I regret that my own weirdness made me a fascist about people who were not weird. -  Lynda Barry 


This blog is is changing platforms and moving to a new URL: (note the hyphens instead of the underscores). I explain this latest - and lastest? - change o' site in the first post there.

I'll set up redirects so that, with luck, everyone's bookmarks and RSS feeds will point there, as they say, automagically. (Of course, I can't set up all the forwards that I might like, or people actually looking for the old URL will get passed along to the new one...)

Please let me know with a comment here if you have trouble. Thank you for reading B&D, sorry if you encounter any glitches, and see you at the new URL.

Out of Touch?

The New York Times reports that the wraiths behind the McCain campaign have launched a new effort to paint Obama as "out of touch" and - yes - "elitist." I liked the Times article on its face, and while I know it's a fool's errand to criticize journalists for not covering every last angle of a story, I have nevertheless been perplexed at the article's inability or unwillingness connect this McCain campaign rhetoric with either his own inadvertent recent demonstration of incredible out-of-touchness - "do a Google" and never having sent an email and all that - or with the towering elitism of his own adult life.

With respect to the former, one need only look at chronology to see that McCain's gaffes re. the internet and grocery-store prices have spurred this new attempt to slur Obama.

With respect to the former, more important, matter, it's a plain fact that McCain has lived his entire life in various elites, chosen and not. For instance, he has never been significantly employed by anybody but the federal government, whether as a pilot in the Navy or as a senator. And it's not like his campaign for president will suddenly make him into a member of the hoi polloi. Rather, he's aiming to enter one of the few groups of Americans more elite than the Senate: the roster of presidents. Why doesn't the paper of record point out the simple fact of the hypocrisy and plain old ridiculousness of McCain's stance here?

Err, Okay

Right now, the girls - fresh from the the tub - are marching loudly in circles around their playroom table, one in a diaper, one in her underwear, yelling, "Ve va a marcha, ve ca a marcha!" I dunno what this means, but it has the advantage of being easily said by either one.

Poop, Continued

I must have the crap knack now. When I came home from work today, Vivi called for me to come upstairs and change a terrible diaper. Shannon said that the tyke had rejected all attempts to change it, telling her, "No, Daddy boop." So I changed the mess and all was well.

Until bathtime. Wearing a dirty diaper for 20 minutes while waiting for me to get home gave the little girl a horrifying case of diaper rash, so bad that she started crying when I dried her off after her bath. Gobs of Desitin were applied. I hope tomorrow breaks the poop streak.

Evening Demands

After a few minutes of talking to herself tonight, Vivi started to call out urgently. I went upstairs to her, asking "What's wrong, honey?" She lifted her head up off the mattress and said, "Needa mwah" - "I need a kiss." I gave her a kiss and a hug and she went right to sleep. That there is a good moment, more than making up for the bathtime incident.

Single Sort

Though Northfield is still the small town with big city troubles - like a do-nothing city council - at least we're also the kind of place where demented local playwrights get written up on the op-ed page and where single-sort recycling is finally in place.

I'm in favor of both things. First of all,Brendon Etter needs all the attention he can get, especially when it's the laughing-with, not the laughing-at, kind. 

Second, it's a hell of a lot easier to do your recycling when you pretty much just chuck everything in a giant blue-and-yellow bin. (Nice colors, by the way: Carleton approves.) But after spending - what?- half my lifetime sorting recycling into this, that, and the other, it also feels kinda subversive to lift the lid of the bin and throw in two cans, a jar, three bottles, and the Sunday paper. I'm sure I'll get over it.

Gross Kid Moment, #2

I was prepared, given last night's nocturnal snot spot, to have a nice excretion-free evening tonight.

No luck. After doing all kinds of odd walks, which I ascribed to post-dinner silliness, Vivi hopped in the tub and promptly pooped two well-formed turds.

This is not okay.

Get both girls out of the tub. Dry them off. Put Vivi in a diaper. Drain the tub. Dispose of the fugitive feces. Clean the tub. Run a new bath. Get both girls back in the tub. Wash them both, fast. Out again, dry again, put them in the jammies.

If anything like this is on tap for Wednesday night, I'll skip it.

Ten Minutes to Bedtime

Shannon had to go off to an emergency meeting to deal with the Big Ugly Mess tonight, so I had to handle the bedtime routine by myself. I was girded for battle, expecting at least as much trouble as last night (i.e., Vivi up for an hour past her 7:15 bedtime,  Julia up until nine). Perhaps because I psyched the universe out, none of that came to pass. After an easy bathtime and some hilarious playing (the capper: Vivi, clad only in her diaper, putting on a pair of dress-up fairy wings and parading around, flapping her arms madly), they went off to bed with no meltdowns or tears or even fussing. Vivi went to sleep after just a few minutes of desultory chatter, and Julia fell asleep right away. At around 8:15, I moved Julia from the guest room bed - where she still has to fall asleep (or at least lie down quietly) - to her own bed.

As soon as I got back downstairs, I started to hear Julia snuffling and snorting. After a few minutes, she called for me, very quietly. Up I went to her room. She said her nose was running, which I surmised from the sounds and from the fact that my allergies were acting up, too. I helped her blow her nose and went back downstairs. I'd barely sat down when she called for me again, more urgently. Back in her darkened room, I leaned down to ask, "What's wrong?" She said, "My finger is covered with snot!" and then proved it by sticking her index finger into my hand, clearly expecting that my hand had been transformed into wad of Kleenex. It was, however, not a blot for snot, so I had to just kiss her on the head, tell her to go to sleep, and then sprint to the bathroom for some actual Kleenex.

Ahh, parenting.


As we - and by "we" I mean "I" - move into the high season for grant applications, work's getting busy enough that there's no spare daytime to generate blog posts. Thus I have to dip into my bookmarks for great stuff like photos by Andrey Titarenko. Here is "Untitled, (Crowd 2)" from 1993 from his City of Shadows collection:


This use of blurring is, I think, pretty creepy, but other shots - like his collection from Venice - use the blurring to achieve an effect that's less horror-movie and more lived-scene.

