Saturday, December 31, 2005

Bit of a Frost, That 2005

Bit of a frost, that 2005, I think we'll all agree.

Your local fishwrap will be far more comprehensive on the topic than I can ever be, but as years go, this one could easily have been -- in fact, probably was -- extruded from Dick Cheney's anus horribilis.

Back in pre-Katrina August, we had a pretty lively discussion in these pages about which year was worse, 1968 or 2005. If the year had ended that mid-August day, I'm pretty sure 1968 would have won hands down. Post-Katrina, I think it's a wash. Bobby and Martin, meet Johnny Roberts and Sammy Alito, who are gonna pretty much dismantle everything you stood for. Newark and Detroit, meet New Orleans and Biloxi. Pacification, meet "clear-and-hold." My Lai, meet Black Prisons and waterboarding. COINTELPRO, meet George W. Bush.

It's profoundly creepy to contrast the cultural reactions to these pairings. Had it become generally reported that Lyndon Johnson had declared the Presidency immune to judicial oversight at any point at which the Presidency saw it fit to be so immune, what would have been the reaction from, say, a Kubrick? A Peckinpah? A Mailer, a Roth, a Wolfe? A Beatles, an MC5, a Sly Stone?

Purely rhetorical questions, of course. But among the many things that profoundly differentiate the two years is, of course, the availability of the emotional release of self-publishing, made possible by the Internet. It would have been utterly utopian to our 1968 brethren, the delicious idea that it is possible to bypass the starmaking machinery of the publishing and recording and filmmaking industries and make one's voice heard unmediated, directly to one's audience. Even the Beatles had to pass an audition, after all.

And this is where I come in.

While the Land That I Love may have had a memorably awful year, for me personally 2005 was perhaps the most enjoyable year I've ever had.

As is no doubt the case with many of you reading this, I became aware of blogging as a phenomenon during the frighteningly angry days of early 2004. (That's of course, to be carefully distinguished from the rabidly enraged days of December 31, 2005...) I came to crave the daily -- indeed hourly -- whiff of adrenaline I got from news that broke not on mediated, old-school CNN or my morning paper but raw, fresh, cast up on the computers of ordinary people just like me, sitting in Cubicle-Land.

Somewhere in the purple funk that followed that miserable smirking fratboy's electoral reanointment, racked with depression at my own feelings of helplessness and inadequacy, alarmed by the rate at which my middle-aged body and mind were deteriorating in a corporate world that demanded no real creativity from me, I found myself in desperate need to kick-start my brain and give myself reasons to get up in the morning.

Enter Neddie Jingo.

Picked from a Pogo cartoon, the pseudonym came to me one day in late December of 2004, as I was formulating ideas for the form this inchoate idea should take. On January 2 of 2005, I opened a profile and began refining a Blogger template that didn't offend my sensibilities as a graphic designer. My first post appeared Thursday, January 20, 2005.

Here's what's happened since then, as a direct result of this blog.
  • Lance Mannion, may his fortunes ever increase, notices the thing in early February. Avatar of graciousness that he is, he features it in his "Guest Stars" list. Level of Suck: Negligible.
  • I discover John Mobberly, Civil War Psycho, who snapped up Union stragglers and terrorized the Unionist farmers of this valley until somebody was moved to off him a week before Appomattox. He lived a mile from my house as the crow flies. An obsession is born.
  • James Wolcott, patently a man of enormous discrimination and taste, notices Neddie Jingo in Lance's list, likes a post on Pogo, adds NJ to his Blogroll. Traffic, oh, about quintuples. Ego boost: immeasurable. Suckiness: Nugatory.
  • Joe Bageant, one of life's Driven Saints, writes to say howdy, I dig the blog. I discover some time later that Joe's ancestor married into the Mobberly family, and by heroic effort I remain sane and continent in light of this freakin' amazing coincidence. We now speak regularly by phone. That sure doesn't suck.
  • R. Stevie Moore appreciates a mention. He asks me to phone in a poetical/rhythmic phone message so he can make a piece of music out of it, a project he's doing with some of his acquaintances. I wind up reciting "You get a line and I'll get a pole/And we'll head on down to the fishing hole" in my best creepy child-molester voice into my cell phone while wandering around in my orchard assessing what needs spraying this year. I'm a nut that way.
  • Andy Partridge rings up: He digs a post I've done on a minor but utterly brilliant song of his called "I Don't Know what Truth Is Anymore." That sure doesn't suck.
  • Julia of Sisyphus Shrugged likes a piece on local historic gravestones. Traffic triples. This too fails to suck.
  • My li'l brother takes the pseudonym Bobby Lightfoot (Gordon's boy, dontcha know) and launches the rawest, most honest -- not to mention pants-soakingly funny -- blog ever done. We're closer than we've been in years. Suck factor: Zero.
  • Connie Derry writes & introduces me to her family, who trod these lands like giants a hundred years ago. Not one of 'em sucked. (Although a few had spongier characteristics when it came to Demon Rum)
  • Kevin Hayden of The American Street writes, asks me to contribute to that group blog. Who am I to say him nay? Other Street regulars include Michael Bérubé, Jesus' General, PZ Myers, Barbara of MahaBlog. One is Majorly Intimidated, while noting that the company Sure Doesn't Suck.
  • My most Googled post: The TV show Lost and Calvinism. TV Without Pity sits up & takes notice. No sucking there.
  • The Power of the Blog: I get wind of a plot by some neighbors to petition the county government to pave our dirt road, which dates to before the Revolutionary War. I post indignantly, citing local history. A neighbor writes approvingly,. And another. And another. A coalition is born, and ultimately we defeat the measure. Viva the Blog!
  • I notice a Commenter named Jeremy Cherfas, a biologist living in Rome. Some days later, I drop Richard Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale on the floor on seeing a favorable citation of Cherfas' work in chimpanzee evolution. I amuse him? That sure doesn't suck.
  • Sally Jenkins of the WashPost digs a fanboy piece on her. She pops in in email to say howdy. Wow. I amuse her? That too fails to suck.
  • Julia at Sisyphus Shrugged asks me to help guest-post while she's out of town. I understand her blog's still standing, but not because of anything I did.
  • Matt at the Tattered Coat asks me to help guest-post while he's out of town. I understand his blog's still standing, but not because of anything I did.
  • Al Swearengen guest-posts. PZ Myers at Pharyngula is amused. Post hits the flippin' stratosphere. Koufax nomination ensues. That sure doesn't suck.
  • Katrina. Fuck me.
  • I completely fail to meet Barbara of MahaBlog, eRobin of Fact-esque, and Melanie of Just a Bump on the Beltway as we all stopped the war in Iraq in its miserable tracks, September 24, 2005 in Washington DC. Look: Cell phones sometimes suck, OK? XTCFan can tell you all about it.
  • Colin McEnroe up t' Trinity Kollitch in that Connecticut uses Neddie as course material for his Master Class in blogging. Suck? I think not!
  • Th' Fuckin' HARRIDANS!!!!! Me, Bobby Lightfoot, and XTCFan hit Jay's in Arlington like a ton o' motherfuckin' bricks. We ROCK THE JOINT. NO REHEARSAL, just rubbin' together of the Musical DNA. It's the TITS. GODDAMN that didn't suck!
  • This Is the House Where the Murders Happened. Ghoulish interest in a 60-years-past quintuple murder draws the interest of some local folk. I begin a delicious local correspondence. More to come on that one!
  • Our Harvest Being Gotten In hits with a bullet when it's picked up by Slacktivist. Another Koufax nomination ensues. Thanks in particular to Matt at the Tattered Coat for publicizing this non-sucking piece.
  • Rosie O'Donnell makes Neddie Jingo's first (and no doubt last) ad buy. Actual money. Holy crap. Suck!
At some point while typing that self-aggrandizing but satisfying list, the tock clicked over past midnight, Leap Second included. Happy Nude Ear to my friends, expecially my wonderful commenters. I give thanks for: XTCFan, Employee of the Month, Helmut of Phronesisiacal, Heretik Joe, Matt, GlueBirl, The Viscount LaCarte, Ade, Mrs. Packer, Neil Shakespeare, Sluggo (the mugs are waiting at the post office, dude!), Simon Knight, Melani, Rameau's Nephew, Kevin Wolfe, Res Publica, Corndoggerel, Pinko Punko, Jason Chervokas... Anyone I've forgotten, please forgive me, it's 2AM on New Year's Day, and some beer may have been harmed in the creation of this post....

