Thursday, March 31, 2005

Bobby Lightfoot Is On Fire

1979. The Year It All Ended.

Bobby Lightfoot waxes biblical on the year the High-Water-Mark broke over this degraded land. It's been flotsam, flopsweat and green, green bile ever since. Giants roamed the land in those times, pilgrim, and we've been living in wasted & tired excuses for half-shadows ever since. Never again shall we know its like. Why? Because they've made it fucking illegal, that's why, and you allowed it to happen...

Of Course, It's Not All Beer and Skittles

Riding latrine
High on codeine
Spacey Jones you'd better
Grease those skids

Trouble behind
Trouble behind
Trouble, trouble, trouble
Trouble behind

(And that Metamucil...Just crossed my mind...)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Miracle of Modern Medicine

Yesterday at 9:30 AM, I was slipped The Heavy Gear in my IV drip and told "bye-bye" by a mouthy punk of an anesthesiologist. Doctors then ministered to my lifeless body, slicing it and dicing it in ways that only the generally surgical can.

I awoke an hour later, about a half-ounce lighter, in a fog from the anesthesia, headachy and cranky. My throat hurt where a tube had been inserted, and I was numb from the waist down. I spent the rest of the day watching rented movies and floating in and out of sleep. I rested.

Today, an incredibly soft and lissome spring day, on my hands and knees I fertilized, weeded and mulched twelve fruit trees and a strawberry patch, raked all my pullings into the compost heap, sprayed fungicide on four lilac bushes, administered a first spring spraying to said trees (apples, sour cherries and Asian pears, if you must insist on knowing), and began pulling out bramble and pokeberry in an area the previous owners had left shamefully untended but that will become my potato patch when I get it whipped into shape. I stopped when evening drew on, at which point I went inside and whipped up a grilled chicken Caesar salad that was a major hit with a grateful family.

How did I perform this miracle of Martha-Stewartry, one day after the kind of surgery that requires general anesthesia?


Genus Codeine, species Vicodin. Ask for it by name. Not much; only the 5 milligram pills. I find in the arms of Nepenthe, often Less is More.

Not only did they give me the power to get up and git 'er done (as they say around here), but they put me in this utterly perfect meditative state where nothing could be more satisfying than the the endlessly fascinating task of fumbling for the next wild strawberry node, yanking it out and throwing it into my pile -- scrabble, pull, throw, scrabble, pull, throw, scrabble, pull, throw.... For hours and hours and hours.

Genus Codeine, species Vicodin. Ask for it by name.

I would make such a great junkie. Think William Burroughs, not Sid Vicious.

Ask for it by name!

Monday, March 28, 2005

Galen Dissecting a Pig

Things may get a tad bit quiet on the Jingo Front over the next day or two -- I'm scheduled to have some entirely routine surgery that delicacy forbids me to describe in mixed company.

Proponents of Intelligent Design may wish to take note: A human designer so breathtakingly incompetent as to design this particular human feature such that this particular thing routinely goes wrong with it, would be taken out behind the R&D Building and pistol-whipped out of the union.

Posts over the next day or two should be taken with a grain or two of salt. I do not intend to spend the near future in a state of perfect lucidity *cough*Percocet*cough*.

I had thought of live-blogging the procedure, but then contemplated a post that looked this this:

9:15 They're putting in the drip now. Having a bit of a disagreement about the laptop. They don't seem to understand I need these hands for typing.

9:16 Boy, that nurse is eminently prangable, yum yum.

9:18 Anesthesiologist here, explaining why I can't have the laptop. Am arguing violently that my rights as a blogger and a journalist are being violated. Blood pressure going up. Why is that machine going "ping"? Anesthesiologist putting something in dr




[snip, ha ha]

...11:39 hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

There Is a Balm in Gilead...

...but not for you, sweetcheeks.
Pharmacists' Rights at Front Of New Debate
Because of Beliefs, Some Refuse To Fill Birth Control Prescriptions

By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 28, 2005; Page A01

Some pharmacists across the country are refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control and morning-after pills, saying that dispensing the medications violates their personal moral or religious beliefs.

The trend has opened a new front in the nation's battle over reproductive rights, sparking an intense debate over the competing rights of pharmacists to refuse to participate in something they consider repugnant and a woman's right to get medications her doctor has prescribed. It has also triggered pitched political battles in statehouses across the nation as politicians seek to pass laws either to protect pharmacists from being penalized -- or force them to carry out their duties.

(full article)

Hmm. I suppose the Adam Smith approach to this problem would be to allow The Genius of the Market to punish pharmacists who withhold prescribed medications, and reward the dutiful ones. I'm not holding my breath, however. Just as it's never as simple as "if you don't like the wage you're earning, get a different job," it's also never as simple as "if Pharmacy A won't sell you a birth-control pill, take your custom to Pharmacy B."

This could get Ugly Indeed: Suppose there is no Pharmacy B? Or suppose Pharmacist B feels enjoined, based on local mores, to enter into competition with refusenik Pharmacy A: "Shop here! My moral indignation is twice as pure as Pharmacy A's! I'll only sell birth control pills to your husband, and then only if he produces a marriage certificate!"

At that point, I suppose, Pharmacy C enters the fray and puts up a sign: "Moral relativists! Shop here! Birth control available, NQA!"

At this point, the Genius of the Market has polarized us further, which is not what the Rah-Rah Boys down at the Academy have led us to expect. Free-market theory works well enough on paper, but when wacky, unpredictable ol' Humanity rears its self-righteous little head, pretty theories go right out the window.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

An Easter Meditation

The object of the lesson is,
Halleluia, He is riz!
And ever was He rizible
E'en from the Choir Invisible!

