Monday, July 31, 2006


Favorite new tasty treat? Australian Toaster Biscuits. Sort of a cross between an English muffin, a crumpet and white bread. Absolutely stunning when toasted, spread with soft butter (which melts into its precious little pores), then dusted with sugar and cinnamon. Jam's good too. On your grocer's shelves now.

Friday, July 28, 2006


A marvelously logical and appropriately incredulous look at the recent Washington State Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage -- including what might motivate assumedly logical, thoughtful beings to exhibit such illogical thinking.

The author is Dahlia Lithwick, the venue is Slate.

Topographer Policy

For some reason, one of my e-mail addresses has been captured by a spam service that is pushing stocks of emerging companies. It all gets marked as junk by the mail program, but I must say I'm impressed by their methods to lure me into opening the mails. First, the sender is never listed as a business, but always as an individual: "Matilda Sweeny" and "Danny Hamm" and "Loretta" to name a few.

But what really impresses me is what they place in the subject line. Usually two words, clearly generated via software -- the results are just too offbeat and random for them to be created by humans. Certainly not in the volume that must be required. But the combos are sometimes just plausible or interesting enough that you might open it, just to make sure "Matilda" isn't that German tourist you met at the place in North Beach, and "penetentiary ugliness" isn't a new film she thinks you should see.

Here are a few other examples:

cola prompt
gain cessation
huge committable
nostril meet
subject dozens
topographer policy
catty-cornered timber
dairy cattle mantra
payroll embodiment

(NOTE: I've been adding to this list as they continue to come in. Feel free to check back for the next addition, whatever it may be.)
Of course, why anyone would trust somebody who used such a method to gain your attention is beyond me, but I'm certainly impressed by their efforts. Though the e-mails themselves are clumsily done. (Yes, I opened one. How can you not open an e-mail whose subject is "topographer policy"?)

Saccharine-Free Greeting Cards

I don't know about you, but I always have a hard time finding the perfect greeting card, regardless of the occasion. But at
Bald Guy Greetings, you can find a small collection of funny (in that post-modern, ironic, battle-of-who-could-care-less sort of way) that I guarantee you won't find at the Hallmark store in the mall. Yet, anyway. (In fact, they have so few retail outlets, the only practical way to obtain them is mail order.)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Great Piece on Floyd Landis

Sports Illustrated seems to have the scoop on the Floyd Landis doping scandal. Apparently, Floyd actually spoke to this reporter today. I don't see that he's given any other interviews.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Just 30 minutes

That's all I want with the chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court. I think I could convince him of the error of his ways. (Or at least I have to think so, or today's decision feels like just another gut shot to equality in this country.)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Taming Cheney

An interesting article in the New York Times about the genetics behind aggression. The article speaks primarily to research done in the Soviet Union (and now Russia) over the past 40 years or so, breeding rats, foxes and other animals to select for tameness on one hand and aggression on the other.

One sentence stood out to me: "The genes, if Mr. Albert finds them, would be of great interest because they are presumably the same in all species of domesticated mammal. That may even include humans. Richard Wrangham, a primatologist at Harvard, has proposed that people are a domesticated form of ape, the domestication having been self-administered as human societies penalized or ostracized individuals who were too aggressive."

My question is, why has our society rewarded the aggressive individuals (Cheney, Rove, Wolfowitz, et al.) instead of ostracizing them?

Monday, July 24, 2006

By the skin of the teeth

Watch this video. Say "wow" a few times, and then try and figure out what he could have been doing to have possibly not noticed the stopped traffic, the cross traffic, the pedestrians...

