Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Go-to Guy

I'm gonna be your go-to guy.

I've been gone to quite a few times in the past, and have rarely disappointed. You can go to me with quiet confidence that your going-to will be rewarded. I have exhibited an unmistakable pattern of success at being gone to. And I have every expectation that future goers-to will be pleased with the results at having gone to me. By this time next year, I will have been gone to even more times than I have been gone to in past years, and I fully expect this improvement to continue. I will look back with quiet satisfaction on a record of high achievement in the area of having been gone to, knowing full well that those who have gone to me have never been sorry that they went to me. I will have been gone to without spite or cavil; and having been gone to, I will be gone to again.

Don't go to that guy over there. He's not your go-to guy. Going to him is a guarantee that your going-to experience will teach you never to go to him again. I went to him last week, and he sucked at being gone to.

No, the go-to guy is me. No question about it. I'm the go-to guy.

Whoop, gotta go.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Three Hundred Sixty-Four Days Filled with Doubt and Fear

It's a very nice thing indeed to collaborate with Blue Girl on these annual Christmas songs. In 2006, we did a very quiet, meditative, woody version of the Vince Guaraldi number, "Christmas Time Is Here"; for last year's project we acknowledged the Inner Rockabilly, doing "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." Keep this up, we'll have enough for an album.

The Viscount LaCarte suggested this year's tune. We go a long way back, he and I, in the Digital XTC Fan World -- nearly to its inception -- and he importuned us to work up a version of a novelty single XTC released in 1983 under the pseudonym The Three Wise Men and the Good Lord. It is a regular feature on the sorts of Christmas CD compilations that get played in shops and public places, and it never grows old for me. It's got a sweet sentimentality appropriate to the season, and hearing it simply makes me happy. What can I say? I'm a sucker for bubblegum.

Apple's update to Logic, their pro-level digital audio workstation, has brought the fabled Apple ease-of-use to what was once an insanely complicated interface. It was a joy to use it, and it was just as wonderful to use a borrowed Rickenbacker 12-string for the arpeggiated bits. While I was squirreling away in the studio, Blue Girl took a guide track in to a studio near her, blew the paint off the walls, and sent me the result. Drop the resulting file into my audio bed, and presto! Instant X-Muss Joy. As always, Glue Birl's fabulous husband The Skimmer supplied the witty artwork.

Without further fuss, then, here it is...

Thanks for Christmas (pops).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Failure to Dim

Took Betty out for some X-Muss shopping yesterday. All was proceeding apace when we left Purcellville through the back door. They've recently dropped the speed limit on Hillsboro Road to 35, and John Law was out about a half-mile from town, Enforcing, radar gun pointed at oncoming out-of-town traffic.

Me, I wasn't worried. Inveterate speed-limit submissive, me. Speedometer needle pointed perfectly at 35. Yeah, buddy. You Can't Catch Me.

Turned around the bend from Mr. Law. Oncoming headlights shining through the oncoming dusk. Looks like he's going a hair too fast. Better let him know what's around the next corner...

Blinkety-blinkety-blink go the headlights. Practically did it by themselves; it's an ingrained habit.



Only after the headlights did their blinkety-blink bit did I notice what might have been a ski-rack, or perhaps a...set of lights...on top of the car encroaching in the gathering darkness.


As I watched him screech into a driveway to turn around in my rearview, the thought occurred: There was a herd of deer back there! They just jumped into the woods! You gotta warn other motorists in these parlous times! Yeah, that's the ticket!

Officer Friendly thought the whole thing was about as funny as I secretly did myself. (Betty was turning red from the suppression of laughter.) He mentioned Obstruction of Justice in his initial conversation with me, as he pointed out my expired inspection sticker. (What, three weeks out of date? So sue me! It's Christmas! Got shit to do!) He retired back to his prowler with my license and registration to verify that I wasn't wanted for moral turpitude in 23 states. After what seemed an eternity, during which Betty and I exchanged the blackest of jokes, he returned.

He'd knocked the Obstruction charge back to "failure to dim high beams."

I will happily cop to it. Merry Christmas, Occifer.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Welcome to Blogdom!

Frequent commenter Giggles (she's helping me come to grips with my sexual identity after the gay-assed Obama post of yesterday) has opened up a shop of her own.

Everybody pop on over and make her feel welcome!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It Would Be Irresponsible Not to Speculate

I'm gonna go way out on a limb, here, with some crazy, wild-assed guessing.

Weird as it may be to think, as foreign as the concept may be, here goes: To judge from the photographic evidence -- and mind you, I'm really just spitballing, here...

I'm guessing -- just guessing -- that the 20-year-old Barack "Who's Sane" Obama didn't have much trouble getting laid at Occidental College in 1980.

Yeah. I know. Ca-ray-zee!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Just Like a Christmas Tree in Bondage, Boyyyy

We Jingos like a disciplined life. Up at five, family calisthenics, cold showers, a breakfast of Graham crackers and castor oil, and off to the affairs of the day. Christmas decoration is nothing if not spartan chez nous: a small wooden creche on the coffee table, an unadorned wreath on the front door. Strings of lights are vulgar things, and music is banned from our home as inflaming to the senses and heightening of the passions -- fallibilities best avoided by the proper bourgeois family of good breeding. Our children have learned that elaborate Christmas presents are privileges only for the nouveaux riches; for those of our social class, we make do with the annual single orange and pencil-box in our stockings.

It is in this spirit of the avoidance of excess -- how fervently it is to be wished that others might follow our virtuous example! -- that I present our Christmas tree:

A damned fine sight, don't you agree? Tightly disciplined, its sinews straining at their bonds as it gazes demurely at its masters, clad in their leather evening-wear and boots, riding-crops ready to administer richly deserved correction at a twig out of place here, a dropped needle there.... With anxiety growing to fever pitch, the scent of fear in the air, the tree, bound and helpless, anticipates the next application of the bullwhip of loving discipline....

Oh! Sorry. Where was I...?

(Oh, foo! The tree has a safe word!*)

Finally, its Calvary ended by a merciful and just master, it is time to release the trembling pine from its durance vile.

Helpful Kittehs are helpful:

I find it passing strange how a fluffball of Dangerous Cuteness can in an instant assume a facial expression of Full-On, Raging Psychosis when confronted with a loose (and undisciplined!) bit of string:

Come to think of it, the moggie has learned from Master to rage at slovenly lower-class disorder. Clearly, he's attempting to hank the string neatly and place it in a drawer with other hanked strings from Christmases past, there to wait the day when its usefulness becomes apparent. Good kitty! You are excused from your evening spanking -- this once.

There. Isn't that better, little tree? Not that you have successfully survived your ordeal, you will be festooned in furs and leathern gew-gaws, and made a full member of our family until your needles drop out and your faded beauty no longer appeals to us.

It is The Way.


*"Oh, God! Please stop! Owwwwww!" Not that I've ever actually heard it. It's a very good tree.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Calm Reason Prevails

The news that at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy there is a light-sucking, infinite-mass-sporting BLACK FUCKING HOLE leaves me with a quiet certainty that WE'RE ALL GONNA FUCKING DIE but not yet not yet not yet....

Enjoy yourself. It's later than you think.

I find it comforting to rock back and forth in my chair, muttering what may well become my new mantra:




Rumor Has It

An item in Shitshovel Media catches the attention:
Harridans Reunion?