Let's sing a hymn to the Nazarene's flower
Nowadays quite drunk with power
While life springs forth from field and bower...
...Some Christians make me want to shower.

A Woodpecker Pecked on my Kitchen Door

Spring has evidently sprung here at Jingo Headquarters, and birdsong has again become a deafening racket in the early morning.

As I sleepily hiked down the driveway to fetch the morning paper this AM, some old friends warbled their return from the treetops. A critter I've always called "the John Belushi bird" belted out "cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger!" (Mr. Audubon insists the polite name for it is the Carolina Wren, but I'm having none of it. The proper reply to the John Belushi Bird is, "No Coke! Pecksi!")

Another old pal, who I think of as "the Nazi bird," cheerfully cocked its eye and anschlussed "Germany, Germany, Germany, Jewwww... Germany, Germany, Germany, Jewwww..." I don't know what Mr. Audubon says about this one, but I think it needs a Good Taste transplant.

A few years ago, Wonder Woman, an inveterate fan of the Avian-American Community, insisted she'd discovered a new species, "the Idiot Bird." I expressed skepticism, demanded proof.

A few mornings later, she smacked me awake, pointing out the open window next to our bed. "Listen! Hear it? Hear it?"

Clear as a bell: "I'm an iiiidiot, I'm an iiiidiot, I'm an iiiidiot...."

Friday, March 25, 2005

Something Else at Work

Wolcott Noobs: This is the latest installment of my reports on the Civil War Border Guerrilla John Mobberly. I try to do about one of these a week. I know I run the risk of appearing a Civil War Bore, but I think you'll find this is a bit different from your usual Blue-Gray fare. You can catch up on the subject by following the John Mobberly Story in the right-hand column, or just scroll on down to the Dishy Meatballs.

So the history books would have us believe that in the late summer of 1862 a troop of Yankees did something heinous to a woman of John Mobberly's acquaintance, which so enraged him that he stole a horse and snuck off to join White's Comanches and begin his depredations on the good Union-sympathizing folk of northern Loudoun County.

Small-town local historians often tend to play up the romantic over the practical in their choice of stories to pass down, and I believe that's what's happened in this case. The story above is just a little too pat, too dramatic. I believe I've found a detail that adds a bit of nuance to the matter.

Now, remember the circumstances of Mobberly's birth: Mother is seduced by a cad who deserts her after knocking her up. Mother raises John alone, enmired in poverty outside Harpers Ferry.

Well, here's an extract from the Loudoun County census from 1850:

Look at that! A sister Jane, four years older than John! Who was her daddy?

I've discovered (thanks Connie Derry!) that these censuses were taken door-to-door in those days, meaning that in the immediate area of Mary Mobberly's house in Waters, was another Mobberly family headed by an Eli Mobberly. Uncle? Cousin? Impossible to say, but the chances that they were unrelated are vanishingly small.

Of course we know nothing about relationships among these people, but look at the age difference between young John, aged 6 in 1850, and Eli Mobberly, 25. Can we hypothesize a worshipful relationship? Would it be outside the realm of possibility to suggest that Uncle or Cousin Eli took on a surrogate father's role for a boy abandoned by his biological father? Or maybe, on the other side of the coin, Eli had some animus against John, borne out of John's bastardy?

The next time these two show up in the official records, it's in the rolls of the May 1861 Vote on Secession. I've alluded to this vote before, but at the time I didn't know that it was not a secret ballot, and that the votes were recorded and were public knowledge.

Here's John, among the Secessionists, which pretty throughly kiboshes any dreamy notion of his neutrality pre-1862:

And Uncle-or-Cousin Eli?

...You chose...

What can have passed between these men?

It would be irresponsible and specious of me to impute John Mobberly's sociopathology to a teenaged rebellion against a father figure. But what we're looking at is an undeniably complicated and nuanced set of family circumstances, played out against a backdrop so polarized it makes Red-Versus-Blue look like Easter Service down at the Church of the Brethren. This vote took place a year and a half after John Brown's Raid, which itself took place within walking distance of both Mobberly families' homes. At the time of the Raid, John would have been 15, Eli about 34.

As I say, we can't know without some more evidence, but knowing what we know about human nature, doesn't this family conflict suggest itself as something that might very well engender and nurture a viciously violent guerrilla -- more likely, at any rate, than some imputed insult from some faceless Yankee troops?

Next Up on the Mobberly Trail: Those wacky Quakers!


1850 Loudoun County Census,

Where Did They Stand? The May 1861 Vote on Secession in Loudoun County, Virginia by Taylor M. Chamberlin, (c) 2003, Waterford Foundation

Bobby Lightfoot Cracks My Ass Up

Go. Just go.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Beautiful Dreck

Believe it or not, there was a time when actual grownups ruled the Earth.

It's a given these days that when a TV montage summons the Sixties, the obligatory imagery will consist of SuperJoel sticking a flower into a National Guardsman's rifle barrel, that iconic photo from Kent State, the Beatles on Sullivan, Woodstock, South Vietnamese policeman executing a Viet Cong, blah blah, all to a pounding psuper-psy-cho-delic beat from the Jefferson Airplane -- "Somebody to Love," probably.

Well, sure, all of that happened... But it was so much more complicated than that.

I was only a little kid then. I remember everything after about 1964 or so, but only through the fuzzy filter of uncomprehending childhood. I was probably among the first generation to view The Sixties Story through that filter that reduces the huge rambling mess from history-as-lived down to history-as-told.

But as I say, it was so much more complicated than that.

You'd think, from the montages and the movies, that the world was divided between stinky hairy stoned Pentagon-levitating hippies on the one side, and bullnecked My Lai-massacreing death-merchants on the other.

