Monday, December 31, 2007

Top Ten Things You Didn't Know About 2007

I guarantee you were not aware of these developments that occurred in the outgoing year. That's OK: I live to inform.
  1. The current gel-intensive men's hairstyle known as the "fauxhawk" was named for the Fauxhawk Indians of western Kentucky. They never wore their hair like that, though. They had far too much self-respect.

  2. The year saw the invention of the Best Palindrome Evaaah: "A man, a plan, a canal, a small gravy-boat, Hugo Chavez!"

  3. In a new biography, it was revealed this year that Franklin D. Roosevelt kept ferrets, which he used in bizarre Oval Office ceremonies to cast necromantic spells on small bits of ginger, the Montgomery Ward catalog, a tomato, Field Marshal Montgomery, other ferrets, Montgomery, Alabama, and Eleanor. This is how he got polio.

  4. It was discovered that boars actually have tits, and that they find them quite useful in lawn care, car maintenance and home repair. Also sex.

  5. Immanuel Kant's Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics doesn't actually exist. You can look it up.

  6. A Dremel rotary tool can be put to many other uses: surgery, break-dancing, prayer, numerology, divination, and the summoning of eldritch spirits from the Lost City of R'lyeh. The list is literally endless. What fun! (Summoning attachment extra.)

  7. In a rare display of honesty, Indian gods revealed that they don't actually have all those extra arms. They use their powers of deception to cloud your mind into thinking they have them, and then steal your kidneys while you ponder, "Howcome all them arms?"

  8. That last Sopranos episode? With the weird blackout? It was broadcast only to your house, in an (apparently quite successful) attempt to vex you. And only you. The rest of us saw Tony and family walk out of the restaurant, get in their car, and drive around aimlessly, asking each other, "Whaddya wanna do?" "I dunno, what do you wanna do?" It was monumentally dull. Oh -- and Meadow took off her top.

  9. It was discovered that, contrary to popular belief, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny only in leap years.

  10. There is, among the Khosa-speaking peoples of southwestern Africa, a legend that the world came into being when a snake and a badger conspired to fool a lion into thinking he was a different lion. The lion, hopelessly confused, ate the snake (but not the badger, for some weird reason) and fell into a slumber. In his dream, he was naked at a really important meeting of lions. The others laughed cruelly at his plight, and in his embarrassment, he spilled some goat-milk, which became the oceans, and some dirt he was carrying around for a rainy day, which became the Earth. An orange he dropped became the sun, and a calabash of honey the moon. Then he dropped a very large number of trillions of balls of flaming gas, in which hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees; these became the stars and galaxies. Which just goes to show you the Power of Myth.

Newly Discovered: St. Paul's Epistle to the Cowherds

1:1 Dear Cowherds;

1:2 It hath come unto the Lord's attention that the Red of Skin of the Capital City have smitten a mighty blow unto the Herders of Beeves and Kine of the village of Dallas.

1:3 Lo, the number of their victory was twenty-seven to six, and the Herders of Kine smelléd not the Promised Land, yea even unto first and ten upon the enemy eighteen.

1:4 And the number of their rushing was one cubit.

1:5 ONE CUBIT.

1:6 And the number of the rushing of one man alone among the Red of Skin was one hundred and four cubits. In the fullness of time, the Herders of Kine let not this wondrous thing to happen, for their rush defense hath been mighty.

1:7 Woe unto the King of the Herders of Beeves and Kine, for he hath left his seed and strength in the dewy parts of harlots. Woe unto the offensive line of the Herders, who protecteth the King from harm, for they could not. Woe unto the defensive secondary of the Herders, who were beaten like unto a gong, and hide among the women and concubines.

1:8 Give me not the foolish prattle of children, who bleat saying "the mightiest warriors came not that day, for they were girding their loins for later battle." Upon my mighty pole may ye smoke. The King of the Herders came, and he suckled upon the teat of dead bears. No man hitteth Owens when seated upon his ass.

1:9 And yet thou believest not.

1:10 O unbeliever, thou hast not suffered this long season with the Red of Skin. Thou knowest not the agony when one witnesseth of a wise man foolishly calling two time-outs one upon the other, incurring the wrath of the Priests and Scribes, who delivered up the Red of Skin unto their enemies for slaughter. Thou knowest not the bitterness of the man who witnesseth the putting of the ball upon the ground, yea unto four times in sixteen plays; thus do the wicked prevail. Thou hast not seen with thine own eyes the progression of the clock when the wise man would fain have stopped it; and the calling of foolish plays; and the loss of vast lands upon the occasion of Third and Long.

1:11 These tribulations would make even unto a saint drink mightily from the cup of bitterness.

1:12 Yet unto this time of desperation, they surge. They proffer hope like unto bread upon a starving man.

1:13 They beat Dallas.

1:14 ONE CUBIT of rushing offense gave they them. ONE CUBIT.

1:15 Like unto a wet rag beat they them. Like unto a broken donkey. Like unto a step-child of red tresses. Like unto a child of great girth who stealeth lunches.

1:16 Give us this day Seattle.

1:17 Love, Paul

Later edit: I've discovered that one yard = two cubits, so amend accordingly. TWO CUBITS did they give them on the ground....

Monday, December 24, 2007

An Atheist at Christmas

A friend from high school is in the unbecoming habit of forwarding Internet sludge to a large mailing list. You know the thing: collections of "jokes I thought you'd get a kick out of," unfunny cartoons, patriotic "Support the Troops" goo -- the kind of thing that I generally toss out unread. (I'd put him in my e-mail spam killfile, but I occasionally do look forward to some of the school news he passes on.)

This morning's missive, though, really set my teeth on edge. The e-mail was titled "My Sentiments Exactly," and purported to have been authored by former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein (he of the TV shows, a Creationism advocate). It was a typical diatribe against the secularization of American culture, and an obvious "War-on-Christmas" sally. It managed to bemoan the ending of school prayer, imply that Madalyn Murray O'Hair was murdered because she was an atheist (she wasn't), assert that baby-coddler Dr. Benjamin Spock's son committed suicide (he didn't), and declare that "public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and the workplace" (certainly news to me).

Of course, it mostly didn't come from Ben Stein; it was a cobbled-together bit of hokum from a CBS Sunday News commentary by Stein, with the more inflammatory business about O'Hair and Spock added in from another bit of Internet claptrap purporting to report some comments by Billy Graham's daughter after September 11. In sum, the item forwarded to me was simple intellectual pollution, more goddamned dumbness that cloaks itself as folksy wisdom and makes its forwarder feel virtuous for having passed it on.

Besides the slanders and the untruths, and the profoundly irritating conflation of the concepts of "secular" and "atheist," what was most off-putting about the thing was its general aggrieved tone, as though its author were part of some put-upon minority, an underclass of the righteous who loathe the idea that many people don't take their religion quite as seriously as the righteous think they ought.

As an atheist, by constitutional law I can't legally hold public office in the states of Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. (The U.S. Supreme Court said this was baloney in 1961, but the prohibitions are still in those states' constitutions.) An activist friend attempted to convince me to run for the Loudoun County School Board a year ago; I had to tell him that this blog is quite easily connected to my "real" name; and that if it were found out that I've occasionally blurted out my lack of regard for supernatural pixie-dust in these pages, I'd be unelectable for garbage commissioner, let alone be trusted with the education of the county's li'l malleable minds.

So who's the Downtrodden Minority here?

Now, why am I yammering on about this on Christmas Eve? Because, absence-of-god-dammit, I love Christmas. I love the weird agglomeration of historically pagan, Christian and Roman symbols and traditions; they make me feel connected to the centuries. I love cutting down a young pine tree and dragging it into my house to slather it with electric lights and small family mementos. I love the smell of pine, cinnamon, cloves, chocolate, candle-wax, coffee and brandy. I love the Solstice, and look forward to lengthening days. I love the music. (Wonder Woman's copy of The Carpenters' Christmas album is playing in the next room as I type this, and I'm even prepared to tolerate that, as long as I can throw on Bach's Weinachtsoratorium afterwards.)

I love the fact that in a couple of hours, I will summon Betty and Freddy to track Santa's progress on the NORAD website, even if they both lost their belief in Santa ten years ago. We will read "The Night Before Christmas" and a couple of other books as we have every year for many years (I've never been able to interest them in Dickens, unfortunately). We will hang our stockings by the chimney with care, all of us fully aware that the idea of a fat man in a red suit sliding down the flue with a sack of toys is a trifle silly. It doesn't matter that it's a dumb myth, easily seen through by a reasonably intelligent six-year-old. It's what you do.

