Friday, June 27, 2008

Two drakes

Two mallard drakes have built a little nest in a planter in front of the building where I work. The two drakes are carefully tending the nest and sitting on the eggs. Someone with a better view than mine says that the daddies are taking turns and that the mommy has never been seen. She apparently abandoned the nest after laying the eggs.

Somebody tell Katherine Kersten about the gay drakes in Rice County! A scandal right here on government property in the rural heartland! Can Katherine and the Archbishop save us?!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Baseball is a funny game, etc.

Man, I don't like these west-coast road trips. The Twins in San Diego, me in Minnesota. I can never stay awake for the whole game. At least this trip is short.

Sunday, we watched the Twins win their sixth game in a row. That's pretty cool by itself, but there were a few other unique things about that game worth noting. In the first inning, Senor Hernandez (El Principe) set the D-Backs down 1-2-3. All three outs were scored 4-3 (groundouts to the 2nd baseman). I guess that's somewhat unusual. It was also a good sign. I had just read in the GameDay program that Hernandez wins when he induces ground balls. Good start against your old mates, Livan!

The redundancy continued:

In the D-Backs' 2nd inning, Conor Jackson singled (1b); Chad Tracy flew out to left field (F7);Mark Reynolds singled (1b), and Chris Young struck out looking on three pitches (backward K).

In the D-Backs' 4th inning, Jackson singled (1b); Tracy flew out to left field (F7); Reynolds singled (1b), and Young struck out looking on three pitches (backward K).

That was eerie.

In the 6th (I think it was the sixth -- my scorecard has some gaps in it after the fifth inning), the D-Backs had runners on first and second. The batter whiffed on a bunt attempt and Mauer threw to 2nd and picked off the runner. The throw was so quick and accurate that everyone, especially the D-Backs' runner, was shocked. That was fun to watch.

And the D-Backs showed a bit of hubris (or stupidity) by having their regular first baseman play left field without any preparation for the Dome's notorious roof (or was it the lights?). He lost a routine fly that lead to the Twins' big inning. So that was fun in a perverse way (as in: This place really stinks as a baseball park but sometime that works in our favor).

And finally, George Carlin's famous bit about football and baseball was one of my favorites. I add my voice to those who say "You done good, George."

Friday, June 20, 2008

I'll Grant You That (Part IV)

This announcement, reproduced verbatim, appeared recently on

Department of Health and Human Services
National Institutes of Health
Integrative Systems Biology Approaches to Auditory Hair Cell Regeneration (R21)

Auditory hair cell regeneration? Oh, the possibilities…

Scream treatment: The ideal job for a retired drill instructor. The DI rants, nose against the bald spot. “HEY, you sissy follicles. I’m talking to YOU! Get your lazy asses in GEAR! I want to see some HAIR and I want to see it NOW! YOU GOT THAT?” And so forth.

Music therapy: The bald person is put in a small, dark room, dozens of tiny speakers arrayed around his head. Vivaldi and Rachmaninoff alternate with Thin Lizzy and Motorhead. Perhaps the soundtrack from “Hair.”

Natural remedies: Through ear buds (how appropriate), the patient is given frequent doses of selected sounds from nature, suggesting fecundity and growth. Cricket chirps, water flowing over rocks, spring peepers, a gentle rainfall, the mating calls of various bird species, a chimpanzee in heat.

Science fiction placebo: The balding patient is placed in a room lined floor to ceiling with sophisticated-looking, futuristic gadgets tended by serious-looking men and women in lab coats of shiny black and silver. He is told that these machines positively will make his hair grow back if he concentrates on the sounds. The machines have names like Follicular Stimulation Aggregator, Double Intensity Scalp Hydrotron, Shaft Dysfunctionometer. They whir, they beep, they oscillate. He is convinced beyond doubt that the sounds he hears are the sounds of his own hair growing.

But the grant is for “integrative systems,” so the potential grantee would have to figure out a way to combine these.


