The Tigers Have Spoken

Caleb and Sam are eating like its summer, even if the weather suggests October.

Sam tours Discovery World with Kirsten's Grumpy, Don Pratt, who's visiting from Cincinatti. (Years back, at our wedding rehearsal, Grumpy announced to the congregation that we was looking for a rich woman with one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel.)

Grumpy helps Sam learn about leverage.

The Boys at Hooligan's.

Sam volunteers for face-painting by Rhonda the Clown at the South Shore Farmer's Market.

Sam checks Rhonda's work. This kid is going to be huge in the musical theatre. Look out, Aunt Karina...

Like a good twin, Caleb decided to be a tiger, too.

Olin isn't having it.

The tiger, in his natural habitat, stalks his prey in the circle of life: a gigantic strawberry danish from the Mexican bakery.

Sam, still tiger-fied, tries to blow up some impossible balloons at Josie's one-year birthday party.*

Tim and Sam take up a collection from the beanstalk at Grandma and Grampa Lathrop's house. Later, the boys climbed up the stalk, disappeared for awhile, and returned with a hen that lays golden eggs. Now if the golden egg market ever rebounds...

The Great Lakes Tricycle Rally and Smash-Up Derby visits the Milwaukee Colluseum for a once-in-a-lifetime Rack 'Em and Smack 'Em Beatdown! Sunday Sunday, Sunday!

The family with Grumpy. And the beanstalk.

* Saturday, by the way, was a day for strange, Paul Auster-ian coincidences. Another guest at Josie's party, who I'd known from Unitarian church sleepovers years and years before, was the son of the woman who organizes the South Shore Farmer's Market, where we'd been only mintues before!!! At Josie's party, the boys learned how to pop balloons that were small and really difficult to fill with air -- likely they were meant to be water balloons -- and then later, when they wanted to continue popping balloons, they found that Grandma and Grampa Lathrop had the same kind of balloons!!! If Jack Palance were alive today(**), I know just what he'd say: "Believe it . . . or not."

** This trope always brings to mind a favorite couplet from Randy Newman's "The World Isn't Fair": If Karl Marx were alive today / he'd be rolling around in his grave...


Papa Was A Rodeo

At Aaron's recommendation, I read Home Game, a short book on fatherhood by Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball. It's a very quick read, the kind of book that will shorten a longish bus ride or a mild bout of insomnia. It's funny and wise, and Lewis makes us for being a parent with more financial resources than you by being self-effacing and admitting mistakes. He's probably not quite as oafish a parent as he makes himself out to be. There is one paragraph, however, that glitters with gold flakes of truth and which I would happily tattoo on my back if only it were about 500 words shorter:
At some point in the last few decades, the American male sat down at the negotiating table with the American female and -- let us be frank -- got fleeced. The agreement he signed foisted all sorts of new parental responsibilities on him and gave him nothing of what he might have expected in return. Not the greater love of his wife, who was now encouraged to view him as an unreliable employee. Not the special love from his child, who, no matter how many times he fed and changed and wiped and walked her, would always prefer her mother in a pinch. Not the admiration of the body politic, who pushed him into signing the deal. Women may smile at a man pushing a baby stroller, but it is with the gentle condescension of a high officer of an army toward a village that surrendered without a fight. Men just look away in shame. And so the American father now finds himself in roughly the same position as Gorbachev after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Having shocked the world by doing the decent thing and ceding power without bloodshed for the sake of principle, he is viewed mainly with disdain. The world looks at him schlepping and fetching and sagging and moaning beneath his new burdens and thinks: OH...YOU...POOR...BASTARD.

I would hope that I could nod appreciatively towards the sentiment above without much in the way of hedges or caveats, without explaining that I really do love my wife and kids, and am often glad to pitch in the minority share of parenting, and so on and so on. Most of Home Game is not so much the above as it is sort of the normal anecdotes of fatherhood, the kind you hear in those occasions when you get to hang around with other parents and actually talk instead of having to be the Wimperative Dad ( "Caleb, do you think you want a hot dog or would you eat a grilled cheese sandwich?"). The book's humor makes it worthwhile, and the mother of Lewis' children happens to be Tabitha Soren, who you will remember from your days watching MTV as a randy teenager.


Fake Palindromes

My full name, anagrammed, is Handwash Weird Brain.

I thought you deserved to be the first to know.


When I Feed The Tree

Nick and Caleb are hunting for squirrels. And, no, Caleb is not wearing pants.

Nick wears his game face.

It's hard to tell whether this is a hug or a headlock.

Caleb investigates the Butterfly Room in the Milwaukee Public Museum.

A specimin alights on Grampa Jim.

Three wise men ponder the elephant.

It is hard to tell whether this is a hug or a headlock.

Caleb enjoys some chocolate milk.

Sam puts on his hiking gear at Grandma Glenda's.

Watering the tree.

Driving the tractor.

Sam chillaxing with Grampa Gary.


I Should Be Drinking A Toast To Absent Friends

I am drawn back, without entirely being sure of the reason, to books about the folk music revival of the late 50's and early 60's, and to books about comedy in the late 60's and 70's. I do find it interesting that these movements overlapped, with many nascent stand-up comedians working the same clubs that -- just years before -- spawned Dylan and Baez and that crowd. Perhaps it's the notion of the performer as an artist, someone honing a craft and daring to put it out in front of the public.