What's been lost, I think, is the fact that in between those two iconic extremes there was a now-forgotten class of people, people who aspired to gracious and comfortable lives, who treasured wisdom and toleration, who evinced respect for the structures and mores of civilized society, and who quietly believed that with wisdom and mutual honor government could be made to be a servant of the people. They wanted to dress well, drive nice cars, have good taste in music, understand art, watch good films, have nice-looking haircuts.

I believe you'd call them Progressives today, but I don't think that's the word they used. My parents were people like that.

And just as The Left had degrees of radicalism, from the hard-core left to the mushy center where these people lived, so did Sixties music have the same gradations.

Another difference between then and now, of course, is that they were free of That Rude Beast, irony. And being free of irony, they were free to enjoy music that actually aspired to Beauty, to Gentleness, to Serenity. Today's mandate that we may enjoy these things only ironically simply didn't exist. There wasn't a competition among them to see just how Out There they could fling their musical tastes -- no forcing each other to sit through Trout Mask Replica to prove to themselves just how catholic their tastes were. They'd have been repelled by such a notion.

I've recently been immersing myself in that musical world -- nothing like the onset of actual-factual middle age to encourage such an exploration -- and I'm finding it immensely rewarding. Rhino Records has two worthy collections, Come To The Sunshine: Soft Pop Nuggets From The WEA Vaults and Hallucinations: Psychedelic Pop Nuggets From The WEA Vaults.

Have a listen to a track from Come to the Sunshine: The Everly Brothers' "Talking to the Flowers."

Now of course you know these guys: In the late Fifties and early Sixties, they stomped terra with a seemingly endless string of magnificent hits that exploited the effortless beauty of their bluegrass-tinged duet harmonies: "Cathy's Clown," "Wake Up Little Susie," "All I Have to Do Is Dream." But by the mid-Sixties, they were basically has-beens, desperate to restore their cred. They made some very fine records during this period -- Roots is a classic -- and this one is so desperate to be groovy and with-it that it embodies -- nearly accidentally, I think -- pretty much everything I mean when I talk about Unironic Beauty.

First off, there's that falling-away I-flat VII chord progression in the verse. Goddammit, that's so fucking Beautiful. It's also an absolutely archetypal Sixties chord progression -- try the verse of The Youngbloods' "Get Together" as another example, or George Harrison's "If I Needed Someone." I think this progression reached its magnificent apotheosis in John Barry's "Theme from Midnight Cowboy," which is nothing but those two chords oscillating.

Second, listen to how gorgeous the brothers' voices are together, helped along, of course, by all that slathered-on cheap-ass reverb. It's the same vocal shimmer that "Let It Be Me" such a tear-jerker, but applied to these pretentiously poetical, cod-profound acid-tinged lyrics it's just hearbreakingly melancholy.

The musical arrangement is archetypal -- clichéd, even -- not Brian Wilson by any stretch, but functional. There are guitars, but they're dialed way back and clean; everything in the arrangement is meant to comfort, to entice, to encourage listening. Yes, you are listening to Anti-Rock.

Or Auntie Rock, maybe. Music for your aunt. Music that let her dabble in the zeitgeist without commmitting to anything she might find repellent. Psychedelia Lite.

But what the hell's so wrong with that? Why must everything be harsh & demanding & crackly & angular & clangorous & angry & distorted & hard?

Relax. You'll live longer.

(It's not all wimp-rock around here: Before you get all up in my face, I'm way ahead of you: I've completely memorized Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From The British Empire & Beyond, and have a laudatory post on the magnificent-if-grammatically-challenged garage monsters The Mops all mentally composed. All in due time.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Er, Um

To awaken one morning to find that one's humble little blog, upon which one has labored Walter-Mittily for only a few weeks, has been Blogrolled by Vanity Fair Contributing Editor and Left-Blogsylvania Christ James Wolcott -- whose book you are hereby firmly enjoined to rush out and buy -- is to learn quite a bit about oneself.

My first reaction was to behave like a mid-Sixties sitcom housefrau who's just been told by Thoughtless Hubby that he's bringing The Boss home for dinner in an hour: Dithering about the place, dusting frantically, checking for typos, cursing yesterday's sloth -- "Dishy meatballs? Dishy meatballs? Wolcott gives you mad props and the first thing you've got on your page is some dippy shit about dishy fucking meatballs???

Which leads to self-consciousness and questioning of fate: Why today of all days? Why not last Friday? Last Friday this blog was shipshape: Pogo in the lead, not an ounce of fat all the way down to the Quaker Girls... Now it's all goopy and directionless...

Next up: Suspicion. Waaaaaaaiiiiitaminit... What if this is some sort of setup? It's just the sort of thing you'd expect from that bastard Quackenbush!

And finally, after a spate of endzone dancing and high-fiving that has the non-blogging portion of the Jingo household staring at Dad in stunned bemusement, comes -- of all things -- a touch of melancholy. Aw, shit. Not I'm gonna have to be all serious 'n' shit... So long, dishy meatballs!


Welcome, Wolcottniks! Here you will probably not find all the anodyne backing-and-forthing on politics that are found at other spots on Wolcott's blogroll -- I live in dread of confrontation -- but I do strive to keep it entertaining. I've been doing a little occasional research on an amusingly psychopathic Civil War guerrilla -- think a slightly less prolific William Quantrill -- who used to maraud pretty much exactly where my house stands. I'm trying to get into his head, and I think just now I may have found the Royal Road -- watch this space later today. You can follow along by investigating the "John Mobberly Story" over there in the right column.

Other than that, keep your skillet greasy, and don't take any wooden rhetoric.

Thanks, Wolcott!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

More Mysteries from the Server Logs

Somebody searched Google for "dishy meatballs."

And turned up By Neddie.

Dishy... meatballs...

