The Garden

A squash-friendly blog for our times

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

"I'm out, because I refuse to continue hiding from the truth that an openly gay man has as much right as a straight man to play sports or report on them." That's what sportswriter Ed Gray wrote in a column in today's Boston Herald (heads up via Queer Day, which linked to the Boston Globe's coverage of the story).

Monday, September 29, 2003

I've been tinkering with the Garden's blogroll the past couple of days. My main goal was to add a separate category of fertile photoblogs, one of my current passions. I've moved Easterwood (or, more correctly, hmmn: musings from the far east(erwood)) and Hunkabutta to this more natural home. I've also added links to several other good photoblogs, including F>I>L>M—which I've repeatedly linked recently.

I've only just begun to explore the realm of photoblogs. If you have some favorites, please let me know about 'em, ok?

TO: Autumn lovers
FROM: Green
RE: Getting (you) in touch with reality
DATE: September 29, 2003

It has come to my attention that there are many of you who assert that autumn is the best time of year. My flatmate is always saying that autumn is his favorite season. I heard another of you say today that you thrilled to summer as a kid but that you love fall more and more as you get older. You go on and on about football, the new chill in the air, the yellows and the rusts in the leaves, and Thanksgiving.

I want to call your attention to some other things, though. There's that tickle in the back of your throat. The way you're so congested that you can only breathe through your open mouth. There's that cough that makes you sound like Typhoid Mary. (Yes, dear flatmate, I'm thinking of you.) The way you can't decide whether to turn the air conditioner or the heater on. I want to call your attention to the way you're feeling right now. To the way you're alternately chilled and feverish. I want to call your attention to your sudden need to have cough syrup right there on your desk. (If you're sick, you could go home, you know? I'd just as soon not have to be inundated with your germs every second of the work day.)

Yes, friends, I want you to realize that the congestion and the horrible, unending hack-ack-acking cough (and, really, can you just keep that away from me, please?), well, they go right along with those rusty leaves and that chill in the air. The reason you feel so crappy right now is directly attributable to the change in the season. Your body is trying to figure out how to cope, but the weather just won't cooperate. It's warm one day, cold the next. It's cool in the morning, almost downright hot in the afternoon.

Your so-called favorite season is making you sick.

P.S. If there's any justice, I'll win the lottery soon and move to New Orleans or Key West or San Diego or Honolulu. There, I'll enjoy the sameness of all those warm days strung one against the other, from January to December. You'll be welcome to visit, so long as you promise not to go on and on about how you enjoy that chill in the September air. Ugh.

Cool Picture Alert! The wonderful Catcher in the Eye features an idiosyncratic view of the Brussels City Run. Highly recommended.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

The Kitchen Cabinet's Lily linked a couple of days ago to an excellent and interesting essay in the The Vocabula Review that endorses the use of the singular they. The Vocabula piece, written by jjoan ttaber altieri, advocates constructions like this one from Oprah Winfrey: It's all about letting each person be all they can be. In support, altieri invokes several hundred years of accepted usage of the singular they; the examples include:I'm convinced, intellectually, and have been for a long time. I just can't bring myself to use the singular they, other than (occasionally) in speech. Like Lily, I continue to use he—although I'm one of those writers who sprinkles in an occasional she now and then just to shake things up. (E.g.: The garbage collector serves an important role in our society; she does the task that most would deem a risk to the self-image.) Actually, I probably spend way too much of my time just writing everything in plurals to avoid the situation entirely. (E.g.: Garbage collection serves an important role in our society. . . .)

The problem for me? I guess I just don't want my readers to think I don't know "the rules" or have sloppily forgotten them. I'm sympathetic to the view that words help constitute our reality, and I have little doubt that use of the default he helps (helped?) shape the assumption that men are the players in the world. As someone whose major work activity is writing, though, I just find it hard to be in the vanguard on the revived use of the singular they.

The solution: You should all get out in the world and help drum the singular they into the collective Anglophone unconscious. That'll make it a lot easier for me to follow suit. Help me, I'm meek.

I'm awfully, awfully sorry to see Shattered Buddha's departure from Blogistan. I doubt that I've linked here at the Garden to any other single blog as much as I've linked to Buddha. As I said about six months ago,I continue to love the Buddha, too. And, Dragonleg, I hope you'll still drop me an email once in awhile. Peace to you.

Update: Since I posted this, Dragonleg seems to have pulled the plug on Shattered Buddha entirely. PaperFrog has a final screenshot, though.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

That the short-lived, live-action version of The Tick is going to be released on DVD restores a little bit of my faith in humanity. Or, at least, in the entertainment industry. Patrick Warburton (Puddy on Seinfeld, Mary Jo's lovable, himbo boyfriend on Designing Women) was brilliant as the dense but chivalrous Tick. And the supporting cast, particularly Nestor Carbonell as Batmanuel, was wonderful. The Tick sent up our own times by showing that superheroes would be mistrusted and shoved aside. It was absurdism—a style rarely successful for long on American television—at its best.

The Tick was, in many ways, the best thing about the 2001 television season (and, for that matter, one of the best things altogether about autumn 2001), and Fox stupidly canceled it after airing only eight episodes. The DVD set contains the lost ninth episode. And that, to use one of The Tick's catch phrases, is definitely not icky to infinity.


Kyan: Grooming Guru

Which Member from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is your type?
brought to you by Quizilla

Friday, September 26, 2003

I wish I hung out at a record shop like this. Cool, huh?
The Friday Five is taking a break this week. Bummer. If I'd known, I would've just posted last week's answers today (rather than on Wednesday).

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Tyler Green asks this question at his excellent Modern Art Notes: Do you remember anything you’ve ever read on a museum wall? For me, the answer is definitely yes. Green, though, apparently thinks wall text is more distracting than educational. He also criticizes those "semi-glossy little handouts" that museum-goers can pick up at the start of an exhibit. His comments are an interesting read.

