Saturday, January 31, 2009

heat wave

Yup, today it was 42F at lunch time. Making it 60 degrees warmer than last week.

What would we have to talk about, if not the idiocy of our empty Senate seat? same-old-same-old: the weather, a constant source of interest to everyone out here in the Midwest.

Of course, being 42 also makes it 80 degrees warmer than it was in the Boundary Waters. Why does anyone live there, other than polar bears?

Friday, January 30, 2009

cops & robbers

a video is worth a thousand words ...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Just funerals

The topic of funerals came up today; several have been mentioned in the local news recently. It made me stop and think of the ones I've attended. A few for co-workers; a couple of good friends; a couple grandmothers; a dozen or so total strangers.

Steve Councilman's funeral was a relatively sedate non-denominational 'memorial service' held at a funeral home. If you attended our wedding, his wife was my Best Woman; he unfortunately didn't make it there. In fact, one of the last things he heard the night he died was of our engagement. RoseAnn was understandably distraught. The little kernel of my/her friends in Lansing wanted to give her a break between the memorial and the Mourners' Decent Upon Her Home. There was a little wooden chalice-like object sitting on a table at the head of the room where the memorial was held. Since it had been present for the funeral service, and since we were going to go out for beer as a fitting wake, we took the chalice with us. It was just a solid wood cup - like a cup, but solid. Pity, we said, if it had been a real chalice, we would have filled it with beer for our fallen comrade.

There were at least 2 dozen of us at Moriarity's on Michigan Avenue. As with Weddings, Funerals tend to bring people together who otherwise wouldn't do so voluntarily. There was a bit of silent, unacknowledged tension as seating was worked out - who could sit next to whom, without saying "Get the hell away from me Foul Creature of Adultery's Abyss". The waitress comes, we all order beer, with an extra one for Steve. The pint of Guinness was set next to the little wooden thing in the center of our table. More than an hour later, after stories of our friend, catching up on the stories of our own lives, we decide to head over to RoseAnn's and pay our respects. Considering the sorrow of the whole thing, it was a fairly good day.

... about 2 years later ...

I am over at RoseAnn's house for a hockey game, or some thing. I notice on the fireplace mantle the little wooden cup-thing. I said, 'I remember this from Steve's funeral', and chuckled at the memory of the beer. RoseAnn glanced at me, looked sort of regretful, and said, "well, I buried most of his ashes, and decided to keep a bit for myself."

So ... I told the Gang we had quite literally taken Steve's ashes with us to have our wake. Steve was no doubt looking down upon us and laughing his ass off.

Fred Spencer was a leading light in the medieval re-enactment group I belonged to; he was the commanding officer for a Michigan National Guard company. I knew quite a few people in both groups. His family is a very traditional Italian-American group. The funeral was a totally gung-ho Roman Catholic Funeral Mass. His male relatives provided the pall bearers into the church, the medieval reenactors carried the casket out of the church, and the National Guard provided the military funeral honors at the grave side. The night before his funeral, I was swiftly sewing patches and decorations onto Army uniforms for the previous resident of my house and all of our friends who were likewise Heraldic-ly impaired. The Guard/Reserves don't wear dress uniforms very often, or at least the MP & Armor units don't. Most of the fellows hadn't bothered to change patches/rank insignia etc. in years. I sat & sewed more insignia at the funeral home when the other soldiers realized I would. Fred would have loved the panoply that was his funeral.

At Grammy's funeral, Mr.Gopher couldn't make it out to Jersey, so Jr.Gopher#1 and I went. He was 11 months old at the time. It was a pretty short, straightforward service. It's not as if there were enough people to have a 'panoply'. The priest at one point asked all of Gert's grandchildren to come up for a prayer, inviting us to each put our hand on the casket for a blessing. All 10 of us were there, along with 6 (7?) great-grandchildren. Jr.Gopher#1 and I were standing at the priest's left hand. Jr. watches everyone else, leans forward out of my arms, and slaps his hand right down on the casket with the rest of us. I saw a real smile on the priest's face. Julie had found miniature spearmint jelly candies & was distributing them at the wake. I'm not sure if Grammy would have approved of her funeral. I'm pretty sure she would have enjoyed getting to see us, though I imagine that after a 30 year delay, getting to see Grandpa again probably trumped us kids.

Yes, I've been to the funeral of a total stranger.

St. John's Student Parish had music for all of its (very infrequent) funerals. Depending on our schedules, some of the choir would show up just to help provide music. I've never managed to get through a funeral without crying. One young woman drowned in one of Michigan's lakes, due to having a seizure while swimming; she had epilepsy. She was still living at home, and likely would always have, due to other health issues. Listening to the various eulogies, I was struck by how full her life sounded. Handicaps apparently didn't handicap her ability and willingness to simply live and enjoy life. It brought me to wonder if it is better to live for only 25 years, having a wonderful life, or stretch it out to 90 and be miserable? On the other hand ...

The most emotionally draining funeral I ever attended was at St. John's. I got the message: Funeral tomorrow, come if you can. Upon being told the deceased was a child, it was a bit harder to focus, thinking if a child is 18 years old when she dies it's bad enough, but this child was 18 months old. Myself and the other 2 or 3 people tried to emotionally brace ourselves. As I mentioned, I always cry at funerals. (Lots of other times, too.) The opening song started and I was fine - until the casket was brought in. The tiny, tiny, oh so tiny container for such a little life. Tears started right then. Her mother was beyond distraught, sobbing great shuddering cries of despair and loss, hanging on the edge of the tiny white box. I never want to do that again. Never.

