August 2003 Archives

henry david thoreau, newlywed: part 2

(Read Part One)

Because America has spoken, politely and respectfully, and demanded it, here is another excerpt from the soon-to-be-blockbuster story of Henry David Thoreau and wife.

The Wedding Night

Wife: Henry David, what a lovely ceremony that was!

Thoreau: Indeed! Oh, wife, what a blessed union of true hearts has been made on this day!

Wife: We have such lovely conversations, Henry David.

Thoreau: It is my hope that our intercourse might go forward to something better than the intercourse of sages.

Wife: (Pause) Look, I know not what kind of girl you thought you were marrying...

Thoreau: Oh! No, wife, by "intercourse" I was referring to conversation, not to... (Wife glares) Let me get you something to drink to calm your temperment.

Wife: Is it going to be water from the Pond?

Thoreau: (Pause) Maybe?

Civil Disobedience

Thoreau: I can't believe you paid my tax!

Wife: But, dear...

Thoreau: I cannot support giving monies to our government when those monies go to support a war against the free people of Mexico! I know I have explained to you countless times that this armed conflict has nary a purpose but to advance the deplorable institution of slavery across our border!

Wife: But, dear, we are having supper with the Emersons...

Thoreau: Better that I had stayed in my cell, disobeying the unjust, nay, immoral laws than to become a party to this action.

Wife: But, dear, Mrs. Emerson has made her award-winning huckleberry pie.

Thoreau: I still agree not with the... huckleberry pie, you say?

Wife: Yes, dear. Two of them.

Thorea: Wife, I am sorry to have spouted off like such an angry teakettle. Quickly! We shall just have time for a quick bathe in the Pond before supper.

The Day Off

(Wife returns from market)

Wife: Good afternoon, Henry David!

Thoreau: How was the marketing, my dear? (Takes sack of provisions out of her hands and places it on the table)

Wife: It was quite agreeable, thank you. How was your day off from laboring?

Thoreau: Oh, it was remarkable! I happened upon an anthill in my stroll about the Pond. Alongside, there was a colony of red ants engaged in a struggle with their black counterparts. The drama, the bravery, the courage those ants exhibited, why, it was as exciting as a war of men! Truly, it was an echo of the grand struggles so many years ago at Lexington and Concord!

Wife: That sounds...interesting. How else did you occupy your afternoon?

Thoreau: How else? What else would provide such sheer drama as a wounded red ant, still doggedly attaching his mandibles to the thorax of a black ant, refusing to succumb even in its death throes! Not even when I brought the ants into the house to observe them with a looking glass did their fierce battle cease.

Wife: You brought the ants into the house?

Thoreau: One never knows what chivalry, what heroism exists beneath our very feet!

Wife: So you didn't do the dishes?

Thoreau: Yes, the unobservant... oh, the dishes! my mind...

Wife: This is the third time this week! I am sick and tired of your... (Spots ants crawling on table) Oh! My maple syrup!

Thoreau: (Staring at ants, transfixed) Fascinating!

henry david thoreau: newlywed

Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden, Civil Disobedience, and Transcendentalism for Dummies, was one of the pre-eminent writers and philosophers of his time. Now, for the first time comes the story of his little-known life as a newlywed on the shores of Walden Pond, painstakingly reconstructed from journals, letters, and squirrel eyewitness accounts. Hollywood agents and sitcom producers can begin negotiations for the rights to this heartwarming tale here. An excerpt from the as-yet unreleased screenplay appears below.

The Anniversary

Thoreau: What do you want to do for our anniversary?

Wife: Why don't we go to New York? I hear it's beautiful this time of year.

Thoreau: Honey, it's not worth the while to go round the globe to count the cats in Zanzibar. Methinks that some men find it easier to voyage around the world than to explore one's private being.

Wife: You never take me anywhere! (slams door)

The Pet Name

Wife: I love you, Hank-Dave.

Thoreau: Honey, my name is Henry David. To shorten it in such a manner makes it sound veritably uncouth.

Wife: Dear, it's a pet name. Everyone calls you Henry David. "Hank-Dave" is my own special name for you.

Thoreau: Well I don't like it. Let the huddled masses use pet names, for I need only the good Christian name of my parents.

Wife: Does that mean you'll stop calling me "my little industrious wood-tick"?

Thoreau: But, honey, that name is cute.


Wife: Dear, I hear in the village that they are putting Old Man Hathorne's house up for sale.

Thoreau: That village is perpetually abuzz with gossip like a village of non-sleeping, gossipy people-bees! (Pause) Did you like that metaphor? Should I write it down to show Emerson?

Wife: If you like, Dear. But about Old Man Hathorne's house...

Thoreau: Well, what concern is it of ours?

Wife: I thought that you might want to leave the edge of the pond for some more... established quarters.

Thoreau: Leave Walden Pond? Never!

Wife: Why not? It's small, it's dirty, and even you have begun complaining about having to sleep out of doors when guests come over.

Thoreau: But...but...we have to preserve this land!

Wife: Preserve it? This stupid pond? Who are we preserving this filthy fly-infested pond for?!?

Thoreau: (quietly) Don Henley.

Jack Johnson Music Helps Fan Stay In Coma

After a relatively minor accident led to a miraculous two-week state of profound unconsciousness for Stan Samuelson, doctors are crediting the music of Jack Johnson for keeping the patient comatose.

"Normally, head trauma like Stan received from his surfing accident might lead to an overnight hospital stay, or at worst, a few days of unconsciousness," said neurologist Matthew Davidson. "But in this case, even though Stan shows no signs of brain stem damage or swelling, he has been in a relaxed, laid-back coma for nearly fourteen days. It is my professional opinion that 'Brushfire Fairytales' is responsible."

