Thursday evening: the annual ice cream social. It’s a pleasantly archaic concept, and draws much of its goodwill from the old-timey name. You expect men with handlebar moustaches and waxed hats, kids rolling hoops with sticks, women covered nape to sole in smothering fabric, an amateur band in the town gazebo uttering bovine oompahs. It’s not like that at all, but the mood is the same – kids running around, games of chance, hot dogs whose contents would still horrify Upton Sinclair, music wafting over the broad lawn. But no secretive teens forming cliques at the margins of the park. It’s possible that this part of town has no teens. They were all struck down in advance by some engineered  plague 14 years ago. We only have kids under 13. Or, the teens find the entire thing lame beyond description, and had retired to a basement to text each other while listening to some emo-thrash fusion band that laid bare the essential loneliness and emotional wasteland of life. Meanwhile, everyone else walked around outside and talked and laughed. This would frustrate the ungrateful teen immensely. If only I lived in a stupid suburb I could really hate this place.

I sat on the steps with (G)Nat and ate hot dogs. It was good. They weren’t Disney Quality, and they weren’t  as good as Dairy Queen. I asked if it was her number three choice for hot dogs, and she declined to answer. I sensed she wanted to leave that spot open. I noted that the pool was open, and she’d be going there soon; she shrugged.

“It’s kinda . . . shallow,” she said. She was right – like all park pools, it’s about as deep as two stacked moist towelettes. But the pool was part of her nightly ritual last summer; it must be so again! And again! Unto eternity! Oh, I suppose you don’t want to go in the bouncy tent, either.

“It’s kinda . . . young.” Said the wise and seasoned one, two months from turning eight. She did have time to ride the teeter-totter with her dad, though. It’s a modern lawyerfied cruelty-free teeter-totter; it’s impossible to put someone up in the air and leap off so they get that tailbone-in-the-uvula sensation. Naturally, she tried to defeat the safety features and ride it as hard as possible. That’s what kids do. We used to think they should experience a taste of the world as it really is, full of sharp corners and bullies who leap off the totter-plate when you’re hanging high, but it’s possible that’s not the way the world will be. The world will be not be any more fair or kind or safe, but there will be innumerable committees and boards to process the grievances that arise from contact with things like Human Nature, and Gravity.  I’m doing her a disservice by teaching her how to compensate for my butt-whapping counter-bounce, and retaliate. I should be teaching her how to suppress her enjoyment, dismount, tell me to stop it, then appeal to a higher authority.

But since I feed her hot dogs, for heaven’s sake, I suppose it goes without saying I am an appalling parent.

Pizza, hot dogs, root beer, cotton candy. A dunk tank. The first night on the first full day of summer vacation. Happier children you’ve never seen.

I tried calling the Dennis Prager show a few days ago. Didn’t make the cut. I don’t have the backdoor number, which means I can’t just call the studio, give the secret code, and get on the air. I had to go through Eva  the Dreaded Screener. The subject of the hour was education; Dennis had given a speech at a Minnesota high school whose motto endorsed the formerly uncontroversial subjects of truth, beauty, and goodness. (You can imagine the objections: the first is relative, the second is subjective, and the third is judgmental.) Did your school teach such things?  he asked.

Well. I wanted to note how my daughter’s public school education had culminated in an auditorium performance where a kid in fatigues ran the class through the Bill of Rights, drill-instructor style, and how this spoke well for the public schools. Since Dennis was talking about a private school in the Minneapolis area, I thought I’d do my part for the gummint schools.

I couldn’t get past the screener.

“What’s the point, though?” she asked after I’d laid out my points.

“That the class recitation was all about classic American values and historical figures. That you can still find that in the public school.”

“I need to sum it up in one sentence,” she said. “How would you sum it up in one sentence?”

I wanted to say “I’ve given Dennis two frickin’ cigars at my house, that’s the fargin’ sentence! Dude owes me! Tell him it’s the short guy from Minnesota who’s Hugh’s friend! Trust me! I know the medium! I can give you 47 second of clanging brass! ” but no. I said “A Minneapolis school has a kid pretend she’s a drill sergeant to lead the class in the Bill of Rights, which proves that the public schools still teach the old virtues.” Then I made the FATAL ERROR. I said it. “Dennis has been to my house. We’ve broken bread. You can trust -

“I’m not getting it,” she said. “Maybe you could send Dennis an email about it?”

