30 June 2004

Only a few days after moving into my new apartment in Park Slope, I've learned that Joel Steinberg, easily the most despised and reprehensible New Yorker of the century, has been paroled after sixteen years and may be moving into my old neighborhood. (He's been offered a free apartment near Central Park West.) All in all, I'm glad to be in Brooklyn.

29 June 2004

I could be wrong, but this looks an awful lot like an unauthorized Russian translation of one of my classic works of X-Files fan fiction.
As of this morning, Spider-Man 2 is 100% fresh on the Rotten Tomatoes site, which is, to my knowledge, unprecedented for a comic book adaptation. Roger Ebert's rave review is also work a look, especially because he wasn't a fan of the original.

Bessie, shall we save this movie for your upcoming visit? (Note that the story is by Michael Chabon, author of Kavalier and Clay.)

28 June 2004

The other day I bicycled to Gouda and back (which turned out to be nearly 40km each way). It was a bit long, but I got a good look through the Dutch countryside. Bike trails along canals are great fun. In Woerden there was a street theater thing going on and I arrived just in time to hear Blonde Bonnie en de Badmutters singing Johnny Be Good (in English of course).

The crazy thing about this trip though, was that it is less than 70km to all the major cities on the coast, probably only 40km to Amsterdam, etc. Basically one can bike anywhere in the country in half a day. Furthermore there are good signs. One can get from Gouda back to Utrecht following signs for bike paths to Utrecht the whole way (in the other direction one needs to know the names of some of the intermediate towns).
Glad to see that you're keeping up the tradition of crashing chez AJ.

As for eating lots of good cheese, I can confirm that the hard goat's milk cheese sold at the central market in Gouda (pronounced HOW-da not GOO-da) is nearly as good as the goat's milk Gouda sold at Berkeley Bowl, and noticably cheeper...

It's quite different travelling in Europe coming from Berkeley instead of from Columbus. It's easier to find a good loaf of bread in Berkeley than it is here. The cheese stores in Berkeley are better, and the Dutch cheese selection in Berkeley is even comparable to here. I can drink outside just as easily in Berkeley as I can here. Etc.

It's really amazing just how little Berekeley doesn't have.

27 June 2004

While I applaud Michael Moore's audacity for putting out a movie like Farenheit 911, it does make me shudder to think what it will spawn. The right certainly won't be content to sit back and let liberals distribute politically charged documentaries -- they'll probably start distributing their own. What do we have to look forward to? A movie about how France, Germany, and Russia all had much to lose, financially, if Saddam was removed from power? Perhaps something about gay marriage?

It would be great, though, if such documentaries did come out, and no one watched them (although I'm sure the right would do the same grassroots promotion to ensure big crowds that MoveOn employed).
In the past month or so, Almea has been sent a lot of materials in preparation for med school. By far the most interesting, however, was a Meyer-Briggs personality test, which they will use to place her in workgroups with students of other personalities so the workgroups achieve some sort of balance (at least, this is my understanding of what's going on). Has anyone else ever heard of schools doing this sort of thing?

26 June 2004

Three pleasant conversions, all of which took place today as part of my impending conversion from a bourgeois resident of the Upper West Side to a slightly less bourgeois Brooklynite:
1. The conversion of two pounds of loose change into thirty dollars, accomplished through the miracle of CoinStar.

2. The conversion of an unassembled IKEA chest with five drawers and a rather wobbly IKEA sideboard into one hundred dollars, accomplished through the miracle of Craigslist. (The lapse between my posting the ad and selling the furniture was slightly under an hour.)

3. The conversion, indeed, transmogrification of a suitcase full of crappy books into a pleasingly compact three-volume edition of Proust, accomplished at the nice little used bookstore on 81st Street and Broadway.
Quid pro quo, a simple exchange, and everybody leaves happy. Why can't my love life be more like this?
By the way, Roger Ailes of Fox News deserves mad props for his defense of Michael Moore's right to get his movie into theaters. (This is, in all likelihood, the only time that the words "Roger Ailes" and "mad props" will appear on this blog in the same sentence.)
My own slight reservations aside, the fact that Fahrenheit 9/11 is blowing past even the most optimistic expectations at the box office counts as some of the happiest news I've heard in a long time. (It seems likely to surpass Bowling for Columbine to become the highest-grossing documentary of all time in a single weekend.)

Still, I do hope that Move America Forward, which has been crowing over Moore's alleged difficulty in finding distributors, manages to come up with some kind of ingenious negative spin on the movie's runaway success. Some of the most creative writing in the world today can be found on America's conservative weblogs.

25 June 2004

I caught Fahrenheit 9/11 at a midnight screening this Wednesday, and was hoping to blog about it shortly and happily thereafter. Surprisingly, I've found that I don't have much to say. It's a very, very good movie, but not quite the masterpiece that I'd been hoping for. Cinematically, this may be the weakest of Moore's films: as a movie largely culled from public footage, with the intention of hammering home a political message, it doesn't have the organic excitement that can occasionally elevate a great documentary to the level of art. There's nothing quite as good as the "Pets or Meat" sequence in Roger and Me, or the haunting moment in Bowling for Columbine where a security consultant, briefly used as a figure of fun, suddenly brims with tears at the memory of the Columbine massace.

As far as the movie's message goes, it appears that recent events have forced it to evolve away from its original intention, which was to focus on the ties between the Bush and Bin Laden families. This is a good thing. In fact, I wish that Moore had been a little more aggressive with his editor's knife, and cut away most of the House of Saud stuff, none of which is especially new or convincing. As it stands, the first half hour of the movie, which focuses on the Bin Laden material, isn't all that good: Moore doesn't tie his vague conspiratorial rumblings into much of an argument, and the result makes him sound more paranoid than he actually is. I'm especially worried that this lukewarm first act will turn off much of his potential audience, because the last hour of this movie, which focuses on soldiers on the front lines and their families at home, should be seen by everyone in America.

We’re living in a golden age of documentaries, as witnessed by such recent films as Crumb, Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, Bowling for Columbine, Spellbound, My Architect, and my favorite movie so far this year, The Five Obstructions. Fahrenheit 9/11 falls a few notches below the bar established by these amazing movies, but there are still plenty of moments here to sting and enrage, and to leave you wrung out, happy, and determined never to be fooled again.
As part of my continuing effort to play the role of Noah this summer, tonight I am crashing at AJ's because I'm slightly tipsy and don't want to bike up the hill. Hooray for wireless internet!

