Monday, December 26, 2005


Well, with the Packers one game away from the end to their worst season in years, and the start of the post-Brett Favre Era, it's time to turn eyes towards the other football, namely the soccer World Cup, to be held next summer in Germany.

Eurosport is helping out the stateside fan with tons of good coverage, including a two-part alphabetic look at some key people and events in the illustrious history of the World Cup of the World Cup: A to M and N to Z. A sample:
U is for Uruguay, the first hosts and winners in 1930 with a 4-2 victory over Argentina. They also claimed the trophy in 1950, when the United States stunned England - the birthplace of football - 1-0. The disbelieving English press thought the news coming from Brazil was wrong and so printed England had won the game 10-1.
Really, does any truly international single sport have a more spectacular jewel in its competitive crown? You have to eliminate baseball (World Series? not quite) and American football (which is not even really played internationally) and probably basketball (is its world championship legitimate?) and hockey (too narrow a base of competitive nations). Cricket? Does anyone outside the old British commonwealth play? Perhaps the Tour de France qualifies, but even as a fan of that event, I think you have to give it to football on the strength of anticipation built by the quadrennial timing of the World Cup, the intricacies and multiple climaxes of the long build-up to the actual tournament, the inspiring and frightening mania of each national team's fans, and of course the excellent level of play. It should be a good summer!

Olympics on the Way!

December 22 was the fiftieth day before the opening of the Torino Olympic Games on February 10. Opening nordic skiing events:
  • 2/11: Nordic combined (Pragelato): Gundersen HS106/15k
  • 2/11: Biathlon (Cesana San Sicario): men's 20k individual
  • 2/12: Jumping (Pragelato): normal hill (106m) jumping
  • 2/12: Cross country (Pragelato): women's 15k double pursuit

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve

As our neighbor put it, Julia had her first "cognizant" Christmas Eve today. She got the hang of joy-through-acquisition immediately. With Mom's help, she tore into Present #1, a baby doll, and loved it. But the second we asked, "Do you want to open another present?" she was off to the next package in the pile. "Ope? Ope? Ope?" she'd ask, after dispatching one package (pants, a cool toy house, etc.) and reaching for the next. She actually handled the end of the line pretty well, though on her way to bed she did have to ask "Ope?" a few more times. Luckily, a non-denominationally altruistic elf is presently ensuring that she'll have a few more things to ope in the morning.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Springing Ahead?

The mild temperatures here in central Minnesota have, amazingly, brought out the bugs: a speckled trio of ladybugs is slooooooowly traversing a patch of sun-warmed sidewalk outside my building. In an ominously related note, dusk falls at 4:36 p.m.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sporting Accomplishments

Frank DeFord is one of the few sportswriters who would rather tell us something meaningful about sports as a social and cultural activity than write yet another hagiography or demonology of an athlete. DeFord's talents are on display in this old essay for Sports Illustrated, which succinctly describes why Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to run a sub-four minute mile, was one of the 20th century's greatest sportsmen. (In this interview in ESPN News, DeFord draws Bannister together with Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norkay, the first men to summit Mount Everest.)

Christmas in the Country

Urban, suburban, exurban - I know that my new hometown, Northfield, is in the country because I almost got hit by a jacked-up monster truck while crossing the main downtown street and because many front yards are currently ornamented with snowmobiles, poised ferally toward the ditches in which you'd have to run the sleds to reach the actual trails outside town.

And come to think of it, is there an uglier, more ludicrously decorated vehicle in the world than a snowmobile?

World Cup - Back to Europe

With the Canadian phase of the World Cup season now over, the overall standings and the quest for good Olympic form have been clarified by six great races at Canmore, Alberta, site of the 1988 Olympic races. After a pursuit and sprint at Vernon, British Columbia, and the individual freestyle events at Canmore, the racing climaxed with the two memorable tests over brutally hilly courses, a men's 30-kilometer event and a women's 15-kilometer event. The longest races of the season to date, both were run in the beautiful classic or diagonal technique and both featured "mass starts" which see the entire field of racers begin as a group. (More coverage and photos on the races at Eurosport,, Team Today, and Cross Country Canada.)