Th' Muthafuckin' Harridans, whose untimely 2005 demise so shocked the rock world, have been the subjects of reunion rumors. The power trio, whose chart-busting hits included "I Was a Teenaged Werewolf for the FBI" and "Bobby Lightfoot Rips Up His Lyric Sheet and Wings It," were seen together with an entourage at a Washington, DC beer celler [sic] last week, crying drunkenly on each others' shoulders and swearing off their methamphetamine use, which devastated the band's musical coherence in the middle of the decade.

Some talk of a live reunion gig was overheard, although specifics were not hashed out.

This could easily outstrip the Led Zep reunion for historical significance.
Don't know nothin' more than that. Just thought I'd put it out there.

Monday, December 08, 2008

G'Phwarg-Glarb-Flang -- ROCK!

(#2 in a [hopefully] ongoing series)

Friday, December 5, 2008
In Flames
Supporting: 36 Crazyfists, Gojira
Venue: Ram's Head Live, Baltimore

The Ram's Head Live is a great place to watch a heavy metal gig, particularly if you're a 48-year-old dad whose tastes run more to hillbilly 78s from the 1920s and early Dylan. The main concert space -- what I hear you youngsters call the "mosh-pit" -- is surrounded by little alcoves, each of which sports a fully stocked bar serving excellent microbrews. The alcove toward which I naturally gravitated faced the central hall perpendicularly, so the main force-blast of the music traveled across its opening, leaving the bar quiet enough to carry on a conversation -- or at least order another beer without having to shriek and point at a bar-pull.

The bar was tended by a trio of quite toothsome young women, one of whom remarked that she loved working this particular bar because "the Dads always sit here," and thus there is a minimum of the creepy behavior that drunk rock-n-rollers are wont to display toward a hot bartender of the female persuasion. Indeed, there were three other "Dads" (that's eunuchs to the rest of you), each nursing beers and wincing visibly every so often when double-kick-drum attacks got particularly thunderous. I took a stroll among the celebrants at one point, and the view of the mosh-pit from the balcony above did not inspire envy. One fellow with asymmetrical hair and a spade beard thrashed about the crowd with his elbows at a height best calculated to contact his fellow concertgoers in the head, and I recalled with little nostalgia the times when that young man might well have been me. I had little concern for Freddie and his friends down in the scrum; teenagers, it is well known, heal quickly from being dropped on their heads while crowd-surfing. Some even have their dispositions improved.

I wandered downstairs to view the action more closely. Noting that the staircase offered an uninterrupted view of both the stage and the crowd, I sat down on a stair. Immediately a strong light shone directly in my eyes from in front of the stage, and a beefy security type motioned my to my feet. Ah. Apparently, people throwing themselves at each other at full tilt, leaping into the air to be carried on the shoulders of pogoing youths, and lashing out with knees and elbows is all perfectly acceptable concertgoing behavior, but if you sit on the fourth stair, man -- that's a safety violation, dude, and could get us shut down by the Man!

Back at the bar after my little expedition, I realized I had the best seat in the house; not only was the noise not so deafening, but closed-circuit video monitors above the bar followed the action onstage. The first band, 36 Crazyfists, weren't to my taste at all -- thrashy, noisy, and inconsistent, with the apparent compositional philosophy that no musical idea should be sustained for more than four bars.

It was during Gojira's set that I began to warm up. I am lucky enough to speak occasionally with XTC's Andy Partridge, and something he said once really stuck with me: that the enjoyment of music arises from repetition. A listener able to predict the next beat or two and anticipate what's coming next is a happy listener; but also conversely when the composer wrongfoots the listener and changes unexpectedly, this also surprises and delights. Gojira -- apparently a French outfit -- understands this principle well; Parts of songs repeated in satisfying sorts of ways; songs had choruses and verses -- not, admittedly, in the Tin Pan Alley sense of the words, but these things were markedly present. Another point about Gojira: They clearly had a keen appreciation of the emotional appeal of the beautiful, thick, meaty, creamy overtones generated by a distorted electric guitar playing a power-chord, and knew damned well how to use them.

I saw In Flames at the concert reviewed here, when they were an opening act for MegaDeth. As an opener, I was unimpressed with them, finding them choppy and unfocused. As a headliner, though, able to stretch their set out, they were quite dazzling. Their set had dynamic flow, highs and lows, ups and downs. Most of what I found impressive about Gojira was emphasized and made central by In Flames; again, songs and arrangements had structure and agreeable flow from part to part, and there was a very appealing emotional element to Anders Fridén's singing that I hadn't expected. The lead guitar work, shared by Jesper Strömblad and Björn Gelotte, was particularly good -- at one point, I found myself thinking, as Gelotte played a solo, "Good god, he's actually carving out a melody!" -- first time I'd seen it that night.

Between sets, the boys found me at the bar -- they wanted to deposit their sodden outwear with me. Sweaty and clearly very happy, they flitted back into the crowd for another session of joyful moshing. Enjoy it while you can, kids.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Don't We Know Archaic Barrel?

Each Christmas season, I notice an increase in traffic to this post, on Google searches for "Pogo Christmas song." I'm sure the resulting page must frustrate the poor dears a bit, as I only allude to the song and don't quote it in full.

It's worth doing, however, as it's my favorite carol, and I bellow it out whenever the rest of you ginks are assaying "Deck the Halls."

I anticipate its return will forever displace "The Carol of the Bells" from the house speakers at every shopping mall in America. About time, too.

Only the first two verses come from memory. I had to look the rest of it up. From the magnificently silly mind of Walt Kelly, I give you...

Deck Us All with Boston Charlie

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an' Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!

Don't we know archaic barrel
Lullaby Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly wolly cracker 'n' too-da-loo!
Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloupe, 'lope with you!

Hunky Dory's pop is lolly gaggin' on the wagon,
Willy, folly go through!
Chollie's collie barks at Barrow,
Harum scarum five alarm bung-a-loo!

Dunk us all in bowls of barley,
Hinky dinky dink an' polly voo!
Chilly Filly's name is Chollie,
Chollie Filly's jolly chilly view halloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Double-bubble, toyland trouble! Woof, woof, woof!
Tizzy seas on melon collie!
Dibble-dabble, scribble-scrabble! Goof, goof, goof!

In Which Everything Turns Out OK

Today, a completely routine day at work, suddenly acquired an overtone of slight menace.

Riding down in the elevator, I noticed something: three small metal objects had been placed on top of a decorative panel, at about eye height. On further examination, they turned out to be what looked for all the world like small-caliber pistol cartridges. (I assumed they were pistol cartridges, but what I know about ammo and $3.95 will get you a grande mocha frap at Starbucks.)

So consider: These cartridges could not possibly have been dropped, or appeared by some other accident. They would have to have been placed there carefully by hand.

Menace? Passive aggression? Veiled threat? The company I'm contracting for is not doing very well; could a soon-to-be-laid-off hothead have been trying to send a message?


I turned the cartridges in to the receptionist, a retired military man, asking if he recognized them to be what I thought they were. He agreed they were cartridges, all right, but he noticed that they had green paint on their business ends, which he thought unusual. He promised to look into it.

All through my lunch hour, I pondered the cartridges. What a strange thing to do -- put your ammo on display like that. Was somebody about to go Columbine on us? Should I go back after lunch? Was I about to become a headline?

I did decide to return -- I definitely need the money -- figuring that forewarned was forearmed, as it were. If gunplay broke out, I'd be the first out the door.

