Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What Saturday Feels Like When You're Nine

There are times when I get hit so hard with the Weepy Wistfuls that I just want to shut myself in a room and blub till dinnertime. No doubt it's advancing age and general decrepitude working on me, watching my kids grow up and my jawline crumble. Nothing tickles the old Crippling Nostalgia Ganglion more than looking back over your shoulder and noticing Old Scratch has gained a couple of inches since last year.

When I get like this, and I need a good, long wallow in les Temps Perdu, I take a tray of madeleines and a tall glass of bathos-and-soda -- easy on the ice -- turn the lights down low, and put John Barry's "Midnight Cowboy" on the Victrola, extra loud.

Listen along with me, won't you? (Pops a new window.)

Barry enjoyed a vogue in the late Nineties -- you know, back when Irony wasn't Dead Yet. But the hepcats and -kittens with the skinny ties, martinis and the Rat Pack pretensions went more for Barry's more snazzy, finger-popping James Bond work. You don't hear "Midnight Cowboy" sampled on too many techno dance tracks, at any rate.

Geoffrey O'Brien, writing about the then-current fad for Burt Bacharach in 1999 in The New York Review of Books, made this memorably trenchant observation about Irony in Music (I'd link you to the whole wonderful article, but I had to pay $3 for the privilege of dredging this graf out of the Archives!):
Irony quickly becomes a dead issue: finally you are left alone with your ears. Either you get pleasure from listening to Martin Denny or the Hollyridge Strings, or you don't; the only variations are on the order of how much pleasure, repeated how many times. Irony meets its double, banality, as the alienated contemplation of schmaltz merges with the unrepentant enjoyment of it; or doesn't quite merge, the mind clinging to a detachment in which unironic enjoyment is almost successfully simulated.
I know just what Geoffrey means, here, it clangs like the clearest bell in this PoMo-soaked breast, but there isn't even the merest hint of a doubt in my mind: My reaction to this piece of music is so real, so visceral, so immediate, that the problem of "simulated enjoyment" never even remotely suggests itself.

I love this composition utterly Unironically.

When was the last time you heard Movie Music? When I was a sprout, it was completely ubiquitous. "Moon River." "Che Sera, Sera." "Lara's Theme" from Doctor Zhivago. "The Godfather." "Suicide is Painless." "The Sound of Music." "Born Free." "The Look of Love," from Casino Royale. "Never on Sunday." "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head." A major studio release was simply not made unless some hummable, radio-friendly, but ultimately adult -- what was then considered commercial -- piece of music could be identified with it. Poking around in preparing this post, I do find orchestral theme music associated with contemporary flicks, but can you hum a single bar of anything from, say, A Beautiful Mind? A hundred clams say you can't. There they all are. Say hi.

As a piece of sound-sculpture, it couldn't be more rudimentary. Structurally, it's simpler than most folk songs. One phrase, a C major - Bb major chord progression (I-flat VII) begins the piece. It's perhaps the single most characteristic Sixties chord change, capable of evoking San Francisco in 1967 faster than a hit of Owsley's finest. The Youngbloods' "Get Together," It's a Beautiful Day's "White Bird," The Turtles' "Happy Together," The Mamas and the Papas' "Monday, Monday," The Monkees' "Pleasant Valley Sunday," among many other characteristic lite-psychedelic pieces, all employ it prominently. (Interestingly, in that list, the progression is, with the exception of the Turtles' tune, employed in the verse rather than the chorus. Food for thought.) It's a dying-away-and-reviving movement, alternatively melancholy and hopeful.

Then the preliminaries are over, the tonal stage is set and the chromatic harmonica begins its plaintive exposition. We switch from a two-chord oscillation to a progression of five: The original C-B flat is followed by A flat major - F minor - G major. The obsessive repetition of this progression, it needs to be pointed out, is essentially a rock move. In orchestral music prior to 1969, cyclical repetition like this was Not Done among mainstream composers. Many avant-garde composers played with it -- certainly Philip Glass was already a force -- but its employment here was influenced not so much by minimalism as by the liberating expressive effect of obsessive repetition in songs like the Kinks' "You Really Got Me." Slow that tune way, way down, give Dave Davies' riff to the violins, and you've got "Midnight Cowboy."

What's really interesting about the second iteration of the main melody, using the full strings now instead of the harmonica, is that the swelling crescendos and punctuating horn figures nearly completely drown out the repetitive arpeggios that have been so prominent thus far. At this point it becomes plain that we're listening to a true piece of Movie Music, but the premise has been so masterfully established that the amplification of the schmaltzy strings over the arpeggios simply means the the listener keeps humming the now-only-implicit "riff." He's set it off in our heads, and we keep humming it even when we can no longer hear it.

Closing my eyes and listening, I can hear so many things... In that harmonica, those French horns, those cellos, I remember what Saturday feels like when you're nine; the precise emotional flavor of the first snow of the winter, in November of 1967; lying on my back on grass and staring at clouds for hours on a hot day in the summer of 1971 when the concept of Infinity was setting off frightening thoughts in my head; my quaking terror of the Marine guard at the US Embassy in Helsinki in his dress blues as he knelt kindly to shake my five-year-old hand; when I saw real mountains for the first time in 1972; staring at the Atlantic Ocean from 50,000 feet in an airliner; the mouthwatering promise of the smell of garlic and onions sautéeing.

The inevitability of all of that coming to an end.

All this, just by making some air molecules wiggle. That's what I call art!

(What, did you want State of the Union Outrage? Fuck that... I wrote this instead of watching that pinhead. My liver's healthier than yours, I guarantee it.)

Notes from the Working World: Really Simple Syndication....


Monday, January 30, 2006

Eat Chili

Hey: You want Clueless?

You want Disengaged, Blithe, Oblivious, Heedless, Purblind, Obtuse?

I spent most of yesterday thinking the Super Bowl would be played at 6:30 last night.

I came to this misinformation from a bleary-eyed, not-yet-caffeinated caption in the morning meatspace WashPost: Super Bowl, Sunday, 6:30 PM, ABC-TV.

Well, shit, wouldn't you draw the conclusion from this that "Sunday" meant, well, this Sunday? I mean, Christ, somewhere deep in the Jingo Hypothalamus there exists the knowledge that there's a two-week hiatus between the conference championships and the Big Game -- as advertisers are hilariously forced to call it or risk a trademark infringement suit. Maybe, just maybe, I lost count of weekends in among all the other, far-more-important-than-football activities I have going on in my life. How the hell am I supposed to keep all these things straight, when I'm dashing off to see Al Gore's DAR Speech, or composing groundbreaking & important orchestral music in my loft space? Why the hell didn't my personal assistant inform me before I committed two pounds of churrasco-cut steak to the Jingo Family Traditional Super Bowl Chili?

Yes, that is what I'm going to continue to tell myself. I had far more important things to think about than some silly panem-et-circensis spectacle. I will hew to this line, and banish from my thoughts the idea that this oversight is an early harbinger of the dotty old coot I am well on my way to becoming, alone and irascible and wearing clashing plaids and white patent shoes with my pants hiked up to my nipples, muttering dark imprecations against suspicious busboys and insolent bus-drivers, my plastic gimme cap from the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) levitating a ridiculous tuft of thin white hair from the back of my head as I pat my pockets in vain for the keys to my condo -- which I hold in my left hand.

Stupid football game.

The chili was fuckin' great, though. Man, can I cook chili. Here's the recipe I followed -- the cocoa powder's the zinger. The special kick, not in the recipe, is in the sour-cream-and-chipotle garnish I whipped up out of thin air. Thin with plain yoghurt and drizzle over the chili. Then sit down, turn on the TV for the Big Game and -- surprise!

I hear kidney beans have got like Vitamin F or something that gives you antioxidizing agents-n-stuff that kick Alzheimer's ass. Eat lots of chili, that's my advice.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Ashburn, Virginia

Years ago, when our kiddiewinks were toddlers, Wonder Woman and I explored the outer suburbs of Northern Virginia, looking for a home that was close to work and that promised decent public schooling for the sproutlings. Someone directed us to Ashburn, a new development that was going up between Sterling and Leesburg. Skeptically -- regular readers of these pages will know my feelings about suburban housing developments -- we drove out there one Sunday to take it in.

