Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Mother Nature's Son

There are some summer mornings, after a soaking rain, when your Grand Canyons, your Great Smoky Mountains, your Alps, your Mount Fujis, your Macchu Picchus, your Great Barrier Reefs, your Iguacu Falls, your Yosemites -- your usual full-of-themselves, preening, self-absorbed Beauty Spots -- can all just go suck it.

The Virginia Piedmont WINS.

That's the Blue Ridge this morning, seen through the gap in Short Hill where nestles the achingly pretty Eighteenth-Century stone town of Hillsboro. The Appalachian Trail runs along that cloud-kissed ridge.

Turn to your right from that spot, and this is the view:

Jingo Acres lies at the foot of that ridge, about five miles up, near where it plunges into the Potomac at the extreme north end, which you see on the right.

The place lies in a clearing in that forest that you see there, and that's what brings me to the point of this post.

I've said jokingly before that that forest wants all of my lawn and garden back, but this weekend, probably (I hope!) the highest point of the cool, wet spring Growing Season, I realized the extent to which this isn't a joke at all. It's very real indeed.

Except for most of the Eighties spent in New York City and a long-ago cup of coffee or two in some European and South American cities, I've always been a suburban boy. I've tried a desultory hand once or twice at gardening, and in my adult life I've been the Head Groundskeeper at the various incarnations of Jingo Acres -- which meant that I have some familiarity with the usual trappings of a boozhie homeowner: lawnmowers, rototillers, edgers, weed whackers and so on.

Up until now, the Outdoor Life for me has always been a process of trying to make things grow where they wouldn't naturally: trying to raise a manicured lawn in insufficient light through exhausted soil, or plunking in an azalea to spruce up a little bald patch near a driveway.

None of this has prepared me in any way for what I'm experiencing now.

Owning a clearing in a forest, you come to appreciate just how enormous a role light plays for plants. Since the clearing (in fine weather an absolute cathedral of green) is an oasis of light, everything in the deep, dark forest on all sides sends in tendrils to catch it. Sensing the presence of huge quantities of unfiltered, free light, the tendrils become twigs and the twigs become branches, all reaching, climbing over each other, fighting desperately into my clearing -- in the space of what seems to be minutes.

Boy, it really wants it back, doesn't it.

Which leads to this weekend's spectacle of a slightly crazed Neddie Jingo patrolling the perimeter of the clearing, lopping tool in one hand and chain saw in the other, like Beau Geste on the fortress ramparts, beating back a horde of invaders, and coming to some conclusions about rural life:
  1. The people who settled this country had a mighty complex relationship with trees. Lots and lots more complicated than we understand back there in mulched-sapling country, in Japanese-Maple-Land. Where we bourgeois think of trees as entirely desirable things -- can anything be more depressing than a suburban development where the builders slashed down all the flora in order to build, leaving a flat, featureless sea of mud? -- our forebears could quite as easily have seen them as deadly enemies to be tamed, logged, chopped up for lumber where they can't hurt anybody.

  2. Given healthy soil and favorable conditions, a forest will regenerate itself. A patch of forest that's been logged or burned will come back. If you want to build a log cabin in a clearing in a forest, your chief problem will decidely not be a lack of trees. Ever.

  3. The Gardening Life in the country is spent trying to prevent unwanted things from growing as much as it is trying to make wanted things grow. This is not so much of a problem in the ChemLawn Suburbs. You may think it is, but I can tell you right now: It ain't.

  4. In a contest for my affections between my potato patch and the branch of a volunteer maple that's growing to steal light from it, my potato patch wins every time. A maple's got lots more branches, and I've only got one potato patch. Off comes the branch. And if that amputation kills the maple (which it won't), so be it. There are more maples too.
I think I'm beginning to understand how rural folks come to view Nature as both a friend and an implacable enemy. I understand their contempt for us city types who rail against hunting, against logging, against exploitation of land for profit -- it's all very easy to denounce deer hunting in an armchair in Brooklyn, where the sonsabitches don't gnaw up your blueberries, and where rabbits aren't big-black-eyed, adorable floppy-eared pests. You'd kill a rat, wouldn't you?

I also understand how this adversarial relationship with Nature is exploited by cynics who turn it into an ideology, into a kind of perverted populism that drives a wedge between urban and rural proletarians. It's used to create cultural touchstones (musical, artistic, religious) that seems to turn the city-dweller's contempt for shitkickers back on itself: If you ain't Country, you ain't Shit.

It's a lie.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

"Blog" Is a Very Silly Word

It's only just occurred to me.

Spelled backwards, golb.

Anagram: glob.

Rhymes: bog, cog, dog, fog, smog.

(I told you not to look for Content here this weekend. Now back to the beer.)

Friday, May 27, 2005

Happy Arbor Day!

As I type this, I'm seated in Wonder Woman's domain in the study, where a large window overlooks the front of the house. (I fervently pray that the WiFi service will be installed within the next week or two, so that I'm no longer tied to her computer for Internet activities, but until then I suffer along with this 28.8 kbps torture, the patience of Job stilling my liver...)

At any rate, I've just watched a fat rabbit -- probably replete with half my strawberry crop -- meander lazily through the gloaming, up from the lower lawn to its warren in my neighbor's yard. This would be a completely unremarkable event but that Peter Cottontail's progress was also watched desultorily by a sleepy Brown Fang lazing in the dying summer light. He's supposed to chase those things away. That's his purpose in life. Swine.

It is a Peacable Kingdom here at Jingo Acres.

Another nice thing about having moved away from the Washington suburbs is that I don't have to deal with all those Weekend Warriors in town for that profoundly silly Rolling Thunder jive. Do you reckon, at this point, whether a single one of these leather-clad proctologists on their $9000 Harleys knows a single goddamned thing about the Vietnam War beyond some inchoate urban-legend bullshit about long-dead POWs?

