Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ten Years Ago...

Ten years ago...

I had just declared bankruptcy. Moved in with my brother because I had nowhere else to go. I had just gotten a new job which was going really well - my first year in the nonprofit world.

I can't remember exactly what I was doing, but I think my brother and I just stayed in and watched the fireworks on tv. Or else I had gone somewhere to sing karaoke with a bunch of drunken strangers for New Year's, hoping to get lucky.

The WTO protests had just happened in Seattle, and everyone was feeling a little edgy. Seattle's New Year's celebrations were scaled dramatically. The fireworks went off as planned, but Seattle Center was shut down to the public. Some guy named Ahmed Ressam had been caught smuggling explosives on a ferry into Washington State, and he said he was planning to blow up LAX.

What a difference a decade makes. Happy New Year to all of my beloved readers.  

Albums of the Year - 2009

It's the end of the year, so let's do a frigging list!

Sometime, if I get around to it next week, I may put together a list of my favorite albums of the decade. But for now, here's my fave albums of two-diggity-diggity-nine. In no particular order. (That's not really true.)

It's an idiosyncratic list. It's only the albums I actually heard. So while some people thought Grizzly Bear or Animal Collective or Pearl Jam or the Dirty Projectors produced the best album of the year, I never got to hear them all the way through. So I can't judge. (To be fair, the Dirty Projectors and Animal Collective were two bands that I chose not to check out. They weirded me out a little bit.)

Now that I said that, I'm going to break my own rule with the first selection. That being:

I started the year not knowing who this woman was, and ended up the year fascinated by her. I haven't heard half of this album. Doesn't matter. Lady Gaga is one of the strangest and most interesting people in music today.

Wilco - Wilco (the Album)

Predictable, sure. (After all, they did borrow my name for their previous album.) But I really loved this album. They continue to produce sweet, introspective songs like "One Wing" and "You and I", and added some new classics like "You Never Know" and "I'll Fight." A great album, all the way through.

St. Vincent - Actor

This was such a delightful surprise for me. The combination of those lovely orchestral flourishes and snarling, scuzzy guitar really won me over. Saw her on Austin City Limits, and it did absolutely nothing to remove my crush on Annie Clark.

Taken by Trees -
East of Eden

Another surprise. Waif-like singer goes to Pakistan and ... what? Devours Pakistani music in a Graceland-like colonization? Tosses her vocals onto someone else's music like Jay-Z did with that Panjabi MC song? (Which I love, for the record.) No, instead this is a glorious merging of beautiful songs and sublime instrumentation. A gorgeous merging of styles.

Kitty, Daisy & Lewis - Kitty, Daisy & Lewis

Thanks to TBTL for turning me on to this album. It's pure, old-timey fun music, full of old novelty songs and slide guitars and harmonica and hand clap percussion. Love this one.

thenewno2 - You Are Here

This was a real surprise for me. I listened to it because Dhani Harrison was on Sound Opinions. I was intrigued by the sound of the music, picked up the album, and loved it. It's right in that sweet spot between rock and electronica. Memorable songs, interesting and unexpected hooks. A band to watch.

Lunch Money - Dizzy!

That's right, I put a kid's album on the list. Lunch Money is completely awesome. They write effortlessly hooky songs that your kid can sing and will cause him/her to jump around the house like a maniac. Any band that sings out loud about how much they love their library gets my vote.

Seriously, go listen to these guys. Go listen to "Tiny Dinosaurs" or "I Love My Library" or "It Only Takes One Night to Make a Balloon Your Friend" and see if you're not grinning. I love Lunch Money.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

Metric - Fantasies
"Help I'm Alive" and "Sick Muse" were probably some of my most-played songs this year.

Passion Pit - Manners

Dark Was the Night - Various Artists

Biggest disappointment of the year: Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown

I loved American Idiot, and I wanted so badly to love this album. But I've listened to it a couple of times and just gotten bored by it. They took all the wrong lessons from American Idiot. It sounds like show tunes and Hot Topic faux punkrawk and has the whiff of desperation. Omigod, we have a niche! Quick, let's plug something else into the niche before someone else does it! Sorry guys, I ain't buying it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Books for Dads

I was asked recently if I knew any good storybooks for kids that involved dads. It's a much harder question than you would think.

Fathers are given the short end of the stick in kid's books. Often, mothers are the only parent in sight, and fathers don't even exist in the book. Moms cook the dinner, moms play with their kids, moms tuck in their child at night. Where's dad? Oh, he must be working.

Sadly, when fathers are a part of the book, they're often portrayed as pathetically as they are in sitcoms: bumbling, disinterested, or just not involved at all. Look at the Olivia books, just for one example. What does dad ever do in those books besides read a newspaper?

Or else, they're about dads working. There are an amazing number of books out there that feature dads, but the story involves dad going away for a business trip and how much the kids will miss daddy when he's gone. So we're present in our absence.

And then there's all the divorced dad books - "Weekend with Daddy"-type stories. And I'm not complaining, because for all the dads out there in that situation, it's great for them to have something that reflects their reality. But there's not enough books that reflect the other reality - real fathers, as a part of the daily routine in the house just like moms are.

But there are a number of books that show dads in a positive light. I especially love finding books where dads are the caretakers - we tuck our kids in at night, we solve problems, we comfort our kids when they're upset. Because that's what we do, in real life, all the time. Here's a partial list of my favorites, along with suggestions I've gotten from friends. I can't vouch for all the books, but I wanted to provide the longest list possible. Let me know about your favorite books about dads in the comments, and I'll keep the list going.

Night Driving, by John Coy and Peter McCarty. This is my #1 favorite book about dads. It's the story of a boy and his dad driving cross-country at night. The pictures are beautiful and the bond between the father and son is really touching.

Other suggestions:
This is meant to be a partial list. Tell me in the comments about the books I missed. What are your favorite books featuring real dads?

More suggestions from readers:

Two Old Potatoes and Me (suggested by the author himself, John Coy!)
"Two Old Potatoes and Me is the story of a girl and her father planting potatoes and I think you'd enjoy both the story and the art."

On Our Way Home - suggested by anonymous commenter
"An outstanding book about a little bear and his Daddy on a hike. No mentions of absence or anything other than special time with Dad. For a bonus, Daddy tucks the little bear in at the end."

Some Dogs Do - suggested by JustineR
"'Some Dogs Do' is about a little dog who has a bad day, and his father is the comforting one. Mother dog doesn't even have a speaking role."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Christmas Present to Remember

I have to share the amazing feat I just witnessed.

Oliver got a lovely present from his grandmother - a copy of "The Night Before Christmas." It's one of those books that Hallmark sells where you can record your own voice reading the book. It's pretty clever. The pages all have sensors on them, so every time you turn the page, her voice begins reading the words on the page.

And he loves it. He's listened to it probably a dozen times in the last two days, over and over again. And one time, we saw him listening to it, and we noticed something interesting. After grandma was done reading her page, he would repeat everything she just said, word for word.

So tonight, he listened to it one more time as his bedtime story. And then he had me read it. But here's what happened. He started reciting the story along with me, so I started reading lines and then stopping to let him finish the line.

And then he took over. He started reciting the poem from the names of the reindeer - "On Dasher! On Dancer!" - all the way to the end, on his own. I didn't have to prompt him once. We just watched him, jaws hanging open, while he delivered the entire poem all the way to the end. All I could do was turn the pages, one by one, and stare at him. He didn't skip a single word.

