Monday, March 31, 2008

Philadelphia Freedom

We spent the past weekend in the city of brotherly love. It was our first visit to the city as adults. We were there for that most adult of activities, the bachelor/bachelorette party. The women spent the weekend doing whatever sick and depraved things women do at bachelorette parties. We guys spent most of our time in a little place on earth known as South Philadelphia. South Philly is an interesting place. Imagine an hermetically sealed old school white ethnic urban neighborhood that has managed to evolve into the 21st century and probably even gentrify to a certain extent without losing a lot of its character.

We spent Saturday afternoon at the ballpark. After not making it to any major league games last year, I managed to attend a game this year before the season even started. It was the first time I've ever attended a spring training game, if you can call a game in barely 50 degree weather with a 20+ mph wind blowing in from center field part of spring training. The Phillies lost to the Blue Jays 5-3 in a pretty uninspiring game. It was my first visit to Citizens Bank Park. It's pretty similar to most of the new baseball parks. It's more comfortable than the classic ballparks and more attractive than the second-generation multipurpose stadiums, but it feels kind of sterile. My favorite feature as the giant lighted Liberty Bell sign in right field that animates and rings whenever a Philly hits a home run.

Philadelphia is interesting because all of its sporting venues are right next to each other. Citizens Bank Park is located next to site where Veterans Stadium used to stand (it's now a parking lot). Across the street is the old Philadelphia Spectrum. I thought that the Spectrum had been torn down years ago, but it's still being used by Philadelphia's second-tier professional sports franchises (Phantoms, Kixx, and Soul). Behind the Spectrum is the Wachovia Center, where the Flyers and the Sixers play, and across from there stands the Eagles new home, Lincoln Financial Field. It kind of makes sense to build all of these venues next to each other, though it probably gets pretty crowded in the early fall when all four of the major professional sports leagues are in session.

After the game, we went on a South Philadelphia pub crawl. We started at the Pub on Passyunk East (P.O.P.E.). It featured a diverse selection of craft beers, Bell's Two-Hearted Ale on tap, and Operation Ivy playing on the jukebox when we walked in. Needless to say, I was a big fan of this place.

Our next stop was a few blocks up the street at a neighborhood watering hole called The Triangle Tavern. The tavern was empty, sans a few guys who I can only assume are regulars, and by regulars, I mean guys who spend at least 20 hours a week there. The sun was still up when we arrived at the Triangle, but it had long since set by the time we left. Geno's and Pat's, South Philly's world-renowned culinary institutions were conveniently located between the tavern and our final stop for the evening. We stopped at Geno's, if for no reason then we were already on that side of the street. Geno's is a monument to Italian-American culture, where the only thing more over the top than their garish decor is their reactionary patriotism. I have to imagine that there aren't too many illegal immigrants who are crying themselves to sleep because they will never have the privilege of paying $7.50 for a six-inch sandwich with 4oz of chopped steak and a dollop of Cheese Whiz. I was talking to a native Philadelphian a while back who felt that both of Philly's iconic cheese steak shops had gotten a bit too tourist-trappy over the past few years and while this was my first visit to either, I would tend to agree. Still, I was pretty hungry and intoxicated by the time we got there, so everything tasted pretty good.

Our final stop of the night was a place called The Dive. By definition, no bar that calls itself a dive can actually be a true dive bar, and The Dive was no exception. It was full of guys with odd facial hair and the walls were covered with handmade flyers from past shows by bands with ironic names. We drank $9 worth of Schlitz (6 cans) and called it a night.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Survey Says

I received a phone call yesterday evening asking me if I wished to participate in a survey. I gladly obliged, partially because I am a shut-in whose only contact with the outside world is my blog and mis-dialed phone calls, but mostly because I feel like it's my duty to compensate for all of the idiots America's survey takers seem to talk to each time they conduct a survey. Every time I hear about a survey that shows that 90% of Americans think the sun revolves around the earth or something like that, I get upset about the rank ignorance that the survey uncovered, but then I get upset that I was never consulted. It's not like me answering the question correctly would have affected the outcome (unless they were using an incredibly flawed sampling methodology), but I feel like those of us who are not crippled by ignorance, willful or otherwise, have a duty to stand up and be counted.

