Thursday, December 31, 2009

Little Help?

A commenter has alerted me that his malware detector was triggered by the "Santa Baby" stream.

Has anybody else had this happen?

Actual message: "my AVG malware detector sez you have a problem - probably not related to microlegs."

I can confidently say that any problem in my life has never been, and is unlikely to ever be, related to microlegs. However, I don't want to be serving up malware.

Anybody else seen this?

Oh, and... HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Let's See If You Believe in Me

The 1920s have always held a certain fascination for me. There seems to have been some sort of culmination going on, the end of a long period of roil and moil where African rhythms appeared slowly in White-People Music -- first inauthentically in the minstrelsy of the 1850s and '60s, and then quite authentically indeed in the ragtime trend of the 1890s and 1900s. Whether you responded positively to jazz, the natural outcome of ragtime, was a good indicator of where you stood on the great questions of the day -- prude or flapper? Traditionalist or modernist?

While that thought was knocking around in my head, Blue Girl gently reminded me that it was time for our wonderful annual X-Muss Collaboration. She suggested "Santa Baby," to which I happily agreed. As I listened to Eartha Kitt's utterly wonderful original take on the song, I realized that, under all the 1952 sex-kitten-with-full-jazz-orchestra trappings, what I was hearing was really not much advanced structurally from a hot-jazz number from 1929. So then I started imagining Bessie Smith, say, and how she'd approach such a song.

But we're not actually in 1929, are we. We passed through the vogue for Twenties nostalgia at least once back in 1968 or so, when "Bonnie and Clyde" put the Depression front and center in our minds. And again, a few years ago, when "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" pulled our attention to the string-band, vocal and religious music from that time. Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks -- my first and still favorite exposure to artists playing in their own time what was considered slick and modern in the Depression -- deliberately made themselves sound the way an R. Crumb cartoon looks: the Twenties and Thirties brought forward into 1968's weird temporal ambivalence.

Nostalgia, but expressed in ways that never existed in the period one is nostalgic for.

It is in this spirit, then, that Blue Girl and I present for your pleasure:

Santa Baby

Purely from a production standpoint, I'm particularly proud of this one. I had never played a ukelele in any kind of serious way, and my banjo playing had been limited to the five-string, Earl Scruggs three-finger rolls of bluegrass. I had been aware of what an important rhythmic role the tenor banjo played in a Twenties jazz-band -- the decade that saw the invention of the electric guitar to replace the banjo's somewhat obstreperous plank-a-chank.

But those instruments together -- along with slide guitar, wood upright bass, clarinets and an alto sax -- were a joy to mix. I didn't have to do much to them at all to make them sit well together peacefully. It's like they're made for each other, or something.

All right. Enough blather from me. Enjoy, kids.

Merry Christmas/Holidays/Days of Observance/Days You Completely Ignore!

And Glue Birl? That dress.... It does things for me. Me and my 18-inch legs....

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ah, Yes -- I Remember Snow

This may not impress folks in the more snow-intensive parts of the world, but for the Washington, DC, environs, this is some pretty serious snow:

I took that a few hours ago, and it's still bucketing down out there. Won't stop till this evening.

Sammy's been like this all day, staring at Snow Teevee:

"Ho-lee crap, what is that stuff...?"

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Bonnet

Some weeks ago, the Jingo Contingent made a trip up to Philly for a relative's wedding. We all stayed in one hotel room - we're a friendly bunch that way. On arrival, I decided to get a shower, wash off the grime from the trip.

Among the freebies in the bathroom -- the tiny bar of soap, the microscopic bottles of shampoo and body-wash -- was a little box that contained a shower cap. This is not an item I am ever likely to use, so I tossed it aside. It landed French-translation-side-up, and I guffawed.

Towel around my waist, I went back out into the main room. Freddie was watching Mythbusters. I said, "Do you know what a shower cap is called in French?" He gave me the usual withering look he displays whenever I ask him something that he obviously doesn't know. I handed him the tiny box. He chortled.

Bonnet de Douche.

It's a douche-bonnet! How utterly wonderful! For the rest of the weekend, we called each other "douche-bonnet" every chance we got. "Dad, you douche-bonnet, you missed the turn!" "Hey, douche-bonnet -- brush your teeth."

Go ahead. Call your loved ones douche-bonnets -- affectionately, of course. Then explain you've just accused them of being a French shower cap.

I suppose we could use it to set up a system of punishments for transgressions. A shower cap kept handy to be placed on the miscreant's head -- with increments of time that increase depending on the severity of the misdeed: Put a dirty plate in the sink, wear the douche-bonnet for ten minutes. Track mud into the house, it's twenty minutes. A D on a semester report card gets you the douche-bonnet for three full hours.

"Hon, why does Ring Ting Ting have a shower cap tied to her head?"

"She got into the trash and smeared macaroni and cheese all over the kitchen floor. She knows the rules."

Tiger Woods? He's wearing that douche-bonnet for the next five years, or until he wins a major -- whichever comes first. The public douche-bonnet. The worst kind.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A Brand New Phobia! Just for Me!

I seem to have picked up an interesting new phobia.

Perhaps phobia is not quite the right word. Phobias are by definition irrational. My little tic has its basis in something that, while very unlikely to happen, has happened in the past, and will likely happen again.

I have been using public transportation to commute to work. A long train ride through Maryland to Union Station in the District, and then a short Metro hop into Arlington. Pretty relaxing ride, and as long as I catch the 7:07AM out of Brunswick, I'm there in good time.

My problem is this: as Metro trains approach the station, I find myself making sure no one is standing behind me to push me in front of the train. I back away from the platform edge and make sure there are people between me and the tracks, so I'm harder to push in. And if someone should sneak around behind me while the onrushing train nears, I move in the opposite direction so he is no longer behind me.

Strange, no? During the New York years, I don't remember having this fear -- despite racking up thousands of subway hours. Perhaps it was subconsciously instilled in me after reading an article -- can't remember where -- about the guilt subway conductors feel years after having driven a train that ran over a suicide.

What was the movie where the hero saves someone who's been pushed onto the tracks by jumping in, grabbing the victim and rolling into the space under the platform just as the train passes? Seems like something a Clooney could pull off...

Monday, November 30, 2009


My work these days takes me to George Washington University several days a week. (I ride Metro to get there, and I nominate for the Annual Puerility Award the train conductor who gets such glee out of announcing, "Train now arriving at... Foggy... Bottom!")

A few days ago, it was raining quite hard. I stood out in front of an administration building, under an awning, keeping out of the tempest, waiting for a colleague. A rather large group of people was waiting in the lobby -- East Asian businessfolk, perhaps Japanese. They milled around, waiting for something. (It turned out later that they were waiting for an escort to another building.)

A middle-aged gent stepped outside -- black wool suit, glasses, hatless. Leaning over a flowerbed and closing a nostril with his thumb, he blew a gigantic snot-rocket into the foliage. A couple of monstrous honks satisfied him that his projectile had indeed cleared his sinuses, and he turned and went back into the lobby. Slightly embarrassed, I turned away as if I hadn't seen anything.

A few minutes later a second gent came outside, and occupied the same spot where his colleague had stood. I am quite sure he hadn't seen the earlier cannonade. He regarded the flowerbed with interest -- clearly, the impatiens, bedewed with the steady rain and his countryman's mucosal ejecta, had evoked thoughts of the evanescence of existence and the fleeting nature of life. Out came the camera, and he started snapping away at the flowerbed -- aiming it directly at the spot where the phlegm-fusillade had struck not three minutes earlier.

I turned away again, but this time to hide the contented smile that comes to one's face when one's day is made.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Now Joining 21st Century...

First post from my snazzy new Droid!

