Thursday, January 08, 2009

Confessions of a bad fan

I'll admit, I feel just a little bit guilty. I feel like I didn't give my all as a member of the Minnesota rooting public. As members of the peanut gallery go, I was a real goober.
I'm not saying the Vikings lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in Sunday's first-round playoff game because I didn't show enough support. That would be egotistical even for me. The Vikings lost to the Eagles because their special teams seems to have an aversion to human contact and their quarterback appears unclear at times on some of the basic concepts of professional football.
Or something. I don't really know football.
I'm just saying that while news about whether Sunday's game would be televised was treated as one of the most important stories in Minnesota last week I was mostly thinking about how a blackout would free up my day Sunday.
Is that wrong?
It's not that I'm a bad fan. Just an indifferent one. I knew that if the Vikings were on TV I'd feel obligated to watch them because — actually, I don't know why; it just seemed like the thing to do. If I'm really honest, I mostly wanted to be aware enough of what happened so I could participate in conversations the next day with in-depth analysis like, "Boy, that Tarvaris Jackson sure does appear unclear at times on some of the basic concepts of professional football."
I can totally talk sports.
With the game relegated to radio coverage, I would have been free to get about important tasks like watching the Sports Night DVDs I got for my birthday. Or clipping my toenails.
It's just who I am, and I've accepted that. With the notable exception of Minnesota Gopher basketball I am at best a fair-weather sports fan. I would enjoy seeing the Vikings win the Super Bowl. But now that they've been eliminated from the playoffs I will go about my life with hardly a second thought about the season that just ended. For the first time in months my Sundays won't revolve around half-heartedly watching a football game and I'm OK with that.
I took the light rail past the Metrodome on New Year's Eve and there was a sign advertising broadband Internet service that's "Adrian Peterson fast." Instead of thinking fondly of the star player's powerful running style my first thought was "Boy, I sure hope they don't drop the connection like AP drops the ball."
My interest in the Twins is nearly nonexistent each season until the Sports section starts talking about Magic Numbers. And I hardly even think about the Timberwolves since they disbanded the franchise a few years back.
I try to be aware enough of what's going on with the local teams that when someone starts a conversation with "How about them Twins" I don't come back with, "Yeah, that Kirby Puckett's really something," but that's about the extent of things.
Most of the time I'm with that. But this feels different. This feels like some kind of betrayal of my duty as a Minnesotan. Of my unspoken and totally non-dues-paying membership in the greater Minnesota Viking community.
I'm pretty sure I'll get over it, though. There's a Gopher game Sunday.

Building a better pet

With the Christmas season now here, last-minute shoppers around the country are searching desperately for the perfect gift. No doubt many will bring home a pet for their loved one. And who can blame them? Kittens and puppies are cute. They'll make hearts melt on even the coldest Christmas morning. They will create happy, loving feelings right up until the first time someone has to clean up their poop.
Animals could be even more appealing as gifts this year. It appears we're entering a golden era when it comes to pet selection. Never before have we had so many options when it comes to customizing our furry companions.
Take the kitten. In the past our choices were limited to the breed of cat we wanted to own. Purebred or mix? Long hair or short? There are even cats with no hair at all, although they're entirely too creepy to think about.
But is a handful of breeds really enough? Can a pet truly help us express our purest identity when all we have to choose from is a bunch of different colors? One Wilkes-Barre, Penn. woman says no. That's why she started piercing the ears, throats and tails of kittens and selling them to the highest bidder on Internet auction site ebay as what she called gothic kittens. Because really, how many times have you looked at your cat as it lazed around the house and thought, "Sure, Mittens is nice and all. I just wish she had some more bling"?
I see a lot of opportunity here. Why stop gothic kittens? There are hundreds of cliques out there not yet represented by the custom kitten industry. Surely there is a market for preppy kittens dressed in Abercrombie & Fitch.
Vampires are popular now thanks to the Twilight books and movie. Kittens already have fangs. Now we just need to breed in a lust for human blood.
Gone are the days when pets are simply freeloading creatures that provide us companionship and unconditional love. Finally even the animals we surround ourselves can be creepy extensions of whatever personality we're choosing to take on at the moment.
Pennsylvania police, not nearly as enthusiastic about the potential for target-marketed felines, have arrested the woman in question and shut down her kitty-piercing operation.
Fortunately, there are other options. Even for people who can't wait until after an animal is born to start controlling its appearance.
We're talking way beyond doggie sweaters here. We're talking cloning.
According to a Korean company called RNL Bio has begun the process of creating carbon copies people's pets. Using preserved ear tissue from a California woman's dead pit bull the company in August created five genetic reproductions of the dog that died while saving its owner from an attack by another dog.
Michael Vick just got really excited.
This opens up all kinds of options for pet owners. All you pet lovers who were content to freeze dry your animals and stand their hollowed out corpses over the mantel as tributes to the years you've had together, it's time to kick things up a notch. Now instead of having a dead-eyed statue to bring back bittersweet memories you can have a living, breathing carbon copy of your beloved Fido to remind you every day of the good times you had with the original.
At $150,000 a pop pet cloning is not for everyone. But if you love your pets enough it's really the only way to go.
Besides, science fiction movies and Stephen King novels have taught us anything it's that cloning and bringing animals back from the dead always leads to good things.

