Saturday, February 27, 2010

Good day for singing a song

This just in: A new study says liberals are more intelligent. I knew that.

Are you kidding me? Minnesota has snow fleas. Google ‘em. Stupid creatures. Them, not you.

It gets worse. The air quality around our home house has taken a hit in recent weeks. Climatologists blame the snow pack. Traps bad stuff in the air, they say. Keeps it from blowing away, they say. Hot air, I say.

The day started with the Mystery Woman standing at the top of the stairs in her nightie belting out the Monty Python favorite: “I’m a lumberjack and that’s OK.”

It’s going to be a good day.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Time travel and big hair

Yes. Time travel is possible. “Yesterday I went to the future and here I am. Physicist Sean Carroll

The laws of physics are not local. Me. I said that.

“Big Hair Gets You Closer to God” is an original composition written by Larry Hart with some cowbell playing by his mother, Toni, a former evangelical preacher and gospel singer.

“To the uninitiated, the game (curling) seems like horseshoes combined with housekeeping.” Eric Dash in the NY Times

New York is dotted with smoke-easies – clubs that are red velvet, dim lights and legal ashtrays. At the top end, seven clubby tobacco bars offer a furtive respite. At the lower level, the bartender just slides an ashtray your way. “It smells really bad,” said a lady who lives across the street from one.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Snow stories

The outside thermometer was resting at zero when I got up this morning. But they say it’s going to turn cold later.

Last night was a squeaker. I drove the Mystery Woman downtown to her class on creative writing. When I returned to pick her up a couple hours later, the sun had gone down. Everything looks different in the dark. You guessed. I got lost. But she talked me in on the seldom-used cell phone. Don’t worry the children. I had a full tank. She was near food and shelter.

Minneapolis does a good job on snow removal. It was cold but the roads were clear and drivers who knew where they were going were driving at normal speeds.

Ironically, the most dangerous part of all trips is our back alley. Snow plows shove the stuff to the side but, in the process, the snow is compacted into ice. Make that ice with ruts. Hardest part is getting out of the garage. Sometimes the backing turn gets tricky and the wheels spin. However, once you get squared away, the wheels settle into ruts that are so deep you can actually take your hands off the steering wheel and finish your beer.

When is Spring Break?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Politics -- failing America

Wrong. If you always thought you could not hold opposing thoughts at the same time, you would be wrong.

Witness politics today.

How can Republicans be in near total disarray and the Democrats, too?

Quick, name the GOP presidential front-runner. Quick, tell me what major legislation Obama initiated and passed his first year? Both are trick questions with no positive answers.

Over time, the Republican problem will sort itself out at the polling booth. Ultimately, the voters and corporate big money will reveal the GOP leader’s identity.

But I’m not so sure about the Democrats. Seldom have we seen such a fast flutter from grace. A year ago, we were talking about the demise of the Republican Party, shrinking it to serve only the Dixie sub-nation.

What happened?

The Republicans didn’t pass any major legislation. And neither did the Democrats. Remember, the stimulus package was born out of desperation in the final months of George W. Bush’s failed Wall Street policies. Without question, the GOP has done a better PR job over the last 12 months. But then, there’s that pesky Tea Party problem that threatens to split the GOP.

Our political class is failing America.

I’m still a strong supporter of President Obama. But I’m beginning to wish he were more of a Chicago political street thug like his opponents said he was during the campaign.

By all signs available, the mid-term elections will be a Republican blow-out. So why don’t the Democrats cowboy up, accept what’s coming, and (on the way out) pass some bills that will be good for America. Here’s two: health care reform and a real jobs program.

Almost makes me wish the Tea Baggers weren’t such kooks. Don't bother telling me the Tea Party is not a political party. It is -- just poorly organized. Besides, I could never follow Dick Armey or Ron Paul into a voting booth. Regardless of the free beer.

Monday, February 22, 2010

CPAC kooks, Tea Bagger kooks, GOP kooks

Caution: viewer discretion advised. Readers may become dizzy while trying to unravel recent changes in Republican lineage. Herewith, the begats:

Let’s start with what we know: out of 2,900 votes delegates to the CPAC convention picked libertarian Texas Congressman Ron Paul as their far away presidential favorite with 31 percent. Yet, CPAC officials were embarrassed at the logical outcome.

Furthermore, most people credit Paul as father of the Tea Party movement. So why are three Tea Party candidates challenging Paul’s re-election to congress in the primary?