In any case, Richard Zoglin's Comedy At The Edge, explores the realm of stand-up comedy post-Lenny Bruce and up through Seinfeld. George Carlin and Richard Pryor are the two real ground-breaking figures in this time frame, although Zoglin makes a convincing case for the long-term influence of Robert Klein's smart and confessional stand-up. It's an interesting book, particularly when Zonglin examines comedians like Klein or Elayne Boosler or early James Brooks. Others, like Steve Martin or Andy Kaufman or Robin Williams are well-covered in other books, but Zoglin interestingly considers not just those performers themselves but how they fit in (or didn't fit in) with their contemporaries. Zoglin does a good job on focusing only on what's interesting, completely skipping over some popular 70's comedians of no real influence or acclaim (David Brenner or Rich Little, for example, are barely mentioned). Also, while some comics are followed into the 80's and beyond, it seems right that Zoglin would focus his book on the decade just before the explosion of cable television, the expansion of comedy clubs outside New York and L.A., the post-Cosby Show surge of sit-coms helmed by unseasoned stand-up performers, and other catalysts for the over-saturation and late-century decline of the medium.


Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational was not the book I was looking for. I was hoping to read something that might attempt to explain why we humans seem to so often act in ways counter to our own best interests, a kind of What's The Matter With Kansas? of the soul. Predictably Irrational was not that book. Instead, Ariely -- a behavioral economist at MIT -- examines the ways we make decisions, with a focus towards consumer decision making. (While not aimed thusly within the book, his experiment and conclusions all seem to be ready-made for corporate Marketing departments. It seems that, like the academic realm of psychology, this relatively new field of behavioral economics will become the proving ground and testing lab for advertisers and salesmen.) Ariely finds, for example, that most people will take a free piece of average-quality chocolate even if they have the opportunity to buy a better chocolate for a small price, that we're less likely to cheat on tests if we're reminded of the Ten Commandments beforehand, that we can be moved by hidden persuaders to think a magazine subscription deal is better than it is, and so on. It's kind of Freakonomics-lite, and the cover's no damn good, and I found myself resenting that it wasn't the book I wanted to read, if even such a book is out there.


I've also continued on through Betrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy. After the fun chapter on the ancient Greek crackpot and math genius Pythagorus, there are several short chapters on other Ionians who aren't nearly as interesting. They argue whether matter is always in a state of flux, or whether anything actually changes, and there are some early stabs at atomic theory, but it's clear through these chapters that we are really just bidding our time while waiting for Socrates and Plato to come along.

Russell is a bit concerned that all these early philosophers are essentially rich kids who have the time for teaching and contemplation, which is sort of what both Socrates and Plato were. Socrates was put to death by the Athenians essentially for corrupting the youth and being a godless and "curious" person. Consider his persecutors as the House Un-Athenian Committee. Socrates defended himself unsuccessfully and HUAC ordered his punishment as death. Under Athenian law, Socrates had the right to propose a counter-offer regarding his punishment. Socrates suggested that HUAC fine him thirty bucks. So, yeah, they killed him pretty good.

Russell shows the influence of Sparta on Plato, Socrates' student. Where the Athenian city-state was groovy and like art, the Spartans took over stuff and fought the Persians and starred in Frank Miller graphic novels. But they also practiced eugenics and allowed little personal property and were the sort of society that the folks at Congressional Town Halls are pretending America's going to be under Obama's health plans. Plato's Republic, then, essentially proposes a merger of Athenian politics and culture with Sparta's communal focus in a form that, as Russell -- writing from England in 1940 or so -- presents it, is basically forms the blueprint for Nazi Germany. Fascinating stuff.


Late News Breaking

This just in, reported via cell phone: There are model trains set up at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

One of these model trains appears to feature Batman.

My family may never return home.


I Walked With A Zombie

MINNEAPOLIS – Political columnist Robert Novak, a conservative, pugilistic debater and proud owner of the "Prince of Darkness" moniker, was traded Tuesday to the Minnesota Vikings football team. Novak died of brain cancer yesterday at 78 but was immediately re-animated in order to helm the Vikings squad. He will wear the number four jersey for the Minnesota club.

A household face as co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," Novak had been a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times for decades and a starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers for 16 years.

"He was a Washington institution who could turn an idea into the most discussed story around kitchen tables, congressional offices, the White House, and everywhere in between," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement. “He also holds every major NFL passing record.”

In recent years, Novak ended up actually being a part of a big Washington story, in ways he likely never intended, becoming a central figure in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case. Novak was the first to publish the name of the CIA employee, and he came under withering criticism and abuse from many for first retiring from the Packers and then quickly coming out of retirement only to transfer to the New York Jets, which Novak said began "a long and difficult episode" in his career.

ESPN, citing anonymous sources, reported Novak would receive $12 million this season and $13 million next year if the operations and transplants required to keep Novak re-animated continue to hold. For now, he's focused on learning his new linemen and receivers and building up enough stamina so he can stay on the field.


Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago

Thomas the Tank Engine, rolling out of Union, IL.

The family, all aboard.

It was Olin's birthday, which meant he could pop into any picture he liked.

Caleb watches Illinois pass him by.

Sam, Kirsten, Caleb, Aaron, and Olin watch Thomas depart.

Watching the train roll out again...

Caleb inspects Sam's Thomas tattoo, as provided by Olin.

A first attempt at Mini-Golf.

At the Rain Forest Cafe in Chicago.

While the chocolate milk hit the spot, Caleb found the place far too noisy.

He never drinks a second cup at home...

Sam sits atop the giant suitcase at the foot of the "American Gothic" statue on Michigan Ave.

Uncle Tim, Sam, Aunt Kathleen, and Caleb in Millennium Park.

The spitting Crown Fountain in Millennium Park.

Sam gets daring.

Caleb at the Crown Fountain.

Getting low.