Went back to the receptionist, to share my increasing feeling of apprehension. He had investigated, and he had gotten to the bottom of the mystery.

They were indeed ballistic cartridges, but not for a pistol. They are used to drive pins into concrete, evidently -- and some repairmen who had been working on the elevator had stored them in the spot where I found them and forgotten to retrieve them when they were done.


Still, it was damned irresponsible to leave them there like that, and they got a good bollocking from the receptionist. Wish I'd been around to hear it. You know, instead of under my desk, squeaking gently at every stray sound.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Peaceable Kingdom

Some ten years ago, Wonder Woman took a hankerin' for a puppy. She got to haunting the local animal shelters, returning home with heartbreaking tales of lost and abandoned creatures, doomed to fates of euthanasia and perhaps worse.

One day, she called me at work from the Loudoun County Shelter. "I've found him!" she breathed. "He's a pointer-lab mix, eight weeks old, and we'll name him Brown Fang!"

I allowed that this was jake by me.

"There's only one problem."

"Oh?" Me thinking, what, he's got canine herpes, transmittable to young children.

"He's got a sister."

Two dogs for ten years, a parakeet, an elderly mackerel tabby, two guinea pigs, and two gerbils later, we're down to the dogs. Thinking we might be pet-responsibility-free for our Empty Nest Years.

But no.

Betty, about to turn seventeen, began following us around the house, sighing wistfully and tugging at our sleeve-hems. "For my birthday present, I wanna kiiiiittennnn..."

Ugh, thinks I. Litterboxes. Cat-pee smell. Fur-shedding. Shredded furniture. Who'll take care of them when we're traveling? Yuck.

Monday evening found me and Betty at the Loudoun County Animal Shelter, looking at cats. Betty finds a calico kitten, about as adorable as can be, in a general category that pretty much defines the concept of adorable. I call Wonder Woman.

"We've found the kitten. There's only one problem."


"She's got a brother."

So I invite you to meet the newest members of the Jingo household, fresh from the Spaying-and-Neutering Academy. Betty has chosen the names Lexie and Sam for them -- slightly baffling, I'll allow, but perfectly acceptable.

Here's Lexie:


And here's Sam:

Yeah. Pretty damned adorable. No question.

Here Sam meets the dogs. Reading from left to right, that's Ring Ting Ting and Brown Fang:

All things considered, the meeting was a peaceable one, and Brown Fang has displayed a mothering instinct that surprises no one, given that we've always suspected he's gay as a french trombone.

Somewhat later in the very eventful evening, the kittehs settled into their temporary safe-spot, the downstairs bathroom. (Until their spaying-and-neutering sutures heal, they're medically enjoined from climbing stairs.) We got them perfectly serviceable cat-beds, but they preferred the Costco box with a towel. But of course.

After a short ti;pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppo, they (No, I'm leaving that in. That was Sam, writing his first blog post on my laptop keyboard.)

After a short time of quiet, they settled in and caught some shut-eye -- not just ordinary shut-eye; environmentally friendly shut-eye:

Meanwhile, upstairs in our bedroom, Ring Ting Ting and Brown Fang, who have never spent one night apart since they were born at that same Loudoun County Animal Shelter ten years ago, put on an Olympian display of their amazing skill: Symmetrical Sleeping...

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Me, I give thanks for kittehs!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Not Quite Sure What to Make of This

Subjected premises to GenderAnalyzer...


Silhouette of a womanWe guess is written by a woman (57%), however it's quite gender neutral.

Hmmm. My lean, Hemingwayesque prose, which I had thought was the butchest thing about me, turns out to have been a sham. I think I'm going to sit down and have myself a good, long cry. That always helps.

(Hmmm again. Shakesville and I Blame the Patriarchy, two of the most feminist blogs I know of, scored 67% and 74% male respectively, so I'm beginning to suspect a wee smidgen of fraud.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

An Aging Crank Asks...

I was at the grocery store last night, in line at the self-checkout behind a rather elderly gent who did not understand the system at all. He was being helped through the process by a solicitous young clerk, who showed him the card-reader, the little device for the signature, where the receipt came out, and so on. The scene depressed me a bit; the poor old guy had met technology that had defeated him.* He'd lived through a world war, driven increasingly complex cars, used telephones, seen the rise of radio and television, ATMs, computers -- and lived through it all conditioned into the happy confidence that no new thing would faze him. Yet here he was in his golden years, unable to do the most rudimentary task, buying groceries, without assistance.

I'm convinced that with the ever-quickening spirals of development of new technology, this phenomenon of finally being defeated by some new system will happen to us at younger and younger ages. It may not defeat us at the user-interface level -- I see more and more standardization of interactivity in Web design, and innovations that add value without adding confusion -- but I think more and more of us will be confronted at younger and younger ages by some innovation sufficiently baffling that we simply fail to understand why the new thing even exists at all.

I believe I've reached that point.

Can someone please, please, please explain to a rapidly aging old fart:

What the fuck is the point of Twitter?

*The system seems designed to be as confusing as possible, even to young folks -- and no two stores' layout is the same. Awful, awful design, but that's a post for another day.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Folk Process

The origin of the phrase "folk process" has been attributed to musician Pete Seeger – as well as the most accessible definitions – but the action Seeger was labeling had originally been described by late 19th-early 20th century music historian Cecil Sharp in his book English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions. Sharp describes the evolution of the folksong and folktale (Seeger’s "folk process") as encompassing three principles: that of continuity, variation, and selection. "Continuity" refers to the idea that, in the norm, "types" (or motifs, themes, narratives, etc) should remain constant, and variation should be considered the exception; "variation" refers to the phenomenon of changes being introduced to folksongs by singers, whether unconsciously or with intent to change for artistic reasons, reasons of preference, or for the hiding of errors; "selection" refers to the theory that "the musical taste of every community must vary, and, as that taste is the controlling factor in the evolution of the folk-song, national peculiarities must ultimately determine the specific characteristics of the folk-songs of the different nations."

Man, I wish I understood Pashtun...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Well, That Was Fun...

Shall we now speak of other things?

In 1954 and 1955, two singles were released: Elvis Presley's "That's All Right, Mama" b/w "Blue Moon of Kentucky," and Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" b/w "Wee, Wee Hours." Neither can claim to be the first rock-n-roll records -- that honor should probably go to Ike Turner's "Rocket 88" -- but between them they pretty much defined the genre.

They're weirdly reflective of each other; the A sides were, respectively, a white Southerner singing black blues, and a black native of St. Louis singing hopped-up white western swing. Both B sides reverted back to racial type -- "Blue Moon" a reworking of Bill Monroe's breakthrough 1950 hit and "Hours" a slow Chicago blues as black as you can get. The records stare at each other through the racial mirror of the Jim Crow South, perplexed at the reversed-color image.

Historians tell us that the original title of "Maybellene" was "Ida Red," but a current record was on the market with that name (possibly the 1952 recording by Chris Powell And The Five Blue Flames -- which featured a young Clifford Brown on trumpet) and producer Leonard Chess wanted a different name. Berry and co-composer Johnnie Johnson spotted a box of Maybelline mascara in a corner of the studio, noted that the name fit the scansion, and went with it.

This causes some confusion. There is an "Ida Red" fiddle tune that appears in a Civil-War-era songbook, arranged for guitar and banjo. Riley Puckett, among many other hillbilly-era musicians, recorded it in 1926 and it was the second-best-selling record of the year. Charlie Poole used bits and pieces of it and combined them with the chorus of "Cripple Creek" in his 1929 record, "Shootin' Creek." "Ida Red" was a number one for Bob Wills in 1940, and it is this version that Berry is supposed to have modified to make "Maybellene."

