Monday, July 31, 2006

Happy Black Tom Explosion Day!

I have had a recurring dream in which I come to discover the existence of a Beatles album that I'd never heard of before. I'll be yakking along with somebody when they mention, I dunno, "Hungagunga" or something. I stop 'em: Sorry, say what?

Yeah, you know, "Hungagunga," the album that came between "Revolver" and "Sergeant Pepper"? He'll pull out the LP, and bing, there it is: A whole Beatles album that I've never heard of.

I don't know American history to the same nearly autistic extent that I know BeatleTrivia, but I do pride myself on knowing the Broad Outlines. Which is why I feel a mortification not at all dissimilar to the one in my dream, when an enormous gap in my knowledge is suddenly, embarrassingly, revealed to me. I was passing time at Fark this afternoon, and I stumbled across an article that noted that yesterday was the 90th anniversary of the Black Tom Explosion -- something that I had never heard of in my life! From the linked article, in Newsday:
The sound of the blast was unearthly, and the tremor was felt 100 miles away in Philadelphia. The night sky over New York Harbor turned orange. From Bayonne to Brooklyn and beyond, people were jolted from bed as windows shattered within a radius of 25 miles.

The Statue of Liberty, less than a mile from the epicenter, was damaged by a rain of red-hot shards of steel. On Ellis Island, frightened immigrants were hastily evacuated to Manhattan.

Ground zero itself - a small island called Black Tom - all but disappeared, "as if an atomic bomb fell on it," says historian John Gomez.

It was 2:08 a.m. on Sunday, July 30, 1916, when what was then the largest explosion ever in the United States erupted. It destroyed an estimated 2,000 tons of munitions awaiting transfer to ships destined for Britain and ultimately, the World War I battlefields of France.

Evidence pointed to German sabotage, and some historians regard it as the first major terrorist attack on the United States by a foreign party.
"Terrorist attack" is not quite the mot juste here -- "wartime sabotage" would be more accurate -- but let's not quibble over semantics. I lived in New York City (Red Hook, Brooklyn, to be precise) from 1982 to 1987, and had the explosion happened during my time there, it's quite possible my home might have been rained upon by shrapnel from the blast. The Statue of Liberty was badly damaged -- according to Wikipedia, the damage is part of the reason the statue's torch is inaccessible to visitors today.

And yet I'd never heard of the damned thing!

Well, I have now. And so have you.

More info is available at the Wikipedia entry.

There's No Justice

This guy is dead and Charlie Daniels continues to pollute the world with his cow-plod. Is there a better reason to take the pipe?

Via Driftglass.

I believe that's my most excellent buddy Mike Keneally playing slide, but it's hard to tell with all the hair.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

In Vino Veritas

(Cross-posted at The American Street)

As a man not entirely unaccustomed to a snort or two, I have to admit to a twinge of sympathy for Mel Gibson. I've never been arrested for anything, I'm glad to say -- despite some deserving efforts on my part -- so I can't credibly speculate about the mental stresses one undergoes when John Law shines a flashlight in one's bleary eyes and intones, in that condescending way they have, "Do you know why I pulled you over, sir?" when one has an undisguisably self-evident snootful.

I imagine the stress is great indeed. Gibson's blood-alcohol level was 0.12%, as reported by (the legal limit in California, where Gibson was arrested Friday, is 0.08%). According to a handy online calculator provided by the University of Oklahoma Campus Police, a 180-pound man would have to drink seven imported beers over a period of two hours to achieve Gibson's Blood Alcohol Count (BAC). (Or six malt liquors, seven glasses of wine, seven Bloody Marys, five vodka gimlets, or four doubles on the rocks -- it's an instructive little toy.)

By his own admission, Gibson is a recovering alcoholic who fell off the wagon on Friday night. People with his condition are notoriously unable to hold their liquor -- I've known a few, and they're no fun at all to drink with -- or even just be around. They're liable to say and do things they will have to apologize for the next day.

Indeed, Gibson has apologized for raving -- on videotape, apparently -- that Jews "are responsible for all the wars in the world," and for demanding of the arresting deputy, "Are you a Jew?" In his apology he said that he had "said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable."

It is important to establish the context of Gibson's revolting babbling. has published the arresting deputy's report (PDF). It's poorly scanned and difficult to read, but the gist is clear enough. The topic of Judaism and its putative responsibility for world unrest was not brought up by the arresting deputy as he clapped the darbys on his collar; the subject was raised for discussion by Gibson himself. He was not responding to something said to him. He thunk it up all by himself.

No matter what your past history with it, it's highly unlikely that booze will make you raise a point, ex nihilo, as Gibson did, unless the idea was simmering just below the surface, waiting for its moment to appear. The distress of being arrested and publicly humiliated for drunken decisions seems to have been that moment.

My ineluctable conclusion is that Mel Gibson, despite his repeated protestations to the contrary, is a demonstrated anti-Semite. In nearly any other case this would simply be sad, an occasion to tut-tut urbanely about hating the sin and not the sinner. But for the author of The Passion of the Christ, all that effort put into convincing the MegaChurched that they were being bussed to theaters to watch a movie that was not conceived in the libel that the Jews killed Christ, has been destroyed beyond repair.