(I notice now that both Brown Fang and Ring Ting Ting have aroused themselves from slumber and are quite a bit more actively patrolling the perimeter for bunnies. That's better -- earn your keep, you miserable sponges.)

Don't come around here looking for Content this weekend. I'm taking a three-day break for burgers, beer and Liberal Guilt. Tomorrow we'll be attending a memorial barbeque for Bill Hines, who lived down the road and who died this February. Very nice man -- last summer he gave me an election bumper sticker he'd had printed up: "Dick Cheney Before He Dicks You." Other than that, it's gardening, cooking, organizing the potting shed and garage work-bench, and maybe some movies. Catch that Star Wars thing everybody's talking about.

I can't wait.

Meanwhile, go read Bobby Lightfoot, ya [vulgarity denoting female pudendum redacted in deference to Wonder Woman's outraged feminist sensibilities, although I bet she wouldn't have objected to the male equivalent].

Thursday, May 26, 2005

"Be You Angels?" "Nay, We Are But Men."

Contemplating their Preterition, the castaways await word from Gilligan and -- most of all -- The Skipper

I don't harbor much affection for geekazoid types who analyze Star Wars into the ground. You just want to smack 'em upside the head with a copy of anything by John Barth and tell 'em to quit wasting their goddamned education.

Which is why it embarrasses me a bit to announce that I have formulated a Grand Unified Theory to explain the ABC show Lost, which aired its season finale last night. I've poked around a bit on chat boards dedicated to the show (my selflessness knows no bounds -- whatta buncha maroons!) and nobody else seems to have picked up on my angle. Which means that either
  • I'm completely up a tree
  • Or I'm so freakin' sane that what I'm about to say will TOTALLY BLOW YOUR MIND.
The Grand Unified Theory of Lost first began to suggest itself back in Episode 16. A theme of the episode is predestination, which comes out most clearly in a flashback scene in a bar between Sawyer and Christian, Jack's father, an alcoholic defrocked surgeon. Christian (suggestive name, eh?) opines that some people are just meant to suffer. "That's why the Red Sox will never win the series," he says. When Sawyer asks him why he doesn't call his son and tell him he loves him, his answer is "Because I am weak."

Now, hearken back to your Protestant theology class. (You did study Protestant theology, didn't you? You're not allowed to bitch if you didn't.) Who was it who posited Predestination, the idea that God chooses some to be saved and some to be damned?

Why, that would be your John Calvin, of course.

In Calvinism, Election (predestination to Heaven) and Preterition are based on God's will. Not on your acts in this world, the depth of your faith, or how many times you prayed to Baby Jeebus last week. These decisions were made before you were ever born -- even before the world was created.

Calvinism, needless to say, is an appallingly heartless theology.

As Calvinists view themselves as the Elect (aber natürlich!), they feel themselves uniquely chosen by God to rule the world, to remake government in their own image. Theocrats. (Any of this starting to ring any bells?)

Since I had that insight in Episode 16, the show has felt like a refresher course in post-Reformation European philosophy, leading up to the Enlightenment -- I don't think it's at all an accident, for example, that two characters are named Locke and Rousseau.

So let's take a look at last night's season-ending cliffhanger with a Calvinist eye, shall we? (You're not gonna tell me you watched that miserable American Idol piece-a-shit, are you? Oh, I'm so disappointed in you!)

At the Black Rock, while Jack, Locke and Kate are inside fetching the dynamite, Arzt bitches at Hurley about the cliqueishness of the show's protagonists. He can't possibly be clearer: He's a minor character, plainly Preterite, complaining that the Elect have all the fun. What does Arzt do when he's not cast away on an island? He's a science teacher -- not only a disbeliever but a dithering, weak man. But when the dynamite appears he finds himself in his pedagogic element. He begins to rabbit on about the stuff and is just about to fill us in on Alfred Nobel when -- ka-flooey -- it begins to rain bits of Preterition all over the jungle.

I think we could have seen it coming, don't you? Some people are just meant to suffer.

(You know who were the televisual Kings of Preterition? Those red-shirted guys on the old Star Trek series. You go down to a planet's surface with Kirk and Spock wearing a red shirt, it's a stone guarantee you will not live to the first commercial break. Doomed, doomed, doomed. The funny part about old Arzt is that he knew he was Preterite. He shoulda saved his breath -- he shouldn't have been Arzt, oh god I crack me up.)

[Later addendum: It's just occurred to me that Arzt and Jack are mirror-images: Both are scientists and thus disbelievers in Predestination. Preterite Arzt falls victim to his carelessness with the dynamite, while Elect Jack subsequently takes up the dynamite-burden and completes the journey.]

As the show progresses, we see in a series of flashbacks how the Elect came to be on the plane that crashed. Not a single one of them was on that plane because he chose to be -- each one was Predestined in one way or another. The numbers in Hurley's magic series -- numbers that have brought nothing but appallingly bad luck to anyone who comes near him -- appear everywhere during the last half-hour of the show.

The Calvinist talk becomes overt nearer the climax, when Locke and Jack come to loggerheads: Locke tells Jack that the reason he believes the hatch in the jungle contains "hope" is that he believes in destiny. "I don't believe in destiny," Jack, the man of science and medicine, says. "Yes, you do," Locke replies. "You just don't know it yet." (You'll know it, Jack, he may as well have gone on, when we Elect are standing before God. Remember, in Calvinism you don't even have to believe in predestination; you're already in The Club no matter what.)