Friends and family flocked to Stan's bedside within hours of his concussion, suffered after a particularly gnarly wipeout. On the advice of coma recovery experts, Stan's support network played his favorite Jack Johnson CDs and independent surf videos around the clock, in hopes of inspiring him to wake up. Instead, the music seems to have had a negative effect. Twice, Stan has appeared to be coming out of his smiling, low-pressure coma, opening his eyes and speaking briefly. But both times he merely muttered the phrase, "Sweet, bra" and lapsed back into unconsciousness.

"If only Stan would make an effort, I believe he could still recover with very little lasting damage," commented head surgeon Rick Robertson. "Unfortunately, Stan's neurological functions have been slowing it down, and taking it progressively easier as the days pass and that 'Flake' song repeats over and over. Soon he will be too mellow to have any possibility of recovering his motor skills"

Hopes that Johnson's new EP might jolt Stan out of his coma were quickly deflated when doctors heard the first relaxed notes. Still, doctors have not given up on Stan. After all, remarked Matthewson, "We might as well relax, check his respirator, and just chill for a little while."

(creative credit also due to Allen Haim for this piece)

The top two teams in the National League faced off last week at Pac Bell Park, in a series of classic games, more classic if you were a fan of the orange and black. The Atlanta Braves came to SF looking to avenge their defeat in last year's playoffs, while the Giants were returning home after five straight losses on the East Coast the previous week. The series began well for the Giants. Tuesday night, Barry Bonds returned to the team after attending to his terminally ill father, and hit the game-winning home run in the bottom of the tenth inning. On Wednesday, the Giants' starter left with an injury, but the bullpen held Atlanta scoreless for five innings and the team won in the bottom of the ninth. Thursday, the Giants' best pitcher, Jason Schmidt was taking the mound, and I had two free tickets to the game. Would this game live up to the standard set by the previous two?

Roommate and compatriot Gene Wood attended the game with me, his first visit to the four-year ballpark. Our first conversation was not about the architecture or quaint throwback charm of the stadium, but rather the bar code scanners that the Giants use, instead of having ushers tear tickets. At first, it seems needlessly futuristic, as ticket-tearing is simpler, but Gene explained that it's undoubtedly a great way to harvest information about the attendees - what gates are crowded at what times, which ticket holders show up early, which tickets go unused, etc. Not surprisingly, the Giants' president owner is also the CEO of Safeway, whose Club Card database is also likely an amazing source of consumer information, buying habits, etc. They seem to be putting their data to good use, as we were attending the team's 31st consecutive sold-out game.

We arrived at the park slightly late, to find our seats had been given away by an overzealous usher. Since they went to a guy in a wheelchair, and we were re-seated immediately, it wasn't a big deal. Once we sat down, it was clear that this game was all about Giants' starter Jason Schmidt.

Scmidt has been the most effective starting pitcher in the National League this year. Ever since his final three appearances in last year's playoffs, all victories, he has been incredibly effective, throwing hard and rarely walking hitters. The only reason that his statistics aren't more impressive is that the team has had a large lead, so they've babied his arm. Though the Braves have the league's best offense, they looked like a Little League team against Schmidt. Garry Sheffield, riding a 24-game hitting streak, went 0-for-3. The opposing pitcher struck out on a pitch over his head in the sixth. That same inning, Schmidt struck out all three hitters on just nine pitches. Through eight innings, Schmidt had given up but three hits.

Schmidt was helped out by a few spectacular catches by Giants right fielder Jose Cruz. Jose Cruz is a member of a class of players I like to refer to as baseball's right field Ronin. These are outfielders that, though highly thought of as young players, were rejected by their original teams by reason of injury or trade, like a samurai without a master. Although talented, these players are doomed to remain baseball nomads, never receiving a long-term contract, job security, or respect. They tend to be good hitters and solid defenders, though not such good defenders that they can play center field. Another common trait is that, while effective, they seem to play just below their potential. They also tend to have high strikeout totals.

The Giants have employed a string of ronin to man right field in recent years, from Cruz to Reggie Sanders to Ellis Burks. Other notable ronin of the recent past include Eric Davis, Juan Encarnacion, and Gary Sheffield. Future ronin include J.D. Drew and Adam Dunn. Cruz is an underrated hitter, due to his high walk totals, and an excellent fielder, so I hope that the Giants retain his services, and save him from a ronin's lonely existence.

Meanwhile, the Giants were hitting, but not taking full advantage of their chances. Atlanta was choosing to walk Barry Bonds when he came up, and for the most part, the Giants were stranding runners. They left the bases loaded in the fifth, and two runners on base in the second, fourth, and eighth innings. Going into the top of the ninth, the Giants led 3-0, and many fans headed for the exits, confident that victory was safely in hand. Gene commented, "Those people are probably hoping to see a car accident on the way home."

A convention in modern-day baseball is to reserve one strong relief pitcher for the ninth inning, as a "Closer." The Closer is not necessarily used at the game's most crucial juncture, but when he has a chance to earn a save, meaning, his team is leading by 1-3 runs. This role worked perfectly for dominant pitchers like former Oakland Athletic Dennis Eckersley, but is now used by all big league teams, regardless of the talent of their relief staff. The Braves have an extremely dominant Closer in John Smoltz, whom they also reserve exclusively for save situations. Twice in the series so far, the Giants had scored the winning run off of inferior relievers, but because a save was not in order, Closer Smoltz had not taken off his warmup jacket.