Noah, wherever you are, I hope you're eating lots of good cheese.

23 June 2004

AFI has just released their 100 Years, 100 Songs list. It's hard to find anything to argue with here, although I'm surprised that they didn't include the song that Bjork warbles just before her judicial hanging at the end of Dancer in the Dark.

21 June 2004

REM, Greek Theater, Berkeley, Oct. 8. First show of the tour behind a new album.

I should renew my fan club subscription soon.
Saturday I travelled to the Hague and Delft. Delft is an adorable little town with a very high church tower with an excellent view. The hague was a bit bigger and less fun, but their main mueseum, though tiny, is amazing. Vermeer's View of Delft really is all it is cracked up to be.

We also found a small bar to watch the Netherlands tragically blow a 2-0 lead against the Czech Republic. I didn't know that it was possible to blow a 2-0 lead in soccer.
Last night On TV I caught the very end of a movie which was a gender reversed modern retelling of Cyranno DeBergerac. Now that I look it up on imdb it turns out it is The Truth About Cats and Dogs. A movie which I knew absolutely nothing about, but yet somehow figures prominantly in my memory as a movie that Jason Schmuck and Erin Lawrence saw on a date (8 years ago). Why do I remember these sorts of stupid things, i dunno, it's my curse. (Saturday was unnofficial n/2+7 day.)

But anyway, before being distracted by discovering what movie this turned out to be, my point was going to be that the "attractive one" was played by the inimitable and certainly stunning Uma Thurman, but the "ugly one" was played by the genuinely adorable Jeneane Garofalo

This got me wondering what it is that can make an actor sufficiently attractive that people want to watch them on the screen, yet somehow allow unattractive people to identify with them.

Why is it that we all think John Cussack could play us, but would never think the same about a Brad Pitt, a George Clooney, a Tom Cruise... It's not as though John Cussack isn't abnormally attractive.
One odd thing about the Netherlands is that there are so many headscarves. Speaking of California without Mexicans, the Netherlands sometimes has the feel that the Mexicans have all been replaced by Arabs and other Muslims from the middle east and north africa. The person cleaning the toilets here is probably a woman in a headscarf.

20 June 2004

All this discussion of California brings me at last to my observations on the West Coast mentality, a favourite topic from the past. Basically as far as I can tell, the East Coast just doesn't matter to people out here. It exists, but it's sort of like Europe or Asia, a faraway place where anything that happens doesn't really affect us much. In Minnesota, where the coasts are approximately the same distance away, they both feel like real places where important things happen. In Boston, California is far away, but still part of the same country in a way that doesn't seem to apply in reverse. This is probably a form of arrogance -- Californians feel that everything they could want is within their state's borders, so the rest of the country is kind of irrelevant. Bostonians realise there aren't very many cows in Massachusetts.
More baseball: Today I went to the Red Sox-Giants game with Flora and John and Jessica. I had a hard time deciding whom to root for, since both are my adopted hometown teams. I guess I was rooting for a good game, which I got (Giants score 4 off Pedro in the first, then he settles down and Boston ties it in the 8th, and the Giants win on a pinch homerun in the bottom of the 8th).

If you ever get a chance to go to a Giants game with Flora, I highly recommend it. Not only is the company excellent, but the seats are the best I've ever been in -- 6th row, just to the left of the backstop. When Barry Bonds stepped into the on-deck circle he was less than 20 feet away. I think he smiled at us. John observed, "I've never been in a position before where I could cheer and the players would actually hear me."

Then we walked around the Embarcadero for a while and as John and Jessica left for Palo Alto Flora and I went to dinner at a nice French/Indian restaurant in the Castro where a friend of Flora's works. They make nice sake cocktails and I had an exquisite duck with pineapple. As we drove home the sun was setting prettily through the fog over the bay.

Did I mention I love California?

19 June 2004

Yesterday Flora and I went to see A Day Without A Mexican, a super low-budget mockumentary based on the premise, "What if one day everyone in California woke up and all the Mexicans were gone?" Basically, pandemonium ensues. There's a run of fruits and vegetables -- there's a great interview with a restauranteur who says, "I had to go to people I bought cocaine from in the 70s to get fresh tomatoes." The Border Patrol, with nothing to do, is reduced to playing video games such as "Coyotes and Mexicans." There are some funny riffs on the distinction between Mexican and Latino, including one guy who says, "Salvadorans, Hondurans, they're all from south of the border, so they're all Mexican." and a graphic pops up that reads, "Actually, there are 40 countries south of the border."

It's a great idea, but the execution was a little off -- it dragged a bit, and the acting wasn't that great. Also, the treatment of the serious themes was quite heavy-handed. After getting home I tried to find out why I hadn't been able to find a review in the Times, and discovered this map, which is amusing since one of the premises of the movie is that when the Mexicans disappear a thick fog descends upon the state's borders and all communication with the rest of the country is cut off.

An angle I'd like to see is what the rest of the country would think if all communication with California were cut off. Or better yet, what if California seceded?
I've discovered (or rather, finally gone to after reading about it umpteen times on espn.com) the greatest site for the baseball fan/math nerd: retrosheet.org. It has the results of every major league game ever played, and box scores and detailed statistics for most games since 1963 and every game since 1974. There are all-time and seasonal lists of league leaders, top performances by franchise (the Twins have thrown 4 no-hitters), and great lists such as all the instances of runners passing each other on the bases, and a massive collection of strange and unusual plays.

