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?


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.
Oil or butter for sautéing
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.