Sure, as Green points out, some of the information on the walls (and in those handouts) doesn't stick with the visitor. And it can be distracting. I've made it halfway through many exhibits and realized that I was going to have start over because I'd been concentrating too hard on all the text. I know, though, that I've also benefited from having access to information—at the exhibit itself—that helped me make sense of things. Take, for instance, the exhibit of Isamu Noguchi's ceramics that I saw last month at the Sackler Gallery. I absolutely needed information, at the exhibit itself, about the context that Noguchi was working in. Without that background, I certainly wouldn't have been able to make sense of the works at the exhibit by the Sodeisha group that Noguchi influenced. Like most visitors, I hadn't done enough research beforehand to understand what I'd be seeing, and—even if I had—I probably needed to see the work as it was being explained to me.

Green notes that an interested visitor can simply do a little research afterward if she needs more information. Many of us do that, of course. But if you don't have enough information to make sense of the exhibit while you're there, you may not even know how to research it afterward. Or give a damn later.

I do think that Green is right that those "semi-glossy little handouts" aren't always helpful or effective. Often, the handouts contain scholarly, mini-articles about an artist. I've never stopped right there in the museum to read one of those articles, and sometimes I don't even read them when I get home. Sometimes I do, though. Green is surely right that museums should experiment with other kinds of handouts. Something that an interested visitor could use during her stay at the museum would be ideal.

It is, of course, entirely appropriate for a museum to focus on its educational mission. In fact, I'd describe education as one of the duties of any good musuem. If fulfilling that duty takes the form of wall text, semi-glossy handouts, or the cool quasi-comics that Green saw at the Wattis Institute, well, I'm in favor it. It's a cliché, I know, but knowledge is power. And I have no doubt that more people would be hanging out at museums if they knew a little bit more about the subject matter.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

How about a very untimely Friday Five? (Yes, I'm still getting caught up from Hurricane Isabel.)

1. Who is your favorite singer/musician? Why? This is kind of a silly question. There are so many different kinds of music that it's impossible to really have just one favorite, isn't it? But an artist that I've especially enjoyed for many years is Lucinda Williams. Her Southern rootsiness, her bluesiness, and her raw, emotional songwriting all appeal to me. For example, on her most recent album, World Without Tears, a song called "Those Three Days" completely gets to me. Here's a snippet:

"Three Days" takes me back to one of those incredibly intense, incredibly short-lived affairs you get to have, if you're lucky, when you're young. I know what it's like to be loved "forever" for three days, and so does Lucinda Williams. Good stuff.

2. What one singer/musician can you not stand? Why? Bryan Adams comes to mind. Having said that, though, one of my most embarrassing guilty pleasures is his duet with Barbra Streisand, "I Finally Found Someone." I can't believe I admitted that.

3. If your favorite singer wasn't in the music business, do you think you would still like him/her as a person? Sure, I suppose so. She'd still be sassy and messed-up-but-mostly-in-touch-with-her-feelings. But I'm definitely glad she's a singer and not a waitress at a favorite diner. Or, God forbid, an account executive.

4. Have you been to any concerts? If yes, who put on the best show? As Fresh Hell's Kim said, this week's questions seem to be designed for, um, kids. And I'm not a kid. I've been to many, many concerts. Again, it would be hard to choose a favorite, but one unexpectedly good show comes to mind: In the early 1990s, I happened to see Willie Nelson, with my sister, at his short-lived theater in Branson, Missouri (just don't ask, ok?). It sounds like it would be horrible, but it wasn't. The concert was intimate, adult; it almost seemed like Willie was singing for friends and family. I'll never forget it. Oh, and it's the only concert I've ever attended where Goo Goo Clusters were being sold by vendors working the aisles. Yum.

5. What are your thoughts on downloading music online vs. purchasing albums? (By the way, I've eliminated part of the question, which invited me to comment on a legal question—something I don't do here.) As much as I like technology, including my TiVo and my Roomba, I like having albums—not just files. I don't feel like I own something otherwise. How long will it take for me to get over that?

My beloved Kansas City Royals were mathematically eliminated last night from the playoff race. It was hardly a surprise, of course. But what a way to end the campaign! The Royals lost, 15-6(!), to what is surely one of the the worst baseball teams in history—the Detroit Tigers. Ugh.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Imagine that it's your birthday, ok? (I'm not having a hard time imagining that today.) Imagine that you're turning 37. You're ok with being 37, but you notice that 37 somehow sounds significantly older than 36. But what're you gonna do, right? Well, imagine that a longtime colleague gives you a birthday card wishing you a pleasant "Big 4-0." Imagine that it's definitely not a joke. Imagine that your colleague apparently really does think you're 40. When you're really only a mere 37. When you were pretty sure you didn't have that much gray hair. When you thought you might be able to pass for 35. Or 33. Or 31 even. Imagine it, ok? Imagine.


Monday, September 22, 2003

Before Isabel intervened, I planned to do some Emmy predictions—or, rather, some hopeful blogging about the Emmy awards. But it may be just as much fun to take a backward look at last night's show.

First, was that telecast excruciating or what? The opening monologue by Garry Shandling was so awful, so disjointed, so nervous, so borderline offensive, that I nearly switched my set off right at the start. And it didn't get much better after that. Who exactly thought Wanda Sykes warranted two big chunks of unstructured time? It definitely didn't work. I loved it when the director cut to Sean Hayes during her first "bit"; Hayes gave the camera a knowing look (the look of someone being forced to appear to enjoy something awful), and the audience laughed back at him, sympathetically. And don't get me started on that canned patter that the Emmy "writers" served up to the presenters. I couldn't see that any attempt was made to ensure that the presenters didn't say the most banal things imaginable. Perfectly dreadful.

Thank goodness for Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien, and Darrell Hammond (but, hey, even he went on a bit too long with that Rummy bit). They kept me going when I thought I couldn't.

But let's get to the important stuff—the major awards. I'll start with the comedies:

At some point last night, I started wondering whether the Emmy voters actually watch television. Seriously. This list, with one exception, suggests that they don't. If they really watched Everybody Loves Raymond, could they possibly have voted for it? It's fairly pleasant, and Garrett and Roberts are fine in it. But "fairly pleasant" and "fine" shouldn't be one-way, renewable tickets to Emmy awards. Raymond isn't challenging; it's far from laugh-out-loud funny; it's just a mainstream sit-com, indistinguishable in the end from dozens of others that we've all seen since, well, forever. Yawn.

