Big Lottery Why-ku

This is the morning after, when millions of Americans will wake up, check the unforgiving numbers, and then have to explain to their families and to themselves why they spent far too much money trying to capture over 600 million dollars in the virtually unwinnable Mega Millions lottery.

There is no good reason why, so it’s best to keep things short at least. The trusty old 5-7-5 syllable Haiku sequence efficiently boils down all human expression, including apologies.

So here are some sample Why-ku’s that you might use.

1.
I thought I could win
And surprise you with dollars
You weren’t expecting.

2.
Yes it does feel strange
To know I am a sucker.
That’s why they’re called “odds”

3.
Irrational hope
Blinded my brain for a day.
Mathematics sucks.

What’s yours?

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Span Fan

Today is the anniversary in 1909 of the opening of New York’s Queensboro Bridge connecting Manhattan with Queens across the East River.

Though it’s not quite as famous as it’s sister to the south linking Manhattan and Brooklyn, the structure has a distinct profile, a colorful history, and a place in The Great Gatsby, Charlotte’s Web, The Simpsons and its very own Simon and Garfunkel tune – the 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy). Didn’t know this was about the Queensboro Bridge? Except for the title, the song doesn’t mention a bridge at all.

The Queensboro Bridge cost 20 million dollars and 50 lives back in 1909. The structure is really two cantilever bridges, each with a foot on Roosevelt Island. It has a busy, baroque look with ornamental flourishes that today’s lawmakers would never approve.

Taking a look at this structure’s history, it’s a wonder anything ever got built, then or now. There were strikes and delays. Somebody placed dynamite on the bridge in a union dispute. United Pennsylvania Steel was accused of using too much of their product in the construction as a convenient and secret way to drive up the cost.

Infrastructure is expensive and the bills keep coming. New York has spent a half billion dollars fixing up the Queensboro Bridge over the past quarter century, and yet people still paint it with graffiti and drop trash out their windows as they drive across it. Go figure!

But I do admire big, grand construction projects, and bridges can play a romantic role in people’s lives that mere roads can’t match. When I was a kid I got a thrill out of any trip that required a major crossing. The favorite bridges of my youth – The Bear Mountain Bridge and the Tappan Zee Bridge.

What was so special about them? They were big and scary, that’s what! And when we crossed them, it was an event. Suddenly, there we were on the other side of the river. Who knows if we’ll ever be able to get back?

What’s your favorite bridge?

A Little Place in the Country

The question of whether there is another planet in the Universe that can support life has always struck me as the kind of question we ask for sport because it really has an easy answer – Yes! I say that with confidence, as long as you don’t need any absolute proof.

Consider the universe. It’s pretty big and there’s lots of stuff spread around it in multitudinous combinations. So I expect that there are trillions of planets that can support life, billions that can support human life, millions that can support a human life comfortably, thousands that can support a human life as timid and finicky as my own, and at least a half dozen that already have a nice retirement bungalow set up for me and the Mrs. alongside a beautiful sea made of some fun-to-behold liquid that I can definitely watch but not go jet skiing on.

I’m sure they’re out there. I just can’t name any for you.

And now along comes the ESO (European Southern Observatory) to declare that I’m right! There is another potential home for you in the stars. Billions of them, in fact, and relatively close, too! Figure out how to get there and you can start moving your stuff, as long as you don’t mind living right next door to a Red Dwarf. And of course I don’t. I’ve thought for a long time that accepting diversity and practicing non-discrimination is a question of practical justice and also the basis of an excellent long-term survival strategy. So I’d live happily next to a cool Red Dwarf, especially if my current neighbor, (The Sun), is a hothead planning to expand and incinerate the neighborhood (as everyone says) in a few billion years.

If the ESO scientists are right, those holding upside-down mortgages will not find relief anytime soon and we’ll never have another real estate bubble on Earth. The market just got flooded. Terrain is cheap. The good news? Terrain is cheap. All you need is transport. Oh, and air.

What are your requirements for a new planet?

Flexi-Bull

Like all other officially registered, photo-ID carrying residents of Minnesota’s 9th Congressional District (all the water surface area in the state), I received this e-mail yesterday afternoon.

Greetings constituents!

Last summer I wrote a newsletter that, like most of my newsletters, went largely unread. That’s OK, I don’t mind. I know my people have busy enough lives without having to pay attention to me! It was a chatty and harmless lark. I talked about how changeable my mind has become, and how I see flexibility as one of my greatest political assets.

