Ice Cycle

I just went for a bracing winter bicycle ride and am now hella braced.

One interesting thing about rides this late in the year is that you find yourself simultaneously sweating profusely and chilled to the bone, a condition that otherwise only occurs if you (a) have contracted hypothermia or (b) are reading a Stephen King novel while fireside.

It was especially difficult to ride so soon after the Thankgiving, as my legs, which used to contain muscles and bone, are now packed with four days worth of pumpkin pie filling.


Hi, I’m Lou Dobbs, called “Mr. Independent” by myself and others (mostly myself). When I abruptly quit my plush gig as the host of Lou Dobbs Tonight last week, people thought I had gone insane(r). Didn’t I have everything that an irritable curmudgeon could possibly want?


Announcing my newest enterprise: The Lou Dobbs Fantasy Camp for Peevish Elders, a painstaking recreation of my former news program, but open to the public. Now YOUR jingoistic, protectionist, and xenophobic views will get audience* they so richly deserve!

Sign up for our one-week program, and experience all the amenities* that I enjoyed as the host of Lou Dobbs Tonight:

  • Broadcasts: Sit in a big chair behind an important-looking desk, stare directly into the cameras, and let the world* know where you stand on the big issues of the day. Healthcare? Music today? Baggy pants? Portion sizes at Claim Jumper? THE AMERICAN PEOPLE* WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK! All of your screeds will be recorded onto state-of-the art VHS tapes, ready for distribution to grandchildren and the disaffected Safeway employees who carry groceries to your car.
  • Sycophantic Correspondents: Tired of others giving you guff when you espouse your carefully considered opinions? During your daily television and radio broadcasts*, you will interact with up to four correspondents, trained to enthusiastically concur with all your utterances, guffaw at your witticisms, and only offer opinions that reflect your own. Enjoy roundtable discussions free of dissent, during which the analysis provided will consist solely of your own statements artfully paraphrased.
  • Polls: Each day we will run a poll of your choice, carefully worded to elicit an response overwhelming in its agreement with your views (E.g., “Do you believe Congress should give Obama the benefit of the doubt AND A CASTLE??!”) Remember: scientific* polls turn opinion into cold, hard fact.
  • Specials: Your week at LDFCfPE includes two 90 minutes specials, on the topics of your choosing. Are you, like me, are pedantically obsessed with word usage? Then “Irregardless: Scourge of a Nation” might be the program for you. Or maybe an hour and half about how Twitter doesn’t make sense? Like your bloviating, the possibilities are endless.
  • Foreign staff: All the “help” at LDFCfPE looks suspiciously foreign, allowing you to loudly speculate as to their legal status to all within earshot. Go ahead and accuse one of stealing the half-roll of LifeSavers you swear you had in your pocket. They won’t mind–after all, you are the boss!*

For more information please visit double-you double-you double-you dot slash slash the Internet dot L as in Lou, D as in Dobbs, F as in Frank, C as in Charlie, F as in a different guy named Frank, P as in Peter, E as in Ernie, in all-capitals except the second F which is lowercase, not sure if that matters, dot com, or pick up a brochure at your local IHOP.

The Lou Dobbs
Fantasy Camp
For Peevish Elders

Where the Cantankerous

* Simulated.

Haircut 2.0

I got a professional haircut today. This was my first since … oh, dunno. Like May of 2003, I reckon? (Yay blog)

When I told the stylist on the phone that I hadn’t been to a barber in six years, she gasped in alarm. “I don’t have six years of hair,” I added. Even so, she continued to sound flummoxed. I think the mere idea that someone would go for so long without an authentic haircut was, to her, like someone going six years without bathing, or having never seen en episode of Gossip Girl (of which I am also guilty (the not showering thing, I mean–love that Gossip Girl)).

I received much the same reaction when I arrived at the salon. You know that scene in suspense movies, where the guy who has been shot twice in the abdomen staggers into an emergency room and the staff like shoves aside elderly people with pneumonia and rush to his aid? It was kind of like that, except with less exaggeration for comedic effect.

They wouldn’t even give me a haircut at first; I had to go through a “consultation”. The stylist who drew the short straw came out and asked me a number of questions only slightly less than that found on the LSAT. To each I provided the same reply: “just do whatever you think is best.” At one point she even asked me if I wanted “a clipper and scissors cut or just clippers” and I explained that this was like me asking my grandfather if he wanted his email delivered via POP or IMAP. Haha, just kidding. Actually I said, “just do whatever you think is best”.