That is a complicated poem, full of long sentences and quirky words. And he just rolled right through it, like he was doing Mary Had a Little Lamb.   It was one of the most astonishing things I have ever seen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Toasted Marshmallow Confusion

I ordered a vanilla latte, and the guy obviously grabbed the wrong bottle of syrup. So I ended up unexpectedly with a toasted marshmallow latte.

The taste was at once bewildering - delightfully pleasurable, and completely disarming at the same time. Every time I took a sip, my mouth would react like "Mmmmm. Wait, what the hell is going on here?" The flavor was that cottony delicious sugar rush of marshmallow, with just a hint of charcoal and caramelization. It was a strong enough flavor to completely overwhelm the taste of coffee. I don't know what kind of chemicals they put into that syrup to generate those sensations, but it's amazingly lifelike.

Drinking a toasted marshmallow out of a cup feels completely wrong to the senses. It's like petting a shadow on the head, or tucking a sunbeam under your pillow, or listening to the pages of a book.

That being said, it was delicious.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Workout Playlist - Dec. 6, 2009

A brutal workout today. I recently created a 40-minute routine on the elliptical machine, which might not sound like a lot to you hardcore workouty types. But it's absolutely punishing to me. And at the same time, incredibly satisfying. I'm dripping with sweat and endorphins right now.

Anyway, the playlist today was just fantastic.

Open Letter (to a Landlord) - Living Colour
Cult of Personality - Living Colour
Innervision - System of a Down
Zero - Smashing Pumpkins
Ashes in the Fall - Rage Against the Machine
Date with the Night - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Loud, crushing old-school rawk music full of roaring guitars and screaming vocals. The two exceptions were hip hop songs that both hit like a punch to the jaw. The Kanye song is the perfect right-in-your face song, one of his best. Jagged samples and a weaving, swaggering delivery by Kanye. And that Paris song is just perfection. Great flow, military-precision scratching, relentless beat. One of the greatest rap songs produced in the '80s, maybe ever.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Amanda Knox and Meredith Kercher

I know very little about this case.  I have avoided stories of this story feverishly, even though it is a story that touches many of my neighbors.  Even though the accused lives in the same city, the same neighborhood, as my family.  However, I feel called to talk about it because it is so close to home, literally and figuratively.  

I have avoided this story the way I avoid all stories of murder:  gruesome murder, celebrity murder, exploitative stories about murder, tragic stories about murder.  I avoid these stories.  I don't watch movies that talk cavalierly about murder, or movies like Pulp Fiction that use dead bodies as a punch line.  I wince at the way murder is treated in this country, and especially in the news.

So I did not seek out and I do not wish to know more about the Amanda Knox story:  about her alibi, her claims of innocence.  I do not wish to hear the cries from her family that she could not possibly have done something like this.  I do not want to know.  I don't follow murder stories.  

My brother was murdered fourteen years ago, you see.  (Some of my longtime readers have heard me talk about this before.)  We found out weeks after it had happened.  They found my father's address in his personal effects and were able to track him down, and they called him to identify the body of his son.  

One of the killers was found and arrested, years later.  He went to trial.  I was asked to attend as a witness.  I saw photos of my brother's body, taken at the morgue, depicting the blows that ended his life.  I saw the evidence of what had been done to him.  I saw these things and I wish that I never had.

I saw the man who was accused of murdering my brother.   I heard the prosecutor and a witness to the crime describe the things that had been done to end my brother's life.  I heard his attorney offer alibis, explanations, reasons why their client could not possibly have done these horrible things.

I met his family, the murderer's family.  They couldn't understand how such a mistake could have happened.  They were upset, angry, confused, and they know their son was innocent.  They just knew it.  He wasn't that kind of person. 

He was found guilty by a jury of his peers, and was sentenced to life in prison.  I have not seen him since that trial and I don't know if I will ever see his face again, except in my dreams, except when I want to think about my brother and instead, I see the ruddy face of the man who took his life.

So no, I don't want to know more about Amanda Knox' situation.  I don't want to know the holes in the prosecution's case.  I don't want to know the alternative theories of how the murder transpired.  It's not that I dislike Ms. Knox or that I've prejudged her.  I just don't want to know any more.  I can't do it.  I choose to just close my eyes and let the system do its job.   

I know this, however.  I know that Italy is a nation of laws, a nation with a legitimate government.  I know that Knox' trial was not conducted by reading goat entrails or casting runes.  I know that her trial was carried out in a legitimate court.  And if the jury said that she was guilty, then I have to believe that she was guilty.  A person was murdered.  Meredith Kercher's family deserves justice.  I will not, I dare not question the judgment of that Italian jury.  It is not my right.  None of us has that right except the judge and the men and women who made up that jury.  That's how it works.   

I believe that the jury who convicted my brother's murder carried out their role and meted out justice.  I believe that the jury who convicted Amanda Knox did the same.  I have to believe that.  There are so many murders in this country and around the world that go unsolved, their perpetrators left to roam free, the families of the victims left with gaping wounds in their hearts.  I have to believe that justice was carried out here, and I do believe that.  It is disrespectful to Meredith Kercher's family, to that jury, and to the entire country of Italy to claim otherwise.  

And that's all I can say about that.  

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

And so it begins...

I bought a scale. Yep, finally.

So you're probably wondering - how do I know I'm overweight if I don't own a scale? What was all this sturm-und-dranging about if I don't even know how much I weigh?

I didn't owned a scale for ten years, until now. The truth is that I was relying on doctor's scales, which of course means I was being weighed with clothes on. And my big ol' clodhopper shoes, which probably weigh two pounds each. But still, I was weighing in 10-15 pounds heavier than I had ever been before, even in a doctor's office, even with all my clothes on.

So I bought a scale so that I could actually weigh myself daily and measure my progress. Now I have an actual baseline of where I'm at and how far I need to go.

And like I'm said, I'm serious about this. So I'm 'fessing up right here. This morning, I weighed myself first thing in the morning, right before hopping into the shower.

My actual verified weight, as of 6:00 this morning, was ...

ulp ...

210 pounds.

I want to get down to 190. That's twenty pounds by next June.

My original goal was to lose 30 pounds, back when I thought I weighed more than I did. I'm going to see how quickly I can shed the first 20, and I'll see if I want to go for the extra ten.

I realize I've started this diet, or whatever, at the worst possible time - right during the overeating holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was relatively good during Thanksgiving, largely aided by the fact that I was sick as a dog with a chest cold. But I was careful with the turkey, doled out my portions and weighed them dutifully on our little kitchen scale, and plugged them into my LoseIt app. At the end of the day, I only went over my goal by only 75 calories. I considered that a good day.

I was under for the week of Thanksgiving by over 400 calories, and that's pretty good. Again, I was sick, but I'll take it. Progress is progress.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hatters Gotta Hat

I just got a comment on an old blog post. I wrote a smart-alecky post about some clown driving around with a "Hustler" bumper sticker. The commenter wrote - and let me quote here -

Don't be a hatter

A hatter? I'm not supposed to be a hatter? I thought he was making some kind of tricky allusion to "Alice in Wonderland," and then I realized what he was saying. He misspelled "hater."