I rather deeply resent the accusation that I, in some to-me-unclear way, declared War on Christmas. I'll cop to a War on Irrationality, sure. War on Dumb Received Wisdom on the Internet. But because I think that everyone's Solstice observation should be respected, from Albigensian to Zoroastrian, because the assertion that the United States was founded on "Judeo-Christian values" is a grave insult to the Enlightenment, and to history itself, I resent the implication that I want to stamp out an entire holiday.

So let me conclude the sermon with an absolutely unambiguous, impossible-to-mistake message:

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Merry Christmas!

Then, go read this.

Friday, December 21, 2007

In the New Old-Fashioned Way


Artwork by The Skimmer. He's caught my wardrobe perfectly.

In what I hope is a long and fruitful annual collaboration, Blue Girl and I have cooked up a little X-Muss treat for you.

The new version of GarageBand is pretty amazing. In past years, I'd have tracked all this stuff in GB, and then dumped the project up to Apple Logic Express for mixing; the new GB, which operates at 24-bit (!!!), has enough mixing gumption that I may just leave Logic alone. And it's User Interface Heaven. I just love it.

Last year, Blue Girl and I did a rather nice, sort-of woody and meditative version of Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here." This year, we decided the Joint Must Rock.

And can that girl belt it, or what?

In the spirit of the X-Muss Season, then, please enjoy our holiday offering to the Jingo Nation:

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree (pops).

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Hawk's A-Comin'

Just heard on the news, we're looking at up to an inch of ice tomorrow and Sunday.

Our power always goes out, even in far less drastic weather.

Might be a cold, cold weekend.

Glad I got that firewood.

Ick.

Later edit: Oh! Forgot to say! I saw a bald eagle today, at a distance of about 30 feet. I was driving along Hamilton Station Road, minding my own business, when it came swooping magnificently over a pasture, picked up a small rodent in its talons, and flew impassively off in the direction of the river, where it no doubt nests. I've only seen one other bald eagle in the wild, a few years ago, also near the Potomac just downstream from Harpers Ferry, but it was much farther away.

Earlier this year, in the spring, I watched dumbstruck as a red-tailed hawk flew just over my road with a blacksnake writhing in its talons. I wondered if I'd just fallen into a bad symbolist novel. A-and then there was that gigantic owl that swooped through my yard one dusk this summer. Too dark for me to get a good look, but it was huge.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And How Does a Gentleman of Leisure Spend His Mornings?

I can't speak for all gentlemen of leisure, but in lieu of writing and researching, today I spent my misty, drippy morning chopping up that tree that fell in my orchard late this summer. Chainsaws, wedges, splitting mauls.... Corking good fun.

I alternate among piles of things. The Burn Pile (this will make a capital bonfire; we're still allowed to do this sort of thing in these parts, as long as the Fire Department is told in advance). It doesn't look like much in the photo, but that pile is considerably taller than me, and doused in gasoline and set ablaze, the flames will lick high into the sky:



Here's the Chastened Culprit, denuded of its branches. I'm reliably informed it's a cherry. (And I, much to my surprise, am Marie of Roumania.) Fascinatingly, David Mull's original 1772 deed from Lord Fairfax stipulates that as a condition of sale he plant "upon the Demised premises One hundred good Apple trees and One hundred and fifty Peach trees at least thirty feet Distant from each other..." Can't wait to get to the trunk of this baby and count the rings:


Piles. And piles of piles. Wood to be split:


Wood already split, or not in need of splitting:


We ran out of firewood a few days ago, and the cabin where I type this has been bloody freezing. I tried to burn some of this newly split wood, but it wouldn't go exothermic for love or money. So I called the estimable Mr. Mills from Sandy Hook, and he brought this eminently welcome load of seasoned firewood, which now crackles merrily in the hearth:



Next year this time, it'll be my wood burning on that glowing, crackling, hissing hearth. I'll know every piece of it: Oh, this bit! I remember this knot, what a stubborn bitch this one was!

I love being unemployed.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

I Call Bullshit

Besides the obvious, generally arrived-at conclusions in this business of the CIA "destroying videotapes" of torture, it strikes your correspondent that this story seems a trifle anachronistic. "Videotape," in this decade of TiVo and YouTube, is as outmoded as audiocassettes and LPs. I imagine that our outraged lawmakers picture, in their "series of tubes" understanding of digital technology, that Company goons lifted a box full of VHS cassettes from a hidey-hole somewhere in Langley, took 'em out back in the woods, poured some gas on the box, and flicked a match at it. There. Problem safely averted.

The fact of the matter is, videotape that can be taken into the woods and burnt has been an outmoded technology since the mid-Nineties. It's true that digital recording media can be destroyed just as easily as a box of tapes, but surely -- surely -- an operation as technically sophisticated as The Company would make backups, and backups of backups, of any and all recordings. In 2007, it strains credulity to the breaking point to try to convince a Congressional committee that the record of an event that was recorded on digital video was destroyed utterly, without a chance of reconstruction.

OK, so they erased the files off the hard disks that held the backups. Those can be reconstructed, too, as they always used to tell me in the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility where I worked in the late Eighties, an armored, lead-lined room that no floppy disk ever left, on pain of its purveyor's dismissal and prosecution.

Stop telling me they "destroyed the videotapes." I have no reason to believe that any of those recordings -- not tapes -- will ever see the light of day, but stop trying to fob me off with a story of burnt or erased tape. They exist somewhere.

Friday, November 30, 2007

You Can Sing About Rainbows, and Not Imply You're Gay

James Finn Garner, political satirist, author of Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, and a friend of this blog, has alerted me to a video he's posted at YouTube. 'S pretty funny...



Sez James of the premise of his new book, Recut Madness: Favorite Movies Retold for Your Partisan Pleasure, (due out in May 2008)
In these days when a person can read newspapers and watch networks that do nothing but reinforce their previously held views, why should they have to endure uncomfortable ideas in the movies ? With a laptop and the right software, opposing viewpoints can be whisked into the dustbin, leaving minds amused and unconflicted.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"It was along about that time that Blind Lemon Jefferson came through..."

Jesus.

I'm just a sniveling little suburban boozhie white-boy, up to his elbows researching Old, Weird America for a book that'll sell four copies before it hits the remainder bin, but it destroys me -- just destroys me -- to know that there was a time, long before I was born, when a young, musically curious Hobart Smith could be holed up in his parents' cabin in Smyth County, Virginia, trying to learn the "git-tar," only to have a black work crew come through town accompanied by a pretty fair git-tar player name o' Blind Lemon Jefferson.

O' course, Hobart and Blind Lemon couldn't pop into E-Chords.com and just look up chords and tablature, could they. There are some tradeoffs.

Check it out yourself.
You might want to listen to Hobart playing "Cripple Creek," too (upper left-hand corner).

Monday, November 26, 2007

You Have Purchased an Age-Restricted Item

She has a wonderful voice, that Nice Lady inside the Self-Checkout machine at the Purcellville Giant. A melodic voice, a mellifluous set of pipes. The fruity way she says "Welcome!" when you step up to the machine, a strange, slightly foreign-sounding lilt on the "l" that suggests hours and hours in the recording studio to get that "Welcome!" just right... Not sexy, not alluring, just...welcoming.

"Wellllcome!"

By this time I will have already scanned my Bonus Card, so it's always touchingly out of whack when she says, "If you have a Bonus Card, please scan it now." Way ahead of you, sister! But I love the darling, cheerful way she reassures me a second or two later, "Your Bonus Card has been accepted!" as if there had ever been any doubt, that I'm just so lucky today, I've just been accepted at the world's most exclusive club...

On she goes, the robotic nature of the prerecorded numbers being assembled inside the machine assuaged by that purring voice, both Mom and Not-Mom... "One...forty-two. Two...ninety-nine. Sixty...six...cents. Savings, thirty...two...cents." The word "savings" must also have been one they worked on for hours in the studio, to get just the right mixture of optimism tempered with congratulation that you -- yes you, you lucky, lucky bastard! -- have just saved thirty...two...cents! But it's not a cloying, phony-sounding congratulation, either. It strikes a perfect balance: Just great, great acting.

