Monday, December 31, 2007

Song(s) of the Year

Our local NPR affiliate did a bunch of those end-of-the-year shows. You know the way these work - pick the story of the year! Sum up your year in thirty seconds! Write a haiku! Write a limerick!

And then there was this - pick your song of the year.

And that idea worked for me. What was the one song that will always scream 2007 when I hear it? It's not quite the same question as best song of the year, which makes it more interesting.

So, what the hell. Songs of the year, in no particular order:

Britney Spears - "Gimme More."
Possibly the worst song of the year, from its terrible intro ("It's Britney, bitch!") to its lame-ass club retread beat to the faux-edgy lyrics to the entire artifice of the song. The video, if anything, makes it worse. But I will always remember Mrs. Spears' trials and travails when I hear this song, which hopefully, will be never again in my lifetime. (I can't link to the VMA performance, but you can find it if you know how to look. It just hurts even to think about it.)

Radiohead - "Down is the New Up." This isn't on the CD that I downloaded for $7.38 from Radiohead's website, but is on the second CD of material that is supposed to be released early next year. Here's a nice acoustic version with just Thom Yorke, and here's a great live version. No, I haven't heard the studio version, but I can't wait. (I'm weirdly amused by the idea of a song that hasn't officially been released making the SOTY chart.)

Radiohead may not have changed or destroyed the music industry this year, but they sure put a shock to the system. The album needed to be good to live up to all the hype and speculation, and it is.

Björk - Declare Independence. I loved "Earth Intruders," particularly the live version from SNL. But this song is the one that will stay with me- a kick-ass, glitchy, screechy anthem to be played at max volume. (This live version from Jools Holland's show will appeal to the people who already love the song. If you don't get it, you really won't get it after watching this. It's also worth watching to see the ReacTable in action.)

Arcade Fire - "Windowsill." The audio equivalent of "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore." Sums up perfectly the frustration and outrage that so many of us are feeling, four years into this useless and endless war, nearing the end of the Bush administration's reign. The Arcade Fire is one of the greatest bands working today. (A stirring live version here.) Also check out "Intervention" if you like this one.

Wilco - "On and On and On." I love the new album, Sky Blue Sky (I swear that I like the album regardless of its title). This song is deceptively simple and inexplicably comforting to me. A great song from a great album. (Live performance here.) "Impossible Germany" is another new song that slays me, but this is the one I want to learn to play on guitar.

But what's the one song that will always bring me back to this moment, this moment in time, this moment in music? That's an easy pick.

Battles - "Atlas."

I remember walking to work the first time I heard this song. I remember the giddiness in Bob Boilen's voice as he introduced the song, and then those insane munchkinland vocals kicked in, and I was hooked. This is the weirdest and most effective and most memorable song I heard this year, and I never get tired of hearing it. (In case you missed it, here's the mindbending video. From Warp Records, natch.)

Battles is not a rock band. They're not jazz, not hard rock, not "alternative," not anything I've ever heard before. I've got them categorized on my iPod along with Sonny Sharrock and Pharoah Sanders and the Bad Plus. They're beyond categories. They fracture boundaries and almost challenge the definition of music itself, which seems like as good of an anthem as 2007 is going to get.

Happy New Year, everyone. May you get an abundance of the things you want and only a fraction of what you deserve.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

You Are Getting Very Sleepy...

I think I just hypnotized my son.

We were driving home from a busy day. I had a board meeting, so I left him at the (awesome) drop-in daycare center. I picked him up, we went to eat lunch. Well, we drove around the parking lot for twenty minutes, trying to find a parking spot. Then we ate lunch.

And then we were driving home around 1:00, and that's around his nap time. So I was hoping that he'd fall asleep in the car so he wouldn't be a basket case by the time we got home. He didn't seem ready to sleep - he was happily jabbering away and singing songs.

I leaned back toward him and said, "Oliver, if you need to go to sleep, you can. It's okay."

I kid you not - he closed his eyes five seconds later and fell asleep.

Five seconds.

I was a little worried that he had passed out instead of, y'know, going to sleep. I kept stopping at stop lights and listening for breathing sounds.

The boy fell absolutely stone cold asleep. And all I had to do was say two sentences to him.

I know there's probably a good reason for this. There's a good rational explanation involving child psychology and developmental stages and things like that. But right now, I feel like I just pulled off a magic trick.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Angel of Darkness, Angel of Light

Originally uploaded by Sky Bluesky
Our Christmas tree was a foot too tall. I had to chop some length off the top just so it would stand up, and then some more so that our angel would fit on top of the tree.

This left our angel mere inches from the ceiling. I noticed one day that the angel (which is illuminated by several light bulbs) was casting some unusual light and shadow patterns on the ceiling. So I decided to try and capture this.

I love the way this picture came out. The shadows seem to suggest some mystical presence just lurking over her shoulder. Hope you like it.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Ellen Crosses the Line

No, I'm not talking about her and that dog. Ellen DeGeneres isn't honoring the writer's strike. From

Ellen DeGeneres has also made her feelings about the strike known — she has crossed the picket line, People reports. While her talk-show peers have taken an indefinite hiatus, the TV host is continuing to film her daytime program, "Ellen." She skipped her monologue on Friday (November 9), saying she was doing so in honor of her writers. As for the rest of the show continuing, she qualified on her show, "It's sweeps, which is a very important time in television, because that's when you do your best shows, your funniest material." The Writers Guild of America responded to DeGeneres on Friday, saying it was "extremely disappointed to see that Ellen has chosen not to stand with writers during the strike," according to "Ellen's peers who host comedy/variety shows have chosen to support the writers and help them get a fair contract, Ellen has not. On her first show back, Ellen said she loves and supports her writers, but her actions prove otherwise." ...
Guess I won't be watching her show anymore.

The WGAE (Writer's Guild of America East) wrote this blistering letter in response to Ellen's actions:

"We find it sad that Ellen spent an entire week crying and fighting for a dog that she gave away, yet she couldn't even stand by writers for more than one day -- writers who have helped make her extremely successful," the letter said. "We ask Ellen to cease doing shows immediately."

Friday, November 09, 2007

No More Nummies

It's been almost a week, so I feel like I can say this safely. Mrs. B has weaned Oliver.

She cut off "nummies" (our little word for nursing) except for nighttime feedings a month or two ago. Last week, as we were driving home from something-or-another, she told him that the nummies were all gone.

He started negotiating with her - "almost gone?"

"No, honey," she said, "all gone."

"Almost gone," he insisted.

"No, baby, all gone." We both started worrying, and I found myself a little teary. He really seemed upset at this sudden development.

And then, that night, he was fine. He asked once for his nummies, and Mrs. B told him they were all gone, and he just turned over and went to sleep.

The next night, he got a little upset in the middle of the night when he couldn't nurse. But it's gone surprisingly smoothly. She's thinking we could have done this a long time ago, but maybe we just waited until the right time.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Best Etymology Ever

sar·don·ic [sahr-don-ik] Pronunciation Key
characterized by bitter or scornful derision; mocking; cynical; sneering: a sardonic grin.

[Origin: 1630–40; alter. of earlier sardonian (influenced by F sardonique) sardoni(us) (sardónios of Sardinia) + -an; alluding to a Sardinian plant which when eaten was supposed to produce convulsive laughter ending in death]

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Red Sox 4, Rockies ... um ... Zero

Well, so much for that.

The Red Sox are this year's champions. They pummeled the Rockies, fair and square, in four straight games. You can't say the Rockies didn't fight - they threw a couple of good scares into the Red Sox, especially in game three, when they clawed their way back (almost) from a 6-0 deficit.

But then the Sox scored another three runs. And then another one for good measure.

The Rockies kept trying to fight back, only to be squashed again and again. But give them credit for fighting.

I live in Seattle, and I feel a little bit like a bandwagoner - at least I feel like some people might accuse me of that. But I can legitimately claim the Rockies as one of my teams. I've seen them live, after all. I saw them before Coors Field existed, back when they were playing in Mile High Stadium (the first one, not the new Invesco Field or whatever). And I saw them back when Vinny Castilla and Andres Gallaraga and Dante Bichette were the Blake Street Bombers - lots of home runs, not so much with the wins.