Surely, if the Emmy voters actually watched (and liked?) TV, we'd have winners like Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, and their series Sex and the City. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a huge fan of City. Hey, I think Friends has been a pretty pedestrian series for most of its run, but it sure as hell would've made more sense last night as Best Comedy than Raymond. At least with Friends, we could say that the show has grown over time....

And Debra Messing as best actress? Gosh, I'm sure my jaw dropped. Where do I start? Will & Grace is frequently quite good, but it's not all that. And Messing is obviously the weak link in the show. As she said in her acceptance speech last night, she's just not funny. Haven't the Emmy voters noticed that?! Bizarre.

Of course, just when I'd given up on the whole thing, Emmy saved itself by honoring Shalhoub, whose Monk is pretty much the only reason (except for occasional tennis coverage, of course) to watch USA Network. I actually did a victory dance in my living room. Shalhoub's performance is striking. His obsessive-compulsive Adrian Monk isn't entirely realistic, I suppose, but he's a real character. And one that even the best actor can't sleepwalk through. There's real craft in Shalhoub's performance, and how often can you say that about an Emmy winner? Not often enough.

I was a bit happier with the awards for dramas. Here's the recap:

Let's get the obvious comment out of the way first, ok? Tyne Daly? Yes, she was wonderful 20 years ago in Cagney & Lacey, but, um, Judging Amy? It's a bad soap opera, and there's no way that Daly's role as Maxine is challenging in any way to her. She plays a cantankerous mom; I'm not even sure Daly has to "act." Have the Emmy voters even watched Judging Amy since its first or second season? If so, they're pretty much the only ones.

I was much happier, of course, with the remaining acting awards. The audience probably would have walked out if Edie Falco hadn't won for Best Actress. Falco took Carmela Soprano to new territory—infatuation, self-respect, purposeful anger—last year. I'm surely one of the biggest fans of Alias's Jennifer Garner out there, but even I knew that Falco deserved this one. For similar reasons, I wouldn't begrudge Gandolfini or Pantoliano their Emmy awards. They were two of the biggest reasons that The Sopranos was downright compelling last season.

But even in these categories, the Emmy voters had me scratching my head in the end. After all the major acting awards went to its actors, the Best Drama had to be The Sopranos, didn't it? As I just said, The Sopranos was compelling last year. Well, no. Somehow—Emmy voters tell us—the "Best Drama" was The West Wing. I thought West Wing was still quite good last season (I never missed it), but it clearly wasn't in the class of The Sopranos or even Six Feet Under. West Wing meandered last season; episodes often didn't seem to have a point. At times, West Wing got caught up in admiring its own cuteness. And, really, how could a show that didn't boast any of the "best" actors be the best show? Seriously, I'm asking. Emmy voters? (For what it's worth, I think the answer is that many Emmy voters wanted to honor Aaron Sorkin, who was unceremoniously dumped by NBC last year. That's nice, but it's not a reason to, well, lie about what was the best thing on TV last year.)

There's more that I could say, but I won't. Ok, I'll say one more thing: Wayne Brady for Oustanding Individual Performance in a Variety Show? He's great, but is what he does on Whose Line Is It Anyway? at all comparable to what Jon Stewart does every night on The Daily Show? Or to what Robin Williams did for his special? It's not even close.

I guess I should take what I can get. I guess I should just be happy that The Daily Show got any recognition at all. And that Falco and Gandolfini got what was rightfully theirs. I just keep thinking, though, that Emmy voters ought to be able to separate most of the wheat from most of the chaff. And last night, anyway, it was mostly chaff.

The salaryman in the middle is totally wondering why that stranger is taking his picture. Really. Go see for yourself.
Jessa Crispin is back to blogging at Bookslut (yay!), and she noted today that the Booker Prize shortlist has been out for several days. I don't know how I missed that. (Oh, ok, maybe I was distracted by the hurricane.) It's an interesting list, and it doesn't include the early favorite or either of the books from the longlist that I'm looking forward to reading. And just for the record: I'm not going to read Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake even if it wins. So there.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Let's get caught up on some of my favorite blogs, ok? Paperfrog has the skinny on a Japanese monk whose seven-year spiritual and physical marathon just ended. I bet that guy has some great calves. (And, yes, I know that's not the point.) The Critical 'I' notes the irony in all the media attention precipitated by the demise of the WUSA. Kim at Fresh Hell comes out as a Kenny Rogers fan. (I totally didn't see that one coming.) Jason Kottke, by way of his remaindered links, features an unfiltered (i.e., fifth-grade) look at Radiohead. Crooked Timber's Kieran Healy points to a truly stupid question. And F>I>L>M has a great picture of some chickens. (Do you think I'd kid about a thing like that?)
Students at Tulane Law School can be awfully creative (link via How Appealing). If this stunt doesn't get the guy the interviews of his dreams, nothing will. Tulane Law rocks, of course.
Oh, darn. In all the "excitement," I forgot to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day on Friday. Now I'll have to wait another whole year. Hmmm, talking like a pirate might actually have come in handy on the telephone to the electric company....

And, yes, Professor Cooper, talking like a pirate is one good way to make your class think you're a kook.

Well, golly, it's strange to be blogging again. It's actually strange to even have electricity, and how often do I say that? On Friday morning, about 4 a.m., winds from Hurricane Isabel caused a power outage in my area. There were outages all over the region, really, but the epicenter of the outages was in Chester County, where I live.

I didn't make it to work on Friday because my commuter line was affected by the storm. This came as no surprise, as my commute home on Thursday night took about three times as long as normal. Anyway, my flatmate and I sat around the apartment, hoping the electricity would find us again. It didn't. I had brought home some work, but there was only so much that I could do sans computer and light. The highlight of the day: We drove to a supermarket in an area that was unaffected and bought food that didn't have to be cooked. At this point, though, I don't care if I ever see another E.L. Fudge cookie again....