So I'm not supposed to be a hater. This word gets thrown around all the time - don't be a hater, don't hate, why you gotta hate on blah blah blobbity blah. If you don't like a tv show, you're a hater. If you don't like a song by Katy Perry, you're hating on her. If you don't like someone's outfit, someone's music, someone's style, a book, a movie, a car, what-the-fuck-ever, you're a hater.

Well, okay then. Screw it. I'm a hater.

I hate dumbass people who drive around with "Hustler" bumper stickers, because Hustler was a sleazy porno mag long before it was some kind of euphemism for "hard-working entrepreneur." Anyone stupid enough to wear a "Hustler" bumper sticker is not a hustler, they're probably just some douchebag who picked up the bumper sticker while they were picking up their Recommended Daily Allowance of Cheetos and beer at the local Circle K. If you're a hustler, you don't have to say it. People know.

While we're at it, I hate the term "hustler" in general. The term got popular because of hip hop songs as a way of saying "someone doing whatever they need to do to survive." Most of the time, that means - at least, in the songs' worldview - selling drugs, doing petty crime, robberies, pimping, etc. That's what a hustler means.

I don't want to be a hustler. I want to be someone who works hard. I don't call myself a hustler, and I sure as fuck don't call myself a pimp.

I hate that "pimp" has become a compliment. Pimps are criminals. Pimps are not to be looked up to. And I'm going to just guess here, but I'd bet 99.9% of the people who call themselves pimps (read: white kids who listen to rap) have even never seen a pimp outside of a music video or a movie screen.

Other Things to Hate:

I hate stupidity.

I hate that I get breaking news alerts about people whose only fame comes from being in a reality show.

I hate bad grammar. Even on Twitter. Even on Facebook. Hate it.

I hate people who don't take the time to proofread a four-word post.

I hate. I'm a hater. Everyone hates something, and that doesn't make you a hater. It makes you human.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Time, For Real

I weigh more than I've ever weighed in my life. I can no longer accept this. I've got to get serious about losing weight.

I've made some half-hearted, haphazard attempts to lose weight in the past. I've never taken it seriously before. Not really.

I exercise, when I think of it. We own an elliptical machine, so I don't even to go down to a health club to exercise. But I only use it about once a week. Twice a week, on a good week. When I feel like it. When it doesn't feel like too much of a hassle to get up off the couch.

I've pretended to watch my portions before, but not really. I'll skimp at lunch, only to serve myself an extra scoop of ice cream on dessert. I'll open a bag of tortilla chips and just eat handful after handful, not even thinking about how many calories I'm cramming in my mouth. One handful just leads to another, and then another.

I eat seconds for dinner, just about every night. I finish the leftovers on Oliver's plate. If there's an extra spoonful of mashed potatoes in the pan, I'll finish it off.

I went to the doctor last week for a freak injury. They took my weight, and I discovered I'm twenty pounds heavier than what's listed on my driver's license.

I don't know what I expected, but I didn't expect that. I thought I'd been watching what I eat. I thought I was doing all right. I was wrong.

And the thing is, I knew it. I'd been denying the truth even as it stared me straight in the face. I've gained weight around my waist. A noticeable amount of weight. I can't fit into pants I wore a year ago. I had to buy new pants in a larger size when I went back to work in August. There are few things more humiliating than realizing, while buying pants, that you are no longer the size that you thought you were.

I have more asthma flareups now. There's a connection. I'm carrying too much weight. I'm having pain in my feet now. There might be a connection there, too.

I can't chase Oliver around the park for ten minutes without getting winded. I HATE that.

So I'm getting serious now. I'm using a program on my iPod touch called LoseIt! to track my daily calories and what I'm burning from exercise. (That has been a fascinating and humbling experience. More on that soon.)

I've worked out on the elliptical twice in the last three days. I started a small additional exercise routine - situps and pushups every morning. Right now, it's only ten of each, and I'm sure that I look awful doing them. But it's something. It's a start.

I want to lose thirty pounds by next summer. I'm not going to post my weight here, in order to preserve a bit of my dignity. But that's my goal. Thirty pounds, a pound a week. (And no, I don't own a scale. I'll take care of that soon.)

I'll keep you posted as to my progress on this blog. If I go more than a week without talking about it, remind me. This is serious this time. I have to get myself down to a dignified weight. I have to do this, for my sake, for my health, for Oliver and for Mrs. B. I have to do this.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Smoking Gun

Guy shoots up Fort Hood in Texas. Kills 13, wounds 30 more. How could we have possibly prevented this? Was it caused by depression? Anti-military fervor? He's a Muslim - was he a terrorist? (You know how those people are.)

How could we have stopped this?

The next day, a shooting in Florida. One dead, five injured in a highrise building. Oh, but this is totally unrelated to the Texas shootings. That was a military base, this was in a place of business. No connection whatsoever.

Last week, a police officer was shot and killed here in Seattle, shot in his own police car. But undoubtedly, it was unrelated to the other shootings. Different place, different motive. No connection whatsoever.

Yesterday, there was a shooting in the town where my wife works. Attempted murder-suicide, according to news reports. But of course, that had nothing at all to with the other shootings. No connection whatsoever.

Tonight, a man will be executed for committing a series of high-profile shootings in the Washington D.C. area. Any connection to the other crimes? Oh no, of course not. This was a serial killer, a psychopath, totally unpredictable. His crime was an aberration.

There's no connection at all.


Here's the pattern that I see. Shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, and another shooting. The connection is guns. The connection is unmistakeable, unavoidable, and undeniable.

On the day that the Fort Hood shooting occurred, dozens of other shootings also happened and most of them never even made the news. Shootings in this country are an epidemic, and we're so inured to them that all we do is shake our heads when another one happens. What a shame, we say. Another senseless crime. Another unstoppable crime. We throw up our hands - what can you do?

Here's what you can do. You can call your member of Congress, call your city council, call your town's mayor. Ask them what they're doing to reduce gun violence, and make them get specific. Call the president and tell him to make gun violence a priority.

What can we do about it? Support sensible gun laws in your state and in federal law, like closing the gun show loophole.

What can we do? Support local organizations that are fighting the scourge of guns (we have a great local organization called Washington Ceasefire), or support the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Don't just turn your head. One hundred thousand people are shot in this country each year, and over ten thousand people every year die from gun violence. Our children, our neighbors, our families are all suffering from this plague. According to the Center for Disease Control's Leading Causes of Death Reports, from age birth until age 65 firearms are consistently among the top ten leading causes of death in our communities. And among our young people aged 15-24 firearms rank in the top three leading causes of death. Firearms take twice as many lives as AIDS does each year. (Thanks to the Brady Campaign and Washington CeaseFire for the statistics.)

These are preventable crimes, but we have to be brave enough to fight in order to prevent them.

Friday, November 06, 2009


“This is an investigation of everything — Acorn, the national organization, the local organization and all of its affiliated entities,” said David Caldwell, an assistant attorney general.

ACORN's offices in Louisiana are being raided as I write this. ACORN is going up in flames, and this time, it's for the right reason.

No, I'm not talking about Encyclopedia Brown the pimp and his sorry-ass Saved by the Bell reject wannabe hooker buddy.