In some ways, the men's 30-kilometer race duplicated the immortal 50-kilometer classic race at the world championships last February. In both races, a huge peloton hung together until the last lap and only a frantic sprint decided the final standings. Over the first seven laps at Canmore, a big frontrunning group marched up and flew down the hills, with favorites like Tobias Angerer (Germany), Frode Estil (Norway), Matthias Fredriksson (Sweden), and others trading the lead. In the final lap, Estil tried to use his characteristically rapid turnover to break the field open, but a posse of Germans, cooperating like a bicycle road racing team, perfectly positioned Angerer to capitalize on his superlative kick, taking the lead with about 500 meters to go. Trapped behind Angerer's teammate Jens Filbrich, Estil had to find a clean track for his own surge to the line. After a mad sprint, Angerer got there first, 0.5 seconds up on Estil and 2 seconds up on Filbrich. Behind them, some established distance specialists, like Fredriksson in fourth, and some interloping sprinters, like the Norwegian Eldar Ronning in sixth, demonstrated their readiness for the long races at and after Torino. Among North Americans who finished in the point-scoring top 30, Kris Freeman (USA) was 20th and George Grey (Canada) was 26th.

The women's 15-kilometer had an utterly different character. Would-be favorite and World Cup leader Marit Bjorgen had headed home to Norway, substantially opening the race to others. Within the first two kilometers, Canadian Beckie Scott's light, compact classic technique, perfectly suited to the course's steep, seemingly endless ramps, had shattered the field. Only two Russian racers, Julija Tchepalova and Olga Rotcheva, initially stayed with Scott, and then even Rotcheva slid back to the chasing group. With superior skills and faster skis, Tchepalova used the descents to maintain contact with Scott, even to the final dogleg downhill into the stadium. But Scott then exploded into a masterful sprint that carried her to the line 4.7 seconds ahead of Tchepalova. The win was Scott's fourth podium in four races, and her second win. Nearly a minute back, Claudia Kunzel (Germany) emerged from a small chasing pack to capture third. Canadians Sara Renner, Milaine Theriault, and Amanda Ammar finished 6th, 21st, and 27th, respectively, and American Wendy Kay Wagner finished 29th.

The next day, men and women competed in the amazing team sprint event, in which two-person teams complete six alternating 1.3km laps. Hardly a sprint in the traditional track-and-field sense, the race takes about 16 minutes for the men and 18 minutes for the women. On the men's side, the traditional sprinting powerhouses, Norway and Sweden, dominated the final heat. Fresh from his strong showing in the 30-km event, Eldar Ronning chased down and then burst past one of Swedish anchormen, winning by a tenth of a second. The American team of Torin Koos and Andy Newell qualified for the final and finished a respectable ninth despite a crash that required Newell to get stitches after the race. Having set a new bar for American sprinting, Koos and Newell look to improve as they build toward the Olympics. The women's final was equally tight, with Beckie Scott handing the lead over to Sara Renner for the last leg. Racing from the front, Renner could not hold off German Viola Bauer, who snuck through to win by a second. A second Canadian team of Chandra Crawford and Milaine Theriault finished ninth.

Though the team sprint does not count toward the overall World Cup standings, the mass-start races furthered ongoing changes to the overall World Cup standings, which were already shifting thanks to the decisions of the Estonian, Czech, and Finnish teams to stay in Europe and of overall women's cup leader Marit Bjorgen to skip Canmore. Bjorgen still leads the women's standings, more than 125 points up on Julija Tchepalova in second and Beckie Scott in third place. But with the Russian and the Canadian only five points apart, the sprint and 10-km races at Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic after Christmas are very important, not least because Bjorgen has already announced that she will not be competing at Nove Mesto. If either Tchepalova or Scott can reach the podium twice, she will surpass the Norwegian.

On the men's side, Angerer, too, benefited from the absences at Canmore of rivals like Vincent Vittoz (France), Lukas Bauer (Czech Republic), and Andrus Veerpalu (Estonia). Now more than 100 points up on Norwegian Tor Arne Hetland and more than 200 up on Vittoz, Angerer is poised to solidify his World Cup lead with strong sprint and distance performances at Nove Mesto.