Mrs. B and I had been going out for only nine months when we took a road trip from Seattle to Denver. We saw the sights: the badlands in Wyoming, Grand Tetons National Park, and Rocky Mountain N.P. in Colorado. And we want to see the Rockies at Coors Field.

I've been following these boys since their first season. I remember their history. I haven't been following them much this year, but watching them now brings back all the memories from their early years. I'm thrilled for their success, regardless of the World Series outcome.
The Rockies are a hell of a team. They've got a great group of players who all play as a team and pull for each other. They've developed a spirit of winning and camaraderie that has turned the Rockies into a serious contender.

They'll be back.

There will be pennants won in the future. Matt Holliday have a couple more MVP seasons. There are superstars in the making on that team.

The Rockies will be back in the World Series. They have to go back and avenge themselves.

Congrats Red Sox! (Who my wife was rooting for the whole time - even though she hasn't watched an inning of baseball all season.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Red Sox 1, Rockies 0

Things to remember:
  • It's a seven-game series. Winning by twelve runs does not give you an automatic lead in any of the next six games.
  • If they were going to lose, it was going to happen against Beckett.
  • The Rockies hadn't played a live baseball team for eight days. Now they have, and they've got their blood flowing again. Scrimmages and practice sessions are no substitute for the real thing.
  • They got embarrassed last night. This is the most important thing to me. Last night left them bruised, battered, and embarrassed. A team in that condition is a dangerous team to face.
The Rockies hadn't lost in over five weeks before last night's debacle. Now they remember what it feels like to lose. They also might be remembering that feeling of ... well, failure. The Colorado Rockies have been also-rans since their inaugural season in 1995. Now that they got spanked in their first World Series game, pundits and commentators all around the country are questioning whether they even deserve to be there. (This came out before game 1, but here's a particularly noxious column savaging the Rockies.) So they've got something to prove - again, that only makes them a more dangerous team.

The Red Sox are feeling proud, cocky, confident. The Rockies are feeling angry, humiliated, and hungry for revenge.

Advantage: Rockies.

Let's see if they can bounce back tonight and make it a series.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Something Like a Review - "In Rainbows"

You really don't want me to post a song-by-song review of this album, do you? I mean, seriously, people. There's scads of reviews all over the internet. My two cents won't change your mind one way or the other. But I'll share a few random observations with you.

Random Observation #1: Around 6:30, I was driving home when I was seized with the urge to hear "Bodysnatchers." Usually, the Radiohead songs that inspire me in this sudden-urge way are crunchy numbers like "Electioneering," "Just," or "The National Anthem." "Bodysnatchers" is a fun, crunchy song and will make you accidentally drive over the speed limit.

Random Observation #2: This is a headphone album. Some songs work on speakers, played at top volume, like "15 Step" and the aforementioned "Bodysnatchers." But you'll want to savor this record like fine chocolate. Put on the headphones. Sit in a comfortable chair. Enjoy it. There are moments on this album that will pass right by you if you're not paying attention, and these are the moments that you want to appreciate. The killer bass work throughout the album. The gentle pulsing beat of "Reckoner." The mesmerizing, haunting ebbs and flows of "Nude." This is an album in which to invest time and attention.

Random Observation #3: I read one review that described "All I Need" as Thom Yorke fronting Boards of Canada. I hate those "it sounds like x mixed with y" lines, but that one seemed particularly well chosen.

Random Observation #4: I never heard the early versions of "Reckoner" or "Nude" (once called "Big Boots) or "Videotape," so I'm not offended by any versions here. The artist always has the right to change songs any way they wish. Hell, I've heard at least four versions of Patty Griffin's "Top of the World" and I like all of them.

Random Observation #5: There isn't a second of dead or wasted space anywhere on this album. You can see the five guys in a room together, staring intently at each other, nodding or exchanging knowing smirks at each other. This is a band that is playing its heart out.

Random Observation #6: The guitar work on several songs is almost unfathomable to me. I once looked at the chord patterns to early Beatles songs, and couldn't believe how many chord changes George Harrison would cram into a dozen beats. Jonny Greenwood is playing out of his mind here. Especially check out the tasteful if bewildering work on "15 Step" (I find myself thinking of Wes Montgomery's clean style) and the baffling chord progressions on "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi".)

Random Observation #7: Is there a singer out there with the range of Thom Yorke? Imagine anyone else swinging from screaming banshee to churchlike whisper. Very few singers would even attempt what he does effortlessly. Again, break out your headphones and check out his vocals, especially on songs like "Weird Fishes" where he layers multiple vocal tracks behind his lead. The effect is often otherworldly.

Thom Yorke is a man in complete control of his instrument here.

The verdict: I love this album. There - I said it. I love it. I've played it maybe a half-dozen times, and I think it's right up there as one of my favorite Radiohead albums. Right up there. The boys did good.

Can't wait to hear the second CD of songs they've recorded.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Radiohead - In Rainbows

I haz it.

I'm going to give it a few listens before I post a review, but I like what I've heard.

From the Times of London:

Quite how it all ranks alongside other Radiohead albums – well, let’s be honest. It’s far too early to tell. In time, the excitement of waiting for a new release by one of your favourite bands to land in your inbox will separate from the role it will go on to play in your life.

For what it’s worth, In Rainbows was sent to me at 6.30am. Three hours later, this insidious index of sonic surprises is stacking up in my mind, like planes waiting to land. The trick, I guess, is to give your fans what they didn’t know they wanted. Radiohead, old hands at this, have been doing it for over a decade now. With In Rainbows, they appear to have done it again.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

How to Double-Swaddle a Baby

It's time for a trip back in time. We're going to go back, ladies and gentlemen. Way way back. Back to the days when this was how Oliver slept.

That's right. It's time to revisit the popular topic of double-swaddling.

I'll confess - I learned about the magical art of the double swaddle through a parenting class. I've never seen it described in any book. It seems like one of those secrets that's been passed down from mother to daughter (because, until recently, most fathers just never got that involved) for generations. I learned about it when Oliver was wiggling and wriggling around for his naps, and the customary swaddling technique just wasn't cutting it. Someone in the parenting class suggested double-swaddling him.

I said - and I remember this distinctly - "Hunh?"

She proceeded to take her own little ball of squiggleness and demonstrate the technique, bundling her kiddo up into a perfect knot of swaddle. It was astonishing. She was wrapped up tight as a mummy and looked happy to be there. After a little practice and trial-and-error, I got down my own technique, which I will demonstrate for you right here and now.

Let's begin with the basics. You need two blankets. You'll want large blankets because you're going to be wrapping both of them around your baby. Don't skimp on length. (See the end of this post for my personal recommendation.)

Lay the first one down in a diamond shape, like this. Fold the top corner down.

Lay a second blanket down over the first one, and fold the top corner down in the same way.

(Pay attention to how far you fold these corners down. If you've got a little kiddo, you can fold these down a fair amount. The bigger your kiddo, the smaller you want this fold to be because it affects the length of blanket remaining.)

At this point, I should introduce our stand-in baby, Winnie T. Pooh. (Oliver's entirely too old to be swaddled these days.)

Take your baby and place him/her on top of the blankets, right at the top. The shoulders should be just about level with the top of your blankets, as shown here. Fold one side of the first blanket down over your baby's arm - and here's the important part! - tuck it under your baby's body. (I found it helpful to rock Oliver to one side gently while I tucked the blanket under him.) Make it snug.

Then fold the other side over your baby's other arm (the order doesn't really matter - here, Pooh gets the left arm swaddled first and then the right arm). Don't forget to tuck the blanket down and under the body, also. Make sure it's snug on both sides.

Notice now that baby can't move their arms! Here's why this method is sheer genius: your baby's own weight is what keeps their arms from getting loose. (Snicker snicker.)

Pull the remaining blanket up under baby's legs, so it sits loosely over the diaper area and maybe on top of his/her tummy. (Don't worry: unless your baby is ten inches long, like Pooh, you won't have this much material remaining.)

You have now secured your baby's arms nice and tight. Use the second blanket to swaddle your baby in the usual way. You can also use one of those Miracle blanket deelyboppers, provided it wraps around the first blanket. Make sure you swaddle your baby nice and tight.

Presto - it's a double-swaddled baby!

The arms are being held tight by the first blanket. The second blanket holds the first one in place and also holds the legs in place. Your baby should now look like it's in a soft cotton cocoon.