On the other end of the scale, the choir (we were a busy lot) went to the St. Lawrence Hospital hospice one Sunday per month after Mass. The small entry area there had an upright piano and was large enough for a dozen or so of us to gather. We sang songs for the people staying there: happy songs, quiet songs, new songs, old songs. One woman asked to be brought out of her room to see us. The acoustics down the hall toward the rooms was good, but she wanted to actually see us sing. Occasionally we'd get a request from one of the people. We would always do them. Occasionally someone would say "that's my father's favorite song", or "could you sing that again for my sister?" One afternoon, the request was from a woman who couldn't get up. About 5 minutes later, the nurse came out and told us the woman had passed away very quietly and peacefully. I would happily do that again.

We didn't get a chance to attend Mr.Gopher's Uncle Josef's funeral. Big trans-Atlantic flights put a damper on family unity in the face of grief. We tried to explain death in general terms to Jr.Gopher #1. He knows we used to have another cat; he's never met Josef ... it's all an intellectual exercise trying to explain that Uncle Josef is with God now.

I remember one of our dogs dying when I was very young; it's my first recollection of any death. I remember being incredibly disturbed and confused when someone tried to explain to me that dogs don't go to Heaven. I just cried and cried over the thought that our pet might not go to heaven, a state which I assumed was the natural conclusion of life. Despite the technicalities of theology explained to me, I didn't care if dogs had souls or not. How could someone say Bismark had no soul? 'Cause I gotta tell you, 30+ years later, I firmly believe that my cat Shiro had a soul. The ability to love is a consequence of having a soul. All cats? No. My cat? Yes.

Ah, it's 11:58 p.m. Death of another sort - the daily release of consciousness - is upon me.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fee for Public Health Compliance

Minnesota is struggling with a budget problem. $6,000,000 of one. So, Gov. T-Paw is searching for ways to "cut corporate taxes" and some how concurrently cut spending without pissing off the electorate toooo much, since he's allowed to run for re-election next year. Minnesota has developed a byzantine system of "fees", rather than "taxes". So, what sort of fees could we start charging? an intriguing question posed by an MPR blog. My suggestion follows STFU&GBTW's complaint about vaccination compliance.

Implement a fee in order to refuse vaccination. You don't want to vaccinate your kid? Okay, but you'll need to pony up $1,000.

$1k too much? Not to the parents of the child who catches whooping cough from your immuno-retarded* kid. Who are going to miss work, since they can't send the child to day care or school. In addition to losing money from lost work, they'll spend more money on doctor's bills, medication, and the extra care items otherwise unnecessary. Renting Bob the Builder, Built to be Wild, so that Jr. doesn't go berserk cooped up in bed for a week or two.

Nope, start collecting the $1k, and use it to subsidize the public health costs.

*immunodeficient or immunocompromised should not be shanghaied by retards who don't believe in scientific theory or Koch's Principles. I advocate immuno-retarded, to incorporate the inherent stupidity of the parents.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Did You Know ...

Wearing heavy, insulated mittens makes it really difficult to carry a cup of hot coffee in one hand?


Doing this, when it's 6F is just long enough to cool it down to drinkable temperatures?

MPH research paper

Source text: the abstract of the article on which I'm basing my thesis (you'd need to link into the page to actually see it)
Wordle: Starting Point

Perhaps I should do one of these when I eventually write my thesis, and include it in the oral presentation.

Monday, January 26, 2009

To Whom It May Concern:

How many Senators does the United States currently have? 50? You'd hope so, but no.

Luckily for New York, they got one on Friday. So, we're up to 48.
Delaware didn't wait that long, and replaced Biden promptly. 49 ...

Minnesota can't figure out what the hell it's doing. We not only don't have a Senator, we are expecting to wait a few more weeks, if not a couple more months before discovering who's getting the other chair in the Capitol. I wish our state's constitution allowed for the Gov. to appoint a temporary person. Maybe Franken & Coleman can take turns voting? Maybe T-Paw can just shake a Magic 8 ball?

Most Wanted ... by EPA

No, these folks haven't robbed banks or committed arson or tax fraud. It's amazing what the EPA is charging them with. Now, these you can certainly understand EPA's interest:

Conspiracy to violate hazardous waste laws
Illegal asbestos removal
Aiding and Abetting false entries into an Oil Record Book
Illegal discharge of pollutants into the waters of the United States

It's the other charges that pop up along with messing with Mother Nature:
Mail Fraud
Tampering with a Witnesses
Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

Now, how many times have you stood in line at the airport and thought, "all these damn 3 oz. bottles" or "why can't I put that in my luggage"? Being charged with transporting hazardous materials on an airplane without proper labelling - you think, who cares if it had a damn label or not? Remember that ValuJet that crashed in the Everglades?

Valenzuela was a mechanic for SabreTech. He certified that all cabin oxygen generators had been properly removed and replaced on a ValuJet plane. Valenzuela caused these generators to be delivered and loaded on VALUJET flight 592 without proper markings, capping, packaging and other safety measures. The flight crashed into the Everglades shortly after take-off from Miami International Airport killing all 110 passengers and crew onboard.

The 3 oz. bottles are still stupid. After all, leaving the material in the original container will at least assure TSA that it's labeled right.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Quiet Minnesota

Minneapolis recorded its first homicide of the year Sunday afternoon when a 48-year-old man was shot to death in the Jordan neighborhood.

Out little town of 372,833 just can't compete with the big cities like Detroit.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Awe Inspiring

Mass, A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers, by Leonard Bernstein, composed in 1971, for the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts was performed last night (and tonight) by the Minnesota Orchestra.

Awe inspiring is the only word. With regards to many of the different aspects of the production, not only the written music score. The show included: the full Minnesota Orchestra, the Minnesota Chorale, the Minnesota Boys Choir, the James Sewell Ballet, and a couple dozen other singers & soloists. It was huge. One reason it's rarely performed.

