Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Goodnight, Sweet Twins

What a finish to the season! A sweep of Chicago at home to pull in to first place by half a game. Losing two to Kansas City while Chicago lost two to Cleveland. Winning 6-0 over KC to reduce the magic number to one in a thrilling Sunday game I was fortunate enough to attend. Chicago beating three teams in three days, a feat never before accomplished. With my daughter falling asleep on my chest, I just listened quietly to the excruciating 1-0 loss in Chicago that ended the Twins' season. Probably the saddest finish ever to a baseball season for me. In a way it's a good thing baseball doesn't have the same importance to me that it used to. At least Mauer won another batting title. And wait 'til next year! Thanks for a great season, Twins.

Go White Sox!! Represent the AL Central and kick all their asses. Tampa Bay. Pfff. Right.

Why I'm For Obama

I believe in America. I believe in the system. I work the system. I benefit from the system as much as I possibly can. I'm extremely fiscally conservative. I pay as little in taxes as I possibly can. I believe giving money to the government is worse than burying it in your backyard. I give to tax-deductible charities and you better believe I deduct it from my taxes. I hire a very sharp tax preparation guy and have done so for years.

I am not a "tax and spend liberal". We need rich people and we need for people to know they can build meaningful wealth for themselves and their children if they work hard in this country. Somehow people associate these ideals with Republican presidents, which baffles me. In my lifetime at least, Republican presidents have spent this great country in to massive debt every chance they've gotten.

To me, John "Bomb Iran" McCain represents more wasteful spending on totally unnecessary foreign wars. Bush, like both his father and Ronald Reagan, has failed to uphold any reasonable standard of fiscal conservatism. He has wasted billions of dollars and destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives. The repercussions of his foolish, selfish, illegitimate presidency will be felt for generations. Blah, blah, blah. That is self-evident and not news. How did I even get started on Bush? Ish.

Anyway, John McCain seems like he will continue Bush's policies. I'm not much of an Obama fan (well, I am on facebook, technically) but I think he will, at the very least, probably not continue the Republican pattern of egregious wasting of money and lives. If Obama raises taxes a bit, so be it. At least he won't bury it all in the distant sand.

Seriously, that is all. I promise. I've made up my mind. By now you probably have too. Politics out.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

She Has My Old Job

While using the drive up ATM in the drive up service area of the bank where I used to be a teller, I overheard a young woman talking to a customer over the intercom. She was using the exact - and by exact I mean it was almost word for word what I would have said in the same situation three years ago - techniques that I used to help the customer improve and expand his relationship with the bank. I felt proud of her. I figured I probably taught the person who taught the person who taught the person who taught her. (Yes, there is a lot of turnover as the people who are not that good burn out and the people who are good get promoted rapidly.)

First she mentioned that the customer's money could be working harder for him - a good opening with a benefit stated right away. "Yeah, I keep most of that somehwere else," he replied. The next thing I didn't quite hear, but I assume it was some mention of the benefits of having at least some of your investment money and/or long term savings at the same place where you have your main checking account. (I, for example, might have mentioned that a savings account is the least expensive form of overdraft protection.) This is called "overcoming objections" and when it's done just right, a second benefit can be thrown out as well. (Features tell, but benefits sell!)

He said he would think about it, by which he meant he would forget all about it and take no further action. She mentioned that bankers were available inside and could make the changes right away in about five or ten minutes. "No, I've got to get going today." She said she could have a banker give him a call, to which he said "sure." She confirmed the best number and time at which to reach him, sent out his receipt for the transaction and thanked him. Perfect. She'll be on the beach in Hawaii (as I was, did I mention?) in no time if she keeps that up.