Looking further forward, the International Ski Federation has indicated interest in bringing World Cup racing back to Canada soon - probably in the 2007-2008 season as well as the 2009-2009 season which will lead into the 2010 Olympic games at Vancouver. If the Canadians can enjoy this kind of success on home snow, we Americans should agitate for a few cup races in the states!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Rendezvous with Debris

Perhaps because of the near-Arctic cold, Monday's drive to work was marked by very bad driving and several unusual sights: a bank of ice fog on the Cedar Avenue bridge over the Minnesota River, a big hydraulic excavator sitting in the smack middle of a frozen cornfield, dozens of snowmobile tracks interlaced over a snowy hillside. As I drove down a long, flat straightaway on Minnesota Highway 23 outside Northfield, I watched a garbage truck slow, stop, and then reverse into a farmhouse driveway. As I sped past, I saw, further down the road, a pickup roar down a longer driveway, sending up a towering roostertail of snow and ice. I started considering evasive action in case it sped right out into my path, but the truck screeched to a halt just as it reached the highway. Leaving his door open, the driver leapt out, ran to the bed, one-armed his man-sized garbage bin up into the air, and rushed the bin into place on the shoulder of the road - just as his garbage truck got back on the road in my rear-view mirror. You know you live in the country when you need a truck to bring your garbage to the curb.

Friday, December 16, 2005

World Cup in Canada

The first World Cup cross-country skiing competitions in the Canadian Rockies were an effective demonstration of North American racers' capabilities, and with the second round of Canadian races already underway, the stage is set for the World Cup standings to be significantly rearranged.

The big winner was Canadian racer Beckie Scott, who did very well indeed in the two "ladies'" competitions over hilly courses Vernon/Sovereign Lakes, British Columbia, last weekend. On Saturday, both men and women raced in grueling pursuit events, which commence in a jostling mass start and demand that the athletes complete the first half of the race in the classic or diagonal technique, then switch to the freestyle or skating technique for the second half. In the women's 2x7.5km pursuit, Scott skied with World Cup leader Marit Bjorgen of Norway in the steadily-shrinking lead group, then attacked the other leaders on the final uphill into the stadium and sprinted with Bjorgen to the line. The Norwegian finished first, 0.3 seconds ahead of Scott and about two seconds ahead of Hilde Pedersen (Norway). Bjorgen collapsed in the snow and later told the press it was her hardest race ever. The pursuit was Scott's first World Cup race of the season, so her second-place finish was an exceptional result which she bettered the very next day.

In Sunday's 1.3km sprint competition, Bjorgen did terribly and was relegated to the "small final," a.k.a. the loser's bracket. Beckie Scott qualified for the "large final," along with her Canadian teammate Sara Renner and, thanks to a tie in Renner's semifinal heat, three others. After pacing the field, Scott dashed home in front, notching Canada's first World Cup win in decades. Renner finished third, just back of Claudia Kuenzel of Germany. Notably, many other North American women joined Renner and Scott in the top 30 (for which World Cup points are awarded): Renner finished 12th in the pursuit, Chandra Crawford (CAN) 10th in the sprint, Wendy Kay Wagner (USA) 21st in the sprint, and Milaine Theriault (CAN) 30th in the pursuit and 25th in the sprint. For her part, “ski queen” Bjorgen, expectations unmet and mindful of the impending Olympics, headed back to Norway to recover. On the strength of their racing, Scott vaulted into seventh and Renner into 15th in the World Cup overall rankings.

North American men did not duplicate the women’s success at Vernon, though the races were nonetheless compelling. In the men's 2x15km pursuit, a huge lead pack comprising most of the world’s top racers hung together over the classic and freestyle legs, building the speed and tension for an inevitable final sprint. Ultimately, the decisive attack came at the same point as in the women’s race, on the final, sharp ramp into the stadium. This time, though, World Cup standings leader Tobias Angerer used his incredible poling rate to lead five Germans to the line. Last year’s overall WC winner, Axel Teichmann, finished second, Andreas Schlutter third. Unprecedented in recent nordic races, the German dominance hearkened back to races in the 1980s when Norway and Sweden routinely swept the top spots and, at least for one race, pushed against the growing breadth of nations who can compete in nordic racing. In the men’s sprint, Scandinavian racers took their customary spots in the large final, and Tor Arne Hetland (NOR) used his great upper-body power and superior gliding ability to explode past Bjorn Lind (SWE), who had led almost the entire race.

Though North American men did not get onto the podium for either the pursuit or the sprint, many raced into the top 30. In the pursuit, Russian Ivan Babikov, now racing for Canada, finished 10th and Kris Freeman (USA) finished 23rd. In the sprint, Americans Andy Newell (11th), Chris Cook (12th), and Torin Koos (14th) and Canadians Sean Crooks (25th), Phil Widmer (26th), and Drew Goldsack (28th) all placed well.

