Friday, February 28, 2014

It's a Throwback Thursday What Come on a Friday!

Someday I’m going to get the timing down on these things, but that someday is going to have to wait until my world gets less hectic.  So likely never, in other words.  Never is good.

I have spent a great deal of my life in choirs.

It was quite the thing in fourth grade, to be a member of the choir.  You got a red felt vest to wear at the concerts, you got to miss school occasionally, and it was a lot of fun, in part because most of us were in it so you could hang out with your friends, and in part because our teacher made it fun.  Her name was Miss Matthews when I started, but somewhere before I graduated and went to junior high she became Mrs. Beebe.  We all wanted to meet him, but I don’t think we ever did.  I can still remember one concert, toward the end of sixth grade, where we were all utterly convinced that he was there.  “We want Beebe!  We want Beebe!” we chanted.  Thus we learned to handle disappointment, a valuable educational opportunity. 

It was less fun in junior high, mostly because the teachers there were not as good.  We didn’t get red felt vests, either.

I continued singing in choirs in college and again in graduate school, where I met some great friends and had some very good times, but the peak of my choral existence was definitely high school. 

As with elementary school, this was a combination of the people in the choir and the teacher in front of it.

Dr. Giersch was a dynamo of a man who retired the year I graduated.  He’d been teaching in that school district since the year my dad was born, but he still managed to have more energy than any three of us teenaged singers combined.  He’d greet us with a hearty pound on the back – my shoulder still hurts just thinking about it – and he’d get us to sing things we never thought we’d be able to handle, which we would then employ in odd situations.  People get odd looks on their faces when you show up as Christmas carolers and launch into an acapella 4-part-harmony version of the Hallelujah Chorus.  Dr. Giersch been teaching there long enough to have seniority over everyone, so when we scheduled weekly concerts off school grounds the other teachers could only grit their teeth and put up with it.  I do recall the Spanish teachers trying to stop us one year, but that never amounted to anything.  He outranked them.  He outranked the principal.  He outranked the school board.

But woe betide if he ever got a mistaken notion about you, because it was never going to be fixed.  There was another family with kids in the district with my last name – two girls a couple years older than I was, and a boy a year younger, all of whom resembled us enough that we might well have been related.  We weren’t, at least not to my knowledge, but that never fazed Dr. Giersch.  Despite the fact that he and my family went to the same church and he had known me since I was in kindergarten, he invariably would ask me how the sisters were.  This continued for decades after he retired.  It’s been thirty years since I graduated, and Dr. Giersch is still around.  I’m sure the next time I see him he will ask me about the sisters again.  And I will say, "Fine," as I have learned from experience to do.  It's easier on everyone that way.

You can always tell how a high school views its choirs by how many guys are in them.  In places where choir is desperately uncool there are few if any guys – girls being more mature about such things and better able to withstand the suspicions of uncoolness because of that.  Even uncool guys shy away from such choirs.  In our high school, there were lots of guys in the choirs.  And not just uncool guys like me (hey – I am what I am).  Barry, the captain of the football team was a tenor.  We even had lacrosse players, who outranked the football players on the coolness scale in my high school. 

Most of my friends were in the choir.  Most of the women I dated were as well.  We were quite the outfit.

I sang Bass II, which is the lowest part in the choir.  Sometimes we were just called Basses, in which case the Bass I’s were called Baritones.  We referred to ourselves as Men, in contrast to the tenors, though we didn’t say that too loudly around Barry.  Barry was a kind and even-tempered person, but there were limits even so.

In my sophomore year Dr. Giersch decided that we needed photos.  Why he decided this I don’t know, but we dutifully lined up in our robes, carrying our music, and got our photos taken.  So this is me, somewhere around sixteen years old.

Tabitha has exactly the same expression in her repertoire these days.

It always makes me oddly pleased to see it.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thieves! Robbers! Riff-Raff!

Some miscreant has stolen the cartoon right off my office door.

Kids today!  Or faculty!  Whichever!

I tell you, Home Campus didn’t used to be that way back in the day.  We’d walk around without a care in the world and no thought to keys or locks at all!  We’d leave the copy room open year ‘round, have our books just piled up in the lobby, and if Facebook had been invented back then we’d have just let our screens stay logged in, right there in the library until we got back, and nobody would have dreamed about changing our relationship status to “engaged to a farm animal” or posting updates about some hypothetical brush with the law that was a complete misunderstanding and I have received a full apology from the police department so quit bothering me about it, thank you very much.