Dishy meatballs
In the wine
Make me happy
Make me feel fine

Dishy meatballs
Make me warm all over
With a feeling that I'm gonna
Love you till the end of time

So here's to the golden moon
And here's to the silver sea
And mostly here's a toast
To you and me....
(Now modulate up a half step and sing the whole thing over in Hawaiian....)

Past As Prologue

Oh, so you think history has no bearing on the present?

Further to my post of a few days ago, about a nascent and growing secession movement in Western Loudoun County, in reaction to the nauseating wholesale destruction of the countryside. From Marc Fisher's Metro column in today's WashPost:
Secession, came the cry. Last week, at Purcellville Town Hall, more than 50 rebels gathered to launch a movement....

[major snip]

There is a deep historical basis for this split, said Keating, a retired government cartographer who writes on local history. "Western Loudoun and eastern Loudoun have always been two separate places. The east was part of slave society; the west was settled by Quakers and Germans from Pennsylvania."

And during the Civil War, the western piece of the county was the home of the Loudoun Rangers, a group of Union loyalists who recruited Southerners to fight for the North.

"This is an inevitable collision," Keating said. Residents of the proposed Catoctin County have a tradition of standing up against the majority to do what's right. Their task is huge; their time is now.

Audience Participation Time

OK: Over the past few days I've collected three free iTunes songs from my lunchtime Pepsis.

All you anodyne music weenies: Create me a three-song playlist that will blow my kidneys out my back and clear the snot out of my sinuses.

I am open to any and all genres. However, my kidneys will likely remain firmly in place if you nominate anything sung by a goateed twat in a cowboy hat.

Put your lists in the Comments section.

Winner gets the three songs.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Neddie Gets Cranky on Yo' Asses

Your Neddie has taken something of a solemn vow not to talk about work in his blog, and he doesn't intend to start now, but something has been weighing on his mind lately, and he needs to get it off his chest.

He will stop talking about himself in the third person starrrrttttttiinnnnnggg... NOW.

By training and inclination I'm in the Information Design racket. Always have been, even before there was such a silly term as Information Design. Starting in 1984 and never stopping once to catch my breath, I've been a copy editor, a book editor, a book designer, a publications manager for a computer firm, a technical proposal manager, a web-graphics designer, and now, finally (!) a user-interface designer.

The Prime Directive of Information Design: Do nothing to stand in the way. Another way to say it: Your job is to take a bundle of amorphous information (a manuscript, a business goal statement, a set of product requirements, a napkin-drawing of a loony idea from an SVP on the wrong end of a three-martini-lunch), and mold it in a way that 1) does nothing to change what the author meant to say, and 2) is immediately comprehensible to the intended audience.

So it follows from all this that I'm more than a little cranky about some things that most folks aren't even aware of. Signs on doors that say Push when the entire design of the door shrieks Pull. I fly into towering rages when I see an elderly person being made to feel stupid by a poorly designed computer interface. And you don't even want to know everything that I think is wrong with the credit-card-swiping machines at the grocery store.

There are many ways that someone like me can "stand in the way" between author and audience. Poor editing, poor layout, lack of sympathy for the subject matter, or for the specific needs of the audience, all of these can hinder. It's a given: The best design isn't noticed at all; only bad design calls attention to itself. The same for punctuation, for layout, for color palettes, everything. Don't distract.

Now ask yourself this question: Why are books the size they are?

Ever notice it? Sure, there are exceptions -- I'm not talking about gigantic coffee-table books or dictionaries or family Bibles or those silly little novelty books on the checkout rack at Borders; I mean that from the average mass-market paperback to trade paperback to hardcover, any book with running, single-column type whose pages one reads sequentially will be between about 4" x 7" on the small side, to about 6" x 10" on the large.

Is this because of some limitation imposed by machinery, or some printer's convention? It is not.

It's because that size works.

Why is this so? For two reasons:
  • The book can be held comfortably in the hand, obviously.
  • But also, pages that size make for line measures (line widths) that are comfortable to read.
It's not some big mystery: books are easy to read because, well, books are literally easy on the eyes. This is from a Bible I've had by my side since 1984: Words Into Type (Third Edition, Prentice Hall, 1974):
Much work has been done to discover the relationships of measure and type size that lead to accuracy and ease in reading. A study ... using a standard 10-point Times Roman type, concluded that measures between 21 and 33 picas (about 3.5" and 5.5") are most legible to the average reader. The optimum measures varied according to the subject matter of the book. For literary material, a measure of about 21 to 24 picas (3.5" to 4") was found to be the most readable, while in scientific and other material where the tendency is to skim rather than read word-for-word, the optimum measure was found to be closer to 30 picas (5").
Now why am I waxing cranky about this stuff? (That's waxing cranky, not waxing my crank -- you people!) Because you, my dear friends out in BlogLand, are, quite literally, giving me a blinding headache.

It's alarming how many blog templates -- not just here at but at many other off-the-shelf blog sites as well -- encourage you to think it's perfectly OK to publish your blog text into a line measure that's two and three and even four times the width found in the average book.

It isn't!

Think about how firmly you've planted hostile design between your reader and the information you're trying to convey: Your poor reader, who might or might not be 44 years old and myopic (not that age matters; this affects readers of all ages) has to start at the beginning of one of your whistlingly vast lines, trudge aaaaallll the way over to the other goddamned side of a 1024 x 768 browser window -- 200, 250, 300 characters! -- and then trudge aaaaaaaalllll the way back to the other margin, only to be unable to find the next line because he's lost it on the way, and has to hunt for it.

Trust me, you'd return a book that made your eyes bleed.

Computer screens scroll for a reason.

We don't need to go too far into the question of a text-based communication medium being bludgeoned into a display medium meant for television -- that's a rant for another day. And that day's a-comin'.....

