Seeking Validation

Dear Dr. Babooner,

The roof on the storage shed out back collapsed this winter from the weight of the snow, and the structure is unusable. The thing has always been an eyesore, and now that it’s damaged a debate has started about its real value. I admit there are benefits. We throw all the sports equipment in there and it helps make everything nice and tidy in our garage.

Our kids and the others in the neighborhood get a lot of use out of the thing, too. They’re always playing one sort of game or another in it or around it. I stopped paying attention but it seems like the door is standing open half the time and some little urchin is crouched in there, ready to pounce on someone. Usually the game has something to do with winning a championship or being a loud, bossy millionaire. Occasionally you hear some shouts floating across the yard about “MONSTER TRUCKS”!

But since the collapse I’ve had to wrap the shed in police tape and tell them to STAY OUT because the roof is unsafe. Long faces all around.

My wife thinks we should tear down the shed and replace it with something even bigger and nicer with expensive bells and whistles so it can be even more fun for the children and their games, but I’m thinking we should let the place fall in on itself like an old barn on an abandoned farmstead. Yes, it would be traumatic for the children to watch that happen, but it would remind them that games are just games and maybe it would instill in them a kind of gravitas that, frankly, they’re lacking. An air of melancholy and resignation about the inevitability of death and decay can be a useful thing for a young person. They’re not all going to be sports stars, you know. Some might become independent filmmakers.

Besides, we’re out of money.

Dr. Babooner, please tell me I’m right about how this dispute should play out. I took the time to write to you, after all, and my wife and the kids never read your column. You won’t gain a thing by siding with them. Give a loyal reader a bit of support, and I promise to keep coming back for advice that makes me feel smart!

Seeking Validation

I told Seeking Validation that humans are able to develop an air of melancholy and resignation without intentional assistance from anyone else, and it’s mean spirited to try to build gravitas into another life just because you can.

Besides, watching something collapse is a terrible downer

The money question is a serious one, though, and rather than simply accept decay of the backyard shed, perhaps you and your wife and the local children could work together on weekends to repair the roof and improve the structure so it can still be a fun and useful neighborhood attraction. Like Amish people would, but without the horses and hats. It may not be the best solution, but it suits the situation.

And Dr. Babooner can’t be blackmailed with threats of withdrawing your attention. Your attention is a mixed blessing – look at me! The lovely pearls are merely window dressing to cover my own inner pain. Your flip comment about “long faces” hurt in ways I can’t even begin to describe, so don’t get me started on gravitas!

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

S.O.S. (Support Our Slogan)

Among the reactions to last night’s State of the Union message was this late night dispatch from marketing genius and all-purpose idea man Spin Williams, who conducts his business in a rolling conversation he calls The Meeting That Never Ends.

We’ve been kicking it around in The Meeting all night long, and it’s our verdict that the standout feature of President Obama’s speech last night is his repeated exhortation for Americans to “Win The Future”. It’s a brilliant three-word call to action that sounds wonderfully urgent and has the added advantage of being completely vague and is therefore totally flexible. Is “the future” the prize we’re after, or the game we’re playing? The answer could be both! In any case, how will we know we’ve won? The future is always just ahead, so even if we think we’re winning right now, there’s always a chance some unnamed country with a whole lot of hard working people and tons of money in the bank will overtake us before we get there. So if our goal is to Win The Future, we can Never Quit until we’re Told We’re Finished. I mean Victorious! Well done, Mr. President!

I love slogans and I wish we had more of them! For me, the last memorable three-word salvo from a president was Gerald Ford’s “Whip Inflation Now” (WIN). Remember the buttons? I still have a box of them in my basement. People ridiculed it at the time, but eventually inflation got tamed, if not completely whipped. Although buttons that said “TIN” wouldn’t have had the same power – you have to be bold to get attention! I thought at the time that “whip” was wimpy and our goal should be to “Smash” inflation, but people told me the button would be an embarrassment. Why? Last night I suggested that “Win The Future” is deserving of its own line of “WTF” buttons and apparel, but all the younger folks at the table insisted that would be a huge mistake. I still don’t get it. Bright people can be so timid sometimes!

