dimanche, janvier 13, 2008

2007 The Year in Movies

By way of introduction, we often saw movies because the time worked out well. TinyE was on a play date or at an organized event, and the only movie that worked was one that we might not have seen otherwise. Most of the time (Music and Lyrics, Premonition, The Invisible) this did not work. But sometimes (In the Valley of Elah, Eastern Promises) it did. Overall, Mrs. Duf and I saw 37 movies. But there were 22 that we did not see that we might have if there were world enough and time.

Movies We Saw in 2007:

Happily N’Ever After
Music and Lyrics
Meet the Robinsons
The Invisible
Shrek the Third
Mr. Brooks
Surf’s Up
Nancy Drew
Evan Almighty
The Simpsons Movie
The Bourne Ultimatum
In the Valley of Elah
Eastern Promises
The Game Plan
The Darjeeling Limited
Michael Clayton
Gone Baby Gone
American Gangster
Bee Movie
Fred Claus
No Country for Old Men
The Golden Compass
Alvin and the Chipmunks
I Am Legend
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Youth Without Youth

Movies I Also Wish We’d Seen in 2007 (italics = really wish we'd seen):

Grindhouse: Planet Terror and Death Proof
Knocked Up
A Mighty Heart
La Vie En Rose
Live Free or Die Hard
Death at a Funeral
3:10 to Yuma
Into the Wild
Lust, Caution
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Lars and the Real Girl
Things We Lost in the Fire

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Charlie Wilson’s War
There Will Be Blood

My Top Ten of 2007 (so far):

10. Hairspray – didn’t want to go (love the original to much), had a blast
9. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – I’m a fan
8. Zodiac – quality from start to finish
7. American Gangster – strong acting performances
6. I Am Legend – a great story, strong acting, best set design of the year
5. In the Valley of Elah – Jones was phenomenal; overcomes formula ending
4. Eastern Promises – intense and amazing
3. Michael Clayton – some flaws, but overall very dog gone good
2. Gone Baby Gone – the “gotcha” was not so “gotcha” but the film was superb
1. No Country for Old Men – a flawless classic, works on every level

Honorable Mention:

Mr. Brooks

Best Children’s Movies:

5. Bee Movie
4. Enchanted
3. The Game Plan
2. Surf’s Up
1. Ratatouille (the best by a country mile)

Pleasant Surprises (went in expecting little, and left thinking – “not bad” or even “very darn good"):

Mr. Brooks
Nancy Drew
The Game Plan
Gone Baby Gone

Disappointments (high or medium expectations were dashed):

The Simpsons Movie
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Darjeeling Limited

The Swimming Upstream Award (everyone loved this movie (or hated it) and I saw it the differently:

Juno (not bad, pleasant enought, but not great. It didn't make my top ten or honorable mention, and think of the movies I haven't seen yet)

The “Didn’t really get it” Award:

Youth Without Youth (I understood the basic plot, but I have not idea why Coppolla invested his own money into making it (and yes, he has a lot of money these days). Well except that I dounderstand why no studio would back it. It's a good movie, it's just not a money making movie).

Moments when Narcolepsy Triumphed; or: movies I feel asleep in (not necessarily a comment on the movie) reason and duration in parentheses:

Meet the Robinsons (exhaustion, not engaged; 10 minutes)
Shrek the Third (exhaustion, not engaged; 10 minutes)
Bee Movie (missed most of it, exhaustion, warm theater, tummy full; 50 minutes)
Enchanted (exhaustion, not engaged; 10 minutes)
Alvin and the Chipmunks (exhaustion, not engaged; 10 minutes)
Youth Without Youth (film too high brow, tummy full; 15 minutes)

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mardi, janvier 08, 2008

For General Delivery

Just after the holidays, I went to the main post office in downtown Minneapolis. It is a stunningly beautiful, wonderful and amazing art deco building along the Mississippi riverfront. If you’re ever in downtown Minneapolis, and you have any interest in historic buildings or art deco, you absolutely must see it.

I was there to mail a few packets prior to a meeting that Mrs. Duf and I had downtown. I walked in, and I stood in a line labeled “general delivery.” I’m embarrassed to say that I thought that was the line for me because I was just mailing some packets.

I’ll confess that I noticed that the customers were different than the customers I typically see in the post offices I frequent in St. Anthony Park and at the airport.

When I reached the front of the line and then the calendar, I presented my envelopes to be mailed, and the clerk politely indicated that I was in the wrong line.

I walked along the lengthy main corridor toward the line I was supposed to be in, and as I made my way, it became clear to me what “general delivery” meant.

General delivery is the place you go to receive your mail when you don’t have an address.

The general delivery line was extra busy, because it was early in the month, and checks had just been sent.

It was a reminder to me that the struggles that middle-class Americans face (the burdens of navigating stressful and expensive holidays, the trappings of the material life) are small and ridiculous compared to the struggles that others face.

This post office visit reminded me of an interesting exercise that my dear friend shared with me last year. It set forth standards that were designed to indicate whether you identify with the wealthy, the middle class, or the poor.

For the wealthy, it articulated standards like: you have a favorite restaurant in multiple cities in Europe, or you own more than a few pieces of original art, etc.

For the middle class it noted things like: you take annual vacations, and you know how to get your children into college and little league.

For the poor: you know who to call if your power is about to be shut off, or you know how to get care if you’re sick but lack insurance.

Walking through the inventory, I was not surprised to find that I solidly identified with the middle class. I was a bit shocked that I more closely identified with the wealthy than I did with the poor. I have favorite restaurants in cities all over the United States, but not in Europe (yet). I do own original art a few pieces, but I typically buy one a year. I have no clue where to go for help when times are hard.

For good or bad, it is the type of thing I tend to think about when, from time to time, circumstance gives me a gentle reminder.

You might have a day (like we did yesterday) when you’re tempted to complain about the $350 December utility bill that just arrived in the mail at your home address. And on those days it might be helpful to remember that someone else might be complaining about how long the line is for general delivery mail.

lundi, janvier 07, 2008

In My Utopia, Dennis is Still Our Nominee; or: [sigh]...

I took this political quiz, and here's how it ranked the candidates for me (no surprise at the top (or bottom), but after that a few surprises):


Dennis Kucinich (no surprise there at all)
Mike Gravel
Christopher Dodd
Bill Richardson
Barack Obama
Joe Biden
Hillary Clinton
John Edwards

Then the Republicans:

Ron Paul
Rudy Giuliani
John McCain
Mitt Romney
Fred Thompson
Duncan Hunter
Mike Huckabee

Based on this (and viability - I've long been a fan of Kucinich), I guess I'm an Obama man - though I've been backing Edwards the most. And no, I don't plan to have the quiz make my political selection.