Gonna be real short, 'cos this keyboard is gonna take some getting used.

But hey! Lookit me! Smartphone!

(Getting some insight into that 140-character limit at Twitter. Also. Too.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Picking Up the Thread

We're all born trying to pick up the thread.

That is to say, an unimaginably enormous series of events happened before each of us was born, events that shape the moment in history we happen to inhabit at the moment of our birth. It's our job, if we choose to accept it, to figure out the plot, to understand, to the best of our ability, the whys and wherefores of the little slice of history we inhabit and why people act and think as they do. Some of us, I think, do a better job of it than others -- which fact, I believe, explains a great deal about why we are in the place we're in.

I was born in 1960. President Kennedy was assassinated on my third birthday -- one of my earliest concrete memories. My parents, literate, urbane folks, had newspapers and magazines around the house as a matter of course, and I can remember looking at the pictures even when I couldn't read. When I did acquire some rudimentary literacy (about 1965, if memory serves), there was much that I didn't comprehend because I had yet to pick up the thread. I had no way of understanding that the moment in history I was occupying was a rather hideously anomalous time. I believe I formed the impression that student uprisings, permanent war in Southeast Asia, presidential assassinations, race riots and general ideological civil war were normal things, had always been with us, and would forever be.

I don't believe that this was an unreasonable conclusion to arrive at. Of course, looking back, Oswald's rifle shots were a sort of starting gun that set off a race to utter madness that really hasn't ended yet. The madness waxes and wanes depending on the decade, but its root causes stay with us. I cherish the thought that the election to the presidency of a calm, educated, urbane mixed-race gentleman of centrist tendencies might be the beginning of the end of the Sixties madness that still roils, and in my most optimistic moments I see signs that this might be so. However, there's still plenty of crazy out there, and new, post-election Sarah Palin bumperstickers appear on too many cars for me to take much comfort in the idea.

There were jokes back then that I just didn't get, too, jokes that had their roots in issues that arose before I began my own efforts to pick up the thread. What were these references to Pat Nixon's "Republican cloth coat" supposed to mean? Why did people constantly refer to "the New Nixon" and "you won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more" while laughing up their sleeves?

And why did my parents harbor such a special loathing for the man? To me, an innocent child with implicit trust in grownups of every political stripe, he seemed pretty normal. He didn't particularly exude evil to an eight-year-old, my age when he was inaugurated. By now, of course, I have come to understand why so many detested him -- but only long after Watergate exposed the depth of his repulsiveness -- but it was an effort that took decades.

Now comes Rick Perlstein's magnificent Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of a Nation, a history-cum-biography of Nixon's life through the 1972 election.

Boy, oh boy, does this book pick up some threads! Of course I remember very nearly all of the events of Nixon's administration, but many things that mystified me at the time are elucidated and, above all, given context that I, not yet having picked up the thread, could not have understood at the time.

I did not know, for example, the circumstances of Nixon's childhood, which knowledge might have hinted to me about the resentment seething in him that would lead him to a political philosophy that would exploit the same resentment in others. I didn't know that at Whittier College, like most schools a place where elites (jocks, rich kids, at Whittier known as "Franklins") look down with contempt at the non-elites (nerds, strivers, geeks), Nixon organized a fraternity of non-elites called the Orthogonians to give the non-elites a home. Perlstein deploys this duality throughout the story -- liberals and intellectuals as Franklins, the "Silent Majority" as Orthogonians -- as Nixon dives deeper and deeper into the bitterness and paranoia that would eventually lose him the presidency he spent his entire adult life pursuing.

You can see we're still living with those polarities, right? The explosion of indignation over Obama's "guns and religion" gaffe during the '08 election? The toxicity of the word "elite"? The audience at which yack radio is aimed, versus, say, the core PBS audience?

Thanks, Tricky Dick! Thanks a whole bunch!

One of the most useful graphic devices I've ever seen was a timeline in the back of Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head, his masterly survey of the Beatles and their music. It is a timeline that shows the Fabs' career month by month, while showing contemporaneous events in the arts and politics. It was through this tool, for instance, that I learned that within ten days of the release of the White Album, Elvis Presley had his Comeback Special on TV. Two and a half weeks earlier, Nixon had defeated Humphrey and Wallace.

This kind of context really helps. And Nixonland provides it in spades. The reader, picking up the thread, begins to understand how John Lennon, reading his newspaper day after day, would have been inspired in the summer of 1968, to write "Revolution," and how Joe Sixpack in Poughkeepsie might conclude that the world has gone mad and pull the lever for Nixon. Look at this sequence of events, culled from Wikipedia, from the late spring and early summer of 1968. In January, the Prague Spring began (to be crushed six months later by Soviet tanks), the battle of Khe Sanh was fought and the Tet Offensive had begun:



Between April 4 and June 8 was 65 days. For purposes of comparison, 65 days ago from this writing was September 17. A glimpse at newspaper archives shows that 65 days ago we were taking umbrage at the stupid ACORN video and hating on "czars." This headline appeared in the Chicago Tribune: "Obama: Don't rush call on Afghan troop levels." So yeah, imagine opening your paper in the summer of '68 during those 65 days between the King and Robert Kennedy assassinations. An exercise in horror. Much, much more would follow: the disastrous Democratic Convention in Chicago, the Tlatelolco Massacre, the Cultural Revolution in China, and, of course, Nixon's election.

Workadaddy Sixpack would have noticed that all those punk kids tearing up Columbia University were, well, very unlikely themselves to ever become Workadaddy Sixpacks. The sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers -- Franklins, in Perlstein's terms -- were ripping up one of the nation's most prestigious universities for what seemed to him -- Orthogonian to the core -- utterly frivolous reasons. This would be the resentment exploited by Nixon in the election, and really by every right-wing politician since then. (Sarah Palin, anyone?)

You owe yourself this book -- especially if, like me, you're still picking up the thread of a mystifying childhood.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Frightfully Rude of Me...

I would be unforgivably remiss if I failed to thank the folks who emailed me during the last few months, enquiring with concern about my whereabouts.

I'm sorry I didn't answer all of you, but that's how badly in the dumps I was.

But enough of that! Since we're all about the slashes today, I do have to admit I larffed quite a bit when I read a few weeks ago that Tim Berners-Lee admitted in an interview that the two slashes in the "http://" formulation in Web URLs do nothing -- nothing! -- but waste electrons.

It's like suddenly discovering the World Wide Web's vermiform appendix or something.

A Few Observations While Waiting for the Electrician (Or Someone Like Him)

As a great man once said (I forget who), it's really great to be on vacation.

But it really blows to be on vacation for six months.

As days turn into weeks, and weeks into months, and savings get burnt away until it occurs to him that he owns three guitars that could be pawned, a fella has, it seems, a tendency to mumble into silence.

You run out of things to say. Nothing coming in, ergo nothing going out. Passivity. Watching the room get light, and then watching it get dark.

Six months like that. Avoid it if you can. My heart goes out to you if you can't.

At any rate, that's over now for the foreseeable future. I've landed (finally) on my feet, working on a very large and exciting project for a thoroughly benign client -- started last week. The commute has been a bitch -- two and a half, even three hours in soul-deadening traffic -- but now I've discovered the Brunswick line of the MARC train. It's still two hours door-to-door, but two much more relaxed hours.

Clouds are lifting, 's what I'm saying, and I begin to feel the old élan vitale bubbling up in the bits. Hell, I'm talking to my blog again. That's significant.

The iPod has kept me sane during that bitchly commute -- audiobooks, podcasts, what have you. Which brings up a point that has been nagging at me for some time. I fear a perfectly good and useful English word has been done dreadful injury, and it is up to me to patch up its wounds, apply cooling cloths to its forehead, and coo endearments to it while it heals.

