ass. But until/unless I hit a creepy gypsy man's son with my car and he curses me, it's the plan I'm sticking with.

You have the option to be an online member or a regular member who attends meetings. For now I'm online only and I'll probably stay that way; it's hard to imagine that anyone who's read Infinite Jest and Choke could approach the whole meeting thing without a big dose of ironic detachment. If you're not a "meetings" member and you're online only like I am, you don't have a public weigh-in. Instead, you have weigh-in day on your own. The idea is that you pick a set of circumstances and you weigh yourself in the same way once a week--the same scale, the same time, the same general deal with food and drink, same clothes, etc. I've chosen Wednesday morning, at home, in birthday suit, after peeing and brushing teeth and taking pills, but before eating or drinking anything else.

Weigh-in day has several consequences:

  • Your week resets, so your extra "flex" points for the week start again.
  • You input your new weight, with the possibility that your points allowance will drop if you go past an arbitrary round-number threshold; it was disheartening to start knowing that as soon as I lost .2 pounds I would lose a daily point, as I then did at my second weigh-in last week.
  • You will have to get up at your normal Wednesday time even when your first morning class is cancelled. Grrr.
  • You will start thinking about next Wednesday, 7:30 a.m., at approximately 7:37 on Wednesday morning, and at least once every hour thereafter.
  • You will do things like walk toward home from the coffee shop Tuesday night with every intention of getting a burrito, but then decide at the last minute that you want a good number the next morning, so you won't polish off your activity points and weekly flex points, but will instead have pasta and let those extra points, to which you are perfectly entitled, go by the wayside.
  • You will be content, but certainly not satisfied, when you find that you have lost another 1.4 pounds this week, for a total of 4.8 in two weeks, and about 15 since the end of your summer job.
  • You will thus be reminded why you continue not to eat pizza, even though you're pretty sure that you would devour an entire one in 8.3 seconds flat given the slightest provocation.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I mentioned it over the summer, but early last month a book was released by a sort-of, barely acquiantance of mine (we played pub trivia together at least twice and against each other a few times). I bought it shortly after it came out, and I read it over the course of the past couple of days. It's a fantastic book for all trivia geeks; it would also be an interesting read, I think, for anyone who has a sense of what a college mentor of mine used to call "academic community"--the idea that there are other people out there who are interested in big ideas, in little facts, and especially in the connection between those two things. Bob never had academic community, per se, but as much as anything the book is about how he found (through a game show, of all things) that he was interested in those things, that other people were as well, and that that commonality was more important than differences in education, age, geography, profession, etc. If any of that sounds remotely worthwhile to you, then I suggest picking up Prisoner of Trebekistan. Anyway, it's a quick read.

I certainly recommend it for a more general audience than the last book I read, Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday. It's a history of the 1920s, which might sound good to the general audience, until I add that it was written in 1931. I enjoyed it, but definitely more of a history geek thing.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The best purchase I've made all year was the video iPod, hands-down. OK, the iPod--I haven't actually used the video functionality, and mostly went with it for the larger storage capacity. But still, it's been great.

I use it primarily in two places, the gym and the car. For some reason the gyms here have no music and no TV; wearing the iPod has thus improved the gym (especially cardio machine) experience tenfold. It's great in the car as well because my CD player is still the original one that came with the (1998) car, and it's seen better days. It works ok but only grudgingly on burned CDs, and sees scratches the way Haley Joel Osment sees dead people--or maybe the way he sees oncoming cars after a few too many beers, which is to say 3 for every 1 that's actually there. Also, Ann Arbor is just far enough away from both Detroit and Toledo to make reception of their radio stations a frustrating experience filled with fades in and out every couple hundred yards.

Being a Pod person now does create its moments of strangeness as well. Today on the treadmill I realized that most of the other exercisers (read: undergrads) wouldn't even understand most of the reference points as I listened to Frank Zappa's "Be In My Video." A few songs later I decided with great certainty, in succession that I was (a) undoubtedly the only person in the building at that moment listening to Jan & Dean's "Anaheim, Azusa & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review & Timing Association"; (b) probably the only person in the gym with that particular song loaded onto his/her iPod; and (c) quite possibly the only person in the world currently listening to that song on an iPod, and maybe at all.

Just in the last couple of days I've taken the podcast plunge at the gym, and I think I like it. So I beg of you, dear readers, to suggest some podcasts that I might want to consider downloading or even subscribing to. My preference would be to stick to audio, but by all means go ahead and make the case for a particularly compelling video podcast if one exists; I have the technology, after all. Beyond that, I'm open to any and all suggestions--with the other caveat being that I need things that will not make me fall off a cardio machine with laughter, anger, or any other potentially hazardous emotion.

Oh, and for the 99.99% of people unfamiliar with the aforementioned unique song, if you haven't already guessed by now which one of Jan & Dean's own songs they were trying to replicate the success of, it may be a strong hint to tell you that the line repeated ad nauseum at the end of the song is "Go, grannies, go grannies, go grannies go." See what they did there? It's the power of the plural.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

From the "blog about someone's specific job that creates weird interactions with the public" file comes The Blank Top Chronicles, a blog containing purported conversations of a taxi dispatcher. Anyone who has had a law school property class will particularly enjoy declining-property-values woman, who has clearly spent some time in Ladue, Missouri. (Link courtesy of long-time reader/commenter, first-time mentioned mony.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Quick hits (some of which aren't even football related):