Congressman Beechly believes in Floater ID

Since then, and unbeknownst to me, “flexible” has become a dirty word. President Obama as been labeled our profaner in chief for dropping this newest “F” bomb on Russian President Dimitri Medvedev when he said, apparently thinking the conversation was confidential, that he could be “more flexible” on missile system deployment talks after he (Obama) wins re-election. As a result, a lot of people who once wanted to literally bomb the Russians are now up in arms, saying the president’s hint-hint about “flexibility” is a sign that he is getting ready to give away the farm to Vladimir after November 6th.

Nobody thinks he was really talking about taking yoga classes this Fall, although I think that would be a great idea! No, it’s pretty clear that the President was talking about a necessary difference between his required pre-election positions and his possible post-election actions.

This will hurt Obama among consistency-loving voters who want their politicians to not be politicians. And I fully recognize that if there is going to be a Flexibility Backlash (I’m pretty sure that IS a Hot Yoga pose), I may be swept out of office along with the President (good thing we limbered up)! If so, so be it.

But here’s one thing I want you to remember – when I boasted about always “agreeing with the last person I talked to,” that was an iron-clad promise that I intend to keep.
As my constituent, that solemn pledge means you will always have a chance to change my mind. Get to me at the right moment and you could win the lottery – your view could carry the day! Isn’t that a little more exciting than being represented by someone whose ideas are set in stone? People want to have some hope, and I can give them that, because I’m willing to change.

In fact, all that stuff I said about flexibility almost one year ago is pretty much kaput. I only said it to lock down the prevaricator vote, which commits early in the process. Next come the equivocators, who are famously hard to gauge. All politicians have to work these crowds early. We save the one-issue voters and compromise haters for last – say the magic words and they’ll always fall into place.

And yes, by saying this I admit that I am a politician, unless you insist that you really don’t want one, in which case I might turn out to be just an ordinary guy who could greatly benefit from some stretching exercises done in a very warm room to really loud music.

The world is like that, sometimes. Lock your knees if you must, but when you straighten up too fast, it could make you dizzy!

Your Congressman,
Loomis Beechly

Can you touch your toes?

What Was I Thinking?

Meet The Jetskis

No, it’s not the title of a futuristic cartoon series set in Poland. I’m talking about a highlight of my family vacation last week in Key West – a rash bid by a group of novices to quickly circumnavigate the island on rented personal watercraft.

Yes, I was surprised to see myself attempting this on such a powerful machine. I’m slow at virtually every activity I attempt and I’m much more of a canoe traveler, speed-and-noise-wise. Even when I’m driving the car, there’s a lot of coasting and enjoying the scenery. But Key West is all about loud, raucous, obnoxious fun. So when Gus (age 22) gravitated towards the jet ski tour, I decided to go along and give it a try.

This, despite the fact that playing in the ocean is always risky. I think James Cameron had a better idea of what he was getting into, and was probably safer in the process of doing it.

We signed up for the first group of the morning, leaving the dock at 9:30 for a 90-minute spin. You can rent individual machines or pair up and ride double with no increase in price. In the best father-son tradition we opted for solo water rockets, which turned out to be a wise choice. Four others who approached this as a couples event endured emotional trauma at the launch point, with one reluctant young woman storming away from her boyfriend with these parting words – “I HATE You!” The ever- helpful tour guide said “You’re better off going without her, dude. She wouldn’t have enjoyed it.”

No kidding.

Another couple had the opposite problem – once they were informed that the trip would not be taken at a leisurely pace (It’s a big island, dude), she seemed plenty willing to let him go it alone.

Him: “If you don’t want to come along, I’m OK with skipping it.”
Her: “No, it’s fine. You go and I’ll wait here.”
Him: “We can do something else instead.”
Her: “No, I’m perfectly happy to stay behind. You go.”
Him: “I don’t want to go if you’re not going.”

Both wanted to back out without ruining it for the other, so they rode together. Miserably.

No, those aren't my feet.

My victory? Aside from not dying? I didn’t fall off, hit a dock, a rock, or get run over. Which is remarkable when you consider I was deafened by the engine and blinded by the spray for most of the journey. Keeping up with the guide was a white-knuckle experience, and I couldn’t slow down because I knew there was a single file-line of rookie pilots right behind me, all of them as oblivious to their surroundings as I was, or else fully engaged in arguing with their partner about whether or not they should even be there.