For this, I have no sympathy whatever.

Friday, July 28, 2006


Must be something in the water.

Helmut and Kevin have chosen oblique angles to do it, but they both take up the question of sponteneity in music.

Sometimes, in general, you listen to music and feel embarrassed. It's a kind of embarrassment that the musician hasn't hit it, whatever it is, and that you're there to witness the failing at it. This experience is made much worse by earnestness and certainty. I've heard plenty of live music like this - where I felt like bolting out of discomfort with the aural carnage. But you also know that moment when you've really heard it because it hits you hard in the ears, mind, and body.
It's all just pop music, really, and though there are a few pop stars who still attempt more elaborate projects, with mixed results (the aforementioned Joe Jackson comes to mind), your best pop is made by talented people who are not dumbing down their work by making 3-minute pop records (Joe again, most of the time). They instead work within the limitations of the form and come up with something novel, or fun, or new or perhaps even great.
It may be an ephemeral thing, impossible to define, but I don't think it is an accident. It is honesty, openness -- but it is also bloody hard work, discipline. I imagine there's some Zen principle at work here, in that the more you worry at a musical form, the more difficult it becomes, and the key that unlocks the door is Mindful abandonment of Effort.

I've had moments in my musical life (amateur, entirely, pathetically amateur!) when I've had it: Pick up a guitar, and something utterly new and never-before-heard comes flowing out of my fingers. But it's worth noting that those moments always come when I've been playing obsessively for days and weeks on end. Hard work leads to it. It will never come when I've laid the guitar by for a month -- which, I ruefully admit, happens much often than it should. After these hiatuses, I will pick up a guitar and know that it is far, far, far away.

Hey: Helmut takes as his text a record by bluesman Robert Pete Williams. If you like roots music (and if you don't, I don't want to know you), there's an absolutely amazing treasure trove of hundreds of free downloads of everything from '20s piano blues to '30s Calypso waiting for you here. Go stuff it up your iPod. Don't say I don't turn you on to the Good Stuff. Thanks to Employee of the Month for the heads-up.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Fabulists' Waltz

I may have let it drop a time or two in these premises that I'm a bit in the bag for Thomas Ruggles Pynchon.

I've been rereading 1997's Mason & Dixon, savoring ev'ry rich drop in anticipation of the new novel due out this December, rumored to be titled Against the Day. (If you're pondering a Christmas gift to chuck my way, ponder no longer!)

'Long about halfway through the book I came across this gem, which serves as a raison d'etre for the story, and a defense for the PoMo Twisted History it contains. It is eerily relevant:
Who claims Truth, Truth abandons. History is hir'd, or coerc'd, only in Interests that must ever prove base. She is too innocent, to be left within the reach of anyone in Power,— who need but touch her, and all her Credit is in the instant vanish'd, as if it had never been. She needs rather to be tended lovingly and honorably by fabulists and counterfeiters, Ballad-Mongers and Cranks of ev'ry Radius, Masters of Disguise to provide her the Costume, Toilette, and Bearing, and Speech nimble enough to keep her beyond the Desires, or even the Curiosity, of Government.
Earlier this week after a protracted session with the huge book, I found myself in a melancholy space. My mind wandered a bit, and I fancied myself in a huge, echoing room, with a hand-cranked phonograph in a corner far away, its speaker a great Art-Nouveau jonquil, playing a rather creepy little tootling waltz. Just why the room was empty, whose hand had set down the needle on the Victrola, and whose mind had selected the music is anybody's guess, but I felt compelled to try to reproduce the tinny, reverberant waltz that permeated my daydream.

And so I did. For your pleasure:

The Fabulists' Waltz

Monday, July 24, 2006

A New Groove

My new hero.

Floyd Landis, the winner of this year's Tour de France has osteonecrosis of the hip, the very same miserable little malady that's laid me low for all this time.

Before my operation, I was in Stage Two of the disease, meaning that the ball of my femur hadn't collapsed yet. Floyd's in Stage Four.

In Stage Two, for 24 hours a day it felt like somebody was slamming roofing nails into my hip with a nail gun. I can't even begin to conceive of the pain that Landis overcame, ignored, cycled through. He can't even take the anti-inflammatories I was on to reduce the agony.

A couple weeks ago, Commenter Mike linked to this IHT article about Landis' (to me) insane drivenness that prevented him from submitting to a hip replacement, to preserve his career as a professional cyclist. As I read it I cringed with a combination of sympathy and incredulity that someone would voluntarily endure the agony of osteonecrosis for something as trivial as the ability to push a bicycle faster than everybody else.

