Archive for August, 2009

This has to be my favorite segment of “How It’s Made,” in which they show how the ice surface is created for a hockey rink. It’s a good way to think cool on a hot summer’s day.

Pretty sweet.

And just as sweet is the thought that NHL training camps open in a few short weeks, and we’re just more than a month away from opening night.

If only professional, collegiate and high school football disappeared completely from the media, it would be perfect.

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First, I would be quite glad if my grad student stipend were that high. I only hit that average if I teach during the summer, and even then I get hosed because the university only pays me for two months of work (with a 20 percent bonus!) even though I do the equivalent of a full three months of work.

Second, I’d more gladly collect unemployment, except being a grad student generally means being ineligible for those sorts of programs. Instead, federal and state governments seem to think new grads should find jobs right away, or, failing that, rely on their families for financial support.

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As baby boomers began waxing nostalgic about the unexpected death of John Hughes this week, I caught sight of a link to Hughes’ original story, “Vacation ’58,” which was the basis for National Lampoon’s Vacation. Let’s just say the film would’ve been much better had it not had to fictionalize the ultimate object of Clark W. Griswold’s vengeance.

There’s also a story Hughes wrote last year chronicling his move from working at an ad agency to working at National Lampoon.

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Green bag it

Here’s the Stranger’s endorsement on Seattle’s Referendum 1, which would finally implement a city ordinance charging 20 cents for every plastic bag stores give out.

This was a tough one, as both sides made excellent points. On the one hand, environmentalists who know about things like “science” and “dead sea mammals” have researched the issue thoroughly and say that the 20-cent fee on disposable shopping bags—the proceeds of which go partially to the stores and partially to fund recycling programs—would help decrease the number of plastic bags currently piling up in landfills, or being downcycled to shittier plastic bags and then piling up in landfills, and, eventually, slowly disintegrating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch until they resemble tiny, delicious plankton particles that fish mistake for food but are actually POISON.

On the other hand, plastic-bag companies want more money! Waaaaaaaah!!! Do you want to see plastic-bag companies and chemical corporations cry? ON THEIR BIRTHDAY!?

Despite compelling arguments from the staggeringly disingenuous anti-bag-fee spokesman, whose organization, the Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax, has raised an absurd million-plus dollars from chemical companies and trade associations like the American Chemistry Council (but “one guy in Ballard gave $25!” he told us), we decided to go ahead and endorse a “YES, FUCKING OBVIOUSLY” vote on upholding the bag fee. Because 20 cents is approximately the same as zero cents if you remember to bring a reusable bag to the store anyway, which people who don’t want to pay the fee will do, and we’d like to continue having oceans, thanks.


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I absolutely love this cartoon by Martin Šútovec, an outstanding contemporary Slovak cartoonist. In fact, I love it so much that I’m reproducing it here and explaining quite laboriously and awkwardly the wordplay that makes it so humorous.

Komárno is for mosquitos

Komárno is for mosquitos

The cartoon is mocking the new Slovak language law (the Hungarian political scientist and MEP György Schöpflin offers his perspective here), which seems, at least ostensibly, to outlaw the public use of languages other than Slovak — hitting the Hungarian minority that makes up roughly 10 percent of Slovakia’s population especially hard.

In the cartoon, you have a mosquito standing next to a sign for Komárno, a border town on the route between Bratislava and Budapest, which has the Hungarian name Komárom, ergo the two signs on the post. Of course, the word “Komárom” also essentially means “to the mosquitos” in Slovak (it’s the genitive plural form of komár — mosquito). So, a Slovak might read the sign as saying “Mosquitoville for the Mosquitos,” or something to that effect. And this is why there’s a mosquito on the left.

Naturally, the notion of a Slovak town being for anyone but Slovaks is offensive to the Hungarophobic Slovak nationalists who support the thrust of the new language law, which is why you get the thuggish skinhead on the right looking enraged with his sign, “Slovakia for the Slovaks!”

My clunky explanation hardly does it justice, but this cartoon cracked me up, and it’s hilarious to anyone who knows Slovak, assuming you aren’t a xenophobe.

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After half-listening to Jon Miller last night as he spun conspiracy theories about why the names of players like Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz who failed drug tests in 2003, I found Doug Glanville’s perspective much more reasoned, and fair.

The real issue, as Glanville notes more soberly, isn’t that some big names cheated pharmacologically. Rather, it’s that the test in 2003 was meant to determine if baseball actually had a drug problem. The new collective bargaining agreement struck before that season called for the implementation of a full-blown testing program if more than a specified percentage of players (I want to say 5 percent) tested positive. Players were given assurances in the contract that the tests were simply for information purposes, that there would be no punishment, and, more importantly, that the results would remain anonymous until they were destroyed after the season.

Of course, the results, for reasons no one has yet ascertained, weren’t destroyed, and they were unearthed in the congressional investigation into baseball’s drug culture, though the specific names of the 104 players who tested positive in 2003 haven’t been disclosed publicly, they’ve only been leaked sporadically in recent months.

And while there’s no denying that the players who tested positive cheated, the question of use or non-use is, in many ways, secondary to the profound violation of the CBA:

But we need to pay close attention to our outrage because the precedent set by allowing confidential and anonymous collectively bargained tests to be completely breached is a bigger problem. It creates the impression that agreements between employers and employees on policies and procedures can be thrown out at any time, just because someone felt they had the right to know. In such a world, what would prevent your employer from taking your drug test result at C.V.S., at I.B.M. or maybe the hospital you work for and slap it up on the Internet tomorrow?

That’s a sobering thought, even if I have no reason to fear a drug test.

Plus, I’m not even sure the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs is really such a black mark on the game of baseball, if viewed historically. Surely it pales to the half-century (and more) when the big leagues were racially segregated. But it’s not like many baseball players (or other athletes) were such paragons of morality in the past, and there were plenty of players before the steroid era who used amphetamines and other drugs to try to boost their performance.

From what I’ve read about Zev Chafets’ new book, Cooperstown Confidential, we really ought to try to take things with a grain of salt. Maybe with the passage of a few decades, people will cease to condemn Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, et al, in such a knee-jerk way, and will recognize instead that they were, for better or worse, products of their times.

Then again, there are still plenty of people who allow their childhood nostalgia to deify someone like Mickey Mantle, who by most accounts was pretty sleazy as a person, and certainly not worthy of reverence for anything he did off the field.

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