The offense, which I'm hearing more and more, particularly in podcasts and radio shows that promote Web content, is this:


Folks, you do have a backslash key on your keyboard. There it sits on my keyboard under the "Delete" key (oh, if only!), an ugly reminder of the horrible old MS-DOS command-line interface. Its uppercase sibling -- the pipe character -- is nowadays chiefly seen by non-code-jockeys separating items in a horizontal list of hyperlinks.

There is no such thing as a forward-slash. There does exist and has existed for centuries a slash -- also known as a stroke, a virgule, a diagonal, a solidus, a right-leaning stroke, an oblique dash, a slant, a separatrix, a scratch comma, a slaok, a slak, or (my new favorite) a whack.

The thing that cranks my Model T about forward-slash is that it grants equal status to the backslash, a loathsome pustule of a glyph that is found nowhere in nature except in computer code. If there's a backslash, the thinking seems to go, why, its opposite must be a forward-slash. Better call it that, or folks might get confused. Feh. Ptui!

BBC, PBS, Times Online (yay, The Bugle!), all of you clowns: Knock it off. It does you no credit.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Daniel Snyder Is a Dwarf Dung-beetle

Come on, you legless little prick: Sue me for copyright infringement!

I've said this before, and I'll say it again:

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is a puffy-faced, Napoleonic, coprophiliac homunculus who in a just world would be forced to crawl nude over broken glass to apologize for this outrage before being clapped in the stocks in Lafayette Park to be pelted with offal.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It Is As It Does

The Huffington Post offers up the juicy tidbit that Occidental College is including among its course offerings this year a class in "Stupidity." From the course catalog:
Stupidity is neither ignorance nor organicity, but rather, a corollary of knowing and an element of normalcy, the double of intelligence rather than its opposite. It is an artifact of our nature as finite beings and one of the most powerful determinants of human destiny. Stupidity is always the name of the Other, and it is the sign of the feminine. This course in Critical Psychology follows the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, Gilles Deleuze, and most recently, Avital Ronell, in a philosophical examination of those operations and technologies that we conduct in order to render ourselves uncomprehending.
Et tendentious cetera.

We note the three headlines presented immediately below that story on the HuffPo's front page:
I think I can save you some money, undergrads...

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Language Problem

It has always struck me as deeply incongruous when a Nazi addresses another Nazi in English. A sequence in Where Eagles Dare leaped out at me back in the mists of time, when Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood are sent into a Nazi enclave in Wehrmacht uniforms, and manage to pass perfectly, despite addressing the enemy in full Burtonian and Eastwoodian English. Really, dude? the skeptical watcher wants to ask. Is your German that good? So good, in fact, that it passes even when it's English? Not a single Nazi so much as looks askance at them. It's very hard to overlook, a real strain on the old willing-suspension-of-disbelief neurons.

Inglourious Basterds picks up this ball of incongruity and runs it into the end zone. Four-fifths of the film is in either French or German, and the American audience is forced to do what cowardly directors swear they won't ever do: read subtitles. In Chapter One, a Nazi interviewing a Frenchman begins in French but then asks, halfway through the conversation, to switch to English. Ah-ha! the viewer says triumphantly, caught you, Tarantino! Pretty sleazy way of getting those damned subtitles off the screen!

But no. The Nazi has bigger plans.

The language-play continues later. A plot-point depends on the assumption that Germans cannot appreciate the subleties of the Italian tongue and are universally unable to detect an American accent. As it happens, the German the Basterds are trying to fool (the same English-speaker from Chapter One) has absolutely beautiful Italian, and there is high comedy indeed as he toys with the hapless Basterds.

While ostensibly an action film, Basterds is very dialog-intensive. The same trope happens repeatedly: Nazi inquisitor twigs to subterfuge, and toys with his interlocutor until dreadful violence breaks out. Reviewers have called these lengthy scenes boring; I disagree emphatically. Tarantino's artful dialog, never oblique or obscure, unfailingly keeping the viewer informed without being obvious about it, is anything but boring. Anyone bored by this dialog is bored by life.

Violent? Come on. It's Tarantino. Heads bashed in with baseball bats? Oh yeah. Prurient closeups of knives and skin? Of course. But the film is so over-the-top, so completely obviously a comedy about war films, that the viewer is never oppressed by it; it's all clearly, clearly fake, and Tarantino just winks at us throughout it.

I'll leave it to greater minds to comment on this film's place in the great panoply of film history, of WWII flicks and the movies made by the Nazis to sell themselves to the German public. It's clear (I mean, really, really clear) that Tarantino wants it to be considered in that light. The fact that a great deal of the plot involves getting the highest echelons of the Nazi apparat into a theater to watch a film extolling a German war hero -- a theater that specializes in Riefenstahl revivals -- is almost rubbing our noses in self-referentiality. To watch the film in a theater over the heads of our fellow film-goers, the view encompassing the backs of heads watching a film showing the backs of heads onscreen watching a film, is truly the only way to fully appreciate this movie.

Don't wait for the DVD, is what I'm saying.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wait... What?

From the Huffington Post:

Did they use it like a divining rod?

O-or did Jackie O have... I don't even want to think about it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Bristol is a town that straddles the border between Virginia and Tennessee -- the state line runs down the middle of State Street. Technically, there are two Bristols (they most commonly come in pairs, amirite?) -- Bristol, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee -- but they are both run by the same city administration.

Besides its NASCAR track, Bristol Motor Speedway -- "the world's fastest half-mile" -- Bristol's main claim to fame is as the birthplace of country music. In truth, this is not really so; a more accurate assertion would be that it is the birthplace of the country music record industry. What we might consider proto-country music is, of course, much, much older than that. It was to Bristol in the summer of 1927 that Ralph Peer, producer and A&R man formerly for OKeh Records and now acting under his new position with Victor, brought newfangled field recording gear and up-to-the-minute electric microphones (introduced in 1925), and set up shop in an unused storage space over the Taylor-Christian Hat company on the Tennessee side of State Street.

He allowed it to be bruited about that he would be offering $50 a side to any local musicians he deemed worthy of recording. A very astute and far-sighted businessman, Peer recognized, absolutely rightly, that with a nascent recording business and the coming ubiquity of radio, the real money was to be made in owning the copyright to the songs he recorded, which was why he felt he could be relatively generous to his recording stable -- and $50 was mighty generous indeed to the average resident of Appalachia in 1927.

Between July 22 and August 3, Peer recorded Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, B.F. Shelton, Uncle Eck Dunford, and a host of other hillbilly acts. An industry was indeed born. The bottom would fall out of it in 1932 with the Great Depression, but radio would sustain country music through World War II, with shows like the Grand Ole Opry. When the wartime rationing of vinyl ended with the war, an entirely new, infinitely more sophisticated generation of artists, recording on vastly improved equipment, filled the need for American proletarian music. The Victor, OKeh, Columbia artists of the '20s would remain to be rediscovered on scratchy old 78s on grandparents' Victrolas, and on such eminently sympathetic compilations as Harry Smith's "Anthology of American Folk." It is worth noting that the rediscoverers -- the Ralph Rinzlers, the Mike Seegers (RIP), were not themselves rural people, but sons and daughters of urban intellectuals.

It was into this Bristol that the Jingomobile roared yesterday. (Literally. That muffler's on its last legs.) I'd bombed down 81 from Winchester in what must have been record time, the 350-mile trip having taken five and a half hours. My purpose was twofold: I wanted to see the place where Peer had his recordings done, and I wanted to retrace the route the Carter Family took to their historic recording sessions with Peer.