Where was I?

Oh, right.  CARTOON THEFT!

The exams for my compressed video class are somewhat shorter than my usual exams, to make up for the fact that they are more frequent and have to be squeezed into a high school class period.  When I first did all the editing required to get my standard template down to size I found that I had half a page of blank space where nothing would conveniently fit.  So I decided to throw a history-related cartoon into it, to break up the tension that inevitably seems to accompany exams.

Hey – worked for me, anyway.

I’ve since kept up this tradition, since it is a nice thing to do for all of us and I have quite a stockpile of such cartoons anyway.  Sometimes I print one out just for my own amusement and post them on my door on a rotating basis to entertain visitors and passersby.

This is the one that got nicked today:

I haven’t actually managed to put this one on an exam, as I rather suspect it might get me into some kind of trouble with the sorts of humorless people who would come down on a poor adjunct who was only trying to lighten the mood.  That and it’s a bit too accurate for the current political environment in these trying times, I suppose.

But it’s one of my favorites, and a good thing to have on my door.

Apparently someone else disagreed.

Color me annoyed.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It's a Throwback Thursday What Come on a Tuesday!

So there is this thing called Throwback Thursday over on Facebook, where you post old pictures of yourself for the world to see.  Last week I decided that I would join this, because I’ve always loved old photos and I have a lot of them.

Not many of me, as it turns out – I figured out very early in my life, in that pre-digital age when not every handheld device was also a camera, that every group needs a photographer and if I were that photographer then I would not only get to keep the photos but I would also not be in any of them.  This counted as a win to me.  If someone pointed a camera at me then I would be gracious about it, though – I figured at that point I had already lost so I might as well smile – so there are a few photos of me anyway.

So I posted one last week.

It occurred to me that the problem with Throwback Thursday is that photos are just moments, isolated from the stories they tell, and as such really don’t mean anything.  They need to have the stories that go with them in order to make any sense.  And since Facebook is a poor venue for long-form storytelling, I’ve decided that I’m going to post the photos here too, along with the stories behind them.

This one’s a little late.

Sue me.

This photo was taken in Sea Isle City, NJ, where we would go every summer for our vacation when I was a kid.  I grew up in the Philadelphia area – that’s what you did.  You went to the Jersey shore, or you stayed home.

Uncle Charlie – “uncle” in that extended Italian sense of someone who is related in some degree that is too complicated to explain right now but who is Family nonetheless – and Aunt Judy had a house down there, and they’d rent it to us for the first full week of August.  That was when my dad’s company would shut down every year, so that was our vacation time.  It was a small place, divided up into several different units.  We had the downstairs right.  I think my grandparents had the downstairs left, though I could just be imagining that – they almost always came with us, so they had to stay somewhere.  And I think that Charlie and Judy, if they were there, had the upstairs.

It was a corner lot, only a couple of blocks from the beach, and we’d walk down there whenever we could – past “Phil’s [Paper-Thin] Pizza” and the epic payphone where my brother once found a quarter.   The lawn on the other side of the house from our unit was full of tiny little brown toads, an endless source of fascination for two young boys until the toads disappeared one year and never came back.

When you walked into the house you’d be in the living room.  The kitchen was off to the right, and directly in front of you was a narrow hallway with bedrooms sprouting off of it, behind the kitchen.  The bathroom was at the end.  It was mostly decorated in browns and yellows, as I recall.

We spent a lot of time in that house, since it almost always rained while we were there.  Not all the time – we spent our share of bright sunny days on the beach and I ended up with the sunburn to prove it – but usually at some point during the week it would rain.  Sometimes it would rain for a day, sometimes for an afternoon, once in a while for the entire week, but it always rained.  We’d go to the touristy things in the area for a change of pace, but I do remember more than my share of Yahtzee and cards.

So the beach often looked like it does in this photo – grey skies, windy and chilly enough to warrant long pants and a sweater.

It’s 1974 in this photo, which a) explains the plaid pants and black canvas sneakers, and b) means I’m about eight and a half.  That was the summer that my mother spent randomly declaring that “There’s a Ford in our future!” – a reference to Watergate that took me years of hindsight to figure out.  The sweater I’m wearing has a Philadelphia Eagles logo on it somewhere, I think.  If I remember correctly I’m looking up at the kite my dad and brother are flying over the sand – something else we did when it was too raw to go swimming.  That means my mom must have taken the photo.

