Saturday, December 30, 2006

Linking to Roy again

Enjoy Roy.
This week I guess I'm taking him microbial instead of viral.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Circus footage

We went to the Big Apple Circus two days ago.
The best part, hands down, was the way the kids watched.
Ah, parenthood.

Incidentally, the kid next to Madge (not Coco) was whooping by the middle of the first half of the show and near tears and paroxysms by the second half, by which time I had given him some napkins to help with the spilled ketchup from his jumbo hot dog. All around, a great experience.

Coco Tuesday on Friday (sorry)

I realize I missed Coco Tuesday this week, but everything has been topsy-turvy lately. This last week was when we took him off his seizure medicine entirely and now we need to keep an extra-close watch on him. But, man, a scientific experiment this is not.
It would be nice if the lack of medicine would be the only thing different in his routine. But, no, it was the last week of school before vacation, going straight into vacation, grandparents arriving, Christmas mayhem, and general sugar and movie and soda and stay-up-late and go-to-Manhattan and see-the-circus insanity.
Is he acting differently? Well, duh. Is the lack of medicine the cause? Who knows. Did he have any seizures? He would never admit it. He fell down a few times, but not in the same kind of way. And what sugared-up overtired three-year-old doesn’t?
He had an EEG yesterday and a visit with his neurologist. The result: come back in two months and do it again. Keep watching him.
As much as extra activities are fun, it’d be nice to have a “normal” week. But the next time such a week might present itself, someone is sure to be sick.
Ah, parenthood.

Another U Fable

Thank you, dear commentators, for suggesting

The Urbanite and the Unicorn

The unicorn said to the urbanite, “What’re you lookin’ at, bub?”
Replied the urbanite, “What’s with the attitude? I thought you were supposed to be calm.”
Said the unicorn, “If I’m not calm, you’re obviously not a virgin.”
“Touche,” said the urbanite. “And, to answer your question, I’m looking at your lion’s tail, your buck’s legs, and the red and black on the horn. I thought you were supposed to be a horse with a golden horn.”
Said the unicorn, “I guess you ain’t so smart after all, city boy.”
Said the urbanite, “Well, I do know you don’t exist.”
And with that, the city and everything in it disappeared.

Year-end stuff

Amazon has a "Best of 2006" list, of course.
"Best of" lists hardly ever match up. The items with the best reviews, for example, don't match the most frequently purchased items.
I'm surprised, that the "most wished for" and "most given" do match in a few categories. People gave the iPods asked for, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" DVD, auto-wrenches, as well as jewelry. Not bad. It appears the wish lists work.
As far as personal grooming goes, there's a slight discrepancy. It appears men think that all they need to do to be groomed is to shave.
the item they get is a pedometer.
Is there a message there?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Dropping like flies

Man, what a week. Everyone’s passing away. First James Brown, then Gerald Ford, and now
Braguinha, the composer of “Yes, We Have No Bananas.” (A song defiled in Germany as an ad for Maggi: “Die fuenf-minuten-Terrine von Maggi, ‘ne tolle Idee.” It’s only because Braguinha’s song is of such genius that the stupid ad still comes to mind.)

Road Sign Metaphor

I was running the other day (about time, lardo!) and noticed that there's a road sign that's rather insightful concerning the relation of mental acuity to political inclination.
Though you can probably guess the sign, I'll give it to you (sorry I couldn't find an image online that I could download):

Slower Traffic Keep Right

(This train of thought brought to you from someone without a car.)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Don't forget to check out my new venture. Just click on this and enjoy.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Madge Monday

Wow, anticipation is not Madge’s strong suit. But today is Christmas, and the wait is over. She’s been losing a lot of sleep this past week. So much so that she was feeling sick by the end of the week and I let her stay home on Friday. (She had a slight fever and her grandparents were coming soon and I didn’t want to push things. It was actually a nice day.) Hopefully, we can catch up now.
She is a sweet, thoughtful and generous gift giver. The generosity is easy for her since she’s not footing the bill. But the point is that she doesn’t skimp on quality and can recognize quality without looking at a price tag first.
But, at age seven, I don’t think she can help making gift-pile comparisons. To her disadvantage, of course, because it seems that the general rule is: the younger the kid, the larger the toy. Choking hazards are small, after all. And a lot of rubber duckies can be purchased for the price of a computer game. Still, the whole day went by quite peacefully.
As I’ve noted, the grandparents are here (for a week) and there was some initial attention-jealousy, but now that we’ve passed out stopwatches and tally-sheets, everything should go well. Once I’ve explained the concept of interest and its accrual to Madge, I think we’ll be set.
But really, considering the emotional turmoil that Christmas entails, she’s holding up remarkably well.
Much better than I did at that age, I’m sure.

Oh, and I almost forgot, we went to the Nutcracker Ballet on Saturday. Lincoln Center. My first time. (She went last year with Julie and YaiYai – but they left during the intermission because of illness – it might even have been mentioned in an insert in the program: “Due to illness, the role of ‘spectator in the fourth tier balcony’ will be played by an understudy or even left blank after the intermission. We regret any confusion this may cause.”)
Boy, is she a squirmy ballet-watcher. Super-cute, don’t get me wrong. She just wants to dance, too, I think. She hums along, waves her arms, hops up and down, claps wildly when things are exciting, and is good company during the intermission. Only getting there is a little rough – see the anticipation difficulties above. We got there early and got to our seats early and waited there rather than in the lobby. Oh, well.
And, on the subway ride there, she put her legs on the seat next to her and accidentally brushed the leg of her neighbor, who took personal offense at the matter. Borderline loony, I assume, or trying to go without medication or cigarettes or something. More grumpy than a regular day would entail, in other words. But who knows what people on the subway are going through? Ever ride on public transportation after something went horribly wrong for you and get pissed off at everyone around you? That kind of a day, I think.
And, on the way back, she was sprawled out as if she were on the couch at home and the lady across from me motioned to me that Madge should probably close her legs.
She had a point, but that’s really not something I want to have to think about.
But the ballet: awesome. I even fell asleep briefly. No, wait. That should say, “I was transported.”