What greeted us was a sea of mud, every tree for miles ripped out by the roots and bulldozed into piles like genocide victims in some horror-documentary, newly dammed ponds of shit-colored water awaiting stocks of mud-loving bluegill and carp, a labyrinth of curved culs-de-sac knotted into each other so as, when seen from the air, to resemble a fractal vision of Hell.

And houses under construction. Thousands and thousands and thousands of boxes, single-family castles on an eighth of an acre with laughable, piss-elegant brick fronts and identical pus-yellow vinyl sides and back, the sides discreetly blank, windowless, so as not to expose private goings-on to neighbors four, five feet away. Seas of ChemLawn grass sprayed from a hose blanketed the mud.

We drove on, mute. Horrified.

I have many friends who live in Ashburn, and I can't in any way hold it against them. It is convenient for the thousands of people who work at the enormous local campuses of Verizon and AOL and the countless streamlined buildings that line the Dulles Technology Corridor. Unlike many other suburban hells, Ashburn does offer housing in a wide range of prices, and the faces in the grocery stores and strip malls come in a huge variety of colors and shapes. People from crumbling Annandale, Falls Church, Baileys Crossroads, aspire to Ashburn.

Still, it was undeniably surreal to open yesterday's WashPost to find a Metro-section feature that informed us -- unironically, without a hint of surprise -- that Wilson Pickett had lived out his final years in Ashburn.

Wilson Pickett lived in Ashburn.

Pickett lived on this street. We had to go look, right?

I'm not sure how to process this information. An erstwhile rowdy partyboy R&B soul-shouter with a checkered past and scores of classic recordings in his repertoire has to quietly live out his final years somewhere, I suppose. The Post says Ashburn's proximity to Dulles Airport factored into Pickett's decision.

But what a strange, strange choice. A soul singer, living in the most soulless place in the universe. The place is so utterly devoid of funk, so bereft of the pelvic-swinging sweaty abandon burned into every groove of his records.... Just thinking of Pickett living there boggles the mind.

The neighbors quoted in the Post piece attest that his last years were serene, that he was a friendly and personable neighbor who fished with the fellow next door and sweetly sent baby-shower gifts. But the idea of this rock-n-roll Bacchante -- who gave us "In the Midnight Hour," for all love -- living his twilight years in a plastic bedroom development in the big-box exurbs is profoundly depressing.

God, we've lost so much. We've lost wooden siding, slate roofs, plaster walls, mullioned double-hung windows and modesty of scale. Front porches that are actually used. We've lost walking to school. Children able to play outside for hours, parents cheerfully unconcerned about their whereabouts. Trees older than any living person. Wainscoting. Streetcars. Sleeping-porches with a roll-out divan. Wood-burning fireplaces, the smell of hickory smoke, skating on a frozen pond. The smell of butter on ice in a restaurant, lemon-water, fresh iced tea. White gloves and hats on women at garden-parties. Endless neighborhood games of kick-the-can, touch football, capture-the-flag, on wide and sun-dappled lawns. Real Volkswagen Beetles. Pipe-smoke -- when was the last time you smelled pipe-smoke?

A sense that entertainment, absence of boredom, was a reward and not a right.

Perhaps the thing we miss the most is people with firsthand knowledge, born of dire experience, of what life was like before everything became coated with a layer of melted polyethylene. People that actually give a shit that their lives are stuffed to the brim with useless shiny dazzling plastic crap. Goddammit, those things up there were taken from us.

I feel like a jibbering street-loon even mentioning their loss, though.

I think people accept a life shackled to a house, a car, an office, a car, and a house -- all climate-controlled, wirelessly accessed, and double-redundant so that if God forbid the endless stream of entertainment suddenly went down something would immediately jump in and fill the void -- because any alternative is simply inconceivable. Who's going to tell them any different? Tim Russert? Billy Bush? Joy Behar? Jeff Probst?

Hell, what other information is going in?

Universities train hopeful kids: Fuck the Humanities! That's for fags and losers, not Real Men like you! Learn Symbolic Analysis and you will be free! And the youths (Marks?), all trig and chipper in their little paper Trainee hats, their spouses and children at home gobbling down Zoloft and Ritalin by the bucketful and weeping their eyes out in front of Oprah or Spongebob, sit in choking traffic at 7:30 AM on the Dulles Toll Road on the way to a junior project-management gig at Oracle and contemplate the blessings of the infinite freedom they enjoy.

After all, hell, they live next door to Wilson Pickett. That's got to count for something.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

In Your Name

Program Note: I'd just finished a long, sweaty, gut-roiling slog through an SFGate article on the freshly yclept "Terrorist Surveillance Program" and was prepping myself to hide in a soundproof closet with a blanket and teddy bear and embark on my daily Primal Scream workout. Before I could advance two steps, however, Dan Dority, the Gem Saloon's greasy fixer, stepped from the shadowy murk and buttonholed me.

"Al wants to see you."

Hours later, Swearengen's ball of dope now turned to useless ash, and the two grubby Gem trollops he'd assigned to beguile my time stretched out asleep, exhausted, I stumbled, blinking, into the gray dawn and found the following under my byline:


What's that, you ask? To whom do I refer? You sit there blinking like a squarehead dirt-farmer on his virgin taste of gin, coughing into your fucking fist and discreetly pulling your bunched knickers out of your tightly clenched ass, and ask me with injured indignation who the fuck I'm calling a cocksucker?

The cocksucker I'm calling a cocksucker is you, you cocksucker. I am addressing every goddamned hooplehead who reads this while quietly ruminating over the knowledge that the Executive Branch of the United States Government, in the form of a miserable, smirking, dry-drunk Oedipal case, has arrogated unto itself the right to hide under any fucking nuptial bed it chooses -- without so much as a rubber-stamp warrant to solemnize the intrusion -- and note every slap, tickle, moan, giggle, protest or accession that may ensue therefrom, and read into the record at a secret fucking treason trial any information so acquired.

This in your name. In your cocksucking name, he does this. To protect you. To protect you, you pusillanimous bedwetting cocksucker. Because you need protecting.

It's an axiom in a line of work in which I occasionally dabble, that there's a stark black line that divides the Grifter from the Mark. That line is never crossed: Once you're a Mark, you're always a fucking Mark, and you will succumb to the Grift. There is no alternative.

Looked at the right way, that stark black line extends out from my business to the entire cocksucking world and divides every last jibbering one of us on this ball of rock into Grifters and Marks. And you, you fucking hooplehead, you who run squealing to this God-sotted pisspot Napoleon, proffering up Inalienable Rights like an Abilene whore on Christmas: You're the Mark. The Grift is on, and you're the cocksucking Mark.

Answer me this: Do you think it's your fucking virtue that makes you the Mark? Do you think that in the Sweet Bye and Bye you'll be rewarded many times over for climbing back to all fours for another ass-fucking every time another Grifter gets a cockstand and takes a fancy to your fundamental aperture? Blesséd are the Marks, for theirs is the stretched and pox-laden bunghole.... I'll give you a hint, hooplehead, a little insight that might arm you with the mother-wit to avoid the burning agony of yet another dry-buggering: Who benefits from that arrangement?

Cui cocksucking bono?

I never cease to marvel at the depth and persistence of your ovine stupidity. With the doggedness of the truly dedicated cretin, you elect guardians of the common weal who are so blatantly crooked they have to be shoehorned into their trousers, and then pretend shock and indignation when evidence arises as inexorably as the cocksucking dawn that they have -- once again, cretin! -- pulled off the Grift.

Can you possibly stop chewing your fucking cud long enough to understand how goddamned tempting the Grift is, when the Marks of the world loudly beg, with wide-eyed, innocent earnestness, with the glowing zeal of the incandescent dullard, for their daily ass-fucking?

Despite centuries of careful indoctrination to the contrary, your position is not intractable. It's not a difficult proposition, not a huge fucking leap to take. You raise your right hand, you close your eyes -- tightly, now, no peeking! Say it with me: I Do Hereby Swear and Affirm: From this day forth, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, forsaking all other cocksuckers:

I Will No Longer Be a Cocksucking Mark.

There. That wasn't hard, was it, brother?

Oh, by the way, you might want to check: Where's your wallet?

That reminds me.... I want to fuck something. TRIXIE....

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Oh, It's All Just a Big Popularity Contest Anyway

One finds oneself on two lists so far, and one is quietly proud.

Three lists, actually.