One might think a three-run lead is not especially difficult to protect, and in general, that is a correct impression. My only beliefs are that one's best relievers are most valuable when games are closest - that is, tie games, leading by one run, or even trailing by a run. Still, the mystique of the Closer is such that any manager going against this conventional wisdom risks the wrath of the fans and sportswriting community.

A save was in order for the Giants, so Schmidt left in favor of their Closer, Tim Worrell. Tim Worrell is decidedly not a dominant pitcher. He's not bad, but he certainly doesn't fit the general stereotype of a flame-throwing relief pitcher, as exemplified by Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Goose Gossage, and Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn. Nevertheless, the Giants' staff plays "Iron Man" as Worrell walks in from the bullpen, fills the stadium's screen with exploding graphics reading "WORRELL," to try to build up some fake intimidation for a pitcher that only became the Closer because Robb Nen got hurt. Needless to say, the Braves were not fooled by the PA system bravado, and with the help of some poor infield defense by the Giants, they tied the score at 3-3. Incredibly, as the game headed to the bottom of the ninth, large numbers of people continued to leave the park. Perhaps they wanted a car fire.

The ninth began, and Smoltz was warming up in the bullpen. After two days of inactivity, it appeared the Braves might use their top reliever. The Atlanta manager, Bobby Cox, had been roundly criticized for not using Smoltz at all in the first two games. Perhaps he was finally going to play for the win, and not the save, tonight. The Giants failed to score in their half of the ninth, held the Braves at bay in the top of the tenth, and when the tenth inning began, the Braves new pitcher was...Trey Hodges?

Yes, Trey Hodges. He began the inning by striking out Marquis Grissom, and then Barry Bonds stepped to the plate. Surely, the fans thought, this will be the time for Smoltz. Less than 48 hours earlier, Cox had left Smoltz in the bullpen while Bonds hit the game-winning home run. Even in a non-save situation, he had to bring in Smoltz, right?

He did not. Hodges stayed in. And Bonds hit the first pitch he saw over the center field fence. The remaining crowd of 20,000 went wild. The Giants mobbed Bonds at home plate. I gave Gene an awkward high five. John Smoltz ate some sunflower seeds and adjusted his cup. Thousands of early-departing fans kicked themselves and prepared to lie to their co-workers about having seen the home run live.

So, to recap: Barry Bonds, folk hero. Jason Schmidt, dominant ace. Jose Cruz, lost samurai. Bobby Cox, dunce. Gene Wood, staunch companion, and responsible for a decision as good as Bobby Cox's pitching changes were bad: going to Gordon Biersch after the game.

San Francisco Reviews, Part 1

I have lived in San Francisco, the City That Sleeps Fitfully, for just over three weeks now. Periodically, I will review various things I encounter in the big city, as both a guide and a cautionary tale to loyal readers of Zembla located in more remote, less idyllic places than my home, San Francisco, Baghdad-by-the-Bay-Without-All-The Bombing-And-Poverty-And-Imperialist-Bechtel-Overlords.

Review One: Axum Cafe:

Axum Cafe is an Ethiopian restaurant located at 698 Haight Street. There is another Axum Cafe on Polk Street, which is large, fancy, and features live music. This Axum Cafe is smaller, cheaper, and features no music at all, save the rumbling of one's belly in anticipation of tasty injera (flat bread). There are a lot of apparently unaffiliated places in San Francisco that have the exact same name. Some are more general, like the three different Thai Houses I have seen, two of them within a quarter mile of my apartment. I have seen three taquerias named El Castillito as well. I don't know if any of these are such great names as to inspire a host of imitators, but I don't know from Ethiopia.

Anyway, Axum Cafe. The food is extremely cheap, and you get a lot of it. What you don't get is utensils. Or smiles from the wait staff. Although a vegetarian entree could be as cheap as $3.75, a can of Coca-Cola was $1.50, I think, which either reflects a bold grab for carbonated sugar water profit, or perhaps a subtle discouragement of Coca-Cola products in solidarity with slain Third World union organizers. I had an Anchor Steam. I shared a big sampler dish with a friend that contained all of the potential veggie options. All of it tends to look like baby food, and you compound that impression by eating with your hands, but it was quite good. I liked the dish made with garbanzo beans and the one with potatoes the best. Our more carnivorous dining companion seem less than enthused with his meat-based dish, but Ethiopian food and the expand-in-your-stomach bread is an acquired taste, so it may not be a comment on that particular dish. Anything vegetarian is a safe bet, says I.

The weirdest moment in our dinner experience came after I went to pay the check. None of us had sufficiently small bills to split up the check, so I went up to pay the bill and change a twenty at the same time. The waitress handed me two tens in return. I said, "That's just not going to do it," and eventually got some fives and ones.

Grade: B. Food is delicious, corners are cut.

Review Two: Memphis Minnie's BBQ Joint

I didn't actually go into this place and eat, but the marquee outside features a pig in a chef's hat. Even though the place serves various pork dishes, the pig looks so happy. The joyous expression says to passerby, "Come on in and eat my porcine brethren! We're delicious!" Also, the pig's hat says "Bone Appetit."

Grade: A-

Review Three: Walking around everywhere

After I returned my car, Shakes, back to my parents' home in Pleasant Hill, I didn't enter a car for the next two weeks. My monthly MUNI pass (criminally going up $10/month on September 1) and my own two feet have been enough for me to commute back and forth to work, and explore the Mission, the Castro, and Nob Hill (so far).

One thing that one notices when traversing San Francisco on foot is how much geography determines distinctions between neighborhoods. Gene Wood noticed similar things, on a much larger scale, while exploring America on his motorcycle. Neighborhoods in San Francisco are generally divided by parks and enormous hills. I wish that topography were more emphasized on maps and in education.