A word from our sponsors

Tom Farber is either a genius or the latest example of the mounting challenges facing the American education system. I'm honestly not sure which.
Farber is a math teacher in San Diego, which doesn't make him an example of anything other than someone who knows how to pick a home where you don't have to worry about frostbite when you go out to get your mail. But Farber has started selling ads on his math tests. And that's where things get interesting.
According to CBS News, Farber sells one-line ads on the front pages of his tests to local businesses or to parents who want to wish their children luck. Ad costs range from $10 to $30, with the price rising in proportion to the seriousness of the test — from quizzes to final exams. The money he collects covers printing costs, which apparently are not part of the school's budget.
Maybe this shouldn't come as a surprise. Schools aren't exactly strangers to advertising. There are Pepsi machines in the halls and class ring vendors set up in the cafeteria. The average American teenager is a walking billboard for any number of products. But this seems different.
For one thing, it seems like a pretty questionable business move on the part of the advertisers. Is it really effective marketing to put your name in a spot where the people who see it are likely to be nervous and irritated? What's next? Trips to the principal sponsored by Travelocity? Detention brought to you by Immodium AD?
It seems like there should be some opportunities here for enterprising teens who have trouble remembering formulas. You know, this math test is brought to you by A2+B2=C2.
The sad fact is that as school budgets shrink costs get passed down the line. Farber told the budget he gets for printing was cut to $300 for two semesters. Printing his quizzes and tests costs more than $500.
So maybe Farber is on to something. Maybe advertising is the answer. But why stop with tests? There are plenty of marketing opportunities in schools. Couldn't a landscaping company sponsor the school's grounds crew? A music store the school band? A chiropractor the desks?
Why shouldn't teachers dress like NASCAR drivers? It's biology class brought to you by the Discovery Channel.
But maybe that's too obvious. Today's teens are pretty savvy. They're not going to buy something just because it's on a patch across the back of their teacher's jacket. Maybe subtlety's the answer. Why ask story problems about trains leaving different stations at different times? Amtrak's never going to cough up the cash to make that profitable.
How about something like this: Jane and Jen just bought the same outfit. Jane paid full price at Burnsville Center — Open late for last-minute Holiday shopping! Plenty of convenient parking! — but Jen got hers for 25 percent off at Target — Expect more, pay less! If Jane spent $80 on her outfit, how many nasty rumors will they spread about each other when they both show up at school wearing the same thing?
See what I did there? That's what we call subliminal marketing.
So, which is it? Marketing genius or unsettling sign of the times? Or both?
"I think this is one in the same time a story of American ingenuity and a story of American tragedy," Public Education Network's Arnold Fege told CBS.
Maybe we'll never have a good answer.
Maybe we should all just have a Coke and a smile.

Snow dazed

When I was a kid, an early-December snowfall was an important, some might say vital event. Thick blankets of snow in the early days of the month meant that when my birthday party came around there would be sledding. There would be icicles to devour like popsicles. There would be heavy, icy snowballs to whip at the heads of unsuspecting friends.
And what's a party without the risk of someone getting a concussion?
When I was a member of the Stillwater High School cross country ski team early-December snowfalls meant the end of dryland training, which is really just a fancy term for running around town carrying ski poles. Then again, it also meant we had to start skiing. It was a mixed blessing at best.
Admittedly, I was never an enthusiastic skier.
Walk-ing through a snowy landscape, city or country, can be an incredibly peaceful experience.
A good blizzard creates roads for snowmobilers and hope for students who are behind on their homework. It hides the dirt that ordinarily covers things and provides the genetic material that will become hundreds or thousands of snowmen.
Who doesn't love snow? Right?
Thing is, I'm not celebrating my birthday as these things occur to me. I'm not skiing. I'm not hiking. I'm not snowmobiling or rolling the beginnings of a snow family. I'm not even hauling my stupid ski poles up yet another flight of stairs.
No, as these thoughts run through my head I am making my way home from work.
Very. Slowly.
It's 10 p.m. I've just spent more than three hours in a Farmington School Board meeting listening to people talk about tax levies and contracts and redesigned report cards. I'm doing 30 miles an hour on a stretch of road where the speed limit is.... OK, I don't know what the speed limit is. I can't see the signs. But it's definitely faster than 30 freaking miles per hour.
The day's heavy snowfalls have made traffic lanes a matter of driver interpretation. Roads that were once three lanes are now two. Roads that were two lanes are somehow four. I don't pretend to understand how that happens. It's the perverse math of the blizzard.
I'm not sure if this qualifies as white-knuckle driving. I'm wearing gloves.
I want to be home, not in a still-warming-up car with my hands wrapped tight around the steering wheel. I want to watch the snowfall from my bedroom window, not through my windshield. I want to be getting ready to go to sleep, not wondering how long it will take me to shovel the sidewalk in front of my house. I want to be warm.
At the very least I want to be aiming a lump of snow and ice at a friend's face.
Snow when you’re a kid is great. But you know something? When you’re an adult snow kind of sucks.

