Saturday, March 31, 2012

Preview: MLB (AL Central)

by richmin3000 and Curtis Warrington

today, curt and i preview the american league central division.
check out our preview of the american league east, here.





Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers


Cleveland Indians

Minnesota Twins


Kansas City Royals

Cleveland Indians


Chicago White Sox

Kansas City Royals


Minnesota Twins

Chicago White Sox

Curt Says:
Like last year, Detroit should run away with this division. But there's a chance they win the division yet win fewer games than any other playoff team. Their defense is going to be scary bad. Cleveland and Kansas City are probably .500 teams in 9/10 of the best case scenarios but you could squint really hard and see playoffs teams there. Kansas City might be a trendy pick, but they have holes on offense and a terrible pitching staff. I think people are underestimating how bad Chicago could be. I would like to emphasize they word "could" though. They also could be quite good, and I like their odds for the playoffs more than KC or Cleveland even though I think they'll probably finish lower in the standings. They don't have to do much to be better than last year, and last year they won 79 games. They had black holes at 2B (Beckham should be better), 3B (Morel should improve), RF and DH (Rios and Dunn couldn't be worse, if Rios sucks again, at least Fukodome can get on base). They got down years from Danks and Floyd in 2011 and could see an improvement there. Chris Sale could outperform anything they lost when Buehrle signed with Miami. Plus, I really like Dayan Viciedo to surprise people and hit 25 bombs. So it's not out of the question that the White Sox will be in the running all year.

Rich Says:
detroit wins this division by default. it's not that they are a bad team but it's more so that no one else in this division is very good. detroit won the division last year after justin verlander won both the cy young and mvp awards and then added prince fielder which should help. but they also lost victor martinez for the season and can expect some regression from doug fister. they are a very top heavy team with a terrible defense so a big injury could bring them back to the pack.

after the tigers, the order is somewhat arbitrary as every other team has some upside but plenty of holes. the twins should get better with a healthy mauer/morneau. the indians have a solid team with a good rotation. i like the royals because of their upside. a lot of their young players didn't live up to expectations last year (moustakas, duffy) but everyone should be better this year especially eric hosmer, who will be an mvp candidate as soon as 2013. the white sox are in limbo - selling off a couple of good contributors (quentin, santos) without going into full rebuilding mode. they have probably the worst minor league system so there's very little hope on the horizon. sure, they have some talent on the roster and there is literally no way adam dunn could be worse than he was last year (when he almost broke the record for lowest batting average in mlb history), but i have no faith in the organization.

*Curt was a guest on Episode 11 of the No Hyperbole Allowed podcast with Rich and Colin, which you can listen to here.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Preview: MLB (AL East)

by richmin3000 and Curtis Warrington *.

curt and i will be previewing the upcoming baseball season over the next 7 days, as we make our predictions for each division, playoffs and awards. although the mariners and a's have played 2 games in japan, the "real" season doesn't start until next week so make sure you check out our analysis to see how your favorite teams will fare this year.

today, we start off with the best division in baseball.





New York Yankees

New York Yankees


Boston Red Sox

Tampa Bay Rays


Tampa Bay Rays

Boston Red Sox


Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays


Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles

Curt Says:
Betting against the Yankees is always a profitable move. Does this strike you as a team the will get better? Adding Pineida and Kuroda will help, but they are replacing pretty good (yet unsustainable) production from Garcia and Colon. So while they are much more talented in the rotation, it might not affect the standings much. On the offensive side they are still as dangerous as ever, but I dont see where any improvement comes from. They're pretty much the same team except a year older. That said, they're still really effin good. Dont pay too much attention to the order of the top three above, I think the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays will all win 90-95 games. Confidently take the over on both Boston and Tampa Bay, currently at 87.5 wins in Vegas. Take the under on the Yankees at 93 wins. I like em to win 93, but things could end up going poorly for them this year. And watch out for Toronto, they're building something strong up north.