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mercredi, décembre 12, 2007

Well, It's Better than Nothing

This is the first in a series of responses to a quote from a likely caucus goer in Iowa. I heard the quote while listening to an NPR piece last week. The quote follows:

“I see a real philosophical difference between me and many of those who’ve spoken here. I want to be in charge of my healthcare. I was paralyzed. I had polio. My parents paid for that. They chose to find doctors who performed three surgeries on me. I can walk. I don’t want that dictated by the federal government, and I think what I hear is all this emotion - this tugging at the heartstrings. It’s bigger than that. What’s the federal government responsible for? It isn’t for making laws that tell me that I can’t eat trans fat. That’s my choice. That’s my choice. And, you know, I am single. I am self-employed. I make a great deal of money through my own hard work. I don’t want to pay for someone else’s child to eat breakfast at school anymore. You know, that it not the role of the federal government.”

Many questions came to mind when I heard this speaker. Among them was...

Should the government play a role in healthcare?

In August of 2006, the Census Bureau released data showing that in 2005, 46.6 million Americans were uninsured. This translated to 15.9 percent of Americans. The 2005 number represented an increase of 1.3 million uninsured over 2004. The number of children who are uninsured rose from 7.9 million in 2004 to 8.3 million in 2005. Source

In the most recent data I could find, an additional 16 million people are underinsured. Among those who are underinsured, 54% percent report going without needed care and 46% report being contacted by collection agencies seeking payment against health care bills. Source

Now, I can (and do) understand that a number of people have the Horatio Alger/Ronald Reagan belief that if you work hard and make good choices, then you’ll prosper. Those same people also feel that if, in spite of your earnestness and zeal, you do encounter difficulties, then you should not turn to the federal government for help. That’s a role for family and churches and charities.

There are at least six flaws to this argument:

1. Not everyone is blessed with the same talents and resources. Even if all of us had the same work ethic and the same desire for independence, we cannot all be CEO’s or self-employed superstars. All economic models count on it, but especially our pseudo-capitalism. Some occupy lower wage positions, so that goods and services we purchase at market are affordable for all of us. For example, someone has to cook fast food (and someone has to do it during school hours when teenagers are unavailable), and those who cook fast food cannot be paid six figure incomes – Big Macs would cost a fortune.

2. Earnest, hard-working, zealous people sometime encounter situations where, through no fault of their own, they lose insurance and still require care. The NPR piece from which the quote above was taken, started with a woman discussing her experience with breast cancer. She said that she lost her job and her insurance while undergoing treatment. Friends held a fund-raiser to help her with her medical expenses. Those who argue that the government has no role in health care or health insurance must imagine a world where there are a lot of garage and bake sales. In the end, no one seems to argue that there’s no void to fill, the argument is about how best to fill it.

3. People who do not have insurance or are underinsured tend to wait for care. While they wait, their treatment becomes more complex and more expensive. At a certain point, even the coldest and meanest hospital will not turn them away; they are given the care they need. That care, once provided, is added to the cost of care for those who are insured. In most cases, doctors get paid whether the patient pays or not. [This also works in for plastic surgery. Surgeons charge a premium for breast augmentations so that from time to time they can do reconstructive surgery on a pro bono basis.] What this means is that either way, you pay. It’s just that in the status quo, you pay more because a health issue that could have been addressed at a lower cost when it was minor is now a major problem, and an expensive one to boot.

4. People like me, who support a single payer health insurance model, do so because we see cost efficiency in creating a very large group of insured. In this model, the healthy who consume few health care services subsidize the care provided to the sick (the way all insurance works – those who make it through the year without car crashes help pay for those who do not). Only there is a very large pool of healthy people to minimize the overall costs.

5. Those who argue for the status quo have no solution for three fundamental problems we experience today – (a) the tendency of rising healthcare costs to outpace inflation by a significant margin, (b) the resulting increase in insurance costs, and (c) the reality that an HMO may deny your prescribed treatment (or refuse to pay for it). These two phenomena illustrate fundamental flaws in the current model.

6. Last, if you strip it all away, you’re left with two things: philosophy (“that’s not the role of the government”) and mistrust (“I don’t want the federal government interfering in…” or, “the federal government will make a mess of it…”). But you can’t treat catastrophic ailments with philosophy. And even under the single payer model, no one envisions an end to an individual’s right to obtain their own insurance and their own care on their own terms. [I’m also tickled that those who have problems with the federal government devoting dollars and resources to insuring everyone, seem to have less of a problem with the $475 billion dollars (and counting) we’re spending in Iraq.]

Heartstrings or no, we end up paying anyway. Let’s treat minor ailments before they become major illnesses. Let’s see that everyone, especially children, is insured. Let’s leverage our ample resources and our government infrastructure to insure the uninsured and adequately insure the underinsured.

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jeudi, décembre 06, 2007

A Real Philosophical Difference

Earlier this week, NPR interviewed likely Iowa caucus goers. You will find it here. Republicans and Democrats attended. Before asking them about the candidates they will support, Steve Inskeep asked them about the issues that are important to them. One Democrat attendee started the conversation by discussing healthcare and her experiences as a breast cancer survivor. She made an excellent point:

“It became crystal clear to me when I got my diagnosis, and when I had to take the Family Medical Leave Act, that unless my dear friends in Batavia, Illinois, had had an enormous fundraiser for myself and another single mom, we would not have been able to survive. And we had insurance. The whole health insurance thing is absolutely scary. You only have health insurance as long as you are healthy enough to go to your job and work.”

Moments later, a Republican woman offered the following response:

“I see a real philosophical difference between me and many of those who’ve spoken here. I want to be in charge of my healthcare. I was paralyzed. I had polio. My parents paid for that. They chose to find doctors who performed three surgeries on me. I can walk. I don’t want that dictated by the federal government. And I think what I hear is all this emotion - this tugging at the heartstrings. It’s bigger than that. What’s the federal government responsible for? It isn’t for making laws that tell me that I can’t eat trans fat. That’s my choice. That’s my choice. And, you know, I am single. I am self-employed. I make a great deal of money through my own hard work. I don’t want to pay for someone else’s child to eat breakfast at school anymore. You know, that it not the role of the federal government.”

I was so blown away by the Republican woman’s comments that I’d like to respond to them over a few shorter posts rather than one long one. I’ll end with the question she asked – what is the role of the federal government, but I’ll start (tomorrow) with a different question.

Should the federal government play a role in health care?

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mercredi, décembre 05, 2007

In the Immortal Words of Cher: "If I Could Turn Back Time..."

Today at noon, Minnesota Public Radio aired an address that Al Gore gave this summer at the Aspen Institute. You can find it here.

