Sunday, July 31, 2005

Eighty Feet of Waterline Nicely Making Way

We saw Crosby, Stills and Nash last night at the Bank of America Pavilion. Checking off another classic rock giant before they become too decrepit or too dead to play anymore. (Fortunately, we had the foresight to see Warren Zevon at First Avenue in Minneapolis back in 1991. David Crosby, who is kind of a bore on stage, said that he finished the song "Delta" at Warren's house in Santa Barbara under the tutelage of Jackson Browne.)
When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand just why you came this way
Helen and I saw the Southern Cross for the first time on April 15, 2005, in Auckland, New Zealand and we enjoyed singing that line from the song at that moment.

Crosby has a large, but high, gut, and when he is not strumming a guitar he stands in front of the microphone with his hands in his pockets like he is waiting for a bus. Stephen Stills has a large, but droopy, almost triangular, gut, but he still plays the guitar with vigor. Graham Nash looks basically the same: skinny and leathery, like a recovering alcoholic used-car salesman.

Those sweet harmonies were still there. Stills has lost a bit -- who wouldn't have? -- but Crosby sounded as good as ever. Crosby and Nash provided the political speeches, Crosby on the evils of Yucca Mountain (but failing to indicate where a better place to store nuclear waste might be), Nash on the infuriating tendency of people to kill one another in the name of God. Stills flicked his guitar pick into the crowd after each song.

Partial set list (what I can remember, there were others):

Carry On
Marrakesh Express
Long Time Gone
Jesus of Rio
Don't Dig Here
Deja Vu
Wooden Ships
Almost Cut My Hair
For What It's Worth
Feed the People
Find the Cost of Freedom
Helplessly Hoping
Love the One You're With
Military Madness
Teach Your Children
Southern Cross
Milky Way Tonight
Got out of town on a boat for the southern islands
On a reach before a following sea
We were making for the trades on the outside
And the downhill run to Papeete

Off the wind on this heading lie the Marquesas
We got eighty feet of waterline nicely making way
In a noisy bar in Avalon I tried to call you
But on the midnight watch I realized why twice you ran away

Friday, July 29, 2005

Friday Random Ten: Time to Turn Off the Computer and Fix the Attic Window Edition

How: Load all your mp3s into your player of choice, hit random and list the first ten to play.

Why: See "How," above.

01. Papa Was a Rolling Stone - The Temptations
02. The Word - The Beatles
03. Wild West End - Dire Straits
04. Funland at the Beach - Dead Kennedys
05. Lovely Rita - The Beatles
06. Buggin' - The Flaming Lips
07. Bless the Beasts and the Children - 4 Non Blondes
08. Be in My Video - Frank Zappa
09. Can't Stop Loving My Baby - Elmore James
10. Back in Judy's Jungle - Brian Eno

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

Another way to look at my Year Off is as self-financed compensation for living in the United States of America, land of the (non-mandatory) two-week vacation.

From 1991 to 1995 I got two weeks of vacation per year -- that makes ten weeks total for those five years. From 1996 to 2004 I got an average of 3 weeks vacation a year: 27 weeks total for those nine years. So, during my first 14 years of full-time employment, I've received 37 weeks of paid vacation. My employers were not required by any law to give me this vacation time.

Europeans get six or seven weeks off a year, normally mandated by the government. Had I lived in Europe since 1991, I would have received 84 weeks of paid vacation -- 47 more weeks than I got in America. That's almost a year of lost vacation time.

Paul Krugman has a great column in the New York Times today comparing the French and American economies. The French produce less per person in total, which means their incomes are lower, but their productivity at work is a bit higher. Could the more generous vacations in Europe be the reason?

Instead of more annual income, the French choose more leisure time, more time with their families. One could make the conjecture that more time off actually results in more output per hour while on the job. The correlation holds in France, anyway.

The French, like most other Europeans, have decided on a different set of priorities for their economy. Krugman again:
To the extent that the French have less income than we do, it's mainly a matter of choice. And to see the consequences of that choice, let's ask how the situation of a typical middle-class family in France compares with that of its American counterpart.
The French family, without question, has lower disposable income. This translates into lower personal consumption: a smaller car, a smaller house, less eating out.
But there are compensations for this lower level of consumption. Because French schools are good across the country, the French family doesn't have to worry as much about getting its children into a good school district. Nor does the French family, with guaranteed access to excellent health care, have to worry about losing health insurance or being driven into bankruptcy by medical bills.
Perhaps even more important, however, the members of that French family are compensated for their lower income with much more time together.

Krugman also makes the great point that the never-at-rest American economy is not particularly "family friendly," which is ironic since it is the France-hating conservatives here in America who are always jabbering on about family values:
American conservatives despise European welfare states like France. Yet many of them stress the importance of "family values." And whatever else you may say about French economic policies, they seem extremely supportive of the family as an institution. Senator Rick Santorum, are you reading this?