The only part that was more terrifying was the moment when the guide went back to retrieve one member of a two person sled who had tumbled into the water, telling we three individual survivors that we should “just mess around in this area here”, meaning we were supposed to zig-zag around a bit, keeping a sharp eye out for boats, obstacles and each other. Sitting still in the rolling waves presented a strong risk of capsizing, but “messing around” meant we could wind up colliding at high speed. Hmmm. Which would be better?

We chose random skittering about and got so turned around we mistakenly took up with another tour group as they cut across our playground. Oops. My excuse? When you’ve got a snoot full of briny foam and are feeling desperate to be back on land, every passing water jockey looks like Our Dear Leader.

And yes, in spite of it all, the jet ski experience was a definite highlight of the trip. But the next day (and even today) every muscle felt the strain of hanging on for dear life.
I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad it’s done.

When have you been exhilarated AND terrified?

No E for Me

Today’s guest post comes from Madislandgirl.

Like many Baboons, I am a reader. I almost never leave home without something to read in hand, the local librarians know me on sight. Finding a new author I enjoy is like making a new friend. I have raised a son and heir to be a reader too.

But at least for the foreseeable future, we won’t be investing in an e-reader. Yes, there are great features on the various models-you can make the font change, you can take notes, look up words and most tempting of all, you can be carrying around over 100 books in the physical space of one book-no mean consideration in a household that is chronically short of shelf space and long on book bags with torn seams from carrying around too many books.

When you check out an e-book from the library, you never need to worry about returning it on time or losing it, it simply disappears when it is due. For my friends whose hands now have trouble holding books over a certain size, an e-reader is a gift from heaven. All great stuff, but we aren’t getting one.

I’m not even tempted. In fact, the only reason I have done any research on e-readers is to write this piece. The reason I give is that I just don’t want one more thing that has to be “charged”-I’m bad at remembering to do it, and can only imagine the screen going dark, just as I am getting to the best part. But I know that isn’t the real reason.

The answer came to me while sitting next to a fellow fencing mom, both of us reading away, she on her e-reader, me with my book. I glanced over and my unbidden thought was, “I don’t want to do that!” What would I be missing if I were doing what she was doing? Why is important to me that my hands as well as my mind know what I am reading?

I like the covers of books. When I go to the library, I tend to use the computer to direct me to the general area I am interested in, then I stand before the shelves and scan for something interesting. My hunter instincts have been honed to identify at a glance which non-fiction books are probably meaty affairs, which are too thin to be satisfying, which are going to be tougher than I want to chew on right now. In fiction, the publisher has often gone to great trouble to design a book’s appearance to let me know what kind of reading experience I can expect. I am greatly grieved when I find I have been deceived.

The book I was holding on the night of my epiphany had an embossed dust jacket that was a particularly good tactile experience. The graphic layout depicts a quilt border I might someday like to make, and the author’s name is in gold letters. It must be rather grand to see your name on a book cover in gold letters. Inside the cover are the end papers. I love end papers. In the case of this particular book, the end papers show quilt blocks from the story that could easily be crafted into a real quilt. Other favorite end papers have maps of the locale of the story, or genealogical charts of the families in the story. The marbled endpapers of old books are often almost meditative in their undulations of color.

I suppose it is possible that e-books include endpapers, but they would look like just another page, and you would have to click or scroll to them, just like any other page. It’s just not the same.

Then there are the “bragging rights”. I suppose there may be some advantage to being able to read Fanny Hill in public without having the whole world know it, but if you are the sort of reader my son is (and I am), you kind of want the world to know if you are reading War and Peace, and not the latest installment of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. A friend who is often on the light rail purposely seeks out books with titles like The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, just for the amusement of her fellow travelers.

I thought this might just be a generational thing, but as the son and heir has not so much as suggested we get an e-reader, I asked him what he thought. He had no interest in getting one, so I asked him why.

“I like the ‘bookness’ of a real book. I like turning the pages, clicking to turn the page would be so lame.”

Not to mention, scrolling through pages makes me nauseous, flipping through pages doesn’t.

And where do the readers of e-books look for misplaced Important Pieces of Mail?

Do you have a favorite book cover? Is it an accurate indicator of what is inside?

The Maturity Fairy

Today’s guest post comes from Beth-Ann

My son received his diploma from the University of Minnesota this December-after a mere 7 and a half years. This was not the speed at which I imagined his academic journey would proceed. It certainly wasn’t the speed that my journey took.