I said I would, and thanked her, and hung up, and grinned. He’s going to be standing in my backyard for the GOP media party in a few months. Oh the hell I wlll give him.

You know what he’ll probably say? “She was right. I wouldn’t have let you on, either.” And then he’d grin. That’s why we love him.

Hey! New Diner. Thirty minutes of summer-related jollity. Mp3 version here. iTunes version is delayed, due to peculiar .mac problems.


As I said on the Hewitt show tonight, I feel as if Bizarro World is slowly leaking into ours, and one day we will see Superman and note he has that ugly grey faceted skin, and wonder when that happened. Well, we just didn’t pay attention to the signs. In Bizarro World, illegal foreign combatants are granted constitutional rights; in Bizarro World, people react to high gas prices and energy shortfalls by refusing to boost domestic capacity. You have John McCain nixing ANWAR drilling and lending his sonorous monotone to cap-and-trade; you have Obama noting that gas prices rose too quickly, which presumably means he would have favored a gradual rise to ninety-buck-a-tank fill-ups; you have Speaker Pelosi vamping on the popular memes:

1. We have oil men in the White House. Perhaps she meant to imply that they’re more concerned with their old industry connections than the consumer, the rate of inflation, the impact on the economy, their legacy, and the health and status of the United States. Goes without saying, I guess. It is a hardy perennial. Remember, there are three men in Texas who have a lever that controls the price of oil, and they should be brought in for a stern grilling before Congress. On an unrelated note: Hugo Chavez is a puckish figure whose appeal to the downtrodden is understandable, given American meddling in the region; Iranian state oil production is irrelevant to everything, Saudi Arabia can only be discussed in context to its ties to the Bush family, and Mexico's oil industry is off-limits as well, lest it somehow bolster the arguments of xenophobic racists who oppose unlimited immigration. Pay no attention to the oligarchs behind the curtain. Look at the cartoon figure with the ten-gallon hat and the steer-horns on his stretch Cadillac. Boo! Hiss! Goldstein!

2. We have 2 percent of the reserves and use 25 percent of the reserves. Perhaps she meant to imply that the oil should be distributed across the globe by population, and the most dynamic, elastic, productive economies should be starved to satisfy some happy hand-holding UN-approved kumbaya concept of transnational fairness, and YOU should be putting gas into a bottle and sending it to Zimbabwe. As I’ve said before: it’s as if a world government was formed 20 years ago, and the United States has not only failed to live up to its moral obligations, it has actively thwarted and disregarded the law. We’ve secedwed. Internationally speaking, we’re Dixie.

3. We cannot drill our way out of this. We cannot, in other words, deal with shortages by increasing the supply. Presumably because it wouldn’t have an immediate effect? Well, then, there’s no point doing anything about global warming today or tomorrow, is there. Because it won’t forestall the inevitable day when we run out. Granted. So why eat today? You’ll be dead eventually. Because it won’t be enough in the end to depress prices enough. Yes, three-buck-a-gallon gas, five-buck-a-gallon: six of one, nine dozen of the other, especially if you’re being limo’d everywhere. Because we have oilmen in the White House boo hiss. Well: let’s look at who’s making out bandit-wise. According to this page, the profit in California on a gallon of gas is 51 cents – which includes, for some bizarre reason, “refinery costs.” Only government can make a chart that lumps costs into profits into the same wad. Total California taxes and fees: 52 cents. Add the Federal tax, and it’s 60 cents.

Let’s go back to that “refinery costs and profits” part: the site defines it thus:

The costs associated with refining and terminal operations, crude oil processing, oxygenate additives, product shipment and storage, oil spill fees, depreciation, purchases of gasoline to cover refinery shortages, brand advertising, and profits.