I have a definite order in which I scan things. If I'm buying beer or wine, I scan that first, to set in motion the pain-in-the-ass process of the ID check, which has to be done by the (human) attendant. Next, all the stuff with UPC bar-codes. This is the painless part of the process. I save the produce, which you can't scan in the UPC machine, for last. I do this for two reasons. First, looking up each item individually is annoyingly painstaking; you've been scanning 15 items a minute up till now, and tonight's salad alone will take twice that long. But I also save this task for last because the Nice Lady says some more wonderful things...

"Weigh your [Gala apples]... Move your [Gala apples] to the belt... Enter your [limes'] quantity and press 'Enter'... Move your [limes] to the belt..."

Some while ago, I was chatting with a youngster who was attending the Self-Checkout lines. A young man of obvious humor and intelligence, he allowed as to how he found Nice Lady's voice kinda sexy. I agreed warmly, and told him to wait just a second so he could hear her say my absolute, all-time favorite robotic Self-Checkout Nice Lady phrase. "All right, you ready? You listening? OK, here goes..."

"Move your [sweet onions] to the belt..."

We both howled.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tramps Like Us

Honey, it's me.

Yeah, I'm gonna be a little late. I'm stuck on Highway Nine -- buncha goddamned suicide machines out here -- Just a sec... Hey! Goddammit, I'm talking to you! What cage were you sprung from, drivin' like that! Goddamned hemi-powered drones... Yeah? Well, fuck you too! How you expect to drive combin' your goddamned hair in the rear-view mirror! Fuckin' broken heroes...

Sorry, hon. Just blowing off some steam. Jesus, these kids. They don't have a frickin' idea what it's like, sweating it out on the streets of a runaway American dream --

What? She said what? Goddam -- put her on. I said put her on. Yeah, yeah, I won't blow my stack, but Jesus, that girl...

Wendy. Honey. Punkin'. What are you doin'? That boy is bad news, honey. Bad news. Your dad knows these things. The other night, when I caught you with your legs around his velvet rims and your hands strapped across his engine, I coulda cried. Just cried. That boy doesn't have your best interests at heart, honey. What? What the hell kinda talk is that? Don't let him in, honey! He wants to guard your dreams and visions? Excuse me while I piss myself laughin'. That's boy-talk for he wants to get into your pants, honey. That's all that means. Take it from me, punkin'.

And all that scary talk about dyin' with you on the streets tonight in an everlasting kiss? Jesus, you're scaring the shit outta your old man, hon! That's Child Protective Services stuff, princess! You think they wouldn't throw me in jail if I didn't kibosh that, like, immediately? Damn right they would! Ain't no daughter of mine gonna die with no punk in the goddamned streets in any kinda kiss! Not on my watch!

Hon, could you hold on for just a sec? I gotta phone something in. Be right back.

Sid? Hey, yeah, it's me. Look, I'm drivin' along past the Cold & Stark amusement park. Buncha kids out there on the beach, huddled in the mist. Yeah. Direct violation of city code. Beach is closed this time-a year. Could you get somebody on it? Thanks. Gotta run, trying to talk my daughter off the ledge. Bye.

Wendy, you there? Thanks for holdin', hon. Just bringin' home the bacon. Could you tell your brother to stop playin' that sax solo while we talk? Thanks.

Now look, hon. He's probably fed you some line about bein' a scared and lonely rider, wants to know if love is real, blah, blah, blah. But you can't possibly believe that crap he's feedin' you about loving you with all the madness in his soul, all those empty promises about getting to "that place" (you gotta know what that means, dontcha?), walkin' in the sun -- it's a load of crap, honey. Total crap. Don't you remember your friend Rosalita? The one who ran off with that worthless guitar-player, and now they're in Camden workin' Sal's pizza joint 'cause he blew that record company advance on shoes and haircuts, and ended up owing two hundred grand to Warner Brothers? You want to end up like that?

What? Born to what? Born to run? Run what, a Seven-Eleven? Jesus Christ!

Look. I'll be home in a minute. We'll talk more then. But I don't want that boy comin' around no more.

And tell Mary to stop slammin' that goddamned screen door!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Polling Place

Worked the polling place in Leesburg this evening.

Easy gig. Folks roll up to vote, you shove a Democratic Sample Ballot under their noses. They take it, or they don't. They go inside to vote. They consult your Sample Ballot, or they don't.

The odd, unexpected thing was the joshing and camaraderie among the poll-workers on either side. These folks are friends and neighbors, and party affiliation is more a matter of unaccountable eccentricity than some angry passion. When I got there, the Dem activist I was relieving hugged everybody there, regardless of party affiliation, and went home. By the time my spell was over and my relief had arrived, I'd joined the Old House Owners' Club of Loudoun County, given a Republican poll-worker a recommendation for someone to do some restoration work on his house, and given another GOP worker my email address.

In this collegial atmosphere, any joking is immediately assumed to be friendly. One of the GOP workers asked, in a loud voice, how an intelligent fella like myself came to be associated with a bunch of rascals and good-for-nothings like the Dems. Unprepared for the question, I mumbled something lame about how my parents, good Minnesota Democrats, raised me right. But I filed the thing away, waiting for an opportunity to present itself.

It was a cold and windy evening, and the chill began to assert itself in my still-tender hip. I did some of the stretches that they taught me in my Physical Therapy sessions. One of the GOP guys asked me what I was doing, and I launched into my standard story: Osteonecrosis, hip replacement, yadda yadda. Then I expanded on it a bit: I'm so grateful, I said, to have been born when I was, when hip replacements are even possible. Imagine, I expounded, if I'd had this condition in, say, 1930, when I might have been the sole provider for a family of four, finding my hip going painfully south on me: How screwed would I have been then, with primitive medical science, no social security net, no health insurance, absolutely nothing standing between me and painful penury for my family?

Yeah, I guess you'd have been in pretty bad shape, said my interlocutor. Yeah, wow, that would have sucked.

I let a moment pass.

"And that," I said, "is why I'm a Democrat."

No thunderclaps resounded in the sky. Nobody fell to the ground, speaking in tongues. No battlefield conversions.

But I remain quietly proud of my zinger.

It has the added virtue of being absolutely, unarguably true. A humble thing, but mine own.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Unable to Deliver Under the Circumstances

I have sometimes wondered how it was that David Mull (né Muhle) -- the man who built the log-cabin portion of my house -- came to America from Germany, alone, in 1740, at the tender age of nine.

Now, in the course of researching this book, I believe I have something resembling an answer. Purely speculative, but it fits the historical happenstance.

The question I've been trying to nail down is, How did Appalachia come to be settled? How did it get so poor? Where'd we get rednecks?

David was almost certainly an indentured servant. We are taught in our high-school history lessons that the indentured-servant system, which brought over millions of laborers from Europe over the course of nearly two centuries, resembled the sort of apprenticeship deal that taught young men a craft or trade for centuries in Europe. As Jim Goad puts it in The Redneck Manifesto (with a great deal of smoldering rage in his voice), "After I left history class, I carried away the idea that a cabal of muckety-muck benefactors allowed white people to learn a trade in the New World and were so effusively benevolent that they even paid for their passage across the Atlantic. I pictured Ben Franklin teaching Oliver Twist how to run a printing press, or maybe Tom Jefferson instructing the Artful Dodger in Latin."

Well.

Do you know where we get the word "kidnap"? It was a common practice in horrible old London in the late 17th century: "Spirits" -- defined by Richard Hofstadter as people who "waylaid, kidnapped or induced adults to get aboard ships for America" -- rounded up orphaned, destitute, homeless children, knocked them on the head, and delivered them up to shipping companies, who bundled them into holds every bit as horrifying as those carrying enslaved Africans, and delivered them to America. Hofstadter says that in 1731, the year Mull was born, a ship called Love and Unity sailed from Rotterdam carrying 150 German Palatines. Thirty-four of them arrived in Philadelphia.

A German musician named Gottleib Mittelberger was a paying passenger on another such voyage, this one in 1750, ten years after David arrived in America. Thirty-two children died on that trip. Howard Zinn quotes him, in A People's History of the United States:
During the journey the ship was full of pitiful signs of distress -- smells, fumes, vomiting, various kinds of sea sickness, fever dysentery, headaches, heat, constipation, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth-rot, and similar afflictions, all of them caused by the age and the high salted state of the food, especially of the meat, as well as by the bad and filthy water.... Add to all that shortage of food, hunger, thirst, frost, heat, dampness, fear, misery, vexation, and lamentation as well as other troubles. On board our ship, on a day on which we had a great storm, a woman about to give birth and unable to deliver under the circumstances, was pushed through one of the portholes into the sea.
If shanghai'ed to America like this, David would have been a Redemptioner; he'd have had to have established his indenture after arriving -- essentially selling himself to somebody while still aboard ship in the Philadelphia port before having a chance to recover from a harrowing voyage -- meaning there was no guarantee he wouldn't have been thrown into a debtor's prison (yes, we had 'em) for failing to pay the shipping company for the privilege of having enjoyed all that ship's biscuit and salted horse.