Most of all Wonder Woman, who anchors my life and makes me whole.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Battered and Bleeding

You see before you a battered and bleeding man.

I ache from weasand to nock, and I don't expect things to improve in hours ahead. I have Struggled Mightily today, my bravoes, and if the Republic falls on the morrow (no unlikely thing, apparently) it will not be due to lassitude on my part.

Habitués of the Jingosphere will know that I'm rather in the bag as concerns the plentiful history of my little corner of Loudoun County, and today I was able to hike up my plus-fours, kick off my hobnail boots and have a nice long wallow in it. How long a wallow? How's nine miles on foot through trackless forest, up a mountain and down t' other side, and then a-crawl on the Potomac bank around the extreme north end of said mountain strike you?

Today I was able to immerse myself, over that nine-mile route, in not one but two of the more fruity yet quite ineluctably real facts of bygone days here outside Lovettsville. I've written about both before, but today I've got new photos and insights.

The first involves local Civil War Rebel nutjob John Mobberly. As I've reported before, less than a mile from my house, on January 17, 1865, in the waning days of the American Civil War, Mobberly scouted some remnants of the 35th Virginia Cavalry under the command of Col. Elijah White -- that contingent, one imagines, that had still not had a bellyful of a war that was already virtually over -- over Short Hill Mountain from Neersville in a remarkably pointless raid on an encampment of the Sixth New York Cavalry.

The path that Mobberly chose to lead the 35th over is commonly agreed to be what the locals have always called "Egg Path," so named because local farmers would cart eggs and butter over Short Hill Mountain to sell in the dens and hells of Harpers Ferry. But what I've come to understand is that there isn't -- and never has been -- one single track over the mountain that can be understood to be Egg Path. In fact, Short Hill is absolutely honeycombed with these 150-year-old paths. Today I believe I traced the actual route taken by Mobberly -- the one that makes the most tactical sense while most closely adhering to eyewitness accounts.

The second thing I accomplished today was to trace the full route of one branch of a now defunct road that hugs the Potomac bank around Short Hill. In the heyday of the River Mill (1810s-1850s) Georges Mill Road (the one I helped to fight against paving this summer) continued from the mill around the dramatic north end of Short Hill to Harpers Ferry. In those days farmers would hump their grain down to the River Mill, get it ground, and continue into Harpers Ferry to put the flour onto either the C&O Canal or the B&O Railroad, each of which transected that town. The road finally washed out in a 1936 flood, never to be repaired.

Let's look at the 1910 US Geological Survey map I downloaded from the USGS site. (Click to the map to enlarge it in another window -- it's worth it.)

See where it says "Begin"? That's the Heart of the Jingosphere, there. Pretty much my backyard.

Now, the reason I believe Mobberly to have taken this route is because it makes the most tactical sense. Other "versions" of Egg Path would have placed him and his cohort onto open farmland far too soon; this route keeps the attackers in heavily wooded terrain until they were a few hundred yards away from the pickets, which makes all kinds of sense if you read the original story.

It also goes pretty much right through my backyard, which doesn't hurt.

So (below): The first few hundred yards up the path, it's very easy to follow. Not much ambiguity, eh?

About 1000 feet up, the unambiguous path peters out. You find yourself making arbitrary decisions, following the map with nothing more than blind faith: Well, somebody from the USGS drew this back in 1910, he must have known what he was doing! You find yourself seeing "pathiness" about structures that may be completely "unpathy." I see the path in the next pic, don't you?

Nearing the top of the mountain, other local memories begin to crowd in: The Iroquois used Short Hill for their customary open-air burials when they held this land prior to the French and Indian War. Can you see this summit rock-table put to that use? I sure as hell can:

I've been to this spot now several times, and I never fail to be utterly gutted at this stunning vista. That's Maryland in the middle distance, West Virginia far distance, the Potomac running betweeen Loudoun Heights and Maryland, and Harpers Ferry just around the corner. Neersville (formerly known as Waters) at our feet. Mobberly lived right down there, and I have no doubt at all that he saw this view many and many a time:

Now in Neersville, looking back up at what I've just descended. The radio tower on the ridge marks where I came up & over. Of the slob hunters who discharged their weapons within 50 yards of me near that tower I will say nothing save that by now I have already made two angry cell-phone calls to the local gendarmes. Stupid, stupid "sportsmen," driving their goddamned 4x4s past padlocked gates posting "Private Property, No Hunting." Eeeeeeediots.

This is quite a find, in the Ebenezer Methodist Church graveyard: Bud Butts is said to have been the last man alive to have seen John Mobberly in the flesh. The years fit perfectly. He'd have been eight years old when Mobberly was killed.

Now we're back into the woods, following the Around-the-Points Road down to the Potomac. On the side of a very steep hill, this road's obviously been very carefully constructed. Still standing, 70 years after the road closed.