PS: Look at this page. Everything about this page is restful. My headache went away immediately upon seeing it. Tiny, tiny type is perfectly readable -- you don't need that 12-point fucking Arial white-on-black shit. LESS IS MORE. Eyes not quite up to the small type? Hit the Stylesheet Switcher. Just beautiful.

On the Evils of Strong Drink

Bobby Lightfoot sends along this little object lesson showing how important it is to keep one's drinking life and one's musical life firmly compartmentalized.

Play it for the children. They Must Be Told.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Greetings from Fort Mudge

Mention the Seminole comical strip Pogo to l'homme moyen sensuel and if you get any reaction at all, it'll be "Oh, yeah, 'We have met the enemy and he is us' -- now get the goddamn microphone out of my face, I've got some sensuel to moy."

That catchphrase, which, admittedly, boy cartoonist Walt Kelly milked pretty hard in his sunset years, might be the only thing most people remember about ol' Pogo if they remember anything at all, and that's a damned shame. As a technician, Kelly's contribution to the cartoonist's craft is probably even greater than George Herriman's; Kelly's influence is just howlingly obvious in the way Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes characters moved, and how his strips were laid out -- hell, even in his use of vegetation as a framing device. Pioneering, too, was his characters' proscenium-breaking; when Albert Alligator, lighting his see-gar, reaches out and strikes his match on the panel border, you're seeing a form so confident in its maturity that it can afford to be playful.

Kelly's skill as an artist is unassailable. I mean, look at the detail in this next strip! Individual blades of grass! Wood grain! There's actual wood grain on the tree in the first panel! You know why Watterson hung up his spikes, right? It's because newspapers have shrunk the comic strip down to subatomic size; it's pointless to lavish the kind of attention Kelly gave his creations any more; your readers won't even know...

"You are a YOK!" I mean, what can you say?

It's in the realm of language that Kelly truly shone. His daily strip was a wonderful mangrove of puns and portmanteaux, all delivered in a disarming parody of Southern speech (Kelly was himself from Bridgeport, Connecticut -- not exactly a hotbed of Southern literary tradition), and his poetry and song lyrics were so rich with utterly effortless linguistic play that it's impossible not to nominate him as America's answer to Lewis Carroll.

Take Kelly's famous reworking of the "Deck the Halls" Christmas carol (the other thing l'homme might remember: "Deck us all with Boston Charlie/Walla Walla Wash., an' Kalamazoo...." In the liner notes to Songs of the Pogo, reissued in 2003 on Reaction Records, Mark Burstein places Kelly in the nonsense tradition of Carroll and James Joyce:
This is a poetic form that has come to be known as "Anguish Languish" (an "anguished" English language) and popularized by Howard L. Chace in his book of the same title in 1956. It is the substitution of words which, when read silently make no literal sense, but when read aloud take on the sounds and rhythms of another work. His "Ladle Red Rotten Hut" (Little Red Riding Hood) which starts out "Wants pawn term dare worsted ladle gull..." is a well-known classic of the genre.
I've found a Sunday strip in Ten Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Years with Pogo where Kelly grabs the ball and runs all the way out of the stadium with it:

Howland Owl (the pompous intellectual): I been up all night thinkin'.
Churchy La Femme (the bon vivant and slightly dense, if goodhearted, turtle): Bully for you!
Owl: I've come up with an idea that will ee-clipse every blinding flash of inspired genius what I is ever had.
Churchy: What a coincidence!
Owl: You mean you is had an idea too?
Churchy: Yes yes yes! Like you say... a idea what unclips every blind flask of unspired geraniums what ever I is had.
Owl: I is had a most wonderful idea what will make us millionaires.
Churchy: A miracle! So is I! At the very same time.
Owl: I had mine at a quarter pas' ten.
Churchy: I had mine at ten oh two.
Owl: Mine is got the ingrediments of scintillating scientific achievement inherent in it.
Churchy: Mine is too! It got the ungreedy minks of single-eightin' sinus siftin' an' cheese mints inherited too!
Owl: Mine is the upshot of a college course I took.
Churchy: Mine is shot up from a coarse college too.
Owl: Mine is a triumphant elegant aurora of the intellect.
Churchy: Mine is a trumpetin' elephant all roarin' off the innerlick, too.
Owl: I is jes' had another great idea, a boon to mankind.
Churchy: Me too! I is ready to boom to mankind too.
Owl: Namely: To chunk you overboard (pushes Churchy into the swamp).
Churchy: I thought of it first (grabs Owl by the nose as he falls).
Owl (floating in the water): We shouldn't compete... We should pool our talents...
Churchy: Looks like we already is.

I mean, good god, was there ever a more economical demonstration of the left-brain/right-brain dichotomy? Somewhere in San Francisco, Griffy and Zippy tip their caps and hoist a bottle of Taco Sauce to Kelly's memory...

There was another area in which Kelly was a pioneer: Pogo was the first cartoon character drafted for a presidential election, the 1952 Eisenhower-Stevenson affair. While Kelly managed to make some fairly hilarious hay from the phenomenon, it wasn't until the 1956 replay that he began to cash in on it. In that year, along with Brill Building maven Norman Monath, he released the record album Songs of the Pogo, a collection of settings of his Carroll-esque song lyrics.

Most of these novelty songs don't very well stand the test of time, probably weren't all that great to begin with. But the ones that do, oh man are they great. My own favorite is "Lines Upon a Tranquil Brow," the first six of which are meditative, moody, fretful, all pensive suspended chords and spoken narration -- by Kelly himself:
Have you ever while pond'ring the ways of the morn,
Thought to save just a bit, just a drop in the horn;
To pour in the ev'ning or late afternoon
Or during the night when we're shining the moon?
Have you ever cried out while counting the snow
Or watching the tomtit warble hello....
And then there's a complete break in mood, a drunken bump-and-grind Dixieland band awakes and blatters:
Break out the cigars, this life is for squirrels [fermata]
We're off to the drugstore to whistle at girls?
Mighty hard to argue with, I must say.