Image from

Anyway, I’m totally on board with this new national effort to Win The Future. Americans love competition, and the slogan is generic enough to connect whatever happens to be the issue of the day (education, energy independence, trade deficits, pollution) to whatever sport you most enjoy playing (football, chess, tennis, air hockey, poker). It may be that our cards don’t look so good right now, but bluffing is an important part of the game and false confidence in the face of overwhelming odds can be a winning strategy. This is our new slogan, people. We should support it. WTF!

I admire Spin for his enthusiasm, no matter the topic. And although I’m not sure I share his fondness for three word slogans, I think he’s right about our love for games.

What’s your favorite competitive sport?

Will You Be My Friend?

Here’s a special message for residents of Minnesota’s 9th Congressional district – all the water surface area in the state – from Congressman Loomis Beechly.

Greetings Constituents!

I’m looking forward to the President’s State of the Union address tonight because I can’t wait to see who’s going to be sitting with whom! Random seating! It’s like the Red Carpet walk at the Oscars, with all eyes on who gets out of the car and in what order. Once inside it’ll be fascinating to see how the very same people who have called each other tyrants, traitors and terrorist coddlers will now try to do the dance of fake friendship. But you can’t get elected if you’re not able to put up a false front, so I’m sure we can make it look very warm and pleasant. And if we pretend hard enough, it could start to come true!

I know that some of you will be scanning the crowd to see if you can find me. Unfortunately, you are at the mercy of the TV networks, and frankly, I’m not a very prominent congressman. Even though January is the time of year when the 9th District has it’s largest permanent population (ice fishing season), the chances are good that the camera will never settle on me. But that’s OK. Back in the district, I’ve already given my annual State of the Ice Shack (and Pick Up Truck) Address, so I’ve had all the limelight and beef jerky a guy can handle.

Congressman Beechly's State of the Ice Shack (and Pick Up Truck) Address

As far as the State of the Union is concerned … I try not to get too bound up in pettiness and partisanship. In the spirit of this year’s grand gesture I will try to sit in between two people I genuinely despise. Who it will be I can’t say at the moment because there are so many to choose from, but you can count on this – I’ll be suffering, and I’m guessing they will be too.

If you see me you will notice one more thing (besides the identities of my worst enemies). I have decided to hold my applause until the very end of the speech. Why? Because the State of the Union is a very very important duty of the president (he has to do it – it’s in the Constitution)! We shouldn’t let it turn into a pep rally. In recent years too many of us in Congress have put our energy into coordinated ovations – so much that we actually miss a lot of what the president is saying. Frankly, there are times when I can’t even recall who had the job before, um, the guy who’s holding it now. So this time I’m resolved to sit quietly and listen.

Besides, back when I sat next to my friends, all I had to do was get up when they got up, stay seated when they stayed seated, and just generally do everything they did. Absent those cues, I might make a terrible mistake and jump up and cheer or cross my arms and fume at the wrong time, going with real emotion rather than remembering what I’m supposed to do. That’s the kind of bad political trouble you can get into when you try to think. So I’m not going to applaud or stand up at all, and I’ll try not to have a facial expression of any kind. My goal is to get through this thing gaffe-free.

But don’t let any of that get out, or the cameras will be on me for sure.

I do hope everyone in the 9th district will watch the State of the Union speech tonight. It is, after all, an opportunity to watch a guy hard at work fulfilling the requirements of his employment. And in America today, to have the chance to see someone actually doing their job … a job that they are paid to do – a job with great health coverage from an employer who will also provide them with a decent pension … well, it’s rare. Like seeing a Dodo Bird. Who talks! I wouldn’t miss it, and neither should you!

Yours in good government,
Hon. Loomis Beechly

Will you watch the State of the Union speech tonight?
And the counter-speech?

Goats in the News

PBS has launched a four part series under the Nova banner called “Making Stuff”, hosted by New York Times Tech columnist David Pogue. If you didn’t catch last Wednesday night’s first installment, you can watch it here.