In other spots, the road's almost an entirely theoretical construct. But here, hugging the bank of the Potomac, you can still see bits and pieces.

Here's what killed this road, the death-wound from which the poor thing was never able to recover. We're at the eastern of two "Points" (ribs of Short Hill that plunge dramatically into the river), and the road seems to be doing OK....

But in the 1936 flood, this ten-foot stretch of the road is immersed....

It rises again and struggles valiantly to remain useful....

But no. Repairing it is not cost effective, and is bloody difficult anyway, as uphill from this point is a straight cliff, and so -- Farmers turn northeast, to Brunswick and Lovettsville, to ship their grain to market. For ten feet of road, an entire economy is destroyed. Amazing.

Below: Upstream on the Potomac as the afternoon light fades. Absolutely what George Washington saw as he paddled upstream in 1748, surveying these lands for Lord Fairfax. Amazingly intact.

Yeah, I'd live here.

Here we are, miles into the back of beyond, and we find walls. They build floodwalls. With their hands and the local shale. And they're still standing after a century and a half of floods.

Just before complete exhaustion set in, I was able to photograph the entire reason the Around-the-Points Road existed in the first place: The River Mill, also known as Peacher's Mill. It had already gone out of business by the Johnstown Flood of 1889. Its riverside walls were destroyed by the 1936 flood. Another flood the strength of what we got in, for example, the Great Melting after the Blizzard of 1996 and that may be all she wrote for this magnificent two-story stone ruin.

The mill was built in the 1820s by one John Peacher. What, you don't believe me, punk? Huh? You need tangible evidence John Peacher built this goddamned mill?

All right then. Just check the cornerstone:

All right. Extremely hot bath and bed beckon. Res Ipsa Loquitur.

Catch you tomorrow -- yawn...

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Apple GarageBand Jam Pack 4: Symphony Orchestra

Jesus. Merry Ex-Muss to me! This daunting thing was under the tree, thanks to Wonder Woman...

How much do you want to learn, buddy?

Apple GarageBand Jam Pack 4: Symphony Orchestra. The whole goddamned shooting match is in here. Every instrument. Every fiddly little percussion dingus, every triangle and bell tree and chinese gong. First and second violins, violas, cellos and basses, horns and woodwinds, solo'ed and en masse, French horns, oboes, cor anglais, flutes, piccoloes.

In 45 minutes, I made this thing. Turgid and repetitive, I know, with only the barest evidence of musical literacy, but Dear God Almighty with my Macintosh I composed, conducted and recorded a (bad) one-minute piece for orchestra IN 45 MINUTES.

I tell you what this is. This is like being handed the keys to a goddamned Abrams tank with a jaunty wave and a singsong "y'all have fun, now, y'hear?" The responsibility is awesome, in the highest sense of that hackneyed word. You have at your fingertips something Ludwig Van would have committed quite a lot of The Old Ultraviolence to get his Teutonic mitts on: The ability to hear an orchestral piece as it's being composed. Ludwig Van had a huge fund of theory to fall back on, and an enormous talent combined with an encyclopedic knowledge of the instruments in a symphonic orchestra, but what he manifestly did not have was the ability to assemble two oboes, a viola and a flute on a moment's notice to try out this or that voicing or timbre.

O tempora! O mores!

So the question must be asked: How much do you want to learn, buddy?

How thoroughly do you want to immerse yourself in the ranges and timbres of the orchestral pallette? You have enough on your hands trying to make a little four-piece rock band not crash into itself -- now you want to try to tackle a full goddamned symphony orchestra?

Just like a mad dog you're chasing your tail in a circle....


It would be a poor excuse for a hyperexpensive downtown Washington, DC, museum dedicated to international espionage that didn't feature a sneaky backdoor entry-point that allows a silent & shadowy yet audacious operator to slip unnoticed -- and, more importantly, gratis -- past the state-of-the-art security system and into the very bowels of the exhibit itself. To this rule of thumb the International Spy Museum at 800 F Street between 8th and 9th -- in a building that once housed the US Communist Party -- is no exception.

I'm not going to blow the gaff in plain text -- wow, what rotten tradecraft that would be! Whew! -- but just between you and me and that suspiciously attentive lamppost over there, here it is in special super-spy-approved cipher:

Ou-yay an-cay et-gay into-yay the useum-may or-fay ee-fray if oo-yay o-gay to the ack-bay of the iftshop-gay.

Right. That's it. Off you go. Moscow Rules. The gallant fox runs at midnight.

I honestly wouldn't commit such an overt act of civil disobedience but for a couple of things.

As we stood around shivering in the blustery December wind outside the museum, waiting for our alloted four-o'clock entry slot to come round, perky museum employees with clipboards flitted from one freezing knot of people to another offering museum membersips at $150 a pop. These memberships would permit all one's fellow freezing-knotniks to enter the warm confines immediately, ahead of the other suckers who'd bought tickets for a specific time. Having myself just dropped $94 for seven Jingoes to enjoy the privilege of a two-hour sidewalk vigil, this struck me as just a tad elitist: If you're rich, go to the head of the line might be putting it a mite class-warfarishly, but I'm damned if I can find a more polite way to put it.

Ah, but that's this town these days, isn't it.

Another moment that defined George Bush's Washington in late 2005 came during an introductory film shown on entry to the museum. On the need for espionage, the argument would have been quite unexceptionable in less parlous times: The President, the film avers, needs all the information he can get his hands on, that he may weigh the evidence objectively and make policy decisions with the best interests of the country in mind.

I understand that videos are expensive, and that museum directorships are by nature very conservative and don't just go off redesigning entire exhibits based on yesterday's headlines -- but that's a pretty goddamned major point to have dangling outside the Trousers of History, isn't it?

How is the International Spy Museum going to tell the story of the leadup to the Iraq Debacle, the cooked intel about WMD, "Curveball," Chalabi and broken Iranian codes, the fired dissenting generals, the wholesale and completely open war, still ongoing, between CIA and Pentagon, between Career CIA and Political CIA, and between Pentagon and State?

Will it be "The President received bad intelligence after 9/11, and thus he made bad decisions"? Or will it be, as we know to be true, "The President's men listened selectively to the intelligence they were given and rejected that which didn't support their case for war"?

When the point about policy decisions was made during the film, I barked one solitary "hah!" surprised that I heard no other sounds of dissent from the crowd of about fifty. Heads turned toward me, and I felt my mortified daughter's squeeze on my elbow. Stifled, I shut up.

Oh, and nothing about black prisons in Eastern Europe either, but I'm sure they just haven't finished building the exhibits and we'll see that this coming year.

Through the gift shop. Keep going to the back. Idly fondle a t-shirt, look around shiftily, and then zip on in, past Checkpoint Charlie.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Birthday, Bobby Lightfoot!