  • A 48-hour turnaround time on an 11-hour roundtrip is a pain in the ass, but was worthwhile. Got to see the fam, including my dad's sister from New York. Also got to see the most important Steeler game of the night in person--and the less said about that the better.
  • Except for this: Heinz Field after a loss is not a fun place.
  • And this: the best jersey spotted was a #16 block-number Mark Malone. Nice.
  • Counting points is a little less painful than counting calories. A little. So far.
  • There are a zillion fun websites out there for killing time, but if you want to learn about interesting stuff in the process, it's hard to beat Arts and Letters Daily, a collection of literary, artistic, scientific, and political links from all over (though a bit Brit-centric at times). Just today I read articles about Dubai, the origin of Trader Vic's, the American last slave ship and Bob Newhart. Imagine what I could've gotten through if I had one more class!
  • Oh yes, classes. I'm calling this my semester of obligation. I'm taking Transnational Law (required), Ethics (basically required), Jurisdiction and Choice of Law (fundamental, especially given my switch to litigation, which I see I haven't mentioned; I'm going into the litigation department, not corporate transactions as I thought going into the summer), and Federal Indian Law (something different).
  • I'm only committing to one new show so far this fall, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I've always liked Matthew Perry, and SNL, and I've been looking for a semi-dramatic show I could follow from the get-go. People seem to like the Sorkin shows, although I haven't really seen much of his post-A Few Good Men work.
  • So far so good on the house front. I'm in a 5-bedroom, 5-person house this year, and I'm very happy not to be in a dorm or a sublet.
  • This is fun, let's do this more often...

Friday, September 22, 2006

A couple of people have asked me about the recent lack of posting. Part of it has been busyness and part has been spotty Internet access, but the biggest thing has been that the longer I've gone without posting, the more I've felt like I should have a big omnibus post summarizing everything that's happened since the beginning of time, or at least September 1. Since that would be kind of a pain in the ass, I'm just going to throw this up here so that we can move on.

Also, I officially joined Weight Watchers today. I've actually been losing a little bit of weight already, now that I'm still exercising regularly but am not eating in a dorm or like a summer associate. So we'll see how that goes.

Also, I haven't been reading any blogs lately either, so if you're on my blogroll and there's something you think you've "told" everyone by posting it, you might want to let me know separately.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Back in Ann Arbor; semi moved in; Internet will be turned on September 8, TV September 12; I'll try to survive the interim, but posting may be spotty[ier].

Friday, August 25, 2006

You can traverse the entirety of Wyoming and Nebraska, west to east, in a day on I-80.

I just wouldn't recommend it.

And don't just take my regular word for it--I'm staying in a Holiday Inn Express tonight!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Last day in L.A.! Tim and I embark tonight on San Fran where we'll be spending two nights and one day with our former USC roommate Dana. Then it's a whole lot of I-80: San Francisco to Toledo! Arriving in Ann Arbor Friday night, dropping stuff off, and down to Pittsburgh Saturday or Sunday. Back to Ann Arbor for good on Wednesday the 30th.

When I get a chance to breathe, perhaps I'll do a summer roundup post, since this was surely one of the more eventful and important summers of my life. Mostly for the good.

Friday, August 18, 2006

UDS - Deeper shade of soul

In case anyone out there has never gotten the joke...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

My friend and former TRASH colleague Rebecca has recently been published in the London Times, and for me it's a very personal story about trying to go from being an outsized human being to a more "normal" sized one, without losing your identity in the process. Good stuff.

This whole not-working thing clearly agrees with me. I've seen three movies in the last two days, probably doubling my total for the summer. My critical faculties have been dulled through lack of use, but I enjoyed all three: Wordplay, Talladega Nights, and Miami Vice. The championship caliber puzzle solvers in Wordplay reminded me a lot of top-level quiz-bowl folks, and that was fun to see. Talladega Nights was a decent movie in addition to being a funny comedy--five or six fleshed out supporting characters who you actually have some interest in, and not just background props for the star. Miami Vice was not great and had some silly moments, but Michael Mann really knows how to film cities and action, and I appreciate that the gratuitous violence was very graphic, because it wasn't comic-book movie violence where people get shot but we don't really see the consequences of the violence.

If you see just one movie this summer, I'd still go with Little Miss Sunshine, but if you see a bunch then I'd add any or all of these three to the list.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The rest of the story alluded to in my last entry was that for being such a good sport as "William Shatner", Jeff Ross offered to try to get me tickets to the roast. I gave him my email address and figured I'd never hear from him again, but the next morning he wrote to get my full name and to confirm my interest, and then he wrote back on Friday saying that I was in, along with a guest. I figured the only decent thing to do was to offer the plus one to the guy who got us the seats at the Improv, and so we went last night to the taping.

Being at a taping like that is cool, but not so much as you might think, for the running into people factor: Hey, that's that guy from Reno 911! Hey that's that other guy from Reno 911! Hey are there any actual famous people here?!

I feel like it would be wrong to spoil too many jokes, so here's a quick rundown of what to look out for when it airs next Sunday on Comedy Central, and then about 175,000 subsequent times since it's Comedy Central:

  • a strong set from Greg Giraldo to lead off
  • an OK performance from Jeff Ross, but not his best work (although, to be fair, I was hearing most of it a second time)
  • good videos from Leonard Nimoy, Ben Stiller, and Jimrah Kimverman (i.e.: Sammy Silmel).
  • a nice try by Nichelle Nichols
  • a million billion gay George Takei jokes
  • many of them in Takei's own set, which killed
  • assorted weirdness from Andy Dick that will hopefully be cut down in post-production
  • since Richard Belzer didn't show up for once, Andy Dick showed up looking exactly like Richard Belzer to a creepy degree
  • solid work from Patton Oswalt, including the history geek line of the night
  • good stuff from Betty White, both giving and receiving
  • some Artie guy from Howard Stern who didn't interest me
  • some long boring stories from Kevin Pollack that will hopefully be cut down in post-production
  • Lisa Lampenelli just absolutely killing, and I've never liked her before
  • Shatner taking it like a man, and dishing it out pretty well in the end.
All in all it was worth it, although I was reminded again about the adage about loving sausage and the law and seeing them made. The first rule of taping: four hours without a bathroom break sucked. I was actually thankful we were in the bleachers and not at a table getting wine.