On Thursday, the racing recommenced one province to the east, at the Canmore nordic center which had hosted the nordic events during the 1988 Olympics at Calgary. The first events were individual-start skating races, time trials in which racers go off at 30-second intervals. Though this type of race is becoming less common as mass-start events like relays and pursuits gain prominence, they nonetheless can make for excellent drama. In the women’s 10km, the suspense took shape as Beckie Scott tried to match the pace of Julia Tchepalova (Russia), who in Marit Bjorgen’s absence started last and thus had the advantage of knowing exactly other racers’ split times. Tchepalova’s strong last kilometers put her into first, 14 seconds up on Scott and a minute up on Evi Sachenbacher Stehle (Germany). With her third podium in three races, though, Scott demonstrated that she is perhaps the hottest racer in the world right now, and moved up into 4th in the overall World Cup standings, behind Claudia Kunzel in third, Tchepalova in second, and Bjorgen in first.

The 15km men’s race, which might have been another demonstration of German prowess, instead saw the yellow hat of skating specialist Pietro Piller Cottrer (Italy) go fastest, just ahead of France’s Vincent Vittoz and Germany’s Tobi Angerer. The suspense in the men’s race came from the surprising performance of Ivan Babikov, who started well before the favorites and wound up in fourth, just five seconds behind Angerer, who retains his number-one ranking in the World Cup overall and distance standings.

As they await Saturday’s long mass-start classic races and Sunday’s team sprints, North Americans not named Scott and Babikov can look to build on strong results in the Canmore skating races: Sara Renner (12th), Sarah Konrad (USA, 23rd), Abigail Larson (USA, 30th), George Grey (CAN, 16th), Kris Freeman (18th), Carl Swenson (USA, 22nd). At 30km for the men and 15km for the women, the classic races will be the first long-distance events of the season and, thus, crucial indicators of who just might have form good enough to perform well at the high-altitude Torino Olympics. Given their track records, Beckie Scott and Tobi Angerer must be favorites, though any of the Russian or Norwegian classic specialists could also place well. And speaking of classic specialists, would it be too much to hope that Kris Freeman finishes well? A podium spot would be a high point for American nordic skiing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

This = Awe-spam

The spam message below (which I'm posting as received) is basically the Nigerian scam, but personalized and taking up the weird angle of using as signatory the name of our crazy nutjob U.N. ambassador. (And by "crazy," I mean only to describe his mustache, not his managerial style.) You know how I know it's off base? There aren't any rich Tassavas!

Wednesday, December 14 2005 08:32 am
From: john bolton
Reply-To: john bolton
Subject: Late Alexander Tassava Estate

This electronic message transmission contains information that is confidential or privileged. The information is intended to be for the use of the individual or entity named above. If you are not the intended recipient, be aware that any disclosure, copying, distribution or use of the contents of this information is prohibited.

Dear Christopher J. Tassava

I am MR JOHN BOLTON, a private financial consultant. I am the personal financial / business consultant to Mr. Alexander Tassava, a foreigner who worked and died in U.K.without any will, i personally witness the final signatory of the Estate. and also made several enquiries to your Embassy to locate any of my clients relatives immediate and extended, this has proved unsuccessful.

After several unsuccessful attempts, I decided to trace his relatives over the Internet and locate any member of his family but of no avail. Hence, I am contacting you. I need you to assist in securing the money and property left behind by my client before they get confiscated or declared unserviceable by the bank where his huge deposits were lodged.

Particularly, the bank where the deceased had a domicilliary account valued Fifty Million , five hundred thousand ($50.5m) United States Dollars . The bank has issued a notice to provide the Next of Kin or have the account confiscated within the next one month.

Since I have been unsuccesful in locating the the relatives for over two years now I seek your consent to present you as the next of kin of the deceased since you have same surname so that the proceeds of this account valued at $50.5 million Dollars can be paid to you and then you and me can share the money.

I have all necessary documents to back up claims as Next of Kin on your behalf. All I require is your honest cooperation to enable us see this deal through. I guarantee that this will be executed under a legitimate arrangement that will protect you from any breach of the law. Please get in touch with me by email to enable us discuss further.

Best regards,
Reply to my

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Storm Blog 2005!

