Monday, May 25, 2009

A Proper Citizenship Test

In the comments to a post on drive-ins and root beer was this......

My wife is from South America. I introduced her to Root Beer and she HATED it. Said it taste like a "remedy". Then I added ice cream to the mix. Now she LOVES root beer floats.In fact on Memorial day we have BBQ ribs, corn, red potatoes and root beer floats.

She is now a card carrying American.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Call It Fishball

James Lileks,no fan of fishing or baseball, has an er....interesting idea.

If they could combine fishing and baseball, we'd have twice as much action. "And it's a line-drive cast up the middle -- Johnson throws it right at a muskie! He's hooked! -- but no! The umpire is signaling Johnson was over his limit, so they're throwing it back. That's two outs and one DNR fine." But even that would wear thin after a few innings.

A commenter had a fine take on an old saying.

Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

Graduation,Large and Small

Finally back, although I'm actually cheating; I typed this up earlier to post when I could. Yes, it has come to that. It seems a bit in violation of the spirit of blogging, but sometimes you do what you must.

A sudden housing crisis has resulted in the older daughter and Grandbaby staying with us for a few days, reminding me that our house was designed for a certain occupancy and exceeding it is problematic.Of course if they were staying long-term we could organize and lessen the stresses; as it is the interior looks like it was attacked by monkeys with leaf blowers. That this happened right before graduation weekend added to the jollies.

Speaking of graduation, everything went as well as could be expected at both ceremonies (my nephew's in Viborg on the 16th and my daughter's on the 17th) and their accompanying festivities, which provided interesting comparisons. Superficially they were quite similar. Pomp and Circumstance was played by the school band; caps and gowns were worn; relatives were proud. Both ceremonies were even about the same length, a bit over an hour.

Most of the differences grew out of two primary characteristics. The first ceremony was in the school gym and graduated 19 seniors; the second was held on the football field and gave diplomas to 195 kids. The first had a main speaker, some scholarship awards and a video presentation with a short biography of each graduate; a similar video for the second would have lasted over 3 hours and probably incited vigilante action against the responsible school officials. Conversely, had the first been organized like the second it would have lasted about 20 minutes, which wouldn't have been all bad but might have left some feeling a bit shortchanged.

The Viborg gym setting was familiar to me, as was the size of the class, so it felt more traditional. I had never been to a graduation in Pierre nor to an outdoor ceremony; bringing along a lawn chair was a good idea, although there were seats set up for spectators (for the first time, according to my wife) and the football field stands were available. This gave it a less formal feeling, especially since there was no exit procession; they simply gathered up up their tossed caps and dispersed. Happily the weather was just about perfect; the backup plan as I understood it involved a number of undersized school facilities and seemed as though it would resemble a street scene from a Godzilla movie.

Sharing the reception with my daughter's best friend's family turned out to be inspired, especially since we were out of town the previous day. My wife and the other graduate's mother worked together splendidly and my wife's son, who works at the hotel where we held it, saw to the organization of the courtyard. I upheld the traditional roles of manual laborer and trying not to be an impediment. All in all, things went quite smoothly. Still, I'm glad we don't have to organize another one - at least until the first grandchild graduates in 9 years, which coincidentally is how long it has been since my divorce from my graduate's mother...*sigh*.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Back to the Bone

Time to squeeze in bit of blogging before the chaos of Graduation Weekend sets in. Sunday my daughter will graduate from high school; then comes the fun part of learning to be an adult. This hasn't really sunk into her yet, as with many kids; even ones who seem ready to go, like my wife's daughter two years ago, get blindsided. Adding to the fun, my nephew graduates from Viborg Saturday, which means serious driving for the family.

Speaking of driving, recently my wife and I stayed at my Dad's house in Centerville so we could be in Sioux Falls for an early doctor's appointment brought about once again by the lack of facilities in Pierre for anything but basic patch-up medicine....sorry about that, but by the end of the month we will have made three health-related trips to Sioux Falls. Every time I see a TV ad for the local hospital I want to throw something.

My Dad had recently compiled pictures of his Iroquois High School 50th class reunion, and I noticed that there were only 11 graduates in his class, yet there wasn't a question of viability. Compare this to today when schools of that size are facing the choice of consolidating or just folding. What has changed?

