october 2003

Go Twins! Boo Yankees! Boo Cubs!

Well, this sucks. MTV has canceled The New Tom Green Show, an hour-long weeknight show that was a real return to form for Green after a disastrous foray into movie acting. I was pretty much done with Tom Green after the marriage to Drew Barrymore and the obvious whoring for cash that must have motivated him to do dreck like Freddie Got Fingered, but I felt like he was really getting back the Tom Green that we all knew and loved from his early days on MTV. Too bad the network didn't see fit to give him longer than a month to reconnect with his audience.

Speaking of poor programming decisions by MTV: I think I'm finally done with the Real World and its cousins, Road Rules and various competition spin-off series that pit former cast members against one another. They're kind of like McDonald's for me: a few years ago, immediately after consuming a Big Mac value meal and feeling that typical slight quesiness, I just decided that I'd had my lifetime fill of McDonald's hamburgers. That was it—no more. And I've pretty much stuck to that, never once desiring to eat a McDonald's meal (although I will admit that I've recently been taken in by the ingenius McGriddle's—I think we've had those two or three times since they were introduced early this summer). I've just had my lifetime fill of that kind of food. And now I think I've had my fill of the Real World.

I've been a fan of the show since the first season in New York over ten years ago, but in recent seasons I've been growing less and less interested in it. It would be easy to make the argument that as I was getting older my tastes were changing and I couldn't identify with the kids on the cast anymore, but I don't think that would be true in this case: I still watch tons of other reality shows, most of which feature people that I can identify with far less than I could with a traditional Real World cast member.

No, the real problem, I think, is that over the years, the Real World producers have changed the type of person that they cast. In the beginning, the casts were made up of a group of seven people who ranged in age from 18 to 25 and who had a variety of life experiences behind them. Typically at least half of them were pseudo-professionals at something. For example, Season 1 had Kevin, the writer/activist; Julie, the dancer; Eric, the model; Becky, the singer-songwriter; Norman, the painter; Andre, the rock star; and Heather, the rapper. Season 2, set in Los Angeles, upped the flake ante with several wanna-be showbiz types, but still featured several people who actually had solid beginnings to their careers: Jon, the country singer; Dominic, the music journalist; David, the comedian; and Irene, the cop.

Season 3 in San Francisco is where it all started to fall apart. In addition to the otherwise well-rounded cast (including Pam, the med student; Judd, the cartoonist; Mohammed, the hip hop artist; and Pedro, the AIDS activist), the producers decided to throw in the infamous Puck, who upset the balance of the household in a way no cast member had done on previous sesasons and who was eventually kicked out mostly because people just didn't like him: he didn't play by the rules that most civilized people abide by, especially when they're virtual strangers sharing a cramped space together. His nonstop antics and desperate need for the attention of the cameras wore thin for the people who had to live with him, but not for the audience: the show produced the biggest ratings in the series' history, largely because of the Howard Stern-like "What is he going to do next?" allure of Puck.

You might have expected that after such a positive response to a troublemaking idiot, the Real World producers would have upped the ante or at least tried to repeat the formula in Season 4, set in London, by featuring one or more Puck imitators to keep the tension in the house at a constant boil. Instead, they responded by casting what may be, in the long run, the sanest, most down-to-earth cast in the show's history so far: Jacinda, a model; Kat, a fencer, Michael, a race car driver; Jay, a teen prodigy playwright; Lars, a German DJ; Neil, a graduate student at Oxford and experimental musician; and Sharon, a singer. Of course, they're also the cast that no one can remember. Even acerbicly sarcastic Neil, who may have been meant to fufill Puck's role when he was cast, was far too intelligent to play the idiot (though he did revel in playing the provocateur). The ratings for Season 4 were abysmal compared the previous seasons, so in Season 5 the producers finally did what their audience was apparently begging them to do: they brought in idiots whose sole purpose was to make trouble on camera. Some of them still had careers or were very driven, but they were all overly dramatic compared to earlier casts and they seemed to enjoy going at each other like Siamese fighting fish.

It was all downhill from here, but I nevertheless enjoyed the next few seasons because the producers still brought in some normal but interesting people to live with and endure being tortured by the idiots for our amusement, and I could still find some drama in the show that didn't seem overly forced and which still had the capacity to produce a genuine emotional response. The real nail in the coffin for this show, I think, was when the producers figured out that overly-dramatic, self-centered, infantile people will act even more outrageous if they are drunk all the time, which means that they cast fewer and fewer people who were under 21 and who seemed to have even a vague idea of what the phrase "impulse control" means. This pattern of casting culminated in last season's Las Vegas cast: I defy you to find a more vapid, idiotic, drunken, promiscuous, and uninteresting group of people on TV (and yes, I'm well aware of Fox's Paradise Hotel).

I watched the season, but I never cared about anyone on the show, and I don't even remember how it ended even though it's only a few months old. When the newest season, set in Paris, started, I watched the first couple of episodes, but couldn't find anything to keep me coming back. I don't have the slightest interest in finding out more about these people (or their compatriots on Road Rules) and seeing how their stories play out in the constructed environment of a Real World house. I just don't care. I'm done.