But listen to Wills' version of "Ida Red."
How the hell do you get from there to "Maybellene"? About the only thing the two songs share is accent on two and four; the line lengths, lyrical scansion, structure, verse shape -- they share virtually nothing. The "Ida Red" story is mighty fishy indeed. In fact, I'd sooner assert that "Ida Red" inspired Bill Monroe's "Uncle Pen" than it did "Maybellene."

[Later edit: I'm cooling on this idea now. You actually can fit "Maybellene"'s verse into the verse of "Ida Red." But the choruses still are night and day.]

At any rate... What a song! Berry's casual pun -- "motorvatin' over the hill" doesn't really work; it's more a visual than an auditory pun. But you have to give him credit for putting it in anyway. He gets in three automotive brand-names in as many lines in the first verse -- the man knew his Krazy Kar Kulture audience. It's an interesting subtlety: Berry enunciates his words very carefully -- he knows that the story of the car-race with Maybellene will be lost on his audience if he doesn't get the rush of words out clearly.

But it's the guitar solo, isn't it. Good God, the guitar solo. We'd heard exactly those notes before -- T-Bone Walker played exactly that two-note bent riff, and Berry makes no secret of the debt he owes him. No, the beauty of the solo is the way the rest of the band really digs in -- the drums pop with extra force, the piano pounds away. A tremor of delight runs through these musicians; they know they are participating in a very exciting thing indeed.

Here's a 1958 live version from German television. If you don't let it play until at least the guitar solo, you should be taken out and shot for the L-7 square you are. And if, after the solo, you don't want to run out and buy a Gibson ES-335 and try a few of those moves yourself, I don't want to know you. (Also, golly, was Jimi Hendrix watching this?)

Sarah Palin Gets Off

...and all-a those jessamine and geraniums that we love and cactuses and Idaho as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yah when I put one-a-them roses in my hair like those Arapaho girls we like so much used or am I gonna I wear a red yah and how he kissed me under that good ol' Wasilla High hockey rink we need so much more of and I thought well, ya know, as well him as another and then I asked him with those eyes of mine to ask again yah and then he asked me would I yah to say yah my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yah and drew him down to me so he could feel those breasts he likes so much all perfume yah and that good old heart o' his was goin' like mad and yah I said yah I will Yah. You betcha!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

OMFG, a Human Being

Barack Obama, after learning of the death of his grandmother, addressing a crowd during a rally at University of North Carolina on November 3, 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Dear God, I love this man.

Attention, North Carolina Libertarians...

Your secret plan is working perfectly.

Tears of Joy

The ravagement of his voice only heightens the poignancy.

Terrorist fist-bump, everybody!

Update: They've made an utterly wonderful change over at PalinAsPresident...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Yes We Can

It's down to it.

This will in all likelihood be the last Neddie Jingo post before the election.

The last before I can wake up in the morning knowing I helped, in whatever small way I could, to push that huge stone up that hill. It's been said that an Obama victory would be the final outcome of a battle for America's soul that began with the Civil War. I would argue the battle began even before that, when the first African slaves stepped off their boats in chains.

Yes, it is that historic.

And Yes. We. Can.

Old People Stick Together!

The scholarly and infallibly decorous Jon Swift dissects McCain's shocking, come-from-behind victory:
This year old people have a chance to make history instead of just being history. They have an opportunity to elect the oldest human to ever serve as President, someone who is as crotchety as they are. Old people don’t care if their daughter marries a young man, they just don’t want one running the country.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Adventures in Campaigning

As I type this on the screened porch (a lovely Indian Summer evening out there), a small herd of white-tailed deer flits peacefully across the lawn, all seems right with the world, and a general magnanimity toward humankind pervades -- aided materially, I'm sure, by the second Samuel Adams Winter Lager that twinkles benignly at my elbow.

It was not always thus, today.

Eleven o'clock this morning (that would be noon to you spring-forward-fall-behind rebels out there) saw Betty Jingo and myself darkening the door of the Obama office in Purcellville, Virginia, ready to offer our services in any way that might help. "Oh, but we don't start canvassing until noon," the office manager, Natasha, purred. Pointing to my watch indignantly and averring that it was already past noon and damned well time to start knocking on doors, I was, I'll grant, a bit chopfallen when reminded of the biannual ritual of clock-mucking. Sighing heavily to cover my embarrassment, I enquired as to what might be the best use of our time until the actual hour approached. The answer was Visibility.

This entailed wandering Purcellville's Main Street, waving homemade "Vote Obama!" signs at passing traffic. For the edification of young minds about what a dreadfully conflicted country we remain, I can offer no better exercise.

Many, many cars hooted approval. Quite a few offered thumbs-up signs. Not as many assayed the pollice verso, which was gratifying. Thus a little less than an hour passed. (Young Betty, nearly seventeen, was utterly mortified to watch Daddikins make a fool of himself on the thoroughfare, and spent the hour skulking behind a mailbox.)

An Obama campaign worker appeared at the corner of Twenty-First and Main, signaling us to return to base. It was still fifteen minutes before the "real" noon, so I was a bit puzzled. As I began to comply with his orders, a police cruiser shot in front of me and its driver signaled me to stop in my tracks. Puzzled, I complied. He informed me that a complaint had been filed, asserting that Obama workers had been obstructing traffic and causing trouble outside the local gun-shop, a couple of blocks away. That the gun-shop had the largest McCain/Palin sign ever seen in this county prominently displayed over its door might have offered the good officer a hint as to the complaint's motivation, but I held my tongue, accepted the censure politely, and prepared to move on. The officer then offered this gem:

"Look, you just can't be out here causing trouble, or even the appearance of it. Think of the guy you're working for. He needs you to be on your best behavior. To be honest with you, I'm voting for the guy myself, and that's really why I'm telling you this...."

You rawk, officer.

And one more thing. To the young man who leaned out his truck window and snarled, "It's called the White House" to me and Betty, I thank you. Really, I do. There, just outside the White Palace -- in the 1920s, the headquarters of the Purcellville chapter of the Ku Klux Klan -- you did me a great service.

You reminded me exactly why I'm doing this.

Thank you.

You asshat.

Monday, October 27, 2008

News from the "Real Virginia"

The pinko Judy Feder campaign sends its ill-mannered guttersnipes to verbally assault incumbent Congressman Frank Wolf -- cruelly asking him pointed (ow!) questions about how he proposes to fund the McCain health plan (hint: ask Joe the Plumber about his tax bill). Wolf defends himself as nobly as can be done -- by setting his goons loyal lieutenants on the impertinent questioners and gazing elegantly, and silently, at the distant horizon.

Judy needs to hire less insolent jackanapes, is all I'm sayin'.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Best-Laid Plans

A six-mile pileup on the Dulles Greenway. Six miles. A half-mile backup isn't unexpected, but six miles is unprecedented. All the way back to the Shreve Mill Road exit. Unbelievable.

But that's what confronted me as I made my way home at about four o'clock to pick up Freddie from the schoolbus and drive him in to Leesburg to catch the Obama rally at Ida Lee Park. Wonder Woman and Betty, coming from another direction, were going to meet us there.