The only downside I find in walking many miles every day is still being fat afterward. We'll see how that goes.

Grade: B+

Review Four: People jaywalking while pushing baby carriages

This happens quite a bit in the City. I haven't seen anyone get hit, or even have a near miss, except this one time when an old homeless woman was jaywalking and this bus came through an intersection at over 50 MPH and totally smacked the baby carriage and I was like oh shit but then the carriage turned out to be full of aluminum cans and I was like whew.

Drivers are more skillful in San Francisco as compared to Berkeley, but they're also a lot more reckless, so it's probably an even tradeoff. I personally jaywalk a lot less than I did back in Berkeley, mainly because streets are wider. The wild card element to the eternal pedestrian-motorist struggle in San Francisco is the new pedestrian signals, which count down how many seconds a pedestrian has left to cross the street. Though these are intended to promote safety, the unintended consequence is that drivers, seeing the countdown, can anticipate the light change better, which often leads to drivers hitting speeds of 45-50 MPH to try and beat the yellow.

Grade: D-

Review Five: Cheap Burritos at Church and Market

There's two burrito places on Church Street and Market, right by the N Judah stop and across the street from the giant "cruisey" Safeway (I have shopped there a few times and not been cruised yet, unless I didn't realize it). One of them is the aforementioned El Castillito (other ones are in the Mission). That place offers a veggie burrito for $3.25, though carnivorous burritos are extra. They also charge extra for a minimal amount of chips. I had an el pastor burrito. Alright, but nothing wonderful.

The second place is better. They have tastier meat, nicer counter staff, and chips at no extra charge. Look, for cheap burritos, I want to be able to pay with a five, and this place gets it done for $4.65, including tax. I have gone twice, getting chicken burritos each time, once with "spicy" red sauce, and the other time with a milder green sauce. Both were good, and even traveled well. I think a burrito that survives a jaunt from Church Street all the way to Pac Bell Park with its flavor intact is a burrito that earns my respect and endorsement.

Grade: El Castillito, B-. Other place, A-

afghanistan complains of neglect

| 1 Comment

In a tear-filled press conference earlier this week, Afghanistan complained of neglect from the United States Army. Whereas just a year ago, Afghanistan was the main priority for the US Army, now the nation seems like "an afterthought," the central Asian nation said.

"The Army doesn't care about me anymore," Afghanistan sniffed. "I used to be mentioned in the State of the Union address, angry UN resolutions, all kinds of stuff. Now I'm lucky if Tom Ridge even remembers my name. It's almost like the Army is ashamed of what we had."

There are still over a hundred thousand American troops in the country, but to Afghanistan, it's not just the military presence that counts. For months, it had begun to suspect that the Army's interest was waning, and that it was looking at other Muslim nations. When President Bush announced the imminent invasion of Iraq back in March, Afghanistan's worst fears were realized.

"It makes me sad to realize that, even in the midst of bombing Afghani civilians, the United States Army was thinking about Iraq. That's right, attacking me, while thinking of another country! I feel devastated. Emotionally devastated, not just devastated from all the bombs and rockets."

When the military action began, the United States talked about building democracy, repairing infrastructure, and catching the terrorists responsible for the World Trade Center disaster. When Afghanistan heard the same promises being made to Iraq, that broke its heart.

"I understand that Iraq is the United States Army's old enemy, and it's only natural that there's still a spark of aggression there," said Afghanistan. "Still, I hope they realize the US Army is all talk. Don't believe all those sweet words, Iraq."

Afghanistan claimed that Syria told it that the United States Army had been making military advances at its country during the fighting in Iraq. It added, "Everyone knows the US Army is using Iraq to try to get into Iran's panties anyway. But whatever, Iraq deserves it, that bitch."

Since the United States Army turned its attention elsewhere, Afghanistan has been moping around a lot, eating chocolate and watching "Sex and the City" episodes on DVD. For a while, Afghanistan considered trying to get Russia to invade, for old times' sake, in order make the US Army jealous. But when Russia sent a small platoon through Tajikistan last week, Afghanistan ran away crying, and later made a series of late-night drunken phone calls to Colin Powell.

"If the US Army would make an effort to show it cared, even just a little bit - strafing an outdoor market with machine gun fire, dropping explosives on a wedding party - at least that would be something."

"In my heart I just know the US Army will eventually come marching back", continued Afghanistan. "There's still a shitload of oil in Central Asia."

In response, the US Army released a statement that the United States does not display favoritism in its military efforts or intentionally lead on foreign nations. The United States Army is committed to fighting terrorism, building democracy, and playing the field, all around the globe. The Army added that it would probably come by Kandahar and pick up its Game Cube and its White Stripes CDs some time next week.

case closed!

| 1 Comment

I work as an appellate law clerk now, quite different from my old job at a science museum. Though I still make a lot of mistakes, and though it can be disheartening to see people younger than me serving life sentences, today I discovered an aspect of my job that is like a ray of light, shining through the dark cloud of 9-5 drudgery.

When a case has been completed, or retained by a lawyer outside of our panel of attorneys, we no longer need to have it in the office. It is my job to make sure the case file is ready to go into storage, then I log the file in our computer and box it up. This was not difficult, but is necessary, both to keep track of important legal documents and to get some of those important legal documents the hell out of our file cabinets.

The challenge came in resisting the urge to loudly proclaim, "Case closed!" every time I put a new folder into a box. Then I would rub my hands together like I was brushing dirt off of them, and then knock off early to go play darts and drink boilermakers with the boys upstairs, giving Sally an affectionate yet authoritative pat on the ass as I breezed out the door.

