The Garden

A squash-friendly blog for our times

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

My usual partner for New Year's Eve is too tired and under-the-weather to celebrate this year. I couldn't even convince him to drink champagne and play Monopoly with me. (We first tried that odd combo three years ago.) Bummer, man.

UPDATE: It seems that I almost guilted him into it. I should probably resolve to be less passive-aggressive in 2003.

At last, a real blog entry: Sam Heldman at Ignatz had some interesting comments yesterday about Southerners (he is one, you know). He's noticed, he says, that many Southerners often "don't know when they're saying something that constitutes a position on a disputed issue of politics or morality." Why? They live in such homogeneous communities they don't even recognize that their comments—which they believe to be "obvious truths," worthy of small talk—might provoke disagreement in a different time or place. When these Southerners are confronted, they believe it was the dissenter who impolitely injected politics into the mix. Heldman's example is the comment at an "otherwise perfectly lovely part[y]" that trial lawyers are ruining society. When someone balks, it's the disagreement that is seen as out-of-place.

Allow me to set aside Heldman's political spin (about which I have no public position) on this phenomenon and, even, to otherwise disagree with him a little bit. I don't think the trait he describes is particularly Southern; instead, I think Heldman has put his finger on one of the telling traits of small towns and rural areas. (Yes, see Sociology 101.) I grew up in a place where acquaintances and outright strangers felt (and still feel) free to make downright outrageous comments about religion, race, politics, and the like. Outrageous, that is, only when viewed from the outside. I was reminded of this when I was home for the holidays this year. I love my hometown dearly, but it's possible there to hear people make comments that assume that everyone in hearing range is a Christian (indeed, a Protestant of one of a few particular stripes), or that no one would object to certain jokes, or—more trivially—that everyone hates tofu. Usually, I think, the people who make these comments are gentle people. They just haven't previously been exposed to anyone who might disagree (or, at least, to anyone who might speak up to disagree).

This phenomenon is something that becomes palpable to me whenever I go home. For the first day or two of a trip, I'm constantly amazed about the assumptions that others make. On the other hand, I'm constantly touched by the easygoing familiarity—the sense of, well, community—that I'm afforded. I guess there probably wouldn't be one without the other.

As I said, contra Heldman, I think this phenomenon has more to do with urbanity than per se geography. Yes, you can experience it in the South, but you can also experience it in small-town Pennsylvania and rural Ohio. In fact, I think you're more likely to find it in Small Town Anywhere than in Atlanta or Tulsa.

Nitpicking aside, Ignatz is a well-written, thought-provoking blog.

Monday, December 30, 2002

I'm back from a week in my hometown. Regular blogging, such as it is, will commence again sometime tomorrow.

Sunday, December 29, 2002

They're not quite obits. Today's New York Times Magazine features smart little glosses on obits (free registration may be required) for several notable persons who died in 2002. My favorites: Julian Rubinstein on Roone Arledge, Armistead Maupin on radical faerie Harry Hay, Douglas Brinkley on former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, and Anthony Giardina on historian Stephen Ambrose.
Here's a quick look at this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer. A front-page story looks at the life of a repo man. Also, the quest for Eagles playoff tickets has begun. And sportswriter Frank Fitzpatrick has this look at the concerns of women's groups about the presidential commission examining the regulations used to enforce Title IX in athletics.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Merry Christmas! If you got a Chia pet this year, keep me posted, ok?

Sunday, December 22, 2002

I've taken the next week off from work. I'm not sure if that means you can expect more or less posting here. With many family activities ahead of me, it may well be less. If so, don't worry about me. I'll be back in form soon.
It would be hard not to be moved by the story of the Revolutionary War army at Valley Forge. That difficult winter occurred 225 years ago. If you're ever in my area, a trip to Valley Forge National Historical Park is a must.
It wasn't the hard news that captured my attention in today's Inquirer. I enjoyed stories describing Japan's reaction to the influx of foreign words in Japanese, the search for a new kilogram standard, biometeorological confusion as to why winter is the deadliest season, a 1920s witch-hunt for gay students at Harvard, and anxiety over royal succession in Kuwait.

A piece in the Travel section looked at a Japanese-style bed and breakfast near Seattle. After reading the article and checking out the website for the "futon-and-breakfast," I'm sold. Maybe I can work in a visit to Seattle in 2003.

