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Updated: 2018-03-05T14:08:04.437-06:00




This summer the six year old suddenly demanded to play the violin. Her obsession had the quality of a crush, coming from nowhere that I could discern. I am terribly untalented myself, and dare not even sing in the shower. The Warrior Monk, however, can carry a tune and to my unmusical ear has a miraculous ability to pick out a song on the guitar. Unfortunately he spends most of his talents singing in falsetto to execrable 70's Greatest! Hits! on car trips through the radio wastelands of Iowa or Wisconsin.Nonetheless, after incessant nagging, we signed her up for Suzuki violin lessons. Due to her tender age she was initially permitted only a styrofoam violin. But she persisted and to her great delight was recently awarded a real (rental) violin with lessons to begin next week.Given that she has a strong genetic connection to my tin ear, I have no great hopes of her musical future (but one never knows, right?) Nor did her big sister, who took up the clarinet last year, yet make me reevaluate my skepticism. Last spring we attended her school concert where the musical numbers proceeded with a predictable idiosyncratic and sagging rhythm.Much to my surprise I learned last week that lack of talent does not necessarily spell the end of a concert career! Witness this article about a group called the Really Terrible Orchestra:But where standard amateurs may be incidentally bad, the Really Terrible Orchestra is fundamentally bad. Its random ability to play the right notes at the right time, or at all, is part of what the orchestra chairman, the lousy clarinetist Peter Stevenson, calls “our entertainment package.”“We knew there was no market for a good amateur orchestra, because a poor professional one would always be better,” Mr. Stevenson said. “But there is a market for the R.T.O. And that our concerts sell out in advance, to audiences who just love to hear us scrape through easy arrangements of Bach or the last 40 bars of the ‘1812’ Overture — the rest is far too difficult — is proof. There’s always thunderous applause, especially if we’ve got lost in something and ground to a halt. Always a standing ovation. And it’s not just because we have our friends and family in the audience. People genuinely thrill to it.”We did thrill to the ten year old's concert. And we now have a CD recording of it to prove it. And yes there was a standing ovation though I doubt there was a single audience member who did not fall in the friends and family camp.The NYT article continues:How much, you might fairly ask, is the Really Terrible Orchestra trying to stink?“Not at all,” Peter Stevenson insisted, sounding slightly hurt when I asked to attend an orchestra rehearsal if it had such things.“It’s unkind of you to think we don’t rehearse,” he said, “because we do. And some of us even take lessons, as I am at the moment, from a serious teacher. I can’t pretend that no one ever plays deliberately badly. It’s usually the trumpets, and they make me angry when they do. But for the rest of us, we are actually doing our best. And that’s the tension in which we operate. On the one hand, we’d like to get better. On the other, we know we won’t.”I believe both of the kids would like to get better too. And I don't yet know whether they will or won't. If not, it's nice to know they could found their own Really Terrible Something-Or-Other and soldier on.As for the Really Terrible Orchestra?The second world tour is due to hit London in November. “I fear they’ve heard of us down there,” Mr. McCall Smith said, slightly concerned that they might also have heard a pernicious rumor that, thanks to persistent practice, the orchestra was less bad than it used to be.“It’s not true,” he insisted, “and I don’t see how it could be. We’re only too happy for people to practice. I do myself, but it will never make a difference. No one good is ever going to join us. And if they did, they’d be hugely outnumbered. Children would raise the standard, but we don’t let them in for that reason. It would be too [...]



Q I have some rare whiskey that's 45 years old. How can I get rid of it?

From our local rag's Fixit column.



... in case you were wondering. Definitely the biggest disaster in the Twin Cities since I have lived here.

The ten year old is already afraid of bridges. How are we going to persuade her to travel over one in the future? Everywhere we go, we must cross a bridge. But not this one anymore.

Don't call the cell phone of anyone who lives here right now. The network is reportedly overloaded. But getting phone calls ON OUR LANDLINE from out of town friends and family (some of whom we haven't spoken with for a while) checking on our safety has been nice. We rarely turn on our cell phone anyway.

UPDATE: Minnesota bloggers react. Buzz,mn post has lots of comments, most from shocked out of towners and a few folks who can't wait to start the political blamefest. More comments at MNSpeak.



Our summer babysitter has finally landed a full-time job and is moving out of state. The kids staged a huge neighborhood party for her today, complete with a home-made pinata.

When I got home from work this afternoon, I spotted at least two squirrels in the back yard, one with something bright red in its mouth. After it lazily made its way up a nearby tree I figured out what was going on: a hot ball! They're apparently eating the leftover pinata candy, wrappers and all.

The Warrior Monk is chasing them off our patio with a broom as I type.



It's a fine summer night and all the kids in neighborhood (well, at least 10 of them) are shrieking and chasing each other with sticks in some Harry Potter-inspired game.

"Huddle! Huddle!" cries are wafting in my window.

It will all end in tears, of course, but there's no way I am interfering. We have plenty of band-aids, after all.