Personal Assistant

The other day, Julia and Genevieve and I went out for a walk and met some new down-the-block neighbors. They introduced themselves, we introduced ourselves, the girls told them how old they were, we chatted for a bit about life in our townhouse association, and then we went our separate ways.

When we got back home, I told Shannon that we'd met these new neighbors, but then realized that  I had forgotten - despite my best efforts, including repeating their names when we met. Annoyed with myself, I asked Julia if she remembered their names. She gave me a "why are you asking such a silly question?" look and supplied two names. I jotted them down, not sure if she was right but leaning in that direction.

Today I received an email  from these new neighbors and by golly, Julia was right. The kid's got a great memory.

Flipping Out

˙sʎɐp uʍop-ǝpısdn ɟo ǝuo ƃuıƃƃolq ɹoɟ ʇɔǝɟɹǝd ǝq ʇɥƃıɯ ʇɐɥʇ looʇ ƃuıddılɟ-ʇxǝʇ ǝlʇʇıl ʇɐǝu ɐ "'dılɟ" pǝɹǝʌoɔsıp ı 'pǝǝɟ ɹǝʇʇıʍʇ s,ǝʇlʎs ǝıɹɐɯ ɥʇnɹ oʇ sʞuɐɥʇ

Devilish Fun

Julia's fascination with the nativity story is only growing. The past couple days, she's spent at least a couple hours using a toy barn and a motley collection of LEGO, Playmobil, Little People, and other dolls to act out elaborate scenarios involving Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. She recites every line in that You Tube video. To say she's engrossed in all this is to understate the depth of her focus. In fact, the only things that break her concentration are the need to ask me questions ("Why did Mary have to have Jesus in the stable? Didn't they have hospitals in Bethlehem?") and the need to resist raids by her sister.

Vivi loves to barrel into the room where Julia is playing, scoop up one of the toy figures (usually, the blonde, pink-clothed Playmobil doll which is most often Jesus), and then race away, literally cackling with glee. She zooms down the hall in her little bottom-heavy run, darts into the girls' room, and happily shuts the door. If you go and open the door to look inside, you find her standing next to the bed, clutching the purloined Savior in her sweaty palm and giggling. She may be acting the part of a minor demon, but it's a very cute, towheaded imp who may or may not be clad only in a diaper.

Of course, Julia hates this. "I hate when she does this, Daddy!" The first few times this happened today, she tore off after Vivi and tried to wrest the stolen toy away. This, naturally, never worked. Finally, I counseled Julia to do the opposite of trying to get the doll back: to instead just keep playing with the other dolls, preferably without even commenting on Vivi's thievery. I assured her that Vivi was only taking the dolls because Julia kept reacting with so much annoyance and anger.

Julia doubted all this, but I told her that this is what my mom told me to do when faced, in sixth grade, with that hat-stealing Kyle Zarimba. Ignoring him worked like a charm, I told Julia, and I got my kromer back right away. She agreed to try it the next time Vivi launched one of her nativity raids.

Ten seconds later, Vivi swooped in on the ersatz Bethlehem, grabbed someone, and disappeared down the hallway. Julia didn't follow. A minute after that, Vivi opened the door to see if Julia was coming, even calling, "Oo-ia?" Julia yelled back, "I'm in here playing, Genevieve!" Vivi opened the door wider, walked down the hall to Julia, and handed back the stolen toy, then sat down to look at a magazine. Probably "Toddling Devilry Today."

Fairy Tales

The girls - or rather, "Big Sister Fairy" and little sister - reading a book the other day.

Fairy Tales


Where can you come across a mule wearing a hat and grazing at the fountain in the middle of downtown?

Why, Northfield, of course.



I'll note that it is impossible to be near a mule for more than two seconds before you end up near the mule's butt. It just works that way.

Born for the Great Depression

Via the genius at Happy to Be from Iowa, the "1930s Marital Scale" test.  (I won't reveal my answer to item #100: "Writes on tablecloth with pencil.")


As a 1930s husband, I am
Very Superior

Take the test!

The real question is what kind of 1930s wife I am.

Skiing the Tour de France

Wednesday's "queen stage" of the Tour de France was a doozy, with Carlos Sastre emerging from the GC to take the lead in the race with juuust enough time over favorite Cadel Evans that Saturday's time trial will be a scorching good race to decide the whole thing. Wednesday's final climb up l'Alpe d'Huez was, as anticipated, the decisive section of the race: all the contenders were together at the bottom, but then Sastre uncorked a big surge that wound up putting nearly two minutes into the field.

He made that attack stick on cycling's biggest, craziest platform, a hill that is notorious for insane fans - up to a million of them (not a misprint) - who literally get in the racers' faces throughout the 15-some kilometers of climbing. This is the hill where even Lance Armstrong feared the fans.

Then again, not all of them are drunken Netherlanders mobbing the "Dutch corner" in their orange shirts. Some are Norwegians, rollerskiing up the goddamn thing.


Shot cribbed from a great photoessay on the fans on the Alpe by Ed Hood on Pez Cycling News.

Hard Day at the Office

When I came home from work on Wednesday, I found Shannon and the girls all sitting at the top of the steps, clearly tired out from a long day. Julia and Genevieve slumped down onto their backs, then pantomimed going to sleep right there. When Shannon headed downstairs to make dinner, Julia looked up at me and said wearily, "Daddy, it's hard to be a stay at home sister. It's very tiring."


Vivi was heartbroken this evening when Shannon took Julia to her dance class. She cried pretty much nonstop from 5:35, when we watched them leave in the car, until 5:55, when I finally got her, pink-faced from the weeping, into her bath. Once naked and slippery, she enjoyed playing without the physical and psychological encumbrances of Julia's four-year-oldness, but her playing was a bit hollow - nostalgic, even. As I dried her off afterwards, telling her that it wasn't long now until Mama came home, she looked at me and shrieked, "Mama! Happy! Julia! Happy!"

I guess I'm chopped liver, huh?

Anyhow, she's now happily occupying herself in the playroom, building one of her patented elaborate block towers on a picture-book foundation. She's really just biding her time until Mama comes home and she can be reunited.

UPDATE, 6:35: I just changed Vivi into an overnight diaper, a process she punctuated by moaning, "Mama? Happy?" and then breaking down into another crying fit.