Especially if you like goats, and I know a few of you do.

About three quarters of the way through the hour, Pouge’s search for the strongest stuff on the planet, which has already covered steel and Kevlar, finally comes around to some extremely tough, undeniably natural stuff – spider silk. And he introduces us to a University of Wyoming scientist named Randy Lewis who is trying to solve the problem of producing massive amounts of spider silk without having to rely on finicky, famously uncooperative spiders. Instead, he’s working with genetically modified, finicky, famously uncooperative goats.

Yes, there are goats in his lab that produce the right protein for making spider silk as one component of their milk. Spider Silk Goat Milk!

Spider web photo from

It’s all part of an ambitious dream of mass-producing super strong materials. Two ambitious dreams, actually – the other one being to make goats the engine behind the next major global industrial manufacturing revolution. Three ambitious dreams if you consider what it would mean for goats to be returned to their rightful place at the center of our crucial economic revitalization and national security efforts. (Ambitious dreams #2 and 3 aren’t part of the official goal, but why not?)

Think of it – factories springing up out of nowhere to process goat’s milk into super-duper strong cables for bridges, components that far exceed steel in terms of durability and flexibility, and all manner of impervious materials. With vast amounts of goat cheese as a by-product.

The upside? Those who already have advanced animal husbandry skills could form the next global cartel to manage a vital resource – GOATPEC (Goats Organized to Assert Total, Permanent, Everlasting Control).

The downside? Bigger webs in the barn rafters.

Do you have a good real-life example of the truth (or irrelevance) of the standard caution “Be Careful What You Wish For”?

Now Appearing Elsewhere

People sometimes politely ask “how’s it going”, meaning, “are you finding any work”?
I always feel like I’m letting them down when I say “not really”, so it’s nice to have something tangible to point to every now and then. I’ve managed to complete a couple of freelance projects, which are now housed at different places online.

The Line, an online magazine, posted this article I wrote about the University of Minnesota’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory – a highly prestigious research facility on the Mississippi River. I was happy to get this assignment, as I have a lot of admiration for scientists. We media people tend to think we’re pretty important but it’s the careful peer-reviewed work going on in laboratories all over the world that will have real meaning over time, while radio and TV programs, magazine articles and yes, blogs, will fade away very, very quickly.

The first time through, I wrote the article as a straight-ahead bit of reporting with a rather neutral and somewhat distant sounding “voice”. As I re-read my work, it seemed a bit dry. So on a lark I wrote a second version with a more casual, smart alecky, non-scientific style of narration, and submitted them both. Guess which one the editor chose?

There’s a strong chance that no responsible scientist will ever speak to me again.

The other project was a half hour radio profile of one of my favorite local music groups – The Brass Kings. I put this piece together for a fine community station, KFAI. In my previous professional life, (spent under the wing of a large, very polished media organization), whenever I needed recording equipment I merely had to ask and something that was state-of-the-art and in flawless condition would quickly be provided. This time I had to go out and buy a digital audio recorder and teach myself how to use it. As anyone I’ve interviewed can tell you, I’m still learning.

I also had to find a way to edit the work on my home computer using something other than the very expensive and temperamental “industry standard” sound mixing program – Pro Tools. I found one that was available for free – a really useful and effective program from Denmark called Hindenburg. Again, it took some learning with more confusion yet to come, but I think it turned out all right.

You can hear the result here.

I’ve picked up a few tricks and met some very nice folks over the past few months, but it is just beginning to dawn on me how hard people have to work when they are living from project to project. Patience, faith and persistence are three necessities in any freelancer’s toolbox.

What is your most marketable talent?

Real Crime Overlooked

A new dispatch has arrived from sensation loving, factually impaired journalist Bud Buck, as he attempts to capitalize on the latest headlines.

Midwestern Crime Families Remain Untouched By Federal Probe
By Bud Buck

Yesterday’s FBI roundup of New York and New Jersey crime families has sent shockwaves through national syndicates of biologically related people who engage in illegal activities, but so far the ruthless crime families of the American Midwest are untouched by this latest probe.