Friday, August 11, 2006

I'll start with the good news, then move to the cool. Good news: got my job offer officially today. Woohoo! And our summer class was 6 for 6, which is awesome because we all get along and it would have been reeeeeeeally awkward otherwise.

Last night a group of us from work went to the Improv, where a friend of one of the summer associates was performing. He got us what would normally be great seats, except when there's an insult comic involved.

The headliner was Jeffrey Ross, who you know (if you know at all) as the king of the celebrity roast. He decided to do something that he proclaimed was unprecedented for him, which was to try out some of his material for the upcoming Comedy Central roast. In order to do so, he wanted to call someone up onto stage to play Shatner. In case you don't see where this is going yet, 90% of Shatner jokes are either fat jokes or bald jokes.

Yes, I got to be William Shatner for 10 minutes last night. And I (sort of) got roasted by the king. Let's just say, awesome. There may be more to the story, but I'll save it for now.

Monday, August 07, 2006

I don't know if any movie has ever won my affection quicker than Little Miss Sunshine. The reason? Attention to detail. The detail that won my heart was one that I can't remember ever seeing in a movie or on TV. We get a scene of domestic life from the main family, in their modest house, and if you pay attention you'll notice that the house is a mess. It's not unclean, but rather untidy. Stuff is piled all over the place--not because it's been a bad week and mom has temporarily lost track of the housekeeping, I think it's safe to say, but because that's how they live. Never before have I seen a dramatized version of what's basically a middle- or working-class family--not the elderly, crazy people, or the drugged-out poor--that just can't keep up with the house. I don't know how many people's experience that matches, but it certainly matched mine.

If not for that detail I would have enjoyed the movie and would recommend it heartily; because of that detail, I trusted it and came to love it.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Yep yep - Sesame Street Martians

I've really got to find an mp3 of these guys to download to my phone.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

So we did all sorts of the standard touristy stuff in NOLA--wander down Bourbon Street, get beignets at Cafe Beignet, get beignets at Cafe Dumond, get begniets at the airport on the way out of town, threaten to shoot the next asshole who offers you beignets, etc.

The work was hard, the fun stuff was fun, and the devastation was devastating. The first time I was ever shocked to see something in America was the massive number of soldiers carrying machine guns around the streets in the days after 9/11. The second was seeing entire, normal-looking, working-class suburbs simply abandoned en masse with debris piled up in yards, cars in trees, and utilities out for an entire year. The mint juleps at Emeril's, however, rocked.

And yes, the story currently circulating basically happened as reported.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Good morning, America, how are you? In a few hours our firm's summer associates will be descending on New Orleans like the mosquitos that will subsequently be descending on us. (What happens in New Orleans has a 5-10% chance of giving you yellow fever; New Orleans: come for the jambalaya, stay because you've been hospitalized with something exotic.) We're doing Habitat for Humanity, which I was delighted to find out does not mean that we're rebuilding partners' houses. We're also hitting Emeril's and the House of Blues. The downside is that we're representing the firm so we basically have to behave; the upside is that if we induce others to misbehave, we can chalk it up to client development.

Monday, July 24, 2006

For the first time in along time, this weekend was not about the firm at all. No events. So I can actually talk about some of what happened.

I went with a group to Fogo de Chao last night. It's one of those Brazilian barbeque places I'd heard so much about, where they just keep bringing meat to your table until you say uncle, and then maybe they bring just a little bit more. The meat varied in quality, but the variance was from pretty damn good on up. It was easily the most expensive meal I've ever paid for myself, but it was worth it.

Today was all about two things: completely lacking in any hunger at all, and avoiding the heat. L.A. has been on the high end of average temperatures for this time of year, but it's been combined with very unusual high humidity levels. It's been pretty miserable for about a week and a half. Yesterday was all about air-conditioning; today was about getting out to Malibu to hang out at/in the ocean. Nice way to beat the heat, I must say.

Last night I was in pretty early after dinner, but unwisely I stayed up pretty late playing online, and then made an unfortunate discovery. The good news is that if a water main breaks, L.A. will send out a crew to fix it at any hour day and night. The bad news is that if that involves jackhammering through a residential street between 3 and 5 a.m., so be it. I might have slept through it if I'd already been asleep, but there was no way I was getting to sleep with jackhammers going off 300 feet away. So today has been a groggy day, on insufficient and weirdly timed sleep, which I should get back to.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

I attended large portions of the Game Show Congress this weekend. I mean the following comment with all due respect and love for both groups: amazingly, game show fanatics may be even a slight bit dweebier than quiz-bowlers. I say this because they're basically the same people, but quiz-bowlers have the mitigating factor of being young and naive. Most of this weekend's attendees were old enough to know better. But still, good times.

