Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dick Cheney in the rear view mirror

Dick Cheney should be arrested. If not treason, for loitering. He is no longer vice mayor of Potemkin Village.

When Vladivostok's businesspeople and bureaucrats show up to work at 9 a.m., their colleagues in Moscow are sound asleep—it's 2 a.m. there. Eleven time zones between the two Russian cities.

Biggest retailer of organic groceries? Move to the head of the class if you said Wal-Mart.

Back in the 1980s, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey said to a reporter,” The union is like having herpes. It doesn’t kill you, but it’s unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover.”

How lonesome are Minnesotans for good news about the weather? The TV studio erupted in spontaneous applause when the weather dude exclaimed, “We’ve gained two minutes of sunlight since the winter solstice.” Applause. Seriously.

How do you send your mailman a post card?

Rising levels of carbon dioxide are making the oceans louder. It helps sound travel farther, increases background noise underwater. Could make the dolphins go deaf.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Did you ever bubble your boat?

OK. Now I get it. This is winter.

First, it snowed for 43 hours. Then it rained. Then the temp dropped to below zero. The white stuff bonded to the sidewalk and will remain past February when we will celebrate a White Valentine’s Day.

The people are unfazed. But the governments are stressed over the cost of snow removal. Minneapolis has done this drill before. And they are prepared. If you live on a snow emergency route, you get a robo call warning you to not park on the street.

The guy on the corner is in construction. So he whipped out his Bobcat and piled the ice and snow into two dirty, ugly humps in his front yard, each about four feet high. It was self-defense. The city’s snowplows had entombed his corner with frozen by-products when they scraped the intersection from all directions.

This far upriver, the Mississippi is covered bank to bank with ice. And the ice is covered with snow. A white river.

We know a guy who is a year-round live-aboard in his houseboat on the Mississippi. He has a grand view of downtown St. Paul. Before the river freezes, he lays an underwater line around the hull that bubbles all winter long. Keeps ice from forming that otherwise would freeze his boat in place for months.

Ice fishing is big in Minnesota, but not many fools look to the Mississippi for winter fishing. To be safe, you need about 15 inches of ice and that’s difficult to maintain atop moving water. God, I miss Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

I just spent three days trying to chip the ice from our front stoop. Ice-melt crystals were only minimal help. I think I’ll wait until dynamite goes on sale. Around Valentine’s.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Careful what you wish for

I’ll give you a hundred guesses to figure out what we are going to do today...

You would be wrong if you said: the opera, watch a kidney transplant, dice an eggplant or maybe wash some socks. Nope. Not even close.

Ever the traditionalist, the Mystery Woman wanted to get us tickets to something that would make this Christmas memorable. She scored two tickets to see the Harlem Globetrotters play.

It seems I mentioned that I had never seen them play and -- in a Christmas miracle -- their schedule brings the team to Minneapolis in the middle of a blizzard. Full disclosure: the Mystery Woman is more of an academic. She never knew they play basketball. Stand-up comics, perhaps?

She said they are great seats -- on the fifty-yard line.

So, with two feet of snow on the ground in twenty-five degree weather, we will bundle up and drive six blocks to the light rail stop, fumble for three quarters to pay for a ticket downtown where we get off the train, scrunch-walk across the street to Target Center and hoot and holler in memory of the legendary Meadowlark Lemon.

I'm grinning just thinking about it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Winter Storms From Minnesota to Texas

My first Big Winter – and it’s a doozy.

By now, everyone understands this is a serious storm made more serious by man’s need to move about. How can something so beautiful be so dangerous?

The snow is really coming down. A thousand miles of storms.

On the way down, the snow seems to murmur: Be quiet. Be still. Enjoy. And at first, we obey. The city stops and smiles in awe as we watch the big, fat snowflakes cover all of outdoors.

Tonight, the wind is light. And the aerial ballet is all grace and beauty. Snowflakes fall at random. They swirl, they plunge, they glide. Without pattern the flakes pile up on everything. Good and bad alike.

Gradually, the city mutters back to business. But even the sound of the snow blower seems muffled. And the skree of the shovel, too, as it digs down to separate the snow from the sidewalk. Yet, the scrunch of a boot sounds sharp in the winter air. Tires on passing cars roll the sound even longer. Scruuuuuuuunnnnnncccchhhh. Be warm. Be safe.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hey -- this is Minnesota

I gotta go shovel the front walk. Third or fourth time this year already.

“Decorative,” that’s what one weatherman called the light snow that fell overnight. Apt. Very apt. The fresh powder covered all the road grunge and gave the squirrels a new canvass to practice their abstract art. Decorative. Yes.

Winter can look industrialized after just a few days since the last snow. Driving is safe, just ugly.