I'd imagine it's like that if you work in the guts of a newspaper, the first time you have to halt the printing. You yell, "Stop the presses!" and all the other newspaper-printing technicians just roll their eyes, like they're too jaded and world-weary to see the simple joy in yelling a memorable phrase like that, especially old Charlie the ink press guy, though he don't smile at much of anything since they switched to the kind of ink that don't come off on your fingers. To a guy like Charlie, that's akin to heresy.

Anyway, I did my important legal work silently. Until the end of the day. It was quarter to six. Everyone had left. The last case in my stack was retained by a private attorney just over six months ago, so it was ready for storage. I typed in today's date into the computer and bellowed, "Case closed!" My voice echoed through the empty office. I crossed my hands behind my head and leaned back comfortably. If I'd only had a cigar and a devoted, pneumatic secretary, the picture would have been complete.

Was it stupid? Yes. Was the cleaning lady annoyed? Yes. Would I do it again? You bet.

an ode to my favorite muni line


Since moving to San Francisco, I've spent a lot of evenings walking the streets alone, and returning to an empty house. Sure, it gets lonely sometimes, but there's one certain MUNI line that's been there for me, day-in, day-out. And as a thank-you to this wonderful public transit service, I asked Sir Paul McCartney to write a song about it.


By Paul McCartney

From Ocean Beach
Take my commute, make it less dirty
You stop at Montgomery and at Powell
Don't need the Night Owl
Until 12:30

My favorite train
Though my own seat, no, I'm not gonna get
You can't help your popularity, Jude
It's just lots of dudes
Live in the Sunset

And anytime I take the J
Don't be dismayed
I'm not sick of your crowded conditions

Don't you know I'd be insane
To board your train
For making my way down to the Mission

You've got my back
Riding you my commute's improving
The minute you leave the underground track
I'm warned to stay back
The stairs are moving

So let the others out and in
Grand hunk of tin
Compared to you, the streetcar's a poor way

And once I hear them say "Duboce"
I know I'm close
The movement I need is through the doorway


Two blocks away
From my apartment here in the Castro
If I miss you, and I'm left in the lurch
I won't walk to Church
You're still much fast'ro

Fast'ro, fast'ro, fast'ro, fast'ro, fast'ro, Ahhh!



(repeat for 4-5 minutes)

There was a post over on Base Free about "Office Space", a movie that has also been occupying my own thoughts recently. I envy Base Free's newfound wonder at the film, for my cynical eyes no longer see only ass-clown-related delight and joy. Rather, "Office Space" represents a number of interesting phenomena about art and modern life.

The Phenomenon of the Overrated-Underrated:

"Office Space" was a modest theatrical success, earning about $10 million, but really earned its fame and cult classic status on video. There seem to be a fair percentage of films that enjoy new life in rental/DVD arena, but by and large, the reputation of the success of a film is based on its box office gross. Most people who have seen "Office Space" have done so on video, and have done so thinking that what they were seeing is an overlooked, under-appreciated classic.

Thus, the appeal is twofold. There's the genuine appreciation for the novelty and humor of the film, but also the feeling of specialness, of being part of the small group that's in the know. Poet and philosopher John McCrea summarized such a feeling as proving "you were there, that you heard of them first."

Such is the phenomenon of the Overrated-Underrated. First, a person, band or work of art is under-appreciated, as with the comparatively small box office gross of "Office Space." Then, there's discovery, and subsequent fame as an underrated work, as hip folks celebrate the quality along with the unknownness, which basically cancels out its earlier underrating. Finally, there's the point where so many people have called it a "hidden gem" or "the best ____ you've never heard of" that it paradoxically becomes an Overrated-Underrated work.

Other examples of the Overrated-Underrated:

The Oakland Athletics - They've been underdogs for nearly four years now, and have made the playoffs all of those years. Still, writers continually act as if they've discovered a team the rest of the public is ignoring, supposedly because they have a low payroll, or play on the West Coast.

Janeane Garofalo, circa 1999 - I heard many people not only compliment her comedy, but also insist on how beautiful she was, and how no one else seemed to realize that. I think Sarah Silverman has inherited the Overrated-Underrated comedienne/indie sex symbol title.

James K. Polk - Immortalized in a They Might Be Giants song, our 11th president gets a lot of props for keeping campaign promises, and only serving one term. Ignored in his time, and over-celebrated now, no one seems to acknowledge that he basically stole a bunch of land from Mexico, and served only one term because he died a few months after he left office.

A further extrapolation of this concept comes in the form of the Underrated-Overrated-Underrated, where the backlash against the Overrated-Underrated is so severe as to make the band/person/work of art underrated again. This is rare, but examples can be seen with New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, cigarette smoking, burritos from Los Panchos in Pacheco, overalls on girls, and the Stone Temple Pilots' seminal album, Purple.

Laughing At Yourself, Not With Yourself:

I have a roommate who works at a tech company. For the purposes of anonymity, I will call him "Mac". Mac says that people in his office are constantly quoting "Office Space", which, since "Office Space" is a satire of tech company life. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of this quoting is like a celebration of misery. When employees who have to do the thankless work of TPS reports, joke about TPS reports, it's a little sad. When Mac's boss comes up behind him and begins doing the Gary Cole-esque, "Y-y-yeah" intro to some sort of crappy managerial request, it's not really funny, because the guy really is a manager, and even though he's doing a parody of a soulless middle manager, he still really is a soulless middle manager. "Dilbert" isn't really funny if you are Dilbert.

Also, it doesn't work both ways. Mac can't ditch work for days at a time and say, by way of explanation, "Look, dude, haven't you seen 'Office Space'?" The manager can make his crappy, office misery-stereotype-perpetuating joke, but Mac can't, say, burn down the building as a wacky movie reference. The office drones get to laugh at themselves, but are they laughing with themselves?