Detail: Neddie Jingo's tenth birthday party. Neddie, right -- overexposed as usual -- regales the crowd with his lusty interpretation of "The Outhouse Blues" as Bobby Lightfoot, left, wows the ladies with the weightlifter's build and outgoing, winsome personality that will conquer many a maiden's heart over the next decades. Jesus, it was the early Seventies, wasn't it. Think about it: We were one year past Woodstock, six years away from the Sex Pistols.

Happy Birthday to Bobby Lightfoot, who turns 26 today!

May his fortunes increase, and may his manly wick be oft-dipp'd in essential oils extracted from the most exclusive amino acids!

For someone who once, at the age of eight, gave me no choice but to straddle his chest and rain blows on his head while intoning those favorite words of big brothers everywhere, "Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!" he sure is normal.

Pretty sure I wouldn't get away with that now. Mom's paying more attention.

The rest of you goobers, have yourselves a merry little Ex-Muss, and don't take any wooden rhetoric.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Oh-ho! Lee Knight!

Give a man -- especially one whose notion of Musical Humor was formed listening to the musical mayhem of Spike Jones and who's not particularly prone to the Reverence Due the Season -- access to a reasonably hefty Macintosh running GarageBand, a triple CD of Hanna-Barbera sound effects, and a basketful of kazoos, slide whistles and butt-stupid percussion instruments, and you might get

No seasonal pieties were mocked during the making of this recording. This is a radical remix of a recording done last year, with quite a few added bits and a lengthened Beethovenaceous ending.

May the blessings of the Ex-Muss Season Be Upon You.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Blessed Are

With a living room ceiling that soars 22 feet above the carpeted floor, no ordinary Christmas tree would do. A standard seven-footer, Daphne Kessler decided, would look "kind of weird," dwarfed by the second-floor balcony and the towering Palladian window.

She needed a tree majestic enough to reach toward the ceiling painted with her family's coat of arms. A tree as grand as the five-bedroom, 6,000-square-foot Great Falls home that Kessler moved into almost four years ago with her husband and two children.

So Kessler bought a 12-foot behemoth that her interior designer decorated by climbing so high up a ladder that, he said, "I feel like a monkey up here."

"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," said the Spirit. "Look upon me!"

Scrooge reverently did so. It was clothed in one simple green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur. This garment hung so loosely on the figure, that its capacious breast was bare, as if disdaining to be warded or concealed by any artifice. Its feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the garment, were also bare; and on its head it wore no other covering than a holly wreath, set here and there with shining icicles. Its dark brown curls were long and free: free as its genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyful air. Girded round its middle was an antique scabbard; but no sword was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up with rust.

-- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

As estatelike homes have popped up across the Washington suburbs, they've spawned a must-have seasonal accessory: the supersize Christmas tree. McMansions with their two-story foyers, cathedral ceilings and great rooms are fueling a demand for trees fit for Paul Bunyan with price tags fit for Daddy Warbucks -- from $100 to more than $1,000.

A walk through Joseph Coates's Ellicott City tree lot is like a tour of a magical forest, where even pro basketball players might feel as small as elves. He specializes in 12- to 15-footers that can weigh a few hundred pounds and spread as wide as a Volkswagen.

In the past couple of weeks, he said, "a lot of people, maybe 50 or 60, have driven up and said, 'Show me the biggest one you've got.' "

One of the first drove away in a pickup with a 15-foot Fraser fir that cost $385. "It was a beast," Coates said.

-- Washington Post, Ibid.

"Mr Scrooge!'' said Bob; "I'll give you Mr Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast!''

"The Founder of the Feast indeed!'' cried Mrs Cratchit, reddening. "I wish I had him here. I'd give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he'd have a good appetite for it.''

"My dear,'' said Bob, "the children; Christmas Day.''

"It should be Christmas Day, I am sure,'' said she, "on which one drinks the health of such an odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man as Mr Scrooge. You know he is, Robert! Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow!''

"My dear,'' was Bob's mild answer, "Christmas Day.''

-- A Christmas Carol

In the Kessler household, most of the decorating was left to Christian Lund, an interior designer, who lined the walkway to the front door with 21 artificial Christmas trees standing about two feet tall and adorned with lights. He hung ornaments on the six-foot trees in the sunroom and the second-floor balcony, wreaths in the windows, garlands on the staircases. All in anticipation of a holiday party that Kessler, who runs a gift basket company, was throwing with her husband, Rick, the head of a prominent lobbying firm.

-- Washington Post, Ibid.

....a holiday party that Kessler, who runs a gift basket company, was throwing with her husband, Rick, the head of a prominent lobbying firm....

-- Neddie Jingo

In a potential violation of congressional ethics rules, five members of Congress traveled to Ireland in 2003 at the expense of a lobbying firm, disclosure records show.

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), then-Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) and Reps. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) and Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) attended a four-day international trade seminar at Ashford Castle in County Mayo during the August recess.

Disclosure reports for the five lawmakers show that Washington lobbying firm, Kessler & Associates Business Services Inc., footed the $25,000 bill, even though congressional ethics guidelines bar lobbying firms from paying for lawmakers’ travel.

In response to inquiries from The Hill, the members’ aides confirmed that the lobbying firm had been listed as the sponsor and that they were in the process of checking into the matter.

Ed McDonald, chief of staff for Coble, said Richard S. Kessler, a veteran lobbyist and founder of Kessler & Associates, told him Monday that the lobbying firm’s parent company, Century Business Strategies, an accounting and consulting firm, had sponsored the trip.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Viscous Orange Goodness

It seems somehow meet and fitting that, on the night -- a Saturday night, mind you -- that I discover this glogg's been nominated for Koufax Awards in several categories (Most Humorous Blog, Best Writing, Most Deserving of Wider Recognition, Best Writing again, and two for Best Post) my last words to Wonder Woman were, "I'm just gonna take some Metamucil and hit the sack, hon. I'll be up in a minute."

Thanks for the noms, you guys (and you know who you are, Lance, Matt and Sean). I'll get my own nods up tomorrow, after the foaming flagon of viscous orange goodness here at my elbow's had its intended effect. We live fast here in the Jingosphere.

Friday, December 16, 2005

We'll Frolic & Play the Eskimo Way

Morning sun through the glazed black walnut in the yard

Well, that was interesting...

Had surgery early yesterday afternoon, a followup to the Ass-Cancer Incident of this summer. This was not nearly as complicated a procedure as the earlier one, but it still involved general anesthesia and a nontrivial recovery. Put it this way: On the one hand, Yay! Vicodin!; on the other hand: I need Vicodin.