More proof that some of the best advertising is free -- and the best way to get free advertising is to be banned. Extra points if you're banned by a government watchdog panel:
Fifty years after Britons were implored to “Go to work on an egg”, an advertising watchdog has banned a revival of the campaign, saying that it breaches health guidelines.
(Via Overlawyered)

The British press is all over it and condemnation is pouring in. Makes the thought of scrambled eggs even more tasty than usual.




Is global warming going to be the newest mass tort? One obscenely successful Texan plaintiffs' attorney, Stephen D. Susman, thinks so:
“Melting glaciers isn’t going to get that much going, but wait until the first big ski area closes because it has no snow,” said Susman, who teaches a climate-change litigation course at Houston Law. “Or wait until portions of lower Manhattan and San Francisco are under water.”
Susman warns "[y]ou're going to see some really serious exposure on the part of companies that are emitting CO2."

And the cows emitting ... well ... you know what. That's where the really big money is.



Italy recently put a controversial indulto (sentence reduction for prisoners) into effect. Guess what happened next? Within hours, dozens had been arrested and sent back to jail after reoffending.
There were 194 bank robberies nationwide in the month before the amnesty was introduced last July. After the law was passed by Romano Prodi's centre-Left coalition that figure rose steadily, peaking at 332 in October - at an average of more than 10 a day.
The pardon was put into effect to ease prison crowding. But at this rate, they'll all be jam-packed again in no time.

There will be fewer law-abiding Italians however: "shopkeeper Antonio Pizza, 28, was murdered while trying to stop a recently released convict from stealing his car."



The Guardian today reports that in 2002 the U.S. military requested $7.5M to investigate the possibility of spraying the enemy with chemicals to make them gay:
"One distasteful but non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behaviour," says the proposal from the Air Force's Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio.
Of course, the $7.5M cost could have easily been offset by selling the substance in tasteful fragrance bottles at retail establishments all over the Bay area. Also Fire Island.

Unaccountably, the funding request seems to have been denied.



A bar owner over the border was fined for using the wrong tap -- he (gasp!) used a Coors Light tap to avoid wasting some Miller Light beer. Nope, sorry, got them mixed up (I often do). Tap was Miller Light, beer was Coors Light.

"I didn't think nothing was tragic about it," he said, adding that the beers cost the same and he told his customers they were getting the beer they actually got: "I didn't lie to nobody."

But it is a tragedy man. Miller Light, Coors Light. Both tragedies.




After resisting for eons, I've finally agreed to allow the ten year old to invite four of her friends over for a sleep over. I established some ground rules for interactions with her younger sister (no physical contact, vague admonitions to be nice) and sleeping (go to bed early, sleep late in the morning) which I privately understand to be dreams rather than iron-clad laws.

No exact date has yet been arrived at, leaving me to hope that ten year olds' summer schedules are as unworkable as mine. But I suspect that the prospect of a slumber party will reveal them all to be organizational geniuses.



The renowned jurist's response to a recent question (posed in Slate to ten prominent writers):
I usually ..... But I cannot for the life of me remember why I chose that! I used to ..., which I like a lot. ... And I ..., which I also liked; but I no longer remember why I did that, either.
Alarming at first blush, indeed, but why anyone goes to the trouble of selecting a particular FONT (or typeface), much less has a reason for doing so, is beyond me.

Yes, that's what Slate asked, apparently to make a three-fer (an essay, documentary film and exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, all on the font Helvetica) into a four-fer. The writers all struggled to come up with un-boring answers to this dry question. The writer/producer of the TV show Sex and the City seemed to work the hardest to please (not surprisingly):
I talked to my therapist, and she said my love of Courier stems from my childhood. Back before I knew what deadline, hack, or rewrite meant. When the most fun I could imagine was a trip to my father's office, where I could be alone with the IBM electric typewriter. Another chance to tickety-tick-tick something that would make me laugh. And then show it to my mom and she'd laugh, too. So, I guess my loyalty to Courier is a way for me to maintain my bond with my mother. In other words, it's all her fault. That's what my therapist says, anyway.
While several others plausibly responded that they used the font that came with the machine they composed on, they pretty skipped the why part and fluffed their response up with a personal reminiscences. Posner, not surprisingly, answered the query fully and unsentimentally (in case you're interested, the ellipses in the quote above hid his choices of "Century Schoolbook," "Baskerville," "Garamond " and "Verdana").

So, clearly not Alzheimer's. Perhaps Asperger's?



And psychologists? I believe, with no study whatsoever, are merely astrologers with degrees. Or is that sociologists?



Despite being a mom myself (eagerly anticipating my haul of homemade gifties tomorrow morning) I am perversely pleased when I come across evidence that contradicts a Mom-ism. The latest: bicycle helmets attract cars. Add it to the heap:
But licking a frozen flagpole in winter really will make your tongue stick. Especially in Minnesota. Just ask Atomizer (who did it twice in one day! What's up with that?).

Happy Mother's Day!