Another light snow fell while we were sleeping. More snow is predicted for the next five days. A big storm is chugging in from the west coast and will partner up with cold air from Anchorage. One to two feet of snow possible. Winter storm warnings are blasted in orange on local TV. One local station has weather on three channels via cable. They are damned serious about weather in Minnesota.

The Star-Tribune quotes veteran Meteorologist Paul Douglas saying “this could be the snowiest Christmas for Minnesota in 30 years.”

However, he says he wants to see one or two more computer models before he starts screaming, “Run, George, run!”

Monday, December 21, 2009

The problem with pigs...

Last spring the government in Cairo got a bright idea to combat swine flu – they would kill all their pigs. And so they did. In no time at all their streets were over-run with garbage. Amuck in organic waste.

Certain Buddhist sects tear down their temples every 20 years and then rebuild them over the same spot. Was Sisyphus a Buddhist?

Letterman and Leno were once on the same team. Both wrote for the Comedy Store. In the 70’s,

Laredo, Texas, no longer has a bookstore. Safety first? According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission more than 10,000 injuries were caused by books, magazine, albums and scrapbooks. Plus another 9,000 were caused by toothpicks. Hors d’oeuvrs anyone?

Next time you are at a dinner party of ten, just know that “twenty percent of the American dining public are socially maladjusted psychopaths.” So claims Steve Dublanica. He's biased; he’s a waiter.

Poop spelled inside out is oppo.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pagans and Wiccans and Druids, oh my

When it comes to shooting a pistol at someone, don’t go Hollywood. If you hold the gun sideways like some cool dude in a rap video, it could cause the pistol to jam and then where would you be. Stovepiping is what they call it. The result of tilting a gun 90 degrees counter-clockwise tends to work against gravity and the ejection of the spent casing. Dumb butt.

Paganism is on the up-tick. An eleven-year study in NY counted 134,000 Wiccans, 33,000 Druids, and 140,000 Pagans. Some Pagans, however, prefer to be called by their family name – Heathens.

If you went on-line to get info on how to cook your Thanksgiving turkey, chances are you got codified. The Wednesday before Turkey Day, 410,000 people had looked up turkey recipes at Allrecipes.com, largest cooking website in the U.S. At Butterball, 11,000 calls came in (they are moving on-line and they now Twitter.) Pie searches drew the most hits at Allrecipes.com early Wednesday. But by 10 a.m. people were hunting for sweet potato casseroles and stuffing recipes. By noon, the focus switched to mash potatoes. By late afternoon, most of the men were napping.

Researchers say women begin their lives more fulfilled than men but as they age, women gradually become less happy. Men, on the other hand, get happier as they get older. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Herewith is the transcript of a phone call from LBJ to Hubert Humphrey: “Don’t ever argue with me (about health). I’ll get a hundred million or a billion on health or education. I don’t argue about that any more than I argue about Lady Bird buying flour. You got to have flour and coffee in your house. Education and health. I’ll spend the goddamn money. I may have to cut back some tanks. But not on health.”

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Toy hamsters, booze and bear meat

Now it can be told. When given a choice, fruit flies will choose booze over abstinence. They choose rotting fruit over the healthy stuff. We study fruit flies too much.

Have you tried the McNuggetini? On YouTube, you can watch two rising e-stars tell you how to make the disgusting drink with vanilla vodka and BBQ sauce. Try the Ham Daiquiri, too.

You can stir-fry it, boil, broil, make, microwave or cook it over an open campfire, but eat some bear meat and you are likely to get trichinosis. Freezing doesn’t work. Nor does well-done. This will be your only warning. (And give me some credit for resisting any Sarah Palin temptation.)

How cold does it get in Minnesota? Well, cold enough that locals wrap their evergreens in burlap. Itchy, but it protects plant from drying winter wind and sun.

The manufacturer says the hot Zhu Zhu battery-powered Christmas hamster is for kids three and up. But the New Yorker writer Patricia Marx thinks the toy is for cats three and under.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Did L.M. Boyd start this way?

An apple a day can make millions. Ask the nerds at the University of Minnesota who just built the world’s 67th largest computer and financed three million of the cost with the sale of Honeycrisp apples. To date, the apples are the U’s marquee intellectual property. But the SweeTango is waiting in the wings. This new Minnesota apple is expected to generate $30 million annually.

Believe me, honey. It’s cheaper for you to rent that fancy dress than it is to buy it. Even if you wear the finery ten times. Rent the Runway will put you in a fancy designer dress for $50 to $200, a tenth of what it ordinarily costs. Trust me.

The top job is vacant in Seborga (pop 2,000, the five-mile square principality snuggled near the beaches of the Rivera and the Alps. Their prince died. Prince Giorgio was also known as His Tremendousness. More amazing, he was not born to the job; he was elected.