I even managed to find the box score from this game, which I dimly remembered as happening while the Twins were on the road sometime in the summer of 1990. Why do you think I managed to remember it 14 years later?
Recently, someone posted the following comment:
The problem with all this discussion of dating is that I recently came to the conclusion that an objective outside observer presented with all the evidence would come to the rational conclusion that I'm unlikely to find a girlfriend in say the next 3 years...The objective conclusion is that I'll be single for arbitrarily long no matter what I do.
After discussing this with Tamara in some detail, and reading some of the comments below, I've decided that this is simply incorrect. In hopes of preserving some of the group's insights for posterity, instead of losing them among the ephemera of the comments section, I'll try to assume the role of an objective outside observer, and point out why this "rational conclusion" doesn't hold water:
1(a). Because men are allowed, nay, expected to date women who are younger than they are, a man's pool of romantic prosects increases enormously every year, when a new crop of young women turns eighteen. Many of these eighteen-year-olds end up on our nation's college campuses, thus bringing them into greater proximity with the math department.

1(b). Because women are, with occasional exceptions, only allowed to date men of their own age or older, a woman's pool of romantic prospects only diminishes over time. Faced with this diminishing pool, single women of one's own age group become increasingly desperate, er, motivated to find a life partner. (It's true that the number of single women of one's own age is diminishing over time due to marriages, engagements, and the occasional heroin overdose, but the growing number of single women reaching the age of consent more than compensates for this.)

2. Ceteris paribus, as time passes, one's circle of friends either remains constant or expands. It rarely contracts, except in the traumatic post-college period. As a result, even if one makes no socially constructive efforts whatsoever, one's social network will inevitably become larger and more diverse over a three-year period, which leads to an enhanced universe of prospects.

3. As time passes, single women tend to begin looking for the "husband" type, rather than the "boyfriend" type. Qualities that the readers and authors of this blog possess in abundance, such as intelligence, success in one's chosen field or profession, sense of humor, and loveableness, thus become correspondingly more desirable.
In other words, even if a single male outside of college does absolutely nothing to make himself more desirable to the opposite sex, his odds of finding love become better and better with every passing year. If you're a man, the whole "immovable object" approach to romance makes a lot of sense.

Unfortunately, none of this applies to the heterosexual women in the audience. (Some of you, it seems, are already two babies behind schedule.)

18 June 2004

Definitely not on my list of books to read to my children is Chris Ware's brilliant Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth, which I finally bought at the Strand last weekend. It's an amazing volume, but as I discovered last night, it's not a good book to read when you're already feeling tired or worn out, because its incredibly detailed renderings of loneliness and disconnection can instantly transform a reader's vague weariness into quasi-suicidal depression. Thankfully for my emotional well-being, I had some Carl Barks comics to read as well. (As I confessed recently to Haiwen, I've become strangely obsessed with Scrooge McDuck.)
Last night I finished The Once and Future King. I'd previously read it sometime in september of my first year of graduate school. Unlike the 3 Musketeers it's definitely on my list of books to read aloud to my children. The first book of the four can be read pretty early and then wait a few years before the later ones...

All this thinking about the books on the readaloud cannon has really really made me want to homeschool my kids, how else do you get the time to read all of these books with your children?

I think The Once and Future King is also important as a sort of anti-Tolkein. It's a myth about noble likable larger than life characters trying to do good in the world, but it isn't a tale of good against evil, it isn't a tale of complete success due to the fundamental goodness of its protagonists... Instead the characters that you love spiral down into mythic tragedy, but you wouldn't want any of them to change a single step. My big discovery of the past few years (spurred by the Zobeide in Invisible Cities) is that some mistakes are worth making, and even worth making twice. Sometimes one can learn too much from a mistake.

In Tolkein you don't see Gandalf or Aragorn making serious mistakes (sure Aragorn thinks everything he does is going wrong, but I'm thinking more of actual character flaws) the way you do in this telling of Arther, Lancelot, and Guenevere.

It's important to see that sometimes the world is destroyed by good likable people making the good mistakes they're destined to make.

On the third hand there's Dune where people aren't good like in tolkein, or lovingly faulted like in white, but instead coldly calculating and evil. That may be the proper third post for this stool, but I can't ever see myself reading it to my children.
Matt Yglesias adds his typically sarcastic comment on the Men and Sexy topic.

17 June 2004

The other thing to add to the Volokh "why don't men try to be attractive?" conversation is that to be completely honest, I have no idea what women find attractive in men.

I'm reasonably good at figuring out which women are interested in which men if I see them interact, and if you gave me a lineup of men and 30 seconds of their conversation I might be able to guess which ones were most attractive (though I suspect I might do pretty badly at that), but I couldn't tell you waht concrete things about them made them attractive.

I really have no idea what marginal improvments in attractiveness I could make to myself.

I don't think I'm just in denial here, and I don't think I'm stupid and clueless, somehow it just isn't something I've picked out at all...

And maybe that explains some of why a lot of men underinvest in their own attractiveness: smart, succesful, reasonably social men can still have no idea what women find attractive in men and hence its a waste of energy to flail about guessing.

That doesn't stop me from coming up with dozens of wacky theories on what women find attractive, but when it comes down to it I know they're probably all wrong and that in the last analysis I have no clue.

This is especially true on the margins. Its one thing to know that women like popular men, or well-dressed men, or men who can hold down a conversation... It's entirely a different thing to know how to move towards such a goal in incrimental steps.
Thus far on the trip I've read Bill Bryson's "Neither Here nor There" (gift from Dave, writings on travel in europe) and Dumas' "The Three Muskateers."

The former was quite funny, especially all the potshots about Germans, but was funnier for the first half and then dragged a bit. I'd still recommend it though. The latter was enjoyable, but sadly much too sexist to go on my "books I will read aloud to my children someday" list.
Andrew "I'm no longer endorsing W for president" Sullivan has an amusing response to the Volokh post on men and sexiness.

The money quote being: "When straight women really do insist on only dating hot guys, men will shape up. Until then, it's hopeless."
The writer of my favorite web cartoon raised enough money to quit his job this week.
One example of the joys of Xena commentary...

So Xena, her sidekick who we only refer to as "blonde bikini girl" (where by sidekick we mean a sort of "wink, wink, she's my lover and it's obvious and we kinda hint at it"), and the God of war (hermes? something like that) are hiding out in this farm. So blonde bikini girl is dressed like a milkmaid (plaidish red dress, bonnet, etc. shockingly chaste for her character). The badguys show up to look for Hermes who is supposed to pretend to be a farmer. Xena has to run out the back to pretend to help them look and get them off his trail. So she grabs her "armor" (i.e. large metalic corset):

Ben: "Let me grab my boob-guards first"
Me: "If my boobs are hit I lose all my powers."
(Screen cuts to blonde bikini girl dressed as milkmaid)
Me: "But I gain powers by taking off my clothing!"