Shop talk

I've been a bad consumer. On what was supposed to be the busiest shopping day of the year — the day businesses nationwide use deep discounts items to drive shoppers into a kind of retail psychosis — I was a bystander at best.
While shoppers still digesting Thanksgiving meals lined up outside stores in hopes of being one of the first through the doors, I was warm in bed.
While adrenaline-fueled consumers crowded the doors hoping for the first shot at the bargains inside, I was getting ready for work.
And while shoppers at a New York Wal Mart were trampling one of the stores employees in their rush to get a good price on a flat screen TV — well, I managed not to stomp on a single person's head.
I consider that a pretty successful day.
Then again, I've never been much of a shopper. Even under the best of circumstances all I get from most trips to the store is a chance to wander through aisles of poorly organized merchandise looking for a chance to hand over money that could go toward more important things. Like beer.
It's not the notion of trading cash for goods that really bothers me about the shopping experience, though. Mostly, it's the people.
I should probably clarify that. Working in the newspaper business as I do, dealing with people is a pretty significant part of my job. And for the most part I'm OK with that. Alone or in small groups people are generally pretty decent.
There are exceptions to that, of course. I'm not really cool with the two guys who body-checked my dad off his bike last week and threatened to, I quote, "slice him" if he didn't hand over his cash.
Thankfully, I've only had a handful of interviews that ended with the subject threatening violence against me.
Shopping, though, rarely involves people in small numbers. I can hardly get through a mall parking lot without my opinion of humanity dropping a notch or two. And on the rare occasions I venture out to the Mall of America, that Mecca of American consumer culture, I usually leave feeling like I need to lock myself in my bedroom by myself for about a week.
I've never dared to shop on the day after Thanksgiving, but I imagine it's like being at the mall on its busiest day with a bunch of people who started their shopping trip with about a dozen Cinnabons and a thermos of espresso.
That's the impression I get when I read about Jdimytai Damour, the 34-year-old Wal Mart employee who died last week after a thundering herd of shoppers knocked him down and walked over him as they rushed nab the toasters and digital photo frames they'd waited in the cold to get.
I don't imagine that will change anybody's approach to the so-called Black Friday. Stores will continue to have big sales because they draw people in and get them to spend money. News outlets will continue to cover it because telling the same stories about a made-up event each year is easier than coming up with something new. And hey, who doesn't like to see video of stampeding shoppers?
I'll be at home.

Being thankful is a gas

We've once again reached the final week of November, which means according to international newspaper columnist guidelines I am required to write something with a Thanksgiving theme. I don't make the rules, folks. I just follow them unquestioningly when I don't have any better idea for a column topic.
Besides, I've got a lot of things to be thankful for this year.
Maybe the biggest is the fact I've managed to survive more or less intact my first year as a homeowner. It's been a year just about to the day since I signed away a healthy percentage of my paychecks over the next three decades and everything is still in one piece. I haven't taken out any load bearing walls with an ill-advised home improvement project and I still have all my most important appendages. I consider that a pretty significant victory.
I'm thankful for the recognition this little newspaper continues to receive. In September I made the trip to St. Paul to collect an armload of awards presented to the Rosemount Town Pages by the National Newspaper Association. Among them was a first place trophy in the category of General Excellence.
As if that wasn't enough, earlier this month we learned the Minnesota Newspaper Association loves us, too. We won't know what places we've taken until the association's convention in January, but we know the Town Pages will take home prizes for general reporting and use of photography
I'm thankful for the gradual triumph of laziness over the need for human beings to do anything for themselves. The latest victory here comes on the pizza delivery front, where I can now use my TiVo box to order a Domino's pizza from the comfort of my couch. I don't have to walk to the phone. I don't have to talk to anyone. If I could just get someone to chew my food for me mama-bird style I might never have to move again.
I'm thankful for other, less pathetic advances in technology. A few weeks ago I gave in to my desire for shiny, new gadgets and bought an iPhone. In the short time I've owned the phone I've already used it to record a podcast for our web page and to jot down some of the ideas for this column. As soon as they make a phone that comes up with better ideas I'll be set for life.
Maybe most of all, though, I'm thankful I'm not the unnamed 13-year-old Florida boy who, according to the Associated Press, was arrested Nov. 4 for, I quote, "'Passing gas' and turning off his classmates' computers."
The AP reported the boy was taken into custody disrupted his class by "intentionally breaking wind" and shutting off computers other students were using.
As my mother helpfully pointed out when I shared this story, it is unclear from the story whether the boy somehow managed to use his toots to deactivate the computers. If he has somehow managed to harness his body's baser functions with such precision I say he's dangerous and should be locked up.
The boy was charged with disruption of school function and released to his mother. Who was no doubt incredibly proud.
And who almost certainly took beans off the menu for Thanksgiving dinner.