It’s back. Starting today, you can buy a square seedless watermelon in NYC. At Agata & Valentine, Graces, Marketplace and Kings Super Markets. You see a lot of these at Goldman Sachs. Cost: $75. Seventy-five bucks? Some old boy is laughing his ass off in the back of the truck.

It’s probably the same guy who is selling New Yorkers bacon-flavored dental floss. Available at E.A.T for six bucks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Minnesota Nice

Officially, winter begins next week. But in Minnesota, winter is a pre-existing condition. It’s my first Big Winter and I kinda like it.

The biggest difference – these people up here are prepared. In Texas, we count on the sun to melt the snow by the time we finish lunch.

Takes some getting used to.

Picture this. If you see a red mini-van sliding 360 through the intersection and the driver looks like he’s yawning – take cover. That’s me. Driving on ice for the first time in 30 years. And now you know that screaming uses the same facial muscles as yawning.

I blame the puffy coats. Put one of those babies on, sit behind the wheel and just try to fasten your seat belt. You are prematurely entombed. And you’ll need a catheter.

Snow is beautiful – the first couple of days. By now, it is getting dirty but they don’t show you that on the post cards. I’ve never seen parking lots with snow piled higher than cars.

Snowplows were everywhere after last week’s snow event. At the school parking lot, the plows piled the snow up high as they cleared the lots for teachers’ cars. The Mystery Woman, a 31-year-veteran of Minneapolis public schools, says many a kid has gone missing playing king of that kind of hill. Some snow drifts, it is rumored, survive the short summers and escape to threaten shipping lanes in the Great Lakes.

We did the shovel snow thing last week. And here it is again. Snow. Before the last snow had a chance to melt, new snow fell. White on white. Did Bing Crosby start like this?

No chance the snow already on the ground is going to melt any time soon. A White Christmas is guaranteed. My first.

I’m excited.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Slack fill -- new political term?

The Mystery Woman offers this tip to makers of puffy winter coats: design them to zip from the top down.

This just in. Effective today, buildings with freight elevators in NYC must grant employees use of those elevators to get their bicycles upstairs. But don’t plan on working late. Access is limited to elevator operating hours, which usually means quitting time is around 6 p.m. There’s always a catch.

Ever hear of slack fill? The federal government has. The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act is "supposed" to protect consumers from slack fill -- from buying too much empty space filled with air, cotton, cardboard, etc. Non-functional space. Mucinex, for example, was found to contain only 10 percent pills. Have you bought any potato chips lately? For your money, you get half a sack of air.

Republicans go both ways. Here’s proof. Within a 24 hour span, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office issued the following two press releases:

Sunday: "Cutting Medicare is not what Americans want."

Monday: "Expanding Medicare a plan for financial ruin."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

How do you feel today? -- No chain.

Raise your hand if you remember your first time. No, silly. I’m talking about the first time you rode on your very own bicycle. “Down the driveway, over the curb, away from the steady hand of your father, then beyond arm’s reach and, eventually, farther. As far as you want to go.”
From The Noblest Invention.

“A child on a bike is a wish fulfilled and a promise still in the making.” Ibid

With half a million people riding bikes to work each week, bike design is coming full circle. We’re talking fenders. Fenders on the rear tire to protect the backside of your work clothes from puddles and grime. Some are made of durable plastic with a quick release. One model is inflatable. Purists don’t like the added weight but I say screw ‘em. I also advocate kick stands. Screw ‘em, I say.

My coldest ride was a little ten mile jaunt in 32-degree weather around Town Lake in Austin. That’s sissy stuff up here in Minneapolis where the high temps are not expected to climb back up to freezing until sometime in 2010. No thanks. I can wait. Screw macho. Screw it, I say.

But I repeat myself.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Minneapolis weather update

Beautiful but deadly.

Four to six inches of snow overnight.

Snowplows ran all night.

Blowing snow, wind warnings.

Ten degrees and falling. Wind chill minus ten degrees.

And a guy just rode by on his bicycle.

Not me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snow angels and training wheels

Snow has begun to dust our block in the neighborhood. Fortunately, the Mystery Woman provides the training wheels for this, my first Big Winter. She’s a veteran of loading children on the Minneapolis public school bus. Thirty-one years without losing a single kid.

This morning, the Mystery Woman took one look out the window, put on her ho-ho-ho big red coat and headed for the grocery. We need some emergency back-up chocolate.

To the south, a serious blizzard is forecast. Up here, cold stiff winds and drifting snow. But nothing as critical as what they are expecting in Nebraska and Iowa. In our neighborhood, people are still walking their dogs and riding bikes through light snow flurries and below freezing temps. Apparently, testosterone doesn't freeze.

But there’s an unspoken sense of urgency.