Backing Off At The End

Ultimately, what happens at the end of "Office Space"? Michael Bolton and the Indian dude keep their jobs at Initech. Society still doesn't approve of the hero's work-ditching and embezzling ways, and he ends up taking a job doing manual labor. It's one of a series of anti-establishment 90's movies that backs down from their socially-destructive ideas in the last act.

"Fight Club": Hey, pissing in people's soup and smashing up the local Starbucks is cool, but blowing up the corporate offices of credit card companies? Without a doubt, that's a fairly imbalanced mind at work.

"American Beauty": Hey, quitting your job, smoking weed, flipping burgers and fucking your daughter's 17 year-old friend is cool, but not if she's a virgin.

We will only accept so much anarchy in our movies. Which is not to take anything away from the strong elements of "Office Space", particularly the performance of Stephen Root and the lecture about "flair". I just think the film is a little bit overrated. Or, more accurately, a little bit overrated-underrated.

tim hudson battles the red ringers

| 1 Comment

We don't have a TV at our new apartment. Or, more correctly, we have three televisions at our new apartment, but they aren't hooked up to anything. So when Monday night featured a pitching battle for the ages between Boston's Pedro Martinez and Oakland's Tim Hudson, I headed out to find a sports bar to enjoy the final innings of the contest.

Tim Hudson is probably my favorite major league pitcher to watch, with a few caveats. First, he often has repulsive facial hair, characterized by the lower-lip patch of fuzz known colloquially as a "tickler." Also, his wife's name is Kim Hudson, which is to my mind unacceptable. She could very easily go by Kimberly, or he could be Timothy, and their names wouldn't annoyingly rhyme, and seeing their public service announcements wouldn't make me hate life. but I probably just need to move past it.

The goodness of Tim Hudson outweighs even the badness of the his beard. He's a very effective pitcher, probably the best on in the American League last year, and one of the top two or three this season. He's won over 70% of his decisions for his career. He gives up very few runs, and doesn't walk too many hitters. His strikeout totals are not especially high, but that's not too bad because Tim Hudson gets lots of ground balls. Besides being an effective pitching strategy, watching ground balls is a lot better than watching guys swing and miss.

[Strikeout tangent]:

Sports fans often decry modern baseball as boring. Games take too long, offensive levels are high, and, in the immortal words of Irish visitor Andrea Pappin, "All the players are fat." Too much, the home run is demonized as being responsible for this slow baseball, which I think is unfair. The problem is, there's no real disincentive for striking out. For the hitter, an out is simply an out, whether it's a ground ball to third or a swing and miss. Sitting with the bat one's shoulder forces pitchers to throw more pitches, and often leads to more walks. So, while strikeouts are aesthetically unpleasant, a guy who strikes out a lot is no worse than a player who makes many outs through weak grounders or pop-ups.

The problem is this aesthetic side of things. Fans like watching team sports because of the team. A high-strikeout game is the baseball equivalent of that play in basketball where four guys walk over to one side of the court so the shooting guard can go one-on-one. Maybe that's exciting for some people, but I always think of one-on-one as what you play where there aren't enough guys there for a real game. Interaction between people is interesting, whether you're watching a rock band, a basketball team, or an improv group. Strikeouts just involve the pitcher, catcher, and hitter, while seven guys stand out in the field adjusting their cups.

In Bull Durham, Crash Davis tells Nuke LaLoosh, "Strikeouts are boring and besides, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls; it's more democratic." The Athletics' pitching staff has taken that to heart. More players are involved, games go faster, and it's an all-around better scene when Hudson or Mark Mulder is on the mound. The strikeout trend probably won't change unless the strike zone or bat designs change, but until then, long live the ground ball pitcher.

[End strikeout tangent]

Tim Hudson's opponent in this game was Pedro Martinez, historically-great pitcher and historically-great quote machine. Pedro is known for his stellar pitching but also his non-stop talking on the bench. He also delivered one of the finest post-game quotes in recent memory, after a game where he nearly threw a no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Devil Rays responded by beaning three or four Boston players. Many Devil Rays complained that Pedro had been "head-hunting," throwing at batters intentionally, but Pedro dismissed the complaints. "There's no crying in baseball...They almost got no-hit, so tell them to swallow it."

Pedro is great, but also fairly fragile. He doesn't throw a lot of innings, and is at risk for a shoulder injury every time he takes the mound. Boston's manager doesn't seem to know this, leaving Pedro in to throw over 125 pitches in two of his last three starts. Not surprisingly, a tired Pedro couldn't pitch past the fifth inning, and by the time I arrived at the bar, he was about to give way to reliever Casey Fossum, with Oakland leading 2-0.

At the bar, I was seated between two silent, seething young Red Sox fans. They both looked like nice guys, but clearly, watching hitter after hitter pound the ball into the ground against Hudson was making them wince. Red Sox fans are a notably tortured bunch. Though always one of the richest teams in baseball, the Sox haven't won the World Series since 1918, often falling short in memorably painful ways. For a team that routinely spends $100 million on payroll, it has to be especially awful to finish behind the Yankees every year. Consequently, Red Sox fans seem to expect disaster at all times. Even with their best pitcher on the mound, these fans seemed to be waiting for the game, the season, and their playoff chances to be slipping away any second.