This plan, in retrospect, was a trifle naive. Cellphone calls between the two parties were punctuated by swearing, impatience, and expressions of disbelief at the incredibly snarled traffic. Ida Lee is in Leesburg's northern outskirts, and for most Washingtonians is accessible via only three main roads, two of them built decades ago and desperately overcrowded even on normal days. Yesterday, the entire system broke down completely. Leesburg and evirons was a parking lot.

The one thought keeping us relatively calm was that there would be opening speakers who would drone on for an hour before Obama spoke. So it was that, an hour after the rally's scheduled start, three out-of-breath attendees (Wonder Woman decided -- wisely, as it turns out -- not to brave the crowds) hustled from our parking spot on Old Waterford Road, across the back fields of Ida Lee. We could hear cheering off in the distance. Then, unexpectedly, we started to notice a trickle of people coming toward us. Ah, we thought, Mark Warner probably bored 'em so bad they decided to get home for dinner...

Nope. The trickle became a flood. We'd missed it. Ganged agley, as the poet said.

One small positive moment in an otherwise deeply disappointing evening: The police cordoned off a stretch of road behind the stage as we were crossing it, and down the road we could see police cars and motorcycles, lights flashing. We waited for a few minutes, and sure enough, the motorcade rolled majestically by. By stroke of sheer luck, we were on the right side of the road to catch the briefest glimpse of that indelible face, smiling and waving at us.

Almost made the whole thing worth it.

Update: The failing light made any photos I took pretty sucky, but better photos are here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Power of the Anagram

Barack Hussein Obama:
I smoke a cabana brush
Marihuana becks -- a sob!
Bi hero's musk: a cabana
A Caesarian bomb husk

John Sidney McCain:
Johnnie's mad cynic
Ninja cynic moshed
Ninja's comedy inch
Johnny's id in Mecca
I cad, minces Johnny
Join my chins! Dance!

Sarah Louise Heath Palin:
A hellish pro-euthanasia
A lusher aphasia hotline
A palatial heroine! Shush!
A heel! Aphasia rhino slut!

Joseph Biden:
John bids: Pee!
John's deep bi

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

That Wacky DNA!

I found this photograph of Barack Obama's grandparents absolutely amazing. His grandmother, as you're no doubt aware, is poorly, and Barack is suspending his campaign Thursday to be at her side, which is as it should be. I wish the Obama and Dunham families all the best.

It's the grandfather that makes the photo so astonishing: I've shown the photo to some folks at work, asking if they could tell whose grandparents they are. None of them picked up on it until I told them, but afterwards they could easily see Barack's face in his grandfather's: the jawline, the ears, the eyes, the tilt of the head.

One of the folks I showed it to noted that the photo points up what many people miss: That Barack Obama is as much white as he is black -- he is, she said, from all of us.

I was crestfallen this morning to read of Obama's family troubles and the suspension of the campaign -- for altruistic reasons, but also for selfish ones: I was looking forward to attending the Obama rally in Leesburg tomorrow, and assumed the suspension went into effect immediately. Later, I found that he would begin the suspension on Thursday, after the rally. Yay for me, I guess.

Charging the camera...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Chicken or Shit?

Yesterday, young Betty and I hauled ourselves down to Leesburg to knock on doors for Obama. When we told the campaign workers that we'd come from Lovettsville, they sent us back there with a list of 35 doors to hit -- we knew the area, could best plan a route, etc. Which was true. Thirty-five doors around rural Lovettsville, where home-lot acreage often runs into the high two figures if not higher, is no small effort, and both Betty and I were plenty footsore by the end.

Given the ugly tone of what I've been seing on television and in the blogs, I'd expected something much more depressing than the experience actually was. No one set the dogs on us -- I think being greeted by a father-daughter team with a clipboard was disarming for a lot of folks, and I was always careful to say I was a near neighbor. Only one woman closed the door on us with anything like asperity, and nearly everyone was unfailingly polite, even when saying they were voting for McCain. No racial slurs, no "socialism," nothing that I'd half-dreaded confronting.

We're nice folks in Lovettsville.

What did surprise me was the number of people -- well over two-thirds, in my estimate -- who told me they were as yet undecided. I don't how many were saying it because they didn't want to tell me who they were really voting for, and how many truly hadn't made up their minds. In retrospect, I'm glad I hadn't read David Sedaris' Shouts and Murmurs column from the latest New Yorker:
“Who are [the undecided]?” the news anchors ask. “And how might they determine the outcome of this election?”

Then you’ll see this man or woman— someone, I always think, who looks very happy to be on TV. “Well, Charlie,” they say, “I’ve gone back and forth on the issues and whatnot, but I just can’t seem to make up my mind!” Some insist that there’s very little difference between candidate A and candidate B. Others claim that they’re with A on defense and health care but are leaning toward B when it comes to the economy.

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

Probably best not to go canvasing with that image in your mind.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tipping Point

As it is The Matriarch's birthday, I took her to lunch today to regale her with prezzies and an update on the family. Macaroni Grill near her place, Italian Wedding soup and a Pizza Siciliana that the waiters and cooks were kind enough to leave on a windowsill to cool before serving -- wouldn't do to burn a patron's mouth with piping-hot pizza.

Our waiter was a rather chirpy young fellow of perhaps 23 summers, with a small, carefully tended chin-tuft and pointy hair. He presented me with the check, and we did the formal credit-card minuet that always extends a restaurant visit by ten minutes or so. My pen was poised over the receipt to enter the amount of his tip as I calculated twenty per cent of $27.67 -- his service had been quite good and his manner genial -- he opened his mouth to speak.

"So, did you guys watch the debate last night?"

We allowed as how we certainly had, and I went back to my calculations, wondering if this young man was at all aware of how dangerous his situation was -- was this really a topic he should be broaching just as I'm making out his tip?

"Yeah, I don't know. I think Obama won the thing, but I've got friends who are gonna vote for him just 'cos he's a black guy."

Now I'm calculating fifteen per cent...

"Really?" sez the Matriarch, who's been canvassing for Obama this week. "And how do you feel about it?"

"Oh, I don't know if I'm even gonna vote at all. I just don't know anything about Obama, what he stands for. I think McCain would be a really good leader, but I hear he's got a bad temper..."

Ten per cent of $27.67 is easy...

I spoke up. "If you don't know anything about Obama, even after he's been campaigning on your television set for two years, you might try looking up double-yew, double-yew, double-yew BarackObama dot com. It has all his position papers, his stances on issues, pretty much everything you need to know..."

"Yeah, maybe I'll do that. I just don't know if I'm gonna vote at all, though."

All right, let's see... five percent of $27.67 is half of ten percent...

But I was merciful. Wait-staff get shafted even in the healthiest economies, and who am I to punish this young man for depressing the crap out of me?

I gave him the standard fifteen.

"Y'all have a good day now. Hope to see you back soon!"

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cue the Seven Horsemen

Noted satirist and National Review columnist Christopher Buckley, son of William F. Buckley, has endorsed Barack Obama. Explaining why he published his endorsement at The Daily Beast rather than NRO, he notes,
Dear Pup once said to me sighfully after a right-winger who fancied himself a WFB protégé had said something transcendently and provocatively cretinous, “You know, I’ve spent my entire life time separating the Right from the kooks.” Well, the dear man did his best. At any rate, I don’t have the kidney at the moment for 12,000 emails saying how good it is he’s no longer alive to see his Judas of a son endorse for the presidency a covert Muslim who pals around with the Weather Underground. So, you’re reading it here first....

