Friday, June 29, 2007

A Gem

Wakefield v Texas

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tall Bike

This is the second time I've seen this guy in the past week or so. I don't normally comment on my photos but this one deserves a little context. This picture was taken at the corner of JFK and Mt. Auburn Streets in Harvard Square. The guy's head must be 9 feet off the ground, and he was hanging onto the street sign for balance while waiting for the light. The bike has a little battery pack on the left, rear side and it powers some speakers that were playing Rush.

I showed the photo to some colleagues and one of them knows these folks, or at least of them. They are called SCUL, and there are many bikes, pulled from trash heaps and reconfigured or engineered from scratch. Check out Armada to see the number and styles of bikes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Not So Sure . . .

On my morning commute I saw a guy who must have weighed 270 lbs. -- if he weighed a pound -- riding an old Kawasaki or Honda motorcycle. The bike was not a rice rocket, nor was it a high end cruiser -- just one of those 200CC beaters with the boring paint job. He had on a big, silver, full-face-shield helmet, a gray polo shirt, jeans and Ugg boots. It's the Ugg boots that spur this posting, my first in a while, because they put the scene over the top in terms of ridiculousness. Grown men shouldn't wear Ugg Boots, especially not 270 pound men riding old, beater bikes on 80 F mornings.

This is a petty, pointless little post but absurdity reigned.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summer Storm Sky

Two Good Posts

Two good posts from Michael Yon -- a freelance journalist in Iraq (former Special forces guy too).

Be Not Afraid
Operation Arrowhead Ripper Day One

Obviously the main stream media missed this buildup because, the war is, you know, lost.

God Bless our troops.

Happy hunting.

Institutional "Confidence"

Here's an interesting excerpt from the Wall Street Journal's "Best of The Web Today" email about a Gallup Poll rating Americans' confidence in American institutions:

*** QUOTE ***

The percentage of Americans with a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in Congress is at 14%, the lowest in Gallup's history of this measure--and the lowest of any of the 16 institutions tested in this year's Confidence in Institutions survey. It is also one of the lowest confidence ratings for any institution tested over the last three decades. . . .

Of the 16 societal institutions tested in Gallup's 2007 update, Americans express the most confidence in the military. They have the least confidence in HMOs and Congress. Americans have much more confidence in "small" business than in "big" business.

*** END QUOTE ***

The survey suggests Americans are generally grumpy; all the institutions surveyed showed a decline in confidence since last year except HMOs and "big business," which held steady at 18% and 14% respectively.

Newspapers, meanwhile, have a confidence rating of 22%. Eat your heart out, Nancy!

-- James Taranto

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pilgrims' Progress

Sunday, we headed to Plymouth to dine with Mrs. Agricola's father -- he lives on Cape Cod and it's mid-way between our plots of land. I hadn't visited Plymouth in perhaps 25 years. What I remember from that trip was the sad little Mayflower II and the even sadder, caged-1620 Plymouth Rock surrounded by flotsam and seaweed.

The Mayflower II seems sadder today, surrounded by fencing so that you have to pay to see her hull. We didn't even see Plymouth Rock . . . what was really surprising in Plymouth however, were the people. At the risk of sounding like a snob (which, basically I am, I suppose) the visitors to Plymouth on Fathers' Day were somewhat . . . louche. There were lots of mullets, bad tattoos -- some acquired in prison -- lots of smoking 120 Virginia Slims and Marlboro Reds as well tons of Harleys.

The Harley riders kept cruising up and down the street, back and forth, for much of the afternoon. It reminded me of what goes in other seaside towns along the coast of Massachusetts and New Hampshire -- especially at Revere, Nantasket, Salisbury and Hampton Beaches. I'm not sure what it is about seaside towns like these that attracts this social element and what compels them to cruise the strip, though I have a theory. Three of these four towns are near old, yet still operating, nuclear reactors -- Seabrook in NH, and Pilgrim in Plymouth. Perhaps there is something in the air that attracts these people. I am all for nuclear power, but may have to reconsider my support of it until I can do some more research into the social element that congregates in towns near the reactors.