As I listened, I found myself nearly overwhelmed by sadness and regret. He was so articulate and so passionate about something productive and positive. On hearing him, one cannot help but draw comparisons to the inarticulate ideologue, the miserable failure currently dwelling at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (in body if not in spirit).

Gore was candid and funny, but more than anything, I had this really weird sense that his words were his own. That he could (shock, gasp, awe) speak (wait for it) extemporaneously.

As I thought about it more, I realized that a lot of my complete apathy toward the Presidential nomination process is really owing to how devastated I was/am by the Supreme Court election in 2000 and (perhaps even more so) by the also tainted outcome in 2004. I still see both as unqualified indictments of the American electorate.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve paid attention, and I have my favorite Democratic candidates But, I have not donated, volunteered, or even really thought about donating or volunteering.

Still, I’m slowly starting to revert to form. I find myself listening more, reading more, caring more, thinking about it all more, and talking about it more. I'm quite sure I'll be burned again, but I cannot help but touch the hot stove that is Presidential politics.

Anywho, my plan is to weigh on in the selection process over the days leading up to the Iowa caucus.

For now, give me one more day of “what could have been” malaise.

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lundi, décembre 03, 2007

No Country for Old Men, Reviewed (with the ILIM Spoiler Free Guarantee)

I will be very surprised if I see a movie this year or next that I like more than I liked "No Country for Old Men." In my view, it is flawless.

I must confess that I'm a fan of the Coen brothers. I have seen all of their major motion pictures, and I love them all. I even like "The Hudsucker Proxy, Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers." Of them all, I like "Barton Fink" the least - and I like it quite a lot. "The Big Lebowski" is an obsession.

What distinguishes "No Country for Old Men" is the phenomenal script, based on what must be a superb novel (it's on my wish list), and the Coen brothers' unrivaled ability to establish setting. They do this with hyperbole, there's no question about it. Arizona and Minnesota are not as typed as they appeared in "Raising Arizona" and "Fargo," but in both instances, we come to understand something about both places by virtue of the care they take to display what distinguishes them from every other place in the world.

And the Texas of NCfOM is a hard place. It’s as hard as Calechee. You know this from the first minute of the film. Their Texas is inhabited by people of uncommon wit, characters all, soulful men and women who give the tragedy its heft.

Every single actor turns in a very strong performance. Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and Kelly Macdonald are amazing, but Woody Harrelson, Javier Bardem and Tess Harper are not to be ignored. Last, two supporting roles appeal for a new way to describes actors who are not in the lead Garrett Dillahunt is wonderful (and funny), and Barry Corbin is asked to carry a scene of tremendous importance, the titular scene in fact, and he does it with the natural ease or a practiced professional.

I recommend NCfOM without hesitation, and would only caution those who have trouble with violence to brace themselves for a few unpleasant scenes.

When you go, make sure to laugh. The first third of the movie is full of the Coen brothers' patented humorous touches - enjoy them. And make sure to pay close attention throughout. On the surface, the movie is a slow-paced action film, but at its heart, it’s literature - full of the higher truths that we gain from all the great works.

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jeudi, novembre 29, 2007

TinyE's Christmas List; or: Sign #73 That We're in Trouble

Taken verbatim* from TinyE's recent letter to Santa Claus -

Fancy clothes
Diamond Ring***

She's 6 years old. 6. Years. Old.

Where on earth will she go from here? I suspect next year, TinyE will ask for a cruise on the QM2 or a pearl necklace or both.

And let's not kid ourselves here. She gets her desire for material things from her father and his ancestors. I mean, here's my Christmas wish list:

This jacket
This watch
These tennis shoes

Okay, just kidding. Although I do like the jacket (I saw it in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and I looked very handsome in it and might have worn it home if not for the small matter of the big price).

What I really want is:

This book
These jeans (in black, dark stonewash and new metal)
And about 5 of these hats (skip the blue periwinkle/paperwhite and the deep periwinkle/vapor gray please) - why five? I need a hats to wear home from the gym, and...um...they...um...kinda require washing after one use there and everything.****

What's on your wish list?

* Totally verbatim.
**Don't be fooled or say "awwwwwww" this is designed to appeal to Santa's softer side and increase her chances of getting her requested items.
***We...er...Santa found an possible ring for her here. But Santa's not sure he can cover the ring and the Wii in the same Christmas season.

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jeudi, novembre 22, 2007

Whaddup Gansta?; or ILIM Reviews American Gangster (with the patented ILIM Spoiler Free Guarantee)

Mrs. Duf and I went to see "American Gangster" the other day. I went in having heard two general comments about AG. First, that it was good. Second, that it was long.

On the surface, AG purports to be about Frank Lucas, a man who killed a lot of people with heroin (and made a fortune doing it). And while AG is a fine character study of Lucas, the film is not just about him. It's about two men: Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts. There is much to admire in how Director Ridley Scott tells the story, but perhaps what I admired most was how, over the course of the film (and before they ever meet), Lucas and Roberts are drawn closer together. Even though I knew of Lucas, and how his story plays out, somehow I was surprised by most of what took place after Lucas and Roberts finally make contact.

Denzel Washington is phenomenal. No surprise there. Frankly, he dazzles in just about every movie he's in (he was even pretty darn good in "The Preacher's Wife"). I've loved his work since St. Elsewhere. Russell Crowe is also very, very good (In AG, I think Denzel was meant to shine, and did; there were times when it seemed Crowe was restraining himself and pointing inward purposefully letting Washington take center stage).

And there were times when I wished for a bit more style from the Mr. Scott. The story is told well. Every scene is shot with evident skill, but I wouldn't have minded a bit more art (close ups, slow motion, non-traditional camera placement, something). While I'm at it, many of the minor characters are so ignored, that when their moments of note arrive, we either have no sense for who they are, or we don't care what happens to them. AG is so focused on Lucas and Roberts that everyone else seems to exist only to support them.

So, the film is just an excellent character study about two men of note, played by two actors who impress at every turn. And perhaps Ridley Scott intentionally dialed back the pieces of flair. I should give the man credit for realizing that Washington and Crowe could power the film and then some. They do.

AG is definitely worth seeing, and, if you're like me, it won't seem long at all.