Via the Fail Blog, internet home of schadenfreude, this video lesson: "Sometimes you pwn the wall, and sometimes the wall pwns you."


Wednesday is the "queen stage" of the Tour de France: a 210.5km (131 mile) race through the Alps that will include three horrific beyond-category climbs - including, at the end, the ascent of the greatest climb of them all, the 21 switchbacks of l'Alpe d'Huez.

With stage 16 pushing American Christian Vande Velde and Russian Denis Menchov out beyond the magical (and meaningless) mark of one minute behind the leader, the group contesting the yellow jersey on the Alpe will probably number just four. Ominously, two of that group - Frank Schleck (in the yellow jersey) and Carlos Sastre (in fourth, 49 seconds behind) - race for the same team, CSC, whose relentless pace damaged Menchov and Vande Velde. The other two racers, Cadel Evans and Bernhard Kohl, are just 8 and 7 seconds behind Schleck, respectively, and will be eager to stay close to him or even to attack him. Can CSC continue to defend Schleck's yellow jersey so successfully and brutally? It will be fun to watch the 15,000 feet of climbing on the queen stage answer that question.

Too Little, Too Late

I just blew the evening working on my online class - grading papers, wrestling with the unfriendly online-course application, answering emails (like the one from the student who begged his way into the course, has earned 0 points through the first two-thirds of the semester, and now wants to know how he can still earn a C - answer:  you can't), and generally doing stuff I'd rather not have spent that much time doing. Oh well. It (literally) pays the bills.

Jinxing, but...

I'm sure this will jinx it all, but I have to go on record to praise Apple for my recent MacBook repair.

First of all, the whole process was quick as hell. I called to report the damage last Friday, received the free overnight DHL box on Saturday, shipped the computer on Monday, and had it back on Wednesday.

Second, the repair was excellent. The contractor (Apple doesn't do its own repairs, I found out) replaced half of the laptop's case, not only fixing the tiny - but growing - crack next to the touchpad, but endowing the computer with a new keyboard that is poppier and easier to use, and - mysteriously - scaring away certain odd, irresolvable wi-fi problems with which I've been wrestling with since getting the machine in the winter.

Well done, Apple.

Vivi's Faces

No, not her excellent facial expressions (which I hope to photoblog soon - wait'll you see the "sly face"), but her first attempt at drawing some faces. Click through to Flickr for the usual mouse-over notes. Not bad, eh? I like the palette, myself: brown & black is where it's at.

Vivi's Faces

Tour de Frantic

Today's the second and last rest day at the Tour de France, during which the racers have been doing some "easy" (for them) riding to keep the legs moving and to prepare for the two brutal days in the mountains on Tuesday and Wednesday. Pretty much everything will be at stake in those two ascent-happy days, from the best young rider prize and the green and polka-dot jerseys for points and mountain champions all the way up to the podium spots, including the yellow jersey. 

The stakes are extraordinarily high now. Experts and fans expected to see some turnover at the top of the general classification during Sunday's stage 15, and, indeed, the stage put a new man in the yellow jersey. But the staggering number of attacks by GC contenders throughout the stage actually increased the number of racers within striking distance of first place. Australian Cadel Evans, who'd worn yellow before the day started, couldn't respond to a series of attacks on the stage's final, steep climb to Prato Nevoso, Italy. One after another, Evans' rivals rode away from him, with the Luxembourger Frank Schleck waiting until almost the last second before surging up the slope to take the second by which he trailed Evans in the general classification. Schleck thereby assumed a scant 8-second climb over Evans and a 7-second lead over another late attacker, the little-known Austrian climber Bernhard Kohl. Behind that trio, the Spaniard Carlos Sastre climbed back to within fifty seconds of the yellow jersey, in sixth position, just behind the Russian Denis Menchov in fourth (38s down) and American Christian Vande Velde (39s down). The Tour de France has never seen so many racers separated by so few seconds so late in the race.

My money is still on Vande Velde, who is showing good form and has just enough of a team to carry him up the big HC climbs to come. On the other hand, with Schleck in yellow and Sastre within a few seconds of the podium, the strong CSC team will have every reason to push the pace, especially on the climbs, and put time into Evans, Kohl, Menchov, and Vande Velde. Stages 16 and 17 will be hellaciously brutal racing. It'll be fantastic.


Sunday was wonderfully fun, start to finish. We had oodles of outside time (am park, pm sprinkler), good indoor fun, some "eets" (treats, pronounced à la mode Genevieive), and - most importantly - an insane number of new words from Vivi. Among other new or nearly-new words were "thay-oo" for "thank you," "bay" for "play" (actually older, but in heavy use now), "ni-ni" and "bye-bye" for "night-night" and "bye-bye" (duh), "ooks-ee" for "excuse me" (hilarious when addressed to me after she passed a monumental fart in the bathtub), "sowwee" for "sorry" (also in heavy use, because swatting Julia was big sport this weekend), "bee bud" for "bread and butter" (her dinnertime staple, and roughly 98% of her daily calories).

In addition to that lexicon, she's started saying "Dee-zah" for "Jesus," which is critical for properly assuming her role in the ubiquitous "nativity scene" playing we're doing here these days. Julia is Mary and I'm Joseph, and Julia is Mary, who assumes the heavy responsibility of repeating virtually every line from that damn YouTube video and taking care of Jesus, right down to swaddling "him" in an old blanket. This activity probably ate up 50% of all the time we spent indoors today, and Vivi got so into it after dinner tonight that when I said, "Vivi, it's time to go take your bath!" she looked up at me, scowled, and patted her stomach before saying, "No Vivi. Deezah! Deezah!" Delusio ns of grandeur much?

After "Deezah" went to bed in "his" crib a half hour ago, Julia started a long mashup Nativity using the girls' Playmobil barn and its inhabitants and some stray LEGO figures. Fittingly - at least in the view of this atheist parent - she is using a Playmobil chicken as the angel who announces Jesus' birth.

Slow Walk on a Long Sidewalk

Today's long, quiet morning was punctuated with a long, slow walk with the girls. Actually, the walk was less a walk than the serial alteration of standstills and brief strolls. It took Genevieve and me on foot, and Julia on her scooter nearly ninety minutes to walk 8/10ths of a mile around two blocks. That's slow, man. Very slow. Frustratingly slow, at the time. Any slower, and time would have run backwards, making me younger when we got back home than I had been when I left.