An economist muses on why some relationships that should end, don't:
Relationship-specific assets [knowledge of each other’s tastes and quirks, routines that allow them to coordinate their schedules" etc.] give both partners partial protection against market competition, which means they can reduce their contributions and still remain attached. Partners may let themselves get fat, shave less frequently, refuse to have sex as often, cut back on household chores, etc. They can do this as long as the reductions in quality are not so great as to swamp the value attributable to the relationship-specific assets.
Myself, I have not attended a Killdozer concert since I went through the dating investment phase of my relationship. Of course, the band broke up in 1996 (and the lead singer is now a tax lawyer in Los Angeles), so I have some backup excuses.

For more romantic thoughts, such as the Annual Rite of Overdue Dumping and the cause of the Spring Mating Season, click here.



A recent study concludes one child is best:
In comparing identical twins, [a sociology professor] found that mothers with one child are about 20 percent happier than their childless counterparts; and while fathers' happiness gains are smaller, men enjoy an almost 75 percent larger happiness boost from a firstborn son than from a firstborn daughter. The first child's sex doesn't matter to mothers, perhaps because women are better than men at enjoying the company of both girls and boys, Kohler speculates.

Interestingly, second and third children don't add to parents' happiness at all. In fact, these additional children seem to make mothers less happy than mothers mothers with only one child—though still happier than women with no children.
(Via Marginal Revolution)

In my circle, everyone seems to have exactly one more child than they can handle comfortably. I have two.

Yes, I'm included in "my circle."



Someone has finally taken a brave stand on all the scandalous and immoral political hanky-panky going on -- the United States Patent and Trademark Office:
Registration is refused because the proposed mark consists of or comprises immoral or scandalous matter. Trademark Act Section 2(a), 15 U.S.C. §1052(a); TMEP §1203.01. According to the attached evidence from a search conducted on Google, the proposed mark DEMOCRAT.BS means Democrat bullshit and is thus scandalous because the word “bullshit”, according to the attachment from the website, is vulgar slang.
A bipartisan stand no less! Registration of REPUBLICAN.BS has been refused on the same grounds.

That oughtta do it! McCain-Feingold my ass. Sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands.



A planet may be getting warmer ... and it's not Earth:
Temperatures on Mars have increased slightly over a 20-year period due to the action of Martian winds, scientists have found.
Yes. Our entire solar system is going to hell in a handbasket.



Just a reminder to myself not to think that just because robotics makers once managed to ccme up with a useful one, a trend was born:


What does it do? It dispenses tissues so that people can blow their noses. Really.

Makes this little gizmo seem like a necessesity by comparison:


What does it do? Sounds an alarm (at a pre-set time) then runs away when you hit the snooze button. Really.

Presumably, by time you catch it, you're awake. And it's in pieces, having been kicked, stomped on, thrown against the wall, etc.



You know you're not a kid anymore when you stop whning that you want to sleep in the top bunk and how come the nine year old gets to sleep there and not you.

You know you're middle-aged when you start having long conversations with your friends about medical issues. Also, renovations. Renovations are definitely an older demographic.

But my kids and I are almost equally excited about the upcoming blizzard.



Yesterday's would-be hijacker of Air Mauritania Boeing 737 is now in custody, no thanks to crappy security procedures that allowed the man to board the flight with two loaded pistols. The heroic pilot of the plane figured out that the hijacker couldn't speak French and issued instructions over the public address system to jump the hijacker after he abruptly hit the brakes upon landing. A significant number of the 71 passengers and the crew obliged.


How do you say that in French?



Now that they don't have to deal with Anna Nicole Smith any more the last drawback to claiming paternity of her 5 month old child has been removed and the cockroaches are coming out the woodwork, waving their antennae, and having a party.

May I nominate a new entrant: Michael Jackson. It would work in so many ways. Except one: the baby, despite bearing the moniker Dannielynn, is a girl.



We've been enjoying an arctic fart these past few days here in sunny Minnesota. My kitchen floor was grouted this morning and when the tiler used a wet sponge to remove the excess grout, the floor froze.

I better not tell my kids or they'll want to go skating on it.



... and coincidentally, this blog appears to be in hibernation mode. The other bloggers have their own excuses, but mine is that I've turned my attention to remodeling our kitchen. Demolition begins Monday. Last week our dumpster was mistakenly delivered to the wrong address (it did find its way back here after several telephone calls). I have been amusing myself by imagining what the lucky family thought/swore when they discovered a dumpster in their driveway.

Let's hope that I can keep up my amused attitude or that no more mishaps ensue.




All three Spitbull authors traveled to Chicago last weekend for a highly anticipated meeting. On Friday we stayed at one the nicest hotels I have ever visited and on Saturday I slept in a sleeping bag on a futon.

We feted a friend at a private club designed by Chicago architect Howard Van Doren Shaw. Later that night we watched a "tasteless" flick (much appreciated by those of us who had not yet passed out) on a wall-size screen in that friend's frightening basement.

Now we're all home.