August 26, 2009

Odd words

A friend mentioned recently that he hates Cingular--the old cell phone company--because their ads blanketed every flat surface in the United States for so long that "singular"--an actual word--now looks wrong to him. He added that "ludicrous" also looks weird, thanks to the success of the rapper/actor Ludacris (though obviously it's impossible to hate Ludacris).

I think this is an interesting phenomenon. Knowing full well that asking for audience participation is the fool's errand to end all fools' errands, I ask the audience: can you think of any other words like this?

Car names, maybe? Pharmaceuticals? I think I'll take a sleeping pill and noodle on it.

August 24, 2009

Please Retire This Joke

Another thing I'm fucking tired of is that trend where people give someone with an alliterative name the nickname "[Initial] Squared". For example, a guy on my high school tennis team was named Johnny John, so he was quickly nicknamed "J-Squared".

I was recently reminded of this phenomenon as I was reading something about Mad Men (yes, Mad Men again) on Slate (yes, Slate again):

clipped from

But given who Draper is, my bet is that Sal's secret is safe, just as Peggy's was last season. And this commitment to double lives and discretion—indeed, the fact that their secret lives almost endear Peggy and Sal to Don—is part of what makes Draper (or D-Squared, as we call him at my house) the most mystifying, satisfying character currently on television.

blog it

What's so fucking stupid about this is that squaring a quantity rarely results in that quantity being doubled (Squaring the number 2 is the only time it does). If you had two number 4's, for example, you wouldn't say "Four squared", you'd say "Four times two". So, saying "D-Squared" doesn't make any sense. If you wanted some pithy, quasi-clever nickname for someone with an alliterative name, you should say "Two-D" or whatever. Which is admittedly a stupid name, but at least it's coherent.

Am I the only one who's noticed this trend? I can't think of any other examples but I swear I hear it pretty often. Why why why?

August 18, 2009

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad blog

Remember that detail in Fahrenheit 451 about how billboards along interstates are long as hell because traditional billboards can't be seen and read from inside the really fast, futuristic cars? So the billboards' pictures and messages had to be stretched out so far that they looked absurd and basically illegible to anyone standing still?

I was thinking maybe TV advertisers should start doing that. I recorded a Mad Men marathon on AMC last week (if Mad Men isn't an American Movie Classic, I guess I don't know what is). When I watch an episode, I obviously fast-forward the commercials, which behavior of course has caused all kinds of hand-wringing and brow-mopping in the ad world.

So maybe advertisers should start running ads that are really distended and weird and only make sense when viewed at fast-forward. I imagine the fast-forwarding crowd also skews younger and tech-savvier than the average viewer, which I think makes them prime targets for advertisers anyway. Or maybe some really clever companies could make ads that can be understood at both speeds: telling a fuller story in the real-time version and a pithier one in fast-forward. Kind of like those zany Mad magazine fold-ins.

Of course, no one seemed that impressed by my last advertising idea, so I'm not getting my hopes up.

August 10, 2009

Blog Days of August

As a freshman, I had some female friends who lived together in a nearby dorm. Their suite's bathroom, like all dormitory restrooms, was adorned with wipe-off messages and magazine clippings and PSA's about binge drinking and date rape and bulimia. I remember one of the stalls featured a printed copy of a forwarded email, taped right above the toilet paper dispenser. It contained an alphabetized list of boys' names, along with a pithy description of the person bearing that name. The tone of the descriptions could maybe be described as vaguely empowering, in that curious way that making fun of someone who hurt you can feel empowering.

Adams have weak handshakes. Bobbys only want you for your body. Calebs wet the bed.

I just made those up. The only one I remember for sure is D, and my memory is that D garnered the only positive description in the list: Daves are impossible to get over.

As an 18 year old with blossoming self-esteem issues, I found this extremely validating.

August 9, 2009

Another Baseball Post

One of the weird things about blogging about baseball is I never really know how much my audience can take. Should I feel comfortable using baseball's weird vernacular? Or should I slow down and explain things like double plays and sacrifices? Baseball has such an extensive and precise idiom that you never know how much knowledge to presume. Everyone knows what a strike is, right? An out? It's a difficult line to walk.

This problem reminds me of a pretty good story. In summer 2005, when I was interning at my former law firm, I went to 3 baseball games on the firm's dime. The first was an Arizona Diamondbacks game in June, when the firm flew us down to Scottsdale for a long weekend of drinking and carousing. At the game, I sat next to a nice girl who didn't know shit about baseball. Feeling compelled to ingratiate myself to my new peers, I happily and patiently spent the entire game explaining baseball to her.

If you've ever had to do this, you realize how difficult it is.