As I was face down & ass up in the arms of Morpheus, it came on to snow pretty hard -- snow that was the precursor of the pissin'-est frozen-rain ice-storm I've seen since, well, since the last one we had. Fuckin' Central Atlantic coast -- neither Atlanta nor Boston, but a combination of the worst winter traits of both. Feh. Ptoo. As I was forbidden to drive home, Wonder Woman was the Designated Non-Pie-Eyed Driver. Everything went smoothly through the storm until we reached a point a couple miles from our house where a steepish uphill grade on the dirt road was absolutely glazed two inches thick with mirror-smooth ice. Our four-wheel-drive truck (I swear we're one of about 200 families in NoVa that actually needs the 4x4 drive) would have negotiated the hill just fine, but two roller-skate rice-burners were akimbo across the road, and we couldn't just squeeze past them with a jolly wave.

With my surgeon's stern admonition against physical exertion ringing in my ears, the local anesthesia wearing off, and the first couple Vikes well kicked in, I hopped out into the freezing blatter and tried to help one guy push the other guy up the hill. I was worse than useless; it was difficult to tell which I lacked more of, strength or foot-traction. And, of course, I was in terror of feeling those sutures snapping like a zipper coming undone.

Now, I know you're sitting there slowly shaking your head at my rashness, but you have to understand: We couldn't get past these stranded cars. If I hadn't helped to push, we would still be there waiting in the frozen rain. Triple A? Did you see that ice storm? That same drama we were enacting was being played out ten thousand times on ten thousand glazed roads in that dreadful storm's wake. Triple-A was busy. And very far away.

Part of the driveway. About a 20-degree grade. Solid ice.

Well, the sutures held, and the stranded motorists were taken care of -- one drove home, the other parked and accepted a ride from another neighbor who chanced by. So: home. Nice fire in the den, hot shower, dinner. Very nice. Post something silly about the Small Faces. Cool.

This morning: Tinkety-tonk, old bean.

Power went out in the night.

I lay in bed and assessed the situation.
  • Can't drive out. That road's a nightmare, under two-inch-thick sheet ice, until it gets some hours of sunlight.
  • We're down to the last few sticks of firewood. Was expecting a delivery today. That's not going to happen with the road like that.
  • House is freezing cold -- propane furnace requires electricity.
  • No hot water -- no water at all, in fact; we're on a well with an electric pump.
  • By the same token, no toilet-flushing.
  • I'm medically forbidden from exerting myself.
I contemplated cutting down a tree -- a poplar near the old kennel died this summer. I'd already cut up some of it for firewood a couple weeks ago, and it burned nicely. A cell-phone call to the power company elicited an estimate that the juice would be back up by the evening. I decided to trust their assessment and make Doc happy by undertaking not to try the Paul Bunyan routine unless the heating situation became dire.

So we spent the day in the nineteenth century, approximately. No flush toilets. Husbanding the remaining firewood. Opening the refrigerator strictly forbidden, windows and doors likewise, and perishables banked in shaded snow. Wearing lots of layers of clothing. The stove still worked, being on bottled propane, so we melted gallons of snow to wash dishes and flush toilets. Snowmelt tea: Delicious. We played Scrabble and Apples to Apples with the kids by the fire. Freddie learned that young teens in the 1800s didn't learn until they went to college that their first names weren't "Fetch wood."

Mid-late afternoon, the power came back, and with it the TV and Internet. By dinner the time-trip spell was over, and we'd slid back into our old solitary routines. I whipped up a London Broil and some oven fries with one eye on The Simpsons in the kitchen mini-TV, mentally composing this blog-post and reveling cheerfully in my cherished modernity.

They didn't have Vicodin in the 1800s.

Sunrise from the front door

I do believe we might be in the market for a generator. Price quotes accepted at the tradesmen's entrance.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

But Then Again....

So there I was, out in the garage, trying to find something to use as an adapter to fit the garden hose to the tailpipe of my truck (I'm flabbergasted they don't sell these at Home Depot; I was close to settling for duct tape, which strikes me as dreadfully inefficient) when all of a sudden, all unbidden, the Small Faces' "Itchycoo Park" popped into my head.

Now I think I'll live after all.

See how it all balances out? One day the pestilential Mannheim Steamroller leeches away the last vestige of your will to live; the next you get Steve Marriott going "I got HIII-high!" thereby pretty much singlehandedly inventing heavy-metal singing (Robert Plant ain't even close) and the clouds clear away, food stops turning to ashes in your mouth, a spring returns to your step and you give the rising sun the glad eye.

It's a mystery.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Reason I Decided To End It All and You Can Now Find Me in the Garage Sucking Tailpipe

Mannheim Steamroller.


Street Day 12/14/05

Over at the American Street, I present a few bullet points ripping Microsoft PowerPoint a new Slide View, in reaction to a WashPost feature about local kids submitting their Christmas Wish List as PPT decks.

Somehow, I manage to make it stand as a metaphor for the disastrous November election. It's quite a feat.

(Edit, 5:24pm: The Street seems to be having some servical trouble. They're in the process of switching over to another provider that is more reliable, but plainly they're not quite there yet.)

((Edit, 8:45 am: They're back up. Now you can go admire my anodyne brilliance.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

It's Pronounced "Ex-muss"

Call me an old Christmas Poo if you like, but every day and in every way I'm becoming more sympathetic to this thing. I'm all for recognizing the passing of the Winter Solstice and I have nothing against the Christly celebrating the birth of their boy (which happened in September, as near as we can tell). But when a huge inflatable mechanical snow-globe, 12 feet tall, North-Pole-themed and costing $150, appeared in a prominent place in my local grocery store this August (I swear to Mithra) I began to experience a nausea that's been building ever since.

Christmas has an obvious powerful pull. It's just one hell of a brand, to borrow a term from the marketing pukes who foist the damned thing on us every year. You can't get much more of a positive association in the mind of your average 18-to-50 with a solid credit rating and a decent job than good ol' Xmas. Its core appeal is Gemütlichkeit, the sense of being warm and safe and cocooned away from the raging elements. Sounds a bit infantile, frankly -- don't you think?

So what better thing to associate with your vibrating crotch-razor/sugar water/gas guzzler/dreadful beer/unreliable cell phone service/pointless electronic device/behemoth home theater/flimsy personal accessory/terribly ill-advised low-rise jeans/crash-prone computer/crappy golf clubs/fraudulent dietary supplement/dubious financial instrument?

(List compiled by me this morning -- each item represents a Christmas-themed advertisement that I saw either online or while out for lunch.)