The article presents this horripilating picture:
Landis's most useful adaptation, however, came in the form of an idea. It was planted in his head by Kay, who, as fate would have it, suffered osteonecrosis of the shoulder from a college car accident and had gone on to complete six Ironman triathlons. Kay's idea was that it might be possible, through repetition, to wear a useful groove in the bone and cartilage of his damaged joint. "Floyd really liked the groove idea," Kay says. "He never wanted to look at the hip or any X-rays or even talk about the clinical part of things, but he kind of fixated on that idea."

Landis explains: "When the hip does something weird and it hurts, I always imagine that it's cutting a better path in the joint. [GAAAAAA! -- ed.] I'm probably fooling myself, but I may as well imagine something good is happening, since it definitely doesn't help to think that it's getting worse."...

Conversation eventually turned back to the groove theory, specifically to whether this groove might actually exist. Chao, a brisk and cheerful surgeon who trained at Harvard and Northwestern, smiled knowingly and reached for Landis's X-ray. As we leaned in, Chao pointed to a cloudy, half-moon-shaped blur on the rim of the femoral head, just beneath the pelvis. It was 1.5 centimeters long and a centimeter deep; it looked like a tiny pearlescent goblet.

"There's your groove," Chao said, tapping the film with a pen. "It's soft, and the pelvis is pushing down on it. It's a dent." Landis looked at the X-ray intently, faintly pleased at this revelation but distinctly unsurprised.

When I ask him about it later, Landis said: "It was good to see, but it also makes sense to me. There's a lot of friction, a lot of pressure. Logically, that pressure has to go somewhere."
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! My nuts want to creep up into my thoracic cavity, reading that. Landis is due for a new hip very shortly, and I sincerely hope it will relieve his agony. Whether he'll have a viable career as a world-class cyclist remains to be seen, but at least we won't be subjected to the idea of somebody obsessively compelled to exercise a new groove into his destroyed bone.

Pain will do that to you.

(Neddie Update: I walked all the way around the outside of the building in which I work this morning -- brisk, purposeful steps, no rests. Bare trace of a limp. Doesn't sound like much, but it proves to me, I'm damned nearly All the Way Back, baby! Where de wimmin at?)

(Later Edit: Aw, shit. He may have been hopped up. Thanks to Helmut for the heads-up.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

And Sometimes...

...You just have to ROCK.

Really fuckin' hard.

I loved this Johnny Winter song so goddamned much when I was 14. What 14-year-old wouldn't? It ROCKS. Really fuckin' hard. I would piddle around on a little acoustic guitar I had, unable to form so much as a regulation A chord, and dream of the day when I could actually master the riff -- let alone the lead guitar.

Thing about the classic rock guitar riffs: They often sound hard to play, but it's a mortal lock that if you're finding a particular riff difficult to master, you're probably playing it in the wrong inversion or something. Rock guitarists are for the most part really lazy, drunk and stoned bastards, and they have to be able to whip these things out under the most ridiculous conditions -- they're not gonna write something for themselves that's hard to play. They're gonna write something that sounds hard -- but in the same way that physicists subject new theories to the test of elegance and simplicity, a rock riff absolutely must sound hard while being ridiculously untaxing. That's why they put on those stupid rock-and-roll Tortured Suffering Faces while playing them. It's what gets them the Big Blow Job after the gig.

Ahem. Well, enough about that. Mom.

While studying up to record this, I got the riff down pretty cold, but trying to copy Johnny's stunningly deft lead lines, I kept tripping all over my fingers. Those are hard to play -- if you're as familiar with Johnny's version as I am, you'll laugh your ass off when you hear me actually give up in the middle of one phrase in the trading-fours part of the solo -- I just don't have Johnny's chops. So I copied what I could, and the rest in my own flava.

It only took me 30 years to learn it.

Here it is:

Still Alive and Well. (Pops.)

Bass playing's not too shabby either, if I may say so myself. Sorry about the mechanical drums. I don't know any drummers. (Inside Joke.)

Oh, and one admission: I am not now, nor will I ever be, a Great Rock Singer.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

An Illusion Created for the Moment

My drive in to work each day takes me through a place called Brambleton, which is one of the seemingly millions of mud-and-Tyvek developments that constitute the Rape of Eastern Loudoun County. At a certain point on the drive, the modest, winding, wooded Ryan Road, which hasn't changed much since about 1945, suddenly opens out -- blannnnnnng! -- and becomes Loudoun County Parkway, a four-lane expressway that blasts its way through the ugliest and loudest suburban development imaginable.

At the very point at which LoCo Parkway begins, is a scene that, for my money, is positive proof that this country is headed straight for the wall with no one at the wheel. One the right side of the road is a shopping mall -- anchor grocery store, Starbucks knockoff, hair salon, what have you. On the left side of the road -- remember, a four-lane divided road where the speed limit is 50 miles an hour -- stands a condo development, what, about 300 units packed together, facing parking lots, the Parkway (now there's a view!), other muddy, denuded bulldozed lots where more of these hideous things are due to go up.

What's even more depressing than the architecture, though, is one simple fact that smacks me in the face every time I pass this way: There is absolutely no way to walk safely from the condo side of the road to the other to go shopping. No overpass, no underpass, not even a zebra-crossing painted on the road.

