Monday, July 31, 2006

Soap Opera

The action so far: Robertson of Darwin's Cat is in a fantasy baseball league. He has done a trade that several in the league think is unfair, and accusations of malice and collusion are being exchanged via email.

It's kind of fun, but maybe it's not.

The great truth remains that email is a blunt instrument for the exchange of incivilities. There's a nuance in a loud argument face to face or by phone, even if it's furiously done. There's give and take. There's a rise and a fall. There's the satisfaction that comes from making your point and immediately getting a reaction. There's exhaustion and reconciliation.

It's like the wrestling scene in D. H. Lawrences "Women in Love," though I think I better make clear to those of you who aren't D.H. Lawrence fans that it's not women who are doing the wrestling in that scene. It's guys. In the movie version of the novel from oh so long ago Oliver Reed and Alan Bates were doing the wrestling. (My god that was a long time ago.) D. H. Lawrence was a graduate school god at Duke in the sixties, so my wife and and I oh so seriously paid our dollar and went to the movie.

Talk. Talk. Talk. Grapple. Grapple. Grapple.

I told my wife that the wrestling match was symbolic of the way men in our culture strain to establish intellectual and emotional relationships, given the straitjacket of male identity. It wasn't naked men grappling. It was metaphor. My wife said, Oh why don't they just get a room.

Friendships between men are tricky. A friend of mine was in this fantasy league for some years, and now we aren't friends anymore, and I've often wondered why. Ah, could it be because six or seven years ago some of the league members suggested he was, uh, "forgetting" to hand out the prize money, and I piled on? On the other hand, more recently I got into a furious argument with another friend of mine -- who was *also* in this very league -- around certain league issues. I seem to recall he said I was a fool, a boob, just plain stupid, deeply self-deluding, said it more than once. We actually threw him out of the league, though to be honest he was more or less screaming -- in email; lots and lots of CAPS -- that no we weren't throwing him out, he was quitting and that we were, I guess gross moral and intellectual incompetence was the nicest thing he saud about us.

But two months later we were the best of friends again; that is, he seemed to regard the whole league dispute as something that took place on another plane of reality. He subtracted it from our fund of mutual experience: "That was in another country, and besides the wench is dead."

Keeping in the spirit of the last quote just let me say, "League, thy name is dysfunction."

Addendum: Here's the trailer. And Larry Kramer wrote the screenplay. In the words of the Peacock Sage, that's weird wild stuff.

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

These are the contents of an email just sent to the members of the Patrick Finley Memorial Fantasy Baseball League. The only reason to read this post would be an unreasoning passion for fantasy baseball or an unreasoning passion for this blog.

And even then I would think twice. This is real inside blogball.

Jeffrey and Bob ask what about the Wickman trade. It’s a reasonable question.

Here are the basic facts. Over the last several days I offered trade packages to Bob, Brad and Russ and also had some conversations with Paul, though we never ran the numbers because neither of us could figure anything out that was plausible. My first choice to trade with was Brad because he is in last place, and he’s going to stay in last place no matter what. I offered him a package that would have given each of us around four points up front, but I guess he figured that four points would still leave him somewhere south of 30 points, so why bother?

A logical point of view. As he explained, "What part of 'fuck you' don't you understand?" A salty dog, that Brad, a real salty dog.

Then I turned to Bob, hating myself for it, since helping him would move me no closer to third place and would put him in contention for second place – which would have produced some squawks from Jeffrey and Peter. The deal I laid out for Bob would have produced four points for him up front and 3.5 for me. But I guess he didn’t like the fact that the trade would have diminished his margins in some categories. The trade would have done the same for me, but I always like to think the glass is half full – of delicious Jack Daniels. I have read recently that research shows that people fear loss more than they anticipate gain, all things being equal, and that in a situation where the likelihood of gain is equal to the likelihood of loss, the possible gain must be twice as large as the possible loss to prompt the average person to roll the dice. That would seem to be true.

Late last night when Bob was balking, I turned to Russ, who couldn’t help me much but who would still be well out of the money even with Wickman added. I proposed a Wickman-somebody trade accompanied by a Lopez-Pierzynski trade, which would have given Russ three or four points up front and me a point up front but would have increased my lead in runs and batting average. More to the point, giving Wickman to Russ cuts points off Bob, Jeffrey, Paul and Little Chi Chi, all of whom are contenders for money. From that point of view, the trade benefited me more than Russ. In any event, Russ drew back. Then shortly after 9 a.m. today, I read that Shelton had been sent to the minors, which meant Russ suddenly needed to keep Pierzynski. At that point, I caved in and traded Wickman to him for whoever he chose to give up, which was Crain.

But the point is it’s not for nothing. I pick up 4.5 points against my main competition -- half a point closer to Jeffrey, one point closer to Bob, one point closer to Paul, one point picked up on Matt, one point picked up on Michael Tola . That is one sweet trade. If the league wishes to ban trades of this sort, so be it. Let’s have the discussion and take a vote and make a rule. The league has suffered in the past through the lack of clear guidelines on what sort of trade is unacceptable.

This one is actually a no-brainer, which is a fair description of the guys who wouldn't trade with me.

No no. They are smart enough. But they lack faith and they lack hope. And they sure don't believe in charity, at least coming from me.

Haiku: Google the cloud and find the sky

From Lao Tzu

Whenever you advise a ruler in the way of Tao,
Counsel him not to use force to conquer the universe.
For this would only cause resistance.
Thorn bushes spring up wherever the army has passed.
Lean years follow in the wake of a great war.
Just do what needs to be done.
Never take advantage of power.

Achieve results,
But never glory in them.
Achieve results,
But never boast.
Achieve results,
But never be proud.
Achieve results,
Because this is the natural way.
Achieve results,
But not through violence.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hit Me, Said the Masochist. No, the Sadist Replied.

I read in either the New Yorker or the Economist -- that's where I learn a lot of things; I never went to kindergarten -- that the average human being fears loss more than he or she yearns for gain. If I recall correctly, to motivate the average person to take a risk in a 50-50 situation, the possible gain must be twice that of the possible loss.