It was more of the same on Saturday. I read the newspaper—which, amazingly, was delivered on time every day—from cover to cover, and the flatmate and I listened to the radio all day long. Listening relentlessly to the radio was pretty depressing, as the news people kept saying how many hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania residents were without power. We were told, repeatedly, that it might be Tuesday before everyone had electricity again. Also depressing was having to throw out all of the now-tainted goods in our freezer. (Goodbye, tuna steaks and buffalo burgers! We'll miss you.) We drove around some more, too, killing some time at a fully-powered Target that is several miles away. We realized from the drive that our apartment was just about in the center of the affected power outages. That definitely didn't seem like a good omen. We spent the rest of the day playing board games, Carcassonne (I won, mostly) and Monopoly (I lost!). And, like the day before, I basically went to bed at 9 o'clock because it seemed like the Little House on the Prairie thing to do.

My flatmate made me promise that I'd blog about one thing. A woman from nearby was interviewed on the radio on Saturday. She hadn't lost power herself, she said, but it had sure been hard to find a good, open restaurant in the neighborhood. Poor baby! And, yes, that's the kind of neighborhood we live in. We were not amused.

This morning, I was awakened at 5:01 (according to my PDA) by a small miracle. The lamp beside my bed had magically started producing light. No, wait, it wasn't a miracle. The electricity was back! Let me tell you just how thrilled I was: I immediately turned the lamp off, rolled over, and went back to sleep. But when I got up again at 8:30, I did a little happy dance. And I never do anything like that. Now if I could only get my weekend back. And find a good, open restaurant. Hmph.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Russell Smith explains why there's "always an Art Deco revival going on" (link via ArtsJournal). I don't agree with all of what he says, but his essay is entertaining and provocative. Try this:He stresses, too, that the attraction to Art Deco isn't an attraction to beauty per se:For Smith, then, Art Deco is modern enough to be cool but not so modern as to be off-putting. That actually strikes me as pretty insightful analysis of contemporary tastes. I just wouldn't be as negative as Smith about the attractions of hardcore, straight-up modernism. I guess I'm just one of the oddballs who's happier with steel-grey walls, aluminum and plastic goods, and "antiseptic furniture, appropriate for Communist hospitals." Hmph.

P.S.: When I want to get an Art Deco fix, I head to beautiful Tulsa. Actually, you know, I can imagine living in a snazzy Art Deco building. I just can't imagine decorating with Art Deco materials and styles....

Sausage Link: What's the strangest thing about this story (link via Cronaca)? Is it that the German sausage-maker is adding caffeine to his product? Is it the use of the phrase "power sausage?" Is it the fact that the butcher and his friends have "eaten a total of 5,000 sausages?" No, it's that the butcher "felt significantly more awake" after eating all those sausages.


Sadly, I don't have time to make detailed comments about the remaining World Group Playoff ties. Here's a quick look at, or at least a prediction for, each tie:

Belgium vs. Austria - Belgian tennis isn't all about the women. I'm picking the Belgian men, 4-1, despite the Austrian home-court advantage.

Brazil vs. Canada - I don't understand why Canada can't produce better players. In Calgary, it's going to be all Guga and Flavio (ah, Flavio!). Brazil 5, Canada 0.

Czech Republic vs. Thailand - As I said yesterday, one player doesn't make a team. That's true even if the player is Paradorn Srichaphan, and he's playing in Bangkok. Srichaphan will do all he can, but it won't be enough. Czech Republic 3, Thailand 2.

Belarus vs. Germany - Germany has gone with Tomas Behrend in the second singles spot. (Rainer Schuettler is the German No. 1; he should win both of his singles matches.) Behrend's only hope is that Max Mirnyi and Vladimir Voltchkov will be so tired from playing both the doubles and the singles that he'll sneak in a singles win on the final day. I think the tie may be over by then—thanks to Schuettler. Germany 3, Belarus 2.

Great Britain vs. Morocco - Neither team is deep; both squads are using just two players for the entire five matches. I expect Britain's Tim Henman to win once, and I doubt Greg Rusedski will even do that. Morocco 4, Great Britain 1.

India vs. Netherlands - Although it's always possible that Martin Verkerk will continue to play absolutely dreadful tennis, I don't expect India to win anything but the doubles. Mahesh Bhupathi is a doubles god, you know? Netherlands 4, India 1.

Romania vs. Ecuador - If I were the tennis commentator of your dreams, I'd know why Romania is using someone I've never heard of—Razvan Sabau—in the second singles spot, especially when more familiar players like Andrei Pavel and Adrian Voinea are ranked ahead of him. I have no clue, sorry. I like the chances of the Lapentti brothers. Ecuador 3, Romania 2.

The big tennis news today is that U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe has unexpectedly replaced James Blake as the No. 2 singles player for this weekend's tie against the Slovak Republic. In one respect, this is understandable. The replacement, Mardy Fish, is now the third-ranked American (behind Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi), and Blake is only the sixth best. Blake, though, is a much more seasoned competitor in Davis Cup action. In fact, Fish is winless as a Davis Cup singles player. Fish's inexperience could be key if the spectators in Bratislava make life difficult for the U.S. team. In fact, I think McEnroe's decision makes this tie much more difficult to predict. And, although I still see the USA advancing, I think the tie is likely to be a much closer affair.

I expect Roddick, currently the world's second-ranked player, to win both of his singles matches. (If he loses one of the matches, the Americans are in B-I-G trouble.) Although I thought Blake would surely win one of his singles match—probably against Slovakia's No. 2 player, Dominik Hrbaty—my gut tells me that Fish might lose to both Hrbaty and Karol Kucera. I hope I'm wrong, but my gut's my gut, you know? That makes the second-day doubles the key. In that, I like the chances of Americans Bob and Mike Bryan over Karol Beck and Michal Mertinak.

I suspect that McEnroe has made a mistake with his last-minute switch, and I hope the Americans don't pay for his foolishness with a year-long trip to the Davis Cup's equivalent of AAA baseball. Still, I see the Americans squeaking by.