The outskirts of Bristol are unprepossessing indeed. Huge Baptist churches stand cheek by jowl with grubby Taco Bells and Burger Kings, which are the places where the swains of Bristol go when they want to show their girlfriends a good time. There are few other options. The squalor persists until you hit State Street itself, which is leafy, verdant, and lined with quirky coffeeshops and bookstores for the tourist trade. The Art Deco theater marquee survives -- it can be made out in a gritty photo of State Street from the Ralph Peer era. I find the building where the sessions are said to have taken place -- there seems to be some local controversy over it, but The Bristol Sessions (ed. Wolfe & Olson) confidently places it at Number 408. There it is. A large mural on a blind wall facing the railroad tracks celebrates "Bristol Tenn-Va / Birthplace of Country Music" with portraits of Peer, the Carters, Victor Records, and Rodgers giving his signature thumbs-up in his brakeman's gear, guitar in his lap.

Besides State Street, I'd wanted to see another landmark from the era -- Maces Spring and Poor Valley and Rich Valley on the side of Clinch Mountain, where all three Carters grew up, married, and started families before that Monday and Tuesday, August 1-2, 1927, when they would record "Single Girl, Married Girl," "Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow," and four other sides. The legend put about by Peer after the Carters' success was that the Carters were raggedy-assed, barefoot, iggerant backwoodsmen who'd never seen the big city before they pulled into town looking like the Beverly Hillbillies. (Come to think of it, I would not be suprised to find a distinct historic correlation between that disgusting portrayal and Peer's description.)

At any rate, it's rank bullshit, meant to sell records and legend. A. P. Carter made a decent living for himself selling fruit trees and farming, the Carters wore clothes to Bristol that, while perhaps not New York tailored, were perfectly unremarkable -- and that certainly included footwear fit for city use. A. P. was born in a log cabin -- it's now on display at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, moved down from its original, nearly inaccessible site. But the idea that the Carters were from the back of beyond and had never seen the Big City is pure nonsense -- Maces Spring is a mere twenty miles from town. A. P. Carter first heard of Peer's visit while he was in Bristol itself, visiting a cousin who ran a furniture store. They had cars (borrowed from a brother, admittedly, but they knew how to drive).

I followed the road to Hiltons, Clinch Mountain looming. It is indeed a winding road, and it is easy to imagine that its unpaved 1927 version would have been hard indeed on the balloon-like tires of the day -- the Carters took two days to traverse it, partly because of numerous blowouts, and partly because Sara was pregnant and the jostling made her miserable. But nowadays it can be driven at a comfortable 40 MPH, slowing down for the frequent 90-degree hairpins.

It is a very poor part of the world. One- and two- room houses of crumbling brick, old enough to have been passed by the Carters on their trip to Bristol, line the passage, yards weedy, reeking of desperation and boredom. Footwashing Baptist churches, though, look prosperous, well maintained, their white paint gleaming in the sun. There is ample traffic for a Sunday afternoon, and I sense impatience in drivers as they come up behind a gawking tourist who's slowing down to look at things they find completely commonplace. I pull over and let them pass.

Hiltons (Maces Spring lacks a post office and thus is not officially a town) looks prosperous enough. The town's mining concern seems to be going strong. Up past the school (also looking well off), the A. P. Carter Highway winds its way through Poor Valley to the Carter Family Fold, located at the site of the grocery store that A. P. opened after the Carters broke up -- his wife Sara having fallen in love with another. The grocery store (closed, alas, for Sunday, as is all of the Fold) looks about the size of my living room. A. P.'s birth-cabin is beautiful, rustic -- and shares architectural characteristics with the German/Scots-Irish cabins in and around my home, 350 miles north.

I can only admire from outside the little amphitheater where Saturday nights in season ("Adults $1.50, Children 50 cents") old-timey and bluegrass concerts are given.

This is the place where a dying Johnny Cash gave his last performance.

Not much more to see here. A phone call from home requires my presence, and presently I am bombing back up 81, dodging eighteen-wheelers and blue flashing lights on prowlers, headed back to 2009. I still keep the Mood Music going, though:
Far away upon a hill on a sunny mountain side
Many years ago we parted, my little Ruth and I
From the sunny mountain side

Oh she clung to me and trembled, when I told her we must part
And she said don't go my darling, it almost breaks my heart
To think of you, so far apart

Carry me back to old Virginia,
Back to my Clinch Mountain home...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Got Lurid?

The first thing I'll do with a new hardcover is remove the dust jacket and store it somewhere safe. Replace it when I'm done, of course, and ready to store it on the shelf.

This one I did with perhaps a greater degree of pleasure than usual. Yeah, OK, Southern Cali hardboiled Sixties surfer genre, pretty much calls for lurid neon type on the cover. Don't have much of a problem with that. No, it's the hideous neon-pink gradient wash the designer put on the inner flaps that does it for me. I couldn't go one sentence without my eye straying off the page and staring fixedly at the strange, strange design choice, me thinking whyyyyyy?

Picked it up yesterday, only had time for one chapter last night. No immediate impressions formed yet, up or down. I did get a pretty serious gut-laff from the stoner lawyer, Sauncho Smilax, as Doc is using his One Phone Call to try to get out of jail:
"It's like Donald and Goofy, right, and they're out in a life raft, adrift at sea? for what looks like weeks? and what you start noticing after a while, in Donald's closeups, is that he has whisker stubble? like, growing out of his beak? You get the significance of that?"

"If I find a minute to think about it, Saunch, but meantime here comes Bigfoot and he's got that look, so if you could repeat the number back, OK, and--"

"We've always had this image of Donald Duck, we assume it's how he looks all the time in his normal life, but in fact he's always had to go in every day and shave his beak. The way I figure, it has to be Daisy. You know, which means, what other grooming demands is that chick laying on him, right?"

Blogrolling in Our Time

Everybody pop on over and say howdy to the newest addition to my blogroll, a dear friend of mine from another, parallel universe: Daydreams by Candlefire, a diarist and chronicler of acute observations. In particular check out her ongoing series, "Chronicles of Snowville." (The first two installations in the series can be seen here and here.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Double Steal

Potomac Nationals vs. Wilmington Blue Rocks, Sunday, August 9, 2009

It's a blistering hot August Sunday.

Top of the eighth inning. Wilmington, in a tie with the P-Nats for first place in the Carolina League, has come back from a 3-0 deficit to rack up six unanswered runs. Things may be out of hand for the home team.

Wilmington puts runners at first and third. Nats reliever Patrick McCoy winds up to pitch. As he does so, the runner on first breaks for a steal. McCoy catches it in time, and concentrates his attention on throwing him out. From our seats in Section E (close enough to home plate that Freddie and I can legitimately contest ball-and-strike calls with the ump -- the $11 seats!) we see the runner on third sneaking down the line to steal home.

Nooooo! we all shriek. Look behind you! Don't make a rookie mistake! Get the lead runner!

But no. McCoy throws to the second baseman, crabwalking for second along with the runner. Immediately, the lead runner on third breaks for home. The second baseman, far more in tune with his baseball instincts and training than those of us in the stands -- who remembers the Double Steal play from high-school ball? Certainly not me -- susses the play immediately. He's been waiting for it. He fires the ball on a smoking rope to the catcher at home, who falls on the miscreant home-stealer like a ton of bricks, and the ump punches the runner out, out, out.

I sometimes forget how much I love this game. Who laid out the bases at 90 feet apart? Such that when a ground ball goes to the shortstop's right, and he snags it and throws to first, it's always an exciting bang-bang call? Eighty-five feet, the runner's invariably safe. Ninety-five feet, he's out by a country mile. And on a tall sacrifice fly to deep center, runner at second gets overconfident and tries for home, centerfielder hits the cutoff man, who does his job and gets the ball on a line to home, the ball and the runner are there at exactly the same time, and only the ump can see through the cloud of dust to make the call?