The machines are tended not by faux scientists, but by chimps in heat, supervised by a drill instructor in a lab coat. And through the room a stream runs and birds flutter, with the combined sounds of all these things (plus Vivaldi), delivered straight to the patient like an auditory stew.

I am so going to apply for this grant!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Televised Golf

Watching the third round of the US Open on Sunday, I thought of one of my college professors. I forget the exact title of the course, but it was about media and culture. We read Marshall McLuhan and some other stuff. The professor (I wish I could remember his name) was making predictions about what media might look like in the coming years. (This was way back in 1968.) He said, among other things, that a helmet-like piece of headgear would be developed -- electrodes communicating directly with the brain -- that could transmit not just images and sounds, but smells and physical sensations, creating a virtual reality. He was especially intrigued by the pornographic implications, but also mentioned stuff like military training.

He repeatedly asserted that the appetite for television was insatiable. To illustrate his point, he predicted boldly that someday, people would actually watch entire golf tournaments on television. Golf!

Basketball is the perfect TV sport, he said, because the action is continuous and there’s lots of scoring so viewers won’t be bored. And it’s played in a small indoor space so it makes no unusual demands on TV technology.

Football is good on TV, too, he said, because it’s pretty easy to follow and the physical stuff (big guys banging into each other) is easy to capture on camera.

Baseball is slow – lots of long stretches between action – and much of what’s important in baseball is small (pitch location, for example) and hard to capture on TV (remember, we’re talking 1968 here, when cameras were clumsy and there was no such thing as freeze-frame or instant replay or super slo-mo or the extreme closeup). If people will watch baseball on TV (and they did in 1968), they’ll watch anything. Even bowling. Even…more golf!*

He’d shake his head and laugh at the absurd truth of it.

And I pretty much agreed with the professor for the last 40 years. Televised golf is just a snooze.Until Sunday, that is. Here I was, watching golf on TV. It was what the late Jim McKay called hyperbolically “the human drama of athletic competition.” On a golf course?


* Golf was televised before 1968, of course, but it wasn’t until 1977 that the third and fourth rounds of a PGA tour event were televised in their entirety. The professor was talking about the likelihood of people watching more than the last few holes of the final round. I do not believe even he could have anticipated The Golf Channel.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Baseball career (abbrev.)

Scout: Maybe we should take a look at this kid. (points to name on list)

Assistant GM: Why?

Scout: His uncle was a pretty good catcher – played some college ball with my brother.

Assistant GM: That ain’t much of a recommendation.

Scout: Yeah, but his uncle – I kind of promised him I'd put in a good word for the kid.

Assistant GM: Ok, you did. Who else you got on your list?

Scout: Hey, at least let me run down the basics. You got five minutes?

Assistant GM: (shrugs and sighs) OK, go.

Scout: Thanks. Ummm…Third base, shortstop – not a good enough arm. Second base - not enough range. First base - too short. Left field, center field – maybe, but not a lot of speed. Right field – he played some there in high school. Catcher – we could put him there in the developmental league and see what happens.

Assistant GM: You forgot hitting. Can he hit?

Scout: Not really.

Assistant GM: (pause) Explain to me again why we are talking at all about drafting this kid.

Scout: His uncle. Pretty good catcher.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Revised short post (to make it less short)

Sour cream.
Sour grapes.
Whiskey sour.
Sour mood.
Sour milk.

Gentle breeze.
Gentle touch.
Gentle Ben.
Gentle on my mind.

Against the grain.
Against all odds.
Against the wall.

Hands up.
Time's up.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Stage CV

Some characters I’ve played (in no particular order):

Murray the cop in “The Odd Couple.” The New York accent was fun, but we weren’t allowed to actually smoke the cigars on stage. Phooey.

Bob Cratchit in “Scrooge!” Being poor and kind and stoic and forgiving was a stretch for me. Especially the ‘kind’ part.