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Fifty Five Things (in the Order in which They Came to Me)

My wife
My daughter
My mother and brother
My brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law
My mother-in-law and father-in-law
My cousins and all my relatives
My friends. Every one of them. Every single one
My comfortable life
My home
My health
My access to health-care
My diet
My safety
My education
My intelligence
My race
My age
My geographical location
My birthplace
My nature
My nurturing
My weight and Weight Watchers
Reliable transportation
My bicycles, both of them
My neighbors; my neighborhood
My ability to wake up without an alarm clock
That no one was hurt in the car crash this summer
Meaningful work where I feel valued; my job and my colleagues
My successes and my failures
My wardrobe – that I have comfortable clothes to wear
My luxuries and privileges
Fifth Sunday (months with five Sundays)
Months with three paydays
Anytime Fitness
The egg sandwich
TinyE’s first tooth came out today while many of her relatives watched
My golf clubs
My phone call with my Grandmommy (the nonagenarian) earlier today
Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec
Kansas University, and, within that, Kansas Jayhawk football
The good news we had about the scary thing that happened this year
Every bad poem I wrote this year; that I’m still writing while I struggle
Text messaging
Spoon River
My hand doesn’t hurt anymore
Como Lake and Phalen Lake
Most every piece of art TinyE gives me
The strong field of Democratic candidates
Keren Ann
April 15, 2008
January 20, 2009

Yes, this humble, shabby blog and friends who stop by from time to time and that some folks endured my unannounced hiatus earlier this year. I am thankful for you and for all these other things.

I hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful.

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mardi, novembre 20, 2007

I'm Pretty Sure that in a Past Life I was Russian

Yep. It’s true, and yes, I feel weird saying it. But I’ve really come to think it’s true. Here’re ten reasons why:

1. I love Russian literature.

2. When I was in college, as a Political Science major, I studied Sovietology.

3. I love vodka innately.

4. I moved from Kansas to Minnesota (perhaps for a climate that more closely resembles the one I knew in the past).

5. To me, the sexiest accent of all is the Russian accent.

6. When I was in high school, I listened to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake every day (literally). I love it innately. I love Tchaikovsky in general (especially his Variations on a Rococo theme (I also love the cello)).

7. I love Matryoshka dolls, and own a set featuring Russian leaders.

8. In general I have an affinity for Eastern Europe. For example, I really like the Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski.

9. I have Socialist tendencies.

10. I really want to visit Russia, especially Moscow and St. Petersburg.

A little weird for a black kid from Kansas, no?

Also, to add a little but of nuts to this heaping serving of crazy, I think I died in a muddy battle field. This would explain my fear of mud (I really am afraid of mud).

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jeudi, novembre 15, 2007

What's Going On?

Pew Charitable Trusts will issue a report today with startling news about African-Americans and downward mobility. A related article is found here.

The study might also apply to me. I was born to a middle class family (my father, a dentist, died when I was 8; my mother is a retired Psychiatric Nurse and mental health counselor). I never really had a sense for my parents income (or my mother’s), but I grew up with everything I needed and most of what I wanted.

Many African-Americans, who had a background similar to my own, have now fallen into the lowest income quintile.

Some quotes from the article referenced above:

For every parental income group, white children are more likely than black children to move ahead of their parents' economic rank, while black children are more likely than white children to fall behind."

Forty-five percent of black children whose parents were "solidly middle income" fall back into the lowest earnings bracket, compared with just 16 percent of white children.

Forty-two percent of children born to parents at the bottom of the income distribution remain at the bottom while 39 percent born to parents at the top, stay at the top.

From a different article (which may require a login):

…the reduction has been more dramatic for black men than whites. And income for white women, who were less likely than black women to work outside the home a generation ago, has grown faster than it has for black women. Black women earned a median income of $21,000 in 2004, almost equal to that of white women. Black men had a median income of $25,600, less than two-thirds that of white men.

Another reason so many middle-class blacks appear to be downwardly mobile is likely the huge wealth gap separating white and black families of similar incomes. For every $10 of wealth a white person has, blacks have $1.

I’m pretty sure that I have exceeded the income of my mother, but I’m not positive. I cannot comment on how my household income would compare to the household income I would have had (adjusted for inflation) had my father lived.

I can say that I’m nearly obsessed with wealth transfer. TinyE was barely one month old when her 529 plan was started. The goal is for her to go to college and to finish without the burdens of, or with manageable student loan debt. Often I think we need to start an IRA or a mutual fund for her to take advantage of the exponential growth available to those who start investing early (even $50 per month started at age 6 would be hard to catch up to by investing significantly more starting at age 21). When I articulate my visceral reaction, I don’t want her to experience downward mobility, but when I think about it divorced from larger societal considerations, I hope she will pursue the path she desires and won’t focus on income in the way that I did and do.

Mrs. Duf, who is white, sees the value in planning for our future and for our daughter's future, but she approches that from a place of logic, without my manic posture.

At any rate, something is horribly wrong. My theory: education discrepancies, incarceration discrepancies, bias, and larger pressures against middle and lower middle class families.

mercredi, novembre 14, 2007

Regulating the Circulation; or: a Damp Drizzly November in My Soul

On 14 November 1851, the greatest novel of all time was published:

"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."

That's right, Moby Dick was published today.

Yes, I love it. Yes, I am obsessed with it. Yes, I'm a nerd.

Anyone up for a few years asea, whaling?

mardi, novembre 13, 2007

A Tragic Villian

This is an interesting article about a book written by a damaged man. I could not imagine myself buying the book (I hate the idea that my gesture there would line the pockets of a figure I find to the cause/source of a lot of harm), and I was thankful for the summary. Like most, this man is a hypocrite. He has a phenomenal anger at Yale University, and an inexplicable regard for Ronald Reagan. And, in point of fact, both have done him equal harm (his view, not my own). Most troubling about the article is how well it explains the extent to which our tainted nurturing and personal grievances can become the foundations of our philosophies. For most of us it doesn’t matter on such a grand scale. Here it does.

vendredi, octobre 26, 2007

Paul and Sheila

Five years ago today our state lost two great people. Paul and Sheila Wellstone were a sterling example of the Minnesota spirit and character. I admired them so much for their focus on the forgotten. Paul got his start in public service as a community organizer working against poverty in Southern Minnesota (bringing attention to an issue that is easy to ignore here. Southern Minnesota is home to Rochester (think Mayo clinic) and Northfield (“cows, colleges and contentment”) and it would be easy to assume that poverty was not a big issue in that region.

I won’t go into too much more about Paul and Sheila. This article offers a fine tribute and gives a real sense for the impact they continue to have on Minnesota. Instead, I want to share how I learned of the Senator’s death (at the time, I didn’t know others were with him when his plane crashed).

Mrs. Duf, a very young TinyE, and I were driving up north for a weekend with my book club. As we drove, we listened to CD’s and didn’t use the radio. TinyE slept. As we got close to the cabin we’d rented for the weekend, we stopped at the Split Rock Lighthouse. Arriving to the entrance to the State park, we were pretty happy. We might even have been skipping and whistling. Northern Minnesota is so beautiful this time of year. All colors greeted us wherever we went.

The guard who worked the entrance station sobered us up very quickly. She was crying. She said “I assume you haven’t heard.”