One difference came up indirectly that same evening. We were talking about my uncle's health trouble, and Dad mentioned that my uncle started school two years late because he wasn't considered ready. My wife noted that her severely handicapped uncle never attended school because the local school wouldn't let him in. Today that wouldn't happen. Each of them would have been admitted under a special Individualized Education Program. It's the right thing to do, but it's not cheap, especially when severe mental or physical handicaps are involved. It's not just the unusual cases. Standards are higher and scrutiny tighter than they were then, and making sure everything is in order involves more cost. Schools are required to offer more programs; again a good thing, but at more cost.

I also think there has been a bubble factor. When Dad was in school, the facilities and resources were were barely big enough. Then the student population grew considerably for a number of years, peaking sometime in the 1970s with much larger classes, and the school had to expand to handle it. Then down it went again,very quickly. My class in 1980 had 30 kids, and I recall that when I was a freshman, the senior class was the largest, with each class smaller than the one preceding it. My brother's class three years later had 20 kids; It looks like that's about what they'll have this year, but some lower grades have single-digits.

Meanwhile increased requirements mean costs haven't gone down with population, so adjusting for those fluctuations has been difficult. You can eventually decrease staff, but buildings and other resources that were needed in the 1970s couldn't just be swept away, and this maintenance added (and often still adds) to the burden. Advances in technology can help with efficiency, but that costs money, and the resources it replaces must still be managed.

Unfortunately cutting to minimum requirements seems to be the trend. I see that the Winner school district has sliced a large number of elective offerings, and others will follow suit if they haven't already done it. The 1950s may be coming back to some schools at 21st-century prices. There's no way that will end well, but there's also no alternative for them.

We may be forced to bring back something else from the past. My wife's family moved from their rural home when she was young to avoid sending the kids away to live with someone else during the school year, and my Mom stayed with a family in town when she went to high school. That may be returning, especially with open enrollment allowing parents to send their kids to other schools. My wife has commented about "gypsy" students, who bounce from district to district for various reasons. This isn't good either, but good options are becoming increasingly rare.

Not Going Quietly

Via Dave Barry....Even death won't shut some people up, and others aren't happy about it.

The headstones — fitted with screens and speakers — play recordings of the owners' lives when their loved ones come to pay their respects. But spooked visitors have asked graveyard officials at Linz, Austria, to ban the gadgets.

I found this statement interesting.

He said: "Talking tombstones are very popular in America already and it won't be long before they are a common site in European graveyards so people will have to get used to them."

Admittedly I live in an area that isn't on the cutting edge of the latest trends, but I have never seen one of these tombstones nor heard of one existing in this area. I suspect that people here know that such a device would be forcibly removed or vandalized with the quiet support of the community, so installing one would be a waste of time and money.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Canine Consumption

Via Andrew Sullivan.....Gene Weingarten encourages a realistic view of dogs.

I think we understand that one of the most endearing traits all dogs share is that they are absolute knuckleheads. In fact, if you examine the top of a dog's head -- check it out right now, if you happen to have a dog nearby -- you will see that they all have this lump there, right in the middle, toward the back. Feel it? My daughter, who is in veterinary school, informs me this is the occipital crest, but my medical theory is ... that's the knuckle!

As I was writing this speech, a friend sent me a link to a story from England, where veterinarians had operated on a family dog, expecting to confront and extract a huge stomach tumor, but instead found, and I quote, "enough clothing to fill a clothesline," including two rugby gloves, two golf gloves, one mitten, one stocking, nine socks and a dish towel.

James Lileks also had some words on this subject recently.

Many years ago my dog harked up a straight pin an inch and a half long. I stared at the mess in amazement -- are you auditioning to be a circus sword swallower? A pin? Branching out into the metal food group now?.......The same dog ate a piece of nicotine gum. I chastised him, of course -- I'll let you out in the middle of the night to do the other things, but if you're thinking of whining because you want to go out for a cigarette, forget it.

That dog is now 14. He has trouble getting up the stairs, and is either deaf as a brick or tired of my conversation, but otherwise he is the same companion we've had since the first Clinton term.

There Went the Hooker Money

From the police activity summary at you're doing this, you're bound to end up in jail for something.

