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Thursday, December 29, 2005

LYING DOWN ON PRINCIPLE 

[Weak typing]

Chez Spitbull is sick. I mean in a conventional, stomach virus-type, manner. The five year old seems not to mind; she gets to watch a lot of TV as a result. I hear her guffawing in the other room. She seriously laughs like Snoopy in a Charlie Brown Christmas. I picture her doubled over by Looney Tunes - Golden Collection, Volume Two, a Christmas gift. But no, it turns out that it's Barbie As Rapunzel that's tickling her funnybone.

Sigh.

I should be comforted by the fact I seem to be following expert advice about New Year's resolutions:
Promises to stop smoking, lose weight and spend less time working and more time with the family.

...

Plan ahead: [the expert] warns that under no circumstances should a New Year's resolution be made on New Year's Eve.
Another reason to hate New Year's resolutions.

[/Weak typing]

P.S. We'll consider John's demand once we feel better.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

FECKLESS NO MORE 

The Rice Kripies Treats went much better this year. I think they're becoming my signature dish.

Well, it helped I had assistance this time: the Warrior Monk added his own special blend of unanswerable questions (how long do I have to stir this?) and cursing (deleted). And here's my gift to the hoards that come upon this blog, to their disappointment, while looking for a recipe for the treats. Here it is:
3 tablespoons butter
10 ounces marshmallows (infuriatingly, our bag was 10.5 ounces. So we ate some)
6 cups rice cereal

Spray a glass 9x13 pan with cooking spray. Get a sheet of wax paper about the size of the glass pan ready (you'll use it to flatten the treats with).

Put the butter and marshmallows in the biggest glass bowl you can find (it's got to accomodate all the cereal). Microwave this on high for 2 minutes. Stir (no, I can't tell you exactly how long you should stir). Microwave the mixture for another minute. Add cereal (work quickly! it becomes a sticky mess). Stir to coat, then dump everything into the prepared pan. Pat down with the wax paper.
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

EROTOMANIA IN THE MOB 

Sisyphus beware!

Spitbull offers Sisyphus a rare bit of legal advice: when seeking judicial intervention, don't claim Cathy is using code words on her blog to show she wants to marry you and train you as her co-blogger.

She's already married.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

MurUMble POLICE ACTION muMBLE bRUMBle 

New York City commuters are getting some exercise today; their transit system is on strike. Megan McArdle of Asymmetrical Information is pretty exercised too:
The union, meanwhile, is running ads on local cable whining that they didn't want to strike, they just had to because the MTA is so awful to them. This is not true. The union is very hard left, like transit unions in most places. I'm not sure why this should be; perhaps because most of the workers have to do very little to earn their pay. The train drivers don't actually, y'know, drive; the rails take care of that. I'm told that they could easily be replaced with the kind of self-driving systems you see in airports, if the union weren't so powerful. Admittedly, the conductors are highly skilled: it takes them years to learn to mumble into the announcement microphones in a secret language that no one in the entire world except them understands.
Fortunately, Minneapolis is too sprawling a place for public transportation to catch on enough for a strike to be painful. The last time the transit workers struck here, the work commute actually improved. Plus, there was less crime downtown.

BABY IT'S COLD OUTSIDE 

Brandy, a warming device I have only recently learned to make use of, is a health elixir! A researcher has announced that "a shot of brandy ... would give the equivalent antioxidant potential to the daily recommended intake of vitamin C."

And a gift to the Warrior Monk as well:
"We have found that shots of whiskey and brandy are very similar in terms of their antioxidant potential."

And a very very merry merry Christmas to all.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

DOES SHE OR DOESN'T SHE? 

This is probably the last Christmas the eight year old will believe that a big whiskered fellow in a red suit delivers the presents that so reliably appear under the tree every 25th of December. That is, assuming she still believes in the old elf.

Santa has become a delicate subject in this household. The eight year old no longer asks us about how he performs his wonderous feats. She barely mentions his name, in fact. Occasionally she will volunteer that she would like a particular item as a Chrismas gift, but doesn't suggest we pass this nugget on to Santa. I assumed that she had begun entertaining grave doubts as to his existence and guessed that her parents were somehow behind the wrapped gift beat. Being a clever and conservative child, she probably doesn't want to rock the present boat by letting us know that she knows. We seem to be so entertained by this piece of make believer, after all, even going so far as to procure a pile of toys to "magically" appear on Christmas day! We must really have it bad--but since it's to her benefit so why mess with success?

But now I'm not so sure. It seems she peppered last night's babysitter with pointed inquiries: How does Santa get down those chimneys if he's so fat? And, more challengingly, why do so many of the presents bear tags from Target? To which the babysitter replied (and this is, truly, why she deserves her astronomical hourly rate): well, that's so if you get an identical item from someone else, you can return Santa's gift to the store.