I sort of knew this already, but the trivia world is freakishly small sometimes. As far as I could tell, about 100-150 people attended this thing. There were two I knew who I knew would be there. Then there were a couple of other quiz-bowl types I knew who I didn't know would be there. Then it turned out that one of the guys I've played pub trivia with or against this summer was The Other Guy in the finals of the Jeopardy Ultimate Tournament of Champions, along with Ken Jennings and That Dude Who Won. Then, it turns out another guy I've been playing pub trivia with and against has been on Jeopardy a number of times and has written a well-reviewed forthcoming book about the experience--and he gave an excellent reading yesterday.

I had a lot of fun with the Congress, but I also had to get from the Westside to Burbank three straight days, to a Malibu firm corporate department-sponsored brunch today, to a firm litigation department-sponsored bowling event Wednesday night (which had the misfortune of being counter-programmed at Hollywood & Highland against the filming of the ESPYs), a
firm labor and employment department-sponsored CLE event on Tuesday night, etc. etc. etc. Let's just say I have very little desire to get off of the couch all month evening.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The most interesting magazine article I've happened across in quite a while: just what is the Muzak company up to these days?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

As I lie in bed typing this, I'm reminded how ambivalent I am about the Fourth of July as a holiday. I'm not complaining about the whole "Happy Birthday, America" thing which seems reasonable enough--although Lexington & Concord, Yorktown, and the Treaty of Paris are all equally plausible dates for celebrating that. No, it's just that I've always been kind of skittish about loud noises, and so I really do not enjoy fireworks. At all. Particularly the "let's set these off in the street by ourselves rather than watching the professional display" kind, which are currently threatening my sanity, my getting to sleep when I want to (i.e.: pretty much now), and (if they're really errant) my car.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

So here's the thing: Interesting things tend to happen at work, but in the names of general propriety and specific confidentiality requirements, they're best not shared here. Some interesting things happen away from work, but generally those preclude me from having time to blog about them. So we're stagnating a bit right now--but every time I feel the need to point that out, things seem to pick up, so hopefully that will be true again.

Except I'm going to DC for the next 4 days and not taking my laptop, so probably not quite so soon.

Monday, June 26, 2006

I really don't want to turn this space into nothing more than YouTube videos and dishing about my latest celebrity sighting, but I do have a good story today. (My best celeb story of the weekend is not a sighting per se, but I'm not posting it here; I'll tell people about it privately by request, maybe. Actually it's not a good story, but it's a treeeeemendous first line of a story.)

Los Angeles has an amazing variety of food, but for reasons that I can't explain it's really bad at two things--Chinese takeout and real pizza. You can get brilliant upscale Chinese food, but the takeout is inevitably painful. Pizza is its own rant. You can get shit like the inexplicably popular CPK, and you can get Domino's or (thankfully now) Papa John's. But if you want pizza that is plausibly Italian and has the toppings God intended you to put on a pizza (pepperoni and maybe extra cheese), it hard to come by. And don't throw the "health food" thing at me--the city has the best fast food burgers on Earth three times over, and you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a Denny's and a donut shop.

Given all that, I've been wanting to try Mulberry Street for a long time. The backstory here is that actress Cathy Moriarty had the same gripe I have a while back, and so she decided to open a New York-style pizzeria. She opened it right in the heart of Beverly Hills. So I went looking for it today. I have to say that it's pretty cool to have that kind of dive-y pizza place right there on Beverly Drive, and it's cool that Moriarty works there herself. There was a woman taking phone orders who was plausibly but not definitively her, and I didn't feel like taking the chance and saying the only thing I'd want to say to her. ("Soapdish is one of the most underrated comedies of all time, and I loved you in it.") The other cool thing about Mulberry Street is that they've got really high-quality headshots of celebs on the wall, and not just has-beens and never-weres.
But even better, there are some cool juxtapositions--my favorite being the Michael Jackson headshot, displayed right next to (and only slightly less prominently than) Hillbilly Jim.

Anyway, this is simply a long way of getting around to explaining why I was walking down Beverly Drive tonight after parking, and how I therefore ran into (not literally) Pete Sampras waiting outside another restaurant. Normally that's a pretty good sighting, but it was even better today when I realized it was the first day of Wimbledon. I also loved the fact that he was wearing basketball shorts and gave off a vibe that suggested he wears them everywhere and no one says a goddamn thing about it.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

I'm looking to finally enter the portable music generation. I've been planning on buying an iPod sometime this summer, but now I'm hearing that they don't play WMA files, and I have about 8 gigs of those on my laptop. So that's a problem, I also have a fair number of MP3s, including about 50 purchased through the iTunes store. That's less of a problem, since in a pinch I can burn CDs and rip them as WMAs. But still a mild pain.

So what should I do? Is there an easy way to make buying the iPod work? If not, does anyone have any recommendations for or against any other brands or products? Having never had one, I have no preconceptions or features that I'm wedded to.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Random thought I meant to post like a month ago: If she uses Vasoline, then she does use a kind of jelly...

Monday, June 19, 2006

So I had all sorts of stories from the weekend and the Bruce wedding and whatnot, but today I went out to lunch with the managing partner of the firm to a notable Beverly Hills locale, and about halfway through the meal he turns to me and the other lawyer who came along and said, "Now you can't see this, but Betty White just walked in." She ended up sitting at the nearest table to us, maybe 10 feet away. Then he proceeded to say, "She's someone your mother would know." I spent a several minutes worth of the next 2 hours explaining to him why, in fact, she's someone I knew and, in fact, there are maybe 10 celebrities tops who I would have rather seen.