The survey I participated in was about legal proceedings initiated by the town of North Tiverton against the Southern Union utility company over soil contamination resulting from the dumping of toxic coal gasification wastes from as far back as the 1940s. I didn't ask, but my guess is that the survey was paid for by the utility company since the questions were definitely slanted in their favor. It started out with some questions to tease out my political orientation. I was asked about how I felt about Senators Clinton, Obama, and McCain as well as I how felt about the Governor of Rhode Island. I was also asked how I felt about Microsoft, National Grid, New England Gas, and the EPA. I get the questions about utility companies and the EPA, but why Microsoft? Perhaps animosity towards Microsoft a good proxy for general anti-business attitudes? After that, I was presented with a "hypothetical" situation where a utility company paid a trunking company to dump toxic wastes in an approved dump site, but the trunking company went ahead and dumped the wastes somewhere else and was asked who I felt should be held liable. This was presented as an either/or kind of question, which I found to be somewhat loaded, so I basically said that while I would hold the trucking company responsible for the illegal dumping, if the utility company didn't do their homework and just sent their waste out without making sure that the company they contracted with was actually going to dispose of it properly, they share some of the blame. I have to give the survey taker a lot of credit, he didn't try to force me to side with the utility or the trucking company, he just took down what I said and left it at that. The survey then ended with some standard demographic questions.

I looked into the story a little bit after doing the survey. I haven't found anything about a rogue trucking company in either of the ProJo articles I found, but this case has been going on for quite a while and I don't feel like doing an exhaustive search. Unfortunately, this wasn't a survey with right and wrong answers so I didn't get to cancel out anyone else's stupidity with my answers, but I still feel like I did my duty.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Shilling For Dollars

I've been seeing these Hyundai commercials a lot recently. In an effort to make buying a new car look like a shrewd financial move, Hyundai has recruited three authors of personal finance books to appear in commercial spots and dispense nuggets of financial wisdom along with a hearty side of condescension. I don't see how these commercials help Hyundai or the authors. These guys may all be best selling authors, but they aren't bringing any star power to Hyundai. In each spot, the writers have to be introduced by the customer blurting out an utterly ridiculous line, such as "Adam Smith? Best selling author of The Money Game?" in order for the viewers to know who they are. The writers may drum up some extra sales for their books by appearing on TV, but they are doing so at the cost of turning themselves into shills for Hyundai. The conflict of interest doesn't rise to the level of a Ford ad campaign I saw a few years ago that featured an automotive writer whose name I forget gushing over the new Ford Freestar, but I think it's still a conflict of interest. Cars are one of the biggest purchases that people make and nearly every personal finance book that I've read has spent some time discussing common financial mistakes that people make when buying cars and how to avoid them. As if all of this wasn't enough, the authors come off like a bunch of know-it-all jerks in these commercials. Adam Smith's "Which one of us is a Rhodes Scholar" retort is especially nauseating. If you're like me and found it a little bit too suspicious that there's a financial writer named Adam Smith, I can save you a trip to Wikipedia by confirming that it is a pseudonym. His real name is George Goodman.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Crazy Straw

There is an irritating linguistic trend that appears to slowly be gaining traction in my office right now. I've been hearing people use the term "straw man" to describe what would more appropriately be called a first draft. The way I've always understood the term matches what Wikipedia and Merriam-Webster have to say, a straw man is not an argument that is made in good faith; it's an easily refutable misrepresentation of an opponent's position. I suppose it's possible that my co-workers are so devious that they are creating straw man arguments designed to discredit all of my work and ideas and cleverly disguising them as a rough drafts, but I kind of doubt it. Anyway, I hope that this fizzles out before it moves its way up the management chain, since I've found that all annoying and grammatically incorrect words and phrases that are used by upper management get parroted all the way down the org chart.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Juno What I Mean

Juno comes out on DVD on tax day (which is coming up, BTW), so it only makes sense that we finally went out to catch it in the theater this past weekend. One advantage of going to see a movie that's been playing for three months is that you don't have to worry about getting a good seat. As it turned out, we were the only two people in the theater for the showing that we attended.

There were a lot of things that I didn't like about this movie. I'll start of with the superficial - why were high schoolers listening to CDs and talking to each other on land line telephones? I was under the impression that everyone over the age of 13 has a cell phone and a lot of them might not know what a CD looks like. Moving on, I found most of the soundtrack unbearable. I didn't mind that all of the main characters were portrayed as a decent, likable human beings, but I thought that the movie had a surprising lack of conflict, especially considering the subject matter at hand. When conflicts did occur, they always seemed to resolve themselves off-camera and everything was back to normal by the time the characters appeared in another scene together.

I still enjoyed the movie, but it didn't really impress me the way it seems to have impressed a lot of people. I really felt like Michael Cera's character was underutilized, but maybe that was on purpose. Had he been more prominent, it would have made the movie into more of a standard teenage pregnancy story.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Seal The Deal

March 23 | 1:26 pm | Narragansett Bay - RI

Friday, March 21, 2008

Take It Off

I guess this explains why everyone at the gym was naked this morning.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Down the Drain

According to MDS, China is retrofitting the facilities that they built for the upcoming Summer Olympics with western-style sit-down toilets after receiving complaints about their squat toilets. I'm kind of surprised that they didn't put sit-down toilets in all of the new construction that they're doing for the summer games. I didn't see very many squat toilets on my visit to China last fall and I assumed that they had pretty much stopped using them in new construction.