Koufax Award Nominations:

Best New Blog

Most Deserving of Wider Recognition

Yes, well, since it was not only possible but actively encouraged to ominate-yay ourself-yay, the Overweening Pride is slightly tempered. If the Jingosphere gets through to the next round, where the lists are winnowed to 8-10 finalist blogs, you may see some embarrassing politicking.

(BTW: Voting is not yet enabled. When it is, the Season of the Embarrassing P. will be upon us.)

Ah -- I mentioned a third list, yes, yes....

This one's rather more of a chest-puffer. Bit of a trouser-splitter, this, a hatband-stretcher. PZ Myers of Pharyngula reaches down from Blog Parnassus, pats Old Reprehensible on the head, and says, "You're all right, kid."

Monday, January 23, 2006

Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

Super-Joel's Super Joke

Historical insight has a way of hiding in the cracks of the crazed surface of the Collective Memory. The details and nuances that make dead events come alive, that turn historical actors in history books into breathing, sweating, sneezing, eating people, with smelly feet and itchy asses, sometimes take forever to appear. In these very pages, a few lines typed in the Comments on a long-ago post, only just a few days ago bore some truly ripe and flavorful fruit. A long, long time between the serve and the return, but well worth the wait.

Back in March of last year I put up a post about how today's awful music can't hold a candle to the awful music of 40 years ago. In it I referred -- entirely in passing -- to "Super-Joel" Tornabene's audacious bit of street theater, planting flowers in the rifle barrels of National Guardsmen during a 1967 protest against the Vietnam War, a masterful piece of giggly antiwar propaganda captured for posterity in the memorable photo above. The October 1967 Pentagon protest (during which Abbie Hoffman attempted to levitate the Pentagon and the Fugs exorcised it) is described in some detail at AmericanHeritage.com.

Besides the obvious, what's remarkable about the photo is how evident it is that it must have been staged to a certain extent. Someone must have said to the photographer, "Watch the blond galoot in the big sweater. He's gonna do something worth preserving." And SuperJoel must have had the business already plotted out, too, because you don't just wander around in a superheated confrontation with helmeted National Guardsmen clutching a handful of perfectly trimmed hothouse flowers for no good reason.

Here's the first Comment:

frant said...
SuperJoel sticking a flower into a National Guardsman's rifle barrel

SuperJoel was my brother. It's always interesting to see him mentioned. He died in 1993, but rest assured, he lived a full life on his own terms and listening to whatever music suited him on any given day.
Fascinating, these Internets, no? Like watching a huge Pachinko machine at work, little tiny bead goes in one hole, bounces around crazily for a bit, suddenly dingdingding! a completely unexpected other little bead pops out another hole. Sad to see that Joel died relatively young, but it seems at least he's remembered fondly as a brother.

So that's the ball leaving the pitcher's hand. Here's the crack of the bat, nine months later --

Douglas said...
Superjoel Tornabene was your brother?? My God, he was the boldest, most beautifully crazy cat I ever met.

I will never forget the Yippie march from the SF Civic Center to Montgomery Street to "play monopoly" with the financiers. About three hundred of us were squared off against the Tac Squad, chanting and trying to provoke the "pigs"

Well, Joel got up in the face of one huge porker and blurted out, "I'd like to blow your head off with a .38" That cop got mad red in the face, whipped out his club and hurled Joel to the ground and took him away!

Then I would recall his chants at the Third World Strike in Feb,1969 -- outrageous stuff like "Off your hats, off your wigs, off the fucking pigs," "Lin, Lin, Lin Piao, we want the world and we want it now" and "Don't look for me in the Vanguard cause I'll be with the masses!"

Superjoel -- RIP, brother. You left an indelible impression on me.
"I'd like to blow your head off with a .38!"

Whatever you say about your modern-day antiwar protesters (and plenty has been said) I'm pretty sure not too many of us would possess the utter lunacy born of desperation to yell that in an angry cop's face. Boy, you want to test an authority figure's sense of humor, that'll do it.

But that's the insight, right there, isn't it. To judge by Douglas's comment, the man was just insanely -- and by "insanely" I mean batshit-psychotically -- funny.

Now go back and look at that Pentagon photo again. Does that knowledge inform your interpretation of it at all? Suddenly not so icky-sweet "flower-power"-y, is it? See it without knowing Super-Joel's a Super-Wiseass, and it looks like Innocence About to be Broken On a Wheel, right? Tousled blond hair, big floppy sweater dwarfing his torso, such purposefulness and concentration about his body language. It's as effective an image of innocence defying rampant authority as that loon in front of the tank in Tien An Minh Square.

But now reinterpret the photo as showing not a flower-child naif but an experienced street-thespian at the height of his symbol-weaving powers, a man capable of -- and experienced at -- provoking a cop to murderous rage with a few well chosen, and desperately funny, words.

Different picture, isn't it.


PS: Neither of these two memorable Commenters left any means to contact them -- no Blogger profiles with an email address, no blogs of their own. A shame. I'd really appreciate if either of you would write me back at neddiejingo at aol dot com.

PPS: Not enough batshit-psychotic humor? Check Paul Krassner's The Chicago 7
Trial (on LSD)
, which contains some very interesting biographical details about Super-Joel:
I decided to take a tab of acid before I took the witness stand --- call me a sentimental fool -- but it wasn't merely to enhance the experience. I had a more functional reason. My purpose was twofold. I knew that if I ingested 300 micrograms of LSD after eating a big meal, I was very likely to throw up in court. That would be my theatrical statement on the injustice of the trial. Also, I wouldn't need to memorize so much information that way. I had to psych myself up, to imagine it actually happening. The prosecutor would ask, "Now where did this meeting take place?" And I would go "Waughhhhhppp!"

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Why They Awarded Me the Légion d'Honneur

Geneva, February 12, 1911.

Filthy weather on La Rue de la Croix-d'Or that night. The wind whipped the freezing rain to horizontal, and my opera cloak streamed like a battle-standard away from my neck, useless against the driving tempest. I clutched my trilby to my head, as much to preserve what little remained of my amour-propre as to keep dry my now sodden hair. At first in vain did I search for my destination -- it is not a well known address -- but at last it hove into view. I approached the place quickly, passing without a glance the street-arabs who importuned an easy mark for a groat or a crust of bread. On an ordinary night I would linger, imparting a coin here, a bluff jest there, appreciating a flirtatious show of stocking or a flashing gamine eye. But this night was not an ordinary night.

The Café Seigneur, my destination, arose from the gloom. Desultory music leaked from its windows, wispy and frail: a gypsy air, melancholy yet defiant, played upon the accordion. A loud babble of voices, an impenetrable fug of cigar smoke, and the sickly sweet redolence of absinthe greeted the newly arrived patron. I handed my dripping outer clothes to a passing scullery-maid, who departed hastily with a murmured instruction to see to their care still caressing her ear.

I became aware that my arrival had not gone unmarked. A frisson passed through the room, and whispers reached a sibilant crescendo as the news passed, multiplying, from ear to ear: "Régard! C'est l'américain! Tiens, l'américan est arrivé!"

The crowd parted respectfully as, fresh Pernod in hand, I strolled toward the cusp of the room's attention, the omphalos. There I first saw him as I had in the photographs, commanding the best table in the room, holding all eyes on him as he held court before his worshipful claque. Nearly immediately I had seen him, his eyes in turn rested on me, and I am prepared to swear a momentary look of resignation fleeted across his ruddy features.

He kicked a chair in my direction in the now-silent room.

-- Asseyez-vous, américain.

-- Merci.

-- We will speak your tongue, hein?

-- Merci beaucoup. Je suis désolé, mais mon français est...

-- It matters not. I will, 'ow you say, 'and you your ass, -- hein? -- in any language, non?

He laughed gutturally, spraying phlegm and Pernod on the table.

I rewarded him with a wan smile. The room tittered.

This unleashed a tirade, a veritable verbal Niagara, through the cigar smoke and the Pernod vapors, an onslaught that would have crushed a lesser man:

-- The elements of language relate to each other in the present, that is, 'synchronically' rather than 'diachronically'. Linguistic signs are composed of two parts, a signifier (the sound pattern of a word, either in mental projection - as when we silently recite lines from a poem to ourselves - or in actual, physical realization as part of a speech act) and a signified (the concept or meaning of the word). This is quite different from previous approaches which focus on the relationship between words on the one hand and things in the world that they designate, on the other....