And he could have been bought and sold, too. Zinn: "An announcement in the Virginia Gazette, March 28, 1771, read: 'Just arrived at Leedstown, the Ship Justitia, with about one Hundred Healthy Servants, Men, Women and Boys.... The sale will commence on Tuesday the 2nd of April.'"

At the age of nine.

Wonder if he wasn't just a tad bitter.

But David was one of the lucky ones. He did survive, he did work out his indenture, he did establish himself as a prosperous farmer, marry, and raise a brood of children. Others weren't so fortunate. Zinn:
In general, the Indian was kept at a distance. And the colonial officialdom had found a way of alleviating the danger: by monopolizing the good land on the eastern seaboard, they forced landless whites to move westward to the frontier [which in those times was Appalachia] there to encounter the Indians and to be a buffer for the seaboard rich against Indian troubles, while becoming more dependent on the government for protection.
And that, my friends, is where we get rednecks.

Monday, October 29, 2007

This Could Get to Be an Obsession

First off: Duh!

I should be spanked for wondering -- in public, no less -- where bluegrass got that boom-chucka beat, a beat I discern in the proto-bluegrass I'm studying intensively. Last night, during the World Serious, there came on a mildly funny commercial on the teevee featuring chimpanzees doing Irish step-dancing to some of that flutes-and-bodhran Riverdance goo.

Oh.

Never mind.


On a recommendation from Jason Chervokas, I've also picked up Greil Marcus' The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes. Great book, if you're at all interested in the placement of Dylan in American folk music; among many other virtues, it features the most cogent defense I've ever read of Dylan's decision to go electric in 1965/66.

I'm reading it not so much for the Dylan angle as the "the speculative intelligence with which Marcus chases the specters and wraiths of this country's musical past" dodge. (Quote from a blurb by Robert Polito of the NYT Book Review.)

In the chapter about Harry Smith's "Anthology of American Folk" (a work that becomes more endlessly fascinating the more I know about it), I find this quote from Old Zimmy Himself:
What folk music is, it’s not Depression songs. …its foundations aren’t work, its foundations aren’t "slave away" and all this. Its foundations are – except for Negro songs which are based on that and just kind of overlapped –the main body of it is just based on myth and the Bible and plague and famine and all kinds of things like that which are nothing but mystery and you can see it in all the songs. Roses growing up right out of people’s hearts and naked cats in bed with spears growing right out of their backs and seven years of this and eight years of that and it’s all really something that nobody can really touch.
Yeah. Aw hell yeah.

Here's what Bob's talking about...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Me and the Georgia Potlickers: Buddies or Just Good Friends?

How little I know...

I have been guilty of post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning.

I assumed that the rhythmic emphasis on the second and fourth beats in bluegrass and country music arose out of the similar emphasis in jazz -- boom-chucka, boom-chucka. How wrong I was...

In my research for this book I've been listening very hard to a couple of collections of very early country recordings, "The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of," a set of extremely rare 78s of blues and proto-country; and Harry Smith's magisterial "Anthology of American Folk Music," which was perhaps the most important factor in the rise of the folkie movement in the late 50s and early 60s.

These records are, needless to say, astonishingly evocative.

But the most amazing thing about them is that it becomes instantly clear that country music had that boom-chucka beat long before jazz was a factor in rural life. If I'd thought with any clarity about it, I could have come to this conclusion without immersing myself in these collections; I'm not unacquainted with these tunes.

What bluegrass did was not to appropriate a rhythm from jazz; what happened instead was it took that rural dance-beat, and sped it up and gave it that wonderful drive that makes it such a compellingly toe-tapping medium, where the banjo is free to do all that great riffing a good picker can do.

(No insignificant thing, that fifth string. I'm doing a whole chapter on it.)

So the question becomes, When did this music acquire this beat? You don't hear it in "authentic" recordings of Celtic or even any other European folk music -- not so far as I can tell, anyway. Is it African? More listening sessions in store, methinks....

Another stunning thing is how much larceny went on in the first half of the twentieth century. I'll be humming along with Dock Boggs' "Country Blues" (1927) and it will suddenly hit me: Bloody hell, that's "Darlin' Corey"! Up comes John Byrd's "Old Timbruck Blues," and it becomes eminently clear where Bill Monroe "acquired" "Molly and Tenbrooks."

This is capital fun. Why didn't I think of this unemployment dodge earlier?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

ALCS, Game 7

This has bugged me for years....

I'm not a sports freak. I don't obsess over the box scores; I'll check 'em occasionally, but not very morning. I don't know every batting average in Major League Baseball.

But I do have a little bit of accumulated knowledge of baseball -- enough to know that somebody's last 12 at-bats are an absolutely meaningless criterion in judging his dangerousness at bat. A far better standard is the batter's whole-season record.

So why -- please god, why!?!?!? -- do the television people insist on giving us completely useless information? I don't give a blistering fuck what a guy has done in this series; I want to know what he's done in his last 600 at-bats. That would give me some useful data.

All that said, in the second inning, Boston has this thing sewed up. Varitek just bounced one off the tippy-top of the Green Monster, and Dice-K looks unhittable.

The mortgage-equity money looks safe.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Before the Shit Went Down

This past weekend, before The Shit Went Down, I took a jaunt up to Bobby Lightfoot's joint in Western Massachusetts. He's been going through some relationship shit, and I wanted to soothe his brow with wet cloths and place hot poultices on his chest. What's a brother for?

Bobby's living in a fantastic house-sit in the Berkshires. Gorgeous view. Would have taken a picture but my camera-batteries were fried. House is stuffed full of great musical instruments, a grand piano, drum kit, some ten guitars, every amp you can imagine, and Bobby's got them all miked with mindbendingly great condenser mics. He's got his recording gear all perfect, and he flies around on this digital eight-track at speeds approaching that of the sound coming out of his NS-10s.

Beforehand, we'd discussed doing a short little recording project while I was there, just for snicks. Since we do form a brother act, we considered a few songs to cover that featured close harmonies. We settled for a bit on the Fabs' "If I Fell," until it occurred to me that, with our perverse shared sense of humor, it would be more fun to do the Rutles' parody, "With a Girl Like You."

So we did. Enjoy, won't you?

With a Girl Like You (pops)

Guitars and low (shaky!) harmony is me. Bobby sings the confident vocal lead, and plays drums, bass, percussion, and the piano in the solo.

Boy knows his way around audio, I tell ya. I have never made recording that's anywhere near this ballpark.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

White Rover


Commenter JC (a very old pal from college) reminds me of an incident that bears recounting here...

It was about 1979 or so. We were spectacularly dissipated sophomores, taking far too many drugs and drinking ocean-loads. Just... horrible.

On a holiday break, JC kindly assented to let me bum a ride from New York to Boston to visit my girlfriend, who was sharing a flop in Aliston with a quite-good rock band called The Zoo Types. (Reading this back, it occurs to me that I was kinda hip in those days...)

JC's parents owned a late-Sixties Rover TC2000 -- a car you don't see much, and which you didn't see much even then. Though common in Britain, the Rover didn't get exported to the States; so if you wanted to own one, you really had to work at it. There might be 500 of them in the country now.

When we were stationed in Finland, my parents drove a Rover TC2000. "TC" stands for "Twin Carburetter," in case you're interested. I imagine the "2000" is the engine size in cc's. Not a particularly powerful car, but British cops used them; I remember a TV series called "Zed Cars"; I was particularly chuffed to see my parents' car being used in car chases.

I suppose my affection for that car is of a piece with my purchase of that 1964 Triumph bike; I will go to my grave believing that human civilization hit a high-water-mark in the mid-Sixties, and it's been a long, slow slide down the crapper ever since. I saw a Rover for sale in the Giant parking lot in Purcellville last year; I was sorely, sorely tempted to make an offer.

(What, are my neuroses showing?)

So there we were, driving up to Beantown, me waxing nostalgic in this great car. We hit a tollbooth (Mass Pike? Seems likely...) -- and the Rover crapped out. Dead as vaudeville. Neither of us knew a damned thing about engines.

