Saturday, August 22, 2009

Taking Stock: Table of Contents.

Do you ever stop to look at all the clutter in your life, and what it says about you?


Well, I do. These entries show you what that's like.

The refrigerator.

The middle drawer on Sweetie's desk.

My kitchen counter, 7:55 a.m. on a Friday morning.

My Wallet.

The Bookshelf By My Bed.

The top of my dresser.

The Excess Snacks Drawer

1001 Ways To Tune Up The World, Number Seventeen

17. Open the borders. Everywhere.

Why don't people want immigrants to come to their country? I've never understood that, especially when it comes to the United States, where if we stand for one thing, it should be that everyone deserves quality, affordable health care. And if we stand for two things in the U.S., it should be that everyone deserves quality affordable health care, and also that anyone who wants to come here should come here.

There are three kinds of immigrants, as I see it. There are your highly-educated, professional immigrants. There are your low-ly educated, laborer immigrants. And there are your undesirables. Opening the borders means that all three can come freely, and that's okay. We'll soon figure out who the ones that are in the third group are and end up deporting them or imprisoning them (and we can keep deported people from coming back.) And the ones in the first two groups? We want them, don't we?

We want professional, highly intelligent immigrants, for obvious reasons. And we need laborers and people who want to work because, let's face it, most of us don't want to work. Unemployment is the highest it's been in years, and I don't see anyone heading down south to be a migrant farmworker. Somebody's got to pick the fruit, clean the hallways, milk the cows, and more, and not many of us want to do that. Immigrants aren't taking our jobs away, they're doing jobs that we don't want to, or can't, do.

Plus, legalizing all immigration avoids the problem of paying illegal immigrants less than the legal wage. There won't be any illegal immigrants to be taken advantage of, anymore.

People will argue that immigrants will tax our social systems, impose burdens on them that we can't handle, but the United States, especially, is an insanely rich country, and allowing immigrants legally will help integrate them into society, meaning they'll pay taxes and support those social systems, adding support to the same systems that are becoming more burdened.

Any country, really, should be welcoming immigrants from anywhere. Let people come, put them to work, have them become a part of your society. Good countries will be the richer for it, and it'll help people from bad countries get out of those countries. Can you think of a better way to topple a regime than to simply have everyone from that country leave it?

Minimizing or barring illegal immigrants simply taxes the policing system and lets in people who don't mind breaking the law while making it harder for people who want to be here, and who we want to be here, to get here.

13. Ban driving any kind of automobile, motorcycle or other personal vehicle within 1-2 miles of downtown in any city with a population of more than 100,000.

12. Abolish gym class; instead, teach kids to play musical instruments.

11. Change copyright laws to allow anyone to use anyone else's creative work provided that the copier pay 60% of the profit to the originator and that the copier not cast the original work in a negative light.

10. Have more sidewalk cafes and outdoor seating.

9. When you have to give someone a gift, ask them what they want, and then get that thing for them.

8. Never interrupt or finish someone's jokes.

7. Periodically, give up something you like for at least a month.

6. Switch to "E-money."

5. Have each person assigned one phone number, and then add an extension for the various phones and faxes that person might be reached at.

4. Abolish Mondays and Tuesdays.

3. Don't listen to interviews with athletes or comedians.

2. Have "personal cashiers" at the grocery store.

1. Don't earn more than $200,000 per year.

Quote of the Day, 37:

While time travel into the past is unimaginable, one-way travel into the future might work.
-- Gregg Easterbrook
, writer.

I was just unwinding and reading Tuesday Morning Quarterback, written by Gregg Easterbrook, who occasionally gets things right.

He doesn't always get it right, like when he says a team has to run the football well to win games, but that's not the point of Quote 37.

The point of Quote 37 is that Gregg Easterbrook, who appears to be interested in science, juding by his writing, just blew it with that quote. Following that line, he goes on to have a pseudo-scientific discussion about whether it would be possible to travel into the future...

... when that is what we are all doing all the time.

We are all, right now, traveling into the future.

But I know, that's not what Gregg meant; he meant that science may someday find a way to have us travel into the future faster than our current time passes; that is, I might, he theorizes, find a way to travel 1 year into the future, without that trip taking 1 year. But the technology for that already exists, too: just go into a coma.

Which is technology that Gregg Easterbrook missed -- but which was predicted by a cartoon.

He's so... what's the word I'm looking for here? It'll come to me. Starts with an "a..."(Sweetie's Hunk Of The Week, 28)

Sweetie's Hunk of the Week this time -- actually, again, her second choice since there is still the SuperSecret Ultra Hidden Hunk of The Week That I Have Promised Not To Post -- is Tony Goldwyn.

You/Sweetie Know Him As: Notice that I didn't put any clever intros to this one, or otherwise come up with something about him. That's because you and Sweetie, and I don't actually know Tony Goldwyn as anything. The last thing he starred in was Ghost, I believe, and I believe that because when I asked Sweetie "Who?" she said "He starred in Ghost." So I should probably rename this feature to "Sweetie's Obscure Character Actor/Collection of Abdominal Muscles of The Week."

(Yep! I brought back that girls-love-abs joke. It's funny because it's true, and it's funny because it makes women so angry. And it makes women so angry because it's true. Vicious circle.)