If you’re lumping profit in with the costs associated with government mandates, like oxygenate additives, well – it’s almost as if they’re trying to separate profits from costs to make the former look bigger.

And there’s another category:

Distribution Costs, Marketing Costs, and Profits: The costs associated with the distribution from terminals to stations and retailing of gasoline, including but not limited to: franchise fees, and/or rents, wages, utilities, supplies, equipment maintenance, environmental fees, licenses, permitting fees, credit card fees, insurance, depreciation, advertising, and profit.

So I’m guessing the profit isn’t 51 cents. But whatever it is, it’s too much! I’ve heard some people yearn for a windfall profits tax that would reinvest the money in alternative energy, or rebate it back to the consumer. Fine. Apply that to your business. Here’s the acceptable profit level. You don’t get to make any more than that.  If you do, the state will confiscate the property and divide it among your competitors, or give it back to your customers. Have a nice day. But oil is different. It’s necessary! So is food. Farmers are doing well. Let us therefore set the acceptable level for corn farmers, take away the excess profits, invest it new forms of sweeteners or biofuels farmers cannot yet produce, and give people rebates for Splenda to compensate for the price of high fructose corn syrup.

It’s not that we cannot produce any more oil; you suspect that some are motivated by the belief, perverse as it sounds, that we should not. We should not drill 50 miles off shore on the chance someone in Malibu takes a hot-air balloon up 1000 feet and uses a telephoto lens to scan the horizon for oil platforms. Also, there are ecological concerns. (The ocean is a wee place, easily disturbed.) There’s something else that may well be my imagination, but I can’t quite shake the feeling: high gas prices and shortages of oil make some people feel good. This is the way it has to be. Oil is bad. Cars are bad. Cars make suburbs possible. Suburbs are the antithesis of the way we should live, which is stacked upon one another in dense blocks tied together by happy whirring trains. So some guy who drives to work alone has to spend more money for the privilege of being alone in his car listening to hate radio?


Yes, I know, projection and demonizaton and oversimplification. But this is true: there’s a side of the domestic political structure that opposes expansion of domestic energy production, be it drilling or nukes or more refineries.

The long-term upside seems indistinct, and the short-term downside seems rude and obvious.

From the macro to the micro: we’re building another line of the light-rail system in the Twin Cities, the Central Corridor line. It will run down University Avenue, which is the most diverse artery in the metro area – it goes from the U through an industrial neighborhood that’s been gentrified here and there, rolls through a nice residential section of St. Paul and ends in an immigrant neighborhood full of the sort of shops and start-ups we’re supposed to applaud, and should. It has parking and two lanes in either direction. The train is coming. The train will cut in half the number of lanes for cars. It will eliminate almost 2/3rds of the parking for businesses, by some estimates – driving traffic into neighborhoods – and replace free parking with metered parking. So it will cost more and be less convenient to shop on the street. Who cares? Really, that’s not the point. The point is to drive a broad concrete lane down the middle, hang some ugly powerlines, and put in a high holy train, because trains are better than anything else and they mean you are a real city that values sustainability and proper urban thought. Look at us! We have trains!  Dong dong dong goes the pre-recorded bell, and it’s almost as if you should cross yourself. In the name of the trolley, the rail, and the holy boast.

I love trains; I do. I think they’re neat. But I’m not a poor person who takes the 16A bus line, and that’s a relief: the bus will be cut back, with fewer stops. Sorry! They could spend the money – good rich yeasty public money – on a fleet of lovely electric busses, and I wouldn’t raise a peep. But busses are déclassé, and you don’t get warm applause at the annual urban conferences for upgrading your bus line, for heaven’s sake. Figure out how to blow a train line through the most congested part of town and drive cars off the road, and it’s a standing O.

Oh: the train will require the closure of a road that leads from downtown, across the river, through the U, and over to University Avenue. Traffic will be rerouted, either through capillary-wide streets on campus, or along a scenic route that will add trucks and busses to its pastoral setting. Lovely.

So what’s the main concern around here these days?

The train stops are insufficiently artistic.


New Strib column up; Diner, as mentioned. See you at for a secret assignment! Have a grand weekend.