We said “no, what happened?”

And that’s when we learned of the tragedy.

She added “he was a real friend of the State Parks.

And true enough, he was. In point of fact, he was a friend to so many.

samedi, octobre 20, 2007

Two Movie Reviews (with the patented ILIM "Spoiler free guarantee")

I got a couple of movie reviews for ya'.

Michael Clayton – George Clooney is fabulous. He’s the rare superstar who inhabits a role so fully that you almost forget he’s a superstar. He was very, very good in Syriana, and I dare say, even better in Michael Clayton. Tilda Swinton is also amazing as the (clichéd) single career woman who is willing to sacrifice too much for advancement - I smell an Oscar (or at least a nomination) for her here. Clayton showcases complex characters, well acted with a wonderful script to boot. If there’s a flaw, it’s the second act, which was a little to cops and robbers for my tastes. But the first and third acts make up for the second by a country mile.

In the Valley of Elah – is not the feel good movie of the year, but it is well worth seeing. Tommy Lee Jones plays a father whose son returns from Iraq (without saying anything to his parents about being back home) and then goes AWOL. Jones goes to look for him. On the surface, it’s a film about the Iraq war, but in point of fact, it’s a film about fathers and sons, or, more aptly, about parenthood. It’s a fine conversation about the obligations that one generation owes to another. It seems we get worse as we age and that we fail to meet our responsibility to those who will follow us. True enough. Elah is not hard to watch (it isn't a war film with gory battle scenes it is more of a whodunit), but it isn’t easy either (if I weren't such super manly man, I might have even teared up during a scene or two, but I assure you that I did not tear up during a couple of scenes). Jones is great. Susan Sarandon is almost given a role to play and does a lot with her underwritten character, and I didn’t even recognize Charlize Theron until I saw the end credits, but she was solid as well. I don’t get the sense that Elah is doing extremely well at the box office, but I recommend it to you without reservation.

jeudi, octobre 04, 2007

What a Short Strange Trips It's Been

Hello from pleasant business travels that will take me home to Minnesota very soon.

First, I was in Santa Ana, California, about 2,000 yards (and at one point about 20 yards) away from this. I learned that it's hard to sleep when there are helicopters circling your hotel.

Then, I went to Phoenix and spent some time in the terminal where this* happened.

But it's all good, because last night I went to this.

The lessons, if any there are:

1. Don't steal a car. Especially don't steal a car that has On Star in it. Last, if you steal a car with On Star in it, then don't shoot at the police. All these truths are especially true in Southern California.

2. Also, be careful in the Phoenix airport. Or, if you're not careful, then attempt to calm yourself whilst you are in custody**.

3. Cubs in five.

I hope this post finds you doing well.

*Not my best link, I was not near the autopsy, I was near the scene that led to the autopsy.

**ILIM has not found conclusive evidence to support the assignment of blame and therefore concludes that tragedy is generous and its cruel bounty knows no limits; all involved are victims.

jeudi, septembre 27, 2007

Delusional Dangerous Hypocrite

Among the many and shifting justifications for our war against Iraq was the neo-conservative idea that we could bring democracy to the Middle East.

Now, Myanmar has mounted an impressive and credible effort to establish a democracy, and all we have for them is rhetoric (wrapped in name calling) and a vow to increase sanctions.

Meanwhile, in America, we’re just starting to recognize how hostile the Bush Administration has been toward many of our cherished liberties. Will the Supreme Court stand up if rulings challenging provisions of the PATRIOT Act are brought before it for review?

The idea that we could bring democracy to the Middle East (through war no less) is absurd.

The name calling and empty words really show that our President was either lying or lacks the strength of his convictions.

All the while our freedoms here are and have been under attack by the man who would dare to take them elsewhere.

jeudi, septembre 20, 2007

Really Long Fights with Chickens; or: Current Guilty Pleasures

Dr. 90210 - sad and compelling in a sociological, applied-misogyny kind of way*.

The First 48 - I wish I was a homicide cop, but I'd be brutal in the interrogation room**.

Intervention - still can't shake it after about 30 episodes***. "I've been here since yesterday, and I see some people who love you like crazy."

Wife Swap - it's a sickness, I'm almost ready to get help, I just want to check out the upcoming season real quick like.

Big Medicine, or any one of several shows on TLC about the morbidly obese - I watch because Mrs. Duf does. I can walk away any time.

(next link has noise, check your volume!)...

Family Guy - I think this show is for 18 to 24 year old males, but it still makes this old man titter and giggle quite a bit. Watch this. If you don't find it funny, then don't watch the show, but at least you'll understand why I describe it as a guilty pleasure. "b-kaaaw!"

Chelsea Lately - Chelsea Handler is on my list of uncommon celebrity crushes (future post?). I would totally go out to dinner with her, and I'd be a gentleman the entire night****.

*Many Beverly Hills plastic surgeons profit from the beauty myth, sadness and low self-esteem. What they say to women who come in seeking consultations is pure, unfiltered hate-infused sexism. It makes me sick, but yet I watch it. Nice.

**Most cases crack wide open because people can't keep their mouths shut. Keep snitchin!

***Enduring lesson: drugs are bad (Nancy Reagan was right). During every show, they have this moment where you go down memory lane with the addict and learn a bit about why they are addicted. It is always the best part. I rarely dislike the addicts (but sometimes I do), I often dislike some co-dependent person in the life of the addict. Weird phenomenon/general rule with exceptions - sometimes fathers are excused from absenteeism or misbehavior, mother's rarely are. An imperfect dad does not seem to inspire the kind of pathos and hate an imperfect mom inspires. Theories anyone?

****Mrs. Duf is not on board with this plan.

See...What Had Happened Was...Um...Okay...I've No Excuse Actually...

I'm ready to blog again.

Where was I?

Oh, I was really, really busy with work and home. It was, on the whole, a good busy.

I missed blogging, and I'm happy to be back. I needed to adjust to a new life schedule and figure out how to incorporate the odd opinion here and there.

After such an absence, I know I'll have to build my readers up again.

I'm willing to try.

Some highlights from my absence:

We went on a family vacation to central Iowa (don't hate).
TinyE and I went to the Wisconsin Dells and overdosed on waterpark fun.
TinyE started first grade.
I got a promotion.
I went to a divine Wilco concert in Duluth.
I bought a new Scrabble board (it swivels - drink Haterade, it'll help).
Mrs. Duf and I joined Weight Watchers and are doing quite well actually (I've had to buy new pants and stuff).
TinyE and I went to the State Fair.

I missed blogging and the blogosphere and checked in on friends and sites from time to time, waiting...

...just waiting until I could return again.

I missed you all (and hope you missed me just a tiny bit too).