Christmas post

Happy post-gift-unwrapping stock-taking, everyone!

Generally, when you give a toy for Christmas only to learn that the figurines shown on the package and vital for play with said toy are not included, you end up not a little ashamed at your gift and upset at the toy manufacturer. But when your child has a birthday within a month after Christmas, it’s a blessing in disguise.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

U Fable(s)

A little late, but therefore get more (a variant of "not only was the food bad, but the portions were tiny").

The Ulcer and the Ultimatum

And ultimatum and an ulcer were at yet another meeting with their marriage counselor. They were saying the stereotypical things. The ultimatum kept pressuring the counselor to resolve their issues soon, or else. The ulcer just kept groaning.
Finally, the counselor gave up on his fee and spoke some words of truth. “Look. Clearly you guys need each other and fulfill one another. Dys- or not, what you’ve got functions.”
“Oh,” they said together and briefly disappeared.

The Ukelele and the Uncle Rule

A man went into a pawn shop, where a charming little ukulele caught his eye. He was about to purchase it when the pawn broker showed him the Uncle Rule, which stated: “I hereby solemnly declare never to procreate and to plague nieces and nephews with awful renditions of ‘Tiptoe Through The Tulips’ in perpetuity.”

Finally, the fabulist regrets not thinking of any cool animals beginning with the letter “U.”

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Congratulations, I guess

This picture arrived in my inbox the other day.
I get the joke, but still.
Who orders wedding cakes with figurine toppers?

Oh, wait, that question wasn’t rhetorical.
Brides’ mothers.
Now. Would you marry a woman whose mother has this opinion of her?

New Chinese adoption regulations

Remember how you used to read books as a kid and say to yourself, "Man, how cool it must be to be adopted. Those guys have all the fun."
Well, it just got better, apparently.
(Don't forget to close your gaping mouth after you're done reading the article.)

What are you?

I seem to be forgetting all the choice encounters and conversations, and my hands have been too full with shopping bags to whip out my notepad, so you’ll have to make do with my brain-remnants.

The kids and I ate out tonight. Nibbled out, really. It’ll be a while before we repeat that experiment, unless I’ve starved them for a day and a half beforehand.
At a table near us sat a youngish woman who was stared at profusely by my issue (I love that term). The reason: she was letting her inner Frida Kahlo out. In other words, her facial hair did not match the kids’ gender expectations.
And, man, kids are not subtle about staring. Their necks kept zipping around so fast, I got whiplash just being near them.
Oh, and whispering? Not one of their talents.
Coco wanted me to talk to “him.” I said I think it’s a she. “Really?” Madge burst out. “But he has a beard.”
“It’s called a mustache,” came out of my clenched teeth.
And here’s one of my prouder lines of the week: “It’s not polite to talk about people’s looks.”
Okay, that part wasn’t so bad, but I couldn’t resist the follow-up: “When they can hear you.”
And then it was hard to keep myself from laughing at my own joke. (I haven’t had an adult audience in a while.)
Needless to say, I now have a lot of ssplainin’ to do.
But, in our defense, I did get the kids to talk to her. I helped. Of course she was really nice. And Madge was duly impressed that I was able to look past the facial hair to discern the gender.
Of course another problem arose. When the kids asked her name, the answer I heard (as did Madge) was “Alan.”

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

And a one and a, uh, er

Headline in the WashPost: Short Workouts Can Slow Decline Of Aging Minds, Study Indicates

I’m not sure my kind of mental workout is what they have in mind (no pun intended), though: having my brain run in circles.
As a matter of fact, my mind has exercised too much because it keeps getting ahead of me, lately (pun intended, but probably not registered).

I guess a final exam is a sort of bulimic exercise for the mind – you stuff it full of delectables and then regurgitate and forget about it. Does that count, too?

Coco Tuesday

Our Christmas tree looks funny, because it needs to accommodate the warring forces of Coco and Baci. Coco’s aesthetic ideal requires all ornaments to be placed within his reach, on one side of the tree; Baci’s aesthetic ideal requires all ornaments to be airborne. The immovable object and the irresistible force: endless hours of fun.

The contrast between Coco and Madge is quite pronounced in these anxious pre-unwrapping days. Coco doesn’t have a concept of time or urgency about he upcoming bonanza, so he leaves presents wrapped. He simply enjoys that they’re there for him. Madge, on the other hand, is losing sleep over the matter. Literally.

In general, I can’t help noticing that the time before vacation and holidays is anything but relaxing for the stay-at-home parent. My schedule is completely manic, and all in preparation for less time off than ever before. Because, remember, vacation for everyone else is anything but the same for the one who stays at home – for me it’s an invasion. At least the invaders are friendly and have good intentions, so it should be great, but still. I play catch-up as it is. Now I’m behind on Christmas before it has even begun. And I have no idea when I’ll start wrapping things. That reminds me: I need to get more paper. Correction: some paper.

