The Week’s Tweets (2009-10-31)

  • Teenagers in sweatshirts and masks. Time to secure from handing out candy. #
  • Out of chocolate, just handing out Smarties from here on out. #
  • I went west, and I'm glad I did. #
  • Screw the economy, I'm staying in Missoula. #
  • Bummed I can't find a pumpkin. #
  • Anyone got any exciting horror movie plans for the next few days? We're going classic with The Hitcher and modern with The Strangers. #
  • WHat is best Twitter app so I don't miss direct tweets? #
  • On way to campus to score writing tests, really glad i stopped at Food For Thought for a bkfst burrito instead of hitting the food court. #
  • Note to self: remember to start looking BOTH ways on Phillips at Scott. #
  • Starting Nov. 1, MTPR will run Morning Edition until 9am! (Maybe I'll start contributing now.) #
  • Scott St. Bridge is open! You heard it here first. #
  • Scott St. bridge has a double yellow line! #
  • Looking for small businesses to profile on a financial news web site. #
  • At the Break, pondering reminding the guys at the next table that they promised each other to work, not talk, if they sat together. #
  • Wishing I had a hand truck. #
  • Fear and Swine Flu in Missoula: #
  • Is it my imagination or are there a lot of people named Millar in Montana? #

Screw the Economy, I’m Staying in Missoula

On this weekend’s Missoula Notebook, I confess to being a proud non-contributor to improving the American economy.

I’m proud of how relatively little I contribute to “the economy.” Driving an eleven-year-old car, carefully planning my first new-shoe purchase in five years, and squinting at a non-digital, non-HD television, it’s hard to imagine how I could be happier.

A lot of the credit goes to just living in Missoula, and I’m not alone in feeling this way. A recent survey found 94 percent of Missoulians “satisfied with the overall quality of life in Missoula.”

Read the rest here.

Fear and Swine Flu in Missoula

Has swine flu put us on a snot-slicked slippery slope to fascism? Find out over at the Missoula Notebook:

Things have gotten so bad that the White House today declared a nationwide state of emergency and advised that it would be “taking unprecedented steps to counter the emerging pandemic,” but of course this only raises new worries. With emergency powers, will the administration even need to await Congressional approval before empaneling tribunals that will decide who’s too sick to be saved?

After all, while reports of President Obama’s “civilian national security force” roving the streets at night in FEMA vans-clad in clown masks and HAZMAT suits and urging flu sufferers to surrender “so we can take care of you”-are as yet unsubstantiated, perhaps it’s only a matter of time.

The rest is here.

The Week’s Tweets (2009-10-24)

  • Why, yes, I do think I'm slightly more Montanan than you: #
  • Squirrels caught in an electronic incident. #
  • Is anyone going to the Thriller thing at Hellgate High tomorrow night? Can I shadow you for an article? #
  • Looking forward to seeing David Simon and George Pelecanos at the Festival of the Book tomorrow. Baltimore in Montana! #
  • Pepperoni a fever, supreme a cold. #
  • Preparing to interview a Slovenian government official. #
  • Mottainai: Japanese for "a sense of regret concerning waste when the intrinsic value of an object or resource is not properly utilized." #
  • I always remember about time-zone differences except when I don't. #
  • One advantage of having a one-month-old: you can drink unlimited amounts of coffee and still have no problem falling asleep. #
  • I love it when a plan comes together. #
  • Does anyone know if I can use Quicksilver to present me with a reminder of something every time I open a specific document? #
  • I wish I could do my job as carelessly as medical billing/claims people do theirs and still get paid. #
  • Why WOULDN'T you want to be picked up and held every hour during the night, if it were an option? #

If There’s A Rod And Reel In My Hand, This Must Be Montana

My latest Missoula Notebook column relates my ongoing efforts to become a true Montanan:

Two years into my Montana residency, I’ve already achieved journeyman status at standing next to my grill with a can of Pabst in my hand, floating down the Blackfoot on an inner tube, and reacting to every new City Council resolution by exclaiming “this is Big Brother government at its worst!” But those skills will only carry me so far. To approach true Montananness, what I really need to do is get better at killing things in the woods.

Read the rest here.