Proportional Response

A fascinating article in today's New York Times that examines the psychological underpinnings of retribution and proportional response. Apparently, we tend to think the other guy started it, but hit back harder than he hit, even though we think we're responding with equal force.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Solution for Mideast Peace

More air conditioning. The logic is pretty simple, really -- I know how testy I am with the temperature in excess of 100 degrees as it has been here for the past week or so. And that's a cool day in the Middle East, so I can imagine how short their tempers must be there when it averages 115 in the summer. Less sun for the sunni! More freon for the shi'a!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Andrea Marcovicci @ The Plush Room

Though her voice doesn't pack the same punch it did when I heard her 20 years ago, Andrea Marcovicci is still putting on a hell of a show at The Plush Room cabaret in the York Hotel. She's optimistic, emotional, funny, genuine, committed, welcoming -- all sorts of things that are good in an entertainer.

She plays several months a year at the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel, where it would cost you double to see her. Go here, in the intimate, wonderful Plush Room. She performs lovely songs, most from the American popular songbook, including lots of lesser-known tunes, as well as putting her own stamp on songs you know. She's there through the end of the month, so you still have time to catch her.

Big Day in France

Even if you haven't watched a lick of this year's Tour de France, you should set your DVR to OLN to catch Saturday's stage, which promises to be the most exciting since 1989, when American Greg LeMond overcame a 50-second deficit during the penultimate stage, a 24.5 kilometer time trial, to best Frenchman Laurent Fignon. (Fignon's loss was partly due to his refusal to wear an aerodynamic helmet because it didn't seem very Gallic to him not to let his blonde locks flow stylishly in the breeze.)

This year, it's American Floyd Landis who is 30 seconds off the lead going into an individual time trial on the second to last day of the Tour. Two days ago, Landis was written off as a contender when he bonked (ran out of energy) on a climb and lost the yellow jersey, finishing eight minutes off the lead. He fell from first place to 11th. Then, on Thursday, Landis rode perhaps the bravest, most impressive race in Tour history, leaving the pack behind early in the race and regaining all but 30 seconds of the time he had lost the day before.

So, tomorrow, Floyd will ride the most important race of his life, a 57-kilometer time trial. Unlike most stages, where riders have teammates to support them, and are able to draft behind other riders, during the time trial, everyone rides alone. The French call it the "race of truth." Landis is one of the best time trialers there is, and is now a favorite to win the Tour. But it will still be a very exciting race. Do watch.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Interesting Timing

Today, just one day after Bush vetoes stem cell research, Arnold Schwarzenegger announces a stem cell program for California. I find the timing interesting -- is Arnold turning away from the Republican right wing? Will the party attempt to punish him in some way?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Hard Week

I have to admit, the recent court defeats for marriage equality -- four in a single week (Georgia, New York, Tennessee and Nebraska) -- have me feeling rather downhearted. Georgia and Tennessee don't bother me so much (they were decided mostly on procedural grounds), but New York and Nebraska were hard to take, for different reasons.

The New York decision was a blow because I would have hoped that New York judges would have had some actual contact with gay people (outside of watching footage from the pride parade) and realized that allowing same-sex couples to marry will not deter (or encourage) opposite couples from joining in wedded bliss. The court's stated reason for denying marriage equality was that, in essence, "when straight couples have sex, children may result, so we need to encourage them to stay together." If stable relationships are good for opposite-sex couples, and therefore good for the country, they are good for same-sex couples, and therefore good for the country. For couples who bring children into the world, that stable relationship is especially important. For couples who do not or cannot become biological parents, the stability and mutual support marriage can provide is still extremely valuable. Since I can see no logical reason (please, feel free to point one out to me if I've missed it) why civil marriage equality would lessen the value of traditional marriage, either to any single marriage or for the country as whole, I don't see why equality should be witheld. The 14th Amendment seems very clear on the matter of equal treatment under the law.

Nebraska was worse. Not because I expected more of the state where both my parents were born, but because of the severity of the slapdown the court delivered. First, little was being asked. According to the court's own opinion, the gay rights groups that filed the suit did not "assert a right to marriage or same-sex unions. Rather, they seek "a level playing field, an equal opportunity to convince the people's elected representatives that same-sex relationships deserve legal protection."" Not much to ask, is it?