(Xena runs out the back, Hermes asks BBG to distract the badguys so he has time to "get into character")

(BBG rips off her shirt)

Me: "But... I was actually joking!"
Another thing related to the effectiveness of the bus system

The suburbs here are completely different from U.S. suburbs. Each suburb is small, has its own name, and has a bunch of houses relatively close to each other with small yards. The suburbs don't sprawl into each other and often have tracts of farmland in between. The building we live in is a 10 minute bikeride from the downtown part of the city and is just a minute outside the big canal that marks the cities boundary, yet there are chicken out the window. At the university outside the window is a sheep pasture.

The fact that even the suburbs are compact is what makes the busses so effective. You only need one or two stops in each suburb and so you can have busses that go everywhere from each of them.

Speaking of the local produce, I forget just how spoiled I am by California's amazing varied fruits and vegatables. Even the lettuce here looks pretty bad.

Fortunately for me though bell peppers are the one thing that they do grow well here in Holland.

16 June 2004

Incidentally, Alec the new blog summary is brilliant.
Another great thing about living here is all the wonderful bad english language television...

Movies like Shaft, Drive Me Crazy,a dutch subtitled version of Anna and the King (i.e. all the parts in Thai were completely incomprehensible), and last but not least the horror movie version of Lolita were great fun.

There have even a few good movies, like Being John Malkovich (especially fun while, err, enjoying the local produce) and clerks.

And all these TV shows which I haven't seen before: Firefly, Sopranos, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias... Jerry Springer is actually exactly the way people make fun of it. You can't parody that stuff. And I've never seen anything quite so MST3000-able as "Xena Warrior Princess." MTV's reality dating show is pretty ridiculous too.

Oh, and once a week there's the Daily Show Global Edition.

Anyway I think I should head home and eat some dinner and maybe read a little of "The Once and Future King" before the 8pm soccer game behind the appartment building. Or maybe I'll just engage my budding Sabrina crush, I think that's on at 7ish...
The Volokh Conspiracy has a couple posts today on men's "underinvestment in social self-polishing." Basically, one of Eugene's friends is arguing that men (more so than women) can be sexy if they just want to, and that most of them don't try very hard.

There's a lot of interesting food for thought here... I've been thinking this afternoon after reading these whether I'm "underinvesting in social polishing" (oh how I love economics-speak applied to everyday life). Part of me really can't think of what I could do differently to make myself more attractive, but I'm sure I'm just wrong and that there are many obvious things which I either don't know about or conciously refuse to do. (An example of the latter being that I really need to learn to be more arrogant/assholish (oh wait, I guess the word here is "confident") but I don't want to.)

On the other hand I'm not sure that the points raised here are actually valid. For one thing I think that the idea that a man's intrinsic physical attractiveness is less important to women than vice-versa is a myth caused by: a) that it was historically true, since if women can't work and provide for themselves its more important that a man be competant and able to earn money rather than attractive, and b) not including height and age is part of "physical attractiveness" in men.

What do you all think? And how does this affect the immovable object/irresistable force discussion?
If you ever get a chance to visit the Holge Veluwe national park here in the netherlands do so. It's amazing. A world class art meuseum with an enormous sculpure garden, nestled in the middle of a giant natural park complete with sand dunes (surrounded by forrest!) hundreds of kilometers of bicycle paths and 5000 free white bicycles to go around on. Just don't show up when it is raining (fortunately the rain stopped after 15 minutes, but being huddled in the rain at the entrance was not great fun).
Despite my rant about the evils of Soccer as a spectator sport, I must say that the Holland/Germany match last night was one of the highlights of my sports watching career.

Three of us (me and two americans named Ben) went to a bar/resteraunt. It was about 2.5 hours before the game due to a misreading of the schedule. Which meant we actually got seats and a chance to eat. I had some fondue and half a bottle of wine.

As the people streamed in it became clear just how packed the place was going to be. We were seated outside where there were two televisions. There was also a large indoor area. By the time everyone showed up it was standing only (I stood on my chair to see over all the tall Dutch people) with probably 80 or so people outside and maybe double that inside.

There was more orange clothing than I've ever seen in my life. Orange shirts, orange bandanas, orange facepaint.

Also, unlike every sporting event I've watched in public in the states, there were many large groups of women. In fact nearly half the people there were women. I think this has something to do with the game being a national game, so you don't have to pay attention to know who to root for, and something to do with the simplicity of the rules (Holland goal = good, German goal = bad). Great conversation between two girls next to us (in Dutch, but after I whispered to one of the Ben's afterwards she asked if I was talking about them and explained what they'd said): "(teasingly) Netherlands is the orange team!" "(sarcastically) So which one's David Beckham?"

Germany went up 1-0, but then in about the 80th minute Holland scored. Absolute pandemonium. I was stuck in the middle of the crowd (making my excruciatingly slow way back from the restroom) and it was just one of those rare great moments as a sports fan when you suddenly remember why you all love sports.

The whole experience was great, the bus drivers honking as they went by, the ridiculous mix tape of songs beforehand (some version of Auld Lang Syne turned into a dutch patriotic songs, weird covers of the battle hymn of the republic and la cucuracha, also turned into Dutch soccer anthems), the ridiculous crowds of orange clad dutchmen bicycling home in a giant bike traffic jam at 11 at night. Watching sports outside while it was still light out at 10pm. Knowing that 7 million people in the same country were watching the same game.

There really isn't anything quite like national sports. Ocassionally US sports rise to the same level of defining a city (the Red Sox, Green Bay Packers, etc.) but even then its not locals who are playing on the team.
I'm also just bitter that last night at 3am none of the TV channels were showing the final game of the NBA chapionships live, but there were channels showing each of the day's soccer games for a seccond or third time.

I'm thrilled that the Pistons won, but I wish I could have seen at least one of the games.

Is Chauncey Billups the worst basketball player to ever win the NBA finals MVP?

How badly would Minnesota have beaten LA with a healthy Sam Cassel? They just can't guard point guards at all...