Thursday, July 28, 2005


The heat of the first part of this week broke overnight, making the cycle over to Brighton for a doctor's appointment (physical exam) that much more enjoyable.

Back home, Helen and I went to lunch at Java Jo's and then I completed the project I had started yesterday: framing and hanging a bunch of old snapshots and portraits of family members.

Great grandparents, grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, they're all up there now. The majority of the photos are pre-1950.

My current favorite photo is this one of my mom, taken by my dad somewhere in Kansas on their honeymoon in September of 1966:

Chicago to Okoboji

Your correspondent at Addison and Clark.

We had quite the trip to Lake Okoboji in northern Iowa this past weekend. After a relaxing Friday on the North Side of Chicago, Neil got home from work at about 6:00 and then we picked up Rose from her job and drove to Des Moines. I spent the night at Joe Gallagher's place and picked Helen up from the airport at 11:15 am on Saturday the 23rd. Then over to Neil's folks' house in West Des Moines, where he, I, Helen, and Joe piled into Neil's car for the 4-hour drive to Okoboji.

Loading the SS Silver Banana.

We quickly found a campsite at Emerson Bay State Park on the southwest corner of West Okoboji Lake. Then it was off to the Village West resort to meet John Stoneback, another member of the West Des Moines posse from the early 1980s. We had dinner with some of John's family members at the "Main Event" bar and grill there at the resort and then John came with us back over to our campsite to listen to some of the audio tapes we had all made together as kids.

The tapes featured faux radio shows like "Pipe Talk," a talk show focused on the latest trends in plumbing; "Eyenitwit News," a news show; "In the Shadow of Breezy Paradise," a soap opera; "Bottle Cutting with Bernard," a craft show; and various commercials advertising products and services such as "The Jasper County Community Crockpot" and "Chemo-Spread" (slogan: "Removes all flavor from all foods").

Sunday morning at Okoboji.

For our second night at Okoboji we moved over to a campsite equipped with electricity so that we could plug in our movie projector and show Super-8 movies, also filmed during our youth, on a free-standing screen. Next to us, the air conditioner on an Airstream "Land Yacht" (actual brand name) motorhome hummed the evening away. The occupants inside never ventured forth, and the only hint of life inside the motorhome was when the futuristic TV antenna on top would rotate, indicating that someone had changed the channel.

Before the movies we ordered pizza from Domino's to be delivered to our campsite. A kid driving a late-model Cadillac delivered it. This was my first Cadillac-delivered pizza.

Waiting for dusk so we can start watching movies while our neighbor, the Land Yacht, abides.

Over the course of two and a half days at Okoboji I did a grand total of zero-point-zero hours of canoeing, although Neil and Helen did go out on the lake for oh, about 10 minutes. Which was exactly one-sixth as long as it took them to figure out how to strap the damn canoe to the top of Neil's Honda CRV back in West Des Moines.

On the other hand, we did go swimming at night ("nightswimming," I think it is called) and I floated around on a yellow inflatable mattress that was approximately the width of one (1) of my buttocks.

More photos on Ball of Dirt.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Friday Random Ten: Hog Butcher to the World Edition


1. Annie Get Your Gun - Squeeze
2. Ana - Pixies
3. For You Blue - The Beatles
4. Road - Nick Drake
5. The Wanton Song - Led Zeppelin
6. Single File - Elliot Smith
7. New Feeling - Talking Heads
8. Stop - Pink Floyd
9. Bye Bye - Shonen Knife
10. Chance of a Lifetime - Material Issue

The Estate Tax is Dead. Long Live the Estate Tax.

Sharon Spillane at the indispensable Center on Budget and Policy Priorities writes:
Some Senate Republicans have indicated that a vote on repeal of the estate tax may take place next week, before the start of the August recess. . .

In a recent study, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that the revenue loss associated with extending estate tax repeal for ten years (2012 through 2021) would total about $745 billion; the cost rises to nearly $1 trillion over that decade when the increased interest costs on the debt are included. . .

Senator Kyl's compromise proposal is tantamount to total repeal . . . It would preserve only 7 percent of the revenue that would be lost under repeal.

If a vote on estate tax repeal or reform comes up in the Senate next week, it will be a test of Senators' commitment to fiscal discipline as well as a demonstration of their priorities.
The estate tax is probably our fairest tax, as it is paid by those most able to pay: dead multi-millionaires. Whole books have been filled debunking the lies peddled about the estate tax by its selfish opponents. CBPP has all the research you could want on the estate tax, and United for a Fair Economy is doing all it can to preserve it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

On the Road Again

For the first eight hours of Wednesday, July 20 (i.e. from 12:01 am to 8:00 am) I inched my way up the Adobe Premiere learning curve as I edited together some video from a canoe trip Neil and I took last September on the Saco River in New Hampshire and Maine.