The videotapes are bullshit, and you can quote me on that. They're preposterous, hucksterism, pointless, juvenile. This investigation is about the epic mismanagement of a national organization. And I believe it's the right investigation, for the right reasons.

They're targeting the embezzlement of around $1 million - maybe as high as $5 million, according to reports I've read - by the brother of ACORN's founder, Wade Rathke. ACORN has had a problem for a while, apparently, and only the publicizing of the crime made it clear how completely screwed up the organization was.

I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that having one guy with as much power as Wade Rathke had was a situation bound to lead to disaster. He was clearly getting involved in things without the knowledge of the board. (Why do I say that? Most of the board's members didn't even know about the embezzlement - or the secret "settlement" - until years after the fact. Years.) When all power is consolidated in the hands of one person, and when that person stops believing he has to be accountable to anyone - funders, board members, other officers - then trouble is bound to happen.

Then, just think about the fact that his brother was working high up in the organization as well, and had access to the organization's bank accounts. Recipe for disaster, I'm telling you.

ACORN's trying to set its house in order, but there have been years and years of damage that they have to undo. The embezzlement happened in 1999 and 2000. This was hidden for eight years. Now they're being investigated for tax fraud, and the investigators are also trying to determine how much money was actually embezzled. Remember, ACORN was a tax-exempt organization, run largely on individual contributions and foundation support. They were operating for the public's benefit. When you steal from a nonprofit, you are stealing from the public. In ACORN's case, Dale Rathke was effectively stealing from the very low-income families that they were trying to help.

ACORN's funding is drying up. Foundations don't want to touch them with a ten-foot pole until they can be absolutely certain that their money is going to be handled correctly. This is what should happen. This is the natural repercussion of their poor management.

And now they're being investigated by the state of Louisiana - again, not because of the pimptastic videotapes, but because of their outrageous financial mismanagement. Maybe the organization will be able to answer all of the questions and sever themselves of the taint of Rathke's leadership. Maybe they'll survive this, maybe they won't. But at least this time, the questions that are being asked are the right questions.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Don't Hit!

Parenting is hard.  

There's so much I want to be excited about.  So much I want to talk about here.  His speech has taken remarkable leaps in the last few months.  His focus is amazing.  We can sit down and read twenty, thirty, forty pages of a book and he just sits, enraptured.  And his dexterity, his confidence in his body, are growing every day.  

But I need to get this out of my system.  

Yesterday, Oliver hit Mrs. B today in the face. Not bad enough to leave a mark or draw blood, but still - he hit her in the face.

He had already done something else that was not allowed, and she was trying to bring him into his bedroom for a time-out.  And that's when he smacked her in the face.  

Earlier in the day, he also threw a shoe at her. 

This isn't the first time he's hit one of us, and it's getting more and more frequent. He's getting more physical with his displeasure about things - kicking at us, throwing things, hitting. I see a glint of pleasure in his eyes sometimes when he's trying to hit me and I'm telling him to stop. 

When he's angry, I've talked to him about throwing stuffed animals or hitting pillows, like you're supposed to, but he always seems to end up throwing something hard and usually in the direction of one of us. 

Time outs don't seem especially effective, mostly because it's so damn hard to get him into his bedroom for a time out and usually he tries to hit or kick again.  We're trying to adjust things a little bit.  Our previous routine was that with time outs, we'd just put him in his room until he calmed down, give him a chance to apologize, and then let him come out.  We've been looking at one of the Love and Logic books and changing our routine a bit. Following the book's suggestion, we're going to start having him sit for a few extra minutes in his room just to make sure he's completely calmed down before he comes out. It also seems like it's in the spirit of what I understand time outs to be: a change in the energy of the situation.  

I hope this is just one of those things he has to go through, because right now, this sucks.  

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Things He Says: Getting Runny-Aroundy with It

The boy has been coming up with some hilarious turns of phrase lately.  None of this will be interesting to anyone who has a kid, and then it will only be entertaining once you realize the kid is only four.  Or hell, maybe it's not entertaining to anyone but me.  Tough cookies.  

Here's a few examples of his verbage:


I was at home with Oliver one day, and I was playing Living Colour. (What?) 

Oliver loved it.  He started dancing and running around the living room like a maniac. I commented: "I forgot what great dancing music this is. Do you think it's good dancey music, Oliver?" 

Oliver: "Uh huh. And runny-aroundy music, too."

And then he commenced to run around the place some more.


He was describing a story that someone was reading at his school.  I asked innocently, "Oh, was one of your teachers reading the story?"

"No, someone interesting."


This morning, he was trying carefully to craft a prepositional phrase.  You could practically hear him diagramming the sentence in his head.  

"By watching you guys..."

Long pause.  Then he tried again.

"By watching you guys do it, I think I know how to button my buttons." 

It seems like such a small phrase, but it was just so great to see him carefully put the sentence together in his head, and then try and recite what was in his head.  He really wanted to say it exactly right.  

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Roman Polanski Purge

In which I vomit out all of my feelings about Roman Polanski, in hopes that I never have to think about him again.

I don't give a rat's ass about Roman Polanski. I have no stake in this battle. I've seen one or two of his movies, yeah yeah. He's done some stuff.

But this is about a crime that he committed. I'm not going to go into detail about what he did, because there are extremely graphic details about it all over the internet. You can find the details if you want them.

My problem with the whole Roman Polanski discussion is that there's a couple of points that are being completely ignored. So here's my attempt to correct the record.

Point #1 - This is not about whether Polanski is guilty. It's about him fleeing the country.

There is no question about whether Polanski is guilty of a crime, so quit with all the cute dithering about how it wasn't rape-rape and the age of consent in California. Polanski pled guilty in a court to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. By his own words, he is guilty.

Because of some stuff that happened between the judge and the prosecuting attorney, Polanski thought his plea bargain might not hold up, and so he fled the country. Let me say that again. He left the goddamn country because he thought that the judge might not give him a fair shake. He is a fugitive from justice. The whole legal discussion underway right now is about whether he should be brought back to the United States to face justice. It is not appropriate to be rearguing the merits of the case, because the case is not the issue. Polanski's flight from justice is the issue.

And that brings me to my second point -

Point #2 - The Roman Polanski discussion is all about class privilege.

Think about the case itself. Why was the victim anywhere near Polanski? He was a successful director, a rich man, a famous man who traveled in posh circles. He had been asked to guest-edit the French edition of Vogue, and he was taking pictures of "women" - ostensibly for the magazine. The victim - a "woman" who was only thirteen years old at the time - hoped to be featured in the magazine.

The private photo session that led to the rape happened at the home of his buddy Jack Nicholson, who left him the keys while he went out of town.

I don't know what Polanski was thinking at the time, whether he thought he could get away with it because of his fame, his connections. But the whole scenario happened because he was a rich man, a powerful man, and that was probably the reason why the victim's mother trusted her with Polanski. That was why the two were in the same room at the same time.

And then he was arrested, and then he pled guilty, and he was offered a plea bargain. Circumstances changed, the plea bargain appeared to be crumbling, and he made a decision. Did he ask for a new judge? Did he go public with his charges that the prosecutor was up to no good? No. He left the country.

Most of us do not have the option of leaving the country when it suits us. We have to face our crimes, our mistakes, our failures. Not so for Polanski. He could start over again. He could use his wealth and his good friends in Hollywood to continue in his chosen career.