As you’d think from the name, it’s either a reflection on physical nature of matter or the Roman Catholic Sacramental Celebration. It was superficially odd that a modern Jew would write something traditionally see as Catholic ‘classical’ music. Well received or not, the content would be much more accessible to those already interested in classical music, rather than using a Jewish holy ceremony. Bernstein obviously considered it an appropriate framework for the razor-sharp commentary. And commentary it was: social and religious. ‘Religious’ not in the sense of theology, but in the sense of how we view & practice that theology.

Surrounding the music physically as well as musically, with the Orchestra sitting center stage, are the supporting cast. The choir provides the traditional vocal support for the different parts of the mass, mostly in Latin.** The boys choir comes in as altar boys occasionally to support the adult choir. The ballet troupe provides further non-verbal reflection on the text. And, finally the other singers provide the main commentary as a congregation and a priest.

The whole shebang starts out joyous, happy, enthusiastic. The Kyrie [a prayer for mercy] begins, focusing our attention. The priest wears jeans & a button-down shirt, no priest-collar, no priest-outfit. He’s young and enthusiastic, encouraging. The congregation enters, themselves attending Mass, and are equally involved in the service. Things go down hill from there.

The ‘commentary’ gets less joyful and more critical, as the priest dons more and more of the traditional vestments (though I don't understand the color choice of starting with Easter's all white vs. the normal white & green). During the Confitior [confession], one doesn’t hear the words of the priest and congregation, just the image. (Appropriately, as one oughtn’t hear them) Half way through, one of the men who seems rather disinterested in the whole to-do, starts singing ‘what I feel I don’t say / what I say I don’t mean / what I mean I don’t show / what I show I don’t know ... What I need I don't have / What I have I don't own / What I own I don't want / What I want, Lord, I don't know”. Others join individually, variously sorrowful, angry, resentful. Here begins the disconnection between what we as Christians (or whomever) are supposed to say-do-believe and ... well, between that and reality.

Observations continue between what the Church itself teaches and how Society bends those teachings to its own ends: "God made us the boss / God gave us the cross / We turned it into a sword / To spread the word of the Lord / We use His holy decrees / To do whatever we please / And it was goddam good! "

The epistles were interspersed with reading letters demonstrating the currency of St. Paul's sentiments. At the Consecration [blessing the bread & wine], the priest has also succumbed to the crisis of faith following his congregation's ennui of faith. He prays and cries and screams to a sleeping crowd. I'm uncertain if sleeping was supposed to indicate a total disinterest in events, or if it was reminiscent of the gospels. In the prayer during a regular Mass, the priest raises the bread saying "take this bread & eat of it, this is my body which will be given up for you." The words are from the Last Supper, and what happens after that disastrous dinner party? The apostles all take a nap, leaving Christ to His crisis of faith in the Garden of Gethsemane. Of course, none of the gospels paint the Son of God ranting and railing.

Commentary from the premier ranged from “the most, best, greatest, ultimate ... yada yada yada’ to “And there were those, especially among the youthful members of the audiences, who screamed and applauded and cheered and cried and said that it was the most beautiful thing that they had ever heard. ... It is a pseudo-serious effort at rethinking the Mass that basically is, I think, cheap and vulgar. It is a show-biz Mass, the work of a musician who desperately wants to be with it.” -- NYT critic on the premier in ’71.

The counterpoint between the ‘congregation’ and the formal prayers was elegant, subtle, and at times oh so poignant.

This was my first visit to Orchestra Hall. It won’t be the last. It’s hard to tell how good the acoustics are with so many different things going on at the same time. This also made it difficult at times to understand the text with a choir, singers & orchestra & soloist all together. [ed: I listened to the broadcast tonight; with the mics right above the stage, there were parts I could hear much more clearly than in the concert hall.] Though, like opera, one could at least keep track of the general idea from the actors/dancers. The Orchestra is amazing. I’m so unqualified to critique dancers beyond “wow, that’s amazing”, but the choreography was as elegant a depiction as the words. Based upon the thundering applause from the audience, my opinion was assuredly shared. The biggest booms were offered for the lead boy soprano, who gave - @ 8 yr old - a stunning performance and the Priest.

If you’re interested, Minnesota Public Radio is broadcasting this tonight @ 8 p.m. CST. also on-line: right-hand side column as the ‘listen live” link, or with the “classical” tab in the upper-right corner of their homepage, or of course, if you’re in MN, 99.5 FM in the Twin Cities. I’m pretty sure I’m going to tune in after the boys go to bed.

See Mr. STFU&GBTW’s story about his buddy flying back to the States, then ... I’m standing at our seats after the very long applause, chatting with my friend The Author. I see someone who looks vaguely familiar. The brain starts a database search ‘identity=?’ The only reason I even came up with this potential answer is the fact we’re in Minnesota. Me: “That looks like Walter Mondale”; Author: “That is Walter Mondale”.

** if you see a music performance called a “Mass”, e.g. Mozart’s Requiem Mass, it is a collection of the music & (often) prayers set to music, which have been written to be used in a Roman Catholic Mass. There can be many different prayers or prayer settings use, so there isn’t really a ‘standard’ group of music in these.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Ghost of Inaugurations Past

Inauguration is always in January, in the midst of the heart of Winter. Is this a method to ensure the true enthusiasm to view the peaceful transition of power?

I was in D.C. for Regan’s 2nd Inauguration, a remarkable visit. The West Virginia University Mountaineer Marching Band arrived as the state’s representative for the parade. We got permission to miss the first day of classes, hopped on 8 charter buses, and headed for the 4-ish hour trip from Morgantown to the nation’s capitol. We (all 300 of us) thought it was pretty cool to get invited for such an event, regardless of our political opinions. ’84 was the first time I had voted (even if it wasn’t for him).

