Monday, December 31, 2007

Top Ten Things You Didn't Know About 2007

I guarantee you were not aware of these developments that occurred in the outgoing year. That's OK: I live to inform.
  1. The current gel-intensive men's hairstyle known as the "fauxhawk" was named for the Fauxhawk Indians of western Kentucky. They never wore their hair like that, though. They had far too much self-respect.

  2. The year saw the invention of the Best Palindrome Evaaah: "A man, a plan, a canal, a small gravy-boat, Hugo Chavez!"

  3. In a new biography, it was revealed this year that Franklin D. Roosevelt kept ferrets, which he used in bizarre Oval Office ceremonies to cast necromantic spells on small bits of ginger, the Montgomery Ward catalog, a tomato, Field Marshal Montgomery, other ferrets, Montgomery, Alabama, and Eleanor. This is how he got polio.

  4. It was discovered that boars actually have tits, and that they find them quite useful in lawn care, car maintenance and home repair. Also sex.

  5. Immanuel Kant's Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics doesn't actually exist. You can look it up.

  6. A Dremel rotary tool can be put to many other uses: surgery, break-dancing, prayer, numerology, divination, and the summoning of eldritch spirits from the Lost City of R'lyeh. The list is literally endless. What fun! (Summoning attachment extra.)

  7. In a rare display of honesty, Indian gods revealed that they don't actually have all those extra arms. They use their powers of deception to cloud your mind into thinking they have them, and then steal your kidneys while you ponder, "Howcome all them arms?"

  8. That last Sopranos episode? With the weird blackout? It was broadcast only to your house, in an (apparently quite successful) attempt to vex you. And only you. The rest of us saw Tony and family walk out of the restaurant, get in their car, and drive around aimlessly, asking each other, "Whaddya wanna do?" "I dunno, what do you wanna do?" It was monumentally dull. Oh -- and Meadow took off her top.

  9. It was discovered that, contrary to popular belief, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny only in leap years.

  10. There is, among the Khosa-speaking peoples of southwestern Africa, a legend that the world came into being when a snake and a badger conspired to fool a lion into thinking he was a different lion. The lion, hopelessly confused, ate the snake (but not the badger, for some weird reason) and fell into a slumber. In his dream, he was naked at a really important meeting of lions. The others laughed cruelly at his plight, and in his embarrassment, he spilled some goat-milk, which became the oceans, and some dirt he was carrying around for a rainy day, which became the Earth. An orange he dropped became the sun, and a calabash of honey the moon. Then he dropped a very large number of trillions of balls of flaming gas, in which hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees; these became the stars and galaxies. Which just goes to show you the Power of Myth.

Newly Discovered: St. Paul's Epistle to the Cowherds

1:1 Dear Cowherds;

1:2 It hath come unto the Lord's attention that the Red of Skin of the Capital City have smitten a mighty blow unto the Herders of Beeves and Kine of the village of Dallas.

1:3 Lo, the number of their victory was twenty-seven to six, and the Herders of Kine smelléd not the Promised Land, yea even unto first and ten upon the enemy eighteen.

1:4 And the number of their rushing was one cubit.


1:6 And the number of the rushing of one man alone among the Red of Skin was one hundred and four cubits. In the fullness of time, the Herders of Kine let not this wondrous thing to happen, for their rush defense hath been mighty.

1:7 Woe unto the King of the Herders of Beeves and Kine, for he hath left his seed and strength in the dewy parts of harlots. Woe unto the offensive line of the Herders, who protecteth the King from harm, for they could not. Woe unto the defensive secondary of the Herders, who were beaten like unto a gong, and hide among the women and concubines.

1:8 Give me not the foolish prattle of children, who bleat saying "the mightiest warriors came not that day, for they were girding their loins for later battle." Upon my mighty pole may ye smoke. The King of the Herders came, and he suckled upon the teat of dead bears. No man hitteth Owens when seated upon his ass.

1:9 And yet thou believest not.

1:10 O unbeliever, thou hast not suffered this long season with the Red of Skin. Thou knowest not the agony when one witnesseth of a wise man foolishly calling two time-outs one upon the other, incurring the wrath of the Priests and Scribes, who delivered up the Red of Skin unto their enemies for slaughter. Thou knowest not the bitterness of the man who witnesseth the putting of the ball upon the ground, yea unto four times in sixteen plays; thus do the wicked prevail. Thou hast not seen with thine own eyes the progression of the clock when the wise man would fain have stopped it; and the calling of foolish plays; and the loss of vast lands upon the occasion of Third and Long.

1:11 These tribulations would make even unto a saint drink mightily from the cup of bitterness.

1:12 Yet unto this time of desperation, they surge. They proffer hope like unto bread upon a starving man.