As much as I'm glad I'm out of retail banking, mainly because of rude customers who had no respect for anyone, I did like the element of helping the decent people better manage their money and avoid fees they didn't have to be paying and that's exactly what the woman I heard was doing. The fact that employees like her (and formerly me) are given incentive pay, regular reliable raises, free trips, encouragement, and promotions for doing so is a big part of the reason that bank's stock (with which I was also compensated, btw) split shortly after I left and continues to ascend even in the current crisis. Building deeper relationships with existing customers certainly works better as a guiding principle than buying a bunch of bad debt!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I Saw An Amazing Band

Last night I went to the Fine Line Music Cafe to see the band of a former co-worker of my Bride. This is not something I automatically do. What my attendance meant is that I was expecting a good show, not just being social. (In fact, if you know me the idea of me doing something just for the sake of being social is somewhat laughable.) Plus, it was pouring rain and the Twins were playing a meaningful game against their only competitors for the last remaining American League playoff spot.

So why did I go? Well, a drums-bass-guitar power trio is probably my favorite format for live music. (Semisonic, for example, totally slayed the Basillica Block Party in July 1997. With anything beyond the power trio I think that at any one time at least one player gets lost in the noise and the mix.) I also liked Devil's Kettle's songs on their myspace page. Quite honestly, they reminded me of, uh, me. Sort of old school, country-tinged, but not in any way stupid or insipid. Even given these predispositions to enjoying the show, I enjoyed it way more than I had imagined I would. As my dad would say, they exceeded my considerable expectations.

Devil's Kettle is one of a very few bands I have ever seen that I just wanted to stand there and pay attention to every note pouring out of them while shouting, "EEEYYYYEEEAAAAAAHHHH!" (Incidentally, others include Trip Shakespeare, Ben Folds Five and Ululating Mummies, all of whom seem to be defunct, judging by the internets. Plus, in my imagination, John Coltrane.)

Most bands are either a) virtuosic with dull material or b) competent or poor musicians with great material. Devil's Kettle is that rare band that has meaningful original material and can actually play their high quality, good sounding instruments.

The songs of Devil's Kettle are sort of deceptively simple. The lyrics are like a guy is just chatting with you. But it's a guy that cracks you up and is often delightfully vulgar. "I Like ER", "You Are An Asshole", and one song about interacting with Country Boys - heck, pretty much every song had something memorable about it, even though I was hearing all but four of them for the first time. The music flies into unexpected, dark, knotty corners then blasts back to catchy hooks.

Drummer Chris "Buford" Audette is extremely versatile and flows between time signatures and grooves easily and naturally. Bassist/singer Pfoser is a slap-happy monster who claims he's "just trying to keep up" with the other guys in the band, but his modesty is betrayed the moment he whips into a groove. Guitarist/singer Chris Cron is one of the fastest guitarists I've ever seen in person, but what matters is that he is really saying something with the phrases pouring out of his soul. Together they stretch songs out like my old band Honigman used to do - seemingly with no preconceptions about what can happen, with plenty of space for creativity, interaction and individual statements.

Most bands, even if I like them, I think, "They could use such and such. The drummer shouldn't blah blah blah. If I was in this group, replacing so and so by playing x instrument myself, they'd be so much better." The joke about four musicians changing a lightbulb with one of them actually doing it while three stand around saying, "I could do that better" totally convicts me, I'm afraid.

Nothing like that at this show. With Devil's Kettle it was more like, "If I practiced by myself, several hours a day, for a year or so, I might be able to contribute something to this group." They lack for nothing. Writing, interaction, improvisation, virtuosity, and musicianship. I am eager to see their next show, October 1 at the Uptown Bar. You might be too.

Devil's Kettle at myspace Hear their songs, be their friend, and see when they play.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Because I have faith and tend to believe this is a just world, I knew it would happen eventually. Though they have won five straight games in an effort to keep their fading hopes alive, the Yankees are essentially out of playoff contention. They would have to win six (more) games in a row while the Red Sox lose six in order for the Yankees to get in as the wild card. As much as I have savored the last seven years worth of photos of them sitting sadly in their dugout after they lose a playoff series, I will enjoy this year's results even more.