'S'about twelve hours into the media blizzard about what the Strib is calling "Heaviest snow of season," and let's just say I'm not exactly wetting myself. However, storm scares like this one always a) make me happily expect that beautiful crisp whiteness you only see in the first few hours after a big snow, and b) conversely makes me giggle sillily about my friend Matt's long-ago imagining all the snow arriving at once - not in light little flakes, but, you know, a six-inch thick blanket dropping out of the sky in an instant, like some sort of Norse "Revelation" scenario. Something like that would help us outdo those disaster pansies on the Gulf Coast.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Close and Closer

A full(ish) account of the weekend's nordic racing is upcoming, but in the meantime, and even if you don't care that much about ski racing, check out this amazing shot of the photo finish between Sara Renner, a Canadian racer, and Hilde Peterson, a Norwegian, in their semifinal sprint heat at Vernon/Sovereign Lake on Sunday. After 1300 meters of racing, Renner and Peterson were equal to 1/1000 of a second!

Due to this tie, both Renner and Peterson were passed on to the final, which thus featured five racers, not the usual four. Renner finished third, behind countrywoman Beckie Scott in first and Claudia Kunzel of Germany in second - the best showing by North American racers on the World Cup on a looooong time, if not ever. (The previous day, Scott had finished second by less than a second in the women's pursuit.) Read more on the "foto-foto" (as the Euros call it) here or more on the final.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

I'd Get on this Wagon

Okay, okay, I know I'm running the risk of turning this humble, hardly-read blog into a combination daddy-blog/XC skiing nerdsite, but bear with me while you look at this, an amazing kids' wagon that is to the red Radio Flyer from Target what an SUV is to 1986 Civic hatchback.

Needless to say, I want one. Check out the video of the wagon in action, and notice that the website doesn't include a price! (For even more fun, go here to see another "product" of the site - a snowblower powered by a V8 engine.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

No. No, no. No.

Right on cue, Julia hit 18 months at just about the same time that she started to master the use of the "no." Wanna see? Just ask her something. Try, "Do you want some turkey?" Or maybe, "Is your diaper ready to be changed?" Or, "Can you leave Kitty alone?" Or, "Can I put a blanket on you?" Even before you've finished inflecting that last word, her big blue eyes will snap up and she'll say, carefully and invariably, "No. No, no. No." and wag her head back and forth. End of discussion.

Someday - tomorrow? Christmas? President's Day? - this will get old, but right now it's hilarious and charming.

Top o' the Wish List

Today's mail brought a brochure from Cambridge University Press announcing the publication of the new "millennial edition" of the Historical Statistics of the United States, available in print (five volumes) and online. CUP has taken over publishing this resource after "the Census Bureau decided in the early 1990's that it would not publish a new edition." Chalk up another victory for privatiziation and commercialization of public resources. And but so, it instantly jumped to the top of my wish list. Too bad about that $825 price tag. I hope Carleton's library gets a copy...
It will be a valuable resource for libraries, students, scholars, and journalists. There is nothing comparable.
  • The standard source for the quantitative facts of American history
  • A sweeping, comprehensive and thoroughly revised new edition
  • In both print and electronic formats
  • More than 1900 tables
  • 39 chapters covering the full breadth of American history
  • Over 170 maps, graphs and timelines
  • Print version in 5 volumes
  • Electronic version can be downladed for easy analysis and chart preparation
  • Dozens of new topics have been added including American Indians, slavery, poverty, non-profit organizations, race and ethnicity
  • Over 100 essays putting information in historical context
  • Fully cross-referenced and indexed

Friday, December 09, 2005

Nordic World Cup

The nordic skiing World Cup seasons are well underway, despite unwinterly weather in northern Europe. In ski jumping, the Finnish duo of Janne Ahonen and Matti Hautamaki are not duplicating their one-two punch from 2004-2005, which has opened the jumping to others. Going into this weekend’s events at Harrachov in his home county, Jakub Janda of the Czech Republic ranks number one in the world, ahead of Ahonen in the second spot and, in third, the Swiss Andreas Kuttel, who set a new large-hill record of 139 meters [456 feet] on the Olympic jump at Lillehammer, Norway, last weekend. (more on ski jumping - overall rankings)

The synthetic nordic sports of biathlon (cross-country skiing and target shooting) and nordic combined (ski jumping and cross-country skiing), on the other hand, are turning out largely as expected: with the usual suspects already atop the combined and men’s biathlon rankings and women’s biathlon wide open. Finn
Hannu Manninen, the undisputed king of nordic combined, is again leading the pack, despite getting whacked with a ski pole by an irate German at last weekend’s events in Lillehammer. Notably, American Todd Lodwick is currently ranked fourth, having finished second by four-tenths of a second to Manninen in the sprint event at Lillehammer. With this kind of form, Lodwick has an excellent shot at a medal at the Torino Olympics in February.