India goes nucular

Headline: Bush Signs U.S. - India Nuclear Deal

Of course he does. How else can the 24-hr call-centers in Bombay answer the frustrated calls from power-plant workers stateside?

(I'm not the only one thinking in terms of Homer and Apu, am I?)
I wonder if Bush finds the way they pronounce it odd? “New-clee-urr? Heh, heh. You guys are too funny.”

Monday, December 18, 2006

Madge Monday

Madge has been the Queen of the Playdate lately. The phone list is off the wall and every afternoon she tries to learn a new number by heart as she dials away and asks if she can play with yet another friend.
It’s cute, really. And I allowed her to have an insight the other day, when I suggested something.
Her response was, “You mean I can have a playdate with a boy? Oh.”
Some fallout from the playdate-o-rama is that the cat has figured out the phone, to a degree. He has so far managed to get it off the hook a few times after it rang, and he has managed to change it from touch-tone to pulse dialing. How, I’m not quite sure.
She is missed, though, when she is gone. Most severely by Coco, but on the weekends also by Julie.
And now I feel guilty because I enjoy the extra bit of “quiet” time, though the last session backfired because Coco missed her too much and needed to be entertained the whole time.

And something – I believe it’s Christmas – is causing her to have sleepless nights. This does not bode well for the night of the 24th. I may have to introduce her to wonders of egg nog and whiskey. How else do you end up dreaming of sugarplum fairies?

Lookit, Lookit

Look. You can read some of my stuff in a new location as well.
Nifty, nifty, I tell you.

Check it out, leave a comment, and stop by CrunchGear often.

Now I need to work on getting Calvin Trillin's gig for The Nation. He's gotta retire sometime, right?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

year-end review

This blog has provided a service I wouldn’t have the patience for. A compilation of the infamous and highly proliferated (as you’ll be able to see when you follow the link) lists of best of (best ofs? bests of?) in the realm of music.
In short, if you want to keep up to date, buy everything. But, by the time you’ve listened to a quarter of it, it’s already out of date and at that point you’ll be listening to has-beens or classics, depending on your take.

If offer a different “best of” list. More manageable. It’s the best of the books I actually finished this year. I start a lot of books and read about even more of them, but it’s rare I actually finish a book. But here are three I stuck around for and which actually paid off.

Idylls of the King, by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Not nearly as hoity-toity as it sounds. I came to this in a circuitous way. I was reading Anne of Green Gables (before the crying) and figured I’d read the original of what she reenacted on the river. So I started the Idylls of the King at the “Lancelot and Elaine” chapter (as I call it – I don’t know the proper term - sub-epic? poem?). I recommend beginning there, mostly because all tellings of the Arthurian saga begin with the ascendancy of Arthur, and that is not where Tennyson is at his most inventive. (Though, to be fair, the opening chapter is very good in that it gives several different versions of Arthur’s arrival.) Still, Lancelot has always been the most fascinating of the Round Table Knights. (I could have done without the epilogue, but still, who am I to judge?)

Imaginary Obligations, by Frank Moore Colby. I found this author in A Subtreasury of American Humor. Colby’s essays aren’t laugh-out-loud funny, but what written humor really is, anyway? He’s got great insights, though, and his main point is that you can’t judge people by what they say, since they feel obligated to put up a public front. What I remember offhand is that he points out, in an essay about evening entertainments, that much entertainment succeeds in emptying the audiences mind from the troubles and worries of the day, but a good production inserts new thoughts in this void. Of course he says it much better than I did. (Downside: you’ll have to get a used copy since it’s out of print. But you’ll get to surf around or

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, by Anita Loos. Don’t watch the movie, if you can avoid it. The movie is completely miscast, if you ask me. Marilyn Monroe just can’t pull off the conniving innocence necessary for the character of Lorelei Lee. Without looking, I remember one of the lines that made me want to pick up the book in the first place (I had read an excerpt in A Subtreasury of American Humor – a book I’d recommend if I’d finished it – look for a recommendation next year). She’s talking about her gentleman friend who doesn’t bore her and always makes good conversation. For example, the other day, he gave her the cutest diamond bracelet.

There you go. Look them up if you have the time. I don’t think you’ll be complaining about wasted time.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Where's the photo-op?

Yesterday I saw this headline in a NYTimes that was laying about (lazy paper) in a café (the Cocoa Bar, for those of you who might be interested, and, for those who are not, the Cocoa Bar – what, you thought it would change?):

Bush Celebrates Early Victories in Campaign Against Malaria

I couldn’t help imagine what the backdrop for his “Mission Accomplished” appearance would be in this case. Surfing atop an ambulance?

Linking to Roy

Another highly readable blog entry from Roy Blount.
He asked to be taken viral and I, for one, am doing my part.

Friday, December 15, 2006

T Fable

The titmouse complained to the titlark, “Every time people talk of us, they snicker.”
The titlark responded, “Don’t you mean titter? I guess it’s titular titillation.”

And he fell out of the tree, laughing.
Said the titmouse, “Jerk.”