American place-names are undeniably poetic. You get yourself a bellyful of Walt Whitman, of Carl Sandburg, of John Steinbeck, of Woodie Guthrie, and you're likely to appreciate a country that can give cities such euphonious names as Kalamazoo, Kankakee, Walla Walla, Waukegan, Waco, Tishimingo, Oswego... Snatch yourself a listen to Tom Waits' "Gun Street Girl" from Rain Dogs and you'll see just how incredibly evocative those place-names can be. Or hell, Chuck Berry...

Well, you've never heard anybody take a swan-dive and wallow in American place-names like you're about to. Walt whipped up a fight song for Pogo's 1956 Presidential bid. Ordinarily you'd expect a fight song to be the sort of thing that large crowds of people can sing together in football stadiums. But since Walt didn't really have that restriction, and because he never did anything halfway, he cooked up this astonishing stew of sheer, tongue-twisting, beautiful, baldfaced nonsense. Lewis Carroll ain't even a patch on this thing. Edward Lear can't even whistle it.

Just listen to this thing. "Wheeling, West Virginia, with everything that's in ya..." It just doesn't get better than this. Lyrics below. Warbled with gusto by Walt Himself...
Go Go Pogo

As Maine go oh so Pogo go Key Largo,
Otsego to Frisco go to Fargo,
Okeefenokee playin' possum on a Pogo
Stick around and see the show go over

Landalive a band o' jive will blow go Pogo
I go you go who go to go Polly voo go,
From Caravan Diego, Waco and Oswego,
Tweedle de he go she go we go me go Pogo.

Atascadero, Wheeler, Barrow,
Someplace in Mexico
Delaware, Ohio, and you don't need the text to go
Wheeling, West Virginia
With ev'rything that's in ya.
Down the line you'll see the shine
From Oregon to Caroline!

Oh, eenie meenie minie Kokomo go Pogo.
Tishimingo, sing those lingo, whistling go.
Shamokin to Hoboken, Chenango to Chicango
It's golly, I go goo goo goin' go go Pogo!
We're not privileged to know where ol' Walt is now, o' course, but let's hope it's somewhere like this:

For Your Weekend Reading Pleasure

A little something to cozy up with next to the fire tonight. For your aperitif, may I suggest a nice glass of Drano...?

Welcome to Doomsday by Bill Moyers

There are times when what we journalists see and intend to write about dispassionately sends a shiver down the spine, shaking us from our neutrality. This has been happening to me frequently of late as one story after another drives home the fact that the delusional is no longer marginal but has come in from the fringe to influence the seats of power. We are witnessing today a coupling of ideology and theology that threatens our ability to meet the growing ecological crisis. Theology asserts propositions that need not be proven true, while ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. The combination can make it impossible for a democracy to fashion real-world solutions to otherwise intractable challenges.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Annotated By the Plain People of Ireland

Extracted from Myles na cGopaleen's blog, ca. 1941...

Yes, More of It

What happens to blows at a council meeting?
It looks as if they might be exchanged!
What does pandemonium do?
It breaks loose.
Describe its subsequent dominion.
It reigns.
How are allegations dealt with?
What is the mean temperature of an altercation, therefore?
What is the behaviour of a heated altercation?
It follows.
What happens to order?
It is restored.
Alternatively, in what does the meeting break up?
What does the meeting do in disorder?
Breaks up.
In the what direction does the meeting break in disorder?
In what direction should I shut?

Faix & Begorrah

Begob, and it's afther bein' a fine day for the Reinforcin' o' the Stereotypes!

Gilliard doesn't quite nail it: St. Patrick's Day is fuckin' amateur hour, and that's what's so disgusting about it. A drinking gentleman can hold his damned liquor or he is quite properly shunned by friend and stranger alike.

However icky it gets out there, let's remember some sage advice for the 364 days every year that are not St. Patrick's Day, from Flann O'Brien, who by all accounts knew what he was talking about.

The Workman's Friend

When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night--

When Money's tight and is hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt--

When health is bad and your heart feels strange,
And your face is pale and wan,
When doctors say that you need a change,

When food is scarce and your larder bare
And no rashers grease your pan,
When hunger grows as your meals are rare--

In time of trouble and lousy strife,
You have still got a darlint plan,
You still can turn to a brighter life--

The Plain People of Ireland want you to go read some more.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


On a luscious early spring day recently, Dr. Watson packed along his trusty service revolver and, defying the pain from wounds suffered in the Afghan campaign, accompanied me on a substantial History Hike over Short Hill on Egg Path, down to the site of John Mobberly's house at the other end of that venerable thoroughfare, and back around the end of Short Hill by the old Around the Points Road that connected Lovettsville and Harpers Ferry.

It was about as nice a hike as I've ever had, is all.

Here's the magic-lantern show...

We discovered yet another house-relic, this one about 300 yards from the ruin I found a couple of weeks ago:

Now I understand why you can see Egg Path from so far away after it snows: A Power Line Runs Through It:

Here's where you should just shut up and let the picture speak for itself. Come up and over the top of Short Hill, this is what you see:

Up the valley. That's the Potomac cleaving those hills. Mobberly's house stood somewhere in the lower right quadrant.

Down now in Turneysville, the end of Egg Path. John Mobberly's homestead stood somewhere to the left. The house visible may or may not be the home of Jim Riley, one of Mobberly's henchman. Riley survived the war, escaped prosecution despite the $1000 reward placed on his head during the war, and became the operator of the ferry across the Shenandoah into Harpers Ferry. He lived until 1918.