I tried to keep a good perspective on this slow pace. On the one hand, everyone knows a four-year-old needs a lot of time to inspect interesting rocks, collect beautiful leaves, ask questions about certain houses, et cetera. And a two-year-old needs a lot of time to watch her sister inspect, collect, ask, et cetera. On the other hand, do I have to explain again why we can't just stroll onto someone's lawn and pick their day lillies? I guess I do.

My poor attitude notwithstanding, the girls still had fun. We met some new neighbors, to whom Julia spoke very politely and nicely (telling them how old she and her sister were); Vivi exclaimed, "Uh-oh! Boo-boos!" when a rusted-out junker car rumbled past us; both girls waved at almost every other car that went by; Julia threw her worshipful stare at the "big girl" (an eight-year-old) who rode her scooter around us; and, yes, they collected a trove of "berries," leaves, sticks, and rocks - all, today, sharing a maroon-ish hue.

Tour de Can't Wait

Yeah, yeah, the Tour de France has been plagued with doping for the zillionth straight year, but I'm still very excited about the rest of the race, which ends next Sunday with the traditional stage to Paris. First, though, the race itself has to be decided. The final standings could be determined as late as next Saturday, with an individual time trial, but that race will probably instead be more-or-less settled over the next three stages, all brutal mountain stages in the high Alps.

Between them,  stages 15 on Sunday, 16 on Tuesday (following a rest day), and 17 on Wednesday include six hors-categorie climbs, the slopes that are so long and steep as to be "beyond category." These six climbs will eliminate some of the five racers who are now separated by less than a minute at the top of the general classification, and the battles should be brutal. The current yellow jersey, Australian Cadel Evans, is leading a painfully weak Silence-Lotto team that provided almost no support in the Pyrenees. A strong climber, Evans will thus be subjected to attack after attack by other contenders, including especially the mountain goat Frank Schleck, whose CSC team is the strongest in the race and who is only 1 second back of Evans. Lurking in third, 39s behind Evans, is American Christian Vande Velde, who leads a new team, Garmin-Chipotle (GPS and burritos!) that might - especially with the Tour win on the line - be capable of some good attacking as well.

In short, the next three stages will see a classic sporting contest between the immovable object, Evans, and the irresistible force of CSC - with Garmin-Chipotle and a couple other teams injecting some chaos as well. I can't wait to see how Sunday's stage plays out. It's a 185km run that starts in Embrun, in southeastern France, then climbs almost immediately over the 9,000-foot Col Agnel pass (the first in the series of HC climbs) on the Italian border. If CSC attacks Evans on the Agnel, they could put him into enough difficulty - either by destroying his team or by stressing him personally - that he won't be able to adequately respond on the second, much later climb of the day, which comes after a long run across the Piedmont in northwestern Italy.

By the time the racers reach that second climb, the ascent to the Italian ski resort of Prato Nevoso, the leaders should be back together, but Evans might be isolated and thus unable to keep up with Schleck - or with Vande Velde or another opportunist. Then again, perhaps the long respite between the Agnel and Prato Nevoso will allow Evans' team to regroup and help him fend off the later attacks - or even to counteratttack and extend his lead. And maybe Evans will himself be strong enough to handle CSC. It should be great sport, no matter what happens.

Peak of Summer

The cycles of summertime foliage have turned to sunflowers, black-eyed susans, and other gorgeous flowers. A few shots from some hidden corners of campus:

A wonderful tiny swatch of prairie on the east side of Olin Hall:

Olin Prairie

A lush flowerbed near a bench overlooking the Lyman Lakes and Mai Fête Island:

Lyman Lakes Flowerbed II

The plaque on the stone in the lower left corner is inscribed with an interesting summery poem...

Vivi Words

VIvi's verbal adventurousness is growing every day now. A few favorites:

  • "nome" for "comb," but used like so: "Vivi nome bee" - "Give me the comb, please."
  • "botdipple" for "popsicle," like the homemade applesauces ones or the pastel-colored rubber duckie which she pretended to lick after her bath
  • "Oo, Vivi," echoing "Oh, Genevieve," a frequent parental exclamation (for good and bad reasons) 
  • "Nana... doga... ereil" for the banana, yogurt, and cereal in her breakfast bowl
  • "Ee-sus" for Jesus, the lovable little scamp in this YouTube video, which will haunt me forever

Bad Old Days

Cleaning out some old notes on my computer, I came across a bill incurred the night before we moved out of our Minneapolis house, two and a half years ago.

That night, the new owners suddenly decided that, actually, they wouldn't close on the house unless we did fix that "leaky" pipe under the bathroom sink. (This, after they had earlier said that - since both our and their inspector thought it was no biggie, it was something they'd handle later.) Fact was, the pipe was just old, not corroded.

But after they dropped this bomb around dinnertime, our realtor called her favorite plumber, and he came down at 7 pm to check the pipe and "fix" it. This entailed not only tearing our vanity away from the wall, but creating a massive mess of water, wet plaster, inside-the-wall filth, and general dirt. He got it all cleaned up, though, and then handed me the bill, which I passed on to my realtor and she passed on to the buyers' realtor. Here's a verbatim chunk of that invoice:

emergency service: $200.00
  "check for leak under bathroom sink (no leak found on drain pipe)

replace 1/2" shut-off valve: $259.00
  repair drip from Moen single handle faucet (install new cartridge): $129.00

total: $588.00

Not bad for 30 minutes of work.

Vivi and Me

This evening, I spent some rare time one-on-one with Vivi while Julia went to her new dance class. We had some good fun dancing to the new Justin Roberts CD - she can specify at least three different songs - and being silly, but bathtime was an ordeal. First, she refused to get undressed, calling "Booah! Booah!" ("Julia! Julia!") and then, once I finally got her in the water, patting the spot in the tub where Julia usually sits and continuing to call for her, even more mournfully. Scrub, scrub, rinse, rinse and we were done, but by this time she was bright pink - the color of the Twitter feed badge at left - from all the weeping. Helping her into her jammies and asking her to help set up her room calmed things down again, and she ended up going to bed relatively quietly, if not quickly. The poor girl missed her sister a lot.