More to follow (and more often*).

*Not that that's saying much!

lundi, juin 25, 2007

On Celebrities and Their Causes

"In the 21st century, what does America want to do? The 2008 election might give some clues. Whoever wins holds the most powerful office in the world, which is why the world is so interested. As an Irish bystander, I think the candidate most likely to succeed is the one who most people can believe can build respect for the American flag in the wider world. Figuring out how to do that is America's great challenge. Our global challenge is figuring out what to do about the extreme, stupid poverty which sees millions die each year because they are too poor to live. Nowhere more than Africa. Is it too much of a stretch to think these challenges can be connected? It's hard to hate a country which puts your kids in school and gives medication to save your husband's life."


I have some friends who criticize celebrities who promote causes. Whether the criticism is fair or cynical depends on the sincerity of the celebrity. It seems to me that for every celebrity using a cause to elevate his or her profile, there is at least one who is sincere. The length of time promoting a cause and the sincerity of the effort offer clues that allow us to separate the self-serving celeb from the caring citizen. For his tenure and his passion, I put Bono in the latter category.

Silly post script - Recently, I saw a bumper sticker I really liked. It read: "Funny, I was just thinking the same thing about you."

Enjoy your day.

lundi, juin 18, 2007

Vacation/Father's Day


Hello reader(s) – I recognize that I may have lost a few readers with my lengthy break from blogging. I was on vacation and just didn’t send word out to y’all!

We went to the North Shore of Lake Superior, and it was wonderful. I recommend it to you all. Did you know the lake has 4 quadrillion gallons of water in it? Well, it does.

Father’s Day

My gifts:

Four hand made pieces of art by my favorite artist, TinyE including a card which read (on the front):

I am a cat

(and on the inside)

You are a cat.
I love you.
Love TinyE

(and on the back)

You are the best

And, as if that wasn’t enough, she also gave me:

Four quarters.
Three dimes.
Two pennies.

Or, $1.32.

Don’t hate.

I missed you all. More writing more often (that’s the goal anyway)…

lundi, mai 07, 2007

Brother Can You Spare an Electric Car?

Okay, can I complain about gas prices for a second?

My complaint is not the price itself (although paying $40+ for a tank of gas is shocking to me), it's the reason cited for the high price.

Supposedly, refining is down because refineries are undergoing much needed maintenance. Well, just as it's not a good idea to renovate a school during the school year, it seems odd to me that refineries would undergo maintenance just before the season when demand is at its peak.

In other words, why cut production when demand is rising?

Add that oil companies have had at least 6 consecutive quarterly earning records, and I'm frustrated.

I heard a news story indicating that deregulation (under Reagan) allows the artificial manipulation of supply to increase price (and revenue...income).

Whatever the reason, it strikes me as a bad idea to allow a resource that ultimately impacts the cost of everything to be so vulnerable to the basest corporate skullduggery.

It also slays me that the political party that claims to favor small business is fiddling away while the fire rages.

mercredi, mai 02, 2007

LOA, Whiter Teeth, Fresher Breath

Hello readers!

Sorry to be MIA. Work has kept me busy (but it's been challenging and meaningful work, and I enjoy my job very, very much).

There's no graceful way to transition from my somber post about the Virginia Tech tragedy, but I do owe you all a post about my experience with Crest Whitestrips. So, let this be just one more absurd juxtaposition in a world of absurd juxtapositions.

So, here's my experience with Crest Whitestrips:

My teeth are noticeably whiter, but not the super-mega laser white that some get by using the super mega laser thing. They're actually a nice, natural white. Overall, I'm pleased.


The Whitestrips are a bit of a drag, here's why -

First, you are supposed to use them twice a day for thirty minutes. That's not a complaint, just an observation.

Second, talking while they are on is difficult.

Third, they're pretty good for commutes, but...you're advised not to wear them immediately after brushing your teeth. So, if you're like Duf, you can't wear it on your morning commute (just brushed) or your evening commute (talking on the phone*).

Fourth, them don't taste no good. Them really don't.

Fifth, the reason I know they don't taste good is because the tape slides a bit when you move your mouth (in fairness, this might not be a reflection on the Whitestrips so much as it is a reflection on my inability to keep my mouth still - but I assume my struggle here would be the average user's struggle). To me, this is the biggest flaw (when I shopped for the strips, I noticed that some Crest competitors have trays. If you're considering low budge** whitening, I would really steer you toward a tray. I really would.

Sixth, the packaging is far from descriptive. As you use the Whitestrips, questions will come to mind. It would be great if those questions were answered by the packaging. One question I had was - what should I do after removing the strip? Rinse? With what? Another question I had was - is there any impact if I skip a day? Is ten consecutive days ideal?

Last, opening the packages which contain the strip, and applying the strip is not easy. It's also messy.

But I sound more unhappy with my whitening experience, and I'm not. I would do it again, but I'd probably lean toward a tray-based whitening solution.

*But not while driving, natch. Ahem.

**"low budge" is short for "low budget" and is used here to describe the over-the-counter solution. The other options are fitted trays supplied by a dental professional and the super-mega laser thingy. I assume there are other options.

jeudi, avril 19, 2007

"What can we...?"

First, my sincere and heartfelt sympathies go out to everyone in the Virginia Tech community. I have been thinking almost nonstop about all of those who lost a friend or loved one, and those who are part of that university’s community*.

I wanted to write sooner, but, truth is, I’ve been avoiding the world. I’ve been avoiding television news, the web, and the newspaper. I’m in the middle of a bit of a funk, and it expresses itself in the form a profound (deep and sincere) concern about our country**. We celebrate cruelty in the form of shock radio. Per capita, we have a higher rate of homicide and other violent crime (not war related) than any other country in the world. We worship guns and despise public schools. When tragedy strikes, we seem to ask all the wrong questions.

In the moments after the tragedy, news media raced to Blacksburg to cover the horrific event. I understand that. Pointed questions were directed at the university administration, and, to a certain extent, I understand that too (I might have asked them much later). But the next morning, while watching CNN (my finger on the remote for a quick channel change in case TinyE walked into the room), I heard a reporter say “all over America people are waking up, and they’re asking the same question…”

Then he said “how did this happen?”

That is not the question I was asking. I wasn’t even really asking “why” yet. I was still stuck on “what.”

What can we do to support Virginia Tech and Blacksburg?
What can we do to decrease hate?
What can we do to change the direction of our country?

I really, really feel that America is heading for collapse. I don’t think of myself as a fatalist, but we do so many horrible things, and our after-the-fact analysis seems to make it worse, not better. We seem to ask the wrong questions. As a result, we propose the wrong solutions. I’m just waiting for some deeply misguided fool to argue that if there were more guns, this type of crime would be less likely to happen.

