Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I am not ticklish.

This was something of a social disadvantage in high school, as there were several of my friends who would have dearly loved it if I were and whom I would have been rather okay with their continuing in that vein, but alas, t’was not to be.

Lauren, on the other hand, is very ticklish.

Today was one of those days where Tabitha had to stay after school for one reason or another – as she continues to zoom through middle school and into high school, those days will only increase – so after I picked up Lauren we had about forty minutes to kill. So we zipped on over to the local minimart to buy some sticky candy, in the hopes that it would finally pull out the loose tooth that has been dangling just above her lip for a month now, and then we pulled into our spot by Mighty Clever Guy Middle School to wait.

This is our time together, and it’s fun. We talk about school, we play games, and sometimes we get homework done.

Today for some reason, Lauren decided she would try to tickle me. But, as noted earlier, I am not ticklish. This meant, of course, that she had no recourse when I was obliged to tickle her back.

Eventually I discovered that I didn’t even have to touch her – that Lauren is ticklish at a range of up to twelve inches from her body. All I had to do was poke anywhere in that range.

Well, no. That wasn’t all I had to do.

Apparently this is audio-triggered. It doesn’t work if you just do the phantom poke thing. You have to do the phantom poke thing while at the same time saying, “Boop!”


Boop! Boop! Boop!


You know, this knowledge could be dangerous in the wrong hands. Such as, say … mine.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

How to Improve the Holiday

Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick, it’s nearly Christmas.

This is one of the things that has sort of snuck up on me this year, more than most years, and as I emerge out of my semester-long immersion into ancient world history (want to know about Mansa Musa? Go ahead – ask me anything…) the fact that the Yuletide season is here is sort of hitting me all at once. There’s been no lead-in time this year. One minute it was mid-November and I was vaguely thinking about Thanksgiving and wondering what had happened to the Halloween candy, and the next: Fa-la-la-la-la up to my ai-ai-ai-ai-eyeballs.

Now, Christmas has long been one of my favorite holidays. But the old story about the boiled frog is definitely in play this year – I’ve had not time to get used to the season gradually, so a lot of things that normally just float by me unnoticed are a bit more front and center.

And some of them, frankly, have got to go.

So here are a few things that I think the Christmas season would be better off without. Don’t say I never gave you anything.

1. Commercials where grown men try to sound like elves.

I don’t know why this happens every year, but for some reason advertisers – especially local advertisers – seem to feel that if you put things in elfin terms people will be more likely to buy them. Of course the big local example this year is a car dealership trying to get you to purchase the latest M-1 Abrams SUV (“Complete with its own zip code!”), which sort of makes me question the wisdom of the whole “elf” motif, but there you go. Remember, folks – grown men trying to sound like elves is not cute. It’s creepy. Go easy on the helium, lay off the psychedelics, and hire better writers.

2. Similarly, any commercial that pads its soundtrack with incessant jingling.

Seriously. It’s not festive. It just sounds like you’re playing with your keys too much, and I’m not about to shake hands on a deal with someone who spends that much time with their hands in their pockets.

3. Country/western Christmas carols about how new shoes are a sign of God’s love.

I’m fairly sure this isn’t in the Bible anywhere. I’m also fairly sure that gift-giving – while intensely fun and certainly nothing I will ever complain about (too much) – is not the center of the season. Dressing it up in 4/4 time and a smothering string arrangement is schmaltz, not sentiment, and the irony of that is just way too much for me right now.

4. NBA basketball

Am I the only person in America who was sort of disappointed that the NBA decided not to cancel their season? I’ve never really understood the appeal of a game where you’re not allowed to play defense and teams routinely score over a hundred points in increments of two so I’m probably not their target market anyway, but somehow the knowledge that oddly elongated men are out there bouncing a ball around on Christmas Day does not make me feel merrier. Oddly enough, though, football games do. I’m not sure why.

5. White men in blue suits pretending they’re fighting a beleaguered defense of what is, after all, the most popular holiday in America, in some personal fantasy world they call “The War On Christmas.”

First of all, these guys need to get a life. Wars involve bloodshed, chaos and no small amount of personal courage, and mouthing snarky, demonstrably false talking points from comfortably appointed newsdesks hardly qualifies. You want to fight a war in defense of Christmas? Go to North Korea and see what you can do. You won’t even have to start a new war, since the Korean War is still technically ongoing.

Second, the only people in what is now the United States who have ever seriously argued for making Christmas illegal – and who actually succeeded in doing so – were Puritans, who felt that the celebration was an ungodly travesty of true faith. Given that the 17th-century Puritans lived their Christianity in a way that modern Americans can’t even conceive, let alone match, I see no reason why I should have to put up with blowhards trying to score political points with idiots by pretending to defend my holiday. Christmas doesn’t need you, gents. Now crawl back under your rocks and leave the rest of us alone.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It Is Finished


It has been a very long semester, here in Baja Canada. But yesterday was my last class at Not Quite So Far Away Campus, and there will be no further 2am, “frantically whomping up a lecture on a topic I had never heard of prior to last week” nights, at least for the foreseeable future.

My US2 class has also been put to bed as far as lectures go. I last taught that one in 2008 and my entire understanding of the underlying dynamics of recent American history has changed since then, so somehow I managed to transfer all of those lectures out of my handwritten notes and into typed form while revising them as I went, mostly. There’s still some work to be done on that class, but I got the broad outlines of my current thinking into them.

Of course, by the time I get to teach it again I’m sure I will have moved onto new interpretations. And there will be new material to cover, as time seems to march on regardless of my schedule.

If I ever have to teach my World History Prior to 1500 class again, there will also be wholesale revisions. The first unit will need to be gutted and reconstructed from the ground up, for example, but at least I have a good handle on how I would want to do that now.

All that is left now are finals. And finals are the easiest exams from the professor’s point of view, because I don’t have to hand them back. Which means I don’t have to put comments on them. The majority of my time spent grading exams is devoted to putting enough comments on them so as to a) explain to the students how they can do better and b) head off any complaints about how they did this time. Grading finals is so much less time consuming.

I spent most of the last few days trying very hard not to be sick, as I was pretty worn out by the beginning of the month and teaching is not like normal jobs where you can miss a day and not really worry about it. It’s all on you – substitutes don’t work at the college level – and it all has to happen on time.

But now it’s all good. The classes are done. I’m feeling reasonably well, having slept a bit. And I spent today doing non-academic things – running errands, getting my hair cut, having lunch with the 3rd-graders at Not Bad President Elementary (at Lauren’s request) which of course meant many iterations of The Evil Laugh.

I’m hoping to get back to blogging again, too. I’ve missed it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Faces of Lauren, 2011

Every year at this time Kim and I sit down to try to pick a photograph that we can put on our Christmas card. And every year we are confronted with one simple fact: Lauren has a future in vaudeville.

So here is this year’s version of the Faces of Lauren.  Click on the photos to embiggen.

Go get ‘em, kiddo.

(look carefully - she's in there)