Julia: Self-Portrait as Fairy

Every few days or so, Julia adds another item to her artistic repertoire. This drawing, of herself as a fairy, is a pretty good summary of the state of the art. Click through to the Flickr page for notes on the various elements of the picture.

Julia: Self-Portrait as Fairy

Fear and Loathing

Given the candidacy of my man Barack Obama - a presidential candidate so cool he appears at Wilco concerts (what, was Radiohead busy?) for crissakes - I have been feeling oddly optimistic about American politics lately. Then, sleepily making the girls' breakfasts this morning, I heard recaps of the weekend's news: nine American troops killed in Afghanistan in a well-planned Taliban attack; the sudden but catastrophic collapses of Indy Mac, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac;fallout from the new FISA bill...

So here are two good - that is, scary as hell - articles to fan the flames.

First, the Harper's blogger Scott Horton interviews the journo Jane Mayer about her new book, The Dark Side, an elaboration of her terrifying New Yorker articles that describe how Cheney's cabal subverted the Constitution in fashioning a quasi-legal apparatus that permitted the torture and apparently even the murder of anyone who could be labeled a "terrorist." I'd love to read the book, but frankly it sounds too scary and depressing to digest: basing interrogation techniques on 1960s experiments involving the torture of dogs, the cabal's fear of war-crimes prosecutions, the contravention of John Walker Lindh's civil rights, the way that - as summarized by one historian she quotes - “Fear and anxiety were exploited by zealots and fools.” Terrifying.

Second, in light of the recent FISA bill, it's worth rereading the security scholar James Bamford's analysis in the Atlantic of what the Bush administration's surveillance regime might mean to you and me. Again, terrifying: "Today, the NSA has access to more information than ever before. People express their most intimate thoughts in e-mails, send their tax returns over the Internet, satisfy their curiosity and desires with Google searches, let their hair down in chat rooms, discuss every event over cell phones, make appointments with their BlackBerrys, and do business by computer in WiFi hot spots... NSA personnel, the customs inspectors of the information superhighway, have the ultimate goal of intercepting and reviewing every syllable and murmur zapping into, out of, or through the United States. They are close to achieving it... As history has shown, the availability of such vast amounts of information is a temptation for an intelligence agency. The criteria for compiling watch lists and collecting information may be very strict at the beginning of such a program, but the reality—in a sort of bureaucratic law of expansion—is that it will draw in more and more people whose only offense was knowing the wrong person or protesting the wrong war."

Blowing in the Wind

The weekend's picture-perfect weather made for a lot of high-quality outdoor time, which was improved by having my dad here for the weekend. In that way you can during spring and summer in the Midwest (when you know you're cashing chips earned during all those below-freezing January days), we soaked it all up with an almost embarrassing array of outsideness.

Saturday's high point was a half hour of miraculously ideal kite-flying weather. I've never flown a kite before this summer, when Julia got one for her birthday. So far we've had some good fun getting the kite up and running to keep it up, but Saturday, the westerly wind was ideal: it pulled the kite right up into the air and kept it there as long we could have wanted. Amazing.

Flying Kites! - 11

Flying Kites! - 03

After we tired of that, the girls shifted over to the slide, where Julia finally got the courage to try jumping off the the top, in imitation of her friend from next door. This is  skill that will come in handy...

Slide Jumpers - 1

Vivi, being unable to leap like the big girls, watched for a while and then chilled out.


Sunday, we tried to make a little trip to Cannon Falls. We had to call it off on discovering that the town's only coffeeshop was out of business, and everything else in town was closed, too. Sunday morning and all.

So we headed back toward home, stopping at a huge playground in the county park on Lake Byllseby, just outside Cannon Falls. We've seen a fair number of playgrounds in our day, and this was a good one. The girls ran themselves ragged, and even Shannon tried the climbing wall. She's many, many feet inches millimeters off the ground.

Driving Mama Up the Wall

All in all, a well-spent weekend.

Nature Out of Control

Nature is just going nuts over here lately. First, we had Friday night's massive thunderstorm-cum-blackout generator, which we've already discussed here. Driving back from downtown today, we passed a little house that had its frontyard elm fall squarely on the crown of its roof. The place is almost squashed. Terrible.

Second, during my run in the Arb today I encountered not just one but two separate bird wings. They came from different birds (judging by the feathers) and appeared far apart on the trail, but they were both whole. Then at home, as we were playing outside this afternoon, I found a third one, right about where Vivi was getting set to kick a soccer ball. Bad night for birdies?

Then, third, and still on the bird tip, a juvenile robin was stuck in our garage all day. We left the garage door open in the hope that it would fly out, but it hadn't yet mastered the ability of flying down: anytime it was spooked, it just flew up into the ceiling, bounced along until it hit a wall, then turned and bumped its away to some perch. Its mother even visited periodically throughout the day, delivering worms.

Trapped Bird

Finally, I remembered that Nonna brought a big butterfly net the last time they visited. I used a broom to get the bird moving (and peeping madly), but after just a few seconds of terrified flight it hit a wall and slid down, cartoon-style, to the floor, breast heaving. I scooped it up in the net and delivered it to the lawn outside. A second later, its mother flew past and it zoomed up into the air. Fly, you stupid little bird, fly!

Après Ca, le Deluge?

Or something. This is the last thing I saw out the window before the lights went out last night around 9:30 and it got very, very quiet outside.

Big Storm

Then the rain started. Standing at another window to watch the lightning strobes, I could see a thick stream of water pouring down off the upper roof onto the roof over the front door. It was hitting that lower roof so hard I could feel a thrum in my feet.

I thought for sure that the power would come back on within a few minutes. Two hours later, after reading a novel by the light of my headlamp, I went to bed. Seven hours after that, I woke up to hear the girls stirring at their usual seven am time. We still had no power. It finally flicked on around 8:30, giving us a cool eleven hours without power.

Or rather, a hot eleven hours. The girls woke up countless times over night, disturbed by the heat and the lack of white-noise machine whirring. I slept through all that, unfortunately, but Shannon was up all night with them.