I don’t know what happened to the kite.  I assume it crashed like most of the kites we tried to fly in the wind off the surf.  But we always had a good time with them anyway, and that’s what vacations are for.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Paying No Mind to the Calendar

It was Mental Whiplash Weekend here. 

It started on Friday night, when Lauren and the rest of her 5th grade buddies down at Not Bad President Elementary were invited up to Family Fun Night over at Mighty Clever Guy Middle School.  Family Fun Night is the school district’s way of getting the 5th graders ready for middle school next year by having them run around the building in a way that makes it seem less like work than it will next year, when they will not be allowed to run around the building.  You would think that this would just be setting them up for failure, since it is something of a bait and switch tactic.  Having been through this with Tabitha, however, we know that it works like a charm.

So I took Lauren and her friend over, where they met up with another friend.  And then the three of them disappeared.

Fortunately, I was ready for this.  I packed my book, picked a comfortable place to sit, and settled in for the night.  The fact that I ran into a friend and chatted for a while was just a bonus.

Eventually the girls reappeared.  They had spent the entire evening – 12 degrees Fahrenheit outside, ground covered by foot-thick layer of snow which was in turn covered by half an inch of solid ice – in the MCGMS pool. 

Summer in February!  Life is good.

Saturday started with curling – the last of the regularly scheduled curling Saturdays before the season ends.  Next week is the big weekend-long bonspiel and the Sunday after that is another smaller one, but those are special events.  The regular curling sessions are now over.  They had a marvelous time sliding rocks across the ice, because curling is just marvelous that way.

You think you know curling because you pointed and laughed at the Norwegian men’s team’s pants this Olympics?  Think again.

While they were there, we packed. 

Kim and the girls had decided to go skiing again this past weekend – a newfound obsession, really – and while there were any number of other things I could have or should have been doing, up to and including singing in a campus event that would have been my first venture back into the world of choirs in over a decade, the fact is that it’s nice to see the girls have so much fun and getting everyone up and ready for skiing is a two-parent operation at the minimum. 

We picked them up from the curling sheets, found a quick lunch, and headed up to a different skiing place than the one we went to last time, just a few miles away but with a hotel attached so we could stay the night.

They got suited up, and off they went.

Lauren decided that this time she would try skiing instead of snowboarding, since snowboarding was now old.  She reported that it was much easier to ski, or at least I think that was what she said as she went whizzing by and then took off for parts unknown.  Evidence would suggest that, anyway.

I actually don’t have any photos of Tabitha from this skiing trip because once she got her skis set she disappeared onto the mountain and didn’t reappear until it was too dark to take pictures anymore.  So she had fun.  They all did.  Both girls agreed afterward that given a choice between three days skiing and three days at Disneyworld, they’d ski.  This makes me happy, and not simply because Disneyworld is one of the few family vacations more expensive than a three-day skiing trip and now I don’t actually have to go there.  It’s nice to see them excited about something that involves that kind of strenuous exercise.

For my part, I stayed in the lodge and graded exams, because that’s just the kind of wild man I am.  But it was useful for everyone to have a central meeting point, as they flitted back and forth across the slopes.  So there’s that. 

Winter in February!  Life is good.

Sunday morning we woke up at the ski hotel, packed our bags, and headed off to the nearby waterpark to celebrate Grandpa’s birthday. 

If you’ve never been to a modern waterpark, well, it’s quite an experience.  They’re huge, loud, hot, humid, and generally a grand time for those inclined to get wet voluntarily.  Lauren disappeared into the mists almost immediately, reappearing from time to time for meals and to get me to go down some of the bigger slides with her.  We warmed ourselves in the hot pool afterward, which felt good.  Tabitha spent some time on the Lazy River, which in this waterpark is called the Active River for some reason, and spent the rest of the time reading, which is how you know she’s my daughter.  Most of the rest of the extended family was there as well, and there was pizza, cake, and ice cream for all.

It was a quiet drive back, after all that.  Swimming, curling, skiing, more swimming, all in a single weekend.

Summer in February!  Life is good.

What season is this, anyway?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Moderately Mysterious Ticking Noise

The elephant is ticking again.

This only happens at certain hours of the day, because of where the window is and how the seasons work.  It took me a while to figure that out, though.