After I got some shut-eye Helen and I went for lunch at Java Jo's and then I undertook a variety of household projects, to wit: Cleaned the bathroom, transferred some ivy from the side of the house to a square surrounding a tree in the sidewalk on the front, and secured some plywood as a temporary closure for an attic window that disintegrated recently. I'll do a more permanent window repair after I return from this weekend's trip to Chicago and Iowa.

After a dinner of grilled pork spare ribs, the sun set in the west...

...and then armed with some crucial Adobe Premiere knowledge from Helen I returned to the canoeing video. Wrapped that up at about 6:30 am on Thursday morning July 22, and then began a multi-modal journey to Chicago's Loop:

Walked to the Forest Hills MBTA station, rode the subway to South Station Bus Terminal, rode the intercity bus to Providence, Rhode Island's Kennedy Plaza, where I transferred to a city bus for the ride down to T.F. Green Airport. Here I boarded a Boeing 737 jetliner for the flight to Chicago's O'Hare Airport, where I rode several moving walkways to the CTA station, where I boarded the elevated railway to the Loop, where I again walked in order to meet up with Neil, my host here in the Windy City.

Before heading back to his house on the North Side, we stopped at a venerable old camera store on South Wabash, where one can still procure things like bulbs for Super-8 movie projectors, movie film in several formats, and a mammoth used Beaulieu Super-8 sound camera ($995). Between hiccups, the affable clerk there confirmed my suspicion that nowadays there is probably only one place in the entire country that still processes Super-8 movie film. He said that place is Dwayne's Photo in, of all places, Parsons, Kansas. As the slogan on their website states, they are indeed "The Only Processor of Kodachrome Motion Picture Film in the United States."

Central Camera, 230 South Wabash, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Pretty Good Weekend in Vegas

Yesterday my tennis partner told me about a Wall Street Journal article from last week about Thomas M. Coughlin, the Wal-Mart vice chairman who allegedly "[stole] as much as $500,000 from the giant retailer in the form of bogus expenses and reimbursements along with the unauthorized use of gift cards." This is a guy who made $6 million dollars last year.

Quoting now from the July 15, 2005 WSJ article:

According to Wal-Mart's account, Mr. Coughlin in May 2004 asked Mr. Bowen for 51 Wal-Mart gift cards, each with a value of $100. He said they would be given to that year's "All-Stars," who were generally lower-level employees recognized for superior performance. (See Wal-Mart's account.)
Wal-Mart said Mr. Coughlin used the gift cards himself at Wal-Mart stores and Sam's Club outlets, at one point spending $1,000 toward three 12-gauge shotguns. A company spokeswoman said Wal-Mart was able to track all the purchases, saying Mr. Coughlin also used the cards to buy puppy chow, a Celine Dion compact disc, Stolichnaya vodka, wine, a $319 fishing license, a rifle case and a $3.54 Polish sausage.

To paraphrase Major T.J. 'King' Kong, the B-52 pilot from "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,"

"Three shotguns, a Celine Dion CD, a bottle of vodka, and a Polish sausage! Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff."

Irrational Exuberance

I've been commenting on a post over at Eve's Apple about "irrational exuberance" at liberal non-profits. They say there's too much of it and it's lulling people into a false sense of security. I say, point taken, but don't give up on persuading the blinkered rather than insulting them. It's a great blog and a good discussion.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Arboretum Walk

This afternoon Jake joined Helen and me for a walk through the Arnold Arboretum. So nice to have a naturalist along with you to point things out and look things up for you after he gets home.

Just got an email from Jake with the report on some of the species we saw today:
The yellow-flowered trees are called Goldenrain trees. (One specimen was called Panicled Goldenrain. Not sure what a panicle is.) (Webster's says a panicle is (1.) a compound racemose inflorescence. (2.) a pyramidal loosely branched flower cluster. -Ed.)

The flycatchers we saw near the piney trail were Eastern Pewees, not the Olive-sided Flycatchers I was hoping for, but still quite cool to see a juvenile. I've heard them singing in there all summer, and for the last two years over close to the rose garden, but didn't know if it was breeding pairs or lonely bachelors.
Speaking of goldenrain, on the way back we were walking under a tree when we felt drops of what felt like water land on us. Pretty quickly we determined that we had been peed on by a squirrel from about 30 feet above.

Rationalization of the Month: A Corollary

Regarding my post a few days ago about my new Rationalization of the Month ("Politics is too important to be done as a career"), I would like to add a bit of explication and a corollary.

What I mean by "Politics is too important to be done as a career" is that I had gotten to the point in my job at a political organization that the day-to-day stuff that goes with having any sort of job was getting in the way of the actual execution of my political work. In other words, the job was too time-consuming.

This is in no way an indictment of this particular organization. On the contrary, I was there in one capacity or another for nearly nine years and for most of that time I felt pretty productive and like I was making a positive contribution to the world.