We got into town, settled in and got the news that the parade was canceled. Damn! We were told the Wind Chill down Pennsylvania Avenue was 45 below zero. West Virginia does get Winter, but it definitely does not get Minnesota weather; no one would have even had warm enough longjohns for that long of a stint outdoors in those temperatures.

We watched the evening news, thinking “well, at least we’ll get to see a bit of the city.” We then heard it was so cold back in Morgantown that classes were cancelled. This gave us a good laugh at our fellow musicians who refused to miss one day of classes, who should have hollered “carpe diem!” and come with us.

The story ‘parade canceled’ hit the news. The scene switched to a gymnasium full of a high school band from Iowa (or Idaho?) in tears. These kids were absolutely, totally devastated. A few girls were sobbing in each other’s arms. Our initial thoughts were “give me a break, it’s not that bad!”

The journalist went on ... these kids were from a small high school, had gone through cut-throat competition to be selected, had spent several years worth of efforts with bake sales, band boosters, and events scrimping up money to go. They were sleeping in a gym; lord alone knows where they’d been sleeping en route. They had sat ~ holy god have mercy ~ on yellow school buses for three days just to get to Washington. To be told “sorry, we don’t need you, you can go home now”.

We looked at each other rather shame-faced, looking around our warm hotel rooms, clearly remembering the charter buses we’d ridden, all of which was paid for by the University’s Band budget invited because one of the Inauguration Committee members was a WVU fan. We felt so sorry for those kids.

Later in the evening, our director sent out a call for opinions: the committee was going to invite a few of the bands to perform indoors for the President, would we want to do so? Without hesitation, everyone I was close to said, “Hell, no!” We all emphatically recommended they track down the kids from the news and make sure they got to play.

One Inauguration Day, we took the now-free time, sent the buses around to a few different sites, did a little sight-seeing, and then headed back to Morgantown. It was so cold, the shutter mechanism in my old Canon FTb kept freezing shut; I got great pictures of Arlington National Cemetery. I never knew if those poor kids from the Midwest got to play for the President or not.

I hope so.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inadvertent humor

photo at story: people turning out in droves to watch the Inauguration. Specifically, at the Riverview Theater. The marquee reads in photo:

Pres Inauguration
Let the Right On

The theater is showing a Swedish vampire movie - if you go there, it will read:

Pres Inauguration
Let The Right One In

Fill in the quotation contest:
... you're not president anymore. The door of the helicopter closes and it's just you and your spouse. You turn to her and say........


Where's the R on my gear shift??

I stop to park my nice 'new' car on our street. I reach for the (mandatory) gear shift, push down and push upward toward my knee.

Nothing happens.

I try again.

Nothing happens. The stick doesn't go down, either. I look in confusion at the top of the stick shift. I see:

1 3 5

2 4 R

?? WFT ???

How do they call it a Volkswagen if the Reverse gear is where everyone else puts it???

I suppose having cruise control makes up for it. If it doesn't, the heated seats assuredly do.

Mine is even the same color as the one above.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, I did not plan on buying yet another Volkswagen. I drove other cars; I was even preferential this time to a not-German car. C'est la vie! .. or rather, So geht's!

Jr.Gopher#1 went with me to the dealer. He informed me that we needed a car with six seats. Six? Yes, six: one for Papa, one for Mama, one for him, one for his brother, one for Aunt Marijke, and one for Raven. I informed him that Raven could sit on someone's lap, when Tante Marijke comes to visit. pssst ... Marijke - your nephew wants you to come visit!

After planning to drive my poor Jetta 'til it died, I guess I need to shift this goal onto the new Passat. A goal I've never managed to achieve with any of my cars (assuming the 2 that got totaled don't really count as 'dying of old age').

'53 Plymouth Cranbrook - couldn't find someone to repair $2 part, sold to boss - 6 mo.
'63 VW Beetle - sold to idiot former boyfriend - 1 yr.
'87 VW Fox - totaled - 2 yr.
'89 Toyota Corolla - died of neglect more than age, donated to charity - 5 yr.
'87 VW Fox - donated to charity while still in good order - 2.5 yr.
'99 VW Jetta - totaled - 10 yr.
'00 VW Passat .... keep your fingers crossed ....

Help Wanted

So this is unemployment? This really isn't so bad, Laura - what were all those liberal pansies whining about for the past 8 years?

What to do with the old presidents who won't really go away ... who's left?

Carter: running global habitat for humanity type causes while basking in the glow of humanitarian righteousness ...
Bush(I): somewhere in Texas or Maine, I guess ...
Clinton: probably glad he's not moving back in to 1600 Penn. Ave ...

Amusing contemplation on the newest (as of 12:00 p.m.) man on the unemployment line.

Although, this application for unemployment will net $191,300 per annum.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Birthday Achievements (posted a bit late)

7:45 a.m. Michael came into our room to say good morning. Friday is sleep-in morning, since the boys both go nextdoor. A few minutes later, I heard the pitter-patter of little pajama-covered feet. Gregor - who was last seen in his crib - climbed up into bed.

Happy birthday!

We'd been planning to modify his crib into a toddler bed this weekend. Perfect timing, I guess.

Tonight we're having the neighbor kids over for Birthday Muffins. I'm not sure which kind I'm going to make, or if I'll cop out and use cake mix for cupcakes.

Today's (1/16) news:
Record Low, 8:17 a.m. 1/16/08 in Caribou, ME: -37 F
Not-record low: 8:08 a.m. in Minneapolis, MN: -22F ( -30C )

I distinctly remember Jan 16, 2006 ... it was -4F here. I was lying in a hospital bed in Edina thanking God that I was somewhere so warm with a brand-new baby.