“Are we looking over our shoulders?” asks a source who demanded that he remain unidentified, and is definitely not Joey Erickson of Shoreview, Minnesota.

“Sure,” he said, looking over his shoulder. “Always.”

The Erickson crime family is reputed to be a major player in the following areas:

* Cartnapping (The reckless use and subsequent abandonment of grocery story carts outside cart corrals)

* Transfer Laundering (Illegal exchange of unexpired bus transfers to riders who are not the initial recipients of those transfers)

* Yard Waste Embezzlement (Systematic, secret disposal of organics in improper trash containers)

* Library Book Racketeering

The “godfather” of the Erickson syndicate, Duane Erickson, is said to run the book racket using a network of “lieutenants” who approach people at local libraries and offer substantial cash payments to “sublet” the books they have already withdrawn on their personal library cards. Once the “mark” is enlisted in the “program”, the return of these “sublet” books is refused until tributes are paid or illegal activities are conducted. Failure to comply with the mob’s demands can lead to the destruction of previously spotless personal reputations, the accumulation of vast library fines, and even the complete loss of one’s library card.

Anguish and despair are often the lot of those who become enmeshed in the Erickson crime family’s web of deceit, and yet federal and state authorities continue to do nothing while spending their time and precious resources attacking the same old suspects in New York and New Jersey.

When will law enforcement get serious about the true extent of organized crime? Time will tell!

This is Bud Buck!

I think Bud is in love with the whole mob movie genre and would like to be a Godfather, although I personally can’t think of anything that would be less fun than having to follow the rules, take the risks and live with the uncertainty of being a member of a crime “family”. I guess that means I’d be the kind of sniveling wimp who gets bumped off in the first ten minutes.

If you were in a mobster movie, what sort of character would you play?

Beechly Preaches Reform

Here’s a special message from Congressman Loomis Beechly, who represents Minnesota’s 9th District – all the water surface area in the state.

Greetings 9th Districters

There have been several phone calls to my office asking if I voted to repeal the Health Care Bill yesterday. This is disturbing because I thought my office number was unlisted – if people keep calling, how will we get any work done?

Besides, my position on Health Care Reform has been crystal clear all along – I’m ambivalent.

We have no health care facilities located in the 9th district, and until someone decides to build a floating hospital or set up a clinic at the end of their dock, I see no reason to get excited. For the most part, the health care industry is a huge money game anyway, and the players are all on land. If people who live in the 9th district need to see a doctor, it stops being my concern as soon as they cross the shoreline.

Congressman Beechly Addressing Constituents

Interestingly, during the summer months when many people in other districts want medical attention, they discover the doctor is here in the 9th district, drinking beer on a pontoon and water skiing after dark – things he said they should never ever do when he was in finger wagging mode, back at the office.

So basically I’m for Health Care Reform if it puts more money into the hands of the doctors who like boats. If it enriches the doctors who like to go hiking in the woods or the doctors who are into flying their own airplanes or alpine skiing from helicopters, I’m not interested.

I’m also for Health Care Reform that promotes things like intensive Ice Fishing Treatments, Inner Tube Massage and Jet Ski Therapy. I haven’t seen any of those things in the health care bill that was passed, so I don’t care if it gets repealed or not.

In my opinion, we need a REAL health care measure – something that skips over all this nonsense about co-pays and deductibles and simply requires every American to spend at least one day at the lake every year. Whether they’re calming their stressed out nerves by relaxing or taking part in some kind of beneficial physical activity doesn’t really matter, as long as they’re spending money.

That’s the kind of reform I’m after, and I’ll keep fighting for it here in Washington D.C. until I get it. But don’t hold your breath.
Unless you happen to be trapped under the ice.

Your Faithful Congressman,
The Hon. Loomis Beechly

I know it’s impossibly cold today, so let’s mentally transport to vacation time.
What’s your favorite thing to do at the lake?

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