Shortly before I took this picture, a magnificent red fox zoomed across this view, from right to left. We didn't think he was symbolic at all. Oh, no.

Be a deer and hold my skulls, won't you?

Harpers Ferry. The Tri-State Area. Virginia on the left, West By God Virginia center, Maryland right. John Brown dead center, a-molderin' in the mud.

Finally, a bald eagle's nest overhanging the Potomac bank. Madame Eagle's head is just barely visible. The man of the house had just scarpered magnificently. A national symbol has no need to be photographed, thanks very much.

Up Next on the Mobberly Trail: Who's Your Daddy?

Taking Ball, Going Home

Prolly quixotic as all get-out, prolly asinine for any number of reasons, prolly completely impossible legally... But it has a certain...symmetry...that's impossible to deny given the region's history. And Jesus Christ would it be emotionally satisfying.

Growth Foes Seek to Divide Loudoun in Two

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Gathered around folding tables in a cramped community center room decorated with a watercolor of an idyllic red barn, three dozen secessionists plotted to cut Loudoun County in two.

There was a Web designer, a software programmer, a geographer, a government investigator, a pet sitter, several local officials and much talk of revolution. Their goal: to form a more perfect county, or at least a less developed one, by breaking away from more suburban Loudoun.

"Just as the Founding Fathers freed themselves from the yoke of the British, this is a similar effort," said Robert W. Lazaro Jr., an aide to county board Chairman Scott K. York (I) and member of the town council in the western Loudoun community of Purcellville. The group met there last week and will do so tonight....

Well, I think to that Web designer, software programmer, geographer, etc., you can add one cranky bulldozer-hatin' blogologist, if he can figure out where this thing is taking place tonight (the WashPost article wasn't very clear).

Aux barricades, mes enfants!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Secret Life of Machines

Back in the mid-Nineties, I used to block time on the family calendar, ply the kids with Benadryl to knock 'em out, fire up the popcorn maker, unplug the phone, and hunker down in the Jingo Catacombs for the happiest hour of the week: A&E's presentation of The Secret Life of Machines.

I simply couldn't help it, the show hit me right where I'm most vulnerable: Tim Hunkin, this English arty-geek-boy eccentric, narrates amusingly illustrated explications of how common household machines work, how they came to be invented, and the principles of physics they employ.

Try his Secret Life of the Fax Machine; if you're not just 100% beguiled by it, then you and I have nothing further to say. Good day to you, sir. I said, good day.

There's an amusing interview with Hunkin at the B3TA web site.

It's difficult to classify Hunkin as either an artist or a scientist -- his web site announces him as both "engineer" and "cartoonist" -- and this is a great part of his charm. He makes art installations -- full-sized tableaux vivants, working machines, arcade games, interactive exhibits -- that comment very drolly on both science and art, bridging the gap between the two with disarming -- and frequently explosively funny -- humor.

Finally, check out this poster he drew. Way too cool.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Day Off

Taking a day off today to investigate this thing, in the most excellent company of Dr. Watson:

I will report on any findings that arise.

In the meantime, here's what's got my bile duct working overtime this otherwise lovely Monday morning. The country continues to wrestle with an advanced case of The Stupids:

Battle on Teaching Evolution Sharpens (headline links to full story)

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 14, 2005; Page A01

WICHITA – Propelled by a polished strategy crafted by activists on America's political right, a battle is intensifying across the nation over how students are taught about the origins of life. Policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that question the science of evolution.

The proposals typically stop short of overturning evolution or introducing biblical accounts. Instead, they are calculated pleas to teach what advocates consider gaps in long-accepted Darwinian theory, with many relying on the idea of intelligent design, which posits the central role of a creator.

If these cretins manage to bludgeon this idiocy into our classrooms, I think it's the duty of the few of us remaining who have two brain cells to rub together, to embark on a work of collaborative Dada art the likes of which the world has never seen: The destruction of the entire Scientific Method, which is, after all, "reality-based" and therefore passé. Warning stickers in textbooks should be piled so thick that the covers no longer close. Gravitation is "only a theory." General Relativity: "only a theory." Disease spread by germs: "only a theory." (Actually, there's a very good case made by St. Augustine that it is in fact demonic possession; let's investigate this further.)

Science class is NOT A DEMOCRACY. (Yes. I'm yelling. Tough shit -- oh, and I'm cursing too, apparently.) Reality is not subject to a fucking vote. If 19 out of 20 people believe in their heart of hearts that the sun rises in the west and sets in the east and someone with a compass and a notebook and a set of empirical data 2000 years old concludes that the sun has NEVER ONCE risen in the west, THAT GUY WINS. Reset your fucking watches and DEAL WITH IT.

Seriously, I want to punch somebody.

Pious cheeseheads.

You want the best evidence that we're descended from booger-eating, shit-throwing, compulsive-masturbating apes? Go look in the mirror, prole. You're it.

And I was in such a good mood, too!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Just What I Needed

Something else to stay up late at night worrying about...

Mass extinction comes every 62 million years, UC physicists discover

It's been 65 million since the dinosaurs bought it.

Perhaps the Vogons need to resurface the hyperspace bypass...


Well, there goes another cherished fantasy...

From the print edition of this AM's WashPost:


A March 9 Food article misidentified the founder of the Food Blog Awards. She is Kate Hopkins, not Kate Hudson.

Next they'll be telling me that's not Kate Winslet running Checkout Counter 5 at the Leesburg Safeway, and my life will be in tatters.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

There's Nothing Like a Dame

After the Secession Vote of 1861, the inhabitants of Loudoun County were left with two competing realities to which they could subscribe: Union or Secesh. There was no third way, no Ralph Nader or Ross Perot cop-out, no "none of the above" to check haughtily on some ballot.