Why? Because I saw them beat the Twins in the playoffs at the Metrodome in 2003 and 2004. Because they've won 26 World Serieses already. Because they represent the idea that one dizzyingly wealthy man can buy a World Series championship. (Which idea may be true but disgusts me nevertheless.) Because they have at least one person on their team who has admitted to using steroids. For so many reasons, I just want to say,

Ha ha ha ha ha! Yankees suck! YANKEES SUCK!!!

Aaah. It feels so right, doesn't it?


Incidentally, here is a prediction I got absolutely and completely wrong:

Quick Prediction

How many bloggers will admit to their failures? At least one. You're welcome.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Culture Roundup

Here are some things I have really been loving lately:

A) The Man in The Blizzard, a novel by Bart Schneider, offers one man's story of the events surrounding the recent Convention in our fair Cities. A tough private eye gets more than he baragined for when trouble in the form of a beautiful dame walks into his office. But it's much more than that, of course.

I love it when the characters drive down Lyndale towards Lake, stop by Vera's, etc. and I can picture it exactly. It was a little taste of what it must be like for residents of New York City when they read, oh I don't know...every other freaking novel that's ever existed.

B) I heard the song "Copacabana" somewhere the other day. That is an outsanding, perfectly composed marriage of words and music. I love the tumbling, fricative lines. I love the mysterious, suggestive mood. I love that it's an entire story that spans decades. The song has everything a person could want in a song. I bought Ultimate Manilow very inexpensively, used at amazon.

C) It wasn't lately, but I also love the book Infinite Jest so much I have read it twice. Some parts of it I just pick up and read once in a while, especially the filmography of James O. Incandenza, a brilliant piece of faux archivism that shines a satirical light on my actual archivism of my artistic works.

Good Lord, but the suicide of David Foster Wallace makes me sad! Is there something about genius level artistic accomplishment that creates or is generally accompanied by crushing depression? Yes, I'm afraid there is, yes.

D) Neil Diamond's 3 CD box set In My Lifetime was at Half Price Books recently for about 13 bucks. Even though I already had The Essential, which has much of the same material, it is worth having. The original studio versions of the live stuff on Essential are so fascinating. I espeically like disc two. He is so genuine and sincere. I am learning to play "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother".

E) A free video at amazon for Bob Dylan's new old song "Dreamin' Of You" is really cool. Harry Dean Stanton is a character who is obsessed with Dylan as many are.

F) Two of my favorite albums of all time have just been reissued with Bonus Tracks: Billy Joel's The Stranger, which in the deluxe edition I will acquire shortly also includes a DVD of a 1977 television appearance.

Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville only includes three bonus tracks and since we are in a whatever-the-opposite-of-golden-is age of rematering (a.k.a. super-compressing) I may just have to check the Bonus Tracks at iTunes by themselves. Ah, I just checked and guess what? They are only available if you buy the whole album. Typical iTunes screw job.

G) Also started the 17 book Dave Robicheaux series from author James Lee Burke at the recommendation of one of my most trusted advisors. Private eye, tough life, beautiful woman, bad guys, etc. Yet with something more - literary, if I can use that word as praise.

This has been Culture Roundup with Memphis Evans.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Open Letter To God

The Human Heart
(according to STV:TFF)

Dear Sir or Madam,

First of all, I want to thank You for the (nearly) nine years we had with our beloved cat Bootsie and for accepting her from our loving arms into Yours yesterday morning. She was the most people-oriented cat I've ever known or likely ever will know and we will always be greatful for our time with her (which was much longer than we expected it would be when we got her in poor health at ten years of age in 1999, btw, so thanks again.)

However, I'm also writing to request a policy clarification from You. To be honest, it has been a while since I've reviewed Your Word. But I thought I remembered something about a Good Samaritan helping their neighbor, or a behavior-based rather than geographical definition of neighbor, or obedience rather than sacrifice, or something like that. Here's the situation:

Bootsie was suffering a great deal, beginning around 8 a.m. Her unseeing eyes were wide and dilated. She was vomiting, seizing, and crying. She could not stand up. Our children were asleep in their rooms and Bride and I wanted to take Bootsie to the vet together to end her suffering. We needed someone to come and stay at the house with our children. Our family members were all at least 20 minutes away.