Who are his defenders now? Harrison Ford. Woody Allen. Harvey Weinstein. Martin Scorsese. Debra Winger. There are more. Some see it as artists defending a fellow artist. Or you could see it as the rich and comfortable, defending the rich and comfortable.

Think about it. Think about what's not being said in the news stories. Now think about your average poor defendant. Would he have the choice to flee the country, set up a comfortable home in Europe, continue to practice his trade in a very public way for three decades? Not on your life.

Judges change their minds frequently. Miscarriages of justice occur. There are people who die in prison after being convicted falsely. People are identified by mistaken witnesses. People cry for DNA tests and are denied them. This happens in our country. It is not a perfect system, but it is our system. It needs to improve. This is a true statement.

The phrase "throwing yourself on the mercy of the court" is for the poor. For the rich, like Polanski, there are other options. If you don't like what the judge has to say, just skip the country and set up shop somewhere else. Those who can afford to ignore justice will ignore it.

Those who will defend Polanski need to think about this. If you believe in the justice system of our country, you believe that no one is above the law. If you support Polanski in this, you believe that the justice system is only for the poor unwashed masses, and that the rich are not obligated to accept justice when they can simply find another country who will treat them better, somewhere else where they can wipe their slate clean, where they can start over as an artist instead of a felon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dragging ACORN Through the Mud

It's a damn shame what's being done to ACORN.

Disclosures:  Most of you know that I'm a former community organizer.  I have never worked for ACORN, but I have worked for organizations that worked with ACORN.  I worked along the same territory as them - fighting for the rights of low-income, disenfranchised people.  

I have written pretty bluntly about ACORN's failures in the past, so you know I'm not a cheerleader for them.  They have screwed up massively in the past, and like most large organizations or companies, they will probably screw up again sometime in the future.

Having said that, they don't deserve what's happening.

For those who haven't been following the stories, there have been a series of videos supposedly showing ACORN workers giving two individuals - a "pimp" and a "prostitute" - advice on setting up a brothel.  The videos have been shown repeatedly on Fox News and have been picked up to a lesser degree by other media.  The "pimp" was O'Keefe, wearing a completely ridiculous outfit.  The "prostitute" was Giles, masquerading as a prostitute who apparently favored the name Kenya.  (There's nothing racist at all in her using that name, I'm sure.)  

This is character assassination, plain and simple.  Two people with a hidden camera are targeting ACORN offices, recording embarrassing videos of staff members.  Both of the participants, Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe, have admitted to having a political agenda.  They're not out to find the truth.  They're out to get ACORN.   They're out to get ACORN, because in the feverish minds of some conservative activists and writers, ACORN is at the heart of Obama's election and bringing down ACORN will inevitably lead to Obama's collapse.

Look, I've worked as a door-to-door canvasser and I've worked as a community organizer.  I've walked into some situations I thought were a little sketchy.  I'm pretty sure that if someone wanted to catch me on video saying something embarassing, and they followed me around for long enough and caught me off-guard, they might be able to do it.  It might happen.  And so it's gone with ACORN that they've caught some workers saying some fairly embarrassing things. 

Do the videos show the truth?  Well, some staffers probably said some things they shouldn't have.  But we don't know the whole story, because the full unedited videos haven't been released and probably never will.  They could be edited.  They could have manipulated the audio, or the video, or both.   We don't know what actually happened in those rooms, and we will almost certainly never know.

Is the behavior of the ACORN workers criminal behavior? There have been no criminal charges filed in any state in connection with these videos.  Why?  Well, O'Keefe and Giles aren't police officers, they're private citizens.  They have no legal authority to conduct "sting" operations.  They aren't out to find criminal behavior - they're purely interested in embarrassing ACORN, and they have.

What criminal activity?  All of the criminal ideas came from O'Keefe and Giles.  They posed as a pimp and a prostitute and talked about setting up brothels.  They talked about bringing in underage immigrant women to work illegally as prostitutes.  All the criminal activity came from their own twisted minds.

As it turns out, there has been one lawsuit filed in Maryland in connection with these videos.  ACORN filed it.  Turns out that it's illegal in Maryland to record audio of another person without their permission.  Guess our cutting-edge filmmaker didn't take the time to check out wiretapping laws before swooping in with his super-fantastic sting operation.  

One ACORN worker, after giving them advice on setting up their house of ill imagination, allegedly confessed to having murdered her husband.  That got her a call from homicide detectives and the local newspapers, where she admitted that she made up the whole story because she know that they were trying to set her up.  (She also mentions conversations she had with O'Keefe and Giles that never made the video tape that ran on Fox.  Big surprise.)

Another worker called the police after the clowns/filmmakers came to them with a story about smuggling underage immigrants for sex work. 

Think about this:

  • We know that one of the videotaped workers lied to the filmmakers/clowns deliberately. We don't know how many others may have made up stories, or deliberately given false advice, because they knew they were being had.
  • We know that one worker called the police on them after his visit.  We don't know how many others called the police.
  • We don't know how many offices the filmmakers/clowns visited in order to get their supposedly incriminating videos.
  • We don't know how many offices threw them out without a second glance.
  • We don't know how many staff members they actually talked to.
  • We don't know what actually happened on the tapes, because no one except O'Keefe and Giles has apparently seen the unedited videos.

And over all this, Congress has seen fit to withdraw all federal funding going to ACORN, an organization which has been helping people of color low-income people in this country for thirty years.   Over all this, people have been declaring ACORN to be a criminal enterprise.  Over all this, ACORN has been denounced by left and right and in the halls of our Congress.  

President Obama was right.  There needs to be an investigation into these videos.  There needs to be an investigation into these malicious filmmakers and their gutter tactics of manipulation, distortion, and character assassination.  

ACORN has made mistakes in the past.  That is different that what's going on here.  What's happening now is that someone with great friends in the media has gone on a personal crusade to destroy a social justice organization.  He's doing it for ratings, for personal glory, to raise his own profile as an "activist" and as a "cutting-edge filmmaker."   Well, he can call himself anything he wants.  What he's doing is shameful, despicable behavior. 

Sights Not Meant to Be Seen

(Photo taken by swift447)

It was the strangest thing.

The mornings are getting later, and so this morning as I was driving to work, I saw the sun coming up. I could just see it peeking over the clouds, and it was the most startling blood-red sun I had ever seen. It was astonishing, almost unearthly.

See that picture above? (That's not today's sunrise, for the record, and it's not even Seattle.) It was weirder than that. The color was darker, more viscous. You could practically see it dripping.

I tried to find a spot to pull over. The sun rose in seconds, the blood-red crown rising into a full scarlet sun burning the sky, menacing all of us down below. And suddenly, before I could snap a picture with my cell phone, the otherworldly color was gone. It had transformed.

And then the sun was its normal color - that lovely friendly goldenrod yellow that we all think of as the sun's true color. But for a moment, it was the color of nightmare, warning, fear. I felt the way you'd feel if you caught a glimpse of a werewolf changing back into its human form. I had seen something I wasn't meant to see - the sun in its true diabolical form. The sun as a wild snarling beast of nature, warming us not for our pleasure but for its own amusement.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

TBTL - a New Beginning? Or the Beginning of the End? (Part 1)

The show was, indeed, too beautiful to live.