All a-Twitter

I did something earlier this month I'm not very proud of. It's not the first time, I have to admit. Just one example in a long line of them.
I signed up for something called Twitter. It is like the blogs everyone used to keep, but dumbed down. Like, way down. I know. Scary, right?
You have just 140 characters to squeeze in every foolish thought in your head. It is the concentrated orange juice version of the Internet.
With cell phones or computers Twitterers can share every thought they have got from anywhere in the world. And this is somehow a good thing.
I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't want to know what a strange man's burrito, ice cream and crusty apple snack dinner has done to his stomach.
Here's the arc of my Twitter interest: Hey, neat idea. But most people aren't interesting enough to fill 140 characters. But I am. I'm neat!
Think of all the fascinating thoughts I have every day about things like ... um.... Well, I'm sure there's something. Just give me a minute.
Plus, with the new program I downloaded for my phone it is crazy easy. And doesn't the world deserve to know my every thought as it happens?
I think it does. Surely, there are not enough random rantings and poorly considered boob jokes in the world. I have to make my contribution.
For an example, check out my most recent post: "Headline: 'Woman shoots 200 lb. deer with 27-point rack.' So, which one had the great rack?"
See, totally worth it. I have to admit, though, there are times when even 140 characters can seem like a lot of space.... Uh.... Soup pants!
And for posts like that I've got followers. Three of them! OK, one is the friend who introduced me to Twitter. But two more, too! Ego boost!
There are actually some serious Twitterers around. CNN Twitters. MinnPost, also. But so do people called shoemonkey and bigsexyshaq. And me.
I'm not sure if my contributions add to the validity of Twitter as a medium or detract. Am I Twitter Hemmingway or Twitter romance novelist?
Wait. Do not answer that. We know which one. But the closest I have come to romance in my 5 posts is a photo of Williams Arena. Happy place!
In any case, I'm not sure how long I can keep my posting up. Already use this space to share most of my pointless thoughts. Really any left?
If I think I might find other uses for this tool. Like, I could use it to compose limericks. But I think Nantucket has too many letters. Dam
Is writing my entire column in Twitter a good enough gimmick readers won't realize it's not funny? Nope. Subscribers are too smart for that.
I think that means I just wasted way too much of an evening. Eh, that is pretty much par for the course with this column, now I think of it.
Oh well. I am a relatively intelligent guy (Though I'm sure some out there would be happy to disagree.). I'm sure I will think of something.

Good news?

The modern mainstream media takes plenty of heat from people who believe the days of serious, in-depth reporting have gone the way of reporters who wear fedoras.
Much of the criticism is unfair. There are still thoughtful stories out there. But there's also a lot more space to fill. The growing popularity of all-news networks and web pages that allow stories to go out at any time means the hard news stories people say they're looking for are usually drowned out within minutes by shouted opinions about the latest politician to say something stupid or young female celebrity who forgot to keep her knees together when she got out of her limousine.
Honestly, who can focus on the details of an economic bailout when we've got YouTube clips of someone casting the devil out of Sarah Palin?
Still, when the leadup to this year's historic election featured multiple news networks using high-tech display boards and questionable poll results to predict results as far as 47 weeks in advance and CNN spent a fair amount of its election night coverage conducting interviews with creepy holograms, people might have a point.
Last week Minnesota Public Radio's Bob Collins pointed out that the sixth question asked at president-elect Barack Obama's first news conference following the Nov. 4 election was about the kind of dog the new First Family would bring with it to the White House. Unless the question came from the White House Correspondent for Dog Fancy, I suspect someone wasn't quite grasping the significance of the moment.
Besides, everyone knows the only sensible choice is a labradoodle.
(While we're on the subject: If you're a kid is there a better place in the world than the White House to own a dog? You know you're never going to have to walk it, and cleaning up its messes? Forget about it. Someone else will take care of it before the next tour comes through.)
Meanwhile, I spent an entirely unreasonable amount of time Monday reading about Senator Obama's Oval Office meeting with president Bush. Maybe it's just the fact I can now get Associated Press updates on my phone whenever I want, but have we always spent so much time obsession over what is essentially an open house. Nobody knows for certain what the current president and the soon-to-be president talked about during their two-hour meeting, and yet the AP updated the story feverishly during the day, sharing details about, among other things, the fact Obama dropped his daughters off at school Monday morning, then went to the gym or the color dresses worn by Laura Bush (brown) and Michelle Obama (red).
So, now we know our future leader worked up a sweat before he flew halfway across the country so someone could tell him where all his new house's secret passages are. Awesome. I'm pretty sure Woodward and Bernstien wrote something similar before they broke the whole Watergate thing.