Still, I wonder how satisfying a playoff appearance would be for the fans of Boston. Yes, they're tortured, yes, men in New England don't want to die having never seen a World Series win, yes, Boston is more special than the rest of the country. Still, the Red Sox have so many new players, it must not even feel like the same team. Since the end of last season, Boston has acquired four new first basemen, a new second baseman, a new third baseman, a new reserve infielder, a new backup outfielder, one new starting pitcher and eight new relievers, not counting ones that have been acquired and then released. Their starting center fielder was signed as a free agent last year, their starting left fielder the year before that. 60% of their roster is different from last year. Boston is a team full of ringers. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, the Red Sox fans end up cheering for the shirts, not the players. How meaningful is a title when it's won by a pack of mercenaries?

(Note: Boston's main rival, the New York Yankees, is also a team of ringers.)

That last question can also be addressed to the fans of the Los Angeles Lakers, as they attempt to recover from their playoff defeat by recruiting a new squad of ringers. If it means that Karl Malone gets a ring, do you even want your team to win the championship?

Now, my favorite team, the Giants, has also acquired ten new players since last season, but it's slightly different. First, a few of those acquisitions were made to cover injuries. Secondly, they didn't simply buy players from other teams, as Boston did in deals with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Third, they're my favorite team, so shut up, OK?

Back at the Coliseum, the Athletics were extending their lead with a three-run home run off of Fossum. Hudson had given up just one hit through six innings, an infield hit that was immediately erased by a double play. The Red Sox offense, one of the best in baseball history, had only managed to hit two balls out of the infield. The seventh inning showed a glimmer of promise for the Red Sox when New England hero Nomar Garciaparra (when speaking with a Boston accent, the best-sounding name in baseball history) reached on a weak ground ball to third, muffed by overrated Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez and generously ruled a hit. Boston's best hitter, Manny Ramirez, stood at the plate, and the disconsolate Boston rooters at my sides seemed to regain their last hope. The hope lasted for only four pitches, as Hudson induced yet another ground ball, this time a double play ball to short, and the Red Sox were retired again. The guy to my right ordered another whiskey.

Hudson finished with a two-hit, complete-game shutout, both hits coming on ground balls that never left the infield. He threw only 93 pitches the whole game, an impossibly low number. Only three balls reached the outfield. The whole thing took only 2 hours, 24 minutes. Baseball as it should be played.

I felt bad as I watched the two Sox fans bolt for the doors, seconds after former Athletic Johnny Damon struck out swinging to end the game. I wouldn't swear that I saw tears in the eyes of the fan to my left, but I don't think Pedro would have approved of his reaction all the same.

arnold runs for box office glory


Arnold Schwarzenegger is running for governor, and Hollywood is ready! Even if Arnold doesn't make it to the state capital, he'll have plenty of roles to choose from among these proposed special-election-themed motion pictures.

Civics Class Cop: LAPD detective John Kimble (Arnold) is on the trail of a killer (Gary Coleman), but his only lead is the California high school that the killer's son attends. Comedy ensues as Kimble tries to find his man while explaining all about the California state constitution, with the help of his pet ferret (Darrell Issa). Eventually, Kimble faces an even bigger challenge than solving a murder case: pronouning the word "gubernatorial."

Sample dialogue:

Student: Mr. Kimble, I heard a rumor that you were going to run for governor.
Kimble: It's not a rumor!

Conan the Libertarian: When Conan (Arnold) was just a child, his parents were killed by socialist tax collectors. He was brought up by Mongol economists, who trained him in the ways of monetary policy, laissez-faire capitalism, and swordplay. Now Conan is taking revenge on his left-wing enemies with an assault on the state capital. Screenplay by Harry Browne.

Creditor: A group of GOP commandos (Schwarzenegger, Richard Riordan, Bill Simon) is dispatched to the wilds of Sacramento to rescue the hopelessly gridlocked state legislature. But once they arrive, they find their reform programs slowly being picked off, one by one, by a deadly invisible killer: the $40 billion dollar budget deficit. Can tough talk, IOUs, and after-school physical fitness programs kill this monster? Co-starring Jesse "The Body" Ventura.

Sample dialogue:

Richard Riordan: The state treasury is bleeding money!
Arnold: It don't have time to bleed!

Terminator 2: Election Day: A cyborg is sent back in time to gather signatures for a recall campaign. Opposing him is the most sophisticated, amoral, cold-blooded fundraising machine in world history: the G1000, Governor Gray Davis.

Sample dialogue:

Arnold: I'll be back... to submit the petition to the Secretary of State for certification, so that he will have to certify a new election within 60 days, unless those 60 days are within a month of the regularly scheduled November election.

The Last Political Action Committee: No word yet on what the complicated plot of this one might be, but it will likely be only marginally popular, while costing tens of millions of dollars.

True Lies: Arnold stars is a secret agent with a double life. While his wife believes he's a boring, Humvee-driving action movie star, he is secretly a powerful politician. Now he faces his most difficult assignment yet: convincing the people of California that the Democratic governor is to blame for the Republican deregulation of the energy industry. With Jamie Lee Curtis as the wife who sells out her family's political legacy to help her conservative husband get elected.

Total Recall: Get it? He's running in the recall election? If he wins, Gray Davis will get totally recalled. That's the title - Total Recall! Get it?

Sample dialogue:

Arnold: I would like to take an imaginary vacation to Sacramento.
Technician: This joke is unoriginal, Mr. Keane.