Let's just say, "Awesome!" and leave it at that.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

It may be a little emo for some tastes, and I'm not sure if it's really hit the rest of the country (in my experience L.A. tends to be a bit ahead), but this KROQ tune is my favorite song currently on the radio...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I've been getting up at 5:30 to walk over to the gym before work. It's a pain in the ass, but it has to be done. As you might imagine, the Wilshire corridor is not exactly hopping at that time of day, usually. This morning was WAY different. I heard the drum beats and other loud music from blocks away. Then right across the street from the gym I saw it--a couple of thousand crazed Red Devils, watching a gynormous screen, preparing to cheer for their Asian Tigers. The 6 a.m. Pacific kickoff brought together two of the expatriates' national passions: their soccer team and getting up early. When I left the gym at the half the mood was a bit more somber, but I'm sure Hanmi Plaza was rocking by the end.

I'm avoiding talk of other sports news until a few more facts are in and the situation going forward seems clearer. Bad times, but not the bad bad bad bad times it seemed at first, when I got 2 calls and 2 emails from 4 separate people within 10 minutes.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I've done this pub trivia with 2 different Masons the past 2 Wednesdays; act quick and you'll get to see me in a fez.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Tonight's event was interesting. Public Counsel is a big ol' pro bono, good guy law firm supported largely by all the big money-making law firms, and they had their annual banquet. Our firm is a big supporter and bought a good table, and had room for some summers, so we went. There was a silent auction and videos and speeches and some dude from Channel 2 News hosting, but really you only need to know 2 things. One is that Robin Williams came out and did about a 20-minute set, which was a whole lot of fun. Two is that the event was held at the swanky Beverly Hilton.

Yes folks, entertainers who were enormous 20 years ago and the Beverly Hilton: I now know what it was like to be a guest on The Mike Douglas Show!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

When I was at USC I used Bank of America for checking, and they were ok but not great but convenient at the time. When I moved back here the second time I used Washington Mutual and they were fabulous.

Fortunately for WaMu their fabulousness built up a lot of political capital with me, because they are current driving me fucking insane.

I opened a new checking account with them on my first full day in town, May 24. They told me I would receive my checks and card within 7 days, and from experience with them I figured that meant 3-4. When I didn't have them by yesterday, I called to see what was up, and the person on the phone somehow convinced me to wait another day and then call again if necessary. Tonight it became necessary.

So it turns out that they sent those things to the address they had when they closed out my last account as opposed to, you know, the address I now have, put down on the form, and told them to send it to. This is upsetting to me, but it's just the start. The person on the line finally sorted this part out, and then told me it would be 5-7 days to get my new card.

I said at this point that I guess that's ok, but if they wanted to make me happy, the only way to do it would be to overnight my new card. He got a supervisory person on the line and actually got me close to satisfaction. She said they could Fedex it to me, that it would probably arrive Thursday but maybe Friday, and she even agreed to send it to me at work given that no one would be home to sign for it during the day. I'm flying high at this point.

Then the kicker: "So, it'll take us about 7-10 days to send you your new PIN number, there's no way to recover the one you requested, and no way to speed up that process."

Oh WaMu, we are not amused at your taunting...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Now that I've received, watched, and returned my first 3 Netflix movies, I got the folowing message, or at least I should have...

Dear Netflix Customer, We generally send out one of those "If you liked these, then you should try this" messages at this point, but that's not going to work in your case. See, most people order some kind of new release, or classics, or movies from some genre they like. On the other hand, you ordered Manhattan, The Impostors, and A Boy and His Dog. Dude, WTF? I mean, WTF?! Unless your cat walked across the keyboard, we would suggest therapy. We're not sure what kind, but just try something. In the meantime, thanks for your business. Freak.

I enjoyed them all. A Boy and His Dog is in no way a good movie, but how can you argue with a post-apocalyptic wastland-type movie that nevertheless has that mandatory '70s cheesy countrified theme song?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

I knew that in the process of obtaining housing while 2,000 miles away, I would forget at least one crucial question. Since that question was, "Does it have air-conditioning," I spent much of the weekend driving around the city moving from place to place to avoid sitting around my apartment. Also, I take a certain joy out of what mastery of surface streets and shortcuts I've obtained in my years in the city. In my mind, the real heart of L.A. is not in any particular neighborhood nor in the freeways, but rather in the major thoroughfares--Sunset, Olympic, Wilshire, Hollywood, La Brea, etc. Even though it was primarily an exercise in getting from one coffee shop to another, I truly enjoyed reconnecting with the city in that manner this weekend; it also didn't hurt that I finally got an In N Out Burger in my system.

I spent a fair amount of the coffeeshop time reading Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon, a heavily praised 20th-century political classic. I highly recommend it if you like checking classics off your personal list, because it checks in at a mere 216 pages. As for its contents, I don't see it as a book to love, but it is certainly a book worth thinking about--it portrays the Stalinist purges, yet with some sympathy (or at least empathy) for the original goals of the Bolsheviks, and with no great love for Western bourgeois capitalist democracy. Admittedly it was written in the late '30s, a pretty easy time to be cynical about all ideologies. It's a book that I'll probably continue to think about for a long time, which in and of itself is high praise I guess.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Week one of my summer associate-ship (-ness? -thing?) is now in the books. Everyone says that what with confidentiality and employer monitoring and whatnot, it's best not to say anything on a personal blog about what goes on in a firm. So I may or may not have some assignments that may or may not involve clients, I may or may not be going to fancy lunches on a daily basis, etc. Sorry I may or may not be able to be more specific.