Enter Sarah Palin, stage right of course. She spoke at the Tea Party convention but did not even attend the CPAC convention. As a consequence, she ran fourth in their presidential beauty contest.

Palin has endorsed Paul. Not Ron. His son, Rand, who is running for another seat in another state. You think she will endorse Ron?

Palin has also endorsed John McCain, who has a nut-case running against him. And some Tea Baggers rail against Palin’s support of McCain.

Still with me?

All of this is against a new backdrop -- the resurgence of the ultra, ultra far right John Birch Society as a co-sponsor of the CPAC convention. The Birchers were kicked out of the GOP maybe fifty years ago. What changed?

One after another CPAC speakers called for violence in some form or another. The Republicans, fearing the Tea Party mob at the gates, have become more militant. The GOP is adopting de facto the Tea Party creed – if it moves, bite it. Repeatedly, the CPAC speakers raised the blood lust. Even mild-mannered Mn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty advocated smashing government windows (?) with nine irons. And there was Tom Tancredo, with his poorly-disguised racist crap.

And Glen Beck braying there is no need for a GOP big tent. He never was good at math. Read this, Glen: In just a few years, the white population majority will flat-line as the new minority in the U.S. (Prediction: Beck's speech will gnaw on the GOP and he will lose support.)

Conclusion: By a thin margin, there are more CPAC kooks than Tea Party kooks.

Worse. There are more of them than there are of us.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Noah said there would be springs like this

Are you kidding me? After the snow, we worry about floods?

I just heard on the weather report there’s a 90% chance the Mississippi will flood in the St. Paul area this spring. We live in the St. Paul area. Where’s the bicycle pump? Water wings?

The Mystery Woman says I’m to calm down. The Big River does not flood our neighborhood, she says. Instead, she explains patiently, frozen storm drains flood our neighborhood.

It all depends upon the weather the next few weeks. If it warms too fast, the snowpack melts before the river can run it off. Worse, for months the river has been covered bank to bank with ice. It's thick in places. As it breaks, the ice could pile up under bridges creating frozen dams on the river.
Don't sunbathe too early.

I was just beginning to warm up to spring. The temps rose to the mid-30s this week. The icicles, albeit five feet long, began to melt. In places, you could even see the sidewalk.

Actually, I’ve rather enjoyed my first real winter. And I don’t think I’ve complained too, too. But now floods?

Today, I also learned about the new breed of Asian mosquito they discovered in the area. The big, mean one that doesn’t die in winter. Obviously, the sucker can swim, too.

Texas rattlesnakes in the weeds and scorpions in your boots are looking more and more like the lesser of several evils. I can outrun both.

Yes, barefoot.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Taken out of context? Of course.

Writing about the Conservative Political Action Conference, NY Times columnist Gail Collins observed: “It’s civil war déjà vu.”

Mario Rubio, Tea Party honey of a candidate, slammed Obama’s use of teleprompters – while paying attention to two teleprompters clearly visible in front of him.

Writing in the Washington Post, E. J.Dionne, Jr. says, “Moderate and progressive Democrats alike have eight months before this fall's elections to change the terms of the debate and prove they can govern. Otherwise, they'll be washed out by a tidal wave.”

“I’ve had more epiphanies than anyone should ever be allowed to have. I’ve had as much pudding as epiphanies,” Says fat-comedian-trying-to-be-thin Jeff Garlin.

“I’ve got this,” said Olympic ski champ Lindsey Vonn to her husband, Thomas, just before working her way through pain and nerves to win the gold medal at Vancouver. “I’ve got this.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Believe it -- or not

As we age, many of us examine our belief systems. Herewith, my keystones:

Ken Starr has been hired as president of Baylor University. He will live out his days in Waco, Texas. OK. Now I believe in Hell.

The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times, both very conservative publications, printed breath-taking pieces exposing Republican house and senate members as hypocrites for voting against the stimulus bill – and then trying to take credit for getting home state project money. Now I believe in miracles.

Dick Cheney goes on national TV again to claim the Obama administration is soft on terror. Now I believe in Ground Hog Day.

Sarah Palin continues to bash Rahm Emanuel and Fox’s Family Guy cartoon show for using the r-word. You go, girl. Seriously. But she loses all credibility when she lets Rush Limbaugh use the r-word repeatedly because it is “satire.” Now I believe in Steven Colbert. Look it up.

The Tea Party tries to convince us they are mainstream despite their birthers, truthers, John Birchers, etc. I believe one-third of Americans are nuts. Too much gluten?