Now let's see what a real baby looks like in a real double-swaddle.

See? Snug as a bug!

(Pardon me for a moment. I just got all misty-eyed seeing little Oliver like that. I miss those days.)

This lasted us well into Oliver's second year, when he just plain outgrew swaddling altogether. You'll know when it's time - Oliver started wrestling his way out of both blankets when it was time to give it up. But it took a long long time to get there.

Now let's talk blankets. We got the best swaddle blankets imaginable from the Birth and Beyond store in Seattle - you can order them online here. The blankets are large (42 x 42), thin, and soft as any blanket you will find anywhere.

Email me with any corrections, tips, or thoughts. One last tip: practice on your baby while they're awake. They'll think it's hilarious. Have fun bundling your baby!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Rockies win!!!

I don't believe it. I just watched the game unfold on ESPN's GameCast, and I still can't believe they won.

The Colorado Rockies won their one-game playoff with the San Diego Padres in 13 innings. They were tied after 12 innings. They fell behind by two runs in the top of the 13th. And then they came roaring back, scoring two quick runs and completing the comeback with a sacrifice fly. Game over.
They did it for the fans who were lined up at 7 a.m., filling every parking spot on Blake Street. They did it for the folks who hold up the purple Helton sign underneath the Rockpile on anonymous summer nights. They did it for Ed the parking attendant who didn't have to tell the arriving players what he wanted for his birthday. They did it for those who didn't leave after four hours, whose voices were gone from screaming and arms cramped from clapped.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Big Changes

After two years and change, the weaning process has finally - finally - begun. (I don't say that with any impatience. I'm just stunned that she's still BFing him. Although it's just before sleep and during the night, she's still keeping at it.) He's getting cow's milk now before his nap and before bedtime, and the only time he nurses is in the middle of the night. I think even that's cut down to once or twice, and I think she's hoping that her milk will just go away.

The first couple of times when he had cow's milk at night, Mrs. B explained that her breast milk (she uses the euphemistic and onomatopoeic term "nummies") was going away soon. Then, every night for a week, he'd take his sippy cup of milk and repeat, "nummies going 'way!" Which would bring tears to her eyes, every time.

We're also transitioning away from the goddamn red balance ball, after seventy gazillion years. Gaah! He's got the big boy bed, but we've still been bouncing him to sleep by cradling him in our arms and bouncing up and down on the Balance Ball of Despair. I've been waiting anxiously for this moment for a long, long time. Too long. Forever, perhaps.

So about two weeks ago, we started changing the routine. It happened by accident, and then suddenly it was just our routine. Now we lay down next to him on his bed and after fifteen or twenty minutes of thrashing and jabbering, he just drops off to sleep. It seems so dignified. It seems so easy. Like, why didn't we think of this eons ago?

And yet, still somehow I'm sad to see it go. It's all big changes right now, the end of several eras all at once. The kid's growing up, right before our eyes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Clinton and Edwards on Health Care

So I've skimmed Hillary Clinton's health care plan and I've skimmed John Edwards' plan. I'm not an expert on this issue, so I'm not going to pretend that I'm analyzing every single point. What I've done below is to pick out several important differences and highlight them. It should be fairly clear where my loyalties lie by the end.

It's important that both of these proposals are just that - proposals. None of the current proposals are binding in any way, but they can be legitimately seen as statements of principle - where a candidate takes a stand and where they waffle or compromise.


There's several significant differences in the plans. You can start with the titles of the plans. Clinton's plan is titled the "American Health Choices Plan: Quality, Affordable Health Care for Every American." The emphasis seems here to be on choice, and rather than use the phrase "universal health care," she uses the awkward phrase "quality, affordable health care for every American." The difference is significant.

The document outlining Edwards' plan is titled "Universal Health Care Through Shared Responsibility." He pointedly uses this quote to introduce the plan:
“We have to stop using words like ‘access to health care’ when we know with certainty those words mean something less than universal care. Who are you willing to leave behind without the care he needs? Which family? Which child? We need a truly universal solution, and we need it now.”
Expanding Government Plans

Edwards' plan relies on an expansion of government plans that already cover millions of Americans: Medicaid and SCHIP.

Edwards' Plan: Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) play essential roles in helping low-income Americans getting the health care they need.

Edwards will strengthen the federal partnership with states supporting these programs, committing the necessary federal resources to allow states to expand Medicaid and SCHIP to serve all adults under the poverty line and all children and parents under 250 percent of the poverty line (about $50,000 for a family of four).

Edwards' approach calls for a new "public insurance plan modeled after Medicare, but separate and apart from it. Families and individuals will choose the plan that works best for them. This American solution will reward the sector that offers the best care at the best price. Over time, the system may evolve toward a single-payer approach if individuals and businesses prefer the public plan."

Clinton's plan offers no significant expansion of health care plans. The only concession is a vague line "fixing the holes in the safety net to ensure that the most vulnerable populations receive affordable, quality care." While this may result in expansion of coverage, she does not use that term and I will also not use the term in regard to her proposal.

In the Clinton plan, government's primary responsibility is not to offer expanded health care coverage, but to 'ensure' that private health care is kept affordable and to "implement reforms to improve quality and lower cost." Again, they're supposed to lower cost on private health care plans, not expand the plans that currently exist.

Clinton's plan:
will ensure that health insurance is always affordable and never a crushing burden on any family and will implement reforms to improve quality and lower cost.

At one point, Clinton does seem to offer an expansion of coverage - or rather, the creation of a new health care plan, similar to Edwards' plan, that is not Medicare. Individuals will be offered the option of keeping their health care coverage or choosing from a list of private health care options modeled after Congress' current options for health care. She makes no mention of an eventual goal of single-payer coverage. The term "single-payer" appears nowhere in her plan.

[...]the Health Choices Menu will also provide Americans with a choice of a public plan option, which could be modeled on the traditional Medicare program, but would cover the same benefits as guaranteed in private plan options in the Health Choices Menu without creating a new bureaucracy. The alternative will compete on a level playing field with traditional private insurance plans. It will provide a more affordable option, in part through greater administrative savings. It will not be funded through the Medicare trust fund.

Pre-Existing Conditions

Both plans appear to ban discrimination for pre-existing conditions.

Edwards' plan: Edwards will require insurers to keep plans open to everyone and charge fair premiums, regardless of preexisting conditions, medical history, age, job, and other characteristics. No longer will insurance companies be able to game the system to cover only healthy people. Several states – including New Jersey, New York, and Washington – have led the way on similar community rating and guaranteed issue reforms. In addition, new national standards will ensure that all health insurance policies offer preventive and chronic care with minimal cost-sharing.

Clinton's plan
: By creating a level-playing field of insurance rules across states and markets, the plan ensures that no American is denied coverage, refused renewal, unfairly priced out of the market, or forced to pay excessive insurance company premiums.

Sticks and Carrots for Business

The Clinton plan offers tax incentives for small businesses. By offering a number of schemes to trim bureaucracy and create health are efficiencies, she suggests that she can make health care more affordable and more efficient. She proposes this as an incentive for businesses to offer health care for their employees.

In return, large employers will be expected to provide health insurance to their employees or make some contribution to the cost of coverage.

"Some contribution" is a meaningless term. Similarly, Clinton does not explain whether employers would be offering subsidies to their employees to buy private health care coverage, or whether they would be recompensating the government for the cost of providing health care for their employees. There is an important and frustrating lack of specificity here.

Edwards' plan: Businesses have a responsibility to support their employees’ health. They will be required to either provide a comprehensive health plan to their employees or to contribute to the cost of covering them through Health Care Markets. In return, the Edwards plan will make it easier for businesses to offer insurance by reducing costs and creating new choices. Covering all Americans will eliminate the cost of uncompensated care. Businesses can also choose to purchase care through Health Care Markets, which will offer quality plans at low prices and with minimal administrative burdens.

The approach is similar, but Edwards is more clear about what businesses' obligation will be if they do not offer health care for their employees.

Individual Tax Credits to Buy Coverage

Both candidates offer tax credits to help individuals pay for health care coverage. The tax credits would be refundable. The Clinton plan would index tax credits to ensure that "health premiums never rise above a certain percentage of family income. The tax credit will be indexed over time, and designed to maintain consumer price consciousness in choosing health plans, even for those who reach the percentage of income limit." The Edwards plan would offer tax credits on "on a sliding scale to middle class families and refundable to help families without income tax liability." The approaches are nearly identical.