Celebrating a bright new era

We've come through a dark time recently but I think we’re finally starting to see some light ahead.
I wanted to say something earlier, but I needed to be sure. After what happened earlier this week I finally am.
We have emerged from an era that began with no small controversy but with also a few rays of hope. Despite all we had been through in those early days most were happy to put the disputes behind us and look to the future.
Over the years, though, things only got worse. And in the increasingly dark times even the rare bright spots — those small victories — seemed all the more hollow when the defeats that followed continued to mount. Even in times of success there were many who wanted our frequently bumbling leader deposed.
Now, though, the regime has finally changed. We once again have optimism. We have hope.
As you can tell I'm pretty excited about year two of the Tubby Smith era of Golden Gopher basketball, which officially tipped off Monday with an exhibition game against basketball power St. Cloud State.
Did you think I was talking about something else?
Granted, the Tubby Smith era in Minnesota officially began last year. But I think most fans needed a year to get over the tenure of former coach Dan Monson, whose time in Minnesota tested the faith of even the most faithful.
Besides, Tubby has his first recruiting class in town. And what a class it is. He’s got the son of a former NBA star, a new point guard who was almost good enough to make the Olympic team in basketball-crazy Canada and South Dakota center Colton Iverson, who neatly fills the Big White Guy void created by the departure of Spencer Tollackson.
How’s that for diversity?
And sure, maybe an eight-point win over the Huskies isn’t the most encouraging beginning for this new era. I’m not sure St. Cloud State even has a separate basketball team. They might just use hockey players who weren’t good enough to make the varsity team.
Still, it’s a start.
Maybe it’s a small thing. Tubby Smith won’t drag this country out of its recession. His brand of hard-nosed defense cannot heal our economy — unless maybe he can assign Al Nolen to defend the country’s banks against their own decision making. But he’s made it possible for lifelong Gopher basketball fans to go to games without that lingering feeling of dread that hung over Williams Arena for so many years. His message of distributing the basketball and lifting up your teammates has made us believe again.
Can this team make it back to the NCAA Tournament this year? I don’t know. Can it compete in the Big Ten Conference? We’ll have to wait and see. But can we fans be excited to follow this team in the years to come?
Yes, we can.

Where’s that draft coming from?

When I moved into my house last December winter was already well under way. About all I could do to prepare for the cold weather was blow-dry some plastic wrap onto a couple of my windows and think warm thoughts. As a result, I spent my first several months as a homeowner signing over somewhere in the neighborhood of 3/4 of my paycheck to the natural gas company in the interest of keeping my extremities from turning blue and falling off.
I'm hoping things will be different this time around. That's why I spent time over the weekend listening to people tell me about how making small improvements to my home can save me money, single-handedly reverse the effects of global warming and make me more desirable to women everywhere.
That's what I heard, anyway. I might not have been paying the closest attention.
Act-ually, if I'm being honest, learning about saving the planet wasn't really why I was there at all. I was there, sitting on an uncomfortable chair on the second floor of a church on what might have been one of the last truly great days of the year, because I'd been promised free stuff. It was part of some grant my neighborhood organization got. All I had to do was sit through an hour of people explaining how taking shorter showers would save the polar ice caps and I'd walk out with a free programmable thermostat, a power strip that turned out to be not nearly as high tech as it was described and faucet aerators.
What guy can resist a free faucet aerator?
I learned that turning my thermostat by just two degrees can save me 6 percent on my energy bill. By that math I just need to drop the temperature 33 degrees this winter to get my heat for free. I also learned about something called phantom load. It's power my freeloading appliances suck back even when they're not turned on. It would also make a great name for a Scooby Doo villain.
When it was all over and I'd collected my free stuff I had a chance to sign up for an appointment to have someone come look at my house and tell me what I can do to shrink my carbon footprint from a clown shoe to a baby bootie and to strike a balance between suffering hypothermia and needing one of those federal bailouts I've heard so much about just to keep the gas company off my back every month.
I can only assume one of the first things my inspector will point out is the gap between my front door and door frame that is large enough to allow free passage to small woodland creatures, provided they haven't put on too much winter weight. I suspect that might be contributing to the draft in my living room.
If things go the way I hope they will I'll come out of the whole thing with both an idea how to save money on my utility bills and a feeling of smug satisfaction for the role I'm playing in saving the world.
Hear that, ladies?

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I am not an outdoorsman. Not remotely.
I did some fishing when I was younger, mostly on annual trips with my uncle to the Wisconsin trout opener. But somewhere along the line the appeal of getting up at an hour when decent people are comfortable in bed just to sit in the cold and dark in hopes of jamming a hook through the lip of a slimy, wriggling fish and pulling it onto the shore — where you have to, like, touch it — just lost its appeal.