Even if you wanted to, you couldn't put the kids in a stroller or a bike-trailer and amble over to the Starbucks for a latte and a chinwag with the neighbors.

We've designed ourselves into Hell. A Polis without an Agora.

Joe Bageant drove through Brambleton recently, and had this to say, in another of his powerful and beautiful essays that I could only dream of writing:

...Brambleton is a real place. And today I am passing through it under the slowly arching mid-morning sun, which seems to be the only moving thing today in this development Northern Virginia development. There is not a human or even a car in sight down the long wide streets, just a crystallized silence occasionally nicked by the chirp of an unseen sparrow. My rusted out 18-year-old Toyota truck moving slowly along the streets, with its oxidized paint and a dead air conditioner sticking up from its bed gives all the more impression of some post apocalyptic scene from a not-quite-nameable film. A distinct eeriness pervades the sculpted green landscape and its too-bluish precast artificial stone retaining walls and artlessly placed trees, as though it were a movie set about to be torn down any minute, an illusion created for the moment. And in a way it is. Even something as timeless as a tree becomes a prop in places like Brambleton; they will be landfill in a few years because several feet of top and subsoil were scraped during site preparation. Trees won't ultimately survive in what's left, no matter how much mulch, fertilizer and watering is done. But they look OK now in a place where the average house is six years old, in a planned community with no communal memory, no sense of time's trajectory in which one can sense a future, or a common weal except through changes in real estate prices. CNN Money has called this place, 29 miles west of Washington D.C., one of the best places to live in America.
Joe hits directly some of the themes that I was more obliquely aiming at in this post. It's the same place. "There is a Buddhist principle," says Joe, "to the effect that the dream also dreams the dreamer. And that's what happened with the American Dream, which is why we are all sleepwalking through this escalating nightmare of meaninglessness, unable to shake ourselves awake." (Did I mention Joe's piece is a real cheerer-upper?)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Great Failure of Poetry

The great failure of nineteenth-century English-language poetry was its near-complete avoidance of the pressing subject of Canadian cheese.

On matters of love, loss, honor and Classical mythology did the Great Poets blather. Your Grecian urns, your Childe Harolds, your country churchyards -- great vats of ink were spilled in their minute and painstaking examination. But did the ins and outs of the Canadian cheese industry ever once provide inspiration for a Wordsworth, a Byron, a Longfellow? I put it to you, sir, that they did not. And frankly, that's their -- and the world's -- loss.

I accuse the chalky pederasts podiatrists pedagogues who chivvied me through my Eng. Lit. classes of a grave omission in my poetical education. For all their paeans to the Romantics and the Classicists, for all their elucidation of the nuts and bolts of spondees, trochees and anapests, never once did they bother to mine the rich vein of laudatory verse about Canadian cheese.

Had they not been so blinkered, so lost in the received wisdom so distressingly common in the Humanities, they might have opened my eyes to the Canadian Cheese Problem -- and to the heroic versifier who burst out of the wintry northern darkness to bring the issue to light.

Ladies and gentlemen, with a baleful glare at those unworthy academics who hid his existence from me for all those years, I give you James McIntyre, the Bard of Canadian Cheese!

According to the rather bloodless Wikipedia entry, McIntyre, locally popular for his tireless boosterism for the Canadian cheese industry, "was called on to speak at every kind of social gathering in Ingersoll [Ontario]." I regularly curse the scientific community for their unaccountable failure to invent a time machine, despite the obvious benefits such a device would accrue us*; absolutely the first use to which I would put one would be to transport myself to a public reading of McIntyre's, to bathe myself in the magnificence of verse such as the following:
Ode on the Mammoth Cheese

We have seen thee, Queen of cheese,
Laying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze --
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

All gaily dressed soon you'll go
To the great Provincial Show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.

Cows numerous as a swarm of bees --
Or as the leaves upon the trees --
It did require to make thee please,
And stand unrivalled Queen of Cheese.

May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to send you off as far as
The great World's show at Paris.

Of the youth -- beware of these --
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek; then songs or glees
We could not sing o' Queen of Cheese.

We'rt thou suspended from balloon,
You'd cast a shade, even at noon;
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.
Now that, kids, is some poetry. Goddammit, "Toronto" is not an easy rhyme, but look how skilfully it's finessed in the hands of a master!

You too can sample the majesty of McIntyre's prosody. Particularly lissome are Dairy Ode, Prophecy of a Ten Ton Cheese, and Oxford Cheese Ode, but read them all, read them all!

Damn, I'm hungry. Gonna see if I can dig up a chunk of Canuck cheddar...

[Lest we be seen to single out the magnificently awful poetry of our Frozen Neighbor to the North, let's also draw attention to Julia A. Moore, the Sweet Singer of Michigan, whose ineffable skill at bathos very nearly rivals McIntyre's. Enjoy, enjoy! You can thank me later.]