There I’d be, working away in my office on some misbegotten academic task, when gradually I would become aware of a Mysterious Ticking Noise.  Having raised children in this century, this immediately made me think of the Harry Potter Puppet Pals and forced me to start singing about Severus Snape, which those of you in similar situations will understand but which does nothing to encourage the completion of the original misbegotten academic task.

The ticking goes away on its own, though, so usually I’d just ignore it until it did.  I figured if it were a bomb there wouldn’t be anything I could do about it, and I do have deadlines to keep after all.

One day I decided to investigate – there is only so much singing about Severus Snape that one can do before you actually start hoping there is a bomb so you can stop – and discovered that the source of all this ticking was a small plastic elephant that had somehow migrated to the top of the coat storage system that we installed in the mudroom in a fit of home repair some years ago.

It sits just below the window, and when the sun reaches just the right angle – usually in the mornings, when I’m home alone, though the exact point in the morning varies depending on what point of the calendar we happen to be traveling through – the light will shine onto the little solar panels built into the elephant’s hide.

The net result of this is that, through a complex alchemy known as “too many engineers with not enough to do,” the elephant’s ears and trunk will begin to bob up and down at about a standard rock tempo.  They’ll keep doing that until the afternoon, when the sun slides over the roof of the house and the window falls into the shadow of the eaves.

So I do my work to a back beat now.

Snape.  Snape.  Severus Snape.  (Dumbledore!)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sports, Activities, and Contests

There’s all sorts of things that you can watch athletes do, if you are so inclined, but not all of them count as sports.

This is more difficult to grasp than the evidence would suggest, apparently.  You would not imagine it to be so, but you would be wrong.  Fortunately, I am here to provide the sort of guidance that the world so desperately needs in these troubled times.

It is a service I provide, good citizen.  No payment is necessary.

There are three different kinds of athletic events, as far as I can tell: sports, contests, and activities.  And the first thing you need to know about them is that athleticism is not part of their definition.  The mere fact that something is or isn’t a sport doesn’t say anything about how much work goes into doing it, how long you have to train to get good at it, or what kind of physical shape you need to be in to perform at a world-class level.  There are things that count as sports that anyone can do, really, even pudgy middle-aged historians such as yours truly.  And there are things that count as contests that require a depth of athleticism that you won’t find in the most stringent sport.  They’re independent variables.

That’s a science term, by the way.  I live with a scientist, and such things tend to creep into my discourse as if by osmosis, along with graphs and charts.  That’s why my discussion of Thomas Malthus in Western Civ contains graphs, much to the amusement of my students when they see my graphs.  There is no graphing skills requirement for historians, which is just one of the reasons I went into this field, but I draw them anyway.  Because, science.

In terms of athleticism, I find that activities tend to be in the middle of the range without the extremes of athleticism that one finds in both sports and contests.  This is probably one of the reasons that many of the things I enjoy watching fall into this category, as well as nearly all of the things I enjoy doing. 

The basic rule of thumb for activities is simple.  Anything you can do without spilling your drink is an activity.

Softball, as I can attest from years of firehouse-league experience, is an activity rather than a sport.  I have even been to softball games where there were no bases as such, only kegs of beer that you could tap into as you waited for the next batter to do something.  Not my thing, really – I’m not sure why they let me live in Wisconsin at all, given my active dislike of beer – but I certainly appreciated the set-up.  It made the later innings much more interesting.

Darts is also an activity.  So are bowling, billiards, golf, and any form of cards up to and very much including the poker games that for some reason have colonized the sports networks these days.  Curling looks like an activity but isn’t and curlers know that the real drinking happens after the match is over, which is why some of those matches tend to finish faster than you would think they would.  Baseball just barely escapes this category, mostly because of the speed of the pitched balls, though it is entirely possible that I could reclassify it should the mood strike me.  That’s the joy of being the one doing the classifying, after all.

The rule for contests is equally simple.  Is any significant part of the final results dependent on style points awarded by a judge?  If the answer is yes, then it isn’t a sport.  It’s a contest.

I’ve been watching a lot of contests of late, now that the Olympics are on.  Snowboarding is a contest.  Figure skating is a contest.  Slopestyle – which has the “style” right there in the name, for crying out loud – is a contest.  So are diving, synchronized swimming, gymnastics, and competitive ballroom dancing.