I know Him As: I know him now as "The voice of Tarzan" in the cartoon from Disney. I know that because when Sweetie told me he starred in Ghost, I stared blankly and tried to remember if Patrick Swayze had ever been called Tony Goldwyn, so she said, "He was the voice of Tarzan," which would be a great help if, instead of picturing Tony Goldwyn, Tony Goldwyn had instead called me on the phone and tried to sell me life insurance. Which is probably what he's doing these days.

Thing That Makes You Go Hmmm About Him: Remember how in the olden days (2002) actors always had some kind of other talent, like how Steve Martin could play the banjo? That was pretty cool. Although Steve Martin was more of a comedian than an actor, then, but he did act, in the movie The Jerk, and other movies, probably, and he could play the banjo. So I decided to see if Tony Goldwyn had any hidden talents, investigating it the way everyone looks up everything nowadays: Googling it. I googled "Tony Goldwyn Hidden Talents" and got the answer:


The closest I came to Tony Goldwyn having a hidden talent of some sort was this line from a DVD review of Friday The 13th, Part VI:

Tony Goldwyn's brief appearance as Darren foreshadows the talent he would go on to display in such films as "Ghost" and "The 6th Day".

Which leads me to believe that Tony Goldwyn was the guy who replaced the other Darren on Bewitched, something I can believe because I never watched Bewitched, either. I was more of a Jeannie fan.

Reason I Tell Myself Sweetie Likes Him: I will go with... curly hair? Googly eyes? I don't know. I give up. I'm still trying to remember what Tarzan sounded like.

Actual Reason Sweetie Likes Him: "He's so unassuming."

Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Actual Reason For Liking Him: It's easy to be unassuming when the two most notable roles in your career can be described as "Voice of a guy that nobody remembers talking," or "Oh, yeah, he was in that movie, too."

Oh, and you're not fooling anyone with that "unassuming" stuff, Sweetie. Let's face it: You like Tony Goldwyn because of this:

Friday, August 21, 2009

I see them all the time, after all. (3 Good Things From 8/21)

1. A half day at work! I came home early to watch the Babies! and give Sweetie time to have lunch with her friend. So: Full credit for working a day, but only half a day actually in the office! That's living the dream.

2. I managed to jog just over 3 miles last night (solo -- no baby pushing this time), making that the farthest I've gone all summer.

3. We got the kids' pictures taken last night, and they turned out excellently. Or so Sweetie assures me. I didn't see them. I take her word for it and never really look at the pictures. What's the point? I already know what the kids look like.
Also: Update: If you read yesterday's essay, you know I have some concerns about Oldest's living arrangements. As it turns out, Oldest came over yesterday, purportedly because of the need to go have kids' pictures taken, but then she ended up staying over and is sleeping on the couch behind me as I type this. I'm going to start charging her rent.

If necessary, I will wear my suit to the park. I'll look silly on Space Mountain, but that's a burden I can live with.

WOO HOO! Sweetie's sister is getting married next year!

I don't ordinarily get so excited about other people's weddings, because other people's weddings mean I have to take a perfectly good Saturday and wear a suit and sit at a table with a bunch of people I don't know and make small talk, all in hopes that there'll be a decent dinner, at least, but there never is. The last wedding I went to, we were all jealous of the kids' plates. While we had "prime rib," the kids had chicken fingers and french fries.

But Sweetie's sister's wedding is different; it's going to be in Florida, which means: vacation! I've been angling and angling to talk Sweetie into another Florida trip and now she can't avoid it, so it looks like we'll be driving down south next summer to head to the Orlando area, and I'm already checking out to get our Disney World Tickets. The Babies! will be nearly 4 by then, prime Disney-ification age, so I want to take them... need to take them, but I'm not going to pay an arm and a leg and probably a spleen to do it.

Instead, through, I can get discount Disney tickets, and not from some shady operator on a street corner, and without sitting through a time-share proposal -- just right through the website, right there, I can get the tickets and be ready to go, and I can save enough that our trip to the wedding can include not one, but two or maybe even three theme parks.

That's because Orlando Fun Tickets has more than Disney tickets. They've got Sea World, Busch Gardens, Universal Studios, all the major parks, and even some out-of-area attractions, like tickets to Kennedy Space Center. I can even get "Flex Tickets," offering entry to more than one park, and the price is as low as fourteen dollars a day.

Fourteen bucks! That's the cost of what we'll spend on the wedding present. (Sorry about that in advance, sister-in-law, but I'm cheap.)(And anyway, I'll be spending all my money on souvenir Mouse Ears and other touristy stuff. So can I interest you in some Mouse Ears for your wedding?)

I love going to Florida -- I liked it as a kid, I liked it as an adult -- and I liked it then and now because of the theme parks. Roller coasters and water rides and giant slushees and spinning machines and the Haunted Mansion: That's the stuff that summer ought to be filled with, and that's the stuff that my summer is going to be filled with next year.

Hey, do you think I could talk the bride into holding the wedding at a theme park? I've got to go make a phone call.

FIve Bucks For A Bottle Of Wine? You Can Tell Sweetie Picked A Winner (Thinking The Lions)

Sweetie and I went for a date last week. As we sat at the Perkins restaurant and tried to decide what we’d order on our last-minute-hastily planned date, I realized that the quality of dates which I’ve taken Sweetie on have not exactly improved over the years.

In terms of dating excellence, my relationship with Sweetie would look at lot like one of those slides that they used to have in pools, the really, really steep slides with the really, really tall ladders. After beginning low, we shot up really high, and then rather steeply declined before dropping under water.

Our date was hastily-planned because we needed a break from the routine stresses of our lives.