On the men’s side of the biathlon circuit, Ole Einar Bjorndalen (Norway) and Raphael Poiree (France) are one-two in the overall, the positions they largely shared last year. Having won one of the races at the opening event in Ostersund, Sweden, the Norwegian’s top ranking would be higher had he not bizarrely dropped a pole during the first race this week at Hochfilzen, Austria, putting him into second place in that race behind Poiree. The German and Russian men are so far notably absent from the high places. The women’s biathlon races are far more open, with Germans Kati Wilhelm and Uschi Disl, Swede Anna Carin Olofsson, and Russian Olga Zaitseva all winning races so far. Zaitseva is currently atop the overall standings, a few points ahead of Disl. (more on biathlon races - men’s rankings - women’s rankings)

The cross-country athletes have done the most racing so far this year, and the topsy-turvy standings reflect it. The season opened in October with the traditional and strange sprints along the Rhine at Dusseldorf, Germany. Norwegian superstar Marit Bjorgen won the women’s individual sprint and paired with ageless Hilde G. Pedersen to take the women’s team sprint. When the season resumed at Beitostolen, Norway, in late November, Bjorgen did double duty again, taking the women’s 10k classic event and skating the anchor of the triumphant relay team. The next weekend, at Kuusamo, Finland, Bjorgen faltered slightly, winning the 10k classic but finishing off the podium in the 10k skate, which Czech Katerina Neumannova won. The Czech’s win vaulted her into third in the overall standings behind Bjorgen and Virpi Kuitunen of Finland. Relative unknowns Aino Kaisa Saarinen of Finland and Claudia Kunzel of Germany are fourth and fifth in the overall. The Norwegian is the odds-on favorite to win a second straight World Cup and, more importantly, a number of medals at Torino.

Comparatively, the men’s racing has been wildly varied. At Dusseldorf, Swede Peter Larsson won the individual sprint for the third straight year, but - if precedent holds - won’t win again this year. Norwegian duo Trond Iversen and Johan Kjoelstad took the men’s team sprint, an event featuring aggressive racing that caused a bad crash which knocked Italy’s team out. At Beitostolen, Tor Arne Hetland of Norway, who dominated the sprinting events last year and finished second in both the individual and team sprints at Dusseldorf, unexpectedly won a distance event, the 15k classic, instantly making himself a favorite for the overall World Cup. Norway’s strong relay team at Beitostolen was shocked on their home snow by the German quartet. Germany’s anchor, Tobias Angerer, masterfully attacked the field in the last kilometer, winning the race ahead of a surprising French team and the Norwegians. Germany thus looks like a possible favorite for the men’s relay at Torino, a marquee event. The next weekend at Kuusamo, Angerer showed that his form was no fluke, taking the 15k classic event and finishing third in the 15k freestyle race, behind Tore Ruud Hofstad and France’s Vincent Vittoz, On the strength of these results, the German is currently second in the overall men’s rankings, behind Hetland (who did poorly at Kuusamo), but ahead of Jens Arne Svartedal (Norway), Vittoz, and Hofstad. Though Angerer is certainly racing well now, he runs the risk of a mid-season collapse like that suffered by Axel Teichmann last year - something he can’t afford in this Olympic year. The so-far poor showings by Russians and Swedes may indicate that they are aiming to peak for Torino, or that they are just off the pace this year. And of course, cross-country wouldn’t be the sport it is without whiffs of blood doping. At Kuusamo, the German Jens Filbrich being accused and then cleared of blood doping.) (more on the racing at Eurosport and - men’s and women’s overall standings)

Looking forward, the XC World Cup makes a rare visit to North America with a complement of races at Sovereign Lake (Vernon), British Columbia, this weekend and Canmore, Alberta (site of the 1988 Olympic races), next week. Though the Norwegians and Germans will inevitably garner their share of podium spots, American and Canadian racers could also show up well. Canadian Beckie Scott has had good form in recent races, and could win any event she skis. American Carl Swenson had two top-12 places at Kuusamo, which puts him in 18th place in the overall rankings. And though he has yet to enter a World Cup race this season, Kris Freeman, the best US racer, is poised for top-10 positions, especially in the challenging 30k pursuit on Saturday (an event which demands that the racers complete 15k in the classic style and then 15k in freestyle), and the 30k mass-start classic race on Saturday, December 17, at Canmore.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Driving Myself Nuts

At this writing, I have under my belt more than two months of commuting to Northfield, and about ten days left before my commute turns from a 50/60-minute slog each way to a 5/10 minute bike ride. Not that I'm counting the days or anything. One semi-benefit of having done this commute is a greater awareness of things motor-vehicular. Viz.:
  1. Kicking the snow turds out of your wheel wells is great fun.
  2. Minnesotans are terrible at merging with traffic. Really, we should be ashamed.