And how better to measure the health of our retail economy than by carefully gauging with the Dismal Science's finest calipers the exact intensity of Black Friday's orgiastic wallowing in the mudbath of consumption? It doesn't look good, Bob -- I've only sold 85,721 home theaters the size of a fucking Bradley Fighting Vehicle to maxed-out-on-three-credit-card lower-middle-class goobers today, that's down from 85,984 this time last year....

The day we just banish Christmas gift-giving: That will be the day we've grown up, mes amis. That will be the day we throw off the shackles, off the pigs, turn in our badges, resist the temptation, drop the bullet, bite the big one, scrabble the toe, twist the acorn, jimmy corn the crack, bob for the twinkie, addlepate the mooncalf, Jabba the Hutt and remember the Maine.

I was going somewhere with this... Where was I going?

Oh yeah!

So who's gonna tell my kids? Any volunteers?

Monday, December 12, 2005

I'm a Bleedin' Volcano: A Meditation On the Social Uses of Music

Like many Americans these days, I work in a cubicle farm. It's a nicer cubicle farm than most, I daresay, having experienced durance vile in other such hells. The pods themselves are of nice quality, and since I'm a senior designer I have some pretty damned nice gear which is updated regularly, both PC and Mac. I truly can't complain. I'm very happy there.

I'm not going to say what company treats its employees with such computorial lavishness -- it's a well-learned lesson that employers don't like seeing their names up on The Internets in ways that they can't control. But I've dropped enough hints here and there in the Jingosphere (and I didn't coin that phrase!) that a person savvy in the industries that encircle Washington's exurbs will be able to dope it out. Not defense contracting (shudder!), not WorldCom or any other telco's. That pretty much gives it away right there. Hey, oh well.

Another major hint is that this is the kind of company that pipes music everywhere. It was worse some years ago when the place hired a backslapping know-nothing dolt from the radio industry to shore up its sagging fortunes in the wake of the dot-com bust. When the dolt in question took the reins, we began hearing music all over the place, which of course in the dark days of 2002 was exactly what the doctor ordered for employee morale. My cube was situated such that I could just barely make out what was being played over the cafeteria intercom, and I became acutely irritated by it: I knew that Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up the Sun" would be played at 10:46, 11:22, 12:13, 1:07 and so on day after day after day. I have an unalloyed detestation for that song that even poor Kevin Gilbert couldn't begin to comprehend.

The music extended into that Holy of Holies the bathroom, and this was where I drew the line. As something of an amateur musician I have a powerfully intimate relationship with music, and I will not tolerate an assault with crappy pop while Doing That. Several times during the reign of the Backslapping Dolt, I crept into the mens' room with a tall chair and turned the volume off on the ceiling speaker, only to find it turned back up again soon after. I wondered what kind of Torquemada would order regular checks to ensure the bathroom speakers were emitting the regulation volume of commercial poot, and failed to encompass the degree of evil such an order would take.

So I've declared a truce with the bathroom Muzak. Most of the time I can ignore it, and I've learned not to let it bother me when Carlos Santana's latest steaming pile of crap competes with my own.

All of which helps to explain the helpless giggles to which I was reduced this morning. As I meditatively discharged my morning duty, my attention was caught by the Rolling Stones' "She's So Cold" trickling quietly out of my tinny little tormentor.

I know I've given them some grief in the past, but on the whole I feel pretty positively toward the Stones, and "She's So Cold" is a fine little rocker. Great drumming, which is never surprising coming from Charlie Watts. Funny lyric, delivered with fabulous Jagger camp. Fantastic guitar interplay -- of course. It's more or less completely impossible not to tap a foot and nod a rhythmic head.

Which is what I found myself doing, midway through a morning growler.

Now, this is not what gave me such a gut-laff. No, it was the thought that followed that so reduced me.

The bathroom's a five-seater, and I pictured all four of the other seats occupied by my fellow meditators, each one also nodding his head and tapping his foot -- each completely unaware, of course, of the others on either side engaged in exactly the same quiet rockin', each with some variation of the scrunched-up Rock-n-Roll Face, each emitting those horrifying tile-reverberant noises we all studiously ignore in public bathrooms. I imagined a camera-shot slowly rising from the Particular to the Universal -- from the mildly absurd comedy taking place in one cubicle to an overhead shot of all five cubicles containing guys, seated, pants around ankles, nodding their heads and tapping their feet in perfect unison with each other, all totally oblivious of the ballet they were performing.

Now that is funny.

Who could pull that off? Buñuel, I think. Or an Almodóvar. Get me a camera.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Worst-Case Scenario

Sharp-eyed frequenters of the Jingosphere (I just can't get enough of my shiny new word!) will have noticed that just to the southeast of these pulsating paragraphs appears a new feature of our little axis mundi in the form of a commercial message for Rosie O'Donnell's charity "r" store. (Readers who stumble across this post two weeks hence will not see it, for the ad buy was for a fortnight, which makes sense because after that time there will be no need to whore holiday e-commerce and we'll all be heartily sick of the whole goddamned Christmas thing anyway, like I'm not already but that's just me. Is it?)

I've been chatting with a friend about this whole Blogad thing, and we're both pretty convinced that the folks who place these ads don't actually read the blogs they buy ads for, as evidenced by the fact that my friend (Matt, at The Tattered Coat -- sure, I can drop a name with the best of 'em) has been on hiatus for a month and a half and is still getting ad buys. His top post, dated November 1 of this year, is pretty clear about his intentions, but the bucks keep pouring in, in the form of these gigantic PayPal deposits that need a full-time accountant just to keep track of. And a wheelbarrow, of course, to cart the cash around.

So it occurred to me to try a little experiment to see if Rosie O'Donnell's people actually read a blog on which they spend such staggering amounts to advertise. I've settled on this for a plan: I'm going to say something really hideously libelous about Rosie and see if they pull the ad. That should flush my prey from the bushes, right? Nobody will continue to advertise on a publication that openly ridicules the subject of the ad, right? And what can happen? What, as they used to ask on "The Prairie Home Companion," is the Worst-Case Scenario?