And, finally, the Inquirer's food critic Craig LaBan, whose work I've enjoyed from my days in New Orleans and his at the Times-Picayune, favorably reviewed one of my favorite restaurants these days--Jones on Chestnut Street. But, gosh, does this mean it'll be even harder to get a table?

Friday, December 20, 2002

What would an honest personal ad look like? Here's one hilarious possibility (link via Gawker).
If you celebrate it, I hope you're enjoying the Christmas season. An interesting article in today's Washington Post, though, looks at services that some churches hold for those having a blue Christmas.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

My favorite radio station is Philadelphia's WXPN, and I'm proud to be a member of the station. Every year during the holidays, 'XPN plays, in full, its listeners' Top 50 CDs of the year. I can't wait to hear how we voted this year. Here's my ballot (these selections are not in order of preference):

A) While You Weren't Looking by Caitlin Cary
B) Let It Rain by Tracy Chapman
C) Sidetracks by Steve Earle
D) The Instigator by Rhett Miller
E) The Great Divide by Willie Nelson

I'm feeling a little guilty because I didn't include Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips. Yoshimi is getting a lot of airplay in my office--and my head--these days. So, if I could, I'd like to give an honorable mention to The Flaming Lips. It is so ordered.

Not to get all meta on you or anything, but today's Washington Post contains a good article on legal issues facing bloggers. A sidebar includes a link to one company's weblog policy. Muy interesante.
As I had hoped, I was able to spend my lunch hour at Howard Bashman's oral argument on Wednesday. I sort of felt like I was testing out some new role: Blogistan groupie. It was good to be able put a face with Howard's name (and with How Appealing). And it was a good excuse for me to attend an oral argument, something I rarely do anymore.

Although he didn't have it up quite before I got back to my desk, Howard did quickly post on the argument.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

If I can tear myself away from my desk for a few moments on Wednesday afternoon, I'll pop in on Howard Bashman's oral argument before my employer. I'm sure the ever-efficient blogger will have a full report up on How Appealing before I'm even back at my desk....

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

I'm a sucker for a touching story about a dog, and this one by Jeff Cooper at Cooped Up has been with me since I read it.
Division-leading hockey teams met in Philly tonight, and I was there. Two third-period, power-play goals allowed the hometown Flyers to snatch an unlikely tie from the Dallas Stars. The Stars scored quickly and dominated play for the first two periods. But the Flyers got things together at the end.

Monday, December 16, 2002

After 10 nights, I'm going to miss my nightly date with ESPN and the National Finals Rodeo. On Sunday, Texan Trevor Brazile won the all-around title over South Dakotan Jesse Bail. It was an exciting contest, and--up until tonight--I thought Bail, who had made the finals in two different events, would pull it off.
While I was up late, waiting for Blogger to turn all cooperative again, I stumbled onto this article about lesbian high school sweethearts who were named "cutest couple" by their peers at an Illinois high school. Sweet stuff.
My last post was meant for yesterday, but I hadn't been able to convince Blogger to accept it. I wonder if the Bay Area's weekend of horrible weather finally got to Blogger's servers.
Well, you already know the big news. Here's what else had me interested on Sunday. A front-page article in the Philadelphia Inquirer examined how Pennsylvania activists successfully sold one of the nation's most progressive hate-crimes laws to mid-State, conservative legislators. Another front-page story looked at how Viagra's popularity has aided wildlife conservation. Really. And inside the Inquirer, book columnist Carlin Romano, describing the gargantuan tasking facing book reporters, asked what newspaper sports and media coverage would look like if there were 114,000 games or movies to cover each year.

It's a shame the Inquirer no longer has a proper books section, instead of a single books page, for Romano's always-stellar column to anchor.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Poor Moby. Two (some reports have said three) men jumped and maced the techno star last night after a benefit concert in Boston, apparently causing only minor injuries. The natural suspects? Eminem fans, of course. After all, the two artists have feuded. In one song, Eminem raps about Moby getting "stomped." And Eminem's recent concerts have had the rapper shooting a Moby-like figure. But a p.r. guy for Eminem's label said it was "ridiculous" to suggest that Eminem fans may have been involved, and he stressed that Eminem had never "advocated" violence against Moby. Yeah, right.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

It's an obsession: Yesterday, as the hyper-efficient Howard Bashman has already noted, the wonderful TV show Monk got a shout out in an opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Cool, huh?

P.S. to Howard -- Yes, Monk now airs on ABC, but that network has the re-runs. If you want the originals, you still have to go to USA Network.