Baseball oughta be the National Pastime or something. That's what I think.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Come Up the Country!

Death appears to surround us.

Sometime early yesterday morning, a white-tailed doe chose our orchard as the site of her Calvary. Betty awoke, looked out her window, and came to report a deceased deer a-next the Asian Pear.

I investigated, in the driving rain. Yep, no question about it. Rigor mortis had set in, the crows were conversing in salivating tones, buzzards were circling overhead, and flies were buzzing, as they will. Something must be done.

I called Animal Control. They were closed (it being Sunday), but their recorded message said to call the Sheriff's Office in case of an emergency. I did not judge this to be exactly an emergency, but called anyway. The man who answered, while kind, was not inclined to jump into his prowler and race over to help. Had the deer died on a public road, he said, the Virginia Department of Transportation would send a crew to remove it, but if on private land, there was not much he could do. We are a couple of hundred yards from a public road. His recommendation was to remove the carcass to some spot remote from the house, and let nature take its course.

I contemplated dragging the thing to the road, abandoning it there, and calling VDOT, but dismissed it as an affront to the neighbors. It might take days for VDOT to respond, and in the meantime, I'd have placed an Extremely Stinky Thing within nose-shot of three other households. No, the only polite thing was to follow the good Sheriff's advice.

We maintain a clearing in the southern quadrant for the kind of yard-waste that can't be composted -- tree-wrack, out-of-date Christmas trees, what have you -- and this is far enough away from the house that (I fervently hope) the stink won't waft here. I got out the tractor-mower, clapped a length of chain to its axle (easier said than done) and the other end to the deer's hind leg, and off we went. The dragging, while undignified for the deceased, was easy enough. She wasn't particularly heavy.

I left her there, with a blessing and a... Can we atheists be said to pray? Whatever it was, I tried to be as respectful as I could under the circumstances. I don't anticipate going back there until her bones are bleached dry.

And the goddamned dogs know their boundaries. Or at least, they'd better. Or there'll be hell to pay.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Murder Most Foul

A few years ago, I posted a less-than-completely-serious essay about a vicious quintuple murder that took place in 1943 in Purcellville, near where I live. We Jingos decided one lazy afternoon to try to find the house from the description given in an early-1960s edition of True Detective. We thought we'd found the house, but it wasn't the right one. Then, we got a little silly.

But the murders did indeed happen, and now a serious professional journalist (as opposed to a frivolous, amateur asshat blogger) has begun publishing a series of articles about them in the Loudoun Independent, and they're pretty fascinating reading.

Part 1 sets the scene.

Part 2, just published, details the murder itself.

Parts 3 and 4, to be published Thursday week and Thursday fortnight, are about, respectively, the investigation and quick arrest, and the trial and execution.

Monday, July 27, 2009


All right, who's the joker who signed me up for the Red State Trike Force daily newsletter?

Not cool, man. Not cool.
This email was sent to [your address] because you are subscribed to RedState Army of Activists or General Announcements list.
No, I'm not.
To update your email delivery preferences, click here.
Jake with you if I don't?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bonus Army

Hooverville burns, July 27, 1932

It passes with not much general observation, but on today's date in 1932, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Maj. George Patton turned the full wrath of the U. S. Army on World War I veterans on the streets of Washington, DC and Anacostia.

NPR had a feature on this event this afternoon, an interview with the author of a book on the Bonus Marches, and an interview with a surviving eyewitness, who at the time was a boy of eight and a resident of the city. I had no idea the event was so significant; it was the negative example of the Bonus Army that was most responsible for the passage of the GI Bill, for instance, that did so much to create a post-WW II middle class. It happened during a Presidential campaign, and had Katrina-like effects on Hoover's presidency. Afterward, Roosevelt's electoral strategy changed drastically; he no longer had to even mention his opponent in his communications. Another new fact for me: The Bonus Army was entirely integrated. Black and white folks camped together in the Hoovervilles -- very disciplined places, apparently, run by veterans who knew a thing or two about hygiene in the field -- sleeping side by side in tents.

Monday, July 20, 2009

In Observation of the Fortieth Anniversary of Apollo 11

If you can remember this jingle... may remember what it was like to watch Bob McAllister's Wonderama on a lazy summer morning in 1969 when flying cars and jet-packs and Star Trek were just around the corner -- we'd probably have 'em by the time I was my forties. Stanley Kubrick said so, dammit. And we'd always have fantastic bubblegum jingles behind our ads.

True story: On a trip through Bolivia and Peru in about 1977, a street vendor with whom I'd struck up a conversation asked me how many times I'd been to the moon. Well, you know -- since the Americans had gone to the moon, all Americans traveled there regularly. Stands to reason.

I told him I'd been there three times. No sense in crushing his illusion of Yankee greatness.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Audio Typo Revealed!

Something has bothered me about Elton John's "Rocket Man" since sometime around my fourteenth birthday, when I used my prezzie money to plunk down the necessary for a copy of Honky Chateau in that halcyon year of 1974. (He lost me with the next one, Don't Shoot Me, and by Goodbye Yellow Brick Road I wouldn't cross the street, etc. Still like Madman, though, and will occasionally pull it out for a nostalgia-binge.)

The thing that bothered me was this:
Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact, it's cold as hell
And there's no one there to raise them if you did
Do you see it? Does anything leap out and grab you by the throat as it does me?

Here it is: "If you did."

If you did what?

There's no one there to raise them if you... raised them? On Mars?

I mean, whaaaa...?

Yeah, but you know what does make sense there:

"And there's no one there to raise them if you died."

One little letter, and the whole thing makes perfect sense. The rhyme-scheme doesn't demand a rhyme of "kid" and "did"; in fact there's no rhyming at all in the verses.

So what was it? How does this howler still survive? (I saw Elton singing it on my teevee recently, and he still sings it that way.)

I think it was this: It's late at night in the studio, they're cutting vocals, Bernie Taupin hands Elton a scribbled verse and then runs off somewhere. It's the Seventies, everybody's coked and Quaaluded to the tits, Elton misreads "died" as "did" (or maybe Bernie's dropped the letter in his scribble), and nobody (Seventies, remember?) stops the tape and goes whoa-whoa-whoa.

And since it's on the single and the printed lyrics on the album that way, it's set in stone. Thirty-five years later, he still sings it that way, even if it makes no sense at all.

I think a very cranky letter to Sir Elton is in the offing. Don't you?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In Celebration of Bastille Day

From Pynchon's Vineland:

Zoyd needed cash... from the landscape contractor Zoyd did some lawn and tree work for, Millard Hobbs, a former actor who'd begun as a company logo and ended up as majority owner of what'd been a modest enough lawn-care service its founder, a reader of forbidden books, had named The Marquis de Sod. Originally Millard had only been hired to be in a couple of locally produced late-night TV commercials in which, holding a giant bullwhip, he appeared in knee socks, buckle shoes, cutoff trousers, blouse and platinum wig, all borrowed from his wife, Blodwen. "Crabgrass won't be'ave?" he inquired in a species of French accent. "Haw, haw! No problem! Zhust call -- The Marquis de Sod... 'E'll wheep your lawn into shepp!".... Little by little he kept buying in and learning the business, as well as elaborating the scripts of his commercials from those old split 30's during the vampire shift to what were now often five-minute prime-time micromovies, with music and special effects increasingly subbed out to artisans as far away as Marin, in which the Marquis, his wardrobe now upgraded into an authentic eighteenth-century costume, might carry on a dialogue with some substandard lawn while lashing away at it with his bullwhip, each grass blade in extreme close-up being seen to have a face and little mouth, out of which, in thousandfold-echoplexed chorus, would come piping "More! More! We love eet!" The Marquis leaning down playfully, "Ah cahn't 'ear you!" Presently the grass would start to sing the company jingle, to a, by then, postdisco arrangement of the Marseillaise --
A lawn savant, who'll lop a tree-ee-uh
Nobody beats Mar-
Quis de Sod!