Placidly, a quiet smile playing about my lips, I let the storm blow itself out, for I knew, as I had since I first walked into this café, that I held the trump card. After his diatribe had finally exhausted itself into a panting silence, I gathered myself up to my full height, summoned all the folksy country wisdom at my command after twenty-five years in the wilds of Illinois, and let him have it, full bore, both barrels:

-- Oh yeah? And what makes you . . . Saussure?

You could have heard a pin drop. In point of fact, several pins dropped at exactly that moment, evoking queasy winces from the crowd as they clanged away against the marble floor tiles.

For perhaps the first time in his garrulous life stunned into silence, seminal semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure -- for indeed, it was he -- stared, agape, unable to speak. Then, as the full import of my retort made itself clear in his mind, his leonine head threw itself backward and he eructed a full-throated guffaw of approval.

--Touché, mon brave! Touché!

His cheering crowd of lackeys carried me in triumph through the café's door and down la Rue de la Croix d'Or to the American Embassy, where I was deposited with great approbation.

Two weeks later, aboard the RMS Lusitania on the return voyage home, a telegraph arrived informing me of my formal induction into the Académie Française. Tant pis, I thought to myself. My work is already done.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I Have No Time for You Today

Appy polly loggies, but am slizzammed by a deadline cluster-event.

Instead, go read George Orwell's 1946 blog-post "Politics and the English Language." I will expect a full critique, with concrete examples from recent publications that "make lies sound truthful and murder respectable," on my desk by Monday morning.
I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs.
(Thanks to XTCFan for reminding me of this essay, which I read as an undergraduate during the Carter Administration, never dreaming how tooth-grindingly relevant it would remain.)

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Pretty young lady sitting next to me in the meeting a few minutes ago:

You can't flush out a concept.

You flesh out a concept.

See the metaphor? A concept is like a quick stick-figure sketch of an idea, and when you flesh it out, you add musculature, texture and other details to realize it.

You can flush something out, but that's quail-hunting. Or plumbing, I suppose.

There. Sorry to interrupt your self-involved blathering. Please -- carry on.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

Like a great many bad ideas, I was born on K Street in Washington, DC. When I was whelped in the waning days of the second Eisenhower Administration, its succeeding president was running around shooting his mouth off to anyone he thought might quote him about how my native burg possessed "Southern efficiency and Northern charm." That's some wit, right there, Harvard, yes sir -- but I'll lay you good money Family Joke Retainer Ted Sorensen actually noodled it up, and was paid the princely Kennedyesque tare of $0.45 a pound to slip it to My Boy John. Camelot!

At any rate, the disgraceful defilement of Washington, DC in the 45 years since (no, be honest: 46) was brought to mind in a single moment yesterday afternoon. The battle-hardening of the square-mile area surrounding the White House, begun in the hysteria over Libyan terrorist cells during the Reagan Regnum, and reinforced and made permanent in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing of the middle Clinton years, has made the Ellipse a dreary maze of Jersey barriers, ugly temporary fences and chain enclosures that mark off arbitrary Sterile Zones into which the hapless tourist wanders erroneously at his peril. A non-English-speaking visitor stands an excellent chance of being shot dead for wandering into one of these ambiguously marked Zones and not understanding the police's bullhorned cease-and-desist order. A more enslaved symbol of the Land of the Free, and a more pusillanimous emblem of the Home of the Brave, is simply impossible to imagine.

Yesterday I heard a sane, measured, adult voice speaking, encouraging me to stand tall and refuse to be afraid, refuse to be cowed, refuse to be swayed by the rhetoric of fear, a voice that intoned,
It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they did. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it’s up to us to do the very same thing.
I walked past that White House just a few minutes after I heard those words, saw the layers of temporary fencing and Jersey barriers and steel-chain bollards and black-clad stormtroopers wielding god-knows-what kind of weaponry around the Presidential Perimeter, and was struck as never before by one laser-sharp insight:

The Fear starts -- and ends -- here.

In my fondest dream, my most fanciful of fantasies, the next President of the United States will, within ten minutes of taking the Oath of Office (you know, that one where he or she swears to preserve, protect and defend that Crazy Ol' Constitution), issue an order that the whole Führerbunker shooting match --the tank traps, the Checkpoint-Charlie-style vehicle mazes, the concrete-barrier wasteland -- be dismantled forthwith and deposited in its rightful place at the bottom of the Potomac. Not because the War on Terra is over or because Osama bin Laden has ruefully turned himself in at the nearest gendarmerie...

...but for the infinitely more honorable reason that, in the face of all this danger: We Are Not Afraid.

How much more diametrically opposed to Franklin Roosevelt's reassurance to a nation under extreme adversity -- "We have nothing to fear but fear itself"-- and how much more dishonorable, can be the message of the current occupants of that Führerbunker: "FearFearFearFearFearFEAR!"

And for a regime so solicitous of the feelings of the troops that it denounces as treasonous any dissenting voice that may call into question the integrity and usefulness of their self-evidently poorly defined and endless mission, the fact that these chickenhawks, draft dodgers, Swift Boat Veterans and TANG deserters occupy a hardened concrete Führerbunker at the very heart of a vital city of bars, restaurants, universities, concert halls, museums and businesses can't help but look to those selfsame troops like that disgusting, cowardly practice of cannon-feeding generals through all of human history, Leading from the Rear.

Let's put it in terms that never fail to evince dewy-thighed Neocon sighs:


Monday, January 16, 2006

Men Feared Witches and Burned Women

(Crossposted at The American Street)

Al Gore Rips the Imperial Executive -- Jingo-Eye View. Photo by XTCFan.

It's a privilege of living in the DC area that you can break off a humdrum winter holiday, zip on into the DAR Hall and watch a Constitutional Crisis begin.

Strange bedfellows made politics today rather than the other way around. Hosted by the Libertarian Liberty Coalition, Al Gore addressed a crowd that appeared to be about 80% liberal and 20% Libertarian. This extremely cursory estimate was based on the number of people who clapped madly at certain themes and sat on their hands on others. I think I was most amused by the yawning gulf between factions in the audience when on Gore's line, "I cannot disagree with the Liberty Coalition when it says that Democrats as well as Republicans in the Congress must share the blame for not taking action to protest and seek to prevent what they consider a grossly unconstitutional program," absolutely the only person within view who shot to his feet to try to goose a Standing O was Michael Ostrolenk, director of the very selfsame Liberty Coalition.

But the very strangeness of the bedfellows packing the DAR Hall provided a vital clue about the urgency of the matter under discussion -- George Bush's patently unconstitutional -- imperial -- refusal to be ruled by law. That this brought out passionate Americans from both sides of the political spectrum to watch Gore deliver this speech on a normally sleepy holiday Monday is an indicator of just how deeply we all feel that our country has been hijacked by a dangerous and malignant loon.

Gore traced the gradual erosion of the regulatory powers of both the judicial and the legislative branches of the government and the concomitant rise of the executive, in a litany that has become by now so familiar to those of us who've been alarmed by it since the backlash against the Watergate reforms that began under Reagan. The willing complicity of the Congress in its own defanging came under particularly withering contempt: "There have now been two or three generations of congressmen who don't really know what an oversight hearing is," he scathed, and scrotums tightened all the way down Constitution Avenue. It's a measure of the paucity of our times that the biggest foot-stomping, whistling, yee-ha-evincing line of the night came when he simply reminded Congress of its Constitutional duty:

The Abramoff scandal is but the tip of a giant iceberg that threatens the integrity of the entire legislative branch of government.

It is the pitiful state of our legislative branch which primarily explains the failure of our vaunted checks and balances to prevent the dangerous overreach by our Executive Branch which now threatens a radical transformation of the American system.

I call upon Democratic and Republican members of Congress today to uphold your oath of office and defend the Constitution. Stop going along to get along. Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of government you're supposed to be.

But for me, I must tell you, my reaction to this next passage, near the end, began as a pang in the tear ducts, followed by a low growling noise in my throat through the middle grafs that grew to an unstoppable, inarticulate yowp as I rose to my feet and cheered. I do believe I choked out quite a lot of rage, paying obeisance to ghosts of history from Normandy to Abu Ghraib, as I leapt to my feet and jumped up and down, applauding and whistling:
One of the other ways the Administration has tried to control the flow of information is by consistently resorting to the language and politics of fear in order to short-circuit the debate and drive its agenda forward without regard to the evidence or the public interest. As President Eisenhower said, "Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America."