When was the last team to win the NBA finals with no player better than all of the Pistons?

Its great to see that a balanced team really does have a shot at winning in basketball.

The one thing I wanted to post at the beginning of the series was that the Pistons had to be thrilled to be playing LA instead of San Antonio. I didn't think the Pistons would win, but I did think they matched up a lot better against a mediocre defensive team than against a great one.
There are many things for which the rest of the world rightly makes fun of the US: inability to speak other languages, lack of public transit, poor taste in food and drinks, macdonald's, cost of health care, 60% of people believing the world was destroyed in a flood, etc.

However, one of them just isn't fair: Soccer is not a better game than the sports the US supports.

Soccer is in fact a vastly inferior spectator sport for many reasons. Before I get to them I must say that Soccer is a great sport to play, and that international sports are wonderful (more on that in a later post). But as a spectator sport, independent of the fact that national sports teams are great, soccer is inferior.

There are no statistics.

There are only about 2 interesting minutes of action during the entire game and you don't know when they'll happen. (Does this mean I have a short attention span? No, I can watch a whole soccer game for those 2 minutes of excitement, but making spectators sit through 88 minutes of boredom being forced to continue paying attention is not a virtue for the game. Having a long attention span may be good, but boring things are still inferior.)

There is very little strategy because there's so few substitutions and no stoppage of play for the coaches to intervene in the game.

All of the players are about the size of ants for nearly the entire game.
There are basically only two kinds of leads, one point leads and insurmountable ones.

Most games end in draws.

When the game is over you can't point to why one team won. It wasn't because they were better, it's usually because one shot went 6 inches to the left while another went six inches to the right. (Example: Germany's goal against Holland and Holland's near miss past the right post in the first half. There's less than a foot seperating those two. That's not skill, it's luck.)

The lead very rarely changes hands.

You don't know how much time is left in the game which reduces the amount of drama in the end.

Notice that I say all of this after having watched France and England play one of the more exciting soccer games of the year. It's just an inferior spectator sport to american football, baseball, basketball, and hockey (which at least has more action).

To compensate it has three advantages:

The game only takes 110 minutes total.

You don't need to know anything other than that scoring goals is good to watch it.

Its played as a serious international sport.

All three of these are great, but other sports could be modified to fit the first and last of those.

And I don't think that finding soccer to be an inferior sport makes me a backwards dumb american.
The bus system here is also wonderful Every bus in the entire country runs on the same system. You can buy one card in one place, and use it on the busses or trams anywhere in the entire country. Compared to the bay area (BART, AC Transit, Muni, whatever they have in Marin, SamTrans, whatever they have in San Jose) this conveniece is amazing.

More importantly though, they run frequently and quickly. Our building (noticably outside city limits) still gets a bus about every 5 minutes. In rush hour it beats the cars because on the bridge one of the outgoing lanes becomes a dedicated buslane. The bus runs back until nearly 1am on weekdays, and later on weekends.

The sad thing about all this wonderful transit (bike and bus) is that there's really no gradual way to turn a car based system like the US's into a system like the one they have here. You can't eliminate parking and add dozens of busses before people are willing to ride them, and they won't be willing till there are enough of them.
The most remarkable thing about the Netherlands are the bicycles.

They're everywhere. It is not unusual to have 40 bicycles stopped at a single light on my ride home through town in the evening. It seems to be the dominant mode of transportation through the city.

Also the bike's have their own bicycle lane. A typical road that in the US would have a lane of car traffic going each direction in Holland has two large bike paths (wide enough for 2 or 3 bikes) as well as normal car traffic. The bike lane is ordinarily seperated from both the cars and the pedestrians by a curb.

Now those of you keeping count at home might wonder how a typical road that in the US would have only 2 lanes manages to have room for four here... For a while I was confused, smaller lanes and tiny sidewalks only account for so much, but then I realized: there's little to no street parking. Once I realized this I'm simply amazed at how much space is wasted by street parking. All the bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes and every other wonderful thing about the traffic patterns here is largely a function of lack of street parking.

The other great thing about everyone being on bikes all the times is the ridiculous things they manage to do on them:

Two children and an adult on one bike is not at all unusual (one on a seet on the handlebars, one on a seat on the back).

Two adults on one bike also happens. Typically the person starts moving slowly while the other person scurries next to them, and then jumps on the back rack sidesaddle.

I once saw a 6 foot tall dutchman standing on the rack in the back.

When it rains people use umbrellas. One hand on the handlebar, one hand holding the umbrella.

Obviously talking on cell phones or lighting cigarettes on bikes is frequent.

Carrying enormous things on the back racks is also completely out of control.

On the one hill (up to a bridge over the large canal) you see motorbikes with their hand in the back of a bicylcist to push them up the hill.

The same things happens all the time with parents of 6 year olds. They're moving along on their tiny bikes, and the parent next to them has a hand in their back to stabilize them.

Yesterday a couple went to the train station, the woman left on a train, the man biked home with two bikes.

15 June 2004

Apropos of nothing in particular, I was reminded today of Ronald Reagan's quote about jelly beans: "You can tell a lot about a fella's character by whether he picks out all of one color or just grabs a handful." It's always been unclear to me what, precisely, this says about a person's character, but today it became blindingly clear: hedgehogs pick out one color, and foxes go for the handful.

14 June 2004


At some point over the course of a long and pleasant evening, I mentioned the fragment of Archilochus that reads poll' oid' alopex, all' echinos hen mega: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." As Isaiah Berlin notes, this may mean nothing more than that "the fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by the hedgehog's one defense," that is, to curl up protectively into a little ball. "But, taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general." One is either a hedgehog, who tries to relate everything to a unitary inner vision, or a fox, who pursues many contradictory ends without trying to reconcile them into a coherent system of thought.

She and I, of course, were tempted to discuss whether we were hedgehogs or foxes, but left the discussion, I believe, unresolved. Later that evening, emboldened, perhaps, by this conversation, I made an awkward romantic lunge, only to be met with passive resistance from the sleepy lump on the sofa, who merely curled up and wished me a good night. Content with what I'd hoped had, at least, been a flattering pass, I gladly collapsed in the other room. A few days later, I received a message reading, in part: Well, yes, really, I had a nice time with you on Thursday -- and I suspect that you may have thoroughly learned by now that I, more than most, am like the hedgehog, in that I know just one thing, and it happens to be the very same thing that he knows....