Before you ask, it wasn’t because the classes weren’t available, or that he changed majors (note to Ben and Anna – A few semesters were trashed when he built sets instead of doing classwork), or even bad advice or financial problems that slowed him down. This past September my son called me after he ran into the Dean and Chancellor of his college along with the new president of the University. They asked him why it had taken so long to graduate and with total honesty my son answered, “If you don’t do the work, you won’t pass the classes, and you can’t graduate.”

When I heard these words I knew that the Maturity Fairy was at work. You may not have encountered her but after this 7+ year slog I AM a believer in this force that brings growth from out of the blue.

In addition to his academic under performance my son was a jerk for a good part of the time. You can imagine the various forms of irresponsibility his behavior took (and no, you cannot substitute spraying Febreeze on your dirty clothes for doing laundry). More heartbreaking was his rude behavior to me and all those who loved and supported him.

I turned to a mantra that got me through a rough stretch of potty-training – IF he wears diapers to Kindergarten it will be his issue not mine. I stopped trying to train him and waited for the Maturity Fairy to inspire him. One day she waved her wand and my son asked for Mickey Mouse underwear and never was wet again.

This Fall my son actually called home to ask for advice. With silent gratitude I provided 2 sentences of guidance and said that I was sure he could figure it out because I was busy. The change was out-of the blue and defied rational explanation The Maturity Fairy is still my heroine and I love it when my son notices his cousin is a brat on Facebook and says, “Was I that obnoxious at 14?

I feel the Maturity Fairy waving her wand over me as I decide NOT to cite chapter and verse.

I hope she sticks around for a little while longer. He still doesn’t have a job …

Have you seen the Maturity Fairy at work in your life or in the lives of others you know?

Teaching My Daughter to be Cynical

Today’s guest post comes from Steve Grooms

It should not have surprised me. When my daughter Molly began to talk, she started telling her mother and me the same things we were always telling her. Kathe and I talked to Molly almost nonstop, and much of the time we were explaining the world to her.
I should have expected that Molly would begin explaining the world to us.

“All these lights along the road?” Molly would say, her voice rising as if to form a question. “They put them there so the cars don’t bump each other in the dark.”

One day Molly spotted a poster of Garrison Keillor—Garrison with his distinctive face and beard. “When you see a face that looks like that,” Molly said to me in a helpful tone, “then you know that it is Garrison.”

We took Molly to a Lebanese restaurant one night. She was silent, her eyes wide as she took in the novelty of a restaurant that didn’t serve American food. She finally said, “It is a good thing they have this restaurant. All the people fighting the war . . . when they get tired they can come here and have their own kind of food.” Molly was responding to the fact that every night’s TV newscast featured film of civil war in Lebanon.

While explaining the universe to us, Molly almost always added her stamp of approval. She described the world as a place that was laid out in a pleasant and logical way. “They always put the cookies in the same place in the grocery store so kids and parents can find them.”

I used to reflect on the word she used so often: “they.” “They” made sure that water came out of our taps—hot and cold—when we twisted the handles. “They” put Christmas lights up at our shopping center. “They” made our world, and Molly appreciated their work. Beaming with contentment, my daughter savored the comfortable life that “they” had created for just for us.

This delighted me for years. Then I began to worry.

Yes, “they” had created a world that served our needs and delighted our senses. But “they” were not to be trusted. Sometimes “they” did things for selfish or even evil motives. Sometimes they lied. Molly needed to temper her pure trust in them. My sweet daughter needed an injection of cynicism.

Perhaps only another Midwestern parent would understand what this cost me. I adored my daughter’s unalloyed trust in her environment. Something in me balked at introducing her to the venality of human nature. And yet it had to be done. Without an appreciation of how deceptive others could be, my daughter would be vulnerable to manipulation. I had to teach a trusting child to be cynical, at least a little bit.

But how? I chose to introduce my daughter to cynicism by picking on a fat target: children’s commercial television.

One day when we were watching a cartoon show sponsored by a line of toys, I told Molly that people who wanted to sell stuff created commercials that made the toys look better than they are. “That truck probably broke right after they filmed that commercial,” I said. I showed her how tricks in film technique made the toys seem more dramatic than they were.

Molly was aghast. But she soon got in the spirit of things. When we saw other commercials, she would seek my approval by suggesting ways the sponsors might be lying to us. She began finding fault with what “they” were doing.

One morning when she was about six I went into Molly’s bedroom wake her up to face another day at school. My daughter lay on her back, eyes closed, arms splayed out like Jesus on the cross. When I rubbed her tiny chest, she spoke in a sleepy mumble. From the corner of her room the clock radio was blaring morning news.