The Mandate

I've seen more than one person say that Clinton's and Edwards' approaches are similar in that they would both require individuals to carry coverage. Indeed, Clinton's plan would require individuals to carry health care insurance.

Individuals: will be responsible for getting and keeping insurance in a system where insurance is affordable and accessible.

And ditto Edwards.

Once insurance is affordable, everyone will be expected to take responsibility for themselves and their families by obtaining health coverage.

So are the two mandates identical? Hardly. Edwards mentions a mandate at the end of a long list of goals for improving health, which include:

First: Business Responsibility.
Second: Government Responsibility.

• Offer New Health Insurance Tax Credits

• Expand Medicaid and SCHIP

• Require Fair Terms for Health Insurance

• Secure the Health Care Safety Net

Third: New Health Care Markets.

Only after all of the previous steps are achieved does he call for a mandate to carry health care coverage. He makes it clear that individuals can only be required to insure themselves after the market is made more fair and more affordable and new plans are offered by the federal government.


Edwards proposes to cover every American by 2012. Clinton does not include a timeline in her plan, but has said publicly that she hopes to implement her plan by the end of her first term - 2012. She does not say whether every American will be covered by then, or if the plan will merely be in place by then.

There's lots more here than my tired brain can cover. Go look at the plans yourself. Clinton's is here. Edwards' is here. Make up your own mind. But as for me, I prefer Edwards' approach. He is unafraid to call for an expansion of government plans, and he clearly aspires for single-payer coverage. Indeed, his plan deliberately puts public and private plans against each other, with the expectation that more people will eventually choose public plans if given a fair choice on a level playing field. It's a smart idea - allowing the public to lead themselves toward universal single-payer coverage.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Yes, You're a Nerd, but What Type?

I didn't realize it was possible to calibrate the type of nerd you were. But the numbers don't lie.

What Be Your Nerd Type?
Your Result: Social Nerd

You're interested in things such as politics, psychology, child care, and peace. I wouldn't go so far as to call you a hippie, but some of you may be tree-huggers. You're the type of people who are interested in bettering the world. You're possible the least nerdy of them all; unless you participate in other activies that paled your nerdiness compared to your involvement in social activities. Whatever the case, we could still use more of you around. ^_^

Drama Nerd
Literature Nerd
Science/Math Nerd
Gamer/Computer Nerd
Artistic Nerd
Anime Nerd
What Be Your Nerd Type?
Even More Dopey Internet Quizzes

Friday, September 14, 2007

Little Car, We Hardly Knew Ye

The Damage Done
Originally uploaded by Sky Bluesky
The little car is dead.

Our little green Ford Escort (what Oliver calls the "little car", to distinguish it from our "big car" Scion xB) got hit while it was parked in front of our house. The person who hit it was blinded by the sun, and literally never saw our car before he ran into it.

Thankfully, after the accident, he came right to our front door, apologized, and gave us his insurance info without hestiation. (Kudos for him for his top-notch behavior. But next time, wear some sunglasses when the sun's out.)

This doesn't look like a lot of damage, but it was done to a twelve-year-old Escort. The repairs would exceed the market value of our car, so his insurance company totaled it. We're getting a check for $2000 and change, and tomorrow we're going out to look for a replacement car. But I'll miss the little beast.

This was the car we used to drive Oliver home from the hospital.

This was the car I used to shuttle dozens of people to Olympia to lobby their elected representatives. It drove hundreds and hundreds of miles around King and Snohomish County for events, rallies, protests, and visits in living rooms and coffee houses.

This was my little go-getter car. For a while, it was our big car, our only four-door vehicle, and the one that Oliver would travel in. It was the car we took on our honeymoon in 2002 down the Oregon coast. It was our #1 car for years until we finally traded in our #2 car (bizarrely, it was another '95 Ford Escort) for a Toyota Scion xB.

And I still drove it when I had to use a car for work. I drove it to four visits to donors in the last month. I drove it and drove it, and I always said I would keep driving it until the wheels fell off. I guess I was close.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Lucifer Effect

Mirrored sunglasses.

Billy clubs.

Surplus army uniforms.

That's all it takes to turn a "normal," healthy college kid into a marauding warrior, an intimidator, a menacing figure that strikes fear into the prisoners he guards.

Who were also college kids.

It doesn't take much to tip the average human over from sensitive to insensitive, from feeling to unfeeling, from human to ... no longer human.

I just finished reading The Lucifer Effect by Phil Zimbardo. Zimbardo was the man who designed the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, during which two dozen Stanford students were divided into groups of "prisoners" and "guards" - selected by random - and installed in a makeshift prison. The experiment was scheduled to last for two weeks. Just two weeks. But after six days, the "experiment" had turned into chaos.

Guards tortured their prisoners, forced them to do humiliating and demeaning exercises, threw them into solitary confinement for arbitrary reasons, did everything they could do to crush the spirits of their captives.

The prisoners resisted, fought, attempted to escape, mounted hunger strikes and civil disobedience, went mad, sunk into dangerous depression, and convinced themselves they would never be released. Some were released for their own protection, for the sake of their rapidly deteriorating health - after two days. The remaining prisoners - fueled on their own paranoia and fueled by the behavior of the guards and the prison's "supervisors" - decided that the experiment was real, that they were prisoners in a genuine prison, not college students being paid $15 per day to participate in an experiment.

Everyone - the guards, the prisoners, the psychologists who videotaped and recorded and watched the "prison" - went mad.

The experiment lasted for just six days. Finally, someone - someone who had not been part of it, had not been watching and soaking in the toxic atmosphere, someone who had fresh eyes and could see clearly what was happening - blew the whistle. Christina Maslach, a graduate student (who went on to marry Zimbardo), surprised herself by insisting that the experiment was not an experiment, was not in fact moral. It was a torture chamber that had to be shut down.

Zimbardo takes the lessons learned - including his own complicity in the events of the Stanford Prison Experiment - and explores how ordinary men can turn evil, given the right circumstances and the right supervision - or lack thereof. He sees parallels in the experiment, conducted in 1971, and the recent revelations of torture, abuse, and even homicide in the Abu Ghraib Prison. In both places, a lack of responsible supervision, dehumanization of both the guards and the prisoners, and an overall atmosphere of impunity and lawlessness inspired the abuses. Evil, postulates Zimbardo, is not something that only happens to certain "bad apples." Evil can happen to any of us. Anyone can turn, given the right combination of circumstances and inner makeup. It's not about bad apples, it's about bad barrels that rot the apples within.

But the converse of this is what gives us all hope. "The banality of heroism" is a true corollary to the much-discussed banality of evil. Just as anyone can sink into the depths of madness, tormenting and dehumanizing his fellow man, anyone can rise to become a hero - one who can cry for fairness and justice, despite the behavior of those around him. Anyone can become a Gandhi, a Mandela, a Joe Darby. We just need the right combination of circumstances and inner makeup. The right stuff, as it were, combined with the right opportunity to rise. We can all be heroes.

These issues - the nature of evil - is something that's fascinated me since I was in college. One of these days, I'll share the story of how it all started. But I've been reading books like this for a very long time - about evil, about Nazi psychology, about war and the warrior mentality, about the darkness that lives in your heart and mine. But this may be the best of them, and certainly it is the most hopeful about the nature of the human spirit. Read it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

What to Do on a Rainy Day

We were stuck inside on a rainy day. (Rain? In Seattle? Do tell!) So we decided to try something new with Oliver. We took a couple of big plastic bins - wide and shallow - and filled them with dry rice, beans, and other grainy stuff. Then we set them at chest-level on a table, put a whole bunch of measuring cups, spoons, funnels, and other gadgets in the bins and let Oliver loose on them.

(I will admit readily that we stole this idea. A few weeks ago, we went to the Bellevue Art Museum for their kid-friendly open house, and one of their toddler activities was a simple plastic bin filled with flax seed and an assortment of scoops and vessels. Oliver was completely absorbed in it, and we both immediately bookmarked the idea for later exploration.)

He loved it. Absolutely loved it. He poured rice and beans from one cup to the other, he filled up little clear tubes with stuff, he scooped and scooped and dug his hands into the rice. He made a complete mess on the floor, but it was all easy enough to sweep. The important point is that he was occupied for well over an hour, and would probably still be playing there if we hadn't packed it up for another day. (An added bonus of using airtight plastic bins: you can keep everything in there until next time.)