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Baci Kitty-Cat Boom-Bang

The cat, while not crazy, requires some adjustment in our routines.
For one, it appears we need to make time around midnight every night – 11:47pm, to be precise – for our feet to be chewed and clawed. It’s cute the first time, but Baci will burrow inside the comforter covers to get at the smelly goods.
And don’t think that Madge is immune, just because she inhabits the top bunk. The cat is athletic. He’s got broad shoulders and has this weird technique of jumping up to things and checking them out first by hanging from them by his front paws. Then, when the coast is clear, he pulls himself up all the way. He does this on Madge’s top bunk. Oh, and my neck.
Then he’ll sit on my neck like a live wrap and chew on me, as if I were a vampire appetizer.
Of course it’s followed by a look that says, “What, you think this is weird?”
He also isn’t quite aware of his tail. Its length seems to take him by surprise every time it wags in his peripheral vision. He then proceeds to chase and catch it and become upset that something is chewing his tail.
His tail is also the cause of a bizarre Christmas tree feedback loop. It’ll brush a branch, which will bounce and intrigue. This, in turn makes him bat it, just to show who’s boss.
Then, as he walks away, he’ll notice that there’s some more bouncing in the tree and the attack continues.
Until the kids screech and I interfere with water.
Ah. Good times.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Linking to a good read

Here's Roy Blount's latest in the Oxford American (which came today, so it's going to be really hard to finish limericks tonight).
Read it and then let's all work on being more flagrant.

What do you mean, I'm on?

All the articles about the incident at La Scala focus on Roberto Alagna walking out in the midst of a duet. (The BBC even has a video of it.)
But, man, as a struggling musician and friend to many other struggling musicians, I wish one or two would focus on the flip side of this affair.
The headlines ought to read, “Antonello Palombi Gets Chance of Lifetime.”
And the best part of the deal for him, he was still in street clothes. Didn’t even have time to put on his gym shoes.
I usually find it depressing to think that someone might know the greatest moment of his or her life. But taking over mid-duet might be an exception.
What about the soprano during the incident? She should have started cracking jokes. “Was it something I said? Do I have bad breath? That’s right, sucker, I need me a real man. Run to mommy. Get me another overweight Italian in blackface, but make sure this one has taken his V***ra.”

Airbus passengers need exact change

I'm branching out. This is from Reuters.

Okay, here’s the deal. Airbus got an okay for the Airbus A 380. The headline should read, “Nightmare Check-in Okayed: Airports frantically add chairs, bunk beds to departure lounges.”

Predictably, everything about it was delayed.
Living up to its airBUS name, this thing is a double-decker and seats 555, uncomfortably, I’m guessing.
How long will its runway have to be? It’ll only be allowed to start and land on I-80, on the quiet stretch between Laramie, WY and Salt Lake City, UT.

Of course, no new product launch is complete without insider trading. Probes thereof, I mean. All involved have denied wrongdoing. It’s pure coincidence that “top managers sold shares shortly before the [Airbus A 380’s] industrial faults were revealed.

Interesting note (interesting to me, you may be too preoccupied with holiday preparations to care) is that the first customer to cancel an order was FedEx.
But they couldn’t find the tracking number so they’re stuck.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Coco Tuesday

This weekend we all went to Macy’s for some Christmas shopping. Yes, we’re nuts.
Dutifully, we all went to the eighth floor to have a peek at Santa. They have a viewing window for this, to entice you to go through Santaland and have your picture taken with His Jollyness. The peek was enough for Madge and she was ready to shop.
Coco, however, wanted the whole experience.
So he and I waited in line (or, since we’re in NYC, “on” line) for about an hour to get there. He was great the whole time. We sang a little until he told me to stop. Then I held him a while, then set him down again. Really, it was fine. And we didn’t see any of the backstage ickies described by David Sedaris in his “Santaland Diaries.” (If you haven’t read or heard this piece, do so as soon as possible. Your holidays will be improved.)
Finally, we reached Santa and Coco hopped up on his lap and wasn’t afraid. A little shy, perhaps, but he reported his wish for Pirates of the Caribbean stuff when asked.
Then stupid me sat down too and when asked I got choked up and asked for the kids to be healthy.
I was overcome with sentiment and wasn’t thinking straight. I should’ve asked for a Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.

Other Coco news: Yesterday, after school, his teachers were beaming and Coco told me he was “muy bien” that day. In case you didn’t know, the little guy has quite a temper, aside from his stubborn core. This means that he sometimes doesn’t “use his words” at school. He tends to retaliate physically. Less so when he is attacked, but more so when friends of his are. (When this happens, I don’t know if I should be upset or proud. So I get to be conflicted. Luckily, I don’t have to step out of character to do that.) But yesterday he got scratched by a fellow tyke and simply told the teacher rather than scratching back (and Coco has mean claws). Yay, him.
Maybe he knows Santa is watching. (The school is full of toys, after all.)

ps. sorry this is late, but Julie was home with Bronchitis and did some work on the computer during the day.

Monday, December 11, 2006

More Milk

If the Milk Board takes me up on my idea, I’d like to be compensated. At the very least with several gallons of 2%.

The gimmick
I wrote about last week (bus shelters in San Francisco being scented with cookie smells to make people long for milk) met with protest of people who feared allergies and asthma and prefer regular street pollution to scent strips.
But there’s an article in the NYTimes, entitled “
Study Detects Recent Instance of Human Evolution,” that indicates that the persistence of lactase (past the stage of infancy and subsequent weaning) is an evolutionary step concomitant with dairy farming.

It wouldn’t take much for the Milk Board to take the familiar image of fish to fish with legs to mammal to ape to Neaderthal to Homo Sapiens to go on with hunter-gatherer Homo Sapiens and, finally, milk-drinkers. Then a picture of Darwin with a speech bubble saying, “Got Milk?”
Look for it on posters in your neighborhood and alert me when it happens.
I’ll invite you over for milk and cookies.