One of the greatest radio shows ever (ever!), TBTL (short for Too Beautiful to Live) has been cancelled as an on-air broadcast. The show will be turned into a web-based podcast. So it's losing the regular built-in audience of a major talk radio station in Seattle, and throwing itself on the mercy of the notoriously fickle internet audience. The website, the community, and at least two of the three major players will remain. The new show, such as it is, will be broadcast not from a radio studio, but from a room in the home of host Luke Burbank.

So this is the end of the world. Right?

Or is this really a new beginning? Is it possible that TBTL is going to be one of the new faces of the transformation of the medium of radio?

Here's the thing, friends and neighbors. Radio is changing. Example 1: me. I hardly ever listen to terrestrial radio anymore. I listen most Saturday mornings. I listen to NPR sometimes in the morning, and for about ten minutes while I drive to my job. Sometimes. Sometimes I just plug in a podcast and listen to that instead.

But am I missing NPR? Am I missing key stories? I doubt it. I listen to no less than eight NPR podcasts. I listen regularly to the NPR Story of the Day podcast, the NPR Shuffle podcast and the NPR Music podcast, and that captures most of the content that interests me.

I podcast Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, On the Media, and the magnificent WNYC show Radio Lab, and I never miss an episode of the latter two. Oh, and of course I podcast This American Life, because all of us radio geeks do. It's a rule.

But wait, there's more! There are two NPR podcasts that only exist in podcast form, and they are my favorite NPR productions: All Songs Considered and It's All Politics. Bob Boilen worked for years as a producer for NPR programs over the air, and on the side, produced a music podcast called All Songs Considered. It's eccentric, very personal, and absolutely fascinating, and I have picked up so many new favorite artists from it.

It's All Politics, fairly obviously, is a political podcast produced by NPR's Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving and Political Editor Ken Rudin, who both know entirely too much about the Beltway and are always happy to show off all the maddening Washington insider trivia stuck in their craniums. It's weekly, it's funny, the analysis is always sharp and often brilliant. I learn something every time I listen.

So that's my NPR listenership.

So am I an NPR listener?

I don't think I show up on the Arbitron ratings, because I'm not an over-the-air listener. Even though I listen to 15-20 hours of NPR content every week, I don't count as a listener.

And also, significantly, I don't count for their standard advertisers. I don't listen to the pre-broadcast sponsorship messages. I am not their audience in the traditional way. I'm still inflicted with lots of advertising on the podcasts, but not over the air.

I do still pay for my membership. And once I'm solvent again, I plan to send something into Chicago Public Radio and WNYC for all the great content they're producing.

Can TBTL still exist as a radio show without being an over-the-air radio show? Sure. Why not? There are plenty of podcasts that make a good go of it. Brian Ibbott somehow manages to eke out a living producing Coverville, by selling ads on his website and doing testimonial ad pitches doing every podcast. The Moth has only recently become a radio broadcast, but has existed for years as a brilliant podcast. Other examples come to mine - the Sound of Young America, Ask a Ninja, Rocketboom, This Week in Tech. There are lots of free-standing podcasts. It's a tried and true medium.

But TBTL is the first show I know that has made the jump from on-air to podcast exclusively. (The only parallel I can think of is Howard Stern, jumping from terrestrial radio to satellite, and that is such an apples-to-kumquats comparison that it's hardly worth the effort.)

The jump could spell trouble. They somehow have to hold onto their loyal audience as they make the switch. Luckily (or not so luckily), the overwhelming majority of their audience was listening to the podcast and not the over-their-air broadcast. Most of their listeners are Time Bandits, in the language of the show. They didn't listen the same day, or even the same week. Sometimes, Time Bandits reported falling months behind and catching up in a mind-melting glut of shows.

In other words, the audience of TBTL is already used to downloading the show, not tuning it in. We listen on iPods and on our computer and in streams. We are already an online audience. As Luke Burbank said, this latest move by KIRO's management might be stripping away the worst weaknesses of the show - its on-air audience - and playing to its greatest strengths.

TBTL has always been a show that relies feverishly on its audience. Audience members are often guests on the show, bringing great ideas or unusual perspectives on news shows or just serving as available talent and the in-studio voice of the audience. Some of the greatest ideas on the show have come from its listeners. The blog is ferociously active, and the TBTL audience - the Tens - are a passionate lot, showing up for roller-skating events, baseball games, karaoke nights, concerts held in the back of Mexican restaurants, and other seemingly preposterous gatherings. There are at least 18 groups on Facebook dedicated to TBTL.

On its last night on the air, over 1300 viewers tuned into the webcam to see - what? The hosts singing karaoke and Luke Burbank heroically dancing in his underwear, fulfilling a promise to the audience. This was the essence of the show. No matter how ridiculous, how absurd, the show kept its promises to its audience. The love between show and audience is more pure and heartfelt than I have ever seen for a radio show. It is a beautiful thing. It was clearly not planned, but the love affair between TBTL's audience and its makers is the true center of the show.

The show was not killed. Let us all remember that. KIRO is still putting money behind the show in its new form. As Jen Andrews pointed out, the typical procedure when a radio show is cancelled is that it's pulled off the air immediately, the hosts not allowed to broadcast a final show for fear they'll say something reprehensible on the air about their former employers. With any other show, the hosts would have been ushered out the door by security guards, not allowed on the air. In this case, the TBTL hosts were given six solid hours of airtime to say a proper farewell to their audience. It was a remarkable statement of confidence, definitely not the sort of thing you do for people who you want to boot out the door as quickly as possible.

Let's hope the new format of the show proves that TBTL does not need to be on the FM or AM dial to drew listeners. Maybe it will take its new wings and soar. We can make it happen. We, the TBTL audience, need to prove ourselves worthy.

If you ever listened to TBTL, you owe it to the show to listen on the first day and tell your friends. Post it on Facebook. Send messages on Twitter proclaiming your loyalty. They need an audience that is there from day one and announces themselves loudly. They - we - need to be there for the show. The ratings will not be measured by the standard numbers. It'll be tabulated by downloads of the podcast, comments on the blog, tweets mentioning TBTL, web traffic.

This is a new experiment in radio and it will succeed if the Tens stay faithful and give KIRO a reason to keep funding it. Radio can survive without the ties to an AM or FM frequency. With a strong audience, an active online presence, talented hosts, and enough moxie, this show could become a completely new example of the new face of radio. Let's make it happen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

R.I.P. Senator Ted Kennedy

Note: this comic isn't coming out right for the way my blog is formatted. Please click on it to see the full image. It brought tears to my eyes.

As Joe Biden said, he was a man who restored our sense of idealism. He was one of the greatest politicians I ever saw, a true public servant. Vision. Persistence. Passion. He was one of the greats. Rest in peace, Senator. You've earned it.

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Got a Job!!!!!

It's over.  At long last, it's over.  

I filed for unemployment for 27 weeks.

I submitted applications for 94 different jobs.

I was invited to interviews with no less than sixteen different organizations.  

Seven second interviews.  I made the final cut in seven different job searches.  Seven times, I got close enough that they called my references, asked me questions like whether I would commute or drive, what days I'd prefer to work, whether I could start right away or if I need a week or two.

And six times - six stomach-churning times - I had to get the "sorry, we've decided to go in another direction" phone calls.  I told you about one particularly crappy rejection in an earlier post.