But having a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect, President Obama will (I pray, secularly) surely understand that traditional left-politics aren’t going to get us out of this pit we’ve dug for ourselves. If he raises taxes and throws up tariff walls and opens the coffers of the DNC to bribe-money from the special interest groups against whom he has (somewhat disingenuously) railed during the campaign trail, then he will almost certainly reap a whirlwind that will make Katrina look like a balmy summer zephyr.

Obama has in him—I think, despite his sometimes airy-fairy “We are the people we have been waiting for” silly rhetoric—the potential to be a good, perhaps even great leader. He is, it seems clear enough, what the historical moment seems to be calling for.

So, I wish him all the best. We are all in this together. Necessity is the mother of bipartisanship. And so, for the first time in my life, I’ll be pulling the Democratic lever in November. As the saying goes, God save the United States of America.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Agent Provocateur

I'm in there somewhere...

I've noticed a trickle of traffic (or is it a trackle of terrific? I can never tell...) coming in from this post at Making Light. The post, about a month old, remarked that the protesters at the RNC in St. Paul were mostly (overwhelmingly) peaceful, and that a few hotheads had goaded the police into a ridiculous overreaction, repeatedly tasering peaceful protesters who were on the ground in custody, busting heads, what have you. All disgusting stuff, of course. But those hotheads... Who were they?

The link that commenter Joel Hanes left in comments was to an ancient post of mine, about Super-Joel Tornabene, the fella who was famously photographed sticking flowers into National Guards' rifle barrels at the Pentagon protest of 1967. (That post flushed out SuperJoel's brother, who popped into the comments to say hi. Good times!) Hanes' comment-with-link came in the context of a discussion of agents provocateurs, some contributors speculating that the St. Paul hotheads had been exactly that -- government-hired ringers who stir up violent trouble and give the pigs peace officers the excuse to bust some heads (or, more contemporarily, exercise their Tasers on helpless prone protesters).

That phrase, agent provocateur, stirs a memory in the Jingo cranium, the beginning of my disillusionment with leftish activism.... [Wavy dissolve lines....]

It is May of 1979 1980.* Your Ned is a sophomore at Kenyon, so idealistic that even his own parents can't stand him. I fell in with a bad crowd of other raving peacenik pinkos, forming that year a little organization we were pleased to call the Kenyon Peace Coalition.

The bugbear of those times was nuclear power (Three Mile Island was only a few months in the rearview mirror), and the KPC got a mailer from the Clamshell Alliance, organizers of a protest at the Seabrook, New Hampshire, power plant, which was under construction and very unpopular with the locals. The protest organizers were very clear: Rather than stand around the gates of the plant waving signs and looking all righteous, we were going in. We were going to occupy the plant, repel all boarders, and shut it down.

But, you know. Peacefully. In accordance with the nonviolent precepts of Ghandi and King. Consensus decision-making.

Yes, yes, I know. They were proposing what amounts to a paramilitary operation, to be carried out under principles of strictest consensus. You can smell the stupid from three decades away.

But to three eighteen-year-olds itching for our places in history, a weekend spent overthrowing the Entrenched Powers of All Kinds of Evil and Stuff -- maybe even getting our first whiff of tear gas! -- sounded like a peachamaroot of an idea. We KPC Kidz got the mandatory nonviolence training at a church in Columbus, packed up a weekend's worth of bologna sandwiches, and ho for New Hampshire.

Thus it was that on a lovely, slightly chilly spring morning in the beautiful town of Seabrook, your Ned found himself soaking wet from a police fire-hose, his bandana once soaked in lemon-juice to neutralize tear-gas but now simply soaked, chanting slogans at impassive state troopers in riot gear at the gates of the plant. One KPC Kid had gotten a faceful of Mace, but the firehose had immediately washed it away, a happenstance we thought pretty funny.

The attempt to occupy the plant earlier in the morning had been just about as pathetic as you'd expect. Since I couldn't afford to be arrested -- my Philosophy of Art finals were a week away! -- I volunteered to help form part of a human roadblock on a secondary road well away from the planned breach-point. I didn't see the main action, but I was told that perhaps three protesters had actually managed to get through a cut in the fence, promptly to be arrested. The rest of the attackers were chased away by dogs and firehoses. At our little roadblock, we saw the main body of protesters streaming away into the woods; a lone policeman with a dog began wandering down the road our way, and consensus (heh!) quickly grew that our road-blocking endeavors were pointless, discretion the better part of valor, and didn't those woods look like just the thing to melt into right about now.

Oh, we were a brave bunch of nonviolent followers of Ghandi and King!

The protest now took shape around the front gates of the plant -- just as the organizers had insisted it wouldn't -- and this is where your Ned received his first experience of a firehose (really not as bad as you'd expect). The crowd, enthusiastic at first but losing steam somewhat from the wet and cold (far worse than the firehose is what starts to happen to you ten minutes after the firehose in cool weather). At this moment, a guy -- scruffy-looking, three-day beard, much like the rest of us -- grabbed me by the elbow.

"Hey, you look like a troublemaker!"


He apprised me of the situation. A schoolbus loaded with plant workers, the day shift I suppose, was attempting to enter the site, but the gate was blocked by the protesters. The crowd's enthusiasm for the consequences of blocking the workers from entering -- busted heads, dog bites, more tear gas -- had waned considerably. The mass of people parted reluctantly to let the bus pass -- in so doing conceding that this was absolutely no longer an operation to shut down the plant. Something was needed to stir the shit.

My interlocutor pressed a box of roofing nails on me. "Whatcha gotta do is, before the bus starts to move, you take some of these nails, prop 'em between the tires and the road, and blammo!"

Blammo indeed.

And that, my friends, is an agent provocateur.

It didn't occur to me then -- that is, the thought, the words, "this man is trying to convince me to commit vandalism in order to provoke minor violence so that the police have an excuse to commit major violence on these people" didn't form in my head. Tear gas and fire hoses have a way of jumbling up your head after a couple of hours. But every instinct I possessed, even at the volatile age of eighteen, told me this guy was Serious Bad News -- and I am not now, nor have I ever been, much of a vandal. I shook my head no, repossessed my elbow from his grip, and wandered back into the crowd.

The bus did pass without incident, so I guess my pal didn't find any takers. Odd, how he didn't do it himself.

But that's the way they work. It just takes one tiny little incident -- and a bus with blown-out tires full of nuclear-plant workers surrounded by anti-nuclear protesters, many of whom are disappointed at not having gained access to the plant and shut it down, certainly qualifies -- to turn a manageable situation into a full-on police riot.

What a species.

Update: Recalling this story has unleashed a flood of memories. On the morning of the action, I was riding in a van whose driver had volunteered to take some fifteen of us to the staging site. The town cops knew damned well what was coming, and were using any excuse to nab protesters before the thing got under way, meaning that a van full of fifteen people was a mighty vulnerable object indeed. He had us all lie on the floor.

Suddenly the driver said, "Oh, shit!" A cop car had apparently taken interest and was tailing us. The driver pulls into the parking lot of a little general store. He points to the nearest person -- me -- and says "Go in there and buy something! Look normal!"

Whistling nonchalantly, I ankle into the store, fishing in my pocket to see what I had.

I had exactly one dime. For my phone call, you see, after I'm busted. My wallet's back at the campground.

I look around the store. Of course, even in 1979 1980* you couldn't buy even a pack of gum for a damned dime. My fine mind racing -- what to do? what to do??? -- I hit upon the perfect solution. I strode manfully up to the clerk...