Well, Rosie's people could read my assertion that I'm the guy who, by dint of a whiny and abrasively passive-aggressive personality and a dreadfully mechanical and unempathic sexual technique, drove her -- reluctantly, shamefully -- into the arms of women and deprived forever my fellow men of plausible fantasies of sweet, sweet O'Donnell Conquest; the horrified ad-buyers could rush to the phone to inform Ms. O'Donnell of my perfidious public confession, whereupon being so informed, Rosie could assemble a coterie of motorcycle enthusiasts in tasteless yet strangely uniform barbarian denim and leather ensembles, who in their ravening multitudes ride to my home, waylay me and beat me into a jellied pulp. My battered and broken body no longer effective as the sole breadwinner for a family of four, I resort, unshaven and unbathed, to composing Nigerian 419 emails at a rate of 40 cents per deceased Minister of Finance; when I'm exposed by the FBI for interstate fraud (my pedantic insistence on the correct employment of upper- and lower-case letters establishes a distinctive "hand" that gives me away), I slip away into exile, leading to years on the lam in various Third World hellholes and an endless succession of hairstyle and beard configurations that change radically every time I'm featured on "America's Most Wanted." On finally being positively identified on the strength of a distinctive tattoo (Gill Sans, right buttock, reads "This Is Not a Tattoo"), I am surrounded by Philippine police in a seedy Manila godown. I manage to escape by the skin of my teeth owing to a fiendishly clever expedient: Played by Kevin Spacey, I masquerade as a limping sniveler named Roger "Verbal" Kint, only to be identified by movie's end as the nonexistent criminal mastermind Keyser Soze. However, all is not resolved; by dint of a monumental coincidence that would draw a raised eyebrow and an exasperated "Oh, really now!" from Charles Dickens himself, I am recognized in my new guise as a Malagassy émigré busboy at Hedonism II in Jamaica by Rosie herself as she courts a secret paramour -- this one an extremely unconvincing Honduran cross-dresser named Harvey Maria. Thus thrown together, like Hepburn and Tracy, we finally reconcile, in our now older and wiser realization that:

No matter what Fate throws your way
You must not e'er despair
With a cunning lingual rhythm, boy,
You're gonna get her there.

So... Rosie? Ball's in your court, darlin'.

To Be or Not to Be an American

A friend to this ground, and liegeman to the Dane, has asked in the nicest possible way (through baldfaced -- and highly welcome -- bribery) that a question be posed to the Two or Three Gathered in My Name (a concept he is pleased to call "the Jingosphere," which monicker I like so much I want to hug it and squeeze it and name it George).

Here, then, is our friend's question:

If you were in a mixed marriage (Canadian and United Statian) and faced with the decision, would you, if he were not already a citizen, apply for U.S. citizenship for your five-year-old son? Would the draft figure in your thinking? Or would Canadian-by-birth be good enough for your kids, despite the possible advantages of dual citizenship?

Me, I'm torn. You got your pros and then on the other hand you got your cons. I've known dual-citizen kids, but their dualities spanned widely disparate countries like Sweden and Pakistan, and their choices were stark. One kid I knew didn't dare set foot in his native Uruguay for fear of being snapped up by the Uruguayan Army for compulsory military service -- this in a time when Uruguay was a nasty military dictatorship. This one's much more, what's the word, nuanced.

So we're throwing it out to (wait for it!) the Jingosphere. (God, isn't it wonderful?)

Please post your thoughts in the Comments section.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Language and Power

Harold Pinter, stricken with cancer, unable to travel to Stockholm to accept his Nobel Prize for literature, instead sent a video with his acceptance speech on it.

If I meet you, I will ask you, "Have you read Pinter's speech?" A negative answer will earn you stony silence until you can produce evidence that you have corrected this deficit.

Some giants still walk among us.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

"God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Street Day 12/7/05

Your Ned waxes waxily at The American Street, the result of a long, languid soak in the combination of a WashPost article about local real-estate developers' scummy tactics and a piece by the ever-chirpily-optimistic James Kunstler at Clusterfuck Nation.

Did you know they had to evacuate the 2000 residents of the Tulun Islands in the South Pacific because ocean water levels had risen to the point where the islands were untenable?

Yeah, that Global Warming might turn out to be a bit of a problem.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Departed this Life

Just as a people's collective soul is expressed through the things they make, the possessions they treasure, and the works they undertake, so too is it evident in the ceremonial trappings of death. This was brought home to me during a walk through a country graveyard on a cold, blustery, snow-threatening afternoon, as I went on a time-trip back to the founding of our Republic. Let me show you what I saw.

I'll spare you the first hundred years or so of the journey. We're all only too aware of the highly polished stones with perfectly machined letterforms, mechanically scribed, that constitute the modern, dull gravestone. I'll spare you, too, the kitschiness that's found its way into the graveyard; the identical depictions, chemically etched, of a modish Jesus holding a lamb that bedecked three recent graves in close succession -- suggested a Lillian Vernon Catalog approach to commemoration of the departed that does us no credit.

But that brings up one very interesting point: Religious imagery (kitschy or otherwise) didn't inform the American Protestant gravestone until very recently indeed. It was not until the twentieth century that crosses and crowns of thorns and what-have-you began to appear on these Lutheran graves. Look carefully at the photos below; on not a single one does a cross appear. Sure, the inscriptions and epitaphs refer to an afterlife and a gentle and beneficent God, but these references are incidental and not the focus of the stones. Belief in Deity is only implicit in these stones; it's quite plain that these people, while convinced that their place in an Afterlife was secure, made their tombstones perform a largely civil, rather than religious, function: This is who I was. Protestations of perfect faith were unnecessary.

On our first stop: There are at least three of these very strange tombstones from the early 1900's within an easy bike ride of my house. Local historian Eugene Scheel writes that these "full-sized sandstone oak trees were imported from Italy" (the expense must have been staggering) "with the place for the inscription cut as if it were a flap of bark." Quite bizarre -- a strange penetration of Beaux Arts kitsch into the countryside. And what enterprising sales rep rode about the Loudoun countryside hawking these crazy tombstones to the newly bereft, eh? What was his pitch to the grieving?

This next one's included in our travelogue not because it's remarkable but precisely because it isn't. It's a control gravestone. This is as unremarkable a mid-nineteenth-century specimen as I could find this afternoon. In typical Victorian fashion, the letterforms cheerfully switch from mixed-case to all caps -- watch this as we go back in time, it's important -- but it's clear that this tombstone was produced with the help of a mass-production machine. The manufacturer was taking orders at a distance and producing stones in quantity to be shipped elsewhere. His emotional involvement with the corpse he was helping commemorate was absolutely nil. Death as Industry. The Assembly Line of Death. The Revolution of Interchangeable Parts had by now long had its meathooks into the American landscape, and the mass-produced gravestone is just one more expression of it.

John Stoutsenberger fought in the Revolutionary War, attest the Daughters of the American Revolution; they put a plaque to this effect next to his grave saying so -- a Musician with the 4th Battalion of Continental Artillery, Pennsylvania. Based on his tombstone he was 14 years old at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I'm blanching with horror at the thought that my own precious son is quickly approaching that age. At any rate, John survived the war and lived to a ripe old age.

John's may have been one of the the last tombstones in the area to have been carved wholly by hand -- 1832. You can see very slight imperfections, particularly in the unevenness of the spacing between letters. It's an expert job, though, beautifully executed, with John 's name in proud small caps. I wonder if that's just because Stoutsenberger (rendered "Stautzenberger" by the DAR, for some reason) is such a long name.