The Nebraska court fell into the same hole as the New York court did -- deciding that since opposite-sex marriage is good because "by affording legal recognition and a basket of rights and benefits to married heterosexual couples, such laws encourage procreation to take place within the socially recognized unit that is best situated for raising children," same-sex marriage is somehow bad because it cannot naturally result in issue. Unfortunately, neither court offered any evidence as to why (or how) allowing same-sex marriage would somehow cause harm to opposite-sex marriages, or deter heterosexuals from marrying. "Whatever our personal views regarding this political and sociological debate, we cannot conclude that the State’s justification lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests." They just don't offer any reason why those state interests would be harmed.

Making it worse, the Nebraska consitutional amendment at stake not only prohibits gay marriage, but asserts that "a civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar same-sex relationship shall not be valid or recognized in Nebraska." In effect, Nebraska has said same-sex relationships mean nothing on any legal level. Gay couples do not exist as couples in any legal sense, and cannot obtain any rights available for married couples.

Ouch. Here's hoping for better days ahead.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Michelle Wie and Hitler

Today and tomorrow, Michelle Wie is playing in the John Deere classic, a PGA event. Once more, she's trying to see if she can be competitive with some of the world's best male golfers. (Though none of the top 10 are entered in the event.) After her 77 today, though, she has almost zero chance of achieving this goal. But if you watch her tomorrow, and she happens to make a good shot, watch her wave. It's a little flip of the hand, combined with a raised arm. For some reason, her wave has always bugged me, but I didn't know why -- until last night, when I watched "Downfall."

"Downfall" is the story of Hitler's last days, taking place primarily inside his Berlin bunker. Sure enough, Wie's wave is an almost perfect duplicate of the gesture der Fuhrer made in response to the straight arm "sieg heils" given him by underlings. Note to Michelle: Hitler is generally not the best person to emulate, even unconsciously.

By the way, "Downfall" itself is fascinating. Quite graphic (more suicides than Guantanmo Bay), but apparently quite accurate. In one way, it seemed like an episode of an anti-"West Wing." Here you are, in the corridors of power, seeing the head of state plus his minions attempting to lead the nation. Except instead of Jeb Bartlett inspiring all around him, you have the greatest criminal of all time degenerating into deeper madness and delusion.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


A synchronicity -- for any unfamiliar with the term, save as the title of last recording by The Police -- is a "simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernable causal connection." Here's the best one that ever happened to me:

It was a Friday afternoon. I was riding in a client's SUV, coming back to San Francisco from a meeting we'd been to in the south bay. After we'd de-briefed after the meeting, I asked him what his plans were for the weekend. He was heading up to Royal Gorge Resort to do some cross-country skiing. His mention of Royal Gorge made me think of a story I'd seen on the evening news a few nights before. It was a puff piece on the resort, which is the largest cross-country ski resort in America. As part of the story, they interviewed David Ireland, who is a successful local artist and responsible for creating one of the premiere art centers in San Francisco, the Capp Street Project. However, Ireland wasn't identified as "David Ireland, Artist," but "David Ireland, Skier," just one of several guests the reporter interviewed.

I mentioned this to my client, because I knew he had a more than passing interest in contemporary art (he's apparently a boyhood friend of art superstar Matthew Barney). I remember thinking to myself, "I wonder what David Ireland has been up to -- I haven't read his name or thought about him in years."

After we arrived at my client's office, where I had parked my car, I said good-bye and headed across the bridge to Berkeley, where I was meeting friends for dinner in order to celebrate the birthday of one of them. Because of this, I needed to obtain a gift. The Gardener is one of the best retail stores I know, and a fantastic place to pick up a gift for almost anyone. A bit pricey, perhaps, but there's great stuff and they do a nifty wrap job.

So it was in to the Gardener. I walked slowly to the back of the store, not seeing anything that was right yet, then turned 180 degrees to peruse the wares on tables in the center of the store and found myself face to face with...David Ireland.

I was floored. I would have been only surprised if perhaps the store was stocking a book about him, but to see him on the news, mention that to someone, and then 20 minutes later be four feet from him was a tad overwhelming.