"Drunken driving. A woman called police after a suspicious man came to her door and said he was there for prostitution. She told the man to leave and he left in a red pickup truck. Police located the vehicle in Columbia Heights on the 4400 block of University Avenue NE. The driver admitted he went to the wrong address. He was arrested for driving while intoxicated."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Do They Get Extra Communion Wine?

I had heard about this practice, but tried not to think about it.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is investigating the posthumous "baptism" of President Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, as a "serious breach" of religious code, a spokeswoman said. Church records published by a liberal blog, Americablog, show that Dunham, who died in 1995, was baptised last June 4 in Provo, Utah, and received endowment, another sacrament, a week later.

You might think that this whole idea would be against their doctrine, but no.....

"The offering of baptism to our deceased ancestors is a sacred practice to us and it is counter to Church policy for a Church member to submit names for baptism for persons to whom they are not related," said spokeswoman Kim Farah in an emailed statement.

So the problem isn't baptising dead people, it's baptising dead people who aren't relatives. This isn't the first time this has caused problems.

The practice of posthumous baptism by proxy has caused controversy in the past, as when Jewish groups raised objections to the baptism of victims of the Holocaust.

I can't help but think of the old political machine practice of registering dead people to vote for them. After thinking about this far more that it warrants, I have a few questions for these people.

- Do you really think your God is so stupid that he/she/it is fooled by the charade of adding to your church people who have already spent literally their entire lives outside it and are obviously no longer capable of joining?

- Don't you think he/she/it would be insulted by this low assessment of his/her/its intelligence?

- How can you be loyal to a God for whom you have such low regard?

Sighing, shaking my head and giving a hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for this.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Reiser Would Also Have Been Bad

While checking out the Fergus Falls website for, James Lileks spits out a groaner.

“In 1857, Joe Whitford was sent by his employer, James Fergus, to locate a site for a new community. Along the way he encountered an Indian family who told him of a location where there was a big falls or rapids. After locating the rapids, Whitford staked out a town site at the big falls and named it Fergus Falls in honor of his employer."

Good thing the boss wasn’t named Stumbelsand.


Jon Carroll went to his granddaughter's science fair and noticed a significant absence.

Someone asked me if there were any mock-ups of exploding volcanoes at the fair. There weren't, and I now wonder whether the exploding-volcano-at-the-science-fair riff isn't some kind of urban legend. Certainly, hilarity ensues, but did people ever actually do it? Maybe the hilarity is bogus, Hollywood hilarity.

I can vouch for the regular appearance of exploding volcanoes at science fairs when I was growing up. They were indeed amusing, even if what made them explode wasn't really what makes real volcanoes erupt. Someone in my circle of friends once dreamed up the idea of trying to make one by duplicating actual geologic stresses with clay and heat, but good sense made a rare appearance and nixed it.

In any event, it certainly isn't happening now. Do you know what liability insurance costs these days? Do you know how litigious parents can be? Science fair volcanoes are an artifact of another century, or of the fantasies of another century. You could still build a big papier-mache volcano; you just couldn't make it do anything. "My project is an extinct volcano. Thousands of years ago ..." Hilarity fails to ensue. Also: Eye injuries fail to ensue. It's a trade-off.

For a kid there's nothing like a chance to engage in officially sanctioned destruction. I recall a classmate doing an experiment that involved using a car battery for electricity. Of course he managed cross the poles on the battery, producing a considerable amount of smoke and just as much mirth. I recall a dubious claim that it was an accident, but the pliers seemed suspiciously well-melted.

One year a couple of friends and I tried to build a carbon dioxide laser. Yes, a laser. As I recall we got the design from Popular Science or some similar magazine. Since there wasn't a local source of CO2, we had dry ice shipped in, which itself provided plenty of hilarity, such as chasing my brothers around with a glass of bubbling and steaming CO2-cooled water, threatening to make them drink it while withholding the fact that since the dry ice had evaporated it would be harmless. Flushing small pieces down the toilet also provided entertainment.

We actually managed to assemble the necessary components (try explaining a semi-polished mirror to someone, much less making one. I'm not sure I completely understood it.) and get it running momentarily, but our cooling system (a tiny electric motor with homemade fan blades) proved inadequate and the tube cracked with a loud POP. I think we got a C on the project for sheer audacity. It really was amazing that we got as close as we did with what we had. There is something to be said for the value of just not knowing any better.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Little Something for the Trouble

Andrew Sullivan linked to a study seeking the evolutionary basis for the female orgasm.