There are people who get very upset when you note that what they call a sport is actually a contest, as if you are somehow belittling something they love.  This is puzzling.  Have you ever watched a figure skater train?  Have you ever seen a snowboarder take a jump?  Can you hold your breath like a synchronized swimmer?  Folks, those are athletes on par with anything any sport has to offer.  Contests are hard.  Contests are fun to watch.  But they’re not sports.

The thing that tends to confuse people most about the distinction between a contest and a sport, I find, is the role that interpreting the rules has in most sports.  For example, in American football there is often controversy over whether a player is considered down – did his knee touch the ground?  did an elbow? where did forward progress stop? – and such controversies do in fact have the potential to affect the outcomes of games.  Similarly, in hockey it is up to the judgment of an official whether to call a penalty, which leads to a power play and possibly thence to a game-winning goal.

But to say that there is no distinction to be made between a sport where an official’s interpretation of a rule can occasionally affect the outcome of a game, on the one hand, and a contest where the only possible way to determine the order of finish is by relying on style points awarded for artistic merit according to the whimsy of judges, on the other, is clearly unsupportable and no further notice of such assertions need be taken.

And then there are sports.  Sports do not rely on style points – you get no extra credit for curling a rock into the house artistically rather than bludgeoning it past the guards, nor do the referees in American football take points off a touchdown if a runner trips and falls on his face so long as the ball crosses the goal line.  Nor can you consume beverages while participating in these things – see how long your whiskey lasts out on the ice in a hockey game sometime if you don’t believe me.  Waste of good whiskey.

Soccer is a sport.  American football is a sport.  So are rugby, luge, lacrosse, hockey, swimming, and the 100-meter dash.  Baseball, as noted, may or may not be a sport.  Further research is needed, particularly regarding drinks.  Further research of that sort is almost always a good idea anyway, just on general principle.

So now you may watch and participate in athletic events with the full confidence that they are all properly labeled, pigeon-holed, and filed away for future reference and you know exactly what you have in front of you, for whatever that might be worth to you.

The important part, of course, is to have fun.  What else are these things for, really?

For my next trick, I will restart the peace process in the Middle East, likely with the same success rate I have enjoyed in convincing my doubters here. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Careening Downhill at a High Rate of Speed

I think you have to learn to ski before you’re old enough to know better.  (Amy Iwata)

As noted, we’ve been watching the Olympics.  So far they’ve been pretty quiet as far as our interests go, but there have been highlights. I’ve managed to see one hockey game (the Japanese women almost pulled one out against a rather sloppy and undisciplined Swedish team who clearly felt entitled to a win and weren’t happy about having to work for it), so that was entertaining, and while I’ve seen more ice skating than is really good for anyone to watch over a short period, it has to be said that Kim and the girls enjoy it.  I’ve got the American women’s curling team all ready to go on the DVR, waiting for a quiet moment tonight – and don’t even get me started on the path my life has taken to get to the point where I put curling on the DVR – so that’s something to look forward to as well. 

Sometimes life just takes you in strange directions.

They haven’t gotten to the skiing yet, over in Russia.  Not really.  I don’t count the biathlon, since mostly that looks like basic training for the Finnish army, and the skiing marathon that they apparently ran over the weekend is just more basic training without the guns.  Eventually people will start careening down the mountain and then it will be different. 

They have shown us a considerable amount of snowboarding, though – lots of young men and women doing improbable things on what appear to be giant brightly-colored ice cream spoons while spinning rapidly through the air.  I’m not much on watching those events, but it turns out that Lauren is.

And therein hangs a tale.

Lauren decided Sunday that she was Inspired (tm) by all the various athletes skidding their way down the mountainside.  She wanted to give this stuff a try.  In particular, she wanted to learn how to ride a snowboard.  And for that alone the Olympics have probably been worth it.

You know what?  It turns out you can in fact do that here in Wisconsin.  We’ve got something that could be mistaken for a mountain if you don’t look too closely.  A very tall hill, at the bare minimum, anyway, something certainly big enough to provide exciting times for beginners while careening down its side.  We’ve got more snow than we know what to do with this winter.  We’ve certainly got the Arctic temperatures and the wind chill to provide the level of discomfort that people engaged in these sports demand as proof that they’re Living Well – yesterday started out at about -10F and got all the way up to +9, which is clearly Not Summer.  All that and the place is not all that far away, either – closer than my twice-weekly commute to Not Quite So Far Away Campus last semester, in fact.