If anyone reading this has a synchronicity story they'd like to share, I'd love to hear about it. A similar story was part of an earlier post, which you can find here.

A Dream Come True

I simply can't wait to get back to New York, now that I've heard about the latest East Village eatery, S'MAC. Like Rice Dreams before it, S'MAC is a temple to one food group. For Rice Dreams, it's rice pudding. At S'MAC, the menu is all mac and cheese, all the time. I knew I was going to the gym for a reason.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Boston Marriage

Two recent bits of news from Massachusetts that I find interesting.

The first is that employees of the Boston Globe are being told that the company is phasing out domestic partner benefits, now that gay couples are allowed to marry in the state. I see absolutely no problem with this; I always sort of despised domestic partner benefits because they provided many of the rights of marriage without the corresponding responsibilities. It was "marriage lite," and it never seemed equitable to me. Equality is equality, and we should settle for nothing less.

The second story from the Bay State is that the Supreme Court there ruled that a constitutional amendment to ban any future same-sex marriages in the only state that currently allows them (Vermont and Connecticut have civil unions) can be placed on the ballot if it receives the required number of votes in the state legislature, which is almost a surety. The matter will then go before voters in November 2008. Some LGBT activists petitioned the court to prevent this, but as long as the supporters of the initiative follow the correct constitutional process, I see no reason why their efforts -- hateful as they might be -- should be thwarted. If Massachusetts allows voters to decide on such issues, then we must make our case to them.

But I have to say, it worries me sick. The massive success of constitutional bans in other states, where they passed with huge majorities (in one instance approaching 90%), leads me to believe the issue is so deeply "other" to so many people that it will indeed pass. So maybe it won't lose 2-1, as was the average loss for such measures during the 2004 election. Maybe it will only lose 50.1% to 49.9%. It will still be a loss. I hope the voters of Massachusetts will be wise and fair-minded enough to realize that to deny equality (or even aspects of equality -- the proposed amendment would deny even arrangements like civil unions or domestic partnerships) on the basis of something that is biologically determined is not the sort of thing one wants to enshrine in the state's constitution. But I'm not sure even they have it in them.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Turning Point for Women's Golf?

Women's golf has always lagged behind men's golf -- in prize money, media attention, and quality of play. Unlike women's tennis, where there is almost complete parity in terms of prize money and popularity, women golfers have played second fiddle to Arnie and Jack and Tiger.

That may be changing. Earlier this year, 16-year old phenom Michelle Wie turned pro, signed with Nike and Sony, and immediately vaulted into second place in the world rankings. Wie threatens to change the face of women's golf: she hits the ball farther than any other woman golfer (and makes more money in endorsements than any woman golfer) and has brought a huge amount of attention to the woman's game.

However, no one player on her own -- no matter how talented -- can truly transform the game. What will lift the LPGA into a new level of popularity will be the development of a rivalry similar to that which developed between Martina Navritilova and Chris Evert in the 1970s. Those two women met in many finals, and though they had different styles of play, one never truly dominated the other and the drama of their contests helped women's tennis achieve a place equal to the men's game.

Women's golf has a true number one: Annika Sorenstam. Although she is having a less than stellar year (even though she just won the top tournament in women's golf, the U.S. Women's Open, everyone -- Michelle Wie included -- guns for Annika. But what's making the women's game so interesting right now is that it's not just Annika and Michelle who are contending for championships. Paula Creamer, a 20-year old who always wears something pink, is both pretty and pretty damn good. She has a champion's fire and is working to show the world that she belongs at the top. Then there's Lorena Ochoa, a Mexican player who is the leading money winner on the tour this year. Add Natalie Gulbis and Brittany Lincicome, two more talented teenagers, plus wily veterans like Pat Hurst, Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb, and you've got some amazing competition.