Rich Says:
i agree with curt in that any of the top 3 teams can win this division with a very outside shot for toronto. so when trying to pick one team to win you have to think about resources, both financial and minor league players. in this regard, the yankees have the edge. they have the financial resources to make any trade and some quality arms in the minor leagues with banuelos and betances in the event they need to supplement the talent on the major league roster. the red sox, on the other hand, have significantly weakened their minor league system after trading for adrian gonzalez while tampa bay just can't afford to take on huge salary like the yanks and sox.

i don't see any of these teams winning 95 games as the yankees' improvements on the pitching side will be cancelled out by an aging offense. the red sox need to overcome last year's historic collapse while depending heavily on either comeback seasons from crawford, buchholz and youkilis or hoping that better-than-expected seasons from elsbury, ortiz and beckett were no fluke. the rays, though limited by their resources, have the best manager in the game (joe maddon), a great rotation (shields, price, moore) and should get a huge bounce back year from evan longoria. in what should be a very close race, i'll put my money on the evil empire, in what could be mariano rivera's final season.

*Curt was a guest on Episode 11 of the No Hyperbole Allowed podcast with Rich and Colin, which you can listen to here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Podcast: No Hyperbole Allowed (Episode 14)

Dearest Loyal Listeners,

We apologize for another fairly long delay in delivering you your "no hyperbole allowed" dosage. We now know from listeners' pleas for more that our podcast is like a drug and that, once you've listened to it, you need more and more to satisfy that intense craving for our witty rapport and incisive social commentary.

Some of you have remarked that you "would have no idea what was going on in the world" without "no hyperbole allowed." Well, neither would Rich, since he's a workaholic and only comes up for air when he learns about things like the Trayvon Martin case when Colin asks him if he'd like to discuss it on the podcast. That was a very long sentence. Trayvon is a cool name, for the record.

We had some audio issues again, since we're still refining our recording and production methods, and had to rerecord our discussion with this week's guest, Larry Harris, Jr. Larry was the president of the Tufts student body when Rich and Colin were sophomores, and he was a prominent member of the Tufts community and the city of Boston. He has an undergraduate degree from Tufts and a Master's from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He weighs in on this week's Trayvon Martin debate and discusses some of the points he makes in his hypervocal column Being American While Black.

Rich and Colin later discuss their overwhelming guilt at being skeptical of the Kony 2012 movement and video that's set fire to social networks from Facebook to, uh, Facebook. And Twitter, but mostly Facebook. Turns out Rich and Colin have hearts. (Watch the video, here).

Your humble hosts delve into one last controversial topic this week: television. On a scale of amazing to totally awesome, how highly will they rate the highly anticipated season 5 premiere of Mad Men? Tune in to find out!

1:30 - Intro (ramming speed scene from Ben Hur)
3:25 - Trayvon Martin
27:50 - Kony 2012
39:15 - Mad Men
52:20 - Tiger
55:50 - Outro

Monday, March 26, 2012

Legal Analysis: Health Care Reform (The Individual Mandate)

by richmin3000

earlier today, the supreme court of the united states of america began oral argument on the issue of the patient protection and affordable care act (ppaca). the first issue was whether the anti-injunction act prohibited these issues from being decided by the court at this time. i discussed the anti-injunction act two weeks ago, which you can read here.

tomorrow on the court's agenda is the central issue before the court, whether the individual mandate is unconstitutional. i will provide an overview of the arguments to be made on both sides and later this week i'll recap the specific arguments made by counsel during oral argument while laying out my expectations.

the individual mandate
the united states congress had 3 major goals in mind when passing the historic ppaca in 2010. 1) to provide coverage for approximately 50 million uninsured; 2) stop companies from refusing to insure those who are sick or likely to become sick; 3) keep rates affordable.

the method by which the ppaca provides coverage and keeps rates affordable is the individual mandate, which requires that everyone (with exceptions) purchase health insurance by 2014 or face a penalty of up to $3,000 per year. the rationale was that by providing a disincentive to not purchasing health insurance, those uninsured would be forced to purchase insurance thereby creating millions of new consumers in the health care insurance market and in turn keeping rates affordable (a trade off between insurance companies covering riskier consumers [cost] and having a higher number of insured [revenue]).