The majority of Americans don’t think the president deserves a second term. I don’t believe how quickly Obama lost support.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Winter Olympics -- downhill run

It’s 26 degrees. There’s 19 inches of snow pack on the ground. The sun is shining. I think I’ll go for a walk. You know, in honor of the Winter Olympics.

Fifteen minutes later (puffy coats are difficult to zip), I am cruising the neighborhood. Absolutely beautiful. Despite hibernating on the couch most of the winter, I manage to do the Minnesota shuffle around the block. (insert cryogenics joke here).

Is that the sound of children cheering in the distance? Yes. At the schoolyard hockey rink. No matter. I’ll take it. At this age, we need all the encouragement we can get.

Now, to the podium. Walter Mitty gets the gold but the silver is mine.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tea Party vanguard rumbles with old guard

The Tea Party people keep saying it is not a political party.

And I keep calling BS on that notion.

They are acting like a political party, taking positions on various issues, fielding candidates who gnash the loudest, and raising money for who knows what. Quacks like a duck.

Now comes news that the Tea Party is trying to take over the Republican Party one precinct at a time. Across the country, activists are teaching the faithful how to run for precinct offices. The plan is already unfolding in several states: Arizona, Nevada, South Carolina, Ohio, etc.

Don’t get me wrong. These people have every right to try. Just drop the charade about being a “movement not a party.” Hooey. Even your own people with tea bags hanging from their hats and misspelled signs aren’t that gullible. When the vanguard takes over the old guard, it becomes a political party, right?

Granted, there are some damned strange political dynamics at work. And new technologies in play make it easier to draw a crowd, raise money, step in the dogma. Too many wanna-be king-makers making castles in the air. Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin come to mind. And that racist fool, Tom Tancredo.

News flash: Sarah Palin is an elitist. Proof? Look at her National Tea Party audience. Predominantly white. Above average income. And all that hooey about using her $100,000+ speaking fee for the cause -- why not just waive the fee instead of laundering the money?

I know. If you are “right” brained, this does not resonate. And if you are “left” brained, this doesn’t go far enough. Keep trying. It would be better if we could meet in the middle.

We'll see, but I'm skeptical.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Snow appreciation day

The fog rolled in. Then it froze.

The trees are bathed in ice. And it is beautiful. Just beautiful.

I never thought I would say something like this – but even at 12 degrees, when the sun comes out, the day is beautiful. Yes, the frozen snowcrust crunches under every step. But if you listen, can you hear a slight giggle. Is there some inside joke at play?

I think so. A refugee I know escaped to Terlingua. He sums it up this way: “The only way to beat winter in Minnesota is to embrace its harshness and dance.”

Example: They say there are really only two seasons up here -- winter and street repair.

My accent gives me away immediately. They know. They all know I’m a stranger to these parts. Another quick clue – I always leave the Zamboni running when I come to visit. “How do you like our winter?” they ask with a knowing twinkle in their voice.

They say “our winter” because they claim it. They own the winter. And they are always damned proud to have lived through another one. When’s the next ice festival, hon?

Somewhere underneath the puffy coats and balaclavas, these people are grinning.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Remember post cards?

I buy lots of post cards.

Younger readers may not know what post cards are. Just think of them as early Tweets, but on stiff paper. If you write small, you can get 148 characters.

Twice a week, I send post cards to two of my oldest friends who are recovering from strokes. Every now and then, I send a smart ass post card to my old business partner and college buddy just to see if it comes back “return to sender.” He’s been sick, too.

Subject matter is no problem. But I’ll confess to being fixated on ice fishing, snow plows and all things winter. The cold has a way of causing you to focus. Just since moving here, I now own three pairs of gloves, three winter hats, umpteen heavy shirts, and...and...

It was zero degrees when I went out to get the paper this morning. The Mystery Woman, who has lived in Minnesota the past 30 years, observed dryly, “Zero degrees. That’s not any.”

But I'm getting used to it. Where we once had sidewalks, mounds of snow remind you of the trenches of WWI. Everywhere you look, shovels are petards sticking up in the snow where homeowners abandoned them in a rush to get inside the warm house. I think it’s why people talk so fast up here.

Where was I?

Oh yes, post cards. Over in St.Paul, just a short dog-sled ride away, there’s a nice little gift shop with good 35-cent post cards. I buy them by the handful. Today’s mailing was 1930s artwork depicting three cruise ships docked at Lake Superior.

“Don’t believe it, boys,” I wrote. “These are ice-breakers in drag.”