This weekend all the top players came together for the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship. For those of you unfamiliar with golf, most tournaments are stroke play: everyone plays the same course at basically the same time and whoever shoots the lowest total score wins. Match play, on the other hand, is one golfer against another. You play hole by hole. Whoever wins the most holes wins. The tournament progresses like a tennis tournament, with the losers being eliminated the winners going on to play the next challenger.

Tomorrow are the semi-finals and finals, with Lorena Ochoa going up against Brittany Lincicome and Paula Creamer taking on Juli Inkster (who beat Annika today with a birdie on the 18th hole). Although Annika and Michelle have been eliminated (Michelle lost to Brittany in the quarters), this is still quite a line-up, and the golf tomorrow promises to be quite exciting. I predict Paula Creamer will beat Juli, and then best Lorena Ochoa in an upset in the final. I know the network (like me) was hoping for an Annika/Michelle final. And if it had come to pass, it would have vaulted the women's game into the stratosphere. Still, the fact that there are four great players contending for this title -- and so much attention on it -- represents a turning point for women's golf.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The thing I hate most about golf... that I love it so much. It's a bit like an abusive relationship -- it treats you poorly, then is abjectly sorry and does something wonderful to make up for the bad behavior.

During my most recent round, after a very poor opening nine, I started to hit the ball a bit better. On the 14th I hit easily my best drive of the day, right down the middle, looked to be 260-270. But when I got to where the ball should be, I saw that the wind had taken it just a bit left and the ball had caught the lip of a bunker, forcing me to wedge out. Then I hit my best 3-wood of the day, but it was just a bit too far right and dropped in the pond fronting the green, missing land by about a yard. Dropped, hit a wedge that just went through, then chipped to two feet for a bogey 6, when I could easily have been putting for eagle.

Then, on the very next hole, I hit another great drive down the center, hit a 9-iron to the upper tier of the green, then snaked in a 45-footer for birdie. Next hole was a par three, I was on in regulation, then three-putted, something I rarely do (but did four times during this round!). The next hole was a par four and I hit a 3-wood to position A, then shanked my 8-iron and made another bogey. On the 18th, I hit the ball so far off the tee I carried it into the pond, which I have never done on this hole. But I hit a 9-iron to 12 feet and nearly sank the putt to save par.

I'm a hopeless addict.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Challenge of Faith

In the second episode of Bill Moyers's "Faith & Reason," the guest is Mary Gordon. Gordon, a prolific novelist, essayist, short story writer and memoirist (as well a practicing Catholic) was speaking about the challenge of faith: "I think there are many more good reasons for not believing than for believing. If you look at the evil and suffering in the world, it's very hard to believe there is a personal god looking out for us, watching the sparrow, counting the hairs on the head. If you look at the behavior of institutional religions, it's very scandalizing. Not just my own church, which is the Catholic church, but the history of religion proves that religious people are no better than people who are not religious. It seems to not make a lot of difference in terms of virtue. And often, if a religion is connected with power, it enables them to act worse than people who have less power. So I think it's a very strange thing, a very mysterious thing, to believe."

Yet, she believes -- though precisely why, she cannot say. Or does not choose to say. But the conversation was nonetheless fascinating.

A Dark Day for Equality

Today is a very sad day for gay and lesbian Americans, as we were handed one of the worst defeats in recent memory when the New York State Supreme Court ruled that restricting civil marriage to opposite-sex couples only is acceptable under the state’s constitution.

Reading the decision, it seems the New York court has failed to apply simple logic or common-sense, relying instead on the crutch of tradition: this is how it has been and is therefore how it ought to be.

The court looked at “two grounds that rationally support the limitation on marriage that the Legislature has enacted.”

The first is that “for the welfare of children, it is more important to promote stability, and to avoid instability, in opposite-sex than in same-sex relationships.” Granting that stability is important for the health and welfare of children, the court failed to even nominally address why extending civil marriage rights to same-sex couples would in any way threaten the stability of those in opposite-sex relationships.