So we all bundled up and headed off.

Now, it must be said that my role in all this was simply to observe, photograph, and handle such base camp logistics as staking out a table in the lodge where we could eat dinner.  I tend to side with Benson (remember that show?), whose response to an invitation to go skiing was, “You want me to strap two boards to my feet, get jerked up a mountain on a wire and come down at sixty miles per hour with no brakes?  With any luck I’d hit a tree.” 

Yeah, I was old enough to know better long before any opportunity to start skiing arose.  We’ve long discussed a ski trip among the cousins of my generation and it has been explicitly agreed that I and my sister-in-law would be allowed to bring books and drink hot cocoa in the lodge while everyone else did their Alpine thing.  That I could handle.

Kim, however, likes this stuff.  Lauren, as noted, was eager to get going.  And Tabitha, to her credit, was willing to learn. 

As it turned out, Tabitha chose to learn the more traditional downhill skiing.  Lauren stuck to her initial plan of snowboarding.  Eventually Kim decided to join Tabitha on skis as well.

Fortunately, the folks there were happy to rent us both types of slidey boards, and they even offered 90-minute basic instructional classes right there – no reservation necessary.

And then they were off.

It turns out that snowboarding is a whole lot trickier than skiing, for the simple reason that you’ve only got one board and no poles and your odds of remaining vertical are therefore somewhat reduced.  But Lauren gave it a whole day’s try and was supremely happy about the experience.  Tabitha, for her part, enjoyed her skiing to the point where she told us that if she ever tried to decline an invitation to do it again we should not pay her any mind at all.

There were some tired, happy people around here last night, and some sore ones this morning, but the general consensus is that it was something that will likely happen again.  You have to start this stuff before you’re old enough to know better, otherwise it doesn’t work.  I believe we may have succeeded.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Hush, the Games Are On

Yes, I’m watching the Olympics.

I understand that this makes me a Bad Person, that I am somehow Complicit In Tyranny And Discrimination, that the mere fact that the Sochi games are jiggling my television’s electrons is enough to Cause Consternation and probably Indicates Deep Flaws In My Character.  So I am told.

But you see, no.

I’m old enough to remember the Olympic boycotts of 1980 and 1984, and I don’t remember them helping anything.  The Soviet Union’s Communist system did not tremble, nor did their troops leave Afghanistan because we refused to send athletes to Moscow.  Nor did our capitalist wonderland falter when the Communist bloc (remember them?) returned the favor and skipped out on Los Angeles.  Honestly, I’ve been to Los Angeles and I can’t say I was all that impressed either.  Haven’t made it to Moscow but perhaps someday.

I watched the Beijing Olympics despite the many and varied sins of the Chinese government.  I watched the Salt Lake City Olympics despite the fact that it was in Utah, a state whose views of gay rights are not all that far removed from Vladimir Putin’s.  I watched the Lillehammer Olympics despite the criminal things that Scandinavians do to seafood.  I watched the Vancouver Olympics despite … well, who knows with Canadians.  It was probably the politest Olympics on record.  Certainly more so than the one in France anyway. 

I’ve watched them all, in my lifetime.

The point is, I don’t watch the Olympics for the politics of it.  There’s enough politics in my life as it is.  My viewership neither endorses nor condemns the government policies of the host countries, nor is it meant to.  And I grow intensely weary of being told otherwise.

The people who insist that I am promoting all sorts of Badness And Evil by watching the Olympics are the same people who won’t leave me alone about what I eat, what I wear, what I do with my free time, how I drive, what I read, what movies I watch, and where I choose to walk.  All for the good of my soul, of course, as well as the furtherance of whatever agenda they’re pushing for the nonce.

Like albino peacocks, they somehow miss the point.

The point of the Olympics is the athletes.  The point of the Olympics is the fact that you have several thousand people who have worked very hard for the chance to prove that they are the best in the world at sports that, for the most part, nobody really cares about at any other time (slopestyle?  seriously?  do people even do that when the Olympics are not on?).  This is their moment.  This is when they get to shine, and they probably won’t ever get another.

And I’m supposed to snub them because someone else gets their knickers in a twist over politics?