A few weeks later, I sat with 3 other interns in the firm's plush box seats at Yankee Stadium. One of the interns grew up in India and also knew nothing about baseball. Patiently--if not happily--I tried my best to explain the basic rules, followed by the subtleties, to my new friend.

Finally, at the end of July, my firm sent the entire summer class to Yankee Stadium to watch a game from the right field bleachers. Having had virtually all the pleasure of my last 2 baseball games removed by the task of explaining its byzantine rules to the uninitiated, I was intent on watching this game surrounded by friendly, knowledgeable baseball fans.

I finally settled on two guys, both smart, longtime fans. I told them about my experience at the previous two games, and the guys, fully appreciating my pain, agreed not to leave my side.

So we're at the game, enjoying the hell out of it. We're talking baseball and I'm feeling good. Around the third inning, one of my buddies says he's got to take a leak. By this time everyone has shown up and settled into their seats. But just to be safe, I scooch halfway into the empty seat to my left and spread my knees, trying to take up as much room as possible.

Almost immediately I hear a thick accent calling my name. Reluctantly, I look over my shoulder and see one of our German exchange interns, five rows behind me, literally climbing over everyone between us. He hurdles the last row and lands his right foot in the space my small-bladdered friend had just abandoned.

"David," he says excitedly, "you know all about baseball. Please tell me what I am watching!"

It was a long game.

August 8, 2009

Baseball blog

[NB: Here's the complete set of live posts I blogged during this afternoon's Red Sox-Yankees game. Scroll down to the previous post, LIVE BLOGGING EVENT, for some background.]


Jason Bay's hamstring is still acting up, so Kevin Youkilis is again playing out of position in left field, with backup Casey Kotchman filling in at 1st. Kotchman is a journeyman, an adept fielder without much power. The Sox acquired him last week from the Braves for Adam LaRoche, whom they had acquired a couple of weeks earlier from the Pirates. The Red Sox said they felt compelled to trade LaRoche because, after acquiring Victor Martinez from the Indians, they had nowhere for LaRoche to play. But the curious thing is, they traded LaRoche for another first baseman, meaning they would presumably have the same problem playing Kotchman that they would have had with LaRoche.

And now, one injury later, Kotchman is forced to play seriously intense games while LaRoche--a far more dangerous hitter--is toiling with the Braves. I don't understand this at all.


Bottom of the 1st. Boston's pitcher is Clay Buchholz, a youngster who came to fame in 2007 when he threw a September no-hitter against the Orioles. I watched that game with my mom. Since then he's been a disaster in the big leagues. The Red Sox refuse to trade him because he has great stuff and he's been lights out in the minors. But for whatever reason, he can't get major leaguers out with any consistency. My dad called a few games ago to complain about Buchholz's delivery: it looks like he falls off the mound to his left on his follow through, which tends to leave his pitches out over the plate against right handed hitters.

Second batter of the game and Youkilis drops an easy fly ball in left field. Did I mention he's playing out of position?

A look at Buchholz's stats against right and left handed hitters backs up Dad's theory. Ordinarily, a right-handed pitcher will perform better against right-handed hitters and worse against lefties. Granted, the sample size is small, but Buchholz has performed far worse against righties: in roughly the same number of innings, he's allowed 4 more baserunners, 3 more home runs, and 7 more earned runs against righties.

0-0 after 1.


Ortiz gets booed again by the Yankees fans, presumably on account of the steroid accusations. Joe Buck speculates that the fans are booing "more out of a sense of gamesmanship than disgust". I'm not sure how many Yankee fans know what gamesmanship means.

Another perfect inning for C.C. Sabathia.


Kotchman strikes out. Sabathia, who looked horrible in April after signing a huge contract in the offseason, has been phenomenal ever since. The Red Sox haven't scored a run in 18 straight innings.

Boston shortstop Nick Green played for the Yankees in 2006. Interestingly enough, he scored the winning run against the Sox in the 5th game of that brutal August series I just wrote about when Keith Foulke uncorked a wild pitch in the 8th inning, permitting Green to score from 3rd.

Yanks have 2 men on with nobody out in the bottom of the 3rd, with good old Jeter at the plate. I foresee bad things.

Wrong. Jeter grounds weakly into a double play, third-to-second-to-first. Of course Buchholz then walks Damon on 4 pitches. Yowzers. Teixeira drives in Cabrera on a sharp single to right. Yankees 1, Sox 0.


[NB: I'll probably go back and paste all these things into a single post, so people don't have to read them in reverse. One interesting thing about blogging is: if you have any sort of serial narrative going on, the reader has to read from bottom to top. Doesn't everything else in the English language read top left to bottom right?]

Sabathia has a perfect game through 4 innings. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver have been boring, but not as dumb as I had hoped.