Panic began to set in. Where the fuck were we gonna find a shop off the Mass Pike that can work on a twelve-year-old British import -- and did I mention it was two in the morning?

It was cold. It was late. We were tired. We were fucked.

Then, the most amazing thing happened.

A white Rover TC2000 -- of course it was white! -- pulled up behind us. Guy has tools, parts, I dunno, exploded diagrams. A Rover freak. Loves 'em. Has three. You guys stranded? Here, lemme take a look...

He had us back on the road in maybe twenty minutes.

What are the odds? I mean, seriously, what are the odds?

Life's amazing sometimes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Well, It Was a Good, Long Run

Eight years, I gave that company.

They kicked me to the curb today.

It was a great beginning. I was gonna be an AOL Millionaire, just like my neighbor Steve, who drove a bitchen Audi and remodeled his kitchen before moving to the nicest house in the neighborhood. The stock split the day after I was hired.

The options I was granted on my hiring are by now utterly, utterly worthless. Have been since just about the day I got them in 1999.

I sat at Jim Bankoff's elbow -- invited as the UI designer who'd drawn the first concepts for a music subscription service that would eventually become the disastrous MusicNet -- as he divided the digital distribution of three-fifths of the world's music with slick-assed snakes from Sony and BMG, in a sleekly metallic meeting-room in CC1. iTunes wasn't yet even a gleam in Steve Jobs' eye.

I attended a Design Summit in Columbus -- Netscape, CompuServe and AOL graphic designers -- where the immortal Rob Raines and about ten designers ran up a $3500 tab at the Columbus Morton's. One guy was so flush with it that he bought a jeroboam of Dom Perignon that was on display -- the kind of thing they put up with a ridiculous price-tag to make the hoi-polloi feel like a Player. Stupid asshole walked around with the huge thing cradled in his arms all night, getting warmer and warmer.

I was there for the big media event consummating the AOL Time Warner merger, what, maybe late 2000. I walked to the cafeteria to get some food; on my way I ran into Ted Turner, bored and hungry, waiting for lunch to be served to the executives. He was fingering a ball-chain blind-puller. He mused aloud for my benefit -- and mine alone -- "Not very high-tech, is it..." The contempt dripping from his voice on the words "high-tech" are something I'll take to my grave.

Oh, I've got stories. Now that I'm no longer a member of the family, and when the dust has settled and I'm safely employed again, I'll get around to telling them.

I'll be able to explain this thing, (last two paragraphs) which I was constrained by professional circumspection at the time from telling.

There's one story I can't tell even after I'm safely employed elsewhere. Suffice to say: The bastards richly, richly deserved their comeuppance.

I had a front-row seat for the Great AOL Train Wreck. And I finally went under the wheels. Can't say fairer than that.

Now, with a few months to relax, I'll write my book, I'll get back on top of the yardwork, put the garden to bed for the winter, ride the Triumph, get that damned Historical Society website hammered together....

I think I'm one of the lucky ones.



Some program notes: NeddieJingo at aol dot com is at least temporarily out of service. I can now be reached at hbsherwood at mac dot com. For stupid reasons, the Neddie address won't bounce back, so if I appear not to be answering your emails, that's why. I hope and pray they'll see reason and let the Neddie address become a non-business account, after which things will be back to normal. Should take about a week.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Land of the Free and the Home of the Extremely Frightened

Washington, D.C., the city of my birth, has been transformed into East Berlin.

This was the thought that struck me this morning when I attempted to park in the underground lot at the (I can barely bring myself to type the name) Ronald Reagan Building to attend a work-related conference in the Mellon Auditorium next door.

The last time I saw anyone use a mirror to inspect the underside of an automobile for contraband was when I went through Checkpoint Charlie between East and West Berlin in 1980. I was reminded of this when it was done to my truck this morning, after I had handed proof of my identity to a surly policeman, who protected the Homeland from, well, from me, by checking out my undercarriage.

Seething slightly from the good officer's presumption of malice aforethought, I descended into the most hellish parking garage I have ever in my life experienced. Descending level after level into this dank, dimly lit, claustrophobic concrete Hades, seeking a place to deposit my truck for the day, I had on the CD player a marvelous recording by Dock Boggs, circa 1930, of a tune called "Old Rub Alcohol Blues":
When my worldly troubles are over
And my last goodbye I've said
Bury me near my darling's doorstep
Where the roses bloom in their bed
Honestly, I began to freak out.

Oh, Jesus, Dock, I thought. You couldn't have known. You died, and anything like humanity, like things measurable on a human scale, died with you. You were at least allowed to have the blues. You could sing about it, and somebody -- even some poor Morlock in a concrete bunker 150 below the surface of the earth trying to find a parking spot -- would hear you, and know what you meant.

And I get... this.

Back on the street again, grateful just to see daylight, I wandered, misinformed, into the Environmental Protection Agency Building to ask for directions. I ran smack-bang into another crowd of surly cops, daring me to brave their metal detectors and magnetic wands. Staring down at me from the wall, smiling like oblivious goons, were the grinning gargoyle visages of both George Bush and Dick Cheney. The Fear sank its claws even deeper into my skin. Having received a reasonably coherent answer to my question from one of the scowling DHS minions, I turned and made to leave the lobby.

As I left, it occurred to me that a photograph of those two hideous, grinning faces on the wall of EPA would make a marvelously ironic memento of an encounter in the lobby of a once-proud agency that those two bastards had done their best to destroy. This idea lasted just about long enough for me to make one impulsive move toward my camera-case in my backpack.

Then I thought better of it.

They'd have had me down on my stomach, knees on my neck, Tasers sparking my spine, cuffs around my wrists, before I knew what hit me.

East Berlin.

I did get to have lunch with Jared Spool, though. That was cool. Nice guy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Automechanical Royalties

I love being reminded just what a magnificent, gonad-stomping job the Clash did with "Pressure Drop."

And it makes me want to chew broken glass until my mouth is a maw of blood and gore that the thing doing the reminding is a fucking Nissan commercial.
Oil pressure
Oil pressure
Oil pressure gonna drop on you...

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Most Desperate Band

From History of the Independent Loudoun Virginia Rangers, U. S. Vol. Cav. (Scouts), by Briscoe Goodhart, Company A, originally published in 1898. Goodhart's memoir is the standard volume for students of the Loudoun Rangers, the only militia raised in Virginia to fight for the Union. It consisted mainly of men from Waterford and Lovettsville, two loyalist border towns.

Goodhart's name now honors a road near Taylorstown.
The close of every twenty-four hours demonstrated most fully and beyond question that the days of the Confederacy were numbered and very few, yet the Confederate bands that inhabited Loudoun grew more desperate in their attitude toward the citizens of that county. It was almost impossible for the citizens to keep horses, as bands of guerrillas would take them. In many cases it was known that this stock was appropriated for their own use, although the Confederate government was directly responsible. As early as April, 1862, that alleged government passed an Act authorizing the recruiting of guerrilla bands, who were to receive compensation for their service from horses and other property taken from Union citizens....

Perhaps the most desperate band of this military banditti was John Moberly's, who belonged to White's command, although he committed most of his atrocious deeds on his own hook. He had become so desperate and such a terror to the citizens that Gen. Stephenson, the commander at Harpers Ferry, found it absolutely necessary to offer a reward for his body. A detail of twelve of the Rangers was ordered to the Loudoun Valley to capture or kill Moberly and his band. The band had, at most, about twelve men, although generally only three or four.

This squad of the Rangers learned where Moberly was expected to be, and endeavored to catch him at that place. They concealed themselves and waited, and it was not long before he approached, coming down the road, with drawn saber, chasing a negro boy who was driving a cart. The boy was badly frightened, which Moberly seemed to enjoy. As he approached, our boys rose to their feet and demanded a surrender. Moberly lay down in in his saddle, put spurs to his swift-footed horse, and, making a sharp turn in the the road, darted out of sight. Every one of our boys fired at him at close range, but did not strike him. We were on foot and could not follow, but returned to camp without the coveted game.
To be continued...

The Mighty Deejay


I've always felt this about people who consider such things as mix tapes to be some kind of Art Form.

Get a fuckin' instrument, dope.

Found through StumbleUpon.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Johnny's In the Basement

Easily the funniest thing anybody's taken time out to create for me today...




Thanks, Employee of the Month!

You and Your Pussycat Eyes

It's funny how visceral a connection there is between musical timbre and gutwrenching nostalgia.