*The benefits this thing accrue us
To see ourselves as others do us!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday Fart-Blogging

As regular visitors to the Friendly Confines will no doubt have surmised, I've lately had occasion to frequent the local hospital a bit more than comfort might wish. I've been more than happy to take advantage of the hospital's enlightened policy of free valet parking, tossing my keys to the attendant and either leverambulating in on crutches or simply dragging my osteonecrotic leg behind me into the lobby to the elevators.

One recent afternoon as I was on my way in for yet another appointment, the elevator door opened and its sole occupant, a very dignified, if momentarily distressed, older woman, poured out into the lobby. As she left the elevator, she declaimed, so the assembled waiting crowd could hear clearly, "They're working on the sewers in the basement, oh dear me, dear me...."

She shuffled through the small crowd and ankled her way to the anonymity of the busy lobby. We politely loaded into the elevator, all Alphonse-and-Gaston -- after you, no after you -- and were greeted by the most horrifying miasmatic stench that ever slugged human nostril. I mean, ho-lee Jesus it was awful. Notes of rotting flesh, day-old bile, staphylococcal infection, and sulphurous, rotting eggs. There are human emissions that are relatively benign, reasonably healthy -- not that you'd be forgiven for blasting one out in my car or other confined space -- and then there are the kind that are harbingers that the dealer is absolutely rotting from the inside out, sick, noisome, toxic. This latter form was what now nauseated an entire elevatorful of people.

Now, of course, we had no direct evidence that the poor, sick woman who'd preceded us had laid this particular stinkbomb. But Lordy -- she'd sure acted suspicious. I happened to catch the eye of a fellow victim, and his amused smirk, flared nostrils and mimed choke told everything that needed to be communicated. A small child couldn't suppress a giggle. Some people!

Gratefully arriving at my floor, I hustled off the elevator, once again breathing the relatively benign, antiseptic hospital air, and went about my medical business.

Later, consultation complete, I once again made for the elevator. When it arrived, it was empty -- and the same awful stench assailed me as I boarded! The doors closed behind me, trapping me in a developing social horrorshow. Only then, through my watering eyes, did I spy the small, desktop-published sign that I had missed on my upward trip:
Well. Isn't this a fine mess.

At this point the only prayer I had of delivery from mortification was to hope against hope that no one was waiting for the elevator on the ground floor. But no. Of course not. A knot of six waited as the doors slid open, expectantly waiting for me to debark. I did so, as quickly as my sore leg allowed, and then started to hustle away from the scene of my humiliation. I heard a woman's voice float out through the closing doors, "Oh my God!" I had an impulse to turn and shout, "Look at the sign! Look at the sign!" but thought better of it.

They'll learn on their way down.

It's just now occurred to me that that scene must have played out hundreds of times in that lobby that day. A more perfect illustration of the principle of karma you couldn't hope for.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Little Stupid, Big Stupid

This afternoon I was listening to a podcast of yesterday's Al Franken Show, which featured an hour-long interview with Peter W. Galbraith, son of the revered economist John Kenneth Galbraith, a Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Center for Arms Control & Nonproliferation, former US Ambassador to Croatia during the Bosnia conflict, and now author of the new book, The End of Iraq : How American Incompetence Created a War Without End.

It's a bit lazy, I think, simply to dismiss the Current Occupant as box-of-rocks dumb. The stumbling, clumsy language, the frat-boy snigger, the nauseating, phony folksiness -- these traits disarm, they disguise, they even excuse the frightful moral defects that the man possesses. One's reminded how Ronald Reagan's lumbering, bovine stupidity was explained away by his apologists as a Management Style: Sure, he's as thick as an oak plank, but he hires the right people, don't you know, lets them do their jobs. Doesn't interfere. Gotta admire a good manager.

So when fresh evidence of the man's appalling intellectual shortcomings comes to light, a kind of conflict is set up in the head. You remember how comedic ridicule of his casual inarticulacy serves to call attention away from the frank evil that he commits: In many minds, the Little Stupid of "I'm the Decider" serves to overshadow the Big Stupid of the occupation of Iraq. It's when Big Stupid and Little Stupid declare themselves simultaneously that it becomes horrifyingly clear just how deep is the shit we're in.

Here's the exchange that triggers this thought:
Franken: I want to get to this story that you tell. Why don't you tell it? It's three Iraqi Americans [visiting the White House in January 2003] -- are they all exiles...?

Galbraith: They are all exiles, and they include Hatam Muqlis [sp?], who's a lawyer from Indianapolis, it includes Kanan Makiya, a terrific guy who wrote one of the very first exposés of the crimes of the Saddam Hussein regime, called The Republic of Fear, and Rend Rahim Francke, who later became the first Iraqi ambassador -- or, technically, representative -- to the United States after Saddam was overthrown.