Dribs and Drabs

A long week and some late nights have left me unable to post anything substantial this evening. Instead, a mini link dump:

1. "Fragments from A-Rod! The Musical" at the New Yorker. I LOVE doggerel, so I love this a lot. A sample:

With MADONNA at his side, A-ROD’s batting average surges, though the Yankees’ fortunes do not improve. The sexual passion of the affair intensifies.

Remember when I dressed up
As Marilyn Monroe?
If you play your cards right
You can be DiMaggio
You know that heady feeling
When you hit a shot into the gap?
You can tell me all about it
When I shift and settle on your lap

I get it
You’re Madonna
You enjoy
Double entendre

2. Hilarious public art at the Wooster Collective:


3. Today's most appropriate someecard:


Best Cycling Post Ever

Cycling is a sport that's heavily overrepresented in the blogosphere, but thankfully the average cycling blog is well written (if not outright hilarious) and serves, amidst the eye-glazing gear reviews, to analyze important phenomena like riders' victory salutes like this one by some American wheelman.


Jotting Things Down

Day 1 of the new cell phones has been a smash hit - at least for me. The phones are pretty neat, in and of themselves, with better-than-adequate hardware and software and a pretty good user interface.

The biggest deal, though, was having a gadgety sort of friend put me on to Jott, a web application that "converts your voice into emails, text messages, reminders, lists and appointments." No, really: you call it up on your celly and talk to the Jott bot and a few minutes later get an email (or txt or a number of other media) with a transcription of what you just said. It works very well - a few missed words now and then, but largely spot on.

Not only is Jott as free as air, but it hooks into a bunch of other web apps, like Twitter (I used Jott to tweet two times this afternoonwith good success; less so this evening), Tumblr, and Google Calendar. Google Calendar! I can call Jott and rattle off a new appointment; five minutes later, it's automagically there on my GCal. 

Not Just the Country around Budapest

If it's Tour de France time, it's time for blog posts on how amazingly much the racers eat per day: about 5,900 for an average stage, which entails anywhere from four to six hours of riding, and up to about 9,000 for one of the tough mountain stages, like this year's "queen stage," number 17, a 210.5km stretch from Embrun to l'Alpe d'Huez

A "normal" male of my size and age - and I'm a bit bigger and a bit older than the average Tour racer - should eat about 2,200 to 2,500 calories a day, so the average tour rider - who's a bit shorter, thinner, and younger than me - is eating anywhere from 100% to 350% more calories.

And this isn't easy to do, as the guys at Science of Sport show. Since a rider is "occupied for up to 16 hours a day with riding, sleeping, and other activities, he has only about 7-8 h[ours] to ingest 5500 calories, which works out to about 700+ calories an hour during the time he is available to eat and drink." That's a lot of intense chowing. (For comparison, a Big Mac packs about 540 calories - but not many elite athletes are going to eat Big Macs to catch up on their calories.) 

Though I cannot (or need to) eat at quite that rate, anyone who's ever had a meal with me - or tried to feed me - might know that I can on occasion eat quite a bit of food, especially relative to my relentlessly average height and weight. And yet I'm almost always hungry: my stomach starts growling within an hour of finishing any given meal, even if I've taken pains to eat thirds of the heaviest fare. Part of this is that I must have a pretty high natural metabolic rate; another part must be that my metabolism is in high gear thanks to relatively regular workouts. I've long suspected that the "normal" number of calories for a guy like me - 2,500 - isn't sufficient.

Following a link from another story about the Tour de France, I recently came some decent evidence to bear this out: a webpage that helps determine a person's "energy expenditure," which is basically how many calories (okay, kilocalories - I know at least one dietitian who might be reading this) are needed to sustain a certain level of daily activity. To help calculate that energy expenditure, the site offers an "easy" method (weight multiplied by a certain factor - such as 20 for "active people" working out 5-7 times a week) and an "accurate" method (calculating and then adding together the basal metabolic rate, the energy expended during physical activity, and the thermic effect of using energy for digestion).

Running each method, I came out with a total caloric need that's a good 500 kcal above the "norm" for an adult male and thus way above the guidelines I've been using (serving sizes as listed on the side of food containers, for instance). Oops. That 20% margin of error probably explains why I am, even as I finish this post, seriously considering a second dinner.

Bathroom Talk

While she brushed her teeth this morning, Julia dissertated on various topics. She was supposedly talking to me, but I'll transcribe part of it here as the monologue which it was in spirit. (Like her mother, much of Julia's talking is out-loud thinking to herself that happens to occur in the company of another person.)

"Daddy, did you know that I am Genevieve's sister? She is my first sister and I am her last sister. Did you know what she was my first sister the moment she came out of Mama's tummy? Well, she was. She was even my sister before she came out of Mama's tummy, but I couldn't see her very well. The doctors who helped Mama... Genevieve and I have very good doctors, so we will stay alive for a very long time. A very long time. You have a good doctor, too, so you will stay alive a very long time too. You are very healthy, Daddy. You are very healthy except that you snore."

With that, she stuck her toothbrush back in its cup and walked out of the bathroom.

Northfield Weather: Temperate?

I'm just back from a run in the Arb, which is green and glowing with humidity. The air temp is about 80 degrees F, but the 80% relative humidity pushes the heat index up to about 85 degrees F. This is just about the hottest day of 2008, so I wondered whether we've had a 100-degree swing of temperatures yet this year.

Looking back at my training log, I see that it was rather cool on New Years Day. I skied just after noon, when the wind chills were down around -20 degrees F. Tack that onto today's current temperature and we get a nice 100-degree swing - at least perceptually: heat index and wind chill are both imaginary "feels-like" measures. Which is useful when ignoring them and heading outside.


I'm siting in the playroom, Sibelius playing through iTunes (because Julia wondered what "violin music" sounded like), and supervising some art-table action. Vivi is wearing her Disney Princess nightgown and obsessively drawing concentric circles on a sheet of paper. Across from her, Julia is drawing very (imaginatively) detailed skeletons with a red pen. All the skulls include two "hairbones."