But now I am able to choose whatever political actions I want, without having to make sure they align with the goals of the organization. And, since I'm not going to an office 40 hours a week, I find I have more energy for political work.

Related to all this is the corollary:

Politics is too enjoyable to be done as a career.

No job, no matter how perfect, is a bowl of cherries all the time. By de-linking career and political work, I find it much easier to take enjoyment in the political work.

I own a few hand-made wool sweaters that were knitted and given to me by a knitter I know. Sometimes I will get compliments on one of these sweaters, and I say that it was knitted by hand by a friend. Sometimes people will then say, "Ooh, do you think she would knit a sweater for me if I paid her?" And I say, "No, I've asked her about that, and she said that knitting for money would take all the fun out of it."

At this point in my life, that's how I feel about politics. Doing politics for money takes all the fun out of it.

Friday, July 15, 2005

"Rovegate: The Movie" Cast List

Let's cast the movie about the Karl Rove scandal. Here are my suggestions, with help from Helen:

Ambassador Joe Wilson: Benicio del Toro
Valerie Plame: Sharon Stone
Karl Rove: Nick Nolte
Scott McClellan: Jack Black
Robert Novak: Ron Silver
Matt Cooper: Jason Alexander
Judith Miller: Joan Cusack
George W. Bush: Will Ferrell
Dick Cheney: Jon Voight
and NBC News reporter David Gregory as himself

EDITED to add Robert Novak.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Free Land

My mom in northwest Kansas sent me this article in Time about how small towns in Kansas are giving people free land to entice them to move there and prevent the towns from disappearing entirely.

The article mentions the Homestead Act of the 1860s. Free land for homesteaders! And don't worry about the Indians -- the U.S. Government will kill them for you! This land giveaway is the sort of government help that a lot of people get but don't acknowledge when they complain about "welfare cheats."

For more on this topic, check out this report from United for a Fair Economy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Handicapping 2006 and 2008

Reader D.R. from Thousand Oaks, CA writes in to ask:
I do wonder who on the Democratic side is going to emerge as a spokesperson. We need a persuasive candidate. Who is that?
Regarding the 2008 Presidential Race, Kerry is a no-go. John Edwards fumbled the ball big time during the VP debate with Cheney and wasn't really a factor in the general. Plus he has no platform now.

I think Hillary Clinton has real potential. She's very smart and would have a great political adviser in Bill.

Also, I heard the Democratic governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, the other day on the Ed Schultz Radio Show and he sounded pretty good. Tiny state though.

I don't think the Democrats have a good chance to take back the Senate in 2006. They need to capture 6 seats to get a majority, and the list of Republicans up for reelection that year seems pretty safe to me (see below).

I think only two: Santorum (PA) and DeWine (OH), are vulnerable, plus Frist's (TN) seat is opening up and maybe Chaffee (RI) will switch parties. But even with those four seats going Democratic (and assuming the Democrats protect all their seats), that still means a Republican majority in the Senate.

Republicans up for Re-Election in 2006
Allen, George- (R - VA)
Burns, Conrad- (R - MT)
Chafee, Lincoln- (R - RI)
DeWine, Mike- (R - OH)
Ensign, John- (R - NV)
Hatch, Orrin- (R - UT)
Hutchison, Kay- (R - TX)
Kyl, Jon- (R - AZ)
Lott, Trent- (R - MS)
Lugar, Richard- (R - IN)
Santorum, Rick- (R - PA)
Snowe, Olympia- (R - ME)
Talent, James- (R - MO)
Thomas, Craig- (R - WY)

Republican Open Seats in 2006
Frist, Bill- (R - TN)

Democrats up for Re-Election in 2006
Akaka, Daniel- (D - HI)
Bingaman, Jeff- (D - NM)
Byrd, Robert- (D - WV)
Cantwell, Maria- (D - WA)
Carper, Thomas- (D - DE)
Clinton, Hillary- (D - NY)
Conrad, Kent- (D - ND)
Corzine, Jon- (D - NJ)
Feinstein, Dianne- (D - CA)
Kennedy, Edward- (D - MA)
Kohl, Herb- (D - WI)
Lieberman, Joseph- (D - CT)
Nelson, Bill- (D - FL)
Nelson, Ben- (D - NE)
Stabenow, Debbie- (D - MI)

Democrat Open Seats in 2006
Dayton, Mark- (D - MN)
Jeffords, James- (I - VT)*
Sarbanes, Paul- (D - MD)

*Independent, votes with the Democrats.

EDITED 14 July to break out the seats that are opening up in 2006.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Moody Blues: Lovably Dorky

And I mean that in the best possible way. Tonight's Moody Blues concert at the Bank of America pavilion released my inner dork in a way previously thought impossible. It was fantastic.