Anyhow, they're gathered in the White House in January of 2003 [...] and Bush has asked them to tell their stories, and they do, and then what begins is a discussion of what is Iraq going to be like after Saddam is overthrown. And they start talking as anybody would, about the Sunnis and the Shi'ites. And it becomes clear to them that Bush has no clue what they're talking about, and eventually he says, at least according to one of them, "Sunnis? Shi'ites? I thought the Iraqis were Muslims."
OK, let's unpack that, as they say. The son of George Herbert Walker Bush -- who encouraged the Shi'ite uprising against Saddam in 1991 following the first Gulf War and who stood idly by as that uprising was brutally crushed by Saddam (a Sunni), resulting in the deaths of literally hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shi'ites, men, women and children as our troops were ordered to stand by within earshot of the slaughter -- was so intellectually disengaged at this crucial turning point in his country's history as to be utterly ignorant of the recent bloody history of a country that he intended to unilaterally invade six weeks thence, unable to discern between -- no, unable to even identify -- two of the three primary religio-ethnic groups that made up that country.

His own father. He couldn't even be bothered to read the newspaper during the presidency of his own goddamned father.

Little Stupid, meet Big Stupid.

Lazy-rich-guy-who-finds-homework-beneath-him, meet Worst President in the History of the United States of America.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Bonfire for the Crutches

This weekend, unable to contain my curiosity any longer, I hobbled my way up into the garden, to see what damage had been inflicted by the Inexorable Forces of Nature during my medically-enforced hiatus from the world. I had not visited my vegetable children since early June, when the surgeon's hacksaw made an ordinarily routine uphill foray an impossibility.

What I saw horrified me: The IF's of N had wreaked utter havoc on the beds. Weeds three feet high and as thick as a rainforest choked the watermelons, the cucumbers lay under a canopy of festering dandelions and clover, the radishes and spring onions were unrecognizable, and I can't even begin to describe what had happened to the herbs without bursting into tears.

Understand: I had worked like a desperate pig in the days preceding the hip-surgery in hopes of avoiding exactly this discovery. On the day of the procedure, there was not a single plant out of place. Between the rigidly disciplined rows of asparagus, strawberries and rhubarb there lay nothing but black soil and a light dressing of bark mulch. That sucker was shipshape. I had expected to see perhaps a little decay, a little entropy, but this -- this....

Something had to be done. Gingerly, carefully, I laid aside my crutches and sat down in the foot-deep grass and began to pull the worst of the damage out of the cucumbers. No. The position was clumsy, unbalanced, untenable. I had to be on my knees. Very tentatively I raised myself to a kneeling position, favoring the healthy leg. Worked for a bit. Yes, this will do.

After an hour's work or so, I realized I had worked my way several feet from where my crutches lay in the grass. I stood up, my plan to hopscotch over and retrieve them. Then a wild-assed thought occurred to me: Try walking!

So I did. Put the bum leg out in front of me, plunked the foot down in the grass, put some weight on it. The heavens did not open, hellfire did not rain down upon me, and my medico's dire warning of cracking and snapping bone, insufficiently healed, completely failed to materialize. And perhaps most wonderfully surprising of all, it didn't hurt. Took a step. Took another. And another.

I continued to live.

I walked all the way to the house. With each step, I could feel all this Bad Craziness, this accumulated misery, this crust of karma that had congealed around my wounded and incapable body sloughing off and wafting away in the wind. Fuck me, I can walk again!

Now, yes, you'll be telling me, but the Doc said you have two more weeks on those things. Aren't you pushing things too fast?

To which I snap my fingers. I had an appointment with the man this morning, and I ruefully confessed that I had begun walking -- against his express orders. To my mild surprise, he was completely and unreservedly encouraging, and told me that if I was walking I was for all intents healed, two weeks early. Lose the crutches, he told me. Challenge the hip now. Do whatever you like -- gently -- as long as it doesn't hurt. Take a walk. Ride a bike. Work in the garden. Go and sin no more, my son, for you are healed.

It's damned nearly impossible to convey how happy this makes me. While I'm no triathlete or mountaineer, I am a fairly active guy, and a month's imprisonment, during which my leisure hours were spent moldering in front of the television or reading, during which the simple act of carrying a small object from one room to another was an ordeal involving logistical planning and contingency strategies, during which I couldn't so much as go shopping or walk the dogs, wore on my nerves and depressed me. There's nothing so enervating, so emasculating, as forced helplessness.

The first thing I do, I hold a bonfire for those goddamned crutches.

PS: I'm gonna miss the Handicapped spot in the parking lot, though. That was cool. The temporary sticker's good through September, and I may just still keep those crutches around for the hot days in the Costco parking lot. You, me, lamppost.
PPS: In the same spirit, I just shaved off the beard. Miserable, itchy thing.

Friday, July 07, 2006

I Yam What I Yam

In the cafeteria at work this afternoon, I passed a display case in which stood a wholesome selection of Southern delicacies (the Food Theme this week, for some unfathomable reason).

In a warming tray stood a gelatinous light-brown mass, its exposed parts busily developing a darker-brown sugary crust. I wouldn't have given it a second look, but for the sign that stood next to it:

Candid Yams.

The typo gave me a slight giggle, and, with mild indignation at the sad state of proofreading among immigrant cafeteria workers these days, I cast my lunchtime thoughts elsewhere. But as I hobbled away from the case, a small voice stopped me in my tracks.