We called our first choice neighbors. They were not answering their phone. We called our second choice neighbors. Bride told them of our emergency. We were told in return that because the husband had a Sunday School class to teach, they could not help us. Although I have since calmed down and become more contemplative and compassionate, I must admit this made me very angry.

Granted we are not particularly close to them, and if they had given almost any other excuse I would have probably been okay. But to say that teaching a Sunday School class was more important than caring briefly for your neighbor's children while they take their dying cat to the vet to end her suffering strikes me as wrong somehow.

Now it did end up being one of those things where, to quote You, "All things work together for good" because as it happened, it was just as well they did not help us. We took Bootsie outside and she probably enjoyed her final ten minutes or so much more than if we had taken her to the only open clinic (which clinic was going to charge us a $108 "exam" fee, btw God.) She even seemed to rally a little bit in the fresh air and after the final big vomit and seizures she was actually purring and at peace for a solid minute or so before leaving her body for good.

I guess my question, Lord, is this: What would you have had them do? Teach the class or miss the class to help their neighbor? Is there a scriptural basis on which this decision could be examined? I await insight.

A Timetable For Withdrawal

September 2008: Out of cars
October 2008: Not while awake
November 2008: Not during daytime naps
December 2008: Not during night time (completely gone)

Our children, Child, almost 3, and Toddler, 1, use pacifiers. Pacifiers help them control their emotions during the day and help them get to sleep at night. However, we recently learned from the dentist that the pacifiers are also damaging their teeth. Therefore, our children must learn to live without them.

It wouldn't be fair to completely take away the pacifiers immediately because our children are not ready for that. But we can't let their pacifier use drag on indefinitely with no end in sight because of the damage the pacifiers are doing to their teeth. What if they were five years old and still using pacifiers? How embarassing! I would be a terrible parent if I allowed such a situation! So I have set up a timetable for the complete withdrawal of the pacifiers and, subsequently, the children's freedom and independence from them.

By the end of September 2008 we will have no pacifier use in cars. This is a pretty ingrained habit, but I have already taken them out of my car without too much complaining. I've even found the children more talkative, articulate and enjoyable during car rides. So the first phase of the withdrawal is actually having unforeseen positive effects.

By the end of October, 2008 there will be no pacifier use during waking hours. I'm sure that Child is ready for this, but it might be tough on Toddler. However, the ongiong damage to Toddler's teeth is unacceptable and so Toddler must find a way to get along without pacifiers. Both children will still get a pacifier at naptime and night time.

By the end of November, 2008 there will be no pacifier use during naptime. This, strangely enough, might be tough on me, the provider of the pacifiers. I have come to rely on these quiet, restful hours to either nap myself or get things done (like writing this, for example). I think the children will be okay, although they will probably demand their pacifiers vociferously at first. Then they will get used to napping without them and be better for it.

By the end of December 2008, the end of the year, pacifiers will be completely out of our house. The last step will be no pacifier use at night. This will be tough for everone to accept and I imagine there will be a fair amount of screaming while the children adjust to their newfound freedom and independence from pacifiers.

Still, because of the damage being done, we must end the use of pacifiers. We can not do it all at once or everyone's emotional health would be in jeopardy. However, we must do it in a timely fashion with a definite end in sight. Therefore, with love for all and in everyone's best interests, I have created a concrete timetable for the withdrawal of pacifiers that will be strictly enforced. It's simple, it's logical, and it's the right thing to do for everyone involved.

Yes, I'm talking about children and pacifiers, why do you ask? What else would I be talking about?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Make The Transition - To Liberation!

So the powers that decide such things are going to change the way television is broadcast. I urge you to join me in rejecting it. Not because I don't like digital television, but because I don't like broadcast television at all. Do you? Really? Or are you just lazy?