So what of young Walt, who is snatched by The Others (we think it's The Others)? Why are they so interested in him?

Remember that there's always been something fishy about Walt. Remember that odd things happen around young Walt. It appears that Walt can actually make weird things happen -- there seems to be a connection between the polar bear in his comic book and the polar bear on the island. He seems to be able to make birds crash into windows.

In a Calvinist world where everything is predestined, what does the ability to foresee events mean? Where would a boy with ESP stand with God if he can bend events to his will? Who's the only human (or half-human/half-god, depending on who you ask) who's ever been able to pull off that sort of trick?

Oh, one other thing.

Unitarian Universalism grew out of a reaction in Britain against the harshness and ugliness of Calvinism. And which British philosopher, himself a Unitarian, the founder of what John Stuart Mill would come to call empiricism, had a seminal influence on the American Unitarian church? Who advocated religious tolerance and the subjection of religious assertions to the cold light of reason? Whose philosophical contributions were as important as any in fomenting what we now fondly remember as The Enlightenment?

Why, that would be your John Locke, of course.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Street Day

I've honed my iambics, wiped my poetical feet, blown the dust off my rhyming dictionary and dived straight for the bottom of the barrel at The American Street.

God help us all.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Finding the Virtuous Mean, and Vice Versa

Pursuant to yesterday's post about the disturbing docility I found at the commencement ceremony at Bucknell, His Excellency Monsieur le Vicompte la Carte has brought an item to our attention in the Comments area, and I thought it worthwhile to surface it out here.

It's about what it's like to teach Philosophy in a Red State:
Considering the lecture on Plato, you’d think that conservatives would be on Plato’s side since Plato is a Moral Absolutist. Plato argued that "Justice does not entail harming others." Oh, oh, that doesn’t sit well with war-monger conservatives. Regarding categorical imperatives, I equated Plato’s definition of Justice with the Biblical Commandment, Thou Shall Not Kill. What’s all the fuss about? Alas, conservative Christians talk big on the Ten Commandments, but do they really accept moral absolutism?

Given the brouhaha last election over conservative "moral values," I brought up the obvious contradiction between the pro-life position against abortion on the one hand, and on the other hand, unquestionable support for an unjustifiable invasion of Iraq that has led to over 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths, mostly children. Moral Absolutism, I argued, calls for CONSISTENCY. Otherwise, if you allow for exceptions, it’s no longer absolute. Make up your minds. Either you adhere to the moral imperative or you’re a relativist.
The Florida bill she refers to, the "Academic Bill of Rights," has apparently died in the Senate, but the picture she paints is still chilling.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Whole Lotta Nothing

In 1966, NYU gave Robert MacNamara an honorary degree. Hundreds of students walked out of the commencement ceremony.

Wonder Woman and I made a lightning trip up to Lewisburg, PA, this weekend for the graduation of our niece from Bucknell U. The girl has done astonishingly well for herself -- summa cum laude, GPA so fat you have to stand on a ladder to see it, an embarrassment of academic honors. Education major. Good kid.

[Later: In the Comments area, Wonder Woman issues a sharp wrench on the leash: " Actually Neddie, our niece received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chemistry and in Psychology. I think Education was a minor." Chastened, I beseech forgiveness from both aunt and niece.]

Wish I could say the same for the rest of her generation.

Through the whole commencement ceremony, I was bothered by the creepy sensation I had stumbled into a cloud of cotton wool: I kept looking for something to grab hold of, but my fingers kept closing on mist. It was a strange, floating feeling, quite unpleasant.

The keynote speaker was former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. In TV sound bites, I've always thought he came off as a bit of a cipher. This impression was not in the least scotched by watching him in the Long Form: He is not one of the world's distinguished public speakers. His speech was the usual collection of platitudes one might expect from a lifelong bureaucrat, about the High Calling and Sacrifice of Public Service. This would be fine coming from, oh, I don't know, a career ambassador or a talented and honest District Attorney, but Ridge has, well, a bit more to talk about than that.

And he didn't. Perhaps his mind was on what would be making headlines in the next day's papers, I don't know. He tiptoed around the War on Terra like a man frightened to death of being heckled -- and the only time he opened himself up for it was when he spoke of the bond of trust between a people and its government as sacred and inviolable. At this point, I would have expected something, the tiniest hint of dissent, a whisper, a slight stirring, a cough, a mutter.


I leaned over to Wonder Woman at this point and began to whisper heatedly at her. This is her niece's graduation, and at the slightest hint that I was going to make any sort of scene at all, her elbow cracked a couple of my ribs.

But if Ridge was frustrating, the academics surrounding him on the dais were simply infuriating. At a time when academic freedom is under an attack more vicious than any it's known since the McCarthy era, when professors are called on to meet ideological purity standards, when charlatans litigate pseudoscience into our schools with impunity, when the Enlightenment itself is being subverted by people who know damned well what they're doing -- you'd think the Egghead Set might have a few things on their minds.

Not a word.

Sadly, I think the reason the profs so studiously ignored the 800-pound gorilla in the room was that they didn't want to ungraciously spoil the pseudo-Medieval pomp-and-circumstance show they were putting on for the 'Rents -- who were, after all, the ones footing the bill for it. To which I reply, If you can't find a way to rip Tom Ridge and the miserable bastard he worked for into tiny little bits without disturbing the horses, you should hang up your goddamned spikes.

I would reserve my most concentrated vitriol for the kid who gave a Valedictory speech of remarkable vapidity, but that wouldn't be fair. None of the grownups set much of an example.

(I'm given to understand things were pretty polite at other commencement addresses too...)