Go Braves!

So I'm sure you've all read by now about Rush Limbaugh's borderline (if not well over the line) racist comments concerning Eagles QB Donovan McNabb, ESPN's pathetic defense of Limbaugh's comments and Limbaugh's continued outrageousness on his radio show (saying that if eveyone's so upset, he must be right), and McNabb's more-than-civil decision to take the high road and not engage in the same kind of negative stereotyping that is part and parcel of Limbaugh's media persona. But what you might not realize is that a lot of people saw this coming.

Three weeks ago, Salon sports columnist King Kaufman dissected Limbaugh's debut as a commentator for ESPN's Sunday pregame show and took a few paragraphs to examine Limbaugh's views on the NFL's push for more minority head coaches. Kaufman said that he didn't think that Rush was a racist, but readers reacted by pointing out several overtly racist things Limbaugh has said in the past, all of which seem right in line with his comments about McNabb. But Steve Jablonski deserves some special credit for prescience: responding to a Kaufman column in July that discussed ESPN's hiring of Rush, Jablonski wrote in with the following quote:

The silver lining to Mr. Limbaugh's new dais is it will only be a matter of time before he makes some "Jimmy the Greek"-like statement, gets booted from ESPN and is on his way back to Dittoville. Well, I can always hope.

A mere month into the season, that's exactly what Limbaugh has done, but unfortunately, it doesn't look like ESPN is going to do the right thing in this case, and we'll all be subjected to at least one more week of Limbaugh polluting our Sunday mornings and ramming his narrow-minded views down our throats under the guise of sports commentary. Let's hope next time he says something as ridiculous as what he said about McNabb, someone in the studio has the balls to call him on it.

Late update: In the wake of the scandal caused by his comments about McNabb, Rush Limbaugh has resigned from the ESPN pregame show. If only all stories involving Limbaugh's small-mindedness could have such happy endings.

Boo Yankees!

Hey—weather gods. You remember those seasons called "Fall" and "Spring"? Could we please have at least one of those next year?

New Brak! The first episode of the new season premiered last night, and spent most of its energy ripping off Hamlet. And Star Wars. And some other stuff I probably won't get until the second time I see it. It was good, but I sure hope there's more Thundercleese in the next episode.

Another October, another broken heart courtesy of the Atlanta Braves. The officiating of the games was generally awful, but the Cubs still played a better series. I wish the first round of the playoffs went seven games, though, instead of the might-as-well-flip-a-coin 5—as tight as this series was, I'm sure it would have gone the full seven. The Braves biggest problem, as usual, was that their offense basically collapsed in the post-season. The games it was working were the games they won, but in the ones they lost they barely hit anything, mostly because they were impatient and swung at too many early pitches.

I'm not numb to the Braves blowing it in the postseason yet, but, based on the past 12 years, I always steel myself for it (at least I have 1995 to hold onto; if they hadn't won at least one World Series during their amazing stretch of consecutive postseason appearances, it would tear my heart out every time they sleepwalked through another postseason series loss). It's a weird time to be a Braves fan: the continue to find ways to dominate the regular season and make the playoffs with ease, but no matter what formula they try (great hitting and mediocre pitching, great pitching and mediocre offense, a balance of both hitting and pitching, etc.), nothing seems to click for them in the postseason, especially in the past five years.

Oh well. At least I can be happy for CS Jeff, who is a lifelong Cubs fan, and start rooting for the Cubs now. They were my second favorite team in the playoffs this year anyway, and really, everyone who has been to Wrigley Field and rooted for the home team can consider themselves a Cubs fan (I have, for the record: Jeff and I saw two games there in 1998 when Sosa was in the home run race with McGuire—we saw him hit numbers 49, 50, and 51 against the San Francisco Giants and the Houston Astros). So now that my Braves have been all-too-predictably eliminated, I'm jumping on the bandwagon: Go Cubbies!

Snoop Dogg should be heavily fined and subject to public flogging every time he says a made-up word with "izzle" on the end of it. It's not cute anymore, Snoop. We don't want to hurt you, but you must be stopped.

So let's give you an update on all my fantasy sports teams. In my primary baseball league, The Reef, I got crushed, finishing in a solid last place with less than half the points of the winner, my friend Scott. CS Jeff came in second, and my dad surprisingly came in third (it's surprising because he doesn't do any special rankings in the draft, he doesn't start and bench his pitchers in order to get the most stats out of his limited number of pitching slots, and he generally doesn't do anything but sit back and let the team he drafted play all season, even if a player gets hurt). I didn't do so bad in my other league, finishing 7th out of 12 with essentially the same team that tanked in the seven-team Reef league, but I was never really in the hunt because my offense was just too weak. Overall it was a lousy baseball season for me, especially given that I won The Reef last year, narrowly edging out Scott and CS Jeff in the last week of the season.

Fantasy football is another story: after my disastrous season last year, my first time playing fantasy football, I'm actually doing pretty well this year. This week in particular was near-perfect: I won all four of the head-to-head fantasy leagues that I play in, and I also won the points pool at the office. My overall stats are pretty good, too: tied for first place in two leagues and sitting in second in another (in the fourth league, the one I played in last year, I'm 7th out of 10, but I feel like things are turning around for me). And in the office pool, I'm a close second, and would easily be in the lead if I hadn't had my worst week so far the same week that the leader picked every single game correctly and got a monster score.