And asked for change for a dime.



*Fuck you, Wikipedia

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bless the Good Ship National Park Service and All Who Sail in Her!

I don't know about you, but for your correspondent, the sun shines just a little brighter, the birds sing just a little more sweetly, the clouds take on just a bit a more benign fluffiness, on those Mondays that follow that Any Given Sunday when the Washington Reagans kick the snot out of the sorry, stink-assed, dogfaced titty-babies who call themselves the Dallas Cowboys. In Dallas! In Dallas!

That's some sweet Monday Morning Goodness.

That isn't what I want to talk about, though.

A shortish period of enforced leisure came to an end Friday when a job, its start-date cruelly put off for a week, reared its head. I fought the heebie-jeebies of both boredom and terror (have you read a newspaper or a blog lately?) by going into Full-On Raging Tourist Mode.

Well, think about it. The kiddiewinks are in school, so they can't follow Daddikins around the museum or park declaring their boredom and demanding ice cream. Wonder Woman was beginning to show signs of wear and tear, the result of a bored and anxious hubby out on the screen porch with his face glued to a laptop screen reading the 250th comment in a week-old thread at Sadly, No! Something had to give, and I decided to visit my anxieties and ennui on our National Park System.

I'm very glad I did.

Monday, the first day my soon-to-be employers told me to cool my heels, saw me at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, with my camera and binoculars dangling foolishly from my neck. (I regret to say that I'd forgotten to actually charge the camera's battery, giving me a useless, clunking appendage to carry around all day, but ah, well. I'll just pretend I took all these; who's gonna know the difference?) It is possible to drive into the center of the town, if you know the Backdoor Bolivar Heights trick, but as I say, I was in Full-Tourist mode, so I parked at the lot at the edge of town to take the Park Service Bus in with the retirees and the schoolkids on a field trip.

While waiting for the next bus, I stopped in at the little Visitors Center, which was manned by a Park Ranger. I picked up a copy of Joseph Barry's The Strange Story of Harper's Ferry, a 1904 history more notable for its eccentricity than its accuracy -- it contains a short version of John Mobberly's life that (rather amusingly) gets very nearly every fact wrong. I mentioned this to the Ranger, and he perked up considerable; he knew everything -- everything! -- about Mobberly, who after all was born only a few miles away and whose lifeless body was strung up in Harpers Ferry, the townspeople dipping their handkerchiefs in his blood to keep as a souvenir.

It's unsurprising for a Harpers Ferry Park Ranger to be interested in this tiny, obscure Civil War guerrilla but what was remarkable was the intensity of his interest. We talked through two bus cycles, all other calls on our attention the merest trifles. He did attend to a few other customers, folks wanting directions or maps, but -- and this is the point I wanted to make -- he was willing to talk to me as long as I was prepared to listen.

Down in the town, I arrived just in time for the Ranger-Guided Tour, and I joined the small crowd around a trim gentleman with a white nineteenth-century vandyke beard and smart straw hat. He warmed to his topic, John Brown's 1859 Raid, a chat he'd clearly given many times before, and in which he expertly elucidated the circumstances in which the United States found itself on the cusp of tearing itself apart. The tour began outdoors, then made its way into the Provost Marshall's office, where maps and a large mural, showing Harpers Ferry at the time of the Raid, helped him paint his word-picture. We were invited to compare the town in which we stood to the mural: The munitions factory that attracted Brown here is gone, as are many of the commercial buildings that depended on the factory. The town has flooded many times, and all that's left of the mills that lined the riverbank is river-smoothed stone foundations. The tour ended at the firehouse itself where Brown's sons and many of his followers were killed by Marines under the command of Robert E. Lee.

The mural at the Provost Marshall's office triggered a memory of George MacDonald Fraser's classic Flashman book, Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, which put Flash Harry in with Brown's raiders. After the Ranger's tour was over I went back in to get a squint at it. Some of the buildings in Fraser's picaresque and very funny book are no longer standing, and I thought if I could place them on the mural I might understand the plot better. The Ranger, fresh from his hour-long lecture, was standing near the mural, and I caught his eye.

"Excuse me," pointing at the mural, "is this the Wager Hotel?"

"Flashman and the Angel of the Lord," he said, simply. I gaped.

"Well, that's what you're reading, isn't it? Nobody's ever asked me about the Wager Hotel who hasn't read it."

Amazing. For the second time that day, I found myself deep in engrossing conversation with an extremely knowledgeable person who cared profoundly about his topic. He recounted MacDonald Fraser's researches at Harpers Ferry (describing them as impeccable and thorough), noted historical unlikelihoods that were necessary to advance Fraser's plot, other books -- fictional and non- -- I might enjoy, recited parts of Uncle Tom's Cabin, offered his nuanced and subtle opinion of Brown's motivations and heroism, listened to my anecdote about John Stevens, expounded on the relationship between the Irish navvies who built the C&O Canal and the African slaves who lived here (Why didn't slave labor build the canal? The slaves were more expensive than the Irishmen! No joke), and answered a question about the now-destroyed bridge over the Potomac.

Again, the point must be made: I was the person who had to (regretfully) end that conversation. At no point did he ever betray irritation at my boatload of questions -- quite the opposite -- nor did he ignore anyone else who came into the office with a request for a map or other information.

Both of the Park Rangers who spent an hour each out of their days to entertain, to explain, to elucidate history for a curious civilian, were uniformed U. S. Government employees. Dedicated, decidedly underpaid, extremely knowledgeable civil servants. Believe it or not, there was once a time when the U. S. Government was a place where you looked for employment if you wanted to help people, to advance the cause of human ennoblement. I can't help but think that that spirit might have motivated the two men who made my day so enjoyable. About in my mid-teens, I started hearing exactly the opposite -- the first stirrings of the Reagan Revolution. It grew and grew until it became conventional wisdom: Government doesn't solve problems; government is the problem.

Wonder where my Park Ranger friends' retirement funds went today.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A D.C. Tableau

I received this yesterday, in an email from a trusted friend, a former co-worker of the author of this anecdote. It is not -- I repeat not -- a viral email making the rounds. It is, I'll grant, a friend-of-a-friend story, but I trust implicitly the person who passed it to me, and know that he does not brook urban legends lightly. I have left it unedited, save to redact the author's name and to make one edit for clarity. DC Coast is a restaurant at 1401 K Street.
From: [name redacted]
ok, so it's highly possible that my mccain confrontation may be boring you to tears by this point, but it never fails to infuriate me every time i think about it. here goes:

so - i'm in the valet parking lane outside DC Coast at 14th & k streets, in my car (a miata, mind you, not exactly a tough-girl ride). as i'm waiting for the valet attendant to come, sitting with my hazard lights on, a car comes flying down 14th street and moves into the service drive - which is exactly where the valet stand is.

rather than be patient, the black town car that is now behind me immediately puts the car in park, turns on the brights/high beam lights, and a man proceeds to get out of his own car and come to my car window. all of this happens in a flash - in a matter of seconds i go from calmly waiting for valet to banging on my car window. important to note - this is all in full view of those also waiting along the sidewalk and in the DC Coast front-window area.

a roll the window down, and a man is yelling at me, cursing (f-bombs and the like), irate that i need to move my car immediately and that i get out of his way. i look's JOHN MCCAIN.

no, i'm not joking.

i don't want to get sued for libel/slander, so i will only state my opinion on this part - but he was quite red in the face and (again, my opinion) clearly smelled of booze. after the initial fear wore off, i started laughing, rolled up my window, and drove around the block so he could pass.

maybe it was a past-life-miata flashback, but i'm not sure what raised his ire to the point of f-bombing an innocent valet parker...but it raised MY ire enough to call the washington post's reliable source [gossip column]. i relayed my story and suggested they could contact others outside DC Coast who witnessed the scene.

at the time, he had not yet declared he was running for president, but evidently his reputation was already known. the post called to confirm my story with mccain's office - and while his office denied it, the post had said this was not the first story of this type they had heard, but unfortunately it would be a case of senator-said/unknown person-said.

if you think this is quality behavior for a would-be U.S. president, feel free to vote for him - but if this kind of temper can be sparked by something as minor as driving in downtown traffic, do we really want him as the leader of the free world?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pitchforks & Torches at Dawn

Pardon me while I emit copious streams of bile from every hole in my head...