“Daddy? What is the very best thing for you when you get up in the morning?”

Like any sensible parent, I was terrified by that question. She had been thinking about some issue and had a very particular concern. I wanted to be careful with the answer to this question, for this was not a harmless random question.

“Why, Molly,” I finally said, “the very best thing about getting up in the morning is that I get to see you and Kathe again.”

“Oh, they lie! THEY LIE!” said Molly, eyes still closed. “That just shows how they lie. On the radio they just said, ‘The best part of getting up is Folger’s in your cup!’”

What is the best part of getting up?

Local Fauna

Today’s guest post comes from Jim in Clark’s Grove.

I like to explore nature and it has occurred to me that it would be interesting to study and document the animals than can be found in my yard or near the place where I live. So far I haven’t put a big effort into studying this nearby fauna, although I have noticed some things that I found interesting. Also, there were some creatures, which would not usually be thought of as wild life, which made an unexpected effort to populate my yard.

I am always amazed at the wide variety of birds that can be found in urban areas. My bird feeders, like most bird feeders, attract a fairly wide variety of birds. I am especially pleased that the number of Chickadees has increased this year. Many years ago there were large numbers of English sparrows coming to the feeders and now they seemed to have been replaced by House Finches. I don’t like seeing large flocks of either of these two kinds of birds because they are aggressive and are more or less an invasive species. I’m glad to report they haven’t been able to push out my more preferred visitors.

In the spring I see birds that are brief visitors as they migrate through our area. I particularly like seeing the tiny Kinglets that seem to like to rest in our yard on their way north. Of course, spring also marks the return of local birds that live in the south during the winter. I especially like to hear the singing of Wrens and Chipping Sparrows that ring out as they come back to their nesting areas. In the summer I sometimes see flocks of Cedar Wax Wings that move through our neighborhood looking for fruit. I have even had a visit from a Yellow Bellied Sap Sucker that I saw drinking sap from a hole it made in a tree.

We have a fairly large number of squirrels. I spread some bird seed on a picnic table for the squirrels to keep them from attacking my bird feeders. Our yard is also the home of Short-tailed Shrews. Short-tailed Shrews have a somewhat poisonous bite. Mice are included as one of their prey. I saw these shrews for the first time when I was cleaning out my compost pile and one of them gave me a painful nip, but I guess I was just too big to bring down. I’m glad we have these mouse predators in our yard because mice occasionally invade our garage and damage stored items.

Finally, we had a tree house in our yard that was used by our daughters. Neighbor kids also played in the tree house and I was glad that they could make use of it after my daughters grew up. One day I saw two young girls there that were not from our neighborhood. They had apparently decided this was now their “nest” and had even started to freshen it up with some paint. Since I had no idea where these two “birds” lived and they hadn’t asked permission to redecorate, I told them that they should find another place to do their nesting.

Have you noticed any interesting or unusual local fauna?

Arty V. Smarty

Today’s guest post comes from Sherrilee.

I’ve always been a go-getter, as my mother would say. If I want something, I figure out a way to get it and if I’m doing something, I like to do the best job I can.

As my middle sister discovered early on, this is a difficult personality trait to have in an older sibling. As I had two years on her, everything she did or tried had already been done by me. After a few years it became clear to my parents that there were things she didn’t want to try because I was already doing them (piano, dance, reading…)

So when she showed an interest in drawing and painting, my parents really encouraged her and DIScouraged me. She got art lessons, she got art supplies, she got her artwork framed all over the house, I got bupkis. To their credit, I don’t think they were trying to discourage me in their efforts to nurture something that was all hers, but the result was the same. As the years went by we were more and more defined this way; I was the smart one and she was the artsy one.

In college, during a particularly rough semester, I was looking for something that would be easy and decided to take a beginning drawing class. It was a shock to my system that I wasn’t too bad and I had a great time in class.

After that it was as if a huge door opened for me. It seemed as if around every corner, there was another artsy-craftsy experience waiting for me. Since then I’ve taken on Ukrainian eggs, rubber stamping, tie-dye, silk screen, sewing, scrapbooking, glass etching, candle making…. it’s a long list. The teenager and I now make most of our gifts and I do cards galore every year.

In a bizarre twist, my sister decided in college that she “didn’t have time for art”. So now I’m the artsy one!

What passion have you discovered later in life?