In the league started by CO2 Jeff, neveready, I have the second-lowest point total, but I'm tied for first in terms of wins and losses. I realize this could eventually catch up to me and I could return to my appropriate level based on points, but for the time being it's karmic payback for the opposite situation last season, where for most of the season I had the second or third highest point total, but I only managed to win a couple of games; it seemed like every time I played a team, I would get the second best point total in the league for that week, but the team I was playing, no matter how awful they were in previous weeks, would have their best week ever, and I would be saddled with another loss while teams with half my points would chalk up a win against an even weaker team.

So right now I'm pretty excited about fantasy football because I have a reasonable shot to still be in the hunt come playoff time, which would be a welcome change from last season and from my fantasy baseball teams this year. And then when football's over, it's only a month til spring training, and we get to start the cycle all over again.

Every American should watch Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. Love him or hate him, Moore's incendiary, confrontational style and dark humor certainly presents issues in a unique way, and I think that most people would agree that he makes some good points and asks some very interesting questions. His central concern in this film is why Americans so frequently kill each other with guns, especially compared to Canada, which actually has a higher per-capita rate of gun ownership but which has far fewer murders involving guns, despite very similar tastes in popular culture (which the American media loves to cite as the root of massacres like Columbine). He touches on racial tensions, the fear created by the mainstream media in their story selection and editing, and the corporate influences that are at work in our government, all of which seem to contribute to our obsession with guns. Despite the wide ranging perspectives he presents, Moore doesn't even begin to reach an answer as to why we are so violent, and why we so often use guns to hurt and kill each other. And until we as a nation understand what's behind these impulses, we'll probably never be able to control them.

So a couple of weeks ago Tori sent me this postcard:

To me, this looks like a hedgehog who's been stood up: he has flowers for a date who hasn't come, and the watch confirms that it's far too late to think that she's just running a litttle behind. As if this isn't weird enough, I've researched the phrase on the caption, and this is what it says:

3-2-1-0: Happy Birthday

(It's a German colloquialism for "Happy Birthday", probably translating to something like "Best Wishes on Your Birthday" or "Many Happy Returns" or something like that). So not only has this poorly dressed woodland creature been stood up, he's been stood up on his birthday, which the caption writer feels compelled to underscore with a sarcastic birthday wish. I don't want to hazard a guess as to what this says about the German psyche, other than to point out the obvious: they are a mighty strange people.

The reason that I finally got around to watching Bowling for Columbine last week was because Michael Moore was scheduled to come to campus on Friday night as part of the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium series of lectures (for those of you who are already muttering "typical liberal college campus" under your breath, you should know that the opening speaker was conservative viper Ann Coulter). There were some other people from work who also wanted to go (Jean Free had coincidentally just watched the film for her Jungian psychology class—in fact it Julie and I borrowed her Netflix copy), so we decided to meet up around 5, see if there was a line forming, and try to go to dinner if it didn't look too crowded (the lecture wasn't scheduled to start until 8, but the doors opened at 7). Julie was running late and she didn't get over to our campus until after 5:30, but when we went over to Shriver Hall to check out the line, there were only a couple of people waiting on the steps outside, so we decided it was safe to head over to Niwana for a quick dinner.

By the time we got back 45 minutes later, a little after 6:30, there were hundreds of people waiting in a tangled mass of three or four non-distinct lines. We got in one and spent the next half hour trying to guess how many people the auditorium held and how many people were in front of us in line, hoping that we hadn't lingered too long at dinner. As the line started to move, it became clear that we would make it inside, and I initially wanted to head for the balcony seats because it seemed like no one was going up the stairs. It turned out that that was because there were security guards keeping people from going to the upper level, and I began to get concerned about our seats because the main auditorium was pretty much full, with only a seat or two scattered here and there (which made the rows of empty seats the student organizers had set aside for themselves at the front of the hall that much more irritating). But then they started to let people up to the balcony, and we got pretty lucky and found two seats on the aisle in the second row—pretty much as good as you can get in the balcony.

The remaining seats filled up quickly, and for the next hour we flipped through the program and watched the student organizer busybodies keeping people out of the seats they'd saved for their friends. Around 8:05, they made an announcement that Moore was on the way and would arrive in ten or fifteen minutes, and then fifteen minutes later they made another announcement that he wouldn't be inside until after 9. But that was okay: the reason for the second delay was that they had had to turn away over 4000 people, and he was going to take half an hour to talk to them before coming inside. And to keep us entertained, they showed us clips from his tv shows, TV Nation and the Awful Truth.