Friday, May 20, 2005

Joe Bageant Earns His Keep

Joe sums it up for me. I'm not one of those people he talks about who stay in bed all weekend, quaking in fear, but maybe that's just because I'm just a little more blithe than I should be:
All this sanity is killing some of us. To my mind, it is killing the best of us. It drives the artist and the philosopher, dancer, the psychiatrist, the homosexual torch singer and the spiritualist dishwasher toward the cliff with its macabre drone. Most of the genuinely beautiful minds and souls I know are in the deepest sort of despair. Rather like the cabaret society of 1930s Berlin, you can hear the high whine of hysteria behind their drunken revelry, their bitter laughter in the face of such black folly. Some people I know do not even bother to get out of bed on weekends.

This Is Being Done In Your Name

Not somebody else's.


In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths

Ficht Ihr Nicht Mit Der Raketemensch!

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mr. Isiminger, my senior-year high-school English teacher.

He was the first grownup to laugh a big, genuine, between-us-guys guffaw at something I submitted in an essay assignment -- he even read it aloud in class -- encouraging me to begin to believe that, with effort and practice, I might grow up to be an entertaining writer. (This nascent self-confidence was soon so thoroughly smashed by the English Department of Kenyon College that it took me a decade, and the sweet anonymity of Usenet, to regain the stones to try to crack wise in print.) Let's put it this way: Mr. Isiminger was the first adult in a position of authority who treated me as an intellectual equal. Very liberating, that.

I have him to thank for another gift as well. One afternoon, after I'd finished a test early and was idly looking out a window, he sidled over to my seat. Quietly he slid a paperback onto my desk: Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49. "You'll like it," he whispered.

Some years later, thoroughly in thrall to Pynchon's labyrinthine, stoned-oneiric epic Gravity's Rainbow, I checked out a book of lit-crit from the Brooklyn Public Library, a book I've never been able to find again. In the Preface, to illustrate the kind of obsessiveness the book can cause in people, the author presented the story of a graduate student who painstakingly counted every character in the novel. Then he divided the total in two, counted back, and discovered that at the exact center of the book... is the word center.

And they found him the next morning, rocking slowly back and forth in the Student Union.... His hair had turned snowy white -- and he NEVER SPOKE AGAIN...

Well, no, it didn't end that way, but that was the clear implication. Wow, that Mad Artificer, Ruggles of Red Cap, he planted this omphalos directly at the heart of his Great Mandala, the whole point of which, the whole unifying principle, is what he calls "Holy-Center-Approaching" -- "a gradual knotting into."

Well, I could have saved that poor apocryphal grad student a whole lot of work. Let's take out our Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics edition, with the V-2 blueprints on the cover. This edition was shot from the pages of the original hardcover, and should be identical in every way to the first edition. (This won't work with that miserable eye-watering Bantam edition.) Note that there are 760 pages, beginning with the title page of Part One.

Those 760 pages divided by two gives 380. Meaning that page 380 is the middle of the book.

This edition's pages are 41 lines deep. The middle of page 380 -- the absolute middle of the book -- will be halfway through line 20.

Here's line 20:
silk lining, hears brakes go on, keeps running, hits the center mall in a
As Keanu Reeves' Neo pointed out, Woah.

The reason I'm onto Pynchon's little parlor trick -- and, really, that's all it is -- is that I spend a significant part of the Eighties as a Production Editor, estimating manuscripts for a parsimonious little oufit I affectionately remember as Satan & Shyster. You don't have to count every character in an MS to be able to predict with rather uncanny accuracy how many pages a finished book will use -- and therefore how much paper to order for the print run, which is a very important variable to a publisher; paper ain't cheap.

Authors are usually very active participants in the process of a book's publication. They read galleys -- essentially the whole manuscript in type, but not cut into pages -- and page proofs, which is after the galleys are cast off into pages. It would have been trivially easy for Pynch, while reading page proofs, to have done the math I just showed you, and insert the word center on the book's "center" line. Just ol' Tom sneaking up on you and whispering a quiet "Boo!" in your ear. Nothing to give a hapless grad student the heebie-jeebies, at any rate.

In preparing this little post, of course I had to put my nose into The Work -- a dangerous thing to do. I find myself being inexorably drawn in for what might be my seventh reading of this thing... I grazed in the first section, and boy it just gets richer and richer. Spellbinding.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Street Day

It's Cawnpore Day down at The American Street. Neddie contributes a squib on the amazing parallels between the recent riots in Afghanistan and the Indian Mutiny of 1859. Well, no, not amazing, in point of fact. Entirely bloody predictable, actually.

At left: Later in life, Colonel Sir Nedram Twistleton-Smythe Jingo, Bart., OBE, QC, D. Litt., cigar ash smeared liberally on his shirtfront, would awaken suddenly from his afternoon nap in the conservatory and lash out at the nearest servant-girl with his Molucca cane, shouting, "That's how we did it at Lucknow, you Pandy bint!" This was particularly puzzling because Sir Nedram spent the entirety of the Mutiny claiming his impetigo exempted him from service overseas.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Do the Moon Walk Like the Astronauts

Young Betty Jingo's seventh-grade Social Studies class is doing a unit on The Sixties. As the end of the school year approaches and they close out their curriculum, seriousness in the approach to the subject matter wanes a bit.

Her History teacher, who is far too young to have experienced that decade at anything like first hand, and who shows signs of being quite fuzzy about the chronology -- she seems to labor under the impression that Elvis Presley was quite the Lion in '62 -- has decided they shall have a Sixties Party to celebrate.

She's given the kids the assignment of bringing in Sixties food for the party -- "Ask your parents; they'll know."