You chose. There was no other option.

And in this borderland, nowhere did these two realities compete more vigorously than among La Différence.

When John Mobberly died, in 1865, his body had to be transported down-valley from his native Waters (now Neersville and Loudoun Heights, on the Virginia side of the Potomac from Harpers Ferry) eight miles to Hillsboro for burial. It wouldn't have been safe to bury him up in Waters, so detested was he by his loyalist neighbors. But because his exploits had gained him so much admiration among the Secessionist people of Hillsboro, his burial was apparently attended by the entirety of Hillsboro's Fairer Sex. His funeral cortege paraded from Salem Church, a mile north of Hillsboro, into Hillsboro proper, and then back out again to his final resting place in the Salem Church yard.

Some time soon after his death, a stone was erected over his grave. It is believed that the tombstone was paid for by subscriptions from Hillsboro's womenfolk. The obverse of his gravestone gives the particulars of his life, but the reverse is inscribed with a poem that is worth reproducing here, in the clippety-clop Hallmark rhythms of the time:
God bless thee brave soldier
Thy life's dream is o'er
For country and and freedom*
Thou wilt battle no more
To the land of the blessed
Thou hast gone to depart
With a smile on thy face
And a joy in thy heart
Thrice hallowed the green spot
Where our hero is laid
His deeds from our memory
Shall nevermore fade
The stranger will say,
As he lingers around
'Tis the grave of a hero
'Tis liberty's mound
*I would like it known that three -- count 'em, three -- local famous-guy hotshot historians have omitted this line from their accounts of Mobberly's burial; having unearthed this missing line by the expedient of having actually looked at the tombstone instead of taking somebody's word for it, I hereby demand that henceforth this shall be known as the "Jingo Line" from Mobberly's epitaph. Thank you very much.

Now, let's get another perspective, shall we, from Waterford, about 6 miles away to the east from Mobberly's grave...

In May of 1864, an underground newsletter, The Waterford News, began publication.

A trio of Quaker women from Waterford, Sarah Steer (26), Lizzie Dutton (24) and Lida Dutton (19), took advantage of a friendly relationship between Lizzie and Lida's father, John Dutton, and the editor of the Baltimore American. Their father had been virtually exiled from Waterford to Point of Rocks, Maryland, for his strongly pro-Union views, leaving his daughters behind. In their off-hours, the pro-Union presses of the Baltimore American produced, in probably the same way that most church newsletters are done today, a run of a thousand copies of Sarah, Lizzie and Lida's four-page publication. In time, it came to be praised by Horace Greeley's New York Tribune, and recognized by Abraham Lincoln himself.

The girls' motive in risking the dangers inherent in publishing an underground pro-Union paper inside Dixie (and let's not pussyfoot; this was a very brave thing to do) was complex. First, as they said in their maiden editorial, was to "Cheer the weary soldier and render material aid to the sick and wounded." To this end, the proceeds from sales went to the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a charity that took care of Union soldiers. They also hoped that a defiant voice from the South would help to convince the Union to lift the Federal blockade that kept them hungry and cold.

But a third factor motivated them. They were witnesses to, and victims of, constant harrassment at the hands of the Border guerrillas who raided and stole from them and their neighbors. In the first issue of their newsletter, they describe, surprisingly coolly, given its enormity, an event they witnessed. There can be no doubt that this event, and others like it, burned into these girls' hearts a deep hatred of their tormentors.

The masthead of their first issue gives the date as "5th Month, 28th, 1864," which already clues us in as to its Quaker provenance: The Quakers eschewed the names of the months and days as pagan (and damned rightly, too, by Frigg!), and invented their own nomenclature. Here is the incident described:
We had repeated visits from the Rebels last week. On the morning of the 17th they attacked a small party of our men, having first succeeded in drawing seven of them into a trap, wounded four, took two prisoners, and one escaped. The wounded were taken to the house of Rachel Steer, a kind Union Lady, where they received every attention from our skillful surgeon, Dr. T. M. Bond and many devoted friends. Two of them died and one is rapidly improving, tho' four balls passed through different parts of his body..."
Any of that sound familiar?

They can't have known it at the time, because his activities in Loudoun Valley had only just begun, but this is an eyewitness account of the incident I described not long ago, in which Mobberly rode his horse over the prostrate Sergeant Stewart and stole his boots.

What's more, one of the three editresses of The Waterford News, Sarah Steer, was the niece of "the kind Union lady" Rachel Steer in the quote above.

Once again, it can't be stressed enough: These people all lived within a few miles of each other. It's an idea I think we have lost, in an urbane, bourgeois world with immediate worldwide communication and jet travel, where if you don't like what's happening to you you can just pick up and leave. You had to choose.


Having read all eight issues of their sweet-hearted little rag, I begin to appreciate the depth of the desperation of those times. I will return later to their newsletter, which is absolutely chockablock with delicious details of life in wartime Waterford. For now, let's just be happy that they existed.

And I just need to make one small but terribly ungallant sally, a long, low Johnny-Reb wolf-whistle directed at Lida Dutton... She's long since shuffled off this mortal coil, so she won't mind... Hubba, and at the risk of repeating myself, HUBBA!

Following the Mobberly Trail? Step right this way. Next up: We Survey the Territory



The Waterford News: An underground Union newspaper published by three Quaker maidens in Confederate Virginia 1964-65, introduced and annotated by Taylor M. Chamberin, Bronwen C. Souders, John M. Souders, (c)1999 Waterford Foundation, Inc., Waterford, VA.

Rough-Riding Scout: The Story of John Mobberly, Loudoun's Own Civil War Guerrilla Hero by Richard E. Crouch, (c)1994 Elden Editions, Arlington, VA