He showed up reasonably close to 9, and was greeted with deafening cheers. I was a little unsure how he would be received; Hopkins is a very right-brain kind of campus, and it's hard to get a read on whether the student bodies tends to be more conservative or liberal (I hate those labels, but we all know generally what they mean and I don't feel like getting into a semantic discussion about them right now, so I'm using them for the sake of convenience). But aside from a few scattered boos, most of the crowd seemed to be behind him—very behind him. His remarks, which were more like a stand-up act with pointed political commentary, were greeted with rousing applause and cheers. He was funny, sincere, witty, incisive, angry, self-depricating, and he just really clicked with the audience. More than once during the Q+A portion of the evening audience members suggested that he run for office, and really, his rapport with the crowd and the fiery invective of his speech would not have been at all out of place at a political rally.

And as reluctant as I am to be taken in by media personalities or political demagogues, I really liked him, and agreed with pretty much everything he had to say. I've always loved his work, from Roger & Me to the television shows and most recently the Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine, and in person he seemed to be just as humble, self-effacing, humorous, and intelligent as he does in his documentaries. A few times it seemed like he was repeating cliches because he knew that they would get a positive reaction from the audience, but it didn't bother me too much—every performer is a sucker for applause, and I don't think many speakers can resist the urge to capitalize on some easily-won cheers.

His free form speech went on for about an hour (during which he read an excerpt from his new book, which I didn't really care for—too forced), and then he started to take some questions from the audience. After five or six questions and his detailed answers, he was told to wrap it up because they had to clear the hall, so he started a lightning round with the people still waiting in line to ask him questions where they would have to limit their questions to 10 words and he would limit his answers to 10 words. That was probably the most entertaining part of the evening; he was getting a wide range of questions fired at him every few seconds from supporters and detractors, and he didn't fumble a single one, shooting back one-liners and barbs that couldn't have been any funnier if they'd been written by the staff of the Daily Show. (His best line from the lightning round: Question: "What do you say to people who call you un-American?" Moore: "Only people who are un-American say that." Great response—succinct and totally true.)

A little after 10:30 Moore left the stage and they started to clear the hall. He was doing a book signing, and we thought about waiting in line to get a photo, but there were already several dozen hardcore fans waiting in line by the time we got downstairs, and we were started to come down off the high of being part of the electrified crowd, so we decided just to head home. If you like Moore at all and you ever have the chance to see him speak in person, I highly recommend it—he was probably the best speaker I've ever seen (the time I saw Kurt Vonnegut in high school is a close second), and he's nothing if not entertaining, whether or not you agree with his politics. But I think I do pretty much agree with his politics, so I enjoyed it immensely.

I hate it that the two teams in the ALCS are the Yankees and the Red Sox. I am a Braves fan first, a National League fan next, and then a fan of underdog teams that win as a result of hard work and good scouting, not enormous payrolls funded by ludicrous local tv contracts. Of the four teams that made it to the playoffs in the American League, I could have at least gotten behind the upstart Twins or A's if they had been able to beat one of their heavily funded competitors. But if the Sox and the Yanks are the choices we're left with, of course I have to root for the Sox, mostly because I hate the Yankees more than anything, but also because if the Sox win and the Cubs win, we could be treated to the ultimate Series of the Damned.

See, neither the Red Sox or the Cubs has won a World Series in generations. The losng streaks for these teams are legendary among baseball fans, but for those of you who aren't familiar with their respective curses, here's a primer. The Cubs won their last championship in 1908 and have been cursed by a billy goat since 1945, the last time they made it to the World Series. The Red Sox haven't won since 1918, two years before the club owner traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees to finance a musical; their resulting drought in the Series is known as the Curse of the Bambino.

So far both the billy goat and the Bambino have held the destinies of their respective teams tightly in their grips, but one of them will finally have to release their curse if both the Cubs and the Red Sox make it to the Series this year. They can't both lose. Can they?

Saturday night was another fun night out, this time in celebration of CO2 Jeff's 40th birthday. It was going to be a big surprise, so his wife Andrea had his brother keep him busy with PlayStation at his brother's house while she spent the afternoon preparing for the party and welcoming the guests as they started to arrive at 5. We got there pretty close to then (Jeff was supposed to return from his brother's around 6) and found Greg, a designer I worked with at CO2, and his wife Angie. I have kept in touch with Greg pretty well since CO2 disbanded, but we've had trouble getting together this summer, so it was good to see him again. I grabbed a Yeungling Lager (I'd never had one of those before, but man, they're good) and we caught up with each other for a while.

Max, Jeff's partner at CO2, and his wife Laurie showed up a few minutes later, and the three of us traded stories about our new jobs and what had been going on in our lives since we last saw each other. Max had the biggest news: as far as any of us knew before Saturday, Laurie wasn't Max's wife, she was his significant other. But he revealed that they had gotten married in February in Sedona, Arizona, a place that has special significance for both of them, and honeymooned for a week in Belize. So that was pretty cool.

Soon Andrea was ushering everyone inside to prepare for Jeff's surprise (he was coming in the back door and so wouldn't be tipped off by all the extra cars on his street and the balloons tied to his porch). As he wandered up the hall and was greeted with 30 of his closest friends and family members wishing him a happy birthday, you could tell he was completely surprised; he wandered around for the next 20 minutes with this stunned look on his face, saying hi to everyone and repeating over and over that he couldn't believe Andrea had pulled this off because she's terrible at keeping secrets.