I've never hunted in my life. Never fired a gun at anything more threatening than the left over jack-o-lanterns we shot at from the deck of my mom's house when I was growing up. In my defense, some of those pumpkins were pretty intimidating.
My experience with firearms starts with a BB gun, runs to a .22 rifle — the one we called Pumpkin-bane — and pretty much stops there.
All of which meant I was in for a really big surprise when I showed up at the Dakota County Gun Club last weekend to take pictures of the club's annual deer rifle sight-in.
The event, which is covered in more detail on page 6B of this issue, is a chance for hunters to fine-tune their aim so they can whack woodland critters more efficiently when deer season rolls around next month. This is a good thing, I realize, because accurate shooting means more deer killed immediately and fewer ticked off animals wandering through the woods with a bullet in their spleen and a score to settle.
So, yeah, the sight-in is a benefit to hunters and lingering-wound-averse deer alike. But it's also really, really loud. Like, uncomfortably loud. Like, feels-like-you-got-punched-in-the-kidneys loud. Like, Rosie O'Donnell loud.
I guess I should have expected that. But remember, most of the weapons I've fired are either powered by air or being held by a character in a video game. These deer rifles are new to me. I asked someone at the sight-in what type of rifle was most common and he rattled off some numbers that might as well have been launch codes for nuclear missiles or the combination for his high school gym locker. All I know is, based on the noise they generated, most of the rifles fired last Saturday would hold you in good stead were you ever attacked by a a deer, a rhinoceros or a Soviet tank.
Are deer tougher than I realized?
I don't have any moral objection to hunting. I don't think I'll ever need my meat to be so fresh I'm willing to hack it off the bone myself. If you want to track wild game to put meat on your table, by all means do. If you want to pop a cap in Bambi's white tail just because you think he's giving you the stink-eye, knock yourself out. I'm just not sure I see the appeal of getting up sometime before dawn to sit in an uncomfortable tree stand all on the off chance I'll get to fire a weapon that will deafen me and slam into my shoulder like Billy Joel into a Hamptons home.
I'd rather go biking.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A little help?

Dear Federal Government,

I’m not sure how I’m supposed to go about this and I’m a little embarrassed to even ask, but do you think I could get one of those economic bailouts I keep hearing people talk about?
I admit some of my current financial situation is my own fault. I realize now I didn’t actually need a solid gold toilet in my new house. And yes, in retrospect, committing so much of my savings to building a breeding operation for Argentinian Performing Hamsters was probably not a good idea.
We all make mistakes, right? Why dwell on the past? However it happened, I need help and I need it now. I’ve got bills to pay and an angry man named Arturo breathing down my neck. He’s got a show to put on and I can’t get any of his stars to run on that little wheel without tripping, much less walk the high wire.
As you can see, there will be some pretty significant consequences if my finances are allowed to collapse in such a spectacular fashion. This isn’t just about me, though. My financial troubles will have far reaching consequences. With money tighter I imagine I’ll eat out less, for example, which could spell disaster for Taco Bells and Burger Kings throughout the south metro. Who will eat the bean burritos and cheeseburgers if not me?
If I don’t get a fast infusion of cash I won’t be able to pay my mortgage. I keep hearing about what a problem foreclosures are becoming. Well, here’s your chance to start turning the tide.
Also, and I really can’t stress this enough, I’m pretty sure Arturo is about to take me out with a bolo. I freak out every time I see someone dancing the tango. This is no way to live.
I’m not asking for a lot. I don’t need the billions you’ve promised to save American International Group or that guy Freddie Mack I keep hearing about. I’m just looking for a little something to help me get back on my feet. I think $972.36 should do it. If you wanted to throw in one of those new iPhones that would be totally cool.
I’m not just asking for a handout, though. In return for your investment in my future I am willing to offer the Federal Government a .73 percent share in my life. If you come through with the amount I’m asking for I will allow you to make crucial decisions like what socks I wear each day and where I eat dinner (choices limited to Taco Bell or Burger King or, if I’m feeling adventurous, Chipotle). If you throw in the iPhone I’ll let you choose one menu item for me at each meal (Come on, cinnamon twists!).
I appreciate you taking the time to listen to me here, Federal Government. I know you’ve got a lot on your mind but I think I’ve laid out a proposal that can work for everyone. Please let me know if there other steps I need to take to get this process moving — if I need to fill out an official bailout form, or come to Washington to make my case in person. If I need to apply in person, though, could you please add the cost of airfare to my bailout request?
I await your response.
Thank you in advance,
Nathan Hansen