13 June 2004

To answer Haiwen more directly: I couldn't have done half of what I did this year if I'd had to spend time catching, flattering and worrying about some girl, however pleasant, who would no doubt insist on hanging about all the time. This may sound absurd, but I almost prefer the loose ends and unfinished projects of this year to the equally exhausting work of pursuing some random romantic prospect when my heart isn't in it. I want to be surprised by love, but it hasn't happened yet. Enough of pursuit; I want to be an immovable object, and have love come to me.
Frankly, in response to Haiwen's challenge, it hasn't been a bad fiscal year.

I read War and Peace; managed to avoid falling in love; learned a lot about finance and economics; watched dozens of classic movies via Netflix; plowed through a lot of history, some poetry, and a score of books about Hollywood; researched, outlined, began, and scrapped an ambitious novel; threw a successful Oscar party; put together an index fund portfolio that will see me safely through to retirement; made one ill-advised romantic lunge; had drinks at the Temple of Dendur; went to karaoke twice; audited a class at the NYU school of business; took voice lessons; saw my first novelette published in Analog; made a lifelong friend at work; learned to use a crock pot and make an excellent stir fry; played host to all of my friends at least once; saw Spellbound, Kill Bill, and a full garland of Broadway shows, including Avenue Q; obtained copies of the Codex Seraphinianus and Rising Up and Rising Down, which I fully intend to read someday; discovered the Smiths and the Super Furry Animals; saw Radiohead in concert; wandered a desolate Coney Island on the anniversary of 9/11; made it through another excellent season of 24; became a fan of The Daily Show; saw Harvard beat Yale; spent one last weekend drinking gin and tonics on the dock at Middle Haddam; saw ballet and Casablanca at Lincoln Center; read some Latin and less Greek; saved some money; lost some weight; made time for family; shared in my friends' triumphs, both small and large; and emerged with no regrets that I can recall, although I'm lucky enough to have at least two good friends who are usually glad to remember them for me. Occasionally, I also managed to find time to work at a hedge fund.

I still need to find a new apartment, though.
We haven't heard from Noah in a while. Do you think they have internet in the Netherlands?

12 June 2004

I've just spent a pleasant hour reading a few of my favorite posts on this blog from months past (including the infamous one where we almost exposed one of our friends as a "sodomite and miscegenator"). It's a shame that comments seem to expire after a certain point; some of the best work on this blog has been in the comments section, and much of it has been lost. For example, I'd love to reread the comments that led to last summer's discussion of unrequited love (notably here and here).
From The Onion's interview with Melvin and Mario Van Peebles:
O: Were there any cinematic images of blacks before Sweetback that you connected with, that you thought had the ring of truth?

Melvin: One. That was Dooley Wilson in Casablanca. He didn't have to shuffle or do nothing. He just played the piano. In the ghetto, we'd make them stop the movie and re-run it, put it back in, because we'd never seen that.
As for Baadasssss! itself, it's fun, but a little sloppy, and its use of first-person narration is ill-advised, since it often forces the main character to provide a self-congratulatory commentary on his own actions. (There were moments that reminded me, unfortunately, of Big Fish.) I think it's an important rule of screenwriting that first-person narration should only be used by the lonely, inept, neurotic, or chronically depressed. (It isn't a bad rule for blogs, either.)

11 June 2004

By the way, it's all but impossible to find online showtimes for Baadasssss!, at least on Moviefone, unless you can remember that the title has exactly two "a"s and five "s"s. The "!" is apparently optional.
Tops on my list of movies to see this week, right behind Lars von Trier's The Five Obstructions, is Mario Van Peebles's Baadasssss!, a "lightly fictionalized" account of the making of his dad's famous movie Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Melvin Van Peebles himself has lived quite the life: as this article notes, he flew in the Air Force, studied astronomy in the Netherlands, painted in Mexico, wrote a novel and worked on a cable car in San Francisco, shook up Hollywood, then moved to New York to write musicals and, yes, work as a commodities trader. (Melvin's book, Bold Money: A New Way to Play the Options Market, is curently available on Amazon.com, used, for forty cents.)

Anyway, Baadasssss! seems like a good movie to see tonight, since there's no better way to commemorate the legacy of Ronald Reagan than to see a movie by, and about, an angry, angry black man.
Today's Wall Street Journal contains a feature story on how the former co-head of the Harvard Parents Fund swindled wealthy donors out of more than $13.8 million through a bunch of shady investment schemes. The fundraiser, Gregory Earls, has been convicted of twenty-two counts of fraud and faces up to thirteen years in prison. Among those defrauded were a hedge fund manager and the founder of Fresh Direct, proving that even smart, wealthy Harvard parents can be persuaded to invest in causes even more questionable than the Harvard endowment.

10 June 2004

Noah's original post about Spellbound now seems eerily prophetic:
I didn't like the undercurrent of silly "only in america"-patriotism, I mean america's great and all, but its not really that much different from a lot of other places....The girl from Washington DC is the sweetest person ever, its hard to believe she exists, i hope she's still like that in 10 years and life in the city doesn't beat it out of her.
Sigh, again. It's clear that even before this article, I'd already discovered that Spellbound was one of those works of art, like Crumb or Gates of Heaven, that grow more complex and mysterious with every viewing. You can see how this movie, yes, took root and grew in my imagination by comparing my posts here, here, here, and here. (You can also see how Spellbound gradually rose in my estimation from an intermediate place in my list of the year's best movies to its current position, somewhere in the list of the ten best movies I've ever seen.)

