I just watched the infamous Couric-Palin interview, after putting it off. I lack the gene for schaedenfreude.

It was as horrible as I feared. God help us. She’s an electoral college and a heartbeat away from the presidency.


On the spur of the moment, I took Julia and Genevieve to a nearby farm for “National Alpaca Farm Day” this afternoon.

I’m not kidding.

The girls had a blast, and as it happened, two of the other three playdate families were there, too, so the farm was swarming with squealing kids who loved the alpacas (so soft!)

Alpaca Brothers
Alpaca Brothers
Admiring the Alpacas
Admiring the Alpacas

the pygmy goats (they ate dry leaves!)

Julia Feeding the Goat
Julia Feeding the Goat

and even the cows.


The fauna was interesting, but the flora was nice, too.

Farm Fields
Farm Fields

Poetry Buyouts

Brilliant satire from Charles Bernstein in Harper’s:

Poetry Bailout Will Restore Confidence of Readers
Chairman Lehman, Secretary Polito, distinguished poets and readers—I regret having to interrupt the celebrations tonight with an important announcement. As you know, the glut of illiquid, insolvent, and troubled poems is clogging the literary arteries of the West. These debt-ridden poems threaten to infect other areas of the literary sector and ultimately to topple our culture industry.

Charles Bernstein’s most recent collection of poetry is Girly Man. His poem “Pompeii” appeared in the August issue of Harper’s Magazine; his essay “Wet verse at The New Yorker” appeared in the November 1989 issue._

Cultural leaders have come together to announce a massive poetry buyout: leveraged and unsecured poems, poetry derivatives, delinquent poems, and subprime poems will be removed from circulation in the biggest poetry bailout since the Victorian era. We believe the plan is a comprehensive approach to relieving the stresses on our literary institutions and markets.

The only trouble I can foresee is the effect on the Northfield economy of the inflow of federal funds to our local poets, like this guy or this guy.

Noah, or, Another Monotheist in My House

Julia, in true big-sister form, has infected her sister with that world-historical virus, Christian myth. The two little believers will sit for extended periods of time, their Nonna-donated children’s bible on their laps, and tell each other Bible stories – or at least the thoroughly bowdlerized versions in this version of the Good Book. (David offs Goliath, but Noah’s daughters don’t fornicate with him, and the Revelation is free of holy bloodshed.)

Vivi, as you might expect, doesn’t “get” the New Testament parables and miracle stories, even though Julia likes them a lot. God help (so to speak) the next person who reads Julia the parable of the seeds from Matthew 13:3-13 – she can go on and on and on about those $@#(&% seeds. Both girls like the nativity story, of course, with Vivi – the baby – perhaps enjoying it even a little more than Julia does. This is saying something, since Julia would, like, totally friend Jesus on Facebook.

But the story that Vivi likes the very most is the story of the Deluge. Any why not! Who doesn’t like divine planetary genocide? God hitting the old cosmic reset? Noah, that old goat, on a round-the-world cruise with some goats? Actually, what Vivi likes is the animals, and the fact that she knows all the main parts of the story. This (translated from toddler-speak to something like English) is how she told the story the other night, carefully turning the pages of the children’s bible and describing the pictures and the action:

“Once upon a time, Noah! [Onnnnna dime, Noah!] Boat. Noah, boat. Animals. Rain! Rain! God [Doog], rain. RAIN! RAIN! RAIN! No more rain. Stop rain! Tweet-tweet [bird]! Animals! Rainbow.”

I can’t wait to hear how she retells the crucifixion.

Minister of Treasury Paulson

This is making the rounds, as they say, but it’s still hilarious, in a painful way:

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Amber Waves of Grain

With fall now incipient, I restarted my rollerskiing regimen this weekend with my usual route on the country roads around our place. The weather was agreeable, the roadkilled animals were few, the traffic was very light, and the scenery was amazing. I almost crashed admiring this view (the “Kane Avenue High Point” on my rollerskiing map):

View to the East: Soybeans
View to the East: Soybeans
View to the West: Corn
View to the West: Corn

Not bad at all.

Gut-Level Math

A truly fascinating article in the Times‘ science section the other day described how researchers are beginning to identify the genetic or neurological underpinnings of mathematical capacity – the instinctual ability to compare two quantities, for instance:

Humans use two distinct number systems, one learned and one intuitive. Computation, such as taking a square root, is an abstract process that is uniquely human. But the nonverbal process of approximating numbers is a system we share with infants and many other animals.

Well worth reading on its own, the article also links to an interesting online game which asks the player to briefly view a screen of blue and yellow dots, then state whether there were more yellow or blue dots. The average is about 75%. Fun and challenging, the game also might surprise you with evidence of an innate ability (or lack of ability) to recognize quantities.

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace, one of my favorite writers and someone on whom I’ve been waiting for another big book for years now, killed himself over the weekend. He had been severely depressed for a long time, and in fact wrote quite a bit about mitigating the pain of life with the use of legal and illegal pharmaceuticals. His writing is, to an extent, an acquired taste, full of long sentences, digressions that whip back to the main narrative, self-conscious wordplay, hilarity and pathos in equal measure, and out-and-out crazy ideas. If you don’t have the time or interest to try his magnum opus, Infinite Jest (1996), try his hilarious account of a cruise-ship voyage, “Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise,” from Harpers in 1996. (Harpers released all of their DFW pieces today as a memorial to him.)