whether or not this method of reform is economically efficient is besides the point. the morality of providing insurance to the uninsured is also besides the point. the question comes down to one of legality - that is, does the constitution provide congress and the federal government the authority to create a measure like the individual mandate?

in support of the individual mandate
the government points to 3 clauses in the us constitution to support the federal government's authority in creating the individual mandate. 1) the commerce clause; 2) the necessary and proper clause; 3) the general welfare clause (taxes). it's commonly believed that the general welfare clause will not apply here so we will focus on 1/2.

both the commerce clause and the necessary and proper clause can be found in article 1, section 8 of the us constitution, clauses 3 and 18, respectively.

the commerce clause states: "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes"

the necessary and proper clause states: "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof"

section 8 of the constitution (which is where both above clauses can be found) are the enumerated powers granted to the congress and thereby to the federal government. all other powers not enumerated here are considered to be solely within the sphere of state and local governments.

the commerce clause is arguably the most important tool in the federal government's arsenal to enact new and expansive legislation. it has been relied upon to create anti-trust laws, fdr's new deal and civil rights laws. the commerce clause gives the federal government broad reach in regulating essentially any arena or market that either affects or is affected by interstate commerce. for example, the civil rights act of 1964 relied upon the notion that restaurants that purchased interstate goods or served customers from other states were engaging in interstate commerce and thereby could be regulated by the federal government (in this case, prohibited from denying service to blacks).

the necessary and proper clause should not be looked at as another enumerated power but as a means to effectuate the powers. as chief justice marshall articulated in McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819, "Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and -spirit of the constitution, are constitutional."

the last thing is that when a court reviews congress' authority under the commerce clause, they apply what is called the 'rational review' test which is the lowest level of judicial scrutiny (intermediate scrutiny and strict scrutiny are higher). you can think of strict scrutiny like the 'beyond a reasonable doubt' standard in criminal cases and the rational basis test like 'preponderance of evidence' standard in civil cases which is much more flexible (for example, oj simpson got off in criminal court but was found guilty in civil court).

the federal government, in this case, argues that the health care market is approximately 17% of the nation's economy, fundamentally intertwined within interstate commerce. the government stated that in 2008, 116 billion of medical costs went to the uninsured but they only paid 43 billion of it, resulting in $1000 higher premium costs per year to those insured.

using this as a background, the argument is essentially that since the health care industry is inextricably tried to interstate commerce, the federal government has the authority to regulate it and with the goals of expanding coverage and controlling costs, the individual mandate was a rational means of achieving said goal, granted to them by the necessary and proper clause.

against the individual mandate
the argument against the individual mandate is an incredibly emotional one, relying heavily on rhetoric and broad appeals to our american sensibilities. the strongest arguments against the mandate are that the mandate is not the best method by which to achieve the stated goals and that the mandate itself is an overreach of the government's authority and an intrusion into the lives and rights of individual.

the issue of individual liberty is of great concern to the ppaca's opponents. they believe that the government has no right to force individuals into a marketplace they have purposely chosen to avoid (the counter argument is that everyone will at some point enter the health care marketplace). the argument is that the federal government is creating the commerce that they then wish to regulate by forcing individuals to enter into the health care market.

in modern times, it is almost impossible to avoid the reach of the federal government, but one way of doing so is by refraining from entering into commerce (perhaps by living on a farm and growing your own food?). however, if the federal government has the authority to force individuals into interstate commerce then the federal government also has the authority to regulate the conduct of those individuals. ppaca opponents believe that the end result is a granting of limitless police powers to the federal government, which was clearly not the purpose of the us constitution (only granted limited and specific powers).