Sixties food. Hmm... Bit of a poser. To me, the Sixties was spent in the glory of my mother's stunning cookery -- the memory of her oxtail soups, moussaka, pot roasts, exquisitely herbed roast chicken provoke Homeric drooling even now. And since she's still with us, producing dishes of equal and superior fabulousness, it's not as if 1967 was les Temps Perdues.

I know less discriminating chefs were doing things with hot-dog slices entrapped forever, like mosquitoes in amber, in lurid psychedelic hues of Jell-o and whipped cream, that Fluffernutter debuted somewhere in the middle of that mess, and that cottage cheese enjoyed an inexplicable vogue, but I hardly think it's fair to subject the poor things to any of that.

A vodka martini, shaken, not stirred, sounds scrumptious, but those tiresome Carrie Nations down at the School Board would probably reduce Jingo Acres to flinders with their axes. Best not to poke that particular sleeping dog.

After racking our brains for a bit -- Tang? Swanson Hungry Man Dinners? Campbell's Soup? (Warhol, you know) -- Wonder Woman snapped her fingers. You could see the lightbulb (drawn by R. Crumb) over her head.


Let's see who has a sense of humor, eh?

(I vetoed her idea to put oregano in the batter. Too many bad memories....)

Fumb Ducks

The Big Boys follow the Jingo Lead. I ain't saying nothin'....

David Corn picks up on the Tom DeLay/Pete Seeger Dumb-Fuckery over at the Huffington Celebrity Mutual Blow-Job. Adds some interesting stuff about Seeger's 1955 testimony before the HUAC. Said Pete to that august body:
I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.
Pete got a year in chokey (later overturned) for contempt of Congress for that little crack.

And Lance Mannion (where does that boy find the time?) elucidates the Dumb-Fuck Theory of History:
I believe that the Republicans are driving one car-length ahead.

These are not even particularly bright stupid people. They are for the most part thieves and thugs. They are, an amazing number of them, seriously, seriously sexually screwed-up, which makes them neurotic, paranoid, angry, and constantly on the brink of being swallowed up whole by their own weird impulses and repressed desires. (See Jim West.) The thugs and thieves among them are not only stupid, they are arrogant. They don't believe they will ever get caught. They think that the way things are going is the way they will always go.

The thieves among them don't care that all the bad policy they are making now will be unmade in the future, that things they are trying to get rid of now will come back later in spades---when the country is truly bankrupt and people are crying to the government for help, how high do you think the tax rates the Democrats will impose on the wealthy will be?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Back to Peekskill!

This morning, as I listened to the "Morning Edition" piece on last night's bala gash -- sorry, make that gala bash -- for outgoing Majority Leader Tom DeLay, they played a bit of tape that was so hilariously awful that I had to pull the truck over for a few minutes to both catch my breath and settle my stomach.

Imagine the kind of rhythmically-challenged lizard-brains who would attend such a dreadful event in the first place. Then imagine, if your digestion can stand it, their caterwauling voices raised in what they believe to be soulful sincerity, a catbird chorus of purest Babbittry, exhorted by some arm-waving Betty Bowers in a hair-helmet, accompanied by the World's Crappiest Bluegrass Band, voices uplifted together in baleful warbling of "If I Had a Hammer."

Yes. Pete Seeger's "If I Had a Hammer."

Well, don't you know, "The Hammer" is what they call him down on the links at St. Andrews, and some culturally obtuse apparatchik on the Party Committee put two and two together and got 22. Makes all kinds of sense -- Hammer, hammer, if I had a.... I imagine they'd probably puke freshets of pure golden bile -- all over this land! -- if they had the mother wit to understand they were singing a Communist anthem about as appropriate to the gathering as the Horst Wessel Song at the B'nai Brith.

Do you remember in those dark, dark weeks following 9/11, when Osama bin Laden was the evilest-genius motherfucker who ever lived and Al Qaeda a monolithic octopus with testicles tentacles everywhere? How the mere sight of an airliner -- any airliner -- had the ability to invoke an involuntary horrorshow fantasy where the plane wrenched violently and began an inexorable nosedive straight at your head? (Or was that just me?)

And do you remember that sometime soon thereafter, it might have been December 2001, this image came to light?

That pic found its way into some Al Qaeda recruiting posters, and it was at that point that I began to lose my fear of them. I also lost my reluctance to critic-size the Preznit right about then too. Al Qaeda stopped looking like Supreme Evil Mothers and started looking a whole lot more like what they really are: Just dumb fucks making it up as they go along.

Which is what we're all doing. Dumb fucks. Making it up. The Preznit and Tom DeLay and their Minions of Dumb-Fuckery. Me. You. Admit it.

I think Pete Seeger might like his song back, though.

For you whippersnappers who don't know about the Peekskill Incident of 1949, here's a little précis of it, from a folk-song site. Ask yourself, Which side of this little incident would those DeLay dittoheads have been on?
It was becoming dangerous to be a performer if you were suspected of having left-wing views, and the following year Seeger and [Paul] Robeson faced their most dangerous concert of all. The venue was Peekskill, New York State, where on 4 September 1949 they both appeared at an outdoor show that turned into one of the most terrifying and violent events in the history of pop music.

The concert had been planned for the previous month, when it was advertised in a Communist newspaper, but crowds had blocked the roads, beaten up some of the organizers, and it had to be called off. But the performers, and the Communist Party, decided that the show should still be held - this time on Labor Day. Supporters provided protection around the site, and the performance actually went ahead. Paul Robeson sang [...] Old Man River, and Seeger sang If I Had A Hammer.

Fifteen years later (after first being revived by Peter, Paul and Mary) the song became a nightclub favourite, and the sing-along, Latin-tinged version by Trini Lopez sold 4 1/2 million copies around the world. In 1949 it was considered dangerously political, with highly controversial lyrics.

