Today: weather, blather, cosmological metaphysics. AGAIN.

Tonight: The first flakes. I walked outside tonight to finish a small cigar, and saw one flake. Saw another. Then a hundred. It’s time; we’re due. It has to happen eventually. You wouldn’t want Thanksgiving to come with bare lawns, would you?

Of course you would. The trees still have their autumnal rainments:

Snow should have the decency to hold off until every leaf has fallen, but there is nothing decent about snow. It is a bully and a bore. Here we go.

At least Jasperwood is ready. The garage roof is sealed tight, which concludes a long experiment with Contractors Who Suck. Did I tell you this? The roof is flat. The old roof leaked, so I had it replaced years ago with a foam roof. It was watertight, but it cracked and buckled and looked like absolute crap. Usually one would not be concerned about the aesthetics of a garage roof, but it’s set in the hill, visible when you come up the stairs. My wife hired a kid to chop it off and bade me to replace it. Months of calls and talks and meetings with contractors. The last one said yeah sure, I can do a rubber roof. He came by, took measurements, gave me a proud tour of a binder with testimonials from people who’d loved the work they’d done, then went dark for a week. When I called him back he said Oh Yeah Right, and said he’d been blue-skying the whole thing with guys around the office, and one of them suggested a sod roof. You know, redo the concrete, put down a drainage system, put in sod, and you’d have like a park on your roof.


Hmm. Errr. NO. I ended up calling the fellow who’d given us the first bid, thereby establishing the price that Seemed Too Much At the Time, and unlike everyone else I’d talked to, he came out and did it.

But there’s more. He repaired the Wall of Great Doubt. Jasperwood has a two-story porch, originally a sleeping porch, I guess. It tilts ever so slightly. It’s an ancient tilt: I can tell by the old window frames that the tilt existed forty years ago when the windows were placed. That I can live with, but the crack . . .

. . . oh. The crack. It was like earthquake damage. It zigzagged up the bricks of the bottom floor. There was a gap that admitted mice and drafts. It looked worrisome, but it never shifted or changed until last year, when the Ruinously Expensive drain project involved machines pounding on the ground for a few days. The crack widened and detached and I could imagine the entire two-story porch thundering down in a heap of bricks and dust. I asked the fellow who looked at the roof to look at the crack.

Verdict: cosmetic. The fundamentals were sound, as the President always says after a really bad day on the market. (Or used to, until we all became accustomed to hideous swings up and down.) He could rebuild the wall by removing each brick, matching the grout, and putting everything back. This he did. It’s magnificent. Between the roof and the crack, Jasperwood is solid and trim and squared away, and will greet its 100th year in excellent shape.

But there’s more, and for this I have to thank everyone who ever flew into Minneapolis. There’s a noise-insulation program that replaces windows in houses in the flight path, paid for by a slight ticket surcharge. We qualified. Yesterday a team of Vietnamese window-rehabilitation experts descended on the house, and rehabbed 19 windows in nine hours, including ripping out the ancient 1915 frames of the sunporch and making them level again.

They took out the old sash weights, installed 95 years ago and entombed ever since:


So all the things that worried me about the house are over, and the things I had learned to live with are better.

Let the snow pile. I’ll be in here with a mug of cider. It’s time. It’s right. As the Wii Fit punching bag says: All right. Let’s do this together.

(I haven’t played that program in a year. I will go to my grave quoting it.)



Oh, by the way: that’s Professor Lileks, thank you. I gave a chat to a class at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design today. Subject: opinion writing. So, what makes me different than someone who writes a letter to the editor? Experience? No; that person could have written a thousand-word letter every day for 40 years. Knowledge? Certainly not. Answer: credentials! I have been elevated at various points in my career, like a ship in a canal dock, from publications of small scope or credibility to a large publication with an institutional brand for reasonable competence and sobriety, and this bestows a certain status. It’s illusory, and the readers may not accept it, but there it is. Or so it used to be, before the new media blew the old model apart. Now it’s voice and brand and skill and wit. The entire speech boiled down to “be fast, don’t be dull, don’t lie.” At least that’s how I ended it. Also noted that most opinion pieces reinforce existing beliefs, and generally - by which I mean never - persuade people to abandon long-held precepts. Best you can do is reinforce existing ideas, challenge them a little, and make it entertaining enough so people who don’t agree come back, because it’s a pleasure to read.