1:13 They beat Dallas.

1:14 ONE CUBIT of rushing offense gave they them. ONE CUBIT.

1:15 Like unto a wet rag beat they them. Like unto a broken donkey. Like unto a step-child of red tresses. Like unto a child of great girth who stealeth lunches.

1:16 Give us this day Seattle.

1:17 Love, Paul

Later edit: I've discovered that one yard = two cubits, so amend accordingly. TWO CUBITS did they give them on the ground....

Monday, December 24, 2007

An Atheist at Christmas

A friend from high school is in the unbecoming habit of forwarding Internet sludge to a large mailing list. You know the thing: collections of "jokes I thought you'd get a kick out of," unfunny cartoons, patriotic "Support the Troops" goo -- the kind of thing that I generally toss out unread. (I'd put him in my e-mail spam killfile, but I occasionally do look forward to some of the school news he passes on.)

This morning's missive, though, really set my teeth on edge. The e-mail was titled "My Sentiments Exactly," and purported to have been authored by former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein (he of the TV shows, a Creationism advocate). It was a typical diatribe against the secularization of American culture, and an obvious "War-on-Christmas" sally. It managed to bemoan the ending of school prayer, imply that Madalyn Murray O'Hair was murdered because she was an atheist (she wasn't), assert that baby-coddler Dr. Benjamin Spock's son committed suicide (he didn't), and declare that "public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and the workplace" (certainly news to me).

Of course, it mostly didn't come from Ben Stein; it was a cobbled-together bit of hokum from a CBS Sunday News commentary by Stein, with the more inflammatory business about O'Hair and Spock added in from another bit of Internet claptrap purporting to report some comments by Billy Graham's daughter after September 11. In sum, the item forwarded to me was simple intellectual pollution, more goddamned dumbness that cloaks itself as folksy wisdom and makes its forwarder feel virtuous for having passed it on.

Besides the slanders and the untruths, and the profoundly irritating conflation of the concepts of "secular" and "atheist," what was most off-putting about the thing was its general aggrieved tone, as though its author were part of some put-upon minority, an underclass of the righteous who loathe the idea that many people don't take their religion quite as seriously as the righteous think they ought.

As an atheist, by constitutional law I can't legally hold public office in the states of Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. (The U.S. Supreme Court said this was baloney in 1961, but the prohibitions are still in those states' constitutions.) An activist friend attempted to convince me to run for the Loudoun County School Board a year ago; I had to tell him that this blog is quite easily connected to my "real" name; and that if it were found out that I've occasionally blurted out my lack of regard for supernatural pixie-dust in these pages, I'd be unelectable for garbage commissioner, let alone be trusted with the education of the county's li'l malleable minds.

So who's the Downtrodden Minority here?

Now, why am I yammering on about this on Christmas Eve? Because, absence-of-god-dammit, I love Christmas. I love the weird agglomeration of historically pagan, Christian and Roman symbols and traditions; they make me feel connected to the centuries. I love cutting down a young pine tree and dragging it into my house to slather it with electric lights and small family mementos. I love the smell of pine, cinnamon, cloves, chocolate, candle-wax, coffee and brandy. I love the Solstice, and look forward to lengthening days. I love the music. (Wonder Woman's copy of The Carpenters' Christmas album is playing in the next room as I type this, and I'm even prepared to tolerate that, as long as I can throw on Bach's Weinachtsoratorium afterwards.)

I love the fact that in a couple of hours, I will summon Betty and Freddy to track Santa's progress on the NORAD website, even if they both lost their belief in Santa ten years ago. We will read "The Night Before Christmas" and a couple of other books as we have every year for many years (I've never been able to interest them in Dickens, unfortunately). We will hang our stockings by the chimney with care, all of us fully aware that the idea of a fat man in a red suit sliding down the flue with a sack of toys is a trifle silly. It doesn't matter that it's a dumb myth, easily seen through by a reasonably intelligent six-year-old. It's what you do.

I rather deeply resent the accusation that I, in some to-me-unclear way, declared War on Christmas. I'll cop to a War on Irrationality, sure. War on Dumb Received Wisdom on the Internet. But because I think that everyone's Solstice observation should be respected, from Albigensian to Zoroastrian, because the assertion that the United States was founded on "Judeo-Christian values" is a grave insult to the Enlightenment, and to history itself, I resent the implication that I want to stamp out an entire holiday.

So let me conclude the sermon with an absolutely unambiguous, impossible-to-mistake message:

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Merry Christmas!

Then, go read this.

Friday, December 21, 2007

In the New Old-Fashioned Way

Artwork by The Skimmer. He's caught my wardrobe perfectly.