I wonder if Target knows about this scam.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

GOOSE, GANDER 

Our old buddy Nick Coleman takes aim at Gov. Pawlenty's "inflammatory report" on illegal immigrants (oops, sorry Nick, "undocumented aliens") in his column today. Amid the haze of his typical smarmy jerkiness, he actually makes some valid points. Some of them, however, may be a little too generalizable for his own good. Like this one:
The report says there are 80,000 "illegals" in Minnesota, more than in 20 other states. But Minnesota ranks 21st in population, so if we had our "fair share," we would have more than 29 other states. How, exactly, is there a crisis here?
Fair enough. But what if we apply this logic to Coleman's own pet "crisis," namely, the level of spending on public education in Minnesota? According to NEA data (Table 7, to be precise), Minnesota ranked 17th in the nation in total expenditures for K-12 public schools in both the 2003-04 and 2004-05 fiscal years. That means we spend more than 33 other states do. But Minnesota ranks 21st in population, so if we had our "fair share" of education spending, we would spend more than only 29 other states do. How, exactly, is there a crisis here?

THE SOUL OF A CONTRARIAN 

The Strib's obituary for Eugene McCarthy this morning is long but worth reading. I must confess that, as one still this side of 40 (barely), my familiarity with McCarthy's career had always been a bit sketchy. I knew that he was a fellow Johnnie and a Democratic Congressman and then Senator from Minnesota who launched a short-lived but galvanizing bid for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination before drifting away from politics to write poetry. And that was about it.

But the obituary revealed him to me as a refreshingly complicated and entertainingly cantankerous figure. On the one hand, he was a lifelong Democrat who was an early architect of the Minnesota DFL, whose opposition to the Vietnam War looks rather pie-eyed in retrospect, and who seemed far too suspicious of free-market capitalism. On the other hand, he detested both the Kennedys and Warren Burger, took swipes at Jimmy Carter's "poetry," said of Walter Mondale that he had "the soul of a vice president," and endorsed Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. Is there a single Democrat on the national stage today whom one could imagine taking a comparable range of views, or of expressing them as sharply? Perhaps a melding of Joe Lieberman and Zell Miller would come close. Still, there would be something missing. For one, it's hard to imagine Lieberman or Miller--or any politician today--quipping that "Politics is like football. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, but not smart enough to lose interest."

The degree of self-aware detatchment from politics evidenced by that line is rare among politicians--and not surprisingly, since it hardly seems compatible with the will to engage in the kind of cutthroat Machiavellianism that is required for real success in politics, in this era or any other. (Insofar as it equates loss of interest in politics with superior intelligence, it also smacks of self-praise, as McCarthy himself must have known when he said it.)

I can't help noticing at least some similarity with another politician whose bid for the White House famously failed in the 1960s: Barry Goldwater. They started from opposite ideological poles and antagonistic parties, but over time their contrarianism seemed to push them toward idiosyncratic spots in a sparsely populated middle region from which they might have been just close enough to shake hands.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

I SAW THE BOSS KISSING SANTA CLAUS / UNDERNEATH THE MISTLETOE LAST NIGHT 

I hate corporate Christmas parties, but not for these reasons (as prissily related by our local rag):
Remember that movie scene where a successful consulting firm throws a lavish black-tie event at a swanky restaurant with a large fountain, and two co-workers' husbands hate being there, so they drink too much and one makes lewd comments about the other's wife and soon they're poking chests and yanking ties?

Tricked ya! That was no movie. That was Cynthia House's company holiday party.

It gets worse.

"The next thing you know, the two tuxedoed clowns were thrashing in the fountain," said House, 42, of Minnetonka. She was a department director at the time. "One woman was trying to escape and her feet flew out from under her on the wet floor. Someone finally walked over to put a stop to the fracas and also ended up disheveled and soaking wet. The rest of us looked on in horror."
It gets worse?!? Looked on in horror?!?

That party sounds like the rare company shindig worth wasting an evening on!

Today's Wall Street Jounal Bids & Offers column explains the ideal well (after describing another, more odious, yuletide bash):
Many memories were made, and some partiers may even remember them.

Friday, December 09, 2005

GUY OR ICON? 

Commenter Rock On takes issue with my Lennon post, ultimately arguing that I "had to be there." OK, maybe I had to be there. But Lester Bangs was there--he was born in 1948, which I think establishes his Boomer credentials beyond dispute-- so there's at least one dissenter. Plus, he's not really that much of a dissenter. It's a matter of emphasis and attitude more than anything else. At the risk of bumping the allotment of fame that Rock On gave him up to 20 minutes (and of exceeding the limits of fair use under copyright law), here's more from Bangs' essay:
So in this time of gut-curdling sanctimonies about ultimate icons, I hope you will bear with my own pontifications long enough to let me say that the Beatles were certainly far more than a group of four talented musicians who might even have been the best of their generation. The Beatles were most of all of a moment. But their generation was not the only generation in history, and to keep turning the gutted lantern of those dreams this way and that in hopes the flame will somehow flicker up again in the eighties is as futile a pursuit as trying to turn Lennon's lyrics into poetry. It is for that moment--not for John Lennon the man--that you are mourning, if you are mourning. Ultimately you are mourning for yourself.
I think it's clear from this that Bangs understands the singularity of the Beatles, and of Lennon in particular, perfectly well. What's distinctive about his take, though--and what struck me when I first read it about 20 years ago and has stayed with me ever since--is his reluctance to take the next step, his suspicion of turning real flesh-and-blood people, however talented or important or charismatic or unique, into "ultimate icons." And I think his reluctance and suspicion is rooted in his fundamentally forward-looking perspective. (Ironically, for all his dyspepsia, Lester Bangs was really more of an optimist than a pessimist.) He's interested in today and tomorrow, not yesterday, and he can't see how the icon-ification of Lennon helps matters. Indeed, it's much more likely to hurt them:
Remember that other guy, the old friend of theirs, who once said "Don't follow leaders"? Well, he was right. But the very people who took those words and made them into banners were violating the slogan they carried. And they're still doing it today. The Beatles did lead but they led with a wink. They may have been more popular than Jesus, but I don't think they wanted to be the world's religion. That would have cheapened and rendered tawdry what was special and wonderful about them.
"The Beatles did lead but they led with a wink." I'll take the wink--and the music--over the icon any day. Sure, I wasn't there. But none of us are there any more. We're all here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