The strangest lavatory related thing that I saw in China was shared washbasins. In several places that I visited, instead of having washbasins instead of the men's and women's restrooms, a shared set of washbasins was placed outside of the restrooms. It didn't bother me, but I don't think it would go over very well in the west. From what I've been able to ascertain, there are a number of culturally significant rituals that are performed at the sinks in ladies rooms across the western world that most women would rather not have to conduct in full public view.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

At Last

I tend to be a latecomer to all things online, so it's with equal parts joy and shame that I'm professing my new found love for the social music website I had certainly heard of before, though I'm not sure when or how it entered my consciousness. For whatever reason, I never checked it out until I searched for a recording of Freddie Hubbard's Up Jumped Spring to link to in a post I wrote last week. The first relevant search result that came up was from and needless to say, I was impressed with what I found. I've really been jonesin' for new music since I'm no longer able to listen to the greatest terrestrial radio station on earth (via the internet) at work anymore and I haven't been making it to very many live shows lately. I've already heard more interesting new (to me) stuff on in the past two days than I had heard in the previous year. If you're sick of listening to the same old stuff, give it a try.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Irish I Were Drunk

We enjoyed another St. Patrick's day in Newport this year. Pictured above is yours truly in full St. Patrick's day regalia holding a bottle of Newport Storm. We spent the day at the parade, party hopping, and playing da cau in the street. We then hit some of the finer eating and drinking establishments in town before collapsing around midnight. I was pleased to learn that one of the perhaps several drunken neologisms that our group coined on Saturday is a semi-legitimate word. Insinuendo, meaning to insinuate through innuendo, is obviously redundant, but it has a nice ring to it and it has been part of the English language since at least the 1870s, according to this.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Walk and Run

We watched Walk the Line today. We both enjoyed the movie, but we especially enjoyed the music. Neither of us are big Johnny Cash fans, so familiarity with his music is certainly not a prerequisite for enjoying the movie. I really liked how a lot of scenes used music instead of dialog to tell the story. Letting Cash's lyrics and his interaction with June Carter on stage tell the story was a lot more effective that trying to act it out would have been.

I was surprised to learn how much of Cash's early career coincided with the careers of early rock and rollers like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. I've always thought of Johnny Cash as more of a country musician. Early rock and roll has a lot of country music influence in it, of course, so this didn't come as a complete surprise. Had I ever really sat down and listened to Cash's music, I'm sure I would have made that connection.

I also finally finished reading Rabbit, Run by John Updike. It wasn't really on my to-read list, but I received a copy of it at a yankee swap last Christmas and decided to give it a shot. I really enjoyed it, but unfortunately, I read most of it in 15 minute chunks over the past two months. I don't think that's a good way to read anything, but it's an especially bad way to read a story full of such vivid language and rich characters. It's not a heavy book, you could probably read most of it on a long flight, but it's the kind of story that draws you in so completely that you really should plan on spending some quality with the book ever time you crack it open. The other downside is that it's the first book in a series of four and none of the plots threads that were opened in Rabbit, Run are tied up by the end of the book. My copy contains the first two books in the series, and while I'd really like to jump right into the next book (Rabbit Redux) so I can get some closure, I'm going to try and clear a few more titles of off my to-read list before going back. I may even decide to re-read Rabbit, Run and go straight into Rabbit Redux just so I can give the story the attention that I think it deserves.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spit Take

I don't have anything insightful to add to the Elliot Spitzer discussion, but if someone decides to make a movie about him, I have the perfect actor for the role. I've always thought that actor & comedian Larry Miller was a dead ringer for Spitzer. I have a tendency to see look-alikes that no one else agrees with, but I'm pretty confident about this one.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Stupid Korean Camera

Michelle told me about this interview a couple a weeks ago and I finally got a chance to listen to it. It's a discussion with Stephen Dodson, a linguist who has devoted much of his life to the study of curse words. In the interview, he discusses how curse words evolve within and between languages. He doesn't mention too many curses during the interview, but he does drop a câlice and a tabarnak, two of my favorite foreign language bad words. They are part of the Québécois dialect and literally translate to chalice and tabernacle. I'm pretty sure that tabarnak was the first foreign language curse word I ever learned. I learned it from a classmate in third grade who had recently moved to the US from Quebec. I was in Montreal last summer and walked into a funny t-shirt store that was selling a shirt that had tabarnak emblazoned across the front along with a couple of fleurs-de-lis. I thought about buying it, but realized that it probably wasn't a great idea. For one, I've never really considered apparel that features English swear words to be all that classy, so why make an exception for French-Canadian profanity. On top of that, it's impossible to asses the relative strength of curse words in a language that you don't speak, so I had no way of knowing whether or not most Québécois speakers would find the t-shirt mildly amusing or deeply offensive.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Up Jumped Spring

I realize that spring doesn't officially start for another week and a half, but now that daylight savings time is in effect and I actually see daylight when I leave the office, it sure feels like spring has sprung. Living on the far eastern edge of the eastern time zone means that in the dead of winter, it gets dark here before 5pm. I got an early glimpse a couple weeks ago when I left work a little early, but until that point, I really hadn't noticed that the days were slowly but surely getting longer. It's still seasonably cool here, but being able to see daylight at the end of the workday is quite a boost for the psyche.