Madge Monday

I think it’s fair to say that Madge is a suspicious person. Her most recent line of questioning led down this path: Santa watches us all the time. This is not to be doubted. But how does he do it?
Her answer: He’s monitoring us through the toys.
The logic is impeccable. First, of course, you must understand that toys, in our house, are omnipresent. For me, the best part of the reasoning is that, if you don’t have any toys, you’re automatically in the “bad” list and don’t need to be watched in the first place.
I know, I know. Some people can’t afford toys. But I think she means playthings in general.

Last week, I tried showing her how suspicious she is by saying that, as much as she likes watching movies or playing on the computer, she wouldn’t want to if I were to choose the movie or game. Her response: Well, what would you choose?
I said, You wouldn’t know beforehand. Would you do it?
Her response: Well, what would you choose?
And I’ve chosen some winners recently. “Home Alone” and “Miracle on 34th Street” – which got her involved in spite of being black and white. (Ever notice how Black and White movies are more nuanced than those in Color? – Essay question: Black and White movies aren’t. Discuss.) Still, that girl just doesn’t trust me. I guess parents are like vegetables. Good for you, but there’s something not right about them.

And then, this morning, she got to do a very big-girl thing. Tired of being late to her school because of Coco, I called a neighbor, whose son is in her class, and asked her to take Madge with them to school. I went to the front balcony – the Mussolini-speech-balcony – and watched her go next door and ring the bell.
Okay, it wasn’t a big-girl thing for her. It was a she’s-growing-up thing for me.

I’m better now, thanks for asking.
(Tissue, please.)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Wait. Just one more ...

Just got an email from a friend. It turns out writing to me is item seven in her list of things to do to avoid practicing for auditions. Which reminds me…

A couple weeks ago, Madge’s school allowed parents to sit in on classes, just to observe. I chose a writing class. I thought I’d be cute and do the assignment with them.
I couldn’t sit in the circle and discuss the assignment, but I was then able to squeeze myself into a little chair and write alongside my 7-yr-old cohorts.
It was great.
The assignment itself made a lot of sense (to someone who wants to write). It was “zooming in on details.” The youngsters were supposed to tell a story (or retell one they’ve told before) and then choose a moment to give in more detail.
If you think about the big picture, that’s really all any story is. It starts out with “Someone did something” and everything else beyond that is detail. Moby Dick: A guy chased this thing. Pride and Prejudice: A woman and a man meet. The Iraq Study Group Report: A Shiite and a Sunni go into a bar…
On some level, the assignment really worked well. The kids wrote their stories and promptly got stuck. Then the teacher did a marvelous job at getting the kids to open up by asking great questions. An example I remember, “You write here that you found your friend’s ball. Where did you find it?” And the otherwise reticent kid unleashed a narrative torrent. “Well, first we looked all over and then I asked him where he thought it was and he said over by the basketball hoops but it wasn’t there and finally I found it under the bench, didn’t I, and I gave it back to him but then he lost it again and…” At which point the teacher said, “There. Go write that down.”
And the kid didn’t. I was at his table. He just inserted the words “under the bench” right after the words “found the ball” and said he was done.
At some aspects of writing they already are very adept, though they are limited by their surroundings. For instance, I think they need to be introduced to making coffee, checking emails, paying bills, doing laundry, planning lunch, reading the paper, making and looking over notes, getting haircuts, trimming that pesky fingernail, and a myriad of other things to procrastinate. They’re great at sharpening pencils. And I think I need a dry-erase board so I can add a step to my process of going to the bathroom when I don’t really have to but I can’t think of a better way to say “Somebody did something.”

The costs of Anti-corruption

Today’s NYT has an article about Iraq having the money to begin rebuilding more comprehensively (the oil money is there, though they could use better storage facilities, etc.), but:

[B]ureaucrats are so fearful and confused by anticorruption measures put in place by the American and Iraqi governments that they are afraid to sign off on contracts. […] Iraqis who have seen their colleagues arrested and jailed in anticorruption sweeps are reluctant to put their own name on a contract.

Here’s an Iraqi’s end of a business call:

Hello, mister overseer, a thousand blessings on you and your family. I’m sorry, no, I don’t want to curry favor, let me begin again. Hello, mister overseer, kiss my dog’s behind. Is that better? Let me try again. Hello, mister overseer, how are you? Fine, good. W
ell, mister overseer, I have a problem. I have someone who wants to begin a job for me and I have a contract written for him and his services. This is good, yes?
How do I know for sure this is not a corrupt transaction? He is doing something for me and I promise to pay him money. Am I not corrupting his soul by implying that people can't cooperate as peers within a social unit? That they need money as a mediator? Is not this telephone call costing more than the electricity that runs it because of this same system of monetary corruption?

You say no. Well, sir, let me remind you that you are probably being paid to say no.
Then perhaps I don't understand corruption as well as you.
Okay, what will it take for you to guarantee that the contract my friend and I have agreed on is not corrupt?
Oh, that much, eh?

Ah, pictures

I got these pictures - among others - in my email today. They seem to be un-manipulated, merely conveniently posed.

Apparently, they seem to say, it's all in the follow-through.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

ISG report, again

Roy's first post is about the Iraq Study Group and Bush's response.
I actually saw a clip of the press conference (ain't I web-savvy?) in which Bush waved the book about and gave his little talk on, "There's some stuff in here and it recommends things to do. Thanks for writing it."
I remember thinking at the time, "Bart Simpson gives a better book review than that."