Movie Review: “Surveillance” and “Staunton Hill”

As a general rule, it makes sense to avoid movies directed by the children of other directors. No matter how good these new directors might turn out to be, after all, it wasn’t because of their talent that they were given the opportunity. If their movies turn out to be any good, it’s in spite of the relative lack of roadblocks the offspring encountered as they worked to bring their visions to the screen.

Perhaps all of this should go without saying, except that twice in the last two months I found myself tempted by progeny productions, although with contrasting results. The first was Surveillance, directed by David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer and produced by the oddly coiffed auteur himself. I’ll admit that the Lynch name was part of the draw, although it didn’t hurt that the movie starred Bill Pullman, whom I’ve enjoyed ever since Spaceballs and who did what I thought was great work for David Lynch himself in the underrated Lost Highways.

Surveillance was okay. The script has a nice twist to it, the camera work is often beautiful (if that’s not an odd thing to say about a film that is also often horrifically violent), and the actors acquit themselves well, including two scenery-chewing supporting actors playing cops who seem like the wacky staties in Super Troopers, only not played for laughs, if that makes any sense. The movie has the screwy perspective and squirmy discomfort with the surface of the normal world that first drew me, in about ninth grade, to the work of David Lynch himself, at the same time that it is no mere imitation of the senior Lynch’s work. The movie’s IMDB listing describes the movie thus: “An FBI agent tracks a serial killer with the help of three of his would-be victims – all of whom have wildly different stories to tell.” If a storyline like that has the slightest appeal to you, especially if you know it will be told with an at least somewhat David Lynchian sensibility, you will probably enjoy the way Surveillance unfolds.

I cannot, however, recommend Staunton Hill, directed by George Romero’s son, Cameron. Recently reassured by the daughter Lynch’s work in Surveillance, I was open to the possibility that a descendant of the man who made Night of the Living Dead might at least have started with good genes. I should have paid attention to the bad feeling I got when I noticed this quote from George Romero on the box: “This is as scary as it gets.”

In fact, no. While I can’t immediately recall any movies that scared me less than this one, I seem to remember once wailing with fear during a scene in a Lassie movie involving kittens needing to be rescued from a burning barn. (I was three, I think, but still.) Seemingly made by someone who had memorized The Texas Chainsaw Masscre without ever noticing what made it good, Staunton Hill only ever had me in true suspense when I was wondering if the first death/etc. scene was really going to get that extreme and bloody. (It did.)

For some reason Cameron decided to set the movie in 1969, though at some point I remember thinking that, if the numbers “1969” hadn’t appeared on the screen for a few seconds during the opening scene, there wouldn’t have been a single aspect of the movie that would have suggested to me that it took place any time but now. There is a scene of activisty confrontation between the one black hitchhiker and a racist mechanic, and-though the former does wear a hair pick-I find it hard to believe that a black man in the 1960s would feel safe talking to a potential Klansman the way this guy does. Then there is a weirdly awkward use of the verb “dig it” that might have been an outtake, so close did the actor seem to come to just going ahead and making little finger quote marks in the air.

Overall, the movie feels more like a student effort, not because of its production values, but because of the sense one gets of someone completing an assignment to make a movie in the style of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, ticking off the rubric elements on which the effort will be graded: car trouble, check; obese hillbillies, check; freakishly strong imbecile; remote rural setting, check; etc. It’s like Romero senior gave his son a homework assignment. Maybe his quote comes not from an enthusiastic assessment of the film, but from the letter he sent to studio execs, advising that they break their contract with his son: “This is as scary as it gets with my boy, so I think you can see he shouldn’t quit his day job yet.”

On the other hand, if Coen made a horror movie, I’d probably give him a good quote for the box, too.

The Expensive Pile of Inexpensive Things That Parents Buy

DSC 0036

Back when Amy and I were doing due diligence on this whole having-a-kid thing, we received conflicting reports as to how expensive babies are.

On the one hand, there were those public service billboards that tell you diapers cost $7,000 a month and ask “how much is your allowance?”

On the other hand-some new parents we knew pointed out-for at least the first year or so, you just don’t need that much stuff. A little infrastructure (crib, bassinet, car seat), some clothes (most of which people will give you), and a few other odds and ends you’ll pick out for yourselves, and-once you come up with that $7,000 a month for diapers-you’re off to the races.