I have two related rants for your reading pleasure today. First, why are the record labels still subjecting consumers to those sticky plastic strips at the tops of jewel boxes? Isn't it bad enough--er, isn't it enough protection from shoplifting--that the entire CD is enclosed in the most efficient cellophane known to humanity, cellophane so well-sealed that it's apparently impervious to anything but scissors or a sharp knife? Apparently not. We're forced to deal with those maddening sticky strips, too.

When you've purchased a new CD and managed to overcome the cellophane, your next task is to, somehow or other, get your fingernail under the end of the strip that's oh-so-unhelpfully marked "pull here" or just plain "pull." That's no small problem, though, because the strip is incredibly thin and it's held onto the jewel box by adhesive so strong that it's probably being used to keep the space shuttle together. If you're lucky, after 50 or 60 tries, you'll have a tiny edge of the "pull here" tab off the box. That's when the fun really begins. You pull ever so gently--probably not for very long, though, because the plastic strip has been devilishly designed to be weaker than the space-shuttle-quality adhesive underneath it. Invariably, you only get a tiny, tiny portion of the strip off before you have to start the whole infuriating process again--only this time, there's no helpful "pull here" tab to start you off. (There's really no satisfactory work-around to this problem, either. Even if you use a knife to split the plastic strip down the middle on the top end of the jewel box, you still have to get the resulting pieces of the strip off.)

If you're a clean freak like me (ok, Mom, like me sometimes), you'll want to remove the entire sticky plastic strip. When the adhesive's just the right quality, though, this could take you 15 or 20 minutes. By that time, you won't care anymore about the new Steve Earle CD you've just liberated. You're well on your way to a breakdown. (And, no, that wasn't a reference to "19th Nervous Breakdown.")

This brings me to my second rant. I buy a lot of used CDs--from, eBay, other online venues, and (hey, here's a radical concept) actual brick-and-mortar stores. Often, I end up with CDs that still have bits and pieces of the sticky strips stuck firmly on the jewel boxes. If you thought it was difficult to get these bits and pieces off of a fresh, new CD, try getting them off of a CD that's been baked in somebody's Ford Windstar for a couple of years. Twice this week, I received a CD that had been billed as "like new," only to receive a jewel box that was covered with the remains of the sticky strip and, even worse, the glue that once held the strip in place. Understand: I'm sympathetic to the music lover who eventually gave up on getting the darn strip off. But, really, if you're going to sell "like new" CDs, you're going to have to get used to getting all that junk off the jewel boxes. If there's any justice, offenders of this rule will get an extra 15 minutes of--no, not fame--purgatory when the time comes.

Well, if you stuck with my ravings this long, you deserve something. How about a helpful hint? Although it's not that useful in removing the actual plastic strip, vegetable oil (and, of course, a little fingertip pressure) will get a lot of old glue off a jewel box. Take that, Heloise.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Speaking of Slate, one of its sports nuts offers this piece about the ridiculous new mascot of USA Track & Field. It's a furball formerly known as Bounce [FFKAB]. Please don't ask me to introduce FFKAB to the shot putters and the hammer throwers, ok? I suspect they're not going to be amused.
A strangely provocative piece on Slate examines the economics of spanking. Really. It suggests that being spanked as a child actually causes a person's adult earnings potential to be lower. (An alternative explanation for the numbers--that there's a correlation simply because (a) poor children are more likely to grow up to be poor adults and (b) the poor are more likely to resort to spanking out of frustration and the like--makes a lot more sense, doesn't it?)
I'm thinking about Pete Rose, of course. We all are. Again. Every few years, we have to. Probably because everyone has had so much practice, a lot of good stuff is being written.

What's different now? After all, baseball's top man--whether it was Bart Giamatti, Fay Vincent, or Bud Selig--has always been unalterably opposed to Rose's reinstatement. According to this AP story, Selig has been swayed by the passage of time. Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News has a different take: He thinks Selig is desperate for some good p.r. for himself and for baseball. sports columnist Mike Celizic explains better than anyone else I've seen why betting on your own team to win ought to be condemned. The short version? Well, if you have a lot riding on tonight's game, you may sacrifice tomorrow night's or even the next night's game to save your own checkbook. Celizic fully expects Rose to be welcomed back into the game; he just wants there to be an awfully big asterisk on Rose's Hall of Fame plaque.