Now, for better or worse, Ashley's story has made it impossible for me to watch this movie in quite the same way as before, without thinking in terms of class. For example, it's utterly ludicrous to imagine young Emily (who takes riding lessons, and debates whether to bring her au pair to the spelling bee) broke, homeless, and with a baby daughter at age eighteen. Or what about Nupur? Those ill-defined class distinctions suddenly become a lot more defined when you think of how far Nupur would have to fall to end up in that homeless shelter.
Anyone who watched yesterday's coverage of the Reagan funeral for more than five minutes (as I did, after trying in vain to find a rerun of The Simpsons) couldn't help but notice that the eulogists were all firmly on message: Reagan was an eternal optimist, a president who trusted in individual ability and in the people's capacity to solve their own problems without governmental interference. (As an article in today's Wall Street Journal points out, this was no accident. Reagan's own advance men have been planning this funeral for years, and they're very aware of the headline, picture, and story that they're trying to convey: Ronald Reagan won the Cold War and brought back "America's faith in itself.") Based on their recent campaign ads, both of the current candidates for president would like to exude the same sort of bland optimism about "believing in America's people."

As myths go, this is far from a bad one...unless we use it to justify rolling back our social obligations to people whose circumstances make it very difficult, if not impossible, for them to put the American dream into practice. This, I suppose, is what I was trying to get at in my last post. It's all very well and good to suggest that ability, optimism, and determination, not to mention education, are all that one needs to move between social classes, but the makers of Spellbound didn't have to go very far to find at least one compelling anecdotal counterexample of a luminous young girl whose ability, optimism, and determination didn’t prevent her from retracing the same family history (I hesitate to call it "class destiny") of her mother, her grandmother, and "various aunts and cousins," complete with a baby and a bunk at a homeless shelter at the age of eighteen. Hence my ambiguous sigh.

08 June 2004

Watching Spellbound again tonight, I was struck by a comment made by Neil's father:
There is no way you can fail in this country. That's one guarantee in this country, that if you work hard, you'll make it.
Much later, near the end of the movie, the late Alex Cameron, official pronouncer of the spelling bee, observes:
In America back in the eighteenth century, people had this sense of opportunity. You could leap out of one social class...you could move up...and I think they understood that education was a basic part of that.

07 June 2004

Thanks to Bessie for spotting this article in the Washington Post about recent developments in the life of Ashley White, arguably the most extraordinary little girl in Spellbound, who froze on the word "lycanthrope" and was eliminated on "ecclesiastical." Today, she's eighteen, a single teenage mother, and when asked, admits: "I would not have imagined that my life would be like this."

The article is ultimately hopeful, but undeniably sad, especially when you watch the footage of Ashley as a terribly hopeful thirteen-year-old girl who (according to the director's commentary track) chose "love" as her favorite word, instead of, say, "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis." I hope she ends up okay.

06 June 2004

We're one week into the great Noah-Dave Lifestyle Swap, and I must say that it's hard to live up to the standards set by my predecessor. While Noah's galavanting around Europe, I've been keeping up my end by hanging out in Berkeley, doing math at random times of the day, and spending a great deal of time surfing the internet. Where I'm falling behind, however, is the party factor: I only went out drinking in San Francisco once in the last week, and we didn't even make it to a club.
I can't seem to find the old thread about NY Times obituaries, but I have verified that yes, former presidents do get four pages. (Good thing he died on a Saturday; we get the print version only on Sundays.)
Defying even the most optimistic of expectations, Avenue Q has dominated the Tony awards, the perfect triumph for a wonderful show that, as I noted back in September, everyone reading this blog should see at least once.

The real revelation from tonight's awards ceremony, however, was the glimpse that television viewers got of Hugh Jackman as Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz. Jackman seemed visibly uncomfortable as host throughout most of the evening, but as soon as he changed into those tight golden pants and began to sing, dance, and gyrate across the stage, it was hard to avoid the unanswerable question: what is this man doing in Van Helsing?
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is easily the best movie of the trilogy so far, and the only one that I'd consider seeing twice. However, I departed the theater in some confusion over a couple of key plot points, and a quick glance at Chapters 17-19 of the original novel (which I haven't read) confirmed that the movie, as it stands, is missing a few minutes of exposition at a crucial scene that renders the plot almost, well, nonsensical. The scene was clearly trimmed in the editing room at the last minute, presumably to eliminate a long scene of talk before the climax. Not only does it leave the some important questions unanswered, but it removes a pause in the story necessary to justify Harry's abrupt change of heart about a key supporting character. This lapse of attention on the part of the director is pretty surprising, given Alfonso Cuaron's loving attentiveness to every other frame of this generally rich and satisfying movie. Maybe a reel went missing in the lab?

Anyway, it's genuinely worth seeing once, or even twice. The vague sexual innuendoes that made The Chamber of Secrets such fun are still there in profusion. ("You're supposed to stroke it!") And Emma Watson, who in the first movie was much too huggable at age eleven, and in the second movie was far too huggable at age twelve, has grown surprisingly huggable at age fourteen.

04 June 2004

Today's New York Times has an interesting article about the world's largest hedge fund, also known as the Harvard endowment. It's currently at $19.3 billion and growing, and while I'm not going to get into the whole issue of compensation for Harvard money managers, I'd like to make a pedantic point about the following paragraph:
Harvard notes that Mr. Mittelman's compensation as a percentage of the money he generated is a fraction of what a hedge fund would charge to do what he does. But Mr. Mittelman has no responsibility for fund-raising and is not accountable to investors, two key roles played by hedge fund managers. In addition, the fees hedge funds charge cover their entire operation, not just the compensation of a single manager.
This confuses the issue a bit. In addition to trading and organizational expenses, hedge funds charge two kinds of fees: a fixed management fee and a performance fee that provides a cut of profits. Typically, the management fee is what pays for base salaries, overhead, rent, fundraising, etc. The performance fee is essentially a bonus pool, and its sole purpose is to reward performance and attract investment talent. The controversial bonuses that Harvard pays to its managers are the equivalent of a performance fee; they don't receive any bonus at all if the fund underperforms its benchmarks. (In fact, Harvard probably has a better deal than hedge fund investors, who pay fees on all profits, even if the fund underperforms.) In other words, it isn't meaningful to point out that Mittelman's fee doesn't include the operational costs of the management company, since these costs are covered by another sort of fee entirely.

Also, it doesn't make sense to fault Mittelman for not taking part in "fundraising," since any hedge fund with $20 billion under management would probably have a separate fundraising department. It's called investor relations. Trust me on this.