Prediction: United States 3, Slovak Republic 2.

Even neon mistakes can be fixed. (I may make that my new life motto.) Compare here and here. Hey, while I'm blogging about it, Satan's Laundromat—one of the best photoblogs in the biz—has a cool new layout, huh?

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The Davis Cup semifinal ties occur this weekend. And, even if I'm not in top blogging form, I can't pass up an opportunity to opine about Agustin Calleri and Michel Kratochvil. (It's a sickness, I know.) Let's look at the match-ups:Tomorrow night, I'll look at the match-ups in the World Group Playoffs. The results of those matches will determine which teams will be in the draw for next year's Davis Cup. The tie of special interest to me, of course: USA vs. Slovak Republic. (I'm more optimistic now than I was when the USA met Croatia in the first round.)
I have blogger's block, I think. I know there are some things I could mention—Hurricane Isabel, the rejection of the espresso tax, the imminent demise of my beloved Kansas City Royals—but I just haven't been able to get my thoughts into a post. Sigh.

Actually, I've been having a little writer's block on the job, too. This isn't really like me, although it happens every once in awhile. Suddenly, it's just enormously painful to spew out sentences that work. I'm thinking, really, that I'm still struggling with whatever was ailing me last week. That's mostly a sinus thing, I've decided. That'll teach me to try to sleep with the windows open, even once. When I was a kid, I used to miss a week of school every September or October with something like this....

Random comment: Diet Pepsi Vanilla is the soda of the gods. (Does that count as blogging?)

Monday, September 15, 2003

"Athlete statues can be scary in Copenhagen." Indeed.
Near misses: Waddling Thunder had one today with the Dalai Lama (and I'm completely jealous). The Critical 'I' lauds some Swedish voters' purposeful near misses (ok, I'm blogging metaphorically here). And I'm hoping that all I'm going to have with Isabel is a near miss (hey, didn't I move away from hurricane alley?).

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Ferrari's Michael Schumacher took the win in today's Italian Grand Prix, allowing him to extend—just a tiny bit—his lead over Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Räikkönnen in the 2003 world championship race. The win ended a five-race losing streak for the five-time world champion. With only two races left in the season, Formula One now heads to Indianapolis, for a September 28 race. The season closes two weeks later in Japan. It could be a thrilling finish.

I started paying attention to Formula One when I was in junior high. I moved to a new school before the start of seventh grade, and—happily enough—so had Joel Bermel, whose house was just a couple over. Those first few weeks after my family moved were, by far, the loneliest of my life, and Joel's friendship saved me. After I met him, I knew I was going to be ok.

Joel seemed so worldly. He had moved from New York, and I had only moved from the country to town. He knew lots of things that a kid from the Oklahoma sticks wouldn't—about Australian beer (he collected beer cans!), the NBA, and Formula One. I vividly remember how Joel kept track of the world championship points race on notebook paper, in his boyish, idiosyncratic printing. I don't really know how he kept track so well. Although cable TV had made it to northeast Oklahoma, and our homes, there definitely wasn't any Speedvision. And I'm pretty sure the Muskogee Daily Phoenix didn't provide all the information that a 13-year-old Formula One fan might need. But Joel kept up.

Joel's father worked for a national company, and his job kept the family moving every year or two. Sometime before we entered the ninth grade, the Bermels moved again—this time to Puyallup, Washington. We wrote letters back and forth for awhile, and Joel's family visited Muskogee again shortly after they moved. But, inevitably, Joel and I lost track of each other. I don't know where Joel Bermel is these days. If I did, I'd say thanks for being there for me when I really, really needed someone. And I'd tell him that I'm still keeping track of Ferrari, and McLaren, and the Schumachers. I hope he is.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Dear Friends: This is what you're getting for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa this year. You might be thinking now about where to put it on your bathroom floor.
Scott at Sardonic Bomb did some anthropological field work, sort of, at the local barber shop (scroll down to "and a final thing"). He even got a shave with a straight razor. I haven't been to an actual barber shop since I was 10, but now I've got the itch....

Friday, September 12, 2003

Ah, this explains why there were hundreds of people, including dozens of police officers, in the streets of Philadelphia as I tried to make my way to the train station tonight after work. I was certainly curious, but no one seemed to know what was going on.

Update: Here's the fullest report I've seen on the excitement in Center City.

Friday Five:

1. Is the name you have now the same name that's on your birth certificate? If not, what's changed? My birth certificate, of course, says James, and most of my friends call me Jimmy. That's not that startling of a difference, though, is it? As for my surname, well, I've had mine for so long that I can't even imagine changing it. It amazes (flabbergasts?) me that women (and some men, but mostly women) change their surnames when they marry. Maybe that's just because, as a man, I wasn't socialized to expect that my name might change....

2. If you could change your name (first, middle and/or last), what would it be? I'm happy with my surname. As for my first name, I've experienced a few complications in life because of the difference between the official James and the unofficial Jimmy. If I were starting over, I might want a first name that didn't shorten. That said, I wouldn't want something as formal as James as a name; Jimmy suits me. My middle name? It's Allen, which is completely dull. (Half of the men born in Oklahoma, it seems, have either Alan/Allan/Allen or David as a middle name.) I wish my parents had used Garland, a middle name popular in my father's family. Or, perhaps, Thaddeus--which was my paternal grandfather's first name.

3. Why were you named what you were? (Is there a story behind it? Who specifically was responsible for naming you?) My parents allowed my sister, who is 15 years older, to have a role in naming me. (What could they have been thinking?!) I understand that they set limits and vetoed one or more early selections. That's probably why I'm not named after Paul Revere. Family lore has it, though, that my middle name is an homage to some rock'n'roll guy, but I've never figured it out myself. (I'd call my sister up right now and ask, but she's traveling.)