Tom Jones' monster hit from 1965, "What's New, Pussycat?" which has been on constant rotation in my mental iPod recently, has this ability to transport me directly -- immediately, without any effort on my part -- to 1966, to my family's living room carpet, my six-year-old face buried in its nap as I listen intensely, the smell of sautéing garlic and onion from the kitchen suffusing the air.

I've been thinking rather hard about what exactly it is about the song's arrangement that's so compelling, and I think I've got it.

Play it along with me, won't you? (Pops.)

Harmonically, the chorus that begins the song is quite mundane, a I-IV-V in C major that's designed to be sung along to. The transition from opening chorus to the verse is also bog-standard, a dip to a D major chord that presages the G major of the verse.

(It's occurred to me now, on re-hearing it, that the song's a bit of a pastiche, intentionally corny, even in its original 1965 context -- designed to evoke the hip-ironic nostalgia that was common in pop music at the time. Perhaps this explains the lack of harmonic sophistication in the chorus -- it's trying to sound dumb.)

It's in the verse that things get interesting. The first line is harmonized with the tonic G: "Pussycat, pussycat," but "I've got flowers" is a B flat, which isn't in the home key. It's precisely that intervalic swoop -- both its harmonic surprise and the jangle-piano-and-tuba timbre -- that sends me crashing back to 1966. I don't know enough about psychoacoustics to say with any precision just why that particular chord change does this to me, but Lordy does it do it! I imagine at some future date, research scientists will isolate the Drooling-Nostalgia hormone or endorphin or whatever it is, playing Sixties pop sludge to 46-year-old men hooked up to machines to see what part of the brain lights up when that B flat chord follows that G.

This nostalgia, for you wee ones out there, is not for the Dirty-Hippie Sixties that everyone seems to think of whenever that decade is mentioned. That chord change doesn't evoke student protest or drugs or Maoist ideology; what that swoop away from the home key brings out in me is what the Sixties promised to be for progressive people who admired style and grace: The Sixties of Steve McQueen, of Audrey Hepburn, of "Blow Up," of Cilla Black and Serge Gainsbourg and sleek hair and great clothes and the utterly gorgeous reverb on Petula Clark's voice in "Downtown."

It was a world that was exploding into color -- you have to be just about exactly my age to have recognized this explosion. The first few years of my life happened in black-and-white -- television, film, print: everything was grayscale. Then, just about exactly the time Tom Jones recorded "What's New, Pussycat," everything just blossomed: Marimekko, Pop art, Expo 67, Mary Quant, the British Invasion -- color everywhere.

Jet travel. Skiing. Bitchen cars and cheap gas. Triumph motorcycles. Soldiers not yet dead in Viet Nam.

Optimism.

It's all in there. All of it. G to B flat.

Burt Bacharach, you magnificent bastard.

PS: Absolutely the best-ever version of "What's New Pussycat?" was done by Bobby Lightfoot's Malarians in 1985. You'll have to take my word for it, but it's true. Played without even a lick of irony. Beautiful.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

On the Importance of a Healthy Self-Regard

Some years ago, a couple lived near us whom we liked very much. Slightly hippie, granola-type people who possessed a sense of humor. They had two children, one a very talented twelve-year-old boy, the other a rather precocious two-year-old girl.

It was this girl who was the subject of a story the mother whispered, giggling, to Wonder Woman at the playground where our kids disported themselves. The mom had been changing the little one's diaper. In a state of nudity, freshly wiped down and powdered, the girl pointed to her personal bits and hollered out:

"Yay! 'Ray! Vulva!"

I'm afraid I've never been able to shake that little witticism, and I find myself silently chanting it, like a mantra, at moments of, how shall we put it... Well, the sorts of moments when the phrase is likely to occur to one.

I know just what you mean, little one, and I couldn't agree more.

Friday, September 28, 2007

O Sinner, Do Not Stray

He will, too. Mark my word.

(Later edit: Wear headphones if at work. Wear a bulletproof vest if at the MegaChurch.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It Godwins Itself

From this morning's Washington Post:
Immigrant Detention Center Proposed in Va.
Facility Would House Illegal Residents Arrested for Crimes Until Deportation
Lessee, here... Country's leaders declare an existential threat from "undesirable" elements they see as usurpers of the national and local economies... Build "special prisons" to hold "those people" -- separate from the non-local-ecomony-threatening regular-guy criminals -- just until they can be "deported"...

I can't think of a single historical precedent, can you?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Bitter Pill

I note with some acerbity that once again I have been snubbed for a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.

I don't know why I keep trying, people. I really don't.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Small Personal Note

The book's a go. Manuscript's due at the publishers September 1, 2008.

Now: How do you do one of these things...? I suppose I should go buy some paper, yes, and perhaps some pencils or something...

"It was around Barstow, at the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold..."

What, taken?

Damn.

Think Global, Act Local

As Number Sixteen in the List of Top Virginia Political Blogs, I feel it incumbent on me to bring a matter to your attention. This morning's Washington Post reports that things have sunk so low in political communications that political operatives are trolling local-politics blogs -- and, for crissakes, the comments on the blogs! -- for negative crap to say about their opponents:
A Republican state legislator from Fairfax County has launched an attack ad on cable TV against his Democratic opponent that features unidentified, unverified quotes from a blog.

The ad by Del. Timothy D. Hugo points to a new form of negative campaigning in which information for an attack ad is sourced to comments posted on the Internet instead of more authoritative sources such as news reports or public records.

(I think by "unidentified" they actually mean "attributed to a person whose identity is unknown"; editorial standards have done their own decaying, but that's a rant for another day.)

Now, it occurs to me as a person of a Surrealistic bent, these bravos are playing with fire. If they're going to go wallowing around the Blogosphere snagging convenient-looking
copy for their miserable "attack" ads from anonymous blog comments, I think this provides a marvelous opportunity to plant some mischief among their number. Muddy the waters. Disincent them from such crappy behavior.

I know my own commenters are a talented and creative bunch, and you'd no doubt love to see your handles mentioned in some vile, reality-distorting right-wing attack ad. So most of you aren't in Virginia -- who ever said that was a requirement? The fact that I have commenters from Australia and Italy and, for all I know, even Maryland, shouldn't deter us from what I'm beginning to think of as a Holy Quest:

Get cited in a vicious right-wing attack ad.

You see where we're going with this, right? Ad runs, we snap off the Dada mask (mine's a Pierrot made entirely out of laminated goat-butter) and denounce the dupes from the highest rooftops.

Here's a list of Virginia Democratic politicians up for office this year you might vilify anonymously. Pop over there, pick a name, pop back here and slander away.

Remember, these calumnies have to be quotable. Believable. And make the kind of slimy right-wing operatives who troll blog posts for local politicians perk... up... and... whinny.

First Jingosphere commenter who makes it into an ad wins an ice-cream cone.

OK, I'll get the ball rolling:

Margaret Vanderhye, Democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 34th District representing McLean, Great Falls, and parts of Herndon and Vienna: God, she'd so raise your taxes! Kinda slutty, too. Bad for the 34th, bad for Virginia.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cook It Like a Man

Now that school has started, and Wonder Woman is shuttling Betty to a school rather far away, it has fallen to me to assume the duty of Family Chef.

I don't mind this at all; while no foodie, I'm quite a good cook. I haven't heard any complaints yet.

Tonight's main dish is a Beef Stroganoff, and as it simmers quietly away, I thought I'd share my recipe for one of my favorite repasts, which I was reminded of while preparing the Stroganoff....

What You'll Need
1 1.5-2 lb Slab of Beef. Top round, chuck roast, it's all good.
Flour
Oil or butter for sautéing
Salt
Your favorite beer

Cut the beef into bite-sized chunks.
Flour the chunks.
Fry 'em up. Don't overdo it. A little pink in the middle's even better.

And stop right there. You're done. Eat standing up, at the stove, preferably with your fingers. A little dash of salt for the chunks make them even more delicious. Drink the beer as you see fit. Two? Three? Nothing I can do to stop you.

I swear, I've eaten half my family's dinner like this. And I had to force myself to stop before eating it all.

My Beloved Washington Reagans

Something has been bothering me a bit, this young football season.

Universal opinion seems to be that Philadelphia lost Monday night's game against the Washington Reagans. Donovan McNabb, weak offense, yadda yadda, Philly boo-birds, on and on.

The game I watched, I didn't see Philly lose.

I watched Washington win.