It’s those odds and ends that are the problem-not because the ones that you actually need and end up using cost all that much in total, but because you won’t know which ones you actually need and end up using until you purchase and reject three other versions of the thing.

For example, more than one friend has suggested to us that Coen’s nighttime sleeping difficulties might be remedied if we started accidentally smothering him in our sleep “co-sleeping” with him. If you’d told me back in college that I’d one day be “co-sleeping” with two other people, I would have formed a very different mental picture from the reality, but, basically, the idea of co-sleeping is that your baby sleeps next to you in bed. The hope is that, as a result, his sleep will be longer lasting at the same time that you will be able to feed him or soothe him before he descends into the wails that would otherwise be necessary to get your attention all the way from the bassinet. Also, mom can nurse lying down and avoid killing her back repeatedly bending down to scoop the baby out of the bassinet.

As I suggested earlier, one down side to co-sleeping is the increased risk of smothering the baby in your sleep, so there are various items for sale designed to prevent this. Someone sent us a link to a fancy one, and I went to Target to see if I could find something similar but cheaper. As it turned out, there was nothing at Target specifically designed for co-sleeping, but there was this Sassy Perfect Position Sleep System with crib wedge, vented bumpers, adjustable bottom, and “turn head tab” which looked basically like the fancy Snuggle Nest we’d seen on-line, absent this little wall or guardrail that I guess is part of the Snuggle Nest’s baby-smothering-prevention toolset but which didn’t look all that tall or sturdy in the picture anyway.

I also grabbed a The First Years Safe and Secure Bedrail with MattressLock Design, so that, if we ever put the Perfect Position Sleep System on Amy’s outer side, Coen couldn’t possibly roll off the bed, but I rejected the $29 bottle warmer as ridiculously overpriced. Total tab: $54.

Anyway, do I even have to type it out in words that the Perfect Position Sleep System didn’t work out very well last night? It was awkward to nurse with (or it looked so to me) and Coen didn’t seem to appreciate the vented bumpers or adjustable bottom. About two hours after we’d all turned in, and after the 3,331st time Coen had awoken me, I requested that we stop the experiment, because every now and then I just have to get some work done, and today was one of those days.

A few hours later, Amy told me the next morning, Coen had stopped tolerating the vented bumpers and adjustable bottom altogether, flailing and writhing against it until Amy took him out of it and just tossed it in the corner.

He immediately calmed down.

So while we’re still game to try co-sleeping, the Perfect Position Sleep System might not be the thingy we need. We will probably need to purchase other thingies, many of which will probably also not work, and all of which are going to end up in a more-and-more expensive pile in the corner of the nursery/office.

What’s that you say? Why not just return the Perfect Position Sleep System if it doesn’t work for us? Well, what if-a few weeks from now-Coen’s reluctance to sleep morphs into some other nighttime difficulty and his nervous system matures a little more and the vented bumpers and adjustable bottom turn out to be just the ticket for a ride to dream land? The ticket, just in case you’re not clear on the stakes here, to a night of longer than one-hour sleep segments for mom?

So we probably won’t return the Perfect Position Sleep System or many of the other individually inexpensive odds and ends we end up purchasing over the years. Instead, the pile will just mount up, full of “things that might help us get a good night’s sleep,” “things that might help him eat solid foods,” “things that might help him learn to use a toilet,” and so on.

And I can imagine it getting expensive, as time goes on.

Meanwhile, after a particularly frustrating episode of trying to warm a bottle in time to head off Coen’s clearly growing hunger, while mom was supposed to be getting a nap, I think I might swing back by Target for that bottle warmer this evening.

Maybe it will be just the thing to help him take to the bottle.

Staggering Into Fatherhood

DSC 0021

“Is he eating?”

One month into fatherhood, I ask this question several times a day now, usually after I’ve done my best to calm Coen down but have concluded in the face of continued fidgeting, fussing, grunting, and yells that there is only one thing that will work. Well, two things, but they’re both attached to Amy.