4. Are there any names you really hate or love? What are they and why? I haven't really thought much about cool names since I was 13 or 14 years old (about the time I realized/decided I'd never have children). I do like the name Eamonn, for some reason. And Jens. And Chance. And Flavio (hey, I've mentioned that before). I don't really hate many names, though I'd regret being named Barker or Ogden or something like that. Some names sound too old-fashioned, of course (e.g., Bertha, Agatha, Bessie), and some sound too trendy (e.g., Tyler, Taylor, Amber). But that's not really about the names per se.

5. Is the analysis of your name at accurate? How or how isn't it? Although I put no stock in anything like this, it's not too far off. (Of course, neither are most fortune-cookie fortunes.) It says I'm idealistic, reserved, self-conscious, private, not aggressive enough for business, and more literary than verbal. Those things are generally true. I don't think I'm so generous or gullible that I attract con artists, though.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Sars of Tomato Nation is looking for Don, a stranger who hung out with her at the Bank of New York building on September 11, 2001 (link via Fresh Hell). Don lived in Jersey City at the time. Help out if you can. Tomato Nation, by the way, is an awfully cool site, and I visit it frequently. (And, no, I'm not just saying that because gourds and tomatoes are both garden items.) I particularly enjoy the advice column, "The Vine."

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

"Strange Messenger," an exhibit of Patti Smith's visual works, is now showing at Philadelphia's Institute of Contemporary Art. Philadelphia Inquirer art critic Edward J. Sozanski had this to say:As you may recall, I saw "Strange Messenger" earlier this year at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. I blogged something quite similar to Sozanski's review. ("Suffice it to say that these drawings probably wouldn't be in any museum if the artist weren't otherwise famous. Hmph.") Actually, I'd probably go even further than Sozanski. For me, anyway, Smith's drawings did lack interest. I found them dull and uninvolving. I'd be interested to hear other reactions, though.

I'm not particularly a fan of Patti Smith's music, by the way. I wonder if "Strange Messenger" is more appealing to viewers more familiar with Smith's musical work....

Forgive the meta-blogging (or, more accurately, the meta-metablogging), but Jason Kottke discusses the changes occurring at Blogger. Interesting stuff. And, speaking of, the site's wonderful "remaindered links" today included Scrabblog. If you like the word game, that blog is probably worth a visit.
This is how an article in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education begins (link via Bookslut):The rest of the article discusses the state of academic gay and lesbian history, and I'd be hard-pressed to explain the relevance, at all, of the introductory language about Oklahoma. Gratuitous swipe?

Anyway, I'm simply stunned that Oklahoma could finish behind Utah or Alabama or Mississippi.... Have I been away that long?

I don't normally follow this comic strip, but I've found Pearls Before Swine to be awfully (in more than one sense, really) fun this week. You can see the first of the week's series here. Pearls, by the way, is written by an attorney.
Sorry for the blog silence yesterday. I was feeling a bit unwell, and I guess I still am. I'm hoping to summon up the energy to post a little bit tonight, though.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Cool picture alert! (Guess what? It's all about green.) Actually, this Portland, Ore.-based photoblog, F > I > L > M, is worth a visit every day. Highly recommended. When I finally get around to adding fertile photoblogs to my blogroll, F > I > L > M will definitely be on the list.
As photographed by Jonathan Clark, Streatham Cemetery is beautiful (link via kottke). For some reason, this reminds me of a Death & Dying class that I took as an undergraduate some, let's see, 16 years ago. In my view, there were a lot of things wrong with the course, which was taught by a social worker, but I absolutely enjoyed one class field trip: On one late spring afternoon, a geographer took us on a tour of several cemeteries in rural Cherokee County. We waded through weeds, up and down scrubby hills, behind rusty gates and cattle guards and barbed wire. The headstones were beautiful, not the manicured low-to-the-ground types favored in today's city cemeteries. These were the tall, reach-to-the-sky headstones of 50 years ago (and more), made all the more beautiful by neglect. The markers were cracked, often broken, occasionally displaced. I sort of decided that day that I wanted to be buried somewhere like that. I wouldn't choose Cherokee County, I don't think. I think I'd prefer some lonely (lonely is key), prairie cemetery further west (but still in Oklahoma!). The only way I can arrange that, probably, is to outlive my entire family....

Too much information?

In a super piece for MSNBC, Kim of Fresh Hell lists the "5 best shows you're not watching." I can completely get behind her recommendation to watch Alias instead of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and I couldn't agree more that Ed is one of the best things on TV. What I can't understand, though, is Kim's enthusiasm for American Dreams. It's just so trite. There's the stereotypical 1960s Philly family (and, for heaven's sake, I live in Philadelphia), the thinly-veiled lessons on social problems, the dramatic "tension" you've seen on a bazillion other shows. On Sunday nights, I'm afraid I'll have to stick with The Simpsons. Yes, it's everywhere in syndication these days, but it's still pretty darn fresh.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Well, I didn't have the men's U.S. Open final four as spot-on as I had the women's, but I was 100% right about the winner. (This happens infrequently enough that I'm absolutely going to enjoy it.) Andy Roddick just served Juan Carlos Ferrero off the court today. It wasn't even that much fun to watch. (I'm sure it's even less fun to try to return 130 mph serves, but that's another story.)

Roddick sure rose to the top quickly. In the past couple of years, everyone from Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe to commentators like Cliff Drysdale and John McEnroe hailed Roddick as the next big thing. He's definitely talented. But would he have risen to the top so quickly, and so efficiently, if the label of future greatness hadn't been attached to him so early? Roddick, it seems to me, has had extra attention—from placements as a junior member on Davis Cup squads to being offered the assistance of super-coach Brad Gilbert—lavished on him; those extra resources sure haven't hurt his chances. And, probably just as importantly, would Roddick have believed in himself enough to win the Open, this soon, if people hadn't been telling him over and over that he had the right stuff? You've got to wonder. Still, at this point, Roddick's absolutely got the stuff, and it looks to me like the next few years, maybe the next decade, will be the Roddick years. It's going to be fun to watch.