.....female orgasm may thus be a relic, adaptive among our primate ancestors but potentially disadvantageous—even dangerous—to some women today. Thus, insofar as orgasm might even occasionally induce women to seek out additional sex partners beyond their designated husband, this consequence in itself might have serious (and certainly fitness-reducing) results. In much of the world, the penalty for a woman’s having sex with more than one man (especially if she is married) is quite severe, sometimes including death.

Of course as a man I'm wildly speculating, but in the past (and often in the present) the risks of pregnancy and childbirth and the stress and responsibility of raising children made sex a much higher-stakes proposition for women (hence the revolutionary societal impact of the birth-control pill). It seems to me that from a purely biological perspective the female orgasm has been perhaps even more important as small - indeed woefully inadequate - compensation for what historically has been an act fraught with peril and huge potential long-term downside. A man didn't (and still doesn't) need much reward for sex, but for a woman that orgasm better have been good to be worth the risk.

Well, He was in Something

Having reluctantly made use of similar facilities a few times, I'm not sure I entirely agree with this sentiment.

A US pilot was in luck when his falling aeroplane made a soft landing, thanks to a row of portable toilets.

A Favorite of Elwood Blues

I suppose when you write a daily column, as John Carroll does, occasionally you have to use any subject that fills the space.

When you get breakfast at a restaurant, toast is kind of an add-on. "D'ya want toast with that?" "Sure." "What kind?" "Oh, you know, wheat" - you say "wheat" because you're afraid to say "white." Right? Because white bread represents a commitment to sexual repression, the centrist wing of the Republican Party (which is, what, two people now?), bad nutrition, Barry Manilow and making rude remarks about Wayne Thiebaud. Probably you want the white bread, but you'd never admit that to the waitress. She'd report you.

Friday, May 1, 2009

In Search of Coverage

James Lileks went looking for a face mask.

I went to a drug store......The drugstore was out.

I went to another red-themed retailer. Since I didn't know where to look, I thought I'd ask the Friendly Neighborhood Pharmacist. She was talking to the man at the counter, and I heard:
"We are out of them, and we have ordered more. We also carry masks that are kept on the shelves, but we are out of those as well."

I hit two other grocery stores. Sold out.

I didn't have to stop at another drugstore on the way home, but I did. Needed, uh, some, er, paper clips. This time, I asked the clerk where they were, but I said "you know, the masks you wear when you're doing sanding, or painting, or asbestos removal." She took me to the proper aisle. Sold out. "Lots of people removing asbestos," I said.

My wife has needed masks in the past, so I have shopped for them. We usually got the blue ones from the hardware section at Wal-Mart, as opposed to the white surgical-looking ones near the pharmacy. We still have a few here, so I haven't looked lately to see if there's been a run on them. I tend to agree with James,though.

.....anyone who's buying facemasks at this point is jumping the gun.

Core Curriculum

Gee, I neglect this humble blog for a week and everything goes down the toilet. Swine flu - sorry, Influenza A H1N1 - makes a comeback (I recall the last big kerfuffle in the 1970s); Chrysler finally gives up trying to rehab its condition and goes under the bankruptcy knife, raising the spectre of a cascade effect; David Souter, perhaps despondent over my absence, decides to retire from the Supreme Court.

Not only has my blogging suffered for a variety of reasons, but the amount of time I have for website reading has been cut drastically. This has forced me to pick and choose. I still regularly get to The Truth About Cars, James Lileks, Jon Carroll, Dale at Faith In Honest Doubt, Brian and company at Incertus, and 2 Blowhards. The others on my list depend on how much time I have, although I try to rotate them. I can't help but notice a few things about those choices.

- At first glance they don't have a lot in common, but to me they share something important; I simply like reading them. If I only have so much time to read, I want to enjoy it, and I always enjoy those people.

- There's much less hardcore politics. Perhaps I'm just ready for a break from it after the past two years.

- Andrew Sullivan didn't make the cut. This is a result of his strength suddenly becoming a liability. When I had more time his site was great, but there's so much there that it would crowd out others on whom I don't want to scrimp.

Hopefully I will be able to expand my internet repertoire again, but until then those will do nicely.