The Garden

A squash-friendly blog for our times

Sunday, February 29, 2004

How should you celebrate today, Leap Day? Apparently, you should be as unconventional as possible. This is from an piece discussing leap year courtship traditions:In that spirit, I'm going to do my best today to do something nontraditional. But I'm also going to do my darnedest to make sure I don't get engaged today, either....

Saturday, February 28, 2004

I have a pretty good track record when it comes to Oscar picks. (I peaked when I was in law school and had time to see two or three movies a week.) It's always a battle of heart and mind, though. This year, I truly want Lost in Translation to do well—because it's profound and light and important. But when it comes right down to it, this is probably a year better suited to Gandalf. Still, I know that real Oscar voters also sometimes vote with their hearts. Did I find the right mix? We'll know soon enough.I'd give anything, though, to be wrong about Best Picture and Best Director. A win for Lost in Translation and/or Sofia Coppola would restore my faith in the world—ok, maybe just in awards—for awhile.
Yes, I'm finally tearing myself away from the quiz-taking long enough to post a little something:

  • Roberta of Philly's artblog recently visited New Orleans and posted some beautiful Mardi Gras-as-art photographs.

  • It looks like it's the perfect time for me to upgrade to a bigger, newer TiVo unit. Yum.

  • I don't know what this says about me, but I totally want to choose some strange stuff for some other guy's TiVo (link via PVRblog).
    Here's a quiz only an attorney, and probably only a certain kind of attorney, can love. I like the result, though.(This quiz-taking prompted by Legal Theory Blog.)

    Thursday, February 26, 2004

    Yes, I'm doing another quiz. Strangely, although this one is supposed to be silly, the result actually makes a little—but only a little—sense:

    (Quiz-taking prompted by Will Baude of Crescat Sententia.)
    More odds, more ends:

    Wednesday, February 25, 2004

    I have a weakness for these internet quizzes. If only I'd gotten to be Ulysses like Lynn at Reflections in d minor....

    You're A People's History of the United States!
    by Howard Zinn

    After years of listening to other peoples' lies, you decided you've had enough. Now you're out to tell it like it is, with all the gory details and nothing left out. Instead of respecting leaders, you want to know what the common people have to offer. But this revolution still has a long way to go, and you're not against making a little profit while you wait. Honesty is your best policy.

    Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

    (P.S.: If I'd answered the last question differently, I would've been The Grapes of Wrath and my Oklahoma ancestors—you know, they were the ones who didn't flee to California during the Dust Bowl—probably would have gotten some awful revenge on me. Steinbeck's classic wasn't very popular in Oklahoma.)
    Odds and ends:

    Tuesday, February 24, 2004


    Happy Mardi Gras!

    To facilitate your enjoyment of the day, you may—if you're not actually in New Orleans, anyway—want to check out some of the webcams available through If Shrove Tuesday or Doughnut Day is more your speed, you may be interested in this Philadelphia Inquirer article on fastnachts. As for me, I'll be having both fastnachts and King Cake today. Yum.

    Monday, February 23, 2004

    At some point, Amazon's personalization technology—the system that makes recommended future purchases based on past purchases—apparently decided I was {shudder} a Baby Boomer or, at least, middle-aged. Its music recommendations for me, which were once so spot-on, now look like this:
    1. The Wind, Warren Zevon
    2. My Baby Don't Tolerate, Lyle Lovett
    3. Beneath This Gruff Exterior, John Hiatt
    4. Afterglow, Sarah McLachlan
    5. Feels Like Home, Norah Jones
    I seem to be thinking about television tonight:

  • Did you catch the recent New York Times's valentine to the TiVo remote control? It makes you want to purchase a TiVo Series 2 unit just so you can feel the "slight snap" that occurs when a button on the remote is depressed. Jason Kottke, though, thinks the Times piece overlooked an obvious flaw of the TiVo remote—that it's is so symmetrical that the user has to look to make sure it's pointed in the right direction. In any event, like Raffi Krikorian of PVRblog, I'm a fan of the old SVR-2000's remote. (The SVR-2000 was the Sony product that first brought me TiVo.) That remote fits snugly into my palm, and I never have to look to know which of the various, different-sized buttons I'm pressing. I've already worn the finish off one SVR-2000 remote, and I'm about to start on the next one.

  • It's hard for me to imagine network television without Ed, the sweet NBC show about life in a quirky, small town. But it looks like I'm going to have to do more than imagine it (link via Fresh Hell). I guess I should be grateful that Ed lasted as long as it did. At the end of the last season, rumors were rampant that the show's run was over. And that season finale, which had Ed and the long-pursued Carol getting engaged, seemed like a good, hastily-effected way to end the show. Still, we got a bonus season—and, unfortunately, in some ways, the unexpectedness of the entire season showed on screen (I'm still not sure how NBC got an entire season of plot from the engagement to the wedding). I'm going to work on being grateful for what we had, though.