Only when the concert was over did the trouble really start. The performers were ambushed as they left the show, for the residents had been whipped up into an anti-Communist fervour [...]. Seeger escaped, covered in glass, his car dented with rocks.
Well, I've got a hammer, and I've got a bell
And I've got a song to sing all over this land
It's a hammer of justice, it's a bell of freedom
It's a song about love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

I guess we just have to figure out what those words mean, eh?


Friday the Thirteenth came on Friday this month!

(More a bit later, when I get a minute. I have Things to Say, but I've got some work stuff to get out the door first.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Resident Scold

My day at The American Street again: I've put up a piece about a performance artist I read about in the paper this morning, and tied her in with the vomitous McMansions I have to drive past every day. I am rapidly becoming The Street's Resident Scold.

Next week, something funny, I think. Lest they think me dour.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Let Me Tell You How I Feel About Microsoft Word

Since I am a man known for careful thoughtfulness and closely reasoned opinions, people often ask me how I feel about major industrial-strength productivity tools such as Microsoft Word. I am uncharacteristically reticent on the topic, though, because it is not a gentleman's place to discuss such matters in public. One looks askance, eyebrows raised, at those chattering popinjays who would broadcast their thoughts on leading word-processing applications at the drop of a handkerchief.

But today, moved by events, I am prepared to break my silence.

If I were to happen upon Microsoft Word, bleeding and stripped of its raiment after being waylaid by footpads on the the mountain road from Jerusalem to Jericho and ignored by priests and Levites alike, I would quite happily sneak over, give a quick furtive glance to right and left to make sure no one was looking, and plant a swift hobnail boot between its ribs.

That should give you some idea of how I feel about the 200-page-technical-document-eating Microsoft Word.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Why I Wasn't in Church this Sunday

Please pay attention. It could not be simpler than this.

(Thanks to American Street cohort Flamingo Jones for bringing it to our attention in her blog. Welcome to the Jingo Blogroll, Ms. Jones.)

From David Hume: On Miracles

The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention), 'That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish....' When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.

Country founded on Judaeo-Christian moral principles my going-to-hell godless existentialist ass.

If I have to start parading around in knee-breeches, frock coats and an enormous powdered wig to keep the Enlightenment alive, then I shall do it, sir, and be damned to you. Be damned to you, I say, sir! A fig for your treachery!

Call Me, Arianna!

Have to say, I'm very ambivalent about Arianna Huffington's Famous-Guy Group Blog. The thing's got its heart in the right place, but.... Celebrities. Goddamned celebrities.

Celebrities spend most of their time -- and by "most of their time," I mean every minute of every waking hour -- cultivating their celebrity. This is as true of Janeane Garofalo as of Ron Silver. Like 'em, identify with 'em, hate 'em, wish 'em dead, it doesn't matter -- the reason they're famous has extremely little to do with anything other than the amount of time they and their publicists spend shrieking LOOK AT MEEEEEEEE at the top of their voices.

You don't get famous unless you do that.

Ask Cintra Wilson. Or, god knows, ask my brother, who spent his twenties and thirties trying to crack the Music Business and is, let's say, a trifle jaded about Famous People and How They Got That Way.

So what among the foregoing renders, say, John Cusak's thoughts about Hunter Thompson one tiny whit more valid or interesting or insightful or valuable than, oh, say, I dunno, mine? Yeah, John gets invited to Hunter's memorial service -- is that because he's a Trusted Family Friend, a Valued Contributor?

Celebrity Culture is disgusting.

(Arianna, if you put me in your Blogroll, I will publicly eat a 200-thread-count bedsheet with this blog-post printed on it in badger poo. Call me!)

Todd & Joe & Ethel

Here's a WMP stream with a version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from the Todd & Joe & Ethel Show that I saw a couple of weeks ago. From an appearance on the Conan O'Brian gabfest, which I never get to see any more because I am old and pathetic and have to be in bed by 11:30 if I am to have any hope of being useful the next day.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Audience Participation Time II

I humbly apologize for the anticlimactic nature of the last contest I held. Some weeks ago I offered up three free iTunes Pepsi caps to the Rock Snob who could come up with the most coruscating three-song playlist.

Well the concept, though scintillating at first blush, suffered from one Tragic Flaw: I didn't know 95% of the songs you Snobs came up with, and I was goddamned if I was gonna wear my earbones to nubbins trying to plow through the AllMusic Guide (which sucks anyway) looking up all the anodyne Rock-Snob bands you guys came up with.

So those three iTunes bottle caps still gather dust next to my monitor -- and now they've been joined by five more, for a grand total of eight!

Now for eight - count 'em, eight! free iTunes songs, you're gonna hafta work a little harder.

This morning on the drive in, my vision went blurry and I began to twitch as though afflicted with St. Vitus' Dance (not a thing you want happening at 65 MPH on the Berlin Turnpike) and my mouth opened and I started spouting a stream of French!

I don't speak French!

But luckily for all of us, I do carry a little Dictaphone thing around with me , and I had the presence of mind to turn it on and capture this mysterious stream of Francophone gibberish.

Here's the deal: The first Jingo Acolyte to come up with an explanation of What The Hell This Thing Is, wins the eight caps. Put your answers in the Comments section.
Ain eux France Harold le bord
Mais ni mort eau dame
L'Yves n'est-ce d'or
En de bain béguine te plait!

Oui, Olive! En eux y'a l'eau sur ma Rhine
Y'a l'eau sur ma Rhine
Y'a l'eau sur ma Rhine

A-ce oui l'hiver l'oeille faux vise
Ai veux rit ou-en aux vase
A sole oui ni
Ce-qu'aille eau bleu, en-si Augrine
Y n'art y'a l'eau sur ma Rhine!