Really, there was nothing Bush said that indicated he had even opened the book. He stayed vague about the contents. "Several actions are suggested and we will consider them." And, most important, he named some of the authors (who are named on the cover) and then said, basically, "Thanks, but you shouldn't have. Really."
The book's cover wasn't even smudged or cracked or anything. Even Bart knows enough to make the book look read.

the Blount blog

Here you go, I'm doing my part in taking Roy Blount, jr., viral.
He's got a weekly blog on now (through March, I believe).
If I could learn how to write, I'd aspire to something akin to his style (and wit and brains and ...).
Anyway, he's one of my heroes, so go ahead, read his stuff.

Friday, December 08, 2006

more marathoning

Today’s NYTimes has an article entitled, “Is Marathoning Too Much of a Good Thing for Your Heart?”

The article doesn’t really provide me with any new fodder for marathon jokes. I still stand by my midlife crisis assessment. None of the attacking hearts were under 40 years of age, after all. And the ones focused on were over 55. (This would lead to a silly cartoon, though, with masked hearts laying in wait at mile 19.)
The reason I’m mentioning it at all is that the paper of note has decided to put an article on heart attacks in marathon races neither in Science (medicine) nor in Sports, but in “Fashion & Style.”
After all, many runners are in it in order to squeeze into the twenty-year-old suit that, oddly enough, happens to be in style again.
Or they may have noticed that the over-40 crowd runs marathons because “everyone else is doing it.”

“Dad, if all your friends were to run a race in which their hearts might swell up and explode, would you do it, too?”
“If it means getting away from you for thirty weeks of training, sure.”

Thursday, December 07, 2006

S Fable

The Spider

The spider looked up from its insect meal. “Honestly, I don’t give a s**t if you call me an insect or a bug or whatever. To be quite frank, I don’t even like being classified with other spiders if you know what I mean.”

predictable ending

Three-year-old Kid with Flintstones Vitamins bottle: Daddy, how you open dis?
Smart-ass Dad: Very carefully. [chuckle, chuckle]
T-e-n - - - - - s-e-c-o-n-d-s - - - - - p-a-s-s.
Three-year-old Kid: Got it!

a balancing quickie

A message in magnetic leftovers.

"Vlammy Xuprugh Soutyr!



(The set had no punctuation)

First one to guess the text correctly (and leave it in the comments) gets a free poem from moi. Mouthwatering metric morsels. Mmmmm!

long one, sorry

An article in the Weekly Standard states:

In his press conference with the Iraqi prime minister this past Thursday, Bush took a direct slap at the Iraq Study Group. "I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq," he told reporters. But "this business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all."

There’s two things here right away. First, I’ve never been a fan of study groups. At least the kind I didn’t assemble myself and that usually ended up playing foosball or squash or something.
Second, until now I hadn’t gotten hung up on the term “graceful exit.” But now I am. Seems to me that etiquette writers might have something to say. So here are some highlights from an article in Redbook (very highbrow, I know).

It gives exit strategies for
A Dinner Party:
Thank her and say you had a great time, but you need to go.
A Phone Call:
"Clearly, this is really important to you. But right now I can't focus the way I'd like to for you. Can we schedule another time to talk?"
A Business Meeting:
At the very least, say you need to leave at 4 p.m., or whenever, as you enter the conference room. If you forget to give advance notice, or the meeting has run crazy long, just exit quietly and leave a brief explanatory, apologetic note with the boss's assistant.

Then I realized that a “graceful exit” usually implies some sort of graceful entrance or at least an invitation to be there in the first place (which, in case anyone forgot, wasn't really forthcoming in Iraq), so the following one seems closest -

A Restaurant:
As you scan the menu, you realize that a meal here would set you back a day's pay, and it's just not worth it. Don't panic; you've got a right to leave--you didn't sign a contract with the tournedos de boeuf when you sat down at the table. True, the waiter was solicitous, and he already brought the ice water with lemon that you had requested. But no matter how embarrassed you might feel, don't sneak out--it's just rude. "You need to excuse yourself and leave with dignity," says Leonard. Simply say, "I'm sorry, but we have to go," and thank him. Fibbing usually results in more embarrassment-- especially if the waiter offers to put in your appetizer order while you step out to "find the nearest cash machine." If he was particularly accommodating--or if you already nibbled on the bread and butter--leave a $2 or $3 tip. And don't forget to use the most helpful tool of all in exiting any awkward situation: a gracious smile.

If only.

The closest thing in my experience are these parties we “created” in high school by starting a rumor that would turn into reality. There was a generous family which was peopled by many kids and their rotating crop of guests (Hi, M.C.!) - too many to keep track of, I think - and somehow it always seemed plausible that there might be a party there. And if enough people actually showed up to inquire, well, there was the party.
Anyway, even there we cleaned up after ourselves and were friendly and more or less respectful (our age taken into consideration, of course). But then again, we wanted to be “invited” back.
Not so with George W. But in his experience, I gather, his exit from social occasions was a drunken one. So maybe that’s what should happen in Iraq. We pass out and someone else drives us home.
But who?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dear S.T., Good Luck

