28 March 2006

Fading down the stretch

This past weekend was not kind to my NCAA tournament bracket. I think only a couple games went my way, and since none of my teams made it to the final four, my situation can only get worse. I've dropped to the 700,000's on ESPN.com, and more critically, to 5th in my pool. Well, it was nice being on top, no matter how briefly. In spite of my bracket's poor showing, I saw some great games this weekend. (I'm still a little bummed about the Gonzaga game, though. It's bad enough they lost the way they did, but did they have to lose to UCLA?) I have to say that Sunday's game between UConn and George Mason was one of the best basketball games I've ever seen. Even though I had Connecticut winning it all, I was definitely pulling for the scrappy underdog. This is why I rarely bet on sports and never play fantasy sports: my emotional attachments to a game will always supersede my fiduciary ones.

27 March 2006

Eu gosto de capoeira

I started taking a capoeira class a couple weeks ago through the university fitness center. I first got interested when we were in Brazil last summer, where we saw a lot of people doing capoeira in public squares and markets. After we got back, I thought it would be fun to try, but I put off taking a class for a long time because all of the people we saw doing it in Brazil were very agile and athletic, which I am not. There's a school on our street, and although I picked up a schedule, I never got around to going to a class. But, when I saw that there's a class offered throught the Cal fitness center, I thought it might be low key enough to try.

So far the class has been a lot of fun. I've realized that part of the reason those people looked so agile and athletic was because they do capoeira a lot, and that it's ok to be clumsy and uncoordinated at the beginning. Which is good, because there have been times where I've felt completely inept. The other concern I had was that I would be in a lot of pain afterward. It's definitely been a good workout, but not quite as painful as I'd feared. That's not to say that I haven't been sore the next day (or the day after that) but it's getting better. Nevertheless, I'm much more aware of the area where my femur meets my pelvis than I was a couple weeks ago. It's kind of like the first trip skiing of the season after each class. We've got next week off because of spring break, which will be a nice rest, but I'm looking forward to starting up again after the break.

20 March 2006

I'm #132,350!

So the first weekend of the world's greatest sports event (sorry, soccer fans) just ended, and my bracket at ESPN.com stands at a lofty 132,350th place. On a more positive note, I squeaked into first place in my local pool, for which I give all credit to the Wichita State Shockers. I didn't even know this school existed a week and half ago (which is one of the beauties of the NCAA tournament), but how can you bet ... er, select solely for entertainment purposes ... against a team named the Shockers? It's like they're in the XFL or a WNBA expansion team. I'm sure by next weekend, I'll be back in the lower echelons of my pool, and into the septuple digits in the ESPN pool, but it's nice to be on top for a few days.

The first weekend certainly had its moments, including my discovery of the productivity-sapping live streams of the games. I have to say I'm pretty bummed about Nevada and Cal both losing their first games. But I'm happy that UConn, my choice to win it all, didn't get knocked out in the first round by the Great Danes of Albany. I thought they only excelled at running around in a fountain in their underwear. Adam, you've been holding out on me.

Oh, and in case you're curious, the World Cup comes in at third on my list of world's greatest sports events, just behind the Winter Olympics, though that ranking will probably change come June.

14 March 2006


As anyone in the western part of North America knows (and probably some other places, but I don't really follow the weather the way my dad does, so I don't know ), it's been damn cold lately. There was snow in San Francisco a couple days ago, and we were happy we had our winter coats when we went up to Salem to see family last weekend. Last month, when we had a bizarre heat wave (during which I boasted on this very blog about wearing flip-flops in February -- I should know better than to tempt fate), we decided to turn off the pilot light on our wall heater. We were paying $15-20 a month just to keep the pilot light going, and so far, we'd been able to put on sweaters ala Jimmy Carter and cope with the cold.

Well, yesterday when we got back from Oregon, the apartment was really cold. After bundling up in our wool and fleece, we baked some bread and hung out in the kitchen for most of the evening. (Full disclosure, we actually escaped the apartment briefly and warmed ourselves with a pint at Cato's before that.) Using the oven was enough to maintain our resolve not to relight the furnace. But this morning when I woke up, I could see my breath. This is a very poorly insulated apartment, and although it was warmer in here than outside, it wasn't by much. Luckily, this evening it's been a bit warmer, and we've been able to resist relighting the pilot light. Anne says it feels like camping, with us in our fleece pants. (And to think I used to complain to my parents because they kept the thermostat at 68. I guess it makes a difference when you're the one paying the utility bill.) I'm hoping we can hold out for just a couple more weeks, but I don't know if I'll last if I'm seeing my breath every morning. I figure if I have to scrape ice off the bathroom mirror, it's time to use the heat. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

10 March 2006

Oakland in the news for ... you guessed it

Why is it that whenever Oakland makes the national (or even regional) news, it's because of violence? I heard the latest story to reinforce the stereotype that Oakland is a crime-plagued and dangerous city this morning on NPR while I was getting ready for work. When I heard the teaser, I was interested, if a bit wary because of the way the media usually treat Oakland. Unfortunately, what I heard was a perfunctory story about the rising murder rate (which is out of hand this year) and how we don't have enough cops. Although they took the trouble to interview a West Oakland resident who pointed out that more cops won't solve all of Oakland's problems, there wasn't much other content to the story. They did manage to get "tough on crime" quotes from our mayor (who's running for state attorney general) and our city council president (who's running for mayor), though.