Thanks to the Mystery Woman, we’re ready. The kitchen is stocked with soup, chili, and chocolate. Firewood is stacked two steps from the door. Furnace checked. Emergency bag in the van. The Christmas tree is up, ditto outdoor decorations, and Friday we mailed all the Christmas presents. Soon, you can smell the turkey in the oven. She even found some hand-made, authentic tamales for stuffing. Hug the children and the grandchildren for us. Time for some holiday music and that roasted chestnut thing.

Best training wheels ever. Clink.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tiger Woods, Sarah Palin, Tea Baggers

“When you tell a woman you’re really good at algorithms, it doesn’t do much,” said Aaron Patzer who used his skill to create Mint.com, the online personal finance tool which he recently sold to Quicken for $170 million. No problems now.

Tiger Woods caddy the past ten years refuses to discuss the golfer’s private life. “That’s what friends are for, Steve Williams said. “You support them through good and bad. It’s like a marriage, really.”

You can read in the bathtub with your Kindle, says Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. Here’s how he does it. “I take a one-gallon Ziploc bad, and I put my Kindle in my one-gallon Ziploc bag, and it works beautifully…if you put a physical book in a Ziplock you can’t turn the pages. But with a Kindle, you can just push the buttons.”

“And news reports on Sarah Palin’s ‘Going Rogue’ bus tour. They say she’s been traveling on private planes to various stops and then just hops on the bus at the local town. So, let’s see what you got. You have Sarah Palin, who’s no longer governor, who’s promoting a book she didn’t actually write by going on a bus tour which is not really a bus. Her big complaint? Politicians who aren’t real.” Jay Leno.

If someone asked you where the Declaration of Independence was signed and you said “at the bottom” you could be a Tea Bagger.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Code Blue (a five month condition)

You have to listen to these people up here.

Take this sentence: “We won’t see freezing for at least another week.” A rational grown-up might conclude the weather will be warmer than 32 degrees for the next few days. Nope. Native speakers understand the meaning to be: “The temps will remain below freezing for at least a week.” Possibly longer; they don’t tell first-termers everything they know.

There’s still so much for me to learn. Upon leaving the bank, I stumbled on a plastic bucket with a Day-Glo sign: “Ice Melt .” Now what the hell does that mean? Are more glaciers on the way? How will the buckets help?

Just in case glaciers actually need help, there’s second season use of school playgrounds. They turn on the faucet and flood ‘em. Ice rinks for the children. That's cool.

Talk of weather permeates all communication. Even the sports pages. Writing in the Star-Tribune, Jim Souhan was having fun with Vikings fans and worked in this gem: “Minnesotans are supposed to be hardy and strong, tempered by the DNA of forebears who lived through their first winter here and, strangely, decided to stay.”

Currently, the Vikings play their season in a covered stadium. But they want a venue with no lid. I'm starting to mumble.

The perennial book favorite is "Bring Warm Clothes: Letters and Photos from Minnesota's Past." The tome was written by a former columnist for the Star-Tribune, Peg Meier. Letters from settlers in the 19th Century to relatives back in the homeland. Airmail.

This morning: 14 degrees, overcast and light flurries. But kind of pretty. Certainly fun. Challenging, uh-huh. And just the beginning.

I'm not getting out of these jammies.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

When the Wind Stops

Here's a man who appreciates the seasons -- and writes about the rural life for people who live in the city that hasn't been rural in several hundred years.

By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
New York Times
December 3, 2009

This farm lies on an eastward-facing slope, which rises gradually to a thickly wooded ridge in the west. I can feel the mass of that hill whenever the sun goes down, and yet, where wind is concerned, there’s very little lee to it. Last week, the wind came ripping over the crest, knocking down a couple of fence sections and gnawing at the trees with a suctioning, siphoning sound. All day long, the air boomed and roared.

By evening, even the horses were weary. They had been blown about all day as though they weighed a few ounces instead of a thousand pounds apiece. A tree cracks in the distance and they trot, alarmed, across the pasture. A whirlwind of leaves twists past, and they race away from it. The corner of a tarp gets loose, and off they go. They transmit this anxious energy to me, undiluted. I prefer the way the pigs and chickens react. In a high wind, the pigs snooze together at the back of their house, straw pulled over their heads. The chickens sit on their perches, knitting and doing their accounts.

Sometime during the night, the wind dropped and the next morning was nearly still, smoke rising almost straight up from my chimney and from those down the valley. There was a strange sense of propriety about, a primness in the way every tree had relaxed and, at the same time, come back to attention. In this new silence, the horses seemed enveloped in stillness. They were no longer bracing themselves. Their bones and sinews had relaxed.

And I relaxed, too. I stood in the sun feeling the strength of its rays now that the wind wasn’t scattering them. When the wind blows, the horses always stand with their heads facing away from it. In the quiet of the morning, they were no longer magnetized. Without a wind, they were free to face in any direction they chose. Without a wind, the day could go any way it wanted.

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