And so on. Last night, remembering I had to give a chat, I made a few notes, and the first was “Three Rules.” When I looked at the piece of paper this morning I noticed that I’d forgotten to elaborate. What rules? Did I have three rules? Was this an allusion to the Mary Tyler Moore ep where Lou Grant stands up to give a speech for her journalism class at the U, gives three rules of journalism summed up in a total of nine words, then sits down? A comment on the needlessness of elaboration, that scene, and a sweet little puncture of the entire edifice of “academic journalism” - nine words, no more. (I think it was “get it first, get it fast, get it right.” That’s about it.) I began with that anecdote, then went on to talk for 50 minutes, with some technical advice about opening your piece with a firecracker, then repeating it at the end to tie it up. At the end of my talk I summed it all up and found I’d delivered three rules.

An astute fellow pointed out that I’d just ended the same way I began, and done so with some rules I’d said at the start I didn’t have. Bless his heart! If only I’d planned it that way. Old speech-giver habits, I guess. You always reach around to the start, if you can, so everyone knows you’re done.


This is the show I’m watching at night. I love this show. I love the fact that I love it, because that means I am Smart! and interested in things. There’s nothing here I didn’t know before, though - same for you if you have a glancing interest in the subject. But it pulls things together with interesting graphics and stirring music, and gives you the impression you’re seeing actual objects, not recreations. Sometimes they’re real. It makes you somewhat queasy to know these things are out there. You’ll have to sit through a brief ad. Hey, it’s free.



Eventually the stars die; eventually they all do. After that? Well, you know me. The eternal optimist. Or rather, optimistic about eternity. Heat Death is too grim to imagine, and even though I know the eventual disposition of the universe is not subject to considerations like “unsatisfying” or “depressing,” and even though the temptation to infer meaning and purpose from the glories of the heavens is just the human desire to paint the facts with the brush of subjective metaphysics, it just seems . . . insufficient. That’s all. On one hand, it makes sense: the universe explodes, expands, cools, winks out, and nothing’s left. So it is with a cherry bomb; what makes the universe - the biggest cherry bomb of them all - any different? But then you consider the alternatives, such as the universe contracting back into the hot little ball - something that requires more mass than they think the universe has, if I recall correctly - or the possibility that new universes are birthed into newly-created realms by the actions of black holes. These things seem speculative at best and fanciful at worse, but:

On the one hand, we have figured out so much, and revealed an extraordinary clockwork machine, which operates by rules, except when it doesn’t, and

The two terms I keep hearing to explain why this happens or this doesn’t happen? Dark matter and dark energy. Things they can’t find, but must exist, because otherwise there’s no explanation for what this happens or this doesn’t. You can marvel at the human ingenuity involved in creating these theoretical constructs, explaining the vast mysteries of the deep; you can also say hmm. Phlogiston.

The end of the last episode was a bit depressing, with the talk of the universe’s eventual end - not to worry, the sun will have consumed the earth by then, if it hasn’t been thrown into deep space by the Milky Way’s inevitable collision with Andromeda - but one of the scientists say the good news is that this is the season of light for the universe, a glorious time to be around, when conditions are perfect for Us. Just as the position of the earth is perfect, and the nature of the star we orbit is perfect, and all the other Goldilocks conditions from which one can draw no conclusions, because - as I think I said a few days ago the last time I started babbling about this - you cannot ascribe agency to a situation that permitted the rise of self-aware organisms. Of course the conditions are right. That’s why we’re here to identify the conditions.

But then you see the descriptions of galactic superclusters, which just . . . boggle. I mean a galaxy is one thing. A group of them is another. A huge arrangement of huge arrangements of huge arrangements . . . well. When the computer simulation zoomed out to demonstrate the filaments that stretch across space, and you could be forgiven for seeing a picture of brain cells. Say what you will about the universe, but the sucker scales.

Turtles all the way down, in other words. And all the way up. Turtles!

TOMORROW: a cornucopia of updatage. See you then.




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