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: "Men feared witches and burnt women."

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment's notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars simultaneously?
Your man Al. He can wind a stem.

Transcript at Raw Story.

Video at C-SPAN.com

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I Am Not Here

I am at Bobby Lightfoot's place, as he tours with his band of indolent Negroes. Today I proffer expert etymological commentary on the mysterious term, polesmoker.

Friday, January 13, 2006

When it's done and over, Lord, a man is just a man

Bar 63, eighth-note 347,942

Through the modern miracle of podcasting, for some months now I've had the pleasure of timeshifting the day's Al Franken Show into my evening drive home. My enjoyment of the show is muted, though. Al's not the most acute interviewer in the world of space and time, and all too often he marshals his guests out of their own particular areas of expertise and solicits agreement with his own hobby-horses. Fair enough; he's not a "pro"; and what he lacks in professionalism he by far makes up for by being, you know, funny.

But Al and I are not destined by the stars to grow old together, I can already foretell.

The problem is musical.

Al's chosen a few snips from the Grateful Dead's catalog as bumpers to play segments in and out, and it's these things that will eventually drive me away.

Habitués of the Jingosphere may have already picked up on the free-floating notion that I bear little affection for the Grateful Dead's self-congratulatory elitist cult, or indeed for Hippieism in general -- having taken the Clash seriously in Bobby Lightfoot's 1979 may have had something to do with it.

I hung with lots of Deadheads in the Seventies -- it was mighty hard to be in a Midwestern college village and avoid 'em -- but after school was over I managed to get Jerry and the Boys into the rear-view mirror while I explored what we all should have been listening to in our formative years instead of that drunken mess "Europe '72": Vintage country, bluegrass, jug-band music, Delta blues, the huge universe of jazz -- in fact, all the musical forms that preceded and influenced the Dead and indeed all of rock music.

So not having availed myself of the Dateful Bread for quite a few years it's a bit of a hardship to be exposed rather relentlessly to a few selected ten-second snips of Jerry Garcia's guitar playing. I have loathed "Terrapin Station" since approximately four seconds into the first time I heard it, and as a particularly bombastic passage from it serves as Al's main bumper, the cause is not helped.

But no, mainly it's the Garcia Thing. With a few notable exceptions, Jerry Garcia was a sloppy, lazy, cliché-ridden mess of a guitar player, who interrupted his boring eighth-note scales only to interject cod-country double-stop bends that were trite when Chet Atkins nicked them from Merle Travis in 1947. Seriously, listen to any Garcia solo and concentrate on the rhythms he's choosing -- ninety percent of the time he's playing nothing but eighth notes:


I can't help but wonder, whenever I hear the passage from "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad" that Franken plays, why that particular edit? Couldn't Al hear the dope-sick, thoughtless reliance on pure muscle-memory that invariably produces the hackneyed guitar playing of a flogger who's so phoning it in he may as well live at Ma Bell's? Can you hear me now? Good!

On another bumper -- don't know the song, sorry -- it couldn't be plainer to this weekend warrior (who has actually once or twice Walked the Walk) that the guy doesn't know what key he's in or what chord is coming next. He noodles, hoping against hope that Bob-n-Phil will hit that tonic A they're hinting at. Whew, they do, but it was touch-and-go there for a second.

OK, so maybe Al just hit a bad patch in his selections. A storied guitarist with Rock-and-Roll Patriot cred like Jerry couldn't have been that awful, could he? I decided to download Skull and Roses from iTunes, just to test the proposition. A 1971 live album over which the band had absolute creative control, right? They could have chosen from a huge number of performances, even edited some together -- it's been done, believe me -- to come up with the bestest representation of their musicianship they could, 'kay?

So... The first song ("Bertha"), the first guitar solo on the record, three bars into it...

Jerry Clams It

He doesn't just clam it, he clams it hard. He clams it with a clam that would make a second-year Mel Bay student wince. Clam Casino. Clam Royale. Steamed Clam with sauerkraut.

And you hear those eighth notes? He's gonna do those goddamned eighth notes for another 72 bars, man!

Now, please. I love Workingman's Dead. Jerry's pedal-steel playing on "The Wheel" is some of the most innovative ever done, and that song is right up there in the Personal Top Hundred. "Dark Star/St. Stephen" Live/Dead yadda yadda. Dawg Music. No question.





Thursday, January 12, 2006

He Takes Pity

The Time of Uncertainty is o'er, and the time for lucidation has begun. The Final Photo taken inside the hut:

According to Jingolyte David "Excellent" Speller, who is today's Big Wiener on the JingoMyst Challenge, the birds being trapped, counted and tagged by US Govvie volunteers at the taxpayer-impoverishingly, Husseinianly opulent palace atop Short Hill are being captured in something called "mist nets," a term (I swear) hitherto unknown to me. The porcelain jigs and apertures in the observation hut allow quick raising and lowering of these mist nets to catch passing migratory birds. The nets are suspended from the tall wooden pole.

David wins on two counts: First, because he correctly identified the not-so-nefarious goings-on at this site; and second, because unlike any of the rest of you, he was able to actually follow instructions and submit his answer in e-mail. For his combination of proper servility and intelligence above and beyond the call of necessity, I hereby bestow the Ambassadorship to the Court of St. James upon Mr. Speller. David, you may hereby assume your new duties at the U.S. Embassy in London. Tell 'em the Jingmeister sent you.

GlueBirl, Andy and John are both avid birding friends of mine who have participated in netting and banding of birds in their own neighborhoods, and it wouldn't have done to let them spoil others' Mystification. Neither one of 'em's particularly smart. Just lucky.

Sluggo got off to a great start, but his choice of an incorrect definition of the word "crop" sent him down a blind alley and earned him a "[Close but] No Cigar."

GlueBirl does win the Joe Biden Prize for Most Effective Sidetracking, having begun a kaffeeklatsch among herself, Sluggo and Momula in which photos of offspring were produced and clucked over. Very nice.

Somewhere in the midst of the proceedings Gavin M. managed to tear himself away from artfully twitting an artless twit to put his oar in, but Sadly, No!

Ronzoni Rigatoni! You magnificent bastard! I read your book! Hop on Pop! Why the hell'd you give up? You were one inch from solving it!

Bobby Lightfoot. Period. Just you wait till I get my hands on your blog this weekend.

XTCfan: This isn't the facility we saw on our trek last spring. Believe it or not, there's another one, maybe three hundred yards south of the one we saw. Just before I got shot at by those "sportsmen."

Anonymous: I just this week saw a new Myst I hadn't seen before at the Apple Store in Tyson's. After all this excitement I may well make the investment.

Andy B.: Dude: It's way better to be disqualified because you already know the answer than because you don't. Dig? Just ask Strip-Search Sammy Alito, who'll probably already be confirmed by the time I hit "Publish." At which point Wonder Woman will storm out of the room, hot tears bursting from her eyes. But this is a time for healing, not for partisan division.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Myst-y Mountain Hop

So who's a Myst fan?

I watch young Freddie, his face a twitching mass of concentration as he negotiates his way through Star Wars Battlefront II or Tony Hawk's American Wasteland or Runescape on the various systems I've bought him over the years (and which, I'm proud to say, most recently he's saved up enough to buy for himself), and I'm afraid I'm looking at the Jethro Tull of the Aughts -- that precise thing over which my parents and I finally ultimately failed to see eye to eye.

I have made an honest effort to engage in Playstation or similar thumb-intensive pastimes with my son, and I just can't help it: Every time I do it, I come away with one inescapable conclusion: Well, there's two hours I'll never get back. The relentlessness of it just beats you down: There's always another level, another flabberdegastingly nitpicky variation on the exact same goddamned theme. And when you finally do get through all the levels in one game -- all the tricks and secret control combinations and easter-eggs -- the overpaid ginks who design these things have spent the last year coming up with yet another collection of utterly unedifying variations on exactly the same theme you paid thirty bucks for last year. Run, run, run, fight for a bit, run some more, fight. Die. Oops. Start again. Do it again until you get it right. Woah, it's 3AM...

With those wasted and irrecoverable hours, I could have either read a few Sherlock Holmes stories or boffed Wonder Woman, either of which pastimes holds universes' worth more of magic, surprise and delight than any edition of Gran Fucking Turismo you could name.

