My friends, I listened to the radio today. I listened to John McCain’s acceptance speech on the radio today. I listened to it! I listened to it against my will! It was terrible. It was terrible, my friends, because he’s boring. It was terrible because he told the same old stories of his imprisomnent. Of his impisronment. Of his incarcerarceration – of being a guest of the North Vietnamese! <crowd roars>

But he is not just boring, my friends! <crowd roars more> He also delivered a speech, my friends, which sounded as if it were a middle-school civics essay. A bad essay! A very bad essay! <crowd roars again> There were cliches! There were slogans! There was pandering! There were no subordinate clauses. And it was all delivered, my friends, with an affect flatter than the great plains of this great land, the best land in the world!<crowd switches from roaring to chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.”>

And this, my friends, is why we need change. <crowd roars again> We need change at the top! We need change from four more years of the same discredited policies. We need change in our politicians. We need change in Washington. Maybe Martha would have been better. We need to change our clothes! Our hairstyles! And, my friends, we need change for our twenty-dollar bills! Correct change! In ones, fives, and silver! <deafening roar> Thank you and God bless harmonicas!<applauding, cheering, more chanting of <U.S.A., U.S.A.”>


Standing with the girls at a sidewalk intersection yesterday, I asked them which way we go home, and predictably got two different answers (three, if you count my own preference). So I told Julia that we would decide which way to go by playing a round of “rock, paper, scissors.” She instantly held out her right fist. Surprised, I asked, “Do you know how to play this game?” She smiled and said excitedly, “They played this on Dragon Tales! Ord plays rock, paper, scissors sometimes!” And sure enough, she knew all the combinations and even played a few rounds with me. (She was very easy to beat, though, because she only ever played rock.) Damn you, public television.

Cold and Snowy

Bring it!

The Farmers’ Almanac predicts below-average temperatures for most of the United States this winter. According to the publication, “numb’s the word.” The 192-year-old publication has an accuracy rate of 80 percent to 85 percent for its forecasts and is prepared two years in advance.

The almanac’s 2009 edition, which goes on sale Tuesday, says at least two-thirds of the country can expect colder-than-average temperatures this winter, with only the Far West and Southeast in line for near-normal readings. The almanac predicts above-normal snowfall for the Great Lakes and Midwest, especially during January and February.

From the Chicago Tribune.

Agnels and Parents

It’s a bit hard to see owing to her media and technique (castoff stationery on the kitchen linoleum and a PaperMate in her right fist), but here is Vivi’s rendering of various important entities, including Mama, Daddy, and an “agnel.” As you can see, she spends a lot of time drawing the eyes, and then invariably tries to point at her own eyes with the pen. Not a good idea.
Vivi's Faces

Notably, Julia doesn’t figure in this drawing. (Then again, Vivi’s not a big part of pictures Julia draws…)

Oncoming Autumn

September seems to have slammed the door on summer like a toddler experimenting with the door to her room. This morning when Shannon headed out for her day o’ presidenting, it was about 75 degrees F with 95% relative humidity. At about 10:30 or 11:00, the temperature dropped more than 15 degrees, and – I think – fall began. Not only the weather suggested this. For their morning snack, the girls and I went to the downtown coffeeshop, where a group of middle-aged women at the next table oohed and aahed over them (partly because Vivi wouldn’t take off her sunglasses) and then mentioned that they were celebrating-slash-mourning that they had just sent the last of their girls off to college. Traipsing around town and then playing at the park after snack, we crunched through plenty of fallen leaves. We got home just in time to catch Julia’s favorite show (Dragontales), which is on at a new time for the school year. At 3:30, I drove to an appointment and passed a score of high schoolers running (or, actually, walking) through their cross-country practice. After the girls went to bed, I headed out for a run that was pleasantly chilly and that ended in the dark (even though it was only 8:20!). Friday is Julia’s first day back at preschool! It should be a great autumn…

Ark de Triumphe

I’ve been working for the past couple weeks with a prof at Carleton who is engaged in a big project on a film called Russian Ark, an unabashed “art film” which is well known, in cinephile circles, for having been made in one continuous 90-minute shot that moves through much of the world-famous Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.

That achievement – possible only thanks to current “film” (really, digital video) technology – has brought considerable acclaim to the film’s director, Alexander Sokurov, and though I’m not an expert in any aspect of film history, much less filmmaking, I was duly impressed by the way this unbroken-shot technique created a swirling, first-person perspective that was, after just a few scenes, impossible for me to distinguish from my own perspective. More than once, I found myself shifting in my seat or craning my neck to try and see around someone in front of me on the screen – as if I was standing there along the edge of, say, a colossal royal ball, not just watching a meticulous reconstruction of one.

Even more than the incredible feat of a single sustained feature film-length shot, though, I loved the movie’s arc. As some pissy reviewers have noted, Russian Ark has no true plot and very few guides that the viewer can use to decipher the action. But you don’t need much knowledge of Russian history to enjoy the spectacle of the scenes (any of the royal balls, or the incredible sequence in which an aging Catherine the Great insists on venturing into the frigid courtyard), to get wrapped up in the testy but partial conversation between the one main character and the unseen narrator, or – best of all – to enjoy trying to solve the puzzle of exactly what, if anything, is going on. (Try to track Pushkin and his wife through the movie, for instance, or to figure out why there are only one or two scenes set in communist-era Russia and none [as far as I could tell] after 1989.) If, ultimately, that “what” turns out to be “nothing and everything all at once,” then I think the movie has only succeeded in summarizing Russia’s – and everyone’s – history.

Extra: ten minutes of the film, including a few of the amazing strolls through incredible Hermitage corridors…

Call Me, Cineplex Moguls

I have a million-dollar idea for you. (I mean it’ll cost you a million dollars to buy it from me, not that you’ll earn a million from it. You’ll clear a million in the first ten minutes of using it.)

Take your average cineplex lobby. Rearrange things so that I can walk up to the box office and not only purchase a couple tickets to Clone Wars II: We Try to Break Even, but also buy the “family” popcorn deal or the nacho-like chips or a crate of Junior Mints or whatnot, all in one transaction. Ka-chung ka-chung, the tickets print up and on them appears an order number. I stroll around the corner and there awaits my order, all ready except maybe for a jot of butter (no less than three tbsp) and some salt. The kid behind the counter checks my order number against his screen to make sure I’m not taking fare paid for my the Dewy-Eyed Teenagers, and I’m off to my seat for a few thousand pre-movie calories.

This would be much better than the current arrangement in every theatre I’ve visited in the last five years, where you have to make two transactions (for tickets, for refreshments) and wait in long lines to do both. Maybe you put drive-in style menu boards up outside the box office so that the ravening hordes can decide how to stuff their gullets while they wait in the queue. That’s up to you. You’re the one who own the cineplexes, after all.

You’re welcome.


I’m smitten by the British-English convention of using the suffix “-side” to denote locations. I first noticed this construction when I was doing dissertation research on shipbuilding, and read about the world-famous shipyards of Tyneside in northern England, but there are lots of other examples, such as Cheapside in London Now that the Olympics are over, I think the world is ready for a broader use of the convention. Forthwith, a few options for my little slice of the eastern edge of Northfield:

  • Woodleyside
  • Cornside
  • Soybeanside
  • Manureside
  • Mcmansionside
  • Retentionpondside
  • Turbineside
  • Windyside

Gustaving Your Cake and Eating It Too

I dunno if, as some bloggers have alleged, that God is a Democrat. (The only thing that will prove to me that James Dobson’s on the wrong side of the Almighty is seeing live CNN coverage of Satan emerging from a smoking chasm outside Colorado Springs and intoning, “Jimmy, I appreciate all you’ve done for my cause, but it’s time for you to come home.”)

But I would wager the Republicans are looking up and mouthing “thank you” for Gustav. First, by keeping Bush and Cheney from making it to St. Paul, the storm allows McCain-Palin to avoid any photos of McCain alongside Bush or Cheney or a speech by Bush – embarrassing to Republicans and useful to Democrats. Second, the hurricane now gives them the pretext for scaling back the ridiculous convention activities and appear to be taking the high road:

Senator John McCain called a halt on Sunday afternoon to all but the most essential activities for the Republican National Convention on Monday, declaring that it was time for members of his party to “take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats” as Hurricane Gustav bears down on the Gulf Coast.

Of course, they wouldn’t have to now seek redemption in their response to the third major hurricane to hit New Orleans in three years IF THEY HADN’T SCREWED UP HANDLING THE OTHER TWO!