Isn't it odd, the practice of declaring exactly how many days the departed had lived? If they'd had stopwatches I imagine they'd have added hours, minutes and seconds to the span. This custom seems to have petered out slowly over the 19th century.

The 1820s and '30s saw a great Die-Off of the soldiers who fought the American Revolution. Did anybody write them hagiographic coffee-table books -- Ye Greateste Generationne? Someone should have. John Axline, who lived an incredibly long life for those times, born in October of 1739, would have been about 38 in 1777 -- very old to be gallivanting off to join General Washington. But gallivant he did. Wonder what his motivation was? Coincidentally, if Axline had enlisted in the French and Indian War (1756), he would have been the same age as John Stoutsenberger when he joined the Revolution.

Here's where things start to get seriously beautiful. Look at the letterforms on Coopper's stone, straining so hard for formal elegance, with Roman pretensions, superscript abbreviations, carefully scribed serif capitals. A very elegant thing -- but so obviously handmade. One major difference between Axline's and Coopper's carvings is that Axline's carver was able to give varying weights to his strokes, alternating heavy strokes with hairlines and roman with italic forms -- much in keeping with the fashionable formal typography of the time. Coopper's carver was working with technology 17 years less sophisticated. I have no idea what evolved between 1815 and 1832 -- better chisels, imported from Europe, perhaps? Mechanical assistance? Simply rising standards? -- but clearly a great leap forward happened.

But look how, even in the early nineteenth century, mechanization was beginning to wipe out individuality, character, beauty.

Such beautiful, beautiful lettering in the next two, plainly done by the same carver in the 1810s. So freehand, so artistic, but such confidently eccentric lines. Just lovely.

Date unknown, but it must be very, very early indeed. A sudden thought: Maybe that's not someone's initials, but his last word instead! AAC! ("There's a Camaaaaaaaargh in France...")

Isack Leuckens, you tough-assed, backward-N Pennsylvania Dutch bastard! You hightailed it out of serfdom in the Thirty-Years-War-torn Palatinate, you surged West on Billy Penn's dime when West was anything to the left of Philadelphia (pop. 200), and when you heard about good Indian-free squattin' on Lord Fairfax's estate south of the Potomac you snuck in ahead of the bouncers and plunked down a miserable one-room log box, called it home, and started scrabbling at the earth, extracting potatoes and corn by sheer strength of your indomitable will! And there you are, you son of a bitch! Isack, here's a glass raised to you!

All right, time to stop horsing around. Here we are in the presence of a knee-weakeningly magnificent piece of folk art. I just knelt down beside it and wanted to weep for a styrofoam and petroleum America -- a place that once produced things like this tombstone, and now proudly touts Aeon Flux, the jello shot and the Hummer 3 as the highest expressions of its commonweal.

[Name illegible]
VR*** Who
DePATeD thiS
LIFe AgeD 57

Look at this! Dear God, LOOK AT THIS! Have you ever seen anything so unbelievably humble & sweet & loving & tender & eccentric & utterly made-it-with-my-own-hands human?

Ja, I am very sorry for your loss, Brother Alois. I know your beloved wife meant everything in the world to you, that she shared the terrible, long journey from die Pfaltz, and although you are too poor to send to Philadelphia for a fine headstone for her, as a friend to you and her I will do my best to carve a beautiful stone to honor her memory and your love for her...

He did a beautiful job.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Drink, Pray, Etc.

Recently I had a nice phone chat with my excellent friend and neighbor Joe Bageant. After chewing the fat for a bit (very nice fat, by the way, imported from Kinshasa), he hipped me to the book he's busy writing, tentatively titled Drink, Pray, Fight and Fuck: Dispatches from the American Class Wars. coming out next year from Random House Crown.

Bet they'll work on that title a bit before it hits Wal-Mart. Just a hunch.

He's halfway through writing the book, and is committed to deliver an MS by May of next year. This is, incidentally, why you don't see new issues of his sinus-clearing redneck commie dispatches at Cold Type, the Smirking Chimp and elsewhere; these days, he's saving it for the book. (The piece I linked to at the Smirking Chimp contains the genesis of his book, by the way.)

He told me some hair-raising things about ayahuasca, an Amazonian "healing plant" that will tend to make you very high. (Movie ref, anyone?) I asked him how he knew this sort of thing at firsthand -- where, for example, one would even get hold of a jeroboam or a dram or a lid or however the hell they measure these things.

In his gentle, amused drawl he said, simply, "Well, I know a shaman."

Ah, but of course.

Joe's put up a web site, by the way -- you should go check it out. Besides news about Joe and the book, there's a whole lot of memorably pungent prose to be had -- click "Essays" in the righthand rail and lean back for the show. Be sure you've got some SPF 30 on -- that stuff'll chap your face.

Enough water's gone under the bridge that this won't bore: Easily the most amazing coincidence I've ever experienced involved Joe Bageant.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Later and Less Glorious Day

Strength returns. Nausea recedes, food begins to taste good again. I'm a terrible baby and a total goldbricker when it comes to illness, I know. What made matters worse, the nurse practitioner was stonily unmoved by my suggestion that an ear infection should entitle one to at least a couple weeks' worth of Vicodin. Harridan.

Started Flashman on the March this afternoon. I see now what might have irritated some of George MacDonald Fraser's more curmudgeonly readers in his Amazon reviews.

Here's from his Foreword, introducing a book that puts the fictional Flashy into a historical expedition sent out by the British Government to rescue British citizens from captivity and torture at the hands of mad King Theodore of Abyssinia in 1864:
But if he bore no share in the campaign proper, Flashman's was still the vital part on which success or failure hung -- the intelligence mission which was to take him into a series of fearful perils (some of them new even to him) in a war-torn land of mystery, treachery, intrigue, lonely castles, ghost cities, the most beautful (and savage) women in Africa, and at last into the power of a demented tyrant in his stronghold at the back of beyond. All of which he records with his customary shameless honesty, and it may be that along with the light he casts on a unique chapter of imperial history, he invites a comparison with a later and less glorious day.

For Flashman's story is about a British army sent out in a good and honest cause by a government that knew what honour meant. It was not sent without initial follies and hesitations in high places, or until every hope of a peaceful issue was gone. It went with the doubt that it was right. It served no politician's vanity or interest. It went without messianic rhetoric. There were no false excuses, no deceits, no cover-ups or lies, just a decent resolve to do a government's first duty: to protect its people, whatever the cost. To quote Flashman again, those were the days.
Perhaps a little too close to the bone, eh? A bit too pointed.