Given these restrictions, you should read up on a more typical law firm.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I knew it was close, but I didn't realize until today (my first on the summer job) that the office is only a block and a half from Beverly Hills. Turns out that with the restaurant situation very limited in Century City itself right now due to some construction, this comes in very handy. Two associates took me to the very cool Crustacean today. Apparently it's a pretty good place to see A-listers; we had to settle for the decidedly C-minus-list Judith Light.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The latest edition of the LA Weekly took note of the 10th anniversary of the death of Sublime lead singer Bradley Nowell. The story suggests something that I find so obvious as to be barely worthy of argument: Sublime belongs on a a very very short list of the most influential bands of the last 15 years, even though they never had mega-hits of their own. (The story says their highest album chart ranking was #13, and their highest single peaked at #87; that tells you everything you need to know about what's wrong with mainstream musical taste, IMO.) The article does a nice job of summarizing how Sublime anticipated several trends, mostly involving new musical fusions.

I'm not sure just how heavily Sublime's music penetrated the national consciousness; I first heard What I Got on the quirky independent public station WYEP in Pittsburgh, but Santeria got a lot of national alternative rock-type airplay I think. Their music remains unquestionably huge in SoCal, however. Case in point: this weekend KROQ played their top 500 all-time requested songs, and Smells Like Teen Spirit was surprisingly only #2. #1? Date Rape. Sublime also grabbed the following slots in the countdown: 16 (What I Got), 27 (Smoke Two Joints), 39 (Wrong Way), 59 (Santeria), 74 (Doin Time), 95 (Bad Fish), 122 (April 29, 1992), and 247 (Caress Me Down). That's 7 of the top 100, and 9 total.

Given that KROQ is one of the most influential radio stations in the world, I imagine that Sublime's influence will only grow over time; it's just a shame their body of work didn't have the same chance...

Sunday, May 28, 2006

When I last lived in Koreatown, I only sort of lived in Koreatown. It certainly felt like K-Town, based on the businesses on the corner and the other families in our building, but I think that's only because any strong ethnic enclave will creep over its borders. If you asked most Angelenos to circle K-Town on a map, the old place would probably fall just outside the circle.

My current place is right in the heart of K-Town, geographically, with the strange caveat that my block and those immediately surrounding it seem less Korean as a purely demographic matter. Admittedly, any ethnic "town" (Thai Town, Historic Filipinotown, etc.) in Los Angeles is likely to be just as Chicano/Centroamericano as it is its named ethnicity. Still, my building and block have substantial African-American, Chicano/a, and East Asian populations. It really is melting pot, or a tossed salad, or as one memorable admissions essay from my time at Pitt proposed, a melting salad.

Restaurant-wise, there are approximately 5,000 Asian restaurants of one variety or another right around Wilshire Boulevard, as well as at least 3 other restaurants. If you want Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, or Japanese food, you have no end of options. If you want falafel, there's one super-sketchy looking place. There's also an Italian place that seems to be run by Koreans, and a Carl's Jr.

The real gems, though, might be on 8th Street, which is right out my back door. Just on my corner is a steakhouse that came highly recommended even before I knew what neighborhood I'd be calling home. I haven't tried that one yet, but stay tuned. What I did try yesterday for lunch was Guelaguetza.

Guelaguetza is "un autentico comida Oaxaqueña," which is to say it features the cuisine of a particular Mexican state. The menu felt somewhat familiar but not really--even the things that sounded basically familiar as "Mexican food" were given a totally different spin. (I like to think of it as the menu of the Aztecs, minus the still-beating hearts of enemies.) Even the complimentary tortilla chip basket was different--covered with a brown sauce I can't identify and what I assume was goat cheese. Still, yummy. I ordered banana-leaf-wrapped tamales with black mole, and they were unbelievable. I also had horchata, which I love, which was served with chopped nuts and cactus fruit puree, which I could have done without but which was interesting anyway.

Bottom line: I'll be back early and often, and anyone who comes to visit this summer can count on a culinary trip to Oaxaca.

In less happy local retail news, Hollywood Video does not trust people with out-of-state driver's licenses, even if you give them a perfectly valid one and (more importantly) Visa-flavored security. Sigh. I suppose this will finally turn me into a Netflix person.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I went to one of my favorite places last night: the New Beverly Cinema. You might think that the film capital of the known universe would be overrun with revival houses; in fact, there is one. It's kind of a dump, the restrooms are bad, the seats are too clase together, and the stuff on the walls is heavily tattered. The sound system and screen, though, are pretty good. And the movies are fantastic. In the next 10 days alone they will have double bills of Kubrick, Coen Bros., Robert Towne, Woody Allen, and a Marx Brothers triple bill. Each evening of movies is a mere $7. You could get a hell of a cinematic education just by going there for a couple of weeks. I don't know how much I'll get there this summer, but it will be as often as I can manage.

I only went for the second movie last night, The Last Waltz. If you ever wondered what a concert documentary by Martin Scorsese would look like, well, you don't have to wonder because he did one. What it looks like is most concert documentaries, although with some nice cinematographic flair and more backstory. The subject is The Band, and specifically their 1976 farewell concert after 16 years of touring. You get insights into the life of a successful rock band, along with the self-awareness that a life of touring wears heavily. You also get an amazing array of guest stars performing with them: Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, Ron Wood, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Muddy Waters. Because the concert was held in 1976, you also get to see every single one of them with ridiculous haircuts and outfits--especially Van Morrison's life-changingly-bad Elvis jumpsuit thingy. You also get sights such as Neil Diamond awkwardly hugging Dr. John during the closing number. High comedy.

Mostly, though, you get The Band and its music. I'm not a huge fan, though I got into it as the movie went on. If you don't like their music, it would be a long 2 hours. Otherwise, it's probably worth checking out if any of this sounds interesting to you at all. Also, in the privacy of your home on DVD you won't have the weirdness of 25-33% of the audience breaking into applause at every song, while I muttered mostly to myself, "Um, they're not, um, here..."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The promised updates...