JUST A GUY 

Twnety-five years have now passed since John Lennon died, but it's still hard to top what Lester Bangs wrote about him only three days later:
I can't mourn John Lennon. I didn't know the guy. But I do know that when all is said and done, that's all he was--a guy. The refusal of his fans to ever let him just be that was finally almost as lethal as his "assassin" (and please, let's have no more talk of this being a "political" killing, and don't call him a "rock 'n' roll martyr"). Did you watch the TV specials on Tuesday night? Did you see all those people standing in the street in front of the Dakota apartment where Lennon lived singing "Hey Jude"? What do you think the real--cynical, sneeringly sarcastic, witheringly witty and iconoclastic--John Lennon would have said about that?

John Lennon at his best despised cheap sentiment and had to learn the hard way that once you've made your mark on history those who can't will be so grateful they'll turn it into a cage for you. Those who choose to falsify their memories--to pine for a neverland 1960s that never really happened
that way in the first place--insult the retroactive Eden they enshrine.
Bangs performs a little sleight of hand here--was Lennon "at his best" truly the "real" Lennon? Maybe, maybe not. At his worst, he was pretty bad, but at his best, he was a genius. He wrote some fantastic songs ("She Said She Said" from the Revolver album is my personal fave)--and some lousy ones (why oh why do people love "Imagine" so?). He was extremely charismatic--and he could be a complete shit.

In the end, though, Bangs nails the crucial point: he was just a guy. If you feel like remembering him today, put on a Beatles album. Better yet, pull out a guitar or pull up to a piano and dope out the chords to a Beatles song. Even better yet, make up your own stuff. Just don't genuflect. He doesn't deserve it, and neither do you.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

TOP 11 COMMENTS ON THE MOST APTLY TITLED BLOG POST OF ALL TIME 

That being "The Limits Of Endurance," the latest skirmish in the ongoing trench war at Shot in the Dark over whose neighborhood sucks more.

11. Colleen - "I listen to a Mennonite oriented radio station from southern Manitoba." What, only Mennonite-oriented?! Where do I have to go to get my fix of 100%, full-on, straight-no-chaser Mennonite radio? Northern Manitoba?

10. Will Allen - "[T]he reincarnation of Barry Goldwater could be elected Mayor of Minneapolis and that wouldn't change." The reincarnation of Barry Goldwater was running? Why didn't anyone tell me? Sure beats voting for Randy Kelly.

9. headhunter - "I'll never forget Mallard banging chicks in the parking lot and threatening the bartenders to 'make it strong!'" We'll assume he's referring to former All Pro Viking defensive tackle Keith "My arms are more powerful than your guns" Millard-with-an-i, not an anthropomorphic, bibulous, sexually predatory duck.

8. JB Doubtless - "Yeah, Will, that's it. Your rapist's wit nails it again!" Um . . . what?

7. JB Doubtless - "I don't like mustard on baloney sandwiches." OK, that "rapist's wit" comment may have been a head-scratcher, but this is just plain sick. No mustard on your baloney sandwiches?! What the hell is wrong with you?

6. drunkard - "Technically, anyplace you live has 100 percent mortality if you wait long enough." Nice one, but points deducted for reminding me of John Maynard Keynes' famous quip "In the long run we are all dead." I hate Keynes.

5. Saint Paul - "Trust the wisdom of markets." at 3:15, "Will - irrational exuberance?" at 4:08. When I get the chiropractor's bill for my whiplash treatment, I'm sending it to you, Saint Paul.

4. Nordeaster - "I have to say, I didn't think the Quest was very scary when I saw the Barenaked Ladies there." Au contraire. That's the scariest thing I've heard for a long time.

3. Terry - "Each of the three barmaids was heavily pregnant and each had a black eye." Res ipsa loquitur.

2. angryclown - "Ooga-booga! Made ya flinch!" plus "Dude, *tell* me you returned fire." Now that's a rapist's wit. Angryclown, I think I love you.

1. LearnedFoot - "I like where I live. So piss off." And get the hell out of my yard!