I saw a young but rapidly improving quarterback with an absolute cannon for an arm make some great (and, admittedly, not-so-great) decisions, great throws (that TD to Chris Cooley at the half was a corker); I saw a three-pronged running attack (Portis, Betts, Sellers) that was formidable -- fourth in the league right now. The O-line is a little vulnerable and patched up (watching Jon Jansen get his ankle dislocated in Game One was wince-inducing), but have given up only three sacks so far.

The defense is vastly improved -- ranked seventh in the league now; nobody gave them enough credit for making McNabb -- and Westbrook -- look a little sick. (About time that favor was returned. God, it's been painful rooting for Washington against Philly during the McNabb Years...)

And wonder of wonders: they appear to have a reliable kicker!

And best of all: I know it's early days yet, but they seem to have shaken off that spooky tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with boneheaded on- and off-field moves.

Still loathe that pinheaded little ratfaced weasel of an owner, o' course. Won't ever like him. But enough hope begins to stir in the breast that a small still voice deep within begins a tentative little chant...

We...want...Dallas...? We...want...Dallas...? We...want...Dallas...?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Don Henley Must Die

I had this poster. Seriously. Prized possession.

I may have mentioned before that I have quite forgiven myself for liking Jethro Tull when I was thirteen. The Sex Pistols weren't even yet a gleam in Malcolm McLaren's eye, and Elvis Costello was still punching cards in FORTRAN for Elizabeth Arden. Particularly before the whole silly Elizabethan-Boogie thing, Tull was really quite a fine band -- their first two albums, made when they were a mere blues band with pretensions to good songcraft, are still rather listenable. Our local PBS station has a Celtic-music show on Sundays that I'll occasionally listen in on (not a major fan of the thick-sweatered "authentic" music, me -- too repetitious) called "The Thistle and Shamrock," and it amazes me how many times I'll notice that Ian Anderson lifted huge swathes of his mature output, lock, stock, and two smoking Uilleann pipes, from that music.

Today, I had a perfectly decent early-Tull song utterly ruined for me.

There I was in a quiet moment at work, idly clicking the Stumble! button, when up came collection of really-quite-good essays on applied music theory by a fella named Ger Tillikens. One of them is named "Locked Into the Hotel California," about the chord progression in that loathsome song by the loathsome fucking Eagles. Tillikens uses the song to make fascinating (to me, anyway -- YMMV) points about the Dorian mode and something I'd never heard of called the "twin-tone system."

During the course of the discussion, he lets drop the bomb that the authors of the Wikipedia article about "Hotel California" note that the verse's chord progression bears an amazingly exact resemblance to -- be ready to have the song ruined for you -- Jethro Tull's "We Used to Know," from their second album, "Stand Up." In a footnote, he notes that Ian Anderson knows damned well the song was lifted from him; "in a BBC radio interview [Anderson] once laughingly said that he was still waiting for his royalties."

For the record, the verse of "Hotel California":

i - V - VII - IV - VI - III - iv - V

"We Used to Know":

i - V - VII - IV - VI - III - II - V

Awwww.... fuck.

I hadn't thought about that song in years, but I have great affection for its memory, and many was the time that I played mad air guitar in my shuttered room to Martin Barre's workout in that halcyon year 1973.

So I came home, pulled out the CD, and... Oh yeah. Larceny-a-go-go....

Try it for yourself. They even lifted quite a bit of melody from it. You can sing "On a dark desert highway/Cool wind in my hair" right along with "Whenever I get to feel this way/Try to find new words to say," and it fits right in. I'll never be able to hear the song the same way again.

Fuckin' Eagles. Is there no end to their evil?

Jethro Tull's "We Used to Know." (pops)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Free Firewood!

This afternoon, a thrillingly beautiful early fall day, I was sitting on my screened porch squirreling away on my book proposal (now submitted, cross fingers) when the very fabric of space-time was rent in twain in a single moment of shocking violence.

Well, perhaps that's putting it a bit strong. What happened was that the serene silence of the sylvan, rural afternoon was smashed by several enormous cracking noises. My first, panicked thought was that some firecrackers we have in the garage, left over from a rainy July Fourth, had somehow caught fire and were exploding. Of course, if they'd caught fire, then that must mean the garage is on fire and -- omigodtheTriumph!

I raced uphill around the house, to find the garage quite thoroughly unengulfed in flames. The afternoon peace up here seemed quite unrent. Then I looked into the orchard and saw rather more vegetation than I am used to seeing there:


A tree, a damned good-sized one, had seen fit to end its existence on this beautiful Saturday. It was a breezy day, but hardly the kind of tempest that knocks trees over. No, I think the poor thing was depressed and simply decided to end it all.

Miraculously, it managed to miss just about everything it could have killed. The blueberries are (thank Osiris!) unharmed, it missed two apple trees and an Asian pear, the compost heap, and missed the garage by a country mile. A damned polite suicide.

But here's the truly astonishing part:


(I'm having iPhoto trouble with this new laptop, forgive the rotten photo quality.) What you see here in the lower left is a stone wall, which a reasonably expert person told me dates back to the 1940s or so. I am really quite fond of this wall. Damage to it would distress me greatly. This polite tree had the good taste and discretion to break off exactly six inches above the top of the wall, and in its fall did absolutely no damage to the wall whatsoever!

Believe it...or not!

Now, I told Wonder Woman that we'd have to get professional help to clear this tree, it was plainly too big a project for a single homeowner to handle, and her sarcasm on the matter of my purchase of a rather pricey new chainsaw this spring was what you might call withering. But that trunk is two feet in diameter if it's an inch, and we'll need a wood-chipper and a crane and all kinds of gear that I don't have.

But I am going to enjoy splitting all that wood.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Yes, I Know It's Been More Than a Week...

I'm struggling mightily with a Major Life Decision.

A dear friend has offered me an opportunity to submit a book proposal.

What I'm struggling with now is just what kind of book to write; hence my struggle, and my Radio Silence.

It will be about music (the imprint specializes in music), it will be about the Backbeat in American music, its history, origins, and manifestations, about Maybelle Carter's seminal guitar technique (which changed everything about how people play guitar), about Appalachia, about poverty, about spirituality, about... Well. You see my problem.

I've also been deeply ambivalent about taking on such a monumental task while holding down a 9 to 5 Jay Oh Bee. There will need to be time to research, to travel (although I'm not all that far from my subject matter), and to pound out 100,000 well-crafted words in a year.

One other minor matter is that this blog may have to take a back seat. I suppose I can blog the process, but I may (I do know myself well enough) suffer from Writer's Exhaustion and never want to look at a keyboard again at the end of each day.

Help me, somebody.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Do Homophones Secretly Meet in Phone Booths for Synonymous Sex?

Here's a sentence for you:

"Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."

It parses. (A bit tautological, but it parses.) See how.

(Resist the urge to click that link until you've tried to figure it out...)

Later Edit

Some confusion appears to have arisen about the example sentence.

Below, I present a simple Venn diagram that will no doubt clear up any misconceptions.


(Diagram drawn using the tool supplied at Crappy Graphs...)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Day in the Life in Gettysburg, PA

This knee-weakeningly beautiful late summer day, we Jingos took ourselves to Gettysburg, PA, to get our Civil War on.

It's odd, me being the John Mobberly buff, that we've never done this. It's quite close. We've been to all the big ones in the area -- Harpers Ferry a million times, Manassas, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg -- but never Gettysburg till now.

It's a very humbling place, and my intention had been to post up a sober photo essay on the battlefield. That will still happen; however, something else came up that I've got to get off my chest first.

You can't walk the whole battlefield, it's just too big. (That's one of the humbling things about it, really, imagining this entire stretch of land, from Oak Ridge to the Devil's Den, completely covered, like ants on a rotting apple-core, with thousands and thousands and thousands of men whose sole intent is on killing each other as efficiently as can be done.)

So we bought a CD at the Visitors Center; it contained a narrated automobile tour of the battlefield. We set off to do the tour, but only got about a third of the way through it (that narrator was one prolix son-of-a-bitch) before we all began to succumb to the crankiness that accompanies a rumbly in the familial tumbly.

Abandoning our tour with the promise to continue it another day, we drove into the extremely charming town of Gettysburg. We found a street that promised some passable restaurants, a sort of bohemian street with coffeeshops and hippie-tchotchke emporia. Just as I found a good parking spot and was about to pull into it, I glanced down an alley to my right and saw an absolute brigade of policemen, very much On the Job: They were keeping out of sight down this alley, it was plain, and looking at a particular address with grave purpose on their faces, racking shotguns, readying truncheons, gripping shields.