Who is the best men's player in the world right now? That's an interesting question, I think. The four Grand Slams this year were won by four different players, and each of those players—Andre Agassi, Ferrero, Roger Federer, and Roddick—can make a fair case for being the sport's best right now. The ATP computer will, starting tomorrow, say Ferrero is the world No. 1, and I won't argue with that. If he continues to play on non-clay surfaces the way he did yesterday in his semifinal thrashing of Agassi, he'll definitely deserve the top spot. A look at Roddick's numbers, though, suggests that he has a slight edge in the race to be the world No. 1 when it counts—at the end of the year. But it's definitely going to be close enough that the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup will be thrilling.

Something about today just hasn't seemed right to me. In many ways, this day—the last Sunday of the Open—marks the end of the tennis summer. This is always the day when I hold on to tennis, at least until the men's final is over, even though my mates have already turned to the NFL season. (Actually, I think I always have a hard time getting into the football season because I refuse to focus on anything but tennis until after the NFL season has already started. By then, it seems like I'm walking into the movie five minutes after it started.) On this last Sunday of the Open, the reminders of football are many: Most prominently, CBS holds up the men's final until its early-game football coverage is over, and that always annoys the tennis fan in me. I suffer through the closing minutes of that football game, annoyed that 10 minutes of football time can amount to 30 minutes of actual time. And it occurred to me today, during that 10 minutes of football time, that—somewhere very deep in my psyche—I associate this very particular feeling, this feeling of annoyance with something that won't end fast enough, with Pete Sampras. He just popped into my mind while I was sitting through that fourth quarter. I've gotten so used to seeing Pete Sampras in the Open final that I associate a feeling, a feeling of impatience with neverending football games, with him. Damn. That's when it really hit me how much I'm going to miss him. Somehow or other, I've come to think of Sampras as part of my life.

I'm going to miss Sampras's cocktail-party coolness, the way he somehow played tennis like Frank Sinatra sang, the way he somehow played tennis every day like I felt once on the smoothest date of my life. Gosh. It truly feels like I've lost something important.

Time passes, Sampras got older, and I've gotten older. We're definitely into a new era now. Whether I'll come to associate the final 10 minutes of that first football game with Andy Roddick, or Juan Carlos Ferrero, or someone else—well, that remains to be seen. Maybe I'll always associate it with Pete Sampras.... But things have definitely changed.

I'm almost ready for autumn now.

Public canoodling is on the upswing in Bombay, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. And when an apartment goes for 100 times the annual salary, well, young people don't have much choice about where they canoodle, I guess.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Would it be immodest to repeat what I predicted two weeks ago?No matter what I was wrong about, and there was plenty, I got this part exactly right. Forget what the WTA computer says; Justine Henin-Hardenne is the best in the world right now. She sure proved it in the last 24 hours. And she must've won a lot of new fans during this U.S. Open. She definitely earned them.
I thought the just-completed men's U.S. Open semifinal between Juan Carlos Ferrero and Andre Agassi was terrific, and I'm anticipating the next match between Andy Roddick and David Nalbandian. I'm thinking, though, that last night's thrilling semifinal between Justine Henin-Hardenne and Jennifer Capriati was probably the match of the tournament. It had me on the edge of my sofa way past midnight....

It'll be interesting to see how Capriati copes with this loss. With the absence of the Williams sisters, it was probably her last, best shot at winning the Open. And she served for the match twice! I rarely root for Capriati—it's that unregenerate vulgarity thing, I think—but I was sure feeling for her last night. Oof.

Friday, September 05, 2003

I haven't thought about Pansy Division in years. But I see that the group is now out touring in support of its first album in five years, Total Entertainment (news link via the incredibly comprehensive Queer Day). Gosh, now I've got to dig out my old Pansy Division albums; I've got to hear "James Bondage" right now....
I find this almost inconceivable, but some couples are now opting for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts wedding cakes (link via LYD). Krispy Kreme is even preparing a brochure to promote the practice. Of course, what would I know? I'm a bit past that age where all your friends pair off and rent banquet halls. (Actually, most of my friends just shack up.) Have cinnamon twists and crullers been de rigueur at weddings for ages? Inquiring minds and all that....

Update: Jason Kottke also has the link about the, um, doughnut cakes, and one of his commenters provided this link to a page featuring cakes made of items from the supermarket snack aisle. Yum, Sno Balls.

It's the Friday Five:

1. What housekeeping chore(s) do you hate doing the most? I'm not wild about scrubbing the bathtub (but I do it).

2. Are there any that you like or don't mind doing? I don't really mind dusting too much, and—even before I snagged the Roomba—I didn't mind vacuuming too much.

3. Do you have a routine throughout the week or just clean as it's needed? I wish I was organized enough about housework to have a routine, but I'm not. I just do it when (i) I have time and (ii) the messiness is getting to me.

4. Do you have any odd cleaning/housekeeping quirks or rules? I'm sure my flatmate thinks I have several, but nothing comes to my mind. He thinks I'm weird because I insist that we throw trash away as we generate it. (Maddeningly, he'll just leave wrappers and empty boxes on the kitchen counter rather than walk two paces to the trash can. Grrrr.)

5. What was the last thing you cleaned? I really tackled my office (at work) earlier this week. At home, the last housekeeping chore I did was to go through some old magazines. Anyone looking for a year-old Oklahoma Today?

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Earlier today, the men's quarterfinalists at the U.S. Open were set. Once again, going into today, I had a legitimate shot at correctly picking seven of the eight. In the end, I only picked four. Bummer, man. Still, in many ways, I actually feel better about my men's picks than my women's picks. The men's draw was just more difficult.... Let's look:All these unexpected results from today have necessitated some changes to my picks for the semifinals (but not the finals):If I had to pick a dark horse right now, I'd be looking David Nalbandian's way. He's got an awfully sweet game.
At long last, we know who the women's quarterfinalists are at the U.S. Open. And I can finally look back at how my picks did. In the end, I only picked five of the eight correctly. Ordinarily, I'd be pretty happy with that, but—until earlier today—I had a real shot at picking seven of the eight. Oh, well. Here's the detailed look:Truthfully, I'm pretty happy with these predictions. Having a real shot at seven of the eight is all I could ever hope for, really. As for the rest of the tournament, I'm sticking with my predictions. In the semis, I still see Clijsters vs. Davenport and Capriati vs. Henin-Hardenne. And, as for the finals, I still feel good about picking Henin-Hardenne over Clijsters. We'll see soon enough (I hope).