Back in 2007, I blogged game one of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Rockies. It didn't go well, but at least I got some choice quotes from McCarver and Ken Rosenthal.

Long inning for Buchholz. No damage yet, but 2 on with 2 out. Joe Buck points out, astutely, that all the hits off Buchholz today have been by left-handed batters. This doesn't exactly jive with my analysis from back in the first inning, but I'm sticking to my guns.

Cabrera, a rightie, strikes out to end the inning.


Tim McCarver inveighs against the well-known tradition that announcers don't mention a no-hitter (or a perfect game) while it's in progress. He's right, of course, that superstition is stupid. But it's surprising to hear from a former ballplayer (and a catcher, no less). I love silly baseball superstitions and I wouldn't dare talk about a perfect game while it's in progress. Unless the pitcher is a Yankee.

Sabathia walks Ortiz, who's hitting .047 in his last 5 games, on a borderline inside curveball. No more perfect game. Sabathia quickly retires Lowell and Drew. The no-hitter is intact.

BONUS: here's some funny analysis of a classic Tim McCarver quote, also from the 2007 playoffs.


Youkilis misplays another fly ball, although this was a more difficult play than the other one. Just like in the 1st inning, Damon finds himself on 2nd with one out. The Yankee fans are really laying it on good old Youk.

I think this is the inning where Buchholz falls apart.

Teixeira walks, A-Rod grounds out but moves the runners over to 2nd and 3rd. Fortunately Matsui grounds out to the pitcher; crisis averted.


Ellsbury, Boston's center fielder, singles to center with 2 outs, breaking up the no-hitter. I remember a game back in 2001, when the Yankees were in Boston and Mike Mussina took a perfect game into the 9th inning. Finally, with 2 outs and 2 strikes, Carl Everett singled cleanly to left field. The Red Sox were still losing, but the fans cheered like they had just won the pennant. It was thrilling and surreal, even on TV. Yankees first baseman Clay Bellinger said afterwards, "it felt like we lost the game."

Back to 2009. Pedroia strikes out on 3 pitches to end the inning. Sabathia has thrown 92 pitches through 6 innings; the Sox' only hope is that he tires himself out before the 9th.

Bottom 6. Leadoff double for Cano. Buchholz has allowed 10 baserunners in 5+ innings. He's been really lucky so far, but it can't last forever.

Swisher sacrifices Cano to third, then Buchholz intentionally walks Cabrera to set up the double play. Molina, New York's slow-footed catcher, is up to bat.

Molina promptly flies out deep to center field, scoring Cano easily. Jeter flies out to right. 2-0 Yanks.


It's hard to tell how this live blogging is going. It certainly doesn't help that no one is actually reading this in real time. If anything, the game goes a lot faster when you're constantly trying to think of interesting things to say.

Meanwhile, Martinez walks and Youkilis singles, both with nobody out. Ortiz, former Boston folk hero, recent steroid casualty, steps in looking nothing like the clutch hitter he was two long years ago...

...And promptly strikes out on a shitty call by the home plate ump. Mike Lowell, perhaps the slowest runner in the American League, then grounds into a double play. Still 2-0 Yankees.

Ramon Ramirez relieves Buchholz to start the 7th. You could say Buchholz pitched bravely, but mostly he got lucky. Still one of his best performances since the no-hitter in 2007.

With a man on first and one out, Ramirez hits A-Rod with the first pitch. The umpire immediately ejects Ramirez from the game, and the Red Sox are understandably furious.

A couple of batters later, the new pitcher, Gonzalez , gives up a two out, bases loaded walk to plate another run. 3-0 Yanks.


Sabathia strikes out Kotchman for the 3rd time, then gets lifted for a relief pitcher. Final line on Sabathia: 7 2/3 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts. Not a bad day's work.

Phil Hughes comes on and strikes out poor Nick Green on 4 pitches. The Red Sox haven't scored in 23 innings, and they're about to lose their 5th game in a row.

Bottom 8. Two run homer for Jeter. 5-0 Yanks. I can't believe the announcers haven't compared this bloodbath to the 2006 series yet.


Well this sucks. I'm supposed to see a friend's band tonight at 8:00. The only suspense is whether David Robertson can shut down the Red Sox fast enough for me to make the show.

He cannot. Not that the Red Sox come back to win, but they manage to hang around long enough to make me late. A moral victory, I suppose.


For the Boston Red Sox, the 2009 season is shaping up to be a lot like 2006. In both seasons, they start out hot and enjoy a small lead over the Yankees throughout most of the first half. But sometime around end the of July, things start to turn, and by mid-August the Yankees are comfortably out in front.