Last Saturday, the date of the Hasty Date, was also the day that Mr F finally broke down the last of our crib defenses, a day Sweetie has been fearing for a long time. Our parenting of Mr F and Mr Bunches has largely tracked what the Germans did in anticipating of D-Day: Build up defense after defense and keep our eyes peeled for the breach. We didn’t know where it was coming from, but we knew it was coming, and last Saturday was D-Day.

The one refuge that we get from the Babies! and their sometimes/mostly impossibly energetic behavior is when they sleep, which they do only rarely and which they never do willingly. They fight sleep, fight it with every inch of their bodies. They will walk around, jump, kick their legs, pull hair, and slap themselves to try to stay awake, to keep up the constant motion that is their lives. They are kinetic Babies! who do not stand still, even in their sleep, and who have necessitated the build-up of defenses over three years, beginning with cribs, and moving on to fastening those cribs to walls, and then topping those cribs with mesh “Crib Tents” that were put in place to keep the Babies! from jumping right out of their crib, as Mr Bunches did before we had the tents.

Faced with those seemingly insurmountable barriers, the Babies! redoubled their efforts to stay in motion and stay awake, beginning with constantly undressing. Put to bed in their shorts and t-shirts for a nap, it would take them only seconds after the door closed to disrobe. Sometimes we could hear the clothes hitting the floor as we shut them in, followed by giggling. If we didn’t go in and investigate, they would begin groaning as though in pain to get us to come in and check out the situation. So we fought back by putting sleepers on them, sleepers with zippers and snaps. They figured those out, too, at which point we put t-shirts on over the sleepers, bundling the Babies! up like Eskimos even though it was July, and forcing us to run the air conditioner to combat the layers of clothes we had piled on them to keep them dressed.

It was no use, though, because they figured out how to slither out of those outfits, too, and, having become bored with escaping their clothing, the Naked Houdinis turned to defeating the Crib Tents. They first achieved that goal by simply ripping the nylon mesh. I don’t know how they did that, since I tried and was unable to tear it myself, under any circumstances, but they did, and we went in one day to find that they’d torn holes in the Crib Tents and climbed out.

Sweetie sewed up the holes, and that fix lasted a week or so until the Babies! discovered that they could squeeze out the ends of the tents. The Crib Tents are fixed to the sides of the crib by a Velcro strap that doesn’t entirely cover the crib edge, and it’s possible to slide between that strap and the wall of the crib and then force one’s way outside of the crib tent, although one would have be two-dimensional for part of that trip to make it work.

I found out they could do that, get out that way, when I went in one night to check on them and found Mr Bunches (naked, of course) pinned between the edge of the crib and Velcro strap, chin up, eyes focused, and trying to edge his way up and out to freedom.

I dressed him, put him back and fastened the tents to the end of the crib with the only thing I had at hand: spare cords from the old DVD player we used to have in their room. We’d thrown out the now-broken DVD player but had kept the cords, for some reason, and so I used them to tie the ends of the crib tents tighter to the edge of the crib.

They fought back, as they always do, first by Mr F’s show of brute strength: last Friday afternoon, Mr F simply broke off the entire end of his crib.

I’m not joking in any sense about that. Middle had gone in to check on them and come out and told me that Mr F’s crib was broken. This was the second time he’d broken it, but the first time was just a crack in one bar, so I thought nothing much of it as I headed upstairs to check it out. I was confronted with the entire end of the crib, pushed off and broken in half and hanging on to the crib by a thin metal attachment. The crib was rickety and barely standing and the end hung raggedly in space, and inside it, Mr F slept soundly. He hadn’t even tried to escape; he’d broken his crib in two just to show us he could do it.

After an emergency trip to Wal-Mart for a new crib (and a Butterfinger candy bar, but that was more of an impulse purchase) Mr F was securely locked into a more-solid, newer crib that we thought would stand a chance of lasting until the end of the week, maybe, given some luck.

That led to Saturday, when we were watching TV and heard some mysterious crashing and snapping sounds from upstairs. I was dispatched to investigate and found Mr F in the midst of a collapsed crib tent, the entire mesh affair in shambles around him, and him smiling.

In the midst of a lecture that he paid no attention to at all, I reassembled the crib tent and was about to leave when he attacked again. As I watched… as I watched… he jumped up and grabbed the bar of the crib tent at its highest point, and then fell, holding onto the bar, fell like deadweight, pulling the crib tent back down around him only seconds after I’d repaired it.

Then he smiled at me.

I thought about reassembling the tent, but decided it was too dangerous at this point. I didn’t want him to break a bar and poke his eye, or break his neck trying that trick a third time. So I took the crib tent down, and told him sternly to stay in his crib and go to sleep. He seemed not to hear me, but that’s probably because as I said it he was climbing out of his crib and heading for the door.

I put him back and told him again: Stay in bed,” and then picked him up and put him back again, as he’d climbed out while I said that. We did that for a while before I wisened up and put him to bed and quick left the room, smartly closing the door behind me.

I was three steps away when he opened the door and began to follow me.

I put him back again and then grabbed a gate, of the kind that we use to keep the Babies! out of the furnace room, and put that in his doorway. He stood there watching me, having gotten back out again. I put him in his bed again, closed the door and snapped the gate into place.

No sooner had I done that than Mr F opened the door and looked at the gate. Then he looked at me. Then he began climbing over the gate.

That’s when I gave up and announced to Sweetie that he was just not going to nap that day, and that’s what led to a stressful afternoon of us debating what to do.