Finally,'s Rob Neyer questions the logic of fans who support Rose. In an ESPN poll, he notes, more fans thought failing to hustle and using recreational drugs were greater sins that betting on the game. Hmmm.

Virginia Postrel is worried that the "ongoing emptying out of the rural midwest" will have negative consequences for our democracy (link via The Volokh Conspiracy). Her concern? That the "shrinking states" continue to have the same number of senators as populated states. Well, um, why is she worried about that now, 215 years after the Great Compromise? Wyoming, Vermont, and Alaska--none of which qualifies, I recognize, as Midwestern--have always had the same number of senators as California, Texas, and New York. This is true even though California's population is some 65+ times that of Wyoming's. What is it about the Midwest, and she only mentions North Dakota as an example of an emptying state, that concerns her so?

I have to say, though, that it is a bit ironic that the U.S. Senate would be unconstitutional if it were a state's chamber.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Snow job: John W. Snow, President Bush's nominee to be the new Treasury Secretary, has resigned his membership at the all-male August National Golf Club, home of the Masters. Hey, if this kind of thing keeps up, Augusta National will seem downright 20th century by 2025 or so.

One thing about the Masters controversy has particularly puzzled me. Several people have told me that since it's legal for Augusta to be a boys club, others should simply accept the club's decision and move on. That contention seems to conflate legality and morality, though. Just because something is legal doesn't mean, necessarily, that it's moral. You can probably think of a few things that strike you as immoral albeit legal. (Email me with your personal favorites, ok?) Whether or not Augusta National's membership policies fall into the legal-but-immoral category is something that I'll leave to you. But whatever your position on Augusta National, I bet you believe that all persons have a right to speak out against whatever they think is immoral.

Is Bubba ready for this? Maybe so. A songwriter is recruiting contestants for an American Idol-style search for the first openly gay country singer. I hope the show finds a home because it sounds like lots of fun. In fact, can I volunteer to be a judge? It would be a pleasure to help shake Nashville up (link via Reality Blurred).
Try as I might, I seem to be unable to avoid news about the season finale of The Sopranos. I have the last four episodes of the season safe and secure on my TiVo unit; I just haven't found time to watch them. It hadn't occurred to me that this would be a problem or that I'd have to live a media-free life (God forbid) for a few days. But three different times this week, I've learned about a key plot point in the headlines of articles. I've had enough self-control to avoid reading the articles, but golly. In these days of the VCR and the DVR and the like, should editors really be putting spoilers in the actual headlines? Dang.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I've had this same problem in the past with Survivor, and The Sopranos seems to have a similar hold on our collective attention these days.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Variety is key. While I attempted to do my online Christmas shopping, I watched--via TiVo--the second go-round of the National Finals Rodeo and, then, figure skating. I wonder how many other people spent the day with both Hongbo Zhao and Trevor Brazile. Not many, I'm betting.

As for the Christmas shopping, well, I spent too much money, and I doubt I got anything that anyone really wants. And worst of all, I'm still not finished.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

I usually don't have time for news of the off-kilter, but how could I resist these stories? In Berlin, the body of a suicide victim was mistaken for performance art by gallery-goers. A columnist for the Detroit Free Press reports that a notorious spammer is unhappy about all the junk snail mail he's been receiving. A jury passed judgment on a Texas man who killed his friend for drinking the last beer in the fridge. And Socks--yes, that's the Clintons' cat--will be the grand marshal of a Little Rock parade. Poor kitty.

Friday, December 06, 2002

Maybe I'll hold off on those season tickets. Tom Glavine picks the Mets over the Phillies. Bummer.
Roone Arledge is dead. Arledge shaped modern sports television before turning his attention to news programming. As the Philadelphia Inquirer's TV critic Jonathan Storm wrote today, Arledge was "[c]onvinced that sports, and later news, should be emotional experiences for the viewer." That approach was so influential that it's hard to even imagine sports programming that doesn't show athletes close up (as well as "up close and personal") or commentators as characters (think Howard Cosell and the rest of the Monday Night Football gang).

I think it's fair to say that, along with ABC's super-host Jim McKay, Roone Arledge inspired my love of sports. As a kid, I lived for Saturday's Wide World of Sports. Whether it was ski jumping, horse racing, or even barrel-jumping on ice, I was there. In fact, if I hadn't spent so much of Saturday in front of the TV watching sports, I might have swim legs or a decent forehand today.... And, as this appreciation in today's Washington Post suggests, Arledge played a big part in inspiring Americans' love of the Olympics. ABC somehow brought viewers just the right balance of competition and off-the-field back-story to make the Games--even events like luge, Greco-Roman wrestling, and weightlifting--interesting to both sports fiends and sports phobes alike. I hope the International Olympic Committee, which has thrived in the past 30 years on the fat royalties the American networks have paid it, realizes just how big a part in its success people like Roone Arledge played.