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Living in a fantasy

To the commissioner of the Vicious Viking Fantasy Football league:
First, I want to thank you for the opportunity to compete in your league this year. I know some members were reluctant to take in someone with so little fantasy football experience. I promise to take seriously the responsibility of managing the statistics of millionaire athletes who neither know nor care that they exist and I appreciate you allowing me in at only twice the normal entry fee and. I hope I do not disappoint you or the rest of the fantasy coaches. They seem like a great group of guys.
However, before we get too far into the seasons there seems to be some draft-related draft confusion I'd like to get cleared up. If you don't mind, I'll go round by round so we can clear things up.
Round 1: This is a big one. Clearly I was joking when I announced my decision to take Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson with the first overall pick. I thought that was obvious when I made that "T-Jack? More like cheddar-jack" comment and everyone laughed. In retrospect they might have been laughing at something else. Anyway, my intended pick here was Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Please make that change.
Round 2: I'm thrilled with this pick. I never would have expected Tom Brady to be available here? I'm excited about his durability. This is one guy you can count on having on the field week in and week out.
Round 3: Honestly, someone should have pointed out that LaDanian Tomlinson had already been taken. I'll admit I was managing the stats of my World of Warcraft character and not paying as much attention as I should have been, but fair is fair. I propose my opponent and I split LT's points or maybe alternate weeks with him in our make-believe backfields.
Round 4: A lot of the guys warned me against taking Adam "Pacman" Jones here. I understand it's a risk, given that he plays defense. But this is a guy who got suspended from the league for being involved in a fight that ended up with a dude getting paralyzed, then took up professional wrestling. Clearly you never know what he's going to do, and I like that kind of excitement.
Round 5: I hesitate to make any unwarranted accusations here, but I'm starting to think people were treating the new guy a little unfairly. Is it my fault I didn't know Walter Payton was both out of the league and several years dead? Where's the sportsmanship? I'd appreciate you replacing this pick with O.J. Simpson. Fair is fair.
Round 6: Apparently I drafted the Minnesota Gophers offensive line here. I have no idea how that happened.
Round 7: I really don't see the problem with drafting only the Vikings run defense here. If there was a rule against that someone really should have explained it ahead of time.
Round 8: It was explained several times during the draft that it's unusual to take three quarterbacks before drafting a single wide receiver but this just feels like the right place for T-Jack. Skål Vikings, right?
Rounds 9-12: In the interest of moving things along I let my fellow league members choose my receiving corps out of a hat but I seem to have lost the slips of papers with the players' names. I'm open to suggestions here.
Round 13 and beyond:I honestly don't remember what happened from this point on. I believe I had dozed off. If anyone can fill me in on how my team ended up I'd appreciate it.
As you can see these are all fairly minor issues and they should be easy to resolve. Now, if you don't mind a little good-natured "trash talk" — did I use that term right? — I am quite confident in the my team and believe you might just as well turn your entry fees over to me now. In the face, dudes!
Kind regards,
Nathan Hansen

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Going nuts for the convention

For four days this week the eyes of the world will be on St. Paul as the Republican Party holds its convention and officially names John McCain its candidate for President.

Or, if not the world, then at least the United States will be paying close attention.
And, OK, if not the entire United States, then at least the Americans out there who are truly invested in the political process. That's gotta be at least a couple dozen, right?
There's not much surprise left in the political conventions these days. Where candidates once fought for the support of delegates things now are wrapped up well before the convention ever rolls around. The biggest uncertainty heading into this week's Republican convention had to do with whether McCain would choose Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty as his running mate. Apparently, though, McCain did not feel he needed help pulling in the coveted Pond Hockey demographic and instead went with a governor from one of the few states even colder and more remote than Minnesota.
With all the uncertainty removed from the process we're left with a series of overlong speeches meant to get people excited about the wagon to which they've hitched their Presidential hopes. It's the Academy Awards without the glamour, the star power or the awkward musical numbers — well, unless you count dancing delegates.
According to one news report last week the Republican convention is expected to draw such notable celebrities as the guy who played Toby on The West Wing — apparently forgetting he played a Democrat on TV — and Laura Prepon, who played Donna on That 70s Show — apparently forgetting that nobody much considers her a celebrity anymore.
You want a sign actual work is far from a priority this week at the Xcel Center? Consider that one of the big decisions local politicians made in the weeks leading up to the convention — right up there with whether to strip search everyone in the city or just people within two miles of the convention — was whether to allow bars to stay open later. Nothing says Serious Political Debate like a debate about how late you can get your last martini.
None of which should suggest the conventions can't be fun to watch. Barack Obama's speech at last week's Democratic National Convention was very good. And while McCain is not known as a dynamic speaker we can at least look forward to shots of delegates in clothing no self-respecting person should ever consider wearing outside of their own home.
Then, there's the promotion of the convention. A couple of weeks ago the committee responsible for organizing the convention sent me a media kit that included a bag of peanuts. I'm still trying to decide whether the message of the package was, "The symbol of the Republican party is an elephant. Elephants like peanuts. Isn't this whimsical?" or, "Republicans hate reporters with peanut allergies."
By the time most of you read this column the Republicans will have given their speeches and moved on from St. Paul. All we'll be left with is a bunch of memories and a faint smell of self-importance as we gear up for two more months of political campaigning.
Well, that and a bag of stale peanuts.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