Jr.Gopher #2 is gradually speaking more. If asked 'how old are you going to be tomorrow?' He will answer 'three!' I kid you not, he can recognize at least 10 or 12 letters. In the absence of other clues (he knows B, even if there's no picture clue). Out of the blue, he just started pointing to letters and telling me what they were. Admittedly, at least half the time he says B for the other letters. But he obviously does recognize them both as letters and which letter.

Jr.Gopher #1 has informed me that I'm only allowed to watch the English Bob the Builder video, and that Mr.Gopher has to watch Bob der Baumeister.

I'm still scouting around for cars. While I'm not extra picky, whatever it is needs to last for another 4 or 5 years - the expected longevity of the car formerly known as My Jetta.

Perfect weather for test-driving cars. You can't exactly test your ABS in the summer. Now? Just hit the frontage road, make sure no one else is there ... slam on the brakes ... oooh, no extra brake-action? Nope, don't buy this!

It appears that I won't be able to buy a car today. The dealer with the Volvo just called back again to tell me there's something wrong with it, they're trying to fix. Unless it test drives like a Maserati, it's not going to be the winner; and, at this rate, I'm willing to just ignore it. Every salesman I spoke to looked at me like I'm a lunatic when I said,

I need a car. It needs to be 1) stick shift, 2) 4 doors, 3) $5,000 - these are non-negotiable. I really want a station wagon.

$5k? Are you nuts? Well, no, actually I'm not - but that's what the insurance check is going to be, and I don't want to go into debt in the middle of grad school. I'm going to get through my MPH without taking out student loans. I'd rather wait until I have a job before considering spending more money on a car. I had a 10 year old Jetta; I was perfectly happy with it; I'll be perfectly happy replacing it like-4-like. There's no shortage of cars under $5k, so I find it annoying that they don't want to just leap into their sales pitches. I imagine it would be easier to up-sell after letting someone drive a mediocre car. Admittedly, the parameter "must be a manual transmission" has pretty drastically limited my choice.

I've discovered a new sales tactic ... one dealer didn't have what I wanted. Fair enough. He calls me the next day "hey, we got something in just like what you wanted ... we need to give the car its safety check ... are you interested? ... meets all of your requirements ... it'll be $5,5k ... I'll put your name on it and give you a call when it gets checked." Sounds great, eh? Today "Well, the car had some mechanical problems, yesterday we got several more cars in, one of them is a year newer, 20,000 fewer miles, meets your requirements, will be $6k, same yada yada yada about safety checks". So, is this a new tangential up-sell tactic? If she caves in between 5500 and 6000, maybe we can squeak it up a bit past there? Get her on the slippery up-slope? Am I going to get another call with "oh, it wasn't quite good enough, but we've got one for $6,5k" ?

I'd forgotten how annoying it is being pandered to. I don't get it professionally. But car dealers? yes. The big VW dealers here & in Lansing? No. The little putz in Burnsville? I managed to refrain from grabbing my breasts, jiggling them to get this guy's attention, and then informing him that "hey, the girls here don't like being patronized". I satisfied myself with the stupefied look on his face when I proceeded to give him much more detailed preferences about my desired car. Did I say I wanted a station wagon? No. I said, "A station wagon on a mid-sized frame, like a Subaru Outback or Legacy, a Passat Wagon, a Volvo 850 or V70 wagon ... at least 150 hp ..." If I could have thought of any more technical specs, I would have used them for good measure. Idiot. Lost my business. On top of which, trying to foist a crappy car off on me for an obscene amount of money.

ah, this was written a few days ago...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cars & Skates & Things That Freeze


I wish I'd had our camera ...

This afternoon, we were in St. Paul for some German-cultural presentation. Not really that great. Outside of the Landmark Center, there's an ice rink. This is, after all, Minnesota - it's a temporary installation for the season. On our way out, I suggested going ice skating. There was an immediate 'yes!' from Jr.Gopher #1 and an equally immediate 'no!' from Mr.Gopher. So, Jr.Gopher & I rented skates & hit the ice. This is not your XCel Energy Center Minnesota Wild ice; nor is it the U of M Gopher Women's Hockey ice. This is the 'no zamboni in sight' ice. No doubt it feels like regular pond ice does.

After a few terrified minutes, Jr. was getting the hang of it. After about 20 minutes or so, he'd progressed to "Look mom! I'm doing it all by myself!" Steve Yzerman he's not, but he was self-propelled and up right for about 5 minutes (= 30 feet). He was really thrilled. I think we've figured out what to get the boys for Christmas this year.

While we were skating, the weather was pleasant (I could have taken off my coat and just left my heavy pullover), and it was snowing. The idyllic fluffy snowflakes that are the kind where you can't help but notice that it's snowing. Just lovely.

On the Search for a Replacement Car:
I certainly can't say I'm getting a 'new car'. Ha ha. The Volvo fell through. The Subarus were pathetic. The patronizing boor was annoying. The VW salesman apparently is married to someone in the same department as I am @ the U. He also found me a great car. So, it looks like I'll be driving VW#5 next week. What a total pain finding a car has been. An amazing number of salesmen all looked dumbfounded at my list of criteria: manual, 4 doors, $5,000. It wasn't the price tag, it was the transmission which grossly limited the selection. Spending 2 weeks driving a rental automatic positively confirmed the fact that I require a stick shift.

Things That Freeze
Wednesday night: -25
Thursday morning: -25, windchill -40

Windchill: if someone tells you 'it was colder when I was young' - she isn't lying, she's just wrong. Global warming aside, the National Weather Service changed how they calculate windchill. Let's say it's 5F ... if the windchill in 1990 was -40, today it's -18. People here aren't quite up on the "it's not really dangerous until it's -50", without realizing it already is.
Wind Chill (ºF) = 35.74 + 0.6215T - 35.75(V^0.16) + 0.4275T(V^0.16)

Amusing tidbits of the weather, including:

If you're lucky, your car's heater can be set on "Blast From the Gaping Maw of Hell" and it thaws your orbs by the time you hit the highway. But I pass people whose teeth are chattering like wind-up gag dentures, and it's obvious their heaters are incapable of emitting anything warmer than penguin flatulence.