The Moody Blues are, along with Yes, the standard-bearers of what someone once called "Gentleman Rock," a subset of Prog-Rock that features heartbreakingly earnest lyrical forays into science fiction and fantasy, outer space, and Romantic imagery. My introduction to the Blues came via a cassette given to me in high school by my friend Laura T., who had taped a greatest hits album off of vinyl.

The first track, as I remember, was "The Question," which starts off with a machine-gun acoustic guitar chorus and then segues into a slower verse before revving up again for the acoustic chorus. Great song. Other favorites from this album: "Ride My See-Saw," "I'm Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)," and "The Actor." And then there were the sillier ones, like "Dear Diary," which featured a spoken-word recitation of a man's banal diary entries (ahem), and "Legend of a Mind," which spoke of Timothy Leary and riding astral planes and so forth.

I played this tape a lot. It was bombastic but irresistable. Sadly, in 1998, I left it, along with nine other tapes, under the bed in a room at the Lamplighter Motel in Alamosa, Colorado.

I was impressed at tonight's show by the performers' unabashed appreciation for the adulation and love that the crowd showered on them. A lot of bands these days barely acknowledge the audience -- that's the cool way to play it, and your hipster audience doesn't want a lot of fan - performer interaction: "We're here to appreciate this music, dammit, so let's not have a lot of spontaneous expressions of joy!"

Not so with this Moody Blues show. The band led the crowd in clapping. They waved a lot. They accepted bouquets of flowers from those in the front row. They smiled, laughed, and danced around. It was infectious. For a moment I thought I might be experiencing a bit of what the Summer of Love, Flower Power vibe must have felt like -- a time when music, and politics, could be earnest and serious but at the same time joyful.

Rationalization of the Month

For the first two months of my Year Off, beginning in February, I felt pretty illegitimate. I didn't do much of anything. I told people I was letting my mind empty out, which was true. But I still felt a bit guilty not going to my job at a political organization every day.

I later realized that the problem was that I did not have an operative rationalization, a reason for doing the things that one does all day. Common work-related rationalizations include: I work to make money to pay my bills. I work to make money to buy status symbols. I work now so that someday I can retire and do the things I really want to do. For me, my rationalization was I work in politics because I want to affect the outcome of events.

Our trip to New Zealand in April was good because it was a 24-hour-a-day project and possessed its own rationalization: See things.

Then, in June, right about the time I began to really embrace my free time, I was delivered of a new rationalization to keep me going as a non-member of the labor force:

Politics is too important to be done as a career.

This was my Rationalization of the Month for June, and it looks to be holding strong for July.

Monday, July 11, 2005

A Tale of Two Neighbors

A couple of weeks ago I had a mild run-in with one of my next door neighbors over some "ladder sounds" that I was making at 9:00 pm.

Today, I had another ladder-related neighbor interaction, but it was much friendlier. Keen to do some painting, I was struggling to push my 40-foot extension ladder up by hooking the base under a stone step and then walking toward that pivot point whilst holding the ladder above my head. I'd done it before but this time there were some steps involved and it got a bit hairy.

To the rescue came our across-the-street neighbor Gerald, a carpenter by trade who turned out to be approximately fifteen times stronger than me (which is not as impressive as it sounds; I am what is known on the backs of comic books as a 198-pound weakling). He had me put my foot on the bottom rung to hold it in place as he zoomed toward me, pushing the ladder into the air as if it were a feather.

Thanks, Gerald!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Base Ball

July 9, 1884: Kit Hartman here, sportswriter for the Boston Traveler newspaper, about to head south to East Providence, Rhode Island for a so-called "Base Ball" game between the New York Gothams and the Providence Grays.

Yesterday, Saturday, July 9, after a brief bird-watching stop at Blacks Creek and Wollaston Beach in Quincy, Jake & Rose and Helen & I motored south to East Providence to watch a couple of Vintage Base Ball games between the 1884 Providence Grays and the 1864 New York Gothams. John Hyslop, a childhood friend of Rose's, plays for the New York Gothams. His baseball nickname, "Stacks," refers to his job as a librarian and archivist.

Going to a vintage base ball game was something I had wanted to do since the summer of 2003, when Helen and I were visiting Helen's dad and stepmother in Ann Arbor, Michigan and we went to Greenfield Village, a "living history" museum created by Henry Ford in nearby Dearborn. On the day we were there, a vintage game was scheduled, but the timing wasn't quite right so we didn't see the game.

Since the ballplayers would be decked out in their 19th century duds, I decided to paste on my Billionaires for Bush mustache and wear a set of braces and a skally cap I had bought the day before at Boomerang's thrift shop. I was the only spectator so garbed. When people asked who I was, I variously replied that I was a reporter for the Boston Traveler or a scout from the Cincinatti River Pilots Base Ball Club on an east-coast trip in search of new talent.

The games took place at Mello Field in East Providence, Rhode Island.