Miles Standish, John Smith and the other Pilgrims would hardly recognize Plymouth today. When you go to Revere, as we did Friday with my father, you expect the seediness so you're ready for it. The seediness of Plymouth, however, shocked me -- though I'm not sure why, tourist destinations always have a less than lovely underside when you scratch the surface. Be that as it may, we'll leave the seaside strip in Plymouth to the inked, mulleted and smokey masses.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Flag Day

I pledge allegiance to the Flag
Of the United States of America,
And to the republic for which it stands
One nation, Under God
Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Eerie Yelps

We finally saw the Sopranos finale last night, and I'll write more about it in another post, though I may need to see it again to successfully parse it all out. When it was over, Mrs. Agricola and I headed up to bed. As we did we heard one of the creepiest sounds either of us has ever heard. It sounded slightly human, but for a couple of yelps I thought it might be a turkey. After hearing the eerie, sharp noise a couple more times I knew that it was definitely mammalian.

I looked out the window and saw a small, pale yellow colored animal that looked like a neighbor dog -- but it was too late for that animal to be outside -- or a large cat (but not big enough to be a lynx or something like that and the noise, which was continuing was not feline at all). It was half in the shadows and half in the light of the arc-lamps so it was not entirely clear what I was looking at until it moved and started to walk like a dog.

My wife ran over to look too but the animal had moved into full shadows. We grabbed some binoculars and though the animal was in shadow I could distinctly see its pointy head, skinny waist and a long bushy tail -- it could have been a fox, but it's light color is what makes me think it was a coyote. It had stopped yelping, and was sitting at the end of a neighbor's driveway. Lights were coming on up and down the street because of the commotion but the coyote sat there very calmly before slinking off between two houses, returning to his home, no doubt, in the marshes along the Charles River.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On-Demand Fiasco

The Sopranos ended its run this past weekend.

I still have yet to see it.

Sunday night I was exiled to my basement by a hen party held by Mrs. Agricola. I'm not sure why it happened when it happened but there was some complex algorithm of other Sunday night, all-female get togethers at which neighbor-ladies gather to watch the execrable Desperate Housewives over the past two years which we have never hosted . . . I can't pretend to understand.

I didn't mind too much however because I knew that I'd catch the finale On-Demand, Monday night. Except that I didn't. RCN -- stellar cable provider that it is -- was unable to deliver HD HBO and On-Demand on Monday night. After several abortive attempts to get On-Demand to work I spent 30 minutes on hold before connecting with a service rep.

The guy was very nice but he, and, so he said, the entire organization didn't know why the outage was happening. Ninety percent of his calls dealt with the same issue last night. It appears everybody was trying to catch the Sopranos finale On-Demand and the RCN system couldn't handle the load. He also posited that a Saturday night firmware update may have been responsible, but no one knew for sure. RCN seems to have a tremendous IT department -- a system wide firmware update and/or high traffic basically crippled their system on a pair of nights that they should have known would have been very high traffic nights.

Last night's call was our third in two weeks for poor On-Demand performance, and our patience is wearing thin with RCN. That they are IT-incompetent should not surprise me because RCN sends monthly bills every other month, and they never once reached me when I'd established email billing. For this service I pay $137 each month.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ingenuity Gone Wrong

To gain access to the attic of Quarter Acre we use fold-away stairs. I don't know how or when this stairway was developed, but it definitely strikes me as a bit of nifty American ingenuity. The door -- which is in the ceiling and faces the floor below is attached to the frame with some hinges so that it pivots up and down. On top of the door panel, inside of the attic, is a set of stairs, comprised of three parts, each attached to the other with hinges so that all pieces lie flush on top of one another and with the back of the door.

In this way about 7.5 feet of rise, and probably 9 feet of run fit into a footprint 4 feet long and 2 feet wide. The real business end of the stairs though is the pair of heavy springs and folding iron arms that run along the sides of the main stair section. The metal arms offer rigidity to the whole structure when it's opened. The springs, I learned this afternoon, actually keep the whole thing from falling open. I discovered this when one the springs wrenched the metal arm out of the frame, ripping one bolt completely out of the wood and bending the other.

One of the springs never laid flush with the back of the door, it always hung up over the top of the main portion of the stairs (it now strikes me that the stairway may not be plumb, and therefore was racking). I would move it off of the stair and align it -- no big deal, until this afternoon. The whole episode startled me and then freaked me out -- had the other bolt that holds the arm in place sheared out of the wood like its neighbor I might have been hit in the face with the whole apparatus.

I pulled the arm out of the frame and detached the spring. I left the door down -- because it would no longer stay up -- and cut two pieces of 1x3 that I screwed into the ceiling -- through the molding of the door into the frame -- with high quality screws securer the door. Now I, or Mrs. Agricola will begin calling around for prices on these doors and add another to-do to our list to replace our "bit of nifty of American ingenuity."