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Researchers at the University of Rochester have developed software—called the Automatic Sports Video Analyzer—that would allow a sports fan to watch an event sans all those "boring, playless minutes" (link via Gizmodo). In other words, you can just watch the exciting bits. What a dreadful idea! Spectating is supposed to be fun, even relaxing. Part of the experience is the down time between points, the time when fans can agonize over the previous play, or anticipate the next. Part of the experience is interacting with fellow fans about the game. That, and a lot more, will be lost if you're watching the frenetic, 45-minute condensed version of the three-hour thriller. Ick.
There apparently will never be an end to the rain at this year's U.S. Open. It's Wednesday before the women's Saturday final, and we still don't even know who all the quarterfinalists are. Definitely not good. And the last time I glanced at USA Network's Open coverage, poor John McEnroe was trapped in a studio taking phone calls from anyone bored enough to talk to him. Are you there, caller?

And just so I have something tennis-related to blog about tonight, I'll mention this. SI's Frank Deford says it's perfectly ok for fans to admire good-looking athletes, including a "smoldering Robby Ginepri," even if they don't win the big ones. Deford's best line, in a discussion about how a sexy Tiger Woods is good for the game of golf: If you were trying to make a pinup calendar for the PGA, you couldn't get past April. Hmmm.

Phillies 8, Expos 3. I enjoyed one last daytime game at the Vet today. Really, I couldn't have asked for more. The threatening rain held off for nine straight innings, Larry Bowa was ejected (again!) in the top of the first inning, and—best of all—the Phils pulled it together after a rough, rough start.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

I still love my Roomba. But if I'd only waited a little while longer, I could've had Roomba Pro or Roomba Pro Elite. And, as PVRblog tells us today, Roomba hacking is alive and well. The mind reels!

P.S.: As much as I want to be your intrepid Roomba correspondent, I don't think I have the time or the patience to hang out at the online Roomba Community for you (this link also via PVRblog). Maybe I just don't get it, but it's a vacuum cleaner, not a lifestyle.

P.P.S.: Now TiVo? That's a lifestyle.

If Yannick Noah were still playing professional tennis, he'd be building the ark. (Sorry about that. I had to say it.)

Monday, September 01, 2003

Rain practically stopped play entirely today at the U.S. Open, so we still don't know who all eight of the women's quarterfinalists will be. That means I won't be grading my predictions for the women's draw tonight. I can say, though, that despite Todd Martin's victory last night over Robby Ginepri—in which I'd picked Ginepri, of course—I managed to correctly pick 12 of the 16 men in the fourth round. I'll take that anytime, that's for sure.

Who didn't I see in the round of 16? Here's the list, as well as my excuses:

Actually, I like these four players a lot, and I won't be disappointed if all of them somehow advance to the quarters. I'll be shocked, though. And there'll be a lot of red ink on my projected draw....
Yesterday, I hopped a train (I'm suddenly a hobo, I guess) to D.C. to visit the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery for an exhibition of Isamu Noguchi's ceramics. What an interesting show. Noguchi—yes, the Noguchi who designed the lamps and the tables—did work in clay on three visits to Japan. He brought his modernist vision to the clay, of course, and the result was a body of work that was sculptural but often light-hearted. Many of the works struck me as witty doodles in clay. I found myself wishing that I had a studio, and some clay, and, well, enough experience to express myself with clay.

Noguchi's works in clay were one of the influences on a group of Japanese potters called Sodeisha; that group helped move Japanese ceramics away from a focus on vessels. Some of the most compelling pieces in the Sackler show—which is entitled Isamu Noguchi and Modern Japanese Ceramics—were done by Yagi Kazuo, one of Sodeisha's founders. I was thoroughly charmed by the entire show, from Noguchi's earliest pieces to the most modern pieces. I'm glad I made a special trip to see the show, which ends on September 7. (As you might recall, I promised myself months ago that I'd make the show.)

While I was at the Sackler, I checked out—a bit too quickly—Love and Yearning: Mystical and Moral Themes in Persian Poetry and Painting, which opened on Saturday. I focused yesterday on the watercolors in the exhibit, which were colorful and tiny (the Sackler provides magnifying glasses for a reason). One watercolor really grabbed my attention. It depicts a physician's visit to a love-struck patient's house. The backstory, which was helpfully provided, is a folk tale about a man who falls in love with his physician. The doctor's visits fuel the love, of course, and the patient can't get well—probably doesn't even want to get well. That painting, and several others, had a definite homoerotic theme, by the way. Love and Yearning runs through February 22, so I should have a chance to get a more complete look at the show. (Some of the accoutrements of the show, including an interactive station focused more on manuscripts, weren't up and running yesterday.)

The secondary purpose of my visit was to visit the National Museum of African Art's exhibition The Fabric of Moroccan Life, which looks at Moroccan textiles and embroideries. The exhibition is awfully well-done, down to the Moroccan music and light fixtures. I was really taken with a beautiful curtain that must have been 10 feet long. It depicts several minarets in a rich, shiny purple silk that contrasts well with the white background. Some of the show's more striking pieces—but not the curtain (why are my choices always idiosyncratic?)—can be seen here. Moroccan Life runs through November 2. It's definitely worth an hour of your time if you find yourself in D.C. before then.

That was about all I could see in my afternoon in D.C. It's awfully hard for me to make it to D.C. and back in a single day—and be productive while I'm there. That's why I usually plan multi-day trips to D.C. I'm planning one of those trips for this autumn because my favorite museum on the planet—the Hirshhorn—is celebrating its permanent collection in a show called Gyroscope. Gyroscope runs through January 4, and I'll definitely be spending at least a full day there. (For a less positive look at Gyroscope than you'll likely find here, see Tyler Green's artnet review of the show as well as some additional thoughts he posted on his own excellent blog, Modern Art Notes.)


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