What hooks you? Sports? Soaps? That half hour or hour (or two hours?) after work when you just want to relax with a "Raymond" or "Seinfeld"? For me it was sports, especially baseball, and NBC's Thursday night comedy. But was that all I watched? Well, no. Once I have the option, TV becomes sort of a default leisure activity. I'm watching "Family Guy", "Hawaii-5-O", etc. Why? Am I glad I watched those shows? No. Was it worth it? No. Would doing almost anything else have been more meaningful? Yes.

Do you really like "Law And Order"? No, you don't. You just think you do. I used to think I liked "Just Shoot Me" and "Will And Grace". If I see those shows now it's like seeing an old girlfriend you're embarassed about having even given the time of day. Why did they seem so appealing? No clue, but these feelings cause me to not currently watch "30 Rock" and other shows that currently seem appealing but will probably make me feel eventually that I had wasted my time.

If you still need some television, as I admit I do, I can heartily recommend netflix, which is cheaper than most cable plans and a thousand times more user friendly. And you won't find yourself up at two in the morning watching useless, moronic junk for no reason. Unless of course you intentionally put Roadhouse or Judge Dredd in your queue, at which point you are beyond my help.

So join me in making February 17, 2009 Liberation Day instead of Conversion Day. Tell THE MAN exactly where he can hook his digital cable. Just say no. Trust me, you'll be happier. If nothing else, it'll all be on the internet soon anyway if it isn't already.

Appendix A: Technology I currently don't have:

Watchable broadcast television (extremely poor reception w/o cable or antenna)
CD/Cassette/mp3 player in car (AM/FM only)
High Speed internet at home

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Message From A Friend

I hand over the keys to A. Hon, who recently sent this message to his friends and family. I second that emotion:

Dear friends and family,

I put a lot of thought and energy (probably too much) into politics and the state of the world, but I generally don't like to inflict unsolicited opinions on people I care about. But the last couple of days have left me really disturbed.

On Friday morning, John McCain introduced Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. It was a jaw-droppingly irresponsible move.

McCain is 72 years old and has a history of cancer, among other health problems. There is reasonable concern he may not survive a first term if elected.

Palin is 44 and has been governor of Alaska for a year and a half. Before that, she was city council member and mayor of a village of about 6,500 people. Before that, she was a TV sportscaster. She has a BA degree in journalism from the University of Idaho. Palin has no record of accomplishment, engagement, or even interest in any of the very serious national and international issues that we are facing.

The thing that is really terrifying about this is what it says about McCain's judgement. He met Palin only twice before offering her the job on Thursday morning. His staff claims that she has been fully vetted, but Republican leaders in Alaska say no one from McCain's campaign ever met with them to get their views.

Palin is currently under investigation for abusing her power as governor in a personnel matter. She was chosen to be McCain's running mate ahead of numerous qualified and scandal-free candidates mainly because she is enthusiastically supported by the religious right.

Here's a quote from a New York Times article published today http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/31/us/politics/31reconstruct.html?scp=4&sq=&st=nyt:

"The selection…offers a glimpse into how Mr. McCain might make high-stakes decisions as president.

"At the very least, the process reflects Mr. McCain’s history of making fast, instinctive and sometimes risky decisions. 'I make them as quickly as I can, quicker than the other fellow, if I can,' Mr. McCain wrote, with his top adviser Mark Salter, in his 2002 book, 'Worth the Fighting For.' 'Often my haste is a mistake, but I live with the consequences without complaint.'"

If McCain becomes president we will all have to live with the consequences of his impulsive mistakes. Imagine him in a position to make hasty, instinctive decisions about going to war with Iran, or Russia. It chills my blood.

If you've been thinking about voting for McCain, I am urging you to please reconsider. Even if you agree with him on issues, please do some research and reflection on his judgement and temperament.

I support Barack Obama because I am impressed with his skills, judgement, and vision. All the same, I've been reasonably secure that John McCain would do more good than harm if elected. I don't feel that way any more. This isn't about politics but making sure our families have a future.

Thanks for hearing me out. Please feel free to forward if you feel so moved.