One other thought on this horrible tragedy with the prospect of more later. I’m 100% convinced that, after mass murders of this sort, we should all but ignore the perpetrator. It is appropriate to say who he or she was. It is appropriate to offer a small note of what was wrong with him or her. But posting manifestos, publishing photos, linking to videos – it all has the effect of giving a forum for hate, sickness and cruelty. For our brothers and sisters who are damaged and contemplate the same kind of horror, they can count on disrupting the President’s schedule***, putting flags all over the country at half mast, and getting tons and tons of attention and publicity. The Columbine assassins acknowledged that they would be notorious, and the Blacksburg assassin did as well (if only impliedly). I don’t suggest that providing the showcase creates or even inspires the crime, but I don’t think it helps matters at all. What if our response was to say:

"Cho Seung-Hui is the suspected gunman. He was a senior at Virginia Tech. He had a history of mental illness. He is survived by two parents who need our support and compassion."

Make all the other things (photos, videos, manifestos, etc.) available to those who need to see them. Years later, open them for the public to see. But so soon after the tragedy, I think it would be better to turn all the hate and violence into a call for compassion and love.

More than anything, when bad things happen, I’d like for us to ask different questions…start them with “what can we…”

*A colleague has a nephew at Virginia Tech, and a former colleague has a daughter there. Both are alive and did not lose a close friend in the tragedy, but both are part of the VT community.

**Don Imus, the ignorant response to Imus’s appalling (and long-standing) bigotry, the recent Supreme Court opinion contracting abortion rights, increases in poverty and the gap between the rich and poor, Alberto Gonzales - the whole DO”J”, and a horrible, horrible crime in Minneapolis aren’t helping matters any. If our country were a coalmine, there would be dead canaries everywhere and millions of us walking around with no oxygen masks on wondering why we have a headache. Things are desperate in America; we’re in dire straits. We absolutely must pay attention to what's wrong and do something about it. Spike Lee said it best years ago: WAKE UP!

***And our poor President – he just lacks the moral authority to make the kind of statement he made in Blacksburg at the memorial service when he said:

“It's impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering. Those whose lives were taken did nothing to deserve their fate. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now they're gone -- and they leave behind grieving families, and grieving classmates, and a grieving nation.”

As I heard him say those words, another senseless act of violence and suffering was foremost on my mind. And it makes me sad that the leader of our country sounds hollow and hypocritical when he speaks against violence and suffering.

mardi, avril 03, 2007

Step One: Rub Butter on a Piece of Tape...

Call it vanity or call it vanity. I don't really care what you call it. For example, you could call it vanity.

But whatever you call it, the fact is: Duf broke down and got him some of those Crest Whitestrips. Don't hate - get your own (or get the really nice fitted mouthpiece and the gel from the dentist. You could also get lasered up - whatever you want. Duf is a man of the people, and he wanted a whiter smile without jeopardizing his ability to make the rent, the car payment, the green fees and the Modest Mouse show on April 21st at the Orpheum - I'll be there...look for the black guy).

I'd been thinking about it (it = whitening) for awhile (it all started when LJC smiled at me once in Jacksonville...one word: radiant), but when I saw a $5.00 off coupon* in the Sunday sales circular, I decided that God wanted me to have whiter teeth and fresher breath**. He also wanted me to save .25 on reduced calorie salad dressing, but we don't always see the signs that God sends us now do we?

The way it (it does not equal coupons - it = whitening) works is this. You put these gel covered pieces of plastic over your upper and lower incisors and bicuspids for 30 minutes per session - two sessions per day.

I'm on day two of ten.

Here's what I'll report so far:

After two days, my teeth are not noticeably whiter, but then the directions indicate that you'll start to notice after three days.

I have a hard time keeping the device on all of my teeth for 30 minutes. I'm constantly fidgeting with it. In some respects, it's like a popcorn piece that's stuck between your teeth. For some reason (which probably has something to do with my not being used to having a film covering my teeth, my OCD, and my oral fixation) I cannot leave it alone. I poke at it with my tongue, touch it with my fingers and constantly look at it in mirrors to make sure it's touching all the right teeth. I'm pretty sure that guys like me need a mouthpiece and a 10 day script for valium...well and someone besides me to understand the importance of putting all the pillows on the couch with the zippers down (which is not related to whiter teeth, but is related to OCD).

When the thirty minutes are over and you remove the apparatuses, your teeth are covered in gel. It's not exactly pleasant. But gurrrrl, if there's one thing Duf knows it's that beauty sometimes requires sacrifices, honey. It's why men sometimes wear uncomfortable shoes, pierce our ears, wear underwear that goes up between our butt cheeks*** and choose contact lenses over glasses.

I'll report back in eight days. If this (this = whitening) doesn't work I'll seek donations so I can go ahead on and get lasered up.

*Let's settle this once and for all, it's pronounced "koo-pon" not "cue-pon."

**The Whitestrips do not help with halitosis, but God does want me to have fresher breath.

***I don't know what one calls that kind of underwear because my life is devoted to loftier pursuits like literature, Twins baseball and teeth whitening.

lundi, avril 02, 2007

Battery Charge = 100%

I enjoyed a day off - one of those "catch as catch can" days off when the calendar had nothing pressing, it was Spring Break, and the weather looked like it was going to be pretty darn good.

I went to the new-ish library in downtown Minneapolis.
I played a round of golf (my four iron was on like the waffle iron at the pancake house).
I picked up TinyE early so that we could ride bikes around the lake.
I watched the Twins win the home opener.

I did not check my email (I sent one message at 7:00 a.m.) until 7:00 p.m.
I answered the calls that came (there were only two).
I did no chores (except make the bed and tote the recycling).

I read the paper.

I recharged my batteries.

mercredi, mars 28, 2007

An Open Letter to My Muslim Brothers and Sisters

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I’m writing to share my thoughts on items recently reported by the Twin Cities media – all concerning how religious convictions impact the ability/willingness of Muslims to perform some tasks that are often considered essential to customer service jobs.

The four items that stand out the most are:

The refusal of Muslim cab drivers to transport airport customers who have alcohol (usually purchased from duty free shops) in their possession.

The refusal of Muslim cab drivers to transport customers who travel with animal companions (even if the potential passenger is blind - ouch).

The refusal of Muslim grocery store cashiers to scan pork products.

The refusal of Muslim women to appear uncovered for State ID photographs.

But you’re not alone: Some Christians refuse to dispense lawful medication based on religious grounds.

I’m sure you’re well aware that America prides itself on religious tolerance. I’m sure you’re also aware that we sometimes fall short of our ideals. Though it’s not expressly written in any of our laws, a number of our traditions and practices have their origins in Christianity. Sunday as a day of rest takes it origin from the Sabbath – not an exclusively Christian tradition, but evidence of how religion shapes our traditions.

