Friday, August 29, 2008

Well on the bright side...

I think my socially liberal, economically conservative, never-voting father will officially stop his attempt--mostly in jest--to convince me that the Republicans deserve any consideration at all. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

iGoogle and Other Miscellany

Apparently I'm now part of Google's experiment with iGoogle that has left-hand navigation and this canvas view thing. As you can see above. My gmail doesn't work as well nor does my reader and it makes everything look more cramped and crowded when I'm not looking at a specific app. So basically I think it sucks and I'm not terribly happy to be stuck with it. Just saying. 

Amy, at Shots off the Crossbar, linked to a not entirely shitty Bucky Gleason article in the Buffalo News. My least favorite sports columnist starts out pretty well, but can't help ending up in the usual Bucky zone of stating the blindingly obvious:
See, at times, this job becomes one. You become so accustomed to seeing great athletes perform at the highest levels that, after a while you forget how to cheer. Over time, I guess, objectivity stole one of the things I liked most about following sports, having a rooting interest.
Stop the presses: Bucky is out of touch with the common fan? Somewhere along the line he stopped getting it? I imagine it's too much to hope that he takes this realization and remembers it while covering the Sabres this year. Every time he begins to write something that condescends to the fans he should take a moment and remember what it's like to be a fan. And by that I don't mean what it's like to be a fan of Drury, Briere, and Campbell. I mean what it's like to be a fan of a team. Yeah, I'm not holding out much hope. (Side note to the Buffalo News: Copyedit better. That last sentence I quoted could be a bit less awkward grammatically, no?)

My previously balding cat now has peach fuzz on his formerly bald patches and is looking rather less ugly. I may be treating the symptom not the disease, but at least he's a bit less ugly. 

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Olympics, Beach Volleyball, and The New Yorker

There are a couple pieces on the Olympics in Beijing in the latest issue of The New Yorker. And I think we've established at this point that I'm a bit obsessed when it comes to the Olympics so it shouldn't be surprising that I feel the need to write about them.

Nancy Franklin's piece on the TV coverage of the games is kind of a waste of space. I like critics to provide some sort of insight that I can't come up with on my own while sitting on the couch drinking cocktails in my underwear, thank you. For the most part I even agree with her comments, but the fact that NBC's coverage is obnoxious? I'd kind of figured that out and so have a lot of other people. My annoyance really began though, when I got to this part:
In the four years since I was last forced to watch beach volleyball, I somehow have not found the maturity and wisdom to take it seriously as an Olympic sport, and, frankly, I doubt that NBC takes it seriously, either, except as a ratings grabber. Every time I turned on the TV, there was May-Treanor (the short one) and Walsh (the tall one), in those silly little Victoria’s Ill-Kept Secret outfits.
If I never hear anything else about the beach volleyball bikinis it will be too soon. It's just an easy shot to take. Beyond that though, I have a couple of thoughts on this. First, I think it's sad to not take the sport seriously, particularly when it seems to be because of the outfits. As unexciting as I've found the competition this year I think that the athleticism, skill, and hard work that go into the game are evident and itty-bitty clothing shouldn't distract from that. Second, I really don't have any problem with said bikinis. Do they lead many viewers to objectify the players? I'm sure it does. But let's be honest for just a moment here and acknowledge that desire in various forms and objectification are a big part of sports viewership. And I don't really have a problem with that. Beach volleyball makes those aspects of viewership more explicit than most sports, true, but it's hardly creating something that didn't already exist. (I've also been spending enough time staring at incredibly fit male athletes that it would be completely hypocritical of me to judge someone for watching beach volleyball in order to see women running around in little pieces of fabric.)

There are all kinds of problems in the way some of the commentators, and NBC in general, cover the female athletes. Franklin does point some of those out in the article. I just wish people--not just Franklin--didn't seem to lump the clothing in with those issues. Yes, it's skimpy, yes it attracts viewers, no it's not that different from what most women where on the beach. Whatever. NBC showed a race today in which one of the women was covered from wrist to foot and wearing a head covering, as her religion demands. It's a hell of a lot more troubling then women in bikinis but I bet I read far fewer people complaining about it.