The only exception to this life lesson that's ever come across my path is Myst. I was aware of the first, HyperCard-based edition when it was new (what, '92?), but didn't really become enamored of the game until I picked up a Playstation edition of the third game in the series (Exile) to aid me through one of the many codeine-soaked surgical recuperations I've undergone since I hit forty -- this one in particular a recalcitrant kidney stone that required a whole mountain of Sister Morphine to keep me out of agony somewhere in 2002 or so.

Myst's slow, meditative, dreamlike gameplay was just perfect for the stoned, oneiric junkie I was in those days. Wandering around in a landscape right off a Roger Dean Yes album cover, finding fabulous machines whose purpose and function weren't immediately obvious and required some exploration and testing to figure out -- this was, unlike any video game I'd ever experienced, truly rewarding and delightful. Plus, nothing was trying to kill you. This helped, believe me.

The craving for similar dreamily mystifying experiences has stayed with me ever since, and I believe I experienced something like the Myst's delight-in-bafflement during my hike over Short Hill, which Jingolytes will remember from a couple of weeks ago. At the summit, I came across a very strange US Government installation the purpose of which puzzled me quite a bit until I worked it out. As I investigated the site, I began to hear those New Age flutes and Indian sackbuts that underscore a good Myst Mystery, and it occurred to me that the adventure should be shared with the Jingosphere.

Let's see if you can work out what it was that I saw....

(Below) The most salient feature of the puzzle is this wretched hut, perched dramatically on handbuilt rock pilings on a cliff facing west. Yes, believe it or not, the United States Government funded and continues to maintain this unprepossessing little hovel, which measures about 10 feet by 7. Signs warn interlopers away with threat of prosecution should they interfere with this site. The mountain it crowns is a 15-mile-long ridge, about 1200 feet above sea level, that runs southwest-northeast in the Virginia Piedmont. Not insignificantly, it is the easternmost mountain of any height in the Allegheny range in Virginia. The hut's shape is worth attention: The windows face northeast, up the valley. There are no windows facing in the opposite direction, southwest.

Note, especially, the three round apertures in the lower wall of the up-valley wall of the hut.

The sharp-eyed observer will probably notice next a pole standing upright about twenty yards distant from the hut. The pole has been carefully wedged in a fault in the cliff-face, and is reinforced with rocks keeping its base in place.

(Below) Now we're standing between the pole and the hut, looking toward the hut. Note the three apertures in the hut wall, mentioned before. In the foreground of the photo there are jigs anchored in place with native rocks, marked with spray paint that extends over not only the jigs but the bedrock on which the jigs stand. If you were to pick up the jigs and, say, store them for the winter, you'd be able to place them in exactly the same place you removed them from earlier because of the paint marks.

The jigs have porcelain or metal devices on them with holes through them that are aligned with the pole and the hut.

Looking now back in the opposite direction, northeast, from the hut toward the pole. There are the jigs, spray paint markings clearly seen.

(Later edit: Kevin's query in Comments about that golden slash across the mountain in the distance (simply a patch of sunlight) reminds me: That patch of sun is about to illuminate Burkittsville, MD, which stood in for the town of Blair in the Blair Witch Project, my favorite horror movie of all time. That mise-en-scene is never far from my mind as I hike around these woods -- What's all this VOODOO SHIT??!?!?!?)

Now inside the hut, a detail showing the three apertures we've been seeing from the outside. More of those porcelain doohickeys. Note how the leftmost device has gone, and a cup-hook eye has been substituted in its place.

Myst is a pretty forgiving game, and the instruction manual for the edition I first played had a series of graduated hints that made sure even the most novice player didn't get terminally stuck and give up. In that spirit, here's the Dummy Clue that will probably blow the gaff for most players of JingoMyst. Photo below taken inside that silly little hut.

So the question remains: What is the US Government up to, on this lonely mountain far from civilization on a north-south valley on the east coast of the American Continent?

Send your answers to me at neddiejingo at aol.com.

Andy Boyle and John Relph, this is probably too easy for you, and you're disqualified.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I Can Fly!



BIRTHDAY-irthday-irthday-irthday-irthday-irthda y-gzhzhzhzhzhzh

HERR-air-air-air-air-air-air-ay-ay-aee-ee-squee-squ ee-squee-orange!

DOKTOR-oktor-oktor-oktor-tarock-the-rock-the-rock- THE ROCK

ALBERT-albert-talber-talber-talber -gwonk

HOFMANN-offman-off!man!-off!man!-off!man! jesusdidIjustsaythatordiditjustTHINKit

Is he looking at me? IS HE LOOKING AT ME? I can't tell if he's looking at me.


Monday, January 09, 2006

Sui Generis

Joe Bageant: Sui Generis.

Joe reminds me of an instant near the beginning of A Hard Day's Night when the Beatles are riding on a train through the newly Beatle-mad English landscape, doing madcap, zany moptopped shit in their train cabin, when suddenly, in a Dick Lester-inspired bit o' nonsense, they're outside, running alongside the train, yelling back in the window like demented, cheeky fools -- yelling, if you follow the film's loony inner logic, at what can only be themselves on the train. Joe's managed to find the way off the train and is running alongside us, howling our lunacy back at us as we sit staring blankly out the window.

His essay, The Simulacran Republic, at his not-to-be-missed blog, JoeBageant.com, cuts, with deadly accuracy, to the Heart of the Matter:

Americans, rich or poor, now live in a culture entirely perceived through, simulacra-media images and illusions. We live inside a self-referential media hologram of a nation that has not existed for quite some time now, especially in America's heartland. Our national reality is held together by a pale, carbon imprint of the original. The well-off with their upscale consumer aesthetic, live inside gated Disneyesque communities with gleaming uninhabited front porches representing some bucolic notion of the Great American home and family. The working class, true to its sports culture aesthetic, is a spectator to politics ... politics which are so entirely imagistic as to be holograms of a process, not a process. Social realism is a television commercial for America, a simulacran republic of eagles, church spires, brave young soldiers and heroic firefighters and "freedom of choice" within the hologram. America's citizens have been reduced to Balkanized consumer units by the corporate state's culture-producing machinery.

Some weeks ago, my meditation on the McMansion was met with a good deal of outrage at the gluttony, the sheer piggish avarice on display in their architectural excess; but the main thing I'd hoped to communicate -- the weeping, shrieking, howling emptiness of the homes on display -- was overlooked a bit. I don't waste much sympathy on the SVP of Marketing & Fulfillment for Consolidated Widget who lives in an 8000^2ft. pile in a denuded field outside Purcellville where no trees assist the three heat-pumps he runs to cool his idiotically sited vinyl "Tudor-esque" fuck-box with brick facade. No, the one I weep for is the aspiring copy-room clerk, the fresh-faced project manager, the talented programmer -- just married and Baby Makes Three -- who've been handed a pile of Starter Credit and an unassailable mandate that asserts that that miserable pile of 2x4s, drywall, concrete flooring, Berber carpeting, and Maytag appliances is the absolute highest thing that they or any other human can aspire to.

That way lies the darkened garage, the purring welltuned 4-liter engine, the garden hose connecting tailpipe and leather interior....

To think that some election or another, some temporary shifting of the balance of power from Throat-Slitting Reactionaries to Gibbering Centrist Appeasers, is ever going to change any of this, is, frankly, stupid and naive. What passes for American Life will, no matter who is in power, continue to devolve into melted plastic goo. We're just plain built that way, goddammit. Says Joe:
Meanwhile the culture-generating industry spins our mythology like cotton candy. We all need it to survive, Hollywood myths, imperial myths, melting pot myths, the saluting dick male myths. They keep the machine running. And when the machine is running correctly, it smoothes its own way by terrifying uncooperative people into submission in prisons and torture rooms, where we do not have to look at the corpses on ice and the naked hooded bodies handcuffed to the bars. We are innocent as long as we keep our eyes taped shut. And only with our eyes shut can we keep seeing the hologram. And with duct tape over our mouths, we can recite its slogans with one hand over our heart with the other one resting on the trigger.
The tape that closes drywall joints on those McWalls -- same stuff keeps our historical maidenheads virgo intacta.

While you're at it, you really want -- the Jingmeister demands you take -- a guided tour of Winchester with Joe Bageant.

Three Days After Epiphany, An Epiphany

The Very Last Salvo in this Year's War on Christmas

Or, if you like, the first in next year's. Glass half empty, glass half full. Up to you.