"Looks like you've put on a little weight, there, Cap'n!"

I shook my head, blinked once or twice, and turned around.

"You gonna go with that beard? Please don't tell me you're gonna go with that beard. You look like Grizzly Adams, fer crissakes."

Flabbergasted, I made my way back to the display case. I bent down to where the voice seemed to be coming from.

"Dude, that shirt! Nineteen-fifty-six baby-puke yellow? What are you, Cosmo Kramer? Can't you afford anything better? Oops, that's right -- you haven't climbed quite as high on the Corporate Ladder as you'd originally envisioned, so you're probably pinching pennies in the wardrobe area. That's all right, there are plenty of other losers whose shoulders you can cry on. There goes one now."

I glanced to my side. A dear friend passed by, carrying a tray of food.

"Tell you a little secret, there, chum: No matter what she says to the contrary, the Little Woman's probably getting a mite sick of going Tourist Class, if you know what I mean. Guys like you lose gals like that. And another thing --"

I pulled myself up to my full height, stiffened my spine, and tried to assume my haughtiest demeanor.

"I'll thank you to keep your opinions to yourself, sir."

"Oh, yeah? Eat me!"

Revenge is a dish best served cold, they say, but you wouldn't know it by me. I don't mind it lukewarm either. Lukewarm and sweet.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Meditation on Corporate Strategy Development

By Al Swearengen

Greetin's, friend! If you're looking for Ned, he's in Room Four working out a serious case of the writer's block with a ball of dope and the two new girls in from fuckin' Chicago. To judge from the screeching comin' out of there, the fuckin' dam is being breached admirably, and the cocksucker'll be back to his old ways, haranguing the citizenry in the public fuckin' thoroughfare, in a trice.

Before he retired to ease his tribulation and rest his worried mind, he pulled out his magic-lantern contraption and showed me a missive he'd received from something pleased to call itself the fuckin' Lockheed Martin Corporation, which he referred to as "the guns-and-bombs-and-rockets crowd." Cocksuckers were trying to poach his loyalty to his current employers, painting castles in the air, raising hosannahs to the riches and pelf he'd gain by switching fuckin' loyalties. Having once long ago toiled for a Govvie contractor, Ned allowed Lockheed a puking Chinaman's chance of a successful recruitment, laughing till he choked at the thought of once again working in a place where TQM, the last refuge of the charlatan, holds management in thrall.

He called particular attention to the first sentence of the job posting, which he said made him like to eruct boiling bile on the Gem's spotless floor:
Lockheed Martin's vision is to be the world's best systems integrator in aerospace, defense and technology services; to be the company our nation and its allies trust most to integrate their largest, most complex, most important advanced technology systems.
Vision. Lockheed Martin's got a cocksuckin' vision. In my part of space and time, a vision is what you get when you smoke a fuckin' ball of dope and spend a useful day on a mountaintop contemplating your fuckin' man-giblets, but apparently the meaning of the word has mutated a bit since I had it beaten into me at the fuckin' orphanage.

Was there ever a thing so stupefyingly nauseating as a Corporate Vision Statement? Did ever anything reek more of bad faith, of howling fatuity? Was there ever a greater insult to the English fuckin' language?

You're a fuckin' corporation. You make fuckin' money. End of story. How you go about making the fuckin' money, by fair means or foul, by manufacturing (excuse me: "integrating") Weapons (oh, sorry again: "Systems") of Mass Destruction or otherwise grifting the hoopleheads, is between you and your own soul, but to try to convince the Great Unwashed -- and, perhaps more importantly, yourself -- that your motivations are anything but purely fuckin' avaricious is to paint a great cochineal smile on Wu's pig.

That's the great unspoken truth about us, isn't it. We clothe order, routine, law, in the comforting veil of great ideals and beautiful words and Eternal Fuckin' Verities -- but you strip away the fuckin' gilding and gimcrackery and Corporate Vision Statements and you're left with the One True Freedom that is cherished above all others: the freedom of the Few to strip power from the Many. The only question that remains after that is how long the fuckin' Many will stand for it -- and, if experience is any guide, the cocksuckers'll stand it for a very long time indeed.

We mark in passing this day the departure from this life of fuckin' Ken Lay, the George Hearst of his day (you'll want to follow that link if you're interested in my life and times). We note further that Enron's fuckin' Mission Statement read in part, "We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don't belong here."

I rest my fuckin' case.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Happy Froth of July!

Philadelphia, 1786
"The New Religion had crested better than twenty years before," the Revd Cherrycoke explains, "--by the 'sixties we were well into a Descent, that grew more vertiginous with the days, ever toward some great Trough whose terrible Depth no one knew."

"Or, 'yet knows.'" The intermittently gloomy Ethelmer. As so often, the Revd finds himself looking for Tenebrae's reactions to the thoughts of her Cousin the University man. "All respect, Sir, wouldn't the scientifick thing have been to keep note, through the years after, of those claiming rebirth in Christ? To see how they did,-- how long the certainty lasted? To see who was telling the truth, and how much of it?"