what it means?
this is clearly new ground for the supreme court and the ramifications of this decision could be far reaching. tomorrow's oral argument will begin at 10am and last for two hours on the issue of the individual mandate. i will recap the oral argument and provide an overview of what occurred. a decision is expected sometime in june.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Preview: Return of the Best and Worst Show on TV

by richmin3000

*1 very minor mad men spoiler

it's been 17 months since mad men season 4 finale. on sunday, the best show on television (winner of the emmy for best drama for each of its 4 seasons) will make its triumphant return with a two hour season premiere. the long hiatus resulting from a contract battle between creator matthew weiner and amc ended with the show being extended for 3 more seasons before its final conclusion.

the prolonged and public negotiations seemed to have ramifications for all of amc's original programming. reportedly, breaking bad and the walking dead had their budgets cut after amc was forced to throw bags of cash at weiner. amc also stalled development on other new shows, not that it matters. amc currently has 4 widely discussed and intensely scrutinized dramas in mad men, breaking bad, the walking dead and the killing.

mad men, as stated will be around for 3 more years. breaking bad has 16 episodes left (to start airing again july 2012). the walking dead is the most popular cable drama on tv. and then there's the killing which, you know, exists. so, as it stands right now, amc certainly is not scouring the waiver wire, as it were, for replacement shows.

we left don, peggy, pete and joan back in 1965 at the conclusion of season 4 but where we pick up again no one knows. don spent much of season 4 in a personal and professional malaise, trying to come to grips with losing the only person who ever knew him, as he put it, in the widely celebrated 'suitcase' episode. with the firm of 'sterling cooper draper price' struggling along (not helped by don's erratic behavior), don decides by season's end to take control of his life by publicly renouncing tobacco companies and proposing to his secretary (which to me continues the juxtaposition of don as a predator in the professional realm and a victim in the personal). mad men, unlike breaking bad for instance, is not a show about change (be it growth, moral decay as the show progresses) but one about self-reflection as the world around you constantly challenges your beliefs and assumptions. don, struggles through season 4 wallowing in self-pity and identity crisis only to emerge at the end perhaps as a more resolved version of his former self.

on april 1st, amc will premiere season 2 of the killing which will partner with mad men throughout the months of april and may. in this regard, amc has chosen to pair the best and worst show on tv, which if i had any plans to watch season 2 of the killing i would protest loudly. amc, wisely, is attempting to mitigate the almost universal hatred over the killing season 1 finale by pairing it with the critical darling that is mad men. i, for one, will not be suckered into watching any more killing but if this results in some better ratings for mad men then i can live with the arrangement.

we left off with the murder of rosie larsen still not being resolved. after a multitude of red herrings and dumb plot twists, we were left hanging at season's end for seemingly no reason. i feel like every frustrating aspet of 'lost' is on full display with none of the great characters or cool moments. and to top it all off, showrunner veena sud just can't be trusted.

*colin and i will be discussing mad men on future podcsts

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What are the Miami Marlins Thinking?

by richmin3000

the miami marlins, formerly known as the florida marlins have moved into a new ballpark starting in april. as part of the whole makeover of the team, they got new uniforms and also some sort of statue that will go off after a marlins home run. i used the word garish before in episode 2 of the no hyperbole allowed podcast to describe the new unis, but this is on an entire different level... uber-garish?.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead (Season 2)

by richmin3000

*spoiler alert
* the walking dead is now the no.1 basic cable drama in tv history for men 18-34. over 9 million viewers tuned in last night for the 2nd season finale making it the most watched episode of tv in amc history as well, on a network that carries arguably the two highest rated shows on tv currently (mad men and breaking bad).

back in december, i reviewed the fall season of the walking dead season 2 (read here). in that review, i discussed the inevitable splintering of the group into two major factions. one faction desired normalcy, empathy and a "civilized" existence believing that life itself was meaningless without those qualities. the other faction believed it came down to survival and a "kill or be killed" mentality during a zombie apocalypse. when a non-zombie survivor is captured, the question came down to whether or not he should be killed because he was a potential, albeit unlikely, threat to the group's survival.

the two characters epitomizing the opposing viewpoints were dale and shane. like jack and john locke on 'lost', dale and shane allowed the viewer to easily choose sides. but unlike jack and locke, dale and shane have been killed off leaving a moral void. also unlike jack and locke, neither dale nor shane ever really played a central leadership role in the group. that role was assumed by rick, shane's best friend and ultimately his killer.

in disposing of both dale and shane, the show has placed the entire burden on rick to be the moral compass for both the viewers and the group itself. previously, he was able to point the finger at either dale or shane, or both, and play the mediator, the good guy. well, as anyone who saw the season finale last nite can attest, rick doesn't seem to be playing the good guy anymore. throw in the fact that their home for the entire 2nd season just went up in flames after a zombie herd attack and rick is in no mood for any backseat drivers in this group anymore. it's time for the ricktatorship to begin!

since rick won't be starting his reign until season 3, this is a good time to discuss whether people should invest their time into this show. although season 1 wasn't great, it had its moments. and although season 2 wasn't great, it had even more great and fun moments. and that's all this show really is; a show that frequently has great moments and occasionally has a great episode (like the penultimate episode last week).

the acting isn't particularly strong. the writing isn't particularly strong. but there are zombies and you can bank of seeing a few die each episode. sometimes character choices make you cringe because they're way too unrealistic, but the show does a very good job invoking a sense of dread (especially when there is a host of zombies on the horizon) and creating tension.

i think the show's biggest weakness is one of stagnation. i understand the show wanted to establish a group dynamic so that dynamic could be frayed and repaired along the way, but the 2nd season suffered too long by keeping the group on the farm. the dynamics in the group are best explored through external forces requiring tough choices (like whether to kill an innocent man) and those external forces were too few and far between this season.

now that they are off the farm, i'm ever hopeful that they will be on the run for awhile. it would be wise to split the group apart (like i hoped after the zombie herd attack) because then we could get multiple storylines with various characters getting lead roles. too often have supporting characters gotten lost for multiple episode arcs. eventually you could always get the group back together but by separating the group, you can create some tension and throw half the group into action while the other half can deal with more of those boring questions of morality.

hopefully with andrea now separated from the group and being saved by michonne (picture above), we will start to see at least one parallel storyline running in the next season. the final shot of the prison in the distance will hopefully only serve as a short term adventure rather than the location for all of season 3, unless of course, it turns out to be crazy fun. and prisons generally seem better suited for zombie attacks than a farm.

michonne, for those that didn't read the comics (and i have not) is apparently one of the most popular characters in the comics and should add a new twist to the show. aside from the fact that this is a show about zombies, they have tried to make it as realistic (read: boring and slow) as real life is. well, michonne doesn't look like anybody i'd ever run across in real life and i live in new york city, home of high fashion (like this) and the hipster. so my expectation next year is that michonne is a blend of blade (yes, wesley snipes' blade) meets aeon flux (not the charlize theron film version but the mtv's liquid tv version).

no hyperbole allowed rating: b+

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Legal Analysis: Health Care Reform (An Introduction)

by richmin3000

in one of my first posts, i gave a very short overview of the patient protection and affordable care act or "obamacare" as it's opponents call it. since it was passed on march 23, 2010 the PPACA has been challenged by several states.

most notably, hours after president obama signed the PPACA into law, the florida attorney general challenged the constitutionality of the bill in the united states district court, northern district of florida, a federal trial court. the case is entitled florida v. united states department of health and human services. all-in-all, 26 states joined in the suit on the side of the plaintiffs. on january 31, 2011, district judge roger vinson ruled that the 1) the individual mandate was unconstitutional and 2) the individual mandate was not severable from the rest of the PPACA.

after judge vinson's decision, both parties appealed (florida appealed part of the decision ruling that an expansion of medicaid was not coercive to the states - this was affirmed or upheld on appeal). in considering the government's appeal, the 11th circuit court of appeals, on august 12, 2011, ruled (in a 2-1 split, with a 207 page decision and an 84 page dissenting opinion) that 1) the individual mandate was unconstitutional and 2) the individual mandate was severable from the rest of the PPACA.

on november 14, 2011, the supreme court of these united states granted certiorari (they basically said yes) to hear oral argument on 3 separate appeals, florida v. us dept of health and human services; us dept of health and human services; national federation of independent business v. sebelius. and on top of the various named parties involved, there were dozens of amicus (non-party support) briefs submitted on behalf of the opposing sides. oral argument will be held on march 26th and 28th. five and a half hours have been blocked off for oral argument.

although the various cases each address distinct issues, for the purposes of this discussion, there is no distinction. the 4 issues at stake are as follows:
1) whether the individual mandate is constitutional.
2) whether the individual mandate can be severed from the rest of the PPACA.
3) whether the federal government can make a state choose between complying with the PPACA or lose federal funding for medicaid.
4) whether the anti-injunction act prohibits the filing of this lawsuit at this time.

we are going to focus most of the time on the 1st issue, which concerns the constitutionality of the individual mandate. for one, it's the most interesting and pressing matter for the public. two, the other aspects of this appeal would require a lot more research on my part (which i might not have the time to do).

before, we move onto the question of the individual mandate later this week, i want to quickly address the 4th issue about the anti-injunction act. this is an issue that concerns justiciability. that means that the role of a court is to resolve actual and present conflicts between parties that are permitted to request the intervention of the courts. courts are not designed to answer hypotheticals or give advisory opinions. and parties are not permitted to bring cases unless they have a legal basis to do so.

for example, i can not sue my neighbor who just bought the house next door because i fear that a tree he just planted is eventually going to encroach on my land. until that happens, there is no conflict or controversy. similarly, i can not sue on behalf of a total stranger if mcdonald's happened to spill hot coffee all over her. i have no injury and therefore am not permitted to ask for a resolution. terms such as standing, ripeness and mootness are applicable here.

in this case, the issue is that the individual mandate is coded within the IRS tax code because failure to abide by the individual mandate results in a tax penalty. that is the only means of enforcement. the anti-injunction act, as its pertinent here, prevents anyone from bringing suit to prevent a tax levy before said tax is collected. that means that no one can challenge the tax penalty imposed by the individual mandate or the individual mandate itself until the law goes into effect (the individual mandate does not go into effect until 2014) and until the first tax penalty occurs (since it goes into effect in fiscal year 2014, the first penalty won't be imposed until 2015). that would mean that this case is not yet "ripe" until 2015 and therefore this court can not decide on the constitutionality of the individual mandate at this time.

i have posted a video below from bloomberg law which discusses just this issue. what's interesting is that the government has not briefed this argument to the court (meaning they are not arguing the point) yet the supreme court apparently appointed a non-party lawyer to brief the issue so that it is still an issue that will have to play out. i can't imagine that this will prevent a determination of the individual mandate but crazier things have happened.

next time: we will discuss the individual mandate and what it is.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Podcast: No Hyperbole Allowed (Episode 13)

Stupid lives, always getting in the way of podcasting. Rich and Colin had this great idea of recording hours and hours of podcasts with 2 great guests, but then were faced with the task of editing all of those hours of stimulating conversation down into a nice compact, highly entertaining podcast. It's like making a fine brandy. Or something.

As we know, timing is everything, and though perhaps a bit dated, Episode 13 is finally here with 2 great segments:

1) Rich and Colin watch and discuss the Knicks@Heat game while recording. Please enjoy this highlight reel.

They then bring on special guest Kenny Dixon to discuss Jeremy Lin, LeBron James and race.

Kenny is black.

Well, half-black like the president. He likes to say "only the good half!" And then Rich goes "that's racist, dude." And then Kenny goes "no it's not. You just don't 'get it' 'cause you're Asian." And then Colin goes "guys, guys, can't we all get along?" And then Colin Patrick O'Higgins, the Korean guy and the black guy walk into a bar and get some drinks. It's not a joke. That's just what they do.