Oui, Olive! En eux y'a l'eau sur ma Rhine!
Y'a l'eau sur ma Rhine!
Y'a l'eau sur ma Rhine!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Maiden Street Post

My maiden post is up at The American Street. I have Waxed Indignant over the Army's treatment of Pat Tillman's death. Check 'er out.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The News from the Front

Never let it be said that the Quaker girls of Waterford, Virginia, were without a sense of humor. In spite of the scarcities and terrors of the Civil War, despite the constant harassment of the father of Lida and Lizzie -- a good Quaker and an outspoken Union man, John B. Dutton spent a great deal of the war either in exile in Point of Rocks, Maryland, just across the Potomac, or under Rebel arrest -- the defiantly pro-Union newspaper they published during the last year of the war was a tribute to both their feminine aplomb and their innate sweetness.

The Waterford News, a monthly that their father arranged through a friend to have printed on the presses of the Baltimore American, is shot through with their defiant drollery. The targets of their barbs weren't just the Rebel interlopers who made their lives miserable; the privations of the war itself came under attack -- and some of the humor had very little whatever to do with the war.

An understanding of one circumstance in particular helps to explain quite a few of the girls' jibes: The Quakers of Waterford had been firmly against slavery and secession, but once war became inevitable, in the pacifist spirit of their faith they tried to adopt an attitude of strict neutrality to both sides. Their Loudoun neighbors to the south and west sorely tested this undertaking. They mounted a drive to press the young Quaker men of the area into military service, prompting many of them to flee, like John Dutton, to Point of Rocks. This meant that these girls spent the war pining for their service-aged fathers, brothers and boyfriends, and in the company -- sometimes welcome, sometimes decidedly not -- of the men of both sides of the war who passed through their town.

One thing the girls understood well is the value of that old reliable standby, the Running Gag. In the first issue of the News (May 1864) a repeated feature titled "Pop-Gun" is introduced. The first installment:
General Order No. 6:
The young ladies of Waterford, Loudoun Co., Va., are hereby notified to meet at the first opportunity and lend their mutual aid in filling a large mud-hole being located in the middle of Second Street, and the men have driven around it so much that it is extending each side. Being fearful the men will get their feet muddy, the ladies will try and remedy it.

The next month's installment:
We record with pleasure one exception to the general apathy of the gentlemen. Are sorry 'tis only one; but think the truth should not be withheld. Our thanks are due to this citizen for one load of sand deposited in the mud hole. We think it well to forewarn all young ladies of other neighborhoods not to let their hearts' devotion rest on young men who are so lost to the spirit of chivalry once the boast of Virginia's sons...
A letter to the Editor says:
Misses Editors of the Waterford News: -- Will you allow a much abused member of the Porcine species a word in your columns? Hitherto one of the greatest enjoyments of myself and my fellow grunters, was an afternoon siesta in the mud hole on Second Street, which enjoyment you have been the means of lessening by having one cartload of sand deposited in the deepest and most comfortable corner. If it should be filled, I don't know where we shall go, for there is not another such hole in the corporation.
Next month, the pothole is forgotten, but the twitting of the menfolk continues unabated:
General Order No. 7:
The young ladies of this place are hereby ordered to meet again upon the first rainy day, at the farm of A. Hough, situated at the head of Rocky-Way, and set out, in the large field lying to the left of the Mansion House and bordering on "Sleepy Hollow", a quantity of Tobacco plants to gratify the refined taste of the few Lords of Creation left in this vicinity.
The "Pop-Gun" featurette ends here, but the insouciant gags don't. Another running feature is "Marriages." In the first issue:

Young men, will you see this "should be interesting" place vacant, when you could so easily remedy it?

Next month:

We hope to be able to fill this vacancy ere long.


We think there is no prospect of having this long-continued vacancy filled until after the war; we will discontinue it for the present.

But they didn't:

After the marriage column was closed, the young gentlemen became very patriotic, volunteering to serve a lifetime, and proposals numerous flocked in. We will make them feel that delays are dangerous.

Sarcasm, in one so young? Well... Next month:

Words are inadequate to express our feelings on this subject.

How can you not just love these girls?

Next week, the Marriages column looks like this:

"There's many a true word spoken in jest,"
And so we'll just say this column's a pest.

For the last few issues, they finally had some actual marriages to report on, and they played those straight.

After the war, Lida and Lizzie Dutton both married Union soldiers they'd met during the war and moved away to New York and Indiana, respectively. Sarah Steer stayed in Waterford and became the teacher for a school for black children that was opened by the Quakers and the Freedmen's Bureau. She was married in 1904.

Here's the Dutton House in Waterford:

Since the girls moved away I couldn't find their graves, but here's Pa Dutton's, in the Quaker Meeting House graveyard:

Unlike last week, no tragedies here. John lived a long, prosperous and eventful life, and it can only have been made that much richer by the presence in it of such delightful and brave daughters.

Next Up On the Mobberly Trail: What did you do for fun during the Civil War, Grandpa?


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

"To Talk Is Treason": Quakers in Waterford, Virginia on Life, Love, Death and War in the Southern Confederacy, from their Diaries and Correspondence, (c)1996, Waterford Foundation, Inc., Waterford, VA.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Voice of Sanity

In these times where babbling, overheated idiots jabber at us from every side, Richard Dawkins is just so freakin' sane. I'm rather offended by the way the interview's couched, by the way. Pretty damned unsympathetic to what he actually says, which is more like this:
"Unweaving the Rainbow" specifically attacks the idea that a materialist, mechanist, naturalistic worldview makes life seem meaningless. Quite the contrary, the scientific worldview is a poetic worldview, it is almost a transcendental worldview. We are amazingly privileged to be born at all and to be granted a few decades -- before we die forever -- in which we can understand, appreciate and enjoy the universe.... That's what gives my life meaning. And the fact that my life is finite, and that it's the only life I've got, makes me all the more eager to get up each morning and set about the business of understanding more about the world into which I am so privileged to have been born.
The interview's on Salon, you'll have to get a DayPass to read the whole thing, but go. Go. What are you waiting around here for?