Today's exhibition was a doubleheader. The first game was played by 1884 rules, which is the game played by the host Providence Grays. (The Grays are named for the 1884 National League champions.) Under 1884 rules, pitches are delivered overhand, the batter may request a high or a low pitch, foul balls are not strikes, a walk comes after six balls instead of four, and there is no infield fly rule. Oh: and the players do not wear gloves or mitts (except for the catcher, who wore a thin leather glove scarcely bigger than a standard IsotonerTM). The Grays won the game by a wide margin.

New York Gothams hurler Ken "Trolley Car" Schlapp. Note: No gloves.

The second game was played by 1864 rules, which is the game that the visiting New York Gothams play. In this game, pitches are delivered underhand, fly balls may be caught on one bounce for an out, balls landing in fair territory are fair, regardless of where they bounce, and over-running first base is not permitted. And, no gloves or mitts. This game was closer, but the Grays won again.

"Trolley Car" fires an inside pitch to a Providence batsman.

During the first inning of the 1864 game, Gothams player Joel "Digits" Leary severely injured his ankle sliding into second base. The injury was so serious that his fellow Gothams called 911; a fire truck and ambulance responded. Reports from the hospital were that Leary broke his ankle in two places and may need surgery. (Ironically, in his real life "Digits" is an actuary, which is consistently ranked as one of the world's safest professions.)

In the 1864 game, the umpire (in straw hat) stands over to the side of home plate.

After the games, Jake & Rose, John "Stacks" Hyslop and his wife Carey, and Helen and I went for Cambodian and Thai food at Apsara, in the Elmwood neighborhood of Providence, before heading back to Boston.

A Providence Grays striker makes contact with a pitch from Gothams hurler John "Stacks" Hyslop.

EDITED 12 July to correct the spelling of Carey's name.

More photos at

Friday, July 08, 2005


I have dug up the following items during my backyard work over the last week:

One (1) 12 oz. Budweiser beer can with a "Tab Top" pull tab opening promoted on the bottom of the can. Badly degraded. Age: from my web research, this can probably dates from the late 1960s. Pull tabs were outlawed in the mid-1970s to reduce pollution and choking.

One (1) red plastic circus train car, approx. 4" long with yellow wheels and steel axles. Passengers include an elephant, a clown, and a weird fish-lipped horse-giraffe thing. Excellent condition, except for the axles, which show considerable rust. Age: unknown.

One (1) length silver plastic barbed wire fence, 4.75" long. Four posts, three strands of wire. Excellent condition. Age: unknown.

One (1) red and yellow marble.

One (1) stainless steel tablespoon. Too dirty to use.

One (1) stainless steel teaspoon. Too dirty to use.


The bombings in London on Thursday have prompted for me a memory and a comparison.

1. Russell Square, near two of the blasts, is where Helen, her mother, her great aunt, and I stayed for a few days back in September 2000. Helen's great aunt Betsy and I had flown overnight from Boston together to meet Helen and her mother, who were arriving from Denmark. Betsy and I, bleary-eyed, took a bus to Russell Square from Heathrow. Walking across the Square to our hotel, Betsy stumbled on an uneven paving stone and fell, cutting her chin. Literally within seconds, motorists who had seen her fall were stopping to offer aid. One man in a delivery van gave me handfuls of napkins, which stopped the bleeding long enough for us to get to our hotel, where the manager ran out into the street to hail a cab. The cab driver took us to a nearby emergency room and absolutely refused payment. At the emergency room, due to the UK's system of socialized medicine, Betsy did not have to show an insurance card or make a payment of any kind for the three or four stitches she received. On that day, we benefited from both private charity and a "big government program," proving that the two can coexist (and, I would argue, reinforce one another).

2. At this writing, according to the BBC, 37 civilians have been killed in London in the pursuit of a political agenda. To date, according to, 22,787 civilians have been killed in Iraq in the pursuit of a political agenda.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

"Occupations don't work. Never have."

No, it's not the latest heresy about Iraq to come out of Sen. Chuck Hagel's (R-NE) mouth. It's the most memorable line from Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds," which Helen and I saw tonight.

I know it's fashionable to dis Spielberg, but nobody does extra-terrestrial visits to Earth better than he does. This movie is so far ahead of junk like "Independence Day" and "Signs" that it's now difficult for me to believe that the latter two were ever even made.

UPDATE: The Retro Crush review of WotW is right on the money.

The warning about occupations never working is spoken by an old guy holed up in a farmhouse (Tim Robbins) whilst the alien invaders visit destruction upon the Hudson River valley. It joins these two passages from "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith" as this summer's best cinematic comments on US government policy (thanks to Rosemary at Eve's Apple for reminding me of the Star Wars lines):


Padme Amidala: “So this is how liberty dies: with thunderous applause."


Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader: “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy."

Obi-Wan Kenobi: "Only the Sith deal in absolutes."