2) Oscar fashions and recap with special guest, Fashionista en Residencia, Alexandria Simons. We discuss the dresses that the ladies wore on the red carpet, hits and misses alike, and Colin, a rather sharp dresser in his own mind, discusses tuxedo dos and don'ts for the men. If you don't believe him, read this New York Times article that says a lot of the same stuff that he does.

Among the popular dresses that night were the ones worn by (from left) Jessica Chastain, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Michelle Williams. Ally and Rich loved Jessica Chastain's, but Colin thought it looked like the Watch the Throne album cover -

0:00 - Intro
1:51 - Knicks@Heat 2/23/12
10:00 - Special Guest Kenny Dixon talks Jeremy Lin and race
21:45 - Rich and Colin debate whether it's right to hate Lebron James
35:55 - Special Guest Ally Simons talks Oscar Fashions
57:50 - Colins talks Oscar Men's Fashions
1:10:25 - We recap the Oscars and the year in movies

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Unfine Dining: Discerning Tastes Will Wait on Line

by Adam "AJ" Golub 

A great moment in unfine dining history happened, not coincidentally, in one of the original bedrocks of flamboyant lifestyle and artistic culture in the Western hemisphere - San Francisco. The scene was set in Fisherman’s Wharf, the bustling tourist and cultural center where museums, historical parks, art galleries and upscale shopping centers share a pier with many vendors serving clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls. Your average consumer of unfine dining looks for something a little more resembling “street meat” when stopping by a roadside vendor, but in an upscale San Francisco district such as Fisherman’s Wharf, where sit-down staples such as Pompei's Grotto and Alioto's #8 have been thriving for generations, beggars can’t exactly be choosers when nature abides you dig into some old fashioned unfine calories. For years, the McDonald’s corporation had its sights set on Fisherman’s Wharf, looking to cash in on one of the biggest tourist attractions in one of America’s most visited cities. And for just as many years, the noble stewards of Wharf culture, who marshal the pier like a pimp in a whorehouse, had outright rejected them. But then, in 2001, materializing as an oasis in the desert, an In-N-Out burger franchise opened right in the heart of the pier. 

"It isn't as if we love fast food," said Chris Martin, managing partner of the Cannery shopping center which houses said In- N-Out, located one block down from the Wharf’s front gate. "Ordinarily, all of us would be up in arms about a fast-food operation coming to Fisherman's Wharf. This is different." It is within this statement that a true revolution in unfine dining was secretly occurring. In-N-Out Burger, a fast food restaurant selling cheeseburgers, French fries and milk shakes almost exclusively, was carrying an allure belying its true product. Somehow, Mr. Martin felt a fast food restaurant (read: no wait service and self-seating) serving burgers, fries and milk shakes was wholly different than McDonalds and its contemporaries. 

Interestingly enough, the Zagat survey agrees. So do Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsay, Mario Batali and (gasp) Julia Child. All four modern culinary masters are on record as being regular customers of the chain. Ms. Child, one of the first celebrity champions of the chain, admitted to knowing every location of the restaurant between Santa Barbara and San Francisco. Child also famously had the burgers delivered to her during a hospital stay. On his show, No Reservations, Mr. Bourdain called it “stoner food divined by the gods.” Surely, The Dude, Walter and Donnie abide. 