Groucho Marx in “Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel.” Probably the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. The narrator was played by the esteemed and darkly comic Brendon Etter.

Captain Horster in “An Enemy of the People.” This explains my lifelong distaste for Ibsen.

Gooper in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” During the midweek tune-up rehearsal, the entire cast decided to change just a few words in every line to get the others to laugh and lose the way. It was hilarious except to the director. Everyone (except, again, the director) thought Tennessee Williams should lighten up a little. And, you know, Brick really was a jerk (the character, not the actor).

Some guy (perhaps Charles Lomax) in “Major Barbara.” Probably the worst theatrical experience ever, which is why I’ve all but erased the character’s name from my memory.

Grandpa in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” This was made more enjoyable because we got to sing a couple of songs written just for this show by Marc Robinson, a brilliantly funny lyricist (masquerading by day as a professor of Russian). For these tunes, it was the world premier!Also played two dancing squirrel hand-puppets.

Bosco in “Donata’s Gift.” Playing the bad guy witch-hunter in an operetta based on an Italian folk story – how you gonna top that, eh? Another world musical premier, this time by Christine Kallman.

Joe in “The Shadow Box.” Joe (along with half the other characters) is dying and his wife and child don’t want to believe it. Lots of crying, but some nice lyrical speeches.

Marcus Lycus in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Thus my lifelong love of Phil Silvers.

Alex Loomis in “Take Her, She’s Mine.” I learned about Ouzo from this play. When it was made into a movie starring Jimmy Stewart, the plot was kind of the same, but the locale changed from New York and Greece to New York and Paris and Alex Loomis became some suave French dandy (un coquin?) instead of an earnest but adventurous college man.

Nicky Holroyd in "Bell Book and Candle." Another play made into a movie starring Jimmy Stewart. In the 1958 Hollywood version, Nicky Holroyd was played by Jack Lemmon. Also in that movie: Ernie Kovacs. Kovacs deserves a post of his own (check back often!).

Sound Man in “Visit to Small Planet.” This could be Gore Vidal’s least-biting satire. I’m surprised it isn’t produced more often. Perhaps it’s because the movie (an adaptation of the stage play which was an adaptation of a novel) starred Jerry Lewis. Makes it hard to take seriously.

Choir Director in “Our Town.” A true chestnut of the American stage.

Mortimer Brewster in “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Charming, cute, ditsy, elderly murderers. Funny! In the movie version, Mortimer was played by Cary Grant.

Mr. Finnigan in “The Loud Red Patrick.” In about 1953, this unremarkable play had a Broadway run of 93 shows, then slipped into deserved oblivion; that is until my junior high school drama coach inexplicably decided to revive it.

Ed Carmichael in “You Can’t Take it with You.” I could play the xylophone and run a small printing press using hand-set type, skills that proved of no value later in life.

Monday, June 2, 2008

They're kidding, right?

Working and blogging -- for me, these are usually separate things.

I'll make an exception today.

Part of my job involves hiring. Part of that process is screening applications. I reviewed about 35 of those this morning. A few stood out, but not for the right reasons.

One applicant listed several very short previous jobs. The reason for leaving was the same for each: disputes about pay and hours. The same applicant listed as the only reference a personal friend named Grizzly. I imagine that whenever this person had a dispute with his or her employer (often, apparently), he or she would bring in ol' buddy Grizzly as (shall we say) an advocate. I will interview this applicant only if he or she promises to bring Grizzly.

Another applicant, in the space that asks for membership in relevant professional organizations, listed "Anytime Fitness." (Note: the job does not require any sort of physical fitness or stamina.)

Another person applied twice. That's no big deal, except that the applicant's past job experiences differed in the two applications.

Sometimes this job is too easy.

But my employer should get a little flak, too. The employment application form has such helpful directions as "please write legibly" and "be complete." I would love to see a form someday that says "please scrawl unintelligibly" or "please be cryptic and obfuscatory."