A nose job in a hospital with a private nurse in attendance had been something of a rite of passage for Joan Asher's children. But when her fourth and last child was ready for her own rhinoplasty recently, Ms. Asher asked her to postpone it.

The financial markets were simply more out of whack than her 16-year-old's proboscis.

"The other noses were more prominent," the stay-at-home mother from a tony New York City suburb in Westchester County told her 16-year-old daughter. She could get hers done when things settled down.

The financial crisis on Wall Street has New York's well-to-do reeling....

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Boiler Room

"That was your homework—to watch Boiler Room."—Lisa Taylor, Ameriquest loan agent, quoted in the Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2005
Yeah, that plan to put all our Social Security money into Wall Street sure looks like a winner from this end, don't it?

Dean Starkman explains the mortgage meltdown as clearly as I've seen it done.

"This American Life" did a great show in this back in May. I listened to the podcast while waiting for Freddie to finish soccer practice, and by the end of it I was a wiser -- if exponentially sadder -- man.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Grownup Strategy

Wow. For two minutes, a presidential candidate for a major party sits and speaks directly to the American people -- and addresses them like they aren't gibbering idiots. The Grownup Strategy.

Wonder if they'll fall for it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

This Thing Must Be Done

John McCain wants a blue-ribbon commission to ponder the economic hell in which we find ourselves.

Barack responds:
Now I certainly don’t fault Senator McCain for all of the problems we’re facing, but I do fault the economic philosophy he subscribes to. Because the truth is, what Senator McCain said yesterday fits with the same economic philosophy that he’s had for 26 years. It’s the philosophy that says we should give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down. It’s the philosophy that says even common-sense regulations are unnecessary and unwise. It’s a philosophy that lets Washington lobbyists shred consumer protections and distort our economy so it works for the special interests instead of working people.

We’ve had this philosophy for eight years. We know the results. You feel it in your own lives. Jobs have disappeared, and peoples’ life savings have been put at risk. Millions of families face foreclosure, and millions more have seen their home values plummet. The cost of everything from gas to groceries to health care has gone up, while the dream of a college education for our kids and a secure and dignified retirement for our seniors is slipping away. These are the struggles that Americans are facing. This is the pain that has now trickled up.

So let’s be clear: what we’ve seen the last few days is nothing less than the final verdict on an economic philosophy that has completely failed. And I am running for President of the United States because the dreams of the American people must not be endangered any more. It’s time to put an end to a broken system in Washington that is breaking the American economy. It’s time for change that makes a real difference in your lives.

If you want to understand the difference between how Senator McCain and I would govern as President, you can start by taking a look at how we’ve responded to this crisis. Because Senator McCain's approach was the same as the Bush Administration’s: support ideological policies that made the crisis more likely; do nothing as the crisis hits; and then scramble as the whole thing collapses. My approach has been to try to prevent this turmoil.

In February of 2006, I introduced legislation to stop mortgage transactions that promoted fraud, risk or abuse. A year later, before the crisis hit, I warned Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke about the risks of mounting foreclosures and urged them to bring together all the stakeholders to find solutions to the subprime mortgage meltdown. Senator McCain did nothing.
Folks -- particularly my local readers in the DC area -- this thing must be done. Virginia is the place where the whole shitstorm is going to play out. Fuck lipstick. Fuck sex-education for kindergartners. We must be warriors.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"This Is Water."

I can't know what was in David Foster Wallace's mind when he took his own life Friday. He was a little less than two years younger than me, and a far better writer and thinker than I'll ever hope to be. The news that someone in my age cohort couldn't take it anymore -- whatever "take it" means in this context -- is saddening and frightening both.

This political season has been so far even more frustrating, depressing and shocking than the 2004 fiasco, and obsessively reading political blogs for weeks on end, as I have, has whipped even my even-keeled mind into a case of the Howling Fantods. The idea that this country might be poised once again to swallow a pile of bullshit so dense that it bends gravity, makes me want to climb a clock-tower and just start taking people out.

I won't, though. Wallace was my age, but if I'd been born a few years later and been blessed with the same educational opportunities, I might have been privileged to hear Wallace give the commencement address at my alma mater.

That way sanity lies.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don't just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wrecking Crew

Still frantically typing away, radio silence nearly lifted...

Meanwhile, watch Tom Frank drive around My Fair City and talk about his new book, The Wrecking Crew... I'm particularly amused by the ritzy neighborhood where a security goon throws him out.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sing, O Muse!

Not an easy business, this pooching-out-a-book dodge. Some days at the salt-mines go well enough, but others leave me feeling emotions not dissimilar to those no doubt felt by the writer fella played by Jack Nicholson in "The Shining."

So as not to wind up chasing my family about the Overlook Hotel with firemens' hardware and discussing the affairs of the day with spectral bartenders, I find other, less violent diversions. Say, poetry.

The double-dactyl form has always interested me, and I thought I'd try my hand at it....
Heeeeere's Johnny!


Jack at the Overlook

Sat at a table

Composing a lay.

'Twas dullness itself, this


Jack's been, of lately,

All work and no play.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Well, That'll Learn Me

Damn, damn, DAMN!

As the good Agent 86 said, missed it by that much!

'S what I get for
  1. Not working Friday
  2. Not checking my work email on Friday
  3. Not checking my work email all weekend, on ideological grounds
  4. Being a naive little bloggie-boy about how the Washington Post feels about reprinting scurrilous crap from the Internet
Poop. The letter they did publish was weak, weak, weak.
Mr. Jingo;

We are in receipt of your letter to the editor and are considering it for publication.

We need to verify that you wrote the letter and did not acquire any portion of it from other sources. [Other than properly attributed quotes.]
Damned right I wrote it all by myself. It was a corker.
We need to know that you are using your real name.
I did, of course.
Did you send or post this letter or a similar item to any other media, internet forums [including], or blogs?
Oh, fucksocks!
We need to know, if it is not already mentioned, what your involvement if any is with the subject matter.
I am, sir, the privatest of citizens, and beyond the obvious emotional gratification the act engenders, I have no personal interest in pointing out that Mr. Gerson is a twat of the first water.
Please respond to this email with the verifications.

Please provide us, if you haven't already, a day and evening phone number that we can contact you for any questions we may have.

We will need to edit the letter for style and/or space considerations.

The initial edited version is below, please let us know if you have any concerns regarding them.

Further editing may be needed as we approach deadline.

Thank you for the submission,

It was intact. They hadn't touched a word.