A little spooky, a little lame

So, I'm starting to think my house is haunted. Which, you know, kind of sucks.
It's not that I have anything against ghosts — or spiritual-Americans, as I think they like to be called. I just wish they'd stop messing with my stuff.
They haven't done anything particularly spooky yet. They don't seem particularly dangerous. They're more the kind of ghosts that do things just to mess with you a little. Less Poltergeist, more Ghostbusters.
They're the prank callers of the spirit world.
Take my refrigerator. Since I moved in last December it's occasionally made odd ticking noises. For weeks I thought people were knocking on my door every time it acted up. At first I figured the noises were the result of the refrigerator's internal mechanics going haywire. I don't know the technical term. Cooling coil ping, or something. Now, though, I'm pretty sure I'm experiencing the intervention of supernatural forces.
A less open-minded observer might point out that the refrigerator itself appears to be relatively new and installed not long before I bought the house. Those people have no imagination. I suspect there was a tragic game of hide and seek in the Frigidaire factory and now I'm stuck with a cursed refrigerator from which the ghost of some long-forgotten assembly line worker is forever trying to escape. Desperate for revenge on a co-worker who really needs to work on his seeking.
The refrigerator spirit by itself might not have been enough to convince me if there hadn't been other signs. Like, a few months ago when I found my basement in disarray. There was soot on the floor from a chimney that, so far as I can tell, no longer connects to anything that requires venting. The tops of my washer and dryer were filthy. A bottle of laundry detergent had been knocked off its shelf. Most of the liquid had leaked out through a pin-prick hole. At first I figured some kind of critter had gotten loose down there. Now I know better. More appliances, more obnoxious ghosts.
The last haunting took place over the weekend. I was downstairs brushing my teeth when I heard a crash and a heavy thud coming from the floor above me. The door at the top of the stairs was closed for the first time since I moved in. It was odd. And it didn't exactly make me excited to figure out what was on the other side. That's the point in the horror movie when the killer jumps out and chops someone to pieces. But, like I said, my ghosts are pretty lame.
When I finally mustered the courage to push the door open I discovered a closet door had fallen off of its hinge and pushed the door closed.
The result of shoddy craftsmanship that caused part of the door's frame to buckle? Yeah, keep telling yourself that. I know better.
I have ghosts. And they're jerks.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Olympic flame burns bright

I thought I was done with the Olympics. When the 2004 summer games were held in Athens I couldn’t have cared less. I was even less interested when the winter games were held two years ago in ... well, wherever they were held. I can’t be bothered to look it up. All I remember is some U.S. skier who partied a lot and didn't worry so much about little things like the actual competition.

Somehow, though, things are different this year. Since the Olympics started two weeks ago I've spent nearly all of my free time sprawled on my couch watching men and women who have dedicated their life to achieving physical perfection. With my near total inaction I am paying tribute to their lifetime of work.
I couch potatoed at an Olympic level.
Like any American with a soul I got caught up in the story of Michael Phelps. I caught all but 1 1/2 of his gold medal swims and most of his preliminary rounds. I wondered like everyone else if he could accomplish a feat as monumental as bringing home eight gold medals. But even more I wondered what NBC would have done with its approximately 93 hours of Michael Phelps features had he come out and stunk up the pool in his first two events.
Fun facts I've learned about Michael Phelps since Aug. 8: His heart pumps eight gallons of blood a minute. He has three extra toes. He eats an entire cow at every meal. His touch can cure the common cold. He can communicate with fish but finds they rarely have much to talk about.
I'm not just getting caught up in the big stuff, though. Anyone can sit down for two hours of gymnastics and call himself an Olympics fan. Getting excited about women's beach volleyball is easy, too. But it takes true dedication to spend most of a beautifully sunny day watching Eastern European women compete in power lifting or tiny Asian men play badminton — both alone and in pairs. Since the Olympics began I have seen fencing and field hockey, trampolining and team handball. I've watched people I'll never care about again play sports I'm pretty sure nobody ever actually plays outside of the Olympics or maybe a particularly adventurous gym class.
I've learned things watching these Olympics. I've learned that competitive trampolining is a real thing, and that even guys who compete in something as lame as air pistol get caught for using performance enhancing drugs. If we can't trust the guys with the BB guns, who can we trust?
I learned that Croatia had the top men's water polo team in the world coming into these games, which came as a surprise. I would have guessed someplace sunny and surrounded by water. Australia, maybe. Or Barbados. Or Atlantis. I can only assume the Croatians are able to draw strength from their totally excellent mustaches.
I'm not sure I'll be able to maintain this level of interest for the rest of the Olympics. I wasn't prepared coming in for the kind of couch time I'd be putting in, and I'm afraid I'm out of condition for these extended sessions in front of the TV. If I can't even get through the 84 heats of the 400-meter hurdles without feeling like I need to go up for a walk or read a book or something I don't know what chance I have when it comes time for a marathon session of, well, the marathon.
I have to try, though. These men and women are giving their all for their country and I will, too. Even if it means picking up my own performance-enhancing substances — another case of pop and a giant-sized bag of chips — to get me through.