I hadn't really thought about a gift until the afternoon of the party. I knew I wanted to get him something music-related (we have pretty similar tastes in music), but I knew from recent visits that none of the local record stores had anything in stock that I would want to give him, so instead I decided to get him a $40 gift certificate. While trying to think of something else 40-related I could get him, it suddenly hit me: 40 ounces. As in malt liquor. As in King Cobra.

Hell yeah.

Now, I remember malt liquor being really cheap—like most guys, I've had a bottle every now and again (never more than one in an evening), mostly as a joke but also because, when you have no money, one 40 per person is a lot cheaper than a case of even the cheapest beer. But I was shocked at how inexpensive it was: $1.57, including tax. The liquor store guy was going to put it in a normal bag for us, but I wanted to get the full effect, so I asked him to put it in a wino sleeve. What's really funny about all this is that Greg, who I hadn't spoken to at all about Jeff's party, had the exact same idea, only he did it with a designer's style, creating a custom label and using a wino bag as a starting point for more tasteful wrapping paper. His malt liquor of choice was St. Ides, which we had considered, but we just couldn't resist the old school draw of King Cobra.

After Jeff made his initial pass through the crowd to say hi to everyone, Julie and I grabbed some food from the buffet and went out to sit on the front porch steps. Before too long we were joined by Greg and Angie, and then Max and Laurie, and eventually Jeff and Andrea after they'd spent some time visiting with folks in the house. We just sat and talked—about music, movies, design, art, computer stuff (Max already has a preview copy of Panther, the bastard), video games, politics, internet trends, etc.—but it wasn't really what we talked about that was important. I realized that this was the first time the four of us had been together since Greg left CO2 four months before the company disbanded, and it was really cool just to be with Max, Jeff, and Greg, talking about the same kinds of things we used to talk about when we worked together.

We've all moved on to good jobs—Greg with an advertising agency in Baltimore, Jeff with a software company in Frederick, Max down at AOL, and me at Hopkins—and while I think we're all pretty happy with where we've ended up post-CO2, sitting and talking with them reminded me again of all the good things about CO2, the creativity, the freedom, the feeling that we were on a self-directed mission to make things that we loved. I knew even when CO2 was thriving that something that cool couldn't last forever, but instead of depressing me, it made me appreciate the time I spent there even more. And while it would have been fun to be part of any number of fast-burning dotcom creative powerhouses, the more time I hang out with the folks from CO2, the more glad I am that I ended up there.

Greg and Angie took off around 8 (they had a long hour and a half drive back to Pennsylvania), and Max and Laurie left not too longer after. Julie and I stayed to watch Jeff open his presents (I don't remember all of them, but besides the two 40s from Greg and me and my CD gift certificate, he got a deck of playing cards featuring the designs of Modern Dog and a paperback copy of Jimmy Corrigan), but I was tired and still had work to do that night, so we left Jeff with his family and headed home. The four of us have vague plans to get together again before the end of the year, and though I know it will be hard for all of us to work it into our schedules given our fairly disparate locations and demanding job and family responsibilities, I hope we follow through. It was really good to reconnect, and it shouldn't take another one of us turning 40 to bring us together again.

Last week I got a second postcard from Tori:

This disturbing image is from the Salzburg Marionette Theatre's rendition of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream". The sinister donkey-like creature is apparently Bottom the Weaver with the head of an ass. The reason he has a donkey's head is because Puck, the evil-looking thing in the tree, has decided to play a trick on him. Tori has seen this show, and she confirms that it's as creepy as it looks. It's a little worrisome that the Germans can take one of Shakespeare's most light-hearted comedies (it's named after a pleasant dream, for god's sake) and make it look like something out of my nightmares; I think they've still got some major issues to work out before we let them have weapons in large quantities again.

Well, the Red Sox did their part to keep my dreams of a Series of the Damned alive by forcing a Game 7 with the Yankees, but the Cubs...well, the Cubs did what I expected them to do, what they've become famous for: they choked. Big time. To be fair, the Marlins really were a better team, they fought extemely hard (it's almost impossible to come back from a 3-1 deficit in a 7 game series, but you never doubted their ability to do it), and they're also the only team that I think has a reasonable chance of beating the Yankees in the World Series if the ACLS turns out how I expect, with a Yankees win.

It's obvious that Cubs fans everywhere are phenomenally disappointed, but I'd bet that the Fox execs are also pretty upset about the Cubs loss. A Red Sox-Cubs World Series would have pulled huge numbers, probably the biggest percentage-wise since the Red Sox-Mets series of 1986, whereas the ratings for yet another championship appearance by the Yankees juggernaut against a Florida team with very few fans outside their local region will likely be tepid at best.

Poor, poor Cubbies. What else can you say? The same thing Cubs fans have been saying for generations: Wait til next year.

I knew the Yankees would win that damn game. I hate them so much. And I'm going to hate them even more when they win the World Series again.

Another October 17, another year in the life of this site: brain coral is three years old today. I'm going to forgo my normal melancholic self-reflection about why I'm doing this, who my audience is, etc. (mostly because I spent quite enough time on that topic a couple of months ago) and instead focus on the future.