A quick, limerick-procrastinating post.
Here's an item from Madge's school's after-school kid's club menu:
Ad Busters. In this workshop kids will learn to deconstruct the myths created by toy commercials and packaging.
PV: S.T.
Grades: K
As in, Kindergarten.
I'm snickering already. Sorry. Poor lady. I'm sure her intentions are wonderful.
It should say, "In this workshop kids will learn to deconstruct a teacher." Something you're never too young to learn and which will stay with you the rest of your life.
And, really, I'd love to attend just to see what she has in mind and what will happen.
Sounds like a pitch for a reality show.
"Okay, so we send this well-meaning intellectual mom into a group of Kindergartners."
"Oh, at the end of the week, after school."
"That's rich. Any way to add sugary snacks?"
"No, we figure the kids are more vicious when they're hungry."
"Good point. Go on."
"Okay, so she brings in a lot of toy packaging and ads and flashy, crazy stuff."
"But she only brings the packages and pictures and then tries to convince them that it's all crap and this isn't what matters in the world."
"So it's like 'Kids Say the Darndest Things'"
"Yes, but mixed with 'Fear Factor'"
"Oh, and did I mention that it'll happen right after the Christmas break?"
Paroxisms of laughter.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Oh, noooo!

Today's NYTimes notes that New York is banning trans fats in restaurants.
That's discrimination, I'm sure. First snooty maitre d's stopped seating them, now this.
Can't we have a trial period of separate trans fats sections first? (I can imagine it working really well on airplanes. I'm guessing they'd fly lopsided if that happened.) Do trans fats eaters have to go outside for their fix?
Do donut shops count as restaurants? That would hurt business, I guess. Places like McDonald's might look for a loophole in saying that, well, technically they're not really restaurants any more than a vending machine is. (At least a vending machine is more likely to get your order right and return exact change.)
I should start stocking up on my trans fats now to sell them on the clandestine market later.
Wait a second. Turns out I'm already stocking up on trans fats. The only question is, how do I package them after I've lyposuctioned them off?

sometimes, I'm easily amused

I find this funny.
Perfect for a funeral or for prom night. The streeeeetch horse.
For more pictures of the equestrian equivalent of the stretch limo, click here.

splitting infinity

Today’s NYTimes has an article about China and particle physics.
Apparently, Mao figured science might follow a kind of dialectics that follows his idea of infinite divisibility. “If there is an end, there is no science,” the article quotes him.
Sure sounds like good news for Chinese grant applicants.
Anyway, in order to split the electron they built the Beijing collider.
I always thought that was the nickname of the lady up the street from our place in San Francisco. You should have seen her try to parallel park.
(Is parallel parking only possible in a Euclidian universe? Maybe that was her problem. – God, what a geeky attempt at a science joke. Forgive me.)

Mao's example is splitting a footlong stick and never stopping.
A western example might be, getting divorced and remarried. Perhaps Elizabeth Taylor will split the electron before Chinese scientist.

"You always...blahblahblah"

It shouldn’t be a surprise when the second child goes through the behavioral stages of the first, but somehow it is.
The biggest shocker, of course, is that our unique children who have their own distinct personalities even have “behavioral stages.” Those stages are for average children, children of average parents. How dare our children conform to averages?
But there you go. Coco is three (almost four) and pokey and balky when things don’t happen as he wants, on his own time. Getting to school on time is increasingly difficult and incredibly frustrating for two reasons. First, because now he is making Madge late (potentially, though I do allow time for that), second, because I’VE ALREADY BEEN THROUGH ALL THAT BEFORE!
But he hasn’t and I realize I need to be patient. Of course it’s my fault when he puts on his shirt with the tag in front and the shirt won’t cooperate. Of course it’s my fault when something slips out of his hands or when too much juice or milk jumps out of the cup and onto his shirt.
I finally remembered some parenting “advice” I read when Madge was that age, or at least how I interpreted it: Listen to yourself as you talk to your kid. Anytime you find yourself starting a sentence with “you,” rephrase it. All your kid will hear is that he or she is bad, as a person. Even if you just rephrase it to “your behavior” or “the way you are acting,” at least that will give him or her a chance to alter it. But “you” implies that he or she is incorrigible.
I think the book recommended rephrasing it to show the kid how you feel about the thing in order to appeal to his or her desire to please you, but I’m not sure.
Regardless of the benefit the book stated, listening for relentless accusation gets some results. It’s one small way you can put yourself in your kids’ shoes.
In keeping with that advice, I haven’t spoken to Coco in three days now.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Routine police work

Today’s NYTimes has this: Five years after the fall of the Taliban, a joint report by the Pentagon and the State Department has found that the American-trained police force in Afghanistan is largely incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work, […]

Through no fault of theirs, though. It appears that, in order to hand out parking and traffic tickets, you need, well, cars and traffic and an infrastructure. And donuts shops are hard to come by.

yes, and ...

(In the words of the title, punctuation means everything. A question mark is to be avoided.)
This week might get back to normal, as normal as pre-Christmas weeks can be. Coco should be done with his penicillin soon and Baci will soon be thought of as one of the family, not as a super-special we-don’t-really-know-you-so-we’re-a-little-on-edge visitor.
This weekend had plenty of rough spots, though.
I had one of my cleverer parenting moments, but the whole thing might have backfired, I’m not sure yet.
What was especially frustrating was that everything Julie and I said was met with a spoken “No. But.” And a silent “you idiot.”
So I proposed a “game.” Something I’ve read about. Apparently, one of the rules in Improv is to not contradict your partners. In order to further a scene, you don’t say “no” or “but,” you say “yes, and.” So I proposed it to Madge. (To all, of course, but she was the primary target.)
She was not up for it when I proposed it, but she did listen and sort of tried it later in the day. So we picked it up again.
I got her to floss her teeth, but somehow I now owe her a million dollars.
At least now she knows what a rider is.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Goes together like cookies and bus shelters

Here's an ad campaign that's, well, creative I guess.
San Francisco bus shelters are to be infused with the smell of cookies. As a marketing gimmick, of course.
it's not marketing for a cookie or baked goods company. It's for milk.
C'mon. Bus shelters? Why not leave the indigenous smell and put up ads for personal hygiene products?