In many ways, I see the tension between your religious beliefs and American traditions as analogous to the experience of other religious minorities. For example, Jews in America don’t get time off to observe their holy days (even though Christmas Day is a day when most workplaces are closed). In effect, Jews lose personal leave in for religious observance. Seventh Day Adventists will refuse to work their sabbath - from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown – though it may impact both job choice and career growth. Some faith traditions eschew electricity and modern conveniences and thrive in our country, a place that prides itself on technological and scientific advances.

But the conflict is not limited to religion. On the basis of personal ethics or morality, people in America may refuse to eat meat, or wear fur or leather. Some people refuse to ride in cars.

In America, a vegetarian may decide that working as a waiter at a steakhouse, or working as a sales clerk at a furrier is not their ideal profession.

No one has to work as a cab driver. But once one decides to do so, he or she must serve all who seek transport (unless they’re phenomenally drunk or conspicuously dangerous). No one has to work as a cashier, but once one decides to do so, he or she must scan all items available for purchase. No one has to drive, or even have a photo ID, but if one chooses to take advantages of the rights and privileges that require an ID, one must take the photo in a way that makes it useful for identification purposes.

And just as I would advise a Christian who aspires to be a pharmacist but does not want to dispense birth control to choose another profession, and just as I would advise a vegetarian who does not want to profit from the death of animals not to work at a steakhouse, I would advise you, my Muslim brothers and sisters who do not want to give cab rides to people traveling with alcohol or animals to seek other work.

No one here will force you to live outside of your faith or traditions (unless you’re faith promotes animal sacrifice or polygamy or ganja/peyote/licking those frogs or other things considered too extreme for support), but don’t expect too much accommodation either.

Realize that the failure to offer it is not related to intolerance, but actually has a practical basis. In a country where the freedom of religion is included in the Constitution, we cannot rewrite our traditions, laws, and practices to embrace every tenet. We tend to honor Christian principles more than we should – we don’t always live up to our ideals.

So my advice to you is this: follow the dictates of your heart, your conscience, and your faith, even if it means you must sacrifice in order to do so.

With sincere best wishes,


P.S. Thanks for the idea Mary!

mardi, mars 27, 2007

Eyes Wide Shut


This is just going to be a magical year*.

This new disc is so good that it makes me close my eyes.

Let me explain.

I have this weird habit of closing my eyes when I listen to music I really like**. It helps me hear it better. Er…something like that. “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” has many eye-closing moments for me. I love “The Lonesome Crowded West” and “The Moon and Antartica,” and longtime readers know I was reduced to a screaming teeny bopper by “Good New for People Who Love Bad News.” I don’t know yet where “We Were Dead…” fits within that amazing legacy, but it’s up there friends, it’s up there.

Will I be at the Modest Mouse show in Minneapolis next month?***

And as I type this, I’m listening to a bootleg copy**** (amazing quality, BTW) of the forthcoming Wilco album, “Sky Blue Sky”. Surprise, surprise, it’s flipping amazing.

I was going to try to see Bjork in Chicago with some rock-headed friends, but it’s on Mother’s Day weekend, and…um…I don’t have the kind of sway on the homefront.*****

P.S. The new Arcade Fire doesn’t disappoint either.

*But not in sports. [sigh]

**No, no, no, not when I’m driving, silly billy.


****Don’t rat me out please, I’ll buy multiple copies when it comes out. I’ll get the domestic, the foreign and any special editions, so, please, let me enjoy this advance ride in peace. Thanks in advance.

*****Nor would I want it. Of course I would rather be at home celebrating the three mom’s in my life instead of at the concert of my dreams.

dimanche, mars 18, 2007

Is it Just Me? Am I the Only One?

I don't like it when cashiers comment on my purchases. I don't like it at the grocery store, the pharamacy, or at Target-type stores. I don't care for it.

Recent example from cashier who just scanned a 14.5 ounce can of stewed tomatoes:

"Oh, I use these to make goulash!"

mercredi, mars 14, 2007

Violet and Orville

This story touched me. No, not a fairy tale, but an interesting twist on "'til death do us part."

mercredi, mars 07, 2007

Hello Darkness My Old Friend...

The other day, TinyE and I were on our way sledding with her friend “Roni.”

The girls were gabbing away as toddlers are wont to do, and then, TinyE said –

“I wish my skin was lighter.”

Her friend replied “Oh TinyE, the outside doesn’t matter, what matters is the inside.”

And one million thoughts swirled through my head.

Here’s a sampling:

Why does my five year old daughter wish her skin was lighter?
The schools are clearly talking about tolerance and race and ethnicity, and etc.
Do TinyE and “Roni” really believe what they’re taught?
Do they really believe that skin doesn’t matter?
Or is it just something they memorize like the words to “We Shall Overcome”*
At age five, has she already observed something about the world?
Did she observe something about bias in her school?
On television?
As a child, did I ever feel that way? I guessed that I did.
Is TinyE showing, the smallest, faintest glimmer of an emerging self-esteem issue?
I found myself thinking about skin color and about the tendency, even among my people, to express a bias toward people with lighter skin.
I wondered what issues my daughter (who has a father with ancestry traceable to Africa, and a mother with ancestry traceable to Europe) will face.
I thought then about gender and class and style of dress and style of speech and hobbies or interests and all the ways we heap expectations on people, all the ways we define people we don’t really know.

But perhaps most of all –

I wondered why, at moments like this, I treat my daughter like she’s five. Why don’t I ask her why she feels that way? Why don’t I share my experiences with her? What am I waiting for?

Does not my silence now portend a more damaging silence later?

It is in keeping with my character,** but that’s no excuse. There are times when silence is wrong.

Parenthood often presents examples to prove that point.

*Which they sang in the car only moments later. Both of them know they words, even though they go to different schools.

**I’m not confrontational, in fact, I’m conflict adverse. For example, last month, I had the great good fortune to attend a basketball game between the University of Minnesota and Ohio State. The Buckeyes (Ohio State), with their sublime septuagenarian, Greg Oden, crushed our Gophers (who are in a rebuilding year or years). In the waning seconds of the game, a woman sitting in front of us, turned to friends (sitting behind us) and, speaking right past me, said that the Gophers should have played their “black team.” To sharpen her point and heighten her dullness, she added, “you know, the more athletic players.” I had two thoughts that day. First, my favorite Viking saying - “the half wise are everywhere,” and second, that’s kind of funny, because if you have a choice between me (black, but decidedly non-athletic) and my brother-in-law (white, but legendarily athletic) for your team in a pick up game of hoops, I can offer no better advice than this: pick the white guy!