Have a good one, Frenchies!

Sarcoptes Scabiei Var. Hominis

We find ourselves afflicted with scabies. Possibly caught from the dogs, possibly from walking through tall grass, possibly from human contact.

During withdrawal, junkies report the sensation of bugs crawling under the skin. Frankly, I think they're whining whelplings, and should shut the hell up until they've had bugs literally crawling under their skin. Sweet Jesus on a Segway, is this miserable.

We've sought attention from Medical Science, and treatment is quite trivial. A lotion, applied once head to toe, stops the little bastards in their (non-figurative) tracks. The pharmacy was out of stock of this miracle potion yesterday (a situation that drew howls of protest from we sufferers), but they attest they have replenished their stocks today. Not one hyperpruritic minute too soon.

So if one with rabies can be said to be "rabid," can one with scabies be said to be "scabid"? Apparently not; the term of art is "scabietic" -- yet another example of the perfidiousness of the Mother Tongue.

Tune in next week, when some other goddamned nineteenth-century affliction will be upon us. Will it be impetigo? Rheumatism? Chilblains? Ricketts? Only a cruel and capricious Creator knows...

Now excuse me, I've got some itching to do.

Update, 7/17: Treatment seems to have been 100% effective. Itch gone, lesions fading. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for insecticides.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

On Taking Advantage of a Four-Day Weekend When Independence Day Falls on a Thursday, Or How We Avoided the Headaches of a Complicated Wedding

Conversation between myself and Wonder Woman, morning of Friday, July 5, 1991...

Me: We're off work today...

Her: Yes, and...?

Me: Why don't we go to the Justice of the Peace in Upper Marlboro and get married?

And we did.

Best idea we ever had.

September of 2010, we will have been a couple in some form or another for thirty years. Imagine that.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Froth of July!

(All decorations home-grown. Wonder Woman wears her grandmother's apron for Extra Zesty Authenticity! She did the stars, and I did the stripes. The Matriarch picked the berries. We're so fucking classy!)

Monday, June 29, 2009

But Someone Picked You From the Bunch/One Glance Was All it Took

Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out....

I don't think it's too early for this...

Take a listen to this (pops). It's the first thirty seconds of the Jackson Five's first single for Motown, "I Want You Back." Number One for a week in January, 1970. (Preceded in that spot by -- oy! -- "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," succeeded by The Shocking Blue's "Venus." There were giants in the earth in those days.)

It's particularly instructive to stop the clip after ten seconds, after twenty seconds, and at the end, and ask yourself, "What has happened so far?" The answer will be that after ten seconds, you've had one iteration of the verse's main instrumental motif. You've had that fabulously exciting piano crash that kicks the whole thing off, you've had nine -- count 'em nine! -- chord changes. The rhythmic pattern is immediately established: the rhythm guitar sets up its chang-ka-chang syncopation against which the bass, keyboard and lead guitar establish the chordal pattern directly on top of the beat. What an amazingly effective musical idea: Make the clanging, monotonal guitar the central syncopative device, while the rest of the band plays a slightly plodding series of notes that declare the harmonic pattern. Not a single drum has yet been heard -- only one cymbal crash -- but we're already up and dancing to this marvelously infectious and complex polyrhythm.

Between seconds 10 and 20, we get our second iteration of the motif, this time with congas, orchestra, and a third guitar adding yet more complexity to the rhythm. This sets up the beautiful explosion between seconds 20 and 30, in which the drums finally kick in, and the bass slides up an octave and plays for the first time the magnificent descending figure with which it will bolster the chorus throughout the song. (That's what your professor would call your contrapuntal motion; and like the man said, "Live it, or live with it.") Little Michael does his nearly wordless vocalization ("a-lemme-tell-ya-now" being the main concept being put forward) -- sounding improvised, but, I'm sure, the product of whole lot of thought on somebody's part. By now, if we aren't completely hooked, we never will be -- we're probably back with the "Raindrops Keep Falling" crowd.

Now, Michael Jackson, all of ten years old during its recording, had absolutely nothing to do with the creation of this stunningly terse exposition. That credit goes to The Corporation -- Berry Gordy, Freddie Perren, Deke Richards, and Alphonzo Mizell -- and to the various musicians who played on it, most notably the stunning bassist Wilton Felder. Michael's task going in was to sing the living shit out of the lyric -- and by the end, no one will cavil when I assert that there remains neither jot nor tittle of living shit in that lyric. Talented kid, no question.

So that's that -- now take a gander at this. The first thirty seconds of "Billie Jean."

Let's try that every-ten-seconds exercise again.

0:00 - 0:10: Nothing. A drum machine and a farting synth. No motion whatsoever.

0:10 - 0:20: The same fucking nothing.

0:20 - 0:30: The nothing continues, with the addition of a four-note synth figure. A human being enters 29 seconds in, when Michael hiccups and begins the verse. The first chord change comes in at 0:37.

This shit went platinum.

Now, a lot happened between 1970's "I Want You Back" and 1983's "Billie Jean." Not only in popular musical tastes, but also in technology. MIDI. Click tracks. Drum machines. And of course, the all-important, sine qua non technology: video. YouTube has disabled embedding the Billie Jean video, but you can still watch it here. It's something of a revelation. Ah, we think. That's where those thirty seconds went. That's why the song's so spare, why so much of nothing is going on in the opening strains: The music's become subservient to the video.

Music for the eyes. Music to stare at.

The whole purpose of that utterly wonderful opening of "I Want You Back" is to reach out and grab you. It's producers knew perfectly well how their product would for the most part be consumed -- by people with better stuff to do, who have the radio on in the background as they go about their daily business. If your first couple of seconds don't contain something that makes them go woah! you may well be screwed. They're back to their work, tuning your product out. Think of how many iconic pop artifacts of the AM radio era start with a clang like that -- "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," the Byrds' chiming twelve-string confections, "A Hard Day's Night."

When you are watching TV, that's what you're doing. Watching. Attending. It matters very little that there's fuck-all going on in the first thirty seconds of the record, as long as the material onscreen tickles the audience's Entertainment Gland.

That's what we lost sight of in the Eighties -- the imperative to make interesting records that stand absolutely on their own, independent of any other medium. To serve your audience. To, yes, pander.

It's when I checked out, too -- probably not at all coincidentally -- and started investigating musics of the past: bluegrass, old country, jazz, that stuff. Haven't looked back.

Michael Jackson's death is sad in many senses of the word, but as he was the first true MTV phenomenon, I blame him in a real sense for killing my love of pop music, my interest in following what's new. That I won't forgive.

Update: Jesus Horatio Christ
Michael Jackson will live on as a 'plastinated' creature preserved by German doctor Gunther von Hagens.

Von Hagens has caused controversy with everyone from the Pope to the chief rabbi in Israel with his practice of embalming corpses with preserving polyurethane.

Yesterday, he declared: 'An agreement is in place to plastinate the King of Pop.'

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Who Is, Really?

There exists a story of an Eskimo gentleman come down to the Lower Forty-Eight to try his hand at farming, only to come to naught when he could not fallow his fields in the right order. I'd call it "The Lore of Unintended Corn-Sequences," but I'm just not that Inuit.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Thought Amuses Me

At some moment or another, Andrew Sullivan is going to have to "de-green" his blog. What's his end-point? What historical event will cause him to decide that either the Iranian people have a perfect Jeffersonian democracy, or the mullahs have prevailed?

This is the problem with purely symbolic self-decoration.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Neddie's Big Fathers' Day Adventure!