Here's the layout. We gave him funnels, measuring scoops and cups, a few random kitchen utensils, and several odd-sized cups. He played with every single thing we put in the bin.

The secret ingredient: pinto beans!
(And white rice, and barley, and some brown rice, too. Maybe even some couscous.)

Here's Oliver's very-very-serious expression as he carefully pours rice into a clear plastic tube.

You'd think he was conducting sub-atomic particle research,
from the look on his face.

Dad lends a hand.

And the verdict is ... great idea, mommy and daddy!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Five Years

We were married on the deck of a boat. We had found a judge who would marry us, and it was something like $200 for him to come to a location of our choosing, or $150 to do it on his houseboat in Shilshole Bay. So, of course, we went for the boat. Who wouldn't?

The sky was bluer than blue. The sun shone ferociously. It was a perfect Seattle summer day, eighty degrees and radiant, and we were gettin' hitched, floating on a boat in Puget Sound. That was five years ago, August 12th.

It was my brother, a friend, me and Mrs. B, and the judge. A five-person wedding party. I barely remember the words of the vows - he read the line, we repeated the line, and I kept staring at her in her beautiful dress, luminous in the sunlight. My feet barely touched the ground.

We had drinks at Ray's Boathouse, dropped off our wedding party of two, and headed down to a sumptuous dinner at Stanley & Seafort's in Tacoma. We spent our first night at a lush bed and breakfast - a mansion, literally. I remember feeling like we had gotten away with something.

In the morning, we had a private breakfast on a deck upstairs. Then we headed to the Oregon coast for a honeymoon of more B&Bs, more fantastic dinners, and four lighthouses in five days.

Since that day, lots has happened. I've changed jobs three times. We've moved three times. We've had Oliver, which has changed everything in our lives. We've had heartbreaking moments and moments of pure jubilation.

Some mornings, I still wake up and look over at this woman next to me, and I am filled with awe. Once, before I met her, I entertained the thought that I would never be married, never have a child, and I would be content with that. Now, I can't imagine my life without her or our son. Every one of my days is filled with joy - even if Oliver is incorrigible, even if my work is infuriating and exhausting, even if things happen that make my blood boil. My life is a joy. I have a wife who loves me and I have a son who is filled with wonder and curiosity and a seemingly unending supply of energy.

I am a lucky man.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Podcast of the Year

If you only listen to one podcast this year, listen to the latest episode of Coverville.

The show features covers of all manner of music. Sometimes they do a whole show dedicated to covers of one artist, sometimes it's genres. You get the picture. This episode is all kids' music and covers of kid's songs, and it features a couple of requests from yours truly. (Not to toot my own horn or anything, but how often do I get a shoutout on one of the most popular podcasts in the universe?) If you like music, or kid's music, or covers of Schoolhouse Rock tunes, you'll love it.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Laugh of teh Day

I love websites with a sense of humor. I was looking for something on my new favorite website/search engine/jukebox, The Hype Machine, and the search didn't work. I got this error message.


Our megacluster of database servers couldn't get you the page you rightfully deserved.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Which LOLcat Are I?

I are a lion cat, apparently.

Your Score: Lion Warning Cat

78% Affectionate, 69% Excitable, 40% Hungry

You are the good Samaritan of the lolcat world. Protecting others from danger by shouting observations and guidance in cases of imminent threat, you believe in the well-being of everyone.

To see all possible results, checka dis.

Link: The Which Lolcat Are You? Test written by GumOtaku on Some Silly Website, home of the Some Silly Internet Quiz or Whatever kthx bye.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Accidental Tourist - Part Five (Conclusion)


"Shoot," said Kirk. "Am I supposed to say namaste at the end or at the beginning? I wasn't sure."

"I don't think it matters," said Lulu, tapping a key on the keyboard next to her. On a flat screen monitor, the image of Kirk went suddenly blank. "If it was really important, they would have said one way or the another."

Kirk and Lulu were in the basement of his mother's house. It looked like a typical basement rec room, with wood paneling, a tv in the corner, a few folded tv trays against the couch. Only two things suggested that something besides late-night poker games transpired in this room. The first was the Apple G4 Cube computer (which was recording Kirk with a white, vaguely pistol-shaped webcam). And then there was the sinister-looking device which rested on an end table. It consisted of a plastic mask attached to a basketball-sized bulb, the color of army uniforms. A small canister was attached in the middle, and it bore a black and white label with paragraphs of microscopic fine print and two words in bold block letters. The first word: "SEVOFLURANE." The second, in larger print: "DHARMA."

All right," Kirk said sullenly. "I'll say it twice just in case it's, like, a code word or something. No, not a code word. The ... whatever the thing that the hypnotists use."

"A post-hypnotic suggestion?"

"No," Kirk snapped. "It's ... uh ... it's called a ... um ..."He rapped twice on his forehead with his knuckles. "Shoot." And then it came to him. "A trigger word. In case it's a trigger word." He smoothed out the lapels on his lab coat. "Let's go again." Lulu tapped a key and Kirk's face filled the monitor screen.

"Namaste. This is the orientation film for the Stars Hollow station, code named 'the Scoop'." The camera panned back to reveal the familiar spiderweb insignia of the Dharma Initiative, with a curious logo in the center. At first glance, it could be mistaken for a stylized question mark or possibly a cartoonish hot air balloon, but after a few moments, the logo revealed itself as an artistically rendered ice cream cone.

Lulu sniggered at the logo - again - and then hushed herself. "Sorry, hon. I just think it's so cute, what you did with their insignia. I'll edit that out."

"That's why they invented Final Cut Pro."

Kirk composed himself, clearing his throat several times. "Your mission here at the Scoop is infiltration. The Scoop will be your base of operations and, from the outside, will not be perceptibly different from any other home in this small rustic town. You will become one of the denizens of Stars Hollow. Learn their customs. Drink their coffee. Attend their pointless yet strangely moving public events. Find every imaginable way to become - " he made air quotes - "'a regular.'

"If required, you should establish relationships with the locals in order to make your identity more meaningful, including intimate relationships. However, no local resident should ever be allowed to enter your personal living quarters. The communications and scientific equipment in your possession took years of painstaking research, and its cost is incalculable. You must not let it get into the hands of anyone not associated with Dharma. This must be your highest priority, beyond anything else you hope to achieve. Even if your mission should fail, the equipment you have been provided must be protected..."

Kirk stopped then, and waited. A moment passed. He whispered, "Slow fade-in, babe."

"Oh, sorry." She manipulated keys on the keyboard.

He repeated, "the equipment you have been provided must be protected - at all costs."



Fingers snapped in front of Lorelai. After a few seconds, she managed a faint, "Hey."

Sookie stared at her. She walked all around Lorelai, a quizzical look on her face, while Lorelai blinked and breathed and otherwise remained still.

"Where are you?"

"Oh, I just..." She trailed off. Then she started again,"where is everybody?"

"It's five in the morning."

Lorelai nodded, her eyes blank.

"Why are you here?" she asked Sookie.

"Breakfast, dear. I've got prepping to do, coffee pots to set up, inspections, and plus I had a hunch you'd show up here once you emerged from ... wherever you've been." She gestured dramatically up with her eyebrows, but Lorelai didn't get the hint.

"What's going on up there?" Sookie demanded.

"Going on where, how?"

"Okay, look, I don't need all the details, but give me a hint. You and Sawyer have been in that room nonstop for two days. The staff is starting to get resentful of delivering room service to their boss. Your mystery Sawyer man - can you at least say where he's from?"

"Can't tell you that," Lorelai replied.

"Can't? Or won't?"

"You would never, ever believe me if I told you."

"Try me."

"Polar bears."

"So ... he's Santa Claus?"

"On a tropical island."

"Okay, okay," Sookie said, holding her hands up, "forget I asked. So tell me something else. Is he dangerous? is he someone to watch out for? Should we call the State Patrol? The FBI?"

Lorelai stared off into oblivion. "Okay, let's think. Dangerous? Yes. Definitely. He's got the potential for great violence. But don't call anyone - he's safe as a kitten."

"Purr purr," Sookie teased.