The problem-the reason I ask-is, what if I was wrong? What if he didn’t need to eat, after all, but I misinterpreted the signs and took the easy way out by handing him off? I’m glad to be able to report that I’m usually right, but “usually” is no consolation for mistakes during this period when mom is generally getting no more than an hour’s sleep at a time and sometimes even bares her teeth and growls a little when I wake her up.

Perhaps needless to say, then, Amy is looking forward intensely to the day when there is some option besides her chest for soothing the boy’s hunger pangs. We finally started introducing the bottle last week, with mixed results so far. He’ll take it, but only from time to time and never for a whole feeding yet. It’s like he doesn’t mind the artificiality as long as it’s just for an appetizer, but a towering rage comes over him as he begins to suspect that maybe chicken tenders are all he’s going to get, and here he was expecting the full lobster dinner. Breast feeding is probably the best part of his life right now, so I can’t blame him for wanting it to last.

Everyone says these years go by so fast, after all.

Here’s some other things that go by fast. Those couple of weeks when Coen couldn’t really see anything except the difference between light and dark? Yeah, those are gone. I miss those weeks, mainly because it was so easy to beat the boy at cards back then, but it’s exciting to see him beginning to take a genuine interest in his surroundings and, besides, he only ever paid out in IOUs anyway. There’s this wind-up musical mobile above his crib, and as soon as he hears the tinny notes of “Hush, Little Baby” start up, he whips his head toward the thing and watches, apparently fascinated, as six plush and vaguely psychedelic insects rotate past for his amusement. Similarly, he continues to be fascinated by the high-contrast black-and-white images we printed out from a baby web site and hung by his changing table and in his bassinet, sometimes staring at them for up to minutes at a time.

Other than the eating and the art appreciation, there is mainly a lot of fussing, screaming, and fussing and screaming, and that’s just Amy and I. Coen can also be quite noisy, showing an increasingly pronounced preference for sleeping only in someone’s arms as that person perambulates the living room and letting everyone know quite loudly when the ride isn’t jiggly enough. I suppose this is what happens to a baby whose mom spent a lot of time driving a Ford F-250 with bone-rattlingly stiff suspension along washboard Forest Service roads for three months of her pregnancy.

Still, I know we have it easy compared to some parents, which is easy for the one without breasts to say, but still. So far we have yet to experience the hours-long crying jags that come over some babies. Thanks for this goes mainly to the video version of The Happiest Baby on the Block, without which it would never have occurred to me that a good way to soothe Coen might be to cinch him straitjacket-tight in a blanket, turn him on his side under my right arm like a football, cradle his head in the palm of my left hand, and jounce him up and down with my right hand while shushing as loudly as I can.

When our neighbors, new parents of about ten months’ longer standing than us, learned we’d been watching this video, they asked, “don’t you just want to punch that guy in the face?” So I guess the methods of Dr. Harvey Karp, self styled as “the world’s best baby soother,” don’t work for everyone. But the theory propounded in the video-that, if it weren’t for our enormous brains, humans would probably spend a “fourth trimester” in the womb, and that much of the fussiness that gets lumped under the nebulous heading of “colic” (which I was interested to learn isn’t a diagnosable medical condition but basically just means “a baby who screams a lot and we don’t know why but maybe she has gas or something”) simply results from the baby’s unreadiness to be outside the womb-has the virtue of both consistently explaining a lot of Coen’s behavior and predicting what might help him calm down.

I don’t know about you, but those are the sorts of things I like in a theory, so we’ll stick with it for now.

The Week’s Tweets (2009-10-10)

  • Seems like there's going to be some kind of parade today. #
  • Anyone know how to embed a video Youtube-style on a WordPress blog, using your own file uploaded to your own server? #
  • Underreported fun fact: apparently Glen Beck was the Nobel Committee's second choice. Who would have guessed? (sort of via @wil_m) #
  • Early snow in Missoula affords yet another opportunity to determine who understands the difference between "weather" and "climate." #
  • Holy wow: Nobel to Obama. #
  • MMC snap-ins and Powershell cmdlets #
  • Explain to me how the acronym/jargon "i9n" isn't a solution without a problem. Or maybe it's txt speak? #
  • Help with fence pull to improve North Hills elk habitat Saturday, 10am-1pm. RSVP: or #
  • Trying out Coen's new straitjacket. #
  • Woman crashes into inanimate object, blames object: #