Queried yesterday about what activities would appeal on Fathers' Day, I gave the matter some cogitation. The Prince William Potomac Cannons Nationals were out of town, the Frederick Keys were playing at an inconvenient time, so an afternoon or evening at a minor-league ballpark -- the perfect activity for such an occasion -- was sadly to be denied me.

Then I remembered the incompleteness of our exploration of the National Portrait Gallery from last week, and suggested, to general approval, another visit. We roped in the Matriarch, Wonder Woman, and those children who were not already committed to other engagements, and ho! for the District. (Which already has enough ho's, snark snark.)

Parking of a Sunday near 9th and G was ridiculously hard to find, so, in a moment of paternal clarity, I hove the car into a garage that advertised a flat $10 rate. Worth it under the circs, I thought. Day's a-wastin'. A snaggle-toothed gentleman of indeterminate national origin appeared at the window and demanded his baksheesh. Just as I was handing him a ten-spot, I noticed a sign saying that the garage closed at 4 PM on Sundays. Knowing that we intended to stay at the museum well past that hour, I asked -- and I will admit that this, in retrospect, was poorly phrased -- "What happens after four o'clock"?

"You go out through building," came the reply. I am pretty sure, now, with the benefit of hindsight, that this phrase, and "Park on P-2, P-3," made up the sum total of this gentleman's English. I took "You go out through building" as a rational response to my original question, implying there was a separate after-hours egress -- some kind of sensor that opens a gate, shuts it after you.

Having parked and ridden up in an elevator to street level, we found ourselves in an office-building lobby, complete with sleepy security guard and check-in desk. As I opened the door to the street, it occurred to me that we were going "out through building," and the slightly nauseating idea occurred: that my conversation with Snagglepuss had had something of the non-sequitur about it.

Foo! I pushed the thought out of my head, and we traipsed along to a lovely afternoon with History.

I won't dwell on the museum, save to say that The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly in their Folk Art collection (enlarged image here -- bear in mind the thing you're looking at filled the artist's garage, and not all of it is displayed) is without doubt the weirdest and most wonderful thing I've laid eyes on in thirty years.

At five o'clock, through the magic of cellphones, we reassembled in the lobby, footworn and replete. I offered to go fetch the car while the ladies rested. Betty and I marched back to the office building and were admitted by the slumberous security guard. Elevator back to P-3, car found, all going according to plan. Round the winding route back to the land of the Eloi. Turn the last corner...

The. Gate. To. The. Street. Is. Closed.

Not a soul in sight.

Ohhh... KAY. Thinking that maybe an electric eye or some such device would trigger the raising of the portico, I nudged the car forward until the bumper was nearly touching the steel curtain.

Nothing budged.

A sign on the wall, hitherto unseen, mocked me: "Cars left after hours will be kept until the next business day."

Thanks, Snagglepuss. Thanks a whole bunch.

But the blame really rests with me, for not having asked him the direct question, "What will happen to cars left after hours?" and not been satisfied until I knew I had a reliable answer in the form of the complete sentence, "Cars left after hours will be kept until the next business day."

Some folks might panic in this circumstance. Succumb to claustrophobia. Run around with hair on fire.

Not your Neddie. Contemplating the major-league hassle involved in the admission of defeat -- cab ride out to the Matriarch's (a place not well served by public transport), where she would have to ship us the 50 miles home to Lovettsville and then drive back -- I reached back into the reserve of sang-froid that has flowed in Jingo veins all these centuries and set myself with steely resolve: This shall not stand.

I exited the car, senses aquiver. Having tried shouting "Open Sesame!" to no avail, I reasoned, with the deadly logic gleaned from years of Sherlock Holmes stories, that something must trigger this portal. Magnifying glass in hand (I keep one in the glove compartment for occasions such as this), I examined the edges of the unyeilding gate. Then, mirabile dictu, my eyes fell upon two buttons on a switch not a foot from the portal itself. With nearly mocking simplicity, they were marked "Open" and "Close."


With a trembling finger, I pressed the "Open" button. Creaking and moaning, the hitherto immovable object groaned into life, and blessed daylight shot into the murk.

Now I had been forming a plan. When the gate was fully open, I would drive through into freedom, park on the sidewalk, bravely go back into the hideous hole, press the "Close" button, and scurry back out, Indiana Jones-style, before the steel curtain could crush the life out of me. And all would be well.

The first half worked perfectly. Car and Betty successfully freed and basking in the sunshine. There would be no 30-mile cab rides today.

No, it was second half of the adventure that unmanned me. Having gone back in to the garage, I pressed the "Close" button, and the giant machine once again groaned back into life. I did my Indy thing, leaping back onto the sidewalk -- and the damned door just reversed itself and raised to the ceiling again. I had not considered that there might be a safety device -- as there is on any standard automatic garage-door opener -- that prevents the door from closing if it senses that an object -- in this case, my all-too-vulnerable flesh -- stood in the transom.

Okay, I mused, what sets off this device? Is there a sensor of some sort that I might, through acrobatic means, avoid triggering? I pressed again, leaped back into the sunshine with my feet as high in the air as I could manage (about four inches). Failure. Perhaps I have to go under the sensor? Pressed the button, and this time emerged hunched over making myself as small as I could.

Eleventh Street on a Sunday is no deserted place. As I was performing my antics, leaping out from under closing doors in various ridiculous poses, a small crowd began to gather. And here's the curious thing: I didn't know it at the time, a rally for the people of Iran was just breaking up a few bare blocks from us, and I noticed that quite a few of these folks were wearing green and carrying signs saying "Where's My Vote?" and the like.

One more attempt, which again failed to raucous laughter, and I thought Fuck it. I flashed a V-sign to the assembled folks, hollered "Sea of Green!" leaped into the car and hightailed it. I did stop in at the sleepy guard's desk, described to him as succinctly as I could what was now his problem, and ran.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I don't know about you, but the info coming out of Iran today is utterly riveting. I hope this turns out without bloodshed, inshallah. I'm casting my memory back to Tienanmin Square, when it was incredibly frustrating to be reliant on the MSM for updates -- and not really believing what they said. Back then, the dominant technology was faxing -- when was the last time you faxed anything? -- but now, we get on-the-ground reports from eyewitnesses within minutes of the reported occurrence.

I'm obsessively reloading Sullivan and Nico Pitney at the Huffington Post (when do these guys sleep?) -- anybody got any other sources?

My best wishes to the brave marchers. Stay strong.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

This Machine, Too, Kills Fascists

Besides Andrew Sullivan and The Huffington Post's outstanding coverage of the events in Iran, I'm finding Al Giordano to be an extremely compelling daily read:

Ever since I penned The Medium Is the Middleman: For a Revolution Against Media, I’ve been waiting for this moment, which I predicted, twelve years ago, would come: a great day when the corporate media got pushed out of the way by authentic media from below. What is occurring worldwide, with the Iranian crisis as catalyst, is the emergence of the very kind of media from below that the human race - particularly the working class and the poor - so desperately needs.

Following these events – including the fast-developing advances in communications strategies and tactics and the efforts from above to censor and cut those communications – provides a gigantic global teach-in and workshop (much like during the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela) on how it is done. As a journalist, I have always followed the stories that help me to learn something new and important to me. And every hour, I’m learning a new set of tricks from these brave communicators in Iran and around the world: methods and techniques that will serve us in this hemisphere, soon enough, too.

