Sunday, September 02, 2007


This summer the six year old suddenly demanded to play the violin. Her obsession had the quality of a crush, coming from nowhere that I could discern. I am terribly untalented myself, and dare not even sing in the shower. The Warrior Monk, however, can carry a tune and to my unmusical ear has a miraculous ability to pick out a song on the guitar. Unfortunately he spends most of his talents singing in falsetto to execrable 70's Greatest! Hits! on car trips through the radio wastelands of Iowa or Wisconsin.

Nonetheless, after incessant nagging, we signed her up for Suzuki violin lessons. Due to her tender age she was initially permitted only a styrofoam violin. But she persisted and to her great delight was recently awarded a real (rental) violin with lessons to begin next week.

Given that she has a strong genetic connection to my tin ear, I have no great hopes of her musical future (but one never knows, right?) Nor did her big sister, who took up the clarinet last year, yet make me reevaluate my skepticism. Last spring we attended her school concert where the musical numbers proceeded with a predictable idiosyncratic and sagging rhythm.

Much to my surprise I learned last week that lack of talent does not necessarily spell the end of a concert career! Witness this article about a group called the Really Terrible Orchestra:
But where standard amateurs may be incidentally bad, the Really Terrible Orchestra is fundamentally bad. Its random ability to play the right notes at the right time, or at all, is part of what the orchestra chairman, the lousy clarinetist Peter Stevenson, calls “our entertainment package.”

“We knew there was no market for a good amateur orchestra, because a poor professional one would always be better,” Mr. Stevenson said. “But there is a market for the R.T.O. And that our concerts sell out in advance, to audiences who just love to hear us scrape through easy arrangements of Bach or the last 40 bars of the ‘1812’ Overture — the rest is far too difficult — is proof. There’s always thunderous applause, especially if we’ve got lost in something and ground to a halt. Always a standing ovation. And it’s not just because we have our friends and family in the audience. People genuinely thrill to it.”
We did thrill to the ten year old's concert. And we now have a CD recording of it to prove it. And yes there was a standing ovation though I doubt there was a single audience member who did not fall in the friends and family camp.

The NYT article continues:
How much, you might fairly ask, is the Really Terrible Orchestra trying to stink?

“Not at all,” Peter Stevenson insisted, sounding slightly hurt when I asked to attend an orchestra rehearsal if it had such things.

“It’s unkind of you to think we don’t rehearse,” he said, “because we do. And some of us even take lessons, as I am at the moment, from a serious teacher. I can’t pretend that no one ever plays deliberately badly. It’s usually the trumpets, and they make me angry when they do. But for the rest of us, we are actually doing our best. And that’s the tension in which we operate. On the one hand, we’d like to get better. On the other, we know we won’t.”

I believe both of the kids would like to get better too. And I don't yet know whether they will or won't. If not, it's nice to know they could found their own Really Terrible Something-Or-Other and soldier on.

As for the Really Terrible Orchestra?

The second world tour is due to hit London in November. “I fear they’ve heard of us down there,” Mr. McCall Smith said, slightly concerned that they might also have heard a pernicious rumor that, thanks to persistent practice, the orchestra was less bad than it used to be.

“It’s not true,” he insisted, “and I don’t see how it could be. We’re only too happy for people to practice. I do myself, but it will never make a difference. No one good is ever going to join us. And if they did, they’d be hugely outnumbered. Children would raise the standard, but we don’t let them in for that reason. It would be too embarrassing. And though people say we have ambitions, what is ambition? When a piece speeds up, it’s ambitious enough for me.”

Friday, August 10, 2007


Q I have some rare whiskey that's 45 years old. How can I get rid of it?

From our local rag's Fixit column.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


... in case you were wondering. Definitely the biggest disaster in the Twin Cities since I have lived here.

The ten year old is already afraid of bridges. How are we going to persuade her to travel over one in the future? Everywhere we go, we must cross a bridge. But not this one anymore.

Don't call the cell phone of anyone who lives here right now. The network is reportedly overloaded. But getting phone calls ON OUR LANDLINE from out of town friends and family (some of whom we haven't spoken with for a while) checking on our safety has been nice. We rarely turn on our cell phone anyway.

UPDATE: Minnesota bloggers react. Buzz,mn post has lots of comments, most from shocked out of towners and a few folks who can't wait to start the political blamefest. More comments at MNSpeak.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Our summer babysitter has finally landed a full-time job and is moving out of state. The kids staged a huge neighborhood party for her today, complete with a home-made pinata.

When I got home from work this afternoon, I spotted at least two squirrels in the back yard, one with something bright red in its mouth. After it lazily made its way up a nearby tree I figured out what was going on: a hot ball! They're apparently eating the leftover pinata candy, wrappers and all.

The Warrior Monk is chasing them off our patio with a broom as I type.

Friday, July 13, 2007


It's a fine summer night and all the kids in neighborhood (well, at least 10 of them) are shrieking and chasing each other with sticks in some Harry Potter-inspired game.

"Huddle! Huddle!" cries are wafting in my window.

It will all end in tears, of course, but there's no way I am interfering. We have plenty of band-aids, after all.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


More proof that some of the best advertising is free -- and the best way to get free advertising is to be banned. Extra points if you're banned by a government watchdog panel:
Fifty years after Britons were implored to “Go to work on an egg”, an advertising watchdog has banned a revival of the campaign, saying that it breaches health guidelines.
(Via Overlawyered)

The British press is all over it and condemnation is pouring in. Makes the thought of scrambled eggs even more tasty than usual.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Is global warming going to be the newest mass tort? One obscenely successful Texan plaintiffs' attorney, Stephen D. Susman, thinks so:
“Melting glaciers isn’t going to get that much going, but wait until the first big ski area closes because it has no snow,” said Susman, who teaches a climate-change litigation course at Houston Law. “Or wait until portions of lower Manhattan and San Francisco are under water.”
Susman warns "[y]ou're going to see some really serious exposure on the part of companies that are emitting CO2."

And the cows emitting ... well ... you know what. That's where the really big money is.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Italy recently put a controversial indulto (sentence reduction for prisoners) into effect. Guess what happened next? Within hours, dozens had been arrested and sent back to jail after reoffending.
There were 194 bank robberies nationwide in the month before the amnesty was introduced last July. After the law was passed by Romano Prodi's centre-Left coalition that figure rose steadily, peaking at 332 in October - at an average of more than 10 a day.
The pardon was put into effect to ease prison crowding. But at this rate, they'll all be jam-packed again in no time.

There will be fewer law-abiding Italians however: "shopkeeper Antonio Pizza, 28, was murdered while trying to stop a recently released convict from stealing his car."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


The Guardian today reports that in 2002 the U.S. military requested $7.5M to investigate the possibility of spraying the enemy with chemicals to make them gay:
"One distasteful but non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behaviour," says the proposal from the Air Force's Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio.
Of course, the $7.5M cost could have easily been offset by selling the substance in tasteful fragrance bottles at retail establishments all over the Bay area. Also Fire Island.

Unaccountably, the funding request seems to have been denied.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


A bar owner over the border was fined for using the wrong tap -- he (gasp!) used a Coors Light tap to avoid wasting some Miller Light beer. Nope, sorry, got them mixed up (I often do). Tap was Miller Light, beer was Coors Light.

"I didn't think nothing was tragic about it," he said, adding that the beers cost the same and he told his customers they were getting the beer they actually got: "I didn't lie to nobody."

But it is a tragedy man. Miller Light, Coors Light. Both tragedies.