Sweetie took the stance that we should do something.

I took the stance of what is it that you want me to do?

Sweetie then took the stance of we need them to stay in bed.

I then switched to what is it that you want me to do.

Mr F then toddled through the room and hugged Sweetie.

We tried debating some more, with Sweetie also pointing out that I was not taking things very seriously and me pointing out that Sweetie was taking things very seriously, and both of us strongly implying that the other was not correct in his/her viewpoint, at which point Sweetie summed up her side of the argument with: we should do something. I hung strong with what do you want me to do, and that settled things, except that nothing was settled.

Eventually we hit on a strategy of “Let’s see if we can’t get Mr F to stay in his bed when he sleeps,” with a side of And Daddy will be the one to monitor him staying in bed each night until he falls asleep since it was Daddy’s idea to take down the crib tent, and an implied And since Daddy doesn’t seem to take this seriously, that serves him right. We also decided that later that night, we would go out and get a cup of coffee or a dessert or something to spend some time together, time that did not involve Mr F occasionally meandering through us with a tired look on his face, and time that did not involve the weighty questions of what should we do and who’s not taking this seriously.

Then, Sweetie abruptly moved our date up to dinner, instead of sometime after dinner, which is how we ended up at Perkins, a little wary because of the near-quarrel of the afternoon and a lot tired because Mr F, frankly, had exhausted us.

That was our date. I’d like to say it was more romantic or elaborate than that, but it wasn’t, really. I ordered a burger, Sweetie ordered a salad, and we split a plate of appetizers, and then we drove a little and talked and then we went home. I think we also might have dropped off some library books, too, but I can’t be sure. I might have decided that “running errands” wasn’t a good mix with “romantic burger” and opted to leave the books at home.

During our date, we talked about the kids and about movies we’d seen and about how crazy my family is – all our usual topics of conversation – and we managed to each stick to the appetizers that we each like, and during our drive we talked about those things, too, and that was about it.

I’d like to say that our dates weren’t, or aren’t, always like that, except that during the time I’ve known Sweetie, as I said, the dates mostly were exactly like that.

Probably the best date I’ve ever taken Sweetie on was our wedding, and I count that as a date because getting married is the ultimate date. A date, after all, is a romantic night out when you’re supposed to get dressed up and have dinner and do something romantic and then show your date off to your friends, and that’s a wedding in a nutshell. The groom picks up the bride (at the altar), they go for a short ride and eat a dinner that neither is much interested in while making small talk, then some dancing and socializing and then on home.

Our wedding was, by my standards at least, a very successful date in that I didn’t do anything to screw it up, at all. On most dates, I manage to do something or other to mess things up. I may, as I did last Saturday, put on a nice shirt for a change so that Sweetie can enjoy seeing me in something other than my Green Lantern t-shirt, but if I do, on my date, wear a nice shirt, I am guaranteed to also, as I did, spill ranch dip on it more or less the very minute the appetizers arrive.

Or I might mess up a date in a worse manner, like I did on our first “romantic date” ever, when I had Sweetie to my apartment for dinner.

Up until the Apartment Dinner, Sweetie and I had gone on dates mainly after work, leaving from the law firm where we both worked when we met and heading someplace that was inexpensive enough for a law student who earned $10 an hour to be able to buy something for his date and still have gas money to get his Ford Festiva back to Madison, 48 miles away. That meant that most of our dates were to the coffee shop in Baraboo, where I would get a coffee and Sweetie would get a soda and we would sit and talk and sometimes play a game of chess before she walked me back to my car and I headed home and she headed home.

But for the Apartment Dinner, I invited Sweetie to drive down for a night of romance, “romance” being a rented video (Fargo), a homemade spaghetti dinner, and a bottle of wine.

“Romance” didn’t include, as it should have, a corkscrew, something I didn’t realize should have been included until I tried to open the wine after Sweetie was there, only to realize that I had no way to the cork out of the bottle. Having spent nearly $5 on the bottle of wine, and knowing that “romance” in my case depended heavily on Sweetie being at least drunk enough to not notice when I spilled spaghetti sauce all over my shirt, I tried to pry open the wine bottle with the only thing I could find handy, a sharp kitchen knife. I tried to poke the knife in and twist the cap back and forth and back and fo

rth, but that didn’t help get it out and in fact forced it into the bottle a little more.

Then I thought: What if I just push the cork into the bottle, instead? I could then pour the wine around it. So I used a wooden spoon handle to try to do that (while Sweetie sat politely on my old green couch in the other room) but that just jammed the cork further in and I couldn’t dislodge it anymore.

I then hit on Plan C, which was to use the original sharp knife to slice into the cork, little by little, in hopes of cutting enough out that I could then pry the cork back up o

ut of the bottle. That worked, but not the way I intended it to: Instead of cutting out a bit of cork and pulling the cork out, I cut out a bit of cork, and then a bit more, and then a bit more, and then the remainder of the cork disintegrated and the entire cork, now in very small pieces, fell into the wine.

I stared at that and wondered what to do now. Could I strain the wine and pour it back in? That seemed unlikely, as I didn’t have a strainer. I thought about using the coffee pot – pour the wine in, hit brew, and then have the wine burble up into the pot and through the filter. But wouldn’t that make it hot, and take time? I thought it might, and time is rarely on my side in dating, s

o I opted for the direct route. I prepared a plate of spaghetti and poured the wine into the two nice glasses that I (improbably) owned, and took them all out to Sweetie for us to eat off of my coffee table.