Saturday, June 09, 2007

First Recital

Child One performed in her first-ever ballet recital on Saturday 9 June. As can be expected from 5 troops of little girls between 3 and 6 years of age it was incredibly cute. I'd never been to such an even before and it was interesting to see how they did it: one of the older girls at the ballet school danced in front of, and to the side of the little ones who were supposed to follow her lead. Some did passably, some did nothing except look into the crowd for their parents, and others became fascinated by things on the floor and directing their teammates where they should be.

Child one did very well (we think), and though she said she preferred her tap numbers, we all think that she did better with the ballet portions of the recital. I doubt that this was a first step on a lifelong journey that will see her feted in The New York Times at the end of a 20 year career as a Prima Ballerina. the first recital was important because it was one of those childhood firsts that bring the little one such joy -- being on a stage, wearing pretty costumes, having everybody in the family (including beloved cousins who also dance!)come out to watch. If it were not your child I could see how it would be a torturous hour-plus way to spend a Saturday. As a father though, it was a true and pure moment that won't soon be forgotten.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Peggy Noonan on "The Sopranos"

Peggy Noonan has a great piece in The Wall Street Journal this morning about "The Sopranos." That Peggy Noonan watches Tony, Carm and all the other paisans surprises me, a bit. She is one of the best writers out there today, and writes with such tremendous grace, intelligence and elegance that I find it somewhat jarring that she sits there on Sunday nights and watches the Brutes of Jersey, just like I do. That she writes about the show with such spot-on insight is not at all surprising. I read her observations and wish I could even make half of them. She's terrific. My favorite line in the piece is this classic:

. . . everyone's a gangster as long as he can find a gang. Those who don't are freelancers.

I was a freelancer for a long time, perhaps that's why this line resonates with me so much. But, more so, it resonates because we all want to be a part of a gang. I have long thought that the Sopranos masterfully tapped into that sense of loss and disconnection that is so prevalent in our world today and that is a central reality of the modern American Experience. In essence, this blog, and maybe all blogs, is about this grappling.

Chronicling the mundane events of life, the seasonal changes, the work that goes into maintaining a home, a piece of property and ultimately a family and sharing it with the world is a way to contextualize and understand our world as it it exists, in the here and now. This is another strength of the Sopranos. Tony lives in a world which is a sub-world of the one most suburbanites occupy. Despite the anarchy of infidelity, murder and greed that fill it, Tony's world -- at least the one in which he was raised as the son of a boss, and which he struggles to maintain -- is governed by rules.

These rules, relics of a collective past are being eroded at every turn and he has lost his moorings. At many points throughout the run of the show the characters talk of the rules, of being made, of doing time to legitimize their stature. Just this year Michael, before his murder, spoke of Ommerta -- which he violates with "Cleaver;" and, Phil Leotardo said they "make guys without the blood and the sword and the cross." As a viewer I often got the feeling that the characters were pretending to be gangsters, and modeled themselves on TV gangsters. Somewhere, the transfer of the knowledge of what made a gangster was ruptured. Most likely this was caused by depictions of the Mafia on TV and in movies -- both of which serve as peripheral, silent characters throughout the run of the show. Just as media transforms and distorts the relationships within a more "traditional" family so it did within Tony's crew.

He, like us, is struggling with this world in which not much seems to make sense, in which our foundations are assaulted at every step by the various forces that wish to topple the traditional edifice in which most of us were raised. Tony is us, without morals, without scruples and with blood on our hands. His struggles with the modern world reflect our own.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tree Service

Earlier this week the remnants of some named-tropical-depression (Barry, I think) came through the area and brought some funky, humid air, lots of rain and some moderate winds.* Moderate though they seemed, the winds, took down a large chunk of a tree in my neighbor's yard. The felled-section landed on his house. It didn't seem to do much damage but the tree whole needed to be removed. This morning, a tree crew showed up and began cutting.

Twenty years ago (wow!), as a callow youth, my first job was working on a tree crew. My Mother's, first cousin's in-laws (if that's not a Boston-familial connection chain . . . ) owned a tree company in the Boston area. I remember being too young to work, but people telling me that when I turned 16 I'd go work for that crew -- and so I did.