I actually prepared a lot of new enhancements, additions, changes, etc., but of course, I didn't get nearly as far as I wanted, and many of the things I have planned will have to wait a little while longer. But I did finish the basic work on one fairly major new project: say hello to notes, my music blog. I don't know if there is anything else out there like it (I've been too chicken to do any research because I was afraid I would find someone doing something exactly like it and I would talk myself out of doing it), but even if there is, I hope I can still bring something new to the table.

So that's it. Go read notes.

This weekend we met up with Dave, a database developer I worked with at Sycamore, his wife Beth, a schoolteacher, Ryan, a server guy I worked with at Sycamore, and his wife Lexa (you might remember we spent the day with Ryan and Lexa a month or so ago). I used to play cards pretty regularly with Ryan and Dave and CS Jeff when we all worked for Sycamore, but as my work and home lives took me less and less frequently to Frederick and they got married and had their own families to attend to, we didn't really have a time or a place to get together anymore. Recently, however, we've been in closer contact, and we finally found an afternoon when we could all get together.

We had lunch at Frisco's, a great sandwich place in Frederick, and had undecided plans to do something else afterwards. Originally we had planned to use up the rest of the games we had purchased on the family ticket at Putt-Putt, but it was closed for some reason, so we instead decided to go bowling. But not just regular bowling: duckpin bowling, a crazy little offshoot that I've never seen outside of Maryland which seems more appropriate for leprechauns than for adult humans. Both the balls and the pins were mini-sized: the balls were about the size of large grapefruits, and they didn't have any holes in them (you had to palm them), while the pins were short and squat, like a normal bowling pin that had been squashed.

Believe it or not, there is a whole bowling alley dedicated to this type of bowling in Frederick, and it was crowded on Saturday afternoon at 2. At first they told us that no lanes would be available until at least 3:30, but while we lingered trying to decided whether to try a different alley or just find a different activity altogether, the guy behind the counter called us back and told us that a group hadn't shown up to claim their lane and we could have it. So we got our shoes, found our lane, and began our initiation into the strange little world of duckpin bowling.

The technology for the alley was charmingly archaic, like it had been built in the 50s at the very earliest edge of the modern bowling alley. There were machines to reset the pins, but you had to press a button to make them do so—they couldn't keep track of how many balls had been thrown like more modern equipment can. The arm that removed the pins from the lane when someone's turn was over didn't swoop down from above, it instead swung out like a gate and swept across the lane. And because the fallen duckpins often blocked you from having a clear shot at the remaining pins, there was another button you could press that would pick up the standing pins, use the gate-arm to clear the lane, and then put your remaining pins back down. We didn't understand if you were supposed to clear it every time or if it was player's choice, but we didn't really care, so everyone just did whatever they wanted. The scoring was also entirely manual, so it took us a while to figure out how to score things. Does it count as a spare still if you take three balls to knock all the pins down? Does a strike mean you get the next two throws or the next three? We couldn't figure out the answers to these questions by looking at other people's scorecards, so we just made up our own system and scored everyone using that.

We each got three practice throws (in the bizarro-world of duckpin bowling, you get three balls for each frame, one more than in normal bowling). I went first, and I was terrible—I can't remember if I hit anything or not, but if I did, it was purely by accident and I didn't hit that much. Things didn't change when we started playing for real. I could never get the hang of trying to adapt my normal bowling throw to this kind of ball—no matter how hard I tried to just throw it straight, my ball would develop a tail to the right towards the end of its journey down the lane. The only good thing was that the duckpins were pretty unstable and tended to fly around pretty good if you hit them hard, so if you just hit the corner but hit it in the right way, you could knock down a decent number of pins.

We played two games, and my score improved during the second game enough for my to take second place, but it was still just an 86. In fact Dave was the only one who scored over 100 in the 12 games we played between us, notching a 107 during his second game. I got one strike and a couple of spares, but I never felt like I got the hang of it at all—it felt really random, a gutterball followed by a near-perfect throw followed by another gutterball. It was an interesting experience, but I don't think I'll be doing it again any time soon.

So it looks like Cartoon Network has added FLCL (pronounced fooly cooly or furi kuri, depending on which anime site you go to) back into its weekly Adult Swim mix, airing episodes at midnight. I'm not a big anime fan, but this is a truly bizarre show, and it has a great soundtrack to boot. If, like me, you're normally up that late, you should give it a look.

I talked to Tom for a while on Sunday night, and one of the things he mentioned to me was Gus Van Sant's new film, Elephant. It's supposed to be a fictionalized account of the Columbine massacre, and so I was a little confused about what the title might mean until I headed over to Apple's QuickTime site to see the trailer. I don't know how to explain it, but as soon as I saw the trailer, it was clear to me that the title must refer to the parable of the six blind men and the elephant. The basic point of this story is that, just as a blind man feeling the trunk of an elephant will describe something very different than a man feeling the elephant's knee, so, too, can the same event have many different truths depending on who is describing them (Kurt Vonnegut uses this concept a lot in his novels, calling it a chronosynclastic infundibulum).