There are pavement cuts along the middle of McGee Street, right by my former home of Ward Street D. Pavement cuts mean that the city of Berkeley is about to install Bott's Dots on McGee, to slow traffic and force motorists not to drive in the middle of the road. So what if there's never really any cars on McGee, and that the notoriously poor Berkeley street parking will add a great deal of inconvenience to the not-especially-wide street. Due to the reverse entropy of traffic regulation (the Second Law of Autodynamics), all city streets will irrevocably tend toward order. Yield signs become stop signs, stop signs become stoplights, and enormous concrete roundabouts emerge fully-formed, like a traffic-control Athena from the head of Zeus, Zeus in this case being the intersection of Parker and Ellsworth.*

No one ever goes to a city council meeting to protest the installation of a stop sign. I've never seen a petition circulated asking a city government to remove stoplights. It's just not something that the satisfied driving community is going to notice. The 2% of the population waving the banner of residential safety and slow-ass driving demands a flashing yellow, a concrete roadblock, and before anyone else notices it, there are four separate stop signs on Hidden Lakes Drive in Martinez. At least one of them is at a cul-de-sac. Don't even get me started on 59th Street.

And when those stop signs come in, they never ever go away. Whatever the reason, be it the safety of pedestrians or children, a traffic regulation installation is there for the long haul. Years from now, our children and our children's children will be cruising down McGee in their flying cars, dodging floating Bott's Dots and parking meter land mines, stopping at red lights every 35 feet, and thinking nothing of it. The smart ones will realize they should have taken Sacramento Street, and then turned onto Dwight if they were headed east-west, but most of those poor stupid hovercraft-driving futuristic bastards will have no damn inkling that there was a different time, a better time, a wide McGee that was free for you and me. The Second Law of Thermodynamics implies that disorder will increase until all energy is dissipated and all light and life are extinguished. I would submit that the Second Law of Autodynamics is far more bleak and depressing.

(*inspiration from one of my favorite Matt Holohan lines of all time, regarding the "ever-watchful, fire-breathing Gryphon")

I woke up before my alarm clock went off because someone was walking in the kitchen and I didn't know where I was because we just moved. Then I came into the office and tried to learn how to answer the phones and I accidentally hung up on an indigent prisoner phoning from the San Mateo County Jail and then I spilled a whole cup of coffee all over the leg of my jeans and I could tell it was going to be a terrible horrible no good very bad first week of work.

I think I will apply to work at a legal defense project in Australia.

The next day I came in and I had to stamp all documents that came in for the court run. I wasn't supposed to do anything to the front of the notices of appeal but I forgot and I stamped them all anyway. Kristina had to come and help me.

Then I ripped an envelope that came from prison even though I was supposed to save it, so I tried to attach it back to the original letter but it ripped a little more and I couldn't find any paper clips. I finally got it to stay but after I put it in the attorney's box, he told me I needed to make a copy and mail that copy to the panel attorney. By then I was hungry and I couldn't find the panel attorney's address and I didn't want to ask because I was embarrassed. It was a terrible horrible no good very bad first week at work.

If Australia was really settled by criminals, I bet legal defense work is either way easier or way harder.

The burger place didn't have electricity when I went there so they didn't have fries, only gross salad. I ate the salad anyway, but I scowled every time I took a bite, when I remembered to.

I wonder if they have state funding for appellate work in Australia. I wonder if they even have states.

The next day at work I came in and I was tired because I'm not used to working full-time. I had to make service copies for an opening brief and make sure that the blue pages separated the appendices from the rest of the brief. I had already copied a lot of them when Kristina reminded me to sign the proof of service before I started, which I forgot, but it didn't matter because the blue pages were in the wrong place so I made about 500 copies for no reason and totally hogged the VeloBinding machine for over an hour. At least I didn't have to sign all 22 service copies. Still, it was one more example of the terrible horrible no good very bad first week of work.

Also I didn't have a chance to do laundry and my pants got dirty from the move so I was wearing khakis from the "Too Fat" bag, which I wasn't too fat for anymore, except I gained some weight in San Diego, so they were tight in the waist and uncomfortable.

I bet people's weights don't fluctuate as much in Australia. Probably because they have a more active lifestyle and don't eat as many simple carbohydrates.

Wednesday I had to do the court run I didn't finish from the day before but also the mail which I also didn't finish and I couldn't find my stamp and I got confused because I didn't know how to process a writ and also I was still stamping notices of appeal on the front instead of the back because I forgot again. Also I had a headache from lack of caffeine but I didn't want to make coffee because I don't know I just didn't want to, OK? I don't think I'm overstating what a terrible horrible no good very bad first day of work this was.

I would seriously move to Australia, except for the year-long lease I just signed, and the security deposit, and the sneaking suspicion I have that maybe Qantas is due for a crash.

I was still asking a lot of questions and I felt dumb for asking the same thing all the time. People told me not to feel dumb but I still felt dumb and then I got mad when people tried to help me because I didn't want people to do the work for me except I couldn't finish all the work myself so I secretly did want them to do it for me but I also wanted them to make a really big deal about me having lots of work to do and it being my first week and me being tired and heroic in trying to do all the work but instead they were just trying to get their own work done and reassure me I wasn't asking too many questions and I felt very frustrated and it was terrible, horrible, etc.

I bet passive-aggressive behavior is a lot more effective in Australia.

Finally today I did a brief and I made a lot of mistakes and we had to have the court messenger come a lot later but eventually Kristina and everyone helped me and I finished just before four o'clock and I felt tired but also a sense of accomplishment and a feeling that maybe, just maybe, I wasn't going to be a total jackass all the time at work.

"People always have a tough time when they're starting out at a new job," Kristina said.

"Really?" I asked.

"Except in Australia," she said. "Then it's a piece of cake."

February 2012
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29      

About This Site

Sean Keane on Tumblr

Sean Keane Comedy Dot Com
Short posts, better name-branding

Backup Blog

Friends and Associates

San Francisco Comedy

Fine Sporting Websites

Local Bands


Sean Keane's Internet Famousness

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from August 2003 listed from newest to oldest.

July 2003 is the previous archive.

September 2003 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 5.04