Now I know what was wrong wiht my car requirements: $5k, 4 door, stick shift, Gaping Maw of Hell Heater.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

email accounts

How many email accounts do you have? We've gone from "wow, you have an email account?" to me writing "I forgot to check this account" or being asked "which email address should I use?" Almost everyone I know has at least 2: home & work. I have 5:

U of M - got it because I'm a student & that's where everything professional goes. Check every day, but not weekends.

gmail 1 - what I think of as my "personal" one - only friends/family get it. Check every day

yahoo 1 - old account left from when I had only 1 - that's where all of the bills/on-line registration/I-want-your-money stuff goes. Check at least once/week. Address I give any group/company which might result in junk-mail. If someone needs an email address, but they're not a friend, they get this.

yahoo 2 - old account left from when my boss wouldn't give me one at work, and I needed it. Some professional news-group discussion goes there, because it generates *waaaay* too many emails/day. Check every couple months. If I go back to that specialty, I'll start using it again.

gmail 2 - this is where things for political groups, MN/US legislators, MPR, civic-duty groups and other politically-oriented serious stuff. When/if I get around to actively joining a political party's election efforts this year (my first time ever), I'll use this.

I like to be organized (doesn't happen often, but I like to be) - this lets me sort out communication based upon what use it for. Especially my personal gmail account (the one that my family/friends have) gets a few emails/day, nice & manageable. And, after all, if I don't want all of them, I can just go back to having two.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Worst Food of 2009

Worst (nutritional) (commercial restaurant) Food in America

Obviously they weren't looking for those pie crusts made with lard, rather than Crisco.

Wow ... impressive ... some of these things taste pretty good. I actually ate one last week.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Apocalypse Pooh

far more artistic merit than the Rammstein Pooh ...

at least Jr.Gopher#1 has stopped asking me for train-crash videos and just sticks to wanting to see Pooh. Needless to say, this isn't one of them.

wierd-o words

Bastardization of the German language: There are 'borrowed' words between many languages. teenaged angst (German), weltanschaung (German), mach's nichts (yiddish), C'est la vie (French), et cetera (Latin). There are some, which are exceedingly modern, for which there were no words, and therefore they took the new word wholesale: Web, Internet, etc. However, one occasionally runs into a word, which already exists in one language, which is supplanted by some other language (often these days, English). While reading the news in German, I am occasionally stuck by these, as they really disrupt the flow of reading: I'm pretty sure you can figure out what these mean in English:

spam (technology, not culinary)-noun
spamen - verb
Pop Star
gegoogle (look closely)

Senator seniority

It's a race, whether Illinois or Minnesota will seat their senators first.

Illinois has the Sergeant of Arms announcing that he will refuse to admit the Illinois offering.

The Republicans have announced they will filibuster Minnesota sending the man who has been certified by the Canvassing Board, but who has not yet been confirmed by their [our] Sec. of State & Governor, a step required before the U.S. Senate has any standing to be involved. Wow, this is far more interesting than Mr. Stakowski's civics class in 7th Grade ever was.

So ... both states only have one serving senator at the moment. Rather impacts the balance of powers. Especially since the Minn. Governor is a Republican and the Ill. Governor is under indictment.

Political Lie d'Jour:
Burris himself downplayed the issue of race, telling reporters: "I cannot control my supporters. I have never in my life, in all my years of being elected to office, thought anything about race." WTF? Any rational, non-brain-dead person is supposed to believe a man who served in the 1960s has never thought about race? What a goddamned piss-poor liar. If the folks from Illinois believe this, they only deserve one senator, since they only have one half of a brain.

Update: Minnesota lost the race

Monday, January 12, 2009

[rev.] Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica is beyond awesome. The casting is good. FX are good enough. Plot is good enough to keep me interested, even if it gets flat occasionally and loses me occasionally with such a large cast. The show has a much more political edge to it, and is - thanks to cable TV - far, far, far more gritty than 1978 ABC.

Cylons (human-created robots who became self-aware and self-directing) are out for vengeance to eliminate mankind; and humans are fleeing to the mythical Earth where the 13th tribe left eons ago, which many don't even believe exists. There is a heavily Hellenistic flavor to the culture - the names of the 12 planets (Capricorn, Gemini, ... ), the gods (Apollo, Hera, ...) etc. Particularly amusing is the polytheistic humans being the heroes, while the Cylons are a monotheistic One True Loving God group.

If you've seen the original: the basic plot line is the same. Cylons attack, mankind is on the brink of extinction, valiant warriors shepherd the remaining stragglers onto a perilous journey searching for the lost tribe, who went off and founded another human colony, Earth, we hope our distant relatives will like us.

The Cylon Model 2.0 looks just like us. You can't tell them apart. At all. This isn't Terminator, where faithful Fido can smell the robots. This one is "no make up needed". No more of the silver radiator moving laser pointer eye bad guys ("walking chrome toasters"). Well, they do exist, but the model 1.0 is just the functional servants/soldiers of the advanced model. (An opportunity I thought intriguing: will the cylons be betrayed in turn by their own creations?)

The incorporation of technology beyond "they're robots; they're evil" is well done. At the very beginning, the Galactica, the last of the 'battlestar' war ships is being decommissioned. The crotchy old captain (Edward James Olmos) has refused to slack off on the Rules. E.g., networking of communications and computers was prohibited, due to the Cylons infiltrating them with computer viruses(and such). So, the bridge of the Galactica looks much like a 1960s submarine with those black Bakelite phone receivers. Little tech bits are elegantly woven into the story.