Anthony Lane's commentary on the first week of the Olympics, while not great, was far more interesting. He tells us things that we don't actually see on TV--half-time entertainment at a water polo match for example or the security measures attendees deal with--and sums up the failure of the NBC coverage eloquently.
Most people will stay home and watch the events on TV, having no other option, but be warned: what NBC chooses to broadcast is not the Olympic Games. They offer selected clips of selected American athletes, largely in major sports, sometimes hours after the event, whereas, if the bruised Olympic ideal still means anything, it means loosing yourself, for a couple of weeks, from the bonds of your immediate loyalties and tastes. It means watching live sports you didn’t know you were interested in, played by countries you’ve never been to, at three o’clock in the morning—not just watching them, either, but getting into them, deluding yourself that you grasp the rules, offering the fruits of your instant expertise to anyone who will listen (“I think you’ll find the second waza-ari counts as ippon”), and, most bewildering of all, losing your heart.
NBC hasn't given us any options. They haven't allowed us to lose our hearts but instead have tried to convince us that we should fall in love with people like Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers. Well I'm sorry, but I simply don't love them. They're arrogant overdogs and I refuse to care about them. But NBC doesn't seem to want to show me people I could fall in love with--even if I did enjoy Yang Wei pretending the pommel horse was an actual horse at the gymnastics gala--and that's a shame.

Synchronized Swimming

Synchronized swimming is so bizarre. Crazy hard I'm sure. One of the girls on my high school swim team was also a synchronized swimmer and she could hold her breath for a hell of a long time. Shocking, I know.

I also once had a swim practice where we shared the pool with a synchro team. (Just to make the Olympics all about me here.) It was pretty bizarre to be doing our laps and have music playing under the water. Much nicer than the time we shared the pool with a scuba diving class though. That sucked.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Gentlemen of the Road

So one advantage of NBC's awful weekday Olympic --in their defense they're doing a somewhat better job on weekend sports coverage--that I'm finding more time than I expected to read. There I am, evening set aside for sports overload, and they're replaying the gymnastics they covered badly the night before. In primetime. Instead of, say, showing us some of the many other Olympic sports that they haven't been showing at all. The gymnastics has, at times, been good enough to overcome terrible coverage, but I don't need to see it replayed. The swimming has been compelling thanks in part to Michael Phelps being worth almost all the hype--it's impossible to choose a greatest Olympian ever--and plenty of other swimmers turning in great swims and keeping things close and exciting. Particularly disappointing though has been the beach volleyball, which has been boring me horribly after I loved it in Athens. I especially dislike the top American men's team and find myself hoping they lose. So anyway, I've been spending a lot of time sitting in front of my television with a book.

I went to the library last weekend to pick up Ha Jin's Waiting and impulse borrowed Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road.

It was decent although nothing particularly special and I can't help but wonder if that's partially a reflection of Chabon's attitude toward the book. At the end there's an afterword where Chabon writes, after first telling the reader that his working title was Jews with Swords, "I know it still seem incongruous, first of all, for me or a writer of my literary training, generation, and pretensions to be writing stories featuring anybody with swords." Does it really? This is a writer whose best novel features comic book creators and who, in addition to writing about comic books has also written an actual comic book for Dark Horse Comics. And then there's his detective story as homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Is it really so unexpected that such a writer would write an adventure story? I don't really think so and I think that the afterword tells the reader more about Chabon's image of himself as a writer than it does about the apparent incongruity of the book. And I think that this idea that it is incongruous for him to write such a story seems to have affected the book negatively.

The book is almost entirely predictable, resting on its use of language and description, begins its Victorian pastiche with a humorous tone, slyly laughing at its characters and itself.
They sent the Persian and the stripling out into the inn yard then, and as was their inveterate custom and a crossroads of fortune, bickered like a couple of Regensburg fishwives. At first they argued about whether or not they had time to argue, or if arguing would cost them their appointment with the ostler in the clearing, and then about whose fault it had been that they were never paid by the landlord of an inn outside Trebizond, and then Zelikman succeeded at returning the conversation to the elephant boy, and his grandfather's stonghold in Azerbaijan, and the easy money that delivering him thence represented, at which point they resumed an old, old argument over whose definition of "easy money" was the least commensurate with lived experience, and about who was afraid and whose courage had been more openly on display in the recent course of their partnership.
That's good fun, but Chabon isn't really the funniest of writers and when that tone flags the novel becomes significantly less fun. It's as if, rather than just let it be a fun, silly adventure story, Chabon at times seems to want to give it some weight, but he hasn't built a structure that can sustain it. The long bits of description rarely actually describe much and the characters never really move past caricatures. Which would all be fine if it were just a bit more fun as a whole, but it never quite gets there.