Egyptian Cotton

Being a guy, I've mostly avoided learning much about thread counts and percale and all those other details of white goods. But with the recent bed-acquisition activity, I've seen an annoyingly large number of references to "Egyptian cotton," and to its implicit high quality. (Our new mattress pad incorporates this term in the packaging three times.) So what is "Egyptian cotton"? Why it is so esteemed - at least by marketers? Does Egypt really produces that much cotton?

With a little help from Google and Wikipedia, it turns out that "Egyptian cotton" is actually the name of a kind of cotton with especially long fibers, which makes it easy to weave into light, sturdy, and soft fabrics. "Egyptian cotton" really is grown in Egypt, using a type of plant imported from the United States in the 19th century. During the American Civil War, Egypt became a major producer of cotton for British mills, though it has long since lost its primacy and now ranks as a minor producer in terms of the number of bales grown annually.

For what it's worth, the top cotton producers, in terms of the number of bales produced, are China (35.5 million bales in 2008-09), India (26.5), the United States (14.5), Pakistan (9.4), Brazil (6.4), Uzbekistan (5.1), the "African franc zone" in west and central Africa (3.4), Turkey (2.6), Australia (1.5), and the EU and Turkmenistan (1.3 each). Syria (1.0) and Egypt (0.6) run just behind. It's curious that so many of the big cotton producers are also hotbeds of Islamic extremism.

Fifth of July

Little bit of everything today. Both girls had extremely good nights of sleep (not so much long as high-quality), so they were in excellent moods almost all day.

The qualifier is used only because, at bedtime, Vivi had one of her usual fuss-and-delay episodes, which I inadvertently compounded by misinterpreting "baby bye" as a backwards way of saying "goodnight" when in fact it meant, "Please sing 'Rockabye Baby' again." Once I got that straightened out, she was happy and went right to sleep. What's a day as a parent without realizing that you're actually rather bad at figuring out your kids?

Over the thirteen hours till then, things went very well indeed. Julia had so much energy stored up that she basically talked nonstop from about 7:30 am until one. I was dazed by the sheer intensity of her commentary during a shopping trip to Target, which covered everything from what we were buying and what's up with this Hannah Montana person to detailed exchanges with Vivi about her need to walk this way and questions about fellow shoppers. Of a man in sweats and a tee, she commented, "Daddy, I think that man wore his pajamas to Target!" The college-aged guy turned and laughed and said, "Yes, I did, little girl! I was too lazy to get dressed this morning!" This quieted Julia down for a good thirty seconds - her longest stretch of silence all morning.

The girls took two good, long naps after lunch. I took advantage, going for a run in the summer's first really brutally hot weather and then turning Shannon and me into T-Mobile customers. We haven't had cell phones in years, and now I know why: the only thing more byzantine than the ridiculous plans are the deals on the phones. Supposedly, the phones we "bought" are worth $520, yet T-Mobile is giving us $75 back on each. This makes no sense.

After the naps and finishing off some great cheesecake left over from yesterday's party, the girls went with me to the bike shop to retrieve my bike tire, which turned out to have had a little sliver of glass in it. I'd missed this in changing the tube four times, and the bike shop guys had missed it the first time they "fixed" the tire a couple weeks ago. But they didn't change me for this second, hopefully-permanent fix. While I talked to the mechanics, Julia entertained herself by sitting on a "big kids bike" and asking me a million times about when she could get a bike like that one. Nonna and Boppa, save us!

Back at home, the girls helped me start to assemble our new bed, a task which quickly bored them - at which point they went off to the playroom to have a "dance party" which featured much shrieking and laughing that carried right through dinner all the way to bathtime.

After the girls went to bed, I finished putting together the new bed. The directions were less than helpful, I'll say that much. Before throwing out the insanely large quantity of packaging (including a triple-layer box around the bedframe), I had to take a picture of the box which the delivery guy handed to me, pointing to the word and saying portentously, "Knobs."



We've had some warm days so far this summer, but today I think summer has well and truly hit. I'm just back from a run, easily my most unpleasant outing of the last few months due to blazing sun and a scirocco-quality wind from the south. Oof, and no thanks. Give me my 50-degree spring evenings, please.

Gratitude Friday

Boy, I have a ton of stuff for which to be thankful right now, as I sit here with a stomach full of great food and tired legs from a long, busy day. Usually it's my better half who delivers the "Gratitude Friday" posts, but I'll take a shot today. A partial list, in more-or-less chronological order:

1. Two wonderful daughters who mostly compensated for an insanely late night (up til 9:30 pm on Thursday!) by sleeping in this morning and then being in great moods all day.

2. The Declaration of Independence, as written by Thomas Jefferson and as read by the NPR anchors and reporters this morning. Maybe it was the early morning, but I got chills when I heard, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Powerful stuff, and as hard to live up to in 1776 as in 2008.

3. Our stimulus check, which was converted to a new bed and mattress. Economy, you're on your own now.

4. The annual "Fourth of July Criterium" bike races here in Northfield. Julia and I stumbled on them in 2006, made a point to go last year, and this year attended them because now it's a tradition. Julia even got to skip her nap to go! Good lord, can these racers fly. And my god, the size of their thighs...

5. Five of my oldest friends, who - along with their kids - came from points far and wide to have a Fourth of July party at our place and brought a wide assortment of delectables, from pork sandwiches and hot dogs to potato salad and a killer s'mores cheesecake. That's not a typo, and yes, it was as good as it sounds.

6. My wife, who not only did all the virtual legwork of getting our friends together today, but then made a couple dishes, organized the entire event, and played hostess for the better part of four hours. Then she cleaned up virtually everything - and looked good doing it. Amazing.


When I attended that Edward Tufte seminar a couple weeks ago, it was the first time that I'd been around many working professionals of my own age (plus or minus) in a very long time. I was reassured to find that, sure enough, most guys were still wearing polos and chinos. 

Women's fashions were similarly familiar, though there were a lot more floral prints than I remembered. What really struck me were the number of ridiculously large handbags carried by those women. These things were gaudy (those floral prints again, or very bright solid colors, or blinged-out black) and HUGE. At one break, I was briefly in line behind a woman of average height who was carrying a bag that was longer than her torso: the zipper was level with her ear, and the bottom seam was below her hip. What's that, about three feet? What does a person put in a bag that big? Another person?