One point I like (as a modern American woman) is that the fighter pilots are also women. And that whole Starbuck/Apollo/goofy-name thing? Call signs, not their real names. And, like fighter pilots today, they tend to get used like a nick name. Several of the other names from the TV show are in, but not necessarily with the same sex organs. Starbuck is still the card-dealing, cigar-smoking pain-in-the-ass hotshot pilot, it's just that this one has tits. Again, if you've seen the original, you will be pleasantly surprised at how they've adapted it for a more modern audience.

I only saw the first 2-1/2 seasons. They were totally awesome. I highly recommend them. I don't currently have a TV. Don't write and tell me how fraking wonderful the next 2 are.

This incorporates all the stuff one would want - sci fi, romance, blowing shit up, politics, blowing cylons up, religion, getting blown up by cylons, dysfunctional families, blowing up even more shit ...

one of the earlier ads:

Elizabeth's rating:

go buy it on DVD

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bumper Sticker of the Month

God Wants Fruits of Faith
Not Religious Nuts

Friday, January 9, 2009

Octopus Etiquette

Well, paying a bit more attention to the technicalities of ice hockey (like trying to figure out what in the world is the difference between icing and off-sides), I discovered what one is supposed to do with the octopi thrown in the Joe Louis Arena, a fact which no one had ever been able to answer. But, of course, these days there is the omnipotent god Wikipedia:

The 1952 playoffs featured the start of the tradition—the octopus throw. The owner of a local fish market ... threw one from the stands onto the ice. The eight legs were purportedly symbolic of the eight wins it took to win the Stanley Cup at the time. The Red Wings went on to sweep both of their opponents that year en route to a Stanley Cup championship. The NHL has, at various times, tried to eliminate this tradition but it continues to this day. ... since [arena] does not condone the throwing of any foreign objects onto the ice, fans often sneak the sea creatures in wrapped around their bellies in trash bags. The boiling process also lessens the odor and allows the fans to get past security.

There is a certain etiquette that must be followed for fans that wish to throw octopuses onto the ice.

Beforehand, an octopus should be boiled for at least 20 minutes on high heat with a little lemon juice and white wine. This will mask the creature's odor as well as reducing the amount of slime. A raw dead thrown octopus would result in a smelly ball that would stick to the ice upon impact and possibly leave an inky stain, while a well-boiled octopus will bounce and roll across the surface of the ice.

After the octopus has been properly prepared it must be smuggled into the ice arena, as it is against the law in Detroit (and other NHL cities) for a fan to throw anything onto the ice during a game. A preferred method is to wrap the octopus in plastic (a trash bag or a large Ziploc bag will do) and then wrap the package around one's middle section to give the appearance of a beer belly.

The most appropriate time to throw an octopus onto the ice is after the national anthem is sung or after the Red Wings have scored a goal. The octopus must be thrown onto the ice surface in an area that is clear of all players. It is never acceptable to aim for opposing players. Tactics are also used to protect the identity of octopus-throwers from arena security. It is common practice for the hurler to ask the surrounding people to stand up with him to shroud the task in anonymity.

Experienced throwers grasp the octopus around the middle of its arms with the octopus's head (or more correctly, its mantle) hanging down near the thrower's knee and then swings the octopus with an overarm motion. Holding the octopus by the ends of its arms prior to the throw may result in the mantle of the octopus breaking off during the wind-up.

After successfully participating in this peculiar tradition, the octopus thrower is left with a tell-tale indicator: stinky hands. It is advisable to bring along a wet wipe and a slice of lemon to assist in removing the odor.

... the Joe Louis Arena head ice manager and one of the two Zamboni drivers, is the person who retrieves the thrown octopi from the ice. After he retrieves an octopus, he has been known to twirl it above his head as he walks across the ice rink to the Zamboni entrance.

... sent a memo to the Detroit Red Wings organization that forbids Zamboni drivers from cleaning up any octopuses thrown onto the ice and imposes a $10,000 fine for violating the mandate. The linesmen will instead perform any clean-up duties. ... justified the ban because "matter flies off the octopus and gets on the ice" when ... it [is swung] above his head ... Detroit Free Press dubbed the prohibition as "Octopus-gate". By the beginning of the third round of the 2008 playoffs the NHL loosened the ban to allow for the octopus twirling to take place at the Zamboni entrance.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Prohibited items (to inauguration 1/20) include, but are not limited to:

Firearms and ammunition (either real or simulated)
Explosives of any kind (including fireworks)
Knives, blades, or sharp objects (of any length)
Mace and/or pepper spray
Sticks or poles
Pocket or hand tools, such as "Leatherman"
Large bags
Alcoholic Beverages
Signs *
Animals (other than service animals)
Camera bags
Duffel bags
Laser pointers
Other items that may pose a threat to the security of the event as determined by and at the discretion of the security screeners**

* sure as hell wouldn't want to actually allow the tranquil stage managing of patriotic unity and racial acceptance to be marred by an 8" x 11" sign stating "President Osama Saddam" or "I Love Obama".

** this would include babies packed into baby-carrier-units such as Baby Bjorn. God alone knows what you could pack into those things besides wet diapers.

Hockey Gymnastics

Sure, you're probably not into hockey ... none the less, this is pretty awesome.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Movie vs. Novel

My friend the Author posted a review of The Road on her blog. I want to see the movie next year, the story line being moderately interesting and the cast interesting. Her review makes the story line even more appealing. (i.e., not just some post-apocalyptic meandering) The ’stuck’ part is my general philosophy: haven’t read the book? Don’t do it before seeing the movie. I’m looking forward to having a bit of free time around the holidays. After reading her review, I’m tempted to put it on my holiday reading list. But the movie’s coming out! What am I to do??