Again, Lorelai let an easy setup go by without responding. Something was definitely wrong with her.

"Okay, sleeping beauty, we need to do something to snap you out of this. Should I make up a pot of coffee? You look like you could use it."

Lorelai shook her head emphatically. Sookie's eyes nearly fell out of her head.

"You might have misheard me," Sookie said. "See, I said, 'Excuse me, Ms. Lorelai Gilmore, caffeine addict of legend and infamy, would you care for a cup of java?' And that's when you're supposed to say ..."

Again, Lorelai shook her head in the negative.

"But," Lorelai suddenly looked hopeful, "can you do one of those frozen things?"

"What frozen things? You want a daiquiri?"

"I'm thirsty."

"Okay, good. That narrows the choices down to liquids."

"You know. The thing with the ice and the strawberries and the weird powder that you get in those funny little juice bars in New Haven? You don't need to add any of the weird powders - I always suspected they were just like placebos or something, or else maybe mild hallucinogens - but ... you know, one of those?" She went into charade mode then: she gestured a blending motion with a whirling finger (adding blender sound effects that sounded like a car with starter trouble), then poured the imaginary blender's contents into an imaginary vessel, and then drank down the entire thing with a great flourish.

Sookie stared at her as if she'd grown a second head. "You want ... a smoothie?"

"Yeah. Sure. They're good for you, right? And it sounds ... kinda ... refreshing, I don't know."


Sawyer looked over to his window, irritated. "Aw, jumping Christ on a pogo stick..."

Shirtless and wearing blue jeans, he drew the shades on the window. A burst of gravel splashed against the window.

He peered out the window to see Hurley, another handful of gravel poised to throw, and Jin , who was sitting in the passenger's seat of the sitting in the driver's seat of the Dharma van. Jin seemed uncomfortable and kept looking around nervously.

"All right, already, Hugo!" He waved frantically at the window. "Cripes. I'll be right down."

As he reached for his shirt, he glanced at the Dragonfly Inn brochure that Kirk had given him. There was something on the back that he hadn't noticed before, drawn in the margins. It was a familiar spiderweb pattern, drawn by hand with a pencil.

"Dharma." Suddenly it all clicked. "Kirk's one of them. "

"Son of a bitch."


"Okay, so there's another group of people on the island."


"And they're evil."

"Yes, with a capitol E, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for evil too."

"So how do you know Sawyer isn't one of the evil ones?" Sookie asked.

"Because ... oh, come on. Evil people love telling people how evil they are. Didn't you ever watch a single James Bond movie?"

"All right, all right. So they're evil."

"Yes!" Lorelai shouted, exasperated. "They kept him in a cage! Hello?!"

"Ooh, that must have been something to see."

"I know, right?" said Lorelai, wiping smoothie from her lower lip with the back of her hand. "All hot... and sweaty... and dirty ... and half-naked, and trapped in a cage like an animal..."

"Careful, girl."

"Mmmm hmm." She leaned against the counter to steady herself.

It was at precisely that moment that Sawyer called out from the reception desk. "Hey, Becky, you back there?"

"Who's Becky?" asked Sookie.

"Come on back," Lorelai called. Sawyer stepped tentatively into the kitchen.

She attempted to make introductions. "So ... this is my friend Sookie St. James. Sookie, Sawyer." Sawyer nodded to Sookie. Then Lorelai paused. "Well, James, I guess. Or do you want to stick with..."

"Sawyer's fine for now. Hey, ladies, I hate to spoil your fun, but I got work to do. We got an appointment with your pal Kirk."

"Oh, right now? What's the rush?"

Sawyer waved the brochure like a smoking gun. "He's Dharma."

"Dharma," Lorelai echoed, feeling a sudden chill.

Sookie looked a bit lost. "Who's Dharma?"

But Lorelai was already on the way out the door. "We'll tell you later. Gotta go." She pushed her glass into Sookie's hand. "Thanks for the smoothie!"


They stood outside his window. Lorelai looked nervous. A crumbled figure rested on the couch, knees apparently curled to its chest, a tattered afghan draped over the body.

"Well, we can't just bust in on them. Look, his mother's sitting right there on the couch! We'll look like a bunch of renegade DEA agents, and she'll have a heart attack or something."

"That's his ma?"

"Yeah, I think so," Lorelai said. "Never met her, but she lives with him."

"That's his ma," Sawyer repeated, unconvinced.

"Well, don't you see her there?"

He pressed his face up against the window. "What are you doing?!" Lorelai hissed.

"I hate to tell you, Becks, but that ain't nobody's mother on the couch."

Jin whispered something harshly, and pointed to the couch also. Sawyer looked at him and shook his head slowly. "Dummy."

"Dummy," repeated Jin in his halting English. "Dummy - dumb?"

"No," Sawyer explained. "Dummy, not real woman."

"Ah," Jin said. "Dummy."

Sawyer rapped on the window. A voice called out, "oh, please come back later! I just have to rest right now..." The voice faded at the end, sounding just like a frail older woman.

"See, she's exhausted! Just leave her..."

Sawyer cautiously turned the doorknob, which had been left open. He stepped in quietly. Then, the door still open, he rapped his knuckles on the outside of the door.

"Oh, goodness! " the same frail voice called out. "And me in my dressing gown! Please just leave it at the door - my son will get it later."

The voice seemed to be coming from behind the door, not from the body on the couch.

Then Sawyer pointed, silently, and they all looked at the tiny black speaker located just above the door. Wires extended from the door and window to an electronic console on the wall, which extended to the speaker.

"I think you rubes have been letting Kirk fool you for years now." Emboldened, he went to the couch and pulled the blankets off 'mother', revealing a long pillow shaped to resemble a human form. A grey wig at the top completed the image. Lorelai gasped.

"So, now, we go see what the kids are up to in mama's house."

They heard a faint noise and followed it to the basement door. The door was left open, and they listened for a moment.


"Like our other agents, Jess Mariano and Max Medina, you will be given an identity and a back story to explain your sudden arrival. Townspeople will be persuaded by various means to play along with your back story to lend authenticity, and then the rest will be up to you.

"If I may, let me offer one bit of advice. There are two paths you can take with this mission. The first is full assimilation - the 'melting pot' approach. That is difficult, because you will never, despite your best efforts, truly be a local. No matter how you try to fit in, you will always be a stranger to these people's eyes.

"The other path, which in my opinion is far easier, is the 'fifth wheel' approach. If you appear unusual from the start, a little off, a little quirky, there will be less questioning when you occasionally let your 'mask' slip, as will inevitably happen. It is far easier to play a stranger in a strange land then to suddenly arrive and become an instant part of the community. So don't try too hard to fit in. Better to stick out like a sore thumb. Plus, in my experience, it's more fun."

From the basement, they heard a series of clicks. Lorelai looked at Sawyer and pantomimed typing. Sawyer nodded.

"Hey, Lu, I'm parched. Can you grab me a Negra Modelo from upstairs?"

"Sure thing." They all scurried away from the doorway. As Lulu reached the top stair, Sawyer reached out expertly and swept her up, one hand over her mouth, the other arm clutching both of her arms against her body.

"We're not going to hurt you, but you are going to stay her until we've had a chat with your boyfriend. Comprende?"

Lulu nodded frantically, her eyes huge.

"Great. Go sit down over there, and my friend Jin is going to make sure you don't try anything foolish. And here's a tip from me - don't piss off Jin. He can kill you seven ways to Sunday before you make a sound."

She looked, horror-struck at Jin. He met her eyes and, after a moment, Jin nodded solemnly in agreement. She sat down on the couch and folded her shaking hands in her lap.


"Lu?" Kirk called up the stairs. A flying can of Diet Coke nearly took his nose off. It bounced ontothe floor and popped open, leaking brown liquid onto the carpet.

"Hey, hot stuff, you're outta beer." Sawyer chuckled as he came down the stairs. "But you know what they say - when you're outta beer, tough Schlitz."

"Did you wake up my mother..."

"Oh, come on, man," Sawyer laughted. "Your mother ain't any more convincing than Norman Bates. Didja think that ruse was gonna work forever?"

Kirk stifled a grin. "Well, it worked for twelve years."

"Well, that game is over. It's all over, Gilligan. All but the shouting." He methodically rolled up his sleeves. "Way I figure it, the quicker you tell me what the hell's going on here, the less screaming you'll be doing."