Before seeing the movie, we went for Shabu-Shabu ("Swish-Swish" in Japanese) at Shabu-Zen in Chinatown. Unique place: you sit at a counter with a boiling pot of broth in front of you. Server brings meat, fish, vegetables, whatever you want, and you dunk it in the boiling broth and shabu-shabu it around for a while before transferring the cooked food to your plate. Me likey.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Million Dollar Rain

I must have some Lucky Farmer in my blood still. Yesterday I planted grass. Today it has been raining steadily. My mom, who grew up on a farm near Menlo, Kansas, once told me that a well-timed all-day soaker like this was called a "million dollar rain" because all by itself it could turn a wheat crop that was going to make 30 bushels an acre into one that was going to make 40 bushels. County-wide, an improvement like that could certainly add up to millions of dollars.

I did a quick Google search on "million dollar rain" and "wheat" and sure enough, the farmers in Michigan had one earlier this summer:

The lunch regulars came into the Judge's Bench in Winn soaked, but smiling.

A swath stretching from Grand Rapids to northeast of Mt. Pleasant through Winn was drenched with more than 2 inches of rain Monday, with some areas reporting more than 3 inches.

"It was really needed bad," said Pat Judge, owner of the popular restaurant and tavern. "This is probably a million-dollar rain."
-- "Rains bring quick relief," Morning Sun (Mt. Pleasant, MI), June 13, 2005.
Of course, for the little patch of grass in our back yard we're not talking millions of dollars. At best, this is a Sixty-two Dollar Rain. But I'll take it.

Johnny Grassseed

Not as well-known as that Appleseed fellow. I wonder why? We take grass for granted, one. And then there's the pesky issue of how to spell J.G.'s name. Grass-seed, Grassseed. Three s's in a row? Easier to just let him fade into oblivion.

On Tuesday July 5 I forked, peat-mossed, manured, seeded, fertilized, and watered the shady little patch of ground in our back yard in the hopes that some grass would grow there in two to four weeks.

Listened to my new favorite radio talk show host, Ed Schultz, throughout my horticultural activities. He broadcasts out of Fargo, North Dakota and his show is what political talk radio ought to sound like.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Weekend Video Reviews

Koyaanisqatsi (1983)

Viewed this one on Saturday night at the house of a friend who has a video projector and screen setup. I had been bugging her to let me come over and check it out, and she picked this no-dialogue classic for the demo. VHS version, so not super crisp, but it left me more rather than less interested in the whole projector concept as opposed to a giant TV.

As for the movie: "Koyaanisqatsi" was a pivotal movie for me in high school during the 1980s. I saw it probably half a dozen times on video at various friends' houses. (Once, a few of us even corraled our English literature teacher, a phlegmatic, fussy chap, over to my basement to watch it. I remember he sweetly brought with him a package of Sof'Batch cookies, the kind with the space-age polymer that keeps them perpetually soft and chewy.) It was pivotal because it was such a beautiful but searing indictment of modern society, the perfect subject matter for an adolescent finding out that the world isn't all it was cracked up to be. Also, for me and my Super-8 filmmaking partner Neil, it spawned a mania for time-lapse photography of principally (1) clouds and (2) driving down roads.

For this viewing I was surprised by how trite and commonplace the movie seemed. I guess between the first time I saw this movie back in the 1980s and today, I've seen so many searing indictments of modern society that this particular one doesn't really stand out from the others. Sort of like what happened with David Letterman. In 1982, when his show started, it was an island of irony and subtle critique of big media in an ocean of blander-than-bland TV, and Dave became my guru, my beacon. Now the ironic sensibility laced with knowing cultural critique is damn near everywhere on TV, and Letterman has become just a face in the crowd.

Freaks and Geeks, Season One (1999) Pilot and "Beers and Weirs"

Set in a large suburban high school in 1980, but everything will be recognizable to anyone who went to high school in the 1980s. Helen and I (both class of 1987) had fun trying to figure out which one of the characters was closest to how we were in high school, which ones were our friends, etc. Joe Flaherty from SCTV is hilarious as the Dad who keeps his two kids on the straight and narrow by telling them that death is the likely result of bad behavior. Pretty spot-on characterizations of the two high school groups I was most familiar with: the geeks, the studious kids who got picked on all the time, and the freaks, the partyers who were smart but not particularly into getting good grades. It looks like the first season will follow Lindsay Weir, the school's best math student, as she makes a tentative transition from the geeks to the freaks, saying at one point, "My new friends [the freaks] think I'm a goody-two-shoes and my old friends [the geeks] think I'm throwing my life away with these people." Takes me back...

Dirty Harry (1971)

My goodness this is an awesome movie. Has to be in the Top 5 movies from the "Silver Age" of Hollywood, the period of downbeat, realistic films that came out between 1967 and 1975, before "Jaws" arrived and blockbusterized US cinema, apparently forever. Here's an exchange that I would love to have the chance to employ someday:

Inspector Harry Callahan, Dirty Harry, has just been let into the office of the Mayor, who is discussing with the chief of the homicide unit a disturbing murder involving a serial killer who leaves notes demanding money or else he will kill again.