Aww hell, don’t worry. These guys are from Texas. They know not to believe a word I write.

Honey, would you read this to see if it sounds too much like cabin fever.

Friday, February 5, 2010

This fluorescent dog walks into a bar...

Hen fever can mean many things, I suppose. But in the late 1800s, there was money to be made in eggs. Especially eggs from the Cochin chickens, which were said to weigh as much as a pound. A nesting pair sold for the outrageous sum of $700, about ten thousand percent more than what chickens usually sold for. Remember the Emu craze?

In 1993, Texas had 83 little towns with six-man football teams. Today, there are about 125 tiny burgs. For a fun read, check out Carlton Stowers book about six-man football: Where Dreams Die Hard. In honor of the Super Bowl, sorta.

Ruppy is a real dog. And he really glows in the dark thanks to transgenics. The pup has genes transplanted from a sea anemone which makes him look like a red fluorescent hound. Somehow, that’s going to be helpful in medical research.

Cows with names give more milk. About six percent more. That’s the research conclusion of a study in England. Apparently humans who will name a cow will also treat the cow better. Calm cows give more milk.
Meet Marilyn.

Old joke but true story. A bear expert was lecturing a bicycle tour group about safety. Someone asked about using pepper spray as a deterrent. The expert answered by explaining you could identify bear scat on the trail by the faint aroma of pepper.

Breaking news: It is snowing again in Minneapolis.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kick the ball, Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown in Winter. That’s me.

I fall for winter’s spell every time. I always pause to soak in the beauty and the quiet. Hot chocolate, oatmeal and three-alarm chili. I feel so good I forgive the children.

Falling snow just makes you feel good. Fresh powder covers lots of ugly. At first, I forget the grey-to-black ice-iron that snow plows sculpt along the curbs. And I forget the real danger to anything that moves on the streets (200 wrecks yesterday morning).

I know better, but I have to test each fresh snow with a short walk. Short because it’s so damned cold and the wind chill hurts through the muffler. Six-degree weather is probably hard on my pacemaker battery. But pretty, very pretty.

Careful. You’ll bust your tokus. Just ask Charlie Brown.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Governor Farouk Shami of Texas

Even for Texas, this guy Farouk Shami is a stretch. He’s a rich Palestinian hair dresser from Houston who hires lots of lawyers, wears lots of red boots and is running for Governor of Texas. Farouk says rather than live in the Governor’s Mansion, he would turn it into an orphanage. That’s too easy. The mansion already has a history of housing some real bastards. Some with good hair.

Thirty-five minutes per day. That’s how much time we hard copy subscribers spend reading the New York Times. (Slower, if you move your lips.) But e-visitors spend only 34 minutes a month reading on screen. Correspondingly, advertisers spend only one-tenth online of what they spend in print.

Still, there are lots of hits every day – over 1.3 billion pages are viewed before sunset. That generates at least $51 million in daily advertising throughout the Web. It is said that over 700,000 people make a living on eBay.

Forget the baseball bat. Wasp spray is the better home protection. Most cans have a range of 20-to-30 foot and the stuff blinds the attacker until he can get to a hospital. Keep a can near the bed -- away from the electric blanket.

Researchers at the University of Sunderland and Durham University have developed a whimsical looking "prototype cognitive helmet" that "bathes the brain with infra-red light and stimulates the growth of brain cells. Its creators believe it could reverse the symptoms of dementia - such as memory loss and anxiety - after only four weeks. Hope so. Sounds far-fetched to be true.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Want buns of steel?

Sub-freezing weather, apparently no problem for hearty Minnesota bicycle riders. Sub-zero thins the herd.

Worth the boost? Battery-powered bikes reach speeds up to 30 mph. Green, yes. Safe, doubtful. At that speed, electric bikes are twice as fast as most leisure riders. Should they ride in bike lanes?

There’s a dude in California who makes a school bus out of bamboo. Actually, it’s a seven-place bicycle and everybody has to pedal, but it is made of bamboo, which grows on every continent. Perfect for developing nations. No, silly, they don't make them out of hemp.

In 1896, a division of Buffalo Soldiers rode bicycles from Missoula, Montana, to Yellowstone – and back. That’s 800 miles on rudimentary bikes.

The first Tour de France Cycliste was a mad dash of 1,509 miles spread over six days. The year was 1903.

If you are young, you roll dehydrated, sore, cramping. If you are older, you cruise on a friendlier bike. Either way, on the bike, we find solace, clarity, perspective. A mental re-boot. And we are healthier for it. Saddle up.

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