Holy shit! I believe I said. I'm an excellent example for our children. Look!

I pulled into the spot on two wheels. If it's actually possible to peel rubber while parallel parking, I did it. I really wanted to see what was going to go down. So, once they'd glimmed the circs, did the Fam.

We leaped out of the car as the phalanx of policemen stormed quite literally past our bumper and across the street. They bashed a door in, and piled into the residence, a three-story walkup, shouting lustily, as is the policeman's wont.

(At exactly that moment, a young man was entering the door immediately to the left of the raided house, a small grocery shop. The look on his face as he took in what was happening was utterly priceless.)

Only at this moment did it occur to Johnny Tourism that I had a perfectly functioning digital camera in my hand. So (discreetly, ever mindful that policemen rather object to having their photos taken while in performance of their duties; something about putting their souls in little boxes, no doubt) I began snapping away.

At first there was not much to see. My camera, though a very nice one, has the failing that it cannot penetrate walls.

After a very short while, though, I saw this appear on the roof of the house next to the raided residence. The raided house is the brick one, to the extreme right of the frame. The girl has plainly gone up a fire escape in the back of the house and gotten to the roof, and her intention is to do a Jason Bourne number and get out on the lam:


Be careful! I think I shouted. Incorrigible ghouls though we Jingos are, I had absolutely no desire for me -- or, God forbid, my children -- to watch a woman plunge to her death down a slippery roof. A policeman came out from an alley behind this house, and we all shouted to him, "She's on the roof! Look up! She's on the roof!"

We did this, I like to think, not because we wanted to rat out this panicked girl, but because we were genuinely afraid for her safety. I had a crazy thought of running across the street to break her fall, if need be.

John Law took over, and issued the most insane order I have ever heard from a First Defender: Go back to the window you came out of!

I actually yelled at him. No! No! She just crawled over that dangerous roof! Find a ladder! Don't make her crawl back! I wasn't trying to usurp his authority; I was trying to increase his fund of knowledge so he could make a better decision. I had seen that girl crawl across that roof. He had not.



At this point, Mr. Law decided that he didn't need hecklers, thanks very much, and ordered us sharply to vacate the street. This we did, but not before I got a few more surreptitious snaps. Sorry about the focus on this one. A few of Mr. Law's colleagues:



The girl disappeared from our view as we were following Mr. Law's orders. I got this last shot of her:



We Jingos, our store of adrenaline refreshed quite nicely, thanks very much, wandered down the street toward the restaurants. We stopped and looked back many times, but there was nothing more to see. As we got to the town square, a prowl car passed us. The girl's morose face gazed out the back window.

Thank goodness you're safe, honey.

If I had been advising the young lady on escape strategies, I might have advised her to stay on her own roof, behind whatever chimneys or HVAC equipment might be up there, and make herself very, very small. They were probably after her dope-dealer boyfriend, not her. Once they'd gotten him and vacated the premises, she could have crawled back in, older and quite a bit wiser.

Not that I'd know.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Sin City


I've accomplished a few of the things on the List of Things I Want to Do Before I Die.

I realized earlier this summer that I didn't want to be the guy who, on his deathbed, deeply regrets that he never owned a truly bitchen motorbike. Managed to check that one off the list. I'm a passable guitar player. I've smoked dope on the sacrificial altar at Pisac, outside Cuzco in Peru. I've been paid to write something.

But so far I've never owned a pedal steel guitar.

Dear god, I love that instrument. The way a good player can make it just weep and swoop and wail and cry and boogie and rip your still-beating heart out and show it to you before you die. Jesus Christ, what a marvelously expressive instrument! Desperately difficult to play, quirky as hell (I've been given to understand that the wiring between the pedals and the string-bending mechanism can, in a bind, be replaced with a goddamned bicycle spoke, for all love!), yet its sound is so goddamned archetypically American. It's been wholly appropriated by the Nashville-corporate country hell I think of as "some cunt in a cowboy hat," but it was not always so.

Back in the early Seventies, the immortal Clarence White (of whom a whole adulatory blog-post needs desperately to be scribed) began to show how the "regular" electric guitar could emulate a pedal steel. He and Gene Parsons of the Byrds (not Gram, but Gene, the drummer) cobbled together a bizarre aftermarket mod for a Telecaster called the "B-bender," which allows the player to pull the B string sharp by pushing down on the part of the guitar held by the forward strap. Like all lovable and cranky human inventions, it's weird and beautiful, and in the hands of a master player, it gives some great pedal-steel effects. (You can hear it at work in the live parts of "Byrds (Untitled)," one of my favorite albums in all of time and space.)

The emotional effect of the pedal steel -- the whole "weeping" effect -- is accomplished by bending some strings upward or downward while others remain stationary. What this achieves is the sound of movement within a chord without a change in the chord's tonality. (To be pedantic, it also allows you to change, say, a IV chord to a I chord by simply stretching a string.) You can do this to a limited extent on a standard guitar by pulling some strings sharp while leaving others unbent -- what we guitar-floggers call a "double-stop bend."

And sweet Jesus on a stick do I love doing double-stop bends. It makes me one with my idols.

Here I've put on my Nudie Suit and taken on one of the great Kozmik-Kountry anthems of all time, the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Sin City." As far as the original is concerned, it's probably the "Purple Haze" of pedal-steel culture, with Sneaky Pete Kleinow just shredding the conventions of the genre. My version, while rather less radical, shows how the standard guitar can at least vaguely emulate the pedal steel's immense tonal palette.

So, without further academic ado,

Sin City (pops)

As you listen, you might want to consider how utterly amazingly this anthem, written for the Nixon years, applies to our Present Circumstances...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rick Danko Forever

While working, I've just been streaming an old gig from the ConcertVault. It's The Band at Carter Barron Amphitheater, August 16, 1976.

It has occurred to me that "It Makes No Difference" is the single saddest song ever written.
It makes no difference where I turn
I can't get over you and the flame still burns
It makes no difference, night or day
The shadow never seems to fade away

And the sun don't shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door

Now there's no love
As true as the love
That dies untold
But the clouds never hung so low before...
The eye-misting misery is not helped by the knowledge that half the guys playing it are dead, one by his own hand.

Through the miracle of Audio Hijack, here it is... (pops)

Somewhere in the mid-Eighties, attended a Rick Danko solo gig at the Lone Star Café in New York. I arrived way early to get a good seat at the bar. As I was nursing a beer and waiting for the action to start, Danko strode in through the front door, carrying a guitar case. He nodded hello to the bartender, and disappeared into the back rooms.

Perhaps a half-hour later, two men in suits also came into the bar. One of them flashed a badge at the bartender. As they were only feet away from me, I heard the whole conversation.

"Detective Hungadunga, NYPD. We're looking for Mr. Danko."

"Ain't here."

"He's supposed to play tonight."

"Ain't here."

"When do you expect him?"

"Don't know."

"Tell him we'd like to talk to him."

"All right."

And they left. I have no idea why these flatfeet wanted to talk to Danko, but I bet it was damned interesting.

The gig was great. And he sang "It Makes No Difference" beautifully, just him and a guitar.

Not a dry eye in the house.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Those Are Her Jugs

Apparently, I have become, through no effort on my part, the Internet's Leading Purveyor of Kate Hudson Porn.

Not the hardcore stuff (although any links to naughty QT movies would never go unappreciated), but the Kate-in-her-panties-and-camisole-with-Gibson-Les-Paul kind. Long ago, I posted a still from "Almost Famous" to illustrate an amusing correction in the print edition of the WashPost. Now, if you perform a Google Image Search on Kate's lovely form, absolutely the number-one return is that pic.

Golly, I wonder if Kate ever Googles herself...?
Dear Mr. Jingo,

I just noticed you posted my pic on your cute little blog. Now that I'm at a loose end, I'm looking for a midseason replacement. Is that guy on the bagpipes really you? Your totally hot. Wanna do cyber...?
I wouldn't have known about this signal honor, but for the fact that my traffic pretty much quadrupled overnight on Monday. I mean, just blam! At first I thought Wolcott or PZ Myers or somebody really big had linked to something, but when I went into the individual stats it was just relentless image searches, all of them to that Kate pic. I was flummoxed -- I'd seen plenty of these searches before, but never in this volume.

Wonder Woman enlightened me. The Owen Wilson thing. The lummox mooned after Kate, driving him to the most desperate act a man can perform: The Failed Hollywood Suicide.

Well, Owen, you lantern-jawed chowderhead, you have driven her into my arms!

In for a penny...