More on the spy who was left in the cold

Alexander V. Litvinenko, why did he want out? Maybe he just wanted have normal conversations again. He wanted to be able to say, “Let’s not watch the rerun of ‘Leave it to Beaver’” without it meaning that he was ordered to let the crooked elections in Belarus run their course without interfering.
Or maybe the dissent was about the new James Bond. He modeled his whole career after Roger Moore and this tough guy Daniel Craig has taken all the romance out of the spy business.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

pop quiz

Two dissident spies.
One with a mask, one without. Guess which one got assassinated?

review of a review (exciting stuff, I tell you)

There’s a review of kids’ books in this week’s New Yorker, and it bugs me for several reasons.
First, I’m not sure if the author (Elizabeth Kolbert) and I have the same edition of Good Night, Gorilla. Hers seems to end like this: “On the last page, the animals are uncaged and – I assume – like more and more kids across America, still fooling around after the adults have conked out.”
In my – excuse me, “our” – copy the last page shows a sleeping gorilla and sidekick (mouse). The other animals are presumably locked in their cages at the zoo. In any case, they’re not brought into the picture(s) again.
Second, and more important, she seems to divide children’s books into (A) “protectionist” (“To this group what’s important is childhood, a hypothetical state of innocence and fancy.”) and (B) “permissive” (“where anything goes – and nothing goes over better than flatulence”). I’m sure she acknowledges a broad spectrum of many different kinds, but for the sake of argument she simplifies the spectrum into two camps. I don’t have a problem with that.
While discussing the second kind of book, she asks, “Do children love scatology for its own sake, or for an even more fundamental reason – because it irritates adults?”
There’s a lot in here. As in: the protectionist books are written for sentimental adults by cynical adults, while the permissive books are written for cynical children by children-at-heart. And, of course, that children actually prefer one “kind” of book over another.
I’m really not sure kids love nothing better than flatulence. I think they love nothing better than sensing a change in tone, little personal involvement, when an adult is reading to them. And flatulence, for some reason, does that.
To give her credit, she makes a good point by saying that children’s books need to aim at several “readers” at once. She distinguishes child and adult. I’d say there are three: the listener (the child), the reader (sometimes the child, most often the parent), and the buyer (rarely the child, sometimes the parent, most often a more distant relative – or the librarian).
There are more things that annoy about her take on specific titles, but I won’t bore you with them.
Third, her review bugged me in a good way. In other words, it’s nagging at me enough to write this entry. And the bit that’s nagging at me happens at the end, where she gets dramatic. “You don’t want to go to sleep. I don’t want to die. But we both have to.”
Sleep as metaphor for death is so prevalent in art that I feel stupid not having thought of that correlation in the annoying endings to kids’ books sooner (and without anyone else’s help). It also clarifies why so many “good-night” endings feel out of place.
Why isn’t sleep=death mentioned earlier? Why not analyze all the books about bedtime as books about death? I think it’s a good point, or at least worth investigating. It has made me view our nightly bedtime struggle in a new light. And my memories of it. I’ve always hated having to go to sleep (I’m better about it now, but still feel I’m missing out on things I could do). I also hate finishing novels. Hm.
Maybe what’s needed next is a survey of children’s books that end in sleep. New Yorker, (or Horn Book or anyone, really), make me an offer.

No Fidel at the Party

There's an irony here, that can't really be stretched too far, but here it is.
The three important boats that American kids have to memorize: The Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.
The boat that (I assume) Cuban kids get to memorize: The Granma.

From the WaPo (from an article pointing out that Fidel was too sick to attend today's 50th anniversary of the arrival of "the Granma"): Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces, which replaced the military that existed before the Cuban Revolution, traces its roots to Dec. 2, 1956, when 82 rebels landed on the island on a yacht _ the Granma _ that sailed from Mexico.

In German, a fiddle is "eine Fidel" (pronounced differently, of course) and to be carefree and happy is "fidel sein" (pronounced differently again). I shudder to think of all the punny headlines in German newspapers.

Interesting sideline (to me): My birthday, August 14 (I share it with Steve Martin and Gary Larson - no pressure; it's also the date, I think, of Berthold Brecht's death). Castro's, August 13 (also the birthday of the Berlin wall, I believe). I must have a very messed-up star-chart.

Friday, December 01, 2006

changing the Mexican guard

From the NYTimes, about Mexico's new president (what, other countries have elections, too?): Mr. Calderón quickly took the oath of office, and Mr. Fox handed over the traditional presidential sash and left the chamber. The entire ceremony lasted four minutes.

TV viewers missed it while getting up for a snack and a drink.
It reminds me of a boxing match I stayed up all night to see.
It all happened during the commercial break.
Now the poor news stations will have to make the most of their color commentators and the replay.

R fable

The romantic and the restroom

“My soul flies high on the wings of beauty,” spoke the romantic. “I have no need for utilitarian commonplace items.”
“Wanna bet?” said the restroom.