Dinner is served,” I told her, and held up her glass. Just try to spit out the cork parts,” I explained in what I hoped was a casual manner, as if to say that’s how cool people drink wine, anyway.

Our relationship survived that and continued, and survived, too, the next time I tried to cook dinner for her – the Sage Taco night, when I offered to make us tacos and she (unwisely) took me up on that. I was 98% done with dinner when I thought I should maybe spice things up a little. The only spice I had was “sage,” and so I took the jar of sage and prepared to put just a smidge onto the

ground beef to make this a fancy taco dinner, but the lid fell off, dumping an entire canister of sage onto the meat and turning the meat green, and making the entire apartment smell vaguely like Oklahoma. Or at least how I imagine Oklahoma might smell.

Sweetie lived through that and kept dating me, for some reason, and lived through a variety of other disastrous dates – like the one where I got pulled over for speeding

on the way to a family reunion and found out that I didn’t have a driver’s license due to identity theft, and like the one where I took her to play golf with my dad while she had a kidney stone (she won) and the trip to Great America where a semi-truck nearly ran us over and I almost got arrested for arguing with the police officer about whose fault it was (I felt I had the right to be angry, having nearly been driven over by a truck, a truck that was still parked nearly on top of our car while an officer questioned me about whether I’d accidentally driven under the truck instead of it driving over us) and through it all, Sweetie has kept her chin up and put up with everything life throws at her – while I’ve paid her back with corky wine and salads at Perkins.

It’s not as though I’ve not taken her on good dates – there was our wedding, of course, and the honeymoon, and also I took her to Mexico for a week early on in our relationship. It’s that those good dates are so few and far between, and even when they do occur, they frequently are marred by some sort of poor planning on my part, like when I planned a weekend getaway for us to Washington D.C., only to find that what we were “getting away” from was, primarily, food, since there weren’t any restaurants within miles of our hotel and most of Washington D.C., at least the part we could afford to eat in, closes at 5, so that for four days we subsisted mostly on some candy we’d boug

ht from one of those mall candy shops.

And I should take her on more dates, and better dates. That was the other message I gathered, as we sat and ordered our dinners last Saturday. The haste with which she’d planned it made me realize that maybe Sweetie needs a little more romance in her life, something to offset t

he constant battle that the Babies! present, to help ease the stress of having to keep up with not only twin 3-year-olds but also to monitor the activities of The Boy and Middle, and even Oldest, who’s been coming around a lot lately, so much so that I suspected maybe she got evicted from her house (she assured me she didn’t, but I’m not certain, because she’s been over nearly every day this week). I decided, sitting there last Saturday, that not only does Sweetie need better dates than simply a drive and a salad, but she needs dates period.

It’s not just that she needs them. She deserves them, deserves a nice date. Anyone who on a daily basis can deal with the mountain of diapers and half-eaten bananas and football practices and phone calls about changing work schedules and insistence that only a certain kind of lunch meat be purchased, and can deal with that while doing all the laundry and all the grocery shopping and all the cooking (although, can you blame her?) and can do that with a constant background noise of teenagers playing their music while Babies! watch Little Einsteins for the 54th time that day, and can at the same time act interested when her husband, who is supposed to be earning a living, calls her and mentions that he just found out that, in the comics, Batman died, anyone who can do all that and not simply move out and leave us all fending for ourselves, deserves to be treated to a little romance now and then, a night out on the town, dressed up and eating fancy foods that she didn’t make, eating dinner without having her sleeve pulled on and without having to hear about whose turn it is to take out the garbage. Anyone who puts up with what Sweetie puts up with ought to have a night away from all of that, a night of enchantment and romance and fun.

But, since she’s married to me, she’s going to end up with Sage Tacos and Cork Wine.

1001 Ways To Tune Up The World, Number Sixteen

16. Just start DVDs without all the preliminaries, please.

Not every way of improving the world has to be earthshaking; it's possible to make the world better without curing Ebola. And stopping all the junk that comes before I can get a movie to play is one way of fine tuning the world without much effort or to-do.

On the one hand, living in modern society is remarkably easy, and I get that. When I have a life that lets me get annoyed by a 1- to 3-minute delay in beginning to watch my movie, I get that my life is really good and that I should be grateful that I'm not getting shot at or starving to death or living in Tennessee or any of the other really horrible things that can happen to people.

But living in a great world doesn't mean that I have to accept it as it is, and not make it better, and eliminating little annoying things about modern life would go a long way towards making everyone's day a little better. Which means eliminating DVD previews and load screens and FBI warnings and that little warning that the opinions expressed in the commentary aren't necessarily the opinions of 20th Century Fox Films.

Sometimes, it feels like 30 minutes before I get to watch the movie. I have to put the DVD in, and sit through 2, or 3, or 4 previews, and I can't get to the main menu during them. Then I have to sit through the warnings and disclaimers, and then, there's some little animated sequence that leads me to the menu.

I don't care to sit through the extended animation of Jerry Seinfeld crashing a space taxi that you came up with as a clever intro to the movie, even if it is only fifteen seconds long. Telling me that the FBI will prosecute bootleggers doesn't make it more illegal to bootleg movies; it just delays me seeing the movie and irritates me, in a miniscule but real way, and makes me think less of you and your movie; it puts me in a bad mood before I begin seeing your movie. And disclaimers about the commentaries? I don't want commentaries on in the first place!