Even after you add the management fee and other expenses, my guess is that Harvard is getting a pretty good deal, given the market price for management talent these days. The real question, of course, is whether any fund manager is worth $35 million a year. This isn't necessarily a moral question; it's a question of whether outperformance is really due to manager ability, and not to some mixture of luck and market conditions. I mean, if the markets are truly efficient, you might as well just turn the Harvard endowment over to this guy.

03 June 2004

Speaking of fanfic, this site provides an interesting cross-section of various fandoms, with some curious results. The fact that there are 9,388 stories set in the Star Wars universe isn't too surprising. Neither is the fact that Pirates of the Caribbean is coming up quickly, with 5,778. I'm a little bit startled, however, by the 265 stories set in the rich fictional omniverse of A Walk to Remember.
Only a few days after seeing Mean Girls and Saved! back to back, I've found that I can no longer tell the two apart, and they've mingled in my imagination into a DJ Danger Mouse-style remix where Regina catfights with Hilary Faye and Janis and Cassandra sneak a smoke together behind the school gym. (Although, come to think of it, I can imagine Cassandra saying to Janis, a la Donkey in Shrek 2, "The position of mildly rebellious punk girl has been filled!") I loved both movies, but I like my imaginary crossover version better. Oh well; that's what fanfic is for.
BBC World only gave one quote from Bush's speech yesterday (or today? what time is it in the US?):

"The war on terrorism is like the second world war in that both began with a surprise attack on the US"

Ummmm... Didn't world war II start with an invasion of Poland?

Wasn't half the country that I'm in now destroyed while the US was still ignoring the rest of the world?

Incidentally, there's nothing quite like the weather report on BBC World.

02 June 2004

A few reasons why I'm thinking about moving to Malta:

1. Official language: English. (Along with Maltese, which is one of the coolest, weirdest languages on earth.)
2. Incredibly gorgeous landscape. Lots of castles, cathedrals, museums, and historic sites.
3. Pleasant Mediterranean climate, hot summers, rainy winters. Nice beaches.
4. There's been some speculation that Malta will become the next big hedge fund haven, right up there with Ireland and the Cayman Islands. I could probably get a job there.
5. Incredible real estate. Based on a random search of properties to rent, I could rent an entire villa near the shore for what I'm currently paying for my crummy apartment.
6. Italy is only a hop across the pond.
7. Oh, and the girls are presumably olive-skinned Italianesque beauties, although I haven't done too much research on this point.

On the downside, I've been told that it's pretty conservative, staunchly Roman Catholic (abortion is illegal), and crammed with tourists during the summer months. Still, after browsing through those apartment listings for a while, I find it hard to resist an Incredible Mr. Ripley-type fantasy of dozing off under a beach umbrella at my own Maltese villa with Volume II of Gibbon's Decline and Fall lying in the sand beside me. (Somehow all of my European fantasies involve reading Gibbon on the beach. Well, most of them, anyway.)
Some of you may have already heard of Tarnation, Jonathan Caouette's grim documentary about his own family, which was constructed from old home movies and answering machine messages, put together on iMovie for about $213.72, and caused a sensation at the Cannes film festival. I was already looking forward to this movie before I read this:
As each tragic detail is revealed, Caouette's film plunges you deeper into its enchanted looking-glass world where life's horror is felt full force. But Tarnation hits as many emotional highs as you'd hope for from a real life. Particularly brilliant are details like Caouette's hilarious staging of David Lynch's Blue Velvet as a musical for a high-school project. As chubby girls dance clumsily to the haunting notes of Julee Cruise's song, "Floating," their adolescent awkwardness is transformed by Caouette's use of trippy music video effects. They almost look cool.
Yikes. This sounds amazing.

01 June 2004

Sigh, the sun hasn't risen yet, but I'm off to Utrecht.
Fark's photoshoped responses to The Passion is pretty priceless.
Last night I got back from a very short trip to LA with some friends. Though we did spend most of the trip lost, it was still a great time. It's been so long since I've been to a beach with either warm weather or good solid waves.

I also flew back on Southwest instead of Jetblue (our hotel was right by LAX and Jetblue only flies to long beach). It was my first Southwest experience, and I must say I wasn't terribly impressed. It's certainly no jetblue. And the chaos seating thing is pretty annoying. But it was acceptable, and only $100 for one way even though I bought a one-way ticket just 48 hours ahead.

I find it bothersome that I'm beginning to develop some brand loyalties. I love jetblue, and recently I bought Let's Go Amsterdam even though I wanted a general Netherlands tour book, cause I'm kind of attached to Let's Go.

One of the several reasons I flew back early is because I wanted to be able to see saved before I left for the summer, which I did tonite. As you all know, I've been looking forward to this film for months.

In the trailer it wasn't clear whether it was going to be brilliantly spot-on, or just over the top. I'm afraid their touch wasn't as good as I was hoping and too much of the treatment of christianity is a too parodied, but I still enjoyed the movie. The first reel is pretty brilliant, and most of the movie is quite sweet. The first climax is adorable (if sappy), and the second climax is really quite poorly done and hurts the movie significantly. I enjoyed the film. But it doesn't hold a candle to Michael Stipe's last production.

Eva Amurri (as the crazy Jewish girl at the christian school) and Martin Donovan (as the pastor/principal of the school) put in excellent supprting parts. But Mandy Moore is just shrill and Macaulay Culkin never quite puts anything into his role... As for Jena Malone in the lead role, she's definitely playing Laura in the film version of Noah's life.

(The film version of the Berkeley stage of Noah's life currently has Jack Black as Ben Webster, Nicholas Cage as AJ, Elijah Wood as Joel, Steve Buscemi in a bit part as Russel, and, of course, Roan Atkenson as Soroosh. I'm not sure we've got the casting past those most obvious ones.)

Tommorow I leave for 5 weeks in the netherlands. I can be reached by email as usual and I will try to post occasionally, though I'm not entirely sure what my internet situation will be. Tonite I'm again trying out my theory that the best way to fly to Europe is to stay up all night the night before. This time I think I'm playing several hours of nethack. I must say that last time was a much better excuse.

Oh, and at Saved! I got there just as the trailer for Garden State began. I still think that this is the best trailer I've ever seen. Here's a link, but the internet version can't quite do justice to the experience of seeing this trailer on the big screen with a real sound system.