I should know by now that any story about Oakland is going to be another "black people killing each other" story, but I still haven't lost my capacity to be let down. I don't know how much of what goes on here is news-worthy, I just wish that the homicide rate weren't the only thing that the major media seem to think is. It's just too bad that this kind of coverage doesn't scare off all the people who are pricing us out of our neighborhood.

Speaking of our mayor, check out this item from yesterday's Chronicle. It's a completely unsubstantiated but funny story about him assaulting a woman's cell phone outside of a club. Ah Jerry Brown, how we'll miss you.

04 March 2006

Los Oscars

I'm not one of those people who goes to Oscar parties, or even watches the Oscars. But this year I'm actually mildly interested in them Every year, until they make the nominations public, Anne and I vow to watch all of the Best Picture nominees. Then it's "Oh ... Master and Commander ..." and we end up only seeing the one or two we'd seen anyway. This year was different because all five nominees were movies we'd at least considered seeing, even if we wouldn't have seen a couple of them of our own volition. Just last weekend, we finished off the list with Munich, and although I make no pretense at handicapping the actual outcome, here are my quick impressions of the five:

Crash: Wow, did you hear that racial issues are complicated? And that people carry with them unexplored issues with racism? Fascinating.

Capote: I've liked Philip Seymour Hoffman for years, and he's been great in every movie I've seen him in. This movie was no exception. That said, I couldn't get that into the story. I thought it was a well-made movie, and the acting was great, but that's about all I can say about it. Oh, and I had no idea that Harper Lee and Truman Capote were friends, so it was cool to learn that.

Good Night, and Good Luck: I really liked this movie, I think in large part because it conformed to my liberal biases. It was, to drop a term that Anne likes to use, a good "little movie." I liked its style and the story, and I thought the idea of having McCarthy play himself was great.

Munich: I was really surprised by this one. I wasn't really that enthusiastic about it, and probably wouldn't have gone without the nomination and the fact that it was playing at the Parkway. It was a lot better than I'd expected. I think I was feeling a little burned by the lack of nuance in Crash, and was thinking that Spielberg's penchant for schmaltz along with the inherent risk of making a movie about the Palestinian situation would steer the movie away from complexity. But I thought the story was interesting, the metaphors weren't overwrought, and although it was pretty violent, the violence wasn't gratuitous. This was probably the only one of the first four I've mentioned that I was still thinking about a couple days later.

Brokeback Mountain: This is another one I was surprised by. I'm not a big fan of the dramatic romance genre. I often leave those kind of movies feeling like I just saw a good film, but without particularly enjoying it (see Iris, the most depressing movie ever). That and there was a big risk of them overemphasizing the "this is a gay cowboy movie" angle and making it really heavy-handed. Luckily, neither of those things happened. I thought the characters were believable and the story was compelling. I'd have to say this one was my favorite of the bunch.

So who knows how closely my opinions will hew to those of the academy. They'll probably just pat themselves on their collective back and give the award to Crash because it deals with "issues." But I'm going to watch the show anyway. After all, Jon Stewart is hosting, so you can't go wrong. (I hope I'm not tempting fate.)

03 March 2006

Them Reno Blues

So now that the Olympics are over I can return my attentions to my blog. NBC's primetime coverage overlapped with my evening blogging time, so I've been away for a while. As far as the Olympics go, I don't have much to say that hasn't been said already except to share that Anne discovered that it's fun to pronounce Bode Miller's name as if he were Brazilian (sounds like "Bojee"). That and I'm happy I won't have to listen to Jimmy Roberts for another 2 1/2 years.

Over Presidents' Day weekend, we headed up to Reno to see the family. We saw Anne's family over Christmas, so this was a makeup trip -- already postponed by bad weather over Martin Luther King weekend. It was good to see my family, especially Lynda and her kids now that they're back in Reno. It's amazing how quickly children turn into little people.

I don't know if my Reno homies are with me on this, but Reno seems to have changed a lot since I last lived there over ten years ago. When I moved away for college, I was really happy to leave the town behind. I was tired of the conservative attitudes and lack of interesting things to do. Since then, I've been lucky to live in two incredible places (Seattle area and Bay area), and Reno hasn't looked too good by comparison. But a strange thing has happened over the past couple years. Little by little, Reno is getting more interesting. The downtown in particular has gotten nicer, with a river walk flanked by some nice shops and coffee shops, a park in the middle of the river complete with a kayak course and wading pool, and new condos replacing some of the older and more decrepit casinos. There's even a new-fangled train trench.

Granted, the changes haven't been all positive. The sprawl is totally out of hand. There are now two Wal Marts just in the south part of town. And the suburban houses are sprouting everywhere. The traffic is also worse.

But here's the thing: I'm not sure Reno wouldn't be a half-bad place to live. I spent five years doing field work outside of Fresno, and Reno's sprawl is nothing in comparison. And imagine how happy Anne and I were to be able to drive 20 minutes to go snowshoeing one day while we were up there. As much as I grumbled about those damn Californians when I was growing up, I think they've added some positives like more readily-available organic groceries. I'm not saying that we're going to pack up and move back to the nest anytime soon (especially if it puts us at risk of my sister dumping her four children off at our house without any warning, which happens regularly to my parents), but I'm not as eager to refer to Reno as simply a "good place to be from" anymore. So if the dream job opens up at UNR, I might actually be happy to apply for it. I don't think I have any illusions about Reno turning into a utopia. I'm sure our left-wing values would still be out of place, and I'm sure the developers and downtown casinos are still calling all the shots. But hey, at least it's not Fresno.