So how about this? Put all that stuff on there -- but only make me watch it if I select it. That way, all the movie nerds can see that stuff, while people like me, who appreciate their lives but who just want to watch the darn movie, can skip it. Just make it so that when I put in the DVD, a few seconds later, the movie is ready to go.

13. Ban driving any kind of automobile, motorcycle or other personal vehicle within 1-2 miles of downtown in any city with a population of more than 100,000.

12. Abolish gym class; instead, teach kids to play musical instruments.

11. Change copyright laws to allow anyone to use anyone else's creative work provided that the copier pay 60% of the profit to the originator and that the copier not cast the original work in a negative light.

10. Have more sidewalk cafes and outdoor seating.

9. When you have to give someone a gift, ask them what they want, and then get that thing for them.

8. Never interrupt or finish someone's jokes.

7. Periodically, give up something you like for at least a month.

6. Switch to "E-money."

5. Have each person assigned one phone number, and then add an extension for the various phones and faxes that person might be reached at.

4. Abolish Mondays and Tuesdays.

3. Don't listen to interviews with athletes or comedians.

2. Have "personal cashiers" at the grocery store.

1. Don't earn more than $200,000 per year.

Muffins & Colbert. (3 Good Things From 8/20/09)

As always, it's pretty easy on a Friday to be in a good mood, but it's even easier for me, what with my remembering 3 Good Things from yesterday to brighten me today:

1. I caught Stephen Colbert pronouncing his name "Col-bert," instead of Col-Bear. That's something of a quest of mine since I first heard him do it. I'm convinced that his real name is Col-bert, and on the episode of his show I watched yesterday, he did it again, so I'm that much closer to achieving yet another goal of mine.

2. I finally got all my clean clothes put away. Sweetie's been doing laundry and stacking up my clothes so I can put them away the way I like them, and after about 10 days, I finally tackled the job and got it done, and found two pairs of shorts I'd thought I'd lost in the bargain.

3. Sweetie bought muffins, the great kind of giant restaurant muffins, and they saved me the Double Chocolate Chocolate Chip Muffin.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

1001 Ways To Tune Up The World, Number Fifteen

15. Just allow colleges to pay athletes, already.

This one's timely -- I thought of it yesterday, and then here, today, comes the news that the NCAA imposed an imaginary punishment on Memphis University for violations of NCAA rules, including (of course) allegations that someone received something of value. (In this case, the athlete's brother allegedly got free airfare.)

Colleges use athletics for two purposes: One, to let students play sports. Two, to raise money. The major sports -- basketball and football -- are used to raise money for collegee, and it's dumb to pretend otherwise. The "student-athletes" on college football teams raise enormous amounts of money for the college athletic departments (and, by extension, for the colleges.) They raise the profile of the colleges they play for, and provide free advertising on TV after TV all fall and winter.

And colleges pay students. They pay the students to go there not just by virtue of scholarships, but by virtue of fake jobs and airline tickets for their brothers and houses for their families and more.

There's nothing inherently harmful about paying student athletes; colleges pay students to work for them all the time. It's called "work study." When I was in college, I had tutoring jobs and registration office jobs and other jobs that were subsidized and only available to colleges. Why can't one such "work study" job be "halfback?"

While there's nothing inherently harmful about paying students to play for a college, there is something harmful about pretending that they don't, and not just because Memphis can get players and then win all those games (and knock four other teams out of the NCAA Tournament) and then not even be punished. (Taking away their wins? That doesn't put those other teams back into the tournament, NCAA.) Allowing the current system to continue (the current system being colleges paying athletes surreptitiously) cheats other schools that aren't willing to violate NCAA rules as frequently and it sends the wrong message to the students and athletes.

Plus, allowing colleges to pay players might just balance out the college football scene -- Ivy League schools with their large endowments, and other rich schools -- could compete with the football powerhouses and warm-climate schools by offering to pay their students more.

And, paying college students might end the practice of having kids jump to the pros after 1 or 2 years. If everyone's so concerned about kids getting an education, why force them to choose between millions or a degree?

I look forward to the day, a few years from now, when students can go to the Campus Job Center center and choose between "Math Tutor" and "Power Forward."

13. Ban driving any kind of automobile, motorcycle or other personal vehicle within 1-2 miles of downtown in any city with a population of more than 100,000.

12. Abolish gym class; instead, teach kids to play musical instruments.

11. Change copyright laws to allow anyone to use anyone else's creative work provided that the copier pay 60% of the profit to the originator and that the copier not cast the original work in a negative light.

10. Have more sidewalk cafes and outdoor seating.

9. When you have to give someone a gift, ask them what they want, and then get that thing for them.

8. Never interrupt or finish someone's jokes.

7. Periodically, give up something you like for at least a month.

6. Switch to "E-money."

5. Have each person assigned one phone number, and then add an extension for the various phones and faxes that person might be reached at.

4. Abolish Mondays and Tuesdays.

3. Don't listen to interviews with athletes or comedians.

2. Have "personal cashiers" at the grocery store.

1. Don't earn more than $200,000 per year.

Learning can be fun? Why didn't I know about this back in school?

You have to do a little bragging on yourself even to your relatives-man doesn't get anywhere without advertising.

That quote comes to you courtesy of former Vice President John Nance Garner. I know the quote, and who said it, thanks to, a site full of Questions and Answers that you'll get lost in just clicking around.