Owes its genesis to my abject and pitiable inability to expunge this goddamned submoronic song from my abused cranium, leading to fond thoughts of stuffing two live M-80s into my ears and blowing my brains out.*


Having given the matter some thought, having mulled the question, having ruminated the issue, having considered the pros and cons of the matter, having fizzled a synapse or two on the thing, having debated with the Inner Man, having brooded a wee, having mused, moused [U.S.], reflected, conned, deliberated, run, meditated, chewed, turned, revolved, and bestowed thought or consideration upon the subject;


He and his minions behaved toward him as one would toward a particularly unprepossessing bucket of warm lymph until such time as it was convenient and indeed necessary to exploit his unique navigational capabilities, offering as the only incentive reinstatement to a plainly unappealing status quo ante, viz. the thitherto unfairly and capriciously revoked privilege of participation in any Reindeer Games;


Rudolph should have told Santa to go shit in his hat.

*Now -- comes the likely whine -- I've put it in your head. Tant pis. Why should I be the only one to suffer?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Over Brandy and Cigars in the Billiard Room

Beg your pardon, people of Tampa Bay -- what do you call yourselves? Tampans? Man, that's unfortunate. Sorry.

But I'm also sorry for the behavior of the Washington Reagans' Sean Taylor Saturday night. Spitting in Michael Pittman's face was mighty bush, although from my careful review of the game film I could swear I saw Pittman's lips form the phrases "John Ruskin," "Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century," and "pitiful fallacy" just before the loogie flew, so I'm pretty sure the bruthas was mixin' it up out there thug life. If I'd been the ref I'd have flagged Pittman fifteen clicks for Intentional Sophistry, but I've been a pre-Raphaelite since the third grade. We all have our prejudices.

What also could have gone either way was the non-catch in the end zone by Edell Shepherd with 2:55 left in regulation. When the blow fell I'd been engaging in a little self-comforting (if that's the term I want), telling myself it was OK, with some pluck, determination and decent time management the Reagans would be able to march inexorably back into field-goal range and salt the game 20-17 with no time on the clock, the way competent teams do, even against Number-One defenses.

For that matter, Hunnish hordes might also have organized a quilting bee in my living room. Nothing's too unlikely.

This sort of quietly expectant confidence in a good team is exactly what we Reagans fans have had cruelly conditioned out of us by blow after blow during the Wilderness Years of Petitbon, Turner, Schottenheimer and Spurrier. And while I'm quite open to the theory that you make your own luck in this world, I'm utterly flabbergasted at how luck deserted the Reagans during the Era of That Pudgy Little Fuck Daniel Snyder, only to return so spectacularly with the miraculous rebirth of Joe Gibbs. Giving Wonder Woman a precis of the game over this morning's breakfast (she's not, tragically, an aficionado of the game), I employed a phrase implied in this morning's Korny Toneheiser WashPost column, an axiom that's always been incomprehensible to me but that sounds so goddamned tough when you say it:

I'd rather be lucky than good.

Can any of you in the Jingosphere please explain what this mot -- hardboiled and gritty though it may sound -- actually means? The whole thing conjures finger-wagging morality tales of Grasshoppers and Ants to this battle-weary veteran (strong-side safety, Oklahoma State, 1979-81).

The saying seems to imply a preference for dice-throwing over competence; perhaps the tough-guy romance of it dazzled the architects of Iraq war-planning, who seem to have adopted it as a call-and-response reply to the people pointing out how utterly criminally negligent their work was:

Looting in Baghdad? Hey, hey?
Rather be lucky than good!

Disbanding the Army and sending 'em home?
Rather be lucky than good!
"Mission Accomplished?" Can I get an Oh, yeah?
Rather be lucky than good!

"C'mon now sucka -- Bring 'em on"
Rather be lucky than good!
Can I hear an Abu Ghraib?
Rather be lucky than good!

The Green Zone's where I'd rather stay
Rather be lucky than good!

Thing about the Reagans is I should by any sane measure utterly hate them. I can understand if you do: slimy, grasping current owner -- luxury-box seats readily available to those with Abramoffic amounts of Tigua money -- original owner a dreadful racist (Shirley Povitch said the team colors were "burgundy, gold and Caucasian"), mortifyingly offensive team nickname (although I do like my idea of renaming them The Reagans, don't you?). Nixon was a fan fer chrissakes, in the era of George Allen the Elder, who spawned Virginia's Worst Senator Ever -- who may bid fair to replace the Worst President Ever.

So yeah. I should hate them.

But, sucker that I am, I just can't. There was a time -- somewhere in halcyon 1969, just before Vince Lombardi died, that the Washington Redskins represented purity, decency, and harmony. 1969: Charlie Taylor, his son in the fourth grade at Forest Edge Elementary where I was a worldy fifth-grader, crawls over the goal-line with a broken leg. 1970: running back Larry Brown became the first Redskins player in history to rush for 1,000 yards, I number myself in the adoring crowd at RFK that gave him the Standing O. Defensive End Ron McDole, in High Seventies walrus mustache and shoulder-length hair, heartily joins a pickup touch football game with me and the neighborhood crowd. His meaty finger accidentally pokes my eye while I'm trying to keep him off our passer. He is mortified, apologetic. I am jubilant that I have received what might be a Season-Ending Injury from an actual Redskin.

Sweet Agony.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Rain, The Park and Other Things

Am in New York City today on bidness, stealing a moment from what bids fair to be a remarkably tedious day. On the shuttle on the way up, an item in the morning Post was more than a trifle horrifying. A body found at the Chartres Street Wharf has been identified as that of Barry Cowsill, of the '60s bubblegum group The Cowsills. He'd been missing since Katrina.

This is depressing on two counts. First, well, hell, it's the bass player for The Cowsills. I mean, come on, the "real" Danny Partridge.

But much more importantly, they're still finding bodies. Four-months-plus, and they haven't even found all the dead. Not to crow -- absolutely not to crow -- but the utterly unforgiveable delay in the cleanup of NOLA and the dreadful surprises still coming to light were foreseeable even in late August. The Rude Pundit's been doing first-person photo-reporting from New Orleans that absolutely must not be missed:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Oddly, you don't see many photos like The Rude One's in the Washington Post. If Chevy Chase looked like the Ninth Ward, I imagine you might.

Oh, and the discovery of Cowsill's body is on page C3 in the Style section. Below the Nude Chefs Calendar and Doonesbury. Yeah, we've got our priorities straight.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Beer and Judges

MAJOR mistake on the choice of beer tonight. In the same sense that I've come to expect a wine label that describes the contents as evincing "an oaken finish with notes of chocolate and plum" to taste pretty much like every other goddamned bottle of mediocre plonk on the grocery shelf, so too I've come to brush aside the fine print on the neck-labels of microbrews as so much dandified fluff. I can tell a good stout from a bad one, know how much hoppiness I like in a Pale Ale (less than most beer-snots), and am comfortable enough with my prejudices that I feel no shame in telling you I've never drunk a pilsener-style beer I've liked. Just a taste thing, no biggie.

So when this Otter Creek Middleberry Ale that I poured myself just now, cheerfully blathers about its "hints of blueberries and elderberries," I tend to take that with a grain of salt. Probably doesn't taste much like otters either, dig? What I don't expect when I stick the hooter into the foam is for a pong amazingly reminiscent of something I'd expect to smell in a poorly maintained kindergarten refrigerator, or perhaps a hooker's handbag: A Kool-Aid finish with notes of Bazooka Joe and Crunchberries. Phwooooooey! Sobriety, thy name is Elderberry!

All of which nearly derailed me from my original text tonight, which was the fact that a judge in Oklahoma, the Formerly Honorable Donald Thompson, who was originally charged in 2004 of all manner of bizarre behavior while on the bench, has himself been ordered to stand trial.

The F.H. Thompson was accused by his court reporter, one Lisa Foster, of using a penis pump on himself while presiding over a trial, apparently for purposes of self-gratification. I may be a shade innocent for this kind of reportage, but from what little I know of these devices, which look a bit like a cross between a bicycle pump and a Van de Graaf Generator, they operate on the principle that exposing the male weenus to an intense vacuum for a few minutes while fully erecto potentis will cause it to assume a size fully millimeters larger and a color several shades purpler than normal, thereby impressing the very WonderBra off any Victoria's Secret model still in the room after this display. If this be self-gratification, then I'm off to the harem to volunteer for eunuch duty. I hear the year-end bonuses are great.