  • J. Go of Too Much Free Time said everything I wanted to say about the series finale of Sex and the City. It's hard to root against "real love, ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can't-live-without-each-other love," huh?
  • Saturday, February 21, 2004

    I've been a fan of Paul McFedries's The Word Spy for a long time. The site, which focuses on the new words and phrases that our culture keeps spitting up, is always good fun (that's why it's in my blogroll). The past few weeks of The Word Spy have been especially noteworthy, though. And I'm not just saying that because of the inclusion of one of my favorite neologisms, heteroflexible. Recently, there have been intelligent, informative entries for criminal menopause, straight supremacist, testosteronic, puppy leave, mucus trooper, and—of course—wardrobe malfunction. Having an apt word or phrase for new ideas is somehow a relief. These are no exception; I've used a couple since seeing them on The Word Spy.

    The Word Spy has spawned a book, and I can't wait to get my hands on it.
    I've lived outside of Oklahoma for so long that I now have a hard time remembering how someone born and raised in Muskogee County ought to say some things. I want to sound like I'm from Oklahoma, because that's a big part of my identity, but I sometimes feel like the Philadelphia or the northwest Ohio or (less objectionable, to be sure) the New Orleans is slipping in. For instance, is it soda or pop or coke? (It's pop, I think.) Shopping cart or buggy? (Buggy.) And speaking of grocery stores, is it sack or bag? (I'll go with sack.) When I was a kid, did I say THANKS-giv-ing or thanks-GIV-ing? (The former, I think.) Nowadays, when I want a caramel shot in my coffee, I can't decide whether to tell the barista I want the two-syllable car-ml or the three-syllable carra-mel. Really. That word has me so freaked out right now that it always sounds phony coming out of my own mouth. Maybe I should just stick with vanilla shots.

    Anyway, I feel a little better about my accent now that I've taken this Yankee or Dixie? quiz, based on the Harvard Computer Society's impressive Dialect Survey (links via both Andrew Sullivan and Quare). I scored 60% Dixie—pretty good, I think, given my current linguistic confusion. By the way, if you're at all interested in American English, you owe it to yourself to pore through the maps produced by Harvard's Dialect Survey. I've spent hours going through them, occasionally truly puzzled by how I would've answered the questions.

    Given how large the United States is, it's surprising how few differences in dialect exist. If you want to hear a large number of English dialects, of course, you have to, um, point your ear toward the United Kingdom. One good place to start is the British Library's online collection of English accents and dialects (link via Peter Scott's Library Blog). There, you can fire up your Real Player and hear Miss Dibnah, a 1955 Yorkshire housewife, explain how she bakes bread; Arthur, a 70-year-old retired millworker from Lancashire, reminisce about supporting the Burnley Football Club in the 1950s; David, recorded in 1999, describe prison life; or one of 130 other fascinating examples of English. I needed transcripts for a few.

    Wouldn't life in the U.S. be more fun if we had hundreds of wildly distinct dialects and accents?
    Happily, Johnny Cash's family has nixed the idea of using "Ring of Fire" in advertisements for a hemorrhoid-relief product. I guess I won't have to get really cranky about that. Relieved? I'm still annoyed, though, that anyone even had the nerve to float this insipid idea. Now, at least for awhile, hearing one of the most beautiful love songs of our time will conjure up entirely inappropriate images.


    Monday, February 16, 2004

    This Friday Five would've made a lot more sense on the Thirteenth, but I was just too tired to cogitate on Friday.

    1. Are you superstitious? Not at all. It's irrational, and I pride myself on being, well, rational.

    2. What extremes have you heard of someone going to in the name of superstition? This isn't really all that extreme, I guess, but I used to be fascinated by tennis great Bjorn Borg's refusal to shave during Grand Slam tournaments. He wouldn't shave until he lost. (Athletes, of course, are often superstitious because their livelihoods seem to be more dependent on chance occurrences.) When Borg was playing, I wasn't shaving yet, so maybe I thought the idea of stubble was cool. I know better now: Just a single day's growth on my face, with all the scratchiness that that entails, can drive me crazy.

    3. Believer or not, what's your favorite superstition? The one about not walking under ladders has always made good sense to me. The guy on the ladder might drop something, you know?

    4. Do you believe in luck? I don't believe that some persons are magnets for certain kinds (i.e., the good kind) of chance occurrences. In the long run, those things tend to even out. I do believe that some people have learned strategies for identifying, early on, the opportunities inherent in newly-encountered situations. In other words, people who are known to be "lucky" actually just have a particular kind of knowledge about, and openness to, the world.

    5. Do you believe in astrology? Why or why not? No. There's no chance that the arrangement of the stars, many light years from Earth, affects the substance of life here. I have no doubt that persons born at a particular time and place will have some similar traits due to their exposure to the same cultural and environmental conditions, but that wouldn't explain the astrologer's belief that someone born on September 19 (in Virgo) is different from someone born on September 25 (in Libra). And, um, haven't the stars moved since astrology was developed, anyway? Astrology persists, I think, because it's easy to see something of yourself in the generalities of a horoscope.

    Sunday, February 15, 2004

    If you know me, there's a surprising omission from the Top 10 list I just posted. One album that I wanted to like, that I ought to have liked, just didn't please me enough. In fact, Want One by Rufus Wainwright was my biggest disappointment of 2003.

    Don't get me wrong. I played Want One a lot, and I'm still listening. I just don't think it represents anything close to Wainwright's best work. As a collection, it's filled with something closer to jingles than actual songs. Musically, the album is lush, ornate, and harmonic. The lyrics, though, leave me flat. Wainwright often focuses on the smallest of observations, a tactic that can be effective, but the observations on Want One are particularly banal and ultimately get taken nowhere in the end (or even in the middle). The listener gets the feeling that Wainwright is more interested in sounding good than in having anything to say. For this listener, it's an unsatisfying result.

    Take the first track on Want One, "Oh What a World": There's an almost witty observation about men reading fashion magazines, which is repeatedly paired with a reference to straight men. That could've gone somewhere interesting or somewhere profound or somewhere pointless. Wainwright didn't even try. It's frustratingly un-ambitious, and the entire album is like that. "Vibrate" is a "song" somehow built around the fact that the singer's cellphone is "on vibrate" for a would-be lover. Yeah, that's cool, but it's about half an observation; it shouldn't be the core of an entire song. Likewise, "Pretty Things" opens with questions about liking pretty things and pretty lies, territory that might conceivably be interesting, but then veers into a strange love metaphor about astrology. "I need these pretty things, around the planets of our phase"? Gee. No, thanks.

    To enjoy the album, I have to focus on the harmonies and Wainwright's vocal delivery. I just can't let myself focus on the lyrics—or, really, what's being passed off for lyrics.

    All of this is so frustrating because Wainwright's last album, Poses, was a lyrical masterpiece. Where's the songwriter who brought us this?

    Cigarettes and chocolate milk
    These are just a couple of my cravings
    Everything it seems I like's a little bit stronger,
    a little bit thicker, a little bit harmful for me.

    If I should buy jellybeans
    Have to eat them all in just one sitting
    Everything it seems I like's a little bit sweeter
    A little bit fatter, a little bit harmful for me.

    Lyrics like that hold up over time. Want One, I'm afraid, won't.
    Before 2003 gets too far behind me (ed.: too late!), I wanted to post my list of the Top 10 albums of the year. This year, more than most, I had a genuinely difficult time choosing just 10 albums. I guess that means it was a good year for my kind of music. There were about 25 real contenders, and picking the tenth album was almost painful. I did manage, though. Here's the Top 10, in alphabetical order:Honorable mention:
  • Best of R.E.M., R.E.M.
  • Dirt on the Angel, Danny Barnes
  • Feast of Wire, Calexico
  • Hail to the Thief, Radiohead
  • Maybe this Christmas, Too?, Various Artists (this is the closest a holiday album has ever made it to my Top 10)
  • On and On, Jack Johnson
  • Pickin' Up the Slack, The Slack Family
  • Rainy Day Music, The Jayhawks (this one just missed my Top 10)
  • The Songs of Fred Eaglesmith: A Tribute, Various Artists
  • Soul Sessions, Joss Stone
  • Volume 4, Joe Jackson Band
  • Welcome Interstate Managers, Fountains of Wayne
  • When I Pretend to Fall, The Long Winters
  • Wildwood Flower, June Carter Cash
  • World Without Tears, Lucinda Williams (but, um, can we get less slurring and fewer songs about vomiting next time?)
  • Sunday, February 08, 2004

    This is how Philadelphia Inquirer book critic Carlin Romano began today:That kind of inspired opening is how you get newspaper readers to delve into an 1100-word essay about a new, serious book. By the way, the book, which is probably less interesting than Romano's column, is Giovanna Borradori's Philosophy in a Time of Terror.

    Friday, February 06, 2004

    I should've done this days ago, but—just to tidy up—I'll make a few final comments on the Australian Open results. As I predicted from Day 1 (actually before), Justine Henin-Hardenne took the women's title. The final was a close three-set match with Kim Clijsters, who suffered from several poor line calls. (Free editorial: I think it's about time that tennis umpires had access to instant replay, when it's available.) Clijsters sure impressed me over the course of the tournament. She was obviously suffering with a bad ankle, but she still plowed through the field to the final. She may be 0-4 in Grand Slam finals, but I don't think she's another Jana Novotna (i.e., someone who'll never quite make the sport take notice). As far as my prediction goes, well, it's hard to take too much credit—especially in women's tennis—for picking the world No. 1 to win. Ho hum.

    On the men's side, well, I first went with Lleyton Hewitt and, after that became impossible, I went with Andre Agassi. Neither pick panned out, of course. Roger Federer was just too good, too impressive, too dominating. Remember when I asked if Andy Roddick was No. 1 to stay or what? Well, or what. It was just a couple of weeks ago that I was all ga-ga for Roddick, and it seemed plausible at the time. It sure doesn't now.

    When the tournament began, a case could be made that any one of four different players was the world's best. Now, it's hard to imagine anyone but Federer being No. 1 come December. Let's take a look:

  • Agassi - Now that his rankings points for winning the 2003 Australian Open are gone, Agassi has dropped to No. 5 in the men's rankings. (I sure don't think No. 4 Guillermo Coria is a better player than Agassi, by the way.) It's nearly inconceivable that Agassi will win this year's French Open or Wimbledon; those just aren't winnable surfaces for Agassi anymore. And I'd be mildly surprised if the aging superstar took the U.S. Open. He'll still be in the Top 10, and probably the Top 5, at year's end, but Agassi won't be 2004's top player.

  • Roddick - In this week's rankings, Roddick is No. 3—but the difference between him and No. 2 Juan Carlos Ferrero is so tiny (10 rankings points) that it's surely insignificant. Although I have little doubt that Roddick will eventually find himself a more secure spot at No. 2, I just don't see him reclaiming the top spot for awhile. He won't win the French Open; his game on clay just isn't that stellar. To be No. 1, then, he'll probably have to win at Wimbledon and then defend his U.S. Open title to be the best of 2004. It's conceivable, but that's sure a tough task—especially given the caliber of top men's players right now.

  • Ferrero - After Roddick lost to Marat Safin in the Australian's quarterfinals, either Federer or Ferrero could have taken the top spot. Ferrero, though, just didn't have the goods. His straight-set loss to Federer in the semis was one of the least interesting men's matches of the second week. Don't get me wrong, though. I think Ferrero is a worthy No. 2 or No. 3 player. He's got an A-level game on every surface. The problem? You can imagine Ferrero winning every French Open from now to 2010. In that same time frame, though, it's hard to imagine him winning more than one or two other (random) Slam titles. This year, for instance, he'll be the big favorite to defend at the French Open. He'll probably make the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, but he won't win either. As far as rankings points, that'll put him just about where he is now—near the top but not at the top.

  • Federer - Federer is currently the titleholder at two Slams, Wimbledon and the Australian. His game is exquisite, and it's hard to imagine that he won't be a contender at every Slam for years to come. Truthfully, I don't see him winning the French this year, but it's hard for me to imagine that he won't win at either Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. With two Slam titles in 2004, and given the (un)likelihood that any other top player will take more than one other Slam, Federer looks to be a secure pick for the top spot on the men's tour in 2004.

    So, two weeks ago, I thought Roddick was a force of nature. Now I can't see anyone but Federer leading the way. Am I just fickle, or has there been a shift in the tennis universe?

    P.S. Strangest scene at this year's Australian Open: When men's doubles champs Fab Santoro and Michael Llodra stripped to their underwear (random fun fact: one favors boxers, the other briefs) to celebrate. If this sort of thing catches on, American networks will start airing tennis with a five-second delay.
    Items observed this week from my little patch of Blogistan:
    It's Friday, and that means it's time for the Five:

    1. What's the most daring thing you've ever done? Parasailing, maybe? Saying "I love you" to someone who might not say it back? Moving, repeatedly, to new places where I didn't know anyone? Sigh. It's hardly James Bond stuff, I know.

    2. What one thing would you like to try that your mother would never approve of? Luge.

    3. On a scale of 1-10, what's your risk factor (1=never take risks, 10=it's a lifestyle)? About two-and-one-half.

    4. What's the best thing that's ever happened to you as a result of being bold/risky? All that moving helped me meet a lot of new, interesting people..

    5. ... and what's the worst? I got the worst sunburn of my life while parasailing. Maybe being just that much closer to the sun had an impact. Or not.

    Monday, February 02, 2004

    Monday, Monday (sometimes it just turns out that way):


    11/01/2002 - 12/01/2002   12/01/2002 - 01/01/2003   01/01/2003 - 02/01/2003   02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003   03/01/2003 - 04/01/2003   04/01/2003 - 05/01/2003   05/01/2003 - 06/01/2003   06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003   07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003   08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003   09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003   10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003   11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003   12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004   01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004   02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004   03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004   04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004   05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004   06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004   07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004   08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004   09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004   10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004   11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004   12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005   01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005   02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005   03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005   04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005   05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005   06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005   07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005   08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005   10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005   03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006   03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007  

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