This reading of the Van Sant's title jibes well with the scenes in the trailer, which mostly show ordinary suburban high school kids going about their daily lives, until about halfway through you get split second of two boys walking into the high school clad in camoflague, warning one of the characters we've seen earlier in the trailer not to go back into the school. It's a chilling moment, just as powerful as anything from Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, which uses footage from that day in Columbine for one of its more memorable sequences.

Tom and I talked about this for a bit, too, dwelling particularly on the scenes in Moore's movie that showed the surveillance tape from Columbine on the day of the shootings: students running for cover, or lying dead in the cafeteria, and the two killers jumping from camera to camera as they made their way around the school. It's one of the most gripping sequences in the film, one of those brilliant bits of editing the Moore is so good at. It just leaves you speechless. But in the larger context of that film, I have to believe that Moore is making the same point the Van Sant seems to be making by calling his film Elephant: there is really something fundamentally wrong with our society that is causing these things to happen. Yes, those boys were brutal killers, and what they did was absolutely wrong, but what led them to the point where they felt the need to murder their fellow students? Moore's examination of Canada, whose citizens have a higher rate of gun ownership but a microscopic incidence of death by guns compared to the US, asks this same question a little more directly: what is it about the American character that makes it so easy for us to use guns to kill one another?

This really seems like a much larger question to me, because we're also pretty willing to use guns and other more devastating forms of munitions to kill anyone else anywhere in the world who we see as interfering with our global power goals. Recently we as Americans have really lost the ability to see things from any perspective but our own, to understand what the elephant that we're riding looks like to the rest of the world. From atop the beast, we think things look pretty good, but the folks getting crushed underneath one of its massive feet undoubtedly have a different point of view; I don't think it's much of a stretch at all to think that the events of 9.11 were born of the same frustration and anger that drove the killers of Columbine to plan and carry out their massacre.

Again, I am not condoning or justifying these acts at all—wrong is wrong and evil is evil. But if we want to stop these things from happening in the future, whether we're talking about random mass killings by one or two individuals that seem to take place almost every week in random corners of America, or highly organized, well-financed acts of terrorism, maybe we need to start trying to answer Moore's question: what makes us so different from everyone else in the world? Maybe, for the first time, we need to answer that question not with chest-thumping pride or cowboy swagger, but with some sincere introspection, a little humility, and a real desire to exorcise this cancer from our national psyche. We are not blameless in the 9.11 attacks (though the individuals who were killed in those attacks were without question innocent victims); perhaps it's time that we as citizens started taking more responsibility for the acts perpetrated by our government against the people of other nations if we don't wish to see similar acts perpetrated against us in our homeland.

The new Joe Millionaire might well outdo the first one, even though at this point the producers are not revealing any new twists, they're just transplanting the same concept to Europe and casting a bunch of vacuous moneygrubbing Eurotrash clubgirls who have no idea what happened on the last Joe Millionaire (indeed, they even seem to be pretty clueless about reality tv in general—in the preview for the second show, several of the girls seemed shocked when the host announced that one of them would be voted off each week). But the guy cast in the role of the fake millionaire, David, seems at least an order of magnitude dumber than the last guy (I know that's hard to believe, but watch it and tell me I'm wrong), and I really wonder if he has the capacity to lie his way through the show without suffering some sort of severe mental breakdown. This has disaster written all over it, like poking a hornet's nest with a stick or giving a monkey a gun—unequivocal, catastrophic disaster. It should be good.

God help me, I think this is hilarious:

I've got music on the brain.

This is one of my new favorite paintings. Maybe next week I'll have time to explain why.

South Park has been so good for so long that I think we've started to take it for granted. It's become so much a part of our pop culture that it's easy to forget how revolutionary it was when it was new, and how cutting edge it continues to be. They started a new season last night (from what I can tell, they have a new season about every four months that last from six to eight episodes each), and the satire is just as relevant and biting as it was when the first episode aired seven years ago. (See? I bet you didn't think it had been on that long.)

On a related note, it never ceases to amaze me how Comedy Central and the Cartoon Network, two relatively low-budget cable channels, consistently air more good programs every week than all the major networks combined. Hell, Adult Swim alone can take out the big three any week. Sitcoms suck.

I have never like Piet Mondrian's minimalistic abstract compositions (although I do like that they were tied to some half-baked utopian philosophy that he passionately believed in), but some of his earlier, Cubist-influenced work really appeals to me, especially the tree series (which includes works like Apple Tree in Flower, The Grey Tree, and Trees in Blossom).

Got in later than expected last night. Normal broadcast schedule will resume tomorrow.

On Friday morning Julie and I flew to Kentucky to visit our college friends Leila and Mary Jo, the first time we have flown since the 9.11 attacks, almost two years to the day since we were last supposed to fly. That was going to be my first trip to California, accompanying Julie to a conference, but it was canceled after 9.11. I wasn't really nervous about flying, although I was much more spooked about flying after the attacks than most people I know. My mom flies pretty much weekly, dad and Rachel fly at least once every month or so, and Tori has flown several times in the last two years, and most of them resumed flying as soon as the ban on commercial flights was lifted. I think dad would have flown the day after the attacks if he had been able to—that was the week Tori was scheduled to go to Chicago for her freshman orientation, and because of the ban on flights they ended up renting a truck and driving her there.