How CO tried to kill me: The Eastern half of Colorado is just a whole lot more of Western Kansas. Now, I will freely admit that I was somewhat wrong about Western Kansas--it is not as flat and featureless as I had remembered from my previous crossing of it. Of course, in the interim I have driven across Wyoming and Saskatchewan, so I now have a better grasp on the concept of "flat and featureless." Still, the highway is very straight, and the hills are gradual, not extreme.

I suspected there was about a 60% chance I would die on I-70 in Colorado, but I would have bet the house that it would be in the mountainous terrain west of Denver. However, that was eased when I stopped at a Starbucks and asked the barista if the mountains were as treacherous as I remembered them, the downhill parts, that is. She said no, not if you have a decent second gear--and after 14 years of driving I finally learned what "D3" and "2" are for. So Western Colorado was a snap.

However, in the Eastern part, I had the cruise control on and was coming up on a pickup in the right lane. I moved over to pass and was approaching it, when the driver failed to follow a curve in the road, moving over into my lane and cutting me off. I was pissed and slowed down and honked, but then grew even more curious when she didn't stop in my lane but continued well into the grassy median. About two-thirds of the way through, she realized what was happening (or, I suspect, awoke with a start) and turned hard to the right, but she over-corrected and shot across both lanes a few dozen feet in front of me (now that I was down to about 40 m.p.h.) before pulling over and stopping on the right shoulder. In both the initial failure to curve and the over-correction, I was at most a second and a half away from being rammed at 75 m.p.h. Bad times. I wasn't even really scared so much as I was pissed and confused, until about 2 minutes later when it really hit me what had just happened. Oh well, bygones.

Perhaps that banked the karma that I needed when I blew through a one stopsign town in Arizona the next day at 70 in a 45 zone, and yet got off with a written warning. I'll take it.

Why Laughlin is so depressing: I went to Laughlin because it was a very cheap place to spend the night, and since I was travelling I-40 instead of I-15, it wasn't just an alternative to Vegas either--it was an alternative to Flagstaff. Most people who go to Laughlin, however, go for two reasons: (1) they can't afford Vegas, but (2) they have a gambling problem anyway. Now, I'm not a moralist about this--I believe that Charles Barkley, for instance, has a gambling habit, but not a problem since he can afford it. But if you can't really afford it yet gamble anyway, that's a problem.

Laughlin is like Vegas Lite with all the glamour sucked out. The crappy shows are crappier; the previous time I was there the big show in town was a production of Driving Miss Daisy starring Sherman Helmsley, and this time it was comedian Bruce (the Lesser) Smirnoff. Even if you have been in a forest fire, you have never been anywhere smokier than a Laughlin casino. (Yes, Ann Arborites, smokier even than the 8 Ball.) You have also never seen so many people in wheelchairs, on oxygen, or both. Further, it is as if the developers said, "Sure, Vegas is 85 degrees at 8:30 a.m., but we've found a place that's 95!" It is a sick, sad place, and if like me you are not a big gambler, I would suggest the form of recreation I chose--dinner and breakfast buffets, separated by 11 hours of sleep.

The return to L.A. and Koreatown: In my first 24 hours in town, the following things happened:

  • The first 2 songs I heard on STAR 98.7 ("Today's best music") were Spiderwebs by No Doubt and All the Small Things by blink-182.
  • The 2nd song I heard on Indie 103, preceded by: "This one goes out by request. I'm sure you know it..." was Grey Cell Green by Ned's Atomic Dustbin. (For the record, yes I do, but I didn't think anyone else did.)
  • I navigated Santa Monica Freeway traffic from Ontario to downtown pretty well, only making the rookie mistake of staying in the I-5 lanes and not the faster-moving I-10 lanes that I needed anyway right after the 101 split-off.
  • I had to pee extremely desperately on my way into town so I went to the first place I could think of, the Starbucks at USC University Village, where I spent approximately 1,500 hours of 1999-2002, a fair number of them listening to Spiderwebs and All the Small Things.
  • I reupped with both Washington Mutual bank and 24 Hour Fitness.
  • I tried (and probably failed) to eat a bowl of pho as if I'd been there before.
  • I [barely] managed not to yell "hey, I'm almost but not totally positive that you're Ron Livingston" at someone who was probably Ron Livingston at dinner, no doubt to the ever-lasting thanks of Derek and Jessica.
Finally, in honor of the move back to K-Town, I've decided to go retro and adopt our old blog handle for the summer; don't worry Carly Simon fans, "Watching Myself Gavotte" will be back in the fall. Unless I think of something better.

Safe and sound in L.A. and settling in. Coming soon: stories about how Colorado tried to kill me, why Laughlin is the unhappiest place on earth, and whatever K-town throws at me in the next few hours...

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Sometimes you just have to drive 915 miles in a day. I don't recommend it, but sometimes it's the thing to do. It sucks a little extra to do that, only to end up in Topeka. So after being turned away by the Super 8, here I am overpaying at Sleep Inn. Though, admittedly, it probably doesn't compare to how I'll overpay if I get to Moab tomorrow as hoped. A day like this is always kind of a blur, as random thoughts pop in and out of your mind all day, and (like dreams) you forget most of them as quick as they come. But I do remember thinking: hmmm, possible state chamber of commerce motto: Missouri Loves Companies!

Also, Illi-NWAH is a boring state to drive across, but I have 356 more miles of Kansas ahead of me tomorrow, after which it might look like the Emerald City. Or at least one of those Emerald Nuts commercials.