"No, look, honey, it's like it's got a huge hickey! Woah! Look at that, it's humong -- Honey? Hey! Where you going...?"

Now those judge's robes are voluminous things, and I wouldn't doubt for a minute that their billowing folds conceal any number of sins -- an adjusted bra here, a deliciously scratched sweaty scrotum there -- but another of Judge Thompson's alleged transgressions has me, a student of human eccentricity who'd put Krafft-Ebbing himself to shame, utterly flummoxed. According to the original charge, filed in June 2004, his court reporter testified that she saw the good judge "holding his penis up and shaving underneath it with a disposable razor while on the bench" (p. 3 of the Petition).

Now, I'm all for a well-tended garden. Let's get that right out in the open, here. I yield to no one in my conviction that a trig appearance is not simply a matter of a plucked eyebrow or the discreet application of the pinking shears to an unruly ear-hair.

But all that self-justification aside, I have a bit of a slog following the Formerly Honorable's thought process on this one. The trouble is, I can easily see, during the deadly dull proceedings of a murder trial in full swing, the old Train of Thought headed for Guttersville at a high rate of speed. It's a frailty I struggle with every day. It's an old dilemma: The Thought is Not the Deed, and that's where His Honor and I part company. For while I have an unbroken track record of success at fighting back the impulse to produce a disposable razor and shave my teabag during a vitally important jurisprudential function, His Honor has, allegedly, not. His Honor has had the perhaps unique experience in human history of noticing that the Garden was not Well Tended while presiding at a murder trial, and concluded that the meet and fitting course of action was to reach back into the Bag o' Bics in the Bag o' Tricks, select the appropriate tool, and Tend the Garden forthwith with neither let nor hindrance, in full view of the (female) Court Reporter.

As I say, I can't pretend to understand the logic at work here, but perhaps a little gedankenexperiment might provide some insight. Perhaps, like modernist authors before us, in the tradition of Leopold Bloom we might try to immerse ourselves in the F.H's inner-monologue...
Foster's Steno again. Good kid, nice caboose, roving eye. Like that, like that. Hope she keeps eyes front tho during Happy Time... Murder's a bitch, ain't it. Swinnnnnngggg... Or do we do that anymore? Not since Capote. Gnn. More like the Pentothal-and-Pavulon cocktail... Pentothal-and-Pavulon, Pentothal-and-Pavulon, doot-doodly-doo... Shit, that defending's got a sweet rack! Nips? See nips? FUCK YEAH nips she's SO READY... Awww, she'd do me in an Omaha minute! Oh christ I need it bad, I'd pay GOOD MONEY for some some Judicial Succour oh fuck....

NUBS. I feel NUBS. Oh man, Imaginary Victoria's Secret Model Number Four (brunette, 6'1", 42DD) ain't gonna fuckin' appreciate NUBS on the Judicial GolfBag.... Bet I can get away with it right here... No. Don't be an idiot yes you can no cant yes you can. Do It. I dare you. I DARE YOU. Foster sees you, it'll just turn her on GO ON DO IT DO IT DO IT DO IT....
You can see how a man might get in trouble...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


A lashing of swag will free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart.

Sure, Rosie O'Donnell might toss a contemptuous quarter the way of many a blogger with a sneered "Dance, boy! Dance!" Other blog-floggers might put up PayPal tip-jars and hope for the best.

But not the Jingmeister. No, sir. Here in the Jingosphere we have True Patriots, gallant yeomen like our most excellent friend Sluggo from Snail Races, who sends us the fruit of his own labors in what can only be described as the year's most felicitous expression of the Feudal Spirit.

Are these not the loveliest handmade objects you have seen this or any other year? Two mugs, two Christmas ornaments, and an authentic Colonial-style inkwell. All of these will find happy homes here in the Jingo household.

My most grateful thanks to Sluggo, or whatever name it pleases him to post under this week (there have been many).

The rest of you slugabeds may well indeed perceive an implicit rebuke: where are your feudal packages, I'd like to know?

I'm an XL shirt, hat 7 3/4, 8 1/2 shoe, waist 34, inseam 30. I favor earth tones, and also love collecting pictures of dead US politicians. Love Lincoln, Grant; crazy about Franklin.

Get hopping!

Monday, January 02, 2006

G. F. Handel to the White Courtesy Phone...

I promise I'll stop regaling you with my GarageBand Jam Pack 4 bijoux, cross my heart, but I still had to pass this one on.

I can't tell you on how many levels this little one-minute ditty just makes me laugh and laugh and laugh. My parents were (and still are) major Baroque-and-rollers, and the sound of Georgie Fred Handel wafting up from downstairs while bacon and pancakes frizzle on the kitchen stove is as close as my memory gets get to Saturday Morning Sleep-in Heaven.

And I just love the pomposity of it! Dear God, give me a periwig, some servants to snap at peevishly while hammered on port, and a Baroque orchestra at my beck and call, and I care not who makes the nation's laws. (Something to do with political parties maintaining a principled opposition capable of preventing abuses by the monarch or by specific factions within the government, I thought I heard Edmund Burke mutter t'other day, but I could have heard it wrong...)

I'm stuck for a title. "Water Music" is already taken, I think, and "Fireworks Music," but how about "Gas Music: Concerto Grossissimo"?

At any rate, Here's the Overture.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A New Year's Recommendation

May I recommend a way to pass New Year's Day?

Pick something you hate and get it out of your life. Preferably in a life-or-death struggle that leaves you wrung out and weary.

In other words, either kick heroin or cut down a tree.

As supporting a scag habit in Lovettsville is considerably harder than kicking one, I chose the tree route.

There's this miserable little overgrown dog-kennel downhill in my yard. It hasn't been used in decades, but when it was I can't imagine the poor things enjoying their lives very much at all. It's an awful, miserly little chain-link enclosure, maybe 20 feet by 30, and in the winter it floods out with the water shedding off the mountain behind us, making it a horrid little tick-infested frozen mudhole. As one whose two beloved dogs share not only his house but his bed, I have a hard time countenancing its existence, and I've pledged to rid my yard of it.

Beginning with a dead poplar tree.

Here's the enclosure, as clear as you're ever going to see it. In the summer it's completely overgrown with a honey-vinegar combination of clematis and Virginia creeper. I think someone once planted roses around it, and they also figure into the mix. Pretty heavy on the thorn-bush side of things. The dead poplar stands front and center.

But not for long.

Not long ago, I cracked up at an old article in a print edition of The Onion that presented recent advancements in contraception. The suggestion that elicited my belly-laff was, "On moment of climax, both of you chant, 'No baby, no baby, no baby!'" As I chainsawed my way into the front side of the poplar, I realized I was in danger of, well, of actually hitting a power line, bringing it down, and plunging the entire neighborhood into days-long darkness. I recalculated my cuts, decided to continue, and on that moment when the tree began its dramatic death-fall, instead of a hearty "Tim-berr!" I chanted "No blackout, no blackout, no blackout!"

Worked a treat. Missed my wellhead too. Cool!

It also cracks me up that out here in the country we drive our 4x4 vee-hickles onto our lawns whenever the goddamned fancy strikes, and ain't nobody can say diddly-shit about it. Y'all try that with your Condo Associations and yer little shit-assed patches of imported grass and yer goddamned Japanese Maple fag-trees. When my wheels drilled a foursome of divots in the lawn trying to pull out one of the remaining trunks of the dead poplar which I had chained to my axle, I just threw a couple handfuls of grass seed on the muddy mess. Be right as rain in a week.

Above: Chainsaw Goodness. Unfortunately, the saw threw a bolt soon after this pic was taken, and so about a third of the tree still awaits sawing-up out there.

I'm sorry, were you going to play through or something? I'll get to it, OK?

Below: 150 years ago, this was Junior's job. Now Dad would hipcheck Junior away from this pile of entertainment and tell him to go hit the Playstation or something. This looks too much like fun.

"Paw, I done finished choppin' the kindlin', can I have a penny to buy a candy-cane at the General Store?"

"T'ain't stacked yet!"

"Aww, Paw!"

"T'ain't stacked!"

"But Pawwwww...!"


And now, the Reward... Ahhhhhhhh!

Yep. Stiff and sore again, but I'm beginning to come around to the principle that if you go to bed and you're not even stiffer and sorer than you went to bed last night, then maybe you just ain't living enough.

What do you think?