Security was certainly tougher to get through than I remember, but I couldn't shake the sensation that it was mostly for show, especially because BWI, the airport we flew out of, was also the one of the ones whose security was recently breached by the college student who snuck box cutters and bottles of bleach on board two flights to show how porous our defenses still are. The screeners aren't even able to find potential weapons that they've been trained to identify, and there are so many things that could be used as a weapon that they're not looking for that I don't believe anyone in our government would, off the record, look you in the eye and tell you that we're no longer vulnerable to the types of attacks that wreaked so much havoc on 9.11. Again, I wasn't concerned about being hijacked or whatever, it was just interesting to see how much had changed in our airports over the last two years, and how little those changes really mean in terms of stopping the kind of people that they're supposed to stop.

After Leila picked us up at the Louisville airport around 8:30 a.m. Friday, we stopped to get some breakfast at a coffee shop in a bookstore, and then started for Lexington. We got there around 10:30, and since we weren't supposed to do anything else until the afternoon, I immediately sacked out while Julie and Leila caught up on things (I had gotten up that morning at 3:45 after only three hours of sleep). Around noon they woke me up and we went to lunch at a local middle eastern restaurant with a buffet (really good).

That afternoon was set aside for Keeneland, the local horse track where they shot a lot of the Seabiscuit movie. We had visited the track last time we went to see Mary Jo and Leila, but it was closed and we didn't actually get to see any races, so this was my first time getting to bet on horses (other than a couple of OTB bets that Doug placed for me for fun). It was a really fun afternoon: look at the odds, make your pick (more or less at random), place your bet, watch the race, and then repeat the whole thing with the next race. They ran every half hour, so there really wasn't any time to get bored, even though it seemed like we were the only people there who weren't drinking beer and smoking cigars. We got there late, around 3, but there was still plenty of races left in the day: we made it just in time to bet on race number 5, and there were nine races total that day.

Julie and I did pretty well at first: she picked the second place winner on a show bet in race number 5, I picked the first place winner on a show in 6, and I chose another first place winner on a place in 7. Basically we recycled our meager winnings into the next betting cycle, so by race 8 we were up a dollar. We blew it on number 8, though, with neither of us picking any of the top three horses. For the final race of the day, we initially wanted to bet on a horse named Holy Burrito, but then we made the mistake of going out to view the horses before the race and changed our minds. I decided to be a little more risky and make both of our bets for $10 (instead of the $2 to $4 that we had been bettting all afternoon) and make them win bets, meaning that we would only get paid if the horses we bet on came in first.

So of course, Holy Burrito won, and left me thinking all afternoon about how much money we would have won if we had gone with our original instincts and bet $20 for him to win (close to $200—he was not one of the favorites). But it was still a lot of fun, enough so that I'm psyched to go and spend the day at Pimlico or Charles Town races sometime next spring when the horse racing season gets going again.

Writing for this page is really different for me now. It used to be that I composed these entries on a fully formed HTML page, so that the space I was writing in was exactly the same as the space that you're reading it in. But since I made my structural changes a few weeks back, converting all of the text, colors, and background to CSS (most of it was done in CSS before, but it's all CSS now—no more font, color, or any other kinds of HTML tags for the presentation of the text or the page and background colors). I also added some JavaScript code that makes it so that the editor can no longer see the CSS file, which means that all of my text is rendered in black on a white background, and all of the links are in the default web blue. When I work on this page, it's very strange, all icy and white and empty, where it used to be vibrant and green and underwater, if that makes any sense. But I'm getting used to it. I think.

I've been keeping this blog longer than I've kept any job I've ever had.

Too much to do recently, and I'm starting to feel a little overwhelmed. I haven't been keeping up with my reading for my modern art class (although the class itself covers the same material as the book, only with color slides to illustrate everything), I haven't had time to work on the new Lewis & Clark project that's being put together by the same people who did the Circular Ruins, and my leisure-time activities have essentially been reduced to keeping up my various web sites and listening to music (thank god I can do that while I'm at work or when I'm in the car, too).

Work just sucks now, too. There are new problems everyday with the new database system that we're using this year, I still haven't been able to hire someone to replace our DBA who left back in August, and I'm getting more and more stressed about our inability to respond to the office's needs in a timely manner, especially as we approach the firestorm of the ED and RD deadlines with a counseling and operations staff that is made up of a lot of rookies. It's just depressing going in every day, knowing that even if you somehow manage to check a couple of items off your to-do list, the list is still going to be longer at the end of the day than it was at the beginning.

I haven't even had time to put up any decorations in our new office space, which we've had since May and which has been fully furnished since August, so I'm just staring at bare white windowless walls reflecting the cold sterile light from the fluorescents ensconced in the ceiling. I've worked in cubicle-land before, but never without at least some natural light (except for the short-term classified projects I occasionally worked on at Sycamore). Now I really know what the color "headache grey" from R.E.M.'s "Daysleeper" looks like.
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