"Oh, there were scoundrels about, to be sure," says the Revd, "claiming falsely for purposes of Commerce, an Awakening they would not have recogniz'd had it shouted to them by Name. But enough people had shar'd the experience, that Charlatans were easily expos'd. That was the curious thing. So many, having been thro' it together.

"You should have seen this place the time Whitefield came. All Philadelphia, delirious with Psalms. People standing up on Ladders at the church windows, Torch-light bright as Midday. Direct experience of Christ, hitherto the painfully earn'd privilege of Hermits in the desert, was in the Instant, amid the best farmland on Earth, freely being given to a town by Burghers and Churchfolk.-- They need only accept. How could a world have remained right-side-up after days like those? 'Twas the Holy Ghost, conducting its own Settlement of America. George the Third might claim it, but 'twas the Ghost that rul'd, and rules yet, even in Deistic times."

"Say." DePugh considering. "No wonder there was a Revolution."

"Hmph. Some Revolution," remarks Euphrenia.

"Why, Euph!" cries her sister.

"How not?" protests Ethelmer. "Excuse me, Ma'am,-- but as you must appreciate how even your sort of Musick is changing, recall what Plato said in his 'Republick',-- 'When the forms of Musick change, 'tis a promise of civil Disorder.'"

"I believe his Quarrel was with the Dithyrambists," the Revd smoothly puts in, "--who were not changing the Forms of Song, he felt, so much as mixing one up with another, or abandoning them altogether, as their madness might dictate."

"Just what I keep listening for, 'Thelmer," Euphrenia nods, "in the songs and hymns of your own American day, yet do I seek in vain after madness, and Rapture,-- hearing but a careful attending to the same Forms, the same Interests, as of old,-- and have you noticed the way that ev'rything, suddenly, has begun to gravitate toward B-flat major? That's a sign of trouble ahead. Marches and Anthems, for Triumphs that have not yet been made real. Already 'tis possible to walk the streets of New-York, passing among Buskers and Mongers, from one street-air to the next, and whistle along, and never have to change Key from B-flat major."

"Ah. And yet... If I may?" The young man seats himself at the Clavier, and arpeggiates a few major chords. "In C, if ye like,-- here is something that the fellows sing at University, when we are off being merry,-- 'To Anacreon in Heaven''s its name,-- I'll spare you the words, lest the Innocence of any Ear in the Room be assaulted." Tenebrae has invented and refin'd a way of rolling her eyes, undetectable to any save her Target, upon whom the effect is said to be devastating. Ethelmer's reaction is not easy to detect, save that he is blinking rapidly, and forgets, for a moment, where Middle C is.

The Air he plays to them would be martial in all but its Tempo, being more of a Minuet,-- thirty-two measures in all,-- which by its end has feet tapping and necks a-sway. "Here, I say, is the New Form in its Essence,-- Four Stanzas,-- sentimentally speaking, a 'Sandwich," with the third eight 'Bars' as the Filling,-- that Phrase," playing it, "ascending like a Sky-Rocket, its appeal to the Emotions primitive as an experienced in the Act of--"


"--of, of, Eating, that's all I was going to say...," hands spread in gawky appeal.

She shakes her Finger at him, tho' as the Revd can easily see, in nought but Play.

"And this is the sort of thing you lads are up to," he avuncularly rumbles, "out there over Delaware? Anatomizing your own drinking songs, till you be questioning earthly, nay Heavenly, Powers?


"...South Philadelphia Ballad-singers," Ethelmer has meanwhile been instructing the room, "generally Tenors, who are said, in their Succession, to constitute a Chapter in the secret History of a Musick yet to be, if not the Modal change Plato fear'd, then one he did not foresee."

"Not even he." His mathematickal cousin DePugh is disquieted.

"My point exactly!" cries Ethelmer, who has been edging toward the Spirits, mindful that at some point he shall have to edge past his Cousin Tenebrae. "'Tis ever the sign of Revolutionary times, that Street-Airs become Hymns, and Roist'ring-Songs Anthems,-- just as Plato fear'd,-- hast heard the Negro Musick, the flatted Fifths, the vocal portamenti,-- 'tis there sings your Revolution. These late ten American years were but Slaughter of this sort and that. Now begins your true Inversion of the World."

"Don't know, Coz. Much of your Faith seems invested in the novel Musick,--"

"Where better?" asks young Ethelmer confidently. "Is it not the very Rhythm of the Engines, the Clamor of the Mills, the Rock of the Oceans, the Roll of the Drums in the night, why if one wish'd to give it a Name.--"

"Surf Music!" DePugh cries.

"Percussion," Brae, sweet as a Pie.

"Very well to both of ye,-- nonetheless,-- as you, DePugh, shall, one full Moon not too distant, be foung haggling in the Alleys with Caribbean Negroes, over the price of a Guitar upon which to strum this very Musick, so shall you, Miss, be dancing to it, at your Wedding."

--Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon