Over the weekend, Julia and Genevieve and I went to a small little playground tucked away at the northern end of Sibley Swale Park here in Northfield. It’s a gorgeous setting: ringed by trees but open to the sky, shady but not dark, grassy but not just a field, quiet but not somnolent. The girls love the place. Some days, they like to go up and down the play structure. Other days, like Saturday, they like to swing.
Vivi Swinging
Vivi Swinging
Julia Swinging
Julia Swinging

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.

Executive Experience

I find the arguments about “executive experience” to be one of the stupidest themes of the presidential campaign so far: Palin supposedly has acquired this mysterious mantle while serving as governor of Alaska and mayor of a small town there and Obama supposedly has no executive experience at all.

I decided to try to quantify this supposed disparity, beginning with the premise that Obama is CEO of a rather large start-up organization, his presidential campaign. Of course, he has a campaign manager and other such staff, but isn’t a good executive one who delegates well? As near as I can tell, Obama’s campaign has a “budget” of roughly $400 million dollars – the amount he’s probably raised in campaign donations by now. On top of that, the campaign has so far enlisted 1.2 million volunteers, with a goal of an even three million – roughly 1 in every 100 Americans. Sure, the effort of these volunteers vary considerably – but how is that different from the average company, or the workforce of a random state in the Union?

Take Alaska. The state has about 15,000 employees, including of course Governor Palin. For comparison’s sake, about 20,000 people have offered their volunteer services to the Obama campaign organizers in Silicon Valley. Obviously, there are huge disparities between the 49th State and Silicon Valley, such as their respective populations: less than 700,000 and 2 million, but come on: twenty thousand people interested in volunteering for Obama? That’s a lot of nerds to herd.

Or look at Alaska’s budget, which is $6.3 billion for fiscal 2009. That’s a big sum of money, but Obama will know his way around big budgets. He’s spending $400 million on his own campaign, of course, but he also has some direct experience with budgets as a legislator in Illinois, where the state budget is now $65 billion. Hell, in Illinois they probably set $6.3 billion aside to bribe one another.

I’m glad to see that Obama is finally starting to fight the charge of inexperience, recently saying, “I think that our ability to manage large systems and to execute has been made clear over the last couple of years.” Predictably, McCain is scoffing at this claim. But then again, what kind of executive experience does Captain McCain have? Oh, yeah – more than 30 years ago, he ran a naval aviation squadron, with about a thousand people under his command. By all accounts, he did this pretty well, guiding the unit to its first-ever award for meritorious service. But then again, maybe he could have done better: by his own admission, this is also when he wrecked his first marriage by having several affairs.


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 PBS.kids 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…