Kirk, surprisingly, took a seat. He gestured them toward the big green couch. "Sure, I'll tell you. I knew you'd be coming here, sooner or later. That's why I had this primed."

He pointed to a wardrobe on the far wall of the basement. "That's it. That's the magic box."

"What magic box?"

"In time, good sir." Kirk picked up the spitting Coke can and managed to pop the top open. He took a careful sip. "In time, I'll tell you everything you want know. As much as I can, anyway." Kirk shouted upstairs. "Hey there, whoever's holding Lulu hostage! Come on down. Please bring Lulu with you. You'll both want to hear this, too."

And then, slowly, he explained everything. He told them how he had always dreamed of being a CIA agent, but the night terrors that had plagued him prevented that dream from becoming a reality. Then, one day while he was in college, a man was standing outside his dormitory and took him to breakfast. He told Kirk about his agency, promised travel and adventure,and convinced Kirk to sign a long-term contract for his services. The pay was lucrative - preposterously so. He collected paychecks for four years before he was contacted for a job.

And then, one day, the agency technicians came to his house and installed his device. "I've gotten used to calling it the Wardrobe."

"What's it do?" Sawyer asked.

"Well, let me explain it this way. Do you know anything about quantum physics?"

Sawyer shot him a look.

So, Kirk began the world's worst primer on quantum physics. He lost them within moments. Then, he tried another tack, using the example of a tunnel through the center of the earth, and that just confused them further.

"Okay. You know how when you shine a flashlight into the night sky, the light has to go somewhere?"

"Sure," Hurley said. "The light seems to disappear, but it could theoretically travel in space all the way to the end of the universe, unless it gets pulled into a black hole or, you know, hits something that interrupts or refracts the beam."

"Right. Exactly. So ... oh, wait, that's the wrong principle." He thought for a long while as they all stared daggers at him.

Finally, he gave up and said, "it's just a transporter, all right? Like in Star Trek."

"Oh, dude, why didn't you just say so? Now I get it." Hurley turned to Jin. "Transporter. Like Star Trek."

Jin was already nodding. "Beam me up, Scotty."

"Yeah, there you go. Exactly."

"So ... the wardrobe isn't the transporter, is it?" Sawyer asked.

"No, it's all nested behind the wardrobe. All the controls are behind it."

"Then why..."

"C.S. Lewis," said Lorelai.

Kirk smiled wryly. "I loved reading the Narnia books when I was a kid. I wanted my own wardrobe where I could go into another world. And then suddenly, this amazing device shows up on my doorstep. I took an old wardrobe I had in the basement, popped off the back, and fitted it onto the front. I used duct tape to seal it tight - they probably wouldn't have approved, but it's never gotten me into trouble yet. And so there you go. Only problem was, instead of witches and talking lions and fauns, I was going around the world like a glorified maintenance man. Even with my fancy transportation, I was just another flunky, punching a clock."

He was living two lives. On one hand, Dharma set him up with a new life in Stars Hollow, a beautiful house all to himself (and his fictional 'mother' - part of his cover story), money to burn, and free rein of the town. "I could do anything I wanted. Hell, I could have burned the gazebo down and they would have found a way to justify it. I was untouchable."

And the other life was the one he had dreamed of - traveling, via extraordinary means - to mystery locations all around the globe. Sometimes, he wondered whether he had even left the planet.

But the adventures started to sour. Stars Hollow became boring. The freedom of impunity turned stale, and he kept trying new and different things to amuse himself. He told his secret to one other local, Taylor Doose, who wielded his powers as Town Selectman to hook Kirk into new job after new job. He kept each job for a few days and dropped it, bored, for another ever-stranger job.

Meanwhile, the adventures he had been promised were turning into drudgery. At first, he was excited about going back and forth to the island and the other stations around the world, and the technology fascinated him. But then he realized that despite all his questions, they never told him exactly how the transporter worked. "I was a mushroom - they kept me in the dark and fed me ... well, you know."

And the exciting assignments - cryptozoology, staging psychological experiments, equipping the hatches, planning "accidents" and carefully staged acts of serendipity across the globe - turned into meaningless assignments. "I was scrubbing floors in people's houses. Once, I replaced thirty-seven light bulbs with lower-wattage bulbs in a house in Stockholm. No idea why. They never told me anything."

They all sat, enraptured, listening to the bizarre story unfold. Hurley noticed that Jin had been nodding and humming in agreement throughout the tale, and wondered what part of the story rang familiar to him.

"And then the uniforms came. The uniforms were the last straw."

One day, he received a large box from Dharma's courier service. He was convinced it was some great new piece of equipment, but instead it was a box full of beige coveralls with his name - and his new title, the first title he had ever known throughout his association with Dharma - stitched on the breast.

"Kirk. Work Man."

"I was just a goddamned janitor to them," Kirk snarled. "Pardon my French."

"And that's when I sorta snapped. Lorelai, you probably noticed something was wrong, since you were in town then. I'm sure it was pretty obvious that I was out of control."

Lorelai, who had no idea what Kirk was referring to, nodded vigorously. "Oh sure."

"For the rest of you, I'll fill you in," Kirk continued. "I started doing more and more dangerous stuff. I started messing with pyrotechnics. Electrical stuff that I hadn't been trained for. Dangerous work. I was kind of on a death trip. Remember when I drove Taylor's stupid car into Luke's diner?"

"Oh, yes."

"Suicide attempt," Kirk shrugged. "I staged it to look like an accident, and I didn't expect to live through that. I was kinda hoping for a fireball - blaze of glory and all that. I left a note in my house spilling the beans on everything. I guess you're not supposed to use your seat belt or use your emergency brake for suicide attempts - should have thought about that at the time."

"Anyway, that was sorta my low point. I don't really think I've ever really recovered. I just ... I had such hopes. I thought I was an insider, one of the special ones. I was part of the Dharma Initiative! And then it turns out I'm just a workman."

Kirk grew silent for a long while. They watched him, as storm clouds crossed over his face. A tear trickled down one cheek, and his hands clenched and unclenched.

"I always loved science," he said, so quietly that he could barely be heard.

"Well, you got to see some amazing science," Lorelai suggested.

"To see it, sure. But they didn't ... trust ... me enough to explain it to me. Look." He threw a slim pamphlet at Lorelai. "Want to know how the Wardrobe operates - there you go! That's all they told me, anyway. How to turn it on, turn it off. They set the coordinates remotely, so I can't actually run it by myself. 'Cause I'm just a work man, after all," he seethed. "Why would they tell the work man anything important?!"

Lorelai thumbed through the book. "So you're supposed to be unconscious when you go through?"

"Yeah, that's one of the big warnings. Big no-no. That's why I keep the anesthesia around," he said, gesturing to the bulb device on the end table.

"So," Hurley asked carefully, "how do you, you know, run the thing when you're, like, asleep?"

"Oh, Lulu knows how to run the controls, too. She runs it when I have a job."

Hurley nodded. "Yeah, okay, that makes sense. But why unconscious? What's that all about?"

Kirk grimaced. "I tried to find out once. I ... um ... put someone else through it once while he was conscious."

Gasps all around. "Who?" Lorelai asked.

"There was this guy, a cable installer. His name was Mick, Nick, something. He came to my house. I offered him a thousand bucks on the spot, and he agreed to do it. I never should have done it."

"What happened?" Hurley asked.

"Well, he went in, and then a few seconds later, he came ... clawing his way out. He pulled himself out like he was stuck in a well. He was only in there a few seconds, but ... his hair was white. And his skin was ... old. He aged, like, a hundred years in that few seconds. And his eyes were ... have you ever seen a rabid dog?"


"Yeah, me neither. But I always think that that's what a rabid dog's eyes look like - all feral and untrusting and ... volatile. He didn't live very long." He looked at the floor. "I buried him in the backyard."


"I'm not proud of it."

"It's their fault! I put his death on their shoulders!" Spittle flew from his lower lip. "Their damn fault! They could have told me what they were doing ... what the dangers were. But they never tell me anything! It's infuriating! " He threw the Coke can down on the carpet, hard enough that it bounced off the carpet a foot in the air.

"They've got some of the most sophisticated science known to man, and they're giving me bupkis, nada, zilch! I'm like their janitor, when i should be ... I should ..."