Let me give you an example. I went to to look up something about dark matter, because I felt like making fun of scientists who believe in "Dark Matter" when everyone knows "dark matter" = "I don't know, so I made something up." But before I could look that up, right on the home page was the word of the day, rubicon, and so I read the definition of that, and also what it means to "cross the Rubicon," (to take a decisive step, with no turning back) and then I saw that it was former president Benjamin Harrison's birthday today, so I went to see what he'd done as president, because I didn't remember, but then I got sidetracked with that vice-presidential quote...

And that's just the beginning. They've got QuestionBin, too, which is the first answers feature with audio and video joining text, and I'll probably spend most of the night looking at that, too...

Quote of the Day, 36

"You're as bad as the kids,"
-- Sweetie, on my decision to, on impulse, sign us up for Costco.

Two weeks ago, more or less, Sweetie's dad was in town, and he learned that I'd never been to the Costco near us, even though I was dying to go because, well, discount goods. So he took us there and we walked through and I was overwhelmed by the giant tubs of peanut butter and fresh bagels and iPod accessories all in one place, so I signed us up for a one-year membership.

Then we grocery shopped there the first time and concluded that we weren't saving money at all, so I had to go and get a refund, which Costco gave me (somewhat disappointingly) without a fight.

Reviewing that the other day, Sweetie said I was as bad as the kids in my impulse purchases, which I denied. I pointed out to her the time we took the kids to the Wisconsin Dells for the day and gave them each $20 to buy souveniers. Within two minutes of arriving, we were walking past a t-shirt shop where the proprietor noticed Middle and Oldest and asked what "two such pretty girls were shopping for," and they immediately went inside and bought t-shirts, blowing their entire spending money for the day less than 10 minutes into the day.

Which in my book, makes the kids way worse than me on impulse purchases. I had been at Costco at least 20 minutes before deciding to join.

Also, in my defense: Middle was with us at Costco and was completely on my side about joining.

The internet is for... what's that now? (3 Good Things From 8/19/09)

It was a long and exhausting day but even with all that long-ness and exhaustation, I got my 3 Good Things out of it to rely on today:

1. Sweetie made me a sandwich for dinner and she put pickles on it. That's one of the 1 zillion reasons I love Sweetie. I'm always too lazy to put pickles on my own sandwiches, but she just goes and does it for me.

2. Listening to talk radio at 5 a.m. on the drive to Milwaukee, I learned that Dennis Leary, like, is an unrepentant Brett Favre fan. It's nice to know that I'm not alone in the world in that regard.

3. I got my new Avenue Q soundtrack CD -- so it's showtunes around the clock, now.

The only thing we get in our house is "Little Einsteins" on demand.

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You know you want a little mature fun now and then -- and with, you can have it for less than you'd expect, and without worrying that the kids'll have access to it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

People can breath water... (Cool Things I Never Learned In School )

Way back when my brother Matt still lived in Wisconsin, when he had fish instead of dogs, he made a comment to me about how he believed his fish breathed.

They breath, he told me, by separating the oxygen atoms from the hydrogen atoms in the water molecules from the water they swim in.

I told him that was ridiculous -- that would mean that the fish were performing nuclear fission and that they'd be exploding or glowing or something and that what they were doing was actually pulling oxygen out of the water, that in the water were oxygen atoms that the gills could separate from the H20 molecules surrounding them.

We had that discussion when we were in our 20s, and it occurred to me today that (a) I was making up my response to him, since I had no idea, and (b) I still had no idea, years later, how gills work.

So I looked it up, and according to "How Stuff Works,"

The oxygen that fish breathe is not the oxygen in H2O. Instead, the fish are breathing O2 (oxygen gas) that is dissolved in the water. Many different gases dissolve in liquids, and we see an example all the time in carbonated beverages. In these beverages, there is so much carbon dioxide gas dissolved in water that it rushes out in the form of bubbles.

The site also says: Humans cannot breathe underwater because our lungs do not have enough surface area to absorb enough oxygen from water, and the lining in our lungs is adapted to handle air rather than water. However, there have been experiments with humans breathing other liquids, like fluorocarbons...

I clicked the link they provided and found that, yes people can breathe liquid, in some cases.

I set out to learn one thing, and learned two. All because they never covered how gills operate in biology class in school.

School: 0. Looking Stuff Up to Prove Matt was Wrong and I Was Right: 1

1001 Ways To Tune Up The World, Number Fourteen

14. Don't get married before you're 30.

At least.

Originally, I actually picked 25. Then I decided to change it to 30. I was thinking 25 but 25 is still young, still practically a kid, and young people who are practically kids are stupid. I don't intend that to be mean. It's just true. The older you get (generally) the smarter you get, and the smarter you get, the less dumb things you do. That includes marrying.

So don't get married before you're 30, at least. If you wait until you're 30, you'll be less likely to be making a mistake, because you'll be less stupid.

You'll also be more set in your life. Who, really, knew what they wanted to be, who they really were, when they were 18? 25? Almost nobody, I bet. At 18, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. At 25, I thought I wanted to travel the world and/or be a politician. By 30, I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer and raise a family. So anyone I'd've married at 18 or 25 would've been marrying not-yet-real-me. It was better to wait.

Getting married at 30 -- or after -- means that you'll still spend at least 1/2, if not 2/3, of your adult life married to that person, and you're only foregoing, at most, about 12 years of marriage in your adult life, but in that 12 years you can try out different personas, explore the world, decide what you want to do, and get yourself sorted out. You can make yourself into the kind of person who not only gets married, but who stays married. And the person who marries you will know what they're getting into. By 30, you're more kinetic energy than potential energy.