BTW, I promised the semi-anonymous proprietor of Brain P**n (linked in the blogroll as Interim32) that I would help him reach his goal of 200,000 subscribers so he can make blogging his day job. I hope he's not sitting around waiting for that to happen, but you should all read him anyway; it's the most consistently well-written blog I've seen.

Friday, May 19, 2006

I'm hitting the road tomorrow first thing; as John Denver would say, all my bags are packed, I'm ready to go. The ambitious plan has me staying in Topeka, Moab, and Laughlin the next three nights; the less ambitious version puts me in Kansas City, Grand Junction or Glenwood Springs, and Flagstaff. Either way, I don't know whether I'll get any internets access on the road, so I'm not sure when another post will happen. In the meantime, I'll leave you with video of the song that is threatening Punk Rock Girl's 18-year run as my all-time favorite:

Oh, what the hell, here's Punk Rock Girl too.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The football player with Los Angeles and Pennsylvania ties has won the Republican primary setting up a challenge in November with a formidable Democratic incumbent. No, not this guy. I'm talking about current Los Angeles Avenger Greg Hopkins, who won the local primary here for the 50th District of the PA state House. Here's a nice profile, though it really doesn't explain how his career as a wide receiver/linebacker has prepared him for Harrisburg. The profile does answer some important questions, such as are there actually towns around here 5 times smaller than Beallsville? (yes, Nineveh, pop. 88) and is it possible to have an 11-year arena football career? (also yes)

Not much new to report here--still leaving Saturday, still shooting for L.A. on Tuesday evening. The unquestionable highlight of my week was finishing 2nd in a 30-person poker tournament at my brother's bar (he tends and bounces), and the specific highlight was this: With 7 people at the table, the guy with the 4th biggest stack out of 7 (I was 2nd biggest) decided to buy a pot by going all-in as the dealer. I'd called before that, planning to raise heavy on the flop, but laying low until then. I was the only one who met the challenge. He flips over his KQ suited, and I countered with what I think were my first ever pair of pocket aces. The table went nuts, and I took the guy down.

I would've won the whole shebang too because I had a slight chip lead when we got down to 2 people, but the other guy went all in with 2 kings and got a 3rd on the river, and it was all-but over at that point. Still, it was nice to sit down at a table with people who play regularly and more than hold my own.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

I've been working out this week at the gym that lumber built. OK, I'm sure that there are many gyms that are partially or mostly built out of lumber. But that's not what I mean. This gym is across the street from the world headquarters of 84 Lumber in (wait for it) Eighty-Four, Pennsylvania. A few strategically placed logos suggest strongly that the gym itself is under the corporate umbrella. While they clearly try to make some money by opening up to the public, the number of people working out there suggests that it's heavily subsidized by the company for tyhe executives and others working at headquarters, because there's no way it's thriving on its own. I'm pretty sure yesterday was the only time I've ever been the only person in a cardio room at 11 a.m. on a Saturday. Not for all that long, mind you, but still.

On the plus side, that means I've generally had control over the TVs in the cardio room most days, with the exception of the awful morning we'll call The The View Morning. Otherwise it's been a steady dose of the ESPN family of networks, and/or the surprisingly decent music video channel that I think is specifically for fitness centers. That's where I saw the bit of awesomeness below, which any fan of Beck--or in the alternate, Mad Magazine--should enjoy...

(Or here, if my embedding experiment fails/takes too long to load)

Friday, May 12, 2006

I kicked off my summer movie season this afternoon with a viewing of Poseidon at a local mall. As some of you may know, I am a huge fan of the disaster-movie genre--good, bad, and truly awful. In fact one of the factors (ok, relatively minor, but on the list) influencing my choice of travel dates is making sure that I am somewhere where I can watch 10.5 Apocalypse a week from Sunday and the Tuesday hence. More on that below. I don't believe it's possible to make a better disaster movie than the original Poseidon Adventure, so I was bound to be disappointed. And of course I was.

Disaster movies have a tried and true formula like most specific genres do. You can tweak the conventions, shatter them, parody them, or stick to them with a cheesy wink and nod. Any of those can produce a fun movie. Instead, Poseidon does none of those things, but merely reproduces the formula with updated special effects. The result is a workmanlike effort that doesn't suck, but doesn't make you laugh and doesn't do much of anything else either. It's just kind of there. If you're not particular about your disaster movies or your summer movies, then by all means go and enjoy it. Just don't expect anything particularly new, interesting, or memorable. If you really want to see a disaster movie done well, rent the original--it's cheesier, slower, and sillier, and that's arguably why it's the much better movie.

As for my travel plans, I'm settling into the notion of leaving next Saturday, which will put me in L.A. a week from Tuesday, the 23rd. I'm going to take the I-70 route to Utah, which I haven't done since my first cross-country trip in 1998. The one thing I hated about that trip was driving in Denver rush hour traffic; when it was slow it was bad, and when it was fast it was worse, as people careened down steep grades I'd never seen before while honking at me for only going 75 because I was terrified. I'm remedying that somewhat by planning to go through Denver on Sunday. I should get to around Kansas City on Saturday night and either Glenwood Springs or Grand Junction in Western Colorado on Sunday. On Monday I'm leaving the interstates just over the Utah border to drive down through Moab, stop at Four Corners, and drive through Monument Valley. I'll pick up I-40 in northern Arizona, and will stay Monday night in Flagstaff or possibly Laughlin, Nevada. Tuesday the home stretch should be an easy half-day drive.