In 2005, while making approximately $20,000 per hit for the New York Yankees, Jason Giambi tried to become a franchisee for the auteurs of his favorite burgers, In-N-Out, and bring the chain to Manhattan. The family owned corporation politely declined, stating an intention to remain solely “unicoastal.” Notwithstanding the tried and true marketing technique of limited availability (see: Rib, Mc), I don’t believe Zagat and Julia Child would be persuaded to proclaim burger greatness solely influenced by such gimmicks. So, what makes In-N-Out truly different? If I want to pig out on a burger, cheese fries and a strawberry milkshake, why does flying to the easternmost In-N-Out location in Austin, Texas seem like a rational thought? In lampooning the rest of the industry in Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser actually PRAISES In-N-Out for its exceptional treatment of employees and cleanliness, but, most of all, for its use of natural and fresh ingredients. Now, we are onto something.
In the same year as the Giambino’s failed attempt to lure In-N-Out to the unofficial capital of the world, something strange was happening to the cheeseburger in New York City. In the unfine dining world, it was something of an apocalypse. It was trendy. It may or may not have involved foie gras. Upscale burger joints were springing up all over the city’s wealthiest zip codes. Big, frilly, fancy buns were adorning burgers of kobe and lamb, topped with truffle butter at chic sounding places like Rare, and Burger Boutique. Oh, the humanity. 

Interestingly enough, it took a fine dining master to deliver New Yorkers from the chic purgatory of the upscale burger establishment. Restaurateur Danny Meyer, he of Eleven Madison Park and Tabla (two of the priciest and most well regarded places your girl would probably want you to take her to on Valentine’s Day), threw down the gauntlet at these fine dining burger blights. Meyer’s response to the wannabe fine dining burger movement was Shake Shack, which opened in Madison Square Park in the spring of 2005. 

The formula for Shake Shack was clearly derived from In-N-Out; simple, fresh burgers with everything you need and no more. Built around a soft potato roll that’s sliced only to the far edge (for easy handling), a fresh ground patty of sirloin and brisket (or two) is fixed with any or all of the core lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle toppings, a slice of American cheese, and “shack sauce,” a tangier take on thousand island dressing. In its Best of New York in 2005, New York magazine described the perfectly molded patty as allowing “all those tasty fat molecules to move around freely and express themselves on the griddle.” That’s a little over my head, but I couldn’t agree more. The chain also offers a truly delicious selection of “frozen custards” in beverage form and also as “concretes.” One such concoction includes maple syrup flavored custard with waffle chunks, fresh banana, and bacon infused peanut brittle code named The Urban Lumbershack. 

Meyer, along with master culinary peers such as Ramsay and Batali, clearly have unfine dining instincts. The problem, though, is that their inner fat kid has made these fast food establishments anything but. If you go to the off the strip In-N-Out in Vegas, you’re waiting a minimum of 30 minutes from order to first bite (once again, off the strip!!!). When it first opened in 2005, the line at Shake Shack, comprised of downtown hipsters, Soho models, midtown business folk, and overweight unfine dining enthusiasts alike, could run you as long as 90 minutes all told. The buzz was out - fast food was, like, so in that season. Even still, seven years later, on a nice summer day in Madison Square Park, or at newer locations in Citifield and the Upper West Side, you’re looking at a bare minimum 30 minute wait that will likely be closer to an hour. Lovers of unfine dining in Fisherman’s Wharf spend approximately 20 minutes getting a Double-Double these days. 

But here is something the discerning taste crowd doesn’t truly understand about fast food: there is no such thing as waiting. Part of the genius of the Big Mac and the Whopper is that it can be obtained in under 5 minutes. Are the simple, fresh, old-fashioned delicacies enjoyed at In-N-Out on the West Coast and Shake Shack in New York worth these astronomical lines? Can I not get basically the same thing in more than half the time from that chick Wendy? 

After years of intense research, sampling burgers of varying quality and size from fast food restaurants around the world, along with many trips to the aforementioned In-N-Out and Shake Shack, I can definitely say the following - The large fast food chains are, without question, serving far inferior products to the ones found at Shake Shack and In-N-Out burger. The quality of the food at these locations is undoubtedly superior, and the taste and overall experience of eating at In-N-Out and Shack Shake is definitely worth an occasional wait on an extraordinarily long line for a cheeseburger. 

With that being said, I am a true unfine diner, and therefore, by definition, a fast food equal opportunist. I am also not a San Francisco resident. 

*editor's note: see Adam's take on the McRib, here.