As a side note, both his most recent books have been so nicely designed and I think the illustrations in this one are great.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More on the Olympics

Being a hockey fan I'm unfortunately well acquainted with the quality of NBC's sports coverage. So I'm not exactly surprised by the fact that the Olympic coverage has been obnoxious. I kind of just fast forwarded through the non-sports stuff and tried to ignore the fact that most of the announcing is bad, incredibly repetitive, or both. I say mostly because the diving analyst is delightfully nasty. I like her.

Then, a few days ago, I read Claudia LaRocco's post about the Olympics in which she states that the packaging of the games, "does a terrible disservice to athletics and to culture." Now I had just been thinking that the packaging of the games was a disservice to me because it makes me want to bang my head into my coffee table, but I don't really disagree with her. The opportunity to see the best athletes in the world competing against each other in a wide swathe of sports is thrilling and it should be possible to provide compelling and worthwhile coverage of such an event. NBC's coverage is occasionally compelling but only because the competition itself is capable, at times, of overcoming the fatuousness of the network. More often than not, though, enjoying the sports requires ignoring the commentary.

Then, today, the Counter Critic put up a great two part post on China and the Olympics (Part One, Part Two) which looks at the divide between the real China and the illusion that China wants to present. An illusion that NBC is unfortunately helping to promote. And he uses Anne Carson and her explication of erotic desire to do it. Which is really pretty awesome. I don't have much to say, but check it out.

Edit: And the IPB ladies have written a letter to NBC pointing out that we so didn't wait 4 years to see features on Pandas and spend quality time in-studio with Bob Costas. I am seriously missing CBC right now. Chalk that up as an advantage to living in Buffalo. My dad's been all about CBC this year.

On a more sports oriented note, I'm loving watching the swimming and squirming through the women's gymnastics. I loved watching the gymnastics when I was little. I wanted to be able to do all that crazy stuff and my sister and I would pretend to be gymnasts and do tricks and such. So it's sad that when I watch it now I spend so much of my time cringing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Totally Stressed

This is from yesterday evening and there's even less fur today. I know, I know, if my biggest concern in life is my cat losing all his hair then my life isn't so bad. I do realize that. But still, just look at my previously totally handsome darling. If I just knew what was wrong with him it would be better. I'm talking to the vet tomorrow about this latest bald patch.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Water Polo, etc.

I watched water polo today and have been thinking about why it's not as exciting to watch as it should be. I think that they need: a) better play-by-play, particularly because most of the viewers won't be accustomed to watching the sport on television and b) more instant replay so that we can see the nuance of the game and learn what to watch for c) not just tell us which players are good but why they're good. The play-by-play seems particularly important to me. The best announcers create a narrative and find a way to verbally express the flow of the game. I realize that NBC probably doesn't employ fabulously talented, knowledgeable water polo play-by-play and color guys, but I still feel like a better job could have been done.

That Tony Acevedo clearly rocks though.

On another Olympic note I was delighted when the Latvian men's beach volleyball team beat the top US team yesterday. It's not that I wouldn't be happy to see the US to win eventually, but I thought it was really enjoyable to watch those two young guys who were so enthusiastic play the best game they were capable of playing and get rewarded for it. It's kind of one of those things that you watch the Olympics to see, no?

In other news, I should never have left my apartment today. I wanted to get up to the Mid-Manhattan library because they had a book I need to read for the book discussion group I attend. So I waited forever and a day for the F only to realize when I got off the subway that I had arrived smack in the middle of the Dominican Pride Parade. The people screaming and blowing whistles on the platforms where everything seems to echo and get magnified were particularly unpleasant. I went up at 40th and 6th only to realize that I couldn't cross the street there, so I went back down and went through the tunnels to 42nd and 5th instead. I got the book I needed and just walked to Grand Central and took the 6 downtown instead, but I found the whole experience far more draining than it should have been. I'm looking forward to spending the rest of the day on the couch with the cat watching they Olympics.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sports Stuff

Those Opening Ceremonies were something else. Beautiful but also rather frightening in their precision. Definitely the most interesting opening I can remember watching. The Tai Chi demonstration with the thousands of people, many of them running opposite directions in perfect concentric circles was just unreal.