"I deserve better than this. I deserve better. I deserve..."

At that moment, Kirk's eyes were empty as burned-out lightbulbs. He was angry - no, something beyond anger, something more and darker and more volatile. Sawyer recognized the look and he didn't like it, so he started talking.

"So, ah, Kirk. You were going back and forth to our island?"

"Sure, a few times. I helped set up a few things before your arrival. Cleaned out the hatch a time or two, kept it stocked."


"Plunged that toilet in the hatch once. That was fun, let me tell you. I don't know what you people eat over, but pee-ew."

Sawyer smirked. "So, in your travels, didja ever see me over there?"

"No, Sawyer. I never saw anyone. I showed up on the beach when everyone was in the woods, and vice versa. I was the man who wasn't there.

"I did plant a couple of things for you, though," Kirk smiled.

"Like what?"


"Books," Sawyer repeated.



"I thought you'd, you know, appreciate the subtle irony of Stranger in a Strange Land. Maybe not."

"No, no! It was ... impressive. I liked it."

"Mmm," Kirk replied noncommittally. "And, oh, yes, I did plant the trap door to get you here. I didn't understand much about the technology, like I said, but I found another portal. I set it up in the field where you guys liked to drive around your little bus, and presto - as soon as you drove over it, you were brought here."

"Just like that," Sawyer mused.

"Yup, just like that. Well, there were a couple of other things. The clothes and the Hanso card were unexpected - I don't frankly know how or why that happened. A neat trick, to be sure. Wish I knew how it worked.

"You knew that guy Ben, right?"

"Ben?!" Hurley and Sawyer both looked stunned.

"I guess you do. Well, it's his portal. I'll bet that's one pissed off hombre, right now. And it's not really something you can send search parties for, because as soonas they find it, zip! They're missing too. Pretty funny, when you think about it." Kirk grinned in spite of himself.

"And I know Dharma's going to come get me for that," he continued. "I've made my preparations. I recorded a new orientation tape for the next person who comes here - assuming they send someone here. I don't know what they'll do next, but that's not exactly a new experience for me."

"And the transporter," Sawyer asked. "You can use it to send us back?"

"Well, sure," Kirk mutterred. "And I guess, karma-wise, it's my duty. It's my last Dharma job - sending you all back home. That's what you want, right? Back to your friends, your ..."

Sawyer hurriedly interrupted him. "Right. That's right. Home. Home sweet island."

Lorelai looked worried. Kirk switched knobs that the others couldn't see behind the wardrobe. They heard humming, and the shadow of a red light began flickering. A steady beeping began.

"Now, it's going to take about a minute to get ready. I'm ... I'm going to have to put you out."

"Is that so?" Sawyer asked.

"Yeah. Sorry. Rules of the game, my friend." Luke picked up the anesthetic bulb and made some adjustments to the canister. "I guess you can go first, and I'll send your friends after you."

"Well, okay, then." Sawyer dutifully sat in a chair and Kirk lowered the mask toward Sawyer's face. "It's been good to finally meet you," he whispered to Sawyer.

Sawyer mumbled something.

"Sorry, didn't catch that. I suppose it doesn't ..."

The mask lowered on Sawyer's face for a fraction of a second before his hand shot out, caught Kirk's wrist. "Sorry, bub. Not feeling sleepy." He cold-cocked Kirk with a vicious uppercut below the chin. Lorelai and Lulu gasped. Jin quickly took hold of Lulu's hands, and then realized she wasn't fighting to get free.

Lorelai walked to Kirk's prone body. Lightly, she kicked at him with her toe.

"Nice shot, slugger," Lorelai said.

Sawyer flexed his knuckles. "You know what they say, Becky. Practice makes perfect."

"I don't want to know who you've been practicing on."

"It ain't my favorite thing to practice, I'll tell you."

"Well, I'd ask what your favorite thing was, but I think I know."

"Oh, I think you do, too..." Sawyer purred.

"Hey, hey!" Hurley shouted. "Bystanders over here! Innocent bystanders!"

"Yeah, alright," Sawyer growled. "We've got work to do. Fun later, work now."

He nodded at Hurley and Jin. "Come on, guys, give me a hand here. Let's give Gilligan here a pleasant bon voyage."

He looked at Lulu. "Are you going to fight us on this?" he asked.

"Hell, no," Lulu snarled. "He didn't tell me half that stuff. He's been holding out on me all these years. You guys do whatever you have to do. I won't stand in your way." Jin released her then.

"All right, then." Jin and Sawyer dutifully grabbed Kirk's arms while Sawyer carried him by the legs, his hands under Kirk's knees. Lulu helped by grabbing his feet.

"One, two..."

"Three!" They heaved, and Kirk flew, feet first, through the wardrobe, through the portal, and out of Stars Hollow.

They listened, and far off, a million miles away, they heard the sound of his body hitting the ground. Somewhere, he had landed.

"So what do you think? He back on the island?"

"Yeah, he's on the island," Lulu nodded. "There's a big padded thing out in the forest that he lands on, kinda like the padding that pole vaulters and high jumpers land on. That's what the sound was." She started reaching for controls. "I guess we can shut this thing, since none of you really want to go back. You don't want to go back there, do you?"

"Wait!" Jin shouted.

He took the anesthetic bulb and handed it to Lulu. "I ... have to go."

Hurley sighed deeply and shrugged to Jin. "I'm not going back, Jin. I ... I want to be back here in the world. I understand why you have to go back." Sawyer whispered in Lorelai's ear about Sun and the baby, and Lorelai nodded somberly.

"Yeah, sorry, buddy, but you're on your own here," Sawyer said. "I've got ... more on the ourside than back there. But I know why you have to go. Godspeed."

Jin said his goodbyes. Lulu lowered the mask to his face and within seconds, he was unconscious. They took more care lowering him into the Wardrobe, and winced when they heard the whump! as he landed.

"It's okay," Lulu assured them. "Lots of padding. He'll be absolutely fine."

She looked for a long time into the emptiness of the Wardrobe, and repeated the words softly. "He'll be fine."


They met again, a week later, in a coffeehouse in Woodbury. Hurley and Lulu came alone, but seemed grateful to see each other and embraced warmly. Lorelai and Sawyer were already seated when they arrived, sharing a plate of onion rings.

"Ooh. That one - the double one," Lorelai called, pointing to an enormous onion ring. "That's mine," Lorelai called.

"You want it so bad. Come and get it," teased Sawyer, swatting her hand playfully as she reached for it. Finally, he picked it up and fed it to her.

"Hey, Lulu, you look great!" Lorelai said, looking up. It was true. She was wearing the simplest of outfits - faded jeans, sneakers, and a snug plaid sweater - but she looked completely comfortable. She seemed at peace with herself.

"So you're not going to Luke's anymore?" she asked gently. Lorelai flashed her a look and the question went unanswered.

"Anyone hear anything from ... you know?" Lulu asked curiously.

"Nope," Sawyer drawled.


"Yeah, it's a doggone shame," Sawyer said, chewing on an onion ring. "I guess the head honchos at Dharma weren't too fond of him using their fancy transporter without permission, so they didn't see fit to let him back off the island. Jack's probably put him to work fetchin' firewood or some such thing."

"Or else he's working for the Others," Hurley offered.

"Or else he's polar bear meat," Lorelai suggested.

"Now there's a cheerful thought," Lulu said quietly. She looked around furtively for a waiter.

"So what are you gonna do now?" Hurley asked Sawyer. "Just gonna settle down in Stars Hollow, or what?"

"Well, if Becky Thatcher here lets me, I'd like to stick around," he said, winking at Lorelai. It's a cute little town. It's got its charms to it," Sawyer smiled, squeezing her thigh under the table.

"And I hear they're looking for a town selectman. I reckon they could put up with a blowhard like Taylor as long as they did, a reformed con man might just stand a chance."

"Reformed," Lorelai repeated, and looked insistently at him. "You're out of the business, right? No more cons."

"No, darling," he answered respectfully. He raised three fingers in a Boy Scout salute. "No more cons. This time, I've got all my cards on the table. I've even got the flyers printed up and ready to do, when the time is right." He pulled a piece of paper from his back pocket and unfolded it. In bold, patriotic print, the flyer bore a simple message.

"Vote for James Ford - Town Selectman.

It's Time to Start Over."