In both seasons, the Yankees begin to play really well in July for a variety of reasons: a key player returns from injury, new teammates finally get used to the tense media environment, or maybe just a simple regression to the mean: as the season wears on and the sample size increases, the most talented and highest-paid team naturally rises to the top. The Red Sox, meanwhile, suffer a handful of mid-season injuries and media distractions and the season unravels. Varitek breaks his elbow, Wakefield hurts his back. Manny complains about an aching knee, then forgets which one to limp on. Ortiz finds his name on the steroid list and helplessly denies any wrongdoing. Boston's reliance on aging, broken-down pitchers--Schilling, Smoltz--ultimately backfires.

Three years ago New York came into Boston to play 5 games in 4 days over a very long weekend, with the Yankees leading the East by, I think, two games. [Editor's note: it was 1.5 games.] I was in Argentina on my post-Bar trip, so I barely managed to follow the series. The first day, Friday, held a double-header which the Yankees swept. Saturday afternoon saw another Yankee win; the Sox were now down by [4.5] games and their season was quickly going belly up.

That Sunday, I traveled alone to a small town in central Argentina, where I checked into a little hotel (the same hotel where I set my tepid Hemingway piece). For the first time on my trip, my room had cable TV. That evening after dinner, too exhausted by the day's travel to explore the town, I switched on the TV and found, of all things, ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. That game was probably the best the Yanks and Sox had played since the 2004 playoffs. I think Schilling pitched. The Sox were up 1 in the 9th, with Papelbon on the mound to close things out. With two outs, he threw an outside fastball to Jeter that the smarmy Yankee shortstop punched weakly to the opposite field to score Cabrera and tie the game. New York beat up on rookie Hansen in the 10th and the game was over. Watching this game, alone in Argentina, is one of my fondest baseball memories.

David Wells--erstwhile Yankee--pitched well the next day, but no one was surprised when Boston fell 2-1. The Sox continued to flounder afterwards, failing to make the playoffs for the only time since 2002.

And so anyway, the same thing is happening to the Red Sox right now. This time it's a four game series played in New York, but otherwise the setup is eerily similar. The Yanks destroyed the Sox on Thursday, then played an historic game last night, finally winning 2-0 in the 15th inning on an A-Rod home run. I have a feeling last night was the game, like the Sunday night contest in 2006, that marked the end of Boston's season.

Of course I'm happy to be wrong. Today's game is on Fox and starts in about an hour. I'm going to live blog it. But I wanted to post this first, so people won't think I'm piggybacking on Joe Buck and Tim McCarver when they talk incessantly about the "Boston Massacre" of August 2006.

Probably this will suck. But whenever McCarver is involved, entertainment stands a fighting chance. Wish me well.

August 5, 2009

Rare, like Mr. Clean with hair

A few weeks ago I was in my grandmother's basement helping my dad move an 11-ton marble coffee table. Good old Gran, six years dead, kept a lifetime of books down there in the damp and the mildew and the cobwebs. Upon cursory inspection, most of the books seemed rather pedestrian. Many of them were children's texts Granny used as a schoolteacher way back when. Others--judging from the multiple copies--were probably leftovers from the bookstore my grandfather used to run.

But a couple of books immediately caught my eye. One is a simple green hardback called Contemporary Essays. It was published in 1928 and includes essays by Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, H.L. Mencken, George Santayana, and Virginia Woolf. I haven't read much of it yet, but the Eliot essay, about the tension between an artist's individuality and the lush traditions of his medium, is pretty damned interesting.

The other book is called Race Relations and the Race Problem: A Symposium on a Growing National and International Problem with Special Reference to the South. It was published by Duke University Press in 1939. Scanning the insides of its dust jacket, I noticed one of the contributors was a zoologist from Berkeley. My curiosity was piqued: any essay about race by a Jim Crow-era zoologist had to be good.

I wasn't disappointed. I couldn't bear to read the whole thing, but I picked out the central thesis easily enough: whenever two races find themselves in close proximity (thus forced to compete for a finite set of resources), the races will naturally remain at odds until one eventually marginalizes the other following a sustained period of superior fertility and/or mortality. The author compares the birth rates, death rates, and age compositions of whites and blacks in both rural and urban environments, then goes on to consider other factors, such as birth control and immigration policy. Ominous conclusion: "Since our cities will doubtless continue to be potent destroyers of Negroes for many years, the fate of the Negroes will be decided on the farms and in the small villages of the Southern states."


Also compelling were a couple of papers I found tucked inside the front cover. One is a copy of a letter written in July 1956 by a partner at a D.C. law firm criticizing the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and advising local school boards on how best to circumvent the decision's mandate. The other is a transcript of a speech given by a fellow segregationist, also in July 1956, to a group called The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties.

Your dead grandmother's musty basement: where history comes queasily alive!