I'd like this to be a law, and I suppose it could be. States could simply set the age for marriage at 30, and that would be somewhat beneficial. It would reduce the number of marriages, and accordingly, the number of divorces, and it would also send a societal message that serious relationships are meant for older people, more serious people... smarter people. Over time, making it a law that nobody under 30 can marry would mean that society would gradually drift upwards in its attitudes about how old people should be when they do serious things and might have the side effect of making people push back other decisions (like having kids.)

But it'd be better if people just decided it on their own, which is why I phrased it the way I did. It'd be better if you and you and you and you would decide: I'm not going to get married until I'm at least 30, and if you people who are over 30 tell your friends and relatives and kids that they should wait until they're 30, then you'd all be making one of the smartest decisions of your lives.

Prior entries:

13. Ban driving any kind of automobile, motorcycle or other personal vehicle within 1-2 miles of downtown in any city with a population of more than 100,000.

12. Abolish gym class; instead, teach kids to play musical instruments.

11. Change copyright laws to allow anyone to use anyone else's creative work provided that the copier pay 60% of the profit to the originator and that the copier not cast the original work in a negative light.

10. Have more sidewalk cafes and outdoor seating.

9. When you have to give someone a gift, ask them what they want, and then get that thing for them.

8. Never interrupt or finish someone's jokes.

7. Periodically, give up something you like for at least a month.

6. Switch to "E-money."

5. Have each person assigned one phone number, and then add an extension for the various phones and faxes that person might be reached at.

4. Abolish Mondays and Tuesdays.

3. Don't listen to interviews with athletes or comedians.

2. Have "personal cashiers" at the grocery store.

1. Don't earn more than $200,000 per year.

I like to think she was dreaming of me telling one of my hilarious jokes. (3 Good Things from 8/18/09)

It was tough making it through a day when I had to get up at 4 a.m. and bravely go spend the day reading magazines and comic books for nearly 8 hours. But I did it, and I did it in part by focusing on 3 Good Things from the day before.

1. I set a new new World Record For 2009 In Distance Running While Pushing Babies In The Stroller, topping my previous best ("Just over a mile") and going nearly 2 miles last night.

2. Brett Favre is back!

3. In the middle of the night, I woke up and looked over at Sweetie, and she was smiling in her sleep.

Deep down inside, I really think I'd look kind of cool in a hard hat.

I like to think I work pretty hard. I mean, what with the amount of surfing the Internet I do, the way I almost always have two matching shoes on in the office, and my knack for telling a joke at precisely the right moment. Those are great job qualities, first of all, and secondly, they show that my job is a manly kind of job where any mistake at the wrong time might... require me to re-type a letter.

So, not exactly like truTV's Black Gold , a show about guys drilling oil wells in unforgiving terrain, working on a job in extreme conditions, a job where a mistake might not just cost them their jobs but their lives. I mean, granted, we have a lot in common, the Black Gold guys and I, like, for example, um, we, both, uh... we both breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

Beyond that, after watching truTV's Black Gold trailer , I'm not sure I have ANYTHING in common with these guys. I can't even imagine how they do that job. I doubt I could ever do it. I watched these videos over and over, like this one:

And all I could think about was: I wonder how long I'd last. 5 minutes? Maybe 10, if the last 5 of that 10 minutes I was on a break? I can only imagine how my performance review would go: "While we appreciate the effort, we're a little dismayed that not only did you break the oil drill the moment you touched it, but also you nearly maimed two of your coworkers and started an explosion that leveled 50% of the company's assets. And you started crying. And you're missing a shoe, but we're pretty sure that you didn't have it on when you arrived this morning."

To which I'd no doubt say "So, how big is my raise? And can I take a break to blog about this?"

It probably wouldn't end well, given how they review employees:

It's probably best that I'm not one of the people filmed for truTV's Black Gold drilling show, all things considered. But I will be watching the show.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

1001 Ways To Tune Up The World, Number Thirteen

13. Ban driving any kind of automobile, motorcycle or other personal vehicle within 1-2 miles of downtown in any city with a population of more than 100,000.

This one is a triple whammy of an idea. It will help save on fuel and reduce dependence on oil as fewer cars get driven. It'll reduce pollution. It'll reduce congestion downtown and reduce traffic overall. It'll make downtowns friendlier to pedestrians -- and that's a friendlier downtown, period. It'll make room for more businesses in downtowns by eliminating the need for parking garages.

So it's actually like a quintuple whammy of an idea. And it'll work, too. London already reduced congestion by charging people to drive in the downtown, and New York isconsidering shutting down a few major streets to reduce traffic jams.

Prior entries:

12. Abolish gym class; instead, teach kids to play musical instruments.

11. Change copyright laws to allow anyone to use anyone else's creative work provided that the copier pay 60% of the profit to the originator and that the copier not cast the original work in a negative light.

10. Have more sidewalk cafes and outdoor seating.

9. When you have to give someone a gift, ask them what they want, and then get that thing for them.

8. Never interrupt or finish someone's jokes.

7. Periodically, give up something you like for at least a month.

6. Switch to "E-money."

5. Have each person assigned one phone number, and then add an extension for the various phones and faxes that person might be reached at.

4. Abolish Mondays and Tuesdays.

3. Don't listen to interviews with athletes or comedians.

2. Have "personal cashiers" at the grocery store.

1. Don't earn more than $200,000 per year.


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