All that said, it's probably fair to say that Arledge's approach hasn't been good for TV news. I certainly wouldn't want the "credit" for 20/20 and Primetime Live in my obituary.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

I'm not a big fan of winter, and today reminded me why. It was snowing when I got up this morning, and--unlike a significant chunk of the Philadelphia metro area's population--I had to drag myself into work. It was what a good public servant would do, you know? The commute was a struggle, and I felt like I'd already done hard labor when I got myself into the office. What followed was a day of frustration: I couldn't find anyone at another local court who could provide the information that I needed; telephone messages and emails to attorneys went unanswered; etc. It was a relief when the court where I work finally closed early at 3 p.m. If anything, though, the trip home was even more difficult--and time-consuming--than the morning commute. Tomorrow, I may have to try snowshoes.

For the record, Philly apparently got between eight and 10 inches of snow today. It's been several years since either Philly or I saw that much snow in one day. I hope to dream tonight about Key West or New Orleans.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Handy Andy Kane must be one helluva popular guy. Since I mentioned the handsome, down-to-earth carpenter in a post here, I've had visitor after visitor find the site through various Google and Yahoo searches involving him. I bet many of those visitors were looking for full spreads on the star of BBC's do-it-yourself challenge Changing Rooms. Sadly, though, there are no pictures here of a shirtless Handy Andy, no links to gossip about his personal life, and no top-10 lists of my favorite Handy Andy moments on Rooms. I hope my visitors via Google and Yahoo weren't too disappointed.

All that said, I can't think of anyone I'd rather meet than Handy Andy. Maybe I should build a web shrine to him....

It's no secret that I love game shows. I even watch the Game Show Network's low-rent, lame production Lingo, a dumbed-down hybrid of Scrabble and Bingo. It's also no secret that I enjoy reality TV. I draw the line, though, at watching a behind-the-scenes series about the production of Lingo (link via Reality Blurred). What could possibly be interesting about that? Does host Chuck Woolery throw tantrums about the cheap sports jackets he's forced to wear? (He should.) Do the winning contestants bicker over who'll get to use the Borders gift card first? Do the producers have to stop tape frequently to look up words like kooky and plink?

I just don't care, and I bet you don't either.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Mondays can be rough days. But if you're a tennis fan like me, Monday's saving grace is that it brings a new installment of Jon Wertheim's "Tennis Mailbag" for Sports Illustrated Online. Wertheim has a good time covering tennis, and it shows. Each week, he gives a little behind-the-scenes news, answers questions from knowledgeable fans, and gets off a few one-liners. Among this week's highlights: No, when Melbourne Park--home of the Australian Open--names its No. 1 court for legend Margaret Court, it won't be known as the Court Court. A reader suggests that the long-lost sibiling of Sweden's Thomas Johansson might just be Timmy from South Park. And, hmmm, why is Wertheim saying (teasing?) that tennis fans will definitely want to pick up SI's swimsuit issue in February? (If Anna K. is on the cover, hormone-induced bedlam will surely ensue among teenagers around the world.)

Sunday, December 01, 2002

I'd probably have to win the lottery twice to be able to afford an apartment on this luxury ship that sails around the world all the time. It sure sounds like heaven, though.
Sunday ritual: It's six weeks after I moved into a new apartment, and I'm still unpacking boxes. Ugh. I did ditch the unpacking for awhile today, though, to glance at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Although it's World AIDS Day, an interesting front-page story in the Inquirer looks at the rare genetic diseases faced by the state's Mennonite and Amish populations. A piece in the opinion section asks whether the now-ubiquitous word "homeland" is un-American. (To me, "homeland security" sounds like a department that a bad guy on a non-Federation planet would lead on Star Trek.) Also, the Inky opines that the National Park Service's security at Independence Mall and the Liberty Bell is unnecessarily off-putting.

On the less-serious front, an Inquirer feature looks at Bunco and the soccer moms who are playing it regularly in the burbs. Bunco is a dice game for 12. I wonder what this guy thinks about it.


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