The study of how to break information blockades is a life’s study for some of us. What a wonderful classroom we’ve been provided this week. Perhaps, just as Woody Guthrie painted on his guitar, we will finally be able to mark our communications tools: “This machine kills fascists,” and then evolve it to his friend Pete Seeger’s rejoinder, painted on his banjo: “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Interesting article at Wired on the cyberwar underlying the events in Iran:
But Burton — who helped bring Web 2.0 tools to the American spy community — isn’t so sure. “Giving a citizenry the ability to turn the tables on its own government is, I think, what governance is all about. The public’s ability to strike back is something that every government should be reminded of from time to time.” Yet he admits to feeling “conflicted.” about participating in the strikes, he suddenly stopped. “I don’t know why, but it just felt…creepy. I was frightened by how easy it was to sow chaos from afar, safe and sound in my apartment, where I would never have to experience–or even know–the results of my actions.”


Update: Al Giordano: "[L]ike I've said again and again, the fight to keep the channels open is "the front" in this war for hearts and minds."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Strummin' on the Old Banjo

Dinah, in happier times

Sometimes the most puerile earworms dig their way into the cranium. This morning, driving Freddie to a doctor's appointment, I became aware that "I've Been Working on the Railroad" was buzzing around between my ears, and nothing I could do would stop it.

The first half of the song makes a fair amount of sense, I suppose -- all that tribute to labor for its own sake ("just to pass the time away," etc.). No, it's when the character of Dinah enters stage left pursued by a banjo that things get a bit surreal. Okay, we think, Dinah has a horn that the singer encourages her (at great length and with the enthusiasm borne of obsessive repetition) to blow, that much is clear. But when we learn that a mysterious "someone" is occupying the food-preparation area with Dinah while flogging a banjo (Earl Scruggs? Bela Fleck? Uncle Dave Macon? The curious mind can't help but ask), we descend into surrealism and madness. The song never identifies the musician -- itself a kind of self-aware metacommentary that we expect from a Kubrick or a Pynchon, but not from a 19th-century blackface minstrel -- but the idea of "being in the kitchen" with a woman who's been "blowing her horn" evinces a sort of eyebrow-waggling salaciousness that does the hitherto innocent work-song no credit.

I think the phrase "someone's in the kitchen with Dinah" could be rescued, refurbished, given new life and new meaning. Let's give it a shot, shall we?
"Could you possibly see your way to doing the goddamned dishes once in a while? I'm not your damned mom, and this place is a dump! Dirty socks in the sink, for God's sake! And you just sit there with that damned XBox, picking your nose! I'm going out, and this place had better be picked up when I get home, or there'll be hell to pay!"

"Well... Looks like someone's in the kitchen with Dinah!"
Or how about this:
"It's a three-one count... Beckett looks the runner back to first... Rodriguez looking for the heat, now... Rears back, pitch is on the way -- and A-Rod gets all of it! Left-centerfield, back is Ellsbury, but he won't get it.... Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah!"
Or this:
"...and he said, 'My God, it's full of holes!'

"Holes! Get it? 'Cos the... thing...

[Tap tap] "Is this thing on?

"Oh that's... unnecessary... Yeah, I remember when I had my first beer... Do I come to your work and yell at you? Man -- someone's in the kitchen with Dinah!"
Can I get a fee-fi-fiddle-dee-i-oh?

Friday, June 12, 2009

I Gotta Admit...

This one raised a lump in the throat and a tremble in the old lower lip...

Among everything else, it demonstrates the possibilities of digital multitracking in a global environment. I particularly like the look the guy at 1:48 gives the camera: "Oh yeah... This is gonna be good!"

These are the folks responsible.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


With a few hours to kill yesterday as Betty cavorted with some friends in western DC, Wonder Woman and I decided to take in the reopened National Portrait Gallery.

We hadn't ever visited. We will be back, and as soon as we possibly can -- as we only had a couple of hours, we left unsatisfied. The visiting Marcel Duchamp exhibit alone is worth an entire day. Unlike some of the other Smithsonian museums, the explanatory tags next to the exhibits are lengthy and detailed, and and assume curiosity and intelligence in the visitor. Absolutely worth a visit next time you're in town.

We were struck, also, by the lack of bag-inspecting, metal-detecting security measures as we walked in the door. This was so unexpected that we both remarked on it. Of course, there are plenty of vigilant guards in the lobby, as there should be, but nary a patdown did they give us or anyone.

It wasn't until later that afternoon, when we turned on the car radio, that we heard of the dreadful events at the Holocaust Museum, less than a mile from where we'd just been having a pleasant afternoon. We've been the Museum once, but long enough now that I can't remember what the experience of walking in the front door was like -- the Museum's Entry and Hours web page clearly says that all visitors must pass through a metal detector, so this maniac must have just jumped in the door and started shooting immediately.

My sympathies for the family and friends of Stephen Tyrone Johns, the security-guard victim. They don't pay those guys enough. Their union was trying to get them bulletproof vests, but their employer, Wackenhut (guilty! Guilty! Guilty!), ignored their request.

(Update: Read that "guilty" article from 1992; a whole lot of questions about Iraq WMD might be cleared up for you: "Another reason is that after a six-month investigation, in the course of which we spoke to more than 300 people, we believe we know what the truck did contain-equipment necessary for the manufacture of chemical weapons-and where it was headed: to Saddam Hussein's Iraq." This is why we still need journalism...)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


A strange thing: Two mornings in a row now, I've awakened from the same weirdly frustrating dream.

I'm back in college. Since I've been given a second chance, I've decided I'm going to make the best of my college career; really bust my hump to get great grades, participate in campus affairs, join debates, be a somebody in campus life.

I'm in a lecture hall. The professor is banging on about Middle Eastern affairs. One of the students breaks in to admonish the prof about something. His words are nonsense, and I can refute the nonsense. I have facts and figures at my disposal. Another student interrupts, with more nonsense. I raise my hand to be called on. Everybody ignores me. The prof doesn't see me. I start being vocal -- call on me! I know this is bullshit, and I can prove it! To no avail. The nonsense drones on.

I come to full consciousness, frustrated and angry. Goddamned public life. You just can't break in!

Only now do I realize what's been happening: My radio's been on. I've got my bedside alarm radio set to NPR, and the bullshit I've been trying to break into, with such frustrating results, is their 6 AM News Roundup. My Dream Self has been taking in the words, but not the meaning, of the news reports, reassembling them into gibberish, and that's what I've been trying to argue with in my sleep. Of course, the radio is rather unlikely to stop and call on a dreaming goober who wants to argue with a reassembled dream-version of something just asserted: "Yes, Neddie, you wanted to say something about the garbage your subconscious just created out of our broadcast?" I'd be a little afraid if it did, come to think of it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Here in Status-Symbol Land

I recall with particular vividness an episode from my childhood -- my first critical pronunciation, I do believe. Seated on a stone wall in the courtyard of my school, I declared the following words to a coterie of my friends, who hadn't really asked my opinion: "Those Beatles think they're the Kings of Pop (yes, I really did use the term), but everybody knows it's the Monkees!"

I think I can be forgiven for this. The Monkees had a live-action television show -- and the Beatles had a rather terrible cartoon. This counts, to a seven-year-old. How was I to know that the Monkees' snappy dialog was a cynical, commercial attempt at an American version of the Beatles' snappy d. in "A Hard Day's Night"? It was funny, dammit!

OK, I can see getting all righteous about Mr. Green being so serene about the number of televisions in his house, but why's poor Mrs. Gray come under opprobrium for being pleased with her garden? Don't quite get that. But know this, and know it well: Never, ever piss off a Monkee by indulging in Conspicuous Consumption, particularly on a Pleasant Valley Sunday. They'll whip out a Goffin-King number with a killer off-kilter guitar riff and some great, great harmony vocals. And you'll slink off into Status-Symbol Land with your peacock tail between your legs.

Well. Happy P. V. Sunday to you all. No matter how many TVs you have.

PS: "Rows of houses that are all the same/And no one seems to care" still pisses me off.