No, wait, change that.  I only got the call five times.  One organization didn't even have the guts to call me to say they hired somebody else.  They just politely forgot about me, didn't return my calls, discreetly took the job posting off their website.  

But it's over.  A few weeks ago, someone said yes.  I am officially employed again. 

We did the dance, just like with other companies.   They asked me if I'd do a phone interview and I said yes.  I did the phone interview on my cell phone, standing in my kitchen, a cup of coffee nearby.  My resume, cover letter, and some hastily scribbled notes were spread out on a counter where I could glance at them easily.  

The phone interview went very well.  They called me back in a couple of days and asked me if I'd come for an in-person interview, and I said yes.  I dusted off my suit, ironed a crease into my pants, asked Mrs. B to iron a shirt.  (She does a better job on shirts than I do, and we both know it.)   I picked out a tie and spent entirely much time thinking about it.  

The interview went well, sure, but I'd had other interviews that went well before.  They asked me for references, and I emailed them to the person in charge.  And waited.  

Two days letter, my references reported that they had been called.  And that the person seemed to really like me.

And a few days later, I got the call.  

I took a day to think about it.  Mrs. B and I sat down to talk it over.  The pay scale wasn't ideal, but the hours are great.  I liked the people I met.  I thought the job would be a good next job for my career ladder.  (Thank goodness for that - I'd applied to several jobs that would have been a step backward, and would have gladly taken them if the price was right.)  

I called them back and told them I'd accept the job.

The person on the other phone went "Yayyyyyyy!"  It was the sound you make when you're ten, and your dad just told you that you're going out for ice cream.

It was the perfect sound to end this soul-crushing, never-ending, gut-wrenching job search.  I was not only the best candidate, but they wanted me.  They wanted ME.   

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going back to work.  

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Skinny Jeans

I had a skinny-jeans moment the other day.

I have this pair of Levi's. I bought them, thought they looked good in the store, and then realized that there was an unfortunate reason that I couldn't wear them. My spare tire, um, was pushing the jeans down my body so they hung at around my hip bones. The result of which was that they were too long. I was mortified.

So they've lived in our basement for a couple of years. They lived the life of skinny jeans: designated to be forgotten until the wearer decides to challenge their self-esteem by trying them on. If they fit, joy and fireworks. If they don't, they go away again.

So I tried on my skinny jeans, not thinking of them in those terms at all. They were just those jeans that didn't fit. I was cleaning out the basement and came across them and thought, oh what the hell. And I tried them on and they fit like a glove.

I told Mrs. B about it. "Why did I think these pants didn't fit before? They look great now."

And she reminded me of the previous indignity. Apparently, my spare tire had shrunk - not disappeared, just shrunk - to the point where they sat properly on my waist. They fit now. I'm wearing them at this very moment. It's a small victory, but it's a victory.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The End of the Argument

Credit to Daily Kos' Suburban Blue for finding this golden nugget.

So some of you know that John Mackey, the CEO of WholeFoods, is getting the arugala kicked out of him because of a smarmy editorial he published in the Wall Street Journal about "ObamaCare" (his term of choice). Here's the editorial, if you haven't read it.

So in my opinion, it's disgusting. He starts off with a quote from Margaret Thatcher. He touts many favorite bumper-sticker conservative points: Health Savings Accounts as a solution to insurance, ending regulation of insurance companies, tort reform, blah bla blah dittohead blah. And the kicker of all kickers - he essentially suggests that anyone who gets sick only has themselves to blame, and that the secret to long life is, well, eating at WholeFoods.
Recent scientific and medical evidence shows that a diet consisting of foods that are plant-based, nutrient dense and low-fat will help prevent and often reverse most degenerative diseases that kill us and are expensive to treat. We should be able to live largely disease-free lives until we are well into our 90s and even past 100 years of age.

Health-care reform is very important. Whatever reforms are enacted it is essential that they be financially responsible, and that we have the freedom to choose doctors and the health-care services that best suit our own unique set of lifestyle choices. We are all responsible for our own lives and our own health. We should take that responsibility very seriously and use our freedom to make wise lifestyle choices that will protect our health. Doing so will enrich our lives and will help create a vibrant and sustainable American society.

It's become a sensation. There's a new Facebook group dedicated to boycotting WholeFoods because of Mackey's comments (I joined - it's over 5,700 members in less than two days.)

Now, as an attempted response, there's a new thread on the WholeFoods website forum wherein conservatives have apparently proclaimed Mackey their new anti-government savior. The dittohead Glenn Beck-worshiping lot are spouting the usual crap about government being evil, nothing good has ever come from government, etc.

In response to one of the pinheads, forum user MB Shopper posted this. The entire thing can be read here on the forum. I don't know if he is the original writer or if he just reposted it, but this is sheer brilliance.


This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US Department of Energy. I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility. After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels to see what the national weather service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like using satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. I watched this while eating my breakfast of US Department of Agriculture inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

At the appropriate time as regulated by the US congress and kept accurate by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the US Naval Observatory, I get into my National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal departments of transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, using legal tender issed by the Federal Reserve Bank. On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US Postal Service and drop the kids off at the public school.

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to ny house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and fire marshal's inspection, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to the local police department.

I then log on to the internet which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration and post on and fox news forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can't do anything right.

The only reason government doesn't work is because conservative Republican administrations defunded and/or patronage staffed them with people with ties to special business interests: to wit the last FDA, Dept of Interior and Agriculture under Bush. No one seems to have a problem with pumping over $500Bil to the Defense Department which last I hear is a socialized entity.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Key to Unlocking Death Cab for Cutie

I've been watching Death Cab for Cutie on Soundstage. I was about to write a different post about the band, and then they began performing a song that completely changed my opinion of them.

I like Death Cab. I've seen them live here in town. I own one of their albums and would probably own more if I could just remember to buy them. They do the kind of songs that you always like when you hear them, but you never get crazy passionate about them. With one exception, I've never thought to myself, "boy, I've just gotta play that Death Cab song over and over again until it seeps into my bones."

I like several of their songs. Soul Meets Body. The New Year. The Sound of Settling. Crooked Teeth or whatever that song is called. I love their lyrics. They do a lot of great stuff. But their songs are always - again, with only one exception that I know of - a bit antiseptic, a bit distant. Ben Gibbard never screams. The guitars never wail. The drummer never goes wild and starts flailing like Keith Moon. They are a very literate, very restrained band of great precision. They don't rock out so much as they perform songs in the rock style, if you get my meaning.

I will say this, though - what an odd band to watch live. Most bands ramp up their energy for the live show. Their soft songs become a little more passionate, the harder songs get edgier. The guitars get louder. Not Death Cab. If anything, they get less edgy at their live show. They look awkward on stage. Ben Gibbard shakes his head back and forth in front of the microphone like he's trying to convince himself he has rhythm. Chris Walla bounces back and forth between keys and guitar, playing both without fanfare or showiness. He is an exacting artist. He does what is needed. At one point, they showed him sitting at the keyboard, cracking his knuckles, wating nervously for his part to begin. The drummer (Jason McGerr - I had to look it up) looks like he's teaching a class sometimes.

The bass player (Nick Harmer - had to look that up, too) is the only guy who looks like he plays in a rock band. Granted, he looks like he belongs in Journey circa 1984, but at least he's rocking out.