    • Booking along I-35, I routinely see vehicles coming to a full stop at the end of an on-ramp, right when they should be accelerating up to freeway speed.
    • Conversely, I also routinely see morons continue to barrel along in the right lane even when they could easily move left into unoccupied space and let entering traffic use the right lane. About the only drivers you see who do move left as a matter of course are truckers.

  3. Cornfields are fantastic scenery in summer, fall, and especially winter. The stubble poking up through the snow is a wonderful sight. The combines rumbling linearly along are pretty cool, too.
  4. By and large, two-lane highways in open country (say, Dakota County 23 between Apple Valley and Northfield) make for easier and more pleasant driving than freeways (say, I-35 between of Burnsville and exit 69).
  5. NPR is critical for maintaining sanity whilst driving.
  6. Passing on the right is a plague upon America (as the Right is, generally). It's unfortunately common on the freeway, when lollygaggers in the left lane force you to sneak around the right side. It's also dangerously common on two-lane roads, where more than once I have had some idiot exploit a wide shoulder or even the suggestion of a distant right-turn lane to edge up on me and even to gun his (always his) way through. To the ditch with you, sir!
  7. Cars are, even in the best circumstances, bad places to spend time by yourself. They simultaneously demand full mental and physical attention and repel that attention, sending the mind out on bizarre reveries like my five-minute ponder upon the topic of why "gas" is called "gas" when it's actually a liquid. I mean, please: someone save me from my brain.
  8. Use your goddamn turn signal, dumbass. Jeez.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'

I'm glad I live somewhere more-or-less flat. It makes this kind of idiotic accident less likely. (Link via Relevant History.)

Amusing Herself

Julia loves inventing new, engrossing games. Three ilustrations:
1. Monday night, she dug from her toy bin two old racquetballs I'd given her long ago. After experimentally tossing them onto the floor for a while, she accidentally bounced one under the crib, and it rolled over to me, sitting on the floor along the long side of her crib. A lightbulb went off in her head and sent her down to the adjacent end of the crib, where she positioned herself to roll the balls under the crib to me. I grabbed each one and rolled it back to her. She often missed them as they went by, which sent her into the corner of the room to get an escaping ball. But as soon as it was in hand, she'd get back in position, hunker down in her hilariously slo-mo way, and roll them back. We spent about 30 minutes doing this, and oddly it never got boring.

2. Wednesday night, after I cleaned up the dinner mess (how did the veggie burger crumbs get so far from the high chair? does she have a soy-protein cannon I don't know about?), I sat down on the floor with her to watch her play with her plastic letter magnets on the fridge. Apropos of nothing, she came over and started putting the magnets into the right pocket of my sweatshirt. After filling it with letters and starting to get a bit frustrated that they were falling out, she realized there was another pocket on the other side, and toddled around me - loudly saying, "Boo!" when she emerged from directly behind me - to start stuffing them into the left pocket. Retrieving extra letters from the fridge and taking some from the right pocket, she spent about 20 minutes sorting letters between the two pockets, always going around my extended legs when she was moving them from left to right but going around my back when it was a right-left exchange. Again, this never got boring, and it was even fun to tell her the name of the letters. Sometimes, as with J, she'd try to repeat it: "Zhaysh!"

3. When it was finally time for her bath, I told her to bring all her letters, too, and she spent about five minutes running back and forth between the kitchen, where I'd left all the letters, and the tub, shrieking with joy, yelling "Wun!" as she ran, and throwing the letters into the rising water. Then she spent her whole long bath - another 30 minutes, probably - methodically grabbing the letters out of the water and sticking them into the little blue cistern atop her "Bathtime Waterpark." Very entertaining, and she never got frustrated - only a bit mad when I had to keep her from lunging head-first toward the metal faucet in an attempt to catch a letter as it floated away.

I tell you, ESPN should add this kind of programming.