I'm no psycholinguist (although I'm reliably informed that as linguists go, I'm pretty damned psycho), so I don't know how common this phenomenon is. It happens every once in a while I'm right on the edge of either falling asleep or waking up: I get running through my head a perfect nonsensical parody of English prose. Glossolalia is probably the closest word I can come up with, but I don't speak this gibberish, as in "true" glossolalia, but I do think it. But of course, the instant that I realize it's happening, it stops. Thinking about not thinking -- you understand. The Buddha would have trenchant things to say. James Joyce, too, come to think of it.

Well, what's funny about it is that some nutty MIT students have created a computer program that generates scientific-academic gibberish that's so good that it was used to gin up a paper that was accepted by the Ninth World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics. The conference organizers later withdrew their invitation after the hoax was exposed.

Give it a try.

Read the resulting gobbledegook out loud to yourself. That's a very good simulacrum of what it's like to be inside my head at 6AM.

(That is, when I'm not thinking about sex. The Buddha would have something to say on that, too, I imagine.)

Another Reason to Love Mike Keneally

This came in his e-newsletter, "The Keneallist," this morning:


Epilady incubator
Fried card snout
This is a bed of flowers
And this, this is some grout
Conveyor belt, squirrel pelt
Thomas Dolby's dreams
Each one of them gathers
At Neil Diamond's house
For soup.

You exceeded the number of bustles
Your hedgerow is zoned to contain
So pack up your socks and shoes
Lox and mussels
In boxes lined with gryphon leather
And arrange for their prompt delivery
To Neil Diamond's house
In time
For cards
For cards
For cards
And soup.

Dedicated to James Joyce, Jon Brion and Bob Keeshan

Go buy some records from Mike. He's only just a musical genius.

Ve Haff Vays of Making You Bloom

Herr Uberstürmführer Nedwart von Jingo-zum-Gärtner (played with hollow-eyed panache by Klaus Kinski), his monocle agleam in the early morning sunlight that played over his leather riding boots, jodhpurs and Waffen-SS duster coat and peaked cap, puffed angrily at the Turkish cigarette in the long holder clenched between his teeth as he strode purposefully through his domain.

He tapped his riding crop against his thigh. His authority had been usurped -- insulted! -- by traitorous trespassers, and he intended to reassert his will to power. It is time to teach the schweinhunden a lesson!

"Strawberries! Informers among you have told me you are harboring a wild violet in your midst! You will give the interloper up to the proper authorities immediately!"

He ripped the offending weed from its cowardly hiding place among the pure-blooded strawberry plants, and held it high in the air.

"The rest of you will take this as a lesson! Absolutely no weed -- not a single violet, wild strawberry, dandelion, pokeberry or clover -- will be tolerated in mein garten!" His face was bright purple. "Offenders will be summarily composted!"

Well, maybe it didn't happen exactly that way, but I do have to say that over the course of the spring I've done the gardening equivalent of building the Autobahns, annexing Austria and hosting the '36 Olympiad in that damned plot. But this weekend, I finally declared the Thousand-Year Reich in my back yard.

Here's a still from that Leni Riefenstahl epic, "Triumph of the Dill":

Click pic for large image -- it's worth it.

Reading more or less left to right, I'd like you to meet my strawberries, cascabel peppers, peas, tomatoes (early-, middle- and late-yielding varieties), onions, carrots, raspberries, kitchen herbs, sweet peppers, jalapeños, rhubarb, blackberries, pole beans, cucumbers and -- last but, as my mercy-begging, smelly-urined family is finding out, certainly not least -- asparagus. Not visible in this pic is the orchard, with apples, Asian pears, sour cherries and blueberries -- every last miserable inch of which is completely free of weeds.


Tomorrow: Nicht garantiert.

See that forest primeval there in the background, by the shed? It wants it all back... Every single miserable hard-won square inch of it.

(P.S.: Not a single polysyllabic chemical anywhere to be seen -- the Chesapeake Bay has nothing to fear from Jingo Acres. All composted kitchen waste and last year's yard clippings.)

Street Legal

Owing, I'm sure, to some horrible case of mistaken identity, which I'm sure will be rectified any moment now, I've been invited by Kevin Hayden, the editor of The American Street, to be a weekly contributor to that group blog. I've been given Wednesdays as my day to pitch in.

A quick glance at the roster of contributors will reveal a coterie of some of the smartest people in Left Blogsylvania -- giant Progressive brains fairly bulging out all over the landscape -- and the invitation to join this gang has me feeling like a dreadful fraud. Well, fraudulent is as fraudulent does, as the man said, and I'll keep up the grift until they rip the epaulets off my regimental tunic.

I'm probably not going to start absolutely right away. I need to lurk a bit, pick up on the zeitgeist. And as I've maybe said before, Net access at my rural home is a ridiculous 28.8 experience, and the kind of atomic-powered research you need to do justice to a Serious Frowny-Faced Political Post just ain't possible at that speed. With every digit I possess crossed and fervent Nembutsu chants raised every five minutes, I hope against hope that WiFi access might be granted me in late May, and at that point I think you can expect to start to see some posts that haven't been sneakily typed during lunch breaks -- both here and at The American Street.