One of the most striking examples of why I cling to this Kinoweltanschauung ... L.A. Confidential The Movie. If you've never read the book, I recommend it in the strongest terms. It's huge. It's an epic work of modern American fiction. James Elroy writes brutally honestly. The violence was occasionally brutal. It's the first time I've ever had a "oh, god I can't look" moment while reading.

The film remains one of my all-time favorites. The multiple stories intertwine elegantly, an accomplishment few manage, much less manage well. It's a story of huge scope, with a cast of - if not thousands - hundreds. Yet the book is ... surprisingly different.

L.A. Confidential The Book is far more complicated than the movie. In an interview with Elroy, he expressed his enthusiasm for the quality of the screenplay, since he thought the novel was "just fucking un-adaptable". Thankfully he was wrong. The simplification of the story lines into the screen play is an example of the scriptwriter truly seeing the important events & facts. Rather like Lord of the Rings, where lines appear in the script in different places by different characters, but being artistically critical (rather then person-critical) are used where needed to make the screen play work.

The Mexican girl in the movie, who gets rescued by Exley, is indeed in the book as well, with a completely different role beyond "girl who gets rescued". Or Rollo Tommasi, who appears from a completely different direction (as Exley Sr. isn't dead in the book).

One is left realizing the film and the book are two very different creations using the same ingredients to achieve very different, if superficially similar, pieces. The movie, to be taken on its own merits, really needs to be seen without prior knowledge of the plot. Else one is left, sort of like Harry Potter, with the abrupt interruption your submersion into the story by realizing 'hey, that's not in the book'. It's easier to ignore things that are missing than things that have been added, no matter how effectively. Prisoner of Askaban being a good example: it wasn't just a matter of cutting things out, but how some integral information is put back in, done well, but a burp in the story flow, if one's already read the book.

One is, in the reverse, conflicted with the impact of the director's visual presentation versus your personal imagination. Having seen the movie version, I was left with the images of Guy Pierce, Russel Crowe and Kevin Spacey while reading L.A. Confidential. Whereas with Harry Potter or Master & Commander, I had a pretty clear picture from the books of what I thought the characters looked like before seeing the films. While I'm not so sure about Potter (having read Sorcerer's Stone a week before the movie), watching Lord of the Rings or Master & Commander was like putting on a jacket you are surprised to find fits so nicely: that's just how it ought to look, even if it's not how I had pictured it myself.

I've rarely been disappointed in a book, after enjoying a good movie. The reverse is, unfortunately, not true.

-- ed. - The Road got postponed to "some time in 2009" ... sigh ...

Now, on to videos

Getting caught up with images of pastoral idyllic Minnesota. Please note none of these were taken in the past 60 days of not-so-much-idyl.
For any of you at Stammtisch who have slow internet access, I'll bring this some time, if you remind me.

Jr.Gopher #2 at the piano

Jr.Gopher #1 in October at an apple orchard in our pre-Halloween harvesting. Still photos are at here:

Sure, I know I'm not Peter Jackson or James Cameron - but I'm awfully impressed that I managed to track the bouncing as much as I did. No, have no fear of any more of us heading to Tinseltown (in LA or NZ).

Monday, January 5, 2009

Misc. photos

well, just pictures from the past few months.

At the Minnesota Zoo

Little life-scale examples of birds. Jr.Gopher#1 wanted to see who matched which bird.

The Gregor-sized stuffed bear got his attention.

The zoo has a new exhibit, the "Siberian Coast". It's pretty impressive. The grizzly bears are - as you can see - rather close.

In addition to the bears (and other interesting animals), there's an archaeological "dig" of a wooly mammoth, which apparently have been found here, as well as in Siberia. At least this exhibit is one where they needn't worry too much about the animals abilities to survive the Minnesota winters.

The boys have decided that they like their new blankets (well, actually duvets) ...

Sunday Breakfast

I need my coffee ...

Christmas Eve

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Us 3 : 2 Them

This is the team that waxed Chicago 2 days ago? Apparently someone forgot to tell the Red Wings that Minnesota doesn't always lose. Assuredly between the 2nd and 3rd period, they reminded the Wild. The first 2 periods were thoroughly mediocre - I wasn't expecting brilliance from the Wild, but the Wings? I really, really wanted to have seen the New Year's Day game at Wrigley Field. Where we (eventually) crushed the Blackhawks.

There wasn't any (eventually) tonight. Detroit really played down to Minnesota's level, and then seemed confused when they came out and abruptly started playing an offensive game. The 2nd goal resulted in a very long review by the Refs; needless to say, the 17,000 people not rooting for Detroit weren't to thrilled about the result. And, had it not been for that, they would have won the game 2:1 rather than lose 3:2 in OT shoot-out. Oh, well, too bad for them.

For my (early) birthday present, it was really nice. It was also, conveniently, St. Elizabeth's Day (Elizabeth Seaton, one of the 5 St. Elizabeth). It was my first NHL game in person. I've seen Michigan State's men's team play a couple times. And there was, of course, my first hockey game ever in Munich - the Soviets v. Us. I have no recollection of the score, but I'm quite sure the Us:Them had a much bigger point spread, and the Us was a smaller number.

This seems to follow the pattern of the rest of my life. 6 years in Hawaii - 2 years on a bunch of Portugese Islands - 3 or so years on the Jersey Shore... where did I learn to sail? West Virginia. 8 years in West by god Virginia, and where did I learn how to ski? Michigan. 18 years watching hockey in Michigan, and where do I actually get to see the Red Wings play? In St Paul.

While it was enjoyable, I really, really missed my friends in Michigan. I kept thinking that the game would have been truly great if I could have gone with the 10 or 15 of them to the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, regardless of the resulting score.

p.s. from Chicago Winter Classic - really cool jerseys