If you'd rather celebrate something that actually happened today, you can celebrate the first annual National Registered Dietitian Day. Go eat something healthy.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Into The Clouds

March 8, 2008 | 11:43 am | Sunday River - Bethel, ME

Thursday, March 06, 2008


I was pumping gas at my local Shell station recently when I noticed that they only had two grades of gas, regular and premium. It wasn't that they were out of the middle grade, they were no longer selling it. I can't imagine that middle grade gasoline was every a big seller. I tend to be the kind of person who, when offered three product levels, goes for the one in the middle even though the top version is always a better value, but I've never intentionally bought middle grade gasoline. Most manufacturers recommend that you put regular unleaded gasoline in your car, so unless you've driving an exotic sports car, there's no point it buying anything other than regular gasoline. I drove past another nearby Shell station yesterday and noticed that they're still selling middle grade gas, so it's not a company-wide thing just yet. If you aren't sure what I was referring to in the title of this post, check here. I can't think about gas stations or even the word 'premium' without replaying that scene in my head.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Totally Uncommitted

When I went to vote this morning, I was surprised to see that one of the choices for President was Uncommitted. I don't recall ever seeing an option like that on an election ballot before. Given that the only things that was on the ballot today in Rhode Island were the Presidential nomination and the delegates to the conventions, I'm not sure why anyone who didn't want to cast a vote for any of the candidates would even bother showing up. Perhaps it's on the ballot to give people the ability to cast a protest vote if they don't like any of the candidates.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Let's Stay Together

One of my favorite blogs has been running ads for a Christian online dating service called Together Christian. Not being in the market for online dating services, Christian or otherwise, I normally don't pay much attention to these ads, but it's hard to miss this one, thanks to the busty blonde woman in a tank top they used in their ad.

I don't think I've ever seen sex appeal used to sell religion (or in this case, products & services to the religious) in quite this manner before. For what it's worth, the women in the JDate billboard that I blogged about a couple years ago are also wearing tank tops, though they aren't as skimpy as the one worn by the Together Christian woman. What any of this says about anything I'm not about to speculate, but it's always interesting to see how religion is marketed. In 20 years time, this [warning - audio link] Onion story from a couple years back may not seem so far-fetched.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Loony Bin

March 2, 2008 | 2:51 pm | Loon Mountain - Lincoln, NH

Saturday, March 01, 2008

In the Year 2000

I recently had the pleasure of viewing Death Race 2000 for the first time. If you aren't a fan of B movies, you can stop reading right now. If you are a fan, this is definitely a must-see. It was made in 1975 and set in what was then the not-too-distant future and what is now the recent past. In the movie, the America of the year 2000 looks a lot like the America of 1975, except that the country is ruled by an absentee authoritarian regime headed by the inscrutable Mr. President and an annual coast-to-coast, no-holds-barred car race is the opiate of the masses. I didn't realize that it was a Roger Corman picture until the ending credits rolled, but in retrospect, I should have known from the ample amounts of T&A and completely unrealistic gore.

The movie has an unmistakable 1970s feel. The main character, Frankenstein (David Carradine), is the race favorite and the only current surviving champion. Frankenstein is a broken man, both physically and mentally, and a textbook 1970s anti-hero. His main rival, Joe "Machine Gun" Viterbo (Sly Stallone), is a tightly-wound ball of rage. The Resistance, an underground movement that is determined to stop the death race by any means necessary, fills the role of the progressive anti-establishment group. Rather than trying to explain how America wound up in such a sorry state, the movie makes allusions to works such as 1984 and assumes the viewer can fill in the details.

There's an interview with Roger Corman in the DVD extras. He makes a comment about how prophetic the movie turned out to be. I don't know exactly what he was talking about, but I will give him credit for a couple of things. The first is how Mr. President blamed the French for all of the acts of sabotage committed by the Resistance. I'm guessing that the blame the French meme existed before this movie was made, but the way that it was used was nearly identical the our last flare-up of anti-French hysteria during the run up to the Gulf war. The other thing that really stood out was how the political party that ruled the country was called the Bipartisan Party. That name reminded me of the "a pox on both their houses" sentiment that you often hear expressed by pundits and voters. I've always felt like that sentiment is much more common today than it was 30 years ago, so I'll give Corman some credit for that.