(ASIDE: My sextennial haircuts are not the only time this drives me nuts. When I go into a deli, why can I not just order a turkey sandwich and get a g.d. turkey sandwich, instead of having to approve or deny each and every member of kingdom Plantae? NO ONE WANTS BUTTERNUT SQUASH ON A TURKEY SANDWICH DONT EVEN ASK!! I appreciate that they are trying to “make it my way” or whatever, but after the third time I have unconditionally delegated any and all turkey-sandwich-making authority to the guy behind the counter, it’s time for the questions to end. Call me crazy, but I presume that someone who makes sandwiches eight hours a day has a mental model of “turkey sandwich” that is closer to the Platonic ideal of Turkey Sandwich than I could ever fathom, and should therefore be Team Captain for this particular enterprise.)

Eventually the stylist put me in a reclining chair and lowered the back of my head into a basin, and I began to worry that there might be some waterboarding in my immediate future if I didn’t cough out some specifics, so I said, “give me the most stylish haircut I can have and not get fired from my corporate job”, and then she kind of went blank for a moment, apparently querying the Stylist Hivemind Database, and when she returned a moment later she said, “okay, I’ve got it”, and that was the end of the questions. Then I got a scalp massage. So it all worked out.

By the way, I didn’t go to the appointment completely unprepared. Yesterday I had this conversation with my wife:

Me: How should I get my hair cut?

The Queen: I like it short on the sides and a little long in the front. And short in the back.

M: Okay.

Q: And you look good with a beard. Like, not a full beard, but a closely cut beard.

M: …

Q: What?

M: You are just describing that photo.

Q: What photo?

M: The photo on the fridge. Of me, in the tuxedo, from that wedding? In like 1998? The only time in my life I have ever had a beard?

Q: Oh yeah. I guess I am.

M: So to be clear: you are not giving me actual haircut suggestions, you are just saying that you want me to look 10 years younger.

Q: That would be perfect, yes.

Update: Jeezum crow, the blogarazzi got aggressive in my absence. HERE YOU GO JACKALS!!


For reference, this is what it looked like three weeks ago:

So I’m going to call it an improvement.

Yes, I am well aware that I need to write a Halloween postmortem.

Research Day: “Night” in the Night Exhibit

To: Woodland Park Zoo
From: Matthew Baldwin
Date: Mon, Nov 16, 2009 at 4:52 PM
Subject: Are the lights on in the nocturnal house at night?

Hi! A friend and I visited your fine zoo recently. Later that night, over beers, we joked about breaking in and revisiting the nocturnal house, because we loved the bushbabies so.

It was just a joke (honest), but it got us to wondering: if we had infiltrated the nocturnal house at, say, midnight, would the lights be on? Would not having a "day" period every 24 hours do to the nocturnal animals what living in a constantly-lighted house would do to you or I?

Bonus question: for nocturnal animals in the wild, what happens during an eclipse? Does that, like, totally mess with their heads?

Matthew Baldwin

* * *

To: Matthew Baldwin
From: Woodland Park Zoo
Date: Tue, Nov 17, 2009 at 7:24 AM
Subject: Re: Are the lights on in the nocturnal house at night?

Dear Matthew,

No need to infiltrate; the lights are indeed on during our nighttime in the Night Exhibit. We simply swap time periods.

The animals would find it difficult to sleep without daytime periods. Behavioral effects of lack of sleep with animals hasn't been greatly studied in non-primates, however you'd probably expect to find situations of decreased appetites and possibly aggressiveness.

An eclipse, whether solar or lunar, probably wouldn't have much of an effect on wild animals. The relatively short periods of time these occur within might cause a minor disruption of their routines but most likely nothing long term.

We hope you bet a beer on this one!

Woodland Park Zoo
Seattle, WA

Eighth Wonder

I glanced up from my laptop to find my five-year-old son standing nearby, gripping a bottle of Elmer’s glue. He had removed the cap and was holding the container upside down, watching, fascinated, as the viscous white substance drooled into a ever-growing pool on the kitchen floor.

“What are you doing?!” I barked. “Put that down!”

He jumped, startled, and then hastily complied. After dropping the bottle–still uncapped, still upended–into the utility drawer from whence it had come, he slammed the drawer shut and took two steps backwards, thus positioning himself in the center of the pool. His socks began soaking up yet more glue, adding to the astonishing quantity already smeared on his shirt and hands.