Clearly I know nothing about women's fashions. But then today the New York Times ran an excellent audio slideshow on the prevalence of giant, crazy bags. If the Paper of Record thinks this phenomenon is worth noting, surely this blog can, too! 

Bottoning Up

Turns out my extremely well-traveled friend Alison (she's been to Kazakhstan!) is a fan of Alain de Botton, a writer whose books I've recently read and - somewhat to my surprise, given his rather flowery and self-conscious style - thoroughly enjoyed. I promised to send her a few lines (his or others') I'd liked in the two books I'd read, but then I thought to post them instead, given that they might pique interest in his books. Viz.,

Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness (Pantheon, 2006)

p. 98: Stendhal: "Beauty is the promise of happiness."

p. 100: Stendhal: "There are as many styles of beauty as there are visions of happiness."

p. 100: "Architecture can arrest transient and timid inclinations, amplify and solidify them, and thereby grant us more permanent access to a range of emotional textures which we might otherwise have experienced only accidentally and occasionally."

p. 123: "As we write so we build: to keep a record of what matters to us."

p. 168: "As the ways in which we are unbalanced alters, so our attention will continue to be drawn to new parts of the spectrum of taste, to new styles which we will declare beautiful on the basis that they embody in a concentrated form what now lies in shadow within us."

p. 247: "Our designs go wrong because our feelings of contentment are woven from fine and unexpected filaments."

p. 249: "The places we call beautiful are, by contrast, the work of those rare architects with the humility to interrogate themselves adequately about their desires and the tenacity to translate their fleeting apprehensions of joy into logical plans - a combination that enables them to create environments that satisfy needs we never consciously knew we even had."

Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel (Pantheon, 2002)

p. 54: "Journeys are the midwives of thought. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places."

p. 69: "If I call the Schipol sign exotic, it is because it succeeds in suggesting, vaguely but intensely, that they country that made it and that lies beyond the uitgang [exit] may in critical ways prove more congenial than my own to my temperament and concerns. The sign is a promise of happiness."

p. 95: Flaubert on Egypt: "Stupidity is an immovable object you can't ry to attck it without being broken by it... In Alexandria, a certain Thompson, of Sunderland, has inscribed his name in letters six feet high on Pompey's Pillar. You can read it from a quarter of a mile away. You can't see the pillar without seeing Thompson's name and consequently thinking of Thompson... All imbeciles are more or less Thompsons from Sunderland."

p. 116: "Curiosity might be pictured as being made up of chains of small questions extending outwards, sometimes over huge distances, from a central hub composed of a few blunt, large questions."

p. 117: "Unfortunately for the traveller, most objects don't come affixed with the question that will generate the excitement they deserve."

p. 147: "Unhappiness can stem from having only one perspective to play with."

p. 218: John Ruskin on sketching: "The really precious things are thought and sight, not pace. It does the bullet no good to go fast; and a man, if he be truly a man, no harm to go slow; for this glory is not at all in going, but in being."

p. 222: "Drawing brutally shows up our previous blindness to the appearance of things."

Nine Reasons Why Luke S. Should Get a Mac for College

Responding to a comment last week, I hereby offer some advice to Luke S., a Massachusettsean who is getting set to go off to a liberal-arts college in the fall. (Luke is also a cross-country skier, and no doubt much faster than I have ever been or will ever be, but I am much more adept at changing diapers.) Luke wanted advice as to why he oughta get a Mac instead of an ostensibly cheaper PC.

My reasons:

1. Macs are much, much prettier than any PC.

2. Macs work better with all the other Apple stuff that you either have or will soon have, like an iPod, as well as with all the other electronic geegaws which everyone has nowadays - cell phones, digital cameras, etc.

3. Once you consider the various costs with which PC makers later stick you, Macs actually don't cost more than comparable Windows machines, despite the myths. 

4. You don't want to try to wrestle with Vista the night before your final paper is due. That'd be worse than trying to outsprint Petter Northug at the end of a double pursuit: he might trip, but chances are better he'll put ten seconds in you in a hundred meters.

5. OS X is much easier to use and more stable, at the application level and at the system level, than either XP or Vista. (see #4)

6. Almost everyone else at college will have Macs and while peer pressure or "being cool" is a poor reason to join the fun, the ease of sharing files and applications and experiences when on a Mac is itself a good reason to have a Mac. (I mean, iMovie or Final Cut Pro versus something from Microsoft?)

7. When you want to upgrade, you'll get a lot more for a used Mac than a used PC. (I've seen Carleton students selling 4-year-old PowerBooks for $500, while a 2-year-old Dell laptop goes for $150 or less.)

8. From my experience, college IT help desks - student and staff - are much more adept at handling Mac problems than PC problems.

9. Though some ne'er-do-wells are working up viruses for Macs, right now even the most secure PC is much more susceptible to viruses and other such troubles than even unprotected Macs.


As I finished assembling Vivi's breakfast this morning, I pulled out the box of Cheerios. "Do you want these?" She shook her head in her usual violent way and said, "Nah-ah! Odder!" I was surprised at this new word. "You want the other cereal?" She nodded, "Uh-huh!" A new and very useful word, before 6:30 am!


I knew the day had gone entirely off the rails when, at three, I checked my to-do list and discovered that not only had I not finished the task I meant to start at 8:30 this morning, but I had not even finished my three tasks for Monday. Uff da.

Fortunately, I did get a lot of stuff done on both days. It just happens that almost all that work was the "surprise, surprise!" sort.

On getting home, I found the girls outside playing in the pool and sprinkler, thoroughly tired from a bad night and a busy day. Events moved rapidly toward dinner, baths, and early bedtimes, which seem, surprisingly, to have taken.

Before heading off to the sack, though, Julia came up to me with one of her classic Milne storybooks and said, "Can we pretend this is the Biple [sic]? And Christopher Robin is Jesus?" It was all I could do to avoid shouting, "Hallelujah! Finally, some Scripture I can get behind." As it turns out, she wanted me to riff on interesting "decorations" in the book with stories about Jesus. It was oddly easy to adapt this or that parable to this or that drawing by Ernest Shepard.

Forecast: Significant blowing and drifting, with the possibility of heavy accumulation in rural areas.