As I huffed and puffed in the gym a while ago, watching the close-captioned MSNBC news on the TV in front of me and half-listening to the music on the speakers, I hit a freaky little juxtaposition. Just as the news switched to a “story” on the carnage on Wall Street, the opening lines of Bruce Springsteen’s “Cover Me” came on: “The times are tough now, just getting tougher/This old world is rough, its just getting rougher.” The talking heads yapped at each other for a few seconds, and then the Boss sang, “Well I’m looking for a lover who will come on in and cover me” over a picture of Sarah Palin and the GOP’s economic plans. Blah blah blah, and then, as the images switched to the damage of Hurricane Ike, Springsteen again: “Outsides the rain, the driving snow/I can hear the wild wind blowing.”

I’ll have to listen to the rest of Born in the USA to see what else the Boss can tell us about Decision 2008.

Palin’s Day

An excerpt from “Sarah Palin’s schedule,” as imagined on the mysterious Northfield blog, The Occasional Blog of Sunbeam & Lack of Sleep:

8:30 – 11:30 a.m. Pro-life rally. Life begins at conception! Embryos are children!
Lunch. Veal and foie gras. Spilled gravy on my purse made from fetal calfskin. 🙁
1 – 2 p.m.
Gave a speech promoting abstinence-only sex education. Whole family was there, except Gristle, who said she had other plans.



I’ve been using the new Google Chrome browser for the past few days – alas, only at work, since Google hasn’t yet released a version for Mac OS X. So far, I’m impressed. First and foremost for a Google fanboy like me, it’s ridiculously well integrated with the Google apps that I use the most: Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Reader, and of course search. Being able to type any random thing into the main bar at the top of the browser window and automagically have it become a Google search is fantastic. And so far, the browser is much faster than even Firefox – which, admittedly, I usually run with 50 tabs open. And there’s a sick amount of screen real-estate, too. Thanks to the trimmed-back toolbars and just plain wasted space at the top of the window, you can see an awful lot more of the actual site you’re visiting. Not a bad idea at all.

On top of all that good stuff, the edges of the user experience are pretty smooth, too. Check out these two screens from the setup and crash-restore processes.

Google Chrome Setup Window
Google Chrome Setup Window
Google Chrome Crash Window
Google Chrome Crash Window

Granted, this is not world-shattering stuff, but the sense of humor is appreciated.

Start Me Up

Today’s the day the freshmen arrive at Carleton and “New Student Week” begins in earnest. I remember my arrival at college very, very clearly – right down to picking my roommate out of the crowd based on his NY Yankees cap.

What better day to read the first page of Don DeLillo’s White Noise, a brilliant novel which starts with the arrival of students to a liberal-arts college? (Click through for a good annotation of this all-important first page…)

White Noise, p. 1
White Noise, p. 1

Legging It Out

I was pleased with my race this morning, even though it didn’t go quite as planned. I finished in 20:12 (just off my goal time of twenty minutes, but 1:56 faster than last year), good for fourteenth place in the 140-man field and first in my 14-man age group. Still, I could have run a smarter, better, and faster race if I had handled a couple errors better.

The first big error was the race organizers’ – they didn’t tell those of us at the 5k starting line (a couple blocks away from the starting line for the 15k race) when to expect the gun, so we were just milling around when there was a bang and a puff of smoke down the block. Here was the second error, mine: I went off way too fast, leading the race for the first 500 meters. The only good that came of this was being in front of all the tweens and teenagers who run like oxen, clogging up the road over the first mile. Anyhow, I led through the first corner, and then started giving up places as the real racers caught up to me and the front of the 5k field hit the back of the 15k field.

From there, I was pretty much in survival mode, with my heart rate averaging about 179 (something like 95% of my maximum – which I nearly reached in the last sprint) and my legs feeling increasingly cooked. One by one, other men passed me, with the last one – an old guy! with gray hair! and colossal thighs! – going by just before the two-mile mark. I tried to latch on to each one, but each time, my legs said, “WTF, dude! No way.” I just couldn’t overcome the lactate built up during my stupid all-out start.

Thankfully, the course rescued me. The last third is flat and then gradually downhill to the finish line, helping me hold my position to the finishing chute and even look sorta fast there at the end. (Shannon took this shot just about when I heard Julia cheering for me.)

Finishing the Defeat of Jesse James Days 5k
Finishing the Defeat of Jesse James Days 5k

Playing the Race Card

Just about twelve hours from now, I’m going to hit the pavement in the 5k road race that’s part of Northfield’s gigantic annual “Defeat of Jesse James Days Celebration.” I ran last year’s race in 22:08, finishing 16th among 122 men and first of five in my age group. The race was surprisingly fun – my first running race since 1995.

This year, I trained all spring and summer to run the sibling race, a 15k over a pretty hilly course, but my training regimen was blown up by illness last month, so I stepped down to the 5,000 meter race. This is not only hella shorter, but the course includes just one climb worth mentioning (300 meter run, 10 meter rise). Hoping that my distance-oriented training will translate to this shorter event, my race goal is to run under 20 minutes. Depending on the size and quality of the field, this time might get me into the top 10. In keeping with my goal for tomorrow morning, my goal for tonight is to avoid partaking of the chocolate ice cream in the freezer.