So I was watching the band, surfing the internet, halfway paying attention, thinking that this was one of the least dynamic performances I had ever seen. And then they started playing that song that I've made reference to several times. The song is a tidal wave called "I Will Possess Your Heart."

I love this song with an absolute fiery passion. It's terrifying, dark, and doesn't sound very much like anything they've done in the past. As soon as those first rumbling bass notes hit, you know that you're in a different world. The long version of this song - over eight minutes long - starts with three minutes of churning, driving instrumental music, during which the band locks into an enormous groove. It's their own type of groove, not the kind that a hard-rock band like Pearl Jam would unleash. There's some feedback, but it's whispering feedback, not roaring or screeching. The instruments are all precise, par usual, but this time, they're a little obsessively precise. The same piano melody plays over and over, nervously, as though it's trying to find something different every time. The sound of the bass guitar is huge. The drums are louder, and even though he's not doing much dramatically, he's playing his heart out. The entire sound is the sound of an obsessive going over the edge.

And then the lyrics start. In the album version, and on the Soundstage version, the music drops out almost completely when the vocals begin, and it's a stunning effect. Just a few seconds of nothing but Ben's voice, speaking the first words - "how I wish you could see the potential, the potential of you and me..." It gives you shivers.

And then the beat comes back in, and we're off galloping along with the lead character's crazy obsession, charging toward disaster, locked in that maniacally precise groove. It is the best thing this band has ever put to record, because it's so unlike them.

If Death Cab came out with some squealing guitar jam or some distortion-soaked freakout music, people wouldn't recognize them. This song is so great because it contains all the parts of the essential band - great musicianship, an eye toward perfection, carefully written and enunciated lyrics - turned up to the max. The precision turned to obsession, the enunciation turned into a crazy person shaking you by the lapels and whispering "you must listen to me, because what I have to say is very very important!" It is as if the band discovered another version of themselves, the funhouse mirror version.

Something happened to the band while they played this song. Ben Gibbard started shaking his head around, as though trying to break a spell, and sweat began to form on his brow. The guys seemed to lock into each other for the first time in the show, really following each other intently. And the music was stronger, because it was looser, edgier. They did the full instrumental lead-in for the song, and they tore into it with genuine fury. It's not a song that can be played gently, because there's so much fury in the music and so much underlying rage in the lyrics. It's an angry and a desperate song that has to be played all the way or not at all, the same way that I have to either turn up the radio when the song comes on or turn it off.

After that song, it was a different show. There was some feedback deployed. They got a little looser, a little bouncier. Ben's voice got a little louder and shakier. He sonded less constrained. They used some odd samples on the last song. Suddenly, the band seemed less like a dissertation and more like a rock band, playing for the joy of performing together on a stage.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You Use the Tools That Are Available to You

We did the "three questions" thing again tonight, and he's still asking bizarrely eclectic questions.

Tonight's list:

1) Why are you and mommy married?

2) Why do we have a fan in our room?  

3) Why do we sleep on pillows?

Seriously, this kid makes me think.  I mean, think about it.  Why do humans sleep on pillows? He won't take an answer like "just because."  He wants a real actual reason.  I told him it was easier on your neck to sleep on a pillow, but fuck if I know.  

Later, he was telling me that there were monsters everywhere.  Monsters in the ceiling - "and they have really long arms, and they can touch the door and touch the fan at the same time! And even your guitar, too!"   Monsters were in our bedsheets.  They were living inside the fan.  "And they even set up a house next door to the fan where they live!"  Suddenly, inexplicably, our bedroom was lousy with monsters.

When he presents a problem like this (i.e. sudden monster eruption), I don't bother trying to solve it anymore.  When he was younger, I had a can of air freshener that I relabeled as "Monster Spray" that I'd spritz around the room to scare away the monsters.  Or I'd dutifully look under the bed, in the closet, under his pillow, and shout to scare away all the monsters.   Now, I just make him deal with it.

"So, Oliver," I ask, "what should we do about the monsters?"

"I don't know," he shrugs. 

I tried to guide him to a solution.  "Will your friends -" the various stuffed animals on the bed with him - "help get rid of the monsters?"

"No," Oliver shrugs," they don't have power like me."

"Oh, well then, how are you going to get rid of them?" I ask.  "What kind of power do you have?"

"I can shoot fireballs out of my penis!"  he shouts gleefully.

He gestures toward his crotch region, imagining a giant flamethrower rising out of his pull-up.  And makes fireball-shooting noises.  Pew pew pew!  He does this for a minute or two.  Shortly after that, he drifts off to sleep.  

I wonder if he does this with Mrs. B.  

Friday, July 17, 2009

Three Questions

For the last couple of months, Oliver has insisted on us telling him a story every night. It's exhausting. Usually, we're exhausted by the time we get to putting him to bed, and the sheer brainpower to come up with a new story is painful. Usually, I resort to telling him fables or new versions of old stories: "Once upon a time, there were three bears, and they lived in a third-floor walkup apartment..."

So I tried something new last night. A friend gave me the idea: he can ask me three questions, about anything he wants. And then I struggle to answer. Easy, I thought.

So these were his three questions last night:

1) Why does the world spin around and around?

2) Why does Chloe have a tail?

3) Why do they put that floaty stuff (helium) in balloons?

Easy. No problem. I just had to explain planetary rotation, the basic principles of evolution, and the elemental properties of helium. That's it.

I just looked on Google to try and find a simple answer for 1), and this is the best I found. It's mind-boggling.

I think he's going to be a scientist, and a brilliant one at that.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Workout Playlist - July 14, 2009

Still doing the 30-minute workouts, although I'm debating upping the time a little bit.

You Know You're Right - Nirvana
Night of the Living Baseheads - Public Enemy
Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle - Nirvana
Huddle Formation - Go! Team
Great DJ - Ting Tings
A Shot in the Arm - Wilco
The Bends - Radiohead
All Because Of You - U2


The right Nirvana song can turn a casual workout into a full-throttle berzerker throwdown.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"Julie and Julia" and Me

This is going to be a little bit self-indulgent, so bear with me. I just saw a preview for Julie & Julia and I got unexpectly choked up.

I'll explain. Julie Powell started her Julie/Julia project as a Salon blog, around the same time I was starting up my original blog. I feel a kinship to her, even though we've never met and for all I know, she's never even looked at my blog. She was one of us, along with Meg and Patia and the Grumpy Girl and Phil and Nancy and the guy who did Fried Green Al-Qaedas Virtual Occoquan.

And then Julie exploded into a huge phenomenon. I don't think I knew at the time how big it had gotten, but I knew she had gotten to a level that most of us hadn't and probably weren't.

But that's was cool. I'm proud of her, even though, again, nothing whatsoever at all to do with her success. I can't wait to see the movie. And when in the trailer, they showed a quick shot of her computer with the old blog banner (albeit a completely different blogging service), I got a bit verklempt.

So congrats, Julie. I feel a little like the kid who used to play playground basketball with Michael Jordan before he became Michael Jordan. But I'm thrilled that it's come this far, and hope you're having all kinds of success and wish you nothing but more.

P.S. Oddly enough, I just looked up the old blog, and stumbled across this article about the movie. Apparently, there's a bit of controversy about the way her blog is depicted in the movie. Salon's Kerry Lauerman is quoted.