The second ground referenced is that “other things being equal, it is better for children to grow up with both a mother and a father.” There is dispute on this point, with some social science showing that children raised by two men or two women do equally as well. But even if one grants that two parents of opposite genders is optimal for child welfare, denying same-sex civil marriage rights does nothing to hinder the formation of stable, opposite-sex relationships. Nor can the restriction of marriage equality prevent the formation of families where the parents are of the same sex. Gay couples who want children will continue to create them through sperm donation and adoption. Denying civil equality does nothing to further what the state sees as a laudable goal. Why the court failed to see this is beyond me, and I can only place the blame on the very real fear of the unknown and the different as the cause of their short-sightedness.

Almost as damaging as the justices’ inability to see that this is not a zero-sum game, that extending rights to one group does not remove them from another, is the language they use to explain their rationale. Consider this:

“A person's preference for the sort of sexual activity that cannot lead to the birth of children is relevant to the State's interest in fostering relationships that will serve children best.”

The challenge for me here is the use of the word “preference.” Gay and lesbian people do not “prefer” sex with people of the same gender, it is the way we are oriented. “Preference” implies a choice. In matters of sex, the heart wants what it wants. By using “preference,” the court subtly implies that gay people are complicit in the discriminatory treatment they receive.

Worse than that, however, is how the court summarily dismisses gay and lesbian people as a discriminated class:

“neither men nor women are disproportionately disadvantaged or burdened by the fact that New York's Domestic Relations Law allows only opposite-sex couples to marry -- both genders are treated precisely the same way. As such, there is no gender classification triggering intermediate scrutiny.”

What they are saying is that since any man can marry any woman and vice versa, equality is guaranteed. Gay people, as a class therefore, are completely ignored. We “prefer” sex with members of the same gender, and all we have to do is change our minds in order to take advantage of the benefits civil marriage brings. This, to me, is the most damaging element of the decision – our non-existence as a class entitled to any legal protection beyond that accorded to us as men or women.

In its decision, the court suggests that this is a matter to be taken up by the state legislature, and to that end, LGBT organizations have already called upon New York to do just that. That will be a long, hard road. So we best get started.

My Bunny Valentine

My favorite new blog (for the next five minutes, anyway): potentially Nothing intellectually demanding here. As the blog's motto says: "the world's going to hell -- here are some bunny photos."

Monday, July 03, 2006

Vincent Ferrari Fights Back

If you haven't heard of Vincent Ferrari, click here. This link is part of Vincent's blog, a post in which he discusses the reaction to his recording of a conversation with an AOL customer service rep who was very reluctant to fill Mr. Ferrari's request of cancelling his account. There's a transcript of the call, as well as a "Today" show segment on which Mr. Ferrari appeared.

But the main thrust of this post is Mr. Ferrari countering a specific critic of his, a Rob Zarzueta. Although Mr. Ferrari comes off as gentle and patient during his TV appearance, just a simple guy whose story got picked up by the media, his comments at the end of the post make him seem like a bit more of an attention whore than he'd have us believe:

"I guess it’s cool though, because I’ve never heard of Rob before. I imagine a lot of people haven’t. I’ve been blogging for 4 years myself, and reading them significantly longer than that, and Rob’s name never came up. Not once. So congratulations Rob Zarzueta, whoever the hell you are. You got my attention by trying to piggy back on my 15 minutes of fame. I’m sure you’ll get more people linking to you from here than you’ve had read that drivel you write in the past ((insert number of minutes you’ve been blogging here)). I’ll guarantee you one thing, though, L33t boy. One day, people are going to remember this story and what it meant for AOL and customers everywhere.

Do you really think anyone’s gonna remember you (or for that matter the other idiots) for shitting on me?"

It wasn't even 15 minutes, Vince. More like eight. And it wasn't fame so much as it was reflected attention.

"The Devil Wears Prada"

It's worth seeing if only for Meryl Streep's performance. Once again, she steps into the skin of a character and embodies her fully. I'm surprised she only has ten Oscar nominations and two statuettes. The movie gets a little heavy-handed at times, but it's quite a lot of bitchy fun.