It was hot, dirty, dangerous, hard work. It brought me in touch with some unsavory types (gun charges, manslaughter charges) and afforded me the opportunity to drive trucks (when legal), use chainsaws, chippers, stumpers and bring my lunch to work in a cooler. One summer I got hit in the head and got 30 stitches. I was tanned. I was strong. My hands were hard and my arms were covered in scratches. I earned $8/hr, $12/hr for overtime. Basically it was the best job that any 16 year old could ever ask for.

It also taught me the value of a buck, how hard it is to earn a living and what it means to work. Some days, like this morning, I miss that job even though it would be unrealistic for me, at this point in my life, to go and do that work. But it was honest labor, with tangible results that got me outside, kept me active and put cash in my pocket. Working in advertising, you play a big game, all the time -- jacking your salary by moving from job to job producing disposable paper and electronic deliverables. It has its moments, it can be hard in terms of stress, and it can be fun, sometimes, but it's a service based industry with few tangible results.

Of course, when we are successful our clients move units, post profits, see their stock go up, spend more money with us, we profit etc. etc. but it's all, on many levels, theoretical. I take pride in successfully executed campaigns that move the needle; but, I guarantee that I'll remember the day we took down about 360 feet of White Oaks (6 trees on a piece of property -- and the only day I ever felt bad about how I earned my money because the trees were healthy and beautiful) longer than I'll ever remember some campaign selling servers. Am I glorifying my teenage work experience? Of course I am, but it has stood me in good stead, and taught me some of the most important lessons of my life.

*How we can have a named storm already, prior to Hurricane Season, is beyond me. I think it's the result of people with an axe to grind over global warming who start naming every moderately strong tropical system that blooms anywhere near hurricane season, but that's a post for another time.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

6 June 1944

Sixty three years ago today, the United States and its allies -- Britain, Canada, France & Poland -- stormed the beaches, and glided via parachute and glider into the fields of Normandy. This daring move started the final climactic thrust into continental Europe that would, elven months later in May 1945, end the war and the Third Reich.

The courage of those troops, and the daring of their commanders to attempt such a landing are unparalleled. I can only imagine the terror of waiting for the ramp to drop on a landing craft or the green light telling you to jump into the night, over hostile territory. I can only admire the professionalism and courage that it took then to fight and accomplish the mission. Thankfully, we were on the winning side of that conflict and thankfully we had leaders who felt it necessary to win, and permitted the armed forces the latitude they needed to do so.

Take a moment today, and recall the courage, sacrifice and honor of the men who invaded Normandy, all those years ago. They are growing older, and someday there will be no veterans of World War II left among us. It is our duty to remember them and what they did on 6 June 1944, now and always.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Attributes of Manliness

City Journal has a nice review of a book, The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden (Collins, 288 pp.), that sounds like a great little read. The reviewer says that the authors of the book, brothers, "set old-fashioned male virtues on two stout heels." He then proceeds to quote a quote from the preface that I think is good advice for boys of all ages, and something that one needs to remind oneself of:

“Don’t grumble. Plug on. . . . Don’t swagger. The boy who swaggers—like the man who swaggers—has little else that he can do. . . . Be honest. Be loyal. Be kind. . . . Remember that the hardest thing to acquire is the faculty of being unselfish,” which is “. . . one of the finest attributes of manliness.”

-- Sir Frederick Treves, Bart, KCVO, CB, Sergeant in Ordinary to HM the King (1903)

Monday, June 04, 2007

(Cigar) Smoke Gets In My Eyes

I smoked my last cigar probably ten years ago. This past weekend I smoked two.
On Friday night, Mrs. Agricola and I kicked off the summer in style and finally set up the porch and invited our neighbors over for a drink.

We were drinking Italian and French Roses when our neighbor pulled out a couple of cigars -- Cubana Julianas (I think) that we smoked without delay. My parents had stopped in, after an evening out, and it was a very convivial time. The company was great, the wine was flowing and the smoke was floating. As I worked my way through the cigar I remembered why cigar smoking is so pleasurable -- especially when smoking terrific cigars and drinking good wine while sitting on a porch on a warm, late-spring night with great company.

The second cigar, a Macanudo, was smoked yesterday afternoon at a boil that we did with the same neighbors (Boil, Boiled, Fed). It sparked the appetite between rounds one and two of the feed. While it was not as delicious as the Friday-cigar, it was still pretty good. A weekend of good smoke, good times, and good food make for a difficult Monday transition.

Sunday, June 03, 2007