“Nooo, arrgh!” I yelled, sprinting to the drawer. By the time I had jerked it open an entire corner had become an impromptu lagoon, swamping ballpoint pens, rubber bands, pads of Post-It notes, and unused gift cards. I grabbed a handful of paper towels and thrust them into the morass; a moment later, when I withdrew the wad, half of the contents of the drawer came with it.

Now thoroughly exasperated, I turned to find the kid, already writing a legendary harangue in my head. He was few feet away, nonchalantly drinking orange juice. Just as my eyes settled on him, the plastic cup suddenly slipped from his grasp. It hit the floor and spun as it rebounded, splashing juice everywhere.

Yes: he’d managed to drop the cup despite having hands coated in glue.

Occasionally parenthood offers moments of religious awe, when the anger and frustration melt away and are replaced by reverence, a profound appreciation for the primal forces of chaos so poorly contained within your progeny.

Children are a marvel, like the aurora borealis with scissors.

The Bad Review Revue

Saw VI: “Could well be called Saw It Already.” — Rob Nelson, VARIETY

All About Steve: “Easily the worst movie of the week, month, year, and Bullock‚Äôs entire career. It is to comedy what leprosy once was to the island of Molokai: a plague best contemplated from many miles away.” — Ty Burr, BOSTON GLOBE.

Whiteout: “So staggeringly bad that it achieves a kind of transcendent poetry. It’s ignorant of how things are in the real world, of what makes a thriller a thriller, of why people seek out entertainment.” — Dan Zak, WASHINGTON POST

Amelia: “Leaves the odd impression of being merely a very long trailer for a film you’d actually love to see.” — Mary F. Pols, TIME MAGAZINE (On the same day, David Edelstein of New York Magazine called Amelia “So glancing and superficial that the movie … goes by like coming attractions.”)

Couples Retreat: “Couples, retreat.” — Rick Groen, THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Movies: Paranormal Activity

This contains no spoilers, even though I assume that anyone with an interest in seeing Paranormal Activity has done so already.

Among obnoxiously pedantic board game enthusiasts (a group of which I am a founding member), a distinction is made between “games” and “activities”.

A game, you see, is one in which the players compete against one another and, on average, the most skillful or experienced player emerges as the winner. In other words, while the playing of the game might be fun, the winning is the goal (or, at the least, it’s important for the players to at least pretend that winning is the goal, if the game is to work). Chess is a game, as is Scrabble or Go.

At the end of an activity, on the other hand, the determination and declaration of a winner is largely unimportant, and sometimes skipped entirely. Think Cranium, or Taboo, or any party game really. An activity is all journey, no destination. It’s as important for players to not care about winning in an activity (or, at the least, pretend to not care) as is for players to earnestly compete in a game.

Given those definitions, Paranormal Activity is aptly titled.

I saw PA in the Neptune theater in Seattle, on Halloween Eve, and can think of no better venue. The cinema, with its creepy pelagic decor and location blocks away from the University of Washington, provided the perfect atmosphere and audience for this film. Specifically, the seats were filled with young and quick-to-startle college students, at least during those moments when said kids were not several feet above the seats and screaming bloody murder.

Set in a haunted house (of sorts), and presenting itself as a faux-documentary of the Blair Witch ilk, the film alternates between the day (during which anxious but largely uneventful discussions take place amongst the protagonists) and the night (during which Bad Things Happen). Each nocturnal chapter is incrementally more pants-crapping that the one prior. By the end of the film, folks in the Neptune were vocal and sincere about their displeasure in not having fled the theater before. “Oh god no,” They would say, as the scene switched to the owners of the house sleeping peacefully in bed. “No no no no god no please no more.”

The ending of Paranormal Activity, like that of all activities, is not the point. The ending just signals that the festivities have ended. Knowing this ahead of time is probably essential to truly enjoying the film. (I did not, and thus left somewhat disappointed).

And although I would normally encourage people to see a film of this cinematographic caliber on DVD rather than ponying up for a movie ticket, I’ll make an exception for PA. If you are going to see it at all, see it in a theater, preferably one as packed as possible. The fun in the film is in the watching–both the watching of the film, and the watching of those around you watching the film. Approaching Paranormal Activity any other way is like trying to play chess on a Cranium board.