In what I hope is a long and fruitful annual collaboration, Blue Girl and I have cooked up a little X-Muss treat for you.

The new version of GarageBand is pretty amazing. In past years, I'd have tracked all this stuff in GB, and then dumped the project up to Apple Logic Express for mixing; the new GB, which operates at 24-bit (!!!), has enough mixing gumption that I may just leave Logic alone. And it's User Interface Heaven. I just love it.

Last year, Blue Girl and I did a rather nice, sort-of woody and meditative version of Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here." This year, we decided the Joint Must Rock.

And can that girl belt it, or what?

In the spirit of the X-Muss Season, then, please enjoy our holiday offering to the Jingo Nation:

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree (pops).

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Hawk's A-Comin'

Just heard on the news, we're looking at up to an inch of ice tomorrow and Sunday.

Our power always goes out, even in far less drastic weather.

Might be a cold, cold weekend.

Glad I got that firewood.


Later edit: Oh! Forgot to say! I saw a bald eagle today, at a distance of about 30 feet. I was driving along Hamilton Station Road, minding my own business, when it came swooping magnificently over a pasture, picked up a small rodent in its talons, and flew impassively off in the direction of the river, where it no doubt nests. I've only seen one other bald eagle in the wild, a few years ago, also near the Potomac just downstream from Harpers Ferry, but it was much farther away.

Earlier this year, in the spring, I watched dumbstruck as a red-tailed hawk flew just over my road with a blacksnake writhing in its talons. I wondered if I'd just fallen into a bad symbolist novel. A-and then there was that gigantic owl that swooped through my yard one dusk this summer. Too dark for me to get a good look, but it was huge.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And How Does a Gentleman of Leisure Spend His Mornings?

I can't speak for all gentlemen of leisure, but in lieu of writing and researching, today I spent my misty, drippy morning chopping up that tree that fell in my orchard late this summer. Chainsaws, wedges, splitting mauls.... Corking good fun.

I alternate among piles of things. The Burn Pile (this will make a capital bonfire; we're still allowed to do this sort of thing in these parts, as long as the Fire Department is told in advance). It doesn't look like much in the photo, but that pile is considerably taller than me, and doused in gasoline and set ablaze, the flames will lick high into the sky:

Here's the Chastened Culprit, denuded of its branches. I'm reliably informed it's a cherry. (And I, much to my surprise, am Marie of Roumania.) Fascinatingly, David Mull's original 1772 deed from Lord Fairfax stipulates that as a condition of sale he plant "upon the Demised premises One hundred good Apple trees and One hundred and fifty Peach trees at least thirty feet Distant from each other..." Can't wait to get to the trunk of this baby and count the rings:

Piles. And piles of piles. Wood to be split:

Wood already split, or not in need of splitting:

We ran out of firewood a few days ago, and the cabin where I type this has been bloody freezing. I tried to burn some of this newly split wood, but it wouldn't go exothermic for love or money. So I called the estimable Mr. Mills from Sandy Hook, and he brought this eminently welcome load of seasoned firewood, which now crackles merrily in the hearth:

Next year this time, it'll be my wood burning on that glowing, crackling, hissing hearth. I'll know every piece of it: Oh, this bit! I remember this knot, what a stubborn bitch this one was!

I love being unemployed.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

I Call Bullshit

Besides the obvious, generally arrived-at conclusions in this business of the CIA "destroying videotapes" of torture, it strikes your correspondent that this story seems a trifle anachronistic. "Videotape," in this decade of TiVo and YouTube, is as outmoded as audiocassettes and LPs. I imagine that our outraged lawmakers picture, in their "series of tubes" understanding of digital technology, that Company goons lifted a box full of VHS cassettes from a hidey-hole somewhere in Langley, took 'em out back in the woods, poured some gas on the box, and flicked a match at it. There. Problem safely averted.

The fact of the matter is, videotape that can be taken into the woods and burnt has been an outmoded technology since the mid-Nineties. It's true that digital recording media can be destroyed just as easily as a box of tapes, but surely -- surely -- an operation as technically sophisticated as The Company would make backups, and backups of backups, of any and all recordings. In 2007, it strains credulity to the breaking point to try to convince a Congressional committee that the record of an event that was recorded on digital video was destroyed utterly, without a chance of reconstruction.

OK, so they erased the files off the hard disks that held the backups. Those can be reconstructed, too, as they always used to tell me in the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility where I worked in the late Eighties, an armored, lead-lined room that no floppy disk ever left, on pain of its purveyor's dismissal and prosecution.

Stop telling me they "destroyed the videotapes." I have no reason to believe that any of those recordings -- not tapes -- will ever see the light of day, but stop trying to fob me off with a story of burnt or erased tape. They exist somewhere.