(If I have this wrong, tell me. We revel in interactivity here at Darwin's Cat.)

The last 24 hours of deal making in the venerable Patrick Finley Memorial Baseball League seem to bear this out. I offer deals that will provide mutual benefit. My confreres respond with deals that benefit them and me not at all. My wife -- she who has just returned from the negotiation seminar -- says my problem is that I failed to offer them one-sided deals of my own earlier. She says that by offering fair deals up front, I have spoiled the negotiation. She says I needed to be forced by my trading partner to retreat to an equitable position.

In other words, my fair deals were offered too early in the game to be perceived as fair. And now it's too late. The goods are shopworn.

Okay. Okay. All I'm saying that as commissioner in years past I have signed off on deals that looked like a shower scene from Oz. I let the fast talkers turn the weaker-minded members of the league into their personal butt buddies. And I don't mean that in a nice way.

Any trade comes down the road in the next 18 hours that isn't a rainbow of righteousness, the commissioner is saying NO,

There's an old sheriff in Dodge right enough, but he just remembered where he keeps his teeth.

Inside the Patrick Finley Memorial Fantasy Baseball League

I gather that all the rage in contemporary media is transparency; that is, news consumers want to know more about how news is gathered, by whom it's gathered, who edits it and who chooses what will be run and on what page or moment and under what headline.

Transparency. Ask for it by name.

Therefore, in the spirit of full access, I am going to take you behind the scenes of one of the most exciting times in the history of the Patrick Finley Fantasy Baseball League. I'm talking about the 72 hours leading up to the league trade deadline, which is the same as that of major league baseball.

Here's what I've put on the table:

To Mr. Brad Swift, who is languishing in last place, I am offering Mark Loretta, Johnny Damon and Bob Wickman for Tadahito Iguchi, Vladimir Guerrero and Rafael Betancourt. He'd pick up about four points and so would I.

Meanwhile, to Mr. Bob Wieder, who is sitting in third place, two places ahead of me, I am offering Javy Lopez, David Wells and Bob Wickman for Jason Varitek, Joel Piniero and Keith Foulke. He'd pick up about four points and so would I.

Now, at this point you may say. You are giving me facts that do not rise to the status of information because I don't know how you score in your little league or the current standings or anything else that would infuse with significance these words that mean one thing in the real world of baseball but something quite different in the artificial construct of your fantasy baseball league. I am not enlightened, sir. I am stumped.

To which I reply: That's my idea of transparency.

By the way, I bet neither deal goes down. As the league's BCL -- the Beloved Commissioner for Life -- I strive to make my deals fair. No one trusts a fair deal.

I promise you either or both of my would-be trade partners will end up trading with some mysterious Nigerian promising that certain major league baseball players, whose names you would recognize but who for the moment must remain unidentified, are now on deposit in a major Nigerian bank as a result of recent unexpected deaths/bankruptcies/palace revolutions and no legal claimant to rush them onto the field.

My Dear Sir:

Urgent and Confidential Business Proposal

I am Mariam Abacha, widow of the late Sani Abachi, General Manager of the Lagos Oil Plutocrats....

Saturday, July 29, 2006

I Have an Edible Complex. But I like Simplicity, Too.

It's called Dungeness crab with spaghetti in lobster cream. It's delicious.

You can get it at Bix on Gold St., which is a couple blocks north of the Transamerica Pyramid. The place is no secret. My wife had a two-day seminar in downtown San Francisco on the fine art of negotiation -- this may be my last post; finally I will be completely in her power. So I said I will come over on the BART train and we will go someplace nice. I did the lazy thing and hooked up with the Chron's list of top 100 Bay Area restaurants and used the location filter.

Bix is not that close to Union Square, people. But the review was right: super good food.

I am writing this, however, to praise the description of the food. Think about it. The restaurant could have said the dish was Dungeness crab (thank you Wikipedia) with:

Shaped pasta

Tubular pasta

Strand noodles

  • Angel Hair — thicker than capellini
  • Barbina — thin strands often coiled into nests
  • Capellini — even thinner than angel hair; thinnest spaghetti—like noodle. (from capelli, meaning hair)
  • Chitarra — similar to spaghetti, except square rather than round
  • Ciriole — thicker version of chitarra
  • Fedelini — thinner than spaghettini
  • Fusilli lunghi — very long fusilli
  • Pici — very thick, found in Tuscany
  • Spaghetti — long, round, and thin. Thicker than spaghettini. (from Spago, meaning string)
  • Spaghettini — thinner than spaghetti, thicker than fedelini
  • Vermicelli — thinner or thicker (in Italy) than spaghetti. (from vermi, meaning worms)

Ribbon pasta noodles

Micro pasta

Stuffed pasta

Irregular Shapes

  • Spätzle - German egg pasta that is either round in shape from being squeezed through a press, often reminding people of worms because of their soft consistency, or completely irregular, when hand made (without a press). Their name means "little sparrow" in German.

But they kept it homey: spaghetti. Kudos to you, Bix. The food's the thing wherein we'll catch the conscience of the king.

Friday, July 28, 2006

For My Ears Only. Nothing to Hear. Keep Moving

this is an audio post - click to play

The Fascism of the Literal

Yesterday we got our two new Motorola Razr cellphones from Radio Shack. Our contract is with Cingular, but the deal for the hardware was much better than that offered by by Cingular, either online or in their bricks-and-mortar store in our neighborhood.

Will we live happily ever after with our new cellphones, or at least for the two years of our contractual obligation?

We'll see. Cellphone companies are the e coli of American commerce, pervasive, often unsettling, occasionally deadly.

But that's not why I asked you here today. What is a cellphone without an elaborate set of instructions? The first instruction is that you should charge the phone for 24 hours before using it. And I think to myself: What actually is the optimum time to charge before using?

It's not 24 hours -- I'm sure of that.

Maybe it's 17 hours, 24 minutes. Maybe it's 26 hours, 47 minutes. But that degree of fineness would produce cognitive overload, and there would be less compliance, not more. And more batteries would fail prematurely, and more consumers would be sad.

Of course, sad consumers are not the issue. The issue is consumers sad enough to behave in ways -- loud and long complaints requiring more operators standing by; animosity that changes consumer buying habits -- that are incompatible with the company's profit expectations. Anyway, no matter whether the calculation is practical, altruistic or deeply cynical, the cellphone people know they need to stipulate a nice round number that resolves itself into: "Start now; tomorrow at this time, stop."

I know -- I know -- that a 24-hour charging period is a useful compromise with what is actually the "best" number.

All that stipulated, today somewhere between 23 hours, 50 minutes, and 24 hours, 10 minutes, after I began, I will quit charging our two brand-new blue Motorola Razr phones.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

More in Our Summer Series of Magnificent Reruns

May 03, 2005

The Shakespeare Cable Network Announces Its Fall Series

The Late Aaron Spelling Presents Hamlet. Called home from college when her father dies, Hamlet (Torri Spelling) begins to suspect there's a serial killer on the loose.

Julius Caesar XXIV. It's March 14, and special agent Gracchus Bauer has only 24 turns of the hourglass to stop a conspiracy that could shake Rome to its foundation.

Tempest Survivor. Prospero is three steps ahead of the game while Miranda worries if the alliance with Ariel will hold. Caliban has a Spandex crisis during the immunity challenge.

MacBeth CSI. Duncan's murder seems cut and dried until Dunsinane's crack crime scene investigators check the hand towels in the ladies restroom.

Titus Andronicus Meets the Iron Chef. The guys and girls at Wendy's are feuding, and strange things start showing up in the chili.

The Merchant of Venice, California. He loses the girl, the money, the keys to the gondola but never his way with a quip. Television newcomer Albert Brooks is suffering his special deadpan brand of middle-class angst as Shakespeare's classic comedy is transplanted to the Southland's bikinied beaches.

Romeo and Juliet in the OC. Albert Brooks, SCN's brightest new star, pays a special visit to SCN's longest-running hit as Romeo finds out those pills the fiery Tybalt is getting from the apothecary may be illegal steroids.

Fahrenheit Henry V. This 117-episode documentary takes us from George Bush's early days as an oil patch roustabout, through his feuds with his father to his triumph in Iraq at the head of a handful of ragtag jarheads. Rare footage of Bush's banishment of Karl Rove as he turns his back on the follies of his youth -- not!

Bitchin' Richard III. The crew from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy can't win them all. Special guest star Mr. Ed squabbles with the King, goes away miffed, which could pose a problem for Richard later on.

A'ight, It's Othello. You enjoyed it on UPN for eight years. Now Bernie Mac and Bea Arthur bring their fussin' and fightin' and redhot lovin' to SCN. Andy Dick (Iago) continues to cause trouble.

Antony and Cleopatra Jones. One man is not enough for the original "desperate housewife." Parental discretion advised.

King Lear of Queens. He's a single dad with three lovely daughters, but when the Valley Speak breaks out, he doesn't have a clue who's pulling his royal leg and who's not. Albert Brooks makes a special guest appearance as Robert Novak/The Fool.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Or Maybe It's All a CIA Trick to Put Someone in Place to Tell Cheney to Stop Smoking and Lay Off the Fatty Foods While There's Still Time

My wife has had many careers, many turns in the road, many battles lost, more battles won -- as that necklace of human ears she wears around her neck underneath her power suit more than attests.

But I am glad that long ago in a galaxy far far away she was a junior high school teacher. One day she came home with this conversation:

Wife: "What's your favorite television show?"

Student: (passionately) "Mod Squad."

Wife: "I've never heard of it."

Student: (earnestly) "Oh, it's not on yet. But I saw the commercial."

You must understand that the idea of the meme, the cultural virus, was not yet a staple of our national conversation. I think most of us back then, as ponderous as the dinosaurs, wanted to sample the wares before declaring allegiance. Not like now, where those on the inside of the cultural Dyson sphere are already bored with Snakes on a Plane even though the movie has yet to rise on its coils. They are bored with the inevitable SOP sequels, the novelizations, the Ben and Jerry's ice-cream flavor and the SNL parody, none of which yet exist. What they are excited about is the segment in the 2009 installment of the Wayans Brothers Scary Movie series. All the 21st Century boys and girls are ahead of the curve, way out there where it's still a straight line.

Having said all that, I have to say that BBC's Life on Mars has been my favorite television show for a good three weeks now, ever since I saw the four-minute preview on Comcast On Demand. Last night it had its U.S. premier.

Most excellent.

It's 2006 in Manchester and our cop is chasing a serial killer who has snatched his cop girlfriend, but then out of nowhere a car whacks him and he wakes up as a cop in Manchester in 1973 in bell bottoms, and, of course, he's in a coma in 2006 because -- on his black-and-white TV or just out of the thin air -- people are talking to him in his coma about his coma, but life in 1973 seems real, gritty and painful when he's punched -- there's a lot of punching in 1973 -- and it turns out the same killer is killing people....

There is a balance in creating and maintaining this kind of narrative ground. Your protagonist needs to ask the obvious questions as they become obvious. He must fight against the premise. But -- catatonia making very bad television -- he must also live in his new universe, responding to it and learning its rules. And the people who write the show must control their fertile imaginations and keep the introduction of new ideas and new complications from turning the show into some kind of maze out of which the viewer concludes he will never find his way.

I've sampled The 4400 and Lost. Like the X Files, so much business, so many red herrings and loose ends are piled up that the enterprise becomes a puzzle more than a story. Viewers spend too much time poking around in the background and too little in the foreground where the human action takes place. No resolution can possibly be an adequate explanation for so much complication, so many inexplicable things. You like the show, but you begin to worry at some point you won't like what it becomes.

Maybe "Life on Mars" will go down that road, and soon I won't be able to sort out all the possible explanations of what!?! and why?!? without a scorecard, 17 fan websites and a "Gospel According to...." book by an assistant professor at the University of Northern Iowa.

But the first episode of LOM stopped somewhere short of full-bore baroque. Kill yourself and break the coma says a guy with a beard to our hero. But the guy with the beard is -- probably is -- the ex-boy friend of the really cute female cop from 1973 who is willing to listen to crazy cop's tales of time travel without concluding he is hooting 360 degrees of nuts. On the other hand, the male cops of her period treat her contemptuously, and he doesn't. If that's crazy, maybe she'll take some more.

"Maybe you are here for a reason," she says. (One hopes it involves hugging and kissing and partial nudity. She's really cute.)

Let's see how it plays. I'm counting on the British to keep the number of episodes to a minimum. If that's the case, the odds increase the plot won't become exponentially opaque, as each episode has its new and surprising clue to keep the game fresh. Maybe, like The Prisoner, there will be a nice handful of episodes and then a final installment just obscure enough.

Maybe, like Mod Squad, it will have a final episode that transcends what has come before.

I am referring, of course, to Prince's Purple Rain, also known as Clarence Williams III's finest hour.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Just Another Democrat Willing to Stay the Course in Iraq

Naturally, I'm willing to stay the course. Courses are finite. Courses have limits. I'd say once around the track is a "course," though I don't see why a hundred yard dash wouldn't satisfy the definition as well, and that would be over in ten seconds. But every course has a finish line at which point you can quit staying, clearly defined and easy to see as it comes into sight. Watching the judges grab the tape and run off into the distance daring you to follow cannot fall under the metaphor "stay the course."

Even ultramarathons have a finish line. There is one exception, I concede. That would be the original marathon. Run till you die.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


More than 90 degrees yesterday, nearly that today.

Oakland is never this hot. It is, of course, sometimes. It's just so seldom this hot that it feels like never. I know one does not take things out of mothballs on hot days. I think one takes things out of mothballs before vacations or maybe around solstice time, in spring or fall.

But it is so hot that I am going to take a word out of mothballs. And the word is:


Man, I feel Southern right now. I feel the way I did during summers back in Virginia when I was a teenager, dreading the start of two-a-day football practice on August 15. I feel as if all activity is unjustified. Out here in Oakland about 350 days a year, one feels brisk and ready, even on rainy days, which are fine for brain work.

But today is one of those days at the end of which I will be a day closer to dead with nothing done.

Time for a kicker, but I think not. It's too hot to come up with some ideas, sort them out, make a choice and polish the final result.

To kick, to sweat, to melt.

It's too darn hot.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Lord of the Balls: The Return of the Bunny Wunny

Two weeks ago my fantasy baseball team was in third place but sliding. I said then that if it dropped "out of the money" -- to use a bit of league jargon -- I would toss the provocative team name Snakes on a Plane and return to the label under which my team finished "high in the money" last year.

This morning I am in 5th place. Once again welcome the Six Bunny Wunnies.

Actually, the name under which I finished "high in the money" was the 17 Bunny Wunnies, but that team began life as the Six Bunny Wunnies, and I brought in reinforcements as needed. It was a wise plan and resulted in my "cashing a check." (Yes, keeping up with our league's highly technical nomenclature exhausts even me.)

If this seems superstitious, well yes that would be the word, and without quotation marks. I lack the big superstition about God but am still beset by any number of smaller ones. I could blog about that. But first things first.

Go Bunny Wunnies.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

More Summertime Greatest Hits (I am a Gentle, Beautiful Man)

Friday, July 23, 2004

The Dog with Half a Face

I saw a dog with a disfigured face at the Ace Hardware the other day. I had two small packages of nails, a bulb for a floodlight, a small can of green spay paint and a tiny plastic prong that you can screw to the face plate to prevent you from turning a light switch either on or off (if it’s already off or on), all of which I had come for. But before checking out, I was looking at the barbecue paraphernalia, which is good recreation if you are a Weber guy.

The dog was standing in the aisle the way dogs do, staring into the middle distance, tongue quivering, tail wagging lazily in anticipation of something pleasant, such as a pat on the ribs just behind the shoulder. That was what I provided. The dog was pleased but not in a vulgar way.

It was a big yellow dog. It did not have a nose. About halfway between the eyes and the tip of its snout, the upper jaw had been cut away, so that its face looked like a caricature of a wild boar. The jaw was underslung with two strong canines pointing up, and the tissue where the jaw had been cut away was pink and corrugated with two slits, which were its nasal passages.

I told it that it was a very nice dog. It was a very nice dog. I was not sure whether the owner – a bulky women in a blue smock – was pleased by my interest in the dog. Had it been a child with Down’s Syndrome or an infant with a congenital deformity, there would have been mutual tension around issues of condescension or morbid curiosity. But in this case there was only pleasure on my part around the fact this was a happy dog, sleek and well-fed, who seemed to lack for nothing necessary to a dog’s happiness.

The owner said the dog had had cancer.

I said that we had a white cat who had cancer on both ears, which were amputated to stop its spread.

She said that white cats with cancer on their ears and noses were common, but that cancer of the kind her dog had was very rare. She said she took it to Davis – and every Bay Area pet owner knows that is a reference to the UC-Davis veterinary school where innovation abounds. We took our cat Popcorn there to see if we could avoid amputation of her ears.

I asked how old the dog was, and the woman in the blue smock said he was 9. I said we owed that to our pets, which was a bit of a non sequitur but I meant even a dog in late middle age is not disposable. Of course, the surgery could have occurred years ago.

She walked on, followed by her dog, whose tail had not stopped wagging. I supposed this was an endless conversation for her, and she did not need the approval or reassurance of strangers.

I think the woman and her dog were exactly how things should be. I understand the arguments on the other side, and I will argue it with you if you choose, but it is not one of those arguments that make me anxious. Having come to a certain conclusion, I have acted on that conclusion, and my action makes me more comfortable with my conclusion, not less. We had a cat once that needed subcutaneous transfusions, which we did at home, even when its skin became so porous that the fluid leaked out almost as fast as we dripped it in.

I believe simply that the contract we have with animals means that those animals we butcher and eat – those we have concluded are disposable -- should be butchered with as much gentleness as the process allows. I believe the same thing is true of lab animals, and that means certain experiments are unacceptable. I believe that the animals we keep as companions should never be treated as if they are disposable. Meat animals offer us nourishment and lab animals offer us health and longevity, but companion animals offer us love. That’s certainly a word I am comfortable using in relation to cats and dogs. They seek our presence, count on us for things that they cannot provide for themselves and find pleasure in our touch and in the warmth of our bodies.

There is usually loyalty on their part to some degree, even between cats and their owners. If human beings, when they speak of love between them and other human beings, are describing such dependence and such tactile pleasure, they are describing something worth having. But often when human beings use the word they seem to be referring to cruelties and indignities that reduce the word to nothing.

Money and time spent on the illnesses of our companion animals make a perfect symmetry. If those of us who have resources decline to spend them we are the parasites, not they. When our efforts fail and their suffering is great, then we kill them. My wife and I take our cats to the vet when it becomes necessary, hold them in our arms and watch the vet kill them. Too bad society does not make the same accommodation for human beings – and, of course, it would have to be an accommodation managed carefully.

I hope that when I describe the yellow dog’s radically altered face, you do not think of it as grotesque. The dog certainly did not think so. I did not think so. Its face was an emblem of equilibrium between owner and animal, of a balance of duty and affection.

We are too cognitively evolved, of course, to handle our own deformities so calmly. I am not so arrogant or blithely cruel to suggest that we are. But perhaps we shall continue to evolve and come out wise and gentle on the other side.

Update July 2006: In case you wonder what happened to Popcorn, the earless cat: In Remembrance.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Way of the Potato

Today I vigorously scraped the inside of both my cheeks, put the residue in two little vials and mailed them to the National Genographic Project's DNA lab. It was a birthday present from my wife, who knows I hope I am a one-man melting pot.

In modern America, I don't think it's only liberals who wish their ancestry to be varied and colorful. Aren't the old thin-blooded son-of-paleface DAR types an anachronism? I assume even Hillary-hating conservatives express disgust for the Aryan Nations and their talk of racial purity, if only to avoid the appearance that "true" conservative politics are based on lineage and bad science rather than logic and the big tent.

I don't know. I do know I'm hoping that my own tribal ancestry is not as dull as I fear it will be. As the potato moved across the face of Europe, I'm guessing my ancestors followed close behind, their noses near to the ground. They were expelled from Scotland and then expelled from Ireland before finding refuge in the American colonies, at which point family legend says they spent part of the 17th Century and all of the 18th Century hiding in the Appalachian hollows marrying their cousins.

One hopes one is an octoroon, of course, just for the pizzazz, like Tennessee Williams. And, you know, I have a better than average chance. When my grandmother was young, they called her the little gypsy because she was so dark, and, as Connie Chung said to Newt Gingrich's mother, just between the two of us my grandmother was the illegitimate child of an illegitimate child back when bastardy was more than a lifestyle choice.

Some Native American blood would stand me well at cocktail parties. And to be a child of Romani would be better still. I have no interest in tracing my line back to particular kings or brigands. If I ever feel that need, I'll cultivate reincarnation and past life regression.

It counts for nothing on a personal level -- one does not pick the provenance of one's Y chromosome -- but the more mixed one's DNA, the more it is America's DNA.

Walt Whitman would have reveled in DNA, the science of it and the poetry.

There was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he looked upon, that object he became....

His own parents,
He that had fathered him, and she that had conceived him in her womb, and birthed him,
They gave this child more of themselves than that;
They gave him afterward every day; they became part of him...

The family usages, the language, the company,
the yearning and swelling heart,
Affection that will not be gainsayed,
the sense of what is real, the thought if, after all, it should prove unreal,
The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time, the curious whether and how,
Whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes and specks?
Men and women crowding fast in the streets,
if they are not flashes and specks, what are they...?

These became part of that child who went forth every day,
and who now goes, and will always go forth every day

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pump Up Da Filth

Back to that familiar journalism discussion about how much of a word you put in a quotation in a newspaper when that word is coarse or vile. Someone worth quoting says goddamn you and you either engage in some writing around -- he suggested the deity consign his opponent to hades -- which can be confusing and is certainly a little arch, or you:

* Use dashes: ------- you, which actually invites readers to play Count the Dashes and Guess the Obscenity, tumbling us down into the foul rag and bone shop of our hearts;

* Or you use some dashes: g------ you, g--d--- you, g-dd-mn you. All such attempts fall somewhere between the multiple obscenity game and the alternative spelling game, both of which are acts of hypocrisy. F-ck you is just an alternative spelling. The same word sounds in your head.

It is a puzzle. So I was sympathetic as newspapers agonized about whether or not to spell out the coarse and nauseating word "shit" when President B--h blurted it into an open mike over there in Europe the other day.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Look at All the Lonely Bloggers (Where Do They All Come From?)

Sad. Just sad. I copied this at, to wit:

"Currently tracking 48.7 million sites"

So at 1,106,057 I'm not in the top million, but I'm in the top two-and-a-half percent?

I need to start wandering bloggerworld, if only to cheer some deserving teenager or cat lover or Amway salesman, his dreams as shiny as the seat of his pants.

And maybe I can get down into the high six figures. (I think I can; I think I can.)


Paris Hilton Paris Hilton

Live nude Andy Rooney

Darn You. Darn You All Real Good.

My old buddy who every few years maxes out his credit cards, dyes his hair, rotates his facial moles and starts life anew elsewhere is for the moment in a little lakeside development in Haute Spryngs, Arkansas, the motto of which is "It ain't enough just to be white, you got to be light."

He says this blog is a drug on the market because I am not controversial enough.

Well, it depends on what you mean by controversy. Controversy is just disagreement, with the connotation that the disagreement is heated and current.

Looked at that way almost every statement is controversial. No, I think he means I need to either:

1) Be a contrarian and adopt a position that contrasts with the common attitude, particularly if that attitude is so common that the very idea of the existence of an opposing point of view is novel and disturbing. I suppose saying, "Slay the whales and turn them into lampshades" might be an example.

2) Geek it up. Eat the live chicken and vomit. I would put Ann Coulter in this category. Some smart blogger, whom I would credit were my memory more supple, noted that Coulter is not really dealing in fact statements. If she suggests the 9/11 widows were about to be divorced by their husbands, no one thinks she has any knowledge of such. She's just found a particularly disgusting way to indicate disapproval of the women.

But it's fresh, nice fresh offal. No one has said it before. Some are appalled, and others are entertained. A long-limbed horse-faced woman rolling in her own filth with her dress hiked up so high you can see her topiary! I wouldn't buy a ticket to see, but then again I'm not "controversial."

I was going to say that something like "Nuke the Whales" would fall into this second category, but that's rather too good-natured and, as we all know, self-satirizing because we all grasp the extent of the overstatement and don't believe it means what it says. That's not controversy, that's irony.

But I will try to be more controversial from now on. White socks with dress shoes! Dessert first! Nothing but dessert! Paris Hilton is a virgin!!

I step back and take a deep breath and look in the mirror for signs of moral decay. I wonder if this is how the antiChrist will get started?

Of course! Connect the dots. Andy Rooney is the antiChrist!

You heard it here first, and if you like it you'll hear it again.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

It's Not Exactly a Milestone. It's More Like a Yardstone.

Yesterday I got my 10,000 visitor, as measured by sitemeter. It took me more than two years to reach that modest number. The nice thing was it was an old friend, as sitemeter allows me to know.

Whether the motivation is admiration or schadenfreude, everybody counts.

Lest Any Man Should Boast

The news from the Middle East continues to be foul, as Israel and its neighbors continue the dance of death that reminds me -- batten down hatches; prepare for bathetic descent into popular culture -- of that episode of the original Star Trek in which the guest star is locked in some kind of time warp battling his alter ego for all eternity.

I'm sure if we all go to Wikipedia we can track down the very episode.

If I were still a fundamentalist Christian, I would be thrilled by the continuing instability because I would believe as a matter of dogma that Israel is the canary in the gold mine: When Jesus embarks on his final comeback tour, chaos in the Middle East will precede it and must precede it.

As all those of geopolitical sophistication know, American Jews love Israel for one set of reasons and fundamentalist Christians for a very different set. Israel must do its Phoenix thing and then be trampled down by the returning Christ, think fundamentalist Christians.

In a recent New Yorker, Adam Gopnik boiled down some recent Benjamin Disraeli bios with his usual elan. He said Disraeli somehow capitalized on his insight that the British so very much disliked a people -- his people -- that their Good Book said they should venerate. (How this insight strengthened Disraeli beats me. I did not linger on the idea, for time is short and New Yorkers are long.)

Anyway, whatever Gopnik meant about what Disraeli knew, in American today among fundamentalist Christians things are different from 19th Century Britain when it comes to Jews.

We love the Jews. We love them to death.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Friday, July 14, 2006

Flash Update Bulletin with a Bullet Wuxtry! Wuxtry!

If we all work together, this blog can break into the top million.

The technorati facts.

Or, to put it another way, if there were a Million Blogger March on Washington, I wouldn't be allowed on the bus.

Summertime Summertime: I Roll Out My *Greatest Hits*

Friday, July 30, 2004

I Remember Herb Remember

I never lived in Herb Caen's world, but I lay in the weeds at the edge of the woods and stared at it. For a while in the mid Eighties my desk at the Chronicle was near his office. I never overheard anything -- it wasn't that close -- but I had some sense of his comings and goings, and that sense confirmed he was working hard, hard at least in the style of his job. He was there every morning, doing lunch, coming back from lunch, working the phones, collecting the items, doing his column himself all by himself on his old manual typewriter and then heading out to tour the San Francisco evening.

He was a courtly man. That word jumps to mind, and now I must unpack it. What is "courtly"? I recall he had a deliberate way of moving. He never seemed in a hurry. He never seemed on display, not in a vain way. I just had the sense that he knew he was being looked on with approval and that he was consciously declining to swagger. He really did dress well; by the standards of the newsroom he was gorgeous: I recall camel sports coats. He was tall and his weight was under control. Of course, he was already over 65 when I joined the Chronicle, so perhaps what I mistook for elegance was only an acccomodation with joint pain and intermittent constipation.

His eyes were not particularly expressive. They were watcher's eyes, in some ways flat, in some ways distant. I never had a real conversation with him, so his gaze may have had degrees of intensity. He was his own time capsule. By the time I started reading him, his column was light and fun and liberal, but he couldn't keep the ghosts out, the ghosts of "old San Francisco." Still, it was impossible to read his column -- even when it ran to name dropping and bad jokes -- as if it were incidental. You knew that it mattered. Being mentioned in the column made a difference, the way being on a reality tv show does now. In San Francisco, generation taught generation that he mattered.

I am thinking of Herb because my wife and I went to the Plush Room in San Francisco last night to hear Andrea Marcovicci in cabaret, doing a tribute to all the songs associated with Fred Astaire. At some point she said there was a Portuguese word -- soltang? -- that meant nostalgia for a world that never existed, and that made me think of Herb and my connection to his, since no world experienced second hand really exists, no matter how hard you try to imagine it.

I was already thinking of Herb. My wife and I had never been to the Plush Room. We had never seen cabaret up close -- and up close we were, in the front row, where the fanatics, the curious and the weak of hearing sit. It was like a Cirque de Soleil performance, fabulous but elusive. I was utterly delighted by the archness and the art, and the memories of old Hollywood, the songs familiar as childhood, the songs as obscurely familiar as somebody else's childhood.

But I realized that I did not know quite how I would write about what we were seeing other than to say Ms. Markovicci sings well, moves well and seems to love what she does. I don't know the conventions of this kind of perfomance. I don't have the kind of inside knowledge that can turn a review into a smart piece, an introduction to the genre that helps motivate the reader to go get some of whatever you're talking about.

I wanted a guide. I suddenly wished Herb were sitting nearby, with an eye on me, knowing this was my first time at cabaret. He would have said a thing or two beforehand, told me what to look for, told me which "ad lib" was old business, what the "tells" were that revealed if the performer were really connecting or merely mailing it in. During the performance, he would have looked my way once or twice and nodded, as if to say, "We knew that was coming."

Or maybe not. I don't remember if Herb liked cabaret or not. He wasn't an antiquarian. He did not value old things fallen from grace simply because they were old things fallen from grace. He might have said, "It's all a museum. Very pretty curator, though." He was capable of mocking the past and apologizing for his addiction to it.

It's just that if you live in San Francisco and you are of a certain age, whenever you stumble upon something old and lovely, or perhaps only odd and out of the way, you think of Herb Caen who did nostalgia like Michaelangelo did ceilings. He taught a way of looking, You thank him for it. You wish him well. You wish him here, actually, at the next table making it all a little bigger and a little brighter, at least for a moment.

I remember him. Who cares! But to be remembered by Herb Caen! That was, that would have been, something.

When I was born, my entrance into this world was noted briefly in one of Caen's columns. My father, who I never knew (parents split, mom takes kids home to small town, you know the words, do I have to hum the tune?), was a fashion photographer of some notoriety and sophistication. Undoubtedly the mention was a social courtesy, but was there something else? A wink from one old man to another you old dog you, having a kid at your age, how'd you convince that sexy thing to make it permanent? I still have that yellowed scrap of paper, a small artifact of a place that could have been mine but for an unexpected turn of the big wheel to the midwest and a youth spent pretending that the absence meant anything but everything.
# posted by C. JoDI :

A 7/14 postscript: My reposting this is an act of nostalgia about nostalgia about nostalgia. I bet the rhetoricians have a word for it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Better to Roll Over and Go to Sleep Than to Curse the Darkness

For those of you in the Greater Bay Area on the waiting list to attend the next Patrick Finley Memorial Poetry salon, let me whet -- as in hone or sharpen, and the next idiot copy editor who lets "hone in" slip through dies at my hands -- your appetite by announcing the theme:


And for all you agnostic copy editors out there:


First dibs on Leda and the Swan.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Give Me One "The East is Red" with a Beer Back

What did I learn today during my lunch with Steve Runyon? Oh many things, but the one uppermost in my mind at the moment is:

I really don't like White Russians. Here's a recipe so that you can better understand my dislike.

White Russian

1 1/2 oz Vodka
3/4 oz Kahlua
3/4 oz Light Cream or Milk

Directions/Comments: Mix the vodka and kahlua together then float the cream on top. Add ice if desired.

P.S. I believe the essence of web honesty is to maintain chronology. Having pulled out of the top of my head the possibility that there might be an alcoholic beverage called "The East is Red," after mentioning that possibility in a post, I googled that name, adding the word drink. And I got this:

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Newsweek Does Tea

In early May, we mentioned that Time magazine had featured a brief article on tea. A recent article in the other weekly newsmag - Newsweek - currently posted at, explores the growing world of tea connoisseurship in Asia. The article is called The Art of Tea and features a sort of snotty come-on line, "Move over, latte fans. Tea drinkers can be just as pretentious. But $50 for a single cup?"The $50 cup, by the way, is "a small cup of 60-year-old Pu-Erh, a black tea from Yunnan province," which "can add $50 to the bill at Moon Garden". Also mentioned is "The East Is Red" tea, a black tea produced by a particular 700-year-old tree in Guangdong province that once supplied tea for Chairman Mao. It goes for about $500 per 35 grams.

Does a Tree Make a Sound When It Falls in the Forest in Another Language?

A student writes to catch me up:

Then I decided that I needed to travel and moved to Japan (rural Okinawa) to teach English for a year. I had an English radio show at a local station where I could play and say whatever I wanted because no one understood anything I was saying. They liked the sound of English and my voice.

Teachers know the feeling.

How Life is Lived Now

Nothing much on the books today, possums.

Lunch with Brother Steve Runyon, who runs mighty KUSF -- motto: All the Sound That's Fit to Hear -- to the greater glory of this fine university. We'll have a few drinks, and Runyon, who has been at USF man and boy for 35 years will help me understand some idiosyncratic aspect of university administrative practice that is rooted in the past. He's good at that. In a Dickens' novel he would be the Ghost of Institutional Memory.

Note to self: This lunch will be tax deductible.

Yesterday I had what I might call a "niche" experience, one of those instances that few people have gone through, yet it is a common experience of its kind . That is, I had to stay home to let in the building inspector to sign off on the electrical permit for a very small job we had done in the bedroom. We could have done it without a permit, but since Edith works for the city, she wants to set an example.

The inspector arrived in Ford and left in a snit. Haha. For reasons, I don't understand he became testy and *refused to inspect the thing he had been summoned to inspect.* He became curious about some other work in the garage that had been inspected and signed off on the day before.

As a concept, building inspectors are terrifying. They are like voodoo priests except they are staring at your walls and not your chest. But in either case if the words "Tear it out!" are uttered, well, bad news.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I Am Covered with Links as a Mighty Whale is Bothered by Barnacles

Unfortunately, I think the rush is over. And the great news about my survey creating a story and getting links is: Our nada who are in nada.

Eat The Press Newsbriefs The Huffington Post
Is it hot in here or is it just my 1000 word deadline? Apparently some columnists get "hot" while writing. That goes double for bloggers, baby. C'mere. 2006/07/05/newsbriefs_e_24396.html - 37k - Cached - Similar pages Magazine - Entertainment - Gossip - Jossip
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Monday, July 10, 2006

No Sex, Please, We're Fascists

It may be that the more interesting part of my recent columnist survey will not be the survey itself but the reaction to it.

In a kind of "Song of Myself" mood, for the past week I have worked very hard trying to cram every reference to my survey onto this blog, whether the reference is praise or ridicule. All the links and comments have flowed from Dave Astor's "Editor and Publisher" story. With one exception, those links and comments have concentrated on the element Astor found most newsworthy; that is, about 17 percent of my "salaried columnists" likened the act of writing a column on a regular basis to the sex act.

What I am beginning to notice is that some of those who have commented on this part of my survey seem to be using my results to attack liberal female columnists by presenting female column writers -- I am suggesting that Maureen Dowd is used as shorthand for that group -- as engaging in "bad" sex of some kind. I've got derisive references to both masturbation and "female superior" or "cowboy" sex.

Indeed, I get the feeling some of these writers find any sexual act chosen by -- rather than imposed on -- a woman to be a little creepy. Seems to me we may be on the trail of something anti-sex and anti-female in the minds of certain conservative media critics.

Here's an extrapolation on the theme of the abomination of the sexually active female liberal columnist from something called the truthlaidbear, a name that in itself suggests its creator goes to bed with visions of Ann Coulter's sugar plums dancing in his head.

Quick bite
2006-07-07 13:23:26

Advice: You might want to read lefty columnists while wearing a (soy-based, recycled) condom. Survey Shows Some Columnists Get "Hot" While Writing When asked "what writing a column is like," 26% of salaried columnists called it a job and 17% likened it to sex. Does that make their columns spooge or an abortion? Feels like the latter while reading them. That's all I have to say. Afterthought: If you didn't feel dirty after reading Maureen Dowd and her cronies BEFORE this article, you certainly do now.

I guess I better start a list of such invidious comparisons, checking it twice.

Cleaning the Old Papers Out of the Drawer

Note to self. Make sure to save enough money for the pre-euthanasia shot. If you can't die happy, might as well die sleepy.

P.S. That was a nice old kitty girl. No complaints.

Our Leader

I try not to spend too much time thinking about George Bush in general terms; that is, how his general appeal -- which I understand since I was born a fundamentalist Christian -- overcomes what would seem to be his obvious limitations in talking about what he has done and what he wants to do. He just doesn't seem on top of things, and I'm not quite sure why people don't more often let this tip the balance against him.

Of course, some people may find him Reagan-like. He doesn't need to be the sharpest knife in the drawer because there are other knives in the drawer to do the hard cutting for him, mental giants like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.

But I was thinking this morning that part of his strength may just be his apparent simplicity. At least some people -- and it doesn't take many in a 50-50 country -- find him sincere if befuddled and that is enough.

It boils down to this. I'm thinking some people find him not dishonest but pre-honest. Even though he's talking about international terrorism or global warming, they think he doesn't know enough about what he's discussing to lie about it. They think he may be wrong, but he's not deceptive. They think he's doing the best he can. They think, Hell, we don't understand it either.

Exactly how you can be the President of the United States and not know enough about something to discuss it intelligently -- well, that's another question.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Hmm. This is Just Nasty.

An unintended consequence. This is rude. A mention is a mention. But remember the Intentional Fallacy.

If Maureen Dowd Is Typing With One Hand, Don't Be Surprised
Found 3 days ago

Just what we needed to hear this early in the morning: While penning her Bush bashing blog posts, Arianna Huffington is getting moist between the legs. As Frank Rich punches his keys to spell "quagmire," he boxers are getting stained. And we won't even tell you what's going on at Cindy Adams' desktop. Says a new University of San Francisco study of columnists, a good portion of them compare their job influencing the opinions of others to a romp between the sheets.

When asked "what writing a column is like," 26% of salaried columnists called it a job and 17% likened it to sex. But Robertson explained that this wasn't necessarily a positive thing; he said some columnists feel like they're "married to a nymphomaniac" because they have to start working on another column as soon as they're finished with the previous one.

While others compared their work – penning one column among many printed in the same newspaper – to a gang bang.

Survey Shows Some Columnists Get "Hot" While Writing [Dave Astor. E&P]

Night Game of the Lepus

Those of you who follow this blog closely -- technically, I believe we're talking about a null set -- are, of course, interested in how my fantasy baseball team is doing. At the moment I am hanging on to third place by the skin of my relief pitchers, and for various reasons I would be glad to share with you over cakes and ale I doubt I'll be able to hang on much longer.

But I do have a strategy if my slippage accelerates. I will change the name of my team. Just for the low wit of the thing I have been competing this year under the team name "Snakes on a Plane." It's not working. It's not working at all. When, as is inevitable, I fall "out of the money," as we fantasy sportsmen say, I will return to the team name under which I won second last year.

That's right. Make way for:

The 17 Bunny Wunnies.

As any Charles Schulz fan knows, the books Snoopy loved were actually named after the Six Bunny Wunnies. I quote from a blog called Snoopy's Pa.

Charles Schulz made many references to reading, libraries and literature, summer reading requirements and book reports. Other than Snoopy’s perpetual quest to write the great American novel (“It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly a shot rang out!”), one of my favorite running literary gags involved the imaginary “Six Bunny Wunny” series by Miss Helen Sweetstory. Snoopy acquired the complete set through the Beagle Book Club and remained a devoted reader even though his worship of Miss Sweetstory wavered a bit after learning she lived with 24 cats.

Ten Bunny Wunny books were mentioned in the strip between 1970 and 1977 with silly titles like 'The Six Bunny Wunnies Join an Encounter Group' and 'The Six Bunny Wunnies and their Layover in Anderson, Indiana.'

The original name of my team last year was "The Six Bunny Wunnies." But it did not begin the season well, so I kept adding to the number of Bunny Wunnies until my team hit its rhythm.

Watch out, league members. I still have lots and lots of Bunny Wunnies up my sleeve -- or in my baseball magician's hat.

Not to mention those 24 cats.