Just watch them get a free pass from the press on this one…

Evidence that Vivi Is An Unfit Mother

  1. She often picks up her baby (doll) by grabbing the back of her shirt, with two hands around her neck, or by the foot.
  2. When feeding the baby, she often “misses” the baby’s mouth and pokes the baby in the eye, nose, or forehead with the spoon, bottle, or bit of food.
  3. She frequently comforts the baby by picking it up, cooing softly in her ear, and then shrieking loudly and shaking the baby.
  4. She makes little or no effort to communicate clearly, preferring instead a bizarre pidgin of poorly enunciated words, letters, and numbers, along with a healthy number of regular old yells, grunts, and shrieks (see (3) above).
  5. When it’s time for the baby’s nap, she closes her eyes by manually pressing the eyelids shut.
  6. She often uses a beat-up toy grocery cart as a stroller, sometimes without first removing the food in it.
  7. Nobody’s ever seen her change a diaper.
  8. She herself is still wearing diapers.
  9. She frequently covers the baby’s head with her swaddling blanket.
  10. When she tires of playing with her, she drops the doll face-first on the floor.

Sarah Palin

From “The Caucus” blog of the NY Times, more than you could ever want to know about reactions to Sarah Palin, the GOP vice-presidential candidate. The clincher for me (not that I needed one):

“I’m so hot and sweaty, because we’ve been jumping around and hugging,” Lori Viars, a social conservative activist in Lebanon, Ohio, who had been a staunch Mike Huckabee supporter and had previously struggled to muster enthusiasm for Mr. McCain, told our colleague Michael Luo. “It is too good to be true,” she added, after attending the announcement rally in Dayton. “This is better than we could have ever expected.”

From a different Times article, a snort-inducing lede:

Senator John McCain spent the summer arguing that a 40-something candidate with four years in statewide office and no significant foreign policy experience was not ready to be president. And then on Friday he picked as his running mate a 40-something candidate with two years in statewide office and no significant foreign policy experience.

Owning It

Great stuff:

In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is – you’re on your own.  Out of work?  Tough luck.  No health care?  The market will fix it.  Born into poverty?  Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps – even if you don’t have boots.  You’re on your own.  Well, it’s time for them to own their failure.  It’s time for us to change America.

Sympathy for the Vivi

Vivi, Vivi, Vivi. She loves doors, doorknobs, locks, keys – all that stuff. Today, in a necessary advancement of her portal-related skills, she locked herself in the bathroom. Shannon immediately called me, but managed to jimmy the door open just after I picked up.

That’s the least of her trubs right now, though. Bedtime is the worst, for everyone. I can feel my heart rate increase around seven, when we start giving her the ten- and five-minute warnings about bedtime, and even Julia often gets edgy. Usually, nowadays, Vivi holds it together pretty well for most of the routine. She says night-night to her mom and sister, sits quietly in my lap for a story or two (not even asking, much, anymore, for a third or fourth or nth story), and then asks for her two nighttime songs: “Doo-Doo Uppa Ba Ba,” which translates into English as “Twinkle Twinkle” (the “uppa ba ba” part is her attempt to say her favorite line, “Up above the world so high”), and “Ba Be Bee Bee,” a.k.a., “Rockabye Baby.”

After hearing those in my mellifluous falsetto, she snuggles into her pile of stuffed animals – including, most importantly, the quartet of Ung, Dub-Ya, Biggie, and Munnie (her silky, her bear, Piggie, and Bunny), and asks for “dewwow” and “ink,” her yellow and pink blankets. I put those over her, and then head for the door. Roundabout the time my hand touches the knob, she starts the screaming, and doesn’t let up for the next ten, fifteen, thirty minutes. As Shannon might have said, lo those many days ago when she still blogged, “Not. Pleasant.”

Today, though, things were worse than usual because, first, she threw her stuffed-animal friends out of bed, and then, after I retrieved them, refused to lie down, saying over and over, “Bet! Bet! Bet!” I was mystified, until, disgusted with me, she patted her bottom and shrieked it at me – she was saying “Wet! Wet!” She’s increasingly interested in potty training, and now suddenly can’t stand to be wet. So while Julia crawled into her own bed, I changed Vivi’s diaper and settled her into her crib again. Five minutes later, she was out.

Vivi, Vivi, Vivi. She is a handful – or two, or four – but I feel for her. Her reach so exceeds her grasp, she can’t help but be mad at the world, and most of us in it.