Mayor: Well, Harry, let's have it.

Harry: Have what?

Mayor: Your report on the investigation.

Harry: Well, for the past three-quarters of an hour, I've been sitting on my ass in your outer office...

A perfect encapsulation of Harry's character, and his predicament: he is angry, wants to find this killer, but is constantly running up against rules, grandstanding politicians and various other REMFs who waste his time. A great movie that by itself could form the basis of a course on moral reasoning.

A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Aleve

For the past two days I have been doing my best Frederick Law Olmsted impression in our postage-stamp sized, shady backyard. On Saturday: created several multi-layered planting areas using the rocks that tumble up from the earth like potatoes whenever I rake the ground. Into these beds went ground cover in three varieties: ivy, pachysandra, and euonymus. On Sunday: dug a drainage canal along the back wall and down to the sidewalk on the west side of the house, then filled it with more rocks for that mountain stream look.

New England agriculture revolves around the disposal of rocks.
Through it all, I have to say that the generic version of Aleve that I have been taking has really helped with the shoulder tendinitis.

And darned if it isn't all pretty rewarding. Why, I don't know. Last time I did anything out there was May of 2000. If that ground cover is going to make it I will have to pay closer attention this time. Certainly as a youth, yard work meant mowing a giant backyard while my dad "supervised," i.e. sat on the swingset and drank Coors, and it was not the highlight of my week. Now I would give anything to have a big yard to mow.

Multi-layered planting beds
Likewise, the various housekeeping tasks I have undertaken lately have also been remarkably drudgery-free. Again, why? Is it the fact that these tasks are chosen by me freely, and not imposed from without, by society's expectations or the demands of a spouse? Or the fact that I can quit anytime during the day and take a bike ride or check email or write or go explore a new beach? Or the knowledge that I can leave this life pretty much any time I want and go back into an non-home workplace? Or maybe it's that I'm not responsible for anyone else, i.e. kids or an elderly relative.

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, homemaking as an occupation got such a bad rap in the media and in popular culture that I thought nobody in their right mind would ever want to do it. But so far I find that it agrees with me.

Drainage canal

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Iced Coffee Tip

Coffee-MateTM non-dairy creamer does not dissolve in iced coffee.

Below a certain temperature it becomes as hydrophobic as Space SandTM.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Mark Knopfler...

is probably my favorite all-time guitarist. He doesn't use a pick, ever. That's how I like to play. His guitar playing is just about the most distinctive you can ask for. And two of his songs from the Dire Straits days instantly trigger memories for me:

Sultans of Swing (1978): I first heard this song on the radio while sitting in the backseat of my family's car as we drove to my cousin Lori's house in Wichita to celebrate our first holy communions, which took place on the same day in the summer of 1978. Which then triggers a memory of the scratchy shirt and clip-on tie I had to wear to church that day.

Money for Nothing (1985): I heard this song on the car radio while my buddies Neil and Joe and I drove in Joe's gold special edition Pontiac Trans Am on Douglas Ave. in Urbandale, Iowa after another rousing round of Disc Golf at North Karen Acres park.

So tonight Helen and I went to see ol' Mark at the Bank of America Pavilion, an outdoor stage on a pier in Boston Harbor. I use the term ol' Mark advisedly. At last sighting, in 1985, the guy was wearing a red headband and a sleeveless work shirt on the "Money for Nothing" video. Now he is a dead ringer for Larry David. Although Helen thought he looked more like a thinner Dick Cheney.

The show was great, a lot of fun. He played a lot of new stuff that I didn't know, but that was okay because his guitar playing and singing sounded as good as ever. Old chestnuts included "Walk of Life," "Romeo and Juliet," "Sultans of Swing," "Brothers in Arms," "Money for Nothing," and "So Far Away."

So: the music was great. Now for the crowd.

You know how on the ticket it will often say, "No Cameras, No Recorders, No Beverages?" Well, I would propose a new prohibition: No Men With Enlarged Prostate Glands. How else to explain the inability of the males in our row to remain in their seats for longer than 15 minutes at a time? We must have had to stand up at least 25 times so that some dude in our row could get out to go to the can or buy another thimbleful of wine or whatever else they absolutely had to do during the actual "rock concert" period. Did someone else pay for these guys' tickets, so no big deal to miss a couple of songs? Maybe the B of A Pavilion could cordon off a separate "Frequent Urinators" section so that these guys could sit there and wouldn't have to bother anyone.
Overall, the crowd skewed toward the baby boom generation, with a strong showing from the guys in Dockers who look like they spent the day at the office screwing widows and orphans out of their modest inheritances.

UPDATE: Photos now at
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