The curlers, the lugers, the biathletes, the bobsledders, the speed skaters, and so on – all those people have sacrificed more than most people can possibly understand to be where they are, and most of them know full well that they are not going to get close to the medal stand and they do it anyway.  That’s what I’m watching – the people who are willing to do that.  Not the politics.

I get it.  There’s a mountain of corruption that goes into every Olympics, one that coats the entire administrative apparatus of the event with a fine layer of sleaze. 

I get it.  Putin is bad.  His government pursues policies that are barbaric and morally leprous, and in a civilized world there would be no room for such laws.  The world isn’t civilized, in case you haven’t noticed – such laws are all too common everywhere and the difference between Russia and certain parts of the Land of the Free is a matter of degree not kind.

But you know, fine.  I get it.

You want to change that?  Of course you do.  Who wouldn’t?  The world would be a much better and – as noted – more civilized place if you did.  So do something real about it.

In the meantime, I will watch the Olympics.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

News and Updates

1. We spent most of Super Bowl Sunday up in Madison, visiting our brand new family member.  Welcome to the world, Veira!  You do realize that it’s not always this cold, right?

2. After leaving Veira, we headed over to the Funky Shop, which – in addition to kitchenware, furniture, greeting cards, and all manner of things possibly up to and including bulk minerals – sells the kinds of moderately lethal foods that you can’t ordinarily find on your local shelves.  They have, among other things, potato chips of many and varied flavors (including our favorite, the Sweet Hawaiian Onion, as well as what I believe translated from the French as "Goat Cheese and Pepper" that wasn’t half bad), chocolates, sausages, teas, licorices, cookies from most of Europe, wines, candies, and an assortment of sodas sufficiently broad to include both Moxie and that weird Japanese stuff with the glass marble at the top.  Why did we go there?  Because it was Super Bowl Sunday, the only day on the calendar where Americans are legally required to eat junk food for dinner, and we had to stock up, that’s why.

3. In hindsight, scheduling my annual physical for the following day may not have been the brightest thing I have ever done.

4. We never did get the sound working right on the new television.  I went through the manual – a two-page foldout with helpful tips such as the fact that “sound” is the feature you should adjust in order to get the television to make noise – and found it only moderately useful.  The first person who answered the handy tech support line (when did televisions start requiring tech support?  when they stopped being appliances, that’s when) just said this model had lousy sound and that he owned a competing brand of television, himself, which he was happy to name and recommend.  The next guy I reached on the handy tech support line listened for a few minutes and then interrupted me: “It’s busted,” he said.  “Go get a new one.”  I don’t think they pay those guys very much, really.  Still, I took the last guy’s advice and packed the television back up, took it over to the store, and half an hour later was back home with a new one.  So far it works fine.  And when I mess with the “sound” feature, the television does in fact make noise.

5. I am the Susan Lucci of the local creativity awards show.  This would probably bother me more if I could ever manage to get myself to go to the festive evening of fundraising and entertaining that they put on around these awards, but that sort of event always gives me hives.  So for that reason I’m glad that someone else won, especially since it was a friend of mine.  To be honest, I would have voted for her too.  It’s a very nice thing just to be nominated, though, and I appreciate it.

6. Every so often the students remind me why I love my job.

7. Last week it got cold enough that the slush that builds up in my car’s wheel wells froze solid and could only be removed with a baseball bat.  All those years of firehouse-league softball finally paid off.

8. Watching the right-wing extremists melt further down into their gibbering pools of insanity over a commercial that dared to imply that other languages besides English actually exist and can be employed to sing patriotic songs has been kind of fun.  Repeat after me, people: “The United States has never been an English-only country.  It has always been multicultural.  Other languages have always been spoken by large portions of the American population, and the republic has soldiered on just fine.”  I can always tell who has failed their history classes by who thinks “English-only” is something responsible adults would find credible, and frankly such people would be better served by remaining quiet in any language.

9. The Home Campus Trivia Team was dethroned last week by a team from one of the local schools.  On the one hand, we had a pretty good run of victories and it’s probably a good thing for the event as a whole that someone else’s name will be on the trophy this year.  On the other hand, well, we weren’t giving it away - they had to take it from us.  And my, did they ever.  Next year!  There’s always next year!

10. I’ve spent much of the last week or two listening to Tea for the Tillerman, one of my favorite albums of all time (and yes, when I first bought a copy it was indeed an album).  It is strange to realize that I have now switched roles in “Father and Son.”  Huh.