I love the Olympics. My family has always watched them religiously. Having only NBC to watch feels weird though since I'm used to being able to switch over to CBC whenever I feel like it. I can't say I buy into the whole "Olympic spirit" thing. But if you like watching sports--particularly the kind of sports they don't show on tv regularly--it doesn't get much better. I love the swimming and the volleyball (beach and regular) and the diving and a host of other sports. Track and field? That I don't love so much. So the first half of the games is more fun for me as a viewer.

In other news I am absolutely delighted that Teppo Numminen has been re-signed by the Sabres. I don't know how much better the team will be in the upcoming season but I've really been pretty happy with their offseason.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mohonk Preserve

Last year Wendy and I went camping and hiking up in the Catskills, near New Paltz, and had a nice time so we decided to do it again this year. This time around though, my dad drove down from Buffalo, swung through Binghamton to pick up my sister, and met us at the campsite.

The first night my father went a bit nuts with the grocery shopping and we had a veritable feast, with quinoa (the only thing Wendy and I had actually planned), corn cooked in the fire (it actually ended up half raw but was so fresh that it tasted great anyway), mini-steaks, and turkey sausage. Best of all, we had these fantastic blueberries that my sister had picked just the day before. It was a beautiful night as well, if buggy. They spray for mosquitoes and such in the suburb of Buffalo where I grew up, but I lived very close to New Paltz when I was little and constantly getting attacked by bugs is definitely something I remember clearly.

A rainstorm was in the forecast for around noon the next day, so the next morning we picked a hike that would take us up past the Mohonk Mountain House to the tower that overlooks it, figuring that we could beat the storm there and take refuge at the Mountain House until it passed. And if we didn't, well, that's what rain jackets are for. Shockingly, the forecast wasn't so accurate and the heavens opened up shortly after we began the hike and well before the predicted hour. Given that we had thunder and hail last time we hiked in the Catskills Wendy and I are thinking that our luck is not so good. So we hiked along in the rain and arrived, dripping and bedraggled, at the mountain house around 11:30 in the morning.
Looking across the lake in pouring rain.

We hid from the rain on the porch and had lunch while slowly drying. The house itself is a weird mix of styles which is fun, and for some reason they've chosen to landscape with all sorts of tropical plants, which is less fun. It's just a weird place, although I'm sure it's fun to stay there. When we were mostly dry we went inside to play a rousing game of Scrabble in which my father beat the rest of us by 100 points or more (which he always does). Scrabble geniuses we are not. By the time our game was wrapped up, the rain had stopped and we continued on with our hike.
That odd stillness just after a heavy rainfall.

We climbed up to the tower by going through the Labyrinth which is basically a long rock scramble along the base of a cliff until it connected with a trail up to the tower. Nowhere in the Catskills is all that high, but with the clouds hanging as low as they were, we were still above wispy bit of cloud at the top of the tower.

From there we went on to the crevice, the Lemon Squeeze, and went up that. And then, with the alternate trail to that point apparently closed, we went back down (which is scarier).
A terrible picture of my father in the crevice.

From the top. If you click to enlarge you can see Wendy at the bottom of the crevice.

After that it was just an easy end to the hike. We just beat the next round of rain to the car and, since everything was so wet ate out in New Paltz instead of cooking for ourselves. And then we went to see Mamma Mia which my father really wanted to see. It was about as good as the musical, which I didn't love, but with the fortunate addition of Christine Baranski--who is from Buffalo, by the way--and the unfortunate addition of Pierce Brosnan's terrible singing.

Then on Sunday we took a short hike up to a ridge from which there was a wonderful view of the valley. The hike itself was unremarkable but pleasant and the view in several directions was more than worth it.

So then it was back to the city, but it was very nice to get out and see stars and mountains and all that for a weekend.

Cat Update

My cat is so fucking bald, you guys. My roommate and I were away from the weekend (more on that later) and when we got back he had tons of new bald spots. Then, yesterday, the ringworm culture finally came back and it's negative. So the cleaning, the bleaching, the baths, the endless laundry, all for nothing. We carted him off to the vet yesterday and they scraped for mites and tested his thyroid. Which turns out to be OK. So we're treating him for mites anyway--they can avoid the scalpel--and if the mite treatment doesn’t work the next possibility is an auto-immune disease. Which would be painfully ironic given the fact that he’s supposed to be immuno-suppressed. Anyway, we're definitely hoping it's mites at this point but he's neither itchy nor inflamed, just well on his way to looking like a